In the ongoing peace talks in Havana, Colombia's government and the FARC rebels agreed June 7 to set up a truth commission that addresses the deaths of thousands of people in five decades of the country's conflict. Both sides pledged to take responsibility for victims, a break with the longtime practice of blaming each other. The FARC also announced a ceasefire from June 9 to 30, to allow the presidential run-off elections to move ahead. The group had previously declared a week-long ceasefire around the period covering the first round of elections on May 25, in which the hardline Oscar Ivan Zuluaga won more votes than other candidates, but fell far short of the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. Zuluaga criticized the truth commission agreement, insisting that the FARC to admit to being the main culprit of the violence of the past generations. "The FARC rebels are the primary victimizers in Colombia, with all the murders and terrorism they have committed in all these years of massacres," he said at a campaign stop in Huila.
A new communique from Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) (online at Enlace Zapatista, and in translation at Roar Magazine) states that he is stepping down as the public voice of the indigenous Maya rebel army in Mexico's Chiapas state. It says he is to be replaced by a "Subcommander Galeano," named for the nom de guerre of José Luis Solís López, the Zapatista adherent killed on May 2 in a confrontation with a rival campesino group. "I declare that the one known as Insurgent Subcommander Marcos ceases to exist," the statement reads. "The Zapatista National Liberation Army will no longer speak through my voice." The text cites changes in the rebel movement since it announced its existence to the world in a brief armed uprising launched on New Years Day 1994, the exact moment that NAFTA took effect:
Mexico's government on May 10 started to swear in members of the "community police" vigilante network in Michoacán state for a new rural police force, which is supposed to bring the self-defense militias under state control. An initial 240 "community police" members gathered for the ceremony in the village of Tepacaltepec, a stronghold of the movement, where they received new blue uniforms and registered their rifles, or turned them in for state-issued AR-15s. The ceremony was overseen by the federal pointman for Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo, who waxed florid for the occassion: "Those who 15 months ago said 'Enough' and decided to confront those who did them harm—because of them today we have the State Rural Force that carries the same conviction of justice, of courage, valor, bravery needed to protect those, who we love the most, our families."
State police arrested six indigenous Mexicans on May 17 in connection with the killing on May 2 of an activist in La Realidad, a village in the official municipality of Las Margaritas in the southeastern state of Chiapas. La Realidad is one of a number of indigenous communities that supporters of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) have considered autonomous municipalities since December 1994. The victim, José Luis Solís López ("Galeano"), taught at a "little school" (escuelita) that since last year has provided international activists with an introduction to the Zapatistas' experiment with autonomous communities. Another 15 EZLN supporters were wounded in the May 2 violence, and a school and a clinic were destroyed.
That's about the most depressing headline we could imagine, but there might be something to it. Blackwater in Ukraine? That's the claim in German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, citing unnamed sources in the BND, Germany's intelligence agency. Actually, the company is now called Academi in the latest name-change game to stay ahead of bad press, and it is said to have 400 "mercenaries" in Ukraine. The Russian official press, e.g. Russia Today, jumps on the claims with glee, saying the mercenaries are "taking part in the Ukrainian military operation against anti-government protesters in southeastern regions of the country." (Note that the armed separatists are referred to as "protesters" by the same RT that played up the role of militias in the Maidan protests.) The claims have also been seized upon by the foreign press that is sympathetic to Russia (TeleSur) and the "alternative" press in the West (World Socialist Website, Indymedia). Acedmi in a press release denies everything, and also states that it "has no relationship with any entity named Blackwater or with the former owner of Blackwater, Erik Prince." But later in the press release, it states: "Erik Prince sold the company (which he had renamed 'Xe') in 2010 and retained the rights to the 'Blackwater' name. The new management of ACADEMI has made tremendous efforts to build a responsible, transparent company ethos..." So, it actually is the same company, under new management. Back on March 13, RT also aired claims that "mercenaries" were backing up the Maidan protesters—based on an interview with Yanukovich's ex-intelligence chief, Aleksandr Yakimenko, not exactly the most objective source.
An unknown number of miners—perhaps as many as 40—were buried alive as an illegal gold mine collapsed late on the night of April 30 at El Palmar, in Colombia's southern department of Cauca. Local campesinos spent May Day volunteering with Santander de Quilichao municipal brigades in a desperate effort to unearth the victims—none of whom are believed to survive. Thus far, only three bodies have been recovered, according to local Red Cross workers. Local residents said the "owners" of the mine were able to escape, but it is still unlcear exactly who they are.
Heavily armed men employed by the son of a local landowner shot five indigenous Q'eqchi' on April 7 in the community of Nueve de Febrero, Cobán municipality, in the northeastern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz, according to community residents. The wounded Q'eqchi' were taken by ambulance to the national hospital in Cobán; one died from his injuries on April 20. Residents say the attackers were under the command of Augusto Sandino Ponce, the son of landowner David Leonel Ponce Ramírez. The Ponces are said to be linked to a project by the Hidroeléctrica Santa Rita S.A. company for building a dam at Monte Olivo. The Nueve de Febrero community has been active in opposition to the dam for the past two years.
The offices of the Cali Municipal Workers Synidicate (Sintraemcali), located in the center of the Colombian industrial city, was attacked with hurled incendiary bombs April 16, causing damage to the facade and plumbing of the building. Sintraemcali called the bombing a "terrorist attack," and pledged to file a complaint with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The attack came five days after a judge in Bogotá ordered the president of the republic, Juan Manuel Santos, to issue a formal pardon to members of Sintraemcali, the Colombian University Workers Syndicate (Sintraunicol) and the Bogotá Telecommunications Workers Synidate (Sintratelefonos), who had been accused by former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez of being linked to terrorist groups and constituting a "Brotherhood of Terrorism." (Radio Caracol, Etorno Inteligente, April 16)