Sunday, July 27, 2008

WNU #956: Mexicans Start PEMEX Referendum

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #956, July 27, 2008

1. Mexico: PEMEX Referendum Starts
2. Colombia: Bogotá Unionist Found Dead
3. Haiti: Téléco Probe Hits McCain Backer
4. Haiti: Constant Convicted in New York
5. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, 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 It is archived at

*1. Mexico: PEMEX Referendum Starts
On July 27 voters in Mexico's Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and nine states were scheduled to vote in a non-binding referendum on President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's proposals to allow more involvement the state oil monopoly, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), by local and foreign private companies. Voters were to answer yes or no to two questions: "1) Currently the exploitation, transport, distribution and refining of hydrocarbons are exclusively activities of the government. Do you agree or not that private companies should now be able to participate in these activities? 2) In general, do you agree or not that the initiatives currently being debated in Congress relating to energy reform should be approved?"

The vote has been promoted by former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and by an alliance of left parties known as the Broad Progressive Front (FAP). Congress and the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) refused to implement the referendum, arguing that it has no basis in the Constitution or in Mexican law. The DF's PRD government is sponsoring the vote in the capital, while in the rest of the country political and social organizations are organizing the balloting.

The July 27 vote includes the DF, México state, Michoacán, Guerrero, Morelos, Tlaxcala, Baja California Sur, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo. In the DF 17,000 volunteers were to oversee voting at 5,586 ballot boxes; 25,000 people volunteered to manage 6,500 ballot boxes in the nine states. A total of 12 million ballots--one for each question--were printed for the DF. The operation is headed by Manuel Camacho Solís, now a PRD politician but formerly Mexico City mayor (1988-1993) for the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the head government negotiator in 1994 talks with the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). A group of intellectuals and artists have been prominent in the drive to turn out the vote.

Two more stages are planned in the referendum: the southeastern states and a few others are voting on Aug. 10, while the northern and western states vote on Aug. 24. Organizers said they expected the votes in the DF and México state to be tallied by the end of the day on July 27. (Mexican Labor News and Analysis, July 2008, Vol. 13, #7; La Jornada (Mexico 7/27/08, _, _ )

*2. Colombia: Bogotá Unionist Found Dead
The body of Colombian unionist Guillermo Rivera Fúquene was found buried in a garbage dump in a rural area of Ibagué, Tolima department, on July 15. Rivera Fúquene, an economist in the Bogotá Controller's Office and the president of the Public Services Union of Bogotá (Sinserpub), disappeared on Apr. 22 after putting his daughter on a school bus in the Tunal section of the capital. According to his wife, Sonya Betancur (also given as "Sonia Betancourt"), the last news she heard after his disappearance was that he had been detained by the police. The center-left Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA), of which Rivera Fúquene was a member, said it had indications from a witness and videotapes that the Bogotá police were involved. The authorities in Ibagué determined that Rivera Fúquene was strangled and then buried on Apr. 28.

In a press conference in Bogotá on July 15 after Rivera Fúquene's body was identified, members of the Unitary Workers Confederation (CUT) charged that the government was carrying out a "dirty war" against members of leftist groups. The CUT demanded an investigation into the murder and said "the facts demonstrate that, contrary to the official propaganda, there still aren't sufficient guarantees on the part of the state" for leftists "to exercise constitutional rights to life, liberty and union organizing and participation." (Notice from Confederacíon de Trabajadores de Colombia 7/15/08; El Tiempo (Colombia) 7/17/08; TeleSUR 7/18/08, some from EFE)

*3. Haiti: Téléco Probe Hits McCain Backer
On July 14 former US Congress member James "Jim" Courter (R-NJ, 1979-1991) resigned from the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in which he was one of 20 national finance co-chairpeople. The resignation followed a July 9 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fine IDT--the New Jersey telecommunications company of which Courter is CEO--$1.3 million for failing to file a contract for telephone service to Haiti in 2004, during the administration of President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

The fine results from a 2005 lawsuit by IDT's former manager for the Caribbean, Michael Jewett, who claims he was fired when he balked at negotiating an illegal deal involving IDT, Aristide and Haiti's state-owned telephone monopoly Télécommunications d'Haïti (Téléco). According to Jewett, IDT's long-distance payments to Haiti were just 8.75 cents a minute rather than the legal tariff, 23 cents, which mainline US carriers such as AT&T were paying. In exchange for the lower rate, IDT allegedly sent its payments to a shell company, Mont Salem (or Mount Salem) in the Turks & Caicos, which then sent 3 cents to Aristide and the rest to Téléco.

