Monday, May 28, 2012

WNU #1130: Chilean Students March, Support Quebec Strikers

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1130, May 27, 2012

1. Chile: Students March, Support Quebec Strikers
2. Mexico: Students March Against PRI, Media
3. Honduras: Police Chief Removed After Reporter’s Murder
4. Haiti: Is the Government Cracking Down on Ex-Soldiers?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Environment, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, US/immigration

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. It is archived at  For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Chile: Students March, Support Quebec Strikers
Tens of thousands of Chilean students demanding education reform held their second large national demonstration of the 2012 school year on May 16, continuing a movement that shut down many of the country’s secondary schools and universities with a strike last year. Protesters marched in Santiago, Valparaíso, Concepción, Copiapó and other cities; student leaders estimated the total turnout nationwide at about 100,000.

The students continued to call for a return to free higher education, dismissing as inadequate the concessions made recently by rightwing president Sebastián Piñera, who proposed raising the corporate tax rate so that the government can provide low-interest student loans [see Update #1127]. “We’re going to go on being rebels, because the student movement isn’t going to settle for corrections to a few excesses,” Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) president Gabriel Boric said. “We’re here to fight for a new type of democracy. This struggle isn’t going to come to an end this year.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/17/12 from correspondent)

The Chilean student movement is the largest and the best known of a number of such movements that have sprung up in the Americas over the past two years, starting with a 62-day strike at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in the spring of 2010 and continuing with protests in Honduras, Colombia and other countries in 2011 [see Updates #10371093, 1106, 1107]. In February this year some students in Canada’s Quebec province began boycotting classes to protest a plan by the provincial government to raise tuitions at public universities. The movement has now grown to include tens of thousands of students in what they call “Maple Spring” (Printemps érable, a play on Printemps arabe, French for Arab Spring).

On May 24 a number of Chilean academics and student leaders, including FECH president Boric and vice president Camila Vallejo Dowling, signed a declaration of support for the Quebec movement. The signers strongly denounced Law 78, which the Quebec government passed on May 19 in an effort to end the student strike by criminalizing many types of protest and penalizing calls for these protests. “The people of Quebec have stood with the people of Chile during long years in active solidarity,” the Chileans wrote. “It is for this reason that we feel called upon to express and demonstrate our broadest solidarity with their student organizations and their leaders, with their union federations and with the whole citizens’ movement.

“We do this in solidarity, but also because we understand that any attack against freedoms anywhere in this globalized world is an attack against our freedoms. The so-called ‘Hinzpeter law’ promoted by the Chilean government [an effort by Chilean interior minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter to limit student protests last year; see Update #1100] follows the same repressive and anti-democratic perspective. The struggle of the Québécois students, academics and workers is also our struggle.” (“Nous Sommes Tous des Québécois! ¡Todos Somos Quebequenses,” declaration 5/24/12)

Tens of thousands of Québécois have responded to Law 78 by taking to the streets in the evenings and beating on pots and pans; Chileans responded the same way last year to Hinzpeter’s repression. Some of the more than 10,000 Chileans living in Quebec province pointed out that this form of protest—the cacerolazo—was first popularized in Chile. In the early 1970s upper middle-class Chileans beat on pots and pans to protest the socialist government of then-president Salvador Allende, paving the way for the military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1973. But Pinochet’s opponents took up the tactic in the 1980s as a broad section of society began protesting his brutal military regime--although as Chilean-born University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) history professor José del Poso pointed out, anti-Pinochet protesters held their cacerolazos indoors, because “they risked blows from nightsticks and could even have been killed” if they had demonstrated in public.

Cacerolazos have also been used in Bolivia, in Uruguay and in Argentina, notably during Argentina’s 2001-2002 economic crisis, and have spread to European countries, including Spain and Ireland. (Le Soleil (Quebec City) 5/26/12; Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, vol. 20, #1, 2004)

*2. Mexico: Students March Against PRI, Media
Private and public university students sponsored a massive march in Mexico City on May 19 to protest media coverage of the July 1 presidential and legislative elections and the widely expected victory of former México state governor Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The marchers also rejected the candidate of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), Josefina Vázquez Mota, who shares second place in most polls with center-left candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“One, two, three; not one vote for the PRI,” the protesters chanted in a combination of English and Spanish as they moved from the city’s main plaza, the Zócalo, to the Angel of Independence. “Three, two, one; not one vote for the PAN.” “Peña Nieto’s got the TV, but we’ve got the streets and the social networks,” “I’m working-class, but I know how to read” were among the slogans. The marchers also expressed their distrust of the media’s crowd estimates: “We’re not one, we’re not 100; sold-out press, count us well.” (The television networks gave contradictory accounts of the turnout: on Twitter the giant Televisa network cited the capital’s center-left government as putting the crowd at 10,000, while CNN México gave the same source for its Twitter report of 46,000.) (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/20/12)

Mexico City authorities estimated participation at 15,000 for a second student demonstration, on May 23. This time the focus was on calls for democratizing the media, especially the two giant private networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, whose programming focuses on telenovelas (soap operas). Slogans included: “We want schools, not telenovelas”; “Lucero, Gaviota [references to a TV star and to a telenovela character played by Peña Nieto’s wife, Angélica Rivera]: the idiot box is done for”; and “Education is the vaccine against media manipulation.” Emphasizing the nonpartisan nature of the protest and widespread disaffection with all the political parties, some marchers heckled novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II when he hinted during a speech that the students should support López Obrador. (LJ 5/24/12)

The new student movement and its opposition to Peña Nieto have surprised some Mexican analysts, who noted that youths today were children in 2000 when the PRI lost the presidency after ruling Mexico for 71 years, often through repression and corruption.

The catalyst appears to have been an appearance by the PRI candidate on May 11 at the Ibero-American University (widely known as “Ibero”), a Jesuit school in an exclusive Mexico City neighborhood. Booing by many students forced Peña Nieto to leave the auditorium. The PRI announced that the hecklers weren’t students from the university, and Ibero authorities suggested that López Obrador supporters had organized the booing. The students responded with a video posted on YouTube in which 131 Ibero students showed their student IDs. Supporters quickly adopted the hashtag “#YoSoy132” (“I’m number 132”). (El Universal (Venezuela) 5/27/12)

Now referred to both as “Yo Soy 132” and as “ Mexican Spring,” the new student movement quickly spread to other private schools and to the public universities. On May 17 representatives of students in 17 universities met at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City and agreed to continue building a movement that would be nonpartisan but not apolitical. They expressed support for many other groups, including the campesinos of San Salvador Atenco; the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD) started by the poet Javier Sicilia, and activists in Ciudad Juárez and other cities fighting for justice for the victims of femicide [see Updates #1039, 1109, 1121].

Later in the day student groups held a rally in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas at the Tlatelolco housing project, the site of a massacre by the police and military that shattered Mexico’s 1968 student movement. Speakers made proposals for extending their movement beyond the schools and past the July 1 elections. “If we want to be successful in this struggle,” UNAM students said, “we need to go outside the social networks—to make contact with the people in the streets, in the parks, as much as we can, to promote why we’re struggling, but also so that [citizens] participate in the electoral process in a critical manner, so that they reflect on their vote.” Another demonstration is planned for May 29. (LJ 5/27/12)

Correction: Students accounted for much of the participation in the May 19, but no group sponsored the demonstration, which was organized through social networks.

*3. Honduras: Police Chief Removed After Reporter’s Murder
The body of Honduran journalist Angel Alfredo Villatoro Rivera, a reporter and news coordinator for the HRN radio chain, was found in Tegucigalpa on the evening of May 15, six days after he was kidnapped while driving to work [see Update #1129]. He had been shot twice in the head, according to Security Ministry spokesperson Héctor Iván Mejía; local media reported that the body was dressed in a police uniform. (EFE 5/15/12 via Univision)

As of May 21 the police had arrested five people in connection with the kidnapping and murder. Two of the suspects were serving prison sentences in Danlí, El Paraíso department, at the time of the murder: Miguel Angel Alvarez Ortez, a former Preventive Police agent convicted of being an accomplice in a murder, and Juan Ramón Fonseca, who was serving time for robbery. According to the authorities they had called Villatorio’s family repeatedly from the prison to demand a ransom payment. Members of the Honduran police have been accused of numerous crimes, including the murder last October of the son of Julieta Castellanos, the rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) and a member of the government’s Truth Commission [see Update #1104]. (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 5/12/12)

On the night of May 21 President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa fired National Police chief Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, who was appointed last October in an earlier effort to crack down on crime within the force. His replacement is Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, a graduate of the carabineros police academy in Chile who was accused in 2002 of belonging to “Los Magnificos,” a group of former and active Honduran police agents said to have carried out extrajudicial executions of suspected gang members. He was acquitted when the prosecutor quit the case. During recent assignments in Copán and Olancho departments, he reportedly exposed police agents who were collaborating with drug traffickers, and this may be why he has been chosen to clean up the police department.

In a related move, President Lobo called the National Congress back from its recess to approve several new measures: the elimination of due process guarantees for police agents in dismissal proceedings, the creation of a new Executive Branch Directorate of Investigation and Intelligence, and an anti-doping law allowing drug tests of police agents. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog 5/22/12, 5/24/12)

*4. Haiti: Is the Government Cracking Down on Ex-Soldiers?
More than 100 people claiming to be former members of the disbanded Armed Forces of Haiti (Fad’H) marched to Port-au-Prince from Carrefour, on the capital’s southwestern outskirts, on May 18 to mark Haiti’s Flag Day. They were wearing combat fatigues and some were armed. A few admitted to a reporter that they were too young to have been in the military in 1995 when it was disbanded by then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004); others were women, even though the Fad’H had been all male. The marchers were calling on the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) to restore the old military.

Inside Port-au-Prince the march was met by agents of the National Police of Haiti (PNH) and soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); about 50 people were arrested. Junior Public Security Minister Reginald Delva described the group as a criminal association, but the ex-soldiers’ leaders say they will continue their activities, which since January have included training exercises, occupations of old military bases and camps, and an armed march on the Parliament [see Updates #1117, 1127).

Their latest demonstration came just two days after President Martelly officially installed Laurent Lamothe as his prime minister, the second in the year since Martelly took office. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 5/18/12; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 5/18/12, 5/19/12)

On May 25 one of the ex-soldiers, former sergeant Serge Réginald, told Haiti’s Radio Kiskeya that the government’s new attitude—as expressed in the May 18 arrests and in the retaking of some camps from the group since then--amounted to “treason.” Speaking from the former Lamentin camp in Carrefour, Réginald implied that previously Martelly and his government had backed the ex-soldiers and given them aid. (Radio Kiskeya 5/25/12)

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

Disappearing Andean glaciers, devastating Amazon floods signal hemispheric climate shift (Environment)

Repsol Sues Argentina for $10 Billion Over YPF Nationalization

Bolivia’s TIPNIS March in a Changing Political Environment

Bolivia: Aymara stand up to authorities over Potosí mining project

Peru: more peasant protests over mining projects

Peru: new mobilization against Conga mine prepared

United States Sends Combat Commanders to Colombia

Chávez's Economics Lesson for Europe (Venezuela)

Honduras: Which Side Is the US On?

Echoing the State: The New York Times on Honduras

Honduras: Miskito villagers demand answers after deadly raids

Guatemalan judge orders second genocide trial for former dictator

Guatemalan Communities Have No Say in Exploitation of Resources

Guatemala: assassination, state of siege in conflict over hydro-dam
The New Migration Law: Mexico’s Continuing Failure to Protect Migrants

Threatened With Death, an Activist Priest Leaves Mexico (for a while)

Mexico: Freedom of Expression Still Under Attack as Six Journalists Killed

Mexican Farmers Block New Law to Privatize Plants

Urgent Action: Workers' Rights Activist Kidnapped and Tortured (Mexico)

Please Support Striking Garment Workers (Mexico)

Mexico: Tens of Thousands March against PRI’s Presidential Candidate

Mexico: Populist Candidate Lopez Obrador Appeals to Business

Anti-Austerity Fight Crosses Borders (Mexico, US)

Going for Broke: The Corporate Players Behind the Demise of the Caribbean Banana Trade (Part 1)

HGW discovers: Partners in deforestation and slumification

OCHA White Washes Forced Evictions as New Threats Loom (Haiti)

Photo Essay: A Long and Silent Border War (US, immigration)

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