Americas Watch

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Past News Archives
Nov 15 | 2002 Year End Review

October 19, 2005

Haiti: The Silent Killings

The Report on International Tribunal on Haiti

Important Video from July 2005 U.N. Killing in Haiti [Real MPEG]


February 7, 2003

Latin America: A growing Struggle

From: Comité por la Nueva Colombia

The popular movements of Latin America grow in strength once again due to the social-political situation that is imposed on us. In response to the growing shouts of the people we can see U.S. imperialism using its old strategy of extermination. With their military bases, funding of death squads, and direct intervention they see a sure victory against the people, but they forget that we have history a history of who they are and what we are capable of, they forget that we are many and that they are few. We the people of Latin America see no other outlet to our problems other than to fight for change. More of us fight everyday because imposed hunger, exploitation, and ignorance is everywhere. More of my people die from this type violence than from anyother.  Our struggles are expressed in many ways and we will keep expressing them today, tomorrow and until we find a victory... the struggle will always be present. Hasta la Victoria siempre...Venceremos!!


In recent days, thousands of poor Bolivians have joined protests against a government plan to eradicate illegal coca crops. Coca growers started road blockades in the central region of Bolivia in protest against a government order to eradicate their coca plants. The government has been using some 5,000 military and police forces to repress the protesters and stoping the blockage of highways between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Quechua Indians from this region announced on January 21, 2003, the creation of the EDN (Ejercito Dignidad Nacional, or National Dignity Army in English) as a response to what they call the growing military and police repression against Indians fighting for their rights in different parts of the country.







Women from Atenco carry machetes during the farmers march Friday, Jan. 31, 2003, in Mexico City. Tens of thousands of farmers gathered to demand greater protection against U.S. imports under the North American Free Trade Agreement and greater aid for the countryside. Residents of Atenco thwarted government plans to build an airport on their land pledged to create an autonomous government in the area's main town last year.




The events of early January and their subsequent coverage highlight the media blackout on Colombia, which serves to perpetuate North American ignorance on the conflict. Right-wing paramilitaries assassins killed 57 civilians in the first 10 days of January. In the eastern town of Tame in Arauca, paramilitary forces killed the leader of a teacher’s union. In Cucuta one particularly bloody episode where eight people were killed in two of the city’s poor districts between 10:30pm and 11:00pm on January 9. The number of murders committed by paramilitary forces far exceeds that of leftist guerrillas by at least 58 to 16. This at the same time mentioning that the guerrila murders were military and police targets.

Of the 39 stories dealing specifically with Colombian violence, politics, or economics distributed by the Associated Press (AP) between January 8 and noon on January 17, 20 dealt with guerrila attacks. None of the 39 stories even mentioned specific events of paramilitary violence, and only two articles described the arrival of U.S. troops in Arauca. In the same time period, the Reuters news distribution agency dedicated five of their nine Colombian stories to guerrila attacks, and none to the paramilitaries.

As of the inaguration of Alvaro Uribe Velez, August 7, 2002 Colombians have been calling his governing a military dictatorship.





Venezuelans organize against the "rich peoples strike" and demand the media war against their democratically elected president to stop.





And Assassinations...

For the past month, several Latin American labor and human rights activists had been murdered by paramilitaries and assassins.

As usual, also very sad, Colombia has been one of the worse in the list. It's been a clear links between war in Iraq, School of Americas, multinational corporations, right-wing paramilitaries and US foreign policies on the region.

Please read the following alerts and take actions!

Several Recent Assassinations Against Activists in Latin Americas
1) High-Profile Brazilian Land Rights Activist Murdered (
2) Colombia: Plan to assassinate the President of oil workers' union (
4) When students are taught to kill (School of Americas Watch)

Past Assassinations:
5) Human Remains from 68 Coup Found in Panama Identified (Assoicated Press)


FTAA Struggles
7) U.S., Central American Nations Launch Free Trade Talks (IPS)

1) High-Profile Brazilian Land Rights Activist Murdered
Thu Jan 16, 5:26 PM ET

Jim Lobe, OneWorld US
World -

The leader of one of Brazil's largest indigenous groups was murdered this
week by unidentified gunmen, according to London-based Survival
International which issued a statement Wednesday condemning the killing and
noting that it was the third assassination of an Indian in Brazil during
the first two weeks of 2003.

