Monday, September 9, 2013

WNU #1191: US Spied on Brazilian and Mexican Leaders

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1191, September 8, 2013

1. Latin America: US Spied on Brazilian and Mexican Leaders
2. Brazil: 300 Arrested in New Round of Protests
3. Argentina: Mapuche Blame Oil Campany Guards for Fires
4. Mexico: Congress Passes “Education Reform”; Demos Continue
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, 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. Latin America: US Spied on Brazilian and Mexican Leaders
The US National Security Agency (NSA) has spied on emails, phone calls and text messages to and from Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, according to NSA documents presented on Brazil’s Globo television network on Sept. 1. These documents, like those made public in July about US spying on at least 14 Latin American nations [see Update #1184], were given to Glenn Greenwald, a US blogger and columnist for the UK daily The Guardian who lives in Brazil, by former US intelligence technician Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in June. Snowden is now residing in Russia; he says he is unable to comment on the documents because of the terms under which Russian authorities are letting him stay in the country for one year.

The documents, which come from a top-secret report intended to demonstrate the NSA’s spying capabilities, show that in June 2012 the agency collected communications in which Peña Nieto, then the front-running candidate in July 2012 presidential elections, discussed plans for appointments to his cabinet. The report includes two text messages--marked “interesting messages”--from Peña. At about the same time the NSA was tracking communications between President Rousseff and her top advisers, although the report doesn’t show the texts of the communications. (O Globo (Brazil) 9/1/13; The Guardian 9/2/13 from Reuters)

In a Sept. 2 statement, Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE) expressed “great surprise” at the revelations and asked for an explanation from the US. “[T]he government of Mexico rejects and categorically condemns any espionage activity on Mexican citizens in violation of international law,” the statement said. (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/3/13) The Brazilian government had a stronger reaction: officials indicated that President Rousseff might cancel a state visit to Washington scheduled for Oct. 23. Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), who is close to Rousseff and is, like her, a leader in the center-left Workers’ Party (PT), charged that the US was “threatening the world’s sovereignty,” adding that the US “wasn’t elected to act as the world’s sheriff.” “The Americans can’t bear the fact that Brazil has become a global actor,” Lula said. “Basically, the most they’ll accept is for Brazil to go on as a subordinate, the way it used to be.” He called for US president Barack Obama to apologize “humbly” to Rousseff and Brazil. (The Guardian 9/2/13 from Reuters; El País (Madrid) 9/6/13 from correspondent)

Apparently President Obama succeeded in lowering the temperature during private meetings he held with Rousseff and Peña in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5 at a summit of the Group of 20 (G20), a working group of finance ministers from 20 major economies. On Sept. 6 Rousseff said that Obama had promised an explanation of the spying report by Sept. 11 and that the October visit might proceed as planned. (New York Times 9/6/13 from Reuters)

*2. Brazil: 300 Arrested in New Round of Protests
Some 300 people were arrested and 35 injured when thousands of Brazilians held protests in more than 150 cities on Sept. 7, Brazil’s Independence Day. As in massive demonstrations that broke out in June [see Update #1181], the protesters on Sept. 7 demanded improvements in healthcare, education and other public services and opposed the large expenditure of government funds to build sports stadiums for the 2014 World Cup soccer championship and the 2016 Olympic Games. The new actions were reportedly much smaller and more violent than the earlier demonstrations.

The police in Brasilia used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters attempting to break though police lines around the Mané Garrincha stadium, where Brazil was playing Australia; a total of 39 people were reportedly arrested in the various protests around the capital, which included 2,000 people marching on Congress with a model of a prison which they said was intended for corrupt politicians. Protesters in downtown São Paulo tried to invade the City Council; at least one was seriously injured when agents fired tear gas grenades at the crowd. Meanwhile, masked youths in the Black Bloc tendency attacked a total of seven bank branches in the city. In Rio de Janeiro a group of some 300 protesters managed to invade the military’s Independence Day parade even though more than 2,000 police agents were guarding it. The police used tear gas grenades to stop the protesters; the gas forced parade guests to flee the reviewing stands, along with the spectators, many of them with children.

The protests were largely arranged through a Facebook page and a website. The main force behind them, according to some reports, was Anonymous, a loose network of hackers and internet activists, but the protests attracted support from groups on both the right and the left, including an organization with an English-language name, Brazil No Corrupt, which calls for the return of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Another group, the Day of “Enough, claims to be nonpartisan, with a focus on corruption and impunity. At the same time, members of the governing center-left Workers’ Party (PT) were also organizing protests for the day, while in Maceió, capital of the eastern state of Alagoas, a demonstration was organized by the Cry of the Excluded, a network based on progressive social movements and backed by the Catholic hierarchy. (Adital (Brazil) 9/4/13; El País (Madrid) 9/8/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 9/8/13 from AFP)

*3. Argentina: Mapuche Blame Oil Campany Guards for Fires
Some 200 indigenous Mapuche blocked the entrance to a facility of Argentina’s state-controlled Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) oil company on Aug. 31 in the Vaca Muerta region in the southwestern province of Neuquén to protest the burning of five of their buildings. The residents blamed YPF security guards for the fires, which destroyed four homes and the meeting place for their community, Campo Maripe, on Aug. 30 and in the early morning of Aug. 31. The company denies responsibility, but Mapuche spokespeople noted that there is security at the YPF site, provided by the Neuquén provincial government, and that YPF is building a separating plant just 100 meters from the first of the houses to be set on fire. They asked how it was possible “that a building could be set on fire just hundreds of meters from the oil wells and derricks and no one observed anything.”

Mapuche communities occupied four oil wells in the Vaca Muerta region in July to protest a $1 billion agreement between YPF and the California-based Chevron Corporation to drill for oil in the area’s shale deposits, both because residents fear environmental damage from the drilling method, hydraulic fracturing (“hydrofracking”), and because Chevron has refused to settle a $19 billion judgment in favor of Ecuadorian indigenous people whose territory was damaged by oil exploitation [see Update #1185]. (Europa Press 9/1/13; Kaos en la Red 9/2/13)

In other news, on Sept. 4 Chile extradited Argentine judge Otilio Romano, who is accused of committing almost 100 human rights crimes as a prosecutor under Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship. The judge had fled Argentina to avoid prosecution. Interpol Chile director Fernando Villegas said police agents took Romano to the Santiago airport to be delivered to Argentine Interpol agents and flown to the north-central Argentine city of Mendoza. (New York Times 9/4/13 from AP)

*4. Mexico: Congress Passes “Education Reform”; Demos Continue
The Chamber of Deputies of the Mexican Congress voted 390-69 on Sept. 2 in favor of the Professional Teaching Service Law, legislation that requires teachers to be evaluated periodically, although it allows two retests for teachers who fail the evaluation. This is the third in a series of “educational reforms” being pushed by President Enrique Peña Nieto [see Update #1190]. The Senate completed the approval process the next day by voting 102-22 for the law. In both chambers the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was split; five of the party’s 22 senators backed the law. (Europa Press 9/2/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 9/4/13)

The main organization for dissident teachers, the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), had called for a national day of action on Sept. 4 even before Congress passed the law. Tens of thousands of teachers demonstrated that day in 22 states. Striking teachers blocked the airport in Los Cabos, in the western state of Baja California Sur, for two hours, while about 1,000 protesters in Ciudad Juárez, in the northern state of Chihuahua, marched to the Córdoba International Bridge on the US border, distributing fliers and intermittently blocking traffic. In the eastern state of Veracruz, 2,000 teachers took over a tollbooth on the Córdoba-Orizaba highway and let traffic pass for free; other Veracruz teachers blocked the Costera del Golfo, Nuevo Teapa-Cosoleacaque and Minatitlán-Coatzacoalcos highways. Unionists claim that 50,000 teachers observed a strike in the southeastern state of Chiapas; local media put the number at 30,000. (LJ 9/5/13)

Thousands of teachers, many from the southern state of Oaxaca, continued the protests they had been mounting in Mexico City since Aug. 21. On Sept. 5 they held their second blockade of the city’s international airport in just two weeks; for nine hours the teachers kept vehicles from driving up to the facility. For a while it seemed that there would be a confrontation with the police, and protesters armed themselves with metal poles from a fence and with blocks of cement, but the protest ended peacefully in the early evening. (LJ 9/6/13)

The dissident teachers insist that they would support a meaningful education reform, with improved funding for schools in the impoverished southern states, and are not simply fighting against evaluations. The CNTE posted a video entitled “Why are the teachers protesting?” to explain their position. In it a teacher denounces recent changes in the curriculum. “Before,” she says, “we studied Marxism starting in high school. Not anymore…. Before, we had logic and set theory in the field of mathematics, and now it’s nowhere to be found. So a lot of the areas of knowledge which helped us reason in an orderly, organized way are being taken from us. Why? Because they need for the kids who come out to be experts in English and technology, because that’s what the big maquiladoras need.” (Maquiladoras are assembly plants that benefit from tax and tariff exemptions while producing for foreign markets--in Mexico’s case, for the US.) (Latin Times 9/2/13)

Peña’s “reform” agenda also includes partially opening up the energy sector to private companies. On Sept. 8 thousands of people rallied in Mexico City to protest the proposal. Former center-left candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) called Peña’s plan “a vile and shameless robbery.” “It’s an act of treason to the country equal to or greater than that of Antonio López de Santa Anna,” he said, referring to the Mexican president who lost one half of Mexico’s territory to the US in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War. (El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 9/8/13 from AP)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, US/immigration

Enforced Disappearances Still an Appalling Reality in the Americas

Uruguay Prepares for Iron Rush: Civil Society Opposes Proposed Mining Legislation

Paraguay’s militarized democracy

Ecuador: The Rights of Nature Threatened in Yasuní National Park

Colombia: “It's Unacceptable that the Actions of a Few Impact the Lives of the Majority”

Free Trade: Colombia Protests and Rural Development

Venezuela’s Maduro Writes Letter to Obama, “No War in Syria”

Venezuela: Maduro charges 'electrical coup'

Brutal Repression of National Strike in Colombia: Santos Declares Militarization of Bogotá

Outrage (Honduras)

Guatemalan Indigenous Organizations File Complaint over Mining Law with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The art of building a new world: Freedom according to the Zapatistas (Mexico)

It’s about time to tell NAFTA environment ministers to boost media outreach (Mexico)

Community Defenders Celebrate 4th Anniversary Blockade of Proposed Hydroelectric Project on Oaxacan Coast (Mexico)

Mexico: The Eye is on the Mines

The Ancestral Values We Inherited: Protecting Indigenous Water, Land, and Culture in Mexico

The Environmental Consequences of Privatizing Mexico’s Oil

A War Without War Correspondents in Mexico

Ciudad Juárez: femicide avenger strikes back

Should the Caribbean Follow Uruguay’s Marijuana Policy?

Derailment of ‘La Bestia,’ Another Tragedy in a Broken Immigration System (US/immigration)

Will Syria Crisis Stifle Immigration Reform? (US/immigration)

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

For immigration updates and events:


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