Monday, February 16, 2009

WNU #979: Negotiations Break Off in Guadeloupe

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #979, February 15, 2009

1. Guadeloupe: Negotiations Break Off
2. Honduras: Teachers Strike for Back Pay
3. Chile: Mapuche Activist a Terrorist?
4. Haiti: Electoral Dispute Continues
5. Venezuela: Term Limits Voted Down
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, US policy

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. Guadeloupe: Negotiations Break Off
On Feb. 12 the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation (LKP) abruptly broke off negotiations aimed at ending a general strike that has paralyzed the French overseas department of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean since Jan. 20. The LKP, a coalition including political parties, grassroots organizations and 47 unions, insisted that the French government should sign on to a preliminary accord the strikers worked out with management on Feb. 8 [see Update #978] giving the poorest workers a raise of 200 euros (about $259) a month. The government refused. "The state has done all it should," Raymond Soubie, an aide to French president Nicholas Sarkozy, told the media. "The rest, negotiations on wages, is a matter between management and the unions."

The stalled negotiations raised fears of a violent confrontation. On Feb. 11 unnamed sources in the French Interior and Overseas ministries said the government had four squadrons of mobile police on Guadeloupe and no plans to send more, although two squadrons were being sent to the nearby French department of Martinique, also experiencing a general strike; there are 65 agents in a squadron. Elie Domota--who heads the General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), the leading force in the LKP--told the AFP wire service on Feb. 14 that "given the number of police who have arrived in Guadeloupe armed to the teeth, the French state has chosen its natural path: killing the Guadeloupeans, as usual." He was leading thousands of people in a peaceful protest at the little town of Moule to mark the 57th anniversary of the killing of four sugar cane workers there by French security forces. (Caribbean Net News 2/13/09 from AFP; Le Monde (France) 2/15/09, some from AFP; Le Figaro (France) 2/15/09 from AFP; L'Express (France) 2/14/09)

The immediate issues are low wages and the high cost of living, but the mostly African-descended population of 450,000 also resents the control over the economy by less than a dozen "béké" families--the descendants of French slave-owners. Another is discontent with the local authorities, many of them from the French opposition Socialist Party (PS). The UGTG is openly in favor of independence from France, but it has been careful to avoid this issue, which is considered divisive.

Support for the strike remains broad, and French journalists report a festive atmosphere--"a joyful, peaceful revolution, for now," according to the left-leaning Libération. "Guadeloupe is ours, Guadeloupe isn't theirs," crowds chant at the massive demonstrations. "There's been an earthquake in people's consciousness," teacher Gladys Democrite told French overseas official Yves Jégo during a round-table discussion. A union leader, Rozan Mounien, called the strike "the second abolition of slavery." (L'Express 2/14/09; Libération 2/14/09)

The strike movement spread to Martinique on Feb. 5, when unions held what was to be a one-day general strike [see Update #978]. But the strike continued, and on Feb. 14 the Feb. 5 Collective, the coalition leading the strike, broke off negotiations, calling for a huge demonstration on Feb. 16. (AFP 2/15/09) Agitation has also spread to other overseas departments, including French Guyana in South America. An alliance of unions is calling for a general strike on Mar. 5 in La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. (Le Monde 2/15/09, some from AFP; Reuters 2/13/09)

"I am fearful that the feeling of exasperation of the people of Guadeloupe and Martinique could spread here too," PS national first secretary Martine Aubry told the French daily Le Parisien. "Everything must be done to avoid that." An opinion poll that the Ifop (Institut Français d'Opinion Publique) company took by telephone in France on Feb. 12-13 found that 63% of the 800 people questioned felt a similar movement could "develop in the mother country"--"certainly," according to 25%; "probably," according to 38%. (Reuters 2/13/09; AFP 2/14/09)

*2. Honduras: Teachers Strike for Back Pay
Honduran teachers started an open-ended strike on Feb. 9, when students were to begin registering for a new semester. The strike continued a campaign that unions representing the nation's 48,000 teachers started in January before schools reopened; the earlier actions included "informational assemblies" and sit-ins to protest the government's delays in paying salaries for some 2,600 teachers and its failure to pay full year-end bonuses [see Update #975]. On the morning of Feb. 12, after a meeting with Education Minister Marlon Brevé Reyes and aides to President Manuel Zelaya, union leaders agreed to suspend the strike while the government sought a solution. The unions also dropped their demand for Brevé's resignation.

The Honduran daily La Prensa reported that the strike was only 10% effective, while another daily, La Tribuna, said teachers shut down many of the schools and held informational assemblies in them. There was also disagreement about the number of teachers owed back pay. National Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio said only 113 teachers were in this category. Custodio insisted that he was "defending the human rights of the children and youths" against the teachers. "We have the right, in a real democracy, to live free from fear," he said. "Before, from the soldiers, and now, from you teachers." However, officials from the Finance Secretariat said that while only 300 teachers were owed back pay, about 2,400 were owed vacation pay, bonuses and other benefits. (Latin American Herald Tribune 2/10/09 from EFE; La Prensa 2/12/09: La Tribuna 2/13/09)

*3. Chile: Mapuche Activist a Terrorist?
On Feb. 14 a court in Temuco in the southern Chilean region of La Araucanía formally charged indigenous Mapuche activist Miguel Angel Tapia Huenulef with six counts of possession of firearms and explosives under the Antiterrorism Law. Police agents said they had found the weapons and explosives during raids the night of Feb. 11 at Tapia Huenulef's home in Lo Prado community in Santiago and in a house in the Huallalín sector of Padre las Casas in Novena region. The court ordered Tapia Huenulef held in prison during the investigation, which it said should be completed in four months. He also faces drug possession charges in Santiago and charges of arson and assault from a Jan. 12 attack on the San Leandro estate in Lautaro in La Araucanía.

Relatives who lived with Tapia Huenulef in Santiago said agents burst into their home before midnight on Feb. 11, using violence against men, women and children, and refusing to show a warrant. A total of 50-55 agents were involved in the operation, including the ones that surrounded the building, according to the family. The relatives considered the discovery of the weapons a "staged event" and noted that the agents had brought backpacks and two valises with them. Senator Alejandro Navarro, the presidential candidate of the Broad Social Movement (MAS), said on Feb. 14 that "to apply the Antiterrorism Law to a Mapuche is to return to the [military] dictatorship" of 1973-1990. According to Navarro, President Michelle Bachelet had promised--in response to criticism by international human rights groups--not to apply this law in such cases. (El Mercurio (Chile) 2/14/09; Radio Universidad de Chile 2/12/09; Enlace Mapuche Internacional communiqué 2/14/08; La Nación (Chile) 2/15/09 from UPI)

*4. Haiti: Electoral Dispute Continues
On Feb. 13 Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) granted a three-day extension for candidates to appeal its decision to bar them from running in an Apr. 19 election for 12 of the 30 seats in the Senate [see Update #978]. The 40 excluded candidates, including all 16 candidates on two rival slates from the Lavalas Family (FL) party, have until Feb. 16 to file their appeals.

Despite an earlier denial from CEP president Frantz-Gérard Verret, on Feb. 9 the CEP acknowledged that the dispute in the party was the reason for the CEP's exclusion of the FL candidates. The CEP is insisting on evidence that the list of FL candidates is authorized by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been living in South Africa since he was removed from office in February 2004. According to Radio Kiskeya in Port-au-Prince, Aristide is the party's "permanent leader" ("leader inamovible"). On Feb. 11 the CEP said Maryse Narcisse of the FL Executive Committee had turned in an authorization signed by Aristide on Apr. 24, 2004 (presumably giving powers to the Executive Committee). However, a group of FL members headed by former prime minister Yvon Neptune and former legislative deputy Yves Cristallin has challenged the document's authenticity. (AlterPresse 2/13/09; Agence Haïtienne de Presse 2/9/09, 2/11/09; Radio Kiskeya 2/13/09)

Swiss authorities announced on Feb. 12 that they will return assets of former "president for life" Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc") to Haiti for use in "social or humanitarian projects to benefit the Haitian population." Duvalier's funds in Swiss banks, which the Haitian government has sought since his overthrow in 1986, are worth about 7 million Swiss francs ($6 million); many believe he stole more than $100 million from Haiti while in office. The Duvalier family has 30 days to challenge the decision. (AFP (English) 2/12/09; AlterPresse 2/12/09)

*5. Venezuela: Term Limits Voted Down
Late on the evening of Feb. 15, Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced that a proposal to end term limits had won with 54% of the vote in a referendum held that day. The government of President Hugo Chávez Frías, whose second six-year term ends in 2012, had pushed hard for the measure. "The doors of the future are wide open," Chávez, a former lieutenant colonel, shouted from the balcony of the Miraflores presidential palace after the results were announced. "In 2012 there will be presidential elections, and unless God decides otherwise, unless the people decide otherwise, this soldier is already a candidate."

More than 11 million of almost 17 million eligible voters turned out for the balloting. International observers said the ballot was free and fair, and opposition leaders were quoted as saying they would not contest the vote. A similar proposal was included in a package 69 constitutional amendment that voters narrowly rejected in December 2007 [see Update #925]. (BBC 2/16/09)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, US policy

Brazil: drug crackdown widens

Is Brazil Creating Its Own "Backyard"?

Migration and Mechanization in Brazil's Biofuel Cane Fields

Declaration of the Coordinator of the Amazon Basin Indigenous Peoples Organization (COICA)

Social Housing in Bolivia: Challenges and Contradictions

Bolivia: Morales Enacts New Constitution in El Alto

Bolivia schmoozes Moscow on energy projects; scandal rocks state gas company

Peru seeks contract to extend Camisea pipeline

Anti-labor violence rises in Colombia: House testimony

Colombia: FARC accused in massacre of indigenous people

Venezuela: charges and counter-charges in synagogue attack

Francisco Toro and Venezuela's "Savage" Democracy

El Salvador Elections Set Stage for Tense Presidential Race

Mexico: 24 dead in Chihuahua kidnapping episode

Mexico: ex-soldier busted in Zeta hit on army general

Mexico: narcos wipe out family in Tabasco

Paths of Struggle in a Raging Mexico

U.S. Policy Toward Latin America in 2009 and Beyond

Latin American Leaders Say 'No' to U.S. Drug War

The World Bank and Climate Change: Sustainability or Exploitation?

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