Tuesday, April 23, 2013

WNU #1173: Korean Firm Accused in Attack on Nicaraguan Workers

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1173, April 21, 2013

1. Nicaragua: Korean Firm Accused in Attack on Maquila Workers
2. Guatemala: Victims Challenge Suspension of Ríos Montt Trial
3. Mexico: Thousands March for Release of Chiapas Schoolteacher
4. Latin America: US Court Ruling Threatens Human Rights Suits
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

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. Nicaragua: Korean Firm Accused in Attack on Maquila Workers
According to a report by a US-based labor rights monitoring group, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), managers employed by the major Korean apparel firm Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd orchestrated an attack on laid-off Nicaraguan unionists and their supporters on Mar. 4 at two of the company’s plants in a “free trade zone” in Tipitapa municipality, Managua department. Sae-A supervisors reportedly promised workers 100 córdobas (about US$4.04), a production bonus and a free lunch if they broke up a rally and leafleting that about 30 workers were holding outside the two factories, EINS and Tecnotex, at the start of the workday. Some 300-350 workers came out of the plants and attacked the protesting unionists with metal pipes, belts and scissors, the WRC says, while police agents and plant security guards on the scene did nothing to stop the violence.

The two Sae-A factories are maquiladoras, assembly plants that benefit from tax and tariff exemptions while producing for North American retailers; the plants’ customers include Gear for Sports, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Target and Wal-Mart. The rally was sponsored by two newly formed unions, the United Effort Union at EINS and the Carlos Fonseca Amador Union at Tecnotex. The unions say plant management fired 16 of their officials and members between July 2012 and January 2013 in retaliation for union activities. (WRC report 3/8/13; The Nation 4/18/13) (Warehouse Workers United, a project of the US union federation Change to Win, has posted a video of the Mar. 4 incident on YouTube.)

On Mar. 13, leaders of three major Nicaraguan union confederations charged that the Solidarity Center--which is operated by the main US labor confederation, the AFL-CIO, and receives funding from the US government--was forming new unions that were being used to create instability in the maquiladoras. The general secretaries of the Sandinista Workers’ Central (CST), the United Confederation of Workers (CUT) and the Confederation of Union Unity (CUS) blamed Solidarity Center activities for the violence outside the EINS and Tecnotex plants on Mar. 4. The US unionists were “trying to get brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Levi’s to stop contracting work to Nicaraguan factories and return the jobs to the US,” CST general secretary Roberto González said. The leaders of the three confederations said they were prepared to do what was necessary to preserve the 105,000 jobs in Nicaragua’s FTZ factories. (Nicaragua News Bulletin 3/19/13)

Sae-A is also active in Guatemala and Haiti. It’s the lead tenant in the Caracol Industrial Park, a 617-acre complex in northeastern Haiti which opened for business last Oct. 22; promoters said it will bring as many as 65,000 jobs to the country. The US government, which gives special trade preferences to apparel assembled in Haiti, contributed $124 million to the Caracol project. (World War 4 Report 11/7/12) According to an article in the New York Times last July, Sae-A began moving its operations to Nicaragua after being pressured in 2010 to let workers form a union at its Guatemalan maquiladoras. A Sae-A adviser told the Times that the company was making plans to move that production on to Haiti once US trade preferences for Nicaragua expire in 2014 [see Update #1138].

*2. Guatemala: Victims Challenge Suspension of Ríos Montt Trial
Both supporters and opponents of former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) took to the streets of Guatemala City on Apr. 20 in response to the abrupt decision two days earlier to suspend his trial for genocide allegedly committed against indigenous people during the country's 36-year civil war. Human rights activists marched to the Constitutionality Court (CC), where the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH) had filed a complaint on Apr. 19 against the suspension. “We’re asking for a court free of pressures, one which can say whether or not there was genocide and crimes against humanity,” CALDH director Juan Fernando Soto explained. Meanwhile, friends and relatives of soldiers marched in the Lourdes neighborhood in Zona 16, putting decals on cars reading: “I love the Army of Guatemala” and “We Guatemalans don’t commit genocide.” (Prensa Libre (Guatemala City) 4/21/13)

