Weekly News Update on the Americas
A plane chartered by the US government carried 38 Honduran deportees from an immigration detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, to the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on July 14. This was the first US deportation flight entirely dedicated to mothers and children: eight mothers, 13 girls and nine boys were scheduled for the trip, although two couldn't travel because of illness. Reporters, Honduran officials and Ana García de Hernández, the wife of President Juan Orlando Hernández, were on hand for the flight's arrival. President Hernández's government promised the deportees job leads, a $500 stipend, psychological counseling and schooling, but a returning mother, Angélica Gálvez, told the Los Angeles Times that in the end she and her six-year-old daughter Abigail didn't get enough money to pay for the three-hour trip to their home in La Ceiba. "They haven't helped me before," she said. "Why should I believe them now?"
On July 12 the 1,066 laid-off employees of El Salvador's Manufacturas del Río (MDR) apparel factory began receiving benefits, back wages and severance pay that they were owed after the plant closed suddenly on Jan. 7. MDR—a joint venture of Mexican company Kaltex and Miami-based Argus Group that stitched garments for such major brands as Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Lacoste, Levi Strauss and Adidas—shut down without notice after the Textile Industry Workers Union (STIT), an affiliate of the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS), spent two months attempting to negotiate a contract. No apparel plant in El Salvador has a labor contract.
The BRICS group of five nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—held its sixth annual summit this year from July 14 to July 16 in Fortaleza in the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará and in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital. The main business for the five nations' leaders was formalizing their agreement on a plan to create a development bank to serve as an alternative to lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are largely dominated by the US and its allies. Although the project will need approval from the countries' legislatures, the BRICS leaders indicated that the group's lending institution would be called the New Development Bank, would be based in Shanghai and would be headed for the first five years by a representative of India. The bank is to start off in 2016 with $50 billion in capital, $10 billion from each BRICS member. The BRICS nations will maintain control of the bank, but membership will be open to other countries; in contrast to the IMF and the World Bank, the New Development Bank will not impose budgetary conditions on loan recipients.
United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon made a two-day visit to Haiti on July 14 and July 15 to promote a $2.2 billion program that he launched in December 2012 to eliminate cholera from the country over the next 10 years. He traveled with Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to the village of Las Palmas, near Hinche in the Central Plateau, to announce a "Total Sanitation Campaign," the second phase of the cholera elimination program, which remains underfunded. Ban called the visit a "necessary pilgrimage"; at a church service in Las Palmas he acknowledged "that the epidemic has caused much anger and fear" and that it "continues to affect an unacceptable number of people."
Honduran security forces mounted a major operation on July 3 to remove hundreds of campesinos from an estate they had occupied in a dispute over land in the Lower Aguán River Valley in the northern department of Colón. One of the occupiers, Pedro Avila, was shot dead in the operation and two were wounded, according to Santos Torres, who heads the campesinos' organization, the Gregorio Chávez Collective. Some 400 families were "violently evicted" and "repressed with tear gas and live ammunition," the campesinos charged in a statement, and at least 20 people were detained. The operation was carried out by soldiers under the command of Col. René Jovel Martínez and by National Police agents and by security guards in the pay of the Corporación Dinant food-product company, the campesinos said. The estate, named Paso Aguán, is owned by Honduran entrepreneur and landowner Miguel Facussé Barjum, Dinant's founder. On July 4 Dinant business relations director Roger Pineda denied that company security guards were involved. Pineda claimed no one was killed, although "the effects of the tear gas made [one person] pass out."
Some 3,000 campesinos, including children and seniors, some with musical instruments, staged sit-ins on June 26 in the states of Goiás, Bahía and Piauí at 18 branches of Brazil's two largest state-owned banks, the Banco do Brasil and the Caixa Económica Federal. The day-long protest, organized by the Popular Campesino Movement (MCP), targeted budget cuts in the government's popular low-income housing program, My House My Life; MCP leaders said 950 campesino families had been dropped from My House My Life's National Rural Habitation Program (PNHR). The group demanded an increase in housing construction for the rest of this year, payment for projects already in progress, and improvements in the PNHR for next year. "The campesino families are struggling for a dignified life and don't accept having to wait more time for reform, enlargement [of the program] and construction of housing," the MCP said in a statement. "Waiting longer means increasing the exodus from the countryside and increasing the problems of rural life."
During a visit to Brasilia on June 17, US vice president Joe Biden presented Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff with 43 declassified US State Department documents referring to abuses committed under the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship. The handover of the documents, which will go to Brazil's National Truth Commission (CNV), was part of an effort to mend relations with Brazil after revelations in 2013 that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been spying on Brazilian government agencies and on President Rousseff herself. The NSA revelations led to Brazil's cancellation of a planned state visit to the US in September 2013 and to the US manufacturer Boeing Co's loss of a $4 billion fighter jet contract with the Brazilian air force. (Reuters, June 17)
Chilean investigative judge Jorge Zepeda has ruled that US intelligence agents shared responsibility for the killing of US journalist Charles Horman and US graduate student Frank Teruggi by the Chilean military in the days after the Sept. 11, 1973 coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende Gossens. "US military intelligence services played a fundamental role in the murders of two US citizens in 1973, providing the Chilean military with information that brought [them] to death," Zepeda concluded in his report, which the Associated Press wire service cited on July 1. This was the first official confirmation of suspicions by Horman and Teruggi's families and friends that the US shared in the responsibility for the killings, the subject of the 1982 film "Missing."