Tuesday, August 20, 2013

WNU #1188: Mexico Plans Fracking and Oil Privatization

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1188, August 18, 2013

1. Mexico: “Energy Reform” Promises Privatization and Fracking
2. Honduras: US-Korean Maquila Accused of CAFTA Labor Violations
3. Colombia: Coke Bottler Fires Outsourced Workers
4. Haiti: Lawyer for Homeless Threatened With Arrest
5. Chile: Investors Sue Barrick Over Pascua Lama Mine
6. Argentina: Menem Faces Trial for Factory Explosion
7. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, 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: “Energy Reform” Promises Privatization and Fracking
On Aug. 12 Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto formally announced his plan for transforming the country’s nationalized energy sector by opening up the giant oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) to shared risk contracts with Mexican and foreign private companies and by allowing private companies to generate electricity for the Federal Energy Commission (CFE). Mexico is currently the world’s largest oil producer, with about 2.5 million barrels pumped each day, but Peña Nieto said his “energy reform” would raise oil production to 3 million barrels a day in 2018 and 3.5 million 2025 and natural gas production from 1.7 million cubic feet now to 8 million cubic feet in 2015. The reform, which would require changes to articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution, is supported by the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and Peña’s centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); the votes from the two parties should be enough to get the legislation through the Congress.

Far from meaning the privatization of Pemex and the CFE, Peña said, his program would maintain state ownership, continuing the policies of President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1934-1940), who nationalized the petroleum industry in 1938 but allowed contracts with private companies. In fact, private companies already contract for drilling and other production, but the risk contracts would allow companies to share the profits for the first time. According to Peña, this would provide capital and technological expertise necessary for expanded production. Pemex currently pays the government some 70% of its revenues, providing about one-third of the national budget but shortchanging investment in oil exploration and production, critics say.

The dramatic expansion of gas production in Peña’s proposal would be in the Eagle Ford shale formation, which extends from southern Texas into northern Mexico. On the US side companies have 9,100 permits for drilling, producing large amount of natural gas through the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“hydrofracking”) method. Mexico has done relatively little drilling in the region. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/13/13; Global Post 8/13/13)

US companies responded enthusiastically to Peña’s proposal. “This is a good start,” Kurt Glaubitz, a spokesperson for the California-based Chevron Corporation, told the New York Times. “We’re optimistic about the reforms that are taking place and the opportunities that Mexico is presenting to international oil companies.” The US “would be the most likely beneficiary of a new Mexican oil boom since its fields are close to Gulf of Mexico refineries,” the Times noted. Experts expect that the changes will reduce US dependence on oil from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC); Mexico isn’t a member of the cartel. (NYT 8/14/13)

The reform is expected to meet strong opposition in Mexico. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, Lázaro Cárdenas’ son and the founder of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), questioned the claim that Pemex needs private capital. “I don’t see…where there’s a lack of capital,” he said in an Aug. 13 radio interview. “I don’t see where there’s a lack of resources or an inability by Pemex to get resources from credits.” Cárdenas, who holds an engineering degree, noted that he had repeatedly called for reforms in the company’s finances, which he said would cover any shortfall. (LJ 8/14/13) Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor (2000-2005) who came in second as a center-left coalition candidate in the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections, has called for a protest in the capital’s central Zócalo plaza on Sept. 8. He also supports a call for a plebiscite issued by another former Mexico City mayor, Marcelo Ebrard (2006-2012), although López Obrador added that even without a vote he was sure most people oppose the reform, “or else we Mexicans would be masochists.” (Ciudadanía Express (Mexico) 8/17/13)

On Aug. 11, the day before Peña’s announcement, community police organizations from four indigenous villages marched in Tlapa in the southwestern state of Guerrero in opposition to any privatization of Pemex and the CFE. (Los Angeles Press 8/13/13)

Other critics questioned the reform’s continued reliance on the burning of fossil fuels and technologies like hydrofracking instead of alternative energy sources. “Right now petroleum is the main natural agent leading to the suicide of the species,” Víctor M. Toledo, a former researcher at the Ecology Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), wrote in an op-ed. He noted that Mexico “is one of the countries with the greatest risk from climate change. Three phenomena made more acute by the global imbalance will hit Mexico hard: a) the increase in the number and power of hurricanes; b) the recurring droughts that will be aggravated in the center and the north of the country; and c) the general increase in temperatures.” (LJ 8/17/13)

*2. Honduras: US-Korean Maquila Accused of CAFTA Labor Violations
Some 30 inspectors from the Honduran Labor Ministry visited the Kyungshin-Lear Honduras Electrical Distribution Systems auto parts assembly plant in a suburb of the northern city of San Pedro Sula on Aug. 13 after local media reported that some employees had to wear diapers at work because of restrictions on their bathroom breaks. Workers for the company, an affiliate of the Michigan-based Lear Corporation and Korea’s Kyungshin Corp, say there are many other labor violations, such as forcing pregnant women to stand while doing assembly work. According to an Aug. 12 press release from the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation, management has fired 26 workers so far this year for trying to form a union at the maquildora (assembly plant with tax exemptions producing for export).

Selvin Martínez, the Labor Ministry’s chief of inspection, claimed inspectors had tried to enter the factory five times in the past year and had fined the company 5,000 lempiras (about US$245) on each occasion for denying them entry. But the government’s renewed interest in the plant seemed to be largely because of the publicity from a visit by US labor leaders, organized in cooperation with the Honduran office of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center and the General Workers Central (CGT), the most conservative of Honduras’ main labor federations. The delegation was led by Charles Kernaghan, the director of the Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (formerly the National Labor Committee) and a well-known anti-sweatshop activist for some 30 years. The AFL-CIO has been applying pressure on the Honduran government through labor standards set up in the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) [see Update #1125]. Theoretically, Honduras could lose trade preferences with the US if it doesn’t enforce the labor agreements, although there is no evidence that the administration of US president Barack Obama has been pushing the Honduran government on the issue.

A spokesperson for Kyungshin-Lear at the company’s Alabama sales office denied the unionists’ allegations. Daniel Facussé, president of the Honduras Maquiladora Association, called the charges “a falsehood and a slander set up by workers manipulated through the interference of the US unions, which want to recover the jobs that they lost in their country.” (AFL-CIO blog 8/12/13; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 8/13/13 from AP; ABC News 8/14/13) Facussé is a member of a powerful Honduran business family that includes former president Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé (1998-2002), who owns the Tegucigalpa daily La Tribuna, and cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum, whose security guards have been repeatedly accused of killing campesinos in a land dispute in the northern Aguán Valley region [see Update #1182].

*3. Colombia: Coke Bottler Fires Outsourced Workers
Using a subterfuge to remove its direct employees from the plant, on July 27 the Coca-Cola bottling company in Medellín in Colombia’s northwestern Antioquia department laid off 132 workers contracted through the EFICACIA outsourcing company, according to the National Union of Food Industry Workers (Sinaltrainal), which represents bottling workers, including 18 of the laid-off employees. Management had notified the regular employees the day before that they would be going to another location for training on safety. Once the direct workers were out of the way, EFICACIA’s director told the contracted workers that the plant was switching to another contractor, SEDIAL, and that they were all laid off. Sinaltrainal said the Coca-Cola bottlers had used a similar trick to fire a group of contract workers in 2001. (Sinaltrainal 7/28/13; Adital (Brazil) 8/9/13)

In the past US activists have accused Coca-Cola of collaborating with death squads to kill, threaten and intimidate unionists at Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia starting in the 1990s [see Update #599]. The Campaign to Stop Killer Coke has pushed to ban the sale of Coca-Cola on campuses, including the 24 schools in the City University of New York (CUNY), with a total student body of 270,000. The campaign succeeded in stopping sales of the company’s products at Brooklyn College, at the CUNY Law School in Queens and at some other campuses. In July, the university system announced that it was signing a contract with Pepsi and cutting Coca-Cola out. CUNY spokesperson Michael Arena denied that the activist campaign affected the decision. Pepsi “offered more money,” he said. (New York Times 8/14/13)

*4. Haiti: Lawyer for Homeless Threatened With Arrest
Haitian human rights attorney Patrice Florvilus and his supporters announced on Aug. 16 that he had been asked to appear at the government prosecutor’s office in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 19 in connection with a complaint from Reynold Georges, a lawyer for former “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986). Florvilus heads the legal aid organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), which was formed to help people left homeless by the January 2010 earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti. The complaint appears to be in retaliation for a complaint the DOP filed against agents of the national police suspected of having murdered Meris Civil, a porter they arrested on Apr. 15 at the Acra displaced persons’ camp in the Delmas 33 section of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. According to Florvilus, fires were set on Apr. 13 and Apr. 15 at the camp, which occupies property claimed by Duvalier.

“Today freedom of expression and the practice of law are being threatened in Haiti,” Florvilus said at an Aug. 16 press conference. Reyneld Sanon, the executive secretary of the grassroots housing coalition Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA), said the attack on the lawyer is part of a policy of discrimination, repression and forcible eviction targeting the displaced people still living in tents more than three years after the earthquake. Florvilus is being represented by attorneys Mario Joseph and André Michel, who, along with attorney Newton St-Juste, were themselves threatened with arrest by government prosecutors in September 2012 [see Update #1148]. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 8/16/13)

André Michel was threatened with arrest again on July 26 when Judge Lamarre Bélizaire requested that he and Enold Florestal—a friend or an employee of Michel’s, according to different accounts—appear in court in connection with the killing of Florestal’s brother-in-law, the student Frantzy Duverseau, on Oct. 18, 2010. The Duverseau family says Frantzy Duverseau had intervened when Florestal was beating his wife, Duverseau’s sister, that day. Florestal brought the police to the family home, according to the family, and a police agent shot Frantzy Duverseau dead when he failed to cooperate. It is unclear whether prosecutors have ever charged the police agent in the case or why the investigation is taking place now, three years later. The National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) charges that the government’s real intent is to persecute Florestal and Michel; Florestal and his brother Josué Florestal are plaintiffs in a case charging Sophia Martelly, the wife of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”), and his son, Olivier Martelly, with corruption. Michel is the attorney for the Florestals. (AlterPresse 8/1/13)

Corruption charges against the Martelly family have also come up in connection with the sudden death on July 13 of Judge Jean Serge Joseph, who was investigating corruption complaints. Some witnesses claim that President Martelly and Prime Minster Laurent Lamothe met with Judge Joseph on July 11 and pressured him to drop the case, leading to speculation that the judge was poisoned after refusing to close the investigation. Martelly and Lamothe denied reports about the meeting. Joseph was a naturalized Canadian citizen, and his family had him buried in Canada after the Quebec province coroner’s office performed an autopsy. In early August the doctor in charge of the autopsy, Jean Brochu, backed up the Haitian authorities’ claim that Joseph had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The coroner’s office will still run toxicology tests, but Brochu said the results wouldn’t be available until the fall. He didn’t expect the results to be definitive, since the body had been embalmed in Haiti. (AlterPresse 8/1/13, 8/2/13; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 8/5/13)

In other news, a group of unidentified people attacked two men they took for homosexuals in Port-au-Prince on July 19, the same day that some 1,000 demonstrators participated in a march against homosexuality and same-sex marriage [see Update #1185]. Police rescued the two men, said to be manicurists, according to police spokesperson Gary Desrosiers. (They were not killed, as some media initially reported.) On Aug. 10 a group attacked a house in the generally well-to-do suburb of Pétionville where two men were holding an engagement party. Two cars were set on fire and windshields were broken, as were some of the windows at the house. Charlot Jeudy, president of the LGBT rights organization Courage, described the incident as a “homophobic attack” and “banditry.” (AlterPresse 7/20/13, 8/12/13)

*5. Chile: Investors Sue Barrick Over Pascua Lama Mine
The unfinished Pascua Lama gold and silver mine high in the Andes on the Chilean-Argentine border continues to bring problems for the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation [see Update #1185]. The multinational has announced a loss of $8.56 billion for the second quarter of this year, largely because of a $5.1 billion write-down of the mine’s value. The $8.5 billion project is stalled because of environmental concerns and legal actions in Chile. The suspension of construction at the mine coincided with a record 23% drop in international gold prices from April through June.

The company also faces a class action lawsuit in the US over Pascua Lama. The New York law firm of Labaton Sucharow LLP filed a suit in federal court for the Southern District of New York on Aug. 2 charging that Barrick made false and misleading statements about the project to investors who bought the company’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange from May 7, 2009 to May 23, 2013. Confidential witnesses who say they used to work for Barrick allege that the company knew about environmental issues and was aware that the costs would go far beyond the projections. Barrick denies the claims. (Labaton Sucharow press release 8/2/13; Yahoo News 8/5/13; Bloomberg News 8/19/13)

*6. Argentina: Menem Faces Trial for Factory Explosion
On Aug. 13 Argentine federal judge Carlos Ochoa reopened a criminal case charging former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) with responsibility in the Nov. 3, 1995 explosion of a military arms factory in Río Tercero in the central province of Córdoba [see Update #488]. Prosecutors and Río Tercero residents have long held that the daylong series of explosions was set off deliberately to destroy evidence that the Menem government was selling arms illegally to Ecuador and Croatia, but the case was shut down by federal judges in 2008. It has been reopened following Menem’s conviction on Mar. 8 this year of involvement in the arms smuggling [see Update #1167]. Seven people were killed in the explosions, which also left 300 people injured and destroyed a number of private homes. Even If convicted, the 83-year-old Menem will probably not face prison time; he currently enjoys immunity as a senator for La Rioja province. (Página 12 (Argentina) 8/13/13; Clarín (Argentina) 8/14/13)

*7. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

Americas: Governments Must Stop Imposing Development Projects on Indigenous Peoples’ Territories

A Deal with the Devil? Argentina Reaches a Fracking Agreement with Chevron

Chile’s law criminalizing protest gutted but not dead

Tide Begins to Turn against FIFA in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Bolivia: Snowden Case Reignites Controversy Over Brazilian Asylum For Morales Foe

Peru: oil spill threatens rainforest reserve

Peru: high court rules for indigenous rights

Ecuador: indigenous leaders get prison terms

Ecuador opens Yasuni reserve to oil interests

Are the Peace Negotiations in Havana between the FARC and the Colombian Government Deadlocked?

Colombia: multinationals on 'trial' for rights abuses

Colombia: strike wave begins with violence

Venezuela’s Diana Industries Workers Claim Victory in Struggle vs. Managerial “Imposition”

Value Us! Fair Pay for Domestic Work in Nicaragua

El Salvador: Private Sector Seeks to Expand the Reach of P3 law with US Support

Foreign Policy Pinkwashing: Russia’s New Law and Continuing Violence in Honduras

Honduran Union Leader Faces Death Threats

On Anniversary of Autonomy, Zapatistas Welcome Students to “the Little School” (Mexico)

The Zapatistas’ first school opens for session (Mexico)

Mexican military harasses Zapatista gathering

Mexico: Gulf Cartel kingpin busted

Firm Action on Obesity Crisis Urged (Mexico)

Studies – and Editorials - Pile Up Pointing to UN Responsibility for Cholera in Haiti

Haitian Senate Committee Calls for President Martelly to be Charged with High Treason

After Two Bans, Styrofoam Trash Still Plagues Haiti

Stand Your Ground, Border Policing and the Mass Production of Corpses of Color (US/immigration)

The Price of Immigration Reform is Steep (US/immigration)

Migrants and Migrant Rights Organizations Denounce Punitive Reform and Vow to Continue Organizing (US/immigration)

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