Tuesday, December 17, 2013

WNU #1203: Haitian Workers Take to the Streets

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1203, December 15, 2013

1. Haiti: Maquila Workers Take to the Streets--Again
2. Haiti: Evictions of Quake Victims Continue
3. Mexico: Fracking Wins in Disputed Energy Reform
4. Honduras: Another Journalist Killed; Toll Reaches 37
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, 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. Haiti: Maquila Workers Take to the Streets—Again
Haitian garment workers walked off their jobs in Port-au-Prince on the morning of Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, starting off three days of strikes and marches for a higher minimum wage. The protests were in response to the Nov. 29 recommendation by the newly formed Higher Council on Wages (CSS) setting a minimum wage of 225 gourdes (US$5.44) a day for the country’s 24 apparel factories—tax-exempt plants, known in Latin America as maquiladoras, which assemble products for export to North America [see Update #1202]. With hundreds of participants—or thousands, according to some sources--the actions were the largest demonstrations by assembly workers since August 2009 [see Update #1001].

On each of the three days the workers set off from the Metropolitan Industrial Park (PIM) near the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the north of the capital; the majority of Haiti’s assembly plants are in or near the complex, which is generally referred to as “Sonapi,” from the initials of the semi-public authority that manages the assembly sector, the National Industrial Parks Company. On Dec. 10 the workers marched on the Parliament building in downtown Port-au-Prince. Waving tree branches and chanting “Down with the CSS,” the marchers, largely young women, called for a daily minimum wage of 500 gourdes (US$12.08). At Parliament legislative deputies Arnel Bélizaire and Fritz Gérald Bourjolly talked with a group of unionists. “We’re going to meet with the people concerned and with the bosses to find a negotiated solution to this problem,” Bourjolly promised. “These days a person can’t eat and drink on 225 gourdes.”

On Dec. 11 the protesters headed towards the Oasis Hotel in the comparatively wealthy suburb of Pétionville, where the CSS was said to be holding a meeting. Riot police blocked their way, and the marchers eventually returned to Sonapi. On Dec. 12 factory owners responded to the wildcat strikes by closing their plants. The Haiti Industries Association (ADIH), which represents the owners, cited “reasons of safety of employees,” claiming the demonstrations were caused by “individuals [who] entered violently within the confines of several plants to sow panic…and force workers to leave their workstations.” Finding the plants closed, workers again marched to Parliament, chanting: “500 gourdes, like it or not.” (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) video 12/10/13); AlterPresse (Haiti) 12/10/13, 12/11/13, 12/12/13; Haïti Libre 12/12/13)

The workers’ demands received positive responses from some government officials. On Dec. 12 Jean Tholbert Alexis, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, announced the formation of a seven-member commission to study the situation. During the course of the week representatives from the Collective of Textile Union Organizations (KOSIT), an alliance formed by four union federations, met with the minister of social affairs and labor. One of the representatives, Yannick Etienne of the leftist Batay Ouvriye (“Worker’s Struggle”), reported that “steps are under way for a consensus among the different parties on this situation. There are possibilities of meetings with the [CSS], the bosses and some unions.” She added that “the question of the wages for the workers has to be renegotiated, because they don’t accept the 225 gourdes.”

The factories reopened on Dec. 13, but according to Batay Ouvriye “the main officials of the factory [union] committees weren’t allowed to enter, sometimes with a letter indicating a suspension or a penalty, when it wasn’t an outright dismissal.” (AlterPresse 12/13/13; Batay Ouvriye News 12/13/13)

*2. Haiti: Evictions of Quake Victims Continue
Some 60 families left homeless by the earthquake that devastated southern Haiti in January 2010 were evicted from their improvised shelters in the vast Canaan camp a few kilometers north of Port-au-Prince on Dec. 7. According to residents, the removal was carried out--without an eviction order--by a justice of the peace and 17 police agents. The authorities were accompanied by a group of men armed with machetes and clubs who tore down homes, stole residents’ belongings and assaulted more than a dozen people. Another 100 families were told they would be evicted later.

The Haitian government declared the Canaan camp area public land in March 2010, and tens of thousands of displaced people have moved there—despite the lack of water, electricity and other services—after being pushed out of displaced person camps in Port-au-Prince. Now people claiming to own land in Canaan are seeking to drive out the settlers. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates the number of people currently living in camps at 171,974, about a third of them threatened with eviction; the numbers would be much higher if the IOM hadn’t removed 52,926 Canaan residents from the count on the grounds that the government now categorizes the area as “new neighborhoods.”

Many of the families evicted on Dec. 7 were previously evicted from the Mozayik camp in Delmas, a commune in greater Port-au-Prince, on May 4, 2012; the Delmas government has a history of violently breaking up the camps [see Update #1081]. The UK-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) is calling for appeals to be sent to Minister of Justice and Public Security Jean Renel Sanon (secretariat.mjsp@yahoo.com); General Director of the Haitian Police Godson Orélus (godore68@hotmail.com); and Minister for Human Rights and the Reduction of Extreme Poverty Roseanne Auguste (rosanne.auguste@primature.ht) calling on them not to carry out evictions without due process, to investigate the involvement of police agents and other authorities in violent and illegal evictions, and to seek durable solutions to the earthquake victims’ housing needs. (AI urgent action 12/9/13)

*3. Mexico: Fracking Wins in Disputed “Energy Reform”
The Mexican Chamber of Deputies voted 353-134 on Dec. 12 to approve a series of constitutional amendments providing the groundwork for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s controversial “energy reform” [see Update #1202]. The Chamber’s vote completed the amendments’ passage through Congress, since the Senate had approved the measures on Dec. 10. The required ratification of the changes by 17 of the 32 state legislatures is considered certain, since the main sponsors of the “reform,” the governing centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), dominate the majority of state legislatures.

Opponents call President Peña Nieto’s program a de facto privatization of the state-owned oil and electrical companies, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Federal Energy Commission (CFE). In addition to street demonstrations outside the building in Mexico City, the Chamber of Deputies debate on Dec. 11 and 12 was marked by theatrics inside, led by deputies from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the small leftist Labor Party (PT). Opposition deputies seized the podium at times, occasionally advising “reform” supporters to privatize their own mothers. While speaking against the amendments, PRD deputy Antonio García Conejo stripped down to his underwear to dramatize his claim that the measures would strip Mexico of its resources. At one point PRD deputy Karen Quiroga punched PRI deputy Landy Berzunza Novelo, who was taken to the infirmary. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/12/13, 12/13/13; Milenio (Mexico)12/12/13)

By Dec. 15 the constitutional amendments had already been ratified by 13 state legislatures. As in Mexico City, the votes in the states brought out demonstrations by activists, many from the newly formed center-left National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party. In the western state of Jalisco riot police used tear gas to keep protesters from storming into the legislature, while legislators in the southeastern state of Campeche met in an alternative location to avoid the demonstrations. (LJ 12/15/13)

Despite the controversy, there has been little debate over the environmental impact of the changes, which will expand the involvement of foreign-owned multinationals using newer technologies such as deep-sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and hydraulic fracturing (“hydrofracking”) in the Eagle Ford shale formation in northern Mexico [see Update #1188]. Shortly before the congressional vote the Mexican Alliance Against Fracking issued a statement warning of the dangers. “Mexico should follow the example of other countries, such as France and Bulgaria, where hydraulic fracturing is currently prohibited under a strict precautionary principle,” the group wrote. (Frontera NorteSur 12/14/13 via Newspaper Tree (El Paso, Texas))

The US newspaper Investor’s Business Daily had a different view. The new energy policy “now makes North America the world’s oil and gas powerhouse,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “Credit the fracking revolution.” The editors said that with the changes-- “Mexico’s biggest shift since the mighty North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA], signed [into law in the US] 20 years ago this month”--Peña Nieto “seals his legacy, as North America solidifies its position as the world’s biggest and most advanced oil producer. Let the revolution begin.” (IBD 12/12/13)

*4. Honduras: Another Journalist Killed; Toll Reaches 37
The body of Honduran journalist Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina was found on Dec. 7 at his home in Danlí in the southern department of El Paraíso; he had been shot dead. Argeñal was a correspondent for the independent Globo radio and television network and also owned Vida Televisión. He was at least the third Honduran journalist killed this year and the 37th since President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa took office in January 2010, according to Globo. [Another Globo journalist, Edgardo Castro, has announced that he plans to leave the country because of death threats; see Update #1202]. (Miami Herald 12/9/13 from AP; Adital (Brazil) 12/11/13)

José Enrique Reyes Coto, an attorney who had run unsuccessfully for a local office in Nov. 24 elections on the line of the center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), was gunned down by three unidentified men in the early morning of Dec. 8 while he was attending a party in his home town of Choloma, in the northern department of Cortés. He was reportedly the 71st lawyer killed during President Lobo’s term. The police suggest the killers were gang members who thought Reyes had failed to represent another gang member adequately. (Tiempo (San Pedro Sula) 12/10/13; Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 12/10/13)

In other news, a Tegucigalpa criminal court has finalized the sentences of four former police agents for the October 2011 murder of two university students, Carlos David Pineda Rodríguez and Alejandro Rafael Vargas Castellanos, the son of the rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) [see Update #1187]. One agent was sentenced to 66 years in prison and the others to 58 years. (Miami Herald 12/9/13 from AP)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

Hyperglobalization Still on Course (Latin America)

Gender, Sexuality, and New Media: An Interview with Coral Herrera, Part 1 (Latin America)

The Mapuche’s Struggle for the Land (Argentina/Chile)

Uruguay becomes first nation to legalise marijuana trade

In memory of Ambrósio Vilhalva (Brazil)

Bolivia: activists disrupt Human Rights Day confab

The Government and the Street in Bolivia: An Interview with Julieta Ojeda of Mujeres Creando

Peru: deadly clash as narco-flight intercepted

Protesters occupy Bogotá over municipal 'coup'

Colombia: kingpin named in Trujillo Massacre

Certified Seeds: Different Wars, Same Reasons (Colombia)

'Touch One of Us and We Will All Respond': Building a Movement to Fight Femicide and Impunity in Medellin (Colombia)

Chavistas Celebrate Victory in the Venezuelan Municipal Elections

Venezuela and the Battle against Transgenic Seeds

Report from Honduras: How the Election Was Stolen

International Election Monitors in Honduras: Do They Ensure Clean Elections or Whitewash Fraud?

Anatomy of Election Fraud: The 2013 Honduran Election in Five Simple Steps

Honduran elections signal increased militarism and resource extraction

Honduras: ‘They can’t clip our wings’

Maya People of Sipacapa Issue International Call for Solidarity Against Goldcorp (Guatemala)

Peña Nieto Set to be Worse Than Calderón Sexenio (Mexico)

Mexico Opens Energy Industry to Foreign Investment

Fiefdoms of Narco Death (Mexico)

The Realities of Ecotourism in Chiapas (Mexico)

Drones over Tijuana (Mexico)

Nelson Mandela’s Inconvenient Appreciation for Cuba

Dozens of Families in Canaan Forcibly Evicted, More at Risk (Haiti)

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