Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WNU #1088: Students and Copper Workers Strike in Chile

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1088, July 17, 2011

1. Chile: Students Defy Government, Copper Workers Strike
2. Dominican Republic: At Least Three Die in General Strike
3. Haiti: Hundreds of Families Evicted From Soccer Stadium
4. Mexico: The Economy Is Down and the Cartels Are Hiring
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic

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. Chile: Students Defy Government, Copper Workers Strike
Tens of thousands of Chilean students and supporters marched through downtown Santiago on the central Alameda avenue on July 14 in their fourth massive demonstration demanding a reversal of the system of privatized education instituted under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. As in previous days of action, there were also large marches in other major cities.

The latest protest was only about half the size of the previous march, on June 30, which was said to be by far the largest demonstration since the restoration of democracy in 1990 [see Update #1086]. Santiago area authorities estimated that 30,000 people marched on July 14, while the organizers put the number at 80,000. The Santiago daily La Tercera reported that 20,000 people participated in Valparaíso and 4,000 in Concepción. Many students may have stayed away from the Santiago march because it proceeded through the downtown area in open defiance of the government, which had authorized a route that would have kept the marchers away from some important government buildings.

Violence broke out at the end of the demonstration when masked youths—considered provocateurs by some protesters—began throwing rocks and at least one Molotov cocktail at Carabinero police agents in front of the La Moneda presidential palace. The otherwise peaceful action then ended in the worst violence of the student protests to date, with the police using water cannons and tear gas and youths smashing windshields and setting one car on fire. The authorities reported that 32 agents were injured in Santiago; a total of 133 people were arrested in Santiago, Valparaíso and Concepción. (LT 7/15/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 7/15/11, __ from correspondent)

The protest appeared to mark a decisive rejection of efforts by rightwing president Sebastián Piñera to slow the protests by announcing a “Great National Agreement on Education” (GANE) on July 5. Accompanied by Education Minister Joaquín Lavín, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1999 and 2005, Piñera proposed a $4 billion fund for the improvement of higher education, more scholarships for poorer students, a lower interest rate for student loans, and more supervision of the education system by the central government. But the president rejected the students’ demands for ending education for profit. (La Nación (Santiago) 7/5/11)

After a nine-hour meeting at the University of Biobío in Concepción on July 16, the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH), the main student organization, decided to continue the mobilizations while also seeking ways to create a political platform for their demands. Camila Vallejo, president of the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH), denied that the protesters were wearing out. “There’s a greater conviction that it’s necessary to make a social accord, since the GANE doesn’t represent us,” she said. (Radio Universidad de Chile (Santiago) 7/17/11)

On July 11, three days before their own mobilization, student organizations participated in another protest calling for a return to policies from before the dictatorship. Some 17,000 workers held a 24-hour general strike against the National Copper Corporation of Chile (Codelco), the state-owned copper enterprise, to mark the 40th anniversary of Socialist president Salvador Allende’s 1971 nationalization of the copper mines.

The original goal of the nationalization was to use the proceeds from the copper industry for education, heath care and industrial development, and the students have been pointing to copper as a possible source of funding for public education. The Confederation of Copper Workers (CTC), the main union in the industry, says the military dictatorship that overthrew Allende in 1973 worked to reverse this policy, with “the result that Codelco just controls 30% of the copper that’s mined and leaves the country, while the remaining 70% has stayed in the power of companies like Phelps Dodge, Anglo American, BHP Billiton and other big transnationals.” The July 11 protest marked the start of a campaign to get two million signatures by October on a petition calling for a plebiscite on returning control of copper mining to the government. (Adital (Brazil) 7/12/11)

*2. Dominican Republic: At Least Three Die in General Strike
A 24-hour national general strike on July 11 against the economic policies of Dominican president Leonel Fernández was “95 to 100%” effective, according to the organizers. After the first 12 hours, Fidel Santana, a spokesperson for the National Strike Committee, congratulated the Dominican people, calling them “the basic protagonist of this day’s success.” He claimed that an important element in the strike was the absence of efforts to force the productive sectors, commercial enterprises and transportation companies to observe the strike call; he said protesters were showing respect for people who chose not to honor the work stoppage.

But there was significant violence during the strike, and at least three people were reported killed. The National Police said Carlos Luis Alonso Filión died during the night in a shootout with police agents in the Rafey neighborhood of the northern city of Santiago. Another man, Edwin Manuel Felipe Abreu, was killed in Santiago’s Don Pedro neighborhood by two men on an all terrain vehicle, according to Gen. Juan Ramón de la Cruz Martínez, police chief of the Cibao region. In addition, 12 people were injured in Santiago and 20 were arrested.

The family of Anderson Parra Cruceta reported that he was shot dead while he was taking pictures on his cell phone of violent confrontations between the police and demonstrators in the Villa Faro neighborhood of Santo Domingo Este, to the east of the capital. A teenager and a police agent were both wounded in different incidents in the southwestern city of Barahona, while a woman was hit by birdshot while walking down a street there. Three youths received shotgun wounds in Haina, about 20 km west of Santo Domingo.

The Broad Front of Popular Struggle (FALPO) and the Alternative Social Forum (FSA), a coalition of grassroots organizations, were the main organizers of the strike, which was backed by the social democratic Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). The demands included a reduction in the prices of food, medicine and fuel; a 35% increase in the pay of public employees, including soldiers and the police; elimination of recent increases in taxes and charges for electricity; and the designation of 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for education, as required by the Constitution. The organizers gave the government until Aug. 14 to comply with the demands; on that date the groups plan to hold a national assembly to decide on further actions.

The FSA called a one-day strike around similar demands in October 2007 [see Update #918]. Father Regino Martínez of the Jesuit Service for Refugees and Migrants (SJRM) said it was “sad” that the poor “have to resort to striking against the authorities so that they’ll know about the difficult conditions [the poor] are experiencing” as a result of the government’s “indifference.” (Listín Diario (Santiago) 7/11/11; EFE 7/12/11 via ADN.es; Adital (Brazil) 7/13/11)

*3. Haiti: Hundreds of Families Evicted From Soccer Stadium
Backed up by the National Police of Haiti (PNH) and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), on July 15 Port-au-Prince authorities began evicting some 400-450 families from the parking lot of the Sylvio Cator soccer stadium, where they had been living after being displaced by a January 2010 earthquake. The authorities said the eviction was necessary so that workers could get the stadium ready for an Aug. 4 match between two teams in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).

The evictions, which were expected to take place over several days, were orderly, especially in comparison to the forcible removal of thousands of earthquake victims from the stadium itself in April 2010 [see Update #1028]. The city government had consulted in advance with the camp’s coordinating committee, residents were allowed time to pack their belongings, and the authorities gave each family a check for 10,000 gourdes (a little less than $250) as they left. But plans for relocating the families seemed unclear. Apparently the residents were originally going to be moved to another camp, known as “Caroussel,” at the former site of the Simbi hotel, on the southern outskirts of the capital, but the occupants there objected to having a large number of new people. The authorities have mentioned two other possible sites. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 7/15/11, 7/16/11; Haïti Libre (Haiti) 7/16/11)

It appears likely that as the displaced persons camps are closed down, many of the earthquake survivors will end up returning to their damaged homes. A draft report written for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) this spring indicated that about one million people in the affected area were living in their old homes despite the danger that the buildings could collapse [see Update #1082].

*4. Mexico: The Economy Is Down and the Cartels Are Hiring
The average income of Mexican households fell by 12.3% between 2008 and 2010, the government’s National Statistics and Geography Institute (INEGI) reported on July 15. The richest households generally lost the most in percentages, but poorer households suffered more because their income was already so low, according to the National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure, which the INEGI conducts every two years. The decline in income reflects a 6.1% contraction of the Mexican economy in 2009 in the midst of a world economic crisis that started in the US; the Mexican economy recovered partially in 2010 with a 5.4% expansion. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/16/11)

The long-term economic situation is no better, according to José Luis Calva Téllez, a member of the Economic Investigations Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Since the government began applying neoliberal economic policies in 1982, the Mexican economy has grown at an average rate of 2.1% a year, which is the worst economic performance in Latin America, Calva says. The minimum wage, the standard on which other wages are based, has lost 71.3% of its purchasing power over the same period; even the comparatively well-paid unionized workers have seen the purchasing power of their salaries fall by 50%. The main source of new job growth in Mexico, according to Calva, is narcotrafficking, when he says has created 600,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, the Mexican federal government is insisting that the economy has stabilized after weathering the international economic crisis. Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari announced recently that the “fall in incomes is just a perception.” (LJ 7/17/11)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic

WikiLeaks Cables of Interest on Latin America, Released June 27-July 10, 2011

Buenos Aires Mayor Macri To Face Run-Off Election Against Fernández de Kirchner’s Candidate

Brazil: ranchers using Agent Orange to deforest the Amazon

Peru: strike against copper mine hits Ayacucho

Ecuador: Indigenous resistance is the new 'terrorism'

The Audacity of Free Trade Agreements (Colombia, Panama)

Embattled Colombian Unionists Rally Against ‘Free Trade’

In Colombia, watchdogs criticize an investigation into a presidential wiretapping scandal

Venezuela’s Chavez Seeks to Combat Inflation, Enacts Law for Just Prices and Costs

How the US Props Up Criminals and Murderers All in the Name of Our Catastrophic Drug War (Central America)

Costa Rica Under Attack From Within

Action Alert! Violent Forced Evictions Leaves Families at Risk in Honduras

Indigenous and Afro-Honduran Women’s Constitutional Assembly

Resistance to Political and Business Assaults on Indigenous Land and Resources in Honduras

Community radio station manager gunned down in Honduras

Argentine Singer-Songwriter Facundo Cabral Murdered in Guatemala

Photo Essay: Outrage over the Murder of Protest Singer Facundo Cabral

Facundo Cabral – A Musical Tribute (Guatemala)

US deports ex-Kaibil to face charges in Guatemala massacre

Migrants as Targets of Security Policies (Mexico)

Deciphering Drug Prohibition in Mexico: An Interview With Isaac Campos

Love and Its Purest Weapons: Resistance and Sacrifice (Mexico)

MexicoBlog: Fast and Furious Scandal Heats Up

Clinton Foundation Accused of Sending Haiti Shoddy Trailers (Video)

Dominican Republic Intensifies Targeting of Haitians

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