Tuesday, April 9, 2013

WNU #1171: Mexican Teachers Block Highway to Protest “Reforms”

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1171, April 7, 2013

1. Mexico: Teachers Block Acapulco Highway to Protest “Reforms”
2. Chile: New Problems Threaten Pascua Lama Mine
3. Guatemala: Ríos Montt Trial Implicates Current President
4. Dominican Republic: Laid-Off Haitian Workers Win Severance Pay
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, 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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Mexico: Teachers Block Acapulco Highway to Protest “Reforms”
Five people were arrested and five injured on Apr. 5 when some 2,000 agents of Mexico’s Federal Police (PF) removed more than 3,000 dissident teachers who were blocking a highway in the southwestern state of Guerrero to protest planned changes in the educational system. The demonstration, organized by the State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG), tied up traffic along the highway from Mexico City to the resort city of Acapulco from about 1 pm until the police action at about 6:30 pm; the road is heavily traveled during the spring vacation period around Easter. The protest took place at the spot near the state capital, Chilpancingo, where two students and a gas station worker were killed on Dec. 12, 2011 in a confrontation between police and students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, located in the Guerrero village of Ayotzinapa [see Update #1153]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 4/6/13)

Later on the evening of Apr. 5 about 100 teachers occupied a toll both at Huitzo on the Oaxaca-Cuacnopalan highway in the southern state of Oaxaca to express solidarity with the Guerrero teachers. Chanting “Guerrero, brother, Oaxaca supports you,” the protesters, members of Section 22 of Mexico’s 1.5 million-member National Education Workers Union (SNTE), let motorists pass without paying; the drivers responded by honking and blinking their lights. (LJ 4/6/13)

The Apr. 5 road blockade in Guerrero was part of a series of protests planned for the week after Easter by the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), the largest dissident group in the SNTE. The union itself has kept a low profile since the Feb. 26 arrest of its former president, Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, on corruption charges [see Update #1167]. The dissident group holds that “educational reforms” signed into law by Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto on Feb. 25 are a step towards privatization of the public school system; the measures are similar to educational changes taking place in the US, with an emphasis on standardized tests and teacher evaluations.

Two of the CNTE’s main bases of support are Oaxaca’s Section 22 and the CETEG in Guerrero, and the most militant demonstrations were in those two states. Oaxaca teachers blocked access to Coppel and Sears stores, McDonalds restaurants, and other national and multinational outlets from 9 am to 4 pm on Apr. 3 in the Valle, Oaxaca and Bella shopping malls in Oaxaca city, although they spared some locally owned businesses like cafeterias and ice cream parlors. About 1,500 Guerrero teachers intermittently blocked the Mexico City-Acapulco highway on Apr. 4, the day before the police operation. Also on Apr. 4 about 10,000 teachers from various states marched in Mexico City, some chanting: “If we have to evaluate, we have to start with [President] Peña.” CNTE national leaders said they would decide the next week on further actions; they didn’t exclude the possibility of an open-ended national strike.

Mexican officials usually insist that they need to negotiate with the SNTE, not the union dissidents, but they have responded to the current protests by talking with CNTE representatives, who have presented their own proposals for educational reform. Oaxaca governor Gabino Cué Monteagudo and Guerrero governor Angel Aguirre Rivero held talks with the state CNTE affiliates; both governors were elected by coalitions including leftist parties. On Apr. 4 two officials from Peña’s centrist administration--Governance Undersecretary Luis Enrique Miranda Nava and Public Education Undersecretary Rodolfo Tuirán Gutiérrez—met for three hours with CNTE representatives and agreed to meet again on Apr. 9. But as of Apr. 7 none of these talks had produced an agreement. (LJ 4/4/13, 4/5/13, 4/5/13)

An Apr. 7 editorial in the left-leaning daily La Jornada cited a 2007 report by the federal Public Education Secretariat (SEP) showing that a quarter of Mexican schools didn’t have electricity and a quarter lacked bathrooms, while in 44% of primary schools teachers had to teach more than one grade level in the same classroom. “In such circumstances,” the editorial continued, “the aspiration to evaluate all the teachers by identical standards, without its mattering whether their schools lack water, electricity and installations that are minimally decent for carrying out their work, constitutes an unjust and inappropriate measure which will be unlikely to help improve the quality of education.” (LJ 4/7/13)

*2. Chile: New Problems Threaten Pascua Lama Mine
As of Apr. 1 the Environmental Evaluation Service of Atacama, a region in northern Chile, had imposed a new fine on the Chilean subsidiary of the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation for violations at its Pascua Lama facility, a giant open-pit gold, silver and copper mine being built in the Andes at the border between Argentina and Chile. The fine on the subsidiary, the Compañía Minera Nevada SPA, came to about US$85,509 (expressed as 1,000 Monthly Tax Units, UTM, a special unit Chile uses for mining taxes and fines; it is set this month at 40,125 pesos). This was in addition to a US$256,518 (3,000 UTM) fine the service imposed a month earlier. According to Pedro Lagos, Atacama’s regional minister for the environment, the fines are for the company’s failure to meet requirements for monitoring damage the mine’s construction could cause to nearby glaciers.

Problems continue to accumulate for the mine, which is projected to cost Barrick $8 billion to build. A newly established “environmental court” in the Antofagasta region adjacent to Atacama recently brought charges against the Barrick subsidiary for damage it caused to mountain pastures and to the El Estrecho river because of poor construction at the mine. Another threat comes from a January decision by national mines commissioner Paulo Cortes Olguín, who upheld claims by Chilean mine owner Jorge Lopehandía and the Vancouver-based Mountainstar Gold Inc. to the Chilean section of the Pascua Lama site. Meanwhile, some of the construction work remains suspended because of an Oct. 31 order by the National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin), which found unsafe levels of pollution at the site that could affect the construction workers' health [see Update #1152].

The ongoing problems demonstrate that the Pascua Lama facility, slated to be one of the world’s largest gold mines, simply shouldn’t be built, according to Lucio Cuenca, director of the Latin American Monitoring Center for Environmental Conflicts (OLCA). (Radio Bío Bío (Chile) 4/1/13; Upside Down World 4/3/13; Radio Universidad de Chile 4/6/13)

*3. Guatemala: Ríos Montt Trial Implicates Current President
Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina was involved in some of the crimes against humanity for which former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) and his former intelligence chief, Gen. José Rodríguez, are now on trial in Guatemala City, according to testimony by a prosecution witness at the trial on Apr. 4. The witness, Hugo Reyes, was an army engineer stationed near Nebaj, El Quiché department, in the Ixil Mayan region, during the early 1980s, at a time when the current president was an army major commanding troops in the area. Reyes said Pérez Molina, then known as “Commander Tito” and “Major Tito Arias,” was among the officers in charge of soldiers who “coordinated the burning [of homes] and pulling people out so they could execute them.”

Speaking by video conferencing from an undisclosed location, Reyes testified that soldiers kidnapped civilians and took them to a military base for torture and execution. “Some had their tongues cut out and their fingernails removed and other injuries,” he said. “The army officers said to them: ‘Sons of bitches, talk or we'll cut out your tongues.’” “Indian seen, Indian dead--that was the motto they had,” Reyes said; most of the victims were indigenous. “It’s a lie,” Pérez Molina told reporters on Apr. 5. He dismissed the events at the trial the day before as a “circus,” adding: “Bringing in false witnesses takes away all seriousness from the justice system.” (Reuters 4/5/13; Europa Press (Madrid) 4/6/13)

Pérez Molina has frequently been accused of participating in the Ríos Montt government’s “scorched earth” policies, which led to thousands of civilian deaths. A 1983 documentary shows Pérez Molina being interviewed by US investigative reporter Allan Nairn while standing near several battered corpses in Nebaj; one of the soldiers told Nairn that these were captives Pérez Molina had “interrogated” [see Update #1114].

While attention is focused on the Ríos Montt trial, the harassment and murder of activists continues, with at least five murdered in a single month. Tomás Quej, an indigenous leader who had just won a legal struggle for land for his community in the central department of Baja Verapaz, was found dead on Feb. 26 with a gunshot wound to his heart. Carlos Hernández Mendoza, an anti-mining activist and a leader in the National Union of Health Workers of Guatemala (SNTSG), was shot dead on Mar. 8; indigenous campesino leader Gerónimo Sol Ajcot was shot dead three days later, on Mar. 11 [see Update #1168]. As reported by Amnesty International (AI), on Mar. 17 Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, a leader in the Xinca indigenous group, was murdered and three other activists were kidnapped, beaten and then released; the group was demonstrating against mining operations by the Canadian company Tahoe Resources. Ucelo was also involved in land disputes. On Mar. 21 Santa Alvarado, like Hernández a member of the SNTSG, was kidnapped and strangled. (Global Voices (Amsterdam) 3/25/13)

*4. Dominican Republic: Laid-Off Haitian Workers Win Severance Pay
After months of struggle, 112 Haitian workers laid off last year by a coconut processing plant in the southern Dominican province of San Cristóbal learned on Apr. 1 that they had won their suit for severance pay and back wages. In a Mar. 18 decision that wasn’t made public for two weeks, San Cristóbal Civil Appeals Court president Juan Procopio Pérez ordered the company, Coquera Real, and its owner, Rafael Emilio Alonso Luna (“Billo”), to pay 10 million pesos (US$243,015) in back wages and 30 million pesos (US$729,042) in penalties for “non-payment of benefits over a period of 10 years.” The court also ordered the immediate seizure of Coquera Real’s property to guarantee payment, since the company has declared bankruptcy.

Although the workers were reportedly undocumented immigrants, they insisted on their labor rights when the company closed down last year. In addition to filing the lawsuit, the workers and their families held a sit-in in front of the Labor Ministry in Santo Domingo from Dec. 14 to Jan. 19. Although they finally agreed to leave the Labor Ministry, the Haitians remained in the Dominican Republic, camping out in a San Cristóbal parking lot owned by a relative of one of their lawyers [see Update #1161]. After the court decision was announced, Francisco (or Elmo) Ojilus, the workers’ spokesperson, said they would remain in the Dominican Republic to wait for their payment before returning to Haiti. (MunicipiosAlDia.com (Dominican Republic) 4/2/13; Acento.com.do (Dominican Republic) 4/4/13; Haiti Press Network (Haiti) 4/4/13; Dominican Today (Dominican Republic) 4/2/13)

Correction: Following our sources, in previous Updates we referred to two companies, Coquera Real and Coquera Kilómetro 5. More recent sources refer to one company, Coquera Real, located at kilometer 5 on the Sánchez highway.

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

Argentina vs. the Vultures: What You Need to Know

Barrick Gold Could Lose the Pascua Lama Project (Chile)

The Imposition of Brazilian Agribusiness and the Suppression of Family Farming, With Government Support

The Real Lula Speaks Out (Brazil/Venezuela)

Bolivia: The Unfinished Business of Land Reform

Peru: disappearing glacier sounds climate alarm

Peru: pressure on for Fujimori pardon

Peru: Lucanamarca massacre remembered

Ecuador: protests mount over mining, oil

SOUTHCOM General John Kelly and the War in Colombia

Teaching Peace: The University of Resistance in Colombia’s San Jose de Apartado Community

Colombia: peace talks advance amid violence

The Murder of Demetrio López: Chronicle of Another Death Foretold in Colombia

Election Campaigning Officially Begins in Venezuela, Micro-Missions Announced

What Next, Venezuela? A Roundtable Discussion

Campaign for Presidency Kicks-off in Venezuela: An Interview with Carmen Hidalgo

Venezuela: Maduro calls down 'curse' on opponents

Honduras is Open for Business and Repression

Will Obama’s Legacy Be a Death Squad Government in Honduras?

Campesino Communities in Honduras being Devastated, One Family at a Time

In Guatemala, state violence is on trial but repression continues

Bullets Fired Toward Protestors on the Anniversary of Slain Activist (Mexico)

Tourism in Chiapas: A Conversation with Hermann Bellinghausen (Mexico)

Climate Change Wallops Mexico

Can Worker-Owners Run a Big Factory?
How Mexican Tire Workers Won Ownership of Their Plant With a Three-Year Strike and Are Now Running It Themselves

Haitian peasants prioritize for the next five years

Reflections on the Reconstruction (Haiti)

U.S. Food Aid Reform Opposed by Aid’s Intended Recipients: U.S. Special Interests (Haiti)

Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Aid Transparency and Accountability in Haiti

Confronting the Amnesty Scare (US/immigration)

Families or workers? Criminals or migrants? (US/immigration)

Migration and Small Business Investment Across the U.S.-Mexico Border (US/immigration)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

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