Mexican authorities in the state of Chiapas discovered 513 migrants from Central and South America, as well as Asia, crammed inside two trailers traveling north on Tuesday. The AP says the trucks were headed for the Mexican city of Puebla when an X-ray scanner at a highway checkpoint near Tuxla Gutierrez revealed the truck’s contents. In Puebla, some migrants say they were told they would be transferred to another set of vehicles for the final leg of the journey to the US border.
The individuals say they were charged approx. $7000 for the journey. BBC says four individuals have been arrested for running the smuggling operation. A police spokesman says the number of individuals recovered from the trucks was the “largest ever” to be discovered by Mexican authorities. Al-Jazeera’s Frank Contreras also reports, by video, from Mexico City.
Meanwhile, in a separate case in Chiapas, two more migration agents from Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM) were detained Tuesday for their alleged role in prostituting young female migrants from Central America. According to AP, those detained include the ex-assistant director of a migrant holding facility and a former assistant head of immigration services in a Mexican town near the border with Guatemala. Both will face human trafficking charges, along with charges of “corrupting minors.”
Today’s bullet points:
· The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on what is, for now, the final day of a 48-hour state of siege in the Peten region of northern Guatemala. The decree was issued by President Alvaro Colom after Sunday’s gruesome massacre of 27 laborers at a remote Peten ranch. In the Guatemalan press, El Periódico reports on the arrest of Hugo Gomez Vasquez, a man Guatemalan prosecutors allege is linked to the kidnapping and murder of three relatives of Otto Salguero, the owner of the Los Cocos ranch and the apparent target of this weekend’s brutal attack. According to the paper, officials suspect a link between the killings of those three individuals and the murder of day laborers employed by Salguero – perhaps related to some sort of unpaid debt owed by Salguero to the Zetas. El Periodicio and Prensa Libre highlight what may end up being the most significant element of the story: possible links between the Zetas in Guatemala (specifically the Zetas “Z-200 cell” cell which has operated in Guatemala) and former Guatemalan military men, including ex-members of the elite “Kaibiles” special forces. El Periodico says Hugo Francisco Chávez Méndez, an ex- sergeant in the Guatemalan military was also among those detained in recent days. For his part, President Alvaro Colom spokoe this week of evidence that “a lot of migration of ex-officials from the 1980s” joined groups like the ‘Zetas’” after the 1996 Peace Accords. Prensa Libre says Mexican authorities made similar claims about Zeta-Kaibiles connections in 2005. More from Mexico’s Proceso.
· In other Guatemala-related news, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk has asked an international commission to investigate the country’s failure to enforce labor rights protections under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The investigation would be the first labor case brought by the US against a free trade partner, according to Bloomberg. In an email Monday, USTR Kirk said, “While Guatemala has taken some positive steps over the past several months, its actions and proposals have been insufficient to address what we view as systemic failures.” The AFL-CIO labor federation and six Guatemalan unions first asked the U.S. to investigate the Guatemalan government’s failure to enforce labor laws in April 2008. It only took the US three years to respond – a fact that doesn’t bode well for labor groups in Colombia where an FTA could be completed this summer and where similar concerns about labor rights have continue to exist.
· The Obama administration also announced Tuesday that it will extend temporary protected status by one and a half years to Haitian immigrants in the US after last year’s quake. The extension will allow Haitians who arrived in the US as late as Jan. 12, 2011, and have lived here continuously, to apply for TPS. AP reports.
· AP also reports that Sweden and the U.S. will provide $2.6 million in aid to Haiti, specifically aimed at preventing sexual assaults in the country’s numerous camps for the internally displaced. The monies will be administered by the International Organization for Migration.
· Prosecutors in Ecuador say they will pursue an investigation against President Rafael Correa over alleged evidence pulled from the Raul Reyes laptops and published last week by a British think tank, suggesting the Ecuadorean president accepted campaign funds from the FARC in 2006. Both Correa and his foreign minister Ricardo Patino, have strongly denied those charges. The former has said he is willing to take a lie-detector test to prove his innocence. BBC reports.
· In Venezuela, new economic numbers released this week show the country’s national economy expanding by 4.5% over the first quarter of 2011—more confirmation that the country has, in fact, pulled itself out of an economic recession. According to central bank figures, the public sector grew 3.3 percent while the private sector grew at a rate of 4.6 percent over the quarter. AP and Bloomberg report. For its part, the Washington Post this morning reports from Brazil on what it describes as Venezuela’s “waning” regional influence, both economically and politically. As evidence Post correspondent Juan Forero highlights a still-stalled joint oil refinery project that was to be built by Venezuela and Brazil in the latter’s historically impoverished Northeast.
· A group of Latin Americanist right-wingers, among them Roger Noriega and former US Florida Republican congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, gathered this week to discuss Peru’s upcoming elections and denounce the “international conspiracy” in favor of the left-leaning candidate Ollanta Humala. A former assistant secretary of state under George W. Bush, Noriega says that of the two Peruvian candidates, it’s only Humala who is “trying to hide his past and his dangerous ideas” and it’s only Humala’s political career which is “due to the ‘caudillo’ Hugo Chavez.” La República has an entertaining photo from a 2000 conga line which suggests Noriega’s candidate, Keiko Fujimori, has also gotten close to the Venezuelan president in the past. Meanwhile, Peruvian writer and pundit Alvaro Vargas Llosa joined his father, novelist Mario Vargas Lllosa, this week, announcing that he is backing Humala’s candidacy. Humala needs all the help he can get right now as Fujimori’s lead has grown to six points according to most recent poll numbers.
· Mexican anti-drug war poet Javier Sicilia is this week’s interviewee on TeleSur. In Mexico, meanwhile, Sicilia received a somewhat strange endorsement from the Beltran Leyva gang, which unfurled a banner in Cuernavaca saying the poet can “count on their support.” Insight and Proceso report in English and Spanish.
· Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe is interviewed this week by FP’s Elizabeth Dickinson about Plan Colombia, Twitter, and his decision to remain active in politics.
· Former congressman David Bonior (D-MI) speaks with WOLA on significant changes in Cuba after recently returning from the island. President Obama, on other hand, said this week he has not yet seen any “significant changes” in Cuba.
· Plaza Pública has a long report on the Alfonso Portillo embezzlement case in Guatemala. Portillo and a number of other former high ranking officials were acquitted last week, but the former president still faces possible extradition to the US in a separate money laundering case.
· And Colombia has quickly appointed a new ambassador to Caracas. Ricardo Montenegro, former business attaché at the Embassy, will take over for Jose Fernando Bautista who resigned at the beginning of the week because of his ties to a Bogotá construction company currently being investigated for offering bribes to Colombian politicians. Colombia Reports with more.