Tuesday, January 31, 2012

WNU #1115: Chile and Mexico Lead OECD in Income Inequality

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1115, January 29, 2012

1. Latin America: Chile and Mexico Lead OECD in Income Inequality
2. Mexico: Fortuna Silver Mine Protester Killed
3. Guatemala: Ríos Montt Charged; Pérez Molina Denies Genocide
4. Honduras: Another Aguán Campesino Leader Murdered
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, 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. Latin America: Chile and Mexico Lead OECD in Income Inequality
Chile and Mexico have the highest level of income inequality among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the group announced on Jan. 23. The other OECD members with the widest gap between rich and poor are Israel, Turkey and the US, according to the OECD’s new report, Reducing Income Inequality While Boosting Economic Growth: Can It Be Done? Chile and Mexico are the only Latin American countries in the organization, which is mostly composed of higher-income nations. The US is the high-income nation with the worst record on income inequality.

“Rising inequality is one of the major risks to our future prosperity and security,” OECD chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan warned in a statement. With the global downturn continuing more than three years after the September 2008 financial crisis, the OECD is pushing member countries to use tax reforms to reduce the level of inequality and to spur growth. Specifically, an OECD report released on Jan. 17 advised Chile to reduce poverty and create a tax system that does more to redistribute income. The report also called on Chile’s government “to make more of an effort to improve the quality of education and to guarantee a more equitable access to high-quality education”—the same reforms that a militant student movement has been pushing for since last spring [see Update #1110].

An OECD report in May 2011 noted that in Mexico the gap between those with the highest wages and those earning the minimum wage has been increasing since 1985. (AFP 1/17/12 via Prensa Gráfica (El Salvador); Huffington Post 1/23/12; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/24/12)

*2. Mexico: Fortuna Silver Mine Protester Killed
A dispute over a water pipeline in San José del Progreso, a municipality in the Ocotlán district of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, turned deadly on Jan. 18 when supporters of Mayor Alberto Mauro Sánchez Muñoz reportedly opened fire on demonstrators. Protesters Bernardo Méndez Vásquez and Abigail Vásquez Sánchez were wounded; Méndez Vásquez died the next day in a hospital in Oaxaca city, the state capital. Both were members of the United Peoples of the Ocotlán Valley Coordinating Committee (COPUVO), which has been engaged in a three-year struggle against the Trinidad silver mine owned by Compañia Minera Cuzcatlán S.A. de C.V., a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Fortuna Silver Mines Inc.

Méndez Vásquez is the third person to be killed in San José del Progreso since the start of the dispute over the mine. Grassroots opposition to the mine is the subject of a half-hour documentary produced by the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center and the Oaxacan Center in Defense of the Territories [see Update #1104, which incorrectly described Fortuna Silver as “Toronto-based”].

The protesters charged that that work by the municipality on a pipeline was intended to divert community water to use by the mine; after the violence, COPUVO accused Mayor Sánchez Muñoz, who supports the mine, of giving the order to fire. But Fortuna Silver president Jorge Ganoza insisted that the confrontation was about “a long-standing political struggle for local power” and was “related to an infrastructure project that was being handled by the municipality of San José, and it's related to the interconnection of sewage and drinking water in the town of San José, and it has nothing to do” with the mine.

A number of Mexican organizations feel the Trinidad mine has exacerbated local tensions and so is the very at least partly responsible for the violence. Some 20 organizations, including COPUVO and the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC), held a demonstration outside the Canadian embassy in Mexico City on Jan. 25 to protest Canadian mining in Mexico. In a communiqué the groups charged that 26% of the country “is already in the hands of mining companies, and of the 757 projects, 73% are Canadian.” While mining proponents say the operations create local jobs, the groups cited the violence at San José del Progreso as an example of “the benefits these companies are leaving us.”

Protesters at the embassy also cited mines in Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí [see Update #1081]; the Caballo Blanco mine in Veracruz; and mines in Michoacán, Chihuahua, Baja California, Durango, Zacatecas, Jalisco, Guerrero and Chiapas. Mining operations “are taking our water and putting community life at risk. They are looting the country,” the protesters said. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/19/12, 1/26/12; Vancouver Sun 1/25/12; Vancouver Observer 1/28/12)

In other news, one worker was killed and six others injured on Jan. 28 when company guards fired on former employees of a shuttered factory in Ciudad Sahagún in the central state of Hidalgo. Illinois-based Motor Coach Industries International, Inc. (MCI) closed the plant in February 2003, leaving 1,300 workers without severance pay and other benefits. The new owners, identified by the Mexican media as Pacific International Development (PID), promised to pay the workers a total of 170 million pesos (about $13.1 million), but the workers say the company has only paid 10 million pesos to date. The workers attempted to occupy the plant on Jan. 28 when they heard that PID was removing the machinery. Guards hired by PID responded by firing on the protesters, fatally wounding José Matilde Cotonieto Sánchez. State and municipal police later arrested 14 people, including guards and employees.

The plant originally belonged to Diesel Nacional S.A. de C.V. (DINA), a government-owned enterprise founded in 1951 to build buses. DINA was sold to Mexican industrialist and politician Raymundo Gómez Flores during a wave of privatizations under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994); Gómez Flores reportedly sold the factory to MCI in 1995. (LJ 1/29/12) [MCI filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in 2008.]

*3. Guatemala: Ríos Montt Charged; Pérez Molina Denies Genocide
Guatemalan judge Carol Patricia Flores ruled on Jan. 26 that there was sufficient evidence to try former military dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) for genocide and other crimes against humanity. Some of the worst atrocities in a 36-year counterinsurgent war occurred during the time that Ríos Montt headed the government, including killings in the Ixil Mayan region that amounted to genocide according to a 1999 report by a United Nations-backed truth commission [see Update #1114]. The specific charges against Ríos Montt are based on 72 incidents that caused 1,771 deaths under his military command. (The Jurist 1/27/12)

Nery Rodenas, the director of the Human Rights Office of the Guatemala Archdiocese, called Judge Flores’ decision “brave,” but he noted the victims’ long struggle to reach this point. “This is a story that didn’t begin yesterday,” Rodenas said. “The victims have spent more than 10 years waiting. This has involved overcoming intimidation, threats and obstacles in the justice system.” Newly inaugurated Guatemala president Otto Pérez Molina, who was a major in the army during Ríos Montt’s regime, said he was respectful of judicial decisions, but he added: “There was no genocide; it was an armed internal conflict. Now we should be seeking reconciliation.” (Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 1/28/12; La Raza (Chicago) 1/28/12 from unidentified wire services)

*4. Honduras: Another Aguán Campesino Leader Murdered
Two men on a motorcycle gunned down Honduran campesino activist Matías Valle Cárdenas on Jan. 20 as he was leaving his home in Quebradas de Arena, Tocoa municipality in the northern department of Colón. Valle was a leader in the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), one of several campesino groups fighting for land redistribution in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Hondruas. More than 50 campesinos and private security guards have been killed in Aguán land conflicts over the past two years. Valle’s murder came just three days after the killing of attorney José Ricardo Rosales in the northern city of Tela shortly after he reported abuses by local police [see Update #1114].

According to the French-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Honduran journalists Gilda Silvestrucci and Itsmania Pineda Platero both received threatening phone calls in January. The two women were among a group of journalists that organized a Dec. 13 march to the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa to protest free speech violations; the march was violently dispersed by the police. Silvestrucci edits the online newspaper El Patriota and produces a program on Radio Globo; both media opposed the June 2009 military coup that overthrew President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales. Silvestrucci received an anonymous call on her cell phone on Jan. 23. “We know that you have three children,” the caller said, “that the oldest is 15, that at this moment you are walking down the street with your seven-year-old son and that the oldest is at home looking after the one-year-old baby, and we are going to kill you.” (Notimex 1/20/12 via Univision; RSF 1/24/12)

While US media coverage has tended to attribute violence in Honduras and the country’s rising crime rate mostly to drug traffickers, a Jan. 22 article by Frances Robles in the Miami Herald focuses on the role of corruption in law enforcement, from low-ranking police agents to top officials. Honduran law enforcement is “rotten to the core,” Gustavo Alfredo Landaverde, a former adviser to the government on drug trafficking, told Robles two weeks before his murder [see Update #1111]. “We are at the border of an abyss. These are criminal organizations inside and out.” (MH 1/22/12)

A Jan. 20 op-ed in the New York Times goes further, discussing the role of the 2009 coup in the growth of this corruption. “[T]he coup was what threw open the doors to a huge increase in drug trafficking and violence,” University of California Santa Cruz history professor Dana Frank writes, “and it unleashed a continuing wave of state-sponsored repression.” Frank notes that the US government was quick to recognize the questionable elections held by the de facto regime in November 2009. “This chain of events—a coup that the United States didn’t stop, a fraudulent election that it accepted—has now allowed corruption to mushroom. The judicial system hardly functions. Impunity reigns.” Honduras is descending into “a human rights and security abyss,” Frank says. “That abyss is in good part the [US] State Department’s making.” (NYT 1/20/12)

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

The New Face behind Unionized (and Feminist) Bananas in Latin America

Thousands Protest Canadian Mining Project in Argentina

A New Chile is Possible

Chile's Government Wages War on Historical Memory and Truth

Uruguay will pay $513,000 to Child of Disappeared

Mass Evictions at Pinheirinho: Favela Residents Confront Brazil’s Development Boom

Chevron officials to face charges in Brazil oil spill

Second Circuit allows Ecuador court's $18 billion judgment against Chevron

Foreign Direct Investment in Colombia: A Critical View

Stop the Death Threats in Barrancabermeja, Colombia

El Salvador: President Funes Placates Washington with Cabinet Shuffle

Threats and Violence Continue against Salvadoran Environmentalists

The War Against Peasant Farmers Heats Up in Honduras

Reagan’s Hand in Guatemala’s Genocide

The Left(s) Select(s) its/their Candidate to Govern Mexico City

The Rarámuri Crisis: Extreme Poverty (Briefly) to the Fore in Mexico

Triqui Caravan Departs to San Juan Copala, Oaxaca, Mexico

Mexico: Zapotec Protesters Shot on Behalf of Canadian Mining Company

Guns, Drugs, and Money (Mexico)

Discussing Domestic Violence in the Caribbean

New Allegations of UN Sexual Abuse in Haiti

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