Wednesday, January 23, 2008

WNU #931: Guatemalan Activists Fast; Mexican Miners Strike, Teachers March

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #931, January 20, 2008

1. Guatemala: Activist Couple Start Fast
2. Mexico: Miners Strike, Teachers March
3. Mexico: NAFTA Protests Continue
4. Cuba: Lula Visits Fidel

ISSN#: 1084-922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to It is archived at

*1. Guatemala: Activist Couple Start Fast
Guatemalan human rights activist Amílcar Méndez and his wife, Miriam Dardón, began an open-ended hunger strike on Jan. 12 in Guatemala City to protest impunity for the 21,509 homicides that took place in the four-year administration of outgoing president Oscar Berger. One of the victims was the couple's son, José Emanuel "Pepe" Méndez Dardón, who was murdered on Aug. 17, 2007, on his way home from work in Guatemala City.

The activists, who positioned themselves on the sidewalk at the main entrance to the Presidential Palace and hung signs on the gate, demanded a cleanup and restructuring in the national prosecutor's office, in the National Civil Police and in the judicial branch; Méndez said criminal charges should be filed against Berger and other members of his government. The couple said they were not protesting against president-elect Alvaro Colom, who was to be inaugurated on Jan. 14.

For many years Amílcar Méndez was an advocate for people displaced in the 1960-1996 civil war; he was also a deputy in Congress 1996-2000 for the leftist New Guatemala Democratic Front (FDNG) and has been a principal adviser to the incoming vice president, Rafael Espada. The San Francisco-based Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) is asking people to sign on to a petition supporting the couple. (CGRS email 1/12/08; Prensa Libre (Guatemala City) 1/12/08)

*2. Mexico: Miners Strike, Teachers March
Thousands of members of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM) participated in an eight-hour national strike on Jan. 16 in support of workers at Grupo México's giant copper mine at Cananea, in the northwestern state of Sonora. Police and soldiers had forcibly removed strikers from the mine on Jan. 12, one day after the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JFCA) ruled that the miners' five-month-old strike over safety conditions was illegal under Mexican labor law. The union won a temporary injunction on Jan. 12 allowing the strike to continue, but unofficial sources reported that the Sixth District Labor Court would probably terminate the injunction [see Update #930]. Grupo México insisted that at least 400 of the 1,300 workers had returned to the mine.

According to the SNTMMRM, some 25,000 workers joined the Jan. 16 national strike, shutting down 85 mines and metal factories; participants included 2,000 miners in the southern state of Guerrero and employees of the Siderúrgica Lázaro Cárdenas-Las Truchas, SA (Sicartsa) steel plant, who marched in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán. Also on strike were 350 workers at the Minera Maple mine in Naica, Chihuahua; they had gone out the day before around local wage demands. However, Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcón said only 33% of the union's 33,581 members participated in the national, and Grupo México insisted its facilities were functioning normally. Grupo México's stocks fell 7.33% on Mexico City's Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV) on Jan. 16; the other major Mexican mining company, Industrias Peñoles, which owns the Naica mine, saw its stock go down by 7.80% the same day. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/14/08, 1/16/08, _ , __, 1/17/08, __)

On Jan. 18 some 20,000 teachers in the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a rank-and-file caucus in the massive National Education Workers Union (SNTE), marched from the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City to the Federal Palace of Justice to protest changes to Social Security for public workers. Teachers from Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Zacatecas, México state, the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), Chiapas and Guerrero participated. "She's going to fall, she's going to fall, that thief Elba Esther!" the dissident teachers chanted, referring to their belief that SNTE head Elba Esther Gordillo is collaborating with Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). At the Palace of Justice, they presented thousands of legal complaints against the new rules and threatened to start a national strike. (LJ 1/19/08)

*3. Mexico: NAFTA Protests Continue
Hundreds of Mexican campesinos, accompanied by 40 tractors, marched in Ciudad Juárez, in the northern state of Chihuahua, on Jan. 18 to launch the "Chamizal to the Zócalo" caravan, a 2,000-km ride to protest the elimination of tariffs on staples under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) [see Updates #928, 929, 930]. Organized by the Francisco Villa Campesino Resistance Movement, the caravan's route goes from El Chamizal Park, Juárez--at the border with El Paso, Texas--to Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo, where the protesters are to join a Jan. 31 demonstration against NAFTA planned by a broad range of groups.

The march started with a 40-minute blockade of the Córdoba international bridge. The protesters then marched through the center of Juárez, joined by other groups, including hundreds of teachers protesting changes in Social Security. On Jan. 19 the caravan arrived in Chihuahua city, where local residents brought food and offered the protesters places to stay. The caravan is to pass through the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Querétaro and México on its way to Mexico City. (La Jornada 1/19/08, 1/20/08)

*4. Cuba: Lula Visits Fidel
Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva met with Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz on Jan. 15 during a 24-hour visit to Cuba and met twice with interim president Raúl Castro, who has headed the government since the summer of 2006, when Fidel Castro withdrew from public functions because of undisclosed intestinal problems. The visit included the signing of financial and commercial agreements, such as credits for food purchases and the expansion of the Che Guevara nickel plant, and offshore oil exploration. Brazil is Cuba's second largest trading partner in Latin America, after Venezuela; annual trade is worth about $450 million.

Although Lula's center-left government has kept its distance from Cuba's Communist government, Lula told reporters during the trip: "I'm from a generation in love with the Cuban revolution; I have a special fondness for Fidel," who he said was again "ready to assume his political role." (La Jornada 1/16/08)

Correction: Some versions of Update #930 incorrectly described how Emmanuel, the child of former Colombian vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas, was placed in foster care in Bogotá. The rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) did not place the child in foster care through a government agency; they placed him with a family, and the agency took responsibility for him after he became ill.

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