Monday, October 30, 2017

Int'l group of lawyers points to broad plot behind Cáceres' killing (Oct. 30, 2017)

Honduran environmental rights defender Berta Cáceres was killed by a criminal structure that spanned from senior executives of an Honduran dam development company to state officials and criminal organizations, according to an international group of lawyers reviewing the investigation.

"The existing proof is conclusive regarding the participation of numerous state agents, high-ranking executives and employees of Desa in the planning, execution and cover-up of the assassination," the lawyers wrote in a report reviewed by the New York Times.

Cáceres and other members of her organization, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as Copinh, were known internationally for their struggle against a dam planned on indigenous Lenca community land. Desarrollos Energéticos, known as Desa, is the Honduran company holding the dam concession.

About 40,000 pages of text messages seized by government investigators show that the orders to threaten Copinh and sabotage its protests came from Desa executives who were exercising control over security forces in the area, issuing instructions and paying for police units’ food, lodging and radio equipment.

Though eight suspects are in custody, including a Desa employee and a retired army lieutenant who also worked for the company, the international group of lawyers say there is no sign the official government investigation has moved beyond them to the ultimate masterminds of the assassination. The group says the evidence reviewed demonstrates a plot that goes far beyond the eight aprehended suspects and points towards state agents, reports CNN Español.

The group of prominent human rights lawyers from the U.S., Colombia and Guatemala -- Grupo Asesor Internacional de Personas Expertas (GAIPE) -- was chosen chosen by Bertha Zúñiga, Cáceres’s daughter, with recommendations from the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), according to the NYT.

The piece also examines Desa's history and relationship to powerful Honduran business groups. The OAS backed anti-impunity commission, MACCIH, is investigating Desa’s contracts, a move that has angered some of the country's elite.

Last week two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Shirin Ebadi from Iran and Tawakkol Karma from Yemen, denounced the government's lack of action in the Cáceres assassination case, reports TeleSUR.

Environmental activists regularly face mortal danger in Honduras, where more than 120 activists have been murdered in the last eight years. A recently approved law that could be used to label protest organizers as criminals or terrorists now makes the burden of activism even greater, notes the Wire.

News Briefs
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  • Colombia's peace process has left a much discussed power vacuum in former FARC controlled rural areas. Paramilitaries and other criminal groups competing to control lucrative illicit trade are now facing another competitor: militant indigenous activists seeking to liberate areas of the Cauca Valley from coca and sugar plantations. The liberation of "Mother Earth," has attracted hundreds, sometimes thousands, of activists every other week to join communal actions, known as minga, which involve burning and hacking down swaths of sugar cane, then erecting camps and planting traditional crops including maize and cassava, reports the Guardian. Environmental concerns are also among the groups' concerns.
  • Colombia's ELN said members killed an indigenous leader in the north of the country last week, less than a month after the group declared a ceasefire as part of peace talks, reports the BBC.
  • Elective abortion is illegal in much of Latin America -- yet investigators have found that the region's abortion rate is far higher than it is in places were the procedure is legal, such as the U.S., reports the Los Angeles Times. The piece focuses on Argentina, where the government estimates that between 370,000 and 522,000 abortions are performed every year. Though most are illegal, few are prosecuted.
  • According to at New York Times Interpreter piece, Mexico's record-breaking violence was spurred in part by two apparently positive milestones 20 years ago: the defeat of Colombia's major drug cartels, which drove the drug trade north, and Mexico's transition into a multi-party democracy, which threw the country's politics and institutions into flux at precisely that time.
  • Last week Mexico's government fired an anti-corruption prosecutor investigating Odebrecht contributions to the ruling PRI party's 2012 general election campaign. Former prosecutor Sebastian Nieto said he was pressured by a prominent party operator to pronounce his innocence in the case. (See last Monday's post.) The attorney general's office said Nieta was ousted for improperly discussing an ongoing case. But the case seems symbolic of more in a country where citizens are increasingly angry about corruption and politicians are inclined to dismiss their concerns, according to the Guardian.
  • New documents seem to indicate that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's 2012 campaign was partially funded by an Odebrecht subsidiary, reports InSight Crime.
  • The wave of Haitian asylum seekers arriving in Canada from the U.S. could be only the beginning, as several Central American countries' citizens face termination of the Temporary Protection Status immigration programs that enable them to living and work in the U.S., argues Jaime Porras Ferreyra in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron laughed off marijuana fumes in the air while he was meeting with locals on a visit to French Guyana, reports AFP. "That will not help with your schoolwork," he could be heard telling the smokers on a video posted on the presidential Facebook page in the overseas territory. "You have to tell the youngest!"
  • Gaston Browne, prime minster of Antigua and Barbuda, called on the U.K. to help the Hurricane Irma affected country, reports the Guardian. Most of Barbuda was destroyed in September and most of its 2,000 residents were evacuated to Antigua, where they're still living provisionally. (See Sept. 11's post.) New York Times 360 features the island's almost total destruction.
  • Troops and federal police were deployed to protect government environmental agency buildings in Brazil's Amazon region after they were set on fire on Friday, reports the BBC. The attacks were apparently carried out by gold prospectors in revenge for a recent raid on an illegal operation, according to authorities.
  • Cuba's abrupt weaning from trade with the Soviet Union in the 1990's marked the beginning of a path towards small farms that are increasing organic, reports the Guardian.
  • On Friday a Guatemalan judge  sent former President Otto Perez Molina and his vice president to trial for participation in a customs fraud scheme known as "La Línea," reports the Associated Press. The decision comes two years after they were accused of participating by Guatemala's public prosecutor and the U.N. backed anti-corruption commission, the CICIG. 
  • Guatemalan prosecutors arrested 15 municipal officials accused of an embezzlement scheme involving government construction contracts in exchange for kickbacks, reports InSight Crime.
  • This Saturday's Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City paid tribute to to the victims of September's earthquakes, the rescue workers who searched the rubble, and demonstrated the country's resilient spirit, according to the New York Times. Beautiful shots in the Guardian.
-Clive Rose/Getty Images​

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