Monday, August 20, 2012

WNU #1141: Wal-Mart Hit by Money Laundering Scandal

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1141, August 19, 2012

1. Mexico: Now Wal-Mart Faces a Money Laundering Scandal
2. Chile: Students Reject Government's New Tax Law
3. Colombia: Fired GM Workers Go on Hunger Strike
4. Guatemala: Military Removes Squatters in Capital, Twice
5. Dominican Republic: “Haitians” Arrested for Demonstrating
6. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Guyana

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. Mexico: Now Wal-Mart Faces a Money Laundering Scandal
According to two members of the US Congress, Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Henry Waxman (D-CA), there is evidence that the US-based retail giant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., didn’t take legally required steps to prevent money laundering and tax evasion through its Mexican subsidiary, Wal-Mart de México. The allegation appears in an Aug. 14 letter the two legislators wrote to Wal-Mart Stores CEO Michael Duke complaining that the company has failed to cooperate with their investigation of a $24 million bribery scandal that emerged in April [see Update #1127 and World War 4 Report 8/12/12].

“[A]lthough you have stated on multiple occasions that you intend to cooperate with our investigation,” Cummings and Waxman wrote, “you have failed to provide the documents we requested, and you continue to deny us access to key witnesses.” Despite the lack of cooperation from Wal-Mart, the Congress members said they had “obtained internal company documents, including internal audit reports, from other sources suggesting that Wal-Mart may have had compliance issues relating not only to bribery, but also to ‘questionable financial behavior’ including tax evasion and money laundering in Mexico.” They added that their concerns about Wal-Mart’s practices weren’t limited to Mexico.

The letter gave no specifics about the compliance issues, but Wal-Mart de México operates a bank which accepts deposits and issues credit and debit cards. The subsidiary’s stocks fell by 5.95% on the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV) on Aug. 15, the day Cummings and Waxman made their letter public.

This is the third time in one month that foreign corporations have been linked to the laundering of money from Mexico. In July a US Senate subcommittee reported on compliance violations by the London-based corporation HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, and in early August US media reported on an investigation of possible violations by rightwing US billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. casino company [see Updates #1137, 1140]. Mexican regulators fined HSBC $28 million in July for its failure to prevent money laundering through its Mexican subsidiary. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/15/12 from correspondent, 8/16/12; Associated Press 8/15/12 via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Wal-Mart may benefit from having good connections across the political spectrum in Mexico. According to the Mexican-based Reporte Indigo website, a Wal-Mart de México vice president, Álvaro Arrigunaga Gómez del Campo, is a cousin of Margarita Zavala Gómez del Campo, the wife of Mexico’s current president, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, who is a leader of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). Another Wal-Mart vice president is Alberto Ebrard Casaubón, brother of Marcelo Ebrard, head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and one of the most popular politicians in the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). A second brother, Eugenio Ebrard, worked for the firm from the 1990s until 2010. (Poder Ciudadano (Ciudad de Puebla) 4/25/12)

*2. Chile: Students Reject Government's New Tax Law
Chilean high school students occupied two important schools in Santiago on Aug. 13, after taking over at least eight public high schools the week before in a continuation of protests for educational reform that started more than a year ago [see Update #1140]. The students occupied the Barros Arana National Boarding School (INBA) and the prestigious High School of Implementation. They also tried to take over the José Miguel Carrera National Institute but gave up when police contingents arrived. Agents arrested 14 youths allegedly involved in the actions, which were supported by hundreds of students.

“We decided to give up on the takeover because of the police presence,” INBA student Diego Mellado said, “but if we have to go back to take over the school, we’re going to do it.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/14/12 from correspondent)

The student movement is demanding a reversal of the privatization of education that began during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Rightwing president Sebastián Piñera has responded to the students by proposing legislation that would raise corporate tax rates as part of a fiscal overhaul allowing the government to provide low-interest student loans [see Update #1127]. The Chamber of Deputies approved the measure during the second week of August with the support of some legislators from opposition parties, despite promises the parties’ leaders had made to students that they would vote against the bill. The bill still requires approval from the Senate. The student movement opposes Piñera’s “supposed education reform,” Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) vice president Camila Vallejo wrote in an open letter to the senators, because “it simply maintains the commercial, privatizing and discriminatory logic of the current educational system.” (Prensa Latina 8/14/12 via Adital (Brazil))

Carabineros militarized police succeeded in ending three of the high school occupations on Aug. 16. Using tear gas and with the support of vehicles with water cannons, the agents stormed the Darío Salas, Miguel de Cervantes and Swiss Confederation schools. The Darío Salas occupiers left the building when the police arrived, but students in the other two schools resisted. Police arrested 132 people in the buildings and seven outside. Students reportedly occupied three other schools while the police operation was going on at Darío Salas, Miguel de Cervantes and Swiss Confederation. (EFE 8/16/12 via Fox News Latina; LJ 8/17/12 from correspondent)

*3. Colombia: Fired GM Workers Go on Hunger Strike
As of Aug. 15 a total of 13 former employees of GM Colmotores, the Colombian subsidiary of the Detroit-based General Motors Company (GM), were continuing a liquids-only hunger strike they began on Aug. 1 to demand reinstatement and compensation for injuries they say they received on the job. According to the protesters, the company fired them after they received disabling injuries at the Colmotores factory, which employs about 1,800 workers just outside Bogotá. The company denies the workers’ accusations.

A group of the laid-off workers formed the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of Colmotores (Asotrecol) last year and set up an encampment in front of the US embassy in Bogotá on Aug. 1, 2011 to push their demands. They decided to go on hunger strike after protesting for one year without results. Seven have sewn their mouths shut as part of the protest, and more plan to take this step in the future.

According to the US-based human rights organization Witness for Peace, US labor activists fasted on Aug. 15 in at least 20 states in solidarity with the Colombian hunger strikers; there was also a demonstration outside GM headquarters in Detroit.

In recent years the US government has pushed Colombia to improve its record on labor rights in order to win approval from the US Congress for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but activists say violations have remained common since Congress ratified the FTA last October [see Update #1104]. The case of GM Colmotores is especially striking because the company is owned by a US corporation which itself is partly owned by the US government. The US Treasury bought GM stock worth billions of dollars to bail the company out of bankruptcy in 2009. According to BusinessWeek, the US government remains GM’s largest shareholder, with 32% of the company’s stock. (AlterNet 8/13/12; Colombia Reports 8/15/12; BusinessWeek 8/9/12)

Colombian unionists are also asking for solidarity for two leaders in the National Union of Food Industry Workers (SINALTRAINAL) in Barrancabermeja in the northern department of Santander. Local president William Mendoza and Executive Board member Juan Carlos Galvis were accused in 2008 of placing a bomb in a Coca Cola plant 10 years earlier. The case is only being activated now, and the two leaders, who represent workers at the local Coca-Cola plant, believe that if they are convicted, they will be murdered in jail.

Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for unionists, and rightwing paramilitaries have murdered or attempted to murder SINALTRAINAL members in the past. Mendoza and Galvis and their families have been targeted a number of times [see World War 4 Report 8/27/03 and 5/29/12]. “The judicial system in Colombia is now making its decisions based on politics, not the law,” Mendoza says. “We need you to send letters from members of Congress and from North American organizations protesting this prosecution against Juan Carlos Galvis and me.” Emails can be sent to Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón (, Vice President Angelino Garzón ( and the Attorney General’s Office (, (Portside 8/17/12 via Talking Union blog, where more information is available on the letters)

*4. Guatemala: Military Removes Squatters in Capital, Twice
After living on land in the center of Guatemala City since January, a group of about 100 impoverished families were forced to move at least twice during the week of Aug. 13 as the result of an eviction order obtained by the Defense Ministry, which claims the property. Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Erick Escobedo said the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction had mandated the eviction on the grounds that the land was unstable; the disaster agency didn’t return phone calls when the Associated Press wire service tried to confirm Escobedo’s statement.

The families had originally put up their houses near the La Asunción bridge in Zone 1, naming the settlement Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, after a president deposed in 1954 in a military coup largely engineered by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The military removed the families peacefully from that land on Aug. 14, but the squatters then settled on nearby land also claimed by the military. Security forces evicted the families from the new settlement on Aug. 15, this time violently. Following the second removal, the families set up shelters on in the nearby Gerona neighborhood on land which may belong to the government. As of Aug. 16 they hadn’t been removed from the new location.

“We don’t have anywhere to go, and the only response we’ve gotten from the government is repression,” Vilma Rodríguez, one of the group’s leaders, told reporters. “We don’t make enough to rent a room or buy some land.” “Let the government tell us where, and we’ll go,” she added. According to official figures, more than a million families now live in settlements known as “poverty belts” that surround the country’s main cities. In January the Congress approved a National Housing Law to provide decent residences for impoverished Guatemalans, but the government has yet to allocate the resources to implement the legislation. (EFE 8/16/12 via Siglo 21 (Guatemala); Associated Press 8/16/12 via Miami Herald; Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 8/17/12)

*5. Dominican Republic: “Haitians” Arrested for Demonstrating
Police agents stopped a group of Dominican youths of Haitian descent from marching on Aug. 13 in Monte Plata, in the central province of the same name, to demand that the government respect their rights as citizens. The protesters, members of the youth movement, were trying to march from the city’s central part to the local Civil Status office, the registry for identification documents.

According to the group’s spokesperson, Ana María Belique, the protesters applied for a permit from the Monte Plata government but were turned down on the grounds that they weren’t Dominicans and had no right to demonstrate. When they attempted to march without a permit, a police contingent commanded by a Col. Antígua dispersed them with tear gas, arresting eight protesters. Three of those arrested were beaten by an agent from the robbery unit identified only as “Papo,” who told them to hold their demonstrations in “their country.”

Until 2010 the Dominican Constitution recognized everyone born in the Dominican Republic as a citizen, but in practice Dominicans with Haitian parents were frequently denied citizenship rights. The government responded to an unfavorable 2005 ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), by amending the Constitution in 2010 to limit citizenship to people with Dominican parents. Since then government officials have tried to apply the measure retroactively, with the Central Electoral Council (JCE) and its president, Roberto Rosario, preventing Dominicans of Haitian descent from obtaining birth certificates and other legal documents and leaving them in effect stateless [see Update #1109]. members were able demonstrate without problems in other parts of the country on Aug. 12 and 13. In San Pedro de Macorís they marched from Duarte Park to the San Pedro Apóstol Cathedral, where Catholic bishop Francisco Ozoria called for the youths to be given their papers. In Pedernales members met with officials and with civil society organizations; in El Seibo the group sponsored an artistic presentation. (El Masacre (Dajabón) 8/16/12; Otramérica website 8/5/12)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Guyana

Paraguay: Why the Canadian Government Supports the Ouster of Lugo

Paraguay: Spanish Tycoon’s Role in Destruction of ‘Hiding Tribe’s’ Forest

Brazilian appeals court suspends Belo Monte dam

Belo Monte Dam Suspended by Brazilian Appeals Court

Bolivia: judicial crisis over Amazon road project

Women In the Forefront of Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict

Peru: endgame in Cajamarca struggle?

Protests Could Derail Peru’s Giant Conga Mine

Peru: Shining Path control outlaw gold operations?

Peru: peasants protest Chinese mining project

Inter-American Court rules for Amazon people in Ecuador case

Ecuador indigenous movement on Assange asylum: "democracy begins at home"

Andean indigenous movements meet in Colombia

Colombia: war, illegal mining encroach on indigenous communities

Colombia: San José de Apartadó Peace Community under attack again

Indigenous Nasa Resists Militarization in Cauca, Colombia

Striking Rail Workers Affect Coal Production in Colombia

Act Now! General Motors Workers on Hunger Strike in Colombia

Ex-President Uribe of Colombia Reveals He Wanted a Military Intervention in Venezuela

“Honey of the Revolution” – An Interview with Rosangela Orozco, Member of the Alexis Lives Foundation (Fundación Alexis Vive) in Venezuela

US State Department Blinks on Honduran Security

Honduran Media Emphasize Role of DEA in Miskitu Killings

How Walmart, Chiquita avoid labor oversight in Honduras

'Yo Soy 132' Mexican student movement looks to the future

Mexico: Concessions Continue in Wirikuta, Despite Government Ruse

In Mexico, You Can’t Escape the Tri!

Join the U.S. Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity!

Police Killings Spark Crisis in Guyana

Obama, Upset by Latin America Criticism, Replaces an Advisor (US/policy)

Fuerza!: The Fight Against SB 1070 and the Prison Industry in Arizona (US/immigration)

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