The historic trial, which also targeted Ríos Montt’s former intelligence chief, Gen. José Rodríguez, was halted on Apr. 18 shortly before the judges were to begin deliberations on a verdict. High Risk Cases Court judge Carol Patricia Flores Polanco, who was recused from the case in November 2011, entered the courtroom and announced that the Third Criminal Appeals Court had reinstated her as judge in the case, replacing current judge Yasmín Barrios. Judge Flores said the case would have to start over again and all the proceedings in the 17 months since she was recused would be annulled, including the testimony of dozens of members of the Mayan Ixil group who were victims or witnesses of military atrocities. Prosecutors, victims and human rights defenders immediately announced that they would appeal, and Judge Barrios insisted that the trial would continue. (La Jornada (Mexico) 4/19/13 from correspondent; PL 4/20/13)

Many observers were skeptical about the legal rationale for the suspension. On Apr. 16, two days before the decision, a public declaration appeared warning of the “imminent danger that political violence might reappear” because of the polarization allegedly caused by the case; it was signed by two former vice presidents, two negotiators of the 1996 peace accords that ended the civil war, a former rebel leader and various former cabinet ministers. On Apr. 18 the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) issued a press release calling the declaration “an unjustifiable threat against the court”; 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchú Tum called on the government to provide security for the witnesses, prosecutors and judges. (Siglo 21 (Guatemala City) 4/19/13 from EFE)

“[B]ehind the decision stands secret intervention by Guatemala’s current president and death threats delivered to judges and prosecutors by associates of Guatemala’s army,” US investigative journalist Allan Nairn reported on Apr. 18, shortly after the suspension was announced. Nairn had been tentatively scheduled to appear as an expert witness on Apr. 15; he covered the counterinsurgency in the early 1980s and interviewed current president Otto Pérez Molina, then an army major known as “Tito Arias” commanding troops in the Ixil region, at the time [see Update #1171].

Guatemala’s rulers had agreed to allow the trial to take place “because political forces were such that they had to,” Nairn wrote, “and because they thought that they could get away with sacrificing Ríos Montt to save their own skins.” But their thinking changed when former military engineer Hugo Ramiro Leonardo Reyes gave testimony implicating Pérez Molina in the atrocities that occurred under the Ríos Montt dictatorship. Nairn’s planned testimony was cancelled, since he too could implicate the president, he said. Then “Guatemala's army and oligarchy rallied…. They started to feel that they had no political need to sacrifice Ríos Montt… On Apr. 16 Pérez Molina said publicly that the case was a threat to peace. On Apr. 18, today, the Ríos Montt genocide case was suspended.” (News and Comment 4/18/13; Democracy Now! 4/19/13)

The Ixil witnesses and survivors weren’t about to give up in the face of the suspension, according to Claudia Samayoa, coordinator of the Unit for Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA). When the decision was announced on Apr. 18, she told the Mexican daily La Jornada, “the indigenous people in the courtroom didn’t cry. We cried; the indigenous people didn’t. Later they explained to us that for them this cancellation, although illegal, is hardly even a setback. They told us: ‘We’ve survived worse. We’ve finally been able to speak out, and we’ll be able to overcome this setback.’” (LJ 4/19/13)

*3. Mexico: Thousands March for Release of Chiapas Schoolteacher
Some 15,000 protesters marched in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, on Apr. 19 to demand the release of Alberto Patishtán Gómez, an indigenous schoolteacher who has been serving a 60-year sentence since 2000 for his alleged involvement in the killing of seven police agents in El Bosque municipality in June of that year. Patishtán is a supporter of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). Actions demanding his release have taken place in at least 11 countries over the past year [see Update #1129].

About 7,000 of the marchers were indigenous Mayans; most of these belonged, like Patishtán himself, to the Tzotzil group. Another 8,000 were teachers from Section 7 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE); they were also protesting changes in the educational system being carried out by the administration of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto [see Update #1172]. The protesters, accompanied by flutes, guitars and drums, tied up the center of Tuxtla for three hours.

The march coincided with a visit to the nearby town of Navenchauc by President Peña Nieto, who was promoting his “National Crusade Against Hunger” [see Update #1165]; the guest of honor for the event was former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011). “We believe and we’re convinced by the facts that this is a crusade against the hungry,” speakers at the march charged. “We, the indigenous peoples and campesinos, are indeed hungry, but hungry for truth and justice in the case of the Acteal [where 45 indigenous people were massacred in December 1997, see Update #1117], hungry for the immediate and unconditional release of our brother Alberto.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 4/20/13)

*4. Latin America: US Court Ruling Threatens Human Rights Suits
In a unanimous decision issued on Apr. 17, the US Supreme Court sharply restricted the use of the 1789 Alien Tort Statute for foreign nationals to sue for human rights violations that took place outside the US. The case at issue, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, was brought by 12 Nigerians now living in the US; they charged that Royal Dutch Petroleum (better known as Royal Dutch Shell) and other oil companies with a presence in the US conspired with the Nigerian government to commit human rights violations against Nigerians protesting environmental damage by the companies. Five of the justices rejected the suit on the grounds that it violated the “presumption of extraterritoriality”—that is, the principle that the US will generally not meddle in the legal affairs of other countries—and that a minor presence of a foreign corporation in the US was not enough to entitle a foreigner to sue that company in the US.

The four more liberal justices agreed to reject the case, but held that suits could be brought under the Alien Tort Statute when the alleged violations took place in the US, the defendant was a US national, or the violation “substantially and adversely” affected a US interest.

Although the decision concerned violations that occurred in Africa, the use of the 1789 statute in human rights cases has been closely associated with Latin America. The first human rights suit brought under the statute, Filártiga v. Peña–Irala (1980), involved the torture and murder of a youth in Paraguay by the Asunción police inspector general. The first Supreme Court ruling on the Alien Tort Statute, Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain (2004), dealt with the case of a Mexican doctor who was abducted to the US by a Mexican employed by the US government; the court ruled against the plaintiff, Humberto Alvarez Machain, but agreed that he had the right to bring the suit under the Alien Tort law. Other suits filed under the law include Xuncax v. Gramajo and Ortiz v. Gramajo (both in 1991), which charged former Guatemalan defense minister Gen. Héctor Alejandro Gramajo Morales with atrocities in the 1980s; Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Company (2001), which accused Coca-Cola of collaborating with death squads to kill, threaten and intimidate workers at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia starting in the 1990s; and Estate of Rodríguez v. Drummond Co (2002), which charged that the Alabama-based Drummond Co. Inc. coal company was responsible for the murders of three unionists in Colombia in 2001 [see Updates #753, 737, 599, 1163].

Chiquita Brands International Inc is currently facing an Alien Tort Statute suit, In Re: Chiquita Brands International (2007), charging that the company colluded with Colombian paramilitaries in the killing of banana workers and political organizers. After the Kiobel decision was announced, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Terry Collingsworth, told a reporter that he expects the Chiquita case to go forward despite the Supreme Court ruling. “The court has added an element to bringing these cases that requires that you demonstrate a US connection,” he said. “I expect it added a step that we will be able to satisfy.” But the Apr. 17 ruling clearly is a big setback for human rights advocates. “Kiobel appears to be part of an ongoing campaign to roll the clock back to the 1950s or even earlier,” Creighton Law School professor Patrick Borchers wrote on Apr. 19. “Unless Congress steps in to fix the problem, the [Alien Tort Statute] is now close to a dead letter.” (The Jurist 4/17/13, 4/19/13; Thomson Reuters News & Insight 4/18/13)

5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Tremendous Pharmaceutical Profits or Totally Protected Plunder? (Latin America)

Argentina: No to Mining

Brazil: Carandiru Massacre Trial Must End Long Legacy of Impunity

700 Indigenous People Occupy Brazilian House of Representatives

Brazil: indigenous people occupy Congress

Sinaloa Cartel kingpin nabbed in Colombia

Colombia: narco-terrorist card in political play

Colombia dropped from human rights 'blacklist'

Maduro’s Venezuela Remains an Inconvenient Example of Democracy

Venezuelan Oppostion Turns to Violence in the Face of Election Defeat

Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro Sworn in, Promises "a Revolution of the Revolution"

Venezuela’s Electoral Council Approves Audit of 100 Percent of Votes

“The Capacity not to Stop Dreaming”: An Interview with María Suárez Toro (Central America)

Honduras: top prosecutor suspended amid violence

BREAKING NEWS: The Genocide Trial of General Efrain Rios Montt Has Just Been Suspended: A firsthand behind-the-scenes account of how Guatemala's current President and threats of violence killed the case

Genocide Trial of Former Dictator Ríos Montt Suspended After Intervention by Guatemalan President

Community Leader Daniel Pedro Mateo Kidnapped and Murdered in Guatemala

Mexico: Airport Threatens Farmworkers Again in Atenco

Mexico: narco-violence from Yucatan to Rio Grande

Is the IOM Underestimating the Impact of Forced Evictions? (Haiti)

Photo Essay: Profit and Violence in the Name of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (US/immigration)

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any information from them, but please credit us as “Weekly News Update on the Americas” and include a link.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

No comments: