Tuesday, August 9, 2011

WNU #1091: More Housing Occupations and Evictions in Argentina

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1091, August 7, 2011

1. Argentina: Housing Occupations and Evictions Continue
2. Chile: 874 Arrested in Latest Student Protest
3. Chile: Will Workers “Think Twice” After Copper Mine Strike?
4. Honduras: Israel Pressures Lobo on Palestine UN Vote
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, 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. Argentina: Housing Occupations and Evictions Continue
Provincial police forcibly removed some 200 families on Aug. 5 from land they had occupied a month earlier in Villa 9 de Julio in the northwestern Argentine province of Tucumán. Acting on a court order from Judge Nora Wrexler, the agents destroyed homes that the 500 squatters had improvised out of canvas, cardboard and sheet metal when they moved in from different neighborhoods in the north of the nearby provincial capital, San Miguel de Tucumán.

In a confrontation that lasted about an hour, police, some of them on horseback, used nightsticks, tear gas and rubber bullets on the residents, who hurled rocks, bottles and clubs at the agents. No serious injuries were reported, but the police said five agents were hurt, and photographs showed protesters with bloodied heads. There were five arrests. According to a witness, the police chased after squatters who resisted; agents even invaded and damaged the homes of neighbors in the area who had given the protesters refuge.

The eviction in Tucumán came just eight days after a similar action in another northwestern province, Jujuy, left three protesters and one police agent dead on July 28 [see Update #1090]. An unidentified official told the Buenos Aires daily Clarín the Tucumán government was relieved that there were no serious injuries, but he rejected any comparison with the situation in Jujuy, where there is a severe housing shortage. “Here the government has built 20,000 houses and created 35,000 housing solutions,” the Tucumán official said. But Gustavo Usandivaras, a housing official in Tucumán, admitted to the local daily El Siglo that the government is dealing with three land occupations in Tucumán and that the squatters “resort to this precisely in the face of the absence of solutions.” (AFP 8/5/11 via Terra.com (Colombia); Clarín 8/6/11)

The violent eviction in Jujuy brought strong protests, including a march from the Congress to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires on Aug. 2. The provincial legislature reacted on Aug. 4 by approving the expropriation of 40 hectares of land from the Ledesma S.A. corporation, which produces sugar and paper, for the construction of homes for some 3,000 people who need housing in the city of Libertador General San Martín, where the eviction took place. The company owns the land the squatters had seized, and critics say its holdings include 157,556 hectares of land, of which it only uses 38,000 hectares.

Also on Aug. 4, Gov. Walter Barrionuevo announced that the hundreds of families now squatting in private property in the area—including the families of police agents—had to leave within 24 hours. But most were refusing to move as of the afternoon of Aug. 5. (Adital (Brazil) 8/2/11; AFP 8/5/11 via Terra.com (Colombia); Clarín 8/6/11)

*2. Chile: 874 Arrested in Latest Student Protest
Aug. 4 brought the most violent day yet in more than two months of protests by Chilean students determined to end a system of heavily privatized and decentralized education instituted during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet [see Update #1088]. According to official figures, there were 874 arrests nationwide by the end of the day, and 90 militarized police agents had been injured.

The government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera virtually assured the violence when it refused to issue permits for planned student marches in Santiago on Aug. 4, using a decree from the Pinochet era. This wasn’t enough to stop the demonstrations, although they were much smaller than the peaceful marches of 100,000 or more the movement mounted in June: the government reported some 2,000 participants in a march by secondary students in the morning and 3,000 in a separate evening march by university students and professors. Right from the start militarized carabinero police used tear gas and water cannons to block the marchers, while protesters built barricades and fought back against the agents. Masked youths vandalized stores and banks. In the evening a fire was started in the La Polar department store, which was also looted. A little earlier, at least 80 protesters occupied the Chilevisión television station, insisting that the station run a live broadcast of their demands. After 40 minutes of negotiations, the two sides agreed that a taped version would run with the regular news program.

As night fell the students’ supporters took to the streets in different Santiago neighborhoods for a cacerolazo—an action reminiscent of the Pinochet era in which people protest by beating loudly on pots and pans.

The next day, on Aug. 5, Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) president Camila Vallejo Dowling, representatives of the Chilean Professors Association, attorney Hugo Gutiérrez and members of the Association of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Chile filed a complaint against Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter and Santiago intendant (city supervisor) Cecilia Pérez for illegal detentions and for violation of the constitutional right to assemble. The Chilean section of the UK-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) issued a call for the government to investigate what Executive Director Ana Piquer said were a “number of reports of the excessive use of force, the undue use of tear gas, arbitrary detentions and possible mistreatment during the detentions.”

The student protests have cut sharply into President Piñera’s popularity. His approval rating fell from 45% last November and December down to 26% in the June-July period, according to an opinion poll by the Centro de Estudios Públicos. This was the lowest approval rating for a president since the restoration of democracy in 1990.

Piñera has tried to win back public support by introducing his own education reform proposals, and on July 18 he reshuffled his cabinet, moving Education Minister Joaquín Lavín to Planning and Development and replacing him with Felipe Bulnes, who had been justice minister. But the government and the students remain far apart. Giorgio Jackson, president of the Federation of Catholic University Students (FEUC), has suggested that the only way to settle the dispute is to let the population vote on education reforms in a national plebiscite. Meanwhile, students are calling for another day of strikes on Aug. 9. (La Tercera (Santiago) 8/5/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 8/5/11, 8/6/11 from correspondent; The Guardian (UK) 8/5/11 from correspondent; Adital (Brazil) 8/6/11; Xinhua 7/19/11 from People’s Daily (China))

Some 20,000 people joined a march from Santiago’s Plaza Italia to the Almagro park on Aug. 7 in a protest called by parents’ associations and secondary students to support the student movement’s demands. There were no incidents in the demonstration, which also marked Chile’s Day of the Child. The Santiago government had authorized the protest, although wouldn’t allow the marchers to walk along the central Alameda (Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins Avenue). (EFE 8/7/11 via Que.es (Spain))

*3. Chile: Will Workers “Think Twice” After Copper Mine Strike?
Workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine voted on Aug. 5 to end a 15-day-old strike despite failing to win their demand for a bonus of 5 million pesos ($10,562). By a 65.5% majority they agreed to settle for a 2.6 million peso bonus ($5,492)--less than management’s earlier offer of 2.8 million pesos ($5,916)—but the company,the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton corporation, is to pay the workers for the days they were on strike. Union officials admitted the members were worn out after two weeks without pay.

The union called the strike on July 21, demanding that BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, share the rising profits on copper sales. But the company refused to back down; management said the job action, which started on July 21 outside the normal collective bargaining process, was illegal. BHP Billiton took a loss of some $450 million in sales during the strike, while meeting the workers’ demand would only have cost the company about $30 million. But apparently management felt it was more important to keep the Escondida workers from setting a precedent for other mines. “The workers at the mining companies will think twice before starting an illegal strike for more income,” Gustavo Lagos, a professor at the Catholic University, said after the settlement was announced.

The mine, in Antofagasta province in northern Chile, sits on the world’s largest copper deposit, and the strike helped raise international copper prices to a four-month high the week of Aug. 1—until fears of a new global recession drove prices back down. Analysts were concerned that with the Chilean government already shaken by a militant student movement, the strike—the first at the mine since August 2006 [see Update #866]—might inspire other walkouts. Miners at the state-owned Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco) had held a one-day protest strike on July 11 [see Update #1088]. (Reuters 8/5/11; La Tercera (Santiago) 8/6/11)

*4. Honduras: Israel Pressures Lobo on Palestine UN Vote
On Aug. 2 Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa announced that Honduras plans to support an effort by the Palestinian Authority to win recognition for Palestine as a state during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September.

Israeli officials reacted immediately. On Aug. 3 the ambassador to Honduras, Eliahu López, called the statement “a dagger wound in the heart of Israel.” In Jerusalem the Foreign Ministry called in Honduran ambassador José Isaías Barahona to express “surprise” and “disappointment.” According to the Jerusalem Post, Deputy Director General for Latin America Dorit Shavit “reminded the ambassador that Israel stood by Honduras two years ago when it went through a constitutional crisis that led to widespread worldwide condemnation”—apparently a reference to the June 2009 military coup that overthrew former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009).

Honduran officials stressed that the government wants to continue good relations with Israel and that Lobo’s remarks were in preparation for discussion of the issue at the Aug. 19 meeting of the System for Central American Integration (SICA), which includes the Dominican Republic along with the seven countries in Central America. Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua already recognize Palestine, as do many Latin American countries [see Update #1063]. (Prensa Latina 8/4/11; EFE 8/4/11 via Panama America; Jerusalem Post 8/5/11)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic

Drug War Delirium (Latin America)

Chilean Student Protests: Police Arrest 552

Failed Education Reform in Chile Prompts Hunger Strikes

Bolivia enters lithium deal with South Korea

Bolivia: WikiLeaks expose US conspiracy

Peru's ex-military chief sees Iranian threat in region; Bolivia claims Sendero subversion

Peru: Humala Promises Boom Will Reach Poor

Big Bucks from China Drive Domestic Development in Ecuador

Ecuador: The Construction of a New Model of Domination

New Colombia-Mexico FTA goes into effect

Colombia's Indigenous Communities Demand Demilitarization as Fighting Escalates

Will FARC fracas unfasten Colombia's reforged ties with Venezuela?

All of the President’s Men: The Bolivarian Succession? (Venezuela)

Eduardo Galeano Speaks on the Venezuelan Media

Noriega Headed Back To Panama After France Signs Extradition Papers

A Vote For Democracy in El Salvador

US Coast Guard intercepts another narco-submarine (Honduras)

Guatemala: court sentences ex-soldiers to over 6,000 years in prison

Mexico: police arrest Acapulco cartel boss wanted in massacre

The New Disappeared: Homage and Resistance (Mexico)

Mexico’s LGBT Community Faces Violence Despite Major Gains In Civil Rights

Mexican Newspaper Uncovers Systemic Monitoring Plans of Public Online Sources

Persevering on the Air in Oaxaca: Independent Radio's Contribution to Indigenous Community

Cuba high court upholds US contractor's 15-year sentence

Forced Evictions Continue, Despite Public Opposition from Martelly (Haiti)

Dominican Republic Urged To Protect Journalists After Recent Killing

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