Marcos Veron, a prominent Guarani-Kaiowa tribal leader in the southwest
state of Mato Grosso do Sul, was shot in the head and died at a local
missionary hospital, local news media reported. His 14-year-old nephew was
reportedly also shot and other Indians beaten in the attack, which is now
being investigated by state and federal authorities.

Believed to have been about 70 years old, Veron led a group of some 350
Guarani-Kaiowa who have been trying to reclaim land seized by ranchers and
farmers some 50 years ago. In recent months, they had been living on a
22-acre strip alongside a highway bordering land they claim as their own.

They have tried repeatedly and non-violently to re-occupy the disputed
land, from which their parents and grandparents were forcibly expelled in
the late 1940s. Veron told reporters during a brief re-occupation several
months ago, "This here is my life, my soul...If you take me away from this
land, you take my life."

Two years ago, Veron toured Europe to publicize the plight of Brazilian
Indians, and particularly the 20,000-strong Guarani-Kaiowa, long pressured
by the government and settlers to leave their lands and confined to
reservations and small plots of land.

In a landmark decision two months ago, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice
returned an area of land, known as Cerro Marangatu, to 400 Guarani-Kaiowa
whose forbears were violently removed more than 50 years ago. The
unprecedented ruling gave new hope to other community members over
outstanding claims on their ancestral lands.

While the government of former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique
Cardoso launched a major initiative to demarcate Indian lands, farmers and
ranchers who live in the regions brought a series of legal challenges in
state courts
against the move.

Veron was the leader of a group that tried to return to their land at
Takuara in 1999, only to be expelled some months later by armed police and
soldiers acting under an order by a state court. The group have since been
camped along the highway hoping for a decree similar to the one granted the
Cerro Marangatu community.

The circumstances of Veron's killing Monday are unclear. While one news
report said Veron and a group of other Takuara community members were
attacked by armed men when they entered an area under dispute, a
privately-run farm of about 23,000 acres, other reports said the Indians
were attacked along the highway.

Indigenous groups and their advocates are hoping that the demarcation
effort will speed up under Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva who succeeded
Cardoso as president at the start of this year. His electoral program
called for "deep and substantial changes [in national policy] to meet the
yearnings of...indigenous people."

Lula's Workers Party has been an outspoken advocate for indigenous rights
for decades, and he has personally visited parts of Brazil where the
struggle of its estimated 350,000 Indians has been most difficult.

Survival's director Stephen Corry said Wednesday, "The terrible plight of
the Guarani-Kaiowa, and the many other tribes without land in Brazil, is
the most urgent issue facing the new President."

Distribuido por: Distributed by:
1367 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 400 Washington, DC 20036-1860
tel (202)785-3334 fax (202)785-3335

Disclaimer: All copyrights belong to original publisher. The Amazon
Alliance has not verified the accuracy of the forwarded message. Forwarding
this message does not necessarily connote agreement with the positions
stated there-in.

Todos los derechos de autor pertenecen al autor originario. La Alianza
Amazonica no ha verificado la veracidad de este mensaje. Enviar este
mensaje no necesariamente significa que la Alianza Amazonica este de
acuerdo con el contenido.

La Alianza Amazonica para los Pueblos Indigenas y Tradicionales de la
Cuenca Amazonica es una iniciativa nacida de la alianza entre los pueblos
indigenas y tradicionales de la Amazonia y grupos e individuos que
comparten sus preocupaciones por el futuro de la Amazonia y sus pueblos.
Hay mas de ochenta organizaciones del norte y del sur activas en la Alianza
Amazonica. La Alianza Amazonica trabaja para defender los derechos,
territorios, y el medio ambiente de los pueblos indigenas y tradicionales
de la Cuenca Amazonica.

