Monday, February 25, 2008

WNU #936: 5 Killed in Peru Trade Protests, Puerto Rican Teachers Walk Out

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #936, February 24, 2008

1. Peru: 5 Killed in Trade Protests
2. Puerto Rico: Teachers Start Walkout
3. In Other News: Peru, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Argentina & more

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. Peru: 5 Killed in Trade Protests
Campesinos and farmers started an open-ended strike in eight Peruvian departments on Feb. 18, holding marches and blocking highways to demand government measures to ease the impact of a free trade agreement (FTA, or TLC in Spanish) with the US. The action was called by the National Convention of Agriculture (Conveagro), the National Council of Irrigation Users (JNUDR) and the National Agrarian Confederation (CNA). According to JNUDR president Enrique Málaga, the FTA, which is to lift tariffs on heavily subsidized US farm products, will harm more than 1.75 million Peruvian farms.

One protester was killed in Barranca, north of Lima, on Feb. 18; police said he was shot by an angry motorist. Three more protesters were killed on Feb. 19: two were shot dead when police fired into a march in Ayacucho department in the central Andean region; another protester fell to his death as he was fleeing police tear gas near the Pan-American Highway in the southern department of Arequipa. At least 150 people were arrested. The government declared a state of emergency in the eight departments on Feb. 19, and by the end of the day the organizers had suspended the strike and resumed negotiations with the government.

Also on Feb. 19, teachers marched on Congress in Lima to protest a decree by social democratic president Alan García on the hiring of teachers with university degrees in the public schools.

Despite the suspension, campesinos continued the strike through Feb. 20 in the southern departments of Cusco, Arequipa and Ayacucho to protest the four deaths in the preceding days. According to CNR radio, a fifth protester, Edgar Huayta Saccsara, was killed during the Feb. 20 strike. He was reportedly shot in the head during disturbances in Huamanga, capital of Ayacucho; some 73 other people were injured. Also on Feb. 20, US ambassador Peter Michael McKinley spoke out in favor of the trade pact, which the US Congress approved in December [see Updates #925, 927]. It would "establish modern systems of trade regulation and design a discipline which will improve Peru's competitiveness and promote its prosperity," he said. (Bloomberg News 2/21/08; Earth Times 2/20/08; TeleSUR 2/19/08, some from EFE, 2/20/08, some from RPP, EFE, AFP; Prensa Latina 2/20/08)

The protests continued two more days in Cusco, where local people called a 48-hour strike starting on Feb. 21 to protest a law allowing companies to set up businesses near archeological zones. Strikers blocked roads out of the city of Cusco, while some 500 marched in the downtown area. On Feb. 21 protesters marched on the airport, causing some damage and leading the authorities to suspend flights for the duration of the strike. Hundreds of tourists were stranded, but five of them--three from Argentina, one from Colombia and one from Spain--were reportedly detained by the national police in Cusco for joining the protests. (AFP 2/22/08; Living in Peru (Lima) 2/21/08)

On Feb. 22, Peruvian vice president Luis Giampietri blamed the week's protests on "subversion" by former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala and his Nationalist Peruvian Party (PNP). (La Prensa (Panama) 2/24/08 from DPA)

*2. Puerto Rico: Teachers Start Walkout
After 27 months of negotiations and despite official efforts to decertify their union, tens of thousands of Puerto Rican public school teachers went on strike on Feb. 21. Public employees are barred from striking under Puerto Rican law, and the government of Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá announced that it would keep schools open. Striking teachers blocked school doors and in some cases chained them shut. Police agents beat a teacher with clubs at the entrance to the Gabriela Mistral school in San Juan on Feb. 21 and threw her to the ground. At least 12 teachers were arrested across the island on the first day.

Education Secretary Rafael Aragunde said 71% of the system's 41,046 teachers went to their classes at the 1,523 schools on Feb. 21, although he said just 31% of the 523,399 students were in attendance. But the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the island's largest union, insisted that 26,000 teachers observed the strike the first two days and 8,500 participated in picket lines. According to the union, 90% of the students stayed home and 85% of the schools were completely paralyzed.

With a basic annual salary of $19,200, the teachers are demanding a doubling of their pay over the next eight years, a maximum class size of 15 and improvements in health conditions at schools. The Education Department and the FMPR have agreed on 26 articles in a contract; they disagree on 20 articles and have yet to negotiate 16 more. (El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 2/22/08 from AP; Terra (Spain) 2/21/08 from EFE; El Sentinel (Orlando, FL) 2/22/08 from EFE; Bandera Roja (Puerto Rico) 2/23/08)

Unconfirmed rumors are circulating that the US-based Change to Win labor federation has offered Gov. Acevedo's Popular Democratic Party (PPD) $3 to 4 million to guarantee the liquidation of the FMPR, which the US unions hope to replace [see Update #932]. (ED-LP 2/23/08 from correspondent, print edition only)

*3. In Other News...
In a letter made public on Feb. 19, Fidel Castro Ruz officially announced that because of health problems he would no longer serve as president of Cuba's Council of State or as the country's commander in chief. Castro had been the official head of state under different titles since February 1959, when then-president Manuel Urrutia appointed him prime minister. His brother Raúl Castro has been acting president since July 2006. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/20/08 from correspondent)... Argentine president Cristina Fernández hosted a meeting in Buenos Aires on Feb. 23 with Bolivian president Evo Morales and Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about a possible energy crisis in the countries and to consolidate plans for regional integration. Bolivia has offered to redirect some of its natural gas to Argentina from Brazil, where the winters are milder. Earlier in the week Buenos Aires hosted a meeting of Latin American and Arab foreign ministers; trade between the two regions has been on the rise. (LJ 2/24/08 from correspondent)... In a communiqué made public on Feb. 21, Mexico's rebel Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) denied any connection to the Jan. 30 shooting death of police director Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, a bodyguard and two civilians in the southern state of Oaxaca [see Update #934]. Barrita Ortiz headed a police unit that guards banks and other businesses; the government blames his death on criminals. The communiqué said he was involved in the May 2007 disappearance of two EPR leaders, Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sánchez [see Update #907], but charged that he was murdered because he had become "inconvenient for the government of [Oaxaca governor] Ulises Ruiz [Ortiz]." (LJ 2/22/08)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Argentina: Soy Pesticide Dangers Ignored

Uruguay: Spirit of Afro Resistance Alive in Candombe

New Versus Old Right in Paraguay's Presidential Election

Bolivian Military Withdraws From Controversial US Army Training School

Nicaragua's maritime dispute with Colombia heats up

All charges dropped against "Suchitoto 13"

National Intelligence Director: Venezuela to intervene in Salvadoran elections

From US to El Salvador: "Gangs" and the "Global War on Terror"

Security fences go up--within Mexico

John McCain: Mr. Big Stick in Latin America

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

For immigration updates and events:


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

Monday, February 18, 2008

WNU #935: Uprising After Unionist Killed in Panama

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #935, February 17, 2008

1. Panama: Uprising After Unionist Killed
2. Mexico: Strikebreaking Protested
3. Mexico: Oaxaca Teachers Protest
4. Peru: Colina Group Used SOA Lessons

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. Panama: Uprising After Unionist Killed
Airomi Smith, a university student and a leader in Panama's largest union, the Only Union of Construction and Similar Workers (SUNTRACS), was killed in Colón on Feb. 12 by a gunshot to the abdomen from a police weapon. Smith's death came during one of a number of demonstrations the union had been holding to oppose the high cost of living and to demand better safety conditions at construction sites; some 50 construction workers have died in job-related accidents in the past two years. Eliseo Madrid, a member of a National Police (PN) division known as "The Lynxes," was ordered detained on Feb. 14 in connection with Smith's death; another police agent, Marcos Pérez, was summoned as a witness.

On Feb. 13 tens of thousands of SUNTRACS members protested the killing with demonstrations at or near construction sites throughout the country. Starting before dawn, workers burned tires and set up barricades in Panama City's main roads. In Colón, workers closed the main highway to the capital and apparently set a police truck on fire. Social security workers marched in Colón in solidarity with SUNTRACS members, while University of Panama students protested in Panama City. In Chiriquí province, at the border with Costa Rica, workers closed down the Pan-American Highway.

The police responded with massive operations against the demonstrations, using tear gas and rubber bullets; protesters responded with rocks. In Panama City, the police shot jets of water at university students from a special truck. The police reported that eight agents were injured and 151 protesters arrested; SUNTRACS put the number of arrests at 300.

On Feb. 14, thousands of workers marched on the presidential palace to demand the resignation of Government Minister Daniel Delgado and Police Chief Rolando Mirones. Protests broke out at construction sites again on Feb. 15, with workers hurling rocks, glass bottles and sticks at police near sites where high-rise buildings are under construction on Vía Israel in western Panama City. Police reportedly stormed some of the construction sites, while agents and workers battled on Balboa Avenue in the area of Panama City near the Pacific Ocean and in the area around the papal nuncio's residence. New arrests reportedly brought the total number of detentions to 700 for the week; the economy was said to have lost millions of dollars because of the protests.

Panama is experiencing a building boom, and about 80,000 workers are now employed in construction. With some 40,000 members, SUNTRACS has a record of militant opposition to neoliberal economic policies. Two SUNTRACS members, Osvaldo Lorenzo and Luis (or Luigi) Antonio Argüelles, were killed during confrontations in Colón in August 2007, Lorenzo by a member of a company union and Argüelles by a police agent [see Updates #810, 914]. SUNTRACS leaders accuse the government of carrying out a "dirty war" against the labor movement.

On Feb. 15 SUNTRACS leader Genaro López said the protests would continue and that leaders of labor unions and grassroots organizations would meet in Panama City on Feb. 23 to analyze the situation; he said SUNTRACS members had authorized their leadership to call for a general strike if it seems appropriate. (Granma Internacional (Cuba) 2/13/08; Univision 2/13/08, 2/15/08 from AFP; La Jornada (Mexico) 2/14/08 from Reuters, DPA, 2/16/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters; Terra España 2/16/08 from EFE)

*2. Mexico: Strikebreaking Protested
A delegation of striking miners from Grupo México's Cananea copper mine in Sonora, Mexico, and of leaders from the US-based United Steelworkers (USW) visited the Capitol in Washington, DC on Feb. 13, to ask the US Congress to withhold a $1.4 billion funding package for Mexico's security forces proposed by the administration of US president George W. Bush ("Plan Mexico") until it has held public hearings to investigate the use of the police and military against the strikers on Jan. 11 [see Update #930]. "Mexico cannot be allowed to violate workers' human rights with impunity under the pretense of securing borders and combatting narco-trafficking," USW president Leo Gerard said, noting that USW members in Arizona struck Grupo México-owned copper mines for four months in 2005 over the company's "refusal to bargain in good faith." (AFL-CIO blog 2/13/08)

Government repression of the Cananea strike was also an issue in a small demonstration against Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa when he met with immigrants in Chicago's "La Villita" neighborhood on Feb. 12 as part of his first official visit to the US. Salvador Aguilar, from the USW, was one of about 50 Mexican immigrants who stood in the snow more than an hour outside a school where Calderón was holding meetings. "[W]e want him to practice what he preaches in Mexico and stop using the army and the police to destroy unions," Aguilar said. Other protesters called on Calderón to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and not to privatize the state-owned oil monopoly Petróleos de México (PEMEX). (La Jornada 2/13/08)

On Feb. 14 the union in the Cananea strike, the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic, won a legal victory when Mexican federal labor judge Máximo Torres made permanent a temporary injunction declaring the six-month old strike legal. But the Labor Secretariat indicated that it would appeal and that soldiers and police agents would continue to occupy the mine. (LJ 2/15/08)

Corrections: In Update #933 we incorrectly stated that SNTMMRM leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia was in the US; he has been living in Canada. In some versions of Update #934 we referred to the proposed $1.4 billion US security package for Mexico by its popular name "Plan Mexico" without quotation marks.

*3. Mexico: Oaxaca Teachers Protest
Some 70,000 teachers in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca suspended classes on Feb. 14 to participate in rallies in Oaxaca city and other cities; the rallies were organized by Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) and supported by members of the leftist Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). The strikers called on the national union to expedite internal elections and demanded that the government drop charges against teachers and others for their participation in five months of militant strikes and protests in 2006. Section 22 members also protested efforts by another SNTE local, Section 59, to take over some Oaxaca schools. Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz discounted the possibility that the 2006 social conflict would be renewed. The state government and Section 22 were now handling disputes through a "permanent dialogue," he said. (La Jornada 2/16/08)

*4. Peru: Colina Group Used SOA Lessons
Techniques that Peruvian military officers learned at the Georgia-based US Army School of the Americas were used in massacres carried out by the Colina Group paramilitary commando in the early 1990s, several former Colina members have confirmed at the trial of ex-president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). Fujimori is accused of ordering or approving a number of human rights violations during his administration, including the deaths of 25 people at Barrios Altos in 1991 and at La Cantuta University in 1992 in operations by the Colina Group. The techniques said to come from SOA manuals and classes included the use of clandestine graves and lime to bury the victims. According to the newspaper La Primera, the military officers who organized Peru's commandos and the counterinsurgent "dirty war" were trained at SOA, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). (Prensa Latina (English) 2/8/08)

On Feb. 11 former Operative Intelligence agent Pablo Atúncar Cama testified at Fujimori's trial that the Colina Group had planned to kill then-Congress member Javier Diez Canseco in 1992. The group had followed him and his security detail; they decided to machine gun the center-left politician in his car as he was leaving Congress, but the operation was called off at the last minute, Atúncar said. (La República (Peru) 2/11/08)

Two former Peruvian military officers who attended arms orientation classes at SOA in 1981-1982, Telmo Ricardo Hurtado and Juan Rivera Rondón, are currently being sued in federal court in Miami for leading the units responsible for the death of 69 unarmed civilians living in the Andean highlands of Peru on Aug. 13, 1985. The plaintiffs, survivors of the massacre who lost relatives, are suing under the Alien Torts Statute; they are represented by the San Franciso-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA). (Common Dreams 2/12/08 from SOA Watch)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:
Cosmetic Changes: The Argentine Economy after the 2007 Elections

Understanding Lula's Strength

Uruguay: Building Autonomy, One Co-op at a Time

US Is Funding Opposition Groups in Bolivia

US Embassy in Bolivia Tells Fulbright Scholar and Peace Corps to Spy on Venezuelans and Cubans

Colombia: air force bombs marijuana growers?

Controversy Dogs Coal Operations in Colombia

Peruvian Media Portrays New Student Leaders as Terrorists

Colombian youth protest military draft

Chávez, Exxon play oil-price brinkmanship

Venezuela: "Exxon Will Never Again Do Business in This Country"

El Salvador: terrorism charges dropped against "Suchitoto 13"

Mexico broaches oil privatization--almost

Narcos, not guerrillas behind Mexico City blast

Mexico: HRW blasts National Human Rights Commission

Chiapas: paramilitaries freed from prison--attack bus route?

Mexico: paramilitaries assassinate indigenous activist in Guerrero

The Militarization of the World's Urban Peripheries

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

For immigration updates and events:

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

Monday, February 11, 2008

WNU #934: FBI Arrests Machetero Suspect in Puerto Rico

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #934, February 10, 2008

1. Puerto Rico: FBI Arrests Machetero Suspect
2. Cuba: Growing Criticism of Rules
3. Nicaragua: Women's Coop May Lose Its Land
4. Mexico: Oaxaca Top Cop Shot
5. US: Activists Protest Plan Mexico

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. Puerto Rico: FBI Arrests Machetero Suspect
On Feb. 7 the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Puerto Rican independence activist Avelino González Claudio, a suspected leader of the rebel Popular Boricua Army (EPB)-Macheteros. According to Luis Fraticelli, who heads the FBI in Puerto Rico, the arrest was carried out without incidents in the northern town of Manatí. "We don't know what condition our compañero is in at this point," Alvin Couto, an attorney and spokesperson for the Socialist Front of Puerto Rico, said on Feb. 10.

González Claudio had been sought for 22 years in connection with the 1983 armed robbery of $7.2 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Connecticut. In 1985 the FBI arrested 11 of 17 suspects in the case, including EPB leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, who was released on bail in 1988 and went into hiding in 1990. Ojeda was later convicted in absentia and sentenced to 55 years in prison; he died in a massive assault FBI agents mounted at a house where he was living with his wife on Sept. 23, 2005. González Claudio's arrest came shortly after the US government issued subpoenas to three Puerto Ricans in New York to testify before a federal grand jury, presumably in relation to the EPB; the hearings have been postponed twice [see Updates #818, 819, 928, 930].

González Claudio is to appear in federal court in Puerto Rico at 3:30pm on Feb. 11, represented by attorney Juan Ramón Acevedo. A number of organizations, including the Socialist Workers Movement and the Human Rights Committee, plan to protest outside the federal building in Hato Rey, near San Juan. The Socialist Front's Couto charged that with the subpoenas and the arrest, the US is "criminalizing the independence struggle in the country to create fear and confusion." (Prensa Latina (Cuba) 2/7/08; AFP 2/8/08 via; Prima Hora (Puerto Rico) 2/10/08 from AP)

*2. Cuba: Growing Criticism of Rules
While at a Feb. 5 Havana screening of a documentary on his youth, popular Cuban singer Silvio Rodríguez criticized regulations that keep Cubans from staying in Cuban hotels reserved for tourists. "I belong to a generation that when we had 30 pesos in our pockets, we could stay in any hotel," he said. Rodríguez also criticized the requirement for Cubans to get special permission to travel out of the country.

These and similar criticisms have become common since July 2007, when acting president Raúl Castro called for a reform of the system; in September and October people participated in a series of meetings in which they were encouraged to voice criticisms. In a Jan. 19 meeting with National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcón, Information Sciences University students complained about internet access, which is lower in Cuba than in Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere. Raúl Castro himself told the National Assembly in December that there was an "excess of prohibitions and legal measures, which do more harm than good." (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/7/08 from correspondent; Reuters 2/8/08 via

*3. Nicaragua: Women's Coop May Lose Its Land
The Nueva Vida Women's Cooperative Maquiladora (COMAMNUVI), a Nicaraguan women's sewing cooperative in Ciudad Sandino, just outside Managua, says that it is about to lose its land. According to the cooperative, a certain Yelba Carvajal is suing in court to take over the land because of a typographical error in COMAMNUVI's land title; the cooperative says it purchased the land from another cooperative in the 1990s and that Carvajal bought some other land from the same cooperative.

Doing business as the Fair Trade Zone, the Nueva Vida cooperative has been operating for nine years, providing employment for 50 people, mostly single mothers. The cooperative has official free trade zone status and says it is the only worker-owned free trade zone in the world. It was formed with the support of the Center for Development in Central America (CDCA), a