Tuesday, October 13, 2009

WNU #1007: Mexican Government Fires 41,000 Electrical Workers

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1007, October 11, 2009

1. Mexico: Government Fires 41,000 Workers
2. Haiti: Soros and Mevs Group to Build Maquila Park
3. Cuba: CIA Papers on Posada Released
4. Links to alternative sources on: 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. Mexico: Government Fires 41,000 Workers
At around 11 pm the night of Oct. 10, Mexican soldiers and federal police agents occupied facilities of the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) in Mexico City and several central Mexican states, reportedly using force to remove workers on the night shift. About an hour later Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s center-right administration published a decree liquidating the company and terminating some 41,000 active employees. The decree promised respect for the workers’ labor rights: the government said it would guarantee severance pay and pensions, at an estimated cost of some $20 billion pesos ($1.512 billion).

The independent Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), which represents about 43,000 active workers and 23,000 retirees, had warned in late September that the government might attempt to seize the facilities [see Update #1006]. But the military and police operation on a Saturday night seemed to take SME leaders by surprise. The leaders had met with President Calderón’s private secretary, Luis Felipe Bravo Mena, on Oct. 8 and were expecting a response from the president on Oct. 12.

The SME leadership moved quickly to mobilize supporters. Thousands of unionists gathered in front of the SME headquarters on Insurgentes Avenue in Mexico City on Oct. 11 as union general secretary Martín Esparza Flores announced that the SME would challenge the government decree in Mexican courts on constitutional grounds and would also appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, CIDH in Spanish) and the International Labor Organization (ILO). He advised laid-off employees not to sign up for the severance pay--which might be used to indicate they had accepted their terminations--but instead to file individual challenges to the layoffs.

Esparza Flores denied that the union would try to sabotage operations of the LFC, which provides power to the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), and México, Morelos, Puebla and Hidalgo states, but he called for mobilizations. The union announced a major march on Oct. 15 from the Angel of Independence to the Zócalo, the capital’s giant central plaza.

The government claimed the LFC’s liquidation was necessary because the company was wasteful and inefficient. According to the government, expenses per unit of power were at least 176% higher than for the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the other government-owned company; the CFE provides power to the rest of the country and was expected to take over the LFC’s operations. Business leaders were quick to support the government’s actions. “Every company has two roads: either you’re efficient or you die,” Miguel Marón Manzur, president the National Chamber of the Manufacturing Industry (Canacintra), said on Oct. 11.

But former Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador—a center-left leader who officially lost the national presidency to Calderón in 2006 in a narrow race—rejected the government’s claims and announced his support for the SME. López Obrador is countering Calderón’s austerity measures with his own legislative proposals, which he says would save about 200 billion pesos ($15.12 billion) by taxing the rich and cutting government waste and salaries for high officials. Union supporters have charged that the LFC liquidation is the first step in a plan by Calderón and the business associations to privatize the entire state-owned power system.

Calderón also has a political goal, according to Dan La Botz, editor of Mexican Labor News and Analysis. “[T]he government wants to eliminate [a union] which has been the leading force in organizing to oppose the Calderón government's economic policies,” La Botz wrote on Oct. 11. As of Oct. 5 the government had suspended recognition of the union’s current leadership, citing what it said were irregularities in the SME’s July election, in which Esparza barely edged out challenger Alejandro Muñoz Reséndiz by a 27,010-26,658 vote.

“This is a turning point,” La Botz wrote on Oct. 11. “The Mexican government's attack on the Mexican Electrical Workers Union--a union central to resisting government policies and building labor and social movement coalitions, and located in Mexico City, which is the center of political opposition to the government--may well turn out to be a watershed event in the country's recent history.” He noted that solidarity activists can protest the government’s actions by writing to President Calderón at felipe.calderon@presidencia.gob.mx with a copy to the SME at sinmexel@sme.org.mx. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/11/09, __; El Universal (Mexico City) 10/11/09, __, __; MRZine 10/11/09; Wall Street Journal 10/6/09)

Correction: The headline for this item originally read "Mexico: Government Fires 43,000 Workers." It should have read the same as the headline in the table of contents--"41,000."

*2. Haiti: Soros and Mevs Group to Build Maquila Park
On Oct. 6 Haiti’s WIN Group conglomerate and the US-based Soros Economic Development Fund announced plans to build a $45 million industrial park named “West Indies Free Zone” near Port-au-Prince’s impoverished Cité Soleil neighborhood. The 1.2 million square foot facility, to be completed in 2012, will “offer tax, customs and processing advantages to tenants” and is expected “to create 25,000 jobs and improve the standard of living for the 300,000 residents” of Cité Soleil, according to a WIN Group press release. The free trade zone’s executives “are already in preliminary discussions with North American and European apparel manufacturers.”

The press release describes the WIN Group, owned by the wealthy and powerful Mevs family, as a stakeholder in “warehousing and storage, port operations and ethanol processing,” and in SHODECOSA, “the largest privately owned industrial and commercial park in Haiti.” The Soros Economic Development Fund, founded by US billionaire financier George Soros in 1997, is a nonprofit foundation which says its mission is to alleviate poverty and community deterioration. (Reuters 10/6/09)

The West Indies Free Zone announcement followed a two-day conference by foreign investors the previous week and a visit to Haiti on Oct. 2 by former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), now the United Nations special envoy to the country. Clinton, the husband of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has been promoting investment in tax-exempt plants assembling for export, which are known as maquiladoras in Spanish. "The investment climate [in Haiti] is much warmer than the temperature in this room," Canadian ambassador Gilles Rivard remarked at the conference, which drew representatives from North American apparel firms--Gap, Levi Strauss and American Eagle Outfitters—and from Citibank and Scotiabank. The New York Times correspondent noted that “Haiti's extremely low labor costs, comparable to those in Bangladesh," are what “make it so appealing.” (NYT 10/5/09)

Interest in Haiti’s maquiladora sector seems to have grown after the government turned back efforts earlier this year to raise the minimum wage in the industry to 200 gourdes a day (about $4.97). The projections of growth in the sector come in the midst of a dramatic decline in maquiladora production in the Caribbean and Central America due to Chinese competition and the economic crisis in the US, the industry’s main market [see Update #1005].

*3. Cuba: CIA Papers on Posada Released
The Washington, DC-based investigative nonprofit National Security Archive released several documents on Oct. 6 written by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1965 and 1966 about its Cuban-born longtime “asset” Luis Posada Carriles, who currently lives in Miami under indictment after entering the US illegally in 2005 [see Update #985]. The Archive’s Peter Kornbluh obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The documents show that in the middle 1960s Posada was reporting to the CIA about the activities of other rightwing Cubans, including the late Jorge Mas Canosa, who founded the influential Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) in the 1980s. In July 1965 Posada reported that he had completed two 10-pound Limpet bombs for a Mas Canosa operation against Soviet and Cuban ships in the port of Veracruz, Mexico, using eight pounds of Pentolite explosives and a pencil detonator. Current CANF president Francisco Hernandez told the Associated Press that he found the story difficult to believe. “The fact of the matter is that Jorge was never a man who believed in terrorism,” Hernandez said.

Posada’s CIA handler, Grover Lythcott, described Posada as "not a typical 'boom and bang' type of individual." Posada was "acutely aware of the international implications of ill-planned or over-enthusiastic activities against Cuba," Lythcott wrote. A CIA personnel record suggested that Posada would be "excellent for use in [a] responsible civil position in [Cuba] should the present government fall." Posada was subsequently implicated in several terrorist acts, including the 1976 bombing of Cubana de Aviación flight 455, in which 73 people were killed. Kornbluh released the documents on Oct. 6 to coincide with the 33rd anniversary of the bombing, which Posada has been repeatedly accused of masterminding. (National Security Archive electronic briefing 10/6/09; AP 10/6/09)

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

Bolivia to buy Chinese jets for drug war

Bolivia - Constantino Lima: The Other Politics Born of Everyday Experience

Peru: workers strike at Chinese-owned iron mine

Duke Energy and the Disappearing Waters of Peru

Ecuador: CONAIE and Correa Begin Dialogue

Ecuador: Left Turn?

Colombia: "signs of corruption" in rebel jailbreak

L.A. Times to Colombia: Prosecute Corporate Supporters of Terrorism

Chavez Re-launches Venezuela’s Flagship “Barrio Adentro” Healthcare Program

Poll: Wide Majority of Hondurans Oppose Coup d’Etat, Want Zelaya Back

Honduras: Anti-Coup Resistance Movement "Firmly United"

Washington Plays Both Sides on Honduran Coup

Writing on the Wall in Honduras: Graffiti from the Coup Resistance

Honduras "importing" Colombian paras as mercenaries?

Honduras: resistance movement protests media crackdown

Honduras: right-wing propaganda machine in pro-coup offensive

Honduras: claims and counter-claims over Zelaya anti-Semitism

Pittsburgh is Honduras

Action Alert: Community Leader Murdered by Private Security Guards in Guatemala

The Zetas and the Kaibiles: A Mexican Hit Squad Reconnects with its Guatemalan Trainers

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