Tuesday, March 4, 2014

WNU #1211: Argentina’s Piqueteros Are Blocking Roads Again

Issue #1211, March 2, 2014

1. Argentina: Piqueteros Demand Wage, Service Increases
2. Haiti: Islanders Protest Tourism Project
3. Cuba: One of the “Five” Returns From US Prison
4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, 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. Argentina: Piqueteros Demand Wage, Service Increases
Protesters tied up traffic in central Buenos Aires for more than five hours on Feb. 25 to press their demands for the center-left government of Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to increase pay and benefits in government antipoverty programs. Police rerouted traffic around the demonstration, which blocked cars and buses at the Obelisk in the Plaza de la República. The action was organized by several groups, including Barrios de Pie (“Neighborhoods Standing Up”), Polo Obrero (“Workers’ Pole”), the Federation of Grassroots Organizations (FOB) and the Labor Association of Self-Managed and Contingent Cooperative Workers (Agtcap). Protest leaders held a meeting with government representatives during the protest, but these were “second-level functionaries,” according to Barrios de Pie national coordinator Daniel Menéndez. “[T]he government is turning its back on the complaints of the lowliest people,” he said.

One focus of the demonstration was Argentina Trabaja (“Argentina Works”), a program that provides employment through government-funded cooperatives; the protesters complain that the monthly salary of 2,400 pesos (about US$304.30) is only two-thirds of the legal minimum wage. Another focus is the Universal Allocation by Child (AUH), which provides 460 pesos (about US$58.32) a month for each child of workers who are unemployed, work in the informal economy or make less than the minimum wage. The groups say this hasn’t risen to match inflation; Barrios de Pie estimates the annual inflation rate at 35%, much higher than the official figure.

Some of the same groups have been holding similar actions in other cities. During the last week of February hundreds of people from Barrios de Pie closed off streets around the municipal government’s Centers of Community Participation (CPC) in Córdoba, the country’s second-largest city. These groups generally developed out of the piquetero (“picketer”) movement, which came to prominence by blocking roads as the 2001 economic crisis was growing. Some are former supporters of President Fernández’s administration and of that of her late husband, Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007); there were leaders of Barrios de Pie in government position in the early 2000s. But Fernández can no longer count on their support as the country faces new economic problems. March is likely to bring more protests, since parents will face added costs when the new school year starts in the Southern Hemisphere. (InfoBAE (Argentina) 2/25/14; Terra Argentina 2/25/14 from Noticias Argentinas; Adital 2/27/14; Perfil 3/1/14)

*2. Haiti: Islanders Protest Tourism Project
The president of the Haitian Senate’s Justice and Security Commission, Pierre Francky Exius, announced on Feb. 27 that the commission had summoned Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon and the command of the Haitian National Police (PNH) to testify about a crisis situation on Ile-à-Vache, a small island southeast of the city of Les Cayes in South department. Over the past month the police have beaten and shot at Ile-à-Vache residents protesting plans for a major tourism project on the island. Some protesters have fled the island, and one protest leader, a local police agent, has been arrested.

The “Ile-à-Vache Tourist Destination” project was first announced in December 2012 by Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. The plans include an international airport, a hotel, bars, restaurants, spas, a theater and a museum. According to Haitian journalist Dady Chéry, there will also be “‘agricultural infrastructure’ to allow [tourists]…to learn to farm sustainably as part of their full ecotourism experience.” “I think Ile-à-Vache has great potential,” Lamothe said, “and it doesn’t present the challenges for land titles that you might face on the mainland.” US companies interested in investing include Holmes International Development, while the leftist government of Venezuela is partnering on the project, according to Lamothe.

Ile-à-Vache residents, who live by farming and fishing, were never consulted. In December 2013, after the island’s only forest had been destroyed to make way for the airport, they formed the Konbit of Ile-à-Vache Peasant Organizations (KOPI) to resist the tourism plan. (“Konbit” is a Creole word for a communal work project.) A series of protests followed KOPI’s formation, scaring off some of the investors. The government responded by sending police agents, who landed on the island the night of Feb. 8-9 and reportedly beat two residents in the La Hatte area. The next day they beat a girl in the Madame Bernard area, according to residents, and forced protesters to take down barricades they’d built. Some 100 heavily armed Motorized Intervention Brigade (BIM) agents invaded a school and destroyed several houses on Feb. 20. The next day the police arrested KOPI’s vice president, a local police agent whose name is given variously as Jean Matulnès Lamy or Jean Lamy Matulnes; he was taken to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. On Feb. 25 BIM agents used live ammunition to break up a demonstration; two people were arrested and 12 were injured.

The government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) insists that tourism projects like the one on Ile-à-Vache will help advance Haiti’s economic development. But economist Camille Chalmers of the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA) dismissed the projects as “selling the country’s resources and patrimony to the highest bidders, in the framework of imperialist interests.” He said that the government’s slogan, “Haiti, open for business,” “means liquidating national interests for the benefit of foreign capital.” In a statement backing the island protesters, the Patriotic Democratic Popular Movement (MPDP), a coalition of 30 grassroots organizations, noted that while the government pours money into the tourism project, “in Ile-à-Vache there are big problems with schools, hospitals, water and other basic services…. [I]t’s not improving the life of the population that interests those in power. What interests them is making money and facilitating the looting of the island!” (AlterPresse (Haiti) 2/25/14, 2/27/14; MPDP statement 2/25/14 via PAPDA; News Junkie Post 3/1/14)

*3. Cuba: One of the “Five” Returns From US Prison
Fernando González, one of five Cuban agents charged with espionage by the US government in 1998 [see Update #1209], returned to Cuba on Feb. 28 after serving out a 15-year term in US prisons. Released from the federal correctional center in Safford, Arizona, on Feb. 27, González landed around noon the next day at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, where he was met by Cuban president Raúl Castro. The Cuban government insists that its agents, who are widely known as the “Cuban Five,” were never spying on the US and that their goal was only to gather information on terrorist plots by rightwing groups based in the Miami area.

González is the second of the Five to be freed; René González was released on probation in October 2011 and was allowed to relocate to Cuba in May 2013 [see Update #1175]. The three remaining prisoners are Antonio Guerrero, scheduled for release in September 2017; Ramón Labañino, scheduled for release in October 2024; and Gerardo Hernández, who is serving two life sentences for his alleged involvement in the shooting down of two planes sent into Cuban air space by the rightwing Brothers to the Rescue group in 1996. DC-based attorney José Pertierra, an expert on Cuban-US relations, cautioned on Feb. 27 that González’s release shouldn’t be interpreted as a favor by the US, since he had served out his full term; if the US wants to signal a thaw in relations with Cuban, President Barack Obama would need to extend executive clemency to the remaining three prisoners, Pertierra said.

Ironically, González was released on the same day as the news spread that former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “asset” Luis Posada Carriles had been given a medal by the Cuban History Academy at Miami Dade College. The Cuban-born Posada, who was charged by Venezuela in the 1970s with masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in which 73 people died, is living openly in the Miami area [see Update #1075]. The US government refuses to extradite him for trial in Venezuela, although it lists him as a terrorist and bans him from traveling by air, according to Pertierra. (CubaSi.cu 2/27/14; La Jornada (Mexico) 2/28/13 from correspondent; Prensa Latina 2/28/14)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

Lula Backs Maduro and the Region Debates UNASUR vs. OAS (Latin America)

Latin America: The Impact of the Extractive Industries

An Argentine Bachillerato Popular at the Crossroads: The Encroachment of the State on the Demands of Social Organizations

Brazilian Social Movements Organize for Political Reform

For Abortion Rights in Bolivia, A Modest Gain

Peru: Sendero harass pipeline project

Indigenous Humanitarian Commission Attacked in Colombia

Violence and Vulnerability in Buenaventura, the Dark Side of Development (Colombia)

#LaSalida? Venezuela at a Crossroads

U.S. Destabilization and Media Distortion in Venezuela (Interview)

New York Times Corrects False Statement on Venezuela

Letter to New York Times: Correct Francisco Toro's Error on Venezuela

Venezuela is Democratic and Bolivarian

February Traumas: The Third Insurrectionary Moment of the Venezuelan Right

Venezuela: The Left, Context, Prices and the Market

Venezuela Marks 25 Years Since “Caracazo” Uprising Against Neoliberalism (+Video/Images)

Panama: Ngäbe Communities Remain on High Alert

The Thugocracy Next Door (Honduras)

Three Amigos Summit: Reaffirmation of NAFTA's Neoliberal Agenda (Mexico)

The Fall of El Chapo (Mexico)

Dissident Teachers Reorganize, Prepare to Renew Movement (Mexico)

Rage, Sadness, and Determination: Journalists in Mexico will not be Silenced

Mexico: mass graves unearthed in Coahuila

Ten Years After the Coup in Haiti, Democracy is Still Under Siege

Haiti: From Original Sin to Electoral Intervention (Interview With Ricardo Seitenfus)

Killing With Impunity on the U.S.-Mexico Border: The Global Color Line (US/immigration)

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

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