Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WNU #1005: Brazil, US Push Haitian Maquilas

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1005, September 27, 2009

1. Haiti: Brazil, US Push for More Maquilas
2. Honduras: Will Maquilas Survive the Coup?
3. Venezuela: South America-Africa Summit Meets
4. Ecuador: Chevron Tries New Dodge in Lawsuit
5. Argentina: Death Flight Pilot Arrested
6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Biodiversity

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: Brazil, US Push for More Maquilas
During a meeting in Brasilia on Sept. 17, Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim and US commerce representative Ronald Kirk ratified a plan to allow Brazilian companies operating in Haiti to export products to the US without paying customs fees. This would be done through an extension of two US trade acts ostensibly aiding Haitian industries: the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity Through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act of 2006 and the HOPE 2 Act of 2008. Amorim told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that the initiative’s goal is humanitarian, "to aid Haiti's economic development through sustainable production activity," although he noted that it would also benefit Brazilian and US companies.

Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI) president Armando Monteiro Neto said Brazilian apparel companies had expressed interest in setting up assembly plants in Haiti under the agreement. A group of twelve investors were planning to visit Haiti Sept. 27-Oct. 3 to explore the possibilities. (Xinhua 9/17/09; AlterPresse 9/18/09)

Brazil leads the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 9,000-member military and police force that has occupied Haiti since June 2004. The United Nations is expected to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year sometime before Oct. 15. During a Sept. 18-19 visit to Haiti with Brazil’s Amorim, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner called for the mission to continue at least until after next year’s presidential election in Haiti. "After [the elections] we will see,” Kouchner told the Associated Press news service. “It depends on [the Haitians’] actions, [if] they are going to take their own affairs in hand." A co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and a former member of the French Socialist Partner, Kouchner is a longtime proponent of “humanitarian intervention” military operations. (Miami Herald 9/19/09 from AP)

The plan to expand the number of tax-exempt assembly plants—known in Spanish as maquiladoras—was announced less than a week after the Haitian Parliament passed a measure setting the minimum wage for assembly industry workers at 125 gourdes ($3.11) a day. The workers themselves, with strong student support, had mounted marches and wildcat strikes in August to demand a 200-gourde minimum [see Update # 1004]. The plan to increase apparel production comes after several years of sharp decline in the Caribbean and Central American maquiladora sectors, with the region’s share of the US import market falling dramatically since 2004 [see Update #996].

*2. Honduras: Will Maquilas Survive the Coup?
As of the morning of Sept. 28, a 45-day state of siege decreed by the de facto Honduran government was in effect, allowing the authorities to suspend rights of free speech and assembly; police agents and soldiers had already closed the Radio Globo radio station and the Channel 36 television station under the decree. The state of siege followed a week of increasing tensions after president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, deposed by a June 28 military coup, secretly returned to the country on Sept. 21 and established his headquarters in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. (Americas MexBlog 9/28/09)

The economy “stopped” after Zelaya’s return as a result of protests by coup opponents and a Sept. 22-23 round-the-clock curfew by the de facto regime, according to Sandra Midence, de facto president of the central bank, the Banco Central de Honduras (BCH). Jesús Canahuati, former president of the Honduran Maquiladora Association (AHM), said the two-day curfew alone had cost the country $50 million a day. Honduras, with a $14.1 billion annual gross domestic product (GDP), has lost as much as $200 million in investment since the coup, he said. (Bloomberg News 9/24/09; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 9/27/09 from Bloomberg)

Even before the June coup, the Honduran maquiladora sector was suffering because of competition from China and declining demand from the US, the country’s main export market, now in its worst recession in decades [see Update #1002]. “In 2008 there were $3.5 billion in exports, while the projection for the end of 2009 would be around $2.7 billion, less than the amount expected a few months ago,” Guillermo Matamoros, an AHM regional director, told the Costa Rican newspaper El Financiero in early September. The year’s decline for the apparel export sector might be as much as 22.8%.

The Honduran maquiladora sector now employs about 114,000 workers directly; the industry claims that each maquiladora job generates four other jobs, so that the sector’s total contribution to the country’s GDP would be around 26%. The sector lost 15,000 jobs in 2008 and about 8,000 more so far this year. Jesús Canahuati said another 4,000 workers would probably be laid off in the last three months of 2009. Canahuati expressed optimism that apparel employment would increase soon if the US recession ends, but Matamoros was looking instead to the expansion of a new type of maquiladora: call centers and software centers in the north of the country. Because of the large number of Hondurans who are bilingual in English and Spanish, this could generate 25,000-40,000 new jobs, he indicated. (El Financiero 9/5/09; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 9/16/09)

Maquiladora owners reportedly have increased exploitation of their employers because of losses stemming from the political crisis. The Honduran Women's Collective (CODEMUH) says maquiladora workers have been forced to work overtime, in clear violation of labor law, to make up for time lost during the curfews. "We call on transnational brands like Nike, Gap, Adidas, Hanes, HBI [Hanesbrands Inc] and Wal-Mart, among others,” CODEMUH writes, “as well as university students in the US and consumers in general, who wear the products produced in the sweatshops of Honduras, to demand the offshore industry pay its workers for the days they did not show up for work due to the curfew of the de facto government, without requiring that they make up these days.” (Americas MexBlog 9/25/09)

The focus that the coup has brought on Honduras might help revive the US-based student anti-sweatshop movement of the 1990s. In a Sept. 25 op-ed, two University of Washington professors, Angelina Godoy and James Gregory, called on the school to “re-examine [its] apparel relationship with Nike,” the US sports garment giant, because of the company’s failure to compensate workers in Honduras. In January Nike shut down two facilities in Honduras, Vision Tex and Hugger, the professors said, “without paying their approximately 1,800 workers the terminal compensation mandated by law—in some cases, without even paying them for hours already worked. The total owed to workers tops $2.5 million.” Godoy and Gregory charged that Nike is using the political crisis as an excuse not to act on the workers’ claims. “Nike's inaction amounts to coup profiteering,” they wrote. (Seattle Times 9/25/09)

*3. Venezuela: South America-Africa Summit Meets
Nearly 30 heads of state attended the Second Africa-South America Summit, a Sept. 26-27 meeting of representatives of 61 nations on Isla Margarita, Venezuela, intended to increase trade and economic development and cooperation between the two regions. The first summit was held in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, in November 2006. "North-North and North-South summits have been held,” Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister for Africa, Reinaldo Bolívar, told the Inter Press Service (IPS), “but apart from the Summits of South American-Arab Countries in 2005 and 2009, the Africa-South America meetings are the only South-South summits taking place in the world."

In addition to a general declaration and various trade agreements between individual countries, the summit included the launching of the Bank of the South with some $20 billion from seven countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. This is a development bank that South American countries founded in 2007, in part to reduce dependency on international lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [see Update #926]. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez also floated a plan for “Petrosur,” a public multinational company to supply fuel to both regions.

The South American countries with strongest ties to Africa currently are Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. Brazil's trade with Africa, mainly sales of food products and manufactured goods, rose from $5 billion in 2002 to nearly $26 billion in 2008 and represents 7% of the country's total foreign trade. Brazil has invested more than $4 billion in agriculture in Africa since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office in 2003. Argentina sells more than $3 billion a year to African countries, accounting for 3.5% of its total trade. Venezuela's trade with Africa is minimal, but the country is making deals with Algerian and South African firms to participate in exploration for gas and crude in Venezuela, while South Africa has invited Venezuela to participate in developing a refinery and fuel storage facilities. (IPS 9/22/09; Agence France Presse 9/27/09; BBC 9/27/09; Prensa Latina 9/28/09)

*4. Ecuador: Chevron Tries New Dodge in Lawsuit
On Sept. 23 Chevron Corp., the second-largest US oil company, announced that it had asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to shift responsibility to Ecuador for paying any money that Amazon Basin residents might win in a lawsuit over environmental damage from oil operations. The suit, brought by indigenous Ecuadorians 16 years ago, could result in an award of $27 billion. If Chevron wins in the arbitration court, Ecuador will have to pay the damages, according to Barry Appleton, an attorney who has represented companies in similar cases. “Judgments from this panel are enforceable around the world,” he said.

The new move comes less than a month after Chevron attempted to delay the conclusion of the suit by releasing videotapes that it claimed showed corruption and judicial misconduct in Ecuador [see Update #1003]. The plaintiffs’ lawyers said on Sept. 24 that with the effort to seek arbitration the company was now playing one of its "last cards." (Bloomberg News 9/24/09)

*5. Argentina: Death Flight Pilot Arrested
Spanish police arrested former Argentine military pilot Juan Alberto Poch on Sept. 21 in Valencia on charges by Argentine courts that he flew some of the "death flights" in which as many as 1,000 opponents of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship were thrown from planes into the Atlantic while drugged. When he was arrested, Poch, a dual national of Argentina and the Netherlands, was working as a pilot for Transavia, a low-cost airline owned by KLM and Air France. He was arrested while at the controls of a plane in Manises airport, about to fly a holiday group from Valencia to Amsterdam. Spanish police said Poch is named in four separate investigations in Argentina; he will face an extradition tribunal to determine whether he will be sent to Argentina. (The Guardian (UK) 9/23/09)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Biodiversity

Julio Lopez: Impunity Yesterday and Today in Argentina

Paraguay: Lugo's dilemmas

Peru: police officer killed in metal worker protest

Peru: no global warming skeptics in Huaraz

VRAE: Ashaninka arm against narco-senderistas

The Streets Speak: Colombian Graffiti Artists Have their Say

Zelaya: "death squads" operating in Honduras

Zelaya back in Honduras?

The Siege of Tegucigalpa

Zelaya's return to Honduras met with force

Zelaya's Midnight Gambit

Clinton, Speak Clearly Now to Avoid a Massacre in Honduras

Honduran Crisis Explodes: Persecution and Panic-Buying Under Coup Crackdown

The Sound and Fury of the Honduran Coup: Acoustic and Chemical Attacks on Brazilian Embassy

Library of Congress Report on Honduran Coup Filled with Flaws

'Insurrection' in Honduras as Police disperse pro-Zelaya protest

The Road to Zelaya’s Return: Money, Guns and Social Movements in Honduras

Schock Thesis on the Honduran Crisis Ignores Verdict of the Honduran Supreme Court

Grade D-: Flawed Research from the Law Library of the Library of Congress

Honduras: Lawyers Question Basis of Zelaya Ouster

New Developments in Honduras–Same Old Bad Media

The Life and Death of a Mexican Environmental Prophet

Breaking the Silence: The Mexican Army and the 1997 Acteal Massacre

Obama Takes Step-by-Step Approach to Ending Obsolete Cuba Policies

Biodiversity Report from Americas Program of CIP—September 2009

New Summit Boosts Cooperation Between South America and Africa

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