Monday, August 4, 2008

WNU #957: Mexicans Vote No on PEMEX "Reform"

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #957, August 3, 2008

1. Mexico: "No" Vote on PEMEX "Reform"
2. Venezuela: Chavez Embraces Russia, Spain
3. Haiti: Pierre-Louis Ratified as PM
4. Haiti: Brazil Offers Food Program
5. Cuba: US Computers Reach Havana
6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela

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. Mexico: "No" Vote on PEMEX "Reform"
Some 1.8 million Mexicans voted overwhelmingly in an unofficial, non-binding referendum on July 27 to reject President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's proposals to allow more involvement in the state oil monopoly, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), by local and foreign private companies. The vote was held in the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and nine states; similar unofficial votes are planned for the remaining 23 states on Aug. 10 and Aug. 24 [see Update #956].

A rapid count late on July 27 showed about 870,000 people voting in the DF. Exit polls by the Consulta Mitofsky polling firm estimated that 84.7% voted no on the first question--whether to allow private companies to participate in activities relating to petroleum exploitation--while 15.3% voted yes. A second question asked if voters agreed "in general" with Calderón's energy reform proposals; some 82.9% voted no, and 17.1% voted yes, according to the exit poll. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/28/08)

Vote counting was slower outside the DF, but as of July 31 organizers reported that about 968,000 voters had participated in the nine states, which include such populous areas as México state. Some 93% of these voted no on the first question while 5% voted yes, with 2% of the votes ruled invalid; 91% voted no on the second question, and 7% voted yes, with the rest invalid. (LJ 8/1/08)

Organizers insisted that they were "satisfied" with voter participation. However, the center-left government of the DF had printed enough ballots for 6 million voters, many more than the number of voters that turned out. Unofficial referendums in the past seem to have drawn more voters: organizers claimed that an August 1998 vote on a government bailout of banks brought out more than 3 million voters, while 2.4 million Mexicans reportedly participated in a March 1999 "consultation" by the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) on indigenous rights [see Updates #449, 478, 956]. Carlos Payán Velver, former editor of the left-leaning daily La Jornada, noted that in the DF people had to present voter credentials before voting in this year's referendum. Participation was much higher than for other votes in the DF with the same requirements, he said, such as a 2002 referendum on building a second level for the Mexico City beltway, which brought out 420,000 voters. (LJ 7/28/08; LJ 7/29/08)

*2. Venezuela: Chávez Embraces Russia, Spain
On July 22, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías met with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow as the two countries signed agreements for joint work on energy projects in Venezuela. Chávez said the accords would promote "a strategic alliance in the energy sector." Venezuela and Russia have "a perfect identity in their foreign policy lines," he said. "If the Russian armed forces want to be in Venezuela, they'll be welcomed warmly." Chávez added that he intended to pursue military cooperation with Russia in response to the "aggressive plans" of the US. In recent years Venezuela has bought arms worth an estimated $4 billion from Russia. This was Chávez's sixth visit to Russia since 2001, although the first since Medvedev became president. Previous visits were with former president Vladimir Putin, who is now Medvedev's prime minister. (La Jornada 7/23/08 from correspondent)

Chávez was in Spain on July 25. He proposed discussions about Europe's new policies towards immigrants from Latin America [see Update #951], and also used the visit to mend fences with President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and King Juan Carlos I. During the 17th Iberian-American Summit in Santiago, Chile, in November 2007, Chávez had repeatedly interrupted Zapatero, and Juan Carlos finally told Chávez: "Why don't you shut up?" This time Chávez held the king in a long embrace. Juan Carlos gave him a t-shirt reading: "Why don't you shut up?" and Chávez joked about the king's royalties from the expression. (LJ 7/26/08 from correspondent)

*3. Haiti: Pierre-Louis Ratified as PM
The Haitian Senate voted on July 31 to ratify the appointment of economist Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis as prime minister. Twelve of the 18 senators present voted in favor, and five abstained; as required by the regulations, Senate president Kelly Bastien did not vote. The Senate's action completes the ratification process, since the Chamber of Deputies approved Pierre-Louis' appointment on July 17. President René Garcia Préval nominated Pierre-Louis on June 23; it was his third effort to find a prime minister to succeed Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was forced to resign on Apr. 12 following violent protests over the rising cost of food [see Update #954]. Pierre-Louis is Haiti's second woman prime minister.

Some of the opposition to Pierre-Louis stemmed from her position as director of the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL), a nongovernmental organization supported by the Open Society Institute of US financier George Soros, who has backed neoliberal economic policies in Latin America. Some opposition was because of rumors about her sexual orientation. In the debate on July 31, Sen. Edmonde Supplice Beauzile said she wouldn't vote for Pierre-Louis for moral reasons, while Sen. Rudy Hériveaux said people shouldn't be penalized for their sexual orientation. Challenges facing Pierre-Louis now include dealing with the rising cost of living; finding a way to jump-start food production in the country; handling protests by former members of the army, which was disbanded in 1995; preparing for the start of the school year on Sept. 1; and arranging elections for nine of the 27 seats in the Senate. (Associated Press 7/31/08; Reuters 7/31/08; AlterPresse 7/31/08, _ )

*4. Haiti: Brazil Offers Food Program
A mission representing several Brazilian government ministries arrived in Haiti on July 19 for a two-week visit aimed at developing a plan for combatting hunger in the country. A pilot project will be modeled on Brazil's Program of Acquisition of Food from Family Agriculture (PAA). "The objective is to encourage family agriculture, generating income and producing food," said César Medeiros, director of Brazil's National Food and Nutritional Security Secretariat. "The project will be administered by Haiti; Brazil will only provide advice." The aid is part of an agreement Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva signed with President René Préval during a visit to Haiti on May 28. (Adital (Brazil) 7/31/08)

Brazil heads the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a four-year-old military and policing operation opposed by many Haitian and Brazilian activists [see Update #549].

*5. Cuba: US Computers Reach Havana
Computers confiscated by US customs agents in Texas at the beginning of July finally arrived in Cuba on Aug. 1 in a cargo of 100 tons of humanitarian aid raised by the New York-based group Pastors for Peace in its 19th US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan. After collecting the aid in 137 US and Canadian cities during June, the caravan drove into Mexico at the border crossing at McAllen, Texas. US agents let the other material through, including five buses, but confiscated 32 computers [see Update #953, where we reported the number as 35, following our source]. The caravan members took the rest of the aid to Tampico in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas to send it to Cuba by ship; the members themselves then flew to Havana on July 5.

"When we came back from our visit to Cuba, the people from Customs gave us back the computers...saying they had determined that we could ask for a permit," Pastors for Peace associate director Ellen Bernstein told a press conference in Havana on Aug. 1. "But we didn't ask for anything; we carried the computers by hand and crossed the international bridge to Mexico to leave them on the other side to make sure that they got from Customs to Cuba." The group, which has shipped aid to Cuba since 1992, protests the US trade embargo against Cuba by refusing to apply for permits.

At the press conference Bernstein announced that eight US students would graduate on Aug. 2 from Havana's Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). Currently 103 students from disadvantaged US communities are studying there on full scholarship; eventually Cuba hopes to have 500 US students in the program. (Granma Internacional (Cuba) 8/1/08; Soitu.Es (Spain) 8/1/08 from EFE)

On July 31 Pastors for Peace founder Rev. Lucius Walker was in court in New York City facing contempt charges for refusing to answer questions from the Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) for the city's Department of Education about a delegation from Beacon High School that traveled to Cuba in 2007. Judge Judith Gische refused to rule because of errors in the SCI's motion, but she said the SCI could correct the errors and resubmit the motion. Charging that "precious Department of Education funds are being used to harass rather than to serve the urgent educational needs of our schools," Pastors for Peace is asking for supporters to urge Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard J. Condon (80 Maiden Lane, 20th floor, New York, NY 10038-4811) to withdraw the SCI's subpoena of Walker. (Court Update from Pastors for Peace 8/1/08; Pan-African News Wire 1/23/08 from AP, New York Daily News)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela

Argentina: Soy - High Profits Now, Hell to Pay Later

Bolivia: It's All about the Gas Revenues

Indigenous Organizations to Support Ecuador's Constitution

Colombia: army colonel admits participation in Peace Community massacre

Colombia: banana executive admits participation in Peace Community massacres

Colombian paras cop plea in Miami; "New Generation" wreaks terror in Narino

What is the Venezuelan News Media Actually Like?

Venezuelan Youth: A Potential Antidote to the Weaknesses of the Revolution

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