Tuesday, September 27, 2011

WNU #1098: Chilean Students March as President Makes UN Speech

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1098, September 25, 2011

1. Chile: Student Strikers March as President Makes UN Speech
2. Colombia: Students Build for National Strike
3. Honduras: Cops Arrest More Aguán Campesinos
4. Central America: Abuse Continues in US-Linked Maquilas
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Amazon region, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico

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: Student Strikers March as President Makes UN Speech
Chilean students took to the streets on Sept. 22 to push their demands for free public education and a reversal of the privatization policies started under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Organizers estimated that 180,000 people marched in Santiago, with thousands more protesting in major cities like Concepción, Talca, Temuco and Valparaíso, making the protest one of the larger demonstrations in the nearly four months since secondary and university students began striking at their schools [see Update #1094]. Following a familiar pattern, the march was generally peaceful until a confrontation started between the police and a few hooded youths at the end of the route. About 50 arrests were reported.

“We’ve shut this government up,” Camilo Ballesteros, president of the Federation of Santiago de Chile University Students (FEUSACH), said at the conclusion of the march, near the La Moneda presidential palace. “We’ve got this park filled with students, filled with conviction and happiness.” Analysts had suggested that the movement was ebbing when just 10,000 people came out for a march a week earlier. Andrés Chadwick, spokesperson for rightwing president Sebastián Piñera, responded to the massive turnout on Sept. 22 by saying “a bigger or smaller march isn’t going to change the basic concern of the government” to resolve the issues through dialogue.

President Piñera himself was in New York on Sept. 22 to address the United Nations General Assembly. His government was ready for “the greatest reform, and it has promised the greatest economic, human, professional and technical resources for advancing towards a true revolution in our educational system,” he told the delegates, promising coverage for vulnerable sectors of the population and free schooling for those who need it. (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/23/11 from correspondent)

Three students from the Darío Salas High School in Santiago were hospitalized on Sept. 23 due to the effects of a two-month hunger strike in support of the movement's demands. Cristián Silva, a spokesperson for the strikers, said their health was in a delicate state but they were ready to resume the fast once their condition was stabilized. Eight students remain on hunger strike at High School A-131 in the city of Buin, in Maipo province, part of Greater Santiago. There have been hunger strikes at about 30 schools in the Santiago area. (TeleSUR 9/24/11, with information from EFE, Europa Press, InfoBAE)

2. Colombia: Students Build for National Strike
An operation by the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) of Colombia’s National Police in Pamplona University in the northern department of Norte de Santander on Sept. 20 set off a confrontation between police and students that left four students and two police agents injured; two students were arrested. The students had started blocking the school’s main entrances on Sept. 16 to protest high tuition costs, to demand improvements in the school’s program and infrastructure, and to oppose a national education “reform” bill. The riot police reportedly used tear gas in an effort to remove the protesters, who responded with rocks and sticks.

A number of Colombian organizations denounced the police incursion. “We vehemently reject the repression of the students, the entry of the ESMAD on campuses and the criminalization of student protest, the militarization of university campuses and all repressive action against the student body,” the Iván David Ortiz Human Rights Monitoring Center wrote in response to the police operation.

Two days later, on Sept. 22, 100 or more students, some of them hooded, confronted ESMAD agents at the District University in the center of Bogotá. The police used stun grenades, water cannons and tear gas, while the protesters threw rocks and homemade grenades. Ten protesters were arrested, according to Gen. Francisco Patiño, commander of the Bogotá Metropolitan Police. Three of those arrested were minors and were turned over to their parents, but the others could face up to two years in prison, Patiño said.

Colombian students and teachers have been organizing against changes that President Juan Manuel Santos has proposed for Law 30, which has been in effect since 1992; the protesters say the new version of the law would lead to privatization of the education system. Thousands participated in a protest against Santos’ proposals on Sept. 7 [see World World 4 Report 9/8/11], and the Federation of University Students (FEU) has called for a national “consultation” on Oct. 5-6. This would be followed by a national strike on Oct. 12 on the model of the protests that have paralyzed Chilean schools for nearly four months. (Adital (Brazil) 9/20/11; Prensa Latina 9/20/11, 9/24/11; Terra (Colombia) 9/22/11)

According to an opinion poll carried out by the Datexco firm and published by the Colombian daily El Tiempo on Sept. 23, 67.1% of Colombians support the call for a strike on Oct. 12, 30.9% oppose it, and 2.0% don’t know about it. The pollsters surveyed 700 people in 13 cities. (Notimex 9/23/11 via SDPnoticias.com (Mexico))

3. Honduras: Cops Arrest More Aguán Campesinos
According to human rights organizations in Honduras, between 200 and 600 soldiers and police agents raided the campesino community of Rigores in the northern department of Colón on the afternoon of Sept. 19. Residents reported that security forces broke into homes, destroying utensils and hitting both adults and children. There was also a report of homes being set on fire. Two minors were arrested: 15-year-old Darwin Leonel Cartagena and 16-year-old Santos Bernabé Cruz Aldana, the son of local campesino leader Rodolfo Cruz. As of Sept. 20 the community had still not learned where the youths were.

This was the second raid on the Rigores community in three days. On Sept. 16 soldiers and police arrested 21 people [not 40, as we reported in Update #1097, following our sources]. The detained campesinos, who were released later, said the police treated them cruelly during their captivity, threatening to kill women and children if they returned to their homes and to murder human rights activists who supported the campesinos. The Rigores community is one of a number of communities and organizations that have been struggling for years in the Lower Aguán Valley for land currently held by large landowners; as many as 51 campesinos have died in the conflicts in the region over the past two years. (Red Morazánica de Información 9/20/11 via Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (Honduras); Adital (Brazil) 9/20/11)

The attacks on Rigores appeared to be in retaliation for the deaths of a soldier and a police agent near there on Sept. 16 in what the authorities said was an ambush of a patrol vehicle by guerrilla forces. Campesinos denied from the beginning that there was an ambush and suggested that a drunken soldier accidentally detonated a grenade inside the vehicle. Vitalino Alvarez, a spokesperson for the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), told Honduran media that the road is straight where rebels allegedly ambushed the patrol vehicle and that there aren’t enough trees and bushes there to provide cover for attackers. Alvarez says he went to the hospital right after the attack and saw injuries that were consistent with a grenade explosion, not an assault with rifles. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog 9/20/11)

4. Central America: Abuse Continues in US-Linked Maquilas
Managers at two factories in northern Honduras owned by the US clothing firm Delta Apparel, Inc. are continuing to threaten women employees suffering from work-related injuries, according to a Sept. 22 statement by the Honduran Women’s Collective (CODEMUH). The group, which reported labor abuses at the plants in July [see Update #1090], said injured workers had applied to the Labor and Social Security Secretariat (STSS) to have the company reassign them to other work. Management has responded by saying there are no other jobs available and these employees aren’t competent at the work, CODEMUH reported. The two plants are Delta Apparel Honduras and Delta Apparel Cortés, maquiladoras (tax-exempt assembly plants producing for export) in Cortés department. (Adital (Brazil) 9/23/11)

Students in the US are now campaigning against university contracts with Silver Star Merchandising, a Dallas Cowboys affiliate, because of reports of labor abuse at two apparel maquiladoras that the firm has used in El Salvador and one in Indonesia. The US group United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) reported harassment of union supporters at both Salvadoran plants; there were also reports of contaminated drinking water and illegal compulsory overtime at one of these factories. The University of Southern California has already signed a contract with Silver Star for producing college-logo apparel, and Ohio State University is considering a similar contract. News reports didn’t identify the two Salvadoran factories. (New York Times 9/24/11)

In July 2010 a campaign by USAS at several universities forced the US sportswear giant Nike, Inc to pay $1.54 million to some 1,600 workers laid off by two Nike subcontractors in Honduras [see Update #1042].

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Amazon region, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico

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Mexico: Peace Movement Meets Zapatistas

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Mexican Constitution Now Recognizes Right to Food

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Teachers Strike, March for Safety in the Workplace (Mexico)

More GM crops in Puerto Rico: Why We Should Worry

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