No. 86, Sept. 7-13, 2000

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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 Indians down.

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 to us.”

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 Nation.

“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 Texaco

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: wnu@igc.org

Human rights abuses continue in Colombia

By Howard LaFranchi

Cartagena, Colombia, Sept. 1— All Dora Isabel Camacho Serpa wanted was the “quiet miracle of a normal life.”

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 say.

“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 time.”

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 justice system.

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 Crime.

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 plastic surgery.

“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 radio station.

“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 efforts.

“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 criteria.

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 uprising

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 indefinitely.

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

 

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