Friday, May 25, 2012

The Jackson Family Mourns the Violent Death of Juana Jackson in Ahuas, Gracias a Dios

By: Defensores en Linea
Translation by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team
For the original version in Spanish please visit Defensores en Linea

Marlen Zelaya mourns the loss of her sister of Juana Jackson, who was killed on May 11th in a drug raid backed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency along the Atlantic Coast of Honduras.
Juana Jackson (28 years old), who was 5 months pregnant, died from various gunshot wounds in the brutal attack against a "pipante" (small boat of passengers and luggage) perpetrated by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents from a helicopter on the Patuca River in the sector of Paptalaya.

Her sister, Marlen Zelaya, relates that Juana had gone to the community of Patuca to pick up some things that had been sent to her from Roatan, so she [Marlen] was at home taking care of her sister's sons (1 year old and 9 year old) in the neighborhood of El Naranjal.

Zelaya stated that she had been washing clothes very early in the morning, when she received a call on her cell phone from an aunt who asked if her sister had arrived home.

 " 'No,' I told her, 'Why?' My aunt said, ’Look, don’t you realize that those helicopters killed her and many other people that were in the pitpante?’ “I dropped what I was doing immediately and ran to the clinic of the Morava Evangelical Hospital. I found the hospital's driver and I asked him, but he told me that my sister had not arrived," she said sobbing.

She added that later she went to the landín (a small dock located several kilometers from her house) and heard that her sister had traveled in the pipante alongside Emerson Martinez, who died from the impact of several bullets. 

Upon verifying with other survivors of the fatal attack that Juana had been traveling [on the boat], Marlen expressed that she was left in shock for several minutes because a few days earlier she had lost her mother and now her sister was dead and missing.

"I feel so much pain because of all of this. They killed my sister with four bullets: one in her chest, another in her leg, the other in her head and another in her nose. They killed her as if she were a dog," she noted sorrowfully. 

Juana Jackson's sister was not able to locate her body until Saturday, after a frantic search to find her body in the area of the brutal attack.

"When I found her, I brought her home to change her [clothes]. I put her in a coffin and buried her in the cemetery because I couldn't keep her in the house longer since she was already decomposing," Marlen Zelaya said crying.

Marlen noted that Juana was a Christian woman who belonged to the Moravian Evangelical Church, but there wasn’t time to hold a wake in the chapel.

"Now that I don't have a mother or father, I have to raise my sister's children, because I can't leave them in the street. I have to take care of them and educate them, which I am going to do. God will support me," Zelaya assured. 

Marlen works as a nurse in the Moravian Evangelical Hospital of the municipality of Ahuas, a social project that provides medical attention at a low cost to low income individuals. She has 4 children and lives in the El Naranjal sector of Ahuas.

"I feel a deep pain, because with this death I have three family members who have died. First my mother, then my aunt who died two weeks ago and now my sister, so I don't know how much pain I feel. Only God can help me with all of this because I am alone and I am a single mother," concluded Marlen Zelaya, another family member of the victims killed in the atrocious attack carried out by DEA agents in Ahuas, in La Mosquitia, Honduras.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The DEA killed the Hopes of Hasked Brooks Wood

Ahúas, Gracias a Dios
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Translation by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team
For the original version in Spanish please visit Defensores en Linea
A team of human rights defenders of the Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared (COFADEH) reports the deep pain of family members of the 14 year old boy, Hasked Brooks Wood, victim killed in the reckless attack lead by forces of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in which two pregnant women and the best friend of Hasked, Wilmer Walter (14) and Emerson Martiínez also died. interviewed Hasked Antonie Brooks Symore, Hasked’s father who, upon learning of the fateful news traveled from the island of Roatán to find that he had been missing for 48 hours. 
Brooks Symore expressed himself with distress and anguish, “I feel terrible because I didn’t know that something like this would happen in this life, but we’re always here hoping that human rights organizations will come and help us (referring to COFADEH).”
“Upon seeing you all I feel a little better because I know that you will help us to pressure the government.  I feel accompanied by COFADEH,” explained the father of the adolescent who lost his life in the brutal attack.
Brooks Symore commented that his pain was even stronger because he knew the other people who had died and because various members of their families live in his home community and because of his wife, Clara Wood Rivas, who survived by throwing herself from the pipante (boat) into to the great waters of the Patuca River.
Choking on her words, Clara Wood Rivas said that upon hearing the bursts of gunfire she jumped into the river to get to the coast.  She heard the buzzing of the projectiles that passed closely by her body.
Swimming as rapidly as she could, when she got to the coast she screamed as loud as she could, “Hasked!…Hasked!...” but her son did not respond.  She woke up on Saturday and had no news of her son until many hours later.  The young boy had disappeared.
Upon hearing the news that Hasked was dead, the only thing she cried out was, “They have killed my baby…they have killed my baby!”
It is known that  when the attack began, a helicopter was seen  descending rapidly in the dark early morning in the community of Paptalaya and that it pointed itself directly at the pipante in which at least 15 people were being transported.  Hasked heard the detonations and one of those shots penetrated his mouth, another his head and a third projectile hit his abdomen and a fourth struck one of his legs.
That day the young Hasked was very happy because he was coming back to live in the community El Naranjal in Ahúas, where he was born.  This place is inhabited by a few wood houses built on stilts; Families plant basic grains, vegetables, raise cows and each family has one horse.
Hasked brought with him his fifth grade report card, a ball, a pair of cleats and his pet named Dragon (his little dog).  Dragon has not wanted to eat anything while staying Brooks Wood’s house, his family commented.
His happiness was greater because during the trip from the Barra Patuca to Paptalaya where the small boat was headed, he was seated next to his best friend Wilmer Walter, 14 years old who  received a grave injury to one of his hands.  The human rights defenders at COFADEH visited him in the Regional Hospital in Atlántida and confirmed that the condition of his hand has a reserved prognosis and that it needs the attention of specialists.
Accompanying Hasked, Clara and Wilmer was Vera Gonzáles, a relative of Brooks Wood and her daughters Chantel who recently turned two and 11 year old Alana; all three  survived the attack unharmed.
Brooks Symore has made his life in shrimp boats that fish the Roatán and also as a cook.  Part of the year he works in Islas de la Bahía and the rest he spends with his family which is composed of nine members.
He commented that the events of Friday the 11th of May of 2012 in Ahúas leave an impression that “one doesn’t know what will happen in life and without expecting it, one is attacked like that.  I didn’t think that that would happen because things like that never happen in these parts.”
Brooks Symore appreciated the visit and company of COFADEH whose human rights defenders came to visit this far-off community that has been forgotten and that currently faces serious threats from narco-trafficking.

Severe Injuries Suffered By Victims On Boat Attacked By DEA Agents

La Ceiba, Atlantida

Translation by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team
For the original version in Spanish please visit Defensores En Linea

A team of human rights defenders from the Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) with international accompaniment confirms the grave physical and emotional consequences suffered by two of the victims who were injured as a result of an attack carried out from a helicopter by United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) troops on the 11th of May near Ahúas, in the Honduran Mosquitia.
It has become known that DEA forces used automatic weapons to attack a “cayuco” (a small motor boat) that was transporting 15 people along the waters of the Patuca river.  Of the 15 people, 2 fisherman and 2 pregnant women were killed when hit with rapid gunfire from a helicopter that attacked the boat presuming that it was involved in drug-trafficking.
The tragic incident occurred on the 11th of May around 3:00 in the morning.  The passengers were riding from Roatán (Islas de la Bahía) in the boat named “DAGO” that took them to the Barra of the Patuca River, where in the early morning hours they boarded the cayuco motorboat that had arrived at the Barra del Patuca to drop off some divers.
Passengers on this boat were  people from various communities in the municipality of Ahúas and Brus Laguna in the department of Gracias a Dios in the Honduran Mosquitia.
The COFADEH team visited 22 year old Lucio Adán Nelson Queen in his hospital bed at the Atlántida Regional Hospital.  He had received 3 bullet-wounds in different parts of his body.
Lucio Adán has a serious wound in his left arm with the projectile still in his arm; the other injuries are localized in his back,  side, and  gluteus.
While the young man found it difficult to talk due to his critical condition,he told us that he had been sleeping in the small boat when he saw intermittent lights coming from the helicopter.  The small lights were nothing more than the bursts of gunfire that hit  his body.
In spite of being injured, and using only one arm he swam to the edge of the river and ran through bushes until arriving at a small house close to the community of Ahúas where a woman helped to take him to the clinic of the Moravian Church where he received his first round of medical attention.

Dannjy Nelson Escoto, Lucio Adán’s uncle, who has stayed in the medical center every day accompanying his family member, demanded an exhaustive investigation to clarify the unjustifiable attack perpetrated by DEA agents against defenseless people.
Lucio Adán has been hospitalized for 9 days and still hasn’t been scheduled for surgery.  Furthermore, his financial limitations prevent him from buying the pins needed to fix his injured arm.
Another survivor is the 14 year old boy, Wilmer Lucas Walter, a resident of Roatán, Islas de la Bahía, who, on the day of the attack, was on his way  to visit his grandmother in the community of Barra Patuca.
On the 11th of May, Wilmer was traveling to Ahúas to visit his grandmother Aura Estela Cooper, taking advantage of the fact that his mother’s friend was already making the trip with her youngest 14 year old child, a classmate of Wilmer’s, who died in the shower of bullets directed by foreign military personnel against the small boat.
Wilmer was asleep in the small boat, just like the other passengers, when he was suddenly thrown into the water when the boat was hit by bursts of machine gunfire from the helicopter that shot without warning.
The young child swam with difficulty until he came to the edge of the river where he quickly ran through the dense vegetation when he felt that his left arm weighed tons.  It was only then that he realized that the shots had seriously damaged one of his wrists.  He then went further into the jungle, listening to the blasts of projectile bullets fired by military personnel from the helicopter.
According to the specialists the condition of his hands has a guarded prognosis.  Wilmer’s mother, Sabina Romero expressed to that she is very worried for her son, seeing that they don’t have sufficient economic resources to take her son to a private clinic.
Both Wilmer and young Lucio are hospitalized in the Regional Hospital in Atlántida in the city of La Ceiba.  After the fatal attack first-aid was administered by medical personnel at the clinic of the Moravian Church in Agúas and then the injured were  transferred by plane to the city of La Ceiba.
It is worth pointing out that no government authorities have visited the medical center in person to inquire about the condition of the injured victims of this grave error committed by agents of the DEA that operate in the zone and whose presence was rejected by the Miskito communities following the incident.
Also, it was verified that Hilda Lezama Kenneth, whose legs were  injured  during the attack, was admitted into the Vicente D’Antoni Hospital on the 12th of May and released on the 17th since  her family could’t  pay  for her stay in the private hospital.
The COFADEH team along with various people who are part of the international accompaniment will head to Brus Laguna and Ahúas on Monday to document the testimony of the other victims of the attack suffered by various people at the hands of DEA agents from the United States.  It is now known that this team will also meet with journalists from the Associated Press (AP).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Car Bomb Explodes in Bogotá as Trade Accord Begins

By Austin Robles, WFP Colombia

When I left the United States to do human rights work in Colombia, I knew the risks of entering the country with the world’s longest ongoing guerrilla war . But on May 15th, as I was walking through the capital, I felt insecure for the first time when I saw television news reports that a car bomb had gone off two miles from my apartment, killing at least 2 and injuring 39.

Though I lived in Honduras in 2010, the year in which it became the world’s most violent country, I never felt that my life was in danger. In Colombia, however, the first car bomb in the capital in nearly a decade rattled me and showed me how exposed civilians are as a result of the armed conflict.

As I thought about my role supporting human rights processes in Colombia later that afternoon, I received a bulletin a partner organization released that day reporting targeted attacks against human rights activists in the first three months of 2012. In just 91 days, there were 64 attacks against human rights defenders, including 13 murders, 29 death threats, 1 disappearance, 17 attacks, 3 arbitrary arrests, and 1 case of sexual violence.

Reading this news in light of the bombing, it became all too clear that the insecurity I felt in the last few hours was a burden that social justice activists must bear daily. My mind also turned to the other major event of the day: the launch of the free trade agreement between the USA and Colombia.

The FTA stalled for six years before its passage due to concerns of Colombia’s abysmal human and labor rights record. It has been the most dangerous country for those defending workers’ rights for decades. According to Garry Leech, almost 75% of the world’s union leaders killed in the last 20 years were Colombian, and less than 5% of these killings resulted in a conviction.

The situation is complicated by Colombia’s internal conflict, which often draws multinational corporations into its fold. Ohio-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. plead guilty in 2007 to paying $1.7 million to terrorist paramilitary groups over eight years.  Chiquita is currently facing another lawsuit brought by thousands of family members of those killed by paramilitaries aided by Chiquita’s material support.

Similarly, Alabama-based Drummond Ltd., a coal mining business, is on trial for allegedly paying paramilitaries $1.5 million to murder union leaders in 2001. Ex-paramilitaries have testified that Drummond paid the terrorist group $100,000 monthly, and nearly 600 murders were ordered between 1995 and 2005.

Even when multinationals are not involved in the conflict, labor regulations are too lax and Colombian institutions too weak to provide substantive protections for workers. According to a labor rights association composed of Drummond workers, there have been 6,445 work-related accidents, resulting in 22 deaths, in Drummond’s 16 years operating in the country.

Health rights remain one of the most challenging issues. Michigan-based General Motors fired over 160 of its workers after they were disabled or contracted sicknesses on the job, but the company refused to recognize the injuries as work-related and assumed no financial responsibility.  These workers are no longer physically able to perform manual labor, and they and their families have no economic security. These were only some of the concerns of Members of Congress as they deliberated the FTA.

Authorities are still investigating whether the start of the FTA and the car bomb are related, and the FBI and Scotland Yard are reportedly assisting Colombian efforts.  Regardless of whether the link is proven or not, there can be no doubt that the FTA and political violence in Colombia are intertwined. Instead of leading to greater prosperity for all, the FTA will increase violations of workers’ rights in the country that already holds the world’s worst labor rights record, and will further human rights defenders’ feeling of insecurity that I have only just begun to experience.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lessons from Iraq in Honduras and the Attack against the Miskitos

By: OFRANEH (Organizacion Fraternal Negra Hondureña) 

Translation by Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team

For the original version in Spanish please visit OFRANEH’s blog.

The massacre perpetrated in the Patuca River in the early morning last Friday, May 11th, when a canoe from Barra Patuca was approaching the Miskita community, Ahuas, is an indicator of the violence to which  the Miskita people of Honduras are subjected. The attackers shot their machine guns from helicopters presumed to be from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), resulting in four deaths and four injured Miskito people.

Among the victims are Emerson Martínez, Chalo Brock Wood, Candelaria Tratt Nelson and Juana Banegas; the two women who passed away were pregnant. Furthermore, as a result of the attack, Melanio Eulopio, Hilda Lezama de Eulopio, Wilmer López and Lucio Adán are hospitalized in La Ceiba. 

The National Police Director, Commissioner General Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, in a press conference indicated that “while respecting human rights…there was an exchange of gunfire at the scene.” However, the versions of the hospitalized survivors indicate that they received an indiscriminate shower of fire from machine guns and grenades. 

The Miskito people of Honduras for years have found themselves between the crossfire of narco-traffickers and state “security” agents. Furthermore, from the prevailing feudalism in this region of the country, the Miskito people have been subjected to extreme poverty, at the mercy of the masters of narco-trafficking and the exploitation of the divers; of whom 1700 have been left injured and an enormous quantity dead. 

Lessons from Iraq and the War Against Drugs in Honduras

The New York Times in its May 5th edition published an article that stated in its first paragraph: “The United States military has brought lessons from the past decade of conflict to the drug war being fought in the wilderness of Miskito Indian country, constructing this remote base camp with little public notice but with the support of the Honduran government.”

The Iraqization of Honduras is more evident than ever: the induced failed state has a script fabricated in the U.S. Southern Command, having among other results, a Honduras submerged in violence to the point of occupying the denigrating first place in homicides in the world, in addition the unstoppable arms trafficking, an example of which is the Castaway Operation, promoted by the Department of Justice. 

The low intensity war and the implementation of terror are strategies that the United States has imposed far and wide across the globe, with the purpose of cementing its hegemony and subsequent plunder of resources. 

Noam Chomsky recently delivered a series of commentaries in which he points out that the failed consequences of the fight against drugs are intentional.

To date it has been 40 years of the same recipe, defining its failure more clearly every day.  However, [the recipe] on a military level authorizes the United States to fumigate, jail and even gun down innocents.

Moskitia and the MesoAmerican Corridor of Biofuels

Every day the social and economic conditions of the Miskito people worsen. From the prohibition of diving for lobster in the year 2013, to the accelerated degradation of their soils, to the destruction of their wetlands due to the construction of three dams in the Patuca River. 

As an accomplishment of the “glorious” joint operation of Honduras and the United States, a voluntary curfew in the Moskitia has been decreed: traveling at night is at their own risk for the Miskito people, who always had been accustomed to using their territory without fearing for their lives. 

The result of the high cost of living and the absence of job sources, for many years has been a heavy migration of the Miskitos to other areas of the coast and to the nation’s urban centers. The inexistence of a national border policy has maintained their isolation, even more so due to the high transportation costs in the zone. The violence that is being imposed will probably entail a mass exodus, which will serve to invade Moskitia with African palm.  

From the deposit of oil and natural gas that exist both in the continental shelf and the wetlands, to the expansion of the corridor of biofuels, and the construction of mega-dams in the rivers that run towards the coast, form part of the National Plan the Lobo administration is promoting. 

There even exists a call for a consultancy on the part of the PNUD, titled An Analysis and Appraisal  of the effects of the African palm in Moskitia, and another about the definition of the mechanisms for free and informed prior consent  by the Miskito people.  

The militarization and aggression against the Miskitos will facilitate the imposition of the Mesoamerican corridor of biofuels, which replaced the expired MesoAmerican Biological Corridor. It will limit any claim about the royalties of the hydrocarbons of the territory, which possibly in the future will be the American version of the Niger delta. 

To demand justice for the murders committed by the occupying forces, in a country where seven out of 100 murders are tried, more than a dream, it is a nightmare.

La Ceiba, Atlantida, May 15, 2012, OFRANEH

Freedom of Expression in Mexico Threatened as Journalists are Systematically Targeted

by Moravia de la O, WFP Mexico

This past Sunday, authorities found journalist Rene Orta Salgado’s body in the trunk of his car in the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos. The day before, his family had reported the former correspondent for the daily El Sol de Cuernavaca as missing, after the 43 year old did not make it home that night.

Ten days earlier, on World Press Freedom Day, the bodies of Gabriel Huge, Guillermo Luna, Esteban Rodriguez, and Irasema Becerra were recovered inside plastic bags in Boca del Rio, Veracruz. Huge and Luna were reporters for local news agency VeracruzNews and had only just returned to the state after leaving it in 2011 because of security concerns. Rodriguez was a cameraman for the local TV Azteca affiliate and a photographer for local newspaper Diario AZ. Becerra worked as an administrator at El Dictamen, another local daily.

On April 28, police found Regina Martinez, correspondent for the magazine Proceso, dead in the bathroom of her home in Xalapa, Veracruz. She had been beaten and choked to death. Martinez had a long and respected career as an investigative reporter whose work chronicled the rising wave of crime, drug trafficking, and corruption in the state of Veracruz.

Unfortunately, these deaths are nothing new in Mexico where the human rights crisis brought on by the U.S.-backed military strategy to counter drug trafficking has hit members of the media particularly hard. In 2011 alone, 10 journalists were killed in Mexico, prompting the International Press Institute to label the country as the deadliest place in the world to practice journalism. The state of Veracruz in particular, where in the last 12 months at least 9 media members have been killed, is number one in the country in aggressions against reporters.

Since 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon began this so-called drug war, nearly 45 members of the media have been killed and over 500 complaints of human rights violations against journalists have been filed with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH in Spanish). Based on this, the CNDH has identified a systematic pattern of violations against journalists embodied in the state’s failure to prevent aggressions against the press and to procure justice when these aggressions do happen.

In fact, the state is not only unable and unwilling to guarantee the lives of journalists as they go about their profession, but in the majority of cases security forces are behind these attacks against the press. According to a soon-to-be-released report by Article 19, an international watchdog organization that seeks to ensure freedom of expression around the world, state actors are responsible for one in every three assaults against members of the media in Mexico. Since 2007, the U.S. government has allocated over $1.6 billion USD in funding to support Mexico’s assault against organized criminal groups through the Merida Initiative. A significant portion of these funds have gone to equipping and training the very security forces responsible for these attacks against the media.

And as the CNDH found, even when the authorities are not directly responsible for these attacks, they are in collusion with organized crime and fail to investigate transgression against the media. This is par for the course in Mexico, where 98% of crimes remain in impunity.

Fortunately, the Mexican Congress took steps on April 30, 2012 to protect journalists by unanimously passing the Law for a Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. The new law creates a framework for local and federal authorities to cooperate in the implementation of protective measures for human rights defenders and journalists whose work puts them at risk.

However, the overall context of impunity and the systematic targeting of the members of the press in Mexico continue to be particularly worrisome as more and more media outlets censor themselves in order to avoid attacks. As Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, recently stated: “the recent killing of four press workers in Veracruz underscores the dire need for concrete steps to be taken to guarantee the safety of journalists and put an end to impunity.” Democracies need a vibrant public dialogue spurred on by the media. Thus, the context in Mexico represents an existential threat to freedom of expression and, by extension, democracy.

Given this reality, the U.S. government needs to end all Merida Initiative and military funding to Mexico immediately. In addition, the Obama administration must pressure the Mexican state to ensure that freedom of expression in the country is guaranteed and that mechanisms exist and are implemented to allow journalists to exercise their profession without having to fear for their lives.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Verification Mission: Illicit Coca Crops Endangering Collective Land Rights

By Austin Robles, WFP Colombia

This is the final installment of Witness’s February trip to Urabá (find links to past posts here and here). The subject I’ll be discussing is the large presence of illicit coca crops allegedly grown by paramilitaries along the Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó river basins and the risk they pose to communities.

Community members and Colombian organizations had long warned local government officials that illegal coca crops were being grown near some of the Humanitarian and Biodiversity Zones we visited, but their testimonies were routinely dismissed because the Army’s 17th Brigade, which patrols the area, contested their claims. One objective of our verification commission was to have international organizations verify the existence of these crops so they could no longer be denied.

While there, my team members and I saw around a dozen acres of coca crops near the communities’ collective territories. Some were recently planted but others were mature and yielding leaves that will likely be processed into cocaine and exported to the United States. The coca leaf itself is not a drug, but alongside these crops were labs in which the crushed coca leaves are mixed with cement and soaked in gasoline, battery acid, and other chemicals and converted into coca paste, which is later crystallized to form cocaine. These crops are maintained by illegal paramilitary groups operating in the area and pose three main risks to the communities’ security.

First, the presence of armed actors throws the communities into the middle of a conflict in which guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the U.S.-backed Colombian armed forces accuse the civilian population of collaborating with their respective enemies, leading to violence.

Second, the heavily militarized area can only be entered if people pass through three or four military and police checkpoints. Civilian residents are often prohibited from bringing in vital supplies, including gasoline to power their generators and necessary bulk foods for the communities, facing allegations of aiding illegal armed groups. This threatens the communities’ food sovereignty and ability to transport goods. At the same time, the labs we saw had barrels of cement, gasoline, and other chemicals, suggesting complicity between the military and narcotraffickers at checkpoints.

Third, Colombian law allows government seizure of any land used to cultivate illicit crops. The civilian communities unanimously denounce the presence of illicit crops in their territories, but there is little they can do without government involvement. Having been displaced many times already and finally engaging in the process of land restitution, they are once again at risk of having to abandon their homes to find new territory. If the government recognizes the presence of these crops and decides to carry out U.S.-backed fumigation with planes to destroy the crops, as is typical, the chemicals may pollute the land and the river, and the communities could again face displacement.

In order to resolve this very complicated situation, the crops will need to be eradicated, which should be done manually, in consultation with the local communities, to avoid environmental damage and further harm to the communities. More vitally, the paramilitary apparatus needs to be dismantled so that these civilian communities can live without being harassed by either legal or illegal forces.

The Colombian government is using this region as a pilot project for land restitution in a country where 10% of the population is displaced. This has been supported by the U.S. government. The Victims and Land Restitution Law has been a powerful initiative of President Santos to bestow titling rights and documentation of ancestral territory. However, without tackling the underlying issues of criminality and paramilitary power that continue to plague the area, the project is destined for failure.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Estamos Hasta la Madre! Voices from Mexico’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity

By Witness for Peace Mexico Team 

“I’ve been looking for my son for a year and one month! Do those of you who haven’t lost a child know the pain you feel when you lose a child!? Of course you don’t!”

These were some of the painful words shared at the First National Gathering of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD by its Spanish initials), which was held in Cuernavaca Mexico on April 21-22nd. The movement had just marked its one year anniversary earlier in the month. It was founded by nationally recognized author and poet, Javier Sicilia, who became a grieving parent in March 2011 when his son along with five of his friends and another woman were brutally murdered and found in the trunk of a car. Since founding the MPJD, Sicilia has united drug war victims across the country. Many have loved ones who were disappeared or murdered in the last few years.

As a result of the Movement’s efforts, names and faces have been given to the estimated 60,000 people who have been killed since the war against organized crime was launched in December of 2006. Marches, caravans, and dialogues with authorities, including President Felipe Calderon, have all been tactics employed by the nascent movement.

At the gathering in Cuernavaca, over 150 members and supporters discussed the current state of the country. In addition, the two days were spent working to develop strategies for the MPJD’s future as Mexico’s most prominent voice speaking out against the drug war violence, the militarized approach on the part of the Mexican government, and the role of the United States in terms of arms trafficking, drug consumption, and money laundering.

Over the course of the two-day gathering, the Witness for Peace Mexico Team had a chance to listen to and document the personal testimonies of those directly affected by the violence. Interviews were also conducted with other concerned citizens who make up the Movement for Peace as well.

You can listen to the voices of the people who make up the Movement in the following interviews and testimonies:

In English:
In Spanish with English transcription:
  • Interview with Araceli Rodriguez, mother of a federal policeman who was disappeared in the state of Michoacan 
  • Interview with Margarita Lopez, mother of a young woman who was disappeared near the city of Oaxaca 
  • Interview with Ricardo Bermeo Padilla, a sociologist and professor from the state of Zacatecas who describes the links between U.S. policies and their impacts in Mexico as well as Colombia
  • Testimonies 1, 2, 3 and 4 from the closing plenary session. During the session, discussion and debate arose amongst personal testimonies from those who have lost someone in the generalized violence of the country. One point of debate was the motto of the movement “Estamos hasta la madre!” which is a much stronger way of saying “We’ve had it up to here!” Some women in attendance considered the slogan to be offensive towards women and offered alternative phrases. Another point of debate was the issue of dialoging with the government authorities or not. In testimonies 1-4 we have the voices and opinions of those people involved in the Movement for Peace, including parents still searching for their disappeared children. 
To see the full set of interviews and testimonies, please click here. Some files are in English, others are in Spanish with accompanying English transcripts in the file’s description section.

For more stories and photos from the gathering, see this earlier blog from the Mexico Team.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

First trade union member killed since FTA implementation announced

by WFP Colombia

The packed room of port workers stood in silent commemoration of Daniel Aguirre, a man who dedicated his life to the struggle of the sugar cane cutters of Valle del Cauca, Colombia. As the salty breezes from the Pacific coast filled the room and ships that carry 60 percent of Colombia’s commerce through the port of Buenaventura drifted by, the port workers called out in unison: Daniel Aguirre- Presente, Presente, Presente! Evoking Daniel´s name and honoring his life´s work the morning after his murder at the Public Hearing on labor formalization that was held in Buenaventura on April 28th was both pertinent and meaningful as the death of this trade union member highlights Colombia’s continuing labor rights violations in the wake of Obama´s assurance of full compliance with the Labor Action Plan.

Daniel Aguirre, age 35, father of 3 young girls, was a founding member of Sinalcorteros, a union of sugar cane cutters, and was a leader in the massive 2008 cane cutters' strike that set a precedent for the labor movement in the region. Daniel is the first trade union member killed since President Obama announced at the Summit of the Americas that the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia will take place May 15th, implementation that was contingent on the fulfillment of commitments in the Labor Action Plan to address serious issues regarding workers´ rights, violence and impunity.

Daniel Aguirre is the seventh trade union member killed this year alone in Colombia (the fourth in Valle del Cauca). This follows thirty union member deaths in 2011, even though in April of that same year the Labor Action Plan was signed into agreement. Despite the promises of this document to address all the intimidations, abuses and murders faced by the Colombian labor movement, violence and widespread impunity remain. Colombia is still the deadliest country in the world to be a trade union member, and there is still 95 percent impunity for cases of violence against trade unionists.

The port workers in Buenaventura are equally aware that the promises in the Labor Action Plan have fallen short of becoming a reality. While the Labor Action Plan promised to eliminate the misuse of sham cooperatives and other forms of intermediation in the hiring process which deny workers their rights as defined by the Colombian labor code, including the right to collective bargaining, these indirect forms of employment are not the exception, but rather the rule: in 2009, nearly 1.4 million workers were part of sham cooperatives, compared to 820,000 workers in a union and only 253,000 (1%) covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

This situation is particularly severe in the ports of Buenaventura, where 97 percent of the 6,000 workers do not have direct contracts or retirement, overtime and health benefits. Despite helping to facilitate the flow of billions of dollars through the port on a daily basis, the prevailing economic system ensures that the workers and their community do not see a fair share of the economic activity that goes through their hands.

We express our deep solidarity with and support of the workers who are raising their voices to demand their fundamental rights to life and dignified work. We will continue to pressure the government of the United States demanding that the Free Trade Agreement is not implemented until the promises of the Labor Action Plan are fulfilled, and that the memory of Daniel Aguirre and the voices of the port workers are honored.