Monday, February 14, 2011

WNU #1067: Puerto Rican Professors Go on Strike

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1067, February 13, 2011

1. Puerto Rico: University Professors Strike, President Resigns
2. Mexico: US Holds Murdered Activist’s Son and Granddaughter
3. Mexico: WikiLeaks Cables Treat “Drug War,” FARC Links
4. Guatemala: Cable Claims Zetas Are Taking Over the North
5. Haiti: US Liberals Push for Aristide’s Return
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

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. Puerto Rico: University Professors Strike, President Resigns
A confrontation between police and University of Puerto Rico (UPR) students on Feb. 9 at the Río Piedras campus in San Juan quickly escalated into what appeared to be the most violent event in two months of protests against an $800 tuition surcharge imposed this year [see Update #1066].

The day began with two separate demonstrations. A group of students started to paint protest slogans on a street inside the campus, while administrative workers, members of the Brotherhood of Exempt Non-Teaching Employees (HEEND), took over the office of UPR rector Ana Guadalupe to demand the removal of the police from campus. Police agents attempted to photograph the student protesters, who claimed they were exercising their constitutional right to free speech. Shoving matches led to beatings and the use of pepper spray by helmeted riot police. Agents arrived on horseback and motorcycles while a helicopter circled over the campus. The students fled, but then regrouped twice and fought back against the police as many other students joined the protest. Outside supporters of the students organized two marches into the campus.

By the evening there were reports that 23 students had been arrested and 14 agents were injured, as were an unknown number of students; some agents, students and journalists had been splashed with the paint that was intended for writing slogans. Students hung a banner from the campus’ landmark tower reading: “We will win.” (WAPA-TV (Puerto Rico) 2/9/11, some from CyberNews; Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 2/9/11; Indymedia PR 2/10/11; NCM Noticias 2/13/11 via Indymedia PR)

There are indications that the conservative administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño had made plans to escalate the violence, even though police tactics in earlier protests had already brought charges of brutality and sexual abuse. The Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU), which represents UPR professors, said it had information about a high-level meeting on Feb. 7 in which it was remarked that “everything was turning out well” in the UPR crisis and that “all that’s missing” is a death to blame on the students. (NCM Noticias 2/13/11)

If the Puerto Rican government was trying to provoke an incident, the tactic misfired badly. Even police superintendent José Figueroa Sancha admitted in a radio interview that the police response had been excessive. The APPU and the HEEND called a 24-hour strike for Feb. 10 to protest the police presence on UPR campuses and to shut down Río Piedras in order to prevent more violence. Campus maintenance workers joined the strike, which was extended through Feb. 11 despite the university’s announcement that it would dock the strikers’ pay. (Prensa Latina 2/11/11)

As the strike was in progress on Feb. 10, UPR president José Ramón de la Torre sent a letter to police superintendent Figueroa Sancha requesting “the withdrawal of the police from the University of Puerto Rico.” De la Torre, who had previously supported the police presence, then resigned “for family reasons.” The resignation was made official on Feb. 11. (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 2/11/11; TeleSUR 2/12/11)

On Feb. 12, thousands of students and supporters turned out for “I Love the UPR,” a march to demand the withdrawal of the police. Supported by 72 social organizations and opposition political parties, the mass protest moved through San Juan streets, with motorists honking in support, and marched into the campus, with chants of “Out, out,” past police agents who were unable or unwilling to stop the procession. “If this is the minority, where is the majority?” protesters asked, referring to claims that only a small minority of students and other Puerto Ricans support the protests. Even former governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (2005-2009) joined the march, although some protesters jeered him because of his efforts to break a teachers’ strike in 2008 [see Update #936].

“Whoever thinks this movement has run out of gas should look at this demonstration and think again,” Student Representative Committee (CRE) spokesperson Ian Camilo Cintrón told the crowd. “The police are in the university to guarantee a project for the privileged and the elite and not a project for the majority. What’s at stake here is accessibility for young people who can’t count on the resources to be able to come to this institution.” (END 2/13/11; NCM Noticias 2/13/11)

As the crisis continued in Puerto Rico, on Feb. 11 Gov. Fortuño was in Washington, DC, addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The governor is considered a rising star in the US conservative movement, and Republican strategists feel he might help the party reach out to Latino voters. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is hoping for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, has mentioned Fortuño as a potential running mate. (Times of India 2/11/11 from AP; The Virginian-Pilot 2/8/11 from Politico)

Update, Feb. 14: Today Gov. Fortuño announced the partial removal of police agents from the Río Piedras campus. “The police shouldn’t be in the UPR,” he said. “They should be in the streets.” Agents were seen gathering their equipment and preparing to move out. (END 2/14/11)

*2. Mexico: US Holds Murdered Activist’s Son and Granddaughter
Friends of the Women of Juárez, an organization based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has written US Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano to call for the release of three-year-old Mexican national Heidi Barraza Frayre and her uncle, Juan Manuel Frayre, to the care of relatives in El Paso, Texas. The granddaughter of slain Mexican activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, Heidi Frayre is in US custody while the government investigates whether her El Paso relatives will be able to care for her. She has been staying in a Houston shelter for immigrant children run by a Catholic charity. Juan Manuel Frayre, one of Escobedo’s sons, is in immigration detention in Chaparral, New México.

Heidi Frayre’s father, Rafael Barraza Bocanegra, confessed to murdering her mother, Rubí Marisol Frayre Escobedo, in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, in 2008, but a Chihuahua court ordered him released. Marisela Escobedo then devoted herself to caring for her granddaughter and to seeking justice for her daughter. She was gunned down last Dec. 16 while protesting in front of the main government office in the city of Chihuahua. After her husband’s lumber store was set on fire and her brother-in-law was kidnapped on the day of her funeral, Dec. 18 [see Update #1061], Escobedo’s brother and her two sons fled with Heidi Frayre to Texas, where they applied for asylum for themselves and their niece.

US immigration authorities released Escobedo’s brother and one of her sons pending a decision on their asylum claims but decided to hold Heidi and Juan Manuel Frayre. Luis Benjamin Lara Escobedo, director of protection for the Mexican Consulate in Houston, spoke with the child in late January. “She wanted to know when she could go back and play with her toys,” Lara, who is not related to the family, told the Houston Chronicle. (Houston Chronicle 2/2/11; El Paso Times (Spanish) 2/10/11)

Three relatives of another slain activist, Josefina Reyes, were kidnapped by armed men in Guadalupe Distrito Bravos, east of Ciudad Juárez, on Feb. 7. Reyes’ sister Malena, her brother Elías and Elías' wife, Luisa Ornelas, were traveling in a truck with Reyes’ mother, Sara Salazar, and Reyes’ small daughter. The armed men seized Ornelas and Malena and Elías Reyes and then drove off, leaving Salazar and the child by the side of the road.

Josefina Reyes was shot dead on Jan. 3, 2010; her brother Rubén was killed on Aug. 18. Amnesty International (AI) says Josefina Reyes was “active in protests against violence in the area being carried out by organized criminals and human rights violations committed by the military.” She participated in an August 2009 Forum on Militarization and Repression in Ciudad Juárez. AI called for Mexican authorities to “take urgent steps to find [the three kidnapping victims] while providing protection for [the] rest of the family." (AI 2/10/11)

Four Reyes Salazar family members began a hunger strike in front of the state prosecutor’s Ciudad Juárez office on Feb. 9 to demand that state and federal authorities work actively to rescue their kidnapped relatives. They warned that if the three were abandoned in a deserted area they might die from the cold wave hitting the region. The hunger strikers, who were being guarded by two state police patrol cars, said they planned to emigrate from Ciudad Juárez once their missing relatives were returned. (El Universal (Mexico) 2/10/11)

*3. Mexico: WikiLeaks Cables Treat “Drug War,” FARC Links
The left-of-center Mexican daily La Jornada announced on Feb. 10 that it had received some 3,000 US diplomatic cables from Sunshine Press Productions, which is presided over by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The cables deal with Mexican issues and provide “a window on the background and the tone of the bilateral relation between Mexico and the US,” La Jornada’s editors wrote. The paper said it “has taken on the task of reading, systematizing and treating [the material] journalistically.” (LJ 2/10/11)

The first article in the paper’s WikiLeaks series dealt with some 100 cables from the US consulate in Monterrey, in the northern state of Nuevo León, from 2007 into 2010. The cables, written by Consul Luis Moreno and his successor, Bruce Williamson, show growing doubts over the efficacy of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s effort to control drug trafficking in the northern states by bringing in the military. A Feb. 26, 2010 confidential cable describes metropolitan Monterrey as “Zeta territory,” referring to the Los Zetas drug gang. “Zeta influence here is longstanding and widespread throughout local and state government,” Williamson wrote. The consulate’s sources said former Nuevo León governor Natividad González Parás (2003-2009) was involved with another drug trafficking organization, the Sinaloa cartel.

The consulate was also concerned with the heavy arms being used by the drug traffickers, some of them with markings for US military equipment, including an M26 A2 fragmentation grenade thrown in an attack against the Monterrey station of the Televisa television network, along with 21 other grenades found in a gang’s arsenal. Apparently the grenades were part of a 1990 shipment from the US to the Salvadoran military, which the US was then backing against the rebel Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN). (LJ 2/10/11)

In response to the article, former governor González Parás denied charges that he was involved with the Sinaloa cartel. The current US consul in Monterrey, Nace Crawford, said that the cables from his predecessor were informal reports that do not reflect the policy of the US. (Prensa Latina 2/11/11)

On Feb. 13 La Jornada wrote about a Mar. 28, 2008 secret cable on alleged links between the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and leftist and criminal groups in Mexico. Media stories about FARC connections in Mexico picked up after four Mexicans, three of them students, were killed in a Mar. 1, 2008, bombing raid by the Colombian military against a FARC camp inside Ecuadorian territory. The Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR) started an investigation of the four dead Mexicans and the one surviving Mexican, Lucía Morett Alvarez, on Mar. 3. Morett and the victims’ relatives said the students had been in Ecuador for a “Bolivarian Congress,” a meeting of Latin American leftists, and had decided to visit the FARC camp to observe it [see Update #939].

According to the cable, officials of Mexico’s Center for Investigations and National Security (CISEN) thought that in fact “[m]ost of the students attending the Bolivarian Congress in Quito shortly before the attack on the FARC camp were clearly political tourists.” A US agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), investigated charges that the FARC was supplying weapons to drug cartels or Mexican rebel groups like the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR). These charges too did not hold up. “[T]here is no evidence that the FARC is supplying guns or ordnance to Mexican drug cartels, the EPR or any other groups in Mexico,” the ATF concluded, according to the cable. (LJ 2/13/11)

*4. Guatemala: Cable Claims Zetas Are Taking Over the North
Some 100 members of Los Zetas, a Mexican drug gang, had settled in the north central Guatemalan city of Cobán, capital of Alta Verapaz department, by early 2009 and were enjoying protection from “corrupt” police who were reportedly “allied with traffickers,” according to a Feb. 6, 2009 confidential diplomatic cable by US ambassador Stephen McFarland. The cable was one of about 3,000 US diplomatic cables from the WikiLeaks organization that were given to the Mexican daily La Jornada because they dealt with issues relating to Mexico. The Los Zetas gang grew out of a group of Mexican Special Forces soldiers, some of them reportedly trained in counterinsurgency by the US military.

The report was based on an investigation in Cobán by two US officials, who found that “some judges and prosecutors are too frightened to do their jobs properly; others are in league with the traffickers.” The police “sometimes even provide…escort” to the traffickers, the investigators said. One source told an investigator that “immigration authorities are helping the Zetas obtain Guatemalan passports and other documents to normalize their status in the country. The Zetas also are believed to operate a training camp in the area.” Another source “said Zetas freely use the airport, even during daylight hours.”

McFarland concluded the cable with a warning that the Guatemalan government had already lost control in six of the country’s 22 departments: “Zacapa and Izabal fepartments, as well as parts of Jutiapa, Chiquimula, San Marcos, and Petén departments.” “Without outside intervention, Cobán will join the growing list of areas lost to narcotraffickers,” McFarland wrote, without specifying what he meant by “outside intervention.” (LJ 2/13/11)

*5. Haiti: US Liberals Push for Aristide’s Return
On Feb. 7 Haiti’s Immigration and Emigration Service issued a diplomatic passport for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004), who has lived in exile in South Africa since he was forced from office in 2004. The passport is good for five years, with an expiration date of Feb. 6, 2016. Aristide’s US lawyer, Ira Kurzban, arrived in Haiti several days earlier to pick up the document for his client. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 2/7/11)

It was not clear whether the US government would take steps to block the former president’s return. At a Feb. 9 news briefing in Washington, DC, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said the US “would hate to see” anything that might cause problems with Haiti’s presidential and legislative elections, now scheduled for Mar. 20 [see Update #1065]. “I think that we would be concerned that if former president Aristide returns to Haiti before the election, it would prove to be an unfortunate distraction,” he said. “The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the runoff, and that I think that should be their focus.” (Voice of America 2/9/11)

A spokesperson for Aristide’s Lavalas Family (FL) party, Félix Ansyto, denounced the State Department position as “an intimidation maneuver.” “It’s not up to the US to know what’s going to disturb or not disturb the country,” he added. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/11/11) But Ira Kurzban seemed more optimistic about the US government, which flew Aristide out of the country in 2004, during the presidency of George W. Bush (2001-2009), a conservative Republican. Asked by Haiti’s Radio Métropole about relations with France and the US, Kurzban said that the new governments of these countries had a different view of the situation, presumably referring to current US president Barack Obama, a moderate Democrat. (Radio Métropole 2/11/11)

In fact, US liberals linked to the Democratic Party have been pushing for Aristide’s return. A number of liberal celebrities, including actor Harry Belafonte, civil rights veteran Rev. Jesse Jackson and film director Oliver Stone, signed a full-page ad, “Return Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti,” that ran in the Miami Herald on Jan. 23. Another signer was Dr. Paul Farmer, who serves as the deputy to United Nations special envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton, a former US president (1993-2001) and the husband of current secretary of state Hillary Clinton. (San Franciso Bay View 1/23/11)

An opinion piece in the British daily Guardian said that the current US policy on Haiti was also “meeting…resistance” from an important group of Democratic legislators, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The CBC “forced then-President Bill Clinton to restore Aristide to the presidency in 1994,” according to the article. (Guardian 2/2/11) [The US returned Aristide to office in October 1994 after 20,000 US troops had occupied Haiti and Aristide had agreed to follow a neoliberal economic plan.]

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

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Colombia’s FARC Releases Politician Taken In 2009 As Gesture Of Peace

Increasingly Broad Social Movements Fight Mining in Colombia

Liliany Obando: Political Prisoner in Colombia

January Reports Indicate Dismal Times Ahead for Colombia's 7,500 Political Prisoners

As Egypt Attacks Press, teleSUR Staff in Cairo Detained, Threatened and Released (Venezuela)

Venezuelan Workers March in Support of Government, Push for New Labor Law

February 2011 12:44 Central American Nations Seek 'Plan Central America'

Democracy There, Democracy Here: Honduras

Labor Resistance in Post-Coup Honduras

Surviving the Sexist Genocide in Guatemala

Don Samuel Ruíz, bishop who brokered Zapatista peace talks, dead at 86

Mexico - Don Samuel Ruiz García: From the People, Below and to the Left

Three Teenagers Killed In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; Two U.S. Citizens

Virtual Warfare Escalates on U.S.-Mexico Border

US army high official invokes "insurgency" in Mexico

States of Exception—Haiti’s IDP Camps

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