In Other News
On May 10 a three-judge panel of the High Risk Cases Court in Guatemala City convicted former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) of ordering, supervising and permitting the killing of 1,771 people from the Ixil Mayan group—about 5.5% of the total Ixil population—in El Quiché department during his 17 months of de facto rule. The killings occurred during the most violent phase of a 36-year civil war in which some 200,000 people died, mostly civilians killed by the military, with covert assistance from the US. Ríos Montt was given a prison sentence of 80 years and was escorted from the court directly to the Matamoros prison. He said would appeal and called the proceedings an international farce. The court acquitted co-defendant José Rodríguez, Ríos Montt's former intelligence chief.
Just one week after imposing a 30-day state of siege on four municipalities in southeastern Guatemala that have been the site of violent confrontations over a Canadian-owned silver mine, President Otto Pérez Molina announced on May 9 that his government was lifting the measure and instead declaring a state of prevention in the area. Under the less severe state of prevention, "some rights remain limited," the president said, "such as the right to strike, and demonstrations when it's going to interfere with public services, [along with] the carrying of arms." Apparently, Pérez Molina had to back off from the May 2 state of siege because the National Congress had failed to approve it within three days, as required by law. (AFP, May 9, via Hoy, Dominican Republic; El Mercurio, Spain, May 11)
On the night of May 9 some 150 mostly indigenous protesters left the construction site which they had occupied for a week at the Belo Monte dam, in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. (We previously reported 200 occupiers, following our sources.) The decision to end the protest came after Judge Sérgio Wolney Guedes of the Region 1 Federal Regional Court responded to a request from Norte Energia S.A., the consortium in charge of the dam, by ordering the activists to leave and authorizing the use of force by the police. "We went out the same way we entered, peacefully, without causing damage to public property or any type of aggression," Valdenir Munduruku, a spokesperson for the protesters, told the official Agência Brasil by phone. But he said the activists were unhappy with the court's decision, "because we think that our rights are being violated."
Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) made a tentative reentry into politics with a press conference held on May 9 at his home in Tabarre, a well-to-do suburb northeast of Port-au-Prince. Aristide said his political party, the Lavalas Family (FL), "is evolving, is becoming stronger and more powerful," and he appeared confident that it would be able to field candidates in parliamentary and local elections to be held before the end of the year; electoral authorities kept FL off the ballot in 2009 partial senatorial elections and in the 2010-2011 presidential and legislative elections. He predicted that the party would win seats, but not that it would dominate as it did during his 2001-2004 presidential term. "One person alone," "one political party alone" or "one group in society" can't solve the problem of hunger, Aristide said. "We have an indispensable coming together to do in order for us to diminish hunger in our country."
According to Mexican authorities, Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of assassinated US rights activist Malcolm X and educator Betty Shabazz, was found badly beaten on a sidewalk in Mexico City the night of May 8. Federal District (DF, Mexico City) emergency services took him to a hospital, where he died early in the morning of May 9. A Mexican friend, Miguel Suárez, said he and Shabazz had been invited into The Palace, a bar in the Plaza Garibaldi neighborhood. Later they were presented with a $1,200 bill for music, alcohol and the company of the women they had been drinking with. When they refused to pay, Suárez was separated from Shabazz and eventually escaped; apparently Shabazz was beaten to death.
About 200 protesters occupied the main construction site for the giant Belo Monte dam, in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, on May 2 to demand the immediate suspension of work on the project until the government has respected the indigenous communities' right to prior consultation on the project. The occupiers—who included members of the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã and Arara indigenous groups as well as fishing people and other residents in the area that will be affected by the dam—were also protesting the presence of soldiers and military vehicles in the region. They said they would maintain the occupation and block construction "until the federal government responds to the demands we've presented."
The status of the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) remained uncertain as of May 3, with observers disagreeing on the impact of four rulings by the Constitutional Court (CC) that day. The trial--in which Ríos Montt and former intelligence chief Gen. José Rodríguez face charges of causing the deaths of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan civilians in the central department of Quiché during Ríos Montt's dictatorship—started on March 19 but was suddenly suspended on April 18 after an appeals court appeared to reinstate the presiding judge from an earlier phase of the case. The trial resumed on April 30, but on May 2 the three trial judges decided to recess until May 7 to allow the defense to prepare.
Several hundred Haitian unionists and activists marched in Port-au-Prince on May 1 to celebrate International Workers Day and to demand reform of the country's labor code, respect for labor standards and application of a legally mandated 300 gourde (about US$7.12) daily minimum wage for piece workers in the assembly sector. The march began at the large industrial park run by the semi-public National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi) in the north of the capital; the assembly plants there mainly produce apparel for sale in North America and are a focus of complaints over failure to pay the minimum wage. The unionists then moved on to the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development Ministry (Marndr) to highlight the situation of agricultural workers. Police agents blocked the march for 20 minutes because Haitian president Michel Martelly and other officials were attending an event at the ministry.
In a sharp reversal of its previous policy, the US government has decided to let René González, one of five Cuban men convicted of espionage in 2001, serve out the remainder of his probation in Cuba. González, a US citizen of Cuban origin, was released in October 2011 after spending 13 years in prison, but US officials initially turned down his request to serve his remaining three years' probation in Cuba. In 2012 the US let him visit the island for two weeks to see his brother, who was ill, and in April this year he was allowed another visit to attend the funeral of his father, who died on April 1. On May 3 US district judge in Miami Joan Lenard granted González's request to stay in Cuba; she said the US Justice Department now had no objection to the arrangement. Apparently the only condition was that he would need to renounce his US citizenship.
World War 4 Report editor and chief blogger Bill Weinberg will be in Peru on assignment for the next weeks. The Daily Report will be updated as time and logistics allow, including on-the-scene reports from indigenous and campesino struggles for land and water in the Andean sierras. So please be patient with our slower pace of activity, and continue to check in on us. Daily updates and our weekly e-mailing of headlines will resume the last week of May. To sign up for the e-mail list (just one mailing a week, and your address will be kept in the strictest confidence), please be in touch.
An estimated 80,000 Salvadorans representing a wide array of labor organizations, university students, women’s organizations and anti-mining activists, among others, as well as the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) political party, took to the streets for the largest May Day march since the election of President Funes in 2009. "We're really happy to have had such a diverse and strong showing of the working class on May 1," said Vilma Vásquez, one of the leaders of the Salvadoran Union Front (Frente Sindical Salvadoreño, FSS). "It takes a lot of work to mobilize that many people but the working class and the popular movement in El Salvador have always carried out our struggle with love."
Israeli missiles struck a research center near Damascus, setting off explosions and causing casualties, Syria's state news agency reported May 5. If confirmed, it would be the second Israeli strike on targets in Syria in three days. Two previous Israeli air-strikes, one in January and one on May 3, targeted weapons reportedly bound for Hezbollah. (AP, May 5) On May 4, a former senior official in the Bush administration said the use of chemical weapons in Syria might have been an Israeli-instrumented "false flag operation." Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, told Current TV: "We don’t know what the chain of custody is. This could’ve been an Israeli false flag operation, it could’ve been an opposition in Syria... or it could've been an actual use by Bashar Assad. But we certainly don’t know with the evidence we’ve been given. And what I'm hearing from the intelligence community is that that evidence is really flakey." (JP, May 4)
Chaudhry Zulfikar, chief prosecutor in the criminal case against Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf, was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting on May 3. Zulfikar had been due to appear at the High Court in Rawalpindi for a hearing in Musharraf's case on charges of involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Zulfikar was leading the investigation into the allegations that Musharraf failed to provide adequate security to Bhutto when she returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile in December of 2007. She was killed at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi later that month.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian detained at Guantánamo since August 2002, had portions of his handwritten prison-camp memoir published in Slate on April 30. Slahi wrote the 466-page journal from 2005-2006, and it has just become unclassified, although many sections are redacted. Slahi mostly grew up in Germany and went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet-backed regime in 1990, where he apparently fell in with al-Qaeda. He repudiated al-Qaeda in 1992 and returned to Germany to study, later moving to Canada. In 2001 back in Mauritania, he was detained "for questioning" by police at US behest—and promptly renditioned to Jordan. There, he was tortured for months on suspicion of involvement in the 2000 "Millennium Plot"—on the specious grounds that a member of his Montreal mosque was caught with plot-related explosives. The Jordanians concluded he wasn't involved, but the US sent him to Bagram and then to Guantánamo. That's when the nightmare really began.
Why now? On May 2—the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike gun-fight that landed her in prison—the FBI made veteran Black Panther Assata Shakur the first woman on its "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, doubling the reward for her capture to $2 million. Shakur is in exile in Cuba, and Cuba's own right-wing exiles in Miami have campaigned for her extradition. But it's the NJ State Police that seem to have brought the pressure, with Trenton putting up the extra million dollars. "She continues to flaunt her freedom in the face of this horrific crime," State Police superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said at a press conference, calling the case "an open wound" for troopers in New Jersey and around the country.