Tuesday, November 24, 2009

WNU #1013: Solidarity Wins for Honduran Maquila Workers

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1013, November 22, 2009

1. Honduras: Solidarity Wins for Maquila Workers
2. Honduras: Isolated, De Factos Prepare for Vote
3. US: SOA Protest Highlights Honduras, El Salvador
4. Haiti: UN Troops Shoot Again
5. Links to alternative sources on: Economic Crisis, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, 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. Honduras: Solidarity Wins for Maquila Workers
On Nov. 17 the US-based United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) announced an agreement with Russell Athletic of Atlanta for the sports apparel maker to rehire 1,200 workers it laid off in January when it closed its Jerzees de Honduras plant soon after the workers joined a union. Russell, a subsidiary of Kentucky-based Fruit of the Loom, is to open a new maquiladora (tax-exempt assembly plant producing largely for export) in the same area as the old plant, the Choloma region of the northwestern Honduran department of Cortés. The new plant will be called Jerzees Nuevo Día (“Jerzees New Day”).

The agreement is the biggest win to date for the decade-old student movement against sweatshops, which organized at nearly 100 North American campuses to force colleges to end licensing agreements for Russell sportswear because of the company’s labor violations. The workers were represented by the local Union of Empresa Jerzees Workers (SITRAJERZEESH) and the national General Workers Central (CGT). Although the most conservative of the three main Honduran labor confederations, the CGT has been active in the resistance to a June 28 military coup that removed President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office; Honduran business owners generally supported the coup [see Updates #997, 1000].

The USAS-Russell agreement is expected to have a major impact on labor rights in Honduras. With eight maquiladoras and more than 10,000 workers in Honduras, Fruit of the Loom is the country’s largest private employer. "For Honduran workers this accord represents a real hope, especially in the midst of the unemployment crisis in our country,” said Evangelina Argueta, CGT coordinator in Choloma. “The support of the international organizations was very important.” (Honduras Laboral 11/18/09 from Red Solidaridad de la Maquila (RSM, Canada); New York Times 11/18/09; People’s Weekly World 11/19/09)

The agreement comes at a time when a five-year decline in the maquiladora sector has been worsened by the political crisis [see Update #1002]. Even the Catholic hierarchy seems to be concerned about getting the industry back on its feet. “Investment is very important,” Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga told the Wall Street Journal in early November. “With investments there are more jobs for our people.” Rodríguez, who backed the June 28 coup, admitted that investors “are not all saints…. But what should we do without those jobs?”

“Maquilas are especially important for women,” the cardinal added, “because their jobs have been a source of dignity. When they earn their own money they are no longer slaves to the macho man in their lives, who often is not even their husband.” (WSJ 11/16/09 from correspondent)

*2. Honduras: Isolated, De Factos Prepare for Vote
Guatemalan foreign minister Haroldo Rodas announced on Nov. 21 that Guatemala was not going to recognize the general elections to be held in Honduras on Nov. 29 under the de facto regime installed after the June 28 removal of President Manuel Zelaya. He added that Guatemala would not send observers to the elections. Spain was also planning not to send observers because it “cannot support” elections under these conditions, foreign ministry sources told the Spanish wire service EFE on Nov. 21.

Many Latin American governments have rejected the plan to proceed with the elections, although it is supported by the US. The presidents of two of the nations with the largest economies—Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner—confirmed on Nov. 18 that their governments would not recognize the elections if they are held under the coup regime. Ecuador has the same position, according to Foreign Minister Fander Falconí. Organization of American States (OAS) general secretary José Miguel Insulza has said that that organization can’t send observers because the representatives of Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela indicated at a special meeting at the beginning of November that their governments wouldn’t recognize the elections.

Despite the boycott, a delegation of 250 election observers has been put together. It will include two former center-right Latin American presidents: Vicente Fox Quesada of Mexico (2000-2006) and Alejandro Toledo of Peru (2001-2006). The main Guatemalan business group, the Committee of Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF), has agreed to participate. (Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 11/21/09 from EFE; ADN.es (Spain) 11/21/09 from EFE; Radio YVKE Mundial (Venezuela) 11/22/09; Reuters 11/18/09)

On Nov. 20 Esdras Amado López, director of the Cholusat Sur Canal 36 television station, said his channel was “off the air because its signal has been interrupted with a signal from a parallel transmitter” playing “pornographic films and some westerns.” “[T]errorists paid by the government of [de facto president Roberto] Micheletti” are responsible, according to López. He wrote National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) head Miguel Angel Rodas asking for his “immediate attention to an extremely delicate matter taking place in the moment during which Honduras is getting ready to be present at an electoral process in which freedom of the press is an important bastion for legitimizing the process.”

Canal 36 and Radio Globo are the two largest broadcast media that have opposed the coup. The de facto government shut down both of them temporarily in the first days of the coup. (EFE 11/20/09; Vos el Soberano 11/20/09; Honduras Coup 2009 blog 11/20/09)

On the weekend of Nov. 21 the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH), one of the country’s leading human rights organizations, warned of a deterioration in the human rights situation as the elections approached. COFADEH reported that there was an unusual deployment of soldiers, police agents and paramilitary groups in the country and that the military had acquired new equipment, including an armored car, a powerful water cannon and a chemical that would enable the authorities to identify anyone hit by the water for 48 hours. The group called for the international community to stay on alert about the situation. (Vos el Soberano 11/22/09 from Defensoresenlinea.com; Prensa Latina 11/22/09)

*3. US: SOA Protest Highlights Honduras, El Salvador
Four people were arrested for trespassing on the US Army's Fort Benning base in Columbus, Georgia on Nov. 22 as thousands marched through pouring rain in an annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). The school trains Latin American soldiers; SOA Watch, which sponsors the protests, says SOA graduates are among the region's most notorious human rights violators. Organizers didn’t give a crowd estimate this year, but Columbus police said there were 4,732 protesters at 10 am, down from 7,497 at the same time in 2008. The largest demonstration to date was in 2006, when SOA Watch reported 22,000 participants [see Update #875]; 286 activists have served up to two years in prison for civil disobedience at the base since the protests began in 1990.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Nov. 16, 1989 murder of six Jesuits, along with their housekeeper and her teenage daughter, at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador. SOA graduates have been held responsible for the murders; activists started the Fort Benning protests a year later to highlight the connection. This year’s participants included Colombian human rights defenders and Bertha Oliva, coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH). According to SOA Watch, two of the leaders of the June 28 coup d’état in Honduras, Armed Forces head Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez and Air Force head Gen. Luis Prince Suazo, received training at the SOA.

At this year’s protest, John Meyer of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) announced that his organization was nominating SOA Watch and its founder, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, for the Nobel peace prize; the AFSC was one of two Quaker organizations that won the prize in 1947 for their humanitarian work. (SOA Watch press release 11/22/09; EFE 11/22/09; Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus) 11/22/09)

*4. Haiti: UN Troops Shoot Again
Chilean troops from the Brazilian-led United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) wounded one local man in the early morning of Nov. 10 when they opened fire on a crowd in Grand-Goâve, a town south of Port-au-Prince in the West Department, according to Haitian witnesses. Chilean Gen. Ricardo Toro Tassara said airborne troops from Chile’s 514-member contingent landed during a nighttime training exercise when one of their UH-1H helicopters developed a mechanical problem. At daybreak a crowd of 200 residents gathered around the helicopter asking for food and water, Toro Tassara said, and when some came “closer than necessary,” the soldiers fired into the air to disperse them.

Residents who were at the scene said the soldiers would not let anyone cross the field where they had landed, including farmers who wanted to reach the beach to go fishing. The troops fired several rounds into the field, according to the residents, and Rinvil Jean Weldy, a health worker from the neighborhood, was shot in the shoulder. “I want justice and reparations,” he told the Inter Press Service (IPS). “Weldy was there like everybody, he wasn't doing anything wrong,” resident Natacha Louis said. “We want MINUSTAH to leave." (EFE 11/11/2009; IPS 11/20/09)

Haitians have repeatedly accused MINUSTAH troops of firing indiscriminately. Two or three people, including a 10-year-old boy, were reportedly wounded in early June during protests by university students in Port-au-Prince for a higher minimum wage, and a young man was shot dead during the funeral of popular priest Gérard Jean-Juste on June 18 [see Updates #993, 994]. On Nov. 18 Haitian police arrested two professors, 12 students and two employees of the State University of Haiti (UEH) as they protested to mark the 206th anniversary of the defeat of French forces by Haitian general Jean-Jacques Dessalines at the battle of Vertières. The demonstration was organized by the UEH Crisis Committee, the Association of Dessalinian University Students (ASID), the Autonomous Federation of Haitian Workers (CATH) and others to protest the handling of a curriculum dispute at UEH and “to say ‘no’ to the occupation of the country by a foreign force.” (AlterPresse 11/19/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Economic Crisis, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico

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Beyond the Votes in Bolivia: A Reflection on Evo Morales’ First Term

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Panama: police back up cattle company bulldozers to evict indigenous community

Nicaragua: political violence leaves one dead

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Guatemala: Beneath the Rock and the Storm - Photo Essay

A New United Movement Stops Mexico for a Day

Mexican Supreme Court Finds Oaxaca Governor Responsible for Human Rights Violations

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Mexican Layoffs, U.S. Immigration: The Missing Link

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