Tuesday, October 28, 2014

WNU #1239: Strikers Close Costa Rican Port

Issue #1239, October 26, 2014

1. Costa Rica: New Strike Closes Major Port
2. Mexico: Guerrero Governor Goes, Crisis Remains
3. Mexico: Privatization Scandals Multiply
4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America/US, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rice, Mexico, the Caribbean, 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. Costa Rica: New Strike Closes Major Port
A longstanding dispute over the privatization of the port at Limón on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast led unionized dockworkers at the port’s Limón and Moín terminals to walk off the job on Oct. 22 for the second time in two years [see Update #1134]. The open-ended strike left three ships stranded at the two terminals, which handle some 80% of Costa Rica's foreign trade. Facing his first major labor crisis since he took office on May 8, President Luis Guillermo Solís, of the center-left Citizen Action Party (PAC), responded quickly. He sent some 150 police officers to take control of the terminals late on Oct. 22; 68 people were arrested in the operation. The port was reopened the next morning, with foreign contract workers under police guard. Union officials denied that the port was operating normally, and as of Oct. 25 negotiations hadn’t started between the union and the government.

Efforts to privatize the Limón port, which is managed by the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA), began in 2006 under former president Oscar Arias (1986-1990, 2006-2010), and quickly met with opposition from the JAPDEVA Workers Union (SINTRAJAP), backed by the Frente Amplio (“Broad Front”), a leftist political party. In 2012 the government of former president Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014) granted a 30-year concession to a Netherlands-based container management multinational, APM Terminals, a subsidiary of the giant Danish shipping multinational A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, which also does business in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua [see Update #772]. A court challenge to the APM Terminals contract was rejected by the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) in October of this year, precipitating the current strike. However, the CSJ probably won’t be able to give final approval to the contract until March 2015, since the National Environmental Technical Secretariat (Setena) hasn’t completed its assessment of the project. Legal advisers close to the Setena say there were irregularities in the documents presented by APM Terminals, including corrections by hand and several pages in English.

The situation in Limón was still tense as of Oct. 25, as helicopters and small planes patrolled the skies over the city. Eight people were arrested the morning of Oct. 24 after two shipping containers were set on fire and a police agent was wounded in the foot. SINTRAJAP general secretary Ronaldo Blear said the union wasn’t behind the vandalism but claimed that it showed “part of the dissatisfaction” of Limón’s population. “What it says to us is that Limón’s people hold JAPDEVA in their hearts, and so they’re defending what the government is trying to take from us.” According to Blear, the union’s “struggle is against a contract that imposes unjust rates for the people, an illegal monopoly that impedes free participation and represents the death of JAPDEVA, and against immense damage to the environment which could turn out to be irreversible if we don’t stop it. This isn’t over wages or privileges.” (Tico Times (Costa Rica) 10/23/14; Reuters 10/23/14; Prensa Latina 10/25/14; La Nación (Costa Rica) 10/25/14)

*2. Mexico: Guerrero Governor Goes, Crisis Remains
Protests against Mexican local governments and federal president Enrique Peña Nieto showed no signs of letting up the week of Oct. 20, nearly one month after the Sept. 26-27 killing of six people and the abduction of 43 teachers’ college students in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero [see Update #1238]. Students held a two-day national strike on Oct. 22-23 to demand the return of the missing students, who were all from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa. Tens of thousands of students and teachers marched in a total of 18 Mexican states on the first day of the strike. The protest in Mexico City was reportedly one of the capital’s largest demonstrations in recent years. The Federal District (DF, Mexico City) police estimated the crowd at 50,000, while the Los Angeles Times reported that at one point the march stretched along the broad Paseo de la Reforma from the Angel of Independence to the central Zócalo, a distance of more than 4 kilometers.

The protesters’ disgust with Mexico’s political class and the three major political parties was obvious. “PRI, PAN, PRD=narco-government” was a popular slogan on Oct. 22, in reference to President Peña Nieto’s centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The marchers targeted the federal government for its tolerance of political corruption and organized crime under Peña and under his two predecessors, Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012), both from the PAN. “Peña out!” was a popular slogan at the demonstrations. But the greatest anger may be at the PRD, the party of Guerrero governor Angel Aguirre Rivero, Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca Velázquez and his wife, María de los Angeles Pineda Villa. Now in hiding, Abarca and Pineda are thought to have ordered the attack on the students by municipal police and members of the Guerreros Unidos gang, while Aguirre’s government seemed to do nothing to stop the killings of leftist activists over the past several years, including the police shooting of two Ayotzinapa students in December 2011 [see Update #1237].

On Oct. 21 some 500 teachers in the militant State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG) left a sit-in the group had been holding since Oct. 8 in the main plaza of Chilpancingo, the state capital, to march on the PRD’s Guerrero headquarters and demand Aguirre’s resignation. They overturned a vehicle outside the building and then invaded the office, setting fire to computers, furniture and files. Two days later, on Oct. 23, the governor finally resigned. The PRD national leadership had been resisting efforts to remove Aguirre, but apparently they changed course on Oct. 22. PRD president Carlos Navarrete reportedly presented the governor with a dossier the federal government had prepared on him. “Angel, it could turn out to be more costly for you,” Navarrete said, according to several PRD politicians. Aguirre responded by offering to resign; he asked the PRD to negotiate immunity for him and for state finance secretary Jorge Salgado.

Observers said the governor’s resignation wasn’t likely to end the crisis. As for the PRD, party officials estimated off the record that the group’s voter approval rating had fallen by 3-4% as a result of the events in Guerrero. The PRD only governs three of Mexico’s 31 states, although it has headed the government in the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) since 1997. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/22/14, 10/23/14, 10/23/14, 10/24/14, 10/25/14; Los Angeles Times 10/25/14 from correspondent)

The North American solidarity organization Rights Action is handling donations for the Ayotzinapa students’ financial committee to help parents and teachers carry on their work for the missing students. More information is available at http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Emergency-Fund-Raising-Appeal-For-Disappeared-Mexican-Students.html?soid=1103480765269&aid=bBeeoLvMRX0.

On Oct. 21, in the midst of the Guerrero crisis, the federal government’s semi-autonomous National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) released its Recommendation 51/2014 concerning the killing of 22 suspected gang members by the military on June 30 in Tlatlaya municipality, México state [see Update #1234]. The soldiers and the state attorney general’s office claimed that the suspects died in a shootout. After investigating the case the CNDH concluded that 15 of the victims were executed by seven soldiers, who beat four of the victims before killing them. The bodies were then rearranged to support the story of a shootout, and state authorities imprisoned, threatened and otherwise mistreated two of the three surviving witnesses in effort to get them to back the cover-up; the two witness are still incarcerated at the Tepic, Nayarit federal women’s prison. The military, state prosecutors and the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) all came in for criticism in the CNDH’s recommendation. (Excélsior (Mexico) 10/22/14; Jurist 10/22/14)

*3. Mexico: Privatization Scandals Multiply
The Sept. 26-27 killing and abduction of several dozen students in the southwestern state of Guerrero could be creating problems for Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s efforts to improve the country’s international image and to continue the opening of its economy to private businesses [see Update #1203]. Los Angeles Times correspondent Tracy Wilkinson reported on Oct. 25 that Peña’s “government is clearly concerned it is losing a finely crafted domestic and international public relations campaign that emphasized major reforms of Mexico's energy sector. Publications in the US and Europe that once lavished praise on the president have turned the tables.” (LA Times 10/25/14)

But Peña’s “energy reform” program has problems of its own. On Oct. 20 Mexican entrepreneur Amado Yáñez Osuna was arrested in Acapulco and charged with money laundering and failure to pay social security taxes. Due to the nature of the charges he is being held without bail. Yáñez Osuna is the sole director of Oceanografía SA de CV, one of the private companies that contract to provide services to Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the giant state-owned oil monopoly, in an arrangement that critics consider a disguised form of privatization. Yáñez has been under house arrest since March, following allegations of massive fraud by the company. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/21/14, 10/23/14) At the end of February the US banking corporation Citigroup Inc. announced that its Mexican subsidiary, Banco Nacional de México (Banamex), had lent Oceanografía some $400 million based on falsified invoices that Oceanografía claimed it had issued to PEMEX [see Update #1212]. Banamex is Mexico’s second-largest bank; it was privatized under former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) and was bought by Citigroup in 2001.

The Oceanografía case was the first of two major bribery scandals for PEMEX this year; in April the US government fined the California-based technology company Hewlett-Packard (HP) for bribing PEMEX officials to sell the oil enterprise hardware, software and licenses worth some $6 million [see Update #1216].

Another of Oceanografía’s creditors is the Monterrey-based Grupo Financiero Banorte (GFNorte), which lent the company 512 million pesos (about US$38 million). The bank’s officials insist that in this case the loans were properly documented. Privatized in 1992, Banorte is the largest Mexican bank not owned by a foreign corporation. During the week of Oct. 20 rumors circulated that Mexican banker Carlos Hank González would soon head Banorte. (LJ 10/24/14) Currently the director general of Grupo Financiero Interacciones, Hank González is the grandson of a former Mexico City mayor of the same name, a notoriously corrupt politician who died in 2001. The younger Hank González’s uncle is the equally notorious Tijuana racetrack owner Jorge Hank Rhon, and his father is billionaire banker Carlos Hank Rhon. A report by the US National Drug Intelligence Center in the late 1990s claimed that Jorge Hank Rhon, Carlos Hank Rhon and the elder Carlos Hank González were so involved in drug trafficking and money laundering that they “pose a significant criminal threat to the United States” [see Update #1082].

Meanwhile, Mexico’s Supreme Court agreed on Oct. 17 to consider a request from the center-left National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) for a national referendum on the energy reform program. Electoral officials have certified that MORENA’s petition has the two million valid signatures required for a referendum. The court has 20 days to decide whether to allow Mexicans to vote on the question: “Do you agree or do you not agree that contracts or concessions should be granted to national or foreign private entities for the exploration of oil, gas, refining, and the petrochemical and electrical industries?” (TeleSUR 10/20/14; LJ 10/21/14)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America/US, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Caribbean, Haiti, US/immigration

Latin America Provides Alternative Paths to Successful Poverty Reduction

Latin American progressives and environmental duplicity

Argentina sentences 15 to life over La Cacha prison

Chile's Untapped Clean Energy Potential

Uruguay’s Decision Could Come Too Late for Gitmo Detainees

Brazil’s Rousseff Re-elected Despite Anti-Workers’ Party Sentiment: What Now?

Economic Issues Could be Decisive in Brazilian Presidential Election

“Dilma’s loss would be a loss for the world’s working class”: An Interview with Luis Gonzaga “Gegê” da Silva

How Many Extra Votes Does Brazilian Opposition Candidate Aécio Neves Get from Media Bias?

Interview with Evo Morales on Bolivia's Socio-Economic Transformation

Bolivia: protests continue against mining law

Peru: 'dirty war' remains returned to families

Colombia and Peru to 'cleanse' Putumayo

Colombia: mass graves exhumed in Cauca

Colombia: peasants detain soldiers after arrests

Venezuela at the UN, Washington At Bay

Venezuelan Government Unveils 2015 Budget, Anticipates Drop in Oil Prices

Venezuela urged to release opposition leader

No End in Sight for Costa Rica Port Workers’ Strike

Disappeared Youth Spark Protests in Mexico’s Worst Political Crisis in Decades

We want them alive — the search for Mexico’s 43 missing students

Trial for Sexual Slavery During Armed Conflict Opens in Guatemala

Mexican Youth Remember 1968 Massacre and Mourn Their Own Dead

Report from Guerrero: The Real Criminals

Race, Class, and Cannabis in the Caribbean

Haiti Cholera Victims Get First Hearing in Court

"They are Telling the Story of the Border, But Nobody is Telling it Right" (US/immigration)

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

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