The Amazon Alliance for Indigenous and Traditional Peoples of the Amazon
Basin is an initiative born out of the partnership between indigenous and
traditional peoples of the Amazon and groups and individuals who share their
concerns for the future of the Amazon and its peoples. There are over
eighty non-governmental organizations from the North and South active in
the Alliance. The Amazon Alliance works to defend the rights, territories,
and environment of indigenous and traditional peoples of the Amazon Basin.

2) Plan to assassinate the President of oil workers' union

The Colombian Oil Workers' Union rejects and condemns a dark plan targeted at the president of their organisation: Rudolfo Gutierrez Nino.

ANNCOL is pleased to provide our readers with an English translation of the latest and shocking press releases from the Colombian Oil Workers' Union (USO) and the Central Trade Union Federation of Colombia (CUT):



Through direct threats and information received from a number of reliable sources, we know that a plan is underway to attack the national president of the USO, comrade Rudolfo Gutierrez Nino.

The situation has come about since union discussions with the government and Ecopetrol management regarding the very serious situation the state company is in because of the fall in reserves and production, the low yields from the refineries and the leasing of pipelines, as well as the system of storing fuel; as well as counter-reforms that are eroding workers' rights and preventing the free exercise of their trade union activities, including dismissals, disciplinary processes and criminalisation.

All these things have prevented any possibility of negotiating the list of demands we presented in order to renew the Collective Labour Convention which expired on 31 December 2002.

Those who are planning to carry out this criminal act seek to unleash violence against the union in order to silence the voices of protest against the intentions of North American multinationals to take possession of the hydrocarbon industry, a process that started with the restructuring of the company and official oil policy.

USO rejects and condemns this dark plan targeted at the president of our organisation. We demand that the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez provide guarantees to enable the union to function and to preserve our right to exercise civilised and democratic opposition to government policies.

National Executive Committee of the Oil Workers' Union (USO)
15 January 2003, Bogota



The Central Trade Union Federation of Colombia (CUT), through its Human Rights Department, denouces before national and international public opinion the onslaught by the government of Alvaro Uribe Velez against the Colombian trade union movement.

A specific example of this onslaught is the ongoing criminalisation of the leaders of the Oil Workers Union (USO). Today, 15 January, the National Public Prosecutor gave the order to detain comrade HERNANDO HERNANDEZ, Secretary for International Affairs of the Oil Workers Union (USO); comrade HERNANDO was the First Vice-President of the Executive Committee of USO in its last session.

Likewise, we denounce the death threats against comrade RODOLFO GUTIERREZ, President of USO, and against EDGAR MOJICA, the National Leader of the union.

These events coincide with a growing labour conflict concerning the negotiation of the union's list of demands to which the response of the "ECOPETROL" corporation has been to dismiss trade union leaders and militarise the refineries.

We will continue to call for solidarity with Colombian workers. Now as much as ever we need your urgent and vital response to the attitude of the Alvaro Uribe Velez government.

Director of the Human Rights Department of the CUT
Bogota, 15 January 2003

(Translated by the Colombia Peace Association)

[Read more at]

Date: 1/22/2003 6:44:02 PM Pacific Standard Time


Translated by ASEJ/ACERCA
From La Prensa, Panama 1/21/03

Fear and Pain in Paya, Attack Leaves Four Dead

Four Kuna indigenous authorities were assassinated this weekend and
two US and one Canadian reporter were kidnapped by a Colombian
paramilitary group that attacked the villages of Paya and Pucuro, in
the Darien, this past weekend.
A group of 150 paramilitaries assassinated the leaders of the Kuna
Paya village Ernesto Ayala, mayor; San Pascual Ayala, second mayor,
and Luis Enrique Martínez, village commissioner. One of the US
reporters is Robert Pelton of the Discovery Channel.

According to local witness Luis Caicedo, "We found three corpses
chopped up by machetes with bullets in their head in the mountains so
we couldn't take the corpses back because the land was still being
guarded by the paramilitaries."

Gilberto Vasquez, mayor of Vasquez, was also murdered. His body was
found with a bullet in the back of his head inside his house in the

This same paramilitary brigade had captured, just hours before, the
US Discovery Channel reporter Robert Pelton and two other reporters,
Marc Wedever of Canada, and another US journalist that is

Migdonio Batista, a correspondent for the radio station Voices
without Borders of the Darien, who resides in Paya indicated that the
paramilitaries, in addition to killing the village authorities,
robbed all of the belongings of the only radio station office in the
village. He also said that the armed paramilitaries robbed the
chickens, ducks and pigs and murdered the dogs. Upon leaving the
village they dropped explosives in local trucks so that they could
get away without being followed.

Another resident, Victor Maritinez, explained that since last
Saturday afternoon, when they were attacked by the Colombian
paramilitaries, the residents have not eaten anything and have only
drank water from the river. Also, as of 48 hours after the weekends
murders the National Police had not arrived with any help or
protection. The "Prensa" newspaper confirmed that as of two days
after the attack there was still no response from the border patrol.

Isidro Ayala, whose father was assassinated in this attack, explained
that the indigenous had to confront the paramilitaries with bows and
arrows and with wooden beams to defend their property and families
"because there hasn't been any police in this place for two years."

Paya is a community with 530 indigenous residents located in the
mountains of Pinogana and about 2 hours from the Colombian border.
After the attack, there was only 50 residents remaining in Paya. The
rest of the town was seeking refuge in the Boca de Cupe community or
in the nearby mountains. Pucuro, a close by village, was entirely
abandoned by its 20 residents. The paramilitaries arrived in Pucuro,
burnt 5 houses down, and after finding no residents assassinated
Gilberto Vasquez, who had been taken prisoner in Paya.

ACERCA/ASEJ received this action alert from The Kuna Youth Indigenous
Movement asking for international solidarity to conndemn the violence
of Plan Colombia that has contributed to this murder of indigenous
leaders in Panama. We translated the artilce from
What you can do?
1) Please circulate this article far and wide to inform people of
this violence of Plan Colombia leading to the death of 4 Kuna
Indigenous Leaders in Panama.
2) Stay tuned for follow-up messages and action alerts
3) Stop the violence in Colombia, by getting involved with the March
23rd/24th Colombia Mobilization (
and the April 10th-15th Latin American Solidarity Coalition

Ciudad de Panama, 21 de enero de 2003
La Prensa


PAYA, Darién.- Cuatro autoridades indígenas(kunas) fueron asesinadas
y además dos estadounidenses (entre ellos un periodista) y un canadiense fueron
secuestrados por la columna de paramilitares colombianos que atacó y saqueó este fin
de semana (18-19 de enero) las aldeas fronterizas de Paya y Púcuro, en
Darién, confirmaron ayer residentes de estas poblaciones.

Uno de los estadounidenses es Robert Pelton, de la empresa televisiva Discovery

Según las versiones de los lugareños, un grupo de 150 integrantes de las

paramilitares Autodefensas Unidas Campesinas de Urabá (ACUU) asesinaron
el pasado sábado en Paya a Ernesto Ayala, jefe cacique; San Pascual
Ayala, segundo cacique, y Luis Enrique Martínez, comisario de esta aldea.

"Encontramos los tres cadáveres macheteados y con disparos en la cabeza
en las montañas y aún no hemos rescatado sus cuerpos porque el terreno fue
minado por los 'paras'", indicó el lugareño Luis Caicedo.

De igual forma se comprobó que los paramilitares le quitaron la vida
a Gilberto Vásquez, cacique principal de la población vecina de Púcuro.

Su cadáver -con un disparo en la parte de atrás de la cabeza- fue
dejado dentro de su casa en esta aldea.

Esta misma brigada paramilitar había capturado horas antes a Robert
Pelton, periodista estadounidense de Discovery Channel, y a dos acompañantes,
Marc Wedever, canadiense, y a una estadounidense no identificada.

Migdonio Batista, un corresponsal de la emisora Voz sin Frontera del
Darién, que reside en Paya, indicó que los paramilitares, además de asesinar a las
autoridades de ese poblado, se robaron todos los enseres que había en el
único kiosco del pueblo.

También dijo que los hombres armados se llevaron las gallinas, patos
y puercos y asesinaron los perros. Al salir del pueblo enterraron explosivos en
los caminos para facilitar su huida y evitar ser perseguidos.

Víctor Martínez, otro residente, explicó que desde el sábado pasado
en horas de la tarde, cuando fueron atacados por los insurgentes colombianos,
los moradores no comen nada y solo tienen el agua del río para ingerir y que, después
de 48 horas de ocurridos los hechos, la Policía Nacional no se ha
apersonado al lugar para brindarles ayuda y protección.

La Prensa pudo comprobar que en Paya, dos días después del ataque
armado, no había ninguna unidad de la policía fronteriza.

Isidro Ayala, cuyo padre fue asesinado en esta incursión, manifestó que
los indígenas tuvieron que enfrentarse a los paramilitares con arcos y
flechas y con algunos maderos para defender sus ranchos y sus familiares "porque
no hay ningún policía en este lugar desde hace dos años".

Paya es una comunidad de 530 habitantes indígenas localizada en las
montañas de Pinogana y a unas dos horas a pie del límite fronterizo con Colombia.

Después del ataque, en Paya solo quedan unos 50 residentes. El resto
se refugió en la comunidad de Boca de Cupe o en las montañas cercanas.

En Púcuro, la aldea entera fue abandonada por sus casi 20 residentes.

Los paramilitares, al llegar a este poblado, quemaron cinco casas porque
no encontraron a nadie y luego asesinaron a su cacique Gilberto
Vásquez, que había sido tomado prisionero en Paya.

4) When students are taught to kill
Date: 1/30/2003 12:56:35 PM Pacific Standard Time
By Hendrik Voss/SOAW

Colombia has sent over 10,000 soldiers to train at the US military training school SOA - more than any other country. According to the watchdog group SOA Watch this "biggest terrorist training camp on US soil" has amongst its students had a number of would-be killers from the top brass of the Colombian armed forces

Although human rights violations officially attributed to the Colombian military have decreased, the Human Rights Watch and State Department reports establish the collusion and collaboration between the military and the paramilitary forces. With military support, the paramilitaries have begun operating as surrogate death squads and thugs.

SOA Grads Cited in Reports:

Major David Hernández Rojas and Captain Diego Fino Rodriguez, cited by the US State Department Human Rights Report (SDHRR) for the March 14, 1999 murder of Alex Lopera, Antioqua peace commissioner and former Vice Minister for Youth. The two SOA grads along with other members of the 4th Counter-guerrilla Battalion killed Alex Lopera and two others as they tried to deliver ransom for a kidnapping victim. They set up a military roadblock, detained and killed the victims, stole the ransom money, and then pushed the victims and the vehicle into a deep crevice.

According to Human Rights Watch Report (HRWR) sworn testimony, Hernández Rojas instructed the soldiers how to testify during a subsequent investigation and threatened to kill anyone who informed on him. All six were being prosecuted at the end of 1999 although Hernández Rojas escaped and remains at large. The Colombian press reports that he now works with the paramilitary group, ACCU.

(Hernández Rojas attended the SOA Psychological Operations course in 1991 and the Cadet Orientation for Combat Weapons in 1985. Fino Rodriguez attended the Cadet Orientation C-34 (Mechanized) in 1989.)

Major Jesús María Clavijo Clavijo and Major Álvaro Cortés Morillo, cited by the HRWR as members of the Fourth Brigade linked in 1999 to paramilitary groups through cell phone and beeper communications and regular meetings on military bases.

In sworn testimony, a former Fourth Brigade soldier implicated Clavijo in the paramilitary killings in February 1999 near El Carmen de Atrato, Choc and in "legalizing" corpses delivered by paramilitaries for a bounty. This witness told investigators that "… everywhere Clavijo went, there were disappearances, murders, and wherever he was there was always a flood of reports of abuses."

Clavijo has been promoted to colonel and commands a battalion recently linked to an increase in paramilitary activity and direct attacks on civilians. In January 2000, the Peasant Association of the Cimitarra River reported that Clavijo's men were attacking civilians along the Cimitarra River as part of "drug operations".

(Clavijo took the SOA Orientation and Weapons for Cadets (C-3) Program in 1981 and Cortés Morillo took the same course in 1984.)

Brig. Gen. Jaime Ernesto Canal Albán, Commander of the Third Brigade, cited by the HRWR for setting up a "paramilitary" force in southern Colombia in 1999 and providing it with weapons and intelligence.

(Canal Albán attended the SOA cadet orientation C-3 course in 1980.)

Gen. Carlos Ospina Ovalle, former commander of the Fourth Brigade, cited by the HRWR with "extensive evidence of pervasive ties" between the Fourth Brigade and paramilitary groups involved in human rights abuses, including evidence of continued illegal activity throughout 1998 and 1999. While under the command of Ospina Ovalle, the Fourth Brigade -- along with paramilitary groups -- is also implicated in the 1997 massacre in El Aro.

(Ospina Ovalle attended the SOA cadet orientation course in 1967.)

Col. Jorge Plazas Acevedo, chief of intelligence for the Thirteenth Brigade, was indicted for heading a gang responsible for planning and carrying out a series of kidnappings and murders while head of the intelligence unit. The atrocities included the 1998 kidnapping and murder of Israeli businessman, Benjamin Khourari. Plazas Acevado was retired by the Army in July 1999, and his case is now before a civilian court. (HRWR & SDHRR)

(Plazas Acevedo attended the SOA Small Unit Infantry Tactics course in 1977.)

This list was prepared by Hendrik Voss, SOA Watch Networking Coordinator

5) Human Remains Found in Panama Identified
.c The Associated Press

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - Human bones found buried near a military base on an island outside Panama's capital belong to a student activist who vanished in 1969, according to a report published Sunday.

Ever Quintanar, an outspoken leftist who was critical of a military regime that seized control of the government in 1968, was captured by members of the air force in August 1969.

Scientists searching for human remains near the Los Pumas military base on the prison island of Coiba, 12 miles outside Panama City, uncovered bones they believe belong to dozens of activists who disappeared during military regimes.

Forensic experts in New Orleans confirmed that DNA tests showed some of those bones belonged to Quintanar, according to a truth commission report published Sunday.

The commission believes soldiers took Quintanar to the base, tortured him and killed him. They then attempted to cover up the slaying by burying his body in a mass grave nearby, truth commission director Alberto Almanza said in the report.

The commission also said U.S. forensic tests concluded that remains found in a hidden cemetery in the southwest province of Chiriqui belonged to Augusto Lindberg Gante, who organized political resistance to the regime of Gen. Omar Torrijos.

Torrijos seized power in a 1968 coup and ruled Panama until he was killed in a plane crash in 1981. Manuel Noriega subsequently took control of the army and used rigged elections to remain in office for eight years.

The United States invaded Panama on Dec. 20, 1989, and removed Noriega from power after he was linked to drug smugglers. He remains imprisoned in Florida for drug-related crimes.

The truth commission, created in 1999, has compiled a list of 189 people who were killed or who ``disappeared'' at the hands of state forces between 1968 and 1989.

01/19/03 20:44 EST

Date: 2/6/2003 1:14:03 PM Pacific Standard Time

CISPES Activists Shut Down Salvadoran Consulates
in New York and San Francisco
as hundreds of thousands march against free trade,
privatization of health care, and attacks on labor in El Salvador

February 6, 2003

Contact: CISPES, 212-465-8115;
Photos & Interviews Available

New York, NY - Demanding that the Salvadoran government stop
violating internationally recognized labor rights, groups of human
rights, labor, anti-globalization, and international solidarity
activists are simultaneously occupying the Salvadoran Consulates in
New York and San Francisco. Support rallies, organized by CISPES,
the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, and the
Salvadoran immigrant community are taking place in Boston, New York,
and San Francisco.

In El Salvador organizers announced the consulate takeovers to a
crowd of protesting workers who cheered the actions.

The consulates were shut down today at 12:00 EST and coincide with a
massive march in El Salvador's capital against privatization and
free trade.

"We demand that the Salvadoran government stop its violent
repression against the doctors, nurses and public health care
workers who've been on strike since September of last year. We
refuse to leave until the Salvadoran government agrees to negotiate
in good faith with the striking unions, stop negotiating CAFTA, and
end all attempts to privatize the Salvadoran health care system."
said New York activist Madeline Baer.

Unions representing workers of El Salvador's Public Health system
went on strike in September 2002 to stop the Government's attempts
to sell the system to private corporations. The unions are also
striking in opposition to the Central America Free Trade Agreement
(CAFTA), which is currently being negotiated with the US and five
Central American countries. Formal negotiations opened in January

Said Baer, "Privatization of state-provided services is a key
component of CAFTA, which is being pushed by the Bush
administration, multinational corporations and the wealthy in Latin
America. We join a broad array of organizations across the region
and the US in saying No To CAFTA!" Baer added.

The healthcare unions and the FMLN, the left opposition party that
has been a strong supporter of the strike, have publicly denounced
CAFTA. Their opposition to government policies has gained much
popular support throughout El Salvador. In the five months since the
strike began there have been four national marches of
100,000-300,000 people (comparable to 10 million marching in
Washington DC). Today's march is expected to be the largest to date.

The rightwing ARENA government sees these unions and the FMLN as the
greatest obstacles to getting CAFTA passed and have resolved to use
any means necessary to crush the strike and destroy the unions.
Since the strike began, Salvadoran President Francisco Flores has
refused to negotiate with the unions, and his government has
becoming increasingly repressive in its attempts to break the
strike. They have begun arresting workers, raiding clinics, and
declaring strikers to be "terrorists." On January 29, 2003 more than
200 riot police invaded two health centers and a hospital, arresting
21 members of the union, in the second such attack in one week.
Ricardo Monge, Secretary General of the STISSS, places the arrests
in the context of a government plan to stifle dissent through fear
and intimidation. "President Flores has deployed a number of tactics
to break the strike, and the anti-CAFTA movement," he explains,
"from public smear campaigns in the press to bribing doctors to
militarizing hospitals. They are now resorting to illegal,
repressive methods." The ARENA government has apparently given
National Civilian Police (PNC) chief Mauricio Sandoval the green
light to do whatever necessary to crush the resistance to health
care privatization and to CAFTA. The PNC is already under fire,
especially after a judge ordered the District Attorney's office to
investigate charges of falsifying testimony after three different
arresting officers gave wildly different accounts on the witness

Also, over 50 strikers have received anonymous calls, threatening
death if they do not end the strike.

Said Monge, "We will not allow them to break the strike. The people
of El Salvador will continue to defend our public health system from
any efforts to privatize it from the Salvadoran government and its
international backers. We know if the system is privatized, it will
mean 'pay or die' for our people."

Said Melanie Pilbin, San Francisco protester, "We're here to support
the people of El Salvador, and to demand an end to CAFTA
negotiations and an end to the repression against striking workers.
We're also putting the US government on notice that they must stop
pushing economic policies that the people of Central America so
soundly oppose."

Boston protester David Grosser, stated, "Three years ago, we shut
down the Salvadoran Consulate in Boston in solidarity with the
workers who were on strike to stop the first attempt at privatizing
the Salvadoran health care system. We're here again today to send
the same message to the people of El Salvador: Your struggle is our
struggle. Access to free health care, safe drinking water, and
education are universal human rights. We will not allow the
Salvadoran government or the US government to force the
privatization of essential services. We will continue to work side
by side to stop privatization and to stop trade agreements like
CAFTA and the FTAA that put corporate interests in front of the
needs of the people. Together, we will win."

7) U.S., Central American Nations Launch Free Trade Talks
By Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON: The United States and several Central American countries
launched free trade talks on Wednesday as part of the U.S. administration's
drive towards a free trade deal for the western hemisphere.

U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick and ministers from Costa
Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua announced the talks
towards an agreement to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade in
goods, agriculture, services, and investment between the United States and
Central America.

According to a statement from the USTR office, working-level negotiations on
the proposed U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, will
begin in San Jose, Costa Rica, on Jan. 27.

Talks are scheduled to end by December 2003.

"CAFTA will give Americans better access to affordable goods and promote
U.S. exports and jobs, even as it advances Central America's prospects for
development," said Zoellick.

"This FTA (free trade agreement) will reinforce free-market reforms in the
region,'' added Zoellick whose country is also aggressively promoting the
Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a pan-American agreement that could
create the largest free trade area in the world.

But critics say the CAFTA appears to have the same deficits as existing
pacts - like the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, which they say has kept the
least developed country, Mexico, at a disadvantage - and the proposed FTAA.

''If they are planning to repeat the same thing, it'll be disastrous to many
Central American nations, particularly on agriculture and labour,'' said
Karen Hansen-Kuhn, trade programme director with The Development GAP, a
Washington-based advocacy group.

Earlier last month, several non-government organisations (NGOs) in Central
America and northern countries also voiced concern over CAFTA, saying that
such agreements do not generate sustainable development or create better

''On the contrary, they increase public debt; threaten our historic,
cultural and natural wealth; and destroy national sovereignty and food
security,'' said the groups in a statement.

Civil society groups also view the United States, particularly under the
right-wing Republican administration of President George W. Bush, as trying
to influence international trade rules to favour corporations and business
people while undercutting the ability of national and state lawmakers in
developing countries to protect environmental and public health standards.

Details of the agreement reached today appear unlikely to allay their

Nine rounds of negotiations by five negotiating groups are planned in 2003.
Topics to be covered include: market access; investment and services;
government procurement and intellectual property; labour and environment;
and institutional issues, such as dispute settlement.

A sixth group on ''trade capacity building'' will meet at the same time.

Those topics are similar, if not identical, to provisions in NAFTA and the
proposed FTAA.

During the talks, the Bush administration is expected to press for the
elimination of non-tariff barriers and broad liberalisation of market access
for goods and services, including e-commerce, science-based food inspection
systems and strong protections for intellectual property - again all likely
to benefit U.S. corporations first.

U.S. officials will also demand that Central American countries increase
transparency in government regulation and procurement and adopt significant
dispute settlement mechanisms - requirements that the USTR said stand to
benefit U.S. investors.

Analysts say that the Bush administration, worried that its agenda in the
Western hemisphere, and perhaps in other parts of the world, is threatened
by the advance of some leftist politicians, is rushing these agreements,
particularly the bi-lateral ones, to lock in place its neo-liberal policies.

''This (bilateral agreements) is also being used to pressure countries like
Brazil, for example, who are saying they want to do something different,''
said Hansen-Kuhn.

''So they are going to go one by one picking off governments that are hoping
to get U.S. market access early and locking in place the proposals and the
policies the U.S. wants to push. This would make it harder for countries
like Brazil or Venezuela and perhaps Ecuador to promote something

Analysts say Washington is trying to short-circuit the influence of opposing
political ideas through contentious items in the agreements called
''capacity- building'', which are really projects to educate and train other
countries about U.S.-styled practices and policies.

On Wednesday, Zoellick also announced a number of programmes to improve the
''capacity'' of Central American countries to compete in the global economy.

These include more than 50 projects that include funds for computers and
travel, others to help promote trade negotiations, assistance to strengthen
science-based food safety inspection systems, and programmes to promote
cleaner production.

According to the USTR office, Bush's 2003 budget request includes 47 million
dollars in capacity-building assistance for the region - a 74 percent
increase over 2002.

U.S. exports to Central America have grown 42 percent since 1996 and
totalled nine billion dollars in 2001, about the same amount as U.S. exports
to Russia, India and Indonesia combined. Imports to the United States
totalled 11 billion, of which 74 percent entered duty free.

Although the United States has only four free trade partners: Canada and
Mexico (within NAFTA), Israel and Jordan, the administration has been
pursuing an aggressive free trade agenda.

In December, it reached a free trade agreement with Chile that must still be
approved by lawmakers in both countries, while in November, Zoellick
announced he had concluded the substance of an FTA with Singapore.

The administration also plans to soon start negotiations with Morocco,
Australia, and the South African Customs Union (SACU) - South Africa,
Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana.

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