Tuesday, July 16, 2013

WNU #1184: Massive US Spying Throughout Region

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1184, July 14, 2013

1. Latin America: Leaks Show Massive US Spying Throughout Region
2. Brazil: Unions Respond to Protests With General Strike
3. Argentina: Mapuche Plan to Block Chevron From Territory
4. Honduras: Kidnapped Journalist Found Murdered
5. Dominican Republic: “Haitians” Continue to Demand Papers
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Caribbean, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/policy, 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. Latin America: Leaks Show Massive US Spying Throughout Region
US intelligence agencies have carried out spying operations on telecommunications in at least 14 Latin American countries, according to a series of articles the Brazilian national daily O Globo began publishing on July 7. Based on classified documents leaked by former US intelligence technician Edward Snowden, the articles reported that the main targets were Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. The US also spied “constantly, but with less intensity,” on Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, the newspaper said. Brazil and Colombia, a major US ally, have both officially demanded explanations from the US.

The documents show that at least until 2002 the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) maintained data collection stations in Brasilia, Bogotá, Caracas, Panama City and Mexico City; the outpost in Brasilia was part of the “Primary Fornsat Collection Operations,” in which the US intercepted data from foreign satellites. The two agencies used a US Navy base in the Sabana Seca neighborhood of the northern Puerto Rican municipality of Toa Baja to coordinate these operations. (The base was closed in 2003, but the Navy still owns the site and keeps it enclosed with a fence.) Other documents showed more recent spying operations through the internet, with the cooperation of giant US corporations such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and YouTube; these were ongoing as of March of this year.

Although the US government has defended its surveillance programs as an effort to protect US citizens from terrorist attacks, the documents indicated a strong focus on commercial issues-- “petroleum” in Venezuela and “energy” in Mexico, according to a listing produced by the NSA in the first three months of this year. The spying programs collected data on businesses as well as millions of private citizens, residents and travelers in the targeted countries. (The Guardian (UK) 7/6/13; O Globo 7/7/13, 7/9/13, 7/9/13; El País (Madrid) 7/9/13; Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (Puerto Rico) 7/11/13)

The revelations of spying undoubtedly added to anger in the region over charges from Bolivia that France, Italy, Portugal and Spain denied the use of their airspace to a plane carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales on July 2, apparently because of the US government’s belief that Edward Snowden might be on the plane [see Update #1183]. On July 9 the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a strongly worded resolution calling on the four European countries “to provide the necessary explanations of the events that took place…as well as apologies as appropriate.” The European countries claim they didn’t deny the use of their airspace, although France has offered a partial apology. European representatives attending the OAS meeting as observers objected to the resolution’s language; the Italian representative demanded an apology from Bolivia.

The resolution was passed by consensus. Supporters included center-right governments and strong allies of the US, which until recently dominated OAS proceedings; only Canada and the US dissented. In a footnote, the US ambassador to the OAS, Carmen Lomellin, wrote that the US considered the resolution “inappropriate…at this time” because “[t]he relevant facts regarding the incident at issue are unclear and subject to conflicting reports.” So far the US has declined to explain its own role in the incident. (La Jornada (Mexico) 7/10/13 from AFP, DPA, Prensa Latina; Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Americas Blog 7/10/13)

*2. Brazil: Unions Respond to Protests With General Strike
Tens of thousands of Brazilian workers participated in a one-day general strike in 20 or more cities on July 11, with strikers holding generally peaceful rallies and marches that blocked highways and bridges at dozens of points throughout the country. The strikers’ demands included the reduction of the work week from 44 to 40 hours; a speeding up of the agrarian reform program; greater public funding for health and education; control of inflation; and changes in economic policy. The action, the National Day of Struggles, was called by the six main labor confederations, including the Unified Workers Central (CUT), which is affiliated with the center-left Workers Party (PT) of President Dilma Rousseff. The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and the National Students Union (UNE) backed the strike.

The action was an effort by the union movement to bring labor demands to the spontaneous, largely middle-class protest movement that swept Brazil in June [see Update #1182]. “We were in the streets 30 years ago,” CUT president Vagner Freitas said, referring to demonstrations in the 1980s against the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. “Brazil only changes when the working class takes to the streets. That’s how we have won our rights, and how we’ll go on winning them.” In addition to the joint demands of the six confederations, the CUT called for support for a political reform proposal that President Rousseff sent the National Congress in response to the June protests. While significant, the turnout for the July 11 general strike fell far short of the participation by a million or more in the largest of the June protests. Union supporters considered that the day represented an advance for the labor movement, since it was the first national action called by all six confederations. They noted that general strikes are unusual in Brazil: the last large general strikes were the actions against the dictatorship. [A June 1996 general strike called by the CUT and two other federations to protest economic policies was described as a disappointment; see Update #334.]

The Coordination of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) marked the National Day of Struggles by sending Rousseff an open letter in the name of 305 Brazilian indigenous groups representing a population of some 900,000 people. The letter expressed the groups’ rejection of any measure by the legislative or executive branches that would set back their movement for rights; they specifically opposed a proposed constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to demarcate indigenous territory, a function now carried out by the executive. (Reuters 7/11/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 7/12/13 from AFP, Xinhua, Reuters, DPA)

*3. Argentina: Mapuche Plan to Block Chevron From Territory
In a press conference on July 11 representatives of Argentina’s indigenous Mapuche and of indigenous communities in the Vaca Muerta region in the southwestern province of Neuquén announced plans to block the California-based Chevron Corporation from drilling for shale oil in their territories. In December 2012 Argentina’s state-controlled Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) oil company signed an agreement for a $1 billion hydrofracking pilot project in the Vaca Muerta area, despite a November decision by an Argentine judge to embargo Chevron’s assets in Argentina because of a $19 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador for environmental damage and injuries to the health of indigenous residents in the Amazon rainforest [see Update #1158]. YPF and Chevron are scheduled to sign an additional accord on July 15; the oil companies deny that the drilling will be on Mapuche lands.

The Argentine indigenous groups “agreed with the peoples harmed by Chevron in Ecuador--the Cofán, Siona, Sarayaku—that we can’t allow Chevron to enter Mapuche territory,” Mapuche Confederation member Jorge Nahuel said at the press conference. The indigenous groups will challenge the agreement on the grounds that they should have been consulted previously under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO). “The state is obligated to consult us; if it doesn’t, it’s violating the law,” Nahuel said. The lonko (local leader) Albino Campos, who lives in Campo Maripe in the center of Vaca Muerta, told the press conference that some 600 wells are already in operation and that most are between two and 10 kilometers from the residents’ homes. “These places are also fields for grazing,” he said. “It’s surprising that the nation and the province should open the doors to a company that is known on a global level for contamination and extortion.” (Rio Negro (Argentina) 7/11/13)

Correction: This item originally said Chevron and YPF would be drilling for natural gas; they are drilling for oil in shale deposits.

*4. Honduras: Kidnapped Journalist Found Murdered
A charred and dismembered body thought to be that of Honduran journalist Aníbal Barrow was found on July 9 in and around a lake in Villanueva, near San Pedro Sula in the northern department of Cortés. Barrow, the host of a popular morning talk show on the Globo TV channel and also a math professor at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, was kidnapped by armed men on June 24. Police said they had captured four men involved in the crime and were seeking six more; according to police, a “protected witness” led them to the body. National Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares told reporters that no motive had been established for the killing. Barrow’s death would bring the number of Honduran journalistskilled since 2010 to 28, according to human rights groups. (Reuters 7/9/13 via Huffington Post; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 7/10/13; Upside Down World 7/14/13 from IPS)

Honduran journalists are frequently subjected to death threats. According to the Federation of Agro-Industry Workers Unions (FESTAGRO), which includes unions of banana and other agricultural workers, the group’s director of communications, José María Martínez, has been repeatedly threatened through anonymous phone calls. Martínez hosts a radio program, “The Unionist on the Air,” on Radio Progreso each Friday evening. He has reported on labor abuses and human rights violations at various farms, including the Tres Hermanas estates, which supply bananas to Chiquita Brands International Inc, a multinational based in Charlotte, North Carolina; Tres Hermanas products are certified by the New York-based environmentalist nonprofit Rainforest Alliance. The death threats specifically mention Martínez’s talks on the radio. An anonymous message to his wife warned: “Tell your husband if he doesn’t shut his mouth on the radio we’re going to kill him.” A car without license plates was seen circling Radio Progreso just as Martínez’s program ended on July 5.

FESTAGRO suspects that the threats may be coming from Tres Hermanas. A note on the Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) Facebook page suggests that messages expressing concern and demanding protection for Martínez and investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators should be sent to Tres Hermanas owner José Lorenzo Obregón (jolobregon@gmail.com); Chiquita Vice President for Labor Relations Manuel Rodríguez (mrodriguez@Chiquita.com); the Rainforest Alliance (info@ra.org); and Ben Gedan at the US State Department Honduras Desk (gedanbn@state.gov). (FESTAGRO communiqué 7/9/13; HSN 7/9/13)

*5. Dominican Republic: “Haitians” Continue to Demand Papers
As many as 200 Dominicans of Haitian descent demonstrated in front of the National Palace in Santo Domingo on July 12 to demand that President Danilo Medina take a position on the refusal of the Central Electoral Council (JCE) to provide them with their birth certificates and other legal documents. According to the Reconoci.do youth movement, some 22,000 citizens of Haitian descent are unable to enter universities or even to get married because for the last seven years the Civil Registry, which is controlled by the JCE, has been denying them their legal documents--part of a series of anti-immigrant acts that included amending the Constitution in 2010 to limit citizenship to people with Dominican parents. Protesters denounced the denial of their papers as “a discriminatory policy directed against thousands of people from one group, the Dominican children of Haitians, and not the descendants…of Spanish, French, Italian or Chinese people.”

Some protesters had tape over their mouths to dramatize the government’s refusal to recognize their human rights; some couples were dressed for the weddings they are not being allowed to have. Reconoci.do has been organizing these protests at least since last August [see Update #1141], and it has held five so far this year, always on the 12th of the month. (7dias.com.do (Santo Domingo) 7/12/13: El Diario-La Prensa (New York) 7/13/13 from correspondent)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Caribbean, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/policy, US/immigration

OAS Resolution Expressing Solidarity with Bolivia Supported by Latin American and Caribbean, Rejected by the U.S. and Canada

South American Leaders Demand Apologies from Europe

The Detention of Evo Morales: A Defining Moment For Latin America?

Scahill’s ‘Dirty Wars’ Offers Lessons for Latin America

Death by 'Security': Israel's Services in Latin America

From 20 cents to everything else — the struggle for the narrative in Brazil

Brazil's Major Unions Join Movement for First Time, Strike in 150 Cities

Brazil’s Left Is Eager to Lead the “Swarm”

Brazil wants answers on US surveillance

Colombia opens talks with cocalero protesters

Cargill Flouts Law to Secretly Build Land Bank in Colombia

The Communal State: Communal Councils, Communes, and Workplace Democracy (Venezuela)

Venezuelan Workplace Inspectors Protest their Working Conditions

Chinese state firm gets Nicaragua canal contract

Honduras Shaken by High-Profile Murders

The Coconut Massacre (Mexico)

Teachers Continue Struggle Against Educational Reform Law (Mexico)

Electrical Workers Reach Agreement with Gov't on Retirees (Mexico)

Mass Food Poisoning at Border Factories

Mexico Becomes Destination for Migrants

20 Years of Border Femicide (Mexico)

“Operation Lionfish” Highlights the Caribbean’s Comparative Advantage

New Cooperatives Form Part of Cuba’s Reforms

Groups Call UN Secretary General’s Response to Cholera Victims and Congress an “Outrage” (Haiti)

Monsanto Faces Opposition in Puerto Rico

US’ Double Standard on Extraditions Contributes to its Increasing Isolation (US/policy)

Thumbing its Nose at International Law, US Pressures Latin America to Reject Snowden’s “Serious Asylum Claim” (US/policy)

Senate Immigration Bill and the Border Surge (AUDIO) (US/immigration)

Decisive Moment for the Pro-Immigration Movement in the United States

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