Monday, March 4, 2013

WNU #1166: Mexican Government Sends a Message, Jails Union Boss

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1166, March 3, 2013

1. Mexico: Peña Nieto Sends a Message, Jails Union Boss
2. Argentina: Provincial Court Blocks Monsanto Facility
3. Haiti: Still Defiant, Duvalier Finally Goes to Court
4. Haiti: Homeless Camp Destroyed Before CARICOM Summit
5. Puerto Rico: Thousands Protest Airport Privatization
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, 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. Mexico: Peña Nieto Sends a Message, Jails Union Boss
Mexican federal agents arrested Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, president of the 1.5 million-member National Education Workers Union (SNTE), on Feb. 26 in the airport at Toluca, the capital of México state, on corruption charges. According to Attorney General Jesús Murillo Kara, Gordillo used millions of dollars from union funds to buy properties in California, to shop at the Neiman Marcus department store and to pay for plastic surgery. The arrest came one day after President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law a series of “educational reforms” that include regular teacher assessments and measures that would limit the union’s power. Gordillo opposed the new law and didn’t attend the signing ceremony.

Starting off as a schoolteacher in the impoverished southeastern state of Chiapas, Gordillo eventually became one of the most powerful figures in Mexico’s political class. In 1989 then-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) put her in charge of the SNTE, the country’s largest union. From 2002 to 2005 she was general secretary of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which dominated Mexican politics from 1929 to 2000 and regained the presidency with Peña Nieto’s election last year. In 2005 she formed her own small group, the New Alliance Party (PANAL), which gained political traction by maneuvering between the PRI and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), then the governing party.

In November 2012 PANAL legislators voted with the PRI and the PAN to pass a series of “labor reforms” that limited workers’ rights, but they helped quash a proposal that would have diluted the power of union heads [see Updates #1146, 1152]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/26/13, 2/26/13; BBC News 2/28/13)

Observers have assumed for years that Gordillo was appropriating union funds; there are also accusations that she ordered illegal detentions of dissident union members and was involved in the murder of teacher Misael Núñez Acosta on Jan. 30, 1981, in Ecatepec, México state. An editorial in the left-leaning daily La Jornada dismissed any idea that by arresting Gordillo the government was showing its “political will to secure justice and combat impunity,” given its failure to prosecute people suspected of corruption in other unions and many businesses. The move against the apparently invulnerable Gordillo was more likely a “warning and a message…to the entire political class,” the editors wrote, that Peña Nieto “could do the same against any other representative of the power elite who might question the presidential designs.” (LJ 2/27/13)

The SNTE’s National Executive Committee responded to Gordillo’s arrest with a Feb. 26-28 emergency meeting in Guadalajara, Jalisco, which quickly moved Juan Díaz de la Torre, the general secretary, into the presidency. On the afternoon of Feb. 28 word went out to the union’s 55 local sections to “calm down” any protests planned against the educational reform. Union leaders said they recognized that “it’s a new scenario, and everything is on hold.” As for a possible strike, they denied that there would be any “suspension of academic activities. As the leadership we never proposed that.” (LJ 3/2/13)

Leaders of the main dissident SNTE caucus, the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), held a press conference on Mar. 2 in the offices of the Mexico City local, Section 9, to denounce what they called the government’s “imposition” of Díaz de la Torre, a person “extremely close to Gordillo Morales” who is “at least an accomplice in the corruption.” The group, which includes the militant Section 22 from the southern state of Oaxaca, demanded union democracy. They said the government’s educational reform was a step towards privatization, and they called for a real reform that would be “be constructed with the participation of the principal actors: teachers, parents, pupils, researchers and society as a whole.” (SNTE Section 22 website 3/2/13)

*2. Argentina: Provincial Court Blocks Monsanto Facility
Judges in Córdoba City, the capital of the central Argentine province of Córdoba, issued an order on Feb. 25 suspending construction of a corn seed-drying plant by the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company. Provincial Labor Court judges Silvia Díaz and Luis Farías cited potential “environmental risks” as a basis for the suspension, which was in response to an appeal by the Argentine Law Foundation Club. The company plans to build the 27-hectare facility at a cost of $300 million in Malvinas Argentinas, a working-class suburb located 14 km from the provincial capital. Malvinas Argentinas residents are demanding a referendum on the planned construction and have held protest marches, including one on Feb. 21. (La Mañana de Córdoba 2/21/13; Télam (Argentina) 2/25/13 via; MercoPress (Montevideo) 2/27/13)

In related news, Monsanto announced on Feb. 26 that it would suspend collection of royalties for the use of its genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready soybean seeds in Brazil while it seeks to extend its Brazilian patent on the technology to 2014. Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice (STJ) ruled against the firm the previous week, but Monsanto said it planned to appeal to the Supreme Federal Court (STF). Brazil, the world’s second-largest soybean exporter, is a major market for Monsanto. (Reuters 2/26/13)

Soybean farmers in Paraguay, the fourth-largest soybean exporter, are also opposing a Monsanto patent extension, but on Feb. 19 Judge Miguel Angel Rodas rejected their request for emergency action against the firm. About 95% of the beans produced in Paraguay contain Roundup Ready. Meanwhile, de facto president Federico Franco has authorized sale of Monsanto's Intacta RR2 Pro seeds, which are supposed to protect crops from caterpillars. (Thomson Reuters News & Insight 2/19/13)

*3. Haiti: Still Defiant, Duvalier Finally Goes to Court
After refusing to appear in court three times in a little more than a month [see Update #1165], on Feb. 28 former Haitian “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986) finally complied with an order to attend an appeals court hearing in Port-au-Prince on possible charges for human rights violations committed during his regime. A number of people filed criminal complaints against Duvalier when he returned to Haiti in 2011, but an investigative judge refused to indict him in January 2012, citing Haiti’s 10-year statute of limitations in murder cases. The plaintiffs appealed, and in January of this year a three-member appeals panel agreed to hold a hearing.

Duvalier remained defiant at the Feb. 28 session. After the judges turned down his request to hold a closed meeting, Duvalier was required to answer questions for four hours in open court before journalists, human rights advocates and the plaintiffs. Asked if there were political prisoners at Fort Dimanche, the Port-au-Prince prison where an estimated 3,000 people were executed or died from lack of proper care, Duvalier answered: “Fort Dimanche was full of all kinds of criminals.” “All countries have murder,” he said when the judges asked about killings under his regime. Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimates that 20,000-30,000 people were killed during the administrations of Duvalier and his father, François (“Papa Doc”) Duvalier (1957-1971).

“In every domain, I have a good record,” Duvalier said. “Everything was going well when I was here. When I came back, I found a broken and corrupt country. I should ask you, what have you done with my country?” The hearing is to continue on Mar. 7. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/28/13; Inter Press Service 3/1/13)

Another former head of state is now scheduled to appear before a judge. Ex-president René Garcia Préval (1996-2001, 2006-2011) is to meet with investigative judge Yvickel D. Dabrésil on Mar. 14 in relation to the April 2000 murder of journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, the guard at Dominique’s Haïti Inter radio station [see Update #1163]. Other political figures who have been questioned in the case include former national police director Mario Andrésol, former senator Dany Toussaint, former presidential security chief Oriel Jean, former divisional police commissioner Jean Anthony Nazaire, and activist and folksinger Marie Antoinette Auguste (“Sò An,” “Sister Anne”). (AlterPresse 3/1/13)

*4. Haiti: Homeless Camp Destroyed Before CARICOM Summit
A fire swept through a camp for survivors of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince’s eastern Juvénat neighborhood the night of Feb. 16, destroying tents and leaving some 4,000 people without shelter. The inhabitants of the camp, known as Acra 2, were among as many as 350,000 people in southern Haiti who still haven’t obtained permanent shelter in the three years since their homes were destroyed or damaged by the quake.

In a press release, the Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA), a grassroots housing coalition, said a five-year-old was killed in the fire, which the group blamed on “bandits” who had also killed a young camp resident, Anel Exius, during the day on Feb. 16. The Juvénat neighborhood is near the comparatively upscale suburb of Pétionville, and the camp was close to the Karibe Hotel and its convention center, the site of a Feb. 18-19 summit of leaders from the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM). FRAKKA charged that the fire could have been “a cleanup operation by the government to show to the [CARICOM] directors…that there weren’t any more Haitians living in tents.” Noting that on Feb. 21 “Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe boasted about the congratulations from the CARICOM delegations for having removed the Haitians living in tents,” the group called for an end to evictions of displaced people.

Recent evictions include the forcible removal of hundreds of people from Place Sainte Anne, a park a few blocks from the National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 12, the third anniversary of the earthquake [see Update #1161], and the eviction of 84 families from a smaller encampment known as Fanm Koperativ (“Women of the Cooperative”) at the corner of John Brown Avenue and Capois Street, also near the National Palace. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/25/13; Haïti Libre 2/19/13; Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés (GARR) website 1/26/13)

*5. Puerto Rico: Thousands Protest Airport Privatization
Some 2,500 Puerto Ricans marched on San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport on Feb. 24 to protest plans to privatize the facility. “Our airport isn’t for sale and isn’t for rent” and “Alejandro [García Padilla, the governor], your mom’s ashamed of you” were among the marchers’ signs. Agents of the US Homeland Security Department arrested one protester, Víctor Domínguez, a member of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico (PNPR), when he attempted to go past barricades that police agents had set up 50 meters from the airport entrance. Protest organizers blamed the police for the confrontation during an otherwise peaceful event, saying the agents violated an agreement to let the marchers go all the way to the entrance. Protest sponsors included the Union of Workers of the Electrical Industry and Circulation (UTIER) Solidarity Program (Prosol), the Brotherhood of Office Employees (HEO) and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). (Metro (Guaynabo) 2/24/13)

Activists in New York City held a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Feb. 24 to express their opposition to the privatization. “We’re here to show solidarity with our Puerto Rican bothers and sisters who oppose the privatization,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. (El Diario-La Prensa (New York) 2/25/13)

Under the privatization plan the airport will be leased for 40 years to the Aerostar Airport Holdings consortium; 50% of Aerostar is controlled by the Mexican firm Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste (Asur), which manages the airports in Cancún, Mérida, Cozumel, Villahermosa, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Huatulco, Tapachula and Minatitlán in southeastern and southern Mexico. The consortium is paying $615 million for the lease; it projects investing $240 million over the first three years in infrastructure and repairs for the facility. Some 8.5 million passengers use the airport each year; it is served by 14 airlines and generates more than 8,000 jobs.

The privatization plan was developed under the administration of former governor Luis Fortuño (2009-2013). Aerostar won the contract in July 2012; the US government’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the plan this Feb. 26. (Univision 2/28/13)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

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Report on climate threat in Peruvian Andes

Peru: Quiruvilca protesters lift blockade

Peru: police surround Conga occupation

Negotiating Peace Amidst the War in Colombia

We are not drug traffickers: FARC (Colombia)

Colombia: impunity in Palace of Justice massacre?

Colombia: Communities of Huila Continue to Defend Mother Earth from Mega-development Projects

Venezuela: indigenous leader assassinated

Chávez Haters Not “Limited by Truth, Reality or Common Sense” (Venezuela)

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US Special Operations Command Trained Military Unit Accused of Death Squad Killings in Honduras

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Media Reports on “Charter Cities” Ignore the Larger Context (Honduras)

Honduras: Lenca communities on "maximum alert"

Catholic sex scandal Jewish plot: papal hopeful (Honduras)

The Teaching Profession in Guatemala at the Crossroads: Students Fight against Neoliberal Policies

Guatemala: Breakthrough Regarding Legal Liability of Canadian Mining Corporations for Abuses Overseas

The Fall of La Maestra (Mexico)

The Urgency of Wirikuta (Mexico)

Inspired by the Jungle: The Zapatistas and the Rise of an Indigenous City

Capitalism and Crisis in Acapulco (Mexico)

The Beatles, Love and Murder in Acapulco (Mexico)

Resisting the Model of War in Mexico: A Binational Effort

Harassment, Response to Juarez Mothers’ Demand for Justice (Mexico)

Truncated Transnationalism: The Migrant Vote in the 2012 Mexican Presidential Election

Haitian Senate Calls for Halt to Mining Activities

UN’s Immunity Claim Provokes Outrage (Haiti)

Civil Disobedience Against Deportation (US/immigration)

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