Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WNU #1012: Actions in Mexico Protest Layoffs

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1012, November 15, 2009

1. Mexico: Nationwide Actions Protest Layoffs
2. Honduras: More Candidates Join Election Boycott
3. Panama: Students Protest “US Bases”
4. Dominican Republic: One Dead in New Blackout Protests
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Global Warming, Terror Threats

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: Nationwide Actions Protest Layoffs
Tens of thousands of unionists, campesinos, students, and members of grassroots organizations and left and center-left parties demonstrated in Mexico’s Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and more than 20 of the country’s 31 states on Nov. 11 to express solidarity with some 44,000 electrical workers laid off when President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa abruptly liquidated the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) the night of Oct. 10 [see Updates #1007, 1008, 1009].

Mexico City was paralyzed as members of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), which represents the LFC workers, led marches from five different points in the city starting early in the morning of Nov. 11. Miners, telephone and transportation workers, and employees and students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), which suspended classes for the day, joined the protesters as they moved around the city, rallying at various government buildings. Adding to the disruption of traffic, protesters blocked major arteries in the states surrounding the capital.

The actions outside the city were sometimes violent. There were 10 arrests and a number of injuries as protesters and agents of the Federal Police (PF) confronted each other near Tlalnepantla, México state, north of Mexico City on the México-Querétaro highway. Shots were fired; the government blamed the protesters, who said that they were unarmed and that the police had shot in the air. Protesters also blocked roads in Ecatepec de Morelos and Nezahualcóyotl. Some 400 SME members massed on the Peñón-Texcoco turnpike, joined by students and teachers from the Chapingo Autonomous University and by activists from the Front of the Peoples in Defense of the Land (FPDT), a campesino organization based in San Salvador Atenco, México state. The protesters took over the tollbooth and let cars drive on the turnpike without paying. Other activists opened up the México-Pachuca turnpike to traffic at Pirámides. PF agents used tear gas and anti-riot equipment to disperse protesters blocking the entrances to the city from Puebla state and Cuernavaca, Morelos, in the east and south. Residents of Mexico City’s Xochimilco and Tlalpan boroughs who had been blocking the Cuernavaca highway regrouped and hurled rocks at the police.

At the end of 12 hours of actions, many of the protesters went into the capital to join a march and rally in the central Zócalo plaza. More than 200,000 people participated in the closing demonstration, according to the SME; the DF police put the number at 60,000. Two well-known activist bishops, Samuel Ruiz García, former bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, and Raúl Vera López, bishop of Saltillo, Coahuila, sent solidarity messages.

In the southeastern state of Chiapas solidarity actions also targeted recent tax hikes and the arrests of farmer leaders accused of having links with armed groups. In the southern state of Oaxaca, an estimated 70,000 school teachers carried out a one-day strike, and the leftist Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) took over the offices of the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the country’s larger publicly owned electrical company, into which the LFC is being merged. In the north, hundreds of telephone workers, leftists and social activists held public marches in Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juárez, in Chihuahua state. (Frontera NorteSur (FNS) 11/12/09 via MexiData.info; Latin American Herald Tribune 11/11/09 from EFE; La Jornada (Mexico) 11/12/09, __)

An editorial in the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada called Nov. 11 “a day without precedent in the history of the country’s popular causes,” an action which brought together “the different sectors of the opposition—the parties, the unions, the social organizations.” The paper called this “the possible birth of a broad bloc antagonistic to the political-business-alliance that holds the country’s power (public and private).” SME general secretary Martín Esparza Flores raised the possibility of planning a national general strike. He noted that in 2010 Mexico will celebrate the bicentennial of its war of independence from Spain and the centennial of the revolution against the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship: “And as before, we will defeat the transnationals, the dictatorship, tyranny and violations of the Constitution. It’s time for the people to organize.” (LJ 11/12/09, __; FNS 11/12/09)

On Nov. 12 Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcón discounted the ability of the SME and its supporters to mount a general strike. He said that 24,149 laid-off LFC workers, 54.2% of the total workforce, had already signed up for the governemt's severance package; in the government’s view, workers lose the ability to challenge their termination if they accept the severance agreement. On Nov. 14, the deadline for signing with the government, reporters found a low turnout at the centers where the former employees could file their papers. One young worker arrived with his wife, who needed treatment for a kidney ailment, and their two children. “I’m coming here against my will, from necessity,” he told a reporter. “I support the compañeros all the way, I’m a unionist and I’ll put up with blows, insults and what have you...but not my children.” (LJ 12/13/09, 12/15/09)

In other news, in Oaxaca on Nov. 9 federal magistrate Javier Leonel Santiago Martínez ruled that evidence the federal government had presented against APPO activist Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno for the murder of New York-based independent journalist Brad Will was “false” and “prefabricated.” Will was shot during a demonstration against Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz on Oct. 27, 2006; activists and Will’s friends and family have insisted that he was killed by Ruiz’s supporters, not by APPO activists [see Update #964]. Magistrate Santiago ordered district judge Rosa Ileana Ortega Pérez to free Martínez Moreno within 48 hours. The government can appeal, and the activist’s attorney, Gilberto López, said he didn’t expect his client to be released immediately. (EFE 11/9/09; Milenio (Mexico) 11/9/09)

*2. Honduras: More Candidates Join Election Boycott
In a press conference in Managua, Nicaragua, on Nov. 13, the mayor of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second largest city, confirmed that he was no longer running for another term in general elections scheduled for Nov. 29. “The people don’t believe in this process, because these are elections where absolutely nothing is going to get elected,” Mayor Rodolfo Padilla Sunceri said. A member of the center-right Liberal Party (PL), Padilla joined a growing number of candidates who have withdrawn from the race in order to protest the control of the process by a de facto government put in place after a military coup removed President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office on June 28 [see Update #1011]. Padilla was the frontrunner in polls taken before the coup. The Nov. 29 general elections are intended to elect the president, the 128 members of the National Congress, 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), and members of the country’s municipal governments.

Independent presidential candidate Carlos H. Reyes officially withdrew from the race on Nov. 9. A former unionist with strong links to the grassroots movement against the coup, Reyes was third in a field of six candidates, according to polls. The frontrunner is Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the rightwing National Party (PN); Liberal candidate Elvin Santos trails him by 15-20%, according to political analyst Gustavo Irías. Santos is badly damaged by a split in the PL between supporters of President Zelaya and supporters of de facto president Roberto Micheletti Bain; both are members of the party.

The mayoral candidates boycotting the election include Heber Iván Gómez Mendoza, PL candidate in Morolica, Choluteca department; Luis Alberto Posadas Alfar, an independent candidate in Danlí, El Paraíso; and Gladys Gloria Ebanks Campell, an independent candidate on Roatán island, Islas de la Bahía department. The small leftist Democratic Unification (UD) is badly split, with presidential candidate César Ham planning to continue in the race while many other candidates want to withdraw; the party will lose its place on the ballot and government matching funds if too many candidates drop out. The Party of Innovation and Social Democratic Unity (PINU) is also split. The leadership supports the coup, but many candidates for Congress oppose it and may withdraw, so that this party too could lose its ballot position. (EFE 11/13/09; Comun-Noticias 11/13/09 via Honduras Laboral blog; La Jornada 11/14/09 from correspondent)

During the night of Nov. 12 an explosive device was detonated in a Tegucigalpa residential neighborhood without causing any damage or injuries. The police and the media originally said an airplane flew over the city and dropped a bomb on a location where ballots were being stored for the Nov. 29 elections, even though no damage was reported there. The airplane turned to be a commercial flight from Guatemala. Later an RPG-1 grenade-launching device was discovered in the area, and the military announced that unidentified persons had attempted to hit the storehouse but had overshot it. “We have preliminary information about some actions which people who are from the left are carrying out,” Armed Forces head Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez said at a Nov. 13 press conference. "We know where these artifacts come from,” said Gen. Miguel Ángel García Padgett, the army’s commander. “[T]hey cross over the border and are artifacts of Russian or Chinese origin, and they are precisely the ones used by people of a leftist tendency.”

Unionist Juan Barahona, a coordinator of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup d’Etat, insisted that the opposition’s strategy was a nonviolent boycott of the elections. “The people don’t have the ability to do these things [bombings]. Here the only ones who have this ability are the police and the Armed Forces.” He charged that the military had used similar tactics in its campaign against the left in the 1980s. “They are the ones responsible; they’re generating an environment so that later they can generate the repression they’ve got planned and can consolidate the coup,” he said.

The Front has been focused on printing up and distributing handbills and posters calling on people to boycott the voting. (EFE 11/13/09 via ADN.es; LJ 11/14/09; Adital (Brazil) 11/13/09)

*3. Panama: Students Protest “US Bases”
Students from the Student Revolutionary Front (FER-29) and the University Popular Bloc closed off one of Panama City’s main arteries for more than an hour on Nov. 11 to protest what they said were plans to open US military bases in Panama. Police agents dispersed the demonstrators with water cannons and tear gas and arrested 16 students, most of them from the Arts and Trades College. On Nov. 12 Governance and Justice Minister José Raúl Mulino told reporters that the four bases the students were protesting would be “100% Panamanian.” They are to be under the control of the Air-Navy Service (SENAN) and the National Border Service (Senafront) as part of the agencies’ effort to control the transport of narcotics through Panama, he said. “They are not military bases.”

According to Mulina, the government is opening up the first of the bases on Chapera island before Nov. 30. The others are to be in Darién province, near the border with Colombia, and in the La Perlas archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. According to the Venezuelan-based TeleSUR television network, on Oct. 20 Mulina had referred to two bases the US would set up in Panama, but in his Nov. 12 statement the minister clarified that while the bases would be Panamanian, they were part of the Mérida Initiative, a US-funded operation to fight the drug trade in Mexico and Central America. The US military had as many as 100 bases in Panama before the US withdrawal from the Panama Canal was completed in 1999. (EFE 11/11/09; ABC.com (Paraguay) 11/12/09 from ANSA; TeleSUR 11/13/09, some from EFE) [Many activists in Mexico and the US oppose the Mérida Initiative, calling it “Plan Mexico,” on the model of the US-sponsored Plan Colombia; see Update #987.]

*4. Dominican Republic: One Dead in New Blackout Protests
One person was killed and one wounded in the early morning of Nov. 11 during protests over power outages in the community of Canca, Licey al Medio municipality, in the northern Dominican province of Santiago. Police spokesperson Jesús Cordero Paredes told the Spanish EFE news service that masked protesters had been blocking a highway with tree trunks and burning tires at 3am when Ramón Martín Medina Rivas and Emilio José Vargas drove up to the barricade in a truck carrying plantains and other farm products to be sold in the Santiago market. The protesters fired on the truck, killing Medina and wounding Vargas, according to the police.

Víctor Bretón, a spokesperson for the Broad Front of Popular Struggle (FALPO), condemned the killing and denied that members of his grassroots coalition were involved. The demonstrations had started on Nov. 10 over repeated blackouts and a number of local grievances, including the construction of a sports stadium. Working-class neighborhoods in the provincial capital, Santiago de los 30 Caballeros, the country’s second largest city, have reported 12-hour blackouts, while outages are said to have lasted up to 20 hours in the northwest of the country. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which approved a de $1.7 billion credit program for the Dominican Republic on Nov. 9, has called for restructuring the electrical sector. (EFE 11/11/09) [The sector was privatized in the 1990s. At least two other people have died in protests over blackouts in the Dominican Republic this year; see Update #998.]

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Global Warming, Terror Threats

New DNA Law in Argentina Will Help Find the Missing Grandchildren

Brazil claims progress against Amazon destruction

Evo Morales: US has military designs on Bolivia's hydrocarbons

Peru: oil majors eye Amazon

World indigenous leaders condemn Peru's Amazon repression

Colombia: Cauca militarized after deadly FARC attack

Colombia, Venezuela in new border incident as tensions mount

Venezuela: Chávez faces off with governor of militarized Táchira

Venezuelan blackouts: corporate media gloat —Chávez ignores lessons?

El Salvador Devastated by Hurricane Ida - Support People to People Disaster Relief Via CISPES

Emergency aid for El Salvador

Honduras: US seeks "happy end" —at cost of democracy?

Academics and Experts on Latin America Call on Obama to Denounce Human Rights Abuses by Honduran Dictatorship

Honduran Resistance Calls for Deepening of Democracy

Video Documentary: Honduran Voices

U.S. State Department Sells Out Honduran Democracy for Senate Confirmations

Honduras Revisited

President Zelaya to President Obama: Walk the Talk

Electrical Workers of Mexico Take on Calderon Government

UN peacekeepers for northern Mexico?

From Greenland to Andes, signs mount of climate shift

Manufacturing a Terror Threat in Latin America

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