Tuesday, October 6, 2009

WNU #1006: Puerto Rican Unions Plan Strike

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1006, October 4, 2009

1. Puerto Rico: Plan 1-Day Strike Against Layoffs
2. Mexico: Government to Bust Electrical Workers?
3. Honduras: Maquila Owners Call for Intervention
4. Brazil: Activists Call for End of Haiti Occupation
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Puerto Rico: Plan 1-Day Strike Against Layoffs
Four Puerto Rican union leaders chained themselves to the gates of the Fortaleza, the governor’s official residence, in San Juan on Sept. 28 to protest plans to lay off 16,970 of the island’s 180,000 public employees. About 30 other unionists set up what they called a “Camp of Dignity and Shame” outside the 16th-century fortress. After a brief scuffle, police agents dispersed the group, which included members of the General Workers Union (UGT) and Robert Pagán, president of Local 1996SPT of the US-based Service Employers International Union (SEIU). No arrests or injuries were reported. Pagán promised that this was just the first of “dozens of civil disobedience actions” against the layoffs.

In a separate incident on the same day, a protester threw an egg at Gov. Luis Fortuño during a public event in the coastal city of Fajardo. The egg missed the governor, and the man who threw it was detained, but the incident inspired protesters to throw what they called “the avenging egg” at effigies of Fortuño during demonstrations later in the week.

The main mobilization in the campaign against the layoffs is planned for Oct. 15, when virtually the whole labor movement of the island—the UGT, the Workers Federation and the All Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico Coalition--has scheduled a one-day strike. Activists are also planning a march on Oct. 17, the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Meanwhile, struggles are continuing in communities like Villas del Sol, in Toa Baja near San Juan, where residents are fighting efforts to evict them from land where they’ve lived for years.

The layoffs, most of which will take effect on Nov. 6, follow some 8,000 layoffs in May. The hardest hit will be the Department of Education, slated to lose 7,249 employees, followed by Transportation and Public Works, with 1,522 layoffs, and the Economic Development Administration, with 681. Carlos García, president of the Restructuring and Fiscal Stabilization Council (JREF), acknowledged that with the layoffs Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate will rise to 17%.

Gov. Fortuño said the job cuts, expected to save $386 million, are necessary because the government faces a $3.2 billion deficit this year, largely as a result of the US economic crisis, which has also led to austerity measures in state governments in the US itself. Without the layoffs, Fortuño claimed, the Puerto Rican government would have to shut down by Christmas. (Associated Press 9/29/09; SEIU blog 9/29/09; Primera Hora (Puerto Rico) 10/4/09; La Raza (Chicago) 10/1/09 from EFE; Servicio Informativo “alai-amlatina” 10/2/09)

Activists charge that the conservative governor is using the layoffs as a step towards privatizing government services. On June 5 the movement against the cutbacks mobilized tens of thousands of people in one of the largest demonstrations in recent Puerto Rican history [see Update #992]. One notable feature of the protests is the unity among different unions, just a year after a bitter struggle between the SEIU and the independent Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) [see Update #965].

*2. Mexico: Government to Bust Electrical Workers?
Members of the independent Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) were guarding the Mexico City facilities of the state-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) to make sure the federal government could not “throw the switch and blame the workers,” union president Martín Esparza Flores said after a labor forum in the capital on Oct. 3. The union charged on Sept. 29 that President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s center-right administration was contemplating a quasi-military occupation of the plants within a week on the pretext that the SME was planning to cause a blackout. The LFC provides power for the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), and México, Morelos, Puebla and Hidalgo states.

The union denied any intention to sabotage the system; the SME was calling for resistance through mobilizations and marches, Esparza Flores said. The militant union has been a leading force in the National Front Against Privatization and other movements fighting the government’s neoliberal economic policies.

Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcón has refused to recognize Esparza Flores as president of the union following an election this year that was challenged by Alejandro Muñoz Reséndiz, who heads the small dissident group Union Transparency. Lozano could declare the election invalid, leaving the union without official leaders. The secretary of labor used a similar tactic with the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM), leading to a three-year struggle that remains unresolved [see Update #998]. The move against the SME leadership came as the government was reducing the power company’s budget and was calling for a change in management and for the complete restructuring of the company.

The SME says that Muñoz Reséndiz and some 20-30 other Union Transparency members attacked the union's headquarters in Mexico City on Sept. 23, taking money, checkbooks and records. They were supported by about 150 other people who were not members of the union, some of them armed, according to the SME. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/4/09; Mexican Labor News and Analysis September 2009, Vol. 14, #8)

*3. Honduras: Maquila Owners Call for Intervention
As of Oct. 4 Hondurans’ free speech and assembly rights remained suspended under a 45-day state of siege declared by de facto president Roberto Micheletti a week earlier. The general secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Chilean diplomat José Miguel Insulza, was scheduled to visit Tegucigalpa on Oct. 7 with a delegation of about 10 foreign ministers to negotiate a resolution to the crisis that began more than 100 days earlier with a June 28 military coup against President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The deposed president has been staying in the Brazilian embassy since his surprise return to the country on Sept. 21. (Agence France Presse 10/4/09)

Plans for a resolution generally center on the San José Accord, a proposal from Costa Rican president Oscar Arias for Zelaya to return to office until his term expires on Jan. 27 but with a coalition government and an agreement not to pursue calls for a constituent assembly to rewrite the 1982 Constitution. Zelaya has generally agreed to the plan, but the grassroots movement against the coup rejects any compromise on the constituent assembly.

A new variant of the San José Accord is being promoted by Adolfo Facussé, president of the National Association of Industries of Honduras (ANDI). He claims his proposal is backed by other powerful business owners and that Micheletti has shown interest. Under the “Facussé Plan,” Micheletti would step down “with honor” and Zelaya would return to office but would stay under house arrest while awaiting trial on corruption charges. The proposal also includes a multinational force with troops from Canada, Colombia and Panama, all countries with conservative governments closely allied to the US. The occupying force would “be charged with watching out that [Zelaya] complies” with the agreement, Facussé told the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada in an interview published on Sept. 30. The foreign troops would “strictly limit the capacities of this gentlemen,” he said. “[T]hey’ll just come to help and then will go back home.”

The US has identified Facussé as an important backer of the coup. In August he called for resistance to international economic sanctions imposed after the coup, “because it’s better to eat tortillas and beans for year than to return to the situation we were in before, under the influence of Mr. Chávez”—a reference to leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías, an ally of Zelaya. Since August, however, owners of the country’s maquiladoras (tax-exempt plants assembling products for export) have grown increasingly nervous about the economic situation. Facussé himself was deported from the US when he attempted to visit Miami on Sept. 12 [see Updates #1002, 1004, 1005].

In the La Jornada interview Facussé insisted that he was friends with Zelaya and had backed Honduras’ participation in Petrocaribe, Chávez’s system for supplying discounted Venezuelan oil to the Caribbean Basin. “I invited the Venezuelans here,” Facussé said. “I supported Zelaya on the Bolivarian Alliance”—the Chávez-initiated Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America trade bloc (ALBA, formerly the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America). The La Jornada correspondent noted that Facussé, who is of Palestinian origin, is related to the late Schafik Handal, a leader of the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN), which now holds the presidency of El Salvador. (LJ 9/30/09)

In an article posted at the website of the US magazine The Nation on June 30, just two days after the coup, New York University professor Greg Grandin wrote that what the US government “might be angling for in Honduras could be the ‘Haiti Option.’ In 1994 Bill Clinton worked to restore Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide after he was deposed in a coup, but only on the condition that Aristide would support IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank policies.” (The Nation 6/30/09) Aristide’s restoration in 1994 included a military occupation by more than 20,000 US troops. The US occupied Haiti again in March 2004 after Aristide’s second removal from office, but the US troops were replaced in June 2004 by a multinational force headed by Brazil. The force remains there five years later [see Update #1005].

*4. Brazil: Activists Call for End of Haiti Occupation
Brazilian organizations were planning to deliver an open letter to the United Nations (UN) Information Center in the Itamaraty Palace in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 5 opposing the continued presence of Brazilian troops in Haiti. Afterwards the activists were to hold a solidarity event with hip hop presentations in the Largo Carioca plaza in downtown Rio. The UN Security Council is expected to renew the mandate for the Brazilian-led United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), now five years old, sometime before Oct. 15.

Brazilian economist Sandra Quintela, from the Institute of Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone (Pacs), told the Brazilian activist news service Adital that there have been repeated reports of abuses and human rights violations by Brazilian soldiers against Haitians. She called Haiti a “field for experimentation” which provided Brazilian troops with training for actions in impoverished urban neighborhoods like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. She also noted the connection of the occupation to a Sept. 17 accord between Brazil and the US encouraging Brazilian business operations in Haiti’s maquiladora sector [see Update #1005]. Maintaining UN troops in Haiti costs a total of $600 million a year, the open letter notes. “[T]his amount is more than what would be necessary to resolve the population’s fundamental problems: lack of energy, food, housing, education and employment.” (Adital 10/2/09)

In other news, on Oct. 1 activists held a demonstration, “400 Plates and Spoons on the Esplanade,” at the Chamber of Deputies building in Brasilia to support Constitutional Amendment Proposal 047/2003, which would include the right to food in the Constitution’s Article 6. Renato Maluf, president of the National Alimentary Security Council (Consea), gave the Chamber’s acting president, Marco Maia of the Workers Party (PT), a petition with more than 45,000 signatures supporting the amendment. The Senate has already passed the measure, which has also been approved by a Chamber of Deputies special committee. Supporters want the Chamber to approve the amendment in time for Oct. 16, World Food Day. (Adital 10/1/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico

Argentina: ex-prez charged with blocking terror blast probe

Argentine Folk Legend Mercedes Sosa Hospitalized - Watch Her Sing 'Gracias A La Vida'

Argentina: Dubious Past? No Problem for Private Security Firms

Bolivia: cocaleros clash with indigenous people

Peru: government discovers evidence of an "uncontacted" tribe

Ecuador's indigenous movement mobilizes to defend water

Ecuador’s Indigenous Movement Mobilizes for the Water

Ecuadorians Protest New Water Law

Ecuador: Police Attack Indigenous Protesters

U.S. Base Access in Colombia Prompts Increase in South American Defense Spending

There Is Much to Do: An Interview With Hugo Chavez

Honduras Coup Regime Suspends Constitutional Rights, Closes Media, Threatens Brazil: Will Obama Admin Break Its Silence?

Honduras: coup regime backs off from emergency decree

Honduras: Regime Gives Signs of Easing Up after Stiffening Stance

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

NGOs and Faith Groups Call on Honduran Government: Respect Civil Liberties and Human Rights

Live from Honduras: An Interview with Berta Caceres

Honduras: The threat of a Haiti-style foreign military occupation

Recent Killings Linked to Canadian-owned Nickel Mine in Guatemala

Guatemala: killings linked to Canadian mineral interest?

Chiapas: indigenous victory over mineral interest

Mexican environmental leader killed

Mexico: mothers of the disappeared march in Tijuana

Mexico: Is a Social Explosion in the Wings?

Muckraking in Latin America: Upside Down World Receives Three Project Censored Awards This Year

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

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