Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WNU #1093: Latin America Reacts to New Economic Crisis

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1093, August 21, 2011

1. Latin America: Markets, Leaders React to New Economic Crisis
2. Honduras: Students Occupy Schools in “Chilean” Protests
3. Honduras: What’s Behind the Latest Aguán Valley Violence?
4. Guatemala: Private Guards Attack Evicted Polochic Campesinos
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, 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. Latin America: Markets, Leaders React to New Economic Crisis
Fears of a renewed global recession, coupled with concerns about public debt in Europe, forced down Latin American markets on Aug. 18. The most important market in the region, Brazil’s BM&FBOVESPA (Bolsa de Valores, Mercadorias & Futuros de São Paulo), fell 3.52 % for the day, while in Argentina the MERVAL index plunged 4.11%. In Mexico City the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV) was down 2.36%; the IGBC index in Colombia fell by 3.15% and Chile’s IPSA by 1.89%.

There were reports of “pessimism” among regional leaders. Latin American economies have generally performed better than the European and US economies after the financial crisis of 2008, but there is concern about the region’s transnational companies, the “traslatinas.” “These companies are the ones that depend the most on the global economy, because of the importance of exports,” economist Alexandre Póvoa wrote in the Brazilian economic review Exame.

While in Chile on Aug. 18 as part of a visit that also included Argentina, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos proposed to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (CEPAL) that the group should organize a summit meeting of regional finance ministers and central bank presidents. “How can we Latin Americans, sitting here with more than $700 billion in reserves, act so as not be passive spectators, as if indifferent [to the crisis]?” he asked. On Aug. 20, after his return to Colombia, Santos emphasized the importance of regional integration. “All this requires us as a region to strengthen our relations, so that whatever happens we can be better protected.” (DPA 8/19/11 via Vanguardia (Coahuila, Mexico); EFE 8/20/11 via Que.es (Spain))

Colombia is the US’s closest ally in South America, and Santos’ rightwing government has been pushing hard for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US [see Update #1084]. Until now the leftist or left-leaning governments in South America have been the ones promoting regional integration, while Colombia and Mexico, the other major US ally, have been more focused on trade with the US.

“Mexico would be one of the countries most directly affected” by a renewed recession in the US, due its high level of economic integration with the larger country, the US-based rating agency Moody's Investors Service reported on Aug. 18. The group had predicted a 4% growth rate for Mexico this year and 3.9% for 2012. Although it didn’t expect major changes for the rest of 2011, Moody’s revised its prediction for Mexico next year down to 2.5%. Business leaders confirmed that they were “interested in” although not yet “worried about” the growth rate. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/19/11, 8/20/11) The Mexican economy experienced a 6.1% contraction in 2009 during the earlier world economic crisis [see Update #1088].

*2. Honduras: Students Occupy Schools in “Chilean” Protests
About a thousand Honduran secondary students, along with parents and teachers, protested in and around Tegucigalpa on Aug. 15 against a proposed law that they said would lead to the privatization of much of the school system. In the village of Germania, south of the capital, the protesters blocked cars trying to use a major highway leading to El Salvador and Nicaragua. There was a confrontation with the police at another site, the Avenida de las Fuerzas Armada in the east of the city; agents hurled tear gas grenades and arrested some 20 students, although the students were apparently released later. Police blocked a protest near the presidential palace, where President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa was meeting with teachers’ representatives about the proposed law.

National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández announced during the day that the bill, the General Law of Education, would be withdrawn and replaced with a new proposal, which he said would be arrived at by consensus. Meanwhile, the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), the main alliance of Honduran social movements, called on its members to join the student demonstrations and denounced the “savage repression” of the movement by the police.

Students have occupied some 150 public schools throughout the country over the past three weeks, and people are starting to compare the protests to the student movement in Chile, which has paralyzed the educational system there for nearly three months [see Update #1092]. According to the students, the new Honduran legislation, intended to replace a 1966 law, would end government support for education after the ninth year or when the student turns 15, forcing students to pay to finish their secondary education. Teachers unions have also opposed the government’s education reform proposals; they went on strike for much of March and April [see Update #1076], although they are apparently now negotiating with President Lobo.

The protests continued on Aug. 19 with a demonstration outside the National Congress. (Adital (Brazil) 8/16/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 8/16/11 from AFP, DPA; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 8/19/11)

*3. Honduras: What’s Behind the Latest Aguán Valley Violence?
Campesino leader Secundino Ruiz was shot dead as he was leaving a bank in Tocoa in the northern Honduran department of Colón on Aug. 20. Ruiz was president of the San Isidro Cooperative, part of the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), and he had just withdrawn 195,000 lempiras (about $10,260) to pay MARCA workers; because of the money, police attributed the killing to common criminals. Eliseo Pavón, the treasurer of the cooperative, was wounded, according to Julio Espinal, the commander of a police contingent sent to the area earlier in the week. (FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) 8/20/11 via Vos el Soberano (Honduras); Prensa Latina 8/21/11)

MARCA is one of several campesino groups claiming land in the Lower Aguán Valley, the scene of numerous and sometimes violent conflicts over land ownership. Three members of the organization were killed on June 5 [see Update #1083].

Ruiz’s murder followed an exceptionally bloody week in which 11 other people were killed in the valley. Six died on Aug. 14 at the Paso del Aguán estate (also described as the Panama estate) of Grupo Dinant, a major Honduran food product and cooking oil corporation headed by one of the country’s largest landowners, Miguel Facussé Barjum. Four of the victims were Dinant security personnel, and the other two have been described as campesinos, according to most accounts; one report said five guards were killed and one campesino.

Five more people were killed on Aug. 15, shot with automatic weapons as they rode in a Pepsi distribution company’s pickup truck on the highway between Sinaloa and the city of Sabá. The victims were four of the distributor’s contract employees--Bonifacio Dubón, Elvin Ortiz and Eleuterio Lara, and their supervisor, Karla Vanesa Cacho—and Migdalia Sarmiento, who had gotten a ride with them. Sarmiento ran a refreshment stand near the regional office of the government’s National Agrarian Institute (INA), where she worked as a cleaning person years before. The authorities found no evidence that the victims had been robbed.

Later on Aug. 15 Security Minister Oscar Alvarez announced that the government would respond to the violence by sending 600 soldiers and police agents to the area in an operation codenamed Xatruch II. The new deployment, which Alvarez said would search for the culprits and for illegal weapons, joins some 400 soldiers already in stationed in the region.

There are widely different accounts of what happened in the Aug. 14-15 incidents. Some sources say the Aug. 14 violence started with a peaceful land occupation by campesinos from the Rigores community, which was destroyed by police agents and private guards on June 24. Dinant guards, who are accused in a number of campesino deaths, tried to repel the invaders at Paso de Aguán, according to this account, and soldiers backing up the security group mistakenly shot at the guards. But Agrarian Reform Minister César Ham, leader of the center-left Democratic Unification (UD) party, denied that the Aug. 14 incident involved a land dispute. Other officials suggested guerrillas were involved, without giving any evidence, or pointed to narco-traffickers, who have been active in parts of Central America [see Update #1067]. There was also talk of gangs that have reportedly been robbing produce in the Aguán. Similar confusion surrounds the Aug. 15 attack on the Pepsi distributor’s truck; there have been suggestions that it was a case of mistaken identity.

Aguán campesino groups and other social movements have also given different interpretations of the events, although all seem agreed that the campesinos are not using violence. “Our movement is peaceful, but it’s about the struggle for the recovery of the earth in order to produce, and this is exactly what the Honduran campesinos are doing,” the Honduran branch of Vía Campesina, an international campesino organization, wrote on Aug. 15. (Comunicaciones la Vía Campesina Honduras 8/15/11 via Honduras Laboral; Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP)-Colón 8/15/11 via Vos el Soberano (Honduras); La Prensa (San Pedro Sula) 8/16/11; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 8/16/11; Adital (Brazil) 8/17/11; Honduras Weekly 8/17/11; Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH) 8/17/11 via Vos el Soberano; Upside Down World 8/19/11)

*4. Guatemala: Private Guards Attack Evicted Polochic Campesinos
A group of men armed with guns wounded seven indigenous campesinos during an hour-long attack Aug. 10 on an encampment in the Polochic Valley in the northeastern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz. Three campesinos were seriously hurt: Martín Pec Taycon, who was shot in the abdomen; Carlos Ical, with a leg wound; and nine-year-old Elena Tec, with a bullet in her foot. The men also set fire to the campesinos’ homes and possessions. The campesinos identified the attackers as members of the security group of the Ingenio Chabil Utzaj S.A., an agribusiness owned by the Widmann family.

Some 22 campesino families, members of the Q’eqchi’ Maya group, had been living on the edge of Chabil Utzaj’s Paraná estate after they were forcibly expelled in March, along with nearly 600 other families, from land claimed by Chabil Utzaj in Panzós municipality. Some 2,000 police, soldiers and security guards had burned their homes and crops in a violent operation over several days during which one community member, Antonio Beb Ac, was killed. On June 20 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), gave the government of Alvaro Colom' 15 days to guarantee the life and physical integrity of the displaced campesinos, to ensure that they had food and shelter, and to report on investigations into the violence that accompanied the March evictions. As of July 5 the government had done nothing to comply with the order [see Update #1087].

The only response by President Colom’s office to the Aug. 10 attack was a statement condemning the violence and demanding that prosecutors carry out “an in-depth investigation to determine who is responsible…and to prevent armed groups from acting outside the law.” Journalist Marielos Monzón asked in a column for the Guatemalan newpaper Prensa Libre what part of the IACHR order wasn’t clear to the government. Noting that 75% of the country’s best land remain concentrated in the hands of just 1% of the population, Monzón quoted 20th-century Guatemalan historian Severo Martínez Peláez: “The primordial problem of Guatemalan society is the bad distribution of its primary wealth, the earth, which is concentrated in just a few hands.” (EFE 8/10/11 via Terra (Peru); EFE 8/12/11 via Latin American Herald Tribune; Prensa Libre 8/16/11)

Note: the Update will skip next week; the next issue will be dated Sept. 4.

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti

Argentina: Fernández de Kirchner Wins First-Ever Open Primary

Bolivia: A Week At the Barricades

Amazon Pipeline Gets Go-Ahead Amid Reports of ‘Cover-up’ (Peru)

Peru suspends coca eradication —for now

Colombia: Piedad Córdoba Leaves Country Due To Threats

Colombia Holds National 'Peace Congress' To Find Solution To Conflict

Venezuela Holds FARC Extradition After Asylum Request

Venezuela “Bringing Home” Gold Reserves, Plans to Nationalize All Gold Mining

Salvadoran ex-high commanders arrested in 1989 Jesuit massacre

Honduras: Campesinos Murdered as Honduran-Canadian Trade Agreement Moves Forward

March Against Drug War Rejects “National Security Law”, Calls for “Citizen Security” (Mexico)

Asymmetric Warfare in Mexico?

Electrical Workers Occupy Zócalo as Leaders Are Charged (Mexico)

Solidarity Alliance Between the United Steelworkers and the Mexican Mine and Metalworkers Unions (Mexico)

Brazilian Defense Minister Amorim Supports Withdrawal of Troops from Haiti – But When?

Not Doing Enough: Unnecessary Sickness and Death from Cholera in Haiti

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