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April 14, 2008


April 13, 2008

Bolivia OKs Indigenous Autonomies

The Bolivian government ratified its recognition of indigenous autonomies, in accordance with a November 2007 ruling and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, vice president Alvaro Garcia said here.

According to the government official, the country's new political Constitution guarantees Bolivian native people the right to free determination, self-governing and to manage their own financial resources.

Garcia told members of the Eastern Bolivia Indigenous People Confederation that the Evo Morales government will outline mechanisms to transfer management resources to the indigenous communities.

There is no need to hold a referendum on the indigenous autonomies, because they are already legal. They just need to be implemented, the Vice President claimed.

Garcia questioned the autonomy referendums being promoted by authorities from the departments of Benu, Pando, Santa cruz and Tarija, and dubbed such attempts as divisive.

The official said that unlike indigenous autonomies, which do not need of a referendum to become legal, department autonomies must be legally voted upon by the people.

He also criticized Santa Cruz authorities for having launched a campaign threatening to jail citizens who refuse to vote in the May 4 polls.

Fidel Castro: Bush, Millionaires, Consumption and Under-Consumption

Fidel Castro warned that if the empire managed to secure control of Cuba again, not one of the higher institutions created by the Revolution would remain to guarantee young people this right.

"It would send most young people to the countryside, to cut sugarcane. It is a declared policy. It would attempt to steal the artistic and scientific talents Cuba has nurtured, as it has done in other countries in our hemisphere," the leader of the Cuban Revolution warned in his reflection: "Bush, Millionaires, Consumption and Under-Consumption," released here.

He stressed that "having more than 70,000 specialists in general comprehensive medicine and hundreds of thousands of other professionals, helping others, the poorest included, and exporting these services, is a sin of which a Third World country cannot be forgiven.

Ultimately, we have held our ground in spite of the blockade, their aggressions and their brutal acts of terrorism for nearly half a century.

Prensa Latina is posting below the full text of Fidel Castro´s reflection.

Reflections by comrade Fidel


No one requires additional proof of the growing hatred that drives the slaughter in Iraq, a country where 95 percent of the population is Muslim —of these, over 60 percent are Shiites and the remainder Sunnis—or the killings in Afghanistan, where over 99 percent of the population is also Muslim —80 percent Sunni and the remainder Shiite. The two nations are also made up of nationalities and ethnic groups of diverse origins and locations.

In addition to U.S. soldiers, troops from nearly all European states are based in Afghanistan, including the French reinforcements sent by Sarkozy.

The Russians didn’t jump onto the war's bandwagon; far too much of their blood was spilt there, and the invasion's political cost was incalculable. It is likely that citizens of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia and the Ukraine perished on Afghan soil fighting as Soviet soldiers. Today, as former Soviet republics, these states are part of or aspire to join NATO.

Another significant detail is the fact that the struggle against heroin traffic goes unmentioned in a country where war has turned poppy growers into the only people capable of satisfying the country's medical demand of opium and, in addition to this, of supplying countless people with the drug.

The Russian president notes that NATO has grown from 16 to 28 members. Bush declares he looked into the eyes of his Russian counterpart and read his thoughts —that’s what he uses the teleprompter for— but he didn’t say whether it was written in English or Russian.

Over 500 billion dollars were siphoned out of Russia through capitalist Western European countries, a significant part of which was invested in highly profitable companies or luxury homes. The rest was deposited in U.S. banks, with the government’s consent. It was completely illegal and immoral. Before its collapse, the USSR was the victim of acts of sabotage, such as the detonation of a Siberian gas pipeline, using devices run with U.S. software, the empire's Trojan horse. The USSR then fell apart from within before Reagan, as has been demonstrated.

I cannot help but recall the Monday of April 3rd, when I laid down the voluminous international news bulletin and opened that day's Granma edition to distract myself a while. I began by perusing the last page. What a surprise! Juan Varela offered a nearly flawless description of the differences between the 24-hour roadside cafeteria and gas station center of Aguada de Pasajeros, in the province of Cienfuegos, and Nueva Paz, in the province of La Habana. In the first, the battle, which was and is still being fought, has for now been won. In the second, though the battle is being waged, victory has not yet been attained.

What does Juan Varela tell us? “The peddlers arrive from different places; they operate as some sort of association and employ a clever warning system. Using signals, they alert each other of the presence of law enforcement or state officials. Showing feline stealth, in a few minutes they can dismantle their stage of operations and transport the goods to a previously agreed to location. There, they await the signal announcing that the coast is clear".

Where do the goods sold by this fifth column in Nueva Paz come from? They are stolen from factories, means of transportation, warehouse or distribution facilities. Those who extol egoism and oppose all forms of restrictions by the State, which they consider meddlesome, will never be capable of building a solid and lasting society, a society which, today, thanks to the development of the productive forces, can only be the fruit of education and conscience, of values which must be sown and cultivated.

Thinking is not forbidden. Neither is dreaming. But thinking does not harm to anyone, while dreaming can doom an entire country and even more than that: the human species itself. The development of productive forces by science has been accompanied by the parallel development of destructive forces. Can anyone dispute this?

Turning the Granma's page that same day, I came across the section titled "Chasing the News", written by columnist Elson Concepción Pérez. The article, which I quote, is priceless:

“Not one article in the mainstream press refers to the social differences, the unemployment, the inflation and the other evils that arrived with capitalism.

"On the Internet, however, you can see the other side of the coin: a group of 300 Romanians —the richest in the country—, have accumulated more than US $33 billion, which, according to the ‘Top 300’ section of the weekly magazine Capital, is equivalent to 27 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

“While those living below the poverty line are in the millions, the Eastern European nation has one citizen with a fortune calculated at between US $3.1 and $3.3 billion. His name is Dinu Patriciu, and he recently sold a part of the Rompetrol oil company to Kazakhstan’s Kazmunaigaz group for $2.7 billion euros.” Nearly 4 billion dollars.

“Dinu dethroned (…) Losif Constantin Dragan, who fell to seventh place with a fortune of between US $1.5 and $1.6 billion, according to the publication.

“Gigi Becali, owner of the Steaua Soccer Club, is now in second place with a fortune of at least US $2.8 billion, accumulated primarily in the real estate industry.

“Former tennis player and businessman Ion Tiriac, the second richest Romanian in 2006, with interests in banking, insurance and automobiles, is now third with a fortune of over US $2.2 billion.”

Thus reports Elson, in detailed fashion, in this section of Granma.

Let us not forget that Romania was a socialist country with a fairly well developed oil and petrochemical industry, blessed with a fertile soil and a climate favorable to the production of protein and calorie-rich foods, to name but a few sectors.

As in Cuba, there were those with theories about easy access to consumer goods: imperial ears and eyes hungry for these dreams.

Another threat posed by developed capitalism is climate change. An AFP cable reports on the declarations of James Hansen, NASA’s chief climate expert. Created by Eisenhower on July 29, 1958, NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is an institution that has been decisive in the consolidation of the United States’ current level of power.

"We've already reached the dangerous level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," James Hansen, 67, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told AFP here.

"But there are ways to solve the problem" of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which Hansen said has reached the "tipping point" of 385 parts per million.

“(…) The major obstacle to saving the planet from its inhabitants is not technology, insisted Hansen, named one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2006 by Time magazine.”

"(…) What's become clear to me in the past several years is that both the executive branch and the legislative branch are strongly influenced by special fossil fuel interests," he said (…).

"(...) The industry is misleading the public and policy makers about the cause of climate change. And that is analogous to what the cigarette manufacturers did. They knew smoking caused cancer, but they hired scientists who said that was not the case."

“(…) Last year Hansen testified before the U.S. Congress that "interference with communication of science to the public has been greater during the current administration than at any time in my career."

“Government public relations officials, he said, filter the facts in science reports to reduce 'concern about the relation of climate change to human-made greenhouse gas emissions.’"

“(….) The policy makers, 'the people who need to know are ignorant of the actual status of the matter, and the gravity of the matter, and most important, the urgency of the matter,’ he charged.”

Another important fact I want to underscore is this: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a bulwark of the developed capitalist system imposed on humanity, possesses 3,217 tons of gold.

The United States, which controls 17 percent of the votes —a privilege granted the superpower after the conclusion of World War II— can veto any decision, even if all other members of the Fund have approved it.

The institution, burdened by an oversized bureaucracy, decided to sell off 403.3 tons of gold, to function "more efficiently". The real reason for this is that it has lost all its customers because of the unfair conditions it imposes on its loans. The 403.3 tons of gold, at the current price, are equivalent to 12 billion dollars. This is a paltry sum: the U.S. government forces the same amount into circulation, to save its banks, in a matter of hours.

The empire’s colossal disinformation apparatus which, among other things, referred to my message to intellectuals claimed that Fidel was attacking the use of computers, portraying me as someone detached from reality.

During his closing remarks at the UNEAC Congress, Minister of Culture and prestigious intellectual Abel Prieto brilliantly replied to the intrigue, invoking the more than 600 Computer Youth Clubs that have been opened across Cuba in the last 20 years, where over 200,000 Cubans complete computer sciences training programs every year.

He also referred to the University of Information Sciences, visited by Congress participants, where over 1,600 well-trained engineers graduate in the specialty every year, and the investment made, during the Special Period, to undertake the nearly impossible project of reconstructing the Cubanacan Art Schools.

The persuasive, realistic and cogent words of Esteban Lazo, a black, white-haired man with a voice that resounds with his 64 years of experience, an exceptional witness to these processes having been the Party's First Secretary in Havana and other provinces before that, gave Abel's arguments even more strength.

If the empire managed to secure control of Cuba again, not one of these higher institutions created by the Revolution would remain to guarantee young people this right. It would send most young people to the countryside, to cut sugarcane. It is a declared policy.

It would attempt to steal the artistic and scientific talents Cuba has nurtured, as it has done in other countries in our hemisphere. Having more than 70,000 specialists in general comprehensive medicine and hundreds of thousands of other professionals, helping others, the poorest included, and exporting these services, is a sin of which a Third World country cannot be forgiven.

Ultimately, we have held our ground in spite of the blockade, their aggressions and their brutal acts of terrorism for nearly half a century.

I had the privilege of listening to important speeches, delivered by invitees from Latin America and other countries, at the 7th Hemispheric Meeting for the Struggle against FTAs and the Integration of Peoples. I thank them for their words of solidarity and join in their causes, which they defend with so much talent and courage. Building awareness and mobilizing the people politically is indeed a lofty slogan!

Fidel Castro Ruz

April 10, 2008

7:06 p.m.

Sweden Warned of US Cuba Scheme

Stockholm, Apr 12

The Swedish government was warned of new pressures by the United States on European Union (EU) countries to join the growing hostility against Cuba.

The warning was contained in a letter by Tomas Wilden, member of the Swedish-Cuba Association, to Per Norstrom and Hanna Lambert, deputy director and official, respectively, of the Swedish Foreign Ministry´s Americas desk.

The text called attention to the tour of different European countries by Caleb McCarry, US State Department Cuba Transition Coordinator.

The purpose of his tour is to force European leaders to reject lifting measures adopted by the EU against Cuba in 2003, a subject that will be analyzed in June by the continental organization, the letter warned.

Elimination of the EU position would mean an improvement of relations with the Island, Wilson adds.

The letter expresses amazement that a foreign power like the United States considers the social system in Cuba unacceptable and assumes the right to threaten, attack, blockade and use violence to work against it.

It adds that the Washington plan against Cuba has a secret section that "can only refer to none other than military actions."

Widen also presides the Swedish committee for the freedom of the Five Cuban anti-terrorists jailed in the United States.

April 12, 2008

Raul Castro to let renters own their homes

In a major change in Cuba's state-controlled system, Raul Castro is allowing thousands of renters to gain title to their homes, AP is reporting. It's his first formal decree since he succeeded his brother Fidel as president in February.

Cubans — especially military families, sugar workers, construction workers, teachers and doctors — will be able to pass their homes or apartments to family members.

No word yet from Cuba's official paper, Granma (English, Spanish).

It's the latest in a series of moves by Castro to relax the restrictions Fidel instituted when he came to power nearly 50 years ago.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that Castro had scrapped limits on how much Cubans can now earn.

Intellectuals to Lead Struggle for Peace

Intellectuals from Latin America and Europe arrived in Caracas to attend a seminar on peace and sovereignty and to defend people from attacks by corporate media.

Argentinian writer and journalist Stella Calloni said she came to Caracas to rescue words from those who use it to kill for the world needs justice, brotherhoods and solidarity.

Calloni expressed concern on the ways that corporate media misinform to destabilize nations when the US abrogates the right to launch preemptive attacks against any country.

Alternative Nobel Peace Award Marton Almada called to attract the youth and make them actors of the struggle for social justice at countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Almada hopes his country, Paraguay, soon join the countries that defend their sovereignty and self-determination from an imperialism "increasingly decadent, aggressive and dangerous."

He added that the seminar "will plan strategies to annul campaigns ran through the media which he finger points as first step in an attack to a country, and mentions as example the experiences of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mexican John Saxe Fernandez spoke on the need to close the US military bases around the world as inexcusable example of colonization.

The goal is to prevent the governments at countries the US manipulate to violate the sovereignty of other peoples like Colombia's recent military attack on Ecuador.

Even Republicans Favor Stalling Colombia Deal

The Bush administration's propaganda arm -- which operates under the misnomer: White House Communications office -- is pushing the fantasy that Thursday's House vote to delay action on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement was "trade pandering."

But what does former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican with a long record of backing free trade pacts and a basic sympathy with the Colombia FTA say?

"The Colombian free-trade agreement faces stiff opposition because many in Congress believe the Colombian government has not taken sufficient measures to ensure the safety and security of its workers. This opposition could derail its passage this year, setting a negative precedent for the Colombia FTA, as well as for the Panamanian and South Korean free trade agreements," says Lugar.

Are these belief's irrational?

Lugar doesn't seem to think so.

"I ask President Bush to work with the Colombian Government to show tangible progress regarding labor practices in Colombia," says the Republican senator. "Without proof in this regard the significant economic and political benefits of the FTA with Colombia could be jeopardized."

In the House, six Republicans broke with their party leadership -- and the White House -- in order to pander to workers in the U.S. and Colombia, farm, environmental and human rights groups that say the Colombia FTA is the wrong deal at the wrong time.

Along with the 218 Democrats who voted against what is officially referred to as "the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement," the six Republicans who voted "no" were: Alabamans Bob Aderholt and Mike Rogers, Virginian Virgil Goode, North Carolinians Robin Hayes and Walter Jones and Texan Ron Paul.

Does the White House think these Republicans were pandering?

Does the White House think that Richard Lugar does not know what he is talking about?

Or is the White House Propaganda, er, Communications office just spinning?

Chiapas - Mexico's Tibet

by Julie Webb-Pullman

On 10 April, a petition signed by more than 30 New Zealanders was delivered to the Mexican Ambassador to New Zealand, Angélica Arce, declaiming ongoing human rights abuses of indigenous Mexicans, impunity for the perpetrators, and marking the 89th anniversary of the assassination of Mexican indigenous revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, whose fight for justice for indigenous Mexicans still continues.

The petition demanded the release of political prisoners participating in hunger strikes in Chiapas and Tabasco, the security and protection of those released since the hunger strike began, and the cessation of human rights abuses and miscarriages of justice.

The recent hunger strike has highlighted the paucity of justice for poor and indigenous campesinos in Chiapas. The stories of the protesters are a litany of arbitrary detentions (without an arrest warrant), fabricated charges, confessions obtained under torture, and imprisonment for crimes not committed. (see http://www.narconews.com/Issue52/article3048.html) As all the protesters were members of social organizations, the hunger strike also dramatized the use of torture and other human rights abuses to silence free speech and social dissent.

Unfortunately, such abuses also occur in other heavily indigenous southern states of Mexico, including Guerrero and Oaxaca, where on Tuesday two community journalists, Teresa Bautista Merino and Felicitas Martínez Sánchez, were murdered. Both women worked with the radio station "The Voice That Breaks the Silence" (La Voz Que Rompe El Silencio), and were ambushed while on their way to Oaxaca city to participate in the State Forum for the Defense of the Rights of the Peoples of Oaxaca, where they were to co-ordinate the working group for Community and Alternative Communication: Community Radio, Video, Press, and Internet.

Already several international organisations such as The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, Article 19, and Reporters Without Borders are calling for the punishment of all those responsible for the murder of these journalists, the guaranteed safety of the three surviving victims of the attack, and an end to the impunity that allows the ongoing repression, disappearances, and murders of journalists and mediamakers in general, which makes Mexico the most dangerous country for journalists in the Americas.

Maybe if Mexico was hosting the Olympics, more people might notice, or even care. Religious repression is not confined to Tibet, as local Mexican Roman Catholic organisations such as The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) are well aware - they also have been demanding an end to the rampant injustices and impunity in Chiapas and elsewhere, including against Catholics. The Tres Cruces case, for instance, involves Zacario Hernandez Hernandez, the indigenous prisoner who initiated the hunger strike on February 12, and three other Tzotziles from Chamula, who in 2003 were accused of murder, arrested and had been confined in the state's El Amate prison ever since. Zacario is a catechist from San Juan Chamula municipality and a member of Pueblo Creyente (Believing People), a Catholic organization in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Frayba has suggested that Zacario was falsely accused of the crimes because he was affecting the interests of local political bosses by practicing the Catholic religion as a catechist.

On February 19, approximately ten thousand Catholics belonging to Pueblo Creyente marched through the streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Singing, carrying banners and accompanied by their priests and bishops, they demanded the release of Zacario Hernández Hernández and the three others imprisoned in the Tres Cruces case. Pueblo Creyente stated "they have suffered a judicial process full of falsities, injustices and corruption."

The Voice of El Amate (an organization of political prisoners confined in the El Amate prison) joined in the hunger strike at the end of February. From there, the hunger strike and partial fast spread to 3 Chiapas prisons (Cereso 5, Cereso 14 and Cereso 17) and Tacotalpa in Tabasco, where two Zapatista political prisoners from Chiapas are incarcerated.

In all, a total of 46 political prisoners and members of 5 organizations participated in the protest, and members of the Other Campaign in Chiapas, relatives of the prisoners, and members of various social organizations set up an encampment on the front steps of the government palace in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, in support of the hunger strike.

Following increasing local, national and international attention, Zacario Hernandez Hernandez was finally released from prison on March 17, after 35 days without food. On March 30 and 31, the government released another 29 of those participating in the protest. Upon their release, many of the hunger strikers joined the Tuxtla encampment in support of the 17 who still remain in prison.

The New Zealand petition demanded that the Mexican Government free all of the political prisoners still confined in Ceresos 5 and 14 in Chiapas and the two more in Tacotalpa, Tabasco. Still imprisoned in Cereso 5 are: Tiburcio Gomez Perez, Diego Rodriguez Hernandez, Agustin Rodriguez Jimenez, Antonio Diaz Perez, Miguel Diaz Lopez, Juan Díaz Lopez, Nicolas Perez Nuñez. In Cereso 14: Alberto Patistan Gomez, Julio Cesar Perez Ruiz, Marcelino Días gonzalez, Jose Perez Perez, Jesús Lopez Lopez, Maria Delia Perez Arizmendi, Antonio Gomez Días and Miguel Gomez Gomez. In Tacotalpa, Tabasco: Angel Concepción Perez Gutierrez and Francisco Perez Vazquez.

Mexican Ambassador to New Zealand Angélica Arce on Friday advised the petitioners that their concerns will be forwarded to the Mexican authorities "As we do not currently have any detailed information about the specific cases to which you refer, we shall write to the appropriate officials in the hope of clarifying the situation," she added.

One can only hope that the murders of Teresa Bautista Merino and Felicitas Martínez Sánchez will also be 'clarified', and that not only Winston Peters, but all New Zealanders, will put as much pressure on our other most recent free-trade partner as they have on China, to extend the enjoyment of basic human rights, especially justice, to all of their citizens.

April 11, 2008

Two Triqui Community Radio Reporters Assassinated

Lawlessness, Assassination and Impunity in Oaxaca

By Nancy Davies
April 11, 2008

The Triqui indigenous community of San Juan Copala, which declared autonomy on January 21, 2007, has suffered the bitter loss of two young women. Felicitas Martinez, age 20, and Teresa Bautista, age 24, were traveling in a rural part of Oaxaca state on route to the statewide meeting “For the Defense of the Rights of the Peoples of Oaxaca,” when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle late Monday. The gunfire killed the two women, and wounded three others in the vehicle, a man and wife and their three-year-old child, the Oaxaca attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The office said the assailants used high-powered assault rifles in what it described as an ambush. No arrests have been made. And to make a point: in Oaxaca, daily assassinations occur of organized crime members, narco-traffickers, wealthy people, business people, drug dealers, indigenous people, of police and military officials, plus local and international reporters. Arrests are never made. Crimes are never solved. The daily newspaper prints photos of corpses, newly discovered or recently excavated, and that’s that.

Despite repeated condemnations by human rights groups within the state, nationally and internationally, the government response is rhetorical. Instead, the state of Oaxaca is highly militarized. While I sit at my computer in the morning I hear the helicopters buzzing overhead, with armed troopers hanging out the doors – a bit of theater which serves only to intimidate. The most publicized clean-up attempt thus far has been to rotate military and police units in an effort to break their allegiances with organized crime.

The two assassinated women worked for a community radio station called “The Voice that Breaks the Silence” in San Juan Copala where activists in January of 2007 declared San Juan Copala an autonomous municipality in a challenge to state officials. This declaration included the local Triqui movement united for struggle, MULT, which had been corrupted by the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials). The new Triqui municipality, through its organization called MULTI (the Independent United Triqui Movement for Struggle), called for union of all Triquis and implicitly rejected the PRI and government paramilitary, thus breaking their hegemonic control in the region.

The government of San Juan Copala employs the traditional indigenous practice of usos y costumbres with a council of elders and open decisions by the majority in assemblies. The autonomous community came about as an act of rebellion against caciques and their hired guns, said to be responsible for killing more than 60 Triquis in the Mixteco Baja, twelve of which deaths occurred in 2006 during the teachers popular movement.

The San Juan Copala municipality unified San Juan Copala, Yoxoyuzi, Santa Cruz Tilaza, Guadalupe Tilaza, Tierra Blanca, Paraje Pérez, El Carrizal, Sabana, Yerba Santa, San Miguel Copala, Yutazani, Unión de los Angeles, Río Metates, Río Lagarto, Cerro Pájaro and Cerro Cabeza, among others, for a total of about 15,000 indigenous people. The total Triqui population is about 24,000.

The work of Felícitas Martinez and Teresa Bautista, who broadcast on the frequency 94.9 FM, validated the autonomy of San Juan Copala, as does the creation of community radios all over the state. These local radio stations, whose efforts provide meaningful information, are frequently shot up or burned down. The two MULTI broadcasters were scheduled to participate in an indigenous statewide meeting entitled “Meeting for the Defense of the Peoples of Oaxaca” in a worktable dealing specifically with community radio. They left the radio station at 1:00 in the afternoon of April 7, 2008 to travel to Oaxaca.

Omar Esparza of the human rights group, Working Together Center for Community Support, described the assassinated women by saying that they “had gone out to report, to tape people. They were Indian reporters.”

On April 9 and 10, 2008, that indigenous statewide meeting took place in the Hotel Magisterio (the Teachers Union Hotel, site of many past meetings for the social movement in Oaxaca) “to strengthen our struggles and defend in an effective manner our rights, we convoke this state Meeting.” (website OaxacaLibre. com). The worktables discussed the following themes:

1. Community and alternative communication; community radio, video, press and internet.
2. Community defense of natural resources: land, water, biodiversity, air, woods, electricity and oil.
3. Repression of human and constitutional rights, freedom for political prisoners; cancellation of arrest orders and presentation alive of the disappeared.
4. Organization and social movement in Oaxaca, and construction of an alternative organization by the people and for the people.

The meeting participants devoted a moment of silence to the assassinated women. About 200 representatives of 43 indigenous organizations were present, including reporters, human rights groups, and community authorities from around Oaxaca. Also in attendance were national observers from Puebla, Veracruz, Mexico DF and Chiapas, as well as international observers from the Basque Country, Canada, the United States, Spain, France and Italy.

The speakers denounced the climate of repression, the militarization and constant violence in the state in violation of human rights. The community authorities of Yosotatu, a small Mixteca town, made public the campaign of repression against them, which has put several of their townspeople in jail and also caused the deaths of several land owners. The most recent is the assassination of Plácido Lopez Castro, whose killers have not been arrested. (What a surprise.)

The representatives of the community of Xanica denounced the imprisonment of three of their companions and the privatization of the River Copalita. The goal of the privatization is to provide water for the mega-tourist project, Bahías de Huatulco on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. Further, several representatives of communities in the Isthmus de Tehuantepec denounced the taking of lands by the Spanish businesses constructing the wind electricity generators. The community spokespersons said that threats and deceit has been used and now more than 3,000 hectares have been occupied. Recently, 73 campesinos from the Ejido La Venta were accused by the Federal Electric Commission of the crime of defending their lands for common use.

The meeting proclaimed that this latest assassination, of the Triqui women, will not go unpunished, and there will be an exhaustive investigation on the part of the Special Commission for Crimes against Journalists by the federal attorney general’s office (PGR). At the same time the forum demanded that the government of Ulises Ruiz halt its campaign of hostilities against San Juan Copala. It called for the liberation of the political prisoners Pedro Castillo Aragon, Flavio Sosa, Miguel Angel Garcia, Adan Mejía, Victor Hugo Martinez Toledo, Miguel Juan Hilaria,Roberto Cardenas Rosas, Reynaldo Martinez Ramírez, Juliantino Martínez Garcia, and of those of Yosotatu, Guevea de Humbolt, Xanica, San Blas Atempa among others.

The seventeen Oaxaca indigenous groups participating, joined by two from Mexico, were: Municipal Authorities of San Pedro Yosutatu, Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala, Indian Organizations for the Oaxaca Human Rights (OIDHO), Union of indigenous Communities of the North Zone of the Isthmus (Ucizoni), Autonomous Magonista Collective (Cama), Center of Community Aid Working Together (Cactus), Magonista Zapatista Alliance (AMZ), Committee of Citizen Defense (Codeci), Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Rights of Santiago Xanica (Codedi-Xanica), Union of Indigenous Organizations of the Chinantla (Unorinchi) Council of Indigenous Organizations and Products of Oaxaca AC (COIPAC), Indigenous Zapatista Agrarian Movement (MAIZ), Front of the Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of the Land, Network of Community Radios of the Southeast, Solidarity Group La Venta, Center of Studies of the Region Cuicateca Tepeuxila, Commonwealth of San Juan Jaltepec Yaveo, Mexican Alliance for Auto-determination of the People; from Mexico DF: Magonista Libertarian Alliance (Alma), University Assembly of the UAM-A.

In a separate show of the necessity to unify the indigenous populations against the lawlessness of Oaxaca, four municipalities of the Mixteco , Tezoatlán de Segura y Luna, of the district of Huajuapan; Santos Reyes Tepejillo; San Juan Mixtepec and San Martín Itunyoso, of the district of Santiago Juxtlahuaca, formally signed an agreement of “brotherhood,” to constitute a Front of Municipal Presidents. Their objective is to promote a regional project to benefit more than 150 indigenous communities of the region, declared Lorenzo Rojas Mendoza, from the municipality of Tepejillo.

A town councilor, Lorenzo Rojas Mendoza said that the inhabitants of the region have many “past unmet demands,” so the four municipalities decided to unify to further projects such as a hospital, schools, roads and highways.

Rojas Mendoza stated that their priority is the construction, broadening and paving of a road of approximately 30 kilometers to reach the head town of Tepejillo.

The march commemorating the anniversary of the death of Emiliano Zapata, with several goals, took place on April 10, repeating many of the demands and ideas of the Meeting for the Defense of the Peoples of Oaxaca. The march, a political event sponsored by the remaining Popular Revolutionary Front -APPO structure, and Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), demanded freedom for political prisoners, cancellation of arrest orders, and the handing over to Section 22 of about 80 schools still held by Section 59. Section 59 has been screwed, because despite being hired by government agents, those “teachers” never had a contract, and never were paid, except under the table with cash for relatives of members of the state education board, I was told by Section 59 members. They tried to emulate Section 22 tactics by maintaining an encampment in the zocalo of Oaxaca, but were advised to disperse prior to Semana Santa, the big Easter tourist week.

On the national level the Section 22 march protested “restructuring reforms” (the privatization of PEMEX, the Mexican national oil company), the Treaty for Free Commerce (TLC, or NAFTA), militarization, the doubled cost of fertilizers, and demanded the repeal of the law of ISSSTE which privatizes some social security benefits. A national work stoppage is planned.

According to APPO spokesperson Cesar Mateos Benitez, the APPO condemns the government for trying to link the APPO and the Committee of Women of Oaxaca (COMO, a group of women who took over the state television channel in 2006) with the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), which constituted “the media assault of the week” in the mainstream Oaxaca press. Along with organized crime, the PRI wing uses false accusations to justify the militarization of the state, and to send in intelligence or spy agencies. In other words, the propaganda justifies whatever repression the government seeks, by linking the social movement to armed revolutionaries.

An encampment presently in the zocalo next to the cathedral with personnel from the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR) demands the presentation of the state’s disappeared, including the indigenous Chatino man Lauro Juarez whose bones were presented, but not accepted as authentic. Las Noticias (an article by Pedro Matias) reported on April 8 that another Chatino indigenous man was gravely wounded on April 6 by the paramilitary run by the PRI operator Fredy Gil Pineda. Specifically, the attack was carried out by a paramilitary group of about 100 persons headed by Ponciano Torres Quintas. On March 30 they took over by force the government building of Santa Maria Temaxcaltepec, throwing out the actual president and illegally imposing as president this Ponciano Torres, who is protected by Fredy Gil Pineda. The paramilitary pack governs the region by violence, committing assassinations, arbitrary detentions, etc.

This includes the disappearances of indigenous persons, one by one, a genocide trickle.

To my eye, it looks very much like that with the failure of Oaxaca state as a governable unit, the mini civil war that now prevails resembles a turf-battle of human wolves, to control territory and money. This means not only incoming federal monies and drug money, but even more, new wealth to be extracted from geographical territory rich in natural resources. Indigenous people remain, to the extent they have not been driven to emigrate, as an obstacle to the exploitation of minerals, wind, water, woods, petroleum, shoddy road and school construction, and glittering beach-front resorts, in a grand sell-off to international companies.

Bolivia to Control Its Oil by May

Bolivian State Oil Fields (YPFB) may recover control of four transnational oil companies in Bolivia by May 1, a strategy prioritized by the Evo Morales government.

According to sources from the Hydrocarbon ministry, the decision was adopted in a cabinet meeting and could go into effect by the beginning of next month, two years after nationalization of hydrocarbons.

The measure includes emphasis on industrialization and covers a restructuring of the YPFB, former president of the MAS party, Santos Ramirez, told Prensa Latina.

Last March, Ramirez explained that the Executive set a time period until April 30 to recover state control of the four transnational oil companies that include, Andina, a Spanish-Argentine branch of Repsol YPF.

Other companies scheduled for nationalization are Chaco of British Petroleum, Transredes of the British Ashmore and a company of storage and transportation CLHB of Peruvian and German capital.

According to YPFB reports, control of the companies comes after the nationalization decreed on May 1, 2006.

That law stipulated that transnationals operating in Bolivia are under shared risk in offering services to YPFB.

Mexico opposition storms Congress

[Thanks to ghettodefender for this link]

Opposition politicians have seized control of both chambers of Mexico's Congress to protests against a controversial energy bill proposed by Felipe Calderon, the president.

Members of the Democratic Revolution Party stormed the podiums, forcing a recess in both the Senate and lower house on Thursday.

Some of the protesters put on hard hats to represent oil workers and shouted: "The country is not for sale!"

The protesters say that the energy plans would open Mexico's national oil company to private investment and threaten the country's sovereignty.

Calderon's bill, would make it easier for Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to sign contracts with outside companies, and would let it offer them bonuses for oil finds and good performance.

It would also allow Pemex - which currently depends on US refineries to convert much of its crude into petrol - to hire specialised companies to build and operate new refineries for Mexico.

Falling output

Calderon says Pemex needs outside help to boost falling output in the world's fifth biggest producer.

"We do not accept the privatisation. We do not accept the reform sent
... by the illegitimate president"

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, defeated presidential candidate
Opponents say that he has exaggerated the crisis and manipulated figures because he wants to privatise the industry, which was nationalised in 1938.

The congressional television channel showed a chaotic scene, with clusters of politicians gathered around the podiums shouting at each other.

In the lower house, the protesters unfurled a banner saying "Closed".

The demonstration interrupted a debate on a routine measure allowing Calderon to travel to the United States for an April 21-22 summit of North American leaders in New Orleans.

Calderon lacks a majority in Congress and could face a tough battle with the opposition, some of whom accuse him of stealing the 2006 presidential election, to push the legislation through.

"We do not accept the privatisation. We do not accept the reform sent ... by the illegitimate president," Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the defeated presidential candidate, said on Tuesday.

Calderon wants Congress to approve his bill by the end of April before it goes into recess for several months.

Supporters of Lopez Obrador have taken over Mexico's congressional chambers a number of times since he was declared the loser to Calderon.

April 10, 2008

House Democrats defeat Colombia free-trade deal

by Pablo Bachelet

A free-trade agreement with Colombia got swept away by Democratic presidential politics and concerns over domestic economic woes, with the House of Representatives handing the Bush administration a stinging defeat Thursday on a deal that had been touted as crucial to U.S. interests.

The 224-195 vote throws the Colombia free-trade agreement into uncertainty, with only a faint hope that the deal could be voted on after the presidential election in November and before the new president takes over in January.

The White House had cast a free-trade deal with Colombia as necessary to support a stalwart U.S. ally in Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The administration also pushed the pact as an opportunity to provide more export-based jobs by opening South America's second-most populous market to more U.S. goods and services.

In a gloomy statement after the vote, President Bush called the action "unprecedented and unfortunate" and "damaging to our economy, our national security and our relations with an important ally."

He said the House had sent a "damaging message to the world that Congress cannot be counted on to keep its promises."

Democrats said that they were looking for the House to recover its standing as the gatekeeper of trade deals and that the administration had long ignored Democratic demands to provide more assistance to U.S. workers affected by free trade.

Bush denied that the White House had ignored the Democrats.

"During the 16 months since the Colombia free-trade agreement was signed," Bush said, "my administration has gone above and beyond any reasonable effort to achieve a bipartisan path for considering this agreement. At the expense of our economy and our national security, the House has instead chosen to take a shortsighted and partisan path."

Bush attempted to use a "fast-track" provision that would have forced Congress to vote on the agreement within 90 legislative days.

But the move backfired after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved to strip the provision, an unprecedented action in the 34 years that fast track has existed.

The vote underscored a popular mood that has soured on trade, with Democratic candidates coming under pressure from the party base and organized labor to reject all free-trade deals.

In the House debate, Democrats honed in more on U.S. economic difficulties and less on previous concerns of the deaths of union members in Colombia. Pelosi noted that Colombia could be taken up at a later time.

"This isn't about ending anything," said Pelosi. "It's about having a timetable that respects the concerns, the aspirations, the challenges faced by the American people. We are the people's House; their timetable should be our timetable."

Pelosi said the vote should not be "misconstrued" as a vote against Colombia. She said she had respect for the leadership of Uribe, who has tirelessly lobbied for the agreement.

Colombian officials argued the agreement would attract more foreign investment by making its access to the U.S. market permanent. A study last year by two Colombian universities concluded that a failure to approve the pact could cost Colombia — which is long locked in a deadly conflict with armed groups and drug traffickers — 460,000 jobs.

Republican lawmakers echoed the administration's position, with California Rep. David Dreier calling the Pelosi initiative the "Hugo Chavez rule," in a reference to the Venezuelan leader and U.S. foe.

Republicans also argued that the United States had lost negotiating credibility on trade pacts and that the agreement didn't cost U.S. jobs because Colombia already exported duty-free to the United States, while U.S. products faced tariffs to enter Colombia. The agreement would have made Colombia's access permanent and extend other protections to U.S. investors.

They suggested that Democrats were holding up the Colombian deal to get other, unrelated concessions, such as extending to service workers a government program for U.S. manufacturing workers displaced by foreign competition, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance.

"This action today," said House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, "is nothing short of political blackmail."

Only 10 Democrats joined 185 Republicans in opposing the move.

Other Democrats said the vote was broader than Colombia.

"What we're really talking about," said Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., "is the effects of globalization on the American economy."

‘CIA Infiltration’ Charges Prompt Shake-Up in Armed Forces

By Kintto Lucas
QUITO, Apr 10

President Rafael Correa’s allegations that intelligence services in Ecuador had been infiltrated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have led to a shake-up in the armed forces of unforeseeable consequences.

Resignations and dismissals are the order of the day. Wellington Sandoval resigned as defence minister Wednesday and was replaced by Correa’s personal secretary Javier Ponce. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hector Camacho, army commander Guillermo Vásconez, and the chief of police, General Bolívar Cisneros, also stepped down.

A high-level Ecuadorean military officer who asked not to be identified told IPS that the country is at a critical juncture, with only two possible routes: "either the military as an institution returns to its nationalist orientation or it submits itself once and for all to impositions from the U.S."

It is necessary, he added, for "independent and progressive sectors to regain control over the institution." He also called for "a reduction of the power of a group that answers to former president Lucio Gutiérrez" (2003-2005), a former army colonel who was removed as president by Congress and replaced by his vice president Alfredo Palacio.

The current crisis broke out as a result of Colombia’s Mar. 1 bombing raid of a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camp in Ecuadorean territory, which led to a brief rupture in relations between Ecuador and Colombia and sparked a regional crisis that was quickly overcome through dialogue.

At least two other members of the Ecuadorean high command have also offered their resignations, said Camacho.

Ponce, the new defence minister, said "this is not setting the stage for a witch hunt, but for a healthy critical exercise of transparency. The stability of our democracy is not based on cover-ups but on the courageous analysis of our actions."

He also urged the armed forces "to undertake a generous review of their structures and practices."

On Saturday, Correa denounced in his weekly radio broadcast that the CIA "has totally infiltrated some of Ecuador’s military intelligence bodies."

A few days earlier he had sacked the army intelligence chief, Colonel Mario Pazmiño, for hiding information from the government, and announced that further measures would be taken.

According to Correa, the failure to share critical information gave rise to errors in the country’s military and diplomatic handling of the conflict with Colombia.

Sandoval’s resignation came two days after the announcement of the creation of a high-level civilian commission to "determine the extent of unauthorised links between intelligence officers and units in Ecuador" and "foreign intelligence agencies," according to the Notimil military news agency.

The agency also reported that an investigation had been launched to determine whether Pazmiño had provided the government with "timely and complete" information with respect to the bombing of the FARC camp, which killed the rebel group’s international spokesman Raúl Reyes, who was negotiating a release of hostages held by the insurgents.

Citing military sources, the on-line news site Ecuadorinmediato said Monday that "Pazmiño’s fall is apparently the result of a series of complaints and denunciations from higher ranking officers who were disobeyed by the colonel," who served as army intelligence chief for more than 10 years.

According to the news report, when it began to be revealed that the armed forces had previous knowledge of the Colombian air strike on the FARC camp in Ecuador, several military officers complained internally that the intelligence service had not passed on the information.

Local media outlets reported that military intelligence had been following Franklin Aizalla, an Ecuadorean citizen who died in the attack on the FARC camp, without informing Correa.

On Mar. 17, Correa and then defence minister Sandoval learned from the press that Aizalla had been under surveillance, which Colombia’s rightwing President Álvaro Uribe had been aware of for some time.

Colonel Pazmiño’s curriculum indicates "very effective training by the U.S. and Israeli security bodies," wrote Ecuadorinmediato, which added that "he handled military intelligence operations in a nearly autonomous manner, without duly reporting to his superiors, many of whom were unaware of those actions."

The military source who spoke to IPS said it was true that Pazmiño had accumulated enormous influence, but also criticised the negligence shown by the intelligence chief’s direct superiors over the last 10 years.

He also said Pazmiño merits "a dishonourable discharge and a trial for treason." But, he added, "perhaps there are fears that Pazmiño knows a great deal about many officers, and could talk."

Alexis Ponce of the Permanent Assembly on Human Rights said "this is the first time that a head of state has touched on this issue, and I think it is a historic opportunity to dismantle groups that are autonomously carrying out parallel intelligence work, often against the very interests of Ecuadorean national security."

Retired colonel Jorge Brito, one of the army officers who took part in the January 2000 uprising by indigenous groups and junior officers that toppled president Jamil Mahuad, brought legal action against Pazmiño in 2001, accusing him of being the founder of the Legión Blanca (White Legion), a far-right group that has issued death threats against journalists, human rights activists and political and social leaders.

With respect to Pazmiño’s possible ties to Colombia’s intelligence services, Alexis Ponce pointed out that people living near the site of the Mar. 1 bombing raid were given warning to leave the area, "because there were going to be armed clashes."

Camacho and U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Linda Jewell opened a seminar Monday on "Strategic Opportunities and Challenges", which forms part of the cooperation between the U.S. Army Southern Command and the Ecuadorean military.

The officer consulted by IPS expressed his opposition to such activities which, he argued, "condition" Ecuador’s armed forces.

He also said that, "besides the CIA’s infiltration in the armed forces, it is essential to take a look at what is happening in the police, who have traditionally had the closest ties to U.S. security policies for the region."

Former U.S. Southern Command chief Charles Wilhelm said in 2000 that after Ecuador signed an agreement leasing the air base in the port city of Manta to the U.S. military, one of Washington’s aims was to "reorient" the Ecuadorean armed forces.

The officer who spoke anonymously to IPS said "part of that reorientation was the modification of the training received by the Ecuadorean military, to make it more similar to the training received by the Colombian army."

To bring that about, "it was necessary to eliminate more progressive elements and modify the social relationship between the military and different social sectors like indigenous groups," while "implementing more closely the training agreements signed by the U.S. and Ecuadorean armed forces."

The source said a rift occurred in the armed forces after the January 2000 uprising by indigenous associations and the group of junior officers that overthrew Mahuad, and that U.S. influence took deeper root at that time.

In January 2004, after the arrest in Quito of FARC leader Simón Trinidad, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Marti Estell said the "joint operation, which turned out perfectly," was "an example of cooperation between the Ecuadorean and Colombian police," with the support of the U.S. secret services.

A few days after the Mar. 1 bombing of the FARC camp, the Colombian magazine Cambio reported that members of the Ecuadorean police intelligence services had helped locate the camp.

NAFTA Renegotiation - Promise or Mirage?

By Diego Cevallos

Trade unions and leftwing activists in Mexico are pleased that both U.S. presidential hopefuls for the Democratic Party have said they will withdraw their country from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) unless the treaty is renegotiated.

The free trade agreement has been in force since 1994 between Canada, Mexico and the United States, whose governments reject this suggestion by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who are still battling it out for their party’s nomination for the U.S. elections in November.

Political analysts, however, say the threat to opt out of NAFTA is campaign rhetoric, intended to draw the votes of unionised workers and progressive voters, but unlikely to be put into practice if one of them becomes president.

In Mexico, organisations calling for a review of NAFTA say that it has damaged the country, especially the rural sector, while in the United States a number of unions and social organisations claim that it has resulted in domestic job losses.

U.S. arguments for overhauling the treaty focus on the weakness of its provisions on environmental issues and labour rights, which are lower than the standards applied in U.S. legislation.

So far, these groups have not managed to get the treaty changed, in spite of a number of protests, including a massive street march by campesinos (small farmers) in the Mexican capital on Jan. 31.

But from the point of view of opponents of free trade, the desired revision could happen in the near future on the initiative of the United States itself, the country that has staunchly supported NAFTA through both terms of Democratic President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and both terms of serving Republican President George W. Bush, who steps down in January 2009.

"There is a high probability of a Democratic triumph in the U.S. presidential elections, and with it could come the hoped-for and necessary revision," Alejandro Villamar, spokesman for the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC), told IPS.

In February, Senator Clinton said "We will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate it, and we renegotiate on terms that are favourable to all of America."

Obama, for his part, said "I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labour and environmental standards that are enforced."

By contrast, Republican Party candidate Senator John McCain proposes to strengthen the treaty and move ahead with free trade agreements with other countries.

NAFTA article 2205 provides for the withdrawal of a partner, with the sole requirement of giving six months’ notice in advance.

"The Democratic candidates’ position on the treaty is the most appropriate one, because it is a response to the demands of a large part of society in the United States, and also in Canada and Mexico," Villamar said.

RMALC has a close relationship with the Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC) in Canada and with the Alliance for Responsible Trade (ART) in the United States, both of which are fighting to get NAFTA revised.

But Alberto Reyes, a builder who imports solar heaters from Canada, told IPS that "the Democrats’ warnings should not be taken too seriously. Their statements were made in the context of their campaigns to attract voters."

"I see no other real reason for what they said, and I don’t think it will actually happen," he added.

Clinton and Obama began lashing out at NAFTA in February, shortly before the Democratic primary in Ohio, a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the United States, for which unions blame the closure of factories and the transfer of their jobs to Mexico. Union members are traditionally Democratic voters.

The Ohio primary was a key test of whether Clinton could carry on in her neck-and-neck race with Obama, who in turn was seeking a decisive victory.

Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), presently head of the Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation, wrote that "it is hard to accept that politicians of the intellectual stature (of Clinton and Obama) truly believe what they have said about the effects of existing U.S. trade policies on the wellbeing of the American people.

"They and their respective advisers on economic issues must know very well that these statements are not warranted by any serious study. Cherry-picked anecdotal evidence is not enough to validate the protectionist oratory of the otherwise brilliant candidates," he went on.

If NAFTA is renegotiated or abandoned, the partners will lose trade benefits and face a number of shocks and problems, because their economies are highly interconnected, officials in Mexico argue.

The Mexican left and activists against free trade in this country say that the main cause of the problems in the countryside, where the greatest proportion of poverty is concentrated, is NAFTA itself.

More than 20 million Mexicans live in the country’s rural areas, and 75 percent of them are poor. Barely one-third of rural workers have formal jobs with social benefits, and there is a constant exodus to cities in Mexico and the United States.

However, the government and the business community maintain that, far from impoverishing rural areas, NAFTA has saved them from total ruin. They point out that Mexican farm exports to the United States increased by more than 200 percent over the last 14 years, and that the productivity of maize has increased more than four-fold over the same period.

They also say that thanks to free trade, Mexico is the top exporter of several vegetables and fruits to the United States, and that it is now the fourth world producer of eggs and poultry.

Official statistics indicate that since NAFTA went into effect, trade between the partners has grown more than three-fold. Furthermore, while exports from the United States to Mexico have multiplied by a factor of 3.3, exports from Mexico to the United States have increased by a factor of 5.3.

According to a study by Braulio Serna, an expert with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), NAFTA has not had a significant quantitative impact on the rural sector in Mexico.

The problems facing farmers, he said, are more related to aspects like misguided public policies, global and national economic crises, climate factors and low levels of training.

Unions in the United States, on the other hand, claim that employment in their country has fallen because factory owners have preferred to move their industries to Mexico, where wages are lower and labour and environmental laws less stringent.

"The free trade agreement must be revised. Millions of people are clamouring for this," said Villamar.

In early March, RMALC sponsored the creation of a working group of lawmakers from Canada, the United States and Mexico, to lobby for the renegotiation of NAFTA.

ELECTIONS-PARAGUAY: Women Unimpressed by Female Candidate

By David Vargas

ASUNCIÓN, Apr 10 (IPS) - For the first time in Paraguayan history, a woman is running for president in the elections on Apr. 20, as the candidate of the Colorado Party, which has governed this country continuously for 61 years.

However, a number of women’s organisations say that Blanca Ovelar, a 50-year-old rural schoolteacher and former Education Minister, was nominated because the Colorados want to stay in power rather than because they are taking gender issues seriously.

Maggy Balbuena, of the National Coordination of Rural and Indigenous Working Women’s Organisations (CONAMURI), says Ovelar does not represent an option for change.

"What she actually represents is 60 years of domination by the Colorado Party, 60 years of poverty and injustice. I think it would be very hard for her to reverse that long history, and I don’t think she can change it all just because she’s a woman," she said.

According to political scientist Lilian Soto, the Colorado candidate "is a person whom a certain power group finds useful for their own ends, and I don’t think she’s really interested in defending women’s rights."

Angélica Cano, a member of Parlamento Mujer, a forum to empower women and increase their access to the structures of political power, says that Ovelar’s candidacy is a way of making political capital out of the image of womanhood.

"When a political project has run out of male representatives that can sustain it, it calls in a woman to legitimise a model that is already obsolete. The contribution of women should be to improve the political sphere," she told IPS.

On the other hand, political scientist Line Bareiro says Ovelar’s candidacy is a great step forward, arising from women’s struggle over decades to gain access to political power.

Graziella Corvalán, a member of the Coordination of Paraguayan Women (CMP), said that although Ovelar "is not a standard-bearer for women’s causes," her candidacy "is an advance."

But she warned that "it’s important to know whether she is going to defend issues that are sensitive for women, because what’s happened to many women who have gone into politics could also happen to her: they don’t know whether they’re defending their gender or their party."

Ovelar’s political career began in mid-2007, with the backing of current President Nicanor Duarte.

Her candidacy emerged after a close primary election that split the Colorado Party, due to resistance from the rank and file membership, who resent Ovelar’s short history as a party activist.

Nevertheless, Ovelar defines herself as the leader of the country’s political renewal, and rejects criticism portraying her as an instrument of Duarte, who supported her candidacy after failing to secure a constitutional reform to allow him to stand for reelection himself.

Ovelar is in second place in the polls, behind the candidate for the Patriotic Alliance for Change (APC), former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo. The other presidential candidates are former general and coup leader Lino Oviedo, and conservative businessman Pedro Fadul.

Despite the poll results, Ovelar is confident of winning. "I will be the first woman president of Paraguay, breaking with the ‘machista’ tradition," she told IPS.

She says that she alone represents "true change," because of her "public service record, and because I am a woman."

Ovelar also said that "being on the left or on the right is no longer relevant from an ideological point of view," although she said she is in favour of "a free-market democracy with an active state to direct the country and protect the poor." Women make up 49.6 percent of the population in Paraguay, according to the Office of Statistics, Surveys and Censuses, but they hold barely 10 percent of the seats in Congress.

Women gained the right to vote in 1961, but there were no women ministers in the cabinet until 1989, when then President Andrés Rodríguez (1989-1993) appointed a woman health minister.

According to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank, 10 percent of the cabinet is currently made up of women, one of the lowest rates in Latin America.

A Sense of Place

From: http://www.d-shift.org

The Arrival

At 5:30 am the plaza outside the San Cristóbal bus station is quiet other than the sound of birds, crickets and the occasional distant motor, as an unseen vehicle turns onto an unknown road. These streets are still wet with the remains of an earlier rain and the smell of the damp mixes with that of the soil and the stone. How is it that stone smells? It seems implausible but there it is. Even the plaster and paint is there and, of course, the poo01. Dogs live their perilous lives out here on these streets, cowering in the darkened spaces where safety from some unknown threat seems elusive. As night’s darkness slowly succumbs to the dominance of day’s light, it soon becomes apparent that the writing is on the wall. Down every street, unheard voices speak through the medium of paint. This could be the time when they normally shout silently their words of anger and frustration, but at this moment they’re invisible. What lingers is an echoing of feelings, the traces of a part of society that is disenfranchised and relegated to communicating their message in the dark of night02.

Though the graffiti of the streets may speak more directly than the scent of soil, both these experiences, and a myriad more, contribute to a sense of place. They are aesthetic experiences that contribute to a greater understanding03, experiences that can help bring one closer to a state of empathy04. My hope is, that by being here, I get closer to both these experiences05.


Normally, walking down darkened streets can be an unsettling experience. But these streets feel safe somehow—if not for the dogs—at least for me. The shadows and fog bring with them a spirit and an energy, a revitalisation after a long winter in the north that seems to have sapped my strength. Walking this last mile to my destination, I’m happy as I begin to hear a familiar clip-clopping sound. It sounds like a horse, but I’ve been fooled before by this sound, so this time I don’t need to look to know its just a car approaching over the cobblestones. I realise that this is something of a homecoming.

Destination & Departure

San Cristóbal de las Casas is both a destination and a departure point for a journey toward understanding. It is a centre of cultural commerce for the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, and the centre of a long struggle for social justice. The people who come to this place all have their own personal reasons for doing so and traditionally it hasn’t been an easy place to get to, so its rare that someone arrives by accident. And yet all of us who have come to this place have arrived somewhere else. Our own past experiences and our own intentions06 inform our perception of this place and individualise our experience of it. This will impact each of us in ways that will affect our ability to connect with the place and the people here.


I have come to San Cristóbal to investigate the communication approach of a sociopolitical organisation called the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. I’m interested in the apparent success they’ve had in communicating their message to a wide international audience and the difficulties they’ve had communicating locally and nationally. As a result of this interest, I’m drawn to the various images that I associate with communication and how these images are presented. Others have come to gain a better understanding of the social concerns of the people who are living their often difficult lives both here, in San Cristóbal, and beyond the mountains that surround us.


These streets are a mix of economic and political activity. Retail stores, restaurants, internet cafés, art galleries and book stores populate the city just like any other. But look more closely and you’ll see that there is something different about many of these establishments. Propaganda t-shirts are a popular product in both retail spaces and in the markets, many restaurants are meeting places for activism, and fliers in internet cafe’s announce political meetings or documentaries taking place in one of the town’s many underground cinemas. Yet its the bookstore that speaks to the unique nature of this place. Virtually every one is stocked to the ceiling with an incredible selection of knowledge from philosophy and poetry to sociology, anthropology and political science. The vast majority of the material is Spanish language and intended for a local audience rather than the tourist market. This reflects the highly literate and critically engaged nature of the local population, a characteristic that becomes all the more obvious when you speak with them. This isn’t to say that everyone is engaged and thoughtful but they appear to be more so than other communities.

This could be one reason why the communication campaign by the Zapatistas is primarily focused on words, its the understanding that both San Cristóbal and the larger Mexican community are very sociopolitically literate. In fact it appears that the verbal and written aspect of the Zapatista organisation is almost the only official vehicle for such communication. It is expressed in print through authorised publications of the words of Subcomandante Marcos—these often take the form of poetry, prose or indigenous myth07—and by an internet presence through sites such as Radio Insurgente and Enlace Zapatista. Here text, audio, and video files are disseminated to a wider national and international audience, and while images do mix with the words, they take a back seat. Even the ubiquitous socialist red star is slowly disappearing as the symbol for the organisation, being replaced by that of the Sexta Campaña or simply not being used at all—though its hard to tell at this point whether this is deliberate or merely incidental.

Rhetorical Currency

What is certain though is that, while there exists only a limited amount of official visual communication, there is an immense collection of apparently accepted unauthorised material. This largely takes the form of t-shirts, posters, books, dvds, and thematic hand-crafted objects, all of which is for sale and most of which appears to be directed toward the political tourist market. These products are distinctive for their direct attempt to convey messages of support and many of them appear to reflect a growing change in the organization’s policy and identity. Though many of these objects could be considered arts or craft, the fact that they are intended primarily as political messages makes it more difficult to accept them as art08.


Other objects of art and craft exist here too. Pieces that reflect the culture of various indigenous communities that live in San Cristóbal and throughout Chiapas. In many respects these objects appear more authentic than those whose original intention is to communicate a political message. They are personal expressions, and as such, bring us closer to the lives of the people who create them09. Through encounters with these cultural artefacts and conversations with local people in the community, I am beginning to feel that I may have lost sight of the forest for all the trees. I worry that this will affect my work and its practical intentions, but most of all I worry that I’m not doing justice to the issues or the people concerned.

Another Destination

I’ve been thinking about the larger systemic problems lately, and wondering about how design can play a more constitutive role in addressing them. These problems are messy but I think that design’s own knowledge and its iterative approach to problem solving, can play a role here. Recent ideas in design thinking, such as co-creation and collaboration, might also prove to be invaluable10.

It’s a new day—it’s almost hot—and for the first time I can wear a t-shirt and shorts. I’m hanging out my laundry to dry on the roof of the family home where I’m staying. The city I’ve been experiencing for the past week or so is all around me but I’m being beckoned by the mountains in the distance and the unknown that lies beyond them. I realise that to get a greater understanding of the larger problems behind this movement, I need to go there. So tomorrow, a friend and I will hop into the VW and quite literally head for the hills, except we won’t be running from something, we’ll be running to it. I don’t know what I’ll find there, though I have some ideas. I just hope it brings me closer to the answers I’m seeking, whatever they end up being.

April 09, 2008

Border Land Battle Pits Development against Human Rights

Kent Paterson | April 8, 2008

Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)

Not too long ago, the high desert community of Lomas de Poleo was considered a desolate, impoverished outpost of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Settled by working-class pioneers who landed jobs in the border city's maquiladora assembly plants, Lomas de Poleo was emblematic of the marginalization that existed on the edges of a booming town built on the export of legal and illegal products. When the sprawling, dusty settlement received attention it was usually for the wrong reasons, such as in the mid to late 1990s when the bodies of at least eight murdered young women were found dumped in the neighborhood.

Now, the several dozen families who still inhabit the upper mesa of Lomas de Poleo are at the center of a growing international battle that could define the nature of urban and community development in the Paso del Norte borderlands that cross Texas and New Mexico in the United States and Chihuahua in Mexico. Ringed in by mean guards and forbidding towers that evoke images of J.R. Tolkein's Mordor, long-settled families are locked in an ownership battle over hundreds of acres of land with members of the Zaragoza family, one of Ciudad Juarez's most powerful clans.

Once isolated, Lomas de Poleo's resisters are increasingly gaining support from international human rights organizations, New Mexico political leaders, and a host of activist groups in both Mexico and the United States. In a significant development, they've joined forces with the Paso del Sur organization that's fighting gentrification of the historic Chicano Segundo Barrio neighborhood across the border in El Paso, Texas.

On both sides of the border, elected officials and developers are busy razing old buildings, planning San Antonio-style river walks and binational arts corridors, trying to lure amusement parks, and hoping to snag the 21st Century factory.

"Residents are sending a message to local businessmen and transnational money that the poor of the border are no longer willing to permit the construction of big businesses at the expense of their own extermination," says Juan Carlos Martinez, an activist with the pro-Zapatista Other Campaign in Ciudad Juarez.

Backed by a Mexican court, lawyers for the Zaragozas lay claim to the land based on its supposed purchase in 1963 by Pedro Zaragoza Vizcarra, the father of current disputants Pedro and Jorge Zaragoza. However, settlers led by Luis Urbina petitioned Mexico's Institute for Agrarian Reform for titles in 1970, and have been waiting ever since then.

Locals attribute the aggressive efforts of the Zaragoza family to claim ownership of their neighborhood to the land's sudden industrial value in a fast-growing corridor of the Chihuahua-New Mexico border. Their homes lie close to a planned international port of entry at Anapra as well as the envisioned binational city of Jeronimo-Santa Teresa. Pedro Zaragoza was named a member of the New Mexico-Chihuahua Commission set up by former Chihuahua Governor Patricio Martinez and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in 2003 to oversee mutual development, tourism, and environmental projects. Once a virtually worthless patch of wasteland, Lomas de Poleo is now a potentially hot piece of real estate.

In Ciudad Juarez, Jeronimo-Santa Teresa is a controversial issue. Many community leaders and activists oppose the development on the grounds that it will divert scarce water and financial resources away from the city. A 2005 referendum campaign to condition development plans on approval by Ciudad Juarez's voters was shunted aside by the Chihuahua Supreme Court.

The land on the U.S. side of the development is controlled by the Verde Group, a border development outfit founded by wealthy businessman William Sanders. In a recent letter to Kent Evans, the chairman of New Mexico's Dona Ana County Commission, Verde Realty Co-Chairman Ronald Blankenship disassociated his company from the Lomas de Poleo and Jeronimo land controversies.

"There is no formal or informal relationship or coordination between Verde Realty's potential development in Santa Teresa and the potential development of the San Jeronimo project," Blankenship wrote.

Planned as a community of 100,000 people, Santa Teresa has also been an object of controversy in southern New Mexico. Last year, Verde Realty proposed the creation of a Tax Increment Development District to help fund two new industrial parks and a 5,000-lot development in Santa Teresa. Under the formula, a portion of sales taxes generated within the district would go to pay off bonds worth $113 million needed to finance the project. The proposal bogged down in the Dona Ana County Commission amid criticisms that the public till would suffer in order to benefit a private development. In a region facing long-term water shortages, the scope of the Jeronimo-Santa Teresa development, which could eventually house 500,000 people, is also a matter of concern.
Driving Out Local Residents

The conflict between Zaragoza and Lomas de Poleo's residents heated up in 2003. Residents and supporters charge that street gang members employed by Zaragoza to guard the area are responsible for three violent deaths, including two young children who died in a house fire allegedly set by the guards to pressure residents out of their homes.

They have also been implicated in burning down the Jesus Nazaret Church, multiple attempts to destroy other properties, power cut-offs, and the ongoing harassment of people attempting to come and go in a fenced-off community monitored by guard patrols and watchtowers. At one point, an unknown individual or individuals defaced crosses that had been set up to commemorate the femicide victims.

Twice last fall, outside supporters of the land resisters who were attempting to enter the community for planned forums were halted by armed guards.

In one case, counter-demonstrators organized by an individual identified with Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were allegedly rewarded with grocery bags full of goodies. According to the Lomas de Poleo support group, a pro-Zaragoza youth was heard to remark that it would be "cool to shoot some bullets into the crowd."

On Feb. 20, Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, an investigator for the official Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission, charged he was beaten and involuntarily detained by Zaragoza guards for 15 minutes.

On different occasions, members of Ciudad Juarez's municipal police force, who are currently under investigation by the Mexican army for alleged ties to drug trafficking and organized crime, reportedly stood by and watched as residents and supporters were threatened.

Responding to an international S.O.S., an international delegation including observers from Amnesty International, the International Civil Commission for the Observation of Human Rights, La Raza Centro Legal, National Lawyers Guild, and other organizations visited the Paso del Norte in late February. For eight days, the human rights observers toured the area, reviewed documents and photographs, spoke with residents and their supporters, and interviewed a handful of low and mid-level Mexican government officials. However, attempts to meet with Pedro and Jorge Zaragoza and higher-level Mexican authorities were unsuccessful. In a 20-page report, the delegation concluded that a pattern of harassment of residents existed.

"The majority of these actions constitute human and civil rights violations under the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Mexican Constitution," the report stated. The documents mention violations of the guarantee to freedom of speech and assembly, the right to free transit, and the right to decent living conditions, among others. Police have stood idly by as these events unfolded and so far no prosecutions have taken place.

Due to its geographical proximity to planned border developments in New Mexico, Lomas de Poleo has recently become a political issue on the U.S. side. In 2008, activists succeeded in putting the land battle on the agenda of the Dona Ana County Commission, the local governing authority that helps regulate regional development.

A draft resolution that linked future border development to respect for the human rights of Lomas de Poleo's residents, removal of "private guards and militia" from the community, and a fair resolution of the land ownership conflict was presented to the County Commission earlier this year. At a Feb. 26 County Commission meeting in Las Cruces, New Mexico, elected representatives heard firsthand testimonies from Lomas de Poleo residents and Father Bill Morton, the Catholic priest whose church was torched in the embattled community.

A Lomas de Poleo resident for almost 40 years, Alfredo Pinon told the meeting he had "the misfortune" of watching friends and neighbors killed.

"The hardest thing is to watch your friend killed in front of you, or hear two children scream but not be able to do anything about it," Pinon said. Taking the floor, Commissioner Oscar Vazquez-Butler sympathized with the residents' plight. "We have a human rights crisis going on in Lomas de Poleo," Butler said. "There's civil exploitation, there's civil injustice. There's a gated community with barbed wire and guard dogs and bats and guns and rifles ..."

At the County Commission meeting two weeks later, Zaragoza attorney Mario Chacon reiterated his client's contention that the land was legally purchased by Zaragoza's father in 1963. Contrary to residents' complaints of a violent atmosphere in the community, Chacon maintained that the situation was "not that serious."

The Dona Ana County Commission approved the resolution, and ordered copies sent to New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman and other officials. Quoted in the Las Cruces Sun-News, Dona Ana County Commissioner Kent Evans doubted his colleagues' action would have much effect. "We can express our dissatisfaction and hope they listen, but that's about it," Evans said.

In a subsequent meeting with Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora and Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan, Bingaman raised the Lomas de Poleo issue and passed along the Dona Ana County Commission's resolution to the two federal officials.

"I'm glad I was able to bring this issue to the attention of the Mexican attorney general, and that he committed to looking into the situation," Senator Bingaman said in a news release.

Until now, no agreement has been reached between Lomas de Poleo's resisters and the Zaragozas. Meanwhile, Ciudad Juarez's other residents are getting a taste of what life has been like in Lomas de Poleo. Since the beginning of the year, gang land gunfights, record levels of narco-related executions and the unearthing of mass, clandestine graves have jolted the border city. And more young women and men have disappeared.

On March 28, the Mexican army intervened in the bloody contest raging away for control of Ciudad Juarez's lucrative drug trade. Armed to the teeth, over 2,000 Mexican soldiers arrived as part of the Mexican government's Operación Conjunta Chihuahua and began patrolling the streets, stopping residents, and setting up checkpoints. Whirling Mexican military helicopters brought more war sounds to the border.

Living in the shadow of a police state has been a grim reality long familiar to Lomas de Poleo's residents but conveniently ignored by others in the Paso del Norte region. Now as turf battles for real estate and drug routes spread, other residents are getting a bitter taste of that reality. In this context of mounting violence, the struggle of Lomas residents for basic human rights has become an example for the rest of the borderlands.

Kent Paterson is a freelance journalist who covers the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Latin America, and an analyst for the Americas Policy Program at www.americaspolicy.org.