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Panama's Supreme Court declared a new mining contract with a Canadian firm unconstitutional, concluding over a month of widespread protests. The contract, fast-tracked by Congress, aimed to boost profits but faced opposition from unions, teachers, students, and Indigenous groups. The mine, operated by First Quantum, contributed 5% to Panama's GDP. The court ruling sets a precedent against foreign companies exploiting lax rules, reflecting a broader resistance to short-term gains at the expense of environmental damage and national identity. Central America Studies scholar Jorge Cuéllar sees the ruling as curbing extreme extractive industry practices and protecting Panama's natural patrimony.

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Guatemala Election Watch #44

An important summary of the Indigenous reality of what "Guatemala" is, for more than 500 years, now leading the struggle in defense of the August 20, 2023 election results, and the construction of a different Guatemala for the future.

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Yuly Velásquez, an environmental activist in Barrancabermeja, Colombia, has survived three assassination attempts in two years for her efforts to expose water pollution in the industrial city. Colombia is deemed the most perilous country for environmental defenders, with 60 activists murdered in 2022. Latin America faces the highest number of killings, attributed to the region's active civil society and Indigenous groups. Despite Colombia's biodiversity and improved security post a 2016 peace treaty, criminal groups, drug traffickers, and corrupt officials persistently target activists. Velásquez, facing threats since denouncing irregularities in a city contract, emphasizes the environmental fight's importance despite risks. The government's response includes a protection program and the Escazú Agreement, yet killings rose in 2022, highlighting ongoing challenges. Velásquez remains determined, stating the fight must continue for the environment.

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Amnesty International declared that El Salvador is undergoing a severe human rights crisis, attributing it to President Nayib Bukele's aggressive anti-gang measures. The report alleges that the approximately 74,000 individuals detained in the crackdown faced "systematic use of torture and other mistreatment." The Americas director for Amnesty International, Ana Piquer, expressed deep concern over the documented deterioration in human rights, linking it to Bukele's repressive security policy and the erosion of the rule of law. The report, based on 83 interviews, highlighted instances of abuse, while former inmates, interviewed by The Associated Press, recounted severe beatings by prison guards. Critics argue that Bukele's broad sweep in detaining suspected gang members has ensnared individuals based on factors like low-wage jobs, limited education, or place of residence. Local rights groups claim 327 people are missing, and at least 190 have died due to the crackdown. Despite the controversial policy's success in reducing the homicide rate and boosting Bukele's popularity, he aims to seek re-election, challenging a constitutional prohibition.

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Honduran authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Daniel Atala Midence, the alleged mastermind behind the murder of Indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres. Cáceres, known for opposing the construction of an internationally financed hydroelectric dam, was assassinated in her home in 2016. Atala Midence, the former financial manager of the dam company Desa, is part of a powerful political and economic family. Desa's president, David Castillo, previously sentenced to 22 years and six months for his role in the assassination, also ran the company. Atala Midence, implicated in running operations, was excused from testifying in Castillo's trial due to being under investigation. The majority shareholders of Desa, Atala Midence's father and uncles, were not implicated. Cáceres's children welcomed the charges, seeking justice. Cáceres, coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh), opposed the Agua Zarca dam project and was murdered by hired hitmen. The dam, sanctioned after a 2009 coup, lacked compliance with environmental and community requirements. The current president, Xiomara Castro, has not commented on the case.

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Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal faced the removal of immunity, prompting three magistrates to leave the country amidst allegations of interference in the presidential election results. The Congress lifted the immunity of four magistrates, accused by attorneys linked to a far-right candidate of overpaying for election software. Despite international observers declaring the election fair, the magistrates certified the results. President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, an outsider promising to tackle corruption, faces legal challenges, with his party suspended and members arrested. Amidst U.S. sanctions on officials, Arévalo is set to take office on Jan. 14, but concerns about Guatemala's establishment interfering persist.

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In this monthly newsletter, we include the fiscal year-end numbers from Customs and Border Patrol. CBP reports 2,475,669 “encounters” of migrants at the US-Mexico border from OCT 2022-SEP 2023. That’s up about 100,000 from last fiscal year. 

Let’s be clear. There is no “border crisis.” But there is a humanitarian crisis at the border.

The numbers don’t justify any increased funding for CBP. Federal agents are not having to chase down tens of thousands of migrants along the river bank or into the desert along the 2,000 mile border. A large portion of the “encountered” migrants (roughly 30,000 per month) have actually turned themselves in voluntarily at ports-of-entry to request political asylum. Presenting themselves at ports of entry (i.e., the “legal” way to cross) are these nationalities in this order: Haiti, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru.

But the waiting time to schedule an appointment at the border crossing (via the CBP One app) and then waiting for the actual appointment—this is causing tens of thousands of migrants to seek humanitarian assistance on the Mexico side of the border as they sit it out and wait.

As burdensome as the asylum process is, a group of US senators is trying to make it worse. They are threatening to stall any supplemental budget request that Biden is submitting for the war in Ukraine, Israel/Gaza, and the US-Mexico border. They say that won’t approve any Biden request unless it contains new border restrictions, including: more detention, family and child detention, restrictions on humanitarian parole, and banning the right to asylum for migrants who do not present themselves at ports-of-entry (note: this is clearly an illegal provision that violates both domestic and international asylum law.). 

See the Take Action items listed at the bottom of this newsletter. Our advocacy is needed to maintain some modicum of humanity in the nation’s immigration system and to address root causes of migration. 



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Park ranger Adonias Cruz, part of a team monitoring illegal oil palm crops in Honduras, faced a death threat at his home. The dangerous nature of their work stems from groups involved in palm oil exploitation and drug trafficking. Palm oil, a lucrative export for Honduras, poses environmental risks, threatening biodiversity and water quality. The cultivation boom, fueled by financial incentives, has also led to illegal plantations, impacting national parks. Drug traffickers invest in oil palm to legitimize income, control territory, and exploit government incentives. Environmental activists, combating illegal plantations, face deadly consequences, with Honduras being the deadliest country for them. Despite efforts, including the establishment of the Green Battalion, logistical challenges and corruption hinder effective protection against illegal oil palm activities.

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In 2022, Guatemala faced turmoil at the University of San Carlos following the contested election of Walter Mazariegos as the new rector. Bernardo Arevalo, initially a little-known figure, gained international attention after becoming Guatemala's president-elect. However, prosecutors have sought to strip him and his running mate, Karin Herrera, of political immunity for supporting student protests. The move is viewed by critics as an attempt to undermine Arevalo's presidency, adding to previous legal actions against him. The investigation into the university occupation has raised concerns about free speech suppression, with Arevalo's vocal support for the protests becoming a focal point. The attempt to lift his immunity is seen as a potential threat to Guatemala's democratic stability, drawing international criticism, particularly from the United States. The outcome could impact regional stability and collaboration on issues like transnational crime.

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Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is a facet of international law enabling private corporations to sue governments impeding their profits. This mechanism, embedded in bilateral investment treaties (BITs), often favors wealthy states, compelling less powerful nations to accept ISDS provisions for market access. ISDS allows corporations to challenge governmental actions, even those addressing public health or environmental concerns. The dystopian nature of ISDS is exemplified in the case of Honduras Próspera, a US company attempting to establish a libertarian enclave in Honduras. Despite the Honduran government's efforts to repeal laws facilitating this project, Honduras Próspera initiated an $11 billion ISDS case. Progressive International launched a campaign, denouncing this as 'corporate colonialism' and highlighting the broader threat to global South nations challenging corporate influence through democratic means. The situation underscores the ongoing struggle against neoliberalism and neocolonialism, emphasizing the importance of international solidarity to secure economic and political rights.