Tuesday, June 24, 2014

WNU #1224: US Acts on “Danger” From Central American Children

Issue #1224, June 22, 2014

1. Central America: US Acts on Child Migrant “Danger”
2. Mexico: Wages Stay Down in Stalled Economy
3. Haiti: Martelly Harasses Opponents, Gets Award
4. Puerto Rico: Austerity Law May Spark Strike
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, US/immigration, US/policy

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. Central America: US Acts on Child Migrant “Danger”
US vice president Joe Biden made a one-day visit to Guatemala on June 20 for a meeting with regional authorities on the recent increase in Central Americans, especially underage minors, apprehended while attempting to enter the US without authorization at the Mexican border. Calling the influx of children “an enormous danger for security” as well as a “humanitarian issue,” Biden said the US planned to continue repatriating the young immigrants but would provide Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras with US$9.6 million to reintegrate the deportees into society. The US is also offering financial aid that US officials say will help stop the flow of immigrants: US$40 million to Guatemala to launch a five-year program to reduce youth recruitment into gangs; US$25 million for a five-year program to add 77 youth centers to the 30 already operating in El Salvador; US$18.5 million through the six-year-old US-sponsored Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) to support Honduran institutions in the fight against crime; and another US$161.5 million for CARSI throughout the region.

Participants in the meeting—the last stop on a tour that had taken Biden to Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic—included Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, Salvadoran president Salvador Sánchez Cerén, Honduran government coordinator Jorge Ramón Hernández and Mexican governance secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio.

The number of unaccompanied Central American minors detained at the Mexico-US border from October 2013 through May 2014 increased by 66% over the number in the same period a year earlier, according to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The total of 34,611 detained Central American children included 9,850 Salvadorans, 11,479 Guatemalans and 13,282 Hondurans. US officials blame the sudden increase on Central American governments’ failure to control the drug-related violence that drives many youths to flee their countries; the US also cites reports of rumors that US immigrant authorities would be lenient with unaccompanied minors caught at the border.

Central American officials respond by pointing to the US government’s failure to control the demand for drugs in the US, the main stimulus for drug trafficking in the Caribbean Basin region, and also to frustration over the US government’s apparent inability to change its laws to accommodate some 11 million immigrants now living in the country without documents. The Central Americans “have focused their diplomatic efforts on pushing for better conditions for the detained children,” according to the New York Times. Guatemalan president Pérez Molina has asked the US to grant Guatemalans temporary protected status (TPS) in the US, while Honduran foreign minister Mireya Agüero de Corrales has called for Honduran minors to be granted special status to stay in the US with family members. Honduras’ rightwing president, Juan Orlando Hernández, pointedly skipped the meeting with Biden so he could attend the World Cup soccer championship in Brazil. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/18/14; Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 6/20/14 from EFE; NYT 6/21/14)

Progressive organizations are also critical of US policies. In a June 18 statement SOA Watch, a US-based group that tracks abuses by Latin American military officers trained at the US Army’s School of the Americas (SOA, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC), noted that the increases in unauthorized migration from Honduras followed the “SOA-graduate led coup” in that country on June 28, 2009, almost exactly five years before Biden’s 2014 visit. “The current humanitarian crisis on the border is a direct result of the drastic US-led militarization of the drug war [in Central America and Mexico], unequal economic relationships (e.g. Free Trade Agreements that have ravaged campesino communities), and US support for the cartel-infiltrated post-coup government of Honduras,” SOA Watch charged. The group encourages US residents to sign a petition to the US Congress “to end the counterproductive funding of the Drug War and the corrupt Honduran regime” (accessible at http://org.salsalabs.com/o/727/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15901).
(SOA Watch 6/18/14 via Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County)

On June 21 the Mexican Senate’s Human Rights Commission called on the US government to respect the rights of the minors detained at the border and asked Mexican diplomats to make visits to detention centers to ensure that the youths are being treated properly. But Mexican human rights groups continued to focus on the mistreatment of Central American migrants passing through Mexico [see Update #1220]. Central Americans traveling in the northern state of Coahuila cite the local police along with criminal gangs as the main dangers they face. Pedro Pantoja, a Catholic priest and an adviser at a Coahuila shelter for migrants, says the travelers sometimes fear the police more than the gangs: “They don’t know who to run from.” A Mexican reporter describes the municipalities of Coatzacoalcos, Tierra Blanca and Las Choapas in the south of Veracruz as “the Bermuda Triangle for Central American migrants” because of the regular attacks by armed gangs. In the most recent case, three Central Americans were shot by robbers as they tried to ride a freight train in the area on the weekend of June 13; one died from his wounds. (LJ 6/18/14, 6/22/14)

*2. Mexico: Wages Stay Down in Stalled Economy
Even as Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto continues to push for economic “reforms” [see Update #1214], government agencies report that the economy still has one of the worst records in the hemisphere. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew just 1.1% in 2013, the poorest result in four years, and the government has reduced its forecast for growth in 2014 to 2.7%. The Banco de México, the country’s central bank, cut its key interest rate this June to stimulate economic activity, warning that the growth outlook was “weaker than expectations even a couple of weeks ago.” Only one-half of the population works in the formal economy, and even these workers are probably earning less than their parents did. Mexico’s legal minimum wage has fallen at least 66% in purchasing power over the last three decades, according to Alicia Bárcena, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, CEPAL in Spanish).

In an interview published by the left-leaning daily La Jornada, Bárcena said the largest drop in the minimum wage occurred in the 1980s; the wage stabilized in the 1990s, but it failed to grow and then fell slightly with the 2008 world economic crisis. Mexico is one of the few Latin American countries where the minimum wage didn’t recover during the past 10 years, in sharp contrast to Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Uruguay. Citing the example of Brazil, where the minimum wage doubled from 2002 to 2011, Bárcena said a clear and consistent minimum wage policy is what has been most effective in fighting poverty and inequality over the past decade. CEPAL is supporting a call from Miguel Angel Mancera, the center-left head of government for Mexico’s Federal District (DF, Mexico City), for a national discussion of the minimum wage. (LJ 6/9/14; Financial Times (UK) 6/18/14)

Mexico’s economy has been closely tied to the US economy, especially in the 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The agreement has created both winners, such as Mexico’s automotive assembly sector, and losers, notably agriculture, according to Alicia Girón, an economic researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “In our case, with opening up and removing the duties on corn, genetically modified (GM) corn has arrived in Mexico and displaced production at the local level,” Girón told the Pervuvian online magazine Mariátegui. “So if we observe the fields that were abandoned or simply stopped producing corn, now they are centers for narco trafficking.” The loss of work in the countryside was also a major force driving migration to the US, she said. “It’s a lesson that all the free trade treaties that have been signed with the US, such as those with Colombia, Chile, Peru, should take into account.” (Mariátegui 6/6/14)

*3. Haiti: Martelly Harasses Opponents, Gets Award
Haitian investigative judge Sonel Jean François ordered political activist Rony Timothée provisionally released on June 4 while an inquiry continued into charges that he had set fire to a vehicle and incited others to crime during a May 14 demonstration against the government of President Michel Martelly. Timothée--a spokesperson for the Patriotic Force for Respect for the Constitution (FOPARC), which backs the Family Lavalas (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004)-- was arrested by armed civilians on May 17 with a misdated warrant and was held in prison in Arcahaie, a town some 30 km north of Port-au-Prince, starting on May 19. Judge François is also investigating two other defendants in the case, Assad Volcy and Buron Odigé.

“Everyone knows that Timothée’s arrest was of a political nature,” his attorney, André Michel, told the online news agency AlterPresse on June 4. “He had the good luck to appear before an independent judge,” Michel added, contrasting Timothée’s treatment to the situation of two other clients, Enold and Josué Florestal, who have been imprisoned since August 2013 [see Update #1188]. Another opposition figure has also faced government harassment. Moïse Jean-Charles, a senator for North department [see Update #1204], was attacked by national police agents on May 8 as he was returning to Port-au-Prince from a funeral for another activist, Fritz Gérald Civil, at Miragoâne in Nippes department. On May 30 the senator was barred from visiting Timothée at the Arcahaie prison, and several witnesses say he was attacked by guards at the prison. (AlterPresse 5/30/24, 6/5/14, 6/9/14)

On June 19 President Martelly attended a black-tie fundraiser in midtown New York to receive an award for work in education from the Happy Hearts Fund, a foundation that builds schools in areas hit by natural disasters. Former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001) was honored at the same event for his work as the top United Nations (UN) envoy for the Indian Ocean tsunami recovery effort. The event, which reportedly raised $2.5 million, featured business leaders, fashion models and entertainment figures. At one point Martelly, formerly a singer of Haitian konpa music under the stage name “Sweet Micky,” joined with Haitian-born rapper Wyclef Jean to perform Bob Marley's “No Woman No Cry.” The Happy Hearts Fund’s founder, the model Petra Nemcova, is romantically involved with Martelly’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe.

Some 40-50 New York-area Haitians and their supporters protested outside on 42nd Street for about three hours, chanting “Where is the money?” from behind barricades as celebrities like fashion designer Donna Karan entered the event. Billions of dollars were raised for relief efforts after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti in January 2010, but Haitians say very little seemed to reach them. Bill Clinton headed the now-defunct Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), an international group charged with monitoring the funds. (Wall Street Journal online 6/20/14; report from Update editor)

*4. Puerto Rico: Austerity Law May Spark Strike
As of June 19 several Puerto Rican public employee unions appeared set to call a general strike to protest Law 76, a special austerity measure that Gov. Alejandro García Padilla signed on June 17. A coalition of 35 unions said it had selected a date for a general strike but would keep it secret so as to take the government by surprise; the union didn’t describe the form the strike would take. Two major unions—the Union of Workers of the Electrical Industry and Circulation (UTIER), which represents workers at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA, AEE in Spanish), and the Authentic Independent Union (UIA), which represents workers at the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA, AAA in Spanish)--held strike votes on June 17 and then staged a protest at San Juan’s Plaza Las Américas shopping mall. Some unions also started holding smaller job actions in the first week of June. In October 2009 the unions responded to earlier austerity measures with a powerful one-day general strike [see Update #1008], but it was unclear whether they would be able to mount a similar action now.

Law 76, the Special Law of Fiscal and Operational Sustainability of the Government, is a response to a fiscal crisis from February, when US rating agencies decided to reduce Puerto Rican bonds to junk status [see Update #1208]. The measure allows the government to renegotiate public employees’ contracts, liquidate unused sick days and freeze salaries; there are also options for privatizing PREPA and closing 100 public schools. Investors seemed unsure the austerity measures would work: yields on the $3.5 billion junk bonds issued in March soared in June, reaching 9.65% on June 19.

Union leaders insist that the drastic measures are unnecessary. On June 20, Julio Vargas, the president of UTIER’s Solidarity Program (ProSol), charged at a press conference that management employees had given themselves raises of as much as $3,500 a month in the last third of 2013, shortly before insisting on sacrifices by unionized workers. Meanwhile, UIA president Pedro Irene Maymí told demonstrators outside the Government Development Bank that day that the government had outsourced work in a total of $8 billion in contracts, not the $1.5 billion claimed by Gov. García Padilla. “This is the way they’re carrying off the money, to García Padilla’s friends,” Maymí said. The Puerto Rican Socialist Workers Movement (MST) called for the government to declare a moratorium on the public debt. (In These Times 6/9/14; Reuters 6/19/14; El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 6/20/14; Prensa Latina 6/21/14)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, US/immigration, US/policy

Latin America’s Rightwing Parties Are Falling Apart

Canada Found Guilty for Role in Mining Injustices in Latin America

Is the Chilean Student Movement Being Co-opted by Its Government?

Soccer Is Democratic. The World Cup Is Oligarchy. (Brazil)

Repressing World Cup protests — a booming business for Brazil

Peru: prison for regional leader who opposed mine

US Scientists, Oil Giant Stole Indigenous Blood (Ecuador)

Ecuador’s CONAIE Indigenous Movement: A Return to the Bases in a Fight for Water Rights

Against the war, a mandate for peace (Colombia)

Colombia Peace Talks Survive Elections, May Have Lasting Implications for Regional Integration and US-Led “War on Drugs”

Santos' Presidential Win in Colombia is a Vote for Peace

Protest and Destabilization in Venezuela: The Difference Between the Violent And Non-Violent Right Is Smaller Than You May Think

Is Poverty Still Falling in Venezuela?

Venezuela: Amazon indigenous protest mining law

El Salvador: charter to recognize indigenous rights

The Root Causes of Migration: End U.S. Funding of the Drug War and the Corrupt Honduran Regime

There Has Never Been a Better Time to be Forced into Exile for Being Gay in Honduras

Guatemalans File Lawsuit Against Canadian Mining Company for 2013 Shooting

Zapatistas Mourn a Death and Begin a New Cycle of Building Indigenous Autonomy (Mexico)

Mexican Workers Battle Firings, Peso-Pinching

Puerto Rico Unions Threaten Strike Against Austerity Budget

Juarez Mother Seeks U.S. Political Asylum (US/immigration)

The Latino Media Gap: A Conversation with Frances Negrón Muntaner (US/immigration)

How Deportation Created A New Class Of Disposable Soldiers (US/immigration)

Another US Spying Problem in Latin America: The US DEA (US/policy)

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