Tuesday, April 12, 2011

WNU #1075: Colombians Protest FTA, Privatization

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1075, April 10, 2011

1. Colombia: Workers, Students Protest FTA, Privatization
2. Colombia: Rebels and Paras Provided Security for Chiquita
3. Mexico: US Admits to Mistakes in 32-Year “Drug War”
4. Haiti: Martelly Will Be “New Driver in Same Vehicle”
5. Cuba: US Loses Posada Case--Again
6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Colombia: Workers, Students Protest FTA, Privatization
In Colombia’s largest demonstration since President Juan Manuel Santos took office last August, tens of thousands of unionists, students and teachers demonstrated throughout the country on Apr. 7 to protest a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US and proposed changes in the education system that they say will lead to privatization. The Unitary Workers Central (CUT), Colombia’s main labor federation, estimated turnout at 1.5 million. Demonstrations took place in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Bucaramanga, Santa Marta, Barranquilla and other cities.

The national day of action coincided with a visit by President Santos to Washington, DC, where he met with US president Barack Obama to push for the US Congress approve a trade accord that Colombia and the US signed in 2006, during the administration of George W. Bush (2001-2009). The FTA has never been approved by Congress, in part because of opposition from US unions and activists over Colombia’s record of human rights abuses and repression of unions. But Santos is looking for ratification now that the agreement has Obama’s support. “We’ve worked for five years seeking approval for this to go to Congress,” Santos said, “and today we received this green light.”

The CUT strongly opposes the FTA, which would threaten “labor rights, food sovereignty and the possibility for development,” according to Diógenes Orjuela, a CUT leader. The unionists were also protesting labor flexibility practices, such as the use of provisional contracts.

More than 100 student organizations oppose Santos’ proposal to allow private investment in public universities on a national level; in Bogotá there is already a system of concessions which lets private groups operate some public schools. The Education Ministry responded to the Apr. 7 demonstrations by agreeing to review the policies with teachers and discuss their labor and wage demands within 20 days.

According to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, 26 unionists and 11 educators were murdered in Colombia in 2010; the CUT says there were actually 51 murders. Just 800,000 people belong to unions in Colombia, out of a population of about 45 million, and only 70,000 have collective bargaining agreements, according to the CUT. (Agence France Presse 4/7/11 via Terra México; BBC 4/7/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 4/8/11 from PL, DPA)

*2. Colombia: Rebels and Paras Provided Security for Chiquita
Declassified internal documents from the Cincinnati-based banana company Chiquita Brands International made public on Apr. 7 indicate that the multinational’s Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, had a much closer relation with leftist rebels and rightwing paramilitaries than Chiquita has admitted in the past.

Chiquita agreed in March 2007 to pay the US government $25 million in fines for supporting the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which the US designated as a terrorist group, but the company insisted that Banadex only gave the AUC money to keep it from attacking Chiquita employees; the company said it had also paid off two leftist guerrilla organizations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), for the same reason [see Update #892].

But the more than 5,500 pages of declassified documents suggest that Chiquita didn’t just pay extortion money to the groups. In 1994, when rebels still dominated the northwestern Urabá region of Antioquia department where Banadex had plantations, the general manager of Chiquita operations in Turbó told company attorneys that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” Later, when paramilitaries took over the region, they appear to have done similar work for Chiquita. A March 2000 memo based on a conversation with Banadex managers indicates that paramilitaries in Santa Marta had formed a front company, Inversiones Manglar, whose commercial activities “disguised the real purpose of providing security.” The managers said “all other banana companies are contributing in Santa Marta” and Chiquita “should continue making the payments” since they “can't get the same level of support from the military.”

Other documents discuss a meeting of Banadex managers with the notorious AUC leader Carlos Castaño and what appear to be donations in 1995 to Antioquia’s rightwing governor at the time, Alvaro Uribe, later a two-term Colombian president (2002-2010).

Chiquita turned the documents over to the Justice Department in connection with the 2007 agreement between the company and the government. The National Security Archive (NSA), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit research group, obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request; it posted them on its website on Apr. 7, as Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was visiting Washington to discuss a trade deal with US president Barack Obama.

“Chiquita's apparent quid pro quo with guerrillas and paramilitaries responsible for countless killings belies the company's 2007 plea deal with the Justice Department,” NSA Colombia documentation project director Michael Evans said on Apr. 7. “What we still don't know is why US prosecutors overlooked what appears to be clear evidence that Chiquita benefited from these transactions.” (“The Chiquita Papers,” NSA website 4/7/11; Inter-Press Service 4/7/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 4/8/11)

*3. Mexico: US Admits to Mistakes in 32-Year “Drug War”
US officials were wrong in 1979 when they thought that the struggle against drug trafficking was “a question that only had to do with complying with the law,” one “that could be resolved quickly with an aggressive campaign” and with a “country by country” approach, William R. Brownfield, US assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, told a press conference in Cancún, in the eastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, on Apr. 7. “Thirty-two years have passed, billions of dollars and many strategies later,” he said, “and I could tell you that we weren’t right, we didn’t guess right.”

Brownfield, who was in Cancún for the 28th annual International Conference for Drug Control, was responding to a question about Mexico’s own “war on drugs,” which has cost 35,000 lives since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa militarized anti-drug operations shortly after taking office in December 2006. Mexican public security minister Genaro García Luna had said that the violence would start to diminish in 2015. Asked his opinion, Brownfield answered that based on the US experience “at least we have to think in years.” He said he was “optimistic that in two years it will be possible to speak of results,” but that if he came to Mexico then and the situation hadn’t improved, he could be questioned for his “total and complete stupidity.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 4/8/11)

Another US official came close to admitting to another mistake earlier in the week. On Apr. 5. Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern Command, told a US Senate hearing that many of the weapons being used by Mexican drug traffickers came from Central America. “Over 50% of the military-type weapons that are flowing throughout the region have a large source between Central American stockpiles, if you will, left over from wars and conflicts in the past,” he explained. (AFP 4/6/11)

The news coverage didn’t mention that many of these weapons were supplied by the US to rightwing military and paramilitary forces in Central America to fight leftists during the 1980s and 1990s. A US diplomatic cable released by the WikiLeaks group in February said fragmentation grenades used by drug traffickers in Monterrey came from shipments from the US to the Salvadoran military in the early 1990s [not “in 1990,” as reported in Update #1067].

*4. Haiti: Martelly Will Be “New Driver in Same Vehicle”
On Apr. 5, five days late, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced the preliminary results from the Mar. 20 presidential and legislative runoff elections. According to the official count, popular singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response) defeated Mirlande Hyppolite Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP) by 67.57% to 31.74% in the race for president. Turnout was reported at 23%, about the same as in the first round, on Nov. 28, although Martelly claims it was 30%. The CEP is to announce the final results on Apr. 16, and the new president takes office on May 14.

Martelly is likely to have problems with the Parliament, which will be dominated by members of the Inite party of outgoing president René Préval. It appears that Inite will hold 17 of the 27 seats in the Senate and about 40 of the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The rest will be divided among 16 other parties. Peasant Response, the party that ran Martelly for president, seems to have won just three seats in the Chamber and none in the Senate. (Radio Métropole (Haiti) 4/7/11, ___)

Both Manigat and Martelly are rightists, and Haitian grassroots and left-leaning organizations generally didn’t support either. “Now we’re waiting for Michel Martelly to keep his promises,” Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the founder of the large Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), told the online news service AlterPresse, referring to the candidate’s promise to revitalize small-scale agriculture. But Osnel Jean-Baptiste, spokesperson for Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen ("Small Haitian Peasants Unity"), was already certain that “[t]here will be no change in the conditions of life of the popular masses.”

Martelly’s policy “will be a continuation of the options that have directed the country in recent years,” according to economist Camille Chalmers, executive director of the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA). “Michel Martelly will be under the dictate of the international community.” Guy Numa, a member of the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP), agreed that the main decisions will be made by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC, or CIRH in French and Spanish), a group set up last year by donor nations to disburse and monitor international aid after a devastating earthquake. “This is just a change of drivers, but it’s still the same vehicle,” Numa said. (AlterPresse 4/6/11)

One difference between Martelly and current president Préval may be a more repressive approach to the Haitian media. During a televised debate with Manigat on Mar. 9, Martelly complained that journalist Gotson Pierre, the founder of AlterPresse, “didn’t like” him. Pierre had asked embarrassing questions. (AlterPresse 3/16/11) On Apr. 6 a group of people saying they were Martelly supporters were at the Parliament building to “watch” the journalists. “We’ll block access to Parliament to any journalist suspected of working against the interests of the next government,” one of them told a group of reporters. (AlterPresse 4/6/11)

Three journalists at Haiti National Television (TNH), Eddy Jackson Alexis, Josias Pierre and Jacques Innocent, were let go on Apr. 5 after a courtesy visit to the station by Martelly. The journalists accused TNH director general Pradel Henriquez of favoring Martelly during the campaign; on Apr. 8 Henriquez started defamation proceedings against them. (Radio Kiskeya 4/8/11)

*5. Cuba: US Loses Posada Case--Again
A federal jury in El Paso, Texas, acquitted Cuban-born former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “asset” Luis Posada Carriles of 11 counts of fraud and obstruction of justice on Apr. 8, handing US prosecutors their latest defeat in a case that dates back to Posada’s illegal entry into the US in 2005. The judge in the case, US district judge Kathleen Cardone, threw out one set of immigration fraud charges in 2007; two years later, US prosecutors filed the new set of charges based on Posada’s allegedly lying to immigration officers about his terrorist activities in the past [see Update #985].

Venezuela charged Posada in the 1970s with masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in which 73 people died; he escaped from prison and fled the country. In 1998 he told the New York Times that he had been involved in the bombing of two Havana hotels in 1997; Italian tourist Fabio di Celmo died in one of the bombings. Venezuela requested Posada’s extradition in 2005, but US has refused to act on the extradition request, instead trying unsuccessfully either to deport the 83-year-old former agent or jail him on charges related to his immigration status.

The jury took just three hours to clear Posada of the charges, after a 13-week trial. The Venezuelan government quickly dismissed the trial as “theater,” while Granma, the newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), denounced the US court system as “Mafia justice.” But DC-based attorney José Pertierra, Venezuela’s representative in the extradition request, noted that US juries sometimes behave erratically. He called the US prosecutors’ evidence “overwhelming,” but he said Judge Cardone had allowed Posada’s defense to use delaying tactics and attacks against Cuba’s government to confuse the jurors, leaving them “deaf and blind.”

Pertierrra insists that the correct way to handle the case remains a trial for Posada’s terrorist acts, not for immigration fraud. A US Justice Department spokesperson had said the department was “disappointed by the verdict.” “I suggest that the US government not be so disappointed, and that they extradite him,” Pertierra told the Mexican daily La Jornada. (LJ 4/9/11 from correspondent, 4/10/11 from Notimex, AFP, DPA)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

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