Tuesday, September 9, 2008

WNU #960: Argentines Set Train on Fire

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #960, September 7, 2008

1. Argentina: Passengers Set Train on Fire
2. Mexico: President's Report Protested
3. In Other News: Cuba, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador
4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba

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. Argentina: Passengers Set Train on Fire
Infuriated by a delay in service, hundreds of Argentines attacked trains and facilities of the TCB company in two stations outside Buenos Aires on Sept. 4. Protests started when a commuter train broke down near the Castelar station west of the capital, stopping service to Buenos Aires. Hundreds of people trying to get to work threw stones at train company offices, blocked trains headed in the other direction, and set a conductor's cabin on fire. In the neighboring station of Merlo, passengers set an entire eight-car train on fire, along with a ticket machine. About 100 helmeted riot police arrived after an hour, dispersing the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets; about 20 people were arrested.

Federal justice minister Aníbal Fernández and Buenos Aires province police chief Daniel Salcedo were quick to attribute the attacks to sabotage by militant groups, including two Trotskyist organiztions, the Workers Party (PO) and the Socialist Workers Movement (MST); and Quebracho ("ax breaker"), a militant group named for a South American tree with exceptionally hard wood. Government officials said they had videos of infiltrators, including José María Escobar, a PO member who was in the Castelar station passing out fliers against the "bullet train," a planned high-speed train strongly promoted by the center-left government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Government officials even implicated Project South, which is headed by renowned filmmaker Fernando "Pino" Solanas; his latest film, "The Next Station," is a documentary on the deterioration of the railroad system.

Some sources implied the incidents were connected to the reported sabotage of two high-voltage towers in Buenos Aires province and to forest fires in Córdoba province which the authorities said were set intentionally during the week.

The militants denied any responsibility. "It's a real disgrace that the national government is inventing a conspiracy against us," Solanas said. The MST announced it was planning a defamation suit against Justice Minister Fernández. While Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo suggested that PO and Quebracho were both involved, observers noted that the two groups have little in common. The PO is a national party which runs in elections; Quebracho, which describes itself as a "patriotic revolutionary movement" rather than leftist, rejects elections. This wasn't the first violent protest since the railroad lines were privatized in the 1990s under President Carlos Menem (1989-1999). In 2005, the cancellation of service in Haedo, near Castelar on the western outskirts of Buenos Aires, provoked incidents in which 21 people were injured and 87 arrested; the station and 15 train cars were set on fire. (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/5/08 from AFP, Reuters, 9/6/08 from correspondent; Clarín (Buenos Aires) 9/4/08, 9/5/08)

Correction: In Update #941 we inadvertently called the MST the "Movement Toward Socialism."

*2. Mexico: President's Report Protested
Tens of thousands of Mexican workers, tradespeople, doctors and nurses, oil workers, telephone workers, miners, teachers, parents, students and campesinos demonstrated on Sept. 1 to protest the economic policies of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa as he presented Congress with the annual state of the union report. Until two years ago, the president read the report to the two houses of Congress in an elaborate televised ceremony; the tradition ended in 2006 when opposition legislators kept then-president Vicente Fox Quesada from giving his last report [see Update #866]. This year Governance Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño Terrazo simply handed a copy of the report to congressional leaders; the event took eight minutes.

In the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), protesters held some 15 different marches, rallies and sit-ins at different places and times, creating some of the biggest traffic problems in the capital in years. In the southern part of the city, 300 members of the Francisco Villa Popular Front took over tollbooths on the highway to Puebla at 7am and let traffic pass for free for two hours; others from the group did the same on the highway to Cuernavaca; the organization then tied up traffic for three hours with a march of 500 people through the city toward the Zócalo, the main plaza. Also in the southern part of the capital, employees of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) blocked the Insurgentes Sur boulevard. At other end of the DF a group of 200 members of the Popular Movement occupied five lanes of a highway at 8am to oppose Calderón's energy policies and then marched to the Tlatelolco housing project. Flight attendants demonstrated in the city's international airport, and at 4pm thousands of unionists and campesinos held the biggest demonstration of the day--a march to the Zócalo from different parts of the downtown area to demand better living conditions.

Outside the capital, dissident teachers took over Education Secretariat and Social Security offices in various states; electricity workers leafleted; and telephone workers held a one-hour strike around the country. (Crónica de Hoy (Mexico City) 9/2/08; La Jornada 9/2/08, ___)

Teachers continued to hold protests and strikes to build opposition to the Alliance for Quality Education (ACE), a plan supported by President Calderón and National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) head Elba Esther Gordillo [see Update #959]. On Sept. 2 teachers and students blocked the Guerrero state legislature building in Chilpancingo and set up an encampment in front of the governor's office; teachers demonstrated in 11 cities in Campeche; and 100 teachers in Yucatán announced they were forming an independent union. (LJ 9/3/08) On Sept. 3 hundreds of teachers from SNTE Section 19 in Morelos occupied tollbooths on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway, letting vehicles pass for free; Morelos teachers had been on strike since Aug. 13 to protest the ACE. (LJ 9/4/08) Some 50,000 Morelos teachers and supporters marched in Cuernavaca on Sept. 5. (LJ 9/6/08)

*3. In Other News...
Although it caused no deaths, Cuban officials said on Aug. 31 that hurricane Gustav was the island's most destructive hurricane in 50 years, knocking out electricity on the Isla de la Juventud and in much of Pinar del Río province and La Habana province. Former president Fidel Castro estimated the economic impact at $3-4 billion. (La Jornada 9/1/08, 9/4/08 from correspondent)... As of Sept. 6 more than 500 people had reportedly died in Gonaïves, Haiti's third largest city, following the passage of tropical storm Hanna; deforestation has left the Gonaïves area vulnerable to flooding, and as many as 3,000 people died there in 2004 as a result of tropical storm Jeanne [see Updates #765, 768]. Hanna came less than a week after hurricane Gustav hit the country and caused some 77 deaths; flooding from tropical storm Kay left about 40 people dead earlier in August. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs 9/5/08, 9/6/08 from AFP)... On Aug. 29 Guatemalan interior minister Francisco Jiménez announced the capture of former legislative deputy Manuel Castillo at a luxurious residence he owned near the border with El Salvador. Castillo is accused of masterminding the murder of three Salvadoran deputies to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) and their driver on Feb. 19, 2007 [see Updates #889, 891]. (Siglo Veintiuno (Guatemala) 8/29/08 from EFE)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba

The Winner in Argentina? Transgenic Soy

Lugo Faces First Challenges: Coup Plots and the Multi-Ring
Political Circus of Paraguay

Bolivia Confirms Constitution Vote

Interview with Former Bolivian Justice Minister Casimira

Radio: Residents from Ecuador's Amazon Challenge Chevron-Texaco http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1454/68/

Colombia: deadly car blast in Cali

Fugitive Colombian para-pol busted in Venezuela

Cauca: A Microcosm of Colombia, A Reflection of Our World

A Third Term in Office? Entrenching Colombian Authoritarianism http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1453/68/

Chávez to nationalize oil distro, move towards "Gas Revolution"

Venezuela refuses renewed Drug War cooperation

Venezuela: Creating an Endogenous Cooperative Culture

Nicaragua recognizes South Ossetia, Abkhazia

Chiapas: one wounded as paras attack Zapatistas

Displaced People: NAFTA's Most Important Product

Cuba: dissident punk rocker scores political win

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