Monday, February 25, 2008

WNU #936: 5 Killed in Peru Trade Protests, Puerto Rican Teachers Walk Out

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #936, February 24, 2008

1. Peru: 5 Killed in Trade Protests
2. Puerto Rico: Teachers Start Walkout
3. In Other News: Peru, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Argentina & more

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. Peru: 5 Killed in Trade Protests
Campesinos and farmers started an open-ended strike in eight Peruvian departments on Feb. 18, holding marches and blocking highways to demand government measures to ease the impact of a free trade agreement (FTA, or TLC in Spanish) with the US. The action was called by the National Convention of Agriculture (Conveagro), the National Council of Irrigation Users (JNUDR) and the National Agrarian Confederation (CNA). According to JNUDR president Enrique Málaga, the FTA, which is to lift tariffs on heavily subsidized US farm products, will harm more than 1.75 million Peruvian farms.

One protester was killed in Barranca, north of Lima, on Feb. 18; police said he was shot by an angry motorist. Three more protesters were killed on Feb. 19: two were shot dead when police fired into a march in Ayacucho department in the central Andean region; another protester fell to his death as he was fleeing police tear gas near the Pan-American Highway in the southern department of Arequipa. At least 150 people were arrested. The government declared a state of emergency in the eight departments on Feb. 19, and by the end of the day the organizers had suspended the strike and resumed negotiations with the government.

Also on Feb. 19, teachers marched on Congress in Lima to protest a decree by social democratic president Alan García on the hiring of teachers with university degrees in the public schools.

Despite the suspension, campesinos continued the strike through Feb. 20 in the southern departments of Cusco, Arequipa and Ayacucho to protest the four deaths in the preceding days. According to CNR radio, a fifth protester, Edgar Huayta Saccsara, was killed during the Feb. 20 strike. He was reportedly shot in the head during disturbances in Huamanga, capital of Ayacucho; some 73 other people were injured. Also on Feb. 20, US ambassador Peter Michael McKinley spoke out in favor of the trade pact, which the US Congress approved in December [see Updates #925, 927]. It would "establish modern systems of trade regulation and design a discipline which will improve Peru's competitiveness and promote its prosperity," he said. (Bloomberg News 2/21/08; Earth Times 2/20/08; TeleSUR 2/19/08, some from EFE, 2/20/08, some from RPP, EFE, AFP; Prensa Latina 2/20/08)

The protests continued two more days in Cusco, where local people called a 48-hour strike starting on Feb. 21 to protest a law allowing companies to set up businesses near archeological zones. Strikers blocked roads out of the city of Cusco, while some 500 marched in the downtown area. On Feb. 21 protesters marched on the airport, causing some damage and leading the authorities to suspend flights for the duration of the strike. Hundreds of tourists were stranded, but five of them--three from Argentina, one from Colombia and one from Spain--were reportedly detained by the national police in Cusco for joining the protests. (AFP 2/22/08; Living in Peru (Lima) 2/21/08)

On Feb. 22, Peruvian vice president Luis Giampietri blamed the week's protests on "subversion" by former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala and his Nationalist Peruvian Party (PNP). (La Prensa (Panama) 2/24/08 from DPA)

*2. Puerto Rico: Teachers Start Walkout
After 27 months of negotiations and despite official efforts to decertify their union, tens of thousands of Puerto Rican public school teachers went on strike on Feb. 21. Public employees are barred from striking under Puerto Rican law, and the government of Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá announced that it would keep schools open. Striking teachers blocked school doors and in some cases chained them shut. Police agents beat a teacher with clubs at the entrance to the Gabriela Mistral school in San Juan on Feb. 21 and threw her to the ground. At least 12 teachers were arrested across the island on the first day.

Education Secretary Rafael Aragunde said 71% of the system's 41,046 teachers went to their classes at the 1,523 schools on Feb. 21, although he said just 31% of the 523,399 students were in attendance. But the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the island's largest union, insisted that 26,000 teachers observed the strike the first two days and 8,500 participated in picket lines. According to the union, 90% of the students stayed home and 85% of the schools were completely paralyzed.

With a basic annual salary of $19,200, the teachers are demanding a doubling of their pay over the next eight years, a maximum class size of 15 and improvements in health conditions at schools. The Education Department and the FMPR have agreed on 26 articles in a contract; they disagree on 20 articles and have yet to negotiate 16 more. (El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 2/22/08 from AP; Terra (Spain) 2/21/08 from EFE; El Sentinel (Orlando, FL) 2/22/08 from EFE; Bandera Roja (Puerto Rico) 2/23/08)

Unconfirmed rumors are circulating that the US-based Change to Win labor federation has offered Gov. Acevedo's Popular Democratic Party (PPD) $3 to 4 million to guarantee the liquidation of the FMPR, which the US unions hope to replace [see Update #932]. (ED-LP 2/23/08 from correspondent, print edition only)

*3. In Other News...
In a letter made public on Feb. 19, Fidel Castro Ruz officially announced that because of health problems he would no longer serve as president of Cuba's Council of State or as the country's commander in chief. Castro had been the official head of state under different titles since February 1959, when then-president Manuel Urrutia appointed him prime minister. His brother Raúl Castro has been acting president since July 2006. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/20/08 from correspondent)... Argentine president Cristina Fernández hosted a meeting in Buenos Aires on Feb. 23 with Bolivian president Evo Morales and Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about a possible energy crisis in the countries and to consolidate plans for regional integration. Bolivia has offered to redirect some of its natural gas to Argentina from Brazil, where the winters are milder. Earlier in the week Buenos Aires hosted a meeting of Latin American and Arab foreign ministers; trade between the two regions has been on the rise. (LJ 2/24/08 from correspondent)... In a communiqué made public on Feb. 21, Mexico's rebel Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) denied any connection to the Jan. 30 shooting death of police director Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, a bodyguard and two civilians in the southern state of Oaxaca [see Update #934]. Barrita Ortiz headed a police unit that guards banks and other businesses; the government blames his death on criminals. The communiqué said he was involved in the May 2007 disappearance of two EPR leaders, Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sánchez [see Update #907], but charged that he was murdered because he had become "inconvenient for the government of [Oaxaca governor] Ulises Ruiz [Ortiz]." (LJ 2/22/08)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Argentina: Soy Pesticide Dangers Ignored

Uruguay: Spirit of Afro Resistance Alive in Candombe

New Versus Old Right in Paraguay's Presidential Election

Bolivian Military Withdraws From Controversial US Army Training School

Nicaragua's maritime dispute with Colombia heats up

All charges dropped against "Suchitoto 13"

National Intelligence Director: Venezuela to intervene in Salvadoran elections

From US to El Salvador: "Gangs" and the "Global War on Terror"

Security fences go up--within Mexico

John McCain: Mr. Big Stick in Latin America

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