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)

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any information from them, but please credit us as “Weekly News Update on the Americas” and include a link.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WNU #1223: Chilean Dam Project Is Scrapped

Issue #1223, June 15, 2014

1. Chile: HidroAysén Dam Project Is Scrapped
2. Brazil: Homeless Win Some in the World Cup
3. Guatemala: Ex-Police Head Convicted--in Switzerland
4. Mexico: Jailed Activist's Family Threatened
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/policy, 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: HidroAysén Dam Project Is Scrapped
Chile’s environment, energy, agriculture, mining, economy and health ministers voted unanimously at a June 10 meeting to terminate plans for the $8 billion HidroAysén hydroelectric project, a complex of five dams that was to be built on the Baker and Pascua rivers in the Aysén region in southern Patagonia. Environmentalists and many area residents had vigorously opposed the project since it was first proposed in August 2007 [see Update #1119]. HidroAysén supporters said the dams were necessary to meet energy requirements for the country, which currently gets about 40% of its power from hydroelectric projects. But Socialist president Michelle Bachelet, who began her second term on Mar. 11, has indicated that her government will push instead for more use of alternative sources and for the importation of liquefied natural gas. The companies behind the project—the Spanish-Italian electric energy consortium Endesa-Enel, which owns 51%, and the Chilean company Colbún S.A.—have 30 days to appeal the ministers’ decision.

Project opponents in Coyhaique, Aysén’s regional capital, gathered in a local movie theater while the ministers met; they celebrated with a march after the decision was announced. “It’s an historic day,” Juan Pablo Orrego, coordinator of the organization Patagonia Without Dams, told the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. “It thrills me that the citizens—for this is a citizens’ victory— finally succeeded in inspiring the government to do the right thing about a giant project.” Opinion polls taken at the beginning of 2011 showed 74% of Chileans opposed to the HidroAysén project. (Miami Herald 6/10/14 from AP; IPS 6/11/14) Another Endesa-Enel project, a $781 million hydroelectric dam at Lake Neltume in Los Ríos region, is facing strong opposition from the indigenous Mapuche [see Update #1167].

Meanwhile, the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, the world’s largest gold producer, is working to restart construction on its mammoth Pascua Lama gold and silver mine high in the Andes on the Chilean-Argentine border; the company suspended operations last November because of decisions by Chilean courts and an environmental agency, combined with a fall in the price of gold on international markets [see Update #1198]. The company has now signed an agreement with 15 of 18 local Diaguita communities in an effort to end indigenous opposition to the project, Lorenzo Soto, one of the communities’ lawyers, said on May 28. The agreement gives the company six months to provide the communities with details on the project, after which Barrick and the Diaguita may start two years of talks in which Soto said they could discuss payment of an “indigenous royalty.” Mining Minister Aurora Williams questioned the plan. “In practice that’s paying to resolve the situation, and we think that dialogue is what is needed,” she told reporters on May 28. (Reuters 5/28/14)

*2. Brazil: Homeless Win Some in the World Cup
The governments of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad reached an agreement on June 9 with the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) ending the threat that the group’s protests would disrupt the June 12 opening game of the 2014 World Cup soccer championship [see Update #1223]. Officials agreed to build some 2,000 housing units in vacant private land where about 4,000 homeless people had set up an encampment, “The People’s Cup,” near the site of the first game, São Paulo's Arena Corinthians. The land occupation started a month earlier as a protest against the allocation of money to sports events rather than inexpensive housing. The MTST also won greater flexibility in the implementation of a federal housing program and a commitment to create a federal commission to prevent forced displacements of homeless people. In exchange the MTST in effect agreed to end its mobilizations, which were the largest of the protests that swept São Paulo in previous weeks.

“It’s worth emphasizing that this victory was the result of the mobilizations in the streets,” MTST national coordinator Guilherme Boulos said, “of an advance in the direction of popular power which benefits not just the MTST but also the whole range of the country’s housing policies.” (Los Angeles Times 6/9/14 from correspondent; Adital (Brazil) 6/11/14; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/11/14 from unidentified wire services)

The authorities had a very different approach for the almost 8,000 São Paulo subway workers who walked off the job on June 5 to demand a 12% pay increase. A labor judge ruled over the weekend of June 7 that the strike was illegal and imposed a $222,000 fine on the Subway Workers Union for each day the strike continued. Meanwhile, the São Paulo state government, which manages the transit system, refused to move from its offer of a 8.7% increase, and Gov. Geraldo Alckmin, a leader in the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), fired 42 strikers the state claimed had engaged in vandalism or other misconduct, with a threat to fire another 300 if the strike continued. The government’s hard-line response seemed to take the subway workers by surprise. An assembly of union members voted on June 9 to suspend the strike until June 12; on June 11 the members rejected the idea of resuming the strike the next day. (Reuters 6/10/14; LJ 6/11/14 from unidentified wire services; Wall Street Journal blog 6/11/14 from correspondents)

With the homeless activists and the subway workers out of the picture, the São Paulo protests were relatively small when the games opened on June 12, and the police acted forcefully to suppress them. Some 70 activists gathered at the Carrão subway station for a 12-km march to the Arena Corinthians, but police agents blocked them on the Radial Leste avenue and used tear gas when marchers tried to break through. There was at least one arrest, and five people were injured, including three journalists with minor abrasions from fragments of tear gas grenades: CNN news producer Barbara Arvanitidis, CNN correspondent Shasta Darlington and Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão camera operator Douglas Barbieri. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Brazilian government to ensure the safety of reporters covering protests.

The championship series is being held in a number of cities before it ends on July 13, and demonstrators marked the opening of the games in these cities as well. Some 200 protesters reportedly confronted police and vandalized stores and banks in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais state, on June 12; at least four people were arrested, and a rock thrown by a demonstrator hit Reuters wire service photographer Sergio Morais in the head, according to the local daily Estado de Minas. About 1,000 protesters marched in the center of Rio de Janeiro without incident, while workers held 24-hour strikes in three area airports--Galeão, Santos Dumont and Jacarepaguá--to demand a contract. In Porto Alegre in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, some of a group of 1,000 protesters broke windows and hurled rocks at police agents, the authorities reported, and others vandalized a McDonald’s restaurant. The police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. In Brasilia police agents dispersed about 150 protesters. (LJ 6/13/14 from unidentified wire services)

On June 5, one week before the opening of the games, the London-based organization Amnesty International (AI) issued a report detailing police abuses in demonstrations over the past year. The report, “Brazil: ‘They Use a Strategy of Fear’: Protecting the Right to Protest in Brazil,” called on the authorities to limit the use of force at protests. (Adital 6/11/14)

*3. Guatemala: Ex-Police Head Convicted--in Switzerland
On June 6 a criminal court in Geneva, Switzerland, sentenced Erwin Sperisen (“El Vikingo”), Guatemala’s national police chief from 2004 to 2007, to life in prison for his participation in the extrajudicial execution of seven inmates in 2006 during a police operation at the Pavón prison near Guatemala City. Swiss authorities had detained Sperisen, who holds dual Guatemalan and Swiss citizenship, in August 2012 in response to arrest orders Guatemala issued in 2010 following an investigation by the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Under Swiss law citizens cannot be extradited, but they can be tried in Switzerland on foreign charges. The Geneva court acquitted Sperisen of three other charges due to lack of evidence; these concerned the killing of three escaped prisoners in October 2005. One of the former police chief’s lawyers said the defense would appeal the convictions in the Pavón case.

Sperisen resigned his post and left Guatemala in 2007 after a bizarre series of events starting with the murder of three visiting Salvadoran legislators on Feb. 19 of that year. Four police agents were charged with the killing; they in turn were murdered while in custody, supposedly by other prisoners [see Updates #889, 891]. Then-interior minister Carlos Vielmann fled Guatemala at the same time. He is now awaiting trial in Spain for his role in the killings at the Pavón prison. (BBC News 6/6/14; Adital (Brazil) 6/9/14)

In related news, on June 10 the authorities announced the arrest of three former police agents in connection with the murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang on Sept. 11, 1990, four days after she had released a report on abuses by the military. Sgt. Noel de Jesús Beteta was convicted of carrying out the murder in 1993, and in 2002 Col. Juan Valencia Osorio, Beteta’s supervisor, was convicted of involvement in the killing [see Update #730]. Apparently the three former agents arrested now--Julio David López Aguilar, José Miguel González Grijalva and Alberto Encarnación Barrios Rabanales—are being charged with the Aug. 5, 1991 shooting death of José Miguel Mérida Escobar, a police investigator. Mérida Escobar had reported to a court on his findings in the Mack case shortly before his murder. (Prensa Libre 6/10/14; Miami Herald 6/10/14 from AP)

*4. Mexico: Jailed Activist's Family Threatened
A group of Mexican legislative deputies announced on June 2 that they would call on the federal Governance Secretariat to guarantee the security of family members of Nestora Salgado, an imprisoned community activist from the largely indigenous town of Olinalá in the southwestern state of Guerrero. The announcement came one day after an attack on a bus that Salgado’s daughter Saira Salgado was riding from Olinalá to Mexico City for a scheduled meeting with legislators. Armed men stopped the bus shortly after it left Olinalá and without explanation executed a woman passenger. Saira Salgado said the victim was dressed the way she herself is usually dressed. After the murder, the men left without harming or robbing the other passengers. Deputy Roberto López, of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), charged that the attack was not an isolated incident.

Nestora Salgado is a naturalized US citizen from Olinalá who migrated to the US and settled in Washington state. In recent years she began visiting her hometown and became involved in community affairs there; eventually she was elected head of the community police force. Community police forces are legally recognized in Guerrero, and Salgado originally had good relations with the state government. But in August 2013 she ordered the arrest of a local official, Armando Patrón Jiménez, in connection with cattle rustling and the deaths of two ranchers. Five days later Salgado herself was arrested on charges of kidnapping and was removed to a federal women’s prison at Tepic in the western state of Nayarit. She has been held there ever since without access to a lawyer; her daughter’s meeting with legislators was intended to discuss their plan to have her transferred to a more accessible prison in Mexico City.

Mexican and US activists have organized a campaign for Salgado’s release, along with a petition drive. The US government has done nothing to help with Salgado’s case despite her status as a US citizen, Deputy Loretta Ortiz Ahlf, of the small leftist Labor Party (PT), said on June 2. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/3/14; Desinformémonos (Mexico) 6/8/14)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/policy, US/immigration

Book Review: Learning from Latin America’s Social Movements

Capitalism’s Bullets in Latin America: Invisible Empires, State Power and 21st Century Colonialism

Latin America: Full Spectrum Seizures of Power

Chile Rejects Patagonian Dam Project, Environmentalists Hail Victory

Corruption and spectacle in the World Cup (Brazil)

The World Cup Bus to Nowhere (Brazil)

Sporting Shock Doctrine: Dave Zirin on the World Cup, Olympics and Brazilian Democracy

On Fifth Anniversary of Peru FTA Bagua Massacre of Indigenous Protestors, State Department Cables Published on Wikileaks Reveal U.S. Role

Ecuador returns to external financing

Colombia to begin peace process with ELN

Indigenous Governance System Provides A Model For Community Defense In Mexico

Mexico’s Biodiversity Under Siege

Haiti’s Chief Foreign Import: Meddling

Puerto Rico Unions Threaten Strike Against Austerity Budget

Unfinished Business in Indian Country (US/immigration)

Human Right Watch's Revolving Door (US/policy)

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any information from them, but please credit us as “Weekly News Update on the Americas” and include a link.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

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:

For immigration updates and events:


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Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Monday, June 2, 2014

Links but No Update for June 1, 2014

[There is no Update this week; we'll be back next week. Below are links to stories from other sources.]

Digging up the Dirt on Canadian Mining in Latin America

Self-Determination as Anti-Extractivism: How Indigenous Resistance Challenges World Politics (Latin America)

Argentina Reaches Paris Club Debt Deal without IMF Intervention; Creditors Come Under Fire

Fuerza Valpo! Solidarity, Resistance, and Recovery In the Wake of Valparaíso Fires (Chile)

Seasonal Agricultural Workers Left Out of Chilean Boom

Chile ends Pinochet embezzlement investigation

Brazil’s World Cup 2014: Private Security “Made ​​in the USA”

Mining and Colonialism in Brazil’s Giant Carajás Project

Indigenous People Denounce Aggressions at Belo Monte (Brazil)

Ecuador Pushes for Greater South-South Cooperation and Stronger Public Disability Assistance Policies

Ecuador issues arrest warrant for former president

Colombia’s U’was Say No to Gas Drilling in Their Territory

Colombia: left parties throw support behind Santos

Colombia: protest, rebel attacks depress oil output

Ahead of House Vote, Members of Congress Warn Sanctions Could Undermine Dialogue in Venezuela

Venezuelan Peasants Protest Supreme Court Decision to Return Lands to Agribusiness

Venezuelan Government Exposes Plot to Assassinate President Maduro, Opposition Rejects Charges

Rural Communities Push El Salvador Towards Ban on Mining

108 Members of Congress Urge Action on Political Repression and Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

La Puya Peaceful Mining Resistance Dismantled by Force (Guatemala)

Guatemalan anti-mine protest vigil dispersed

NAFTA, Insecurity, Power Vacuums y Violence in Rural Mexico

Michoacán: ex-vigilantes register weapons (Mexico)

Mexico: battle for Tamaulipas begins?

Mexico’s Oil Privatization: Risky Business

A Bad Day or a New Bloodbath? (Mexico)

Farewell, Subcomandante (Mexico)

Subcomandante Marcos Is No More (Mexico)

Subcommander Marcos 'ceases to exist'

Revised Deadly Force Policies Unveiled (US/immigration)