Monday, September 19, 2011

WNU #1097: Have Mexican Electrical Workers Won Their Two-Year Struggle?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1097, September 18, 2011

1. Mexico: Have Electrical Workers Won Their Two-Year Struggle?
2. Honduras: Campesinos Arrested as Aguán Violence Continues
3. Argentina: Ex-President Walks in Arms Smuggling Case
4. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Andes region, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, 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. Mexico: Have Electrical Workers Won Their Two-Year Struggle?
Leaders of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) reached an agreement with Mexico’s federal government on Sept. 13 that ended a sit-in the unionists had been holding in Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zócalo, since March. In exchange for stopping the protest, the union received a pledge that the authorities would negotiate a way for some 16,720 laid-off members to return to work. The government also agreed to free up union funds worth 21 million pesos (about $1.6 million) that it had frozen and to review the cases of SME members arrested in the two years of struggle between the authorities and the unionists.

The SME members packed up their tents and belongings and vacated the plaza in time for maintenance crews to begin preparing for Mexican Independence Day celebrations, which are traditionally held there on Sept. 15 and 16. Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, the head of the government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), thanked the union for “freeing” the Zócalo. Union leaders said Ebrard, who is seeking the nomination of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) for the 2012 presidential election, was key to the negotiations.

The face-off between the government and the SME, one of the country’s largest independent unions, began the night of Oct. 10, 2009, when Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa abruptly liquidated the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) and terminated some 44,000 employees [see Update #1007]. About 27,280 workers accepted the government’s severance package, but the others followed the union leadership’s strategy, which combined negotiations with militant protests, including a 90-day hunger strike last year and joint actions with other unions [see Updates #1041, 1066]. SME general secretary Martín Esparza Flores and his slate easily won reelection in a vote last June by the remaining active union members and the retirees. Meanwhile, residents of the central area of Mexico that had been served by the LFC complained about frequent blackouts and high electricity bills after the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) took on LFC’s customers.

The respected labor law expert Néstor de Buen wrote on Sept. 18 that Esparza had had a “notable success” in winning the Sept. 13 agreement with the government. Esparza himself was more cautious. The government has agreed to hold weekly meetings to resolve the employment issue by Nov. 30, but it has yet to start rehiring the laid-off workers. At the Zócalo on Sept. 13 Esparza told union members that the accord was part of the struggle, but that pressure from the workers was still necessary. He said the SME leaders didn’t have confidence in the government; instead, they trusted the members’ capacity for mobilizing. (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/14/11, 9/18/11; Mexican Labor News & Analysis, August 2011)

*2. Honduras: Campesinos Arrested as Aguán Violence Continues
Honduran authorities say armed rebels killed a police agent and a soldier in a military-police patrol the afternoon of Sept. 16 in the Lower Aguán Valley, the site of numerous violent struggles over land over the past two years [see Updates #1094, 1096]. According to Gen. René Osorio Canales, head of the Armed Forces Joint General Staff, the soldiers and police agents were in two vehicles carrying out a routine patrol at the La Consentida estate, in Sonaguera municipality in the northern department of Colón, when they were ambushed by “people with high-caliber weapons, people who have dedicated themselves to guerrilla activities.”

Police agent Antony Costly was killed at the scene, and Mariano García Bernal, a soldier, died later at a hospital. A police agent and two soldiers were wounded. The patrols were part of the Xatruch II deployment that President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa ordered into the area on Aug. 15 in what the government said was a response to the violence there. (AFP 9/17/11 via Univisión TV; Proceso Digital (Honduras) 9/17/11; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 9/18/11)

Campesinos from the area gave activists and human right workers a different account. They said there was an ongoing dispute over ownership of the La Consentida estate, which is held by a producer for Standard Fruit. Campesinos had occupied it but were removed earlier in this month. They returned on Sept. 16, and private guards at the estate called in the police and military. According to the campesinos, the two deaths resulted from a grenade exploding inside one of the vehicles—a grenade the agents and soldiers may have been planning to throw out the window at the campesinos. After the explosion, the patrols arrested some 40 campesinos from the nearby Rigores community, and apparently took them to a police station in Tocoa municipality.

As of Sept. 17 human rights groups were asking for calls and faxes, in Spanish, to the Tocoa police station (+504 2444-3101, +504 2444-3105, fax +504 2444-3105). Adrienne Pine, a professor at American University in Washington, DC, called on the night of Sept. 16 and asked a woman who answered the phone how the campesinos from Rigores were being treated. “Like dogs,” the woman answered. "Are they being tortured?” Pine asked. The woman laughed and said: “If only that were true.” (Quotha blog 9/17/11, ___)

*3. Argentina: Ex-President Walks in Arms Smuggling Case
By a vote of two to one, on Sept. 13 a three-judge panel in Buenos Aires declared former Argentine president Carlos Menem (1989-1999) innocent of involvement in the government's clandestine sales of arms to Ecuador and Croatia from 1991 to 1995. The judges also acquitted former defense minister Oscar Camilión, former air force head Brig. Gen. Juan Paulik, Menem’s former brother-in-law Emir Yoma, and 14 other defendants. Prosecutor Mariano Borinsky, who had asked for an eight-year prison term for Menem, said his office would appeal the decision, although he himself is leaving his post to accept a judgeship.

Menem is the first former Argentine president ever to be tried on corruption charges. He was a close US ally during his time in office, and he vigorously pushed a neoliberal economic agenda of privatization and austerity. Two years after he left office, the economy collapsed and Argentina was unable to meet its debt obligations, resulting in what at the time was the largest default in history.

Using three secret decrees signed by Menem and his ministers, the Argentine military sold weapons to Croatia and Ecuador under the pretense that the weapons were going to Panama and Venezuela. Sales of weapons to Croatia and Ecuador were banned at the time by international agreements. Croatia was covered by an embargo of weapons for the warring former Yugoslav republics; Argentina was on the committee that was supposed to enforce the ban, and it supplied 800 United Nations peacekeepers to the region. At the same time, the Argentine government was secretly selling Croatia 6,500 tons of heavy cannons, antitank missiles and other weapons.

As a signatory of the Rio Protocol of 1942, Argentina was committed to guaranteeing a peaceful resolution to any border conflicts between Peru and Ecuador, but when a brief war broke out between the two countries over borders in 1995, Argentina secretly sold Ecuador 8,000 FAL combat rifles and 75 tons of munitions.

The Argentine daily Clarín wrote that the Sept. 13 acquittal “seemed to surprise even the defendants.” The paper, which is critical of the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, also noted that until recently Menem, now a senator from La Rioja province, was in a faction of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist) that strongly opposes the PJ faction that Fernández heads. Now Menem is running for reelection to his Senate seat as an ally of the Fernández faction. The elections will take place on Oct. 23, and the court plans to wait until after the vote to release its written decision in the arms smuggling case; this will show its reasoning for acquitting the defendants. (Clarín 9/14/11, 9/15/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 9/14/11 from correspondent)

The trial, which began in October 2008 [see Update #978], has been hampered by the loss of evidence and potential witnesses. In late 1995 nine workers died in an explosion at a military arsenal involved in the case; the explosion apparently destroyed key evidence. Two potential witnesses died in a helicopter crash, and two more died from unexpected heart attacks. Another possible witness, retired Navy captain Horacio Pedro Estrada, died of a gunshot wound in his Buenos Aires apartment in August 1998 in what the authorities ruled was a suicide. According to press accounts at the time, Estrada, who was right-handed, was shot in the left side of his head, and his hands showed no traces of gunpowder [see Update #449].

*4. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Andes region, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Streets of Latin America Offer US a Roadmap for Social Change

WikiLeaks cables reveal US fear of indigenous movements in Andes

Bolivia’s 9/11: The Pando Massacre and the TIPNIS Conflict

Indigenous peoples "bribed" in Peru's Amazon oil zones, Survival International charges

Strikes halt operations at Freeport McMoRan mines in Peru, Indonesia

Colombia: former intelligence chief gets 25 years for paramilitary collaboration

Colombia: Uribe's Former Intelligence Chief Sent to Prison

Colombian Human Rights Defenders Targeted for Prosecution: The Case of Principe Gabriel Gonzalez

Colombia: protests shut down oil production

Buenaventura, Colombia: Where Free Trade Meets Mass Graves

Venezuelan President Signs Major Deal with Chinese Development Bank

Venezuela: Chávez criticizes OAS human rights court ruling

White House censures Venezuelan officials for "narco-terrorist" ties

White House expands drug watch list to include all Central America

Colombia's police train Salvadoran law enforcement at US-funded installation

El Salvador recognizes Palestine, deploys soldiers to Afghanistan

Biofuel (the New Banana) Republic (Honduras)

New Film Tracks Struggle for Justice After Guatemalan Genocide (Video)

The War Over Land in Guatemala

Pérez Molina Leads Guatemala Election But Faces November Run-Off

Guatemala and Mexico

On the Mexico-Guatemala Border, Migrants Demand End to the Violence

Mexico: cartels threaten bloggers

Mexico Drug War Attacks Social Media Users; Bodies Hung From Nuevo Laredo Bridge

Guerrero Protesters Demand Education, Not War (Mexico)

Mexico: Indigenous Communities Defend Themselves Without the Government's “Permission”

Mexico: Peace Caravan "Has Made Us Feel Stronger"

Newly Wikileaked Cables Provide Context to Anti-MINUSTAH Backlash in the Wake of Scandals

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Our weekly Immigration News Briefs has ended publication; for news, information and announcements in support of action for immigrant rights in the United States, subscribe to Immigrant Action at:
You can also visit the Immigrant Action blog at:

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

No comments: