Tuesday, January 24, 2012

WNU #1114: Argentines Unite Against Subway Fare Hike

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1114, January 22, 2012

1. Argentina: Subway Workers and Riders Unite Against Fare Hike
2. Ecuador: Indigenous and Women’s Groups Slam Correa
3. Honduras: Lawyer Killed After Reporting Police Abuses
4. Guatemala: Will Ríos Montt Finally Face Genocide Charges?
5. Cuba: Government Denies Prisoner Died From Hunger Strike
6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, 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. Argentina: Subway Workers and Riders Unite Against Fare Hike
Argentine judge Fernando Juan Lima ruled on Jan. 16 that the Buenos Aires city government could continue for now with a 127% increase it had imposed for the subway fare on Jan. 6. A coalition including unions, student groups and political and social organizations had filed for an emergency injunction to halt the increase, which raises the fare to 2.5 pesos (about 58 cents).

Judge Lima rejected the emergency injunction on the grounds that the increase wouldn’t “cause irreparable harm” to the system’s two million users. But the judge noted that he hadn’t issued a final ruling on the coalition’s case against the increase, and he said he would act on that within 20 days.

The coalition--the Multi-Sector Committee Against the Fare Hike in the Subte (as the subway system is known)--didn’t limit itself to using legal maneuvers to fight the fare hike. The groups also collected more than 200,000 signatures on a petition against the increase, which they said would be a hardship for poorer riders, and presented it to Judge Lima. Subway workers protested the increase by opening the turnstiles during rush hours for about a week and letting passengers ride for free. [The Union Association of Subte and Premetro Workers (AGTSyP), part of the coalition, used this tactic when it sought recognition as a union in 2009; see Update #1004.]

As of Jan. 18 the coalition was determined to continue the fight but seemed divided on what tactics to follow after Lima ruled against the emergency injunction.

At the same time that he was facing angry subway riders and workers, Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri was also in a dispute with the city’s “manteros,” vendors who sell handcrafts, blankets and clothing on Florida Street in the center of the city. On Jan. 16 the vendors blocked Corrientes Street to protest Macri’s decision the week before to send the Metropolitan police to remove them, a move that resulted in confrontations and injuries. The vendors have also protested by selling their wares in front of the Congress. They argue that their activities are protected by Article 83 of Law 1472, which allows artists and makers of handcrafts to occupy public space.

Until this year subsidies from the federal government made it possible to maintain low fares in the capital’s subway system. But the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner--the head of a left-leaning section of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist) who began her second four-year term on Dec. 10--is now drastically cutting subsidies for transportation and utilities. The Argentine consulting firm Econométrica projects that the growth rate for the national economy will fall to 2% this year, down from 7% in 2011, partly as a result of the global economic crisis. Facing a shortfall, the Fernández government is retreating from generous social spending that has helped contain conflicts in the decade since Argentina’s 2001-2002 economic crisis; the president’s critics say the spending also helped her win an easy electoral victory last October.

The decision to turn the subway over to the municipal government and withdraw the subsidy has a political benefit for the president, since it shifts the problem to Macri, one of Fernández’s main rivals, and his rightwing Republican Proposal (Pro) party. The federal government has agreed to continue to pay about half the old subsidy to the end of 2012. (Wall Street Journal 1/6/12; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/17/12 from correspondent; TeleSUR 1/17/12; Buenos Aires Herald 1/17/12; Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores (MST) website 1/18/12)

*2. Ecuador: Indigenous and Women’s Groups Slam Correa
On Jan. 10 the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the country’s main indigenous umbrella group, issued a communiqué reporting a “surprising and inexplicable” police presence in the organization’s headquarters in Quito. “[A]round 9:45 am police arrived [in a ] truck [at] the CONAIE offices, and two police agents dressed in black entered inside the offices,” the group wrote. Asked to explain their presence, one agent mentioned a possible danger to CONAIE president Humberto Cholango; later the agents said they were there to protect a meeting of indigenous organizations scheduled for that day. CONAIE said it hadn’t reported any dangers or asked for protection, and the group denounced the “arbitrary and illegal acts against social organizations that [are] being implemented in Ecuador.” (CONAIE communiqué 1/10/12)

The incident shows the level of distrust that has developed between popular Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and many of the grassroots and leftist organizations that helped bring him to office five years ago. It came just as Correa was preparing to celebrate the fifth anniversary on Jan. 15 of his first inauguration and of the start of what he calls the “citizens’ revolution.”

Respected figures from the Latin American left and social movements and the arts attended festivities held in Cuenca, including Cuban musician Pablo Milanés and the Guatemalan indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum, the winner of the 1992 Nobel peace prize. But Menchú also paid a visit to CONAIE president Cholango, who gave her a document that accused Correa’s government of criminalizing social protest and of bringing legal cases against indigenous leaders. In the past five years, Cholango told Menchú, the government had failed to push forward agrarian reform, the redistribution of water rights, the democratization of the economy and the development of a state that recognizes Ecuador’s different nationalities. (El Tiempo (Quito) 1/10/12)

Camila Vallejo Dowling, the best known of the leaders of Chile’s militant student movement, was also expected at the celebration, but on Jan. 10 she announced via Twitter that she wouldn’t attend, because of “time and responsibilities here in Chile.” (El Comercio (Cuenca) 1/10/12)

Meanwhile, Correa offended women activists in his own PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Nation) Alliance with remarks he made on Dec. 31 during his weekly television program. “I don’t know if gender equality improves democracy,” he said. “What is certain is that it has improved the party”—a New Year’s Eve party for government ministers and members of the National Assembly. “What pretty Assembly members we have! We need to raise their salaries, since they didn’t have money to buy enough cloth, with all of them in miniskirts. My God…they told me they have some amazing legs.”

On Jan. 10 a group of women, including members of his party, sent Correa a letter saying that “[s]ince politics is also pedagogy and a president’s discourse can send many messages, allow us to remind you how the participation of women has improved democracy.” They noted that a democracy is incomplete if it excludes half the population, and that women have strengthened democracy by “questioning the traditional division between the public and the private spheres.” “Machismo too is violence,” they concluded. But another PAIS Alliance member, Loja province governor Alicia Jaramillo, defended Correa: “This is the first government that has included women in ministerial posts,” she said, attributing the president’s Dec. 31 remarks to his good humor. (Otra América website 1/10/12)

The Coordinating Committee for the Unity of the Lefts has chosen Mar. 8, International Women’s Day, to protest government policies with a national march “for life, democracy and the defense of natural resources.” The sponsoring coalition includes CONAIE, the National Union of Educators (UNE), the Unified Workers Front and the Federation of Secondary and University Students. (El Comercio 1/17/12)

*3. Honduras: Lawyer Killed After Reporting Police Abuses
Three unidentified men gunned down attorney José Ricardo Rosales the morning of Jan. 17 near his office or residence (the accounts differ) in the coastal city of Tela in the northern Honduran department of Atlántida. The murder came just four days after the San Pedro Sula daily El Tiempo ran a news report on Rosales’ claim that Tela police agents had been abusing detainees. Rosales may also have offended the authorities by carrying out a successful defense of Marco Joel Alvarez (“Unicorn”) against government charges that he was responsible for the March 2011 murder of radio and television journalist David Meza in the nearby city of La Ceiba. Meza had regularly criticized the police force on his programs.

Héctor Turcios, the chief of Tela’s Preventive Police, told reporters that the department didn’t have “a hypothesis for why [the killers] ended the lawyer’s existence.”

Some 30 lawyers have reportedly been killed in Honduras since 2008, while 17 journalists were murdered from 2010 through 2011. President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa has been conducting purges of the country’s 14,000 police agents over the last three months, but this has done little to end complaints that the police abuse detainees and collaborate with drug traffickers and other criminals [see Updates #1104, 1112]. Tela’s police force was removed just days before Rosales made his accusations, and a new force was brought in: the new agents were the ones Rosales accused of abusing detainees. “[I]f the previous agents go away and they send us others who are worse...we’re not accomplishing anything,” he told El Tiempo.  (El Tiempo 1/13/12; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 1/18/12; AP 1/18/12 via El Nuevo Herald (Miami))

*4. Guatemala: Will Ríos Montt Finally Face Genocide Charges?
Former Guatemalan military dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) is to appear before a judge on Jan. 26 in what could become a trial for genocide. Ríos Montt headed the government during one of the bloodiest periods in a 36-year counterinsurgent war that left more than 200,000 people dead, mostly civilians. After the fighting ended in 1996 Ríos Montt re-emerged as a politician, leading the rightwing Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) and holding a seat in Congress from 2000 until this month. The legislative position gave him immunity from prosecution, which has now ended.

Guatemala’s new president, Otto Pérez Molina, who was inaugurated on Jan. 14, was a major in the army during the Ríos Montt dictatorship [see World War 4 Report 11/7/11]. He operated around Nebaj, El Quiché department, in the Ixil Mayan region, where the killings amounted to genocide according to a 1999 report by a truth commission backed by the United Nations. The new president denies any involvement in war crimes and says he’ll support efforts by the attorney general to bring human rights cases to trial. (New York Times 1/23/12)

Titular de Hoy: Guatemala, a documentary from 1983 which appeared on Finnish television, includes a scene in which Pérez Molina, then known in the Nebaj area as “Commander Tito,” is interviewed by US investigative reporter Allan Nairn. The scene, which was posted separately on YouTube in May 2011, shows Commander Tito standing near several battered corpses in Nebaj; one of his soldiers said these were captives Pérez Molina had “interrogated.” ( “Democracy Now!” 1/17/12)

*5. Cuba: Government Denies Prisoner Died From Hunger Strike
The Cuban government announced on Jan. 20 that a prisoner, Wilmar Villar Mendoza, had died the day before in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Santiago de Cuba. The government said Villar had been hospitalized six days before with pneumonia and had died of “generalized infection.” According to Villar’s wife, Maritza Pelegrino, the prisoner had been on hunger strike from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23 to protest his four-year prison sentence and had resumed the strike on Dec. 29. Elizardo Sánchez, a well-known Cuban dissident, said Villar had been active in with an opposition group since last summer.

US president Barack Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, released a statement on Jan. 20 calling Villar “a young and courageous defender of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba who launched a hunger strike to protest his incarceration and succumbed to pneumonia.” The Cuban government denied that Villar had been on hunger strike or that he was a political prisoner; the Cubans said the US, Spain and Chile were “manipulating” the death and called them “interventionists…without moral authority.” (White House statement 1/20/12; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/21/12 from correspondent; El Universal (Mexico) 1/22/12 from correspondent)

On Jan. 12 the noted Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano visited Cuba for the first time since 2003, when he, along with Portuguese author José Saramago and other leftist intellectuals, criticized the Cuban government’s execution of three boat hijackers and the imprisonment of 75 dissidents. The occasion for Galeano’s visit was the Jan. 16 ceremony for the literature prize awarded annually by Casa de las Américas, a major Cuban cultural organization. “The true friend is the one who criticizes you to your face and praises you behind your back,” Galeano said during his visit, adding that he was quoting the late Carlos Fonseca Amador, a founder of Nicaragua’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

According to Galeano, his most famous work, The Open Veins of Latin America, failed to win the Casa de las Américas prize in 1971 because the jury didn’t consider the book “serious enough.” “It was a period in which the left still confused being serious with being boring,” he said. “Fortunately, this was changing, and in our days it is known that the best ally of the left is laughter.” (LJ 1/17/12 from correspondent)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti

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