Tuesday, June 17, 2008

WNU #950: Brazilian Protesters Take on Agribusiness

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #950, June 15, 2008

1. Brazil: Protesters Take on Agribusiness
2. Argentina: 19 Arrests in Farmers Strike
3. Mexico: "Plan Mexico" Hits Snags
4. Puerto Rico: US and UN Investigate
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com

*1. Brazil: Protesters Take on Agribusiness
From June 10 to June 12 thousands of Brazilians demonstrated in 13 states to protest the power of transnational corporations and the growth of the agribusiness model in the country. Rallies, marches and sit-ins organized by two groups--Vía Campesina (Campesino Way) and the urban-based Popular Assembly--called for a new economic model and a strengthening of the campesino economy in order to produce food cheaply for the population. The two groups issued a document entitled: "Why are we demonstrating? We want to produce food."

Police violently repressed two demonstrations on June 11 in Porto Alegre, capital of the southern state of Río Grande do Sul. Marchers protesting the high cost of food and incentives that the state is offering to transnationals tried to approach the state government's main building, the Palacio Piratini. Police agents and soldiers attacked the march, leaving 25 people injured. Police agents also used violence against protesters occupying the street where a Wal-Mart superstore is located; seven people were injured and 12 were detained.

On June 12 some 1,200 members of Vía Campesina and the Popular Assembly took over the railroad belonging to the Vale transnational mining company, some 12km from Governador Valadares municipality in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, to demand that the company negotiate with the 500 families of Pedra Corrida who were dislocated to make way for the Baguari dam.

Protests during the three-day mobilization included a sit-in at the Sao Paulo headquarters of the Votorantim company to protest the construction of the Tijuco Alto dam in Río Poza de Iguape near the border with the Paraná; the Military Police invaded the building using pepper spray bombs and arrested five protesters. More than 1,000 people occupied the Port of Pecém in Son Gonçalo do Amarante in the state of Ceará to protest the high cost of food and various construction projects they said would cause environmental and social damage. In Alagoas state about 1,000 people from different organizations protested the Xingó hydroelectric facility. Vía Campesina members in Bahía state protested irrigation projects that they said only benefited big agribusiness farms.

In Paraíba state some 200 Vía Campesina members occupied the Nuestra Señora de Lourdes estate, whose 1,100 hectares are dedicated to growing sugar cane, the main crop used for ethanol in Brazil. Another 200 Vía Campesina members occupied the Sugar Cane Experimental Station (EECAC) in Carpina municipality, Pernambuco state, to protest the spread of single-crop sugar cane farming in the region, which they said exacerbates Brazil's food crisis. (Servicio Informativo "alai amlatina" 6/12/08)

*2. Argentina: 19 Arrests in Farmers Strike
On June 14 Argentine police in Entre Ríos province removed a group of farmers and truckers who were blocking Route 14, an important link with Uruguay. Agents arrested 19 protesters, including Alfredo de Angeli, head of the provincial branch of the Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA); he was released after four hours. The blockade was part of a new round of strikes and actions in a national protest agricultural producers have carried out in phases since March to protest increased taxes on soy [see Update #941]. The new actions have included farmers not associated with the main farmer groups--the FAA and the rightwing Argentine Rural Society--and some truckers who previously had opposed the strikes. The latest actions threatened to bring shortages to major cities; they also created major transportation problems for leftists trying to reach Rosario, in Santa Fé province, the birthplace of Argentine-Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto ("Che") Guevara, for celebrations of his 80th birth anniversary on June 14. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/15/08 from correspondent)

On June 11 Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo warned that in the new actions "there are sectors that are ready for anything." He referred to an incident in Victoria, Entre Ríos, when a van belonging to Jorge Bussi was involved in an attack on a convoy of trucks carrying fuel. Bussi's uncle is former general Domingo Antonio Bussi, an official during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship [see Updates #702, 718]. (LJ 6/12/08)

*3. Mexico: "Plan Mexico" Hits Snags
The US House of Representatives voted 311-106 on June 10 to authorize $1.6 billion over three years for the Mérida Initiative, a project ostensibly aiding the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America. The measure won't be finalized until the Senate passes its own version and the two chambers work out their differences and send the authorization on to President George W. Bush, who is expected to sign it. The House version authorizes spending $1.1 billion for Mexico, $405 million for Central America and $74 million for efforts by the US government to slow down the flow of illegal weapons from the US to Mexico. Mexico's share breaks down into $780 million for enforcement, including helicopters and new technology, and $330 million for programs to improve the rule of law and the Mexican judicial system. (La Jornada 6/11/08 from correspondent)

