Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WNU #1057: Puerto Rican Students Protest Tuition Hike

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1057, November 14, 2010

1. Puerto Rico: Students Protest Tuition Hike
2. Mexico: Unionists Block Congress Over Budget
3. Costa Rica: Congress Bans Open-Pit Mines
4. Haiti: Report Assails Cash for Work Programs
5. Cuba: “Autonomy” Planned for State Firms
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, US

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. Puerto Rico: Students Protest Tuition Hike
Students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) slowed traffic in and out of San Juan on Nov. 9 when they demonstrated in a major highway to protest plans for raising tuition by $800 in January. The previous night the Puerto Rican Senate had created a special fund that would provide about $30 million in scholarships to low-income students, but the protesters rejected the measure as inadequate. Students also met in assemblies at the UPR’s Río Piedras, Humacao, Cayey and Arecibo campuses on Nov. 9 to discuss the tuition hike and other issues.

These were the first student assemblies since a 62-day strike last spring that shut down 10 of the UPR’s 11 campuses and defeated most of the government’s austerity plan for the public university, which serves some 65,000 students. The UPR Board of Trustees’ proposal for a special three-year tuition surcharge—originally set at $1,100 a year—was the main issue left unresolved by the strike, but the trustees postponed the increase until January [see Update #1037]. (EFE 11/9/10; Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 11/9/10)

The administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño is apparently preparing for renewed student strikes. The Chamber of Representatives voted 35-15 on Nov. 11 to ban any student demonstration that would interrupt the activities of the university; the measure would also require any student demonstration to have the support of the majority of students, as expressed by an electronic vote. The bill was sent on to the Senate, which hadn’t acted on it when the senators abruptly ended their session the evening of Nov. 11. “This measure is an attack on our constitutional right to free expression and is a total violation of the autonomy of the university,” Mariela Pérez, a spokesperson for the Action Committee of Arecibo University Students (CAUA), told reporters on Nov. 13. (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 11/12/10, 11/14/10)

*2. Mexico: Unionists Block Congress Over Budget
About 15,000 protesters from independent unions, campesino organizations and other grassroots groups blocked access to the Chamber of Deputies in Mexico City on Nov. 12 and 13 to demand a reduction of allocations for the security forces in next year’s budget and an increase in the allocations for social development.

Two large marches converged on the San Lázaro Legislative Palace around noon on Nov. 12, taking congressional guards and the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) police by surprise. A column of protesters from the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), the main rank-and-file caucus in the huge National Education Workers Union (SNTE), confronted the guards and police agents outside the building. After some shoving and pushing, the outnumbered security group withdrew and the demonstrators started a sit-in around the building.

Most of the protesters agreed to lift the siege on Nov. 13. Jorge Cázares Torres, general secretary of SNTE Section 16 (Guadalajara), told the demonstrators that their “pressure” had succeeded in limiting a plan to reduce the education budget; Chamber of Deputies president Jorge Carlos Ramírez Marín said the political parties had agreed to restore 6.7 billion pesos (about $542 million) to the education budget. Martín Esparza, general secretary of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), told his members that legislative deputies from all but one of the political parties had agreed to meet on Nov. 16 to discuss changes to the law governing electric utilities and the possible creation of a new electric company for central Mexico; only the center-right National Action Party (PAN) of Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa wasn’t participating. The SME’s 44,000 employed members were laid off in October 2009 when Calderón abruptly liquidated their employer, the state-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) [see Update #1041]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/13/10, 11/14/10, ___)

In other news, some 200 students marched at the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City the evening of Nov. 9 to express solidarity with students in Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua and to protest the federal government’s “war on drugs.” Federal police shot and seriously injured Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez (UACJ) student José Darío Alvarez Orrantía during a protest near the campus the evening of Oct. 29 [see Update #1055].

Earlier in the day UNAM students and SME members marched in downtown Mexico City around the same issues, with slogans such as: “If they do it to one, they do it to all” and “No to the militarization of Ciudad Juárez.” Students also marched in Durango, capital of the northern state of Durango, to protest the violence there. Joined by teachers, students from the Technological Institute of Durango (ITD) called for peace in Durango and demanded clarification of the Oct. 25 murder of José Alberto Pardo Saucedo, an ITD student and the son of an ITD teacher. (LJ 11/10/10; Milenio (Mexico) 11/9/10)

*3. Costa Rica: Congress Bans Open-Pit Mines
With 49 legislative deputies present, Costa Rica’s Congress voted unanimously on Nov. 9 to approve revisions to the Mining Code that would ban open-pit mining of heavy metals in future projects. The revisions would also end the use of toxic substances such as cyanide and mercury in mining. President Laura Chinchilla, who declared a moratorium on new mining projects soon after she took office in May, is expected to approve the revisions.

The ban is not retroactive, according to Claudio Monge of the Citizen Action Party, the main opposition group; it won’t affect projects that are already started, such as the Las Crucitas open-pit gold mine in San Carlos in the north of the country. Environmental activists held a hunger strike from Oct. 8 to Nov. 2 to pressure President Chinchilla to annul executive decree 34-8001 of 2008, which declares the mine, owned by the Canadian firm Infinito Gold Ltd, a matter of “national interest” [see Update #1056]. (Prensa Latina 11/10/10; Adital (Brazil) 11/11/10)

*4. Haiti: Report Assails Cash for Work Programs
A group of Haitian media organizations released a report on Nov. 8 about the “cash for work” (CFW) temporary jobs programs that international agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) set up after a Jan. 12 earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti. The programs employ tens of thousands of Haitians at jobs such as clearing away rubble in Port-au-Prince and digging latrines for the camps where more than 1 million displaced people still live. In the countryside, CFW workers dig irrigation ditches and contour canals. They are generally paid the full minimum wage of 200 gourdes (about $5) a day, although some are partially or fully paid in food.

The report found that while much of the work is useful and the payments do provide temporary relief for the workers and their families, CFW programs fail to stimulate the Haitian economic significantly: so many consumer goods are now imported that a large part of the CFW money ends up going to other countries instead of producing permanent employment inside Haiti, according to Haitian economists. The programs also increase Haiti’s dependency on other countries, deform attitudes towards work and weaken grassroots and communities efforts for reconstruction, the report said. The authors suggested that groups like the US Agency for International Development (USAID) are promoting CFW as a way to prevent the sort of militant demonstrations that thousands of displaced Mexico City residents organized to demand housing after a major earthquake there in 1985.

The report was produced by Haiti Grassroots Watch (Ayiti Kale Je, “Haiti Keep Your Eyes Open” in Creole), a collaboration of Groupe Medialternatif/AlterPresse, the Society for the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA) and the Association of Haitian Community Media (AMEKA). (Haiti Grassroots Watch 11/8/10)

Groups of displaced people in Port-au-Prince continue to protest their living conditions, usually on or around the 12th day of each month to mark the date of the Jan. 12 quake [see Update #1049]. Hundreds of camp residents demonstrated outside the main government offices on Nov. 12, demanding housing, rejecting plans for general elections on Nov. 28 and calling for the withdrawal of the 13,000-member United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), whose troops are suspected of causing an outbreak of cholera through unsanitary conditions at a base in the Central Plateau [see Update #1056]. “No to elections under tents and tarps!” the protesters chanted. “Out with MINUSTAH, which defecated in our rivers!” (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 11/12/10)

*5. Cuba: “Autonomy” Planned for State Firms
On Nov. 9 the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) released a draft economic program for discussion in preparation for the party’s Sixth Congress in mid-April 2011. The 32-page “Draft Economic-Social Policy Guidelines” is the latest move in plans by President Raúl Castro for a major restructuring of the Cuban economy, following the announcement in September of a program to lay off some 500,000 workers and absorb most of them in an expansion of private enterprises [see Update #1050].

The document consists of 291 brief proposals. The most important change appears to be the introduction of relative autonomy for a number of state-owned enterprises. These are to set their own wage and employment policies and control their own resources and investments; at the same time, they will no longer be able to count on subsidies from the national budget. Other significant changes include “applying flexible formulas for the exchange, purchase, sale and renting of housing”; allowing some cooperatives to join together to form larger associations; and the creation of “special development zones” for exports and for high technology--apparently meaning industrial parks such as those already growing near modernized ports like Mariel in the northwest and Cienfuegos in the south.

The document insists that “in the new forms of non-state management, the concentration of property in juridical or natural persons will not be allowed”; presumably this bars ownership by corporations or individuals. The draft program also affirms that “the system of socialist planning will continue to be the main way” of managing the economy. (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/10/10 from correspondent; Prensa Latina (English) 11/10/10)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, US

John Holloway, Crack Capitalism and Latin America

How Far Away is Latin America from Nottingham?

Argentina: Worker-run Companies Quietly Surviving

Environmental Resistance in the Uruguay River

Brazil: Ethanol Interests on Guaraní Land

Mining Firms Alarmed at Election of Leftist Governor in Peru

Video: Chevron Oilfield Worker Describes Toxic Dumping in Ecuador

Venezuelan Government Nationalizes Transport and Textile Firms

Venezuelan Workers March for More Participation and More Rights

Google Maps at issue in Central American border conflict

Amnesty International and Gael García Bernal Launch Films on Migrants in Mexico

Mexico: Tens of Thousands of Missing Central American Migrants

Oaxaca as a ‘Laboratory of Repression’: Interview with Human Rights Defender Alba Cruz

Haiti: As Cholera Spreads, Heavy Rains Wreak Havoc in Camps

Haiti Cholera Outbreak Spreads To Port-au-Prince

Coup University: SOUTHCOM and FIU Team Up on Counterinsurgency

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

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