Monday, June 18, 2012

WNU #1133: English to Replace Spanish in Puerto Rican Classrooms

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1133, June 17, 2012

1. Puerto Rico: English to Replace Spanish in Classrooms
2. Honduras: Campesinos Evicted, Indigenous Leaders Attacked
3. Mexico: Police Charged in Kidnapping for Drug Gang
4. Mexico: Protests Continue to Target TV's Favorite Candidate
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, 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. Puerto Rico: English to Replace Spanish in Classrooms
The Puerto Rican public school system is about to start a program intended to replace Spanish with English as the language used in teaching most courses, Education Secretary Edward Moreno Alonso told the Spanish wire service EFE on June 8. The change will begin this August at 66 of the system’s 860 schools: at 31 schools children ages 5-9 will be taught all courses in English except history and Spanish; the other 35 schools will offer at least some of the course work in English. The government plans to complete the switch to English in all schools within 10 years.

Moreno Alonso said the change is in response to parents' demands, but critics suggested that the real motive lay in an effort by Gov. Luis Fortuño and his rightwing New Progressive Party (PNP) to have Puerto Rico annexed to the US as its 51st state. Héctor L. Pesquera, co-president of the Hostosian National Independence Movement (MINH), predicted that the program would be a failure. “[R]egrettably our students will be the victims of this pedagogical and political blunder,” he told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina on June 9.

“It may be that many [teachers] know English,” María Elena Lara, president-elect of the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), said in a radio interview on June 8, “but they weren’t trained to teach in English.” Like Pesquera, she expected “a big failure.” “Much of our school population is in special education because they have trouble learning in their maternal language,” Aida Díaz, president of the smaller Teachers’ Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR), said on the same program. “Imagine [learning] mathematics and science in English!”

Both union leaders said they supported teaching English as a second language, along with other languages. Mandarin is an important language to learn for business, Díaz noted; the problem “is wanting to substitute one language for another purely as an ideological matter.”

Both English and Spanish are official languages in Puerto Rico, but only 30% of Puerto Rico’s 3.9 million residents speak English at a high level, according to EFE, while Spanish is the primary language for 96%. English was used as the language of school instruction starting in 1900, two years after the US took control of the island from Spain; the practice was ended in 1948. (EFE 6/8/12 via Fox News Latino; El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 6/8/12; Prensa Latina 6/9/12)

In other news, on June 15 Norberto González Claudio, a former member of the rebel Boricua Popular Army (EPB)-Macheteros, pleaded guilty in a Connecticut federal court to charges stemming from the group’s 1983 armed robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford. In exchange for the plea, US prosecutors agreed to recommend a five-year prison sentence. González Claudio spent 25 years as a fugitive before being arrested in Puerto Rico in May 2011 [see Update #1095]. In a letter to federal judge Alfred Covello, González Claudio wrote that “[t]he circumstances surrounding the struggle for Puerto Rican independence are different today from when I was younger.” He expressed hope that the struggle would now follow a “path…of peace and understanding.” (END 6/15/12; EFE 6/16/12 via Fox News Latino)

*2. Honduras: Campesinos Evicted, Indigenous Leaders Attacked
Early in the morning of June 11 some 200 Honduran security agents--including Preventive Police, National Criminal Investigation Directorate (DNIC) agents and soldiers from the 105th Infantry Brigade—evicted campesinos occupying more than 4,000 hectares on three estates in San Manuel in the northern department of Cortés. About 30 people were arrested, mostly women, according to press reports, but DNIC sub-director Reinaldo Rubio said the agents only found 20 people at the site and arrested them for land usurpation. The eviction was authorized by a judge in the nearby city of San Pedro Sula.

The soldiers and police “were dishonest and didn’t have the courage to tell us what they’d come for,” one of the occupiers, María Reyes, told a reporter. “They just indicated that they were going to explain some matter to us, but minutes later they arrested us and put us in a bus, as if we were criminals.” After removing the campesinos, the security forces brought in tractors and razed the structures the occupiers had built out of bamboo and metal sheets, including three small shops. The security forces “didn’t spare anything,” according to another women, who was arrested while she collected plastic bottles to sell to recyclers.

The campesinos, members of the San Manuel Campesino Movement (MOCSAM), had occupied the land since May 23. They occupied the same estates for a little more than one day on Apr. 17 as part of a massive demonstration in which some 3,500 families took over land in different parts of the country to mark the International Day of Campesino Struggles [see Update #1126].

The titles to the three estates are held by Compañía Azucarera Hondureña, SA (CAHSA), a sugar company; another company, Inversan (Inversiones San Manuel); and an individual named José Jacobo Zacapa. MOCSAM says the occupation is justified by a recent ruling from the National Agrarian Institute (INA) that the lands were designated for agrarian reform and the current owners had therefore bought them illegally. (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 6/12/12; Agencia Púlsar 6/13/12; EFE 6/13/12 via Latin American Herald)

Land disputes continue to create tensions throughout northern Honduras, despite a partial settlement the government made with one group of campesinos on June 5 in the Lower Aguán Valley, in Colón department [see Update #1132]. The Permanent Human Rights Monitoring Center for the Aguán, an organization formed by Honduran and international groups last fall, has accused the government of carrying out a “remilitarization” of the valley. “Groups of up to 60 soldiers do guard duty in the landowners’ African palm oil processing plants, in the African palm plantations and at points considered strategic for the security of the landowning companies’ properties,” the organization wrote. There are monitoring operations located “at little distance from campesino settlements to keep close to the campesino population, which is the object of permanent repression.” (Adital (Brazil) 6/11/12)

On June 13 two indigenous activists were shot at in the La Cuchía community, in the northwestern department of Santa Bárbara, as they were driving from a meeting about a local land conflict and the imprisonment of a community member. Two men on a motorbike fired at least twice at Juan Vásquez and Sotero Chavarría, members of the Executive Committee of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), causing their vehicle to crash. The two activists weren’t hurt, but the vehicle, which belongs to the organization, was damaged.

COPINH says that for several months the group and its members have been subjected to a “campaign of threats, intimidation and aggression…on the part of armed men from the Honduran government and paid members of companies that plan to develop megaprojects in indigenous territories.” (COPINH 6/14/12; Frontline Defenders 6/15/12)

*3. Mexico: Police Charged in Kidnapping for Drug Gang
Backed up by Mexican soldiers, state homicide detectives arrested the municipal police chief and six other police agents in Lagos de Moreno in the western state of Jalisco on June 6 for allegedly participating in the kidnapping of three men five months earlier. The victims—attorney César Raúl Alcalá Gaona; his assistant, Jorge Alejandro Arredondo Siller; and construction worker Jorge Alberto Bustos Nájera, all from Saltillo, Coahuila—were found dead from asphyxiation and beating a few hours after they were kidnapped. The police agents are believed to have been working for Jalisco New Generation, a drug gang.

Videotapes from security cameras at a hotel showed police agents and men in civilian clothes entering the hotel and removing the victims, handcuffed and in their underwear--in the early morning of Jan. 20. The victims had apparently come to Jalisco to collect rent for a ranch, but the killers may have mistaken them for members of a rival drug cartel based in Coahuila.

Jalisco attorney general Tomás Coronado Olmos released the videos to the media on June 13, and parts were shown on Mexican television. “One assumes that in some cities ... the municipal police work for the drug cartels," said Jorge Chabat, an expert on security and drug trafficking at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, told the Associated Press wire service. “But what is different here is that there is a video. It’s not the same thing to imagine that this going on, and to see it.” Chabat noted that in 2010 seven local police agents in Santiago in the northern state of Nuevo León were arrested on charges of working for the Zetas drug gang and kidnapping and murdering Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos, who had been trying to cut corruption. (Milenio (Mexico) 6/13/12; AP 6/14/12 via Miami Herald)

As many as 50,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related killings since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa began militarizing the “war on drugs” in late 2006. Federal and local authorities generally attribute the violence to drug cartels, but it is unclear how much should be blamed on the security forces. Last November Mexican human rights attorney Netzaí Sandoval filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague charging the federal government with responsibility in at least some of the killings [see Update #1107].

*4. Mexico: Protests Continue to Target TV's Favorite Candidate
Tens of thousands marched through the center of Mexico City on June 10 in a festive protest against former México state governor Enrique Peña Nieto, the frontrunner in the July 1 presidential election, and against the television networks that the demonstrators said were promoting his candidacy. The march was the latest in a series of protests since a new student movement widely known as “#YoSoy132” (“I’m number 132”) appeared suddenly in May in opposition to Peña Nieto and the likely return of his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power; the PRI dominated Mexican politics for 71 years until losing the presidency in 2000.

The capital’s police estimated the crowd at 90,000 on June 10, about twice the police estimate for a similar march on May 19 [see Update #1130]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/11/12)

Some 600 Mexico City youths attended a protest performance the evening of June 13 outside the Chapultepec Avenue offices of Televisa, Mexico’s most powerful television network. The youths used one of the building’s walls to project videos showing various incidents for which they blamed the PRI, including the 1968 massacre of students and their supporters at the Tlatelolco housing project in Mexico City; the suspected fraud in 1988 through which former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) is thought to have defeated center-left candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano; and the violent repression of campesinos in San Salvador Atenco in México state in May 2006, when Peña Nieto was governor [see Update #1039]. Students have also been carrying their message to the subway system with political theater. (LJ 6/14/12)

Students aren’t the only people questioning Peña Nieto’s favorable coverage in Mexico’s media. The Mexico correspondent of the British daily The Guardian has pointed out that US diplomats were secretly suspicious of the media coverage and the opinion polls when he was still a governor. In a confidential Jan. 26, 2009 cable from the US embassy, released last year by the WikiLeaks group, Deputy Chief of Mission Leslie Bassett wrote that “analysts and PRI party leaders alike have repeatedly expressed to [US political officers] their belief that [Peña Nieto] is paying media outlets under the table for favorable news coverage, as well as potentially financing pollsters to sway survey results.” (The Guardian 6/11/12)

On June 15, Camila Vallejo Dowling, one of the leaders of last year’s massive student strike in Chile, visited the Xochimilco campus of Mexico City’s Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM). She told an audience of hundreds of students that Latin America needed a network of the various social movements, “with a common platform of horizons for struggle, which doesn’t imply forgetting or marginalizing local demands.” At a forum earlier in the day she warned that activists needed to give up the old forms in which “one demands of the usual people changes which we know they are never going to carry out…. We still haven’t resolved how we are approaching the dispute over power; there is no full awareness of this process.” (LJ 6/16/12)

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

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