Tuesday, April 15, 2014

WNU #1216 : Chilean Water Activist to Be Jailed for “Slander”

Issue #1216, April 13, 2014

1. Chile: Water Activist to Be Jailed for “Slander”
2. Argentina: General Strike Targets Fernández Policies
3. Mexico: HP Fined in Latest PEMEX Scandal
4. Cuba: Did USAID KO Deal for Gross Release?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, 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. Chile: Water Activist to Be Jailed for “Slander”
On Apr. 7 a court in La Ligua, in Chile’s Petorca province, Valparaíso region, convicted agronomist Rodrigo Mundaca of slander and sentenced him to 541 days in prison for accusing former government minister Edmundo Pérez Yoma of water usurpation. Mundaca, the secretary of the Movement in Defense of Water, Land and the Environment (Modatima), also faces a fine. According to current Modatima spokesperson Luis Soto, the court’s decision won’t stop the group’s activist work. He said Modatima would take the case “to the Valparaíso Appeals Court, and if we aren’t successful there, we’ll go to the Supreme Court.”

Pérez Yoma is a Christian Democratic Party (PDC) politician who served twice as defense minister under former president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1994-2000) and then as interior minister in the first term (2006-2010) of current president Michelle Bachelet. He owns 90% of an agricultural firm, Sociedad Agrícola El Cóndor Ltda. Modatima says the company has taken water illegally from the Los Ángeles estuary for its crops, depriving local farmers and small businesses of the resource, which is scarce in much of Chile. The group has made the same accusation against Agrícola San Ignacio, owned by Ignacio Alamos, and Agrícola Iguana, owned by Marcelo Trivelli. Apparently Pérez Yoma sued for slander after Mondaca aired the charges on CNN Chile during a 2012 interview. (El Ciudadano (Chile) 4/5/14; Radio Universidad de Chile 4/8/14; Modatima communiqué 4/9/14)

In other news, after a year and a half of imprisonment on charges filed under Chile’s “antiterrorist law” [see Update #1161], six indigenous Mapuche have been cleared by the Oral Criminal Court in Temuco, the capital of Araucanía region. José Antonio Ñirripil, Eliseo Ñirripil Cayupán, Elvis Millán Colicheu, Jorge Cayupán Ñirripil, Cristian Alexis Cayupán Morales and Daniel Canio Tralcal were accused of setting a fire at the Brasil estate in Vilcún community in September 2009; several of them were also charged with robbery with intimidation. At one point they held a hunger strike to demand their release.

Three other Mapuche prisoners began a hunger strike in the Angol prison on Apr. 10 to push for a review of their sentences and a pardon for a fourth prisoner, José Mariano Llanca, who is terminally ill. The three strikers, Cristian Pablo Levinao Melinao, Luis Humberto Marileo Cariqueo and Leonardo Eusebio Quijón Pereira, were sentenced to 10 years in prison for homicide and robbery with intimidation. They previously held a hunger strike in October 2012 [see Update #1147]. (Adital (Brazil) 4/11/14)

The Argentina-based organization Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) and Argentine human rights activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, winner of the 1980 Nobel peace price, have sent a letter to Chilean president Bachelet expressing their concern about the threat to Mapuche communities from what they called “the multiplication of investment projects of an industrial character, such as hydroelectric plants and the salmon industry’s fish farming.” SERPAJ and Pérez Esquivel praised the changes Bachelet promised as she started her new term in office on Mar. 11, and they predicted “an historic significance for your government if you encourage the application of the Mapuche communities’ right to [their] territories.” (MapuExpress (Chile) 4/8/14)

*2. Argentina: General Strike Targets Fernández Policies
A large part of Argentina’s labor movement participated a 24-hour general strike on Apr. 10 to demand increases in wages and pensions and to protest the economic policies of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. With support from the Automatic Tramways Union (UTA) and three airline workers’ unions, the strike shut down surface trains, subways, air service, schools and businesses in many parts of the country. Union leaders said the action was 90% effective, and the Argentine business consulting firm Orlando Ferreres & Asociados S.A. set the losses for the day at almost $1 billion. Government officials and Fernández supporters downplayed the significance of the strike, charging that relatively few workers actively participated and that people stayed home only because transportation was cut off by the UTA and by roadblocks that leftist parties and groups had set up.

The Apr. 10 action was the second major strike against the Fernández government in a year and a half, following nearly a decade of labor support for the president and her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, who was president from 2003 to 2007 [see Update #1153]. Hugo Moyano--the longtime leader of the truck drivers’ union who heads the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) dissident faction and was a strong ally of Fernández until 2012--is now spearheading the labor attacks on her government. The current strike was backed by two other labor federations: the section of the left-leaning Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA) headed by Pablo Micheli and the more conservative CGT White and Blue faction, which is led by Tourism, Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union (Uthgra) head Luis Barrionuevo. Also supporting the strike was the Workers' Left Front, an alliance of three Trotskyist parties: the Workers' Party (PO), the Socialist Workers' Party (PTS), and Socialist Left (IS).

The strike reaffirmed the strength of Argentina’s labor movement, which represents 8 million workers, nearly half the labor force. At the same time the strike highlighted the movement’s divisions: it was strongly opposed by a section of the CTA and by the large CGT faction headed by Antonio Caló. (Wall Street Journal 4/9/14; InfoBAE (Argentina) 4/11/14; La Jornada 4/11/14 from correspondent)

*3. Mexico: HP Fined in Latest PEMEX Scandal
On Apr. 9 the California-based technology company Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced that it was paying a $108 million fine to the US Justice Department and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to end an investigation into subsidiaries in Poland, Russia and Mexico that allegedly paid bribes to officials. The HP subsidiaries “created a slush fund for bribe payments, set up an intricate web of shell companies and bank accounts to launder money, employed two sets of books to track bribe recipients, and used anonymous email accounts and prepaid mobile telephones to arrange covert meetings to hand over bags of cash,” according to a statement by the Justice Department. HP said the corruption “was limited to a small number of people who are no longer employed by the company.”

In Mexico the bribery was aimed at winning contracts worth some $6 million “to sell hardware, software, and licenses” to Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the giant state-owned oil monopoly, the Justice Department said. “HP Mexico understood that it had to retain a certain third-party consultant with close ties to senior executives of PEMEX. HP agreed to pay a $1.41 million ‘commission’ to the consultant.” The consultant then paid about $125,000 to a PEMEX official, according to the Justice Department statement. (San Jose (California) Mercury News 4/9/14; La Jornada (Mexico) 4/10/14 from AFP, Reuters)

This is the second revelation in less than two months of corruption involving PEMEX and a US corporation. At the end of February the US banking corporation Citigroup Inc. announced that its Mexican subsidiary, Banco Nacional de Mexico (Banamex), had lent some $400 million to a major PEMEX contractor, Oceanografía SA de CV, based on falsified invoices that Oceanografía claimed it had issued to PEMEX [see Update #1212]. According to initial reports, some PEMEX employees and one Banamex employee had collaborated in this scheme. But on Apr. 2 the New York Times reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York had started a criminal inquiry into the possibility that Citigroup employees in the US were involved. The investigators are also looking to see whether the bank ignored warning signs, according to the article. In addition, the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts has issued subpoenas in connection with suspicions that Citigroup may have failed to maintain proper safeguards against money laundering. (NYT 4/2/14)

In addition to corruption scandals, PEMEX faces complaints about environmental damage. As of Apr. 9 some 75 communities in Nacajuca and Jalpa de Méndez municipalities in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco had blocked roads to oil installations for a week to demand that representatives of PEMEX and the state return to discussions with local residents. The communities want to be compensated for damages caused by the escape of gas from the Terra 123 oil well starting on Oct. 19; the problems continued into December. The discussions broke off on Mar. 25 when PEMEX announced it wouldn’t pay for damages. According to Verónica Pérez Rojas, a legislative deputy from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), about 50,000 families were affected by the leak, which she said contaminated crops and bodies of water and caused the deaths of farm animals. (LJ 4/9/14)

*4. Cuba: Did USAID KO Deal for Gross Release?
US citizen Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), held a liquids-only hunger strike from Apr. 3 to Apr. 11 to protest his treatment by both the Cuban and the US governments. According to Scott Gilbert, Gross’s Washington, DC-based lawyer, the prisoner started his hunger strike after he learned about an Apr. 3 Associated Press report on ZunZuneo, the “Cuban Twitter” service that USAID launched after his arrest in December 2009. Gross was charged with seeking to subvert the Cuban government by supplying dissidents with internet technology, and the ZunZuneo had the potential to damage his legal case [see Update #1215].

A statement released by a public relations firm hired by Gross’s family said he had called off the fast at the request of his 91-year-old mother but that he planned to continue protesting. “There will be no cause for further intense protest when both governments show more concern for human beings and less malice and derision toward each other,” Gross added, according to the statement. (Miami Herald 4/13/14)

Actions by USAID officials and contractors may in fact have directly sabotaged efforts to arrange an early release for Gross, an Apr. 9 article by Newsweek reporter Jeff Stein suggested, citing Fulton Armstrong, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Council (NSC) Latin America specialist who worked as an aide to then-senator John Kerry (D-MA) in 2010. According to Armstrong, the Cuban government was willing to consider freeing Gross if the US rolled back some of its “regime change” programs in Cuba. Armstrong said he and an aide to then-representative Howard Berman (D-CA) got an agreement from top USAID and State Department officials for the rollback.

Cuban officials “responded very positively and said that the cleanup—which they understood would be done in phases—would certainly help them make the case for expedited procedures for Gross’s release,” Armstrong told Newsweek. But some USAID officials refused to go along with the plan. “They reassured their contractors and grantees that, despite rumors of change, business would continue as usual—information that would surely reach Cuban ears—and they later leaked to the press that, in fact, program funding remained unchanged and the reforms were not being implemented,” Armstrong said. “At that point, the discussions about program reforms to gain Gross’s release ended.” (Newsweek 4/9/14)

Another article by Jeff Stein raises questions about the quality of USAID’s Cuba contacts and contractors. One of Gross’s contacts was José Manuel Collera Vento, the grand master of the Grand Lodge of Cuba’s Freemasons; on Apr. 1, 2011, the Cuban government revealed that Collera Vento was a Cuban agent. One of USAID’s contractors for Cuban operations was DC-based public relations entrepreneur Akram Elias, who worked with both Gross and Collera Vento. Elias has contracts with 18 US government agencies, according to his Capital Communications Group website, but his business interests aren’t limited to the US. In November 2010 he flew to Damascus to offer his services to the Syrian government; he proposed to work for $22,000 a month at improving Syria’s image in Washington and possibly ending sanctions the US had imposed. (Newsweek 4/7/14)

Daniel Ramos, who heads operations for Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications company, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (Etecsa), in effect admitted at an Apr. 9 press conference in Havana that Cubans’ limited access to the internet has contributed to the success of operations like ZunZuneo. “[One] of our desires and our intentions this year is to succeed in bringing the internet to the population,” he said. (Radio Rebelde (Cuba) 4/9/14; La Jornada (Mexico) 4/10/14 from AP, Reuters, Prensa Latina, Xinhua)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, US/immigration

“Because we remember, we sow justice” (Argentina)

Defending the Earth in Argentina: From Direct Action to Autonomy

Paraguay: imprisoned campesinos on hunger strike

Paraguay: indigenous Aché people charge genocide

Paraguay: guerilla attacks escalate

Brazil’s World Cup Security Turns Repressive

Brazil: Police Close ‘Private Militia’ Firm Following Guarani Murders

Police close 'militia' following Guarani murders (Brazil)

Bolivia: new mining minister sworn in

Bolivia: cocaleros clash with eradication force

Peru: 24 arrested on Shining Path links

Peru: Cajamarca repression sparks protests

Peru: Shawi indigenous leader assassinated

A Rebirth of Hope in Colombia

Colombia: land rights activist assassinated

Colombia: ‘That is How Dead Guerillas are Made’, Through False Positives

Colombia Approaches a Point of No Return in Loss of Biodiversity

U.S.-Colombia Labour Rights Plan Falls Short

Chavistas Debate the Pace of Change in Venezuela

Human Rights Watch Should Stick to the Facts on Venezuela

Venezuelan Government and Opposition Sit Down to Talks

Guatemala - Interview with Judge Yassmín Barrios: “The Door to Impunity and Corruption is Being Opened”

Femicide Courts in Guatemala: A Beacon of Light in the Fight against Impunity

Mexican Workers in the Continental Crucible

Behind the Scenes: What the Fans of Wirikuta Fest Bought With Their Tickets

Mexico Armed

Michoacán: 'community police' out of control —already? (Mexico)

Big Banks Back Mobsters and Murder in Mexico (Audio)

Three years after a murder, Mexican movement demands justice

Bocafloja's Latest Release: Alambre (Mexico)

Migrant Shelter Sees Growing Number of Minors Heading North (Mexico)

A Little Girl Named Nohemi: Martyr of Migration (Mexico)

Transparently Untransparent – USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (haiti)

Canadian Corporation Plans Tar Sands Strip Mining in Trinidad and Tobago

Immigrant Labor, Immigrant Right (US/immigration)

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