Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WNU #1206: Guatemalan Workers Cheated Out of $6 Million

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1206, January 26, 2014

1. Guatemala: Maquila Owner Stole $6 Million From Workers
2. Mexico: Police Break Up Blockade of Goldcorp Mine
3. Brazil: 143 Arrested as World Cup Protests Continue
4. Argentina: Peso Falls as Emerging Markets Weaken
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, 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. Guatemala: Maquila Owner Stole $6 Million From Workers
Over the course of 12 years management at the Alianza Fashion apparel factory in the central Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango cheated employees out of some $6 million dollars in back wages and benefits, according to a report released on Jan. 23 by the Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR, formerly the National Labor Committee). The maquiladora—a tax-exempt assembly plant producing for export—stitched items like suits and jackets for at least 60 US retailers, including Macy’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart. The owner, a South Korean national named Boon Chong Park, shut the factory down in March 2013.

The report is based on more than 200 documents--including pay stubs, invoices and manufacturing specifications—that were smuggled out of the plant last spring. According to the IGLHR, the documents show that while the plant usually employed from 1,050 to 1,500 workers, the company only made the legally required contributions for pensions and healthcare for 65 workers from 2001 to 2013. The total lost benefits came to more than $4.7 million. When Alianza closed down, the company failed to pay the 548 workers still employed there the $1.2 million it owed them in back wages and benefits. Base pay at the plant was $1.05 an hour, about the same as the minimum wage for the maquiladora sector in 2013, 65.63 quetzales (US$8.36) a day. In 2010 the company fired 60 workers without severance pay after they formed an independent union and registered it with the government.

The North American companies that had their goods produced at Alianza have tried to play down their connection to the plant; spokespeople said the companies hadn’t placed orders recently, or they insisted that the orders were placed through third parties. The Phillips-Van Heusen company has donated $100,000 to a fund for the 548 workers left out of work when the plant closed, but as of Jan. 23 other North American companies had failed to respond to requests that they make similar contributions. (Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 12/26/13; ABC News 1/23/14; The Nation 1/23/14; Univision 1/24/14)

Shortly after the company closed last March, some 800 of the former workers occupied the plant to demand payment of back wages, apparently without success. They also complained that they had been underpaid during the year leading up to the closure, and that managers routinely subjected them to racist insults. (Prensa Libre 4/1/13)

*2. Mexico: Police Break Up Blockade of Goldcorp Mine
On Jan. 24 the government of the north-central Mexican state of Zacatecas sent about 200 riot and ministerial police to remove some 30 campesinos and their relatives from an entrance they were blocking to the Peñasquito open-pit gold mine in Mazapil municipality. Campesinos from the Las Mesas ejido (communal farm) and the Cedros annex began blocking the entrance on Jan. 16 to get attention from state and federal authorities for their demand to reopen negotiations with the mine’s owner, the Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc., about the rent the company is paying to use ejido land. In addition to removing the protesters, the police arrested two campesino leaders, the brothers Epifanio and Mónico Morquecho, and took them to the prison in Concepción del Oro municipality, 40 km away; they were charged with damages, looting and extortion, based on a criminal complaint from Goldcorp.

The Peñasquito mine occupies 5,400 hectares in the Mazapil Valley, including 240 hectares Goldcorp rented from the ejido in 2006 for 30 years in exchange for a one-time payment of 10,000 pesos (about US$744) per hectare. Goldcorp “took advantage of our ignorance,” the ejido members told a reporter on Jan. 24. The campesinos’ blockade was mostly symbolic, since the mine’s employees and trucks could use at least three other entrances. The state government reportedly ordered the large-scale police operation against the protesters after Goldcorp threatened to suspend work at the Peñasquito and withdraw its investments in the state. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/25/14)

In other news, activist and theater director Francisco Kuykendall (“Kuy”) died on Jan. 25 after suffering a cardiopulmonary arrest. A supporter of The Other Campaign, a political movement inspired by the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), Kuykendall was one of two protesters seriously injured during demonstrations in Mexico City against the inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto on Dec. 1, 2012 [see Update #1155]. His skull was fractured when he was hit by a police projectile—either a rubber bullet or a tear gas grenade—and he never completely recovered. Kuykendall’s friends and colleagues said his death was an example of the impunity that continues in Mexico, as well a message from the government intended to intimidate dissident groups. (LJ 1/26/14)

*3. Brazil: 143 Arrested as World Cup Protests Continue
Brazilians demonstrated in 36 cities on Jan. 25 to protest the underfunding of health, education, transportation and infrastructure at the same time that the government is pouring money into preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games and the World Cup soccer championship, which is to be held June 12-July 13 this year in 12 Brazilian cities. The protests, reportedly called by the clandestine internet activist group Anonymous, were a continuation of massive demonstrations targeting these issues last June [see Update #1181], but only a few thousand people turned out on Jan. 25, in contrast to the million or more who marched in 2013.

At least 143 people were arrested at the Jan. 25 demonstration in São Paulo. Some 2,000 protesters gathered at the Museo de Arte and then marched up Paulista Avenue, carrying signs with such slogans as “No rights, no Cup,” and, in English, “FIFA go home”—a reference to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), which sponsors the World Cup games. The protest began peacefully, but later some demonstrators split off and confronted the police. At least one vehicle was burned and there were acts of vandalism at several banks. In Natal, in the northeastern state of Rio Grande, 15 people were arrested during a protest in front of the Arena das Dunas soccer stadium, which Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff had inaugurated on Jan. 22. A group attempting to enter the stadium reportedly damaged access steps and set fire to an area used by the stadium workers. Demonstrations in other cities were generally peaceful. (El Nacional (Venezuela) 1/25/14, from EFE; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/26/14 from AFP)

*4. Argentina: Peso Falls as Emerging Markets Weaken
The Argentine peso fell by some 8% on Jan. 23, declining from 7.14 pesos to the US dollar to 7.75 at the end of the day. The currency plunged by 20% in the early hours, to 8.50 pesos to the dollar, but regained much of the loss after the central bank intervened later in the day; the bank reportedly spent $100 million in the process. This was the worst showing for the peso since the country’s financial crisis in late 2001 and early 2002.

The problems in Argentina affected other Latin American markets. The Brazilian real fell by 1.2% to 2.40 reais to the dollar, and the São Paulo stock exchange, the BM&F Bovespa, declined by almost 2%. The Mexican peso, which has been falling since the beginning of the month, continued to decline, ending Jan. 23 at 13.42 pesos to the dollar, a 2.44% decline since Jan. 1. The fall of the Argentine peso was probably one of the factors contributing to the decline in the New York Stock Exchange on Jan. 24. The Dow Jones index fell by 318 points, 2.1%, while Standard and Poor’s fell by 38.17 units, 2.09%, and the Nasdaq fell by 90 points, 2.2%.

Analysts offered different explanations for the Argentine peso’s decline. One cause appeared to be a slowing of China’s economy, which led investors to pull out of emerging markets around the world. The immediate cause may have been a decision by Argentina’ s new economy minister, Axel Kicillof, to protect the country’s foreign reserves by withdrawing support for the peso. Until late January the government had been propping the peso up by selling off reserves. Kicillof himself offered a different explanation. He charged that Juan José Aranguren, the president of Shell Argentina, Royal Dutch Shell’s local subsidiary, had intentionally precipitated the crisis on Jan. 23 by offering to buy $3 million at a rate of 8.40 pesos to the dollar. “The maneuver was so obvious that there’s no need to explain it too much,” Kicillof said on Jan. 24. Aranguren was trying to destabilize the government by pushing the peso down, according to Kicillof. (Wall Street Journal 1/23/14; New York Times 1/24/14; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/24/14, 1/25/14, 1/25/14 from correspondent, 1/26/14 from correspondent)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/immigration

Chile: wildcat strike paralyzes ports

ICJ rules on Peru-Chile maritime border dispute

Large-Scale Mining in Uruguay: Time to Vote?

Brazil: prison violence spills into streets —again

The Criminalization of Poverty in Brazil, a Global Power

Peru: mineral company evicts campesino family

Peru: no sterilization abuse charges for Fujimori

Facing the New Conquistador: Indigenous Rights and Repression in Rafael Correa’s Ecuador

Bogotá stand-off amid renewed repression (Colombia)

Colombia: Embera indigenous leaders assassinated

Brookings Institution Calls on Obama to Support a Hypothetical Coup Against Venezuela's Maduro

Latest Human Rights Watch Report: 30 Lies about Venezuela

Rethinking the Drug War in Central America and Mexico (Full Report)

El Salvador: Increase in Homicides Linked to “Extermination Groups” and ARENA Campaign

World Bank Forced To Admit Failings On Controversial Human Rights Scandal (Honduras)

SOA Grads Prominent among New Military Leadership in Honduras as New President Prepares to Take Office

U.S. Government Holding World Bank and IADB Accountable to Ensure Reparations for Chixoy Dam Victims in Guatemala

Reviewing NAFTA and the Environment (Mexico)

The Rainbow Warrior Comes to Mexico

Insecurity: The Achilles Heel of Mexican Reforms?

Mexico: The Politics of a State Meltdown

Mexico: First Statement from the Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacán

Mexican Labor Year in Review – 2013

Twenty Years since the Chiapas Rebellion: the Zapatistas, Their Politics, and Their Impact (Mexico)

At anniversary of Zapatista uprising, rebellion belongs to all (Mexico)

Mesoamérica Resiste! The Beehive Collective: Building Solidarity through Storytelling and Art (Mexico)

Mexico: nine dead in prison massacre

Four Years After Haiti’s Earthquake, Still Waiting for a Roof

Venezuela Chairs Committee on Draconian Anti-Haitian Citizenship Ruling (Dominican Republic)

Latino New York: An Introduction (US/immigration)

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

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