Monday, January 28, 2008

WNU #932: Chilean Mapuche Activist Continues Fast

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #932, January 27, 2008

1. Latin America: Davos Weighs Financial Crisis
2. Chile: Mapuche Activist Continues Fast
3. Colombia: Rice Pushes "Free Trade" Accord
4. Colombia: Give Peace a Chance?
5. Puerto Rico: Teachers Set to Strike

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. Latin America: Davos Weighs Financial Crisis
This year the World Economic Forum (WEF), an annual meeting of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland in late January, was focused on a financial crisis that shook world stock markets Jan. 18-Jan. 21--the worst in 60 years, according to one participant, US financier George Soros. Other participants tried to minimize the dangers that a likely US recession would pose for emerging economies. The present crisis "isn't the first and won't be the last," said Mexican central bank president Guillermo Ortiz. But according to former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel prize for economics, Mexico's economy isn't more resistant than in the past to contagion from the US, a situation made worse by the fact that the majority of banks in Mexico are now subsidiaries of US banks. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/24/08, 1/26/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Since 2001 opponents of neoliberal economic policies have countered the WEF with a World Social Forum. This year the forum was composed of decentralized events. In Latin America these included a rally in Buenos Aires, Argentina; a women's march and events in Sao Paulo and Belém in Brazil; and an event in the Zócalo plaza in Mexico City. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, 1/26/08,_,_ )

*2. Chile: Mapuche Activist Continues Fast
As of Jan. 27 Chilean activist Patricia Troncoso Robles had rejected an Interior Ministry offer to ease her prison conditions if she would end the hunger strike she started 109 days earlier to demand the release of 20 indigenous Mapuche prisoners and an end to the military's presence in Mapuche territories [see Updates #921, 929]. Troncoso's father, Roberto Troncoso, and a mediator, Conference of Bishops president Alejandro Goic, said the government offered a transfer to a prison work and study center, with Sunday releases after six months at the center. But Troncoso Robles demanded an immediate easing of conditions for Mapuche prisoners Jaime Marileo and Juan Millalén and a resolution of the prisoners' situation by March.

Troncoso is a non-Mapuche supporter of the Mapuche cause who in 2001 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "terrorism" in connection with a fire set at a ranch in southern Chile. On Jan. 23 she was transferred to the emergency room of the Herminda Martín Hospital in Chillán, Bíobío region; she was severely malnourished after having lost 30 kilos. In the hospital she has been fed intravenously, against her will. The hospital's Dr. Renato Acevedo Vargas said he was "shocked" by Troncoso's situation, including heavy security and an initial refusal to allow visits by her father. "I never thought the Chillán hospital would one day be turned into a high-security prison," he told the media.

Activists and human rights groups have pressed the government of Socialist president Michelle Bachelet to act on Troncoso's case. On Jan. 24 about a dozen leaders of nonprofit organizations and leftist parties occupied the office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Santiago for almost two hours to back Troncoso's demands. About 20 people stood outside supporting the occupiers, who included Troncoso's doctor, Berna Castro; Tomás Hirsch of the Humanist Party; and Eduardo Artés, first secretary of the Chilean Communist Party. On Jan. 25 in Paris Amnesty International (AI), the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and other organizations accused Bachelet's government of indifference.

The Mapuches make up about 6.6% of Chile's population of 16 million. The government's first effort to resolve centuries of conflicts over possession of the Mapuches' traditional territories came in 2006 when the National Corporation for Indigenous Development returned some 504,000 hectares to Mapuche communities. According to a recent poll by the daily Tercera, about 80% of Chileans feel the country is in debt to its indigenous peoples. (La Nación (Chile) 2/24/08 from UPI; Univision 1/25/08 from AFP; Radio Cooperativa (Chile) 2/27/08; Radio Universidad de Chile 2/27/08)

*3. Colombia: Rice Pushes "Free Trade" Accord
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice visited Colombia on Jan. 24 and 25, meeting with rightwing president Alvaro Uribe in Medellín at the end of the trip. The high-level delegation, including US legislators, was intended to show support for Uribe and to push for ratification by the US Congress of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC) between the two countries [see Update #929]. In Medellín Rice also met with former rightwing paramilitaries who had demobilized under a plan sponsored by Uribe; she visited a flower cultivation business where ex-paramilitaries are employed. At a meeting between the delegation and Colombian unionists, Carlos Rodríguez of the Unitary Workers Confederation (CUT) said 40 leaders of the union federation had been murdered in 2007, bringing the number of unionists murdered in the last 22 years to 2,574. Many were killed by paramilitaries. (La Jornada 1/26/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

According to Colombian Communist Youth (JUCO), two unidentified men murdered Colombian student Alirio Quiñónez, a member of JUCO's central committee, on Jan. 19 in Guasdualito, in the western Venezuelan state of Apure near the border with Colombia. The two men fired repeatedly on Quiñónez, who was living in Venezuela "due to persecution by the Colombian Army and the intelligence agencies." JUCO said the murder was the "responsibility of the Colombian state" and that members of JUCO and the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) now in the leadership of the center-left Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA) have been "turned into military objectives." (Rebelión 1/23/08)

*4. Colombia: Give Peace a Chance?
There is real possibility for peace between the Colombian government and the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), according to Antonio Navarro Wolf, a former rebel who is now governor of the southern department of Nariño and a leader in the center-left Democratic Alternative Pole. Following the FARC's release of two hostages on Jan. 10, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías has pushed for the Colombian government to advance the peace process by designating the FARC a "belligerent force" rather than "terrorists" [see Update #930].

For 16 years Navarro Wolf was a member of the rebel M-19 group, which signed a peace accord in 1990 and gave up the armed struggle. "It was difficult," he told the New York daily El Diario-La Prensa in a telephone interview, noting that the Patriotic Front (UP), a legal political group close to the FARC, was virtually exterminated after it was set up in 1985. But that time has passed, he said: "We're in a Latin America where leftist governments elected by popular vote are our daily bread; through the electoral path there are suitable spaces for the left to be able to govern and give form to its political project." He warned that the FARC was turning into a "type of laboratory case" with very little future. (ED-LP 1/21/08)

*5. Puerto Rico: Teachers Set to Strike
Tens of thousands of public school teachers in the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the country's largest union, are set to go on strike sometime after Feb. 1 in defiance of the Puerto Rican government and parts of the labor movement. Teachers have set up strike committees in schools, and some say participation is higher than during a strike in 1993. In Ponce some 600 FMPR members blocked streets in a recent pro-strike demonstration, while more 500 teachers picketed in front of school board offices in Caguas.

Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), responded by attempting to rescind the union's certification under Law 45, which regulates public sector unions and forbids strikes by public employees. On Jan. 22, the FMPR filed papers in US federal district court in San Juan seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional.

On Jan. 18 presidents of Puerto Rican unions affiliated with US union federations--the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Federation--held a press conference to denounce the FMPR's strike plans. They said legal action by the FMPR against Law 45 might hurt 100,000 public employees if the courts overturn the law, since their union recognition depends on it. According to some observers, the real issue was a longstanding dispute between the FMPR and the US labor movement. The FMPR has disaffiliated from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), an AFL-CIO union. The AFT seems to have given up efforts to regain the Puerto Rican union, but the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), part of Change to Win, is reportedly seeking to replace the FMPR. Some media commentaries against the FMPR are said to have come from people associated with the US labor movement, including investigative journalist Wilda Rodríguez, a former press secretary for Dennis Rivera, president of SEIU 1199. (Bandera Roja (Puerto Rico) 1/29/08; Claridad (Puerto Rico) 1/16/08, 1/24/08; El Diario-La Prensa 1/14/08, 1/23/08 from correspondent)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Chile-Argentina: Pascua Lama Mining Project on Hold

Australian-Style Intervention of Indigenous Communities Moves toBrazil

Oil: $200 a barrel by year's end?

Venezuelan Grassroots Groups Push for a United Movement

Bolivar's Sword: Venezuela's Recognition of the ColombianInsurgency

Chavez arming Colombian guerillas?

Chavez: Colombia plotting attack on Venezuela

School of Americas Graduates Implicated in Bogota Bombings

Guatemala: Constitutional Court Verdict Exemplifies Impunity

Canada's Mining Continuum: Resources, Community Resistance and"Development" in Oaxaca, Mexico

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream andalternative sources:

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