Ecuador’s Indigenous Protest Water Privatization

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador-The Confederation of Ecuadoran Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) are expressing opposition to a new water law by protesting and blocking roadways. The movement argues that the Hydraulic Resources Law allows for the development of mining projects in areas occupied by springs that are major sources of water. Leaders also argue that the law ensures water provisions for mining companies but not for indigenous and campesino communities and does not attend to the issue of contamination of waterways.

Under the new plan, all water systems in Ecuador will be brought under centralized state authority, thus ending a system of community control over water resources. Ecological Action, a non profit organization, found that the law “contains elements of privatization for both water and land usage in as much as those resources become the sole property of the benefiting industry or business for other uses.” This is because the law allows for water resources to be acquired in the purchase of land and permits the owner to use the water however he or she sees fit.

Forty-five percent of water resources have been privatized through legal concessions, but one percent of those using water resources consume sixty-four percent of the water available and eighty-six percent of Ecuadorians consume just thirteen percent of the country’s water. Critics argue that the new law “does nothing in regard to these points and the National Development Plan favors the mining companies and flower growers.” There are no sanctions in the law for contamination or water quality control.

Indigenous communities have played a large role in the construction of water system networks, constructing irrigation canals and consumer water systems. They view the new “sole authority” provision as a direct threat to their water council system.

Responses to protests resulted in the death of a bilingual professor, who was shot by police when he joined a group of 500 that blocked a bridge over the Upano River. Protesters argue that it was a “trap” because the leaders were called to a dialogue “in order to distract the leadership and the local media.”

Currently, CONAIE has suspended protest actions because the government has opened a negotiation period. The government and indigenous leaders agreed to six points during their most recent negotiation. This included, permanent duologue between the parties, government consideration of the CONAIE water initiative, and the government will receive a mining law proposal from the indigenous movement.

Other grassroots movements continue to stage road blocks and to shut down markets. There is disagreement among grassroots organizations on what is the best strategy. While the CONAIE and Euarunari have called off protests, the Shuar and Achuar people of the southern Amazon continue to demonstrate against mining. One indigenous lawmaker remarked, “the dialogue doesn’t go anywhere. I don’t believe in them anymore.”

For more information, please see:

AP-Indian Political Awakening Stirs Latin America-2 November 2009

Daily Press-Bolivia the Standard-Bearer as Latin American Natives Fight to Protect Lands, Culture-2 November 2009

Latin American Press-Indigenous Movement Continues to Weaken-23 October 2009

Colombia’s Security Policy Compromises Human Rights

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA,Colombia-Colombia’s National Planning Council blames the government’s “Democratic Security” policy and fight against drugs for the systematic increase in human rights violations. The National Planning Council is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with formulating, monitoring, and evaluating government policy.

President of the council, Adolfo Atehortua, called Colombia’s anti-drug policy a failure. He pointed out that drug production has not decreased and spraying to kill illicit crops has increased poverty in rural areas. “The general and indiscriminate aerial spraying of crops damages farmers who have no other options, the helpless producers . . . but does not eliminate the persistency of the drug plantations,” Atehortua said.

Atehortua further stressed that Colombia has become a consumer of drugs in addition to its exporting role. He recommended that soft drugs be legalized as part of an international campaign. Atehortua argued that legalizing the production of soft drugs, such as marijuana, would provide an opportunity for many farmers to “come out of hiding to develop real centers of agricultural production.”

Atehortua denounced the government’s security policy and the collaboration with the U.S. State Department.  The main point of criticism was the large number of “false positive cases”, where members of the armed forces have executed civilians and then presented them as guerrillas killed in combat in order to boost success figures. These acts have been denounced by the United Nations.

Atehortua called the “humanitarian crisis” the “dark side” of the Democratic Security Policy. Colombia is slated to sign a controversial security pact with the United States to enhance its war on “narcoterrorism” this week.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports-Council:Government Security Policy Caused Increase in Human Rights Violations-27 October 2009

El Pais-Colombia Avanza en Seguridad, pero no en derechos humanos-27 October 2009

El Espectador-Consejo Nacional de Planeación insiste en legalización de la droga-27 October 2009

Uruguayan Dictator Sentenced to 25 Years

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay-Former dictator, Gregorio “Goyo” Alvarez was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison Thursday for thirty-seven homicides committed as a part of “Operation Condor” between 1973-1985. Alvarez was commander-in-chief of the army during the period and de facto president of Uruguay from late 1980 until shortly before the restoration of democracy.

Alvarez was accused of disappearing dozens of Uruguayan political prisoners seized in Argentina and secretly returned home as part of a cooperative effort by South America’s right-wing regimes to crush dissent. Alvarez said that he knew nothing about illegal abductions or forced disappearances. He has been detained by Uruguayan authorities since 2007.

The Court gave Navy Captain Juan Larcebeau twenty years in prison for twenty-nine homicides related to secret prisoner transfers in 1978.  Although the defense can still appeal the ruling, it is being hailed as “a very important step in clarifying” Uruguay’s past. The sentence came after an appeal successfully argued that charges for disappearances can be converted into murder charges, thus warranting heavier sentencing.

The sentence comes just days before a national election that includes a referendum on repealing a law that shielded members and agents of the military regime from prosecution for crimes such as kidnapping, torture and murder. The Supreme Court of Uruguay recently found those laws to be unconstitutional.

The prosecutor in Alvarez’ case persuaded judges that the crimes were not covered by the amnesty law because they stemmed from actions carried out under Plan Condor, a collaboration among various South American regimes to eliminate political enemies. It is estimated that about 150 Uruguayans disappeared in the secret flights from Argentina in the late 1970s and an additional twenty-nine people went missing in Uruguay.  The U.S. intelligence services provided help in “operation condor.

Current Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez has made human rights prosecutions a top priority and courts have detained a number of suspects. Juan Marie Bordaberry, in office from 1973-1976 is awaiting his sentence. “Goyo” Alvarez is considered one of the most representative figures of the military regime in Uruguay.

For more information, please see:

AP-Last Uruguayan Dictator Sentenced to 25 Years-23 October 2009

BBC News-Uruguay’s Ex-ruler Alvarez Jailed-22 October 2009

Latin-American Herald Tribune-Ex-Dictator Sentenced to 25 Years in Uruguay-24 October 2009

Uruguay Court Declares Military Amnesty Unconstitutional

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay-The Supreme Court held that a law providing amnesty to military officials accused of murders, disappearances, and other human rights violations during the eleven year dictatorship is unconstitutional. The ruling comes just days before Uruguay goes to the polls in a national plebiscite to determine if the amnesty law should be overturned, as a part of the national elections.

The Supreme Court ruling was in the case of Nibia Sabalsagaray, a twenty-four year old literature professor and social activist who kidnapped, taken to a military base, and turned up dead on June 29, 1974. Sabalsagaray’s death was declared a suicide at the time, despite clear signs of torture.

A challenge to the law in the late 1980’s was upheld by the Supreme Court in a split decision. The government refused to change the law, despite pressure from the victim’s family.  The new ruling found that the amnesty law violated Uruguay’s separation of powers and was not passed by the required super-majority.

The ruling of the Supreme Court is tied to the facts of the case and therefore, the precedent coming out of the decision is unclear. A plebiscite, to be held on Sunday of this week, will determine whether the law is officially overturned. Current polls show the laws not being overturned, though there is hope that the Supreme Court ruling will turn the tide. A simple majority vote would overturn the amnesty law.

Amnesty laws were considered as key to enabling transitions from dictatorship to democracy in South America, but have been subject to increasing scrutiny. The Uruguay amnesty law was passed by a congressional majority in 1986 and reaffirmed in 1989 with fifty-four percent of the vote in a plebiscite. One argument for the law is that it balances against another amnesty law on the books for leftist guerrillas accused of attacks.

The amnesty law applies only to crimes committed in Uruguay. Individuals have been accused of rights violations in other countries as a part of Operation Condor, a joint campaign by military regimes to remove leftist movements in the Southern Cone. Former Dictator, Juan B. Bordaberry is currently under preventive detention in a case involving the murders of four Uruguayans in Argentina.

Amnesty International estimates that ninety-nine percent of political prisoners who were interviewed during the eleven year dictatorship claimed that they had been tortured. During the peak of political strife in Uruguay, the number of political prisoners was estimated to be 7,000.

The America’s Deputy Director of Amnesty International commented, “This law was designed as a get-out-of-jail-free card for those who tortured, killed, and disappeared people in Uruguay . . . now it is time for Uruguay to show that it will not permit impunity for these crimes.”

Brazil and Chile currently have similar dictatorship-era amnesty laws in force.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International-Uruguay Must Annul Law that Protects Police and Military Torture Suspects-20 October 2009

AP-Uruguay Supreme Court Rules Out Dirty War Amnesty-20 October 2009

BBC-Uruguay Dirty War Amnesty Illegal-20 October 2009

Earth Times-Supreme Court Strikes Blow Against Uruguayan Amnesty Law-20 October 2009

Proposed Changes to Peru’s Criminal Code Grant the Military Impunity

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru-The Peruvian government sent Congress a package of bills that would limit action by prosecutors and grant extraordinary powers to the military authorities.  One of the draft laws in question would modify the Criminal Code to prevent legal action against soldiers and police who kill or injure civilians in “emergency zones”.

The “emergency zones” are areas controlled by security forces by order of the executive due to terrorist threats or political protests.  Prosecutors who want to investigate human rights violations by the military in the “emergency zones” must obtain a technical report from the armed forces or police.  The report explain why the accused used a degree of force that caused death or injury.

The Peruvian government has added a definition of “use of force” to the draft law, detailing situations where a member of the armed forces would be exempt from responsibility where he or she caused the death of a civilian. Where an officer can justify civilian deaths by the level of hostility and dangerousness in the surrounding area, he or she will be exempt from criminal, civil and administrative responsibility.

Another controversial law proposed by the government would allow the military and police to remove the bodies of members of the security forces without the presence of prosecutors, which is currently required. This requirement would reportedly allow the military to disturb a crime scene without judicial authorization.

The debate over the changes to the Criminal Code has pro-military groups on one side and non-governmental organizations on the other. Defense Minister Rafael Rey argues that the armed forces are wrongfully accused of crimes committed during the 1980-2000 internal conflict. Rey argues that the number of people killed by armed forces during that period totals under 1,000 people.

The 2003 independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report found that 69,280 people were killed or disappeared by insurgents or state agents.  Fifty to sixty percent of the crimes are attributed to the Shining Path Maoist guerrillas. Amnesty International has compiled evidence that torture, killings and disappearances by state agents were widespread and systematic enough to amount to crimes against humanity.

Attorney General, Gladys Echaíz has directly challenged the laws, saying that they place impermissible limits on the prosecutors office and prevent prosecutors from doing their constitutionally mandated duties. “I don’t think the military and police need a cloak of concealment,” Echaíz said.

The deputy chair of the congressional committee on defense and internal order, Carlos Bruce, has openly questioned the constitutionality of the new laws, saying that the prosecution service must remain independent from executive branch bodies. The head of the National Human Rights Coordinating Committee stated that “Any legal initiative to secure impunity affects those members of the military who justifiably and with self-sacrifice fight against terrorism.”

For more information, please see:

IPS – Rights-Peru: Gov’t Seeks Legal Shield for Security Forces– 14 October 2009

El Comercio – Proyecto del Ejecutivo Condiciona Labor de Fiscales, Afirma Echaíz – 7 October 2009

ACTUALIDAD –Gladys Echaíz:”Ley que regula funciones del Ministerio Público en zonas deemergencia nos condiciona” – 6 October 2009

Inquest Returns Open Verdict in Bolivian Shooting Conspiracy

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – An inquest into the shooting death of Irishman Michael Dwyer, Eduardo Rozsa Flores, and Arpad Magyarosi by Bolivian police returned an open verdict this week. Dwyer, Flores, and Magyarosi were killed in a raid on a hotel on April 16 and are suspected to have links to a far-right group thought to be responsible for attacks on indigenous Bolivians, including a plot to kill Bolivian president, Evo Morales.

A lawyer for the Dwyer family has called the Bolivian police reporting on the raid and nature of the deaths into question.  The Bolivian police initially reported that the men died in a shoot out and that Dwyer was shot six times.  However, the an autopsy performed in Ireland revealed that Dwyer was shot just once in the heart. The inquest heard reports that the men were asleep when the shooting took place. The Irish government has requested an international investigation into the deaths.

Bolivia’s ambassador to the UK, Beatriz Souviron said told the inquest that Dwyer’s plain ticket to Bolivia was paid for by a businessman who was subsequently arrested for being a part of a separatist terrorist movement.  According to Souviron, the three men were under investigation for a bomb attack at the home of a Bolivian cardinal and the discovery of a cache of arms and explosives.

Dwyer reportedly went to Bolivia to take classes in personal security and protection, but decided to stay after the classes ended because he found work.  Rozsa and Magyarosi are Bolivian citizens of Hungarian and Romanian decent. Rozsa holds dual citizenship with Croatia and Magyarosi holds dual citizenship with Hungary.

Dyer’s parents believe that he came under the influence of Rozca after meeting his supporters while doing security work in Ireland.Flores, a known anti-semite, joined Croatian forces when war broke out in the former Yugoslavia. He led an armed group that attracted many foreign right-wing elements.

In an interview in April of 2009, Flores said he had been called to Bolivia to to set up a militia to protect Santa Cruz. He claimed to be ready to proclaim independence and create a new country.

Evo Morales commented that he would be happy for a “transparent” investigation to take place.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Irishman Michael Dwyer Killed in Bolivia was Linked to Bomb Attack, Inquest Told – 14 October 2009

Belfast Telegraph – Bolivia to Allow Probe into the Death Riddle of Shot Irishman – 14 October 2009

Irish Times – Parents Learned of Dwyer’s Death from Journalists – 14 October 2009

Irish Times – Dwyer Inquest Returns Open Verdict – 13 October 2009

2009 Peace Summit Highlights the Cost of War in Colombia

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Organizations representing under-served sectors of the Colombian population and a group of thirty-one experts and activists from twenty countries met for a peace summit created by Bogotá’s leftists mayor and Father Francisco de Roux, head of the Jesuit Order in Colombia. Throughout the four day summit, experts made proposals for resolving the current humanitarian crisis and the armed conflict in Colombia.

The summit was created to spawn a “citizens’ movement” for peace, and culminates with the adoption of the “Bogota Manifesto for World Peace” and the presentation of a petition to nominate the indigenous communities from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains for a Nobel Peace Prize.  The meeting was held in Colombia because, according to Bogotá Mayor Zaragoza, in Colombia “force needs to be replaced with words and negotiation.”

Colombia has been in a state of civil war for almost fifty years and the day that the Summit began, twenty-six FARC guerrillas were killed in a bomb attack by the air force and the army in the central province of Tolima.  An undetermined number of peasant families were killed trying to flee the attack.

Civilians are often trapped in the crossfire, accused of siding with either side of the conflict and rights organizations estimate that approximately ten percent of the population of Colombia has been displaced by the war. Despite this, Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the americas and the third largest recipient in the world, receiving more than five billion dollars since 2000.

The activities of indigenous “peace communities” were highlighted at the summit. Videos showed the suffering that the people from San José de Apartadó, Tiquisio, Cavida and Toribio had endured over the last two decades. This included “mass murders, displacement, years living in places like stadiums and later the return (to their village) as a peace community, where (they) have faced forced disappearance and harassment.” Peace communities have declared themselves neutral in all armed conflict.

A principle concern among experts and citizens is the proliferation of military power in Colombia and globally occurring alongside situations of extreme poverty. “We have to fight to assure a progressive change from this unbridled, disproportionate military spending to investment in a renewable energy and food production”, said Bogotá Mayor Zaragoza.

Experts recognized American President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel the anti-missile shield project in Europe and to take the lead in nuclear disarmament as a vital step towards peace. However, concern remains over the use of Colombian military bases by U.S. soldiers.

Experts in attendance urged the world to recognize that such steps towards toward peace will facilitate a shift towards sustainable world development, via the United Nations and a multilateral system in which all countries, not only the most powerful, are taken into account.

Mayor Zaragoza stated that, “we will build peace, because it is the greatest legacy that we now have to bequeath to future generations.”

For more information, please see:

IPS: COLOMBIA: Talking About Peace in the Middle of War – 5 October 2009

Pressenza – The World Peace Summit Condemns the “Colossal Military Expenditure Throughout the World – 11 October 2009

La Cumbre Mundial – La Cumbre Mundial de Paz Reúne en Bogotá a Expertos y Activistas de 20 Paises – 30 September 2009

Two Argentine “Death Pilots” Arrested for Involvement in 950 Deaths

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Two suspected “death pilots” have been arrested and are being detained for their alleged involvement in the murders of 950 people during Argentina’s “dirty war” in the 1970s and 80s.

A Spanish judge ordered former Argentine Navy Lt. Julio Alberto Poch to remain in jail until a decision is made about whether he should be extradited to Argentina to be prosecuted.

Poch was arrested in Valencia, Spain after police found an Argentine army pistol in his home.  Poch holds Dutch and Argentine nationality and works for the airline Transavia. Poch reportedly told airline colleagues that he was involved in the death flights in 2007.  An international warrant for Poch’s arrest was issued in March of this year. A spokesperson said that the extradition decision could take several months.

In Argentina, police arrested former Navy Captain Emir Sisul Hess last week in the town of Bariloche, near the Chilean border. An initial hearing was held on Friday. Sisul also reportedly discussed his involvement in the “death flights” with colleagues. He was a helicopter pilot in Argentina from 1976-77.

Argentine federal Judge Sergio Gabriel Torres is pursuing the extradition of Poch and handling the arrest of Sisul Hess. The men are suspected not just of drugging, blindfolding, and dumping people into the sea or the Rio Plata, but also of being involved in murders at the Argentine Marine Academy. Poch denies any involvement, saying that “it is practically impossible” and that he was a jet fighter at the time. Sisul has also denied the allegations.

Executed prisoners included students, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftists who were politically opposed to the dictatorship. Most of the people were snatched off of the street or arrested and held without trial in secret prisons and subject to torture. As many as 30,000 people disappeared or were held in secret prisons during the dictatorship.

There have been four major “dirty war” convictions. The first was the 1984 conviction of Ex-President Jorge Videla for the murder, torture, and detention of thousands. He is currently serving a life sentence. In 2005, an ex-naval officer was sentenced to 640 years in prison for his involvement in the “death flights.” In 2006, an ex-police chief was sentenced to life in prison for human rights abuses and earlier this year Ex-General Santiago Omar Riveros was sentenced to life in prison for kidnap, torture, and murder.

Hebe de Bonafini, the well known president of the Association of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers whose children went missing during the “dirty war” said that she found no joy in the arrests. She urged the government to find other criminals from the period, “there are several. They are not the only ones.”

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Argentine Held Over “Death Flights” – 7 October 2009

BBC – Jail Ruling for “Dirty War” Pilot – 6 October 2009

CNN International – Argentine “Death Pilot” Held In Spain – 6 October 2009

Dutch News – Pilot Suspected of Role in 950 Murders – 6 October 2009

United Press International – “Death Flight” Pilot’s Release Bid Denied – 6 October 2009

Two Mass Graves Found in Colombia

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia – Two mass graves were discovered last week containing over thirty peasants and rebel fighters.  Seventeen peasants were found in a grave on a ranch owned by the now dead, far-right militia leader Carlos Castano in Northwestern Colombia. Meanwhile, sixteen FARC rebels, thought to have been killed in combat, were found in La Uribe, in the southern jungles.

The peasants found in the ranch grave were dismembered and showed signs of torture.  Colombian prosecutors reported that the peasants were killed ten to twelve years ago by men commanded by Jesus Ignacio Roldan, known as “Monoleche.”

Castano, the owner of the ranch, was reportedly killed because he disagreed with the anti-guerrilla movement’s use of drug-trafficking mafias and because the paramilitaries were frightened that Castano would report them to U.S. drug agents.

The FARC fighters were killed in July and the bodies include the nephew of senior FARC Commander Jorge Bricero.  La Uribe, where the grave was found, has traditionally been a stronghold for the FARC.

Over 2,570 victims of right-wing paramilitaries have been unearthed in Colombia since the militias began demobilizing in 2005 pursuant to a peace agreement with the Colombian government.  The AUC was formed in 1997 as an umbrella group for the numerous paramilitary organizations created to protect drug lords’ territory and operations from attacks by leftists groups, such as the FARC.  The AUC is reportedly responsible for most of the drug related deaths in Colombia.

Both the FARC and the AUC have been designated terrorist groups.  While the AUC is no longer a formal organization, most of its past members have joined other criminal organizations.

Militias such as those that formally comprised the AUC often worked with members of the Colombian military in a “dirty war” killing and torturing people suspected to be leftist rebels or sympathizers. Prosecutors report that demobilized paramilitaries have confessed to over 25,000 murders.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Colombian Mass Graves Discovered – 26 September 2009

RTT News – Thirty-three Bodies Unearthed in Two Colombian Mass Graves – 26 September 2009

South America Policy Examiner – COLOMBIA: Two Mass Graves Discovered, Bodies Include Nephew of FARC Leader – 26 September 2009

AP – Colombia Finds 2 Mass Graves of Peasants, Rebels

Educators Bear the Brunt of “Shocking” Level of Political Violence in Colombia

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

PARIS, France – Education International, a global union federation, released a report today finding that Colombian teachers face the highest rates of political violence against teachers in the world. The detailed report, entitled Colombia’s Classroom Wars details incidences of murder, disappearances, torture, death threats, forced displacement, arbitrary detention, and other violations of human rights..

The Colombian National Trade Union School reported that 816 Colombian trade unionists were killed between 1999 and 2005. That represents more than half of the 1,175 trade unionists killed during that period worldwide. The Education International report points out that many violations go unreported because the environment is so politicized and dangerous. As a result, the estimates of human rights violations are thought to be conservative.

Over half of the trade unionists murdered in Colombia are teachers. Teachers working in rural areas are seen as community leaders, which can bring them into conflict with powerful local, national, and international interests. For example, teachers in Arauca, an oil-rich region, campaigned for multinational oil companies to finance social investment.

The report finds that political violence disproportionately affects teachers in Colombia because they represent the majority of unionization in the country. Findings of the report indicate that due to repression, and the massive growth in the informal sector, trade union representation is extremely low in Colombia. The majority of state employees are unionized and the biggest trade union in Colombia is the FECODE – the National Teacher’s Federation. FEDCODE has a strong presence and leadership in the Colombian Labor Federation.

Education International attributes the majority of the assassinations to right-wing paramilitary organizations with links to the Colombian state. People responsible for the assassinations “committed their crimes with impunity.” Dr. Mario Novelli, of the University of Amsterdam prepared the report and will present it at a UNESCO – sponsored seminar today in Paris. Dr. Novelli argues that “the violation of the political and civil rights of educators in Colombia by state and state-supported paramilitary organizations is carried out precisely with the intention of silencing the very organizations and individuals that are actively defending the economic, social, and cultural rights of their members and the broader Colombian society.”

Colombian labor union leaders spoke at the ALF-CIO meeting in Pittsburgh earlier this month. They expressly stated that the government and employers are responsible for violence against unionized workers. They argued that violence against unions rises to the level of governmental policy, saying that the government “uses its own agencies to murder trade unionists.”

Two U.S. corporations have been accused of being involved in anti-union “death squads.” The Organization of American States said that 3,000 automatic weapons and 2.5 million bullets were shipped through Chiquita Brands International’s private port and picked up by death squad operatives. Drummond Coal executives are currently being investigated for allegedly conspiring with paramilitaries to kill three union activists. Trade unionists in Colombia are hoping that violence against trade unions will be considered as the United States and Canada negotiate a Colombian Free Trade Agreement.

Dr. Novelli traces the violence to “a highly unequal development model favoring a small minority of wealthy elites at the expense of the vast majority of the population.” Novelli and Education International are urging the international community and labor movements around the world to call on governments to hold Colombia accountable for crimes; to stop giving financial support to the Colombian military; and to prioritize improvement of human rights in Colombia over the interests of foreign-based corporations.

For more information, please see:

Agencia Latinoamericana de Información – Colombian Teachers Face Highest Rate of Political Violence – 29 September 2009

Education International – Colombian Teachers Face Highest Rate of Political Violence – 29 September 2009

People’s Weekly World – Trade Unions to Colombia: Stop Murdering Labor Activists – 24 September 2009

Latin American Drug Cartels Penetrate West Africa

By Ryan C. Kossler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Colombia – Latin American drug cartels have crossed the Atlantic Ocean seeking to expand their share of the drug market into West Africa.  The Drug Enforcement Agency’s regional director for Europe and Africa said that “the same organizations that we investigate in Central and South America that are involved in drug activity toward the United States are engaged in this trafficking in Western Africa.”  He further said that “there’s not one country that hasn’t been touched to some extent,” by the Latin American drug cartels.

There are several factors that have led the cartels’ to seek West Africa as a viable market source.  West Africa is one of the poorest and least stable regions in the world.  Its Governments are weak and often corrupted and law enforcement in the region is also often riddled with corruption.  Further, due to its large population of desperate indignant inhabitants, it is relatively simple for the cartels to recruit soldiers from the area.  The combination of these factors makes West Africa particularly vulnerable to penetration by the drug cartels.

Geography also plays an important role.  West Africa is close to Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, which are the three Latin American countries that produce most of the world’s cocaine.  Cartels transport the drugs through Venezuela and across the Atlantic Ocean to the West Africa region.  A recent U.N. report said that nearly 1,000 tons of pure cocaine is produced each year.  Of this nearly 1,000 tons, approximately 60 percent evades the detection of law enforcement agencies, making for a wholesale global market value of $70 billion dollars.

Colombia’s Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) has already been identified by the DEA as one of the Latin American groups involved in the drug trafficking in West Africa.  Recently, Colombian and United States officials signed an agreement that would allow the United States access to Colombian military bases.  This agreement is intended to help battle the drug epidemic in the region.  Unfortunately, surrounding nations have condemned the agreement.  Nations such as Venezuela and Ecuador provide refuge to criminal organizations such as Colombia’s FARC and have been vocal in stating that they would not condemn any military activity against these organizations within their borders.

The United States has pressed Latin American countries to meet there counter narcotics obligations.  In a recent annual report, the United States identified Bolivia as the world’s third largest cocaine producer and charged Venezuela as failing to do enough to fight the drug trade.  The United States, however, said that it would continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Latin American countries, even though the aid was intended to be dependent on the countries counter narcotics obligations.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Latin American Drug Cartels Find Home in West Africa – 21 September 2009

The Spectator – South American Spat – 24 September 2009

Reuters – U.S. keeps Venezuela, Bolivia atop narcotics list – 16 September 2009

Former Head of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Threatened in Peru

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru – Dr. Salomón Lerner Febres, former president of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been the victim of intensified threats and harassment in recent days.  Peru’s National Coordinator for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch are calling on the Peruvian government to investigate the threats and ensure Lerner’s safety.

On September 5, 2009, Lerner reported that his dogs were poisoned and died at his home in Lima.  This week, he received anonymous phone calls at his house and at his office at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at the Catholic University of Peru.  The caller left a message saying, “What we did to your dogs, we will do to you.”

Peru’s Ombudsman, Beatriz Merino, stated that she is in “complete solidarity” with Lerner.  She said that the threats should be strongly denounced by the state because they demonstrate an intolerance of advocacy for human rights and democracy.

Lerner has been the victim of threats and harassment since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report in 2003. In addition to presiding over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Lerner is the vice president of a high level commission creating a Museum of Memory, which will focus on human rights abuses in Peru.  That commission is headed by renowned writer Mario Vargas Llosa.

Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2001 to investigate massacres, forced disappearances, terrorist attacks, and violence against women committed in the 1980s and 1990s by the Peruvian government and two rebel groups. The commission held meetings, collected testimonies, and did forensic investigations. It also made recommendations for reparations and institutional reforms.  An estimated 69,280 people were killed during that period.  The formal work of the commission ended with the 2003 publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.

The Americas director of Human Rights Watch stated that “this is still a delicate time for human rights defenders in Peru, given the longstanding lack of action to stem abuse.”  He called the conviction of former President Alberto Fujimori a “fragile gain”, saying that “the government needs to show clearly that harassment and threats against human rights defenders are not permissible.”

For more information, please see:

Derechos Humanos Peru – Solidaridad Con Salomon Lerner – 25 September 2009

El Comerio – La Defensoría Exhortó a Interior Dar Protección a Salomón Lerner – 25 September 2009

Human Rights Watch – Peru: Investigate Threats Against Rights Defender – 25 September 2009

Los Andes – Salomón Lerner, Ex Presidente de la CVR Recibe Amenazas– 25 September 2009

UNASUR Fails to Reach Consensus on Arms Deals

By Ryan C. Kossler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Quito, Ecuador – South American defense officials were unable to come to an agreement on Tuesday, September 15 when they convened to attempt to defuse regional tension caused by many of the South American countries recent arms deals.  The UNASUR group of nations is seeking transparency in the region’s recent defense deals due to the exacerbation of mistrust amongst the nations.

Colombia’s recent military pact with the United States has caused extreme tension in the region, and was one of the main topics discussed during the UNASUR gathering.  After the meeting, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said “we regret the attitude of Colombia, the intransigence of Colombia, which does not want to make transparent its pact concerning military bases.

Colombian officials say that the military pact with the United States is aimed at combating drug trafficking and that it sought the assistance of the United States because its neighbors are not doing their part to help the country combat the insurgency.  Under the military pact, U.S. forces will have access to up to seven Colombian military bases.

Venezuela’s recent arms deal with Russia was also on the table, however, Venezuela said that it would share information about its weapons deal. Venezuela said that its recent weapons purchases are for defense purposes only, however, have not provided any more information.  Venezuela accused Colombia of shrouding its military pact with the United States in secrecy. Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizalez said “we have seen neither the bold nor the fine print of the accord and of course this generates worries.”

The secrecy is a cause for worry among other countries in the region as well.  Ecuadorian officials have stated that any cross boarder military attacks on insurgents by Colombia will be met with equal military force.

Along with Colombia’s military pact with the United States, and Venezuela’s weapons deal with Russia, many other countries in the region are increasing their weapons defenses.  Ecuador and Chile recently purchased new equipment in order to strengthen each of their air forces respectively, Chile is planning a weapons deal with Russia, similar to the one that Venezuela recently entered, and Bolivia is planning on purchasing new fighter planes and helicopters from France and Russia.  It appears that if tensions remain unchecked, an arms race may be inevitable, if it has not already begun, and the already troubled region may become even more troubled.

For more information, please see:

The Spectator – South American Spat – 24 September 2009

AP – Brazil’s Lula defends South America arms buildup – 18 September 2009

Reuters – South American Officials Fail to Reach Arms Deal – 15 September 2009

U.N. Denounces Enslavement of Indigenous Guarani

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

EL GRAN CHACO, Paraguay and Bolivia – The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issueshas expressed grave concern in two recently released reports over findings of forced labor of indigenous people in the Chaco regions of Paraguay and Bolivia.  The report also cited findings of abuses related to land rights, child labor, freedom of association and discrimination. Permanent Forum Chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz even found that “in some areas, those seeking to defend their rights were the target of systematic violence and threats.”

Three Permanent Forum members were in the investigatory mission along with experts from several UN agencies.  The reports recommend that the governments of Bolivia and Paraguay take steps to address forced labor beyond what is already in place.  This should include increased presence of state institutions in forced labor areas to ensure the enforcement of domestic and international labor law, security and legal services, social services and rural development.

Evo Morales has stated his intent to aid the tens of thousands of ethnic Guarani who live in eastern Bolivia by creating a 390,000-acre reservation. Guarani leaders in Bolivia have expressed optimism about positive progress under Morales’ government. However, land owners in the area have vowed to resist any attempts of land reform.

The Permanent Forum was clear in stating that “all efforts to address the situation of indigenous peoples of the Chaco region must  . . . include restoration of territorial and land rights for indigenous peoples, and the promotion and application of the principle of non-discrimination in all spheres of life of indigenous peoples.”

Reports over the last four decades by researchers and non-governmental organizations have made similar findings regarding the indigenous people of the Chaco region, who live in a state “reminiscent of slavery.” Most land in the Chaco region is owned by non-indigenous people, who government and international observers say force landless indigenous families into labor.  Many people are paid only in food and clothing, or live in debt bondage.

For more information, please see:

Indian Country Today – Permanent Forum Wants Forced Labor Stopped – 17 September 2009

The Scoop – Forced Labour Of Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia – 1 September 2009

The Business Age – Chaco Indigenous People Suffer Forced Labor, Abuse: U.N. – 31 August 2009

United Press International – U.N.: Protect Chaco Indigenous People – 31 August 2009

Venezuelan Weapons Deal Brings Fear of South American Arms Race

By Ryan C. Kossler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Last week Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela had entered into an arms deal with Russia.  The Russian government is purported to have opened a 2.2 billion dollar line of credit for Venezuela to purchase weapons, including, 92 Soviet-era T-72 battle tanks, 300-millimeter Smerch multiple launch rocket systems, and surface to air missiles with a range of up to 186 miles.  The Russian government has said that it is willing to sell Venezuela whatever weapons it is willing to buy.

President Chavez said that the weapons were needed for defense purposes because his government feels threatened by Colombia’s recent agreement with the United States to give U.S. forces increased access to Colombian military bases.  The agreement between the U.S. and Colombia occurred last month and was for the purpose of combating regional drug trafficking and terrorism.

U.S. officials say that they fear Venezuela’s new arms acquisitions could lead to an arms race in the region, in turn, leading to regional instability.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said U.S. officials think Venezuela’s arms buildup “poses a serious challenge to stability in the western hemisphere.”

Kelly also said that the U.S. urges Venezuela “to be transparent in its purchases, and very clear about the purposes of these purchases” and that the U.S. is concerned that the Venezuelan government “put[s] in place very clear procedures and safeguards that these arms are not diverted to any irregular organizations,” referring to the fact that in the past, the Venezuelan government has been accused of providing arms to FARC guerillas in Colombia, who are considered a terrorist group by the Colombian government.

President Chavez said that his country had the “right to take the minimum necessary steps” to protect its national security and natural resources.  He accused the United States of encroaching on the country’s oil and gas reserves by saying “the empire has set its sights on them.”  President Chavez seemed to be implying that the U.S.-Colombian agreement may have ulterior motives.

Russia has already sold Venezuela military equipment amounting to the cost of 4 billion dollars since the United States barred the country from buying U.S. equipment and this latest purchase further outpaces those of any other South American country.

For more information, please see:

Google News – US Fears Latin American Arms Race – 14 September 2009

Miami Herald – US Worries About Venezuelan Arms Buildup- 14 September 2009

Miami Herald – Venezuela Gets $2.2B in Credit for Russian Arms- 13 September 2009

VOA News – US Says Venezuelan Arms Buildup Threatens Regional Stability – 14 September 2009

VOA News – Venezuela Buys Rockets from Russia – 12 September 2009