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As Guatemalan President Admits Mining Abuse, Goldcorp Challenged, on Laws, of Wiretapping

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 17 -- Abuse by mining firms of rural Guatemala, particularly indigenous communities, has become systemic. Even President Alvaro Colom, when asked Wednesday by Inner City Press at the UN about the abuses had to admit that the current law "is not suitable." Video here, from Minute 18:32.

Inner City Press asked President Colom whether his government will respect the decision of several communities to be "mine free." Colom replied that "with respect to mines and the mining law, promoted in 1997, honestly, it's a bad law... Not only when it comes to royalties [but also] environment and natural resources [and] the rights of indigenous people to give their opinion."

Guatemala is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People, and Colom says his government will abide by it. He said he has not issued a single new mining license. The former government, he said, did authorize many, some of which have been frozen.

  But not enough. In late 2009, for example, Maudilia Lopez Cardona and Carmen Mejia Aguilar on behalf of the residents of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, a municipality in southwestern Guatemala traveled to Canada to file a complaint with the government against Goldcorp.

They documented that Goldcorp's "Marlin mine contaminated water supplies and damaged homes while the company harassed protesters." The complaint was submitted under Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines for multinational firms. We'll see.

President Colom, pointing finger (elsewhere) at UN

 President Colom also spoke, with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and then the Press, about the UN affiliated International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. Inner City Press previously interviewed the head of CICIG Carlos Castresana on such topics as his prosecution of the murders of bus drivers and his advocacy for a wiretapping law.

President Colom on Wednesday, when Inner City Press asked about the rejection of the Commission's recommendation that three "corrupt" judges not be put on the Supreme Court, cited the Commission's work on the wiretapping law, as well as on an updated arms and munitions law. He said he did not intervene in the placing of the three judges on the court due to separation of powers. "If we don't want impunity, we have to respect the division of powers," he said. Again, we'll see.

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Amid Tear Gas, UN Lets Stand Sri Lanka Claim of Its Congratulations, UN's "Good Journalism" Guide

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 11 -- As in Sri Lanka the Rajapaksa administration deploys tear gas against those protesting its arrest of Sarath Fonseka, in New York Inner City Press asked if the UN had any comment. Video here, from Minute 8:46.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky reiterated his version of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's telephone call to Mahinda Rajapaksa. But then did the UN or Mr. Ban, Inner City Press asked, take issue with the Sri Lankan government's press release about the call, that it involved Ban congratulating Mahinda Rajapaka, without any mention of the arrest of Fonseka or the tear gassing of his supporters? Video here, from Minute 8:46.

  "Governments will characterize... as they see fit," Nesirky said.

  But what if the press coverage adopts the government's version of the call, and the UN is portrayed as totally (and not just partially) in bed with human rights abuses?

  Inner City Press mentioned instances where the UN, even under Ban, has taken issue with statements by governments, of Sudan and Zimbabwe for example. So does the silence now mean the UN and Ban are satisfied with the Rajapaksas' summary?

"That's not what I said, don't put words in my mouth," Nesirky protested. Video here, from Minute 10:44.

Another journalist asked Nesirky for a more "philosophical" response about when governments mis-use their communications or even photo ops with the UN.

  "I am not a philosopher," Nesirky. He then returned to the Sri Lanka issue, saying that "the coverage was rather balanced," including both the read out of the Secretary General and the government. Mr. Nesirky said pointedly, "That's what good journalists do." Video here, from Minute 12:40.

  Leaving aside the question of whether the UN and its spokesman should be opining on what and how journalists should report, it seems strange for anyone to equate "good journalism" with merely presenting side by side the UN's version and the government's version, that Ban congratulated Rajapaksa while he cracked down on his opponents and the independent press. Does that mean both versions are equally true?

Sri Lankan forces use batons on protesters, UN "congratulations" not shown

  It is a win - win situation then. Ban can say he spoke about due process, and Mahinda Rajapaksa can say he was congratulated by the UN while cracking down on his opponents. Each side gets what it wants. Could this be Ban's UN kabuki theater?

Footnotes: Ban's versions is that he called for due process. But after the call, presidential brother and Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that Fonseka "is guilty" of treason, predicting a five year sentence. When the president's brother declares a person guilty before any trial or even showing of evidence, it doesn't sound like "good" due process. Will the UN have anything to say?

  Again, on both February 8 and 9, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky if Vijay Nambiar is, officially or de facto, now in charge of the UN's Sri Lanka policy, given reports that calls from the Rajapaksa administration to Mr. Ban were referred to Mr. Nambiar. (It concerned trying to cancel a UN press conference by Philip Alston, about summary executions by the Sri Lankan army.)

Numerous observers, most recently a forthcoming TV documentary, have opined that Nambiar's involvement in Sri Lanka in 2009 was inappropriately pro-Rajapaksa, and worse.  Nesirky at the Monday and Tuesday noon briefings this week has said he would get to the bottom of the question of the call and roles, but has not. On Wednesday there was no noon briefing due to snow. On Thursday, still no answer was given. And the Rajapaksa administration's trumpeting of Ban's congratulations circulated worldwide, with no protest or correction by Ban's UN. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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