Central America

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 8th-15th, 2012.

  • A key player in the 2011 Conservative party campaign for Guelph is refusing to answer more questions, on the advice of his lawyer, from Elections Canada investigators probing fraudulent robo-calls in the riding during the last election that allegedly misled voters. In an extremely rare move, the Conservative government publicly backtracked on Tuesday on their plans to buy 65 state-of-the-art F-35 fighter planes, after many questioned the fact that the government didn’t bother soliciting bids from other manufactures.
  • New York’s Wall Street group warned it could run out of money by the end of the month, raising questions about the future of the movement that sparked nationwide protests against economic injustice last year. Thousands of people marched across the state of Alabama in the United States on Saturday, to protest against new electoral laws that would require voters to show strict forms of photo ID that they say is unfair to millions of African-American and Latino voters. On Monday, the UN special rapporteur on torture accused the US government of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Bradley Manning, accused of passing confidential documents to WikiLeaks, at times forcing the soldier to strip naked and endure freezing temperatures. On Tuesday, the Pentagon released plans for a “heat ray” weapon to be used for crowd control that would direct electromagnet waves at people that would deliver sudden, unbearable heat to targets up to a kilometre away.
  • The bodies of four youths were found cut to pieces and left in plastic bags in the central Mexico city of Cuernavaca on Thursday along with a threatening note from a drug gang. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that police departments in Nuevo Leon state will begin giving a series of lie detector tests and psychological exams in an effort to stop corruption on the force.
  • The left-wing party of the ousted President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya named his wife as its Presidential candidate in elections next year on Tuesday. The former first lady is a relative novice in politics.
  • Polls opened in El Salvador on Sunday, in a big test for the first leftist government since the end of the civil war 20 years ago. By Monday, the Nationalist Republican Alliance was ahead with slightly more than 40% of the vote with 50% of precincts reporting.
  • A former Special Forces soldier, Pedro Pimentel Rios, in Guatemala was sentenced to a largely symbolic 6,060 years in prison for his role in the killings of 201 people in a 1982 massacre.
  • With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics fast approaching, authorities in Brazil’s Rio are racing to build new hotels to cope with the influx of thousands of tourist, leaving many behind in the wake of soaring prices and some 7 million shortfall of available homes. On Tuesday, prosecutors announced they would file charges against a retired colonel over the disappearance of five guerrillas during the 1964-85 military dictatorship, the first such case to be brought against any military officers from that era.
  • Two Pakistani UN peacekeepers in Haiti were sentenced on Wednesday to a year in prison with hard labour after a trial found them guilty of sexual abuses and exploitation.
  • At least three protesters were killed and some 32 people wounded on Wednesday as police in southeastern Peru reportedly clashed with illegal miners opposed to a government crackdown on unauthorized gold mining.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 1st-8th, 2012.

  • President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina sought negotiations with the UK to establish several weekly flights from Buenos Aires to the Falkland Islands on Thursday, a move the Islands’ legislative chairman says is “about as likely as the Falklands Air Service landing flights on the moon”.
  • The independent federal elections agency in Canada announced on Friday that it is now investigating more than 31,000 complaints of voting irregularities related to automated telephone calls during the last election that allegedly sent voters to false voting stations. The irregularities have been linked to the ruling Conservative Party, though the party and the PM thoroughly deny any wrongdoing. On Monday, the Conservative parliamentary secretary refused to release its call records in the wake of the growing robo-call scandal, while at the same time calling upon the Liberal party to release their records and shifting blame to Election Canada, the independent election body. On Tuesday, PM Harper refused to explain why Conservative MPs rejected a request by Elections Canada for more power to verify campaign financial returns; while the Conservatives reportedly repaid taxpayers $230,198 for their previous “in-and-out” scandal from the 2006 elections. On Wednesday, the Vancouver Observer ran a report detailed a Conservative adjunct professor’s experience attending the Conservative-aligned Manning Centre for Democracy Campaign School where voter suppression tactics were allegedly discussed.
  • President Chavez of Venezuela announced that he will need radiation treatment for cancer in the run-up to the October Presidential elections; though he insisted there was no metastasis after the removal of another tumor. On Saturday, Al Jazeera ran a report on the country’s struggles to stop violent crimes. On Monday, the government and opposition traded blame with each other after a violent melee at a Presidential campaign stop where several people were injured by bullets in Caracas.
  • President Martelly of Haiti nominated his foreign minister and close advisor, Laurent Lamothe, as PM on Thursday, raising hopes of a swift end to the country’s political vacuum. On Sunday, the President asked government officials to find ways to clear several sites around the country being occupied by ex-members of the armed forces.  On Wednesday, a banker whose son is cooperating with authorities in a major US bribery investigation involving former government officials was shot and killed.
  • United States Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to outline the legal framework for the use of lethal force in targeted killings of Americans overseas in a major speech at Northwestern University law school on Sunday, suggesting that lethal force is legal under a September 18, 2001 resolution. On Monday, a bill reportedly passed in the House of Representatives (passing in the Senate on Thursday) that would expand existing anti-protest laws that make it a felony to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted”, which is defined in extremely vague and broad terms and could include a building or grounds where the President or other persons protected by Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting. Tuesday was dubbed “Super Tuesday” as 10 states opened their primary and caucus contests for the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination.  On Thursday, two people were killed and seven wounded in a shooting at a psychiatric institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre; while a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre suggested that the number of hate and anti-government groups continued to rise in the previous year, fueled by racial tensions, conspiracy theories and anger over economic inequality. Reports suggested that a state senator in Wisconsin introduced a bill aimed at penalizing single mothers by calling their unmarried status a contributing factor in child abuse and neglect.
  • Police in Peru announced that they arrested a suspected leader of a Maoist faction of the Shining Path rebel movement on Saturday who was the apparent successor to “Comrade Artemio” who was captured last month.
  • Following the rebel group FARC in Colombia’s announcement that it intends to release the last of its captives and stop kidnapping for ransom, families of 10 people currently in FARC custody were provided with new hope. On Tuesday, the ELN guerrillas reportedly freed 11 oil workers who were kidnapped in late February.
  • President Correa of Ecuador rallied supporters on Thursday in a show of force against street protests by opponents who he said were trying to destabilize his government ahead of the 2013 election.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 23rd-March 1st, 2012.

  • The Atlantic ran an interesting article discussing whether Central America should legalize drugs or not, in an effort to reduce the drug related violence in the region. Al Jazeera also took a look at rising drug related violence in Central America in the wake of a recent UN report.
  • A bill aimed at outlawing abortion by granting individual rights to an embryo died on Thursday in the Virginia state Senate in the United States when lawmakers returned the bill to committee. On Friday, Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks was formally charged with 22 counts, including “aiding the enemy”, after declining to enter a plea in a military trial; while gay marriage was set to be legalized in Maryland after the state Senate gave its final approval to a bill that will now be sent to the Governor. The Pentagon notified lawmakers of plans to boost American strength in the Persian Gulf in response to alleged Iranian threats close to the Straits of Hormuz on Saturday. On Monday, it was reported that millions of dollars of White House money helped to pay for a New York Police Department program that put entire American Muslim neighbourhoods under surveillance since 9/11; while a student in a high school in Ohio opened fire in the cafeteria with a handgun, killing one student and wounding four others before giving himself up to authorities (the death toll rose to 3 the following day). WikiLeaks published more than five million emails stolen from an Austin, Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor that is now being called the Enron of private intelligence. On Wednesday, a Pakistani national in Guantanamo Bay plead guilty to five charges related to terrorism, murder, conspiracy and spying, reaching a plea deal that he provide “full and truthful cooperation” with the US government that limits his prison sentence.
  • The Prime Minister of Haiti offered his resignation to the President on Saturday after days of political tension between the premier and government ministers over issues of dual nationality. On Wednesday, several thousands of supporters of former President Aristide filled the streets of Port-au-Prince on the eighth anniversary of his toppling, demanding that President Martelly prove he does not hold dual citizenship and that the UN peacekeeping mission leave the country.
  • On Friday, five disabled protesters began a hunger strike in Bolivia in their campaign demanding that the government pay an annual subsidy to disabled people; while scores of disabled people fought police in La Paz after ending their 1,000 mile, 100-day trek through the country.
  • Police in Puerto Rico were alerted to a 6-foot-long military torpedo at a metal recycling centre along the north coast on Friday.
  • An American immigration judge ruled on Thursday that there are sufficient grounds to begin deportation proceedings against a former defense minister of El Salvador for his alleged involvement in torture and extrajudicial killings in the 1980s.
  • Protesters in Bahrain are angered at riot weaponry from Brazil that has reportedly been used on them in recent months, killing some 35 people and injuring hundreds of others. Protesters allege that the Brazilian tear gas has more chemical substances that has made people foam at the mouth and caused other symptoms, even causing the death of babies.
  • The PM of Canada announced he was unaware of allegations that his Conservative party had used dirty tricks to suppress votes to help them win by a narrow margin in last year’s federal election, after an Elections Canada investigation revealed that voters in several constituencies had received automated phone calls designed to prevent them from casting their ballots. On Monday, it was revealed that all the calls weren’t robo, automated pre-recorded voice messages, but rather real-time calls made into ridings across the country; a move that Liberal leader Bob Rae said definitely affected the election results, specifically in 27 ridings that were hotly contested.
  • Two British cruise liners were reportedly turned away from a port in Argentina as tensions mounted over the future of the Falkland Islands. On Wednesday, the British government accused Argentina of pursuing a policy of confrontation over the Falklands, after reports suggested they were calling on companies to stop importing goods from the UK.
  • FARC rebels in Colombia vowed to free 10 remaining police and military hostages and end its practice of kidnapping civilians on Sunday, calling the practice “nothing but a disaster”. The government greeted the announced with caution, as an “important and necessary step” for peace and that they would like to see an end to armed attacks, not merely a ceasefire. On Wednesday, at least 11 Colombian oil workers were reportedly seized by an unidentified armed group as they worked on a pipeline near the Venezuelan border.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 16th-23rd, 2012.

  • President Caledron of Mexico reportedly unveiled a large advertising board near the American border calling on the US to stop the flow of weapons into the country on Friday.  On Sunday, a fight between prison inmates inside a jail near Monterrey reportedly killed some 44 people. On Monday, reports suggested that some 30 members of the Zeta drug cartel plotted with prison guards to orchestrate an elaborate escape that resulted in Sunday’s prison deaths.
  • The Governor of New Jersey in the United States rejected a bill allowing same-sex marriage in the state and called upon a ballot question to decide the issue a day after the state assembly passed it. On Friday, a 29 year-old Moroccan man was arrested in Washington DC as part of an anti-terrorism campaign, as he carried what he thought was explosives into the city. On Monday, the Obama administration’s plan to revamp the country’s nuclear weapons strategy and possibly reduce the number of warheads was leaked to the press, causing a major uproar among some conservatives who called the proposals “reckless lunacy”. On Tuesday, the US Marine corps discharged the long marine convicted in the 2005 killings of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha, but will not face jail time. On Wednesday, several members of the Congress received mail threatening biological attack and containing suspicious powder, later found to be harmless by law enforcement officials. On Thursday, at least seven US soldiers were reportedly killed after two helicopters collided during a training exercise along the Arizona-California border.
  • Authorities in Canada announced plans to toughen their refugee laws to filter out fake claims from “safe” countries like Hungary, which it says are clogging up the system and wasting taxpayer money. Critics say it is an attack on human rights, as it appears to target the large influx of claims from Roma “gypsies” coming from Hungary. The country has also allegedly threatened a trade war with the European Union over the bloc’s plan to label oil from the province of Alberta’s vast tar sands as highly polluting. An indigenous community has launched a lawsuit against the government and a petrochemical company SunCor for failing to prevent pollution that has taken a severe toll on their environment and health.
  • The top court in Ecuador upheld a jail sentence on Thursday against three newspaper publishers who were also ordered to pay damages for libelling President Correa. Rights groups claim the ruling puts freedom of expression under threat.
  • The President of Haiti was reportedly attacked as he walked in a Carnival procession in Port-au-Prince, but escaped unharmed on Friday. Witnesses say that “troublemakers” were throwing rocks at the President and his accompanying motorcade.
  • National police in Panama reportedly broke up protests over plans for a vast copper mine and hydroelectric schemes, killing three men, wounding dozens and detaining more than 100 others.
  • Flooding rivers in Peru and Chile displaced people and turned up old land mines from the 1970s, resulting in a closure of the border between the two countries on Monday.
  • President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela announced that he must receive another operation to remove a lesion on his pelvis where surgeons removed a large cancerous tumour last year, but denied rumours that there was any metastasis. Chavez’s imminent departure for his surgery has reportedly thrown his re-election campaign into uncertainty.
  • Hundreds of relatives of inmates who died in last week’s prison fire in Honduras reportedly forced their way into a morgue in the capital to demand the remains of loved ones on Tuesday. The government announced that a dropped cigarette may have set off the fire, going back on the original claims of a purposely set fire.
  • A group of 17 leading intellectuals in Argentina criticized the government for supporting the right to self-determination of Falkland Island inhabitants, questioning the country’s claims on the territory.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… December 2nd- December 8th, 2011.

  • On Friday, heads of state from across Latin America and the Caribbean flew into Venezuela for the inaugural meeting of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States or CELAC. The group is designed to counter US influence and improve regional ties.
  • On Friday, the ruling party in Guyana proclaimed its fifth straight presidential election win; in a vote the opposition parties’ claim was rigged. The PPP/C took some 49% of votes cast, narrowly losing its parliamentary majority for the first time in 19 years. On Friday, the opposition marched in protest and held a 10 minute silent sit-in near the headquarters of the Elections Commission demanding explanations of discrepancies in the results.
  • On Thursday, the United States passed a bill that declares the entire country as a battleground and allows the military to operate with impunity. On Friday, police in Tampa arrested 29 Occupy Tampa protesters when they refused to leave a downtown park. Protesters in DC began constructing a wooden building on Saturday in the local park during the Occupy DC protests. Police demanded they disassemble it on Sunday, arresting several people who refused. Several Occupy Portland protesters were also arrested over the weekend for refusing to leave a park area. An interesting report declared that contrary to popular belief, military spending in the US doesn’t create jobs, it actually costs them. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon world governments to stop persecuting homosexuals, even though only 21 states outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and same sex marriage is illegal in the majority of the country; while a new report found that more than half of bribes reported in the US since 2007 were made by individuals associated with the government and that over 25% of all reported bribe demands were valued at more than $50,000 USD.  On Wednesday, thousands of Occupy demonstrators shut down part of K Street in Washington DC, home of lobbying in the nation’s capital; police in San Francisco arrested some 70 people during an overnight raid on that city’s Occupy movement; Occupy protesters began rallying around homeowners as they tried to resist evictions from foreclosed homes across the country; protesters sat in congressional offices at Capitol Hill; and the US called for closer international cooperation to prevent terrorist groups from developing or using biological weapons, a threat the government claims is growing.  On Thursday, two people, including a police officer were shot dead on Virginia Tech’s campus, site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history in 2007; while a secret CIA prison that housed some of its most valuable detainees was unearthed in Bucharest, Romania.
  • FARC, the largest armed rebel group in Colombia has pledged to free six of its eleven captive members of the country’s security forces in response to nationwide protests calling for their freedom and the end of guerrilla warfare. On Thursday, Jorge Humberto Victoria, an ex-paramilitary leader believed to be a key witness in the 1997 Mapiripan massacre, handed himself into authorities.
  • On Saturday, protesters at the Newmont Mining site in Peru reportedly abandoned roadblocks as government officials called weekend talks with regional leaders to try and resolve the conflict. On Monday, the Congress suspended VP Omar Chehade from the legislature over corruption allegations. On Tuesday, police detained two leaders in the Newmont Mining protest following the recent state of emergency crackdown that suspended freedom of assembly in the region. One of the few active remaining leaders of the Shining Path rebel movement admitted that the movement had been defeated on Wednesday and said that they were ready to talk with the government about ending the rebellion.
  • Freedom of press in jeopardy in Honduras as the country’s human rights commissioner warned that journalists are facing growing danger; a day after a radio host was killed. Luz Marina Paz was the 17th media worker to be killed over the past couple years in the country.
  • Dozens of indigenous Cree families in the First Nations community of Attawapiskatt, in Canada have been forced to live in tents or shacks without heating, despite millions of federal dollars being injected into their community and are now calling upon the UN to intervene after the declaration of emergency failed to achieve results. Temperatures in the area can reach 50 degrees below zero. The Canadian Youth Delegation were ejected from COP17 Durban Climate Change talks on Wednesday after turning their backs on Canada’s Environment Minister during his speech in protest at the country’s lack-lustre environmental performance and recent decision to pull out of the Kyoto Accords.
  • On Sunday, Panama’s jailed former ruler Manuel Noriega is to be extradited from France to his homeland to serve sentences he received in absentia in his native land. Noriega has already spent more than 20 years in French and US prisons.
  • On Friday, the head of the main opposition  Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico resigned amid a scandal surrounding state finances.