Monday, February 9, 2009

WNU #978: Guadeloupe General Strike Spreads

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #978, February 8, 2009

1. Guadeloupe: General Strike Spreads
2. Colombia: 2 FARC Hostages Free--and Talking
3. Argentina: Menem Attends Smuggling Trial
4. Haiti: Lavalas Barred From Senate Race
5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, 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. Guadeloupe: General Strike Spreads
After 22 hours of negotiations, on the morning of Feb. 8 management and strikers in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe reached a preliminary agreement that could form the basis for ending a general strike that has paralyzed the island since Jan. 20. Under the agreement, the 45,000 Guadeloupean workers who earn up to 1.6 times the minimum wage (SMIC, for Minimum Interprofessional Growth Salary in French) would get an increase of 200 euros (about $259) a month, while workers with higher salaries could negotiate with management for raises of 2.5% to 3%. Of the strikers' 146 demands, the government and business owners have already met about 50, including measures to bring down the cost of fuel. (Nouvel Observateur (France) 2/8/09; Le Parisien (France) 2/8/08)

The strike has been led by the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation (LKP, Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon in Guadeloupean Creole), which includes 47 unions, along with political parties and grassroots organizations. The movement has received broad support from Guadeloupe's 450,000 residents. Some 25,000 people demonstrated in Pointe à Pitre, the capital, at the beginning of the strike, and a demonstration held as negotiators met on Feb. 7 drew about 50,000 protesters.

Guadeloupe has an unemployment rate of more than 20% and a large disparity in wages between workers in the public and private sectors. The cost of living is a central issue: many goods have to be imported, and prices are sometimes twice as high as in France. Conditions are similar on the nearby island of Martinique and in French Guiana, also French overseas departments. On Feb. 5 a dozen unions held a one-day general strike in Martinique, shutting down transportation and businesses. Some 15,000-20,000 protesters marched through Fort-de-France, the capital. "Sarko, Fillon, we want work!" they chanted, referring to French president Nicholas Sarkozy and Prime Minister François Fillon. Encouraged by the strike's success, the unions extended the job action to Feb. 6.

The General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), considered the leading force in Guadeloupe's strike committee, is distrustful of Sarkozy's conservative government. On Jan. 26 UGTG secretary general Elie Domota charged that employers were "gearing up for a lockout, thinking that they can thus starve people, provoke confrontations and ask the colonial authority to suppress us. For that purpose, several hundred forces of repression arrived in Guadeloupe a few days ago, armed to the teeth." Noting that in May 1967 the French government killed more than 100 Guadeloupeans following a construction workers' strike, Domota appealed for international solidarity; emails can be sent to . (Le Parisien 2/8/08, ___; UGTG Emergency Solidarity Appeal 1/26/09; Libération (France) 2/6/09, some from AFP)

*2. Colombia: 2 FARC Hostages Free--and Talking
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released former Meta governor Alan Jara to a humanitarian mission on Feb. 3 in Guaviare department; the rebels had held him as a hostage for more than seven and a half years. On Feb. 5 the group released former legislative deputy Sigifredo López in Cauca department; López, who had spent almost seven years in captivity, is the only surviving member of a group of 12 deputies from Valle del Cauca department captured by the FARC in April 2002.

The two hostages' release was part of a complicated arrangement involving the Brazilian government, the Colombian military, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the activist group Colombians for Peace; three police agents and one soldier were freed through the same arrangement on Feb. 1 [see Update #977]. A dispute between Colombians for Peace and the government over military operations delayed the release of Jara and López by one day.

In a press conference held in Villavicencio hours after his release on Feb. 3, former governor Jara had harsh words both for the FARC and for President Alvaro Uribe. "It would seem," he said, "that the situation of war that the country is experiencing suits president Uribe--and the FARC too, it would seem--and this is what's perverse." "I'm sorry with all my heart that Uribe didn't do anything for our freedom," he added. Although the rebels had treated him well enough, Jara said: "I don't know what they think, I don't understand them." President Uribe met with Jara later that evening but didn't comment on the former governor's remarks. On Feb. 4 government officials suggested that Jara was suffering from "Stockholm Sindrome," an identification captives supposedly feel with their captors.

López held his own press conference soon after he arrived in Cali on Feb. 5. He charged that the FARC was entirely to blame for the deaths of the other 11 Valle del Cauca deputies on June 18, 2007 [see Update #905]. The FARC command had given an order for the deputies to be killed in the event of a rescue attempt, he said. When six rebels from the FARC's 19th front arrived without warning, "El Grillo," commander of the 60th Front 60, mistook them for the military and had the hostages killed, according to López. It was "because of pure paranoia and because the FARC is a killing machine," he said. "They killed them from cowardice." López himself had been separated from the other deputies for disciplinary reasons and so was spared. He told the reporters that for days after the incident he wouldn't say anything to his captors except: "Murdering bastards."

Both Jara and López said that they would work for the rebels and the government to agree on an exchange of 22 soldiers and police agents still held by the FARC for a number of imprisoned rebels. (Univision 2/4/09 from AFP; AFP 2/5/09; El Financiero (Mexico) 2/5/09 from Notimex/GCE; La Jornada (Mexico) 2/6/09 from correspondent)

*3. Argentina: Menem Attends Smuggling Trial
On Feb. 6, former Argentine president Carlos Menem (1989-1999), now a senator from La Rioja province, made his first appearance at an arms smuggling trial that began in Buenos Aires on Oct. 16 [see Update #964]. Menem and 17 other defendants are charged with involvement in the government's clandestine sale of arms to Ecuador and Croatia from 1991 to 1995 in violation of international agreements. He declined to attend previously, claiming health problems. In his Feb. 6 appearance--before federal judges Luis Imas, Horacio Artabe and Gustavo Losada--Menem failed to make any declaration on the smuggling charges, citing "pending questions, including appeals." He could face 12 years in prison if convicted, although the Senate would have to vote to lift the immunity he enjoys as a legislator.

In a separate case Menem is charged with obstructing the initial investigation into the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. The attack, generally considered the worst anti-semitic violence since World War 2, killed at least 85 people and injured 300; the Argentine government blames it on the Iranian government and the Lebanese organization Hezbollah [see Update #708]. In May 2008 prosecutor Alberto Nisman asked federal judge Ariel Lijo for an arrest warrant for Menem and others. "We have determined the existence of a plan that was put together at the highest political level in the cover up and give [immunity] to one of the people who appeared as a main suspect in the local connection," he told Argentine television. The coverup included the suspension of searches and a sudden end to any activity on the case, Nisman charged.

In October 2008 Judge Lijo ordered Menem and his brother Munir--along with former judge Juan José Galeano, former State Intelligence Service (SIDE) head Hugo Anzorregui and others--to make declarations on the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison. Menem, who was a strong US ally during his years in office, has declined to make a declaration. In this case too he has claimed health problems. (Clarín (Argentina) 2/7/09; Télam (Argentina) 2/6/09; Haaretz (Israel) 5/22/08 from Reuters; BBC 11/13/08)

*4. Haiti: Lavalas Barred From Senate Race
Hundreds of supporters of Haiti's Lavalas Family (FL) party demonstrated in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 7 to protest the decision of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to reject all 16 candidates from two different slates that the party's rival factions had tried to run in a partial senatorial election slated for Apr. 19. The CEP rejected a total of 40 of the 105 candidates who had filed to run for the 12 Senate seats at stake. Another candidate barred from the race was former military officer Guy Philippe, who led a February 2004 insurgency against the FL's founder, former president Jean Bertrand Aristide; Philippe is suspected of narco trafficking [see Update #912]. (AlterPresse 2/8/09)

The Haitian Constitution provides for one third of Haiti's 30-member Senate to be renewed every two years. The Apr. 19 election will also elect replacements for Senator Noël Emmanuel Limage (Artibonite/Nord department), who died in office, and Rudolph Henry Boulos (Nord-Est), who was removed because of his dual nationality [see Update #971]. The CEP gave no detailed explanation of its decision, made public the night of Feb. 5-6. CEP Frantz Gérard Verret told a radio program that the conflict in the FL had no bearing on the exclusion of the FL candidates; the reason was simply that they hadn't met the requirements under electoral law, he said. Currently there are two FL senators: Rudy Hériveaux (Ouest department) and Yvon Buissereth (Sud department). (AlterPresse 2/6/09; Agence Haïtienne de Presse 2/6/09) [It is unclear how the FL selects its candidates; there were also disputes about the FL candidates in the 2006 legislative elections.]

On Feb. 6 the US embassy issued a communiqué expressing concern over a decision "that bars all the candidates of a political party from participating in the next electoral contests." Elections "based on exclusion...will inevitably put their credibility in question," the embassy said. Canada also deplored the CEP's decision on the FL candidates. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 2/6/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico

Politics in Paraguay: Twenty Years of Transition

The World Social Forum Returns to Brazil

Brazil: uncontacted tribes flee loggers' bulldozers

Ecuador: president condemned for policy on uncontacted tribes

Ask the Ecuadorian Government to Protect the Rights of Environmental and Human Rights Defenders

Survival International: Colombian guerillas threaten indigenous people

Ruta Pacifica: Colombian Women Against Violence

FAIR Finds News Editors Downplaying Colombia's Abuses, Amplifying Venezuela's

Critics Respond to Human Rights Watch's Defense of Venezuela Report

Venezuela: Chávez accuses rivals of exploiting synagogue attack

Venezuela: arrests made in synagogue attack, conspiracy vultures descend

El Salvador: Pressure from Pacific Rim Mining Company Intensifies. Anti-Mining Activist Home Robbed

El Salvador 2009: A "Change" Year?

Mexico: Sinaloa Cartel's Colombia broker busted

Mexico: army general found tortured to death

Mexico: more protests on northern border

Physicians for Human Rights: Mexico presents flawed theory in Brad Will slaying

Mexico bails out Detroit

Latin America: Obama is Expected to Listen

Latin America Breaks Free: Washington No Longer Calls the Shots

Hillary Clinton and James Steinberg "Talk Tough" on Latin America

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