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Weekly News Update #542, 6/18/00

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Weekly News Update

Jun 19, 2000, 3:00:00 AM6/19/00
ISSUE #542, JUNE 18, 2000
(212) 674-9499 <>

1. Ecuador: New Strike Against Dollarization
2. Argentine Public Workers Strike, Troops Leave Kosovo
3. Bolivians March For Education, Land, Wages, Electricity
4. Bolivia: Cocalero Killed in Confusing Circumstances
5. US Senate to Debate Aid, Colombian Groups Reject It
6. Colombian Police Chief Resigns
7. Paraguay's Fugitive Ex-Army Chief Arrested in Brazil
8. Chile: Former Secret Police Chief Dies
9. Mexico: 7 Police Agents Killed in Chiapas
10. Thousands in Mexican Pride March
11. Mexican Elections Threatening the Peso?
12. Guatemala: Third Judge Resigns in Gerardi Case
13. Cuba Offers to Train US Doctors
14. Puerto Rico: CD Continues at Navy Bombing Range
15. ITT Gets Contract for Puerto Rican Military Tests
16. In Other News: Venezuelan Public Workers March

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On June 15 and 16 Ecuadoran president Gustavo Noboa Bejarano
confronted his first general strike since taking office in
January. The strike was called by the Patriotic Front (FP), a
coalition of unions and grassroots organizations, to protest
neoliberal economic policies promoted by the World Bank and
International Monetary Fund (IMF). The strike demands included:
no dollarization (a plan to replace the currency with the US
dollar); a price freeze and the elimination of all structural
adjustments; no payment of the external debt; and an end to plans
for privatization of state-owned companies in strategic sectors.
Protests led by many of the same forces around the same issues
led to a brief coup attempt and the removal of then-president
Jamil Mahuad Witt on Jan. 22; Noboa had been Mahuad's vice
president [see Update #521]. [El Telegrafo (Guayaquil) 6/15/00;
La Hora (Quito) 6/15/00]

The June 15-16 strike was at best partially successful. In Quito,
union and student demonstrators were met with tear gas when they
tried to approach the Government Palace in the morning of June
15; later in the day, activists blocked trolley buses in the
Plaza de Santo Domingo. One passerby received a bullet wound
during a demonstration in the El Ejido park. In Guayaquil, the
country's main commercial center, police threw tear gas grenades
at hundreds of demonstrators attempting to march to the
Governance offices on June 15. A bomb exploded at a Citibank
branch at about 11am; no injuries were reported. In the
countryside, groups of indigenous Protestants blocked some
highways in the southern part of Chimborazo province, but
circulation was normal on the Panamerican Highway in the northern
part. [ET 6/16/00; Agencia Informativa Pulsar 6/15/00]

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador
(CONAIE)--probably the country's most important social force, and
the leading factor in the January events--did not back the
strike. Although it supported the demands, CONAIE left it up to
each indigenous community to decide whether to join the strike.
[Pulsar 6/14/00] At the same time, the general strike coincided
with other strikes. The National Educators Union (UNE) had
already been on strike for five weeks, while health care workers
started selective job actions at hospitals on June 12. [ET
6/13/00] Workers in the Ministry of Government and Police went
out on strike on June 15 over wage demands, so that Government
Minister Antonio Andretta Arizaga had to work out of the
president's offices while he directed police operations against
the general strike. [LH 6/16/00]

On June 17 FP president Luis Villacis Maldonado announced at a
press conference that the June 15-16 actions had been "very
important" but not a "success." He told the Spanish wire service
EFE that the FP was "preparing a general uprising" for June 21.
"On the 21st there will be a great taking of Quito," he said. "No
less than 20,000 teachers, parents, indigenous people and
campesinos will participate." [El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 6/18/00
from wire services]


Some 7,000 public employees gathered on the afternoon of June 14
in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires following a sector-wide
sitdown strike against new structural adjustment measures imposed
on May 29 by the administration of President Fernando de la Rua.
The measures include a salary reduction for some 140,000 public
workers who earn at least $1,000 a month. The march was organized
by the Association of State Workers (ATE), a militant public
sector union affiliated with the Confederation of Argentine
Workers (CTA). It came less than a week after a June 9 national
general strike against the new measures [see Update #541]. [La
Hora (Quito) 6/15/00 from AFP; Hoy (NY) 6/15/00 from AP] On June
15, career diplomats in the foreign ministry staged their own
protest against the wage cut, carrying out what they called a
"Japanese-style" strike by working hard all day until 11pm. [LH
6/16/00 from AFP]

On June 14 the Argentine Senate, controlled by the Peronist
opposition, approved a bill that would reverse the public sector
wage cut. De la Rua, speaking from the Rio Group meeting in
Cartagena, Colombia, said the Senate's vote "causes incredible
harm to the country" because it undermines the confidence of
foreign investors. When he returns from a trip to Cairo, De la
Rua plans to lead efforts for a national dialogue to resolve
political and social conflicts that have emerged over the
adjustment measures. De la Rua is now in Cairo for a meeting of
the Group of 15, seeking to "win new markets" among Arab nations
as well as India and Australia, he told Clarin in an interview
shortly before leaving Cartagena for Cairo. [Agencia Informativa
Pulsar 6/15/00; Clarin (Buenos Aires) 6/17/00, 6/18/00]

In another measure to reduce state spending, De la Rua's
government suprised the Brussels-based military command of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by announcing that it
would withdraw its 146 federal police agents from the United
Nations (UN) Peace Forces in Kosovo. Argentina is a "principal
non-member ally" of NATO, which controls the UN Peace Forces in
Kosovo [see Updates #493, 403]. The Argentine Defense Ministry
said the withdrawal of its forces from Kosovo would save some $10
million. Another 280 Argentine troops carrying out NATO missions
in Bosnia were said to be preparing to withdraw before the end of
June, but Interior Minister Federico Storani clarified on June 16
that in response to a "special request" from the UN and NATO,
Argentina would keep its Bosnia mission in place. [Pulsar
6/17/00; CNN 6/16/00 with info from AP]

On June 16, the former financial superviser of Argentina's
pension fund agency (PAMI), Victor Adrian Alderete, was arrested
and jailed after being questioned by federal judge Adolfo
Bagnasco for more than two hours about his role in a corruption
racket. Alderete is widely considered to be a symbol of the
corruption that characterized the administration of De la Rua's
predecessor, Carlos Saul Menem (1990-1999). [Clarin 6/17/00]


Some 100,000 residents of the city of El Alto marched through the
neighboring city of La Paz, Bolivia's capital, to demand the
creation of an autonomous university in El Alto. Local residents
are also demanding $50 million in local development funds
promised to El Alto two years ago by President Hugo Banzer
Suarez. The march was part of a civic strike organized by a
coalition led by the Regional Workers Central (COR) labor
federation and the Federation of Community Boards (FEJUVE). The
coalition staged a similar protest on May 29 [see Update #540].
[Los Tiempos (Cochabamba) 6/13/00 from ANF; El Diario (La Paz)
6/13/00; Agencia Informativa Pulsar 6/13/00]

A law to create and finance the public university in El Alto was
approved by the Senate on June 14, and by the Chamber of Deputies
the next day. On June 15, after its approval, government and
university officials and representatives of the protest movement
reached an agreement on the creation of the Public and Autonomous
University of El Alto. A commission is now charged with resolving
the details of the plan, especially concerning funding, before
the project can gain final approval. [ED 6/15/00, 6/16/00] The
government has threatened to cut the budget of the Major
University of San Andres (UMSA) in La Paz to pay for the El Alto
university. UMSA students reacted immediately with protests; they
insist that they will defend their university's budget in the
streets. [ED 6/16/00 from ANF]

Some 2,000 landless campesinos marching from the Chaco region in
the eastern plains of Tarija department were expected to arrive
in the city of Tarija on the afternoon of June 16. The march was
started by about 200 campesinos, but they were joined by hundreds
of others along the way. [ED 6/13/00, 6/16/00]

Some 4,000 demonstrators marched in Oruro on June 13 to protest
the fact that members of the Municipal Council earn high
salaries--more than $2,000 a month. At the end of the march,
protest leaders from the Civic Committee used chains and locks to
block access to the Municipal Council building. [ED 6/14/00]
Another demonstration against the council members' high wages was
staged in Oruro two days later, and five leaders of the
Departmental Labor Federation (COD) began a hunger strike to
press the issue. [ED 6/16/00]

Workers of ENTEL, the national telephone company, staged a 24-
hour work stoppage on June 13, accompanied by a hunger strike, to
press salary demands. [ED 6/14/00]

On June 11, residents of the Bolivian town of Villazon, on the
border with Argentina, lifted a roadblock which they had
maintained for 11 days on the highway leading to the Argentine
town of La Quiaca, to demand electrical power be restored to
their town. The decision to lift the blockade was made by an
assembly of more than 5,000 local residents after authorities
reconnected the town to the national electricity grid. [ED
6/12/00 from EFE]


The body of campesino coca grower (cocalero) Felix Pastor Cuelas
was found on June 13 on the road between the villages of San Jose
and Villa Paraiso in Cochabamba department, near a military camp
established two weeks earlier to carry out coca eradication
operations in the zone. Cuelas appeared to have died from strong
blows to the head, kidneys and jaw. The government initially
insisted that Cuelas' death was an isolated incident, caused by
family or business conflicts, and had nothing to do with the
presence of troops nearby. [Los Tiempos 6/14/00, 6/15/00]

Now the government is accusing Rolando Vargas, leader of the
Federation of United Federations of the Cochabamba Tropics, of
having participated in the kidnapping, torture and murder of
Cuelas. Vargas was the person who first reported finding Cuelas'
body on June 13. A report by the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ)
says that Cuelas was tortured before being killed; it says his
tongue was cut and his head showed numerous machete wounds.
Cuelas' wife, Delfina Argalla Galarza, said that leaders of the
United Federations threatened her husband several days earlier,
accusing him of being an informant against the cocalero movement.
[LT 6/16/00]


After extensive delays, the US Senate is scheduled to begin
debate on the US aid package to Colombia on June 19 and could
vote the same day. The majority of this more than $1 billion
package is earmarked for the Colombian military, notorious for
its links to rightwing death squads. The aid is attached to the
foreign operations appropriations bill. When the Senate considers
the package, Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) will offer an
amendment to shift funds from Colombian military aid to drug
treatment in the US.

The delay in passage of the long-touted aid plan for Colombia is
due to "a whole range of issues, including concerns that the
United States could become bogged down in a costly civil war in
Colombia," according to Tim Rieser, a foreign policy aide to Sen.
Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Given the delays, said Rieser, "the
earliest it would be signed into law by the president is late
July, and more likely it will not be before September."

Public support for President Andres Pastrana Arango is meanwhile
declining in Colombia as his government faces corruption
scandals. In a new scandal that broke last week, Colombia's
Congress is investigating whether Pastrana obtained 1998 campaign
donations from a dredging company that was later accused of
defrauding the state. [Miami Herald 6/15/00]

Meanwhile, nearly 80 civil society organizations from Colombia
have issued a statement opposing funding for Pastrana's "Plan
Colombia," saying that the plan includes "a military component
that not only fails to resolve the narco-trafficking problem, but
also endangers the efforts to build peace, increases illicit crop
production, violates the Amazonic ecosystem, aggravates the
humanitarian and human rights crisis, multiplies the problem of
forced displacement, and worsens the social crisis with fiscal
adjustment policies.

The organizations are asking people in the US to help them stop
US military aid from exacerbating Colombia's armed conflict.
"Plan Colombia," they say, "has been developed with the same
logic of political and social exclusion that has been one of the
structural causes of the conflict Colombians have experienced
since the time of our formation as a Republic."

The statement calls for "a concerted agreement between different
actors in Colombian society and the international community, one
where civil society is the principal interlocutor, where
solutions to the varied conflicts are found, and where stable and
sustainable peace is constructed."

The 78 signing organizations include many of Colombia's most
widely known and respected nongovernmental organizations, such as
the Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace, the National
Assembly of Youth for Peace, the Network of Initiatives Against
War and for Peace (REDEPAZ), the National Indigenous Organization
of Colombia (ONIC), the Unitary Workers Central (CUT), the
Agrarian Union Federation (FENSUAGRO), the National Association
of University Students (ACEU), the National Association of High
School Students (ANDES), the Center for Research and Popular
Education (CINEP) and the Colombian Commission of Jurists.
[Colombia InfoInBrief Alert 06/16/00; Declaration from Social and
Human Rights Nongovernmental Organizations and the Peace Movement
in Colombia 5/31/00]

The Colombian NGO statement comes at a time when other potential
funders are also looking at Pastrana's "Plan Colombia."
Representatives from the European Union (UE) member nations will
meet on June 19 in London to determine their position on the aid
plan, in preparation for a special meeting of Plan Colombia
donors on July 7 in Madrid. The Madrid meeting will be attended
by representatives from the UE, US, Canada, Japan, Norway,
Argentina, Mexico and Costa Rica, as well as the United Nations
(UN) and the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB). [La Hora
(Quito) 6/16/00 from Prensa Latina, AFP, Xinhua, EFE; El
Colombiano (Medellin) 6/17/00]


Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano, director of Colombia's National Police
and a close ally of several key US legislators, announced his
resignation on June 13. Serrano's retirement was widely expected,
but he had indicated he might stay in his post until the US aid
package was approved. Instead, his resignation comes at what
Associated Press calls "a delicate moment" for the Pastrana

Serrano is highly regarded by many US legislators and officials
for his close cooperation with the US in the drug war, and for
purging the police force of corruption. About 8,000 officers were
fired or retired during his tenure. Serrano's "steadfast
dedication to the anti-drug crusade will be sorely missed," said
Donnie Marshall, head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA), in a statement. "He is truly a hero." [AP 6/14/00]

"There was no one else in Colombia whose leadership we felt we
could trust," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), chair of the House
subcommittee on criminal justice and drug policy. [Miami Herald
6/15/00] Serrano said he hoped his retirement would not
negatively affect the aid package. "The aid has to come," he
said. "It's a commitment not to one person, but to the country."

But Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy in
Washington said that with Serrano's departure, Colombia had lost
an important "sales tactic" on Capitol Hill. "It's going to be
tougher if Serrano's successor is less charismatic and can't be
brought around to make the rounds in Washington as a genuine hero
in the drug war," Isacson said. [AP 6/14/00]

Deputy National Police Chief Luis Ernesto Gilibert, the grandson
of the founder of Colombia's national police force, was named on
June 14 to replace Serrano. [MH 6/15/00]


On June 11, agents of Brazil's federal police arrested Paraguayan
former army chief Lino Oviedo in an apartment building in Foz de
Iguazu, Brazil, in the triple border area shared with Paraguay
and Argentina. Oviedo, leader of the National Union of Ethical
Colorados (UNACE)--a split from the Colorado Party--was being
sought by Paraguayan authorities for allegedly financing and
planning the Mar. 23, 1999 assassination of Vice President Luis
Maria Argana, and for allegedly instigating a sniper attack three
days later in which seven young demonstrators were killed [see
Update #478]. Paraguay now says it wants Oviedo extradited; the
Brazilian police are also charging him with illegal weapons
possession and with showing a false Paraguayan identification
card to police. Oviedo was quickly transferred to Brasilia to
testify before Federal Supreme Court judge Mauricio Correia, who
is in charge of handling Paraguay's arrest order against Oviedo.
[Clarin 6/12/00, 6/13/00, ; El Diario-La Prensa 6/14/00 from AFP]

The Supreme Court has 90 days to decide if it will extradite
Oviedo. Brazil's Parliamentary Investigative Commission (CPI)
believes Oviedo may be linked to notorious Brazilian drug
trafficker Fernandinho Beira-Mar (Luiz Fernando da Costa) in a
scheme that operated with the complicity of the former chief of
the civilian police of Brazil's Parana state, Joao de Noronha. De
Noronha was removed from his post last March and is under
investigation by the CPI. [Hoy (NY) 6/14/00 from EFE; La Hora
(Quito) 6/15/00 from AFP]


Chilean retired general Humberto Gordon Rubio, age 72, died of a
heart attack at his home on June 15. Gordon was the former
director of the National Information Department (CNI), the secret
police during the 1980s under dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet
Ugarte. Gordon had been under house arrest since May 10 as judge
Dobra Luksic probed his alleged connection with the September
1986 abductions and executions of journalist Jose Carrasco and
Communist Party members Eugenio Rivera, Abraham Muskablit and
Gaston Vidaurrazaga [see Update #537]. All four were taken from
their homes and murdered a day after a failed assassination
attempt against Pinochet on Sept. 7, 1986.

Gordon was also tried in connection with Operation Albania, in
which CNI agents killed 12 members of the Manuel Rodriguez
Patriotic Front (FPMR) in Santiago on June 15 and 16, 1987; and
for the February 1982 murder of unionist Tucapel Jimenez.
Coincidentally, Jimenez' widow, Haydee Fuentes, also died on June
15, the same day as Gordon. [Clarin 6/16/00 from ANSA, EFE]

Gordon's death came two days after Chile's armed forces signed a
pact in which they pledge to do everything possible to allow
recovery of the remains of 1,198 people who were disappeared by
the Pinochet regime. Military personnel who provide information
regarding disappearance cases will be allowed to remain
anonymous. The Chilean military has become increasingly concerned
about the situation of the disappeared, as it became clear that
courts were investigating disappearances as ongoing crimes, not
covered by amnesty or by a statute of limitations. The pact came
out of a "dialogue meeting" between human rights lawyers and
military officers. [Clarin 6/14/00]


Ten heavily armed assailants killed seven public security and
municipal police agents in an ambush on the morning of June 12
near the community of Las Limas, in El Bosque municipality in the
southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas. Two other people were
seriously wounded: a state police agent and the son of El
Bosque's mayor. The attackers seized the weapons of the dead
agents before fleeing. Much of El Bosque's population supports
the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Front (EZLN). The
majority of El Bosque was part of a pro-EZLN autonomous
municipality, San Juan de la Libertad, from 1995 until it was
dismantled in a violent military operation almost exactly two
years before the new incident, on June 10, 1998 [see Updates
#437, 338].

No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Chiapas state
attorney general Eduardo Montoya Lievano said on June 13 that the
ambush could have been carried out by "groups of narco-
traffickers," although he insisted that he was "discounting no
one and nothing" as possible suspects. Unofficial sources in the
National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA) said that the EZLN was not
involved but the ambush was probably carried out by another rebel
group, the Revolutionary Popular Army (EPR), which has some bases
of support in Chiapas.

In a communique released on June 15, EZLN spokesperson "Sub-
Commander Marcos" denied that the EZLN was responsible, and
undercut the idea that the EPR was involved: "The attack was
carried out in a zone saturated with government troops (army and
police), in which it would be very difficult for an armed group
to mobilize without being detected and without the complicity of
the authorities. The attackers had privileged information on the
movements and the number of people who were ambushed." Area
residents said that the attackers' methods and weapons resembled
those of pro-government paramilitary groups. They said the
government had armed a group of dissidents from the small leftist
Labor Party (PT) in 1997 and 1998 to use against the PT mayor of
Simojovel. Afterwards the group reportedly turned to robbery and
drug trafficking.

Within hours of the ambush, elite units of the federal army,
backed by a dozen artilleried helicopters and 50 special
"investigators" of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) arrived in
El Bosque and began combing the area for the attackers. Human
rights groups, non-governmental organizations and members of the
congressional Concord and Peacemaking Commission (COCOPA)
expressed their concern that the attack may be used as a pretext
for new military operations against pro-EZLN communities in
Chiapas. [Mexico Solidarity Network Weekly News Summary 6/8/00-
6/14/00; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/13/00, 6/14/00, 6/15/00, 6/16/00]


Thousands of Mexicans marched from the Chapultepec Woods to the
Zocalo, Mexico City's main plaza, on June 17 in the city's 22nd
annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March. The
theme of the march was "All together under the same banner," and
participants chanted slogans against anti-gay forces. Vincente
Fox Quesada, presidential candidate of the center-right National
Action Party (PAN), was a favorite target; marchers chanted:
"Fox, fascist, we have you on the list." Representatives of the
leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and several
smaller left parties participated. CNN en Espanol reported that
some 10,000 people marched, up from 5,000 in 1999. [Notimex
6/17/00; CNN en Espanol 6/17/00, with info from Reuters] [As
recently as 1995, attendance at the march was estimated at 400;
see Update #285.]

According to the report for 1999 of the Citizens' Commission
Against Homophobic Hate Crimes, in the last four years a total of
190 people--179 men and 11 women--have been killed in Mexico in
homophobic hate crimes, at a rate of nearly four a month. The
Commission charges the authorities with "promotion of homophobic
hate." It singled out the PAN municipal governments of Cordoba,
Veracruz, and Merida, Yucatan, and the state governments of
Tamaulipas and Morelos, controlled by the ruling Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI). But the report also noted a homophobic
tendency in law enforcement in the Federal District, which is
governed by the PRD. [LJ 6/8/00]


Mexico's peso fell to 9.70 pesos to the US dollar on June 8, its
lowest level in 15 months, and the Banco de Mexico began selling
US dollars from its reserves to prop up the national currency.
[LJ 6/9/00] The markets had tumbled on June 6 after the two
leading candidates in the July 2 presidential elections--the
PRI's Francisco Labastida Ochoa and the PAN's Fox--had both
suggested that there might be social unrest after the elections.
Fox reportedly feels that 3-5% of the PRI's vote will come from
election fraud, so that he might contest any vote which he loses
by less than 5%. Responding to Fox's implied threat, on June 6
Labstida warned that the country would suffer from "protests and
disturbances" if the PRI failed to win by a wide margin--
suggesting that voters should support him to avoid a crisis.
[Financial Times (London) 6/7/00, 6/8/00] Third-position
candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano of the PRD denied that
the elections are likely to lead to instability, even if they are
close. [LJ 6/10/00]

But fear of unrest might not be the only problem with the peso.
According to the Wall Street Journal, analysts are afraid the
Mexican economy may be overheating because of a sudden surge in
government spending--up 15% in the first quarter over the same
period the year before. Benchmark interest rates are around 6%
when adjusted for inflation, the lowest in Latin America. The PRI
traditionally increases spending on government social programs
and eases up on credit restrictions as elections approach. [WSJ

On June 13, Flight Attendants Union Association (ASSA) president
Alejandra Barrales Magdaleno announced that the union and the
Aeromexico airline company had signed an accord to end a 13-day
strike by 1,449 flight attendants. The company agreed to a 12%
pay raise, a increase of nearly 5% in benefits, a retirement plan
and the payment of 6 million pesos (about $600,000) for a daycare
center. A number of large unions, including the telephone
workers, had committed to carrying out a two-hour general strike
on June 13 if Aeromexico didn't reach an agreement with the ASSA
[see Update #541]. [LJ 6/14/00] The Financial Times warned that
the general strike was "expected to disrupt much of the country
and add to growing fears that Mexico may be descending into chaos
ahead of presidential elections on July 2." [FT 6/13/00]


Guatemalan judge Alexis Calderon, one of a panel of three judges
set to hear the case of the April 1998 murder of Bishop Juan
Gerardi Conedera, announced his resignation on June 14, after
accusations appeared that he had favored one the defendants,
former Presidential General Staff (EMP) member Obdulio Villanueva
Arevalo, in a previous trial. Calderon was the judge in the 1996
trial of Villanueva for the murder of a milk delivery driver who
had apparently driven his truck too close to then-president
Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen as he was horseback riding on a public
highway [see Updates #315, 318]. The Archbishop's Human Rights
Office, then led by Gerardi, questioned Judge Calderon's
independence in that trial, and said that Villanueva's sentence
was too light.

Calderon is the third judge to resign from the Gerardi case. The
first judge to hear the case resigned in the midst of accusations
of incompetence, and his successor resigned after receiving death
threats. Prosecutor Leopoldo Zeissig said the case is at an
impasse until a new judge is appointed. "When you think of a
country in which a case such as this has progressed so little,
the message is very disturbing," said Jose Miguel Vivanco,
executive director of the Americas division of the Human Rights
Watch. [La Nacion Costa Rica, 6/16/00 from Reuters]


Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is made up of
the 36 African-American members of the US House of
Representatives, met with Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz June
3-4. After describing Cuba's program for sending doctors to
impoverished areas throughout the Caribbean and Africa, Castro
suggested that Cuba could provide free medical training to 10-12
US students who would then serve in impoverished parts of the US.
"It would be hard for your government to oppose such a program,"
Castro told the legislators. "It would be a trial for them.
Morally, how could they refuse?"

Castro indicated a lack of interest in the November US
presidential race, in which the leading contenders are expected
to be Vice President Al Gore and Texas governor George W. Bush.
"I really disagree with both candidates," Castro said. "I'm going
to be among the 50% of Americans who will go fishing on election
day." [Financial Times 6/5/00 from AP]


The US Navy detained 56 demonstrators on June 17 when they
invaded the Navy's bombing range on the island of Vieques, Puerto
Rico to demand that the Navy leave. The group included lawyers,
athletes, unionists and a group of 20 doctors "representing
Puerto Rican doctors who are concerned about the health and
future of the people of Vieques," according to their statement.
Navy spokesperson Robert Nelson said the protesters were cited to
appear in federal court to be charged with trespassing. Of the
detainees, 19 were released on Vieques, while 37 were removed to
a naval base on the main island, where 33 remained in custody
late on June 17 because they refused to cooperate with the
authorities. [Associated Press 6/17/00; CNN en Espanol 6/17/00,
with info from AP; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 6/18/00 from AP]
Another 14 protesters were arrested a week earlier, on June 10,
for entering the restricted area. [END 6/11/00]

Vieques residents and others occupied the bombing range for more
than a year after a Navy bomber accidentally killed a civilian
security guard on Apr. 19, 1999. US marshals removed 216
protesters from the site on May 4 of this year, and the Navy
resumed bombing on May 8. Protesters continued to invade the
restricted area since then [see Updates #536, 537, 538, 540].
Ruben Berrios Martinez, president of the Puerto Rican
Independence Party (PIP) and its candidate in this year's
gubernatorial elections, was one of the leaders of the yearlong
occupation; he was arrested when he returned to the range on May
10. On June 13 federal Judge Juan Perez Gimenez sentenced Berrios
to six hours in prison for the protest; he served his time on the
same day. "You and I are on the same side of the controversy,"
the judge told Berrios during the hearing. The independence
leader subsequently revealed that he had been diagnosed with
prostate cancer, and underwent surgery on June 16. Doctors said
they were optimistic about his full recovery. [El Nuevo Dia
(Puerto Rico) 6/13/00 from EFE, 6/17/00; El Diario-La Prensa (NY)
6/14/00 from AP; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 6/14/00 from AP]

The Vieques issue was also an officially recognized theme at New
York City's annual Puerto Rican Day Party, a well-attended event
usually dominated by mainstream politicians. But this year the
march included Berrios; Lolita Lebron, who led the 1954 attack on
the US Congress; and socialist leader Juan Mari Bras. [END

On June 15 Hector Rosario, a student at Dartmouth College in New
Hampshire, began a water-only fast in front of the White House to
demand that US president Bill Clinton meet with represenatives of
Vieques grassroots organizations. Rosario is a Buddhist, and
recently obtained the Dalai Lama's backing for Vieques
protesters. In a May 8 letter to Rosario the Dalai Lama wrote: "I
am concerned by the terrible effects on people, animals and
plants of Vieques, an island in the archipelago of Puerto Rico,
as a result of the military exercises conducted on the island. I
am told that because of the pollution from these military
exercises the cancer rate in Vieques is much higher than on the
main island. I therefore support the action of the people of
Vieques in protesting against such military exercises." [END
6/13/00 from EFE]


On June 12 Puerto Rican activists revealed that the US Navy and
ITT Industries, Inc., of Colorado Springs, signed a six-year, $66
million contract on May 25 to maintain Navy training and testing
installations in Puerto Rico. The contract is for the maintenance
and operation of the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility
(AFWTF), headquartered at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in
Ceiba. ITT will administer and offer technical assistance for
training and testing in the areas known as the Outer Range, Inner
Range, Underwater Tracking Range and Electronic Warfare Range,
located at Roosevelt Roads, the eastern tip of the El Yunque
national forest, and on the islands of Santa Cruz and San Tomas.
Currently the company provides services to the US government and
the private sector for air defense, air traffic control,
communications, transportation, and administration and
maintenance in 80 locations in the US and 37 locations

The activists take the contract as evidence that the Navy is not
planning to give up its testing on Vieques, despite an agreement
between Clinton and Puerto Rican governor Pedro Rossello that the
people of Vieques would hold a referendum on whether or not they
want the Navy to remain. [ED-LP 6/13/00 from correspondent]


Some 5,000 Venezuelan public workers marched through Caracas on
June 14 to demand immediate payment of a salary increase decreed
in May, renewal of collective bargaining agreements, and
reactivation of the economy. [Hoy (NY) 6/15/00 from AP]



For New York area events, check out the CREED NYC calendar at (if you don't have
web access, write <> for info).
Weekly News Update on the Americas * Nicaragua Solidarity Network of NY
339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012 * 212-674-9499 fax: 212-674-9139 *

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