Tuesday, June 10, 2014

WNU #1222: Protests Greet World Cup in Brazil

Issue #1222, June 8, 2014

1. Brazil: Strikes and Protests Greet World Cup
2. El Salvador: US Tries to Block Seed Program
3. Mexico: Atenco Campesinos Face New Land Dispute
4. Haiti: UN “Peacekeeping” Mission Turns 10
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, 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. Brazil: Strikes and Protests Greet World Cup
Transit workers started an open-ended strike in São Paulo on June 5, just one week before the city, Brazil’s largest, was to host the opening game of the June 12-July 13 World Cup soccer championship. According to the Subway Workers Union, the strike had paralyzed 30 of the city’s 60 subway stations as of June 6; some 20 million people live in the São Paulo metropolitan area, and the subways carry about 4.5 million riders each day. Angry riders smashed turnstiles the first day of the strike at the Itaquera station, near the Arena Corinthians, the site of the June 12 game. The next day, on June 6, police agents used nightsticks and tear gas on strikers at the central Ana Rosa station when they refused to move their picket line; at least three unionists were injured.

The strikers had rejected an 8.7% raise offered by the transit system’s management; they were also striking over safety and service issues. “It isn’t just a strike for our pay,” Camila Lisboa, a Subway Workers Union local leader, said at a meeting with leftist supporters. “We’re denouncing the corruption, the harassment of women, the constant failures. It’s the combination of these factors that makes the strike strong.” She said the strikers were using an open letter to riders to build support. Apparently no professional opinion surveys have been released on public reactions to the strike, but as of June 6 more than 77% of respondents to an online open-access poll at the R7 news website had said they backed the strikers. (CSP-Conlutas website (Brazil) 6/6/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/6/14, 6/7/14, both from unidentified wire services)

The São Paulo subway strike is only one of many actions focusing on the World Cup games and building on widespread anger over what many Brazilians consider the federal, state and local governments’ diversion of funds from social services to sports events—an anger which sparked huge demonstrations in June 2013 and smaller protests since then [see Update #1210]. São Paulo bus drivers held a two-day strike that affected more than 1 million riders in May, and while subway workers battled police at the Ana Rosa station on June 6, some 3,000 members of the Força Sindical (“Union Force”) labor federation blocked traffic on a central avenue with a march on the Central Bank to protest rising inflation and what they see as government favoritism toward finance capital.

On June 4 some 4,000 to 10,000 homeless people and their supporters marched to the Arena Corinthians to protest the expense of hosting the World Cup while the government ignores calls for sectors of the city to be expropriated to provide housing for the poor. Leaders of the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), which organized the demonstration, threatened to “radicalize” the protests; the group sponsors occupations of abandoned buildings to press its demands. The march came five days after a police raid on homeless people living at the Alcántara Machado viaduct, near the road leading to the Arena Corinthians. In what activists considered an effort to clear the homeless out of the way before the games started, police agents deployed stun grenades and nightsticks to remove the people encamped at the viaduct, including children and seniors. The homeless responded by setting up flaming barricades.

Other Brazilian cities have also experienced protests, strikes and strike threats in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. Bus drivers demanded raises in two northeastern cities, Salvador, Bahia state, and São Luis, Maranhão state. Public school teachers in Rio de Janeiro state were on strike, and on May 26 some 200 Rio teachers briefly blocked a bus carrying Brazil’s national soccer team to a training center. “There won’t be a Cup; there’ll be a strike,” some of the teachers’ signs read. Bank guards in the city of Rio de Janeiro were on strike for nearly a month, and transit and healthcare workers were considering job actions. (CNN Mexico 5/27/14 from APF; Adital (Brazil) 6/2/14; BBC News 6/5/14; 20 Minutos (Spain) 6/5/14 from EFE; LJ 6/7/14 from unidentified wire services)

On May 27 about 500 leaders from Brazil’s 100 indigenous groups briefly occupied the roof of the Congress building in Brasilia. Dressed in traditional clothes, armed with bows and arrows, and carrying signs reading “FIFA no, demarcation yes”—referring to the World Cup’s organizer, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA)—they demanded that the government proceed with the demarcation of their territories to protect them from further encroachments by farms, mines and hydroelectric projects. The leaders then joined hundreds of other protesters in a peaceful march on the Mané Garrincha stadium, where the World Cup trophy was to be displayed. Some 500 police agents massed to guard the stadium and used tear gas to disperse the marchers, but the trophy display was cancelled.

A report to be released in June by the Catholic bishops’ Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) highlights the damage land encroachments have inflicted on the indigenous Guaraní in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Displaced by large-scale farming, many have been reduced to living in roadside camps and overcrowded reserves, where alcoholism and violence are now common [see Update #1202]. According to the CIMI report, at least 72 of the state’s approximately 30,000 Guaraní committed suicide in 2013. This is equivalent to 232 suicides per 100,000 people, the highest rate for any group in the world, and is nearly three times the rate 20 years ago; the majority of those who killed themselves were between the ages of 15 and 30, with some as young as 12. The Guaraní point to Coca-Cola, a sponsor of the World Cup, as one of the responsible parties. The company has been buying sugar from Bunge Limited, an agribusiness multinational based in White Plains, New York, which is using sugar cane grown on land that the Guaraní say was stolen from them. (CNN Mexico 5/27/14 from APF; Survival International 5/30/14, 6/5/14; International Business Times 6/5/14)

On June 4 some 110 indigenous people and others from the highlands of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais arrived in Brasilia to begin a hunger strike in front of the federal government’s ministry buildings to press their demand for the creation of a Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS) to protect water sources in Montezuma, Río Pardo de Minas and Vargem Grande do Río Pardo municipalities. The hunger strikers said large-scale farms occupying land in their area are threatening local water supplies. “We are obliged to make the most difficult decision: to give our lives as a guarantee for the mountains and the scarce water sources that we still have,” they wrote in an open letter to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. (EBC Agência Brasil 6/4/14; Adital 6/5/14)

President Rousseff, of the center-left Workers Party (PT), will be seeking reelection on Oct. 5. Her support has dropped from 37% in May to 34% in a poll released by the Datafolha firm on June 6. Other politicians seemed to be doing no better. Aécio Neves of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), slipped from 20% to 19%, and Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos fell from 11% to 7%; 17% of the respondents said they wouldn’t vote for any candidate. The pollsters surveyed 4,337 people from June 3 to June 5. (New York Times 6/6/14 from Reuters)

*2. El Salvador: US Tries to Block Seed Program
Four US-based organizations with programs centered on El Salvador were set to deliver a petition to the US State Department on June 6 with the signatures of some 1,000 US citizens opposing what the groups called the “intrusion of the [US] embassy in the sovereign politics of this country.” At issue was an indication by US ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte that the US may withhold $277 million slated for the second phase of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid program if the Salvadoran Agriculture Ministry continues its current practice of buying seeds from small-scale Salvadoran producers for its Family Agriculture Plan. The US organizations--the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), US–El Salvador Sister Cities, the SHARE Foundation, and Joining Hands El Salvador Network (RUMES)—charged that the US threat was made “with clear intentions to advance the interests of transnational agricultural companies.”

Under the administration of former president Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), the Family Agriculture Plan began distributing “agricultural packets” each year to an average of 350,000 impoverished farmers to encourage the cultivation of food crops. As an additional stimulus for the local rural economy, the Agriculture Ministry has been buying seeds for the packets from small Salvadoran producers rather than the large companies that previously dominated the market, Grupo Fertica and Semillas Cristiani Burkard, the Central American representative of the Missouri-based giant multinational Monsanto. The results have been impressive: the production of basic food crops (corn, beans, rice and sorghum) has grown by about one-third and now employs 210,000 of the 770,000 hectares under cultivation in the country. The program has helped hold down prices for basic foods and has contributed to the reduction of poverty.

President Funes was an independent progressive backed by the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN); the Salvadoran government has generally been expected to move to the left with the June 1 inauguration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a leader in the FMLN. (CISPES press release 6/6/14; Adital (Brazil) 6/6/14 from Rel-UITA)

*3. Mexico: Atenco Campesinos Face New Land Dispute
While historic leaders of the community protested nearby, an assembly in San Salvador Atenco, a town in México state northeast of Mexico City, voted on June 1 to allow the sale of almost 2,000 hectares of communal land to private parties. Members of the Front of the Peoples in Defense of the Land (FPDT) charged that they had been barred from the assembly, which they said was packed with people who were not participants in the ejido (communal farm) that legally controls the land. According to the FPDT, the June 1 vote was engineered by current ejido president Andrés Ruiz Méndez, a member of the governing centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as part of the Ciudad Futura (“Future City”) development plan for the region, which includes a new international airport for Mexico City and will disrupt the area’s traditional farming practices.

The FPDT was formed in 2001 to oppose an earlier plan—heavily promoted by the center-right government of then-president Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006)--for a new Mexico City airport. The Atenco group defeated the plan in 2002 but was hit hard by a May 3-4, 2006 confrontation with México state police which resulted in the deaths of two protesters, 209 arrests and accusations that police agents systematically beat and sexually abused prisoners. The state governor at the time was the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto, now Mexico’s president. A state court sentenced 12 FPDT leaders to lengthy prison terms for their role in the incident, but the federal Supreme Court overturned the sentences in June 2010 after an international campaign for the prisoners’ release [see Update #1039].

FPDT members say they will use the courts to continue their fight for traditional farming. Ciudad Futura “looks pretty on the internet,” FPDT member Martha Pérez told the left-leaning daily La Jornada. “But for us it’s an invasion, a change of life that we don’t want, with these giant condominiums, these business centers…. And with all of this, where will we be, the people?” (LJ 6/1/14, 6/8/14)

*4. Haiti: UN “Peacekeeping” Mission Turns 10
Jubilee South/Americas, a Latin American network focusing on international debt, has announced a campaign to end the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), an international military and police force that has now been in operation for 10 years. The campaign is to run from June 1 to Oct. 15, when the United Nations Security Council will vote on whether to renew the mandate for the Brazilian-led mission, which was established on June 1, 2004, three months after the overthrow of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). Over the years it has been held responsible for acts of corruption, sexual assaults, the killing of civilians, and the introduction of cholera into the country through negligence in October 2010 [see Update #1195]. As of April this year, 8,556 people had died in the epidemic and another 702,000 had been sickened. Currently the force includes more than 5,000 soldiers and nearly 2,500 police agents, mostly from Latin American countries; the official cost of the mission is currently close to $600 million a year.

“The MINUSTAH is not a humanitarian mission,” according to a manifesto posted by Jubilee South. “It is a military occupation of Haiti… Under the pretext of stabilizing the country, the real goal of the MINUSTAH is to prevent the Haitian people from exercising their sovereignty and self-determination. It also serves to test new forms of imperialist intervention and social control such as those later applied in the coups in Honduras and Paraguay, for example, or in the slums and against protests in Brazil.” Signers include the US-based School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), the Argentina-based Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) and Brazil’s CSP Conlutas, a network of unions and social organizations. Among Haitian groups supporting the campaign are the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA), the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) and the People’s Camp Party (Pati Kan Pèp la). (AlterPresse 5/27/14; Adital (Brazil) 6/2/14)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

John Kerry on the Latin American Economies: Getting it Half-Right

From Mexico to Brazil, climate change threatens coffee growers in Latin America

China Trades Up in Latin America

New violence in Argentina's Chaco

Brazil: Dangerous Brew of Police Abuses and Impunity Threatens to Mar World Cup

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui: Indigenous Anarchist Critique of Bolivia's 'Indigenous State'

Peru: no justice five years after Bagua massacre

Let Colombia End Its Civil War

Colombia: FARC renounce narco-profits

Colombia to get truth commission

El Salvador Enters Venezuela’s Petrocaribe Oil Alliance

Sex Workers Take to the Streets in Honduras to Protest Murders and Discrimination

Letter to the World Bank: Reparations for Communities Affected by the Chixoy Dam in Guatemala

Photo Essay: Zapatistas Show Dignified Rage and Demand Justice and an End to Violence Targeting their Communities (Mexico)

Zapatistas Decide to Do Away with Subcomandante Marcos

Viacrucis: Migrants Step out of Shadows into the Streets (Mexico)

Boomer Expatriates Demand Security (Mexico)

Head of OAS Electoral Mission in Haiti: International Community Tried to Remove Préval on Election Day

Charles Rangel and El Nuevo New York Politics (US/immigration)

Book Review: Border Patrol Nation (US/immigration)

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

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