Monday, February 23, 2009

WNU #980: Transport Strike in Mexico, New Talks in Guadeloupe

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #980, February 22, 2009

1. Mexico: Transport Strike in 17 States
2. Mexico: Cerezo Brothers Released
3. Guadeloupe: Talks Resume After Violence
4. Colombia: FARC Admits 8 Killings
5. Panama: Colombian Refugee Killed
6. Haiti: US Announces Deportations
7. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, 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. Mexico: Transport Strike in 17 States
Some 500,000 Mexican bus and truck drivers and owners held a one-day strike on Feb. 16, slowing freight deliveries and forcing many passengers to find alternative transportation in 17 of the country's 32 entities (31 states and the Federal District). The strike was called by the Alliance of Multimodal Transport, recently formed by about 200 transport associations. The alliance is demanding that the federal government freeze diesel fuel prices at 6.31 pesos (about $0.43) a liter; the fuel is distributed by the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) oil company.

The strike was uneven. It was reportedly imperceptible in Quintana Roo in the southeast, while in México state, near Mexico City, the México-Pachuca and México-Querétaro highways were blocked by some 200 heavy trucks. Authorities in the eastern coastal state of Veracruz said about 4 million passengers were affected by the strike, which took 11,000 buses out of circulation; truckers also blocked the toll booths on the Jalapa highway for five hours. About 400,000 passengers were affected in Saltillo and Monclova in the northern state of Coahuila, while service was normal in Piedras Negras, Acuña and Torreón. In Chihuahua, also in the north, transport workers parked trucks and buses along the sides of the Pan American highway. At least 150,000 passengers were stranded in the central state of Aguascalientes. About 13,000 buses and trucks blocked avenues and intersections in the main cities of the southern state of Oaxaca, while only 345 of the 1,793 buses in Mérida, capital of Yucatán in the southeast, were out of service.

Carlos Demuner Pitol, a strike leader, said some authorities in Chihuahua and other states had offered to raise fares and freight rates if the alliance called off the strike, but the strikers rejected the offer, saying citizens would set their trucks and buses on fire if the rates went up. Another strike leader, Edmundo Delgado, said that if the government rejected their demand, the alliance would bring 300,000 vehicles to the Zócalo plaza in Mexico City. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/17/09)

*2. Mexico: Cerezo Brothers Released
On Feb. 16 some 150 people greeted the brothers Antonio and Héctor Cerezo Contreras as they left a medium security prison in Morelos state, close to Mexico City. The Cerezos were arrested in 2001 along with their brother Alejandro after three small bombs exploded at Mexico City banks. Many people believe the arrests were connected to reports that their parents, Francisco Cerezo Quiroz and Emilia Contreras, are leaders in the rebel Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR). The brothers were never charged in the bombing but were convicted of possession of weapons and explosives. Alejandro was released in February 2005 after a court overturned his conviction [see Updates #774, 775, 778, 788].

"We will seek reparations of some kind," another brother, Francisco Cerezo Contreras, said when Antonio and Héctor were released. "This is not the end of the matter, although I must say that we no longer have the funds to keep going." The brothers deny having any contact with their parents, who have been underground since the early 1990s. In an open letter dated Feb. 1, Antonio Cerezo told his parents: "We love you very much, and you will always be present in our lives. A big hug to you both. Prisoners today, free forever!" (Inter Press Service 2/17/09)

*3. Guadeloupe: Talks Resume After Violence
On the evening of Feb. 19 French president Nicholas Sarkozy met in Paris with elected officials from the French overseas department of Guadeloupe and promised to work to restore calm to the Caribbean island, which has been paralyzed by a general strike since Jan. 20 [see Updates #978, 979]. He also announced 580 million euros ($737 million) in aid for France's overseas departments, with emphasis on the Active Solidarity Revenue (RSA), a social welfare program.

Hours later the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation (LKP), the coalition leading the strike, agreed to restart negotiations that the strikers had broken off on Feb. 12. The new talks began on Feb. 20 but quickly adjourned for the weekend; they were to resume on Feb. 23. The General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), the leading force in the LKP, said its negotiators remained "extremely prudent and circumspect" about the government's offers. The strikers are demanding a wage increase of 200 euros ($259) a month. (Libération (France) 2/20/09; UGTG press release 2/20/09)

The new talks followed an escalation of the strike and several outbreaks of violence. On Feb. 16 strikers began blocking roads with dozens of barricades. Shooting began the night of Feb. 17, and a union leader, Jacques Bino, was shot dead. The government blamed "delinquents"; UGTG secretary general Elie Domota has called for an independent investigation. There was more shooting the night of Feb. 18; stores were looted, some dozen fires were set, the Sainte-Rose town hall was sacked, and about 40 people were arrested. The French government announced it was sending four squadrons of mobile armed national police (about 280 agents), in addition to the 1,000 armed national police and 993 regular police already on the island. (There are also 850 armed national police and 1,000 regular police in the nearby overseas department of Martinique, which has been on strike since Feb. 5.)

The situation grew less tense on Feb. 19 as strike leaders for the first time issued explicit appeals for calm to the island's youths. (Libération 2/20/09; AFP 2/21/09; La Jornada (Mexico) 2/19/09 from AFP, DPA)

Sarkozy has had trouble responding to the situation because "he's afraid the dispute may overtake France," Elie Domota told reporters on Feb. 21, alluding to the effects of global recession on Europe. Left-of-center French activists and politicians have started visiting Guadeloupe. Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party (PS) candidate against Sarkozy in 2007, arrived on Feb. 21 to attend Jacques Bino's funeral, scheduled for Feb. 22. French peasant leader José Bové arrived on Feb. 19, as did Olivier Besancenot, spokesperson for the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). Cheers greeted Bové as he stood in front of the LKP's headquarters at the Palais de la Mutualité to denounce the "neocolonial order that reigns in Guadeloupe" and to call for "food sovereignty." (L'Express (France) 2/22/09; Libération 2/20/09)

Thousands of people marched in France on Feb. 21 to support the Guadeloupean strikers. The largest demonstration, in Paris, drew 10,000 people, according to the police; organizers put the number at 30,000. There were smaller demonstrations in Nantes (700 people), Marseilles, Toulouse (500-600 people), Lyons, Lille, Rennes, Limoges and Strasbourg. Most demonstrators were from the Caribbean, but many national unions and parties supported the marches, including the PS, the NPA, the Greens, Workers Struggle (LO), the French Communist Party (PCF) and the General Workers Confederation (CGT). Slogans included: "Life is expensive under the coconut trees," "Liberty, equality, fraternity, for whom?" and "200 euros here too, yes we can"--with the last three words in English, an allusion to the 2008 campaign slogan of US president Barack Obama. (AFP 2/21/09; Nouvel Observateur (France) 2/21/09)

*4. Colombia: FARC Admits 8 Killings
On Feb. 17 the Agencia de Noticias Nueva Colombia (ANNCOL) published a Feb. 11 communiqué from the Antonio José de Sucre column of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) taking responsibility for the killing of eight people on Feb. 6 at Río Bravo, Barbacoas municipality in the southwestern department of Nariño. The communiqué charges that the eight victims had collaborated with the military and that due to "their responsibility in the death of numerous guerrilleros and their undeniable active participation which involves them in the conflict, they were executed." The FARC didn't specify the ethnicity of the victims but insisted that the "action was not against indigenous people." The communiqué didn't comment on any other recent killings of indigenous people attributed to the FARC in the same area. (ANNCOL 2/17/09)

The Awá indigenous group has reported that the FARC killed a total of 27 Awá in two incidents in Nariño this month and detained at least three minors. As a result, Awá authorities say, some 400 indigenous people have fled their homes for the Nariño towns of Samaniego, Buenavista and Ricaurte. Indigenous groups say they follow a policy of not collaborating with any armed groups, including the military and the rebels. There are about 30,000 Awá living in Colombia and Ecuador.

Rightwing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Vélez condemned the FARC's actions, and leftist opposition senator Piedad Córdoba, who has helped arrange the release of prisoners held by the FARC [see Updates #972, 974, 977], deplored the killings. (AFP 2/17/09; La Jornada 2/18/09) On Feb. 13 the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) wrote that the FARC, "by having carried out these atrocious acts, confirm a terrible truth: they have become one more element of terror against the peoples." The ACIN also denounced the government, the media and many political parties, charging that they were trying to use the situation to convince indigenous people to "collaborate with the authorities, with the security forces." (Servicio Informativo "alai-amlatino" 2/13/09)

*5. Panama: Colombian Refugee Killed
A Colombian refugee living in Panama was killed on Feb. 18 near the town of Boca de Cupé in Darién province, a jungle region bordering Colombia that has experienced incursions in the past by Colombian armed groups. Government and Justice Minister Dilio Arcia said the victim was killed when he went outside with his son to work on his property. Local media reported that the victim was named Aureliano Graciano Sepúlveda ("Bolaños" and "Mono Bolaños"); he was granted asylum in 1996, they said, and the three armed men who killed him were probably from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (Telemetro Reporta (Panama) 2/18/09; Univision 2/18/09 from AP; Crítica en Línea (Panama) 2/19/09)

*6. Haiti: US Announces Deportations
A US federal judge has placed 30,299 Haitians under final deportation orders, the US government announced the week of Feb. 16. The government suspended deportations of Haitians living in the US in September, after four tropical storm ravaged Haiti in one month, devastating crops and killing at least 800 people; the US resumed deportations in December [see Update #970]. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE) bureau was only holding about 600 of the deportable Haitians as of Feb. 9; 243 others were being monitored with electronic ankle bracelets. The government says it expects the other Haitians with deportation orders to leave voluntarily. Otherwise, they will be sought by "fugitive alien teams," according to ICE spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez.

Some immigrant advocates who worked for the election of US president Barack Obama "are dismayed by growing reports of Haitians being deported to the hurricane-wrecked island," according to the St. Petersburg Times. Meanwhile, the government of Haitian president René Préval has been blocking the deportations by telling consular officials in the US not to provide travel documents. As a result deportations have dropped by 89% from about 156 a month before the storms to about 17 a month now. But this means that more Haitians are forced either to await deportation in detention centers or to arrange their own travel documents. (The Journal News (Lower Hudson Valley, NY) 2/21/09; Palm Beach (Florida) Post 2/16/09 from Florida Sun-Sentinel; St. Petersburg (Florida) Times 2/21/09)

In other news, on Feb. 16 Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) published its definitive list of candidates for the Apr. 19 elections, which will fill 12 posts in the Senate. The lists did not include the candidates of the Lavalas Family (FL). The CEP had insisted that it needed official confirmation from the party's leader, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, now living in South Africa, in order to confirm the FL's candidates [see Updates #978, 979]. According to Maryse Narcisse, the leader of one of the party's rival factions, Aristide refused to sign documents before consuls appointed by people who forced him from power in 2004. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs 2/17/09 from Reuters; AlterPresse 2/17/09)

*7. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, US Policy

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Is Brazil Creating Its Own "Backyard" in Latin America?

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Ecuador expels US diplomats

Colombia: indigenous leaders issue "ultimatum" to FARC

An Important but Risky Victory for Venezuela and for Socialism

Venezuela's Referendum: Media's Double Standards

Venezuelans Vote to Eliminate Two-Term Limit on All Elected Office 54.4% to 45.6%

Venezuelans Vote Peacefully Over whether to Amend Constitution

Venezuelan Jewish leader accuses Chávez of fomenting anti-Semitism

Victory in Venezuela: Chavez, Progress and Media Coverage

A New Attitude in the White House? State Department Calls Bolivian, Venezuelan Referendums "Democratic"

Night of the Golden Iguana: Land Conflicts Riddle Mexican Tourism Development

Mexico: Juárez police chief steps down, citing threats

Mexico: Gulf Cartel behind border protests?

Chiapas Under Siege by Global Industries

Obama: Improve Relations with Latin America

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