Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WNU #1000: Honduran Unions Start Open-Ended Strike

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1000, August 9, 2009

1. Honduras: Unions Start Open-Ended Strike
2. Haiti: Maquila Workers March for Wage Hike
3. Dominican Republic: Medical Workers Extend Strike
4. Cuba: US Activists Defy Embargo
5. Links to alternative sources on: Swine Flu, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, US

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. Honduras: Unions Start Open-Ended Strike
On Aug. 6 the three main Honduran labor federations held a march in Tegucigalpa marking the start of an open-ended general strike against the de facto government formed when a June 28 coup removed president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office [see Update #995]. The strike was timed to coincide with eight coordinated marches by grassroots organizations that began on Aug. 5 with the goal of bringing tens of thousands of coup opponents from around the country to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the second largest city, on Aug. 11. A delegation from the Organization of American States (OAS) is scheduled to visit Honduras that day for discussions with de facto officials and others.

The three union groups—the Unitary Confederation of Honduran Workers (CUTH), the General Workers Central (CGT) and the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH)--issued a joint communiqué on Aug. 6 with the strike’s four demands: “the reestablishment of the democratic institutional order,” Zelaya’s return to office, the formation of a Constituent National Assembly to write a new Constitution, and an “end to the repression against the Honduran people.” The strikers also demanded that “all the governments of the world, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, and USAID [the US Agency for International Development] withdraw all official support and freeze loans and projects for this coup government.” The unions specifically called on the US government to “cancel the bank accounts and visas of all those persons involved in the coup, to freeze planned aid, and to withdraw diplomatic representation.”

The unions ended the Aug. 6 march with a rally outside the US embassy. “Forty days after the coup d’état, no one’s surrendering here,” chanted the crowd, estimated at 2,000 by the Spanish wire service EFE and at 10,000 by the Brazilian activist news service Adital.

The march included the 19 members of a solidarity delegation visiting Honduras from Aug. 5 to Aug. 8. The delegation, with unionists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Spain, was organized by international labor federations and the Union Confederation of Workers of the Americas (CSA), a year-old Brazil-based organization that says it has 65 national affiliates in 29 countries, representing more than 50 million workers in the hemisphere.

A number of US unions have also expressed solidarity with the Honduran labor movement. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), UNITE HERE, the United Steelworkers (USW) and the two electrical workers unions sent a joint letter on Aug. 5 urging US Congress members to support House Resolution 630, which calls on the administration of US president Barack Obama to maintain pressure on the coup leaders.

As of Aug. 7 the de facto government was dismissing the general strike as only partial. In fact, teachers, healthcare workers, employees of the National Electrical Energy Enterprise and two unions of university students were on all on strike. Strike supporters said few businesses were open and schools were closed around the country. In Francisco Morazán department, which includes Tegucigalpa, the de facto government itself suspended classes, claiming fears that a swine flu epidemic would spread—although the Health Ministry didn’t consider the epidemic serious enough to suspend an upcoming soccer match. Soldiers guarded some hospitals in the capital to keep striking medical workers from occupying them. The Mexican daily La Jornada reported that restaurants were empty in Tegucigalpa in the evenings, even though the authorities ended a curfew they maintained for much of the previous month. All four of the country’s airports were closed, because 95 technicians had joined the strike.

On Aug. 7 the taxi drivers unions decided to side with the strikers. Drivers said that in any case they’d had so little business since the coup that they couldn’t make enough in fares to pay the rent for the cabs. The majority of the country’s 19,000 drivers don’t own the vehicles they use. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales 8/6/09 from Comunicaciones Vía Campesina en Honduras; Adital 8/6/09; MRZine 8/8/09; Univision 8/7/09 from EFE; Honduras Laboral 8/7/09 from Comunicaciones Vía Campesina en Honduras; LJ 8/8/09)

*2. Haiti: Maquila Workers March for Wage Hike
The Chamber of Deputies of Haiti’s Parliament voted 55-6 late on the evening of Aug. 4 to increase the country’s minimum wage from 70 gourdes ($1.74) a day to 150 gourdes ($3.73). Three deputies abstained, and about 20 walked out before the vote, apparently protesting what they considered irregularities in the secret balloting.

Parliament passed an increase to 200 gourdes ($4.97) on May 5, but President René Préval refused to promulgate the new law, which affects about 250,000 workers out of a population of some 9 million. University students held militant demonstrations in the streets of Port-au-Prince through much of June to demand that the president act on the law. Préval claimed an increase to 200 gourdes would hurt the tax-exempt plants that assemble products chiefly for export—known in Spanish-speaking countries as maquiladoras--and would lead to the loss of thousands of industrial jobs [see Update #996].

The hike to 200 gourdes seems to have strong support among the assembly workers themselves. The factory complex managed by the National Industrial Parks Corporation (Sonapi) on Port-au-Prince’s northern outskirts was shut down on Aug. 4 and Aug. 5 in an unprecedented wildcat strike as workers marched from the plants to demonstrate for the 200 gourde minimum.

According to Sonapi director general Jean Kesner Delmas, “outsiders” began distributing leaflets in the industrial park the afternoon of Aug. 3 calling on workers to walk out the next day, when Parliament was expected to vote on the measure. Thousands of workers gathered at the industrial park early on Aug. 4 and then left for a march to the Parliament building, which was guarded by a large number of police agents. According to the Associated Press wire service, there were about 2,000 protesters and police agents fired tear gas to disperse them. AP also reported that some protesters threw rocks at the agents and ripped down flags of United Nations member countries near the building; the nearly 9,000 soldiers and police of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) have frequently been used to put down protests since the mission was deployed in June 2004.

The Aug 4 demonstration ended before the Chamber of Deputies session started, but thousands of workers came back on Aug. 5 for a new protest after they learned that legislators had voted for a smaller increase. Sonapi factory owners decided to close their plants that day for “planning,” they said, but they insisted normal production would resume on Aug. 6. (AP 8/4/09; AlterPresse (Haiti) 8/5/09, 8/6/09; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 8/5/09)

Violence broke out between protesters and Nepalese soldiers from the MINUSTAH force on Aug. 5 in Lascahobas, in the Plateau Central department near the Dominican border. Residents protesting a two-month electrical outage had erected some 13 barricades from branches, tree trunks, rock and junked cars, according to MINUSTAH, and threw rocks at the soldiers when they tried to remove the barriers. Residents said the soldiers fired into the crowd, wounding several and killing a man and a little girl. Port-au-Prince’s Radio Métropole reported that National Police officer Senat Emmanuel said seven people were wounded and two of them had died. Other officials denied that there were any deaths. MINUSTAH spokesperson Lt. Col. Fernando Pereira said people inside the crowd had fired on the soldiers, who responded by firing in the air. (AP 8/6/09; AlterPresse 8/6/09; Radio Métropole 8/7/09)

*3. Dominican Republic: Medical Workers Extend Strike
Leaders of the Dominican Medical Guild (CMD) and the National Union of Nursing Services (UNASED) announced on Aug. 7 that Dominican medical workers would continue a strike they started on July 29 for at least another five days, until 6 am on Aug. 13.

The strike is the latest development in an 18-month struggle around a demand for a monthly minimum wage of 58,400 pesos ($1,624) for medical professionals. The CMD, which represents doctors, began the fight in February 2008 and were joined by the nurses. The two unions have organized a series of general strikes, hunger strikes, picket lines and building occupations [see Update #986]. The current strike began after a surprise sit-in at the Labor Secretariat by 30 union leaders and members; police agents arrested them in the early morning of July 29.

On Aug. 6 Public Health Secretary Bautista Rojas Gómez announced that he had reinforced the public health system by placing soldiers and police agents in hospitals and by contracting hundreds of medical professionals to substitute for the strikers. “From now on, we’re going to take drastic measures,” he said. Rojas suggested that the strike was a political move by the opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). CMD president Waldo Ariel Suero said on Aug. 7 that this was just an attempt to divide the strikes and that it showed “Rojas’ state of desperation.” UNASED representative Rafaela Figuereo said the solution was “in the hands of the government.” (La Raza (Chicago) 8/7/09 from El Diario-La Prensa (New York) ; La Opinión (Los Angeles) 8/9/09 from ED-LP; Listin Diario (Dominican Republic 8/8/09)

*4. Cuba: US Activists Defy Embargo
Two groups that regularly protest the US ban on most travel to Cuba by making unauthorized trips to the island returned to the US without incident on Aug. 3 after their latest visits, the first since US president Barack Obama took office. About 140 members of the Venceremos Brigade walked from Canada into the US at Buffalo wearing orange T-shirts and chanting for an end to US sanctions, while some 130 members of the US/Cuba Friendshipment Caravan returned to the US at the Hidalgo International Bridge from Reynosa, Mexico. US Customs and Border Protection agents gave the travelers no trouble even though they said they had been in Cuba.

The Venceremos Brigade has been organizing trips to Cuba since 1969, while the New York-based Pastors for Peace organization has sponsored a total of 20 caravans carrying material aid for Cuba. This year’s Friendshipment collected 115 tons of humanitarian aid and drove it to a port in Mexico for shipment to Cuba by sea; the caravan members then flew to Cuba for a nine-day visit. Both groups are pushing for President Obama to lift sanctions the US started imposing on Cuba shortly after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. "We are really determined to be ambassadors to the new administration for a new policy," Pastors for Peace associate director Ellen Bernstein told the Associated Press. (Associated Press 8/4/09; Pastors for Peace press release 8/2/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Swine Flu, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, US

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Peru pledges new Amazon oil auctions —despite indigenous protests

Peru: Sendero hits back against Plan VRAE

Amnesty Urges Peru's Government to Suspend Laws and Oil Concessions

Abuses in Peru's Escalating Fight Against Rebels

Peru and Ecuador: A Common Enemy

Colombia: Women Lead Opposition to Gold Mine

Venezuela and Colombia at brink of war—again?

Street Art in Revolutionary Venezuela

Why the U.S. Government Hates Venezuela

Pacific Rim Silent in Wake of Violence Against Anti-mining Protesters in Cabañas, El Salvador

El Salvador: The Mysterious Death of Marcelo Rivera

Honduras: "People Are In The Streets Every Day".

Honduras: generals plead case on TV; deadly repression grows

Honduras political crisis unleashes media wars

International Observation Mission for the Human Rights Situation in Honduras Preliminary Report

U.S. appears to soften support for Honduras's Zelaya

Video Report - Honduras: Where does Washington stand?

Honduras: Regime Says 'Yes' to Talks but Squelches Protests

Honduras: Two More Dead, Zelaya Takes Case to International Criminal Court

The Honduran Coup: Fiction and Fact

Honduras and Washington: Semantics and Contradictions

On Eve of Summit, Mexico’s Human Rights Record Comes Under Fire in U.S. Congress

Mexican bishops blast federal foray on Michoacán mass

Mexico: narco-violence reaches new high

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Mexico: Leahy blocks State Department rights report on Mexico

US Activists Challenge Obama on Cuba

Obama and Latin America: The First Six Months

Obama Stays the Course in Latin America

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Dissecting Utopia: New Book Assesses Latin American Left

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