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June 10, 2013 - No. 71

Important By-Election in British Columbia

Christy Clark Can Be Defeated in Westside-Kelowna

Important By-Election in British Columbia
Christy Clark Can Be Defeated in Westside-Kelowna - Charles Boylan

Harper Government's Americas Strategy
Merchant of Death Secures Interests of Canadian Monopolies
Neo-Liberal Hooks Sink Deeper into Peru
Harper in Colombia
Peddling "Security" Equipment in Guatemala

Colombian Peace Negotiations
Between Heaven and Hell - Declaration of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia- People's Army (FARC-EP)

4th Anniversary of Coup in Honduras
Call for Coordinated Actions - Honduras Solidarity Network
Parliamentary Hearings on Human Rights Situation in Honduras - Rights Action

Important By-Election in British Columbia

Christy Clark Can Be Defeated in Westside-Kelowna

All out to mobilize the opposition to neo-liberal retrogression!

NDP candidate David Eby defeated BC Liberal leader Christy Clark in the Vancouver Point Grey riding by 1063 votes in the recent provincial election. Eby's victory was a great blow to neo-liberal politics. It showed that with mass political mobilization, the people can become motivated to act politically and work in their own interests and in the public interest to defeat the anti-social private monopoly interests pushing the Liberal Party's neo-liberal politics in BC.

For Clark to act as neo-liberal Premier within the Legislature she needs to win a seat in a by-election. With the June 5 resignation of Liberal MLA Ben Stewart, the Liberal Party is organizing a July by-election in Westside-Kelowna in the hopes of an easy Clark win.

Clark and the mass media suggest her election is a shoe-in mainly because the region has returned mainly Liberal and Social Credit MLAs in the past. But when the people intervene in their own interests, history and politics do not necessarily conform to the wishes of the neo-liberals. Otherwise, Clark would have won in Point Grey and the hated neo-liberal HST would not have been defeated, in large measure with the energetic work of many in the Okanagan.

The forces opposed to Clark's neo-liberal retrogressive agenda can with maximum effort, upset the plans of the real estate monopolies entrenched in the Lower Mainland and the energy, mining and forestry monopolies in the interior and along the coast. The people of the Okanagan can send a loud message that they do not agree with the destructive neo-liberal politics and agenda of the powerful global monopolies and their political representative Christy Clark.


Striking public sector employees in Kelowna,
September 5, 2012.

Westside-Kelowna is a large riding with over half its population situated in the municipality of West Kelowna. The working class makes up the largest section of West Kelowna's population. Twenty-six per cent of the labour force is engaged in the goods producing sector, which is a higher percentage than for the rest of the Okanagan Valley and BC as a whole. The two largest goods producing sectors are construction and manufacturing. Specialty building trade contractors employ the largest number of construction workers. The manufacturing sector consists mainly of wood processing and transportation equipment manufacturing alongside other manufacturing workers. Gorman Brothers sawmill is a major employer in the town.

The largest proportion of West Kelowna workers, 73 per cent, is in the service producing sector. The majority work in retail services, health care and social services, consistent with the rest of BC. The percentage of administrative office workers is only about half the BC average. A majority of workers living in the community of Westbank commute to Kelowna and even farther to go to work. Farms and wineries are common beyond the town limits.

The riding includes the highly organized, business-minded Westbank First Nation with 9,000 people living on its territory, of whom 8,000 are non-Indigenous. The First Nation runs its local government in the manner of a small municipality.

Objectively the majority of the polity in Westside-Kelowna has every reason to oppose the over-all neo-liberal agenda pushed by Clark. The people stand to suffer from further retrogressive cuts to public education and health care, and the wrecking of BC Hydro, which is poised to increase drastically its rates in the coming period. While Clark and the media say the community is in the camp of the energy and other monopolies, a strong case can be made by a well-organized and thought-out opposition that rational development of resources, processed mostly within the province, generating a strong manufacturing base along with a vibrant public sector will provide more secure employment and a prosperous future.

Mass political mobilization of the working class discussing the importance of defeating the Clark neo-liberal agenda in practice could encourage more to vote than normal for a by-election, which on average is a third less than in regular elections. Clark is counting on less than 15,000 voters casting a ballot in a summer by-election. The working class must prove her wrong again with organization and conviction to get the vote out.

Serious political arguments have to be put forward by the opposition to persuade citizens, especially workers, youth and First Nations people, that they can make a difference and can defeat Clark. It will be an affirmation of the people's desire to have a rational alternative to Clark's retrogressive attack on social programs, public services, BC Hydro, and the sell-out of the province to the mostly foreign energy, resource, real estate and financial monopolies.

The entire shameful neo-liberal wrecking legacy of the Campbell/Clark governments and the wrong direction of the economy putting the province into the hands of the global monopolies and away from local manufacturing, social programs and public services can be opposed by providing the people with a convincing alternative and mobilizing them where they work and live, approaching them through their organizations as well as person to person and house to house just as many in the area did during the successful anti-HST referendum. Activists must engage the voters in discussion and mobilize them against the undermining of public K-12 education, the indebting of post-secondary students, the cut-backs in health and seniors' care, destruction of the public oversight of the forest industry, the wrecking of BC Hydro, not to mention the corruption of the sale of BC Rail in which Clark is personally tarnished.

The people of the Westside-Kelowna riding have proven they have every interest to become empowered so that decision-making is in their own hands and not centred in the board rooms of the global monopolies, where the local interests of the people are furthest from their minds, which are consumed with their private interests.

For all of Clark's mantra about "jobs, jobs, jobs," over seven per cent of the workers in the riding are unemployed. Measures are required to strengthen manufacturing and to enhance the natural benefits of local agriculture. New employment could also be created by increasing investments in social programs and public services, as well as improving the social and cultural facilities and public infrastructure required by the community.

The by-election should summon to the electoral battlefield teachers, health care workers, trade unionists from every sector, people concerned with the environment and the direction of society, small business owners and operators, as well as the professional organizers. Let the lessons from the defeat of Clark and her neo-liberal agenda in Point Grey be applied in Westside-Kelowna! Adding one more seat to the opposition and chasing off her anti-social entourage of global monopoly agents to another "safe" riding will be a great victory for the people and an alternative pro-social agenda. Let us show the mettle of the BC working people as we did in the anti-HST referendum and in Point Grey.

BC for the people and renewal, not the global monopolies,
their political agents and retrogression!
All out to defeat Christy Clark in Westside-Kelowna!

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Harper Government's Americas Strategy

Merchant of Death Secures Interests of
Canadian Monopolies

From May 21-23, Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled to Latin America to help secure the interests of Canadian mining and other monopolies at the expense of the peoples of Latin America. Time and time again, Canadian mining monopolies have been implicated in the worst human rights abuses against the peoples, including the killing of mining activists by their armed security forces.

On May 21, Harper made the first ever visit by a standing Canadian Prime Minister to Peru, following which he travelled to Cali, Colombia on May 22-23 for meetings of the Pacific Alliance which is made up of Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Chile.

Throughout Harper's current and past visits to the Americas a common thread has emerged. The Government of Canada continues to push and further cement the interests of Canadian mining monopolies and other industries through free trade agreements or other means. This includes activities to undermine democratically elected governments to promote neo-liberal trade and the interests of the monopolies. Following the 2009 military-led coup in Honduras, Canada's response was to decry the coup in the mildest possible terms, continue providing military and security "aid" to Honduras, and blame President Manuel Zelaya for the coup and the violence instigated by the coup forces. In 2011, it concluded a neo-liberal free trade agreement with that anti-national government. Most notorious is of course Canada's participation in the 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti to install a regime of death-squad democracy. For years, Canadian monopolies have brutally exploited the Haitian people and are now looking to pillage its mineral wealth. This is Canada's new contribution to peace and democracy in the Americas. It is no wonder most countries of the Americas see Canada and its partner the U.S. as a block to Latin American development and progress.

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Neo-Liberal Hooks Sink Deeper into Peru

On May 21 Harper met with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala. In a joint statement following the meetings, the two leaders noted that since 2009, when the bilateral Free Trade, Labour Cooperation and Environment Agreements between the two countries came into effect, two-way merchandise trade has increased 48.8 per cent, reaching more than $4.2 billion in 2012.

In the context of Peru's position in the Pacific Alliance and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Canadian monopolies want in on, Prime Minister Harper announced "support to Peru's efforts to improve the environmental impact assessment process for mining and energy projects as well as support to natural resource governance." The Harper government's moves at home to usurp control over the regulation-making authority for environmental assessments -- to streamline projects demanded by the monopolies by disempowering First Nations -- gives a good indication of its intentions in Peru.

Harper also announced "support to small businesses in extractive regions to encourage economic diversification." Both leaders also discussed the recently launched Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development. For his part, President Humala "recognized the importance of this Institute and the potential of partnering with it in the future."

In this way aid to the countries of the Americas is clearly being used to facilitate the role of mining and other resource extraction monopolies in these countries so that they can reap maximum capitalist profit. The notion of providing assistance to developing countries based on mutual benefit is anathema to the Harperites, as their dominionist outlook does not permit them to see other countries as being made of peoples striving to affirm their rights, but instead as sources of wealth and human and natural resources to be exploited on the world market.

Another focus of the visit was strengthening Canada's position as a merchant of military and security merchandise to certain regimes in Latin America, likely to assist them in "securing" Canadian investments in those countries. The joint release states the two leaders "stressed the importance of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Ministry of Defence of Peru and the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), a Crown corporation of the Government of Canada, that will facilitate transactions for services, or military and defence requirements for the Government of Peru, through a Government-to-Government arrangement."

Also a subject of the meetings was the push to shore up the Organization of American States and its scheme for interfering in the affairs of Latin American countries, namely the Inter-American Democratic Charter: "The leaders shared their common vision of the role they assign to the Organization of American States and the importance of strengthening the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The leaders committed to strengthening the Organization of American States, the Summit process and Inter-American human rights system to enhance their capacity."

The Context of Harper's Visit to Peru

Peru has become Canada's second largest trading partner in Latin America and the Caribbean. Last year, Canadian direct investment in Peru was $6.9 billion, most of this in he mining, oil and gas industries. Peru is a leading producer of copper, silver and gold.

Peru has also been a country of focus for Canadian bilateral aid since 2009, receiving more than $28 million through the Canadian International Development Agency in 2011-12 alone. Much of the funds given in aid must be used to promote development projects linked to mining and education.

Canadian companies like Pan American Silver Corp. and Barrick Gold Corp. operate mines in Peru. According to Jose de Echave, former vice-minister of the Environment in President Humala's first cabinet, "Many of Peru's historic and current mining conflicts are related to Canadian companies."

One of the most recent involves Vancouver-based Candente Copper, which hopes to build a copper mine in northern Peru's tropical forests. Leaders from the indigenous community of Cañaris say the proposed mine would destroy their source of water and livelihood. Last year the community held a referendum in which 95 per cent voted against the mine, but the company and government have ignored the results and are pushing ahead with the project. Peru's government is currently trying to deny the community's indigenous status, despite the fact that Cañaris holds official government certification as an indigenous community. This may well be what Canada's latest aid slated for "natural resource governance" will be used to sort out.

Violence broke out this past January when a peaceful demonstration against the mine was attacked by Peruvian police. About 400 farmers were attacked using tear gas. According to reports at least 25 people were injured, four of them with serious wounds from gunshots and rubber bullets. A dialogue process was set up to resolve the dispute, made up of representatives from the company, the Peruvian government and local communities. However, representatives from Cañaris say they were not allowed to participate in the latest dialogues.

Another Canadian mining company involved in a conflict with the Peruvian people involves the country's first uranium project, owned by Macusani Yellowcake, a Toronto-based mining company. The proposed mine was given approval this April. "The government is treating the project as though it were an ordinary mine, without any special provisions regarding uranium mining," says Jose de Echave, adding, "And the local community is completely unaware of the possible impacts." The project is located in Peru's Puno Department, where Quechua-speaking farmers have a subsistence livelihood based on herding llamas and cultivating potatoes.

(With files from The Tyee, PMO)

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Harper in Colombia

On May 23, Prime Minister attended a meeting of the Pacific Alliance for the first time. This Latin American bloc, focused on free trade and economic integration, includes Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Chile. According to the World Trade Organization, the members of the Alliance exported about $534 billion in 2011. It was formally established in 2012. Presently, Canada has free trade agreements with Mexico, Colombia and Chile and is negotiating one with Peru. It has observer status in the Alliance.

Giving a sense of the political nature of Canada's use of what is called "free trade," bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and the four alliance countries totalled $39 billion in 2012. This compares with only $9.7 billion the year before in trade with the MERCOSUR trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and Bolivia.

While in Colombia for the Pacific Alliance meeting, Harper announced Canadian support to help children in the Colombian departments of Cauca and Nariño gain better access to quality education. "One of Canada's development priorities in Colombia and the broader Americas is to help young people go to school and stay in school so that they can secure brighter futures," said Prime Minister Harper. "The project announced today will help vulnerable children and youth in southwest Colombia receive the education they need to succeed." The idea that this aid is simply to help young people go to school beggars belief in light of the Harper government's refusal to provide education for First Nations youth in Canada's north who are forced to leave their communities to go to school.

Alberto Acevedo writing for the Voz newspaper points out that the Cauca region "is a strategic corridor that allows the quickest possible connection with the Pacific Coast of the country and with Ecuador. Its geological location in the Andes means it is rich in a variety of ground minerals and natural resources.

"In Cauca this means that there are all types of mineral ores that have been detected and studied sufficiently by development agencies and United States intelligence via satellite, who are interested in delivering this inside information to large corporations, who are interested in plundering our natural resources."

"[...] we know that under the surface of the land sacred to the indigenous there is gold, oil, platinum, copper, coltan and other strategic materials. Large transnational corporations, particularly U.S. ones, have had their eyes, on the agricultural areas of Cauca, Putumayo, Caquetá and Nariño, for a long time, since these make up one geological unit."

This is another example of the Harper government's use of aid to try and undermine the resistance of local communities to the destructive actions of Canadian mining monopolies. The Cauca and Nariño departments contain large proportions of indigenous Colombians, many living in areas that are virtually autonomous. There are also large numbers of Afro-Colombians with a tradition of artisanal mining. Canada's so-called aid is likely aimed at utilizing various NGOs to undermine the coherence of these regions.

The initiative, which is supported by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Government of Colombia, will be implemented over five years (2013-2018) by a consortium comprised of Save the Children Canada and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

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Peddling "Security" Equipment in Guatemala

On June 3, Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), announced the delivery of Canadian-funded equipment to "improve security and stability in Guatemala and throughout the region."

The equipment, including digital cameras, radios, binoculars and computers, is going to be used to "bolster investigations into major crimes, including transnational criminal activity and narco-trafficking. The project is delivered through Canada's Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program (ACCBP) and directly supports special methods of investigation by the Office of the Attorney General in Guatemala."

Are the kind of special methods Canada supports in Guatemala in line with the Harper government's "special methods" of giving the state all sorts of powers to violate rights in the name of fighting crime, terrorism or child pornography? Is the notion of security it promotes in Guatemala in keeping with its so-called Canadian values used to justify violations of rights domestically and so-called universal values of justice, democracy and human rights to justify violations of the laws and norms of international relations abroad?

Extending the Harper government's bogus "tough on crime except our own" to the Americas, a government news release states: "As part of our engagement in the Americas, Canada is committed to working with our neighbours throughout the region to improve safety and security for the people who call the Americas home," said Minister Ablonczy. "Canada's support will help the Guatemalan authorities address transnational crime, bring its perpetrators to justice and improve security for the Guatemalan people."

The projects come under the Canadian Initiative for Security in Central America launched by the Harper government at last year's Organization of American States Assembly in Cartagena, Colombia.

The announcement came on the eve of the meeting of the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Guatemala from June 4-6. The General Assembly was attended by Minister Ablonczy on behalf of Canada and Secretary of State John Kerry on behalf of the United States, along with the foreign ministers from 32 Caribbean and Latin American states -- all of the countries of the Americas except Cuba. Security and drug trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean were both topics dealt with by the OAS despite the experience of the peoples of the Americas that the greatest consumer of drugs is the U.S. itself which is also the centre of the drug cartels that cause death and destruction in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. For Canada to join the U.S. in providing military hardware to Guatemala, where the U.S. sponsored violent human rights abuses which led to a decade-long dirty war, is unacceptable.

(With files from DFAIT)

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Colombian Peace Negotiations

Between Heaven and Hell

The dialogues in Havana are in limbo because of the man who wants to go down in history as the president who made peace in Colombia.

Echoes of the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela's just protest over [President Juan Manuel] Santos receiving the opposition leader Capriles in Nariño Palace are reverberating loudly.

Not a few believe that the visit to Bogota of Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States, was the origin of Santos' outburst. And they link it to a plan of Washington headed up by a Trojan horse named the "Pacific Alliance" which, managed by Washington, aims to destabilize and derail popular governments like those of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay, among others. What would prompt Santos to announce Colombia's fanciful entry into NATO? To threaten Venezuela, Brazil?

Don't believe those who attribute the president's behaviour to ingenuousness, because Santos is no fool. As a statesman he is obliged to measure the effect of his actions.

Juan Manuel Santos knew his provocation against the legitimate government of Venezuela would go off like a firecracker on the dialogue table in Havana, because the issue of Venezuela, the companion and facilitator of the process, is a very sensitive one to the FARC, who see the Venezuelans as the main generators of confidence, and consequently, the main drivers of the peace process.

For all these reasons and because it comes precisely when the enthusiasm for peace planted its flag on the Everest of Colombians' reconciliation, encouraged by the partial agreement on the land issue -- the heart of the conflict, Santos' invitation to Capriles has been so perplexing. The attitude of Santos deflated the optimism, the atmosphere conducive to peace that had been built with such effort in Havana. It all boils down to the fact that were it not for Venezuela the peace talks in the Cuban capital would not be taking place.

It is contradictory, abysmally contradictory, to aspire to go down in history as the president who made peace, while at the same time launching a string of attacks against peace. The cold blooded murder of Alfonso Cano, the commander and champion of reconciliation, is now an indelible stain. On the other hand no one can understand why the government rejects the necessary bilateral ceasefire proposed by the FARC since the beginning of the talks, if what we are dealing with is stopping the war. During the last six months the Minister of Defence has acted like a sectarian sniper against the process, giving the impression that there is no unity of purpose on the part of the government. And even the President himself does not miss an opportunity to discredit his counterparts with unfounded accusations and threats to break off [the dialogues].

There are other elements as well affecting the dialogue and the construction of an agreement like the government's annoying cracking of the whip over time and rhythm. What is the rush? To precipitate a bad deal, a botched peace? The progression of such a momentous agreement should not be interfered with either by the timing of an election or legislative deadlines. Parallel with the sessions at the table someone is orchestrating a media campaign from on high, spreading with a certain perfidy the notion of the guerrilla as victimizer on one side and on the other, the State as an angel, fluttering innocently with no historical responsibility for the institutional violence and terrorism.

A government that really wants peace is not always drawing the red lines of its intransigence, of its non-negotiables, but rather acts with magnanimity to facilitate understanding. Where is the goodwill, where the good judgment? What can be seen here is a big inconsistency. And also great stinginess when one's defence is based on stubborn arguments [and] outrageous privileges. These attitudes contribute little to building an atmosphere of peace. So what are the dialogues for?

Understand that this is not a process of submission, but of peacebuilding. It is not about incorporating the insurgency into the current political system, as it is, without any changes to favour the excluded majorities. Then what would the fight have been for? The best epilogue of this war must be sealed with structural changes of a political, economic and social nature that will give rise to overcoming poverty and inequality.

We must defend this peace process, this hope. After decades of military confrontation we should combine our wills resolutely, everyone, the government, the FARC guerrillas and the social and political organizations of the country, to reach the yearned for reconciliation with social justice. What do Uribe and FEDEGAN [Colombian Cattlemen's Federation] matter if we are resolved to achieve peace.

Secretariat of the General Staff of the FARC-EP
Mountains of Colombia, June 7, 2013

(Translated from original Spanish by TML)

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4th Anniversary of Coup in Honduras

Call for Coordinated Actions

The Honduras Solidarity Network, a network of over 30 organizations, calls for local actions on June 28 to commemorate the coup and in solidarity with the resistance movement.

Why we are calling for these actions:

- June 28, 2013 will be the fourth anniversary of the military coup that toppled elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

- The coup government then held false elections under a State of Emergency which selected de facto President Porfirio Lobo.

- Since the 2009 coup Honduras has fallen into a state of lawlessness and impunity. It now has the highest murder rate in the world and has become the second poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti.

- There have been 206 politically motivated murders of Resistance activists by the military, police, and private armies employed by the largest landowners such as Miguel Facusse, including 104 peasant cooperative leaders in the Aguan Valley, 59 lawyers, 33 journalists and dozens of unionists, teachers, and LGBTQ activists.

The heroic response to the repression in Honduras:

- In spite of the repression, popular sectors continue to struggle peacefully for democracy under the banner of the National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP).

- The FNRP has registered a political party, the Liberation and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), and democratically elected candidates for president, congress, and mayors to contest in the Nov. 24, 2013 general election.

- The LIBRE ticket headed by Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed President Zelaya Castro, holds a firm lead in all opinion polls since her nomination.

To be in solidarity with the people of Honduras, the HSN is calling for local actions to make the following coordinated demands:

- Cut U.S. aid and training to the Honduran military and police.

- Withdraw U.S. troops and armed Drug Enforcement agents and contractors.

- No U.S. intervention in Honduras' election, particularly under the guise of "democracy promotion" funding by USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, and its core groups.

If your organization is planning an action on June 28 or near this date, please send the details to vickicervantes@yahoo.com so we can add it to the HSN web page.

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Parliamentary Hearings on Human Rights Situation
in Honduras

Protest in Honduras' industrial city, San Pedro Sula, where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was signing a Free Trade Agreement with post-coup Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, August 12, 2011. A representative of the Honduran Women's Collective reports to the international press the human rights concerns of Honduran women sweatshop workers and detrimental working conditions of the Montreal-based apparel company, Gildan Activewear. Harper visited one of Gildan's factory in Honduras immediately after signing the FTA. (Karen Spring)

From February to April 2013, the Sub-Committee on International Human Rights of the Canadian House of Commons heard from various witnesses regarding the human rights situation in Honduras. The hearings were scheduled as a result of the severely deteriorated human rights situation in the country but also in anticipation of future hearings related to the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

In August 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper traveled to Honduras to sign the FTA with the post-coup regime of President Lobo. Ignoring countless reports of human rights abuses documented by national and international organizations like Rights Action, Canada decided to utilize the violent and repressive post-coup environment to advance its economic interests in Honduras. These include mining, tourism, and the textile and apparel or sweatshop industry, each of which are industries that have greatly benefitted from the neoliberal policies approved by the Honduran National Congress since the June 28, 2009 military coup. Each of these has benefitted directly or indirectly from the repression of the post-coup regime.

Although the FTA has been signed, it has not been passed by the Canadian Parliament. NOW IS THE TIME to get in touch with Government representatives and express outrage for Canada's clear decision to promote its economic interests over human rights.

Why Is Canada Friendly with Repressive Honduran Regime?
- Rachel Warden, Barbara Wood, Brittany Lambert, Embassy Magazine,
Opinion Section, May 22, 2013, Issue #453 -

Canada's official human rights and good governance rhetoric
seems to be subordinated in practice, to business interests

The Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights' decision to study Honduras was well-founded. The situation there has been called a "human rights emergency" and is widely recognized as one of the worst in the hemisphere. The hearings have painted a dismal picture of extreme violence against rights activists and political opponents, of widespread impunity and police corruption, of judicial politicization, and of institutional decay.

Why then, is Canada treating the current Honduran government like a friendly partner rather than denouncing its human rights abuses and the lack of rule of law?

Honduras took a turn for the worst in 2009, when a military coup deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. There were elections after the coup, but they were deeply flawed. Hondurans who opposed the coup were systematically threatened and assassinated, and the main opposition candidate spent much of the campaign recovering from a severe beating by security forces. Although voting is mandatory in Honduras, close to half of the population boycotted the election, as did major international observers. The election of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, Honduras' current president, was therefore widely regarded as an extension of the post-coup regime.

Since then, human rights abuses in Honduras have spiralled. In the words of Teresa Lopez, a Honduran community organizer who visited Canada last month: "We all know, theoretically, that a coup will impact the economic and human rights situation of a country, but I never imagined it would be this bad."

Honduras now has the highest murder rate in the world -- one similar to a nation at war. There have been 206 politically motivated assassinations in the past three years, and the country is considered the most dangerous in the world for journalists. Most crimes are met with impunity by an inadequate justice system and a largely corrupt police force -- one that has deep ties to organized crime and has been accused of running death squads.

Last month, the attorney general of Honduras was suspended for failing to prosecute homicide cases: only 20 per cent of the cases in the past four years have even been investigated. These incredible levels of impunity leave Hondurans, especially those who challenge the status quo, vulnerable to the escalating levels of violence.

In December 2012, the Honduran Congress illegally deposed four members of the Supreme Court, swearing in new justices within hours. Congress then quickly proceeded to review a series of laws that had been overruled by the court.

Canada Boosting Ties

Instead of denouncing the human rights situation and the Honduran government's blatant disregard for the rule of law, Canada is rapidly expanding its presence in, and relationship with, Honduras. Canada's official human rights and good governance theoretic seems to be subordinated, in practice, to business interests.

In January 2013, the Honduran Congress passed a new mining law. This law, developed with support from CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency), creates a more favourable environment for large-scale mining, an industry in which Canada is a global leader. Many sectors of Honduran society rejected the new law and there is significant community opposition to large-scale mining.

Canadian investors have also backed Honduras' plan to build "Model Cities," even thought they were ruled unconstitutional by Honduras' Supreme Court. The plan would allow private entities to create and enforce their own laws within these cities, ignoring labour, environmental, and other protections enshrined in Honduran law. The proposed cities would also violate laws that prevent foreign ownership of land within 40 kilometres of the coast -- land currently claimed by indigenous groups. The imposition of these "Model Cities" seems antithetical to democracy and the rule of law, pillars of Canada's foreign policy in the Americas. Tragically, Honduran lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera was gunned down shortly after presenting a legal challenge to the "Model Cities" project, in September 2012.

Canada and Honduras recently concluded free trade negotiations, including parallel agreements on labour and environmental co-operation. This deal, which will reportedly be finalized within the next few months, is consistent with our governments' recent free trade agreement model which includes human rights and labour protections only in unenforceable side agreements. The FTA will protect and promote Canadian investments, but there is no corresponding guarantee that it will protect Honduras' most vulnerable.

Canada's involvement in Honduras demonstrates that while Canada's Americas Strategy promised engagement along three major pillars -- security, prosperity, and democratic governance -- the record of action to date has been narrowly focused on the prosperity pillar. In a country like Honduras, where corruption, violence and impunity are widespread, this prosperity will only benefit a small group.

Canada should signal a more genuine commitment to Honduras and to the hemisphere, engaging deeply on issues such as development, security, corporate accountability, democratic governance, and human rights. This could go a long way towards rebuilding Canada's deteriorating reputation in the region, which is increasingly defined by mining controversies rather than by its traditional leadership in peacebuilding and human rights.

Rachel Warden and Barbara Wood are co-chairs of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation's Americas Policy Group, a Canadian civil society group focused on development and social justice issues in the Americas. Brittany Lambert co-coordinates the group.

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