Tuesday, November 22, 2011

WNU #1106: Colombian Students Suspend Strike

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1106, November 20, 2011

1. Colombia: Students Suspend Strike, Continue Mobilizations
2. Haiti: Fired Unionists Push for Reinstatement
3. Mexico: US Unions Back Miners and Electrical Workers
4. US: SOA Protester Risks Arrest for Immigrant Rights
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico

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. Colombia: Students Suspend Strike, Continue Mobilizations
Students began returning to classes in Colombia’s public universities on Nov. 17, a day after the government of rightwing president Juan Manuel Santos formally withdrew a proposed law that the students considered an effort to privatize higher education. The Broad National Student Panel (MANE), the coordinating group for the student movement, quickly responded by announcing the suspension of a month-old strike that had shut down the country’s public universities and many of the private schools, although the group said students at some universities may stay on strike over local issues.

National student mobilizations will continue, according to MANE leaders, including a continental day of action on Nov. 24 that Colombian and Chilean students had planned earlier [see Update #1105]. Chilean schools have been on strike for six months in a similar struggle for public education. Students from Guatemala have also decided to join the Nov. 24 demonstrations, which may draw support in other countries as well.

In addition to withdrawing the proposed Law 112—an amendment to Law 30, which currently regulates higher education--President Santos’ government met another of the students’ conditions by agreeing to hold broad discussions on the higher education system with students, professors and administrators. The government also agreed not to cancel the current semester, but individual universities will be allowed to cancel if they feel they can’t make up the lost time.

“We know that what’s been accomplished so far is without any doubt a victory against the desire to privatize and in favor of a system of higher education with university autonomy and democracy, one that is national and has serious scientific and academic content,” MANE said in its announcement. But MANE spokesperson Álvaro Forero warned that the government might go back on its promises. “That’s why it’s [only] a suspension of the strike,” he said. The students are right to maintain their demonstrations and not to trust the government, historian Mauricio Archila told the Colombian weekly magazine Semana. “About 20% of the protests in Colombia between 1975 and 2010 happened because of [government] noncompliance with agreements or laws. There’s an historical reason for being distrustful.” (Semana 11/17/11; Adital (Brazil) 11/17/11; Colombia Reports 11/17/11)

President Santos' concessions to the students have brought criticism from his allies on the right. On Nov. 10 Santos’ cousin, Francisco Santos, posted a video blog on YouTube charging that the president “doesn't like to confront problems.” The students should be met “forcefully, with the legal arm of state repression,” including the use of electric shocks to control nonviolent protesters, according to Francisco Santos, who was vice president during the 2002-2010 administration of President Alvaro Uribe Vélez and is now a host on RCN radio. The video quickly went viral, outraging many viewers, and the former vice president, who handled human rights issues for the Uribe administration, posted an apology on Nov. 11. (Colombia Reports 11/11/11, ___ )

*2. Haiti: Fired Unionists Push for Reinstatement
Haitian activists have started an international campaign to force Port-au-Prince apparel assembly plants to rehire six union members who were dismissed in the last week of September, allegedly for their union activities [see Update #1099]. As part of the campaign, Yannick Etienne, an organizer with the Haitian leftist group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”), was in Montreal on Nov. 14 meeting with local labor rights activists and with media to put pressure on Gildan Activewear Inc., a Montreal-based apparel firm that has garments stitched at one of the Haitian plants.

The fired workers are members of the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), which was officially launched in September to organize in Haiti’s mostly non-union garment assembly sector; the plants produce for export, largely to North America, and benefit from tax exemptions. Four of the SOTA members worked at Genesis S.A., a plant in the National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi) facility near the Port-au-Prince airport; the factory, which is owned by the wealthy Apaid family, produces almost exclusively for Gildan. A fifth unionist worked at another Sonapi plant, One World Apparel, which is owned by former presidential candidate Charles Henri Baker and stitches garments for Hanesbrands Inc., based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Etienne told the Montreal Gazette that Batay Ouvriye and SOTA are pushing Gildan “to demand explanations from its Haitian factories.” Gildan senior vice-president of public and affairs Peter Iliopoulos says the company is investigating the Genesis firings and SOTA’s accusation “is something that we take very seriously.” Hanesbrands spokesperson Matt Hill said the One World Apparel firing is “under investigation” as well, and the US company will take “appropriate action.” Better Work Haiti, a labor standards program partnered with the International Labor Organization (ILO), is also said to be investigating the firings. Despite the promises, “we are still waiting,” Etienne said. (Montreal Gazette 11/14/11)

Georges Sassine, who heads the Haitian factory owners’ association, denies SOTA’s charges. “These incidents, they have nothing to do with people trying to form a union,” he told Inter Press Service (IPS) in October. “Now suddenly, the whole international community is on my back telling me I’m against people organizing.” According to Sassine, the problem is Batay Ouvriye, which he believes is trying to shut down factories completely, not organize a union. One World Apparel’s Baker also claims not to oppose labor organizing but says it has to be done “in the right way.”

Despite the owners’ assertion that they allow organizing, only one of the 23 assembly plants in Haiti has a union, according to Richard Lavallée, Better Work Haiti's director. The one union plant, in Ouanaminthe in Northeast department at the Dominican border, was organized by Batay Ouvriye [see Update #829].

Former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), now the UN special envoy to Haiti, regularly promotes the creation of assembly plants as a way to develop Haiti’s economy. Last year IPS asked Clinton asked how this would be different from the growth of the assembly plant sector in the 1980s, which seemed to do nothing to improve Haiti’s economic situation. The 1980s manufacturing boom “couldn’t be sustained because nothing ever happened inside Haiti,” Clinton answered. “So this time what we're trying to do is build the capacity of Haitians to govern themselves…. It's a very different thing now. This is a piece of a much broader strategy.” (IPS 10/27/11)

*3. Mexico: US Unions Back Miners and Electrical Workers
On Nov. 16 the largest US labor federation, the AFL-CIO, presented its 2011 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, general secretary of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM). AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and United Steelworkers (USW) president Leo Gerard made the presentation at ceremony in the federation’s Washington, DC headquarters; Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Machaud (D-ME) also attended. The two US labor leaders both have links to the Mexican miners’ union: Trumka is the former head of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Gerard and the USW have been working closely with the SNTMMSRM, which represents steelworkers as well as miners.

Oralia Casso de Gómez, Gómez Urrutia’s wife, accepted the award. The union leader himself couldn’t attend because of a US refusal to grant him a visa for the ceremony. The US State Department would only say that the reasons were “confidential.” Gómez Urrutia has been living in exile in Vancouver, Canada, since 2006, after the government of former Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006) brought corruption charges against him.

The AFL-CIO award is the latest sign that the US labor movement is trying to build stronger links to independent unions in Mexico. Last year the SNTMMSRM and the USW were exploring the possibility of a merger [see Update #1040], and currently the AFL-CIO is supporting the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) in a complaint it filed on Oct. 27 against the Mexican government under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), a side agreement negotiated along with the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Current Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa abruptly laid off 44,000 SME members in October 2009, setting off a conflict between the government and the union which has still not been completely resolved [see Update #1097]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/17/11 from correspondent; Huffington Post 11/18/11; SDPnoticias.com (Mexico) 11/14/11; Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) press release 10/27/11 via Market Watch)

*4. US: SOA Protester Risks Arrest for Immigrant Rights
Thousands of activists attended the 21st annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), in front of the US Army's Fort Benning base in Columbus, Georgia, on Nov. 20. The SOA Watch movement, which sponsors the protests, opposes the army’s training of Latin American soldiers, noting that SOA graduates have been among the region's most notorious human rights violators.

Organizers estimated the crowd at about 5,000, while Columbus police said 3,007 people participated. Only one person, Theresa Cusimano of Denver, was arrested for trespassing on the fort’s property; she faces a maximum sentence of six months for her act of civil disobedience. The largest SOA protest to date was in 2006, when SOA Watch reported 22,000 participants [see Update #876], and the number of people arrested reached 85 in 2002. Attorney Bill Quigley, a professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans who particpated, said he thought the lower activity this year resulted from the Occupy protests: “It’s a good thing that there’s so much going on around the country, and I think it reduced the turnout this year.” (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer 11/20/11; SOA Watch blog 11/20/11)

Chicago activist Chris Spicer, who was recently released from federal prison after serving a six-month sentence for civil disobedience at the 2010 SOA protest, was arrested again in nearby Lumpkin, Georgia, on Nov. 18, this time for trespassing at the Stewart Detention Center during a march of 270 people for immigrant rights. The Stewart facility is the country’s largest privately owned immigrant detention center. “The SOA and inhumane immigration policies are part of the same racist system of violence and domination,” Spicer said, referring to the fact that many immigrants to the US are refugees from violence by US-trained militaries. Stewart County judge Wayne Ammons set Spicer’s bail at $5,000. (SOA Watch blog 11/18/11)

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

Argentina: Beyond the ‘High Dollar’

Chile: When Triumphant Neoliberalism Begins to Crack

Brazil deploys military forces, pledges

Masked Gunmen Attack Brazilian Indian Leader in Shock Execution

Brazil: Forced Evictions Must Not Mar Rio Olympics

Bolivia agrees to restore US diplomatic ties

A Political Victory for Bolivia

Colombia: new FARC chief "Timochenko" blasts Santos government

Colombian Student Protesters Demand Quality - and Equality

Venezuela’s Economic Growth Doubles 2011 Forecast, Grows 4.2% in Third Quarter

Venezuela Sends National Guard To The Streets To Fight Crime

U.S. Plays Shadowy Role in Salvadoran Security Minister’s Resignation

Honduras: Wife Of Ousted President Zelaya To Run In 2013

Mexico: Zetas kill bloggers

Another Tijuana narco-tunnel uncovered (Mexico)

Ciudad Juárez Is Not Only Violence (Mexico)

Mexico: Police Beatings, Jail Time and Threats Won’t Deter Indignadxs de Juarez Activists

Mexico: PRI Wins Michoacan Governor Election, Preliminary Results Say

The Mexican Lefts Pick a Candidate

Lopez Obrador to run for Mexican presidency

The Assault on Autonomous Education in Southeast Mexico

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: