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Terror On The Spanish Loot Route

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_ ■rldJ.lrildrl.MUilJMJJil Editor' Note: Brie Jackson, an Assoclate Editor oí 'AGENDA, filed this report from Panama, where he has been living since mid-Februaiy. Jews Masacrad One July day I took my nephew sightseeing in the jungle near where I grew up. On the way back into town we saw fire trucks and ambulances going the other direction. A commuter plañe had crashed on Santa Rita Ridge. The next day my sister and I went to Fort San Lorenzo with my nephew and two of his friends. When the conquistadores stole Peru's gold, this fort guarded the loot en route to Spain. It was also a Spanish prison. It's a great place to teach history. Henry Morgan laid waste to San Lorenzo and what it guarded, kidnapping priests, killing soldiers and civilians, buming homes, sinking ships and making off with lots of gold - crimes for which they made him govemorof Jamaica. San Lorenzo'sdungeons are alsoa good place to remember the Spanish Inquisition, when priests tortured Jews, Muslims and believers of indigenous faiths. On the way back the radio said that a bomb caused the crash, and that most of the dead were Jewish. It shocked Panama, which has neither had airliner bombings, nor, since the Inquisition, much anti-Semitic violence. Though some think that it was a drug mafia hit, most evidence points to Muslim fanatics. A Lebanese man held the bomb as it went off. It was one of many similar attacks. One killed 95 at a Buenos Aires Jewish community center the day before. Others hit Jews in Europe. Ten days after the Santa Rita crash, somebody shot up Panama City's Jewish Cultural Center. Whoeverdid it, and whateverthe motive, all Panama condemns these cnmes. Bom Again's Skeletons Shoröy before Guatemala voted for legislators, rain washed away soil near a village in Quiche province. The bones of at least 1 ,000 persons killed by the army in the early '80s were uncovered. In Peten province, a forensic team uncovered ten mass graves from a December 1982 army rampage. Toys, baby clothes and children's bodies were found among the dozens of corpses. This didn't help General Efraín Ríos Montt's campaign. He was Guatemala's dictator during the massacres, which were aimed at indigenous groups. Despite the bad publicity, Ríos Montt won a seat in the legislatura. In an election where less than one-third of Guatemalans were eligible to vote, and in which nearly 80% of registered voters heeded Nobel lauréate Rigoberta Menchú's cali for a boycott, the former strongman's Guatemalan Republican Front gotabout 200,000 votes. That was one-third of the vote, more than any other party got, but only about 2% of the country's 1 0.3 million people. A fundamentalist evangelical, Ríos Montt is backed by the U.S. religious right. When such folks identify Ríos Montt with God and democracy, then cali pro-choice activists "baby killers," it's a lesson on how dogmatic minds draw weird distinctions. Heed it well. Poverty Rations The UN's International Agricultural Development Fund says that of 123 million rural dwellers in Latín America and the Caribbean, 76 million live in poverty. That's 61%, compared with the global median of 36% rural poverty. Uruguay (1 0%) and Costa Rica (34%) compare well with the world standard, while Bolivia (97%) and Haiti (95%) have some of the planet's most mpoverished countrysides. Such poverty often kills, but mostly debilitates. According to Luis Munguia, who heads the Honduran govemment's Center for the Study and Control of Contaminants, most people in his country drink tainted water, and 80% of lactating women have. pesticides in their milk. The Pan-American Health ization's Carlyle Guerra de Maceo says that at least 60,000 Centra) American children díe each year from preventable diseases. But for each campesino kid who dies, malnutrition, toxins and parasites condemn many others to stunt ed growth or leaming disabilities. Kuna Women Organize You may know Panama's indigenous Kunas through molas, reverse applique needlework sold at local art galleries. Traditional ly, Kuna women sewed while men fished. But overfishing has driven many Kunas from autonomous Kuna Yala into cities and shifted economie burdens onto women. Thus the First Kuna Women's General Congress was held on August 28-31 . Coördinator Miroslava Dick bases women's rights both in Kuna tradition and modem reality. Women singing songs and serving drinks while men debate in the Onmaket Nega (Kuna congress) "doesn't bring Kuna Yala the well-being and progress for which tomorrow's children hope," says Dick. Last Refuge If patriotism is a scoundrel's last refuge, what does a man who supported a foreign invasión of his country do? In one of his last lame-duck acts, Panama's ex-president Endara banned the annual transvestite festival. Drug War Update Over the summer there were signs of progress in the "War on Drugs." Drug busts crowded Panama's jailsto the point of scandal, squeezing over 1,700 inmates into Panama City's Cárcel Modelo, which was built to hold 250. Panamanian cops made their biggest coke seizure, 4,000 kilos, in a case where a son, grandson and nephew of the late Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo are suspects. Colombia broke up a police-run drug ring at Bogota's airport. Peruvian drug kingpin Enrique Tijeros, wanted in Peru, Mexico and the U.S., was nabbed in a Lima mansion. The U.S. Air Force backed a Bolivian drug sweep in which over 500 were arrested. But only fools saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Overall drug traffic was unaffected. Consider the drug trade's size. According to Germán Quiroga, Bolivia's Minister of Government, 1 5,000 people produce cocaine in El Chapare, just one of several coca-growing áreas. A Colombian govemment study says that in 1993 that country's drug traffickers netted between $1.15 and $1.58 billion from coke and heroin sales. Eduardo Valle, formeriy Mexico's number two prosecutor, complains that Mexican and Colombian drug gangs have merged, and enjoy "permanent and substantial political protection provided by the highest levéis of govemment." Gustavo De Grieff, Colombia's former top prosecutor, recently retired. The drug lords had no more relentless foe. De Grieff sums up the score: "After 20 years of struggle, the areas cultivated with drugs increase. Although the narcos are hit, the international price doesn't fluctuate. The interceptions of drugs and money don't come to 10% of the total." He scoffs at stereotypes: "Nobody believes the little story that drugs enter the United States through the drug traffickers' ability to evade the authorities. They don't elude them, they buy them and corrupt them." The former prosecutor wants to take the profit out of the cartels' business - by legalizing drugs. One-Way Blockade Beachcombing near Fort San Lorenzo, I found a syringe and medicine bottle. l've found medical wastes on Panama's Caribbean beaches before. According to a health official to whom I reported one such find, the stuff carne from Europe. U.S. wastes also find their way into the Caribbean. An ocean current runs along the coast from Venezuela to Yucatán, washing things from the Caribbean Sea onto the shores of several nations. These countries can'tafford proper coast guards to defend ttiemselves from hoodlums who dump rich countries' wastes into Third World waters. The U.S. Coast Guard, however, is busy in the area They're looking for drugs. One often hears about intercepted northbound dope, but never of waylaid southbound waste.


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