Native fishermen rammed out
of ocean by Canadian government
By DeNeen L. Brown
Burnt Church, New Brunswick, Aug. 31— Long
before the sun swept over Miramichi Bay, the government fishing
regulators appeared. They began pulling up lobster traps that
belonged to native fishermen, and the battle suddenly got ugly
between the people who say they were here first and those who
came later and now govern.
The Indian fishermen jumped into their boats and
headed out into the waters off New Brunswick to save their traps.
Officials in boats owned by the Canadian Department
of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) rammed the Indians’ smaller boats,
squeezing them, picking up speed, charging and knocking the
Indians into the chilly waters of the bay. The Indians threw
rocks, shattering one official’s jaw, and the fisheries regulators
fought back with pepper spray and steel batons, beating the
The clash Tuesday might have ended as a “they-said-he-said”
dispute. But an amateur photographer standing on the rocky shore
captured it on videotape, arousing outrage among many people
in Canada. Some Canadians are embarrassed, saying that the actions
conflict with the country’s reputation for peaceful ways. Others
say the Indians are Canadians and are subject to Canadian law.
The explosive conflict on this bay on Canada’s
east coast is the latest chapter in the country’s long and often
sad struggle to deal with its native population.
Like that of the United States, Canada’s record
is far from glorious; Indian organizations complain their people
have suffered from years of neglect, paternalism and despoliation.
The video of the clash has been shown over and
over on Canadian television, capturing government boats pushing
through the water, capsizing two Indian boats and forcing the
fishermen to jump.
Now the native people of Burnt Church say the
Canadian fishing enforcers should be charged with attempted
murder, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has launched an
investigation. Two Indians were injured.
“This is no longer an enforcement issue” said
Wilbur Dedam, chief of the Burnt Church First Nation, a community
of native people. “Film footage and witness statements clearly
show that the officers deliberately and willfully charged at
the boat and sank it.”
Paul Alvery, 40, a Burnt Church council member,
said he got a call that morning from his sister. She was worried
about her husband, who had gone out to protect his traps. “When
we got to the wharf, we seen about 25 DFO boats,” said Alvery,
standing on the wharf recalling what happened. “We pulled out
our boat to go look for my brother-in-law. We got about three
miles out, and the DFO intercepted us.”
As he spoke, another boat headed out into the
bay to drop lobster traps, defying DFO warnings.
“A DFO boat came in on the left side of my boat,”
he continued. “Two came side by side, squeezing the boat together.
A third came in front and rammed me on the left of my boat.
My windshield cracked. I grabbed the wheel and gave full throttle.
They were really aiming to do damage not just to our boat, but
The indigenous people of Burnt Church, a small
reservation of about 1,300 people, have been entangled in a
battle with the federal government over lobster fishing in the
bay since Aug. 10, when they defied government regulations requiring
them to obtain a license to catch lobsters from the bay. They
say they don’t need a Canadian government license to fish, arguing
they have the right to manage the lobster fishery themselves.
They note they have a treaty going back 240 years that confirms
“free liberty of hunting and fishing as usual” and freedom to
sell goods in exchange for “good harmony” and “peace.”
The government says the natives’ fishing rights
under the treaty are subject to federal limits and has been
raiding native fishing grounds to enforce its rules.
Federal officers have confiscated more than 2,000
lobster traps owned by native fishermen. Two fishermen have
been arrested, charged with obstructing government regulators
as they pulled up traps.
Lloyd Augustine, hereditary chief of the Mi’kmaq
Grand Council, which governs Mi’kmaq territory in Prince Edward
Island, Nova Scotia, parts of Newfoundland, Quebec, New Brunswick
and Maine, says a Supreme Court of Canada decision last year
gives native people the right to manage their own fishery and
make a reasonable living from fishing.
He and other native people say they do not believe
Canada has the right to tell them how to hunt, how to gather,
how to fish. They also do not believe they are Canadian, but
citizens of a larger nation.
“Who would want to be part of an oppressive society?”
asked Karen Somerville, a spokeswoman for Burnt Church First
“We are taking a beating,” Augustine said. “But
we have been taking a beating since 1492. I am a citizen of
Mi’kmaqkik, a member of Wabanaki Confederacy,” an alliance of
tribes that stretch from coast to coast in Canada. Augustine
says the native people just want to control and manage their
own resources; the government says only that they need a license.
And so the stand-off continues.
“We are going to fish,” the chief says, bending
over to pull an empty lobster trap on the wharf. “They will
take our traps. DFO is trying to agitate us to the point where
we fight back, and at that point they will criminalize our right.
It is the government trying to impose rules on a people, rules
that don’t work on our people.”
Ecuador: US judge linked to
The long-standing suits against the Texaco oil
company on behalf of thousands of Ecuadoran indigenous people
for environmental damage and health problems around oil fields
the company developed in Ecuador’s Oriente region took a new
turn on Sept. 1 when the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed a motion
asking federal judge Jed Rakoff of Federal District Court in
Manhattan to recuse himself from the case because of the appearance
of a conflict of interest. According to the motion, Rakoff attended
an expense-paid six-day seminar on environmental issues at a
Montana ranch in September 1998. The seminar—which was attended
exclusively by federal judges and included dinners, hikes, fishing
trips and other activities—was run by the Foundation for Research
on Economics and the Environment, which receives regular donations
from Texaco. One of the lecturers was retired Texaco chair and
chief executive officer Alfred DeCrane, Jr.
The case involves two suits filed in 1993 and
1994 in New York state, where Texaco’s headquarters are located.
Rakoff dismissed the suits in 1996 and 1997 on the grounds that
New York was not the proper jurisdiction and that the case should
be tried in Ecuador. The US Court of Appeals for the Second
Circuit reversed Rakoff’s decision in October 1998 and returned
the case to him.
Source: Weekly News Update on the Americas: firstname.lastname@example.org
Human rights abuses continue
By Howard LaFranchi
Cartagena, Colombia, Sept. 1— All Dora
Isabel Camacho Serpa wanted was the “quiet miracle of a normal
Instead, the midwife and neighborhood leader
was pulled from her family’s modest home in the northern coastal
town of Cienaga by paramilitary gunmen Monday, police officials
say. Her husband and children found her in a nearby ditch, shot
in the back of the head.
Nine other residents of her poor neighborhood
suffered the same fate in this country afflicted with staggering
abuse of human rights.
Visiting this Caribbean city Wednesday, President
Clinton told Colombians in a televised address that a substantial
increase in US assistance --which will make this South American
country the third-largest recipient of US aid after Israel and
Egypt-- had been approved in a spirit of solidarity. The $1.3
billion in new aid to help fight a drug war and bolster a “democracy
under attack” is a lifeline, he said, to Colombians demanding
peace, justice, and “the quiet miracle of a normal life.”
But what he did not say was most telling: To
make Colombia eligible for aid, Clinton overrode, “for national
security reasons,” six human rights conditions that the Senate
had attached to the aid bill. The conditions were included by
the Senate to bolster flagging support among members wary of
Colombia’s human rights record. But in an election year, when
no one wants to appear soft on drugs, little congressional protest
was heard when Clinton bypassed the State Department’s determination
that Colombia’s human rights record could not be “certified.”
“The official discourse is fully compatible with
international human rights concerns,” says Jose Miguel Vivanco,
director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch in Washington.
“But the gap between that language and reality is huge.”
At least seven civilians died in leftist guerrilla
attacks on various towns during the few hours Clinton was in
Colombia. Last year, more than 2,500 abductions made Colombia
the world’s kidnapping capital. Nearly 2 million people have
been displaced by the civil war. Executions like those this
week in Cienaga are common.
But human rights leaders say the worst problem
Colombia faces is longstanding, increasing collusion between
units of the country’s armed forces and paramilitary organizations.
With Colombia facing heightened scrutiny over human rights violations,
the armed forces are acting to keep their record clean -- but
in some cases by simply contracting out their dirty work, critics
“Often the information available to us shows
a clear case of criminal omission on the part of military brigades,”
Mr. Vivanco says. Sometimes evidence indicates that an Army
unit actually supplied logistical support, or allowed the paramilitaries
free transit in Army-patrolled areas. “But the standard practice
is simply to look the other way when the paramilitaries are
in action,” he says.
At a press conference Wednesday, Colombian President
Andres Pastrana recognized the serious state of human rights
in Colombia, and noted that he had assigned the country’s vice
president to oversee human rights issues. Clinton said the two
leaders discussed “efforts to punish all violators” of human
rights, and especially Pastrana’s efforts to hold violators
among law-enforcement bodies accountable.
Last February, Human Rights Watch issued a scathing report documenting
links between three Army brigades and paramilitaries. In response,
Pastrana named a special commission to investigate paramilitary
activities. Says Vivanco: “That commission hasn’t met a single
Human rights groups say nothing will change until
the international community demands action.
“The waiver sends exactly the wrong message to
all levels of the Colombian military,” says Bruce Bagley, a
Colombia expert at the University of Miami. “Basically, it says,
go ahead as you always have.”
Source: The Christian Science Monitor
Mexican generals implicated
in drug trade
By Diego Cevallos
Mexico City, Mexico, Sept. 1 (IPS)— Two
top generals whose careers have been closely linked to the sphere
of national security are under arrest in Mexico on drug trafficking
charges. But unlike earlier cases, the news failed to trigger
a loud scandal, because military corruption seems to have become
too mundane to stir up much interest, say analysts.
Retired General Humberto Quiroz and active-duty
Brigadier Mario Acosta, who years ago held important posts in
the fight against insurgent groups and drug trafficking, were
arrested for alleged complicity with the powerful “Juarez cartel,”
the office of the military prosecutor reported Thursday evening.
Indications of the extent to which the drug trade
has penetrated other spheres “are apparently no longer considered
strange in the least,” retired general Samuel Lara, a military
affairs analyst, said Friday.
Jorge Chabat, with the Center for Economic Research
and Teaching, said the arrests confirmed the power of the drug
mafias, but also the growing level of transparency in the military
Acosta and Quiroz are facing possible sentences
of 40 to 50 years, said José Larrieta, the head of the Office
of the Attorney- General’s Specialized Unit Against Organized
The case of the two generals is the latest in
a string of detentions that followed the February 1997 arrest
of General José Gutiérrez, Mexico’s anti-drug chief at the time.
Since then, seven generals have been prosecuted
for their alleged involvement in the drug trade.
Like Gutiérrez, Acosta and Quiroz are suspected
of having ties with the Juarez cartel, a group headed by one
of Mexico’s biggest drug barons, Amado Carrillo, until September
1997, when he died in shady circumstances while recovering from
“These generals have led very parallel lives,’’
because they have all played important roles in the area of
national security, and have all been accused of corruption,
said sociologist Jaime González, an analyst with the local Monitor
“We suppose that there are many similar cases
in the armed forces, and we hope they will soon be discovered
for the good of the country,’’ he added.
According to the secretariat of defense, the
armed forces are embarrassed by the corruption scandals, which
had never before cropped up among high-ranking military officers.
“This is a regrettable and awkward situation,’’
said military prosecutor Rafael Macedo. “But we will pursue
it to the last consequences.’’
President Ernesto Zedillo, whose term ends in
December, has delegated much of the fight against drug trafficking
to the armed forces in his six years in office.
The generals’ arrest “should not really shock
us, because of the existence of a system where complicity in
the drug trade occurs even at the highest levels of government.
It is not at all strange that several active-duty officers have
been implicated,’’ according to retired general Lara.
Like never before, Mexico’s armed forces shot
into the international spotlight under Zedillo, whether for
their role in the simmering conflict with the rebel Zapatista
National Liberation Army (EZLN) in the southern state of Chiapas,
their involvement in the war on drugs, corruption scandals,
and even a case of insubordination led by a lieutenant-colonel
who is now in prison.
The armed forces have also been the target of
accusations of human rights violations from leading international
rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
The two generals arrested this week are also accused
by local human rights organizations of ordering the use of torture
in the 1970s, while they were in charge of counterinsurgency
“We will not allow them to be tried on drug trafficking
charges alone, because they must also be brought to justice
for human rights violations and the disappearance of persons,’’
warned Rosario Ibarra, the head of a local rights group, Eureka.
President-elect Vicente Fox, who takes office
in December, promised an armed forces more open to public scrutiny,
except in cases involving national security. He also said the
military would be evaluated in accordance with previously outlined
Mexico’s armed forces are somewhat more transparent
than in the past, said analyst Chabat, because they no longer
attempt to cover up every case of corruption, and they are now
more vulnerable to criticism from society.
Ecuador Indigenous group plans
Quito, Ecuador, Aug 29— The leader of the
Indigenous movement that helped topple Ecuador’s president earlier
this year announced plans Tuesday for a national protest against
President Gustavo Noboa.
“We are convening a great popular uprising of
all Ecuadoreans,” said Antonio Vargas, president of the Confederation
of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador.
Vargas, who has been at odds with Noboa’s government
for months, said the protest would begin Monday and continue
In January, Vargas led hundreds of Indigenous
in a takeover of the Congress building with the backing of a
cadre of young army officers, prompting top armed forces officials
to force President Jamil Mahuad from office.
The coup lasted less than a day, with power being
ceded to Noboa, the vice president.
Vargas said other sectors of Ecuadorean society
would take part, although he did not elaborate. In past years,
Indigenous protests have mostly consisted of blocking regional
highways to paralyze national transportation.
“This government has made no change for the nation,
much less for the indigenous movement,” Vargas said.
Mahuad was widely blamed for Ecuador’s worst economic
crisis in 70 years. His popularity ratings had fallen into single
digits when he was ousted.
Noboa is phasing out the national currency and
replacing it with the US dollar as legal tender.
Vargas and his supporters oppose the dollar plan.
Only two of every 10 Ecuadoreans have stable
employment, and more than two-thirds of Ecuador’s 12 million
people earn less than $30 a month. The country’s 4 million Indians
are among the poorest.
Source: Associated Press