Monday, February 23, 2009

WNU #980: Transport Strike in Mexico, New Talks in Guadeloupe

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #980, February 22, 2009

1. Mexico: Transport Strike in 17 States
2. Mexico: Cerezo Brothers Released
3. Guadeloupe: Talks Resume After Violence
4. Colombia: FARC Admits 8 Killings
5. Panama: Colombian Refugee Killed
6. Haiti: US Announces Deportations
7. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, US Policy

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 It is archived at

*1. Mexico: Transport Strike in 17 States
Some 500,000 Mexican bus and truck drivers and owners held a one-day strike on Feb. 16, slowing freight deliveries and forcing many passengers to find alternative transportation in 17 of the country's 32 entities (31 states and the Federal District). The strike was called by the Alliance of Multimodal Transport, recently formed by about 200 transport associations. The alliance is demanding that the federal government freeze diesel fuel prices at 6.31 pesos (about $0.43) a liter; the fuel is distributed by the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) oil company.

The strike was uneven. It was reportedly imperceptible in Quintana Roo in the southeast, while in México state, near Mexico City, the México-Pachuca and México-Querétaro highways were blocked by some 200 heavy trucks. Authorities in the eastern coastal state of Veracruz said about 4 million passengers were affected by the strike, which took 11,000 buses out of circulation; truckers also blocked the toll booths on the Jalapa highway for five hours. About 400,000 passengers were affected in Saltillo and Monclova in the northern state of Coahuila, while service was normal in Piedras Negras, Acuña and Torreón. In Chihuahua, also in the north, transport workers parked trucks and buses along the sides of the Pan American highway. At least 150,000 passengers were stranded in the central state of Aguascalientes. About 13,000 buses and trucks blocked avenues and intersections in the main cities of the southern state of Oaxaca, while only 345 of the 1,793 buses in Mérida, capital of Yucatán in the southeast, were out of service.

Carlos Demuner Pitol, a strike leader, said some authorities in Chihuahua and other states had offered to raise fares and freight rates if the alliance called off the strike, but the strikers rejected the offer, saying citizens would set their trucks and buses on fire if the rates went up. Another strike leader, Edmundo Delgado, said that if the government rejected their demand, the alliance would bring 300,000 vehicles to the Zócalo plaza in Mexico City. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/17/09)

*2. Mexico: Cerezo Brothers Released
On Feb. 16 some 150 people greeted the brothers Antonio and Héctor Cerezo Contreras as they left a medium security prison in Morelos state, close to Mexico City. The Cerezos were arrested in 2001 along with their brother Alejandro after three small bombs exploded at Mexico City banks. Many people believe the arrests were connected to reports that their parents, Francisco Cerezo Quiroz and Emilia Contreras, are leaders in the rebel Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR). The brothers were never charged in the bombing but were convicted of possession of weapons and explosives. Alejandro was released in February 2005 after a court overturned his conviction [see Updates #774, 775, 778, 788].

"We will seek reparations of some kind," another brother, Francisco Cerezo Contreras, said when Antonio and Héctor were released. "This is not the end of the matter, although I must say that we no longer have the funds to keep going." The brothers deny having any contact with their parents, who have been underground since the early 1990s. In an open letter dated Feb. 1, Antonio Cerezo told his parents: "We love you very much, and you will always be present in our lives. A big hug to you both. Prisoners today, free forever!" (Inter Press Service 2/17/09)

*3. Guadeloupe: Talks Resume After Violence
On the evening of Feb. 19 French president Nicholas Sarkozy met in Paris with elected officials from the French overseas department of Guadeloupe and promised to work to restore calm to the Caribbean island, which has been paralyzed by a general strike since Jan. 20 [see Updates #978, 979]. He also announced 580 million euros ($737 million) in aid for France's overseas departments, with emphasis on the Active Solidarity Revenue (RSA), a social welfare program.

Hours later the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation (LKP), the coalition leading the strike, agreed to restart negotiations that the strikers had broken off on Feb. 12. The new talks began on Feb. 20 but quickly adjourned for the weekend; they were to resume on Feb. 23. The General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), the leading force in the LKP, said its negotiators remained "extremely prudent and circumspect" about the government's offers. The strikers are demanding a wage increase of 200 euros ($259) a month. (Libération (France) 2/20/09; UGTG press release 2/20/09)

The new talks followed an escalation of the strike and several outbreaks of violence. On Feb. 16 strikers began blocking roads with dozens of barricades. Shooting began the night of Feb. 17, and a union leader, Jacques Bino, was shot dead. The government blamed "delinquents"; UGTG secretary general Elie Domota has called for an independent investigation. There was more shooting the night of Feb. 18; stores were looted, some dozen fires were set, the Sainte-Rose town hall was sacked, and about 40 people were arrested. The French government announced it was sending four squadrons of mobile armed national police (about 280 agents), in addition to the 1,000 armed national police and 993 regular police already on the island. (There are also 850 armed national police and 1,000 regular police in the nearby overseas department of Martinique, which has been on strike since Feb. 5.)

The situation grew less tense on Feb. 19 as strike leaders for the first time issued explicit appeals for calm to the island's youths. (Libération 2/20/09; AFP 2/21/09; La Jornada (Mexico) 2/19/09 from AFP, DPA)

Sarkozy has had trouble responding to the situation because "he's afraid the dispute may overtake France," Elie Domota told reporters on Feb. 21, alluding to the effects of global recession on Europe. Left-of-center French activists and politicians have started visiting Guadeloupe. Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party (PS) candidate against Sarkozy in 2007, arrived on Feb. 21 to attend Jacques Bino's funeral, scheduled for Feb. 22. French peasant leader José Bové arrived on Feb. 19, as did Olivier Besancenot, spokesperson for the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). Cheers greeted Bové as he stood in front of the LKP's headquarters at the Palais de la Mutualité to denounce the "neocolonial order that reigns in Guadeloupe" and to call for "food sovereignty." (L'Express (France) 2/22/09; Libération 2/20/09)

Thousands of people marched in France on Feb. 21 to support the Guadeloupean strikers. The largest demonstration, in Paris, drew 10,000 people, according to the police; organizers put the number at 30,000. There were smaller demonstrations in Nantes (700 people), Marseilles, Toulouse (500-600 people), Lyons, Lille, Rennes, Limoges and Strasbourg. Most demonstrators were from the Caribbean, but many national unions and parties supported the marches, including the PS, the NPA, the Greens, Workers Struggle (LO), the French Communist Party (PCF) and the General Workers Confederation (CGT). Slogans included: "Life is expensive under the coconut trees," "Liberty, equality, fraternity, for whom?" and "200 euros here too, yes we can"--with the last three words in English, an allusion to the 2008 campaign slogan of US president Barack Obama. (AFP 2/21/09; Nouvel Observateur (France) 2/21/09)

*4. Colombia: FARC Admits 8 Killings
On Feb. 17 the Agencia de Noticias Nueva Colombia (ANNCOL) published a Feb. 11 communiqué from the Antonio José de Sucre column of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) taking responsibility for the killing of eight people on Feb. 6 at Río Bravo, Barbacoas municipality in the southwestern department of Nariño. The communiqué charges that the eight victims had collaborated with the military and that due to "their responsibility in the death of numerous guerrilleros and their undeniable active participation which involves them in the conflict, they were executed." The FARC didn't specify the ethnicity of the victims but insisted that the "action was not against indigenous people." The communiqué didn't comment on any other recent killings of indigenous people attributed to the FARC in the same area. (ANNCOL 2/17/09)

The Awá indigenous group has reported that the FARC killed a total of 27 Awá in two incidents in Nariño this month and detained at least three minors. As a result, Awá authorities say, some 400 indigenous people have fled their homes for the Nariño towns of Samaniego, Buenavista and Ricaurte. Indigenous groups say they follow a policy of not collaborating with any armed groups, including the military and the rebels. There are about 30,000 Awá living in Colombia and Ecuador.

Rightwing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Vélez condemned the FARC's actions, and leftist opposition senator Piedad Córdoba, who has helped arrange the release of prisoners held by the FARC [see Updates #972, 974, 977], deplored the killings. (AFP 2/17/09; La Jornada 2/18/09) On Feb. 13 the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) wrote that the FARC, "by having carried out these atrocious acts, confirm a terrible truth: they have become one more element of terror against the peoples." The ACIN also denounced the government, the media and many political parties, charging that they were trying to use the situation to convince indigenous people to "collaborate with the authorities, with the security forces." (Servicio Informativo "alai-amlatino" 2/13/09)

*5. Panama: Colombian Refugee Killed
A Colombian refugee living in Panama was killed on Feb. 18 near the town of Boca de Cupé in Darién province, a jungle region bordering Colombia that has experienced incursions in the past by Colombian armed groups. Government and Justice Minister Dilio Arcia said the victim was killed when he went outside with his son to work on his property. Local media reported that the victim was named Aureliano Graciano Sepúlveda ("Bolaños" and "Mono Bolaños"); he was granted asylum in 1996, they said, and the three armed men who killed him were probably from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (Telemetro Reporta (Panama) 2/18/09; Univision 2/18/09 from AP; Crítica en Línea (Panama) 2/19/09)

*6. Haiti: US Announces Deportations
A US federal judge has placed 30,299 Haitians under final deportation orders, the US government announced the week of Feb. 16. The government suspended deportations of Haitians living in the US in September, after four tropical storm ravaged Haiti in one month, devastating crops and killing at least 800 people; the US resumed deportations in December [see Update #970]. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE) bureau was only holding about 600 of the deportable Haitians as of Feb. 9; 243 others were being monitored with electronic ankle bracelets. The government says it expects the other Haitians with deportation orders to leave voluntarily. Otherwise, they will be sought by "fugitive alien teams," according to ICE spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez.

Some immigrant advocates who worked for the election of US president Barack Obama "are dismayed by growing reports of Haitians being deported to the hurricane-wrecked island," according to the St. Petersburg Times. Meanwhile, the government of Haitian president René Préval has been blocking the deportations by telling consular officials in the US not to provide travel documents. As a result deportations have dropped by 89% from about 156 a month before the storms to about 17 a month now. But this means that more Haitians are forced either to await deportation in detention centers or to arrange their own travel documents. (The Journal News (Lower Hudson Valley, NY) 2/21/09; Palm Beach (Florida) Post 2/16/09 from Florida Sun-Sentinel; St. Petersburg (Florida) Times 2/21/09)

In other news, on Feb. 16 Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) published its definitive list of candidates for the Apr. 19 elections, which will fill 12 posts in the Senate. The lists did not include the candidates of the Lavalas Family (FL). The CEP had insisted that it needed official confirmation from the party's leader, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, now living in South Africa, in order to confirm the FL's candidates [see Updates #978, 979]. According to Maryse Narcisse, the leader of one of the party's rival factions, Aristide refused to sign documents before consuls appointed by people who forced him from power in 2004. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs 2/17/09 from Reuters; AlterPresse 2/17/09)

*7. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, US Policy

Autonomy or New Forms of Domination?

The Minga of Resistance: Policy Making From Below

Argentina: Environmental and Human Rights Group Spreads Message With Anti-Soy Video for Kids

Underground Changes: Argentine Subway Workers Fight for a New Union

Argentina expels Holocaust denier "traditionalist" bishop

Is Brazil Creating Its Own "Backyard" in Latin America?

Migration and Mechanization in Brazil's Biofuel Cane Fields

Ecuador expels US diplomats

Colombia: indigenous leaders issue "ultimatum" to FARC

An Important but Risky Victory for Venezuela and for Socialism

Venezuela's Referendum: Media's Double Standards

Venezuelans Vote to Eliminate Two-Term Limit on All Elected Office 54.4% to 45.6%

Venezuelans Vote Peacefully Over whether to Amend Constitution

Venezuelan Jewish leader accuses Chávez of fomenting anti-Semitism

Victory in Venezuela: Chavez, Progress and Media Coverage

A New Attitude in the White House? State Department Calls Bolivian, Venezuelan Referendums "Democratic"

Night of the Golden Iguana: Land Conflicts Riddle Mexican Tourism Development

Mexico: Juárez police chief steps down, citing threats

Mexico: Gulf Cartel behind border protests?

Chiapas Under Siege by Global Industries

Obama: Improve Relations with Latin America

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and
alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

WNU #979: Negotiations Break Off in Guadeloupe

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #979, February 15, 2009

1. Guadeloupe: Negotiations Break Off
2. Honduras: Teachers Strike for Back Pay
3. Chile: Mapuche Activist a Terrorist?
4. Haiti: Electoral Dispute Continues
5. Venezuela: Term Limits Voted Down
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, US policy

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 It is archived at

*1. Guadeloupe: Negotiations Break Off
On Feb. 12 the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation (LKP) abruptly broke off negotiations aimed at ending a general strike that has paralyzed the French overseas department of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean since Jan. 20. The LKP, a coalition including political parties, grassroots organizations and 47 unions, insisted that the French government should sign on to a preliminary accord the strikers worked out with management on Feb. 8 [see Update #978] giving the poorest workers a raise of 200 euros (about $259) a month. The government refused. "The state has done all it should," Raymond Soubie, an aide to French president Nicholas Sarkozy, told the media. "The rest, negotiations on wages, is a matter between management and the unions."

The stalled negotiations raised fears of a violent confrontation. On Feb. 11 unnamed sources in the French Interior and Overseas ministries said the government had four squadrons of mobile police on Guadeloupe and no plans to send more, although two squadrons were being sent to the nearby French department of Martinique, also experiencing a general strike; there are 65 agents in a squadron. Elie Domota--who heads the General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), the leading force in the LKP--told the AFP wire service on Feb. 14 that "given the number of police who have arrived in Guadeloupe armed to the teeth, the French state has chosen its natural path: killing the Guadeloupeans, as usual." He was leading thousands of people in a peaceful protest at the little town of Moule to mark the 57th anniversary of the killing of four sugar cane workers there by French security forces. (Caribbean Net News 2/13/09 from AFP; Le Monde (France) 2/15/09, some from AFP; Le Figaro (France) 2/15/09 from AFP; L'Express (France) 2/14/09)

The immediate issues are low wages and the high cost of living, but the mostly African-descended population of 450,000 also resents the control over the economy by less than a dozen "béké" families--the descendants of French slave-owners. Another is discontent with the local authorities, many of them from the French opposition Socialist Party (PS). The UGTG is openly in favor of independence from France, but it has been careful to avoid this issue, which is considered divisive.

Support for the strike remains broad, and French journalists report a festive atmosphere--"a joyful, peaceful revolution, for now," according to the left-leaning Libération. "Guadeloupe is ours, Guadeloupe isn't theirs," crowds chant at the massive demonstrations. "There's been an earthquake in people's consciousness," teacher Gladys Democrite told French overseas official Yves Jégo during a round-table discussion. A union leader, Rozan Mounien, called the strike "the second abolition of slavery." (L'Express 2/14/09; Libération 2/14/09)

The strike movement spread to Martinique on Feb. 5, when unions held what was to be a one-day general strike [see Update #978]. But the strike continued, and on Feb. 14 the Feb. 5 Collective, the coalition leading the strike, broke off negotiations, calling for a huge demonstration on Feb. 16. (AFP 2/15/09) Agitation has also spread to other overseas departments, including French Guyana in South America. An alliance of unions is calling for a general strike on Mar. 5 in La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. (Le Monde 2/15/09, some from AFP; Reuters 2/13/09)

"I am fearful that the feeling of exasperation of the people of Guadeloupe and Martinique could spread here too," PS national first secretary Martine Aubry told the French daily Le Parisien. "Everything must be done to avoid that." An opinion poll that the Ifop (Institut Français d'Opinion Publique) company took by telephone in France on Feb. 12-13 found that 63% of the 800 people questioned felt a similar movement could "develop in the mother country"--"certainly," according to 25%; "probably," according to 38%. (Reuters 2/13/09; AFP 2/14/09)

*2. Honduras: Teachers Strike for Back Pay
Honduran teachers started an open-ended strike on Feb. 9, when students were to begin registering for a new semester. The strike continued a campaign that unions representing the nation's 48,000 teachers started in January before schools reopened; the earlier actions included "informational assemblies" and sit-ins to protest the government's delays in paying salaries for some 2,600 teachers and its failure to pay full year-end bonuses [see Update #975]. On the morning of Feb. 12, after a meeting with Education Minister Marlon Brevé Reyes and aides to President Manuel Zelaya, union leaders agreed to suspend the strike while the government sought a solution. The unions also dropped their demand for Brevé's resignation.

The Honduran daily La Prensa reported that the strike was only 10% effective, while another daily, La Tribuna, said teachers shut down many of the schools and held informational assemblies in them. There was also disagreement about the number of teachers owed back pay. National Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio said only 113 teachers were in this category. Custodio insisted that he was "defending the human rights of the children and youths" against the teachers. "We have the right, in a real democracy, to live free from fear," he said. "Before, from the soldiers, and now, from you teachers." However, officials from the Finance Secretariat said that while only 300 teachers were owed back pay, about 2,400 were owed vacation pay, bonuses and other benefits. (Latin American Herald Tribune 2/10/09 from EFE; La Prensa 2/12/09: La Tribuna 2/13/09)

*3. Chile: Mapuche Activist a Terrorist?
On Feb. 14 a court in Temuco in the southern Chilean region of La Araucanía formally charged indigenous Mapuche activist Miguel Angel Tapia Huenulef with six counts of possession of firearms and explosives under the Antiterrorism Law. Police agents said they had found the weapons and explosives during raids the night of Feb. 11 at Tapia Huenulef's home in Lo Prado community in Santiago and in a house in the Huallalín sector of Padre las Casas in Novena region. The court ordered Tapia Huenulef held in prison during the investigation, which it said should be completed in four months. He also faces drug possession charges in Santiago and charges of arson and assault from a Jan. 12 attack on the San Leandro estate in Lautaro in La Araucanía.

Relatives who lived with Tapia Huenulef in Santiago said agents burst into their home before midnight on Feb. 11, using violence against men, women and children, and refusing to show a warrant. A total of 50-55 agents were involved in the operation, including the ones that surrounded the building, according to the family. The relatives considered the discovery of the weapons a "staged event" and noted that the agents had brought backpacks and two valises with them. Senator Alejandro Navarro, the presidential candidate of the Broad Social Movement (MAS), said on Feb. 14 that "to apply the Antiterrorism Law to a Mapuche is to return to the [military] dictatorship" of 1973-1990. According to Navarro, President Michelle Bachelet had promised--in response to criticism by international human rights groups--not to apply this law in such cases. (El Mercurio (Chile) 2/14/09; Radio Universidad de Chile 2/12/09; Enlace Mapuche Internacional communiqué 2/14/08; La Nación (Chile) 2/15/09 from UPI)

*4. Haiti: Electoral Dispute Continues
On Feb. 13 Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) granted a three-day extension for candidates to appeal its decision to bar them from running in an Apr. 19 election for 12 of the 30 seats in the Senate [see Update #978]. The 40 excluded candidates, including all 16 candidates on two rival slates from the Lavalas Family (FL) party, have until Feb. 16 to file their appeals.

Despite an earlier denial from CEP president Frantz-Gérard Verret, on Feb. 9 the CEP acknowledged that the dispute in the party was the reason for the CEP's exclusion of the FL candidates. The CEP is insisting on evidence that the list of FL candidates is authorized by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been living in South Africa since he was removed from office in February 2004. According to Radio Kiskeya in Port-au-Prince, Aristide is the party's "permanent leader" ("leader inamovible"). On Feb. 11 the CEP said Maryse Narcisse of the FL Executive Committee had turned in an authorization signed by Aristide on Apr. 24, 2004 (presumably giving powers to the Executive Committee). However, a group of FL members headed by former prime minister Yvon Neptune and former legislative deputy Yves Cristallin has challenged the document's authenticity. (AlterPresse 2/13/09; Agence Haïtienne de Presse 2/9/09, 2/11/09; Radio Kiskeya 2/13/09)

Swiss authorities announced on Feb. 12 that they will return assets of former "president for life" Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc") to Haiti for use in "social or humanitarian projects to benefit the Haitian population." Duvalier's funds in Swiss banks, which the Haitian government has sought since his overthrow in 1986, are worth about 7 million Swiss francs ($6 million); many believe he stole more than $100 million from Haiti while in office. The Duvalier family has 30 days to challenge the decision. (AFP (English) 2/12/09; AlterPresse 2/12/09)

*5. Venezuela: Term Limits Voted Down
Late on the evening of Feb. 15, Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced that a proposal to end term limits had won with 54% of the vote in a referendum held that day. The government of President Hugo Chávez Frías, whose second six-year term ends in 2012, had pushed hard for the measure. "The doors of the future are wide open," Chávez, a former lieutenant colonel, shouted from the balcony of the Miraflores presidential palace after the results were announced. "In 2012 there will be presidential elections, and unless God decides otherwise, unless the people decide otherwise, this soldier is already a candidate."

More than 11 million of almost 17 million eligible voters turned out for the balloting. International observers said the ballot was free and fair, and opposition leaders were quoted as saying they would not contest the vote. A similar proposal was included in a package 69 constitutional amendment that voters narrowly rejected in December 2007 [see Update #925]. (BBC 2/16/09)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, US policy

Brazil: drug crackdown widens

Is Brazil Creating Its Own "Backyard"?

Migration and Mechanization in Brazil's Biofuel Cane Fields

Declaration of the Coordinator of the Amazon Basin Indigenous Peoples Organization (COICA)

Social Housing in Bolivia: Challenges and Contradictions

Bolivia: Morales Enacts New Constitution in El Alto

Bolivia schmoozes Moscow on energy projects; scandal rocks state gas company

Peru seeks contract to extend Camisea pipeline

Anti-labor violence rises in Colombia: House testimony

Colombia: FARC accused in massacre of indigenous people

Venezuela: charges and counter-charges in synagogue attack

Francisco Toro and Venezuela's "Savage" Democracy

El Salvador Elections Set Stage for Tense Presidential Race

Mexico: 24 dead in Chihuahua kidnapping episode

Mexico: ex-soldier busted in Zeta hit on army general

Mexico: narcos wipe out family in Tabasco

Paths of Struggle in a Raging Mexico

U.S. Policy Toward Latin America in 2009 and Beyond

Latin American Leaders Say 'No' to U.S. Drug War

The World Bank and Climate Change: Sustainability or Exploitation?

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and
alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

WNU #978: Guadeloupe General Strike Spreads

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #978, February 8, 2009

1. Guadeloupe: General Strike Spreads
2. Colombia: 2 FARC Hostages Free--and Talking
3. Argentina: Menem Attends Smuggling Trial
4. Haiti: Lavalas Barred From Senate Race
5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, 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 It is archived at

*1. Guadeloupe: General Strike Spreads
After 22 hours of negotiations, on the morning of Feb. 8 management and strikers in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe reached a preliminary agreement that could form the basis for ending a general strike that has paralyzed the island since Jan. 20. Under the agreement, the 45,000 Guadeloupean workers who earn up to 1.6 times the minimum wage (SMIC, for Minimum Interprofessional Growth Salary in French) would get an increase of 200 euros (about $259) a month, while workers with higher salaries could negotiate with management for raises of 2.5% to 3%. Of the strikers' 146 demands, the government and business owners have already met about 50, including measures to bring down the cost of fuel. (Nouvel Observateur (France) 2/8/09; Le Parisien (France) 2/8/08)

The strike has been led by the Collective Against Extreme Exploitation (LKP, Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon in Guadeloupean Creole), which includes 47 unions, along with political parties and grassroots organizations. The movement has received broad support from Guadeloupe's 450,000 residents. Some 25,000 people demonstrated in Pointe à Pitre, the capital, at the beginning of the strike, and a demonstration held as negotiators met on Feb. 7 drew about 50,000 protesters.

Guadeloupe has an unemployment rate of more than 20% and a large disparity in wages between workers in the public and private sectors. The cost of living is a central issue: many goods have to be imported, and prices are sometimes twice as high as in France. Conditions are similar on the nearby island of Martinique and in French Guiana, also French overseas departments. On Feb. 5 a dozen unions held a one-day general strike in Martinique, shutting down transportation and businesses. Some 15,000-20,000 protesters marched through Fort-de-France, the capital. "Sarko, Fillon, we want work!" they chanted, referring to French president Nicholas Sarkozy and Prime Minister François Fillon. Encouraged by the strike's success, the unions extended the job action to Feb. 6.

The General Union of Guadeloupe Workers (UGTG), considered the leading force in Guadeloupe's strike committee, is distrustful of Sarkozy's conservative government. On Jan. 26 UGTG secretary general Elie Domota charged that employers were "gearing up for a lockout, thinking that they can thus starve people, provoke confrontations and ask the colonial authority to suppress us. For that purpose, several hundred forces of repression arrived in Guadeloupe a few days ago, armed to the teeth." Noting that in May 1967 the French government killed more than 100 Guadeloupeans following a construction workers' strike, Domota appealed for international solidarity; emails can be sent to . (Le Parisien 2/8/08, ___; UGTG Emergency Solidarity Appeal 1/26/09; Libération (France) 2/6/09, some from AFP)

*2. Colombia: 2 FARC Hostages Free--and Talking
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released former Meta governor Alan Jara to a humanitarian mission on Feb. 3 in Guaviare department; the rebels had held him as a hostage for more than seven and a half years. On Feb. 5 the group released former legislative deputy Sigifredo López in Cauca department; López, who had spent almost seven years in captivity, is the only surviving member of a group of 12 deputies from Valle del Cauca department captured by the FARC in April 2002.

The two hostages' release was part of a complicated arrangement involving the Brazilian government, the Colombian military, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the activist group Colombians for Peace; three police agents and one soldier were freed through the same arrangement on Feb. 1 [see Update #977]. A dispute between Colombians for Peace and the government over military operations delayed the release of Jara and López by one day.

In a press conference held in Villavicencio hours after his release on Feb. 3, former governor Jara had harsh words both for the FARC and for President Alvaro Uribe. "It would seem," he said, "that the situation of war that the country is experiencing suits president Uribe--and the FARC too, it would seem--and this is what's perverse." "I'm sorry with all my heart that Uribe didn't do anything for our freedom," he added. Although the rebels had treated him well enough, Jara said: "I don't know what they think, I don't understand them." President Uribe met with Jara later that evening but didn't comment on the former governor's remarks. On Feb. 4 government officials suggested that Jara was suffering from "Stockholm Sindrome," an identification captives supposedly feel with their captors.

López held his own press conference soon after he arrived in Cali on Feb. 5. He charged that the FARC was entirely to blame for the deaths of the other 11 Valle del Cauca deputies on June 18, 2007 [see Update #905]. The FARC command had given an order for the deputies to be killed in the event of a rescue attempt, he said. When six rebels from the FARC's 19th front arrived without warning, "El Grillo," commander of the 60th Front 60, mistook them for the military and had the hostages killed, according to López. It was "because of pure paranoia and because the FARC is a killing machine," he said. "They killed them from cowardice." López himself had been separated from the other deputies for disciplinary reasons and so was spared. He told the reporters that for days after the incident he wouldn't say anything to his captors except: "Murdering bastards."

Both Jara and López said that they would work for the rebels and the government to agree on an exchange of 22 soldiers and police agents still held by the FARC for a number of imprisoned rebels. (Univision 2/4/09 from AFP; AFP 2/5/09; El Financiero (Mexico) 2/5/09 from Notimex/GCE; La Jornada (Mexico) 2/6/09 from correspondent)

*3. Argentina: Menem Attends Smuggling Trial
On Feb. 6, former Argentine president Carlos Menem (1989-1999), now a senator from La Rioja province, made his first appearance at an arms smuggling trial that began in Buenos Aires on Oct. 16 [see Update #964]. Menem and 17 other defendants are charged with involvement in the government's clandestine sale of arms to Ecuador and Croatia from 1991 to 1995 in violation of international agreements. He declined to attend previously, claiming health problems. In his Feb. 6 appearance--before federal judges Luis Imas, Horacio Artabe and Gustavo Losada--Menem failed to make any declaration on the smuggling charges, citing "pending questions, including appeals." He could face 12 years in prison if convicted, although the Senate would have to vote to lift the immunity he enjoys as a legislator.

In a separate case Menem is charged with obstructing the initial investigation into the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. The attack, generally considered the worst anti-semitic violence since World War 2, killed at least 85 people and injured 300; the Argentine government blames it on the Iranian government and the Lebanese organization Hezbollah [see Update #708]. In May 2008 prosecutor Alberto Nisman asked federal judge Ariel Lijo for an arrest warrant for Menem and others. "We have determined the existence of a plan that was put together at the highest political level in the cover up and give [immunity] to one of the people who appeared as a main suspect in the local connection," he told Argentine television. The coverup included the suspension of searches and a sudden end to any activity on the case, Nisman charged.

In October 2008 Judge Lijo ordered Menem and his brother Munir--along with former judge Juan José Galeano, former State Intelligence Service (SIDE) head Hugo Anzorregui and others--to make declarations on the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison. Menem, who was a strong US ally during his years in office, has declined to make a declaration. In this case too he has claimed health problems. (Clarín (Argentina) 2/7/09; Télam (Argentina) 2/6/09; Haaretz (Israel) 5/22/08 from Reuters; BBC 11/13/08)

*4. Haiti: Lavalas Barred From Senate Race
Hundreds of supporters of Haiti's Lavalas Family (FL) party demonstrated in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 7 to protest the decision of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to reject all 16 candidates from two different slates that the party's rival factions had tried to run in a partial senatorial election slated for Apr. 19. The CEP rejected a total of 40 of the 105 candidates who had filed to run for the 12 Senate seats at stake. Another candidate barred from the race was former military officer Guy Philippe, who led a February 2004 insurgency against the FL's founder, former president Jean Bertrand Aristide; Philippe is suspected of narco trafficking [see Update #912]. (AlterPresse 2/8/09)

The Haitian Constitution provides for one third of Haiti's 30-member Senate to be renewed every two years. The Apr. 19 election will also elect replacements for Senator Noël Emmanuel Limage (Artibonite/Nord department), who died in office, and Rudolph Henry Boulos (Nord-Est), who was removed because of his dual nationality [see Update #971]. The CEP gave no detailed explanation of its decision, made public the night of Feb. 5-6. CEP Frantz Gérard Verret told a radio program that the conflict in the FL had no bearing on the exclusion of the FL candidates; the reason was simply that they hadn't met the requirements under electoral law, he said. Currently there are two FL senators: Rudy Hériveaux (Ouest department) and Yvon Buissereth (Sud department). (AlterPresse 2/6/09; Agence Haïtienne de Presse 2/6/09) [It is unclear how the FL selects its candidates; there were also disputes about the FL candidates in the 2006 legislative elections.]

On Feb. 6 the US embassy issued a communiqué expressing concern over a decision "that bars all the candidates of a political party from participating in the next electoral contests." Elections "based on exclusion...will inevitably put their credibility in question," the embassy said. Canada also deplored the CEP's decision on the FL candidates. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 2/6/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico

Politics in Paraguay: Twenty Years of Transition

The World Social Forum Returns to Brazil

Brazil: uncontacted tribes flee loggers' bulldozers

Ecuador: president condemned for policy on uncontacted tribes

Ask the Ecuadorian Government to Protect the Rights of Environmental and Human Rights Defenders

Survival International: Colombian guerillas threaten indigenous people

Ruta Pacifica: Colombian Women Against Violence

FAIR Finds News Editors Downplaying Colombia's Abuses, Amplifying Venezuela's

Critics Respond to Human Rights Watch's Defense of Venezuela Report

Venezuela: Chávez accuses rivals of exploiting synagogue attack

Venezuela: arrests made in synagogue attack, conspiracy vultures descend

El Salvador: Pressure from Pacific Rim Mining Company Intensifies. Anti-Mining Activist Home Robbed

El Salvador 2009: A "Change" Year?

Mexico: Sinaloa Cartel's Colombia broker busted

Mexico: army general found tortured to death

Mexico: more protests on northern border

Physicians for Human Rights: Mexico presents flawed theory in Brad Will slaying

Mexico bails out Detroit

Latin America: Obama is Expected to Listen

Latin America Breaks Free: Washington No Longer Calls the Shots

Hillary Clinton and James Steinberg "Talk Tough" on Latin America

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and
alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.
Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

WNU #977: 2 Workers Shot in Venezuelan Plant Sit-In

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #977, February 1, 2009

1. Venezuela: 2 Workers Shot in Plant Sit-In
2. Colombia: FARC Releases 4 Prisoners
3. US: 6 SOA Protesters Sentenced
4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, US policy

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 It is archived at

*1. Venezuela: 2 Workers Shot in Plant Sit-In
Two striking workers were shot dead on Jan. 29 during a confrontation with the authorities at the Mitsubishi Motors Corp (MMC) Automotriz auto factory in the Los Montones de Barcelona industrial park outside Barcelona in the eastern Venezuelan state of Anzoátegui. Strikers said state police agents fired the shots that killed Pedro Jesús Suárez Poito, an MMC employee, and Javier Marcano, who worked at the nearby Macusa auto parts factory and was present in an act of solidarity. (According to some reports Marcano was the MMC employee and Suárez worked at Macusa.) Members of the New Generation Union (Singetram) took over the factory on Jan. 12 to protest management's decision to lay off 135 contract workers. Workers had voted 863-21 at a mass assembly in favor of the occupation.

The confrontation started in the afternoon of Jan. 29 after administrative employees, state police and two judges arrived at the plant; according to some witnesses the National Guard was backing up the state police. Workers said they threw rocks and bottles at the police in response to an attempt to end the sit-in and that the police fired tear gas canisters and then shot at them. Company executives charged that the workers were armed. Anzoátegui governor Tarek William Saab quickly ordered the suspension of all police agents involved in the incident. In the evening of Jan. 29 investigators took statements from 27 police agents and detectives, along with the two judges and five MMC executives. Gov. Saab, an ally of President Hugo Chávez Frías, had issued an order in 2005 banning police from using firearms in protests.

According to the Marxist Revolutionary Current (CMR) group, the MMC occupation is linked to struggles at the Vivez, Franelas Gotcha, INAF and Acerven factories, where workers are reportedly demanding nationalization and workers control. The CMR is asking for activists to send letters of solidarity to Singetram ( and demands for an end to police violence to Gov. Saab ( (Campaign for Labor Rights alert 1/30/09; 1/30/09; International Herald Tribune 1/30/09 from AP; El Tiempo (Venezuela) 1/31/09)

*2. Colombia: FARC Releases 4 Prisoners
On the morning of Feb. 1 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released three captured police agents and one soldier to a humanitarian mission in the jungles of the southern Colombian department of Caquetá. The prisoners, all captured in 2007, were the first of six FARC detainees scheduled to be released over a period of four days. The rebel group said it would free former governor Alan Jara on Feb. 2 and former legislator Sigifredo López on Feb. 4. Jara was kidnapped on June 5, 2001; López has been held since Apr. 11, 2002.

The handover of the prisoners required a complicated arrangement involving the Brazilian government, the Colombian military, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the activist group Colombians for Peace, which includes Iván Cepeda, president of the National Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State (MOVICE); Gloria Cuartas, a former mayor in the Apartadó region; and Carlos Lozano, director of the Communist weekly Voz. The mission that received the prisoners was to go first to San Gabriel de Cachoeira in Brazil and then fly into Colombia in a Cugar helicopter provided by Brazil for the meeting with the FARC. After receiving the prisoners, the mission, headed by opposition senator Piedad Córdoba, flew them to Villavicencio in Meta department.

The Feb. 1 handover went relatively smoothly, although the FARC and Colombians for Peace charged that the Colombian military hadn't honored its commitment to suspend operations in the area. Originally President Alvaro Uribe had objected to any involvement by Senator Córdoba, who worked with leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez for a hostage release in January 2008 [see Updates #930, 972, 974]. (Adital 1/30/09 from PL; Semana (Colombia) 2/1/09; Clarín (Argentina) 2/2/09)

*3. US: 6 SOA Protesters Sentenced
On Jan. 26, US federal magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth in Columbus, Georgia, sentenced five activists to two-month prison terms for trespassing on the US Army's Fort Benning base on Nov. 23 as part of an annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). Faircloth sentenced an additional protester, Louis Wolf, to six months of house arrest and imposed a $1,000 fine; Wolf, a cofounder of the magazine CovertAction Quarterly, requires special medical care, according to his lawyer, Bill Quigley. The other activists sentenced were Rev. Luis Barrios, an Episcopal priest in New York City; public interest advocate Theresa Cusimano; seminary student Kristin Holm; Sr. Diane Pinchot, a Catholic nun and art professor; and retired teacher Al Simmons.

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in the demonstrations at Fort Benning since they began in 1990, and hundreds have served prison sentences for civil disobedience at the base [see Update #838]. The school trains Latin American soldiers, and many of its graduates are among the region's most notorious human rights violators. In her statement to the court, Pinchot referred to the rape and murder of fellow Ursuline nun Dorothy Kazel and three other religious workers by a rightwing death squad in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980. "These images don't go away from me," she said. "I'm hoping that people will listen and the School of the Americas will be closed." (SOA Watch press release 1/26/09; Univision 1/27/09 from AFP; Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer 1/27/09)

Correction: This item originally gave "Jan. 36" as the date of the sentencing.

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, US Policy

Argentina: Women Keep Disappearing

Brazil: illegal miners murder Amazon indigenous leader

World Social Forum protests Amazon destruction

Brazil's Landless Movement Turns 25, Opens "New Phase" of Struggle

Bolivia: new constitution approved

Bolivia: constitutional vote passes without violence --close call?

Peru reconsiders controversial Amazon oil project

Peru: Furnaces Used to Remove Evidence of Dirty War Killings

Venezuela: gunmen ransack Caracas synagogue

Venezuela: Local Reactions to the Re- Election Reform

Venezuela: Local Reactions to the Re-Election Reform

Venezuela: Students and Security Forces Clash as Referendum Debate Intensifies

El Salvador: Legislative and Municipal Elections Conducted with Flaws

Econo-protests paralyze Mexico City, Juárez-El Paso bridge

Mexico: farmers blockade government offices in Chihuahua

Ciudad Juárez vigilantes threaten deadly vengeance campaign

NAFTA's Dangerous Security Agenda

Global Crisis is Good News for IFIs in Latin America

Dirty Business, Dirty Wars: U.S.-Latin American Relations in the 21st Century

Lessons Learned: Latin American Left Has Much to Teach Obama Supporters

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and
alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson: