Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WNU #1026: Mexican Army Kills 2 Students in “Drug War”

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1026, March 28, 2010

1. Mexico: Army Kills 2 Students in “Drug War”
2. Costa Rica: Arias Tries to Bust Port Workers Union
3. Haiti: Clinton, Bush Visit, Promote Sweatshops
4. Haiti: Professor Killed, Union Funding Threatened
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, IDB Megaprojects

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: Army Kills 2 Students in “Drug War”
As of Mar. 26 sources in the Mexican military had admitted that it was probably soldiers who killed two graduate students the early morning of Mar. 20 in front of the prestigious Institute of Technology and Higher Education’s Monterrey campus (ITESM) in the northern state of Nuevo León. The sources said that the soldiers had just been in a firefight with sicarios (hit men) from a drug cartel and probably confused the students with the men they had been fighting.

The two students, Jorge Antonio Mercado Alonso and Javier Francisco Arredondo Verdugo, left the university library a little after midnight; the library is open all night during examination periods. Seven minutes later they were gunned down as they headed toward their dormitory. For the first day after the killings the authorities described the victims as sicarios who had been “armed to the teeth”; apparently weapons had been planted on the bodies. There were also reports that Mercado and Arredondo, honor students working on a robotics project for the automobile industry, were beaten before being killed.

The level of violence has been rising in Monterrey, Mexico’s second largest city and its main industrial center, as a result both of wars between drug cartels and of the “war on drugs” that President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa launched shortly after his inauguration in December 2006. Activists have charged that this policy has led to a deterioration of the country’s human rights situation [see Update #1008].

A week before the killing of the students, the body of a small-scale drug dealer turned up in a vacant lot; he was one of two dealers photographed earlier by the press when agents of the navy arrested them in Santa Catarina, a Monterrey suburb. This has led people to wonder how many of the “drug war” deaths were actually executions by the military. Meanwhile, middle-class Monterrey residents are increasingly using “white guards,” armed private security guards, as protection against the violence. Mauricio Fernández, the mayor of the Monterrey suburb of San Pedro Garza García, employs a dozen of these paramilitaries; the military has charged that they are members of the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel.

Political analyst Javier Livas calls the situation “the total collapse of the institutions of Nuevo León. Everything is falling as if it were a house of cards.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/26/10, 3/28/10; EFE 3/23/10; La Crónica de Hoy (Mexico) 3/28/10)

According to Ardelio Vargas Fosado, chair of the National Defense Committee in the federal Chamber of Deputies, Mexico now has 94,540 military personnel engaged in the fight against drug trafficking, up from a few thousand as late as the middle 1980s. Vargas Fosado, a member of President Calderón’s center-right National Action Party (PAN), told a public forum in Mexico City on Mar. 27 that human rights violations by the military are “exceptions.” About 600 soldiers are currently in military prisons in connection with human rights violations, he said. (LJ 3/28/10)

Note: We gave the early morning of Mar. 20 as the time of the killings at ITESM, following the detailed chronology in the Mar. 26 La Jornada article. Other sources say the killings took place on the early morning of Mar. 19.

*2. Costa Rica: Arias Tries to Bust Port Workers Union
On Feb. 26 the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) charged that the government of Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sánchez had in effect “illegally established a ‘yellow’ (unrepresentative, undemocratic, employer-run) trade union” for the 1,500 dockworkers at the Atlantic coast city of Limón. The government’s interference in the union--“in contravention of…conventions 87 and 98” of the United Nations’ International Labor Organization--is intended to bring about “the kind of privatization that has led to joblessness and misery in Limón’s sister port of Caldera” on the Pacific side, the ITF said.

The Caldera port was privatized in August 2006 under President Arias, who began his second four-year term in May 2006. (He previously served as president 1986-1990 and won the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to broker a peace deal in Nicaragua.) So far Arias has had less success with the "modernization" of the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA), the state agency which administers the Limón port.

The JAPDEVA Workers Union (SINTRAJAP), an ITF affiliate, opposed the privatization efforts with a strike in October 2006 [see Update #872]. But the union, which is part of Costa Rica’s Catholic labor federation, Rerum Novarum, remained fairly conservative until a caucus led by the socialist-oriented group Luchemos! (Let’s Fight!) won union elections in 2007 which made Ronaldo Blear the SINTRAJAP general secretary. The new leadership built support for its anti-privatization efforts from the Costa Rican labor movement, from environmental groups and from the leftist Frente Amplio (“Broad Front”) political party.

The Blear leadership was reelected to a second two-year term in January 2009, but it was removed from office by two workers’ assemblies held on Jan. 15 and Jan. 29 this year. Luchemos! supporters said the assemblies weren’t attended by the majority of workers and represented a “coup d’état” arranged by JAPDEVA management. The elected SINTRAJAP leaders and leaders of other unions protested by occupying the labor minister’s offices for six days in January. In late March legislative deputy José Merino del Río and deputy elect José María Villalta Flórez-Estrada, both of the Frente Amplio, requested an injunction from the Constitutional Court to restore Blear and other leaders to office. The court hadn’t ruled as of Mar. 27.

President elect Laura Chinchilla Miranda, a member of Arias’ National Liberation Party (PLN) who takes office on May 8, is expected to continue Arias’ neoliberal economic policies. Labor rights supporters can sign on to an ITF letter of protest to President Arias at http://www.itfglobal.org/solidarity/sintrajap.cfm/letter/45/. (ITF website 2/26/10; Diagonal (Spain) 3/24/10; Costa Rica Hoy 3/20/10; Teletica (Costa Rica) 3/27/10)

*3. Haiti: Clinton, Bush Visit, Promote Sweatshops
Former US presidents George W. Bush (2001-2009) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001) visited Haiti for one day on Mar. 22 to call for international aid for the country. The visit helped set the stage for a United Nations (UN) donors’ conference which is to be held in New York on Mar. 31. Current US president Barack Obama appointed Bush and Clinton to head up US relief efforts following a Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people in Port-au-Prince and other parts of southern Haiti. This was Bush’s first visit to Haiti, but the third since the earthquake for Clinton, who is also the UN’s special envoy for Haiti.

During his visit Clinton called for the expansion of the garment assembly sector—the tax-exempt factories, known in Spanish as maquiladoras, that produce mainly for export. To further the expansion, he and Bush called for improved US trade preferences for apparel imports from Haiti. Clinton said South Korean and Brazilian firms were interested in investing if the US strengthened the Haiti Hemispheric Opportunity Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE), which he said he thought “could create more than 100,000 jobs in Haiti in short order."

Critics have argued that this would take jobs away from workers in the US and the rest of the Caribbean Basin, but Clinton indicated that the main losers would be Chinese workers. "Most of [the proposed increase for Haiti] would be shifted production from Asia to Haiti, so there'd be no greater penetration of American markets and we'd be helping our neighbor, and it could create hundreds of millions of dollars of investment,” he said on Mar. 22.

Several hundred supporters of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1995 and 2001-2004) protested Bush’s presence and called for Aristide’s return from his exile in South Africa. Aristide was removed from office in February 2004 while Bush was president. (Agence France Presse 3/22/10 via CyberPresse; Reuters 3/22/10) There were reports that Bush surreptitiously wiped his hand off on Clinton’s shirt after shaking hands with an earthquake victim. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 3/24/10)

Other criticism was directed more at the UN economic proposals associated with Clinton, who as president restored Aristide to power in 1994 with a US-led military intervention; Clinton’s administration also pushed the Haitian government to carry out a drastic reduction of tariffs on imported rice (known in Haiti as “Miami rice”). On Mar. 18 a number of Haitian organizations issued a statement denouncing the UN’s Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment (PDNA) for rebuilding Haiti. The UN document was “produced by a group of 300 international and national functionaries,” excluding Haitian “social actors,” the statement said. The Haitian groups called for a “break with economic dependence” and for the construction of “an economic model that stimulates national production” rather than export-based industries. (“Position des Mouvements sociaux haïtiens sur le processus de ‘reconstruction’ d’Haïti,” 3/18/10)

Earlier in the month Clinton apologized for his role in promoting rice imports for Haiti, which devastated local rice production. "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked,” he told the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate on Mar. 10. “It was a mistake. I had to live every day with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” (Associated Press 3/20/10 via Huffington Post)

*4. Haiti: Professor Killed, Union Funding Threatened
On Mar. 12 several hundred Haitian students and activists gathered at a memorial service for Jean Anil Louis-Juste, a sociology professor at the State University of Haiti (UEH) who was shot dead in downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 a few hours before a massive earthquake hit the city. A well-known author and activist, Louis-Juste was a strong supporter of the militant student movement that erupted in the spring and summer of 2009 [see Update #994].

Witnesses reportedly said men on a motorcycle approached Louis-Juste at the corner of Capois Street and La Fleur du Chêne as he was leaving the university and asked for money. When Louis-Juste said he didn’t have any, the men gunned him down with one bullet to the head and two to the chest, the witnesses said. Activists expressed doubt that a killing in broad daylight in that area could have been a simple mugging. (Haiti Press Network 1/12/10; Haïti Liberté (Haiti and New York) 3/10/10-3/16/10)

In other news, General Motors de Brasil, the Brazilian subsidiary of the giant US automaker, has announced that it will block payroll check-offs that the Metal Workers Union of São José dos Campos and the Region asked to be donated for earthquake relief to Haitian grassroots organizations, including the leftist labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (Workers’ Struggle) [see Update #1022]. An assembly of 6,000 GM workers approved the one-time donation of 1% of their pay on Feb. 11. The GM workers’ pledge was part of a Brazilian campaign that has already sent about 160,000 reais ($89,000) to Haiti. (AlterPresse 3/24/10 from Brasil de Fato (São Paulo))

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, IDB Megaprojects

Chile's Billionaire President Piñera Gets a Raise

The Land Lugo Promised: Paraguayan Farmers Mobilize for Agrarian Reform

The Brazilian Two-Step: Strategic Politics in the Lula Administration

Free Trade Undermining Rights in Peru

Colombia: FARC to release hostages —despite new government raids

Colombia: drug recrim on hold —sort of

Bomb blast rocks Colombian port

Colombia's Elections: Under the Gun

Amnesty International urges El Salvador to repeal amnesty law

El Salvador: 30th Anniversary of Assassination of Oscar Romero

Text Book State Terrorism in Honduras: Death Squad Kills Teacher in Front of Students

Hondurans' Great Awakening

Mérida Initiative retooled at Mexico City summit

Juarez, Murder Capital of the World

IDB Megaprojects: Displacement, Destruction, and Deception

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