Tuesday, August 25, 2009

WNU #1001: More Strikes Hit Haitian Maquilas

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1001, August 23, 2009

1. Haiti: More Strikes Hit Maquilas
2. Honduras: Resistance Continues Despite Repression
3. Dominican Republic: Medical Strike Suspended
4. Trade: Labor Federations Blast NAFTA

5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Puerto Rico

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. Haiti: More Strikes Hit Maquilas
A series of wildcat strikes that shut down an industrial park on Port-au-Prince’s northern outskirts for at least two days in early August continued into the week of Aug. 10 as thousands of Haitian workers, students and activists demonstrated for a law to increase the country’s minimum wage from 70 gourdes ($1.74) a day to 200 gourdes ($4.97). President René Préval has blocked the 200 gourde increase, arguing it would hurt the country’s maquiladora sector--the tax-exempt plants that assemble products chiefly for export—and cause the loss of thousands of jobs [see Update #1000].

Early on the morning of Aug. 10 assembly plant workers at the industrial park managed by the National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi) near the Port-au-Prince airport started their fourth major demonstration since Aug. 3. In an apparent effort to defuse the protest, a security agent arrested two activists--Patrick Joseph, a member of a community organization in Duvivier, near the capital’s Cité Soleil neighborhood, and Guerchang Bastia, a third-year sociology student at the State University of Haiti (UEH). UEH students and grassroots activists have been holding militant demonstrations in favor of the 200 gourde minimum wage since June; Joseph, reached by cell phone after his arrest, told the Haiti Press Network internet service that he and Bastia were targeted because they were the most active at the demonstration in the Sonapi complex.

The police took Bastia and Joseph to the Delmas 33 police station in northeast Port-au-Prince. Thousands of assembly workers responded to the arrests by marching out of the industrial park to Delmas 33, creating a traffic jam and hurling rocks at the police station. Police dispersed the crowd by firing tear gas and shooting in the air. Protesters then gathered in groups along the road, blocking it with garbage cans and throwing rocks at some cars. A vehicle operated by the police riot squad was damaged, along with a car carrying the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Thomas Tighe. A spokesperson for the embassy said Tighe’s presence was coincidental and he was not a target of the protesters. The crowd also threw rocks at vehicles of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a force of more than 8,000 soldiers and police agents that has occupied the country since 2004.

Meanwhile, university students protested at Christophe Avenue in the center of the city, setting fire to two vehicles, one of which belonged to the Port-au-Prince court system. “If the students aren’t freed,” one student said, referring to Bastia and Joseph, “it won’t just be the assembly plants that are closed down but all the country’s institutions.” (Radio Métropole (Haiti) 8/10/09, 8/11/09; Haiti Press Network 8/10/09, __; AlterPresse 8/10/09; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 8/10/09)

Protesters took to the streets again on Aug. 11, marching from the industrial park to the National Palace in the center of Port-au-Prince and then to Christophe Avenue. The police reportedly dispersed this demonstration with tear gas and arrested five protesters, although witnesses said the marchers themselves had stopped two people who tried to throw stones at the police. Local media reported that the Aug. 11 demonstration was smaller than the previous protests, with just hundreds of people. However, the Port-au-Prince assembly sector continued to be closed down on Aug. 11 and 12--this time by factory owners, who said they would use the two days to make security arrangements. (Radio Métropole 8/11/09; HPN 8/11/09; AlterPresse 8/11/09)

Management said the Sonapi industrial park resumed normal operations on Aug. 13, but reporters waiting outside the complex couldn’t determine how many workers were present; there were reports that many workers left at the beginning of the afternoon because the bosses decided to close early. There were armed police agents and at least three riot police vehicles just outside the complex. A heavy police presence at the industrial park on Aug. 17 apparently stopped an effort to start a new demonstration at the beginning of the next workweek. (AlterPresse 8/13/09, 8/17/09)

Bastia and Joseph were finally released from custody on Aug. 18, although three activists arrested on Aug. 12--Edouard Edwidge, Alfred Valsaint and Hérode César—were still being held. Also on Aug. 18, the Chamber of Deputies of Haiti’s Parliament voted 38-36 by secret ballot, with three abstentions, to raise the minimum wage to 125 gourdes, which apparently would be increased later to 150 gourdes ($3.73), far below the 200 gourdes demanded by the protesters. The legislation still requires approval by the Senate and President Préval. (AlterPresse 8/18/09, __; InterPress Service 8/19/09)

Although the minimum wage protests have received little attention outside Haiti, there were at least two small demonstrations in the US on Aug. 19 in support of the 200 gourde minimum. A number of Haitians and Haitian Americans rallied outside the Haitian consulate in Miami, and more than a dozen Haitian Americans and other labor and fair trade activists picketed the consulate in New York City. (HPN 8/20/09; Grassroots Haiti Solidarity Committee announcement 8/10/09; NYC eyewitness report 8/19/09)

*2. Honduras: Resistance Continues Despite Repression
On Aug. 22 a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued what it called “preliminary observations” on the human rights situation in Honduras since a June 28 coup removed president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office [see Update #995]. The delegation, headed by Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, said that from its visit it had “confirmed the existence of a pattern of disproportionate use of public force, arbitrary detentions, and the control of information aimed at limiting political participation by a sector of the citizenry.”

Supporting the findings of Honduran human rights monitors, the CIDH delegation cited testimony about the killings of at least four people and injuries to dozens of others; sexual violations of women during the repression of demonstrations, including the rape of a woman by four police agents in San Pedro Sula; the arbitrary detention of 3,500-4,000 people during demonstrations; and harassment of the media. Carlos López Contreras, foreign minister in the de facto government established by the coup, dismissed the report as “a form of pressure by the OAS on the government of Honduras so that it will accept a proposal for mediation” presented by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The report was released just two days before the scheduled Aug. 24 arrival of an OAS delegation including seven foreign ministers for talks with the de facto government. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/23/09 from AFP, Notimex, PL; CIDH press release 8/21/09; AFP 8/23/09)

The people behind the coup are now calling for repression because they are desperate, Juan Barahona, head of the leftist Unitary Federation of Honduran Workers (FUTH), said at a demonstration in Tegucigalpa on Aug. 19. The 54 days of grassroots resistance had broken the morale of the coup's supporters, he told the protesters, who chanted: “Forward, forward, the struggle is constant.” However, the labor movement has backed away from an open-ended strike the main union confederations started on Aug. 6 to demand President Zelaya’s restoration to office [see Update #1000]. The teachers union, one of the most militant, sent its members back to the classroom for three days starting on Aug. 17. The teachers were to resume their strike Aug. 20-21, when other unions planned a two-day general strike. Unions were also planning strikes to coincide with the Aug. 24 visit of the delegation of OAS foreign ministers.

Meanwhile, the local organization of Vía Campesina (“Campesino Way”), the international campesino movement, continued an occupation of the National Agrarian Institute (INA) that it began weeks before. (Prensa Latina 8/20/09, 8/23/09; Honduras Laboral 8/17/09 from Comunicaciones Vía Campesina en Honduras; Pueblo en Linea (China) 8/21/09; Adital 8/20/09)

*3. Dominican Republic: Medical Strike Suspended
On Aug. 13 leaders of the Dominican Medical Guild (CMD) and the National Union of Nursing Services (UNASED) announced the suspension of a strike they started on July 29 over salaries [see Update #1000]. The unionists said the suspension was based on what they considered an agreement that Public Health Secretary Bautista Rojas Gómez would drop his efforts to remove seven health professionals—including Rufino Senén Caba Plasencia, president of the CMD’s National District (Santo Domingo) branch—for alleged involvement in a violent incident during the strike. The job action was 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.

CMD president Waldo Ariel Suero said the unions were proceeding with a discussion with the government because of their confidence in Catholic educator Monsignor Agripino Núñez Collado, who was named the coordinator of the dialogue. But the first talks, on Aug. 13, ended after four hours with no accord, as Secretart Rojas Gómez refused to back away from his intention to remove five doctors and two nurses accused of assaulting the director of the Francisco Moscoso Puello Hospital. (La Raza (Chicago) 8/13/09 from El Diario-La Prensa (New York) ; La Nacion Dominicana 8/13/09)

*4. Trade: Labor Federations Blast NAFTA
The heads of three major Canadian, Mexican and US labor federations responded to the Aug. 10 “Tres Amigos” summit--a meeting of Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and US president Barack Obama in Mexico City--with a joint statement criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a 15-year-old agreement on trade between the three countries. The statement was signed by Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) president Kenneth Georgetti; Francisco Hernández Juárez, president of the National Workers Union (UNT), Mexico’s second-largest union federation; and John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest US labor federation.

“NAFTA did not create more net trade-related jobs,” the statement said, “and those that it did were very often less stable, with lower wages and fewer benefits. Instead, increased trade largely benefited the corporate elite in all three countries. Income inequality has also grown in the region.” The union leaders noted that the “failure of the North American economies post-NAFTA to create the decent jobs necessary to absorb displaced workers and new entrants has forced many into a desperate search to find employment elsewhere.” Employers in Canada and the US have used their “access to a large and poorly regulated workforce of undocumented and temporary migrant workers” from Mexico to “undermine…all workers by failing to afford the basic labor rights and protections to everyone.”

The statement called for greater labor rights in all three countries and for expanded economic development, including “a substantial transfer of investment funds to generate job growth” in Mexico. (Mexican Labor News & Analysis Vol. 14, #7, August 2009; AFL-CIO Now Blog 8/14/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Puerto Rico

Chile: Mapuche Activist's Death Heats Up Conflict

Chile: Mapuche youth killed by police in land occupation

Brazil Conspired with U.S. to Overthrow Allende

Peru: Montesinos faces 30 years on narco charges

Peru overtakes Colombia as top cocaine exporter: report

Peru's National Police to get "license to kill"?

Press freedom under attack in Peru

Peru: indigenous leaders demand "truth commission" on Amazon massacre
Colombia: The Embera Struggle to Save a Sacred Mountain

Uribe's "New" Colombia

Media In Venezuela: Facts and Fiction

Honduras: Xiomara Castro de Zelaya calls for continued protest; rights abuses documented

Zelaya: Obama against coup —but "not the chief of the empire"

Honduras: coup regime admits deporting Zelaya was "error" —but repression goes on

“The Only Crime” in Honduras

Coup Catalyzes Honduran Women's Movement

Fund-Raising Appeal: Support Pro-Democracy Movement in Honduras

Honduras: Repression Continues to Escalate

Latin America Scholars Urge Human Rights Watch to Speak Up on Honduras Coup

Environmental Politics in Paradise: Resistance to the Selling of Vieques

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:
http://americas.irc-online.org/ http://nacla.org/articles

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