Sunday, July 31, 2005

Blog from Guatemala, Part III: The Return Home

The following blog entry is from assistant editor Cyril Mychalejko, who just returned from a trip in Guatemala:

I arrived back in the States from Guatemala on Monday, July 18th. Even though I was there for about 10 days, it was a little tough making the transition back. It was an intense and informative delegation which left me struggling to digest everything I saw and learned. It made me think about how trivial some things that I may get stressed out about here are compared to the struggles people are dealing with in Guatemala.

Yet there are a lot of positive things going on in the region. A tremendous amount of work is being done to try to bring those responsible for the genocide that took place there to justice, as well as give families who suffered closure regarding the deaths/disappearances of their loved ones through the exhumation process of the mass graves left in the wake of the period referred to as "The Violence." One thing that does need attention though is finding a way to bring the U.S. government to justice for their role in the genocide, which starts with the CIA and United Fruit Company's role in the 1954 coup which abruptly ended Guatemala's flirtation with a democratic government which in turn was a catalyst for the civil war, in addition to military aid and training through programs such as the School of the Americas (former Guatemalan military leader, Rios Mont being one of its graduates).

Regarding the Glamis Mining project, if one good thing has come out of it, it is that it has strengthened communities in their resistance against the company and the "Upside Down" development championed by the World Bank, northern governments, multinational corporations and free trade agreements. The community organizing, education and mobilizations against such corporate globalization offer hope. Another world is possible and it’s happening on the grassroots level in Guatemala. The community consultations in places like Sipacapa and also San Miguel (scheduled to take place soon where Glamis' mine is located), which was just brought to my attention by Sandra Cuffe of Rights Action, offer a framework.

I would like to thank Rights Action for sponsoring this delegation and for all of the good work they support in places like Guatemala and Honduras. I urge everyone to visit their website. I would also like to thank everyone on the delegation. I learned a lot from them and I wish them all the best with the work they are doing in the US and Canada. I hope to have a follow-up to my Glamis article, which will be co-authored by Sandra Cuffe, ready for publication the next week or so... stay tuned.

Check out his previous entries here and here

Friday, July 22, 2005

The New US Military Base in Paraguay that Doesn’t Exist

Note on this entry: I just finished an article on the US's questionable activities in Paraguay, check it out: What is the US Military Doing in Paraguay?

A story has been circulating through cyberspace about a new US military base in Paraguay, near the border with Bolivia. Sketchy and disparate information on the base abound, leaving some to believe it is nothing but a rumor blown out of proportion. Well, does it exist?

The main reasons for such a base could be that
A: The US is interested in being closer to Bolivia’s gas reserves, which are located near the border with Paraguay. Maybe they want to take over the reserves...(remember Iraq?)

B. The US is interested in monitoring the triple border area where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet, an area that has been dubbed as “Islamic terrorist breeding ground” by high US military officials and Jeffrey Goldberg, a journalist from the New Yorker.

An article in El Deber, a Bolivian newspaper (available here in English), states that the new US military base in Paraguay is 200 kilometers from the border of Bolivia, near Tarija, home to Bolivia’s largest gas reserves.

According to El Deber, “the base will permit the landing of Galaxy airplanes and heavy armaments. Already 400 Marines have arrived but the base is prepared to house 16,000 military troops. The Paraguayan Congress approved the entrance of US Troops in this country, with immunity, right of free transit and permanence for its soldiers until December 2006, automatically extendable. This insinuates that the US, from this base, could control the Bolivian Natural Gas Reserves, especially the "La vertiente" fields, one of the largest in the World.”

Various articles from Prensa Latina confirm these reports. In an article published July 1st, the press agency explains that “The Paraguayan government opened its doors to a US military contingent comprised of planes, weapons, equipment and ammunition, which arrived in Paraguay after the National Congress granted immunity to US soldiers.”

On July 8th, another report from Prensa Latina stated that “Paraguay has denied rumors on the possible creation of a US military base in its territory, coinciding with the arrival of 500,000 GIs for joint maneuvers. A note from the Paraguayan Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministries stated the country did not sign any agreement with the United States to create a military base in this territory.”

On July 11th, Prensa Latina published another article saying, “Five hundred US soldiers entered Paraguayan territory on July 1, and the Paraguayan Congress has granted immunity to US soldiers, similar to diplomatic immunity, until they conclude their mission on December 31, 2006…Colonel Elio Flores, Head of Social Communication of the Paraguayan Armed Forces, said the maneuvers would last a month, and that 65 officials would take part in instruction to fight terrorism and drug-trafficking.”

A statement issued from the US Embassy in Paraguay explained the reports about a US-Paraguayan military cooperation are “not true and have absolutely no basis in fact…The truth about some of the more ridiculous accusations is as follows: a. The U.S. has absolutely no intention of establishing a military base anywhere in Paraguay. b. The U.S. has no intention to station soldiers for a lengthy period in Paraguay.”

According to a Latin American Weekly Report from on July 12th, the story of a new US base in Paraguay is a rumor which “started when a correspondent from the Argentine news agency Argenpress misinterpreted an official Paraguayan communiqué following the senate's 28 June authorization for US troops to enter the country. This covered a series of military cooperation activities which will involve, in all, 204 members of the US military, who will turn up in batches ranging in size from 10 to 32 soldiers between June 2005 and December 2006. The first group, seven strong, arrived in Asunción on 3 July to run a course on counterinsurgency and antidrug operations. The second, due on 24 July, is a contingent of military medics which will provide medical assistance in the eastern department of Canindeyú.”

This last bit of news sounds like business as usual, far from the initial conspiracy theory floating around the net. But, you never know. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more updates. If anyone else has any news on this, please email me:

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Blog from Guatemala, Part II: Visit to Anti-Mining Coalition Meeting

The following blog entry is from assistant editor Cyril Mychalejko, who is currently in Guatemala and will be there for the next few weeks. See his previous entry below. He’ll be writing for this blog regularly:

Monday night we went to a meeting in the department of Sipacapa attended by about 60 campesinos (peasants), including a few women and children, representing various communities in the area. Unfortunately we got there late because our bus broke down in San Miguel, about an hour and a half away from the destination. We had to ask around for ride. Luckily, we found someone who would drive us. The whole group wasn´t able to go but about 8 of us piled on the back of a pick up truck to enjoy a nice bumpy mountain ride. When we finally arrived we were warmly welcomed to the meeting, which had been going on for about two hours. I think it meant a lot for the people there to have some North Americans visit in solidarity. I know it meant a lot to me that they trusted and welcomed us so quickly.

Everyone at the meeting was vehemently opposed to the mine. There was recently a community consultation and referendum where the local residents took a vote to clearly state their position on the Glamis Marlin Mine. It is part of their indigenous culture to do this. Somewhere between 95 and 98 percent of the people voted against the mine. Glamis filed a lawsuit to try to stop the consultation from happening. A lower court ruled in favor of Glamis but the Guatemalan constitutional court overturned the ruling. Also, Glamis has been recently targeting outspoken community leaders with lawsuits and threatening mine workers with violence. This is a clear attempt to intimidate anyone who opposes the mine. According to people at the meeting there have also been threats circulating that people who oppose the mine will be disappeared, (kidnapped), a threat with horrifying historical context as an estimated 50,000 people, mainly indigenous, were disappeared during the genocide campaign in the 1970-80s, along with and estimated 200,000 murders.

The campesinos at the meeting expressed that they would not be intimidated to back down from protecting their land and way of life. They said that they needed to continue to organize and educate in the communities. They also expressed interest in setting up visits with Zapatista communities so that they could share their experience and knowledge with each other.

It was very exciting to be part of this pure exercise in democracy. Although these poor campesinos and Mayans are fighting against a powerful multinational corporation, the World Bank and a corrupt and repressive government, I have both hope that they will succeed. In a way they are already succeeding because they are on there way to redefining the power structure both locally and globally with their community organizing and involvement. Regardless of the outcome of this struggle, they are making long term progress for a much bigger fight to the regain their rights to self determination, outside the control of the state and transnational corporations, something we all are fighting for in both the north and south…

Sunday, July 10, 2005

From Guatemala: Mining, Genocide and Human Rights

The following blog entry is from assistant editor Cyril Mychalejko, who is currently in Guatemala and will be there for the next few weeks. He’ll be writing for this blog regularly:

I arrived in Guatemala City on Friday, July 8th as a member of an Environmental, Development and Human rights delegation sponsored by Rights Action. RA, with offices in Canada, Washington DC and Guatemala City, raises funds for Grassroots organizations and local development projects primarily in Guatemala, but also in Honduras and Mexico. RA also sponsors human rights accompaniments, helps with volunteer and intern placements in the region, and does education and activism, focusing much of it on the way the north contributes directly and indirectly to the economic problems of the global south. There is a diverse group of participants in the group I am in. In addition to myself we have a mining executive, a man who works at the national archives in D.C., a lawyer, and the director of the Marin Interfaith Task Force of the name a few.

Saturday morning we met with Magali Rey Rosa, who works with the environmental and human rights organization de Madre Selva. Magali also writes an independent column for the paper Pense Libre. She wrote an excellent column some months ago in response to an op-ed written by Canadian Ambassador Lambert, who disingenuously tried to champion the alleged virtues of the Marlin Mine, funded by the World Bank and run by Glamis Gold. Magali and de Madre Selva has been very active in organizing and campaigning against the marlin project. Magali traveled to Honduras in December 2003 to attend a conference on mining and to visit that country’s Glamis Mine. She said the site of the environmental and social devastation changed her life. De Madre Selva is a small grassroots group funded by churches. Magali spoke about the lack of environmental laws and protections in Guatemala, how President Berger is dismantling what little environmental institutionalism there is and how the head of the environmental ministry serves the interests of the ruling oligarchy. She criticized large NGOs and other mainstream environmentalists who bow to the interests of the ruling elite by never speaking out politically and who don’t touch on subjects that are deemed taboo such as oil and mining, just so that they can preserve their funding. She said she was approached by the World Bank with an offer for her group to monitor of the Marlin Mine. She said her response was that they will monitor it, but never will never accept one cent from the World Bank. One group member asked - “why not?” - an excellent question. “Wouldn’t this be an opportunity?” Magali’s response: “Well then the World Bank wouldn’t have to accept the conclusions, it could possibly alter them and if a group like De Madre Selva agreed to this it would lend legitimacy to an illegitimate project, given the WB and Glamis failure to comply with ILO covenant 169 and both groups failure to gain consent from the local area, made up of largely indigenous communities. Unfortunately there is not a mechanism in place yet to hold global acts accountable.

In the afternoon we met with Alan Robinson, the forensic anthropology lab director of FAFG (Guatemala Forensic Anthroplogy Team) and Fernando Lopez, a lawyer with CALDH (Central of Legal Action for Human Rights), who is involved with genocide cases.
We saw a brief movie about the exhumations of mass graves left by the genocide campaign conducted by the state against the indigenous population of Guatemala in the 1970s and 80s. The movie also contained witness testimony from those who lost loved ones, which was heart wrenching. The exhumations and the testimony are gathered as evidence used to build legal cases against the intellectual and material authors of the genocide campaign. During the exhumation there is the use of archeology, physical and social anthropology along with forensics to help determine profiles of the dead, sex, age height, biological history, and race (which is mostly determined through articles of clothing found along with testimony from loved ones describing physical traits which are then matched with recovered remains.

During the genocide campaign, its worst years were under the regime of Rios Montt, a former CIA asset, graduate of the School of the Americas, and close ally of Reagan who subsequently still lives in Guatemala and who ran in the last presidential election. It is estimated that over 200,000 indigenous people were killed with some 50,000 disappeared. Thus far there have been 516 exhumations from mass grave sites. The forensic lab we visited currently has 700 individuals on site. According to Alan Robinson they have about a 60 percent positive ID rate, which helps give closure to loved ones and dignity to the dead. After evidence is taken, analyzed, documented and reports are written, it is determined shortly there after that the bodies can be returned to their families for proper burial. Someone asked if there was resistance from Mayans about the remains being taken to a lab due to cultural or other reasons. The answer was that every single exhumation is initiated by local communities. The group looked at the remains from a victim pulled from a mass grave located at an old military barracks in Chimaltenango. It was of a woman, estimated to be in her thirties, who was shot from behind, once in the back of the head and a couple of more times close to the rib cage and spinal column. She was number 5 from the site, so Alan said that there was at least five people buried there but there very well could be more. For instance, on March 13, 1982, in Rio Negro there were 107 women and 70 children massacred by the military. The army’s response was that it was a result of an excursion they had with guerrilla fighters.

The prosecution and ability to have the government accept legal cases against those responsible for the genocide has been frustrating and not as fruitful as it should be. One reason explained is that many of the guilty people are involved with the main political parties, which is why no one in the Guatemalan congress is championing this cause.... The U.S. played a big role in the genocide through military aid and training, among other things, how can we build a legal case against the US government and under what jurisdiction?

Stay tuned for more…