Many US unionists and human rights activists oppose the initiative, which they call "Plan Mexico" to point out its similarities to Plan Colombia, through which the US has heavily funded the Colombian military. Human rights advocates say the program will enrich US defense contractors--through the purchase of Bell helicopters, CASA maritime patrol planes and surveillance software--while endangering Mexican civilians, especially political dissidents. The project allocates no money for drug treatment and rehabilitation, which advocates say are necessary to address the root causes of drug use in the US. (Truthout (US) 6/13/08) [Activists from the group Friends of Brad Will protested the measure at a congressional hearing in February; Brad Will was a New York-based independent killed while covering protests in Oaxaca, Mexico--see Update #934.]

The New York Times also objects to the plan, but principally because the "timid assistance package proposed by the Bush administration and pared down by Congress" is "too small." "Both governments need to work, urgently, to salvage the aid package," an editorial warned. (NYT 6/4/08)

Mexican Congress members have raised objections to the Mérida Initiative because of conditions the US Senate wants to impose requiring monitoring of human rights violations by Mexican security forces. At the 47th Mexico-US Inter-Parliamentary Meeting, which ended on June 8 in Monterrey in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, legislators from the ruling center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the formerly ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) expressed concern that these conditions violated Mexican sovereignty. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) had a letter from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who heads the Senate Appropriations Committee's State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, suggesting that the final version will be modified to address these concerns. (LJ 6/9/08)

Mexican activists also oppose the Mérida Initiative, which was negotiated by the administrations of Bush and Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa of the PAN. The Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC) called the opposition in the Mexican Congress "an excellent signal that authoritarian initiatives between the executives of the two countries are in their death agony." Retired general José Francisco Gallardo, who served eight years in prison for criticizing the Mexican army [see Updates #431, 465], said the Mérida Initiative was part of a "covert maneuver by the US so that through the militarization of the political and economic structures and the annexation of the army, it can appropriate the country's energy resources." (LJ 6/9/08)

*4. Puerto Rico: US and UN Investigate
The US government is continuing its efforts to have Puerto Ricans testify before a federal grand jury on the independence movement. A summons was served on Tania Frontera, a graphic artist living in New York City, to appear before a New York grand jury on June 13, along with an unidentified man who lives in Puerto Rico. Frontera had been scheduled to appear before the grand jury on at least two times earlier this year, but the sessions were postponed [see Update #930]. She has said she will refuse to testify.

The daughter of an active member of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), Frontera says she doesn't belong to any organization and hadn't expect to be questioned by the government, although she has participated in public political activities. She said Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents came to her place of employment and asked for her without identifying themselves. When she learned who they were, she told them: "All right, I don't have time for you," and escorted them to the door. (Adital 6/13/08; Claridad (Puerto Rico) 5/21/08) [As of June 15 there appeared to be no published reports on the June 13 grand jury session.]

On June 3 Doudou Diéne, United Nations (UN) rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, inspected the farmhouse in the western Puerto Rican city of Hormigueros where US federal agents killed Popular Boricua Army (EPB)-Machetero leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos during a raid on Sept. 23, 2005 [see Updates #817, 818]. Diéne is expected to issue a report on the situation in Puerto Rico in three months. During his two-day visit he also heard testimony at the Guerrero de Aguadilla prison on dozens of inmates who died while in drug detoxification, and he was scheduled to speak with residents of Mayagüez who say that members of poor communities are subjected to human rights violations and false criminal charges. (Primera Hora (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) 6/4/08)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:
Argentine truckers block highways

Truth and Justice in Uruguay, Two Decades Delayed

Nationwide Teachers Strike Keeps Chile Students Protesting

Thousands Protest US Asylum for Sanchez Berzaín as Resentment Continues Over "Black October" http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1321/1/

Ecuador arrests Colombians in plot on President Correa

Colombia: Indigenous Self Defense in Times of War

Chávez to FARC: chill out; FARC to Chávez: watch out

Chavez Reiterates Call on Colombian Rebels to Release All Hostages http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1326/68/

Guatemala: Five Sentenced to 780 Years for Río Negro Massacre http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1327/1/

WOLA, LAWG Voice Concern Over Rights Violations in Guerrero, Mexico http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1330/68/

Mexico: Murder of Indigenous Reporters Fuels Hatred, Division http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1329/68/

Mexico: detained migrants vanish in Chiapas bus attack

No Rest for the Working Poor

When More Is Less: The Limited Impact of Foreign Investment in the Americas

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