Monday, January 28, 2008

WNU #932: Chilean Mapuche Activist Continues Fast

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #932, January 27, 2008

1. Latin America: Davos Weighs Financial Crisis
2. Chile: Mapuche Activist Continues Fast
3. Colombia: Rice Pushes "Free Trade" Accord
4. Colombia: Give Peace a Chance?
5. Puerto Rico: Teachers Set to Strike

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. For a subscription, write to It is archived at

*1. Latin America: Davos Weighs Financial Crisis
This year the World Economic Forum (WEF), an annual meeting of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland in late January, was focused on a financial crisis that shook world stock markets Jan. 18-Jan. 21--the worst in 60 years, according to one participant, US financier George Soros. Other participants tried to minimize the dangers that a likely US recession would pose for emerging economies. The present crisis "isn't the first and won't be the last," said Mexican central bank president Guillermo Ortiz. But according to former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel prize for economics, Mexico's economy isn't more resistant than in the past to contagion from the US, a situation made worse by the fact that the majority of banks in Mexico are now subsidiaries of US banks. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/24/08, 1/26/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

Since 2001 opponents of neoliberal economic policies have countered the WEF with a World Social Forum. This year the forum was composed of decentralized events. In Latin America these included a rally in Buenos Aires, Argentina; a women's march and events in Sao Paulo and Belém in Brazil; and an event in the Zócalo plaza in Mexico City. (Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales, 1/26/08,_,_ )

*2. Chile: Mapuche Activist Continues Fast
As of Jan. 27 Chilean activist Patricia Troncoso Robles had rejected an Interior Ministry offer to ease her prison conditions if she would end the hunger strike she started 109 days earlier to demand the release of 20 indigenous Mapuche prisoners and an end to the military's presence in Mapuche territories [see Updates #921, 929]. Troncoso's father, Roberto Troncoso, and a mediator, Conference of Bishops president Alejandro Goic, said the government offered a transfer to a prison work and study center, with Sunday releases after six months at the center. But Troncoso Robles demanded an immediate easing of conditions for Mapuche prisoners Jaime Marileo and Juan Millalén and a resolution of the prisoners' situation by March.

Troncoso is a non-Mapuche supporter of the Mapuche cause who in 2001 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "terrorism" in connection with a fire set at a ranch in southern Chile. On Jan. 23 she was transferred to the emergency room of the Herminda Martín Hospital in Chillán, Bíobío region; she was severely malnourished after having lost 30 kilos. In the hospital she has been fed intravenously, against her will. The hospital's Dr. Renato Acevedo Vargas said he was "shocked" by Troncoso's situation, including heavy security and an initial refusal to allow visits by her father. "I never thought the Chillán hospital would one day be turned into a high-security prison," he told the media.

Activists and human rights groups have pressed the government of Socialist president Michelle Bachelet to act on Troncoso's case. On Jan. 24 about a dozen leaders of nonprofit organizations and leftist parties occupied the office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Santiago for almost two hours to back Troncoso's demands. About 20 people stood outside supporting the occupiers, who included Troncoso's doctor, Berna Castro; Tomás Hirsch of the Humanist Party; and Eduardo Artés, first secretary of the Chilean Communist Party. On Jan. 25 in Paris Amnesty International (AI), the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and other organizations accused Bachelet's government of indifference.

The Mapuches make up about 6.6% of Chile's population of 16 million. The government's first effort to resolve centuries of conflicts over possession of the Mapuches' traditional territories came in 2006 when the National Corporation for Indigenous Development returned some 504,000 hectares to Mapuche communities. According to a recent poll by the daily Tercera, about 80% of Chileans feel the country is in debt to its indigenous peoples. (La Nación (Chile) 2/24/08 from UPI; Univision 1/25/08 from AFP; Radio Cooperativa (Chile) 2/27/08; Radio Universidad de Chile 2/27/08)

*3. Colombia: Rice Pushes "Free Trade" Accord
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice visited Colombia on Jan. 24 and 25, meeting with rightwing president Alvaro Uribe in Medellín at the end of the trip. The high-level delegation, including US legislators, was intended to show support for Uribe and to push for ratification by the US Congress of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC) between the two countries [see Update #929]. In Medellín Rice also met with former rightwing paramilitaries who had demobilized under a plan sponsored by Uribe; she visited a flower cultivation business where ex-paramilitaries are employed. At a meeting between the delegation and Colombian unionists, Carlos Rodríguez of the Unitary Workers Confederation (CUT) said 40 leaders of the union federation had been murdered in 2007, bringing the number of unionists murdered in the last 22 years to 2,574. Many were killed by paramilitaries. (La Jornada 1/26/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)

According to Colombian Communist Youth (JUCO), two unidentified men murdered Colombian student Alirio Quiñónez, a member of JUCO's central committee, on Jan. 19 in Guasdualito, in the western Venezuelan state of Apure near the border with Colombia. The two men fired repeatedly on Quiñónez, who was living in Venezuela "due to persecution by the Colombian Army and the intelligence agencies." JUCO said the murder was the "responsibility of the Colombian state" and that members of JUCO and the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) now in the leadership of the center-left Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA) have been "turned into military objectives." (Rebelión 1/23/08)

*4. Colombia: Give Peace a Chance?
There is real possibility for peace between the Colombian government and the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), according to Antonio Navarro Wolf, a former rebel who is now governor of the southern department of Nariño and a leader in the center-left Democratic Alternative Pole. Following the FARC's release of two hostages on Jan. 10, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías has pushed for the Colombian government to advance the peace process by designating the FARC a "belligerent force" rather than "terrorists" [see Update #930].

For 16 years Navarro Wolf was a member of the rebel M-19 group, which signed a peace accord in 1990 and gave up the armed struggle. "It was difficult," he told the New York daily El Diario-La Prensa in a telephone interview, noting that the Patriotic Front (UP), a legal political group close to the FARC, was virtually exterminated after it was set up in 1985. But that time has passed, he said: "We're in a Latin America where leftist governments elected by popular vote are our daily bread; through the electoral path there are suitable spaces for the left to be able to govern and give form to its political project." He warned that the FARC was turning into a "type of laboratory case" with very little future. (ED-LP 1/21/08)

*5. Puerto Rico: Teachers Set to Strike
Tens of thousands of public school teachers in the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the country's largest union, are set to go on strike sometime after Feb. 1 in defiance of the Puerto Rican government and parts of the labor movement. Teachers have set up strike committees in schools, and some say participation is higher than during a strike in 1993. In Ponce some 600 FMPR members blocked streets in a recent pro-strike demonstration, while more 500 teachers picketed in front of school board offices in Caguas.

Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), responded by attempting to rescind the union's certification under Law 45, which regulates public sector unions and forbids strikes by public employees. On Jan. 22, the FMPR filed papers in US federal district court in San Juan seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional.

On Jan. 18 presidents of Puerto Rican unions affiliated with US union federations--the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Federation--held a press conference to denounce the FMPR's strike plans. They said legal action by the FMPR against Law 45 might hurt 100,000 public employees if the courts overturn the law, since their union recognition depends on it. According to some observers, the real issue was a longstanding dispute between the FMPR and the US labor movement. The FMPR has disaffiliated from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), an AFL-CIO union. The AFT seems to have given up efforts to regain the Puerto Rican union, but the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), part of Change to Win, is reportedly seeking to replace the FMPR. Some media commentaries against the FMPR are said to have come from people associated with the US labor movement, including investigative journalist Wilda Rodríguez, a former press secretary for Dennis Rivera, president of SEIU 1199. (Bandera Roja (Puerto Rico) 1/29/08; Claridad (Puerto Rico) 1/16/08, 1/24/08; El Diario-La Prensa 1/14/08, 1/23/08 from correspondent)

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School of Americas Graduates Implicated in Bogota Bombings

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

WNU #931: Guatemalan Activists Fast; Mexican Miners Strike, Teachers March

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #931, January 20, 2008

1. Guatemala: Activist Couple Start Fast
2. Mexico: Miners Strike, Teachers March
3. Mexico: NAFTA Protests Continue
4. Cuba: Lula Visits Fidel

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. For a subscription, write to It is archived at

*1. Guatemala: Activist Couple Start Fast
Guatemalan human rights activist Amílcar Méndez and his wife, Miriam Dardón, began an open-ended hunger strike on Jan. 12 in Guatemala City to protest impunity for the 21,509 homicides that took place in the four-year administration of outgoing president Oscar Berger. One of the victims was the couple's son, José Emanuel "Pepe" Méndez Dardón, who was murdered on Aug. 17, 2007, on his way home from work in Guatemala City.

The activists, who positioned themselves on the sidewalk at the main entrance to the Presidential Palace and hung signs on the gate, demanded a cleanup and restructuring in the national prosecutor's office, in the National Civil Police and in the judicial branch; Méndez said criminal charges should be filed against Berger and other members of his government. The couple said they were not protesting against president-elect Alvaro Colom, who was to be inaugurated on Jan. 14.

For many years Amílcar Méndez was an advocate for people displaced in the 1960-1996 civil war; he was also a deputy in Congress 1996-2000 for the leftist New Guatemala Democratic Front (FDNG) and has been a principal adviser to the incoming vice president, Rafael Espada. The San Francisco-based Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) is asking people to sign on to a petition supporting the couple. (CGRS email 1/12/08; Prensa Libre (Guatemala City) 1/12/08)

*2. Mexico: Miners Strike, Teachers March
Thousands of members of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM) participated in an eight-hour national strike on Jan. 16 in support of workers at Grupo México's giant copper mine at Cananea, in the northwestern state of Sonora. Police and soldiers had forcibly removed strikers from the mine on Jan. 12, one day after the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JFCA) ruled that the miners' five-month-old strike over safety conditions was illegal under Mexican labor law. The union won a temporary injunction on Jan. 12 allowing the strike to continue, but unofficial sources reported that the Sixth District Labor Court would probably terminate the injunction [see Update #930]. Grupo México insisted that at least 400 of the 1,300 workers had returned to the mine.

According to the SNTMMRM, some 25,000 workers joined the Jan. 16 national strike, shutting down 85 mines and metal factories; participants included 2,000 miners in the southern state of Guerrero and employees of the Siderúrgica Lázaro Cárdenas-Las Truchas, SA (Sicartsa) steel plant, who marched in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán. Also on strike were 350 workers at the Minera Maple mine in Naica, Chihuahua; they had gone out the day before around local wage demands. However, Labor Secretary Javier Lozano Alarcón said only 33% of the union's 33,581 members participated in the national, and Grupo México insisted its facilities were functioning normally. Grupo México's stocks fell 7.33% on Mexico City's Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV) on Jan. 16; the other major Mexican mining company, Industrias Peñoles, which owns the Naica mine, saw its stock go down by 7.80% the same day. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/14/08, 1/16/08, _ , __, 1/17/08, __)

On Jan. 18 some 20,000 teachers in the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a rank-and-file caucus in the massive National Education Workers Union (SNTE), marched from the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City to the Federal Palace of Justice to protest changes to Social Security for public workers. Teachers from Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Zacatecas, México state, the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), Chiapas and Guerrero participated. "She's going to fall, she's going to fall, that thief Elba Esther!" the dissident teachers chanted, referring to their belief that SNTE head Elba Esther Gordillo is collaborating with Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). At the Palace of Justice, they presented thousands of legal complaints against the new rules and threatened to start a national strike. (LJ 1/19/08)

*3. Mexico: NAFTA Protests Continue
Hundreds of Mexican campesinos, accompanied by 40 tractors, marched in Ciudad Juárez, in the northern state of Chihuahua, on Jan. 18 to launch the "Chamizal to the Zócalo" caravan, a 2,000-km ride to protest the elimination of tariffs on staples under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) [see Updates #928, 929, 930]. Organized by the Francisco Villa Campesino Resistance Movement, the caravan's route goes from El Chamizal Park, Juárez--at the border with El Paso, Texas--to Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo, where the protesters are to join a Jan. 31 demonstration against NAFTA planned by a broad range of groups.

The march started with a 40-minute blockade of the Córdoba international bridge. The protesters then marched through the center of Juárez, joined by other groups, including hundreds of teachers protesting changes in Social Security. On Jan. 19 the caravan arrived in Chihuahua city, where local residents brought food and offered the protesters places to stay. The caravan is to pass through the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Querétaro and México on its way to Mexico City. (La Jornada 1/19/08, 1/20/08)

*4. Cuba: Lula Visits Fidel
Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva met with Cuban president Fidel Castro Ruz on Jan. 15 during a 24-hour visit to Cuba and met twice with interim president Raúl Castro, who has headed the government since the summer of 2006, when Fidel Castro withdrew from public functions because of undisclosed intestinal problems. The visit included the signing of financial and commercial agreements, such as credits for food purchases and the expansion of the Che Guevara nickel plant, and offshore oil exploration. Brazil is Cuba's second largest trading partner in Latin America, after Venezuela; annual trade is worth about $450 million.

Although Lula's center-left government has kept its distance from Cuba's Communist government, Lula told reporters during the trip: "I'm from a generation in love with the Cuban revolution; I have a special fondness for Fidel," who he said was again "ready to assume his political role." (La Jornada 1/16/08)

Correction: Some versions of Update #930 incorrectly described how Emmanuel, the child of former Colombian vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas, was placed in foster care in Bogotá. The rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) did not place the child in foster care through a government agency; they placed him with a family, and the agency took responsibility for him after he became ill.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

WNU #930: Colombia Hostages Freed, Mexican Miners Get Injunction

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #930, January 13, 2008

1. Colombia: 2 FARC Hostages Freed
2. Mexico: Striking Miners Get Injunction
3. Puerto Rico: Machetero Probe Postponed
4. Cuba: Ex-CIA Agent Agee Dies
5. US: Group Protests Posada

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. 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 our full contact information so people will know how to find us. Send us a copy of or link to any publication where we are cited or reprinted.

The Update is produced by an all-volunteer team and is funded solely through contributions. Make checks or money orders payable to Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012 (for tax deductible donations or to send money from overseas, contact us for details.)

On Jan. 10 a group of about 20 rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released two hostages in the southeastern department of Guaviare in an arrangement worked out with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías and Colombian ex-senator Piedad Córdoba. The hostages, Consuelo González de Perdomo and Clara Rojas, were then taken to Santo Domingo, Venezuela, and later to a meeting with Chávez and Córdoba at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.

González was a deputy in Colombia's lower house of Congress when the FARC kidnapped her on Sept. 10, 2001; the incident received little attention, due to terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, the next day. Rojas was the vice presidential candidate of the small Oxygen Green Party; the presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian dual national, remains in captivity. Rojas had a baby, Emmanuel, while with the FARC.

The release was a victory for Chávez's mediation efforts, but it followed several embarrassing failures. Chávez and other international dignitaries were preparing to receive the two hostages, along with the three-year-old Emmanuel, on Dec. 31, but the release was suddenly suspended. The Colombian government then revealed that the rebels had Emmanuel had in fact been placed in foster care in Bogotá through a government agency. The hostages confirmed to Córdoba that they and their escorts were delayed for nearly three weeks in the jungle, in part because of a bombing campaign by the Colombian military.

González criticized the way the FARC treated the male hostages, saying they were constantly kept in chains; Rojas called the FARC a criminal organization. But they both asked Chávez to continue his mediation efforts to free the remaining hostages. The Colombian government estimates that the FARC holds 745 hostages, 45 of them politicians or soldiers the rebels hope to exchange for some 500 rebels in government prisons. On Jan. 11, during his annual report to Venezuela's National Assembly, Chávez asked the international community to recognize the FARC and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), as "belligerent forces" rather than as "terrorists," saying the designation was necessary to advance the peace process. France, Spain and Switzerland have sent emissaries to South America to help in negotiations for further releases. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/7/08 from Reuters, AFP, Prensa Latina, DPA; 1/11/08 from correspondent, Reuters, AFP, DPA)

On Jan. 12 Mexican sixth district labor judge Máximo Torres Quevedo granted an injunction allowing miners at the huge Cananea copper mine in the northwestern state of Sonora to continue their five-month-old strike [see Updates #911, 912]. The Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Council (JFCA) had ruled the strike a wildcat on Jan. 10 and ordered the miners to return to work within 24 hours. The next morning, some 800 police agents drove the strikers out of the mine, in a confrontation that resulted in some 40 injuries and five arrests. It was not clear whether the union, Section 65 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM), would reoccupy the mine.

This was the second major police attack on SNTMMRM strikers in the past two years; two steelworkers were killed in an operation at Lázaro Cárdenas, Micahoacán, on Apr. 20, 2006 [see Update #847]. The Mexican Electricity Workers Union (SME) immediately expressed solidarity with the mineworkers, and on Jan. 12 activists protested outside the Mexican consulate in New York in a solidarity action organized by the leftist Internationalist Group. (La Jornada 1/12/08, 1/13/08; El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 1/13/08)

In other news, on the morning of Jan. 10 some 200 members of the farmers' group El Barzón Popular took over the toll booths on the privately owned Mexico City-Toluca highway and allowed motorists to ride for free for about three hours. El Barzón director Crescencio Morales said this was a continuation of protests against the elimination of tariffs on corn, beans, sugar and powdered milk that took effect Jan. 1 under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) [see Updates #928, 929]. He said there would be more protests, with the next one on the Mexico City-Querétaro highway. Some 7,500 vehicles took advantage of the toll-free ride, costing the owners more than $30,000, the toll booth administrator said. (LJ 11/12/08)

On Jan. 11 lawyers for three Puerto Ricans with subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury in New York that morning announced that the date had been postponed until sometime in February. Social worker Christopher Torres and filmmakers Tania Frontera and Julio Antonio Pabón are apparently being questioned as part of a US probe into the Popular Boricua Army (EPB)-Macheteros, a rebel pro-independence group whose leader, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, was killed by agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Puerto Rico in September 2005 [see Update #928].

The postponement was announced at a protest outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn the morning of Jan. 11. Protesters said FBI agents had surprised Torres, Frontera and Pabón and their families, visiting them at home or work and showing them "about 20" recent photographs of Puerto Rican activists. Frontera's attorney, Martin Stolar, said he was filing a motion to quash his client's subpoena as a violation of her rights of free speech and free association. If that fails, Stolar said, "she'll probably affirm her right not to testify" based on the US Constitution. Puerto Rican activists have a tradition of refusing to testify in federal courts and have often been jailed for contempt. According to activist Frank Velgara, grand jury subpoenas concerning the Puerto Rican movement hadn't been served in New York for almost two decades. (El Diario-La Prensa 1/12/08)

Philip Agee, a US citizen and former agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), died in Havana, Cuba on Jan. 7 at age 72, according to US news reports. Louis Wolf, a friend and collaborator, said the cause of death was peritonitis. Agee had been living with his wife, Giselle Roberge Agee, in Hamburg, Germany, but the couple maintained an apartment in Havana and visited frequently. Since 2000 Agee had been running Cuba Linda, an online agency arranging visits to Cuba for US residents. (The website reported that Agee died on Jan. 8.)

Agee worked for the CIA for 12 years, mostly in Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico, but quit in 1969. His 1975 book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, focused on what he considered the CIA's responsibility for killing or destroying the lives of "millions of people all over the world." In one part, he described a 1965 meeting he had with top police officials in Montevideo. He heard people being tortured in an adjacent room and thought he might have given the government the names of the victims. The book included a 22-page list of alleged agency operatives.

The US State Department refused to renew Agee's passport in 1987, but the government never attempted to bring him to trial. On Jan. 9, following his death, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma called Agee "a loyal friend of Cuba and fervent defender of the peoples' fight for a better world." (AP 1/9/08; New York Times 1/10/08)

Activists from the US-based groups CodePink and Juventud Bolivariana launched a "Most Wanted" campaign against Cuban-born former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) "asset" Luis Posada Carriles in Miami on Jan. 12, demanding that the US government designate him a terrorist and comply with a Venezuelan request for his extradition. Since 2005 Venezuela has been seeking to bring Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan citizen, to trial in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in which 73 people died. Posada is under a deportation order in the US, but since the US refused to send him either to Cuba or to Venezuela, he was conditionally released from US detention on Apr. 19, 2007 [see Updates 895, 898]. He is now living in Miami.

The activists started the campaign by passing out anti-Posada postcards in front of the Versailles restaurant on Eighth Street in Miami's "Little Havana" neighborhood; the restaurant is known as a meeting place for rightwing Cuban Americans. Five rightwing organizations held a counterdemonstration. "We support and respect our brother patriot Luis Posada Carriles" read one sign. Some counterdemonstrators threatened the activists, who withdrew.

CodePink spokesperson Medea Benjamin said local police "didn't guarantee our safety." According to Benjamin, the US government's failure either to detain or extradite Posada "makes a joke of the war against terrorism." (El Diario-La Prensa 1/13/08 from EFE, quotations retranslated from Spanish)

Correction: The date of Posada's release was given incorrectly as Apr. 19, 2006 in the original version.

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