According to New York-based investigative reporter Lucy Komisar, IDT was tightly linked to prominent Republican politicians. The company's board included former Massachusetts governor William Weld, former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former US ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick. Courter himself is close to US vice president Dick Cheney, Komisar told Radio Métropole, a Haitian radio station. Except for Courter, the Republican politicians all bailed out after Jewett's suit was unsealed in July 2005. (Condé Nast Portfolio 7/11/08, 7/15/08; Radio Métropole 7/23/08)

Aristide supporters, who say the administration of Republican US president George W. Bush removed the Haitian president from office in 2004 because of his leftist stances, deny the claims that IDT was paying a kickback to Aristide. They say Komisar's reporting is suspect because it is funded by the anti-Aristide Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project (HDP). Turks & Caicos lawyer Adrian Corr--who Komisar says is legal counsel for Aristide at Miller Simons O'Sullivan--and Aristide's US attorney, Ira Kurzban, both say they are contemplating a defamation suit against Komisar and Portfolio, a monthly business magazines that carried her stories on its website. (Haïti Liberté 7/23/08)

*4. Haiti: Constant Convicted in New York
On July 25 a jury in Brooklyn, New York, convicted rightwing paramilitary leader Emmanuel ("Toto") Constant of mortgage fraud [see Update #910]. He faces a 5-to-15 prison sentence in New York, followed by deportation to Haiti. "The trial proved there is rampant fraud in the mortgage industry," said Constant's lawyer, Samuel Karliner. "His role was minor." But attorney Jennie Green from the New York-based nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) expressed a "hope that after [Constant] serves a stiff sentence in New York, he faces trial" for crimes in Haiti that included "murder and rape and other torture of thousands." (New York Daily News 7/25/08; CCR press release 7/25/08)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico

Eduardo Galeano - Latin America: A Kingdom of Paradoxes

United States Announces IV Fleet Resumes Operations Amid South American Suspicions

Total Recall in Bolivia: Divided Nation Faces Historic Vote Written

Bolivian President Evo Morales on the WTO's Round of Negotiations

Peru's García unpopular despite boom

Ecuador: Tension rises in the 'citizens' revolution'

Wayward Allies: President Rafael Correa and the Ecuadorian Left

Colombia: FARC releases eight hostages

Robert Gates joins PR offensive for Colombia FTA

Scenarios for the FARC

Nicaragua: The Tenuous Indigenous-Sandinista Alliance

Guatemala: Forced Disappearance and the Search for Justice in El Jute

Oaxaca: After the Barricades

Mexico: excavations conclude at "dirty war" site

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. A print edition of the Update is also available via first class mail (a contribution of at least $30 is suggested to cover printing and postage within the US). Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly
Immigration News Briefs.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Monday, July 21, 2008

WNU #955: Argentine Senate Kills Export Tax

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #955, July 20, 2008

1. Argentina: Senate Kills Export Tax
2. Colombia: Lula and Uribe Sign Pacts
3. Venezuela: Citgo Gives US Lightbulbs
4. Mexico: Activist's Home Is Searched
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, Central America, 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. Argentina: Senate Kills Export Tax
On the morning of July 17, after 16 hours of debate, Argentina's Senate rejected a law proposed by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to raise the tax on soy exports from 34% to 44%. The Chamber of Deputies had approved the bill earlier. The measure would have made into law a tax hike that Fernández put into effect previously by decree. The Senate was tied over the bill until Vice President Julio Cobos, who is connected to agricultural interests, ended the impasse by voting against his own government. It was "the most difficult day of my life," he said. A number of senators from Fernández's Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist) also voted against the bill.

Soy is a major export crop for Argentine farmers, and in March agricultural producers responded to the tax increase with a strike that at times threatened to cut off food from the main cities. The strike also sharply divided much of the left, with some groups supporting Fernández, some supporting the strikers and some opposing both sides [see Updates #941, 946, 950]. On July 15 supporters of the farmers and of the government held massive competing demonstrations in Buenos Aires. Former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), Fernández's husband, addressed the pro-government demonstration, which local media said drew 95,000 supporters, including such left-leaning groups as the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Other leftist groups participated in the pro-strike demonstration, along with rightwing organizations; about 225,000 people reportedly came out for the farmers' protest, far more than for the government. (Xinhua 7/15/08; La Jornada (Mexico) 7/16/08, 7/18/08 from correspondent)

*2. Colombia: Lula and Uribe Sign Pacts
Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva arrived in Bogotá on July 18 for a three-day visit to Colombia that included joining Colombian president Alvaro Uribe in the inauguration of a meeting of business leaders from the two countries. On July 19 Lula and Uribe met in the Hatogrande estate on the outskirts of the capital to sign accords on investment, the environment and biofuels, and on security along the 1,500-km border Brazil and Colombia share in the Amazon region. At a press conference Uribe announced that Colombia would be joining the Defense Council of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). On July 20 the two presidents were scheduled to meet with Peruvian president Alan García at Leticia on the southern border to sign a tripartite agreement, although the content wasn't revealed. The three presidents were also planning to celebrate Colombia's Independence Day together.

According to Colombian foreign minister Jaime Bermúdez, the agreements between Lula, a center-leftist, and the rightwing Uribe include "a memorandum of cooperation in the fight against trafficking in arms, munitions and explosives," and another memorandum on the exchange of military intelligence. These agreements would undercut the position of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the Amazon region. The Brazilian daily O Estado de Sao Paulo had reported before Lula's visit that he would give Uribe "explicit support" in the fight against the FARC. (La Jornada 7/19/08 from DPA, AFP, Notmex, 7/20/08 from AFP, DPA)

*3. Venezuela: Citgo Gives US Lightbulbs
In mid-July Citgo--the US oil distributor owned by the Venezuelan state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA)--began a program to distribute compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) to low- and middle-income families in Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas; Lamont, Illinois; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Washington, DC. Ultimately the program is intended to supply some 460,000 of the energy-saving lightbulbs to homes in these cities and in Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Madison, Wisconsin. Former Congress member Joe Kennedy II (D-MA), Venezuelan ambassador Bernardo Alvarez and Citgo president Alejandro Grarado attended the inauguration of the program in a Washington, DC home. The CFL supplements the Citgo-Venezuela Heating Oil program, which has provided winter fuel assistance to more than 1.2 million US households during the past two years [see Update #826]. (People's Weekly World 7/15/08 from correspondent)
The state of New Hampshire is now participating in the heating oil program; it is the last state in the Northeast to
participate. Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) called the program a "disgrace" when it started in 2006, and Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, kept New Hampshire out of it. Now that the price of heating oil has risen from about $2.50 a gallon in the Northeast to an average $4.61--as of June 2008--the local politicians have changed their position. On July 17 Sununu criticized Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías but said he has no problem with people getting help from Citizens Energy, a nonprofit organization set up by Joseph Kennedy that is managing the program. (San Francisco Chronicle 7/18/08 from AP)

*4. Mexico: Activist's Home Is Searched
On July 15 Abdallán Guzmán Cruz, a former deputy in Mexico's federal Congress, charged that unknown persons broke into his home in Morelia, Michoacán, the night of July 7 and stole papers that he had gathered during years of investigation into the disappearance of five relatives from 1974 to 1976, during the Mexican military's "dirty war" against suspected leftists. He said some books formerly considered "subversive" were also stolen, along with 60,000 pesos (about $5,900) and some rings, but other valuable objects were not touched. Guzmán Cruz is an activist in the Diego Lucero Foundation, a human rights group. Another activist from the foundation, José Francisco Paredes Ruiz, went missing in September 2007; no information is available on where he is now and on his physical condition.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders--a program sponsored jointly by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)--has called for the Mexican government to guarantee the safety of Cruz Guzmán, his family and other members of the Diego Lucero Foundation, and to carry out a thorough and impartial investigation of the events of July 7 and the disappearance of Paredes Ruiz. Letters can be sent to Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (, Governance Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño Terrazo ( and Michoacán governor Leonel Godoy Rangel ( Sample letters are available from the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH). (Cambio de Michoacan 7/16/08; OMCT-FIDH urgent action 7/16/08)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, Central America, Mexico

Argentina: "Domino Effect" Feared in Withdrawal of Mining Company

The Soybean Crop in Uruguay: The Creation of a Power Block

Peru: Social Rebellion Spreads Nationwide

Colombia bashes Nicaragua over FARC dialogue offer; Ortega bashes back

Venezuela: opposition protest "blacklist"

Anti-Chávez Student Group Attacks Police, Creates Chaos in Mérida, Venezuela

Venezuela to Give Energy-Saving Light Bulbs to Low-Income U.S. Communities

A Recent History of the Disability Rights Movement in El Salvador

Central America: Winners and Losers in the Global Mining Industry

Metal Mining in Central America: Pain and Resistance

Solidarity Needed in Oaxaca

Mexico: narco gangs gird with car bombs, submarines

National Human Rights Commission blasts Mexican army

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. A print edition of the Update is also available via first class mail (a contribution of at least $30 is suggested to cover printing and postage within the US). Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly
Immigration News Briefs.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

WNU #954: Peruvian Campesinos, Workers in General Strike

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #954, July 13, 2008

1. Peru: Campesinos, Workers in General Strike
2. Haiti: Third Try to Appoint PM
3. Mexico: US-UK Firm Teaches Torture?
4. Links to alternative sources on: UNASUR, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, 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. Peru: Campesinos, Workers in General Strike
On July 8, thousands of Peruvians mobilized for the first day of a 48-hour national agricultural strike, called by the National Agrarian Confederation (CNA) and the Campesino Confederation of Peru to demand the repeal of a decree that makes it easier to sell campesino and indigenous land. The campesino mobilizations were strongest in the regions of Cusco, Puno, Ayachucho, Ucayali, Madre de Dios, Huanuco and Tacna. (Télam (Argentina) 7/8/08; La Jornada (Mexico) 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters) The decree, D.L. 1015, was signed on May 20 by President Alan García; it allows communally owned indigenous and campesino land to be sold to private investors with the vote of a simple majority of communal assembly members. The previous regulation, Law 26 505, required a two-thirds vote of the qualified members of each community in order for communal lands to be sold. (AIDESEP Communiqué 7/8/08) The new regulations also apply to the approval of mining concessions on communal lands. (LJ 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

The Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP) warns that the new decree is a threat to more than 7,000 communities and hundreds of thousands of families in the Andean and Amazon regions of the country. "For campesino communities in Peru, communal lands are the material basis of life, an ancestral institution, a space of indigenous peoples' social, economic and cultural identity, where life is organized on the basis of democracy and social justice criteria, and the practice of ancient forms of communal work on the land (minga, aynia)," AIDESEP said in a statement. (AIDESEP Communiqué 7/8/08)

Campesinos blocked vehicle traffic on the streets of Yurimaguas in Loreto region, in the northern Amazon, and in Madre de Dios region, in the southern Amazon on the border with Brazil and Bolivia. In the Andes, campesinos blocked roads linking the city of Cusco with the cities of Puno and Abancay. The demonstrators also blocked the route of the train that takes tourists from Cusco to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, and dug trenches into the Valle del Ares route to prevent cars, buses and trucks from getting through. In Puno, in the southern Andes, demonstrators blocked urban and rural transport, cutting off the roads linking the region to Arequipa and Cusco.

The second day of the campesino strike, July 9, coincided with a 24-hour national general strike called by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) to protest the García government's economic policies and support the demands of the campesino and indigenous movements. The government had declared the CGTP's strike illegal and accused the organizers of being politically motivated. (Télam 7/8/08) On July 7, the government published a resolution in the official newspaper, El Peruano, authorizing the intervention of the Armed Forces in support of the National Police during the July 8-10 protests. (La República (Lima) 7/7/08)

Hundreds of thousands of Peruvians participated in the July 9 combined protest activities: the national strike, the Amazon and agrarian strikes and at least eight specific regional protests. CGTP general secretary Mario Huamán said workers in the retail vendor, textile, agroindustry, transport, crude oil, fishing and education sectors supported the national strike overwhelmingly. Mobilizations were strongest in the southern Andes and in the Amazon. A total of 216 people were reported arrested in incidents around the country, most of them for blocking roads in the southern regions, the country's poorest area and a stronghold of opponents of Garcia's government.

Campesinos mobilized and blockaded highways for a second consecutive day on July 9 in the southern regions of Arequipa, Tacna, Moquegua and Puno, joining other labor sectors and social movements. Schools, markets and malls were closed, and city streets were empty. In Arequipa, all traffic into and out of the city was blocked, and women staged a noisy protest by banging on pots and pans. In the city of Juliaca in Puno, stores were shut and there was no urban transport service. In the late morning, thousands of demonstrators marched through the city. In Santa Rosa, a district of Puno's Melgar province, passengers stranded by a protest roadblock got out of their vehicles and joined the strikers in an impromptu soccer match.

In the central Andean region south and east of Lima, all commerce was shut down in the cities of Cusco and Huancavelica (capitals of the regions of the same names) and in the province of Apurímac in Apurímac region. In Huancavelica, soldiers fired their weapons in the air when some 100 protesters seized the region's hydroelectric facility, according to Peruvian National Police director Octavio Salazar. (LR 7/10/08, __ ) A group of people trashed the Huancavelica regional offices of the government program "Juntos," stealing three computers and burning files and documents. "Juntos" is the National Program of Direct Support to the Poorest, a cash assistance program created in April 2005. (LR 7/10/08; RPP Noticias 7/9/08)

Cusco was completely paralyzed, with near-total support for the strike: more than 90% of residents skipped work or school. Bus drivers observed the work stoppage and PeruRail again suspended its operations, preventing more than 1,500 tourists from reaching Machu Picchu. Regional organizers estimated that some 100,000 people mobilized in marches and protests in Cusco province (a subdivision of the region, equivalent to a county). (LR 7/10/08; LJ 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters) The protests were peaceful; Cusco residents observed an agreement reached days earlier to allow the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings being held in the city July 9-11 to go on without disruption. (Andina Agencia Peruana de Noticias 7/7/08; LR 7/10/08)

In Ica region, protesters blocked the Panamerican South highway between kilometers 290 and 295 for six hours before police intervened and broke up the scene using tear gas bombs. The clash left five police agents hurt and 12 wounded. Demonstrators marched to the main plaza in the city of Ica, the regional capital. Traffic was also blocked in the towns of Chincha and Pisco, in Ica region.

In Lima, the strike's main impact was a reduction in public transportation and the blocking of traffic by hundreds of workers marching from different points of the capital to a rally in the central Plaza 2 de Mayo. The government deployed soldiers to assist police in keeping control of streets, airports and strategic services such as water and electricity.

In the Andean region northeast of Lima, commerce was shut down in the cities of Huánuco (capital of Huánuco region) and Huaraz (capital of Ancash region). More than 40,000 people marched through the streets of Huaraz, demanding the resignation of regional president (governor) César Alvarez.

In the city of Trujillo, capital of La Libertad region on Peru's northern coast, students, workers and professors from the National University of Trujillo burned tires near the university campus. Later some 12,000 people marched through the city. Blockades and demonstrations also took place farther north in the coastal city of Chiclayo, capital of Lambayeque region.

In the region of Tumbes, bordering with Ecuador on the northern coast, more than 5,000 members of the Association of the Board of Users of the Special Trade Treatment Zone of San Pedro de Tacna, a coalition of 45 associations of small business owners, mobilized to demand that import taxes be reduced from 8% to 4% and that more merchandise be allowed to enter the country. Also in Tumbes, a clash broke out between construction workers trying to seize the Tumbes bridge and police agents determined to stop them. Police used tear gas bombs against the crowd; from the demonstrators' side, bottles, rocks and sticks were thrown at police.

The northern Amazon city of Iquitos, capital of Loreto region, was paralyzed as thousands of protesters converged in a march that covered more than 20 blocks. Participants included indigenous communities, labor unions, social movements and political parties.

The biggest conflict took place in Madre de Dios region, in the southern Amazon, where the campesino strike had begun on July 7 to protest Decree 1015. In Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital, demonstrators marched to the offices of the regional government to demand that regional governor Santos Kaway Komor participate in the mobilization. But the governor was not present, and the crowd grew angry. Police intervened with tear gas bombs, triggering a fire that quickly consumed the building. In the resulting fray, at least 21 police agents were reported injured by rocks and arrows, and firefighters were allegedly blocked from reaching the scene. An unspecified number of local residents were also injured. As gas tanks inside the government building exploded, the crowd fled in panic; thieves then looted the offices, and robbed a cash machine at a Banco de la Nación branch down the block. Correspondents for the Lima daily La República said the fire was started by members of the Native Federation of Madre de Dios. But in the afternoon, the regional Defense Front held a press conference denying that demonstrators were responsible for the fire and the vandalism, blaming it instead on infiltrators, possibly sent by the government. Luis Zegarra, leader of the Defense Front, told La República that after three days of striking, local residents felt indignant because the regional government appeared to be ignoring their demands. Still, he said, "the people of Madre de Dios are peaceful." (LR 7/10/08, __; LJ 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

The strike was called to protest the high cost of living and the government's failure to keep its promises. Peru has experienced a nearly 10% economic growth rate recently, but that growth has come with what Huamán called an "incessant rise in the cost of living." Workers are demanding an overall salary increase to compensate for the inflation, and want the government to change "the neoliberal economic policy that attacks the interests of the poorest people." The recent economic growth has been concentrated in the capital and coast regions, while the Amazon and Andes regions have been left behind.

The strike also served to channel the discontent of specific sectors and regions. In Ayacucho, the Front to Defend the People's Interests marched to demand the expulsion, on sovereignty grounds, of 200 US soldiers who have been stationed in the area since June, allegedly carrying out civic activities. (LJ 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

*2. Haiti: Third Try to Appoint PM
On June 23 Haitian president René Préval nominated economist Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis to succeed acting prime minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was forced to resign on Apr. 12 following violent protests over the rising cost of food [see Update #943]. Préval made two other nominations before naming Pierre-Louis; Parliament rejected both [see Update #951]. Pierre-Louis was an official at the National Airport Authority from 1979 to 1982, during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc," 1971-1986), and held a cabinet post in the first administration of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1991. She has worked with various nonprofit organizations and has been director of the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL), which funds libraries, youth education programs and women's networks in Haiti; it is supported by the Open Society Institute of US financier George Soros. If confirmed, Pierre-Louis would be Haiti's second woman prime minister. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs 6/23/08 from Reuters; AlterPresse 7/12/08)

Business sectors support Pierre-Louis, and on July 11 the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CFHCI) and the Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy (CLED) called on Parliament to move ahead with the confirmation. (AlterPresse 7/11/08) Activists have objected to FOKAL's connection with Soros, a proponent of the neoliberal economic policies that many blame for Haiti's current economic crisis. Supporters of Aristide's Lavalas Family (FL) party oppose Pierre-Louis because she broke with Aristide during his second administration (2001-2004) and publicly criticized his government. At a conference in Miami on July 9, LF supporter Father Gérard Jean-Juste--who was imprisoned by the interim government that succeeded Aristide in 2004 [see Updates #834, 835]--denounced "the collaboration of Michèle Pierre-Louis with the Duvalier dictatorship as an official of the International Airport."

There have been rumors about Pierre-Louis' sexual orientation. On July 9 Rev. Sylvain Exantus, president of the Protestant Federation of Haiti (FPH), called for a commission to investigate the nominee's morals, saying that the Bible calls sexual relations between people of the same sex an "abomination." The Catholic church hasn't expressed a position, but Jérémie bishop Willy Romélus remarked that if the rumors about Pierre-Louis were true, she wouldn't be the first person with a same-sex orientation to occupy an elevated position in the Haitian government. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse 7/8/08, 7/9/08)

*3. Mexico: US-UK Firm Teaches Torture?
According to the online magazine Narco News, the company that taught torture methods to police agents in León in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato [see Update #953] is Risks Incorporated, a private security firm with offices in Miami and the United Kingdom. One of the two instructors involved in the training may be Risks Incorporated's Andrew "Orlando" Wilson, who served in the British military 1988-93, including 22 months in Northern Ireland. The other instructor appears to be Gerardo "Jerry" Arrechea, a Cuban-Mexican martial arts instructor; he seems to be the same "Jerry Arrechea" that the rightwing Miami-based Comandos F4 organization lists as its Mexican contact. In 2007 Risks Incorporated said its instructors used "psychological torture" in some courses "to show how easy it is to break a hostage and we're being nice!" (Narco News 7/7/08)

Officials in León, which is governed by the center-right National Action Party (PAN) of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, have refused to apologize for the training. On July 10 they showed a videotape of two agents who had been victimized in the sessions. In the tape the two agents, identified by nicknames, said they were "happy" with their treatment. (La Jornada 7/11/08) But on July 11 Mayor Vicente Guerrero Reynoso apologized publicly for the treatment of León resident Angel Segura Medina by police on Mar. 21. After arresting him for beating his wife, three agents beat Segura Medina for 30 minutes. (LJ 7/12/08)

On July 8 Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), announced the resignations of DF public safety secretary Joel Ortega Cuevas and DF prosecutor Rodolfo Félix Cárdenas as the result of a June 20 police operation in which 12 people were killed, several of them under age. While raiding the News Divine discotheque for serving alcohol to minors, DF police agents attempted to arrest the patrons and blocked the exits, causing a fatal stampede. A report by the DF Human Rights Commission noted that any minors being served alcohol were legally victims and should not have been subject to arrest. The DF, which is governed by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), has followed a policy "in which youths are criminalized, especially the poorest ones," the report said. (LJ 7/9/08, __ )

*4. Links to alternative sources on: UNASUR, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico

UNASUR and the Challenge of Being South American

Argentina: Mining Corp. Charged with "Crimes Against Environment"

Get On The Bus: Curitiba, Brazil Rolls Out a Transit Solution

Bolivia: USAID Expelled From Chapare

Politics in Bolivia: Volatile Loyalties, Deep Divisions

Peru general strike: land struggle or "conspiracy"?

Peru: Matsés indigenous people say no to oil exploration

Peru: loggers attack "uncontacted" indigenous people

French deal in Colombia hostage case?

FARC leaders captured in rescue operation to face extradition?

Chávez in lovefest with recent Colombian nemesis

Nicaraguans Demand Justice from World-Bank Financed Sugar Cane Company

US Embassy Admits to Intervention in 2004 Salvadoran Presidential Elections

Federal police occupy Mexican village in toxic waste fight

Narco-killing spree in Tijuana, Culiacán

Survivors demand justice after Matamoros girls drown in Rio Grande

Confrontation Over Mexican Oil Privatization Plan Intensifies

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. A print edition of the Update is also available via first class mail (a contribution of at least $30 is suggested to cover printing and postage within the US). Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Monday, July 7, 2008

WNU #953: Latin American Pride, Mexican Torture Training

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #953, July 6, 2008

1. Latin America: Pride Marches Continue
2. Mexico: Cops Tape Torture Training
3. Mexico: Capital Market Union Wins
4. Colombia: Reactions on Freed Captives
5. Cuba: US Aid Caravan Reaches Havana
6. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, 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: Pride Marches Continue
A record 6,000 people celebrated the International Day for the Human Rights of Sexual Minorities--Pride Day--in Santiago, Chile, on June 28 with an eight-hour Cultural Event for Diversity and Non-Discrimination, held in the Plaza de Armas. The organizers reached out to other excluded groups, such as ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants, indigents, people with disabilities, HIV-positive people, and youths and women. Rolando Jiménez, president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh), said one goal was to raise awareness among citizens so that in the upcoming municipal elections they would vote for candidates who don't discriminate.

About a thousand people took part in the Gay Pride March in Lima, Peru, on June 28. Argentines marched that day in La Rioja, Mar del Plata, and Buenos Aires. This year two Argentine cities held their first Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride marches: Rosario on June 26 and Santa Fe on June 28. In Montevideo, Uruguay, various groups sponsored an event on June 28 to mark the 39th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City.

The largest Pride march in Brazil and probably in the world is held in Sao Paulo; this year's march took place on May 25. But Brasilia, Curitiba, Campinas, Alfenas, Fortaleza, Itajaí, Bahía and Sao Gonçalo held their Pride events the weekend of June 27-June 29. (AG (Actitud Gay) Magazine (Argentina) 6/29/08)

Thousands of Mexicans marched on June 28 in Mexico City's 30th Pride event. Juan Jacobo Hernández, director of the Sun Collective, remarked on the contrast with the tiny number of people who came out for the 1978 march. This year's mobilization included a political demand: for May 17 to be declared a National Day Against Homophobia. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/29/08)

*2. Mexico: Cops Tape Torture Training
On June 30 El Heraldo de León, a newspaper based in León in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, released two graphic videotapes showing police agents from León's Special Tactical Group (GET) torturing other agents during training sessions. The victims, who had reportedly volunteered, were subjected to a practice known as the tehuacanazo, in which mineral water is forced up the nose, and were threatened with the pocito, in which the subject's head is submerged in excrement. In one scene, a trainee collapses and throws up; another agent then pushes him into his own vomit.

León police chief Carlos Tornero Salinas said the tapes were made in April and that the training went on for 160 hours over the course of 12 days. The sessions were conducted by an unidentified person of English nationality, according to Mayor Vicente Guerrero Reynoso, a member of the center-right National Action Party (PAN) of Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa.

León public safety secretary Alvar Cabeza de Vaca Apendinni acknowledged on June 30 that GET agents had received the training "because we need to have a special group to respond to certain conditions" due to the spread of organized crime in the city and the state. "It's extreme training for extreme conditions," he said. The course was to prepare the agents to deal with "high-stress" situations, police chief Tornero explained on July 1. "This doesn't imply...that the training was for the application of methods of torture." He said the tortures were just simulations, and complained that by airing the videos journalists were trying "to discredit the institution [the police department], one way or another." "Please, be more ethical, be more responsible," Mayor Guerrero Reynoso told reporters. "You're doing a lot of damage to society." (La Jornada 7/1/08, 7/2/08)

On June 30--the day of the Guanajuato torture revelations--in Washington, DC, US president George W. Bush signed a supplemental appropriations bill into law providing $162 billion for the US occupation of Iraq and $465 million for the Mérida Initiative [see Update #952]. This initiative, which critics call "Plan Mexico," allocates $400 million to Mexico and $65 million to Central American countries to fight drug trafficking. The law provides for 15% of Mexico's allotment to be held up until the US secretary of state certifies that the Mexican government is showing improvements in various areas, including respect for human rights by the military and police, and the prohibition of torture. (LJ 7/1/08 from correspondent)

*3. Mexico: Capital Market Union Wins
According to a July 1 press release from the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), an independent Mexican labor group, one of its affiliates has won a settlement in a two-month struggle with the Central de Abasto, Mexico City's huge wholesale food market. The Union of Workers of Commercial Buildings, Offices and Stores, and the Like and Related (STRACC), which represents about 40 workers who clean bathrooms in the facility's flowers and vegetables area, signed an agreement in which management recognized the union and its contract and confirmed the rights and working conditions the workers had before the conflict started on Apr. 29. STRACC also won full payment of wages lost due to the conflict, along with better working conditions and schedules. The employees returned to work on July 1.

Central de Abasto's management had contracted the bathroom maintenance out to a private company, which tried to replace the union workers, who are mostly women, with contracted workers [see Update #947]. STRACC responded with legal actions and with a strike on May 30. FAT attributed the union's success in part to "solidarity from international unions and Mexican organizations that supported the movement." (FAT press releases 7/1/08, 6/3/08, 5/30/08)

*4. Colombia: Reactions on Freed Captives
Latin American leftists expressed satisfaction at the release of 15 people held captive by the leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)--including French-Colombian ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US military contractors--in a Colombian military operation on July 2. "Out of a basically humanist sentiment, we rejoiced at the news," former Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz wrote in an article dated on July 3. "The civilians should have never been kidnapped, neither should the militaries have been kept prisoners in the conditions of the jungle. These were objectively cruel actions. No revolutionary purpose could justify it." ("Reflections by Comrade Fidel" 7/3/08)

On July 3 Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías announced he had called Colombian president Alvaro Uribe the night before to congratulate him on the operation. Chávez said "we are still ready to help until the last hostage of the Colombian guerrillas is released, and to achieve peace, a full peace in Colombia." He noted that on June 8 he had called on the FARC to release all the captives. "I even said [to the FARC leaders] that if I were a guerrilla, I wouldn't kidnap anyone... [I]t's no longer the time for guerrilla fronts, it's the time for surges of the peoples." (La Jornada 7/4/08 from AFP, DPA, PL, Reuters) The likely Republican candidate for US president in November, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), also cited Chávez's June 8 call to the FARC. He hoped the guerrillas would follow Chávez's advice, he told reporters on July 2 before ending a 24-hour visit to Colombia. (LJ 7/3/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

But mainstream media in Europe raised questions about the operation after a July 4 report on Radio Suisse Romande (RSR) charged that the rebels had been paid a $20 million ransom and that the release was "a masquerade." Attributing the report to "a reliable source, tested many times over the past 20 years," RSR, which is operated by Swiss public radio, said the US was behind the transaction; it also claimed that the three US contractors were agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). (RSR 7/4/08) Betancourt told France-3 television she was sure the guerrillas weren't play-acting, but if there was a ransom: "Good, if it's true; so much the better. I mean, why not?" (RSR 7/5/08)

*5. Cuba: US Aid Caravan Reaches Havana
Some 100 members of the 19th US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, an annual shipment of humanitarian aid organized by the New York-based group Pastors for Peace, arrived in Havana on July 5. Reverend Lucius Walker led the delegation, which was met at the José Martí International Airport by Communist Party and religious leaders. Pastors for Peace has been collecting and shipping aid to Cuba since 1992. To challenge the 46-year-old US trade embargo against Cuba, the group refuses to request a license from the US Treasury Department for the shipment.

The caravan collected about 100 tons of donated material during a tour of US and Canadian cities; the aid included medical, educational, art and sports equipment, along with several buses. US agents confiscated 35 computers as caravan members attempted to drive the material into Mexico at the Pharr Bridge border crossing between the states of Tamaulipas and Texas. Caravan supporters occupied one lane of automobile traffic for a half hour to protest the seizure. The group then traveled to the port of Tampico to send the material to Cuba by ship. (Granma Internacional 7/6/08 (English))

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Educational Reform Conflicts Continue in Chile

Paraguay: Fourteen Years in the Wilderness

Evo charges: US plans bases in Peru

Colombia: Blood on Britain's Hands

Colombia: Uribe's "Populist Dictatorship"

Colombia: Ingrid Betancourt Released

Uribe calls on FARC to make "peace" after hostage rescue

Did Uribe piggy-back FARC hostage raid on European talks?

Ransom charges emerge in Betancourt release

Israeli connection emerges in Betancourt release

Venezuelan Recycling Workers Struggle for Justice

Venezuela: bishops bash Bolivarian Catholics

Panama expunges Posada pardon

Did McCain slug Sandinista?

Mexico: Ulises Ruiz Ortiz Denied Entry Into Zaachila

Outsourcing the Iraq War: Mercenary Recruiters Turn to Latin America

Harper's Free Trade Mantra: Hush, Rush, and Sign

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. A print edition of the Update is also available via first class mail (a contribution of at least $30 is suggested to cover printing and postage within the US). Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly
Immigration News Briefs.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson: