Monday, May 5, 2008

WNU #945: Latin America Workers March for May Day

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #945, May 4, 2008

1. Latin America: Workers March for May Day
2. Honduras: Union Leader Murdered
3. Mexico: Cananea Strike Now Legal
4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico

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: Workers March for May Day
Unionists and other activists marked International Workers Day with marches throughout Latin America on May 1 as rising food and fuel costs cut into workers' standard of living. Demands included increases in the minimum wage, an end to violence against unionists and rejection of trade pacts with the US.

Some 15,000-20,000 Chileans marched in Santiago to demand an end to neoliberal policies and a new Constitution to eliminate all remaining traces of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. After the protest, which was organized by the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT), anarchist youths dressed in black reportedly threw paint bombs at a bank branch and then rocks and bottles. Police agents responded with massive amounts of tear gas, forcing hundreds of bystanders to flee. Authorities reported 96 arrests.

There were at least five different marches in Buenos Aires, Argentina, mostly by leftist unions and parties; total participation was reportedly in the hundreds. Participation was also low in Uruguay.

Paraguayan president-elect Fernando Lugo headed celebrations in Asunción, telling some 3.000 unionists that his government would be "with the poor, the indigenous, the unionists, the common people" despite "the oligarchs" waiting "with open maws to trap those of us who are coming to power."

Hundreds of Peruvian workers gathered in Lima to protest President Alan García's policies, including a crackdown against human rights defenders in March and April [see Update #941]. General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) general secretary Mario Huamán denounced companies "that murder workers"; on Apr. 30 four workers were buried alive in an accident at a Lima construction site.

Some 15,000 Ecuadoran unionists celebrated a decision by the Constituent Assembly to ban labor subcontracting; about 480,000 Ecuadorans are estimated to be working under contracts with third parties. The Assembly has been meeting since November to write a new Constitution.

Colombian union members marched in Bogotá to protest an increase in the number of unionists murdered this year. According to the National Union School, 39 have been killed since the beginning of the year, a 71.4% increase over the same period in 2007. The marchers also demanded higher pay and rejected a Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC in Spanish) signed with the US but not yet ratified by the US Congress [see Updates #938, 944]. Several people were injured and others were arrested in confrontations with the police.

Thousands of members of Venezuela's National Workers Union (UNT) chanted "Chávez, homeland or death" as they marched through west and central Caracas in support of the leftist government of President Hugo Chávez Frías, while thousands of members of the opposition Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV) marched through central Caracas to the National Assembly to demand higher wages. On Apr. 30 Chávez signed a decree raising the minimum wage by 30% to $372 a month, which he said was the highest in Latin America. The CTV supported the increase but said it barely covered the rise in the cost of living. In 2007 Venezuela had a 22.5% annual inflation rate--also the highest in Latin America. So far this year the annual rate has been 19.5%.

In El Salvador, thousands of workers marched in the capital to demand "urgent changes" in President Tony Saca's policies. "Saca's government is responsible for the crisis we're going through; he can't fool us with his publicity stories about the international crisis being responsible," construction worker Pedro Martínez told the Associated Press wire service.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched before President Raúl Castro and union leaders in the traditional celebration in Havana's Plaza de la Revolución. (Univision 5/1/08 from AP; La Jornada (Mexico) 5/2/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters, Prensa Latina; El Diario-La Prensa (New York) 5/2/08 from unidentified wire services (print edition))

Haitian grassroots and progressive organizations prepared for May 1 with a call for an increase of the minimum wage from 70 gourdes ($1.84) a day to 300 gourdes ($7.89). The call--dated Apr. 29 and signed by the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP), Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen ("Small Haitian Peasants Unity"), Batay Ouvriye ("Workers Struggle") and other groups--said the wage increase was a way to enable the working class to confront "Clorox hunger." [This is a popular expression for hunger so painful it feels like swallowing bleach, frequently referring to the situation that led to violent protests over food in April--see Updates #942, 943.] The call also demanded that Jean Paul Faubert, the owner of Société Haitienne de Couture SA, an assembly plant in Port-au-Prince's Sonapi industrial park, pay back wages and other benefits to the 800 workers who lost their jobs when he closed the plant. (AlterPresse 4/29/08, 4/30/08)

*2. Honduras: Union Leader Murdered
According to union sources, some 40,000 Hondurans participated in May 1 celebrations, which included marches in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. The three main labor federations marched together, along with a number of grassroots groups and coalitions, including the Popular Bloc (BP), the National Popular Resistance Coordinating Committee and the Coordinating Council of Campesino Organizations. The demands included a better agrarian reform, a general wage increase, a halt to privatizations, an end to corruption, and justice for three unionists murdered the night of Apr. 23-24. Chanting "Justice, justice" and "Out with the corrupt ones," the marchers in Tegucigalpa passed the Congress building, where striking prosecutors had an encampment. The prosecutors walked off the job on Apr. 7 around demands for suspects to be tried in several corruption cases that have been shelved; for a suspension of the firings and reassignments started by Attorney General Leónidas Rosa Bautista; and for the dismissal of Rosa Bautista and his deputy, Omar Cerna. (La Prensa (Honduras) 5/1/08; Granma (Cuba) 5/1/08 from Prensa Latina)

The murdered unionists were Rosa Altagracia Fuentes, general secretary of the conservative Workers' Confederation of Honduras (CTH); her driver, Juan Bautista Gálvez; and trade union leader Virginia García de Sánchez. Six masked assailants shot them on the highway between El Progreso and San Pedro Sula, according to eyewitnesses; Altagracia Fuentes was shot 16 times. Police initially called the attack a robbery by youth gangs, even though the attackers failed to take valuables from the car, including $4,000 in cash. But on Apr. 28 the prosecutor in the case, Ricardo Castro, who works in a special unit for crimes against women, said he was now investigating other union leaders. Unionists generally blamed the murders on "enemies of the union movement." Guy Ryder, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), wrote Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales a letter calling for "a full investigation to establish, as quickly as possible, the motives for the murders and identify those materially and intellectually responsible for these crimes, to punish them with the full weight of the law." (Reuters 4/28/08; AFL-CIO Blog 4/28/08)

*3. Mexico: Cananea Strike Now Legal
On Apr. 28 Mexico's Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JFCA) ruled in favor of a nine-month old strike at Grupo México's giant copper mine at Cananea, in the northwestern state of Sonora. The ruling, which is final, makes the job action legal. Previously the JFCA had ruled against the strike--which was started by the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM) over safety issues on July 30--and the government sent troops to the mine in January [see Updates #930, 931, 933, 935]. Grupo México must now end the partial operations it was carrying out at the mine. (La Jornada 4/29/08) On Apr. 24 the company had threatened to close the facility, as it is reportedly doing in the San Martín mine in Zacatecas [see Update #944]. (Mexican Labor News and Analysis, April 2008, Vol. 13, No. 4)

Despite labor's apparent victory at Cananea, Mexico's union movement is "pulverized" through lack of unity, Autonomous National University of Mexico Workers Union (STUNAM) leader Agustín Rodríguez told the daily La Jornada during May 1 celebrations in Mexico City. The unions held three separate marches in the capital, the largest by the National Workers Union (UNT), the main independent labor federation. Under the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the federal government sponsored the May Day marches, and tens of thousands of workers would carry signs reading: "Thank you, Mr. President." The government of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), did not sponsor the May 1 events. The evening before, Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcón held a meeting with union leaders; after shaking their hands he reportedly wiped his own hands with antibacterial cream. (LJ 5/2/08)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:
Argentina's Soy Storm: Tensions Rising Among Farmers

The Real Crisis of Argentina's Agricultural Sector

Violence mars autonomy vote in Bolivia

Bolivia polarized on eve of autonomy vote

Landowners' Rebellion: Slavery and Saneamiento in Bolivia

Understanding the May 4th Referendum in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Santa Cruz's Referendum, Bolivia's Choice

Right Wing Revolt Threatens Bolivia

Peruvian indigenous protest at Oxy Petroleum

Food crisis: summit in Venezuela, protests in Peru

Blackouts in Venezuela

Colombia: FARC blow up oil pipeline

Colombian herbicide spraying grows --so does coca crop!

Colombian government continues attack on rights defenders

Bullets and Bananas: The Violence of Free Trade in Guatemala

Heads They Win, Tails You Lose: Canadian Nickel Companies in Guatemala

Pope Benedict's Holy War Against Liberation Theology in South America

Haitian Food Riots Unnerving But Not Surprising

Biotech Bets on Agrofuels

Mexico: dialogue with EPR guerillas?

Time to Renegotiate NAFTA, Not Expand It

Mexico: deadly attacks on police in Sinaloa

Mexico: deadly attacks on Guerrero cattle barons

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


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