Tuesday, February 5, 2008

WNU #933: Mexicans Protest NAFTA

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #933, February 3, 2008

1. Chile: Mapuche Activist Ends Fast
2. Mexico: Campesinos Protest NAFTA
3. Mexico: Mine Union Set to Deal?
4. Trade: Dominica Joins ALBA

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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. It is archived at weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com

*1. Chile: Mapuche Activist Ends Fast
After 112 days on hunger strike, on Jan. 30 imprisoned Chilean activist Patricia Troncoso Robles ended a protest which started in October around demands for the release of 20 indigenous Mapuche prisoners and an end to the military's presence in Mapuche territories. In an agreement negotiated by Conference of Bishops president Alejandro Goic, Troncoso will be transferred to a prison work and study center; beginning in March she will have weekend releases. Mapuche prisoners Jaime Marileo Saravia and Juan Millalén will have the same benefits; they were part of the hunger strike but resumed eating after 60 days [see Updates #921, 929, 932].

Known by her nickname, "La Chepa," Troncoso is a non-Mapuche supporter of the indigenous cause. In 2001 she was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined about $900,000 for her alleged involvement in setting a fire on land in southern Chile occupied by the Forestal Mininco company, part of the CMPC group, which is owned by the Matte family. The family backed the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet; CMPC head Helidoro Matte has holdings worth more than $5.6 billion. (Radio Universidad de Chile 1/31/08; TeleSUR 01/31/08)

On Feb. 2 Troncoso issued a statement condemning the release of police sergeant Walter Ramírez, who had been detained in connection with the murder of Mapuche student activist Matías Catrileo Quezada [see Update #929]. She demanded that "these cowards"--soldiers and police accused of killing Mapuche activists--"be tried by civilian courts" and that "once and for all trials by military prosecutors be reformed and changed." (Kaos en la Red 2/2/08)

Correction: In this item we originally gave an incorrect translation for "La Chepa," the nickname of Chilean activist Patricia Troncoso Robles. We do not know the meaning of the nickname, which in colloquial Spanish means "hump." In some parts of the Caribbean it means "good luck." If you know the correct translation, please write us at weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com.

*2. Mexico: Campesinos Protest NAFTA
Led by a caravan of 21 tractors, tens of thousands of campesinos, unionists and activists marched through downtown Mexico City on Jan. 31 from the Angel of Independence to the Zócalo plaza, where speakers demanded a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). "NAFTA's very good--for the goddamn gringos," was a popular slogan. Artemio Ortiz, representing the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), said the neoliberal economic model exemplified by NAFTA had failed; he called for more mobilizations on Mar. 18, when Mexicans celebrate the nationalization of the oil industry; Apr. 10, the anniversary of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata's assassination; and May 1, International Workers' Day.

The organizers claimed that 200,000 people participated in the march, which was sponsored by the National Campesino Confederation (CNC), six of the 12 organizations in the Permanent Agrarian Congress (CAP), and a number of unions and other groups. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/1/08)

There were also protests in various states, including sit-ins in local offices of the Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) and blockades of highways and international bridges. (LJ 2/1/08) From Jan. 28 to 29 about 100 dairy farmers from Hidalgo and other states set up a stable at the Monument to the Revolution in downtown Mexico City to protest the low prices at which they have to sell milk to companies like Queen and Lala. The farmers gave out 25,000 liters of milk to people in the area before ending their protest in response to a promise for talks with Sagarpa and the Economy, Finance and Social Development secretariats. (LJ 1/30/08)

The government of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa has been citing statistics to show that Mexican producers have benefited from NAFTA. But protests by farmers have grown as NAFTA has phased out tariffs on agricultural products from the US and Canada. Anti-NAFTA sentiment broke out in an unexpectedly large demonstration in Mexico City on Jan. 31, 2003 [see Update #679]. This year's demonstration was even larger, bringing together rural organizations with very different political orientations and including unions and leftist groups. The CNC, with the largest contingent, is close to the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); ironically, the CNC supported NAFTA when it went into effect in 1994 under a PRI government. (LJ 2/1/08)

*3. Mexico: Mine Union Set to Deal?
As of Jan. 29 Mexican officials and representatives of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM) said they had agreed on a "no aggression" pact and were ready to negotiate starting on Jan. 30. The union and the government have had a series of confrontations since February 2006, when the Labor and Social Security Secretariat removed SNTMMRM general secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia from his post for alleged corruption. Topics for negotiation were to include the removal of police and soldiers from the giant Cananea copper mine, site of a six-month strike; the disposition of bodies never recovered from the Pasta de Conchos coal mine after a February 2006 explosion that killed 65 workers; mine safety issues; strikes likely to break out in the mining industry; and wage and contract issues [see Updates #839, 842, 930, 931]. Union representatives say they expect Gómez Urrutia to return to Mexico from the Canada by March at the latest. (LJ 1/29/08)

Corrections: In the original version we incorrectly stated that SNTMMRM leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia was in the US; he has been living in Canada.

*4. Trade: Dominica Joins ALBA
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA)--a trade pact formed by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004 as an alternative to the virtually defunct US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)--held its sixth conference Jan. 25-26 in Caracas. At the conference the Caribbean nation of Dominica officially joined the group, which by 2007 had grown to include Bolivia and Nicaragua [see Update #900]. Representatives attended from Ecuador, Honduras, Uruguay, Haiti and several other Caribbean nations.

The meeting included the signing of several trade agreements, with Nicaragua pledging to supply milk, corn, beans and beef to Venezuela while Venezuela sells Nicaragua oil under preferential terms. Cuba has an agreement to send doctors to Venezuela in exchange for oil discounts. The conference also announced the creation of an ALBA bank, starting with $1 billion to $1.5 billion of capital, to support joint efforts such as farming projects and energy ventures.

ALBA's growth remains slow. In Ecuador and Haiti plans to join face strong internal opposition. The principles behind ALBA are "like motherhood. You can't be against them," Prime Minister Ralph Gonzalez of St. Vincent and Grenadines said. "But when you start to add names--[Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez, [Cuban president Fidel] Castro, [Nicaraguan president Daniel] Ortega--people get scared. So we have to educate our people before we can become full members." Joel Suárez of Cuba's Martin Luther King Center stressed the importance of involving social movements to back governments' efforts to join ALBA. (CommonDreams.org 1/28/08)

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Brazilian courts censor protest against anti-Semitism--at Jewish behest

Bolivia: Morales Reaches Two-Year Milestone

Ascendant Copper Loses Mining Concessions in Ecuador

Fujimori linked to cake-scarfing death squad

FARC negotiator gets Colombia's max--in US prison

Colombia: paras linked to agbiz

Colombian cartel kingpin found slain in Venezuela

Independence movement emerges on island claimed by Nicaragua, Colombia

Chávez calls for "anti-imperialist" military alliance

Venezuela, Nicaragua Propose Joint Military Force for Latin America

El Salvador: repression escalates; national police director runs for prez

Mexico protests US tear gas attacks

Mexico City "mega-march" against NAFTA

Crime, water wars rock Chiapas Highlands

Mexico: Atenco activists freed

Mexico: Death Over Dams

The First Zapatista Women's Encuentro: A Collective Voice of Resistance

Indigenous Rights and the Mayan Victory in Belize

El Salvador: Benefits of Free Trade Deal Still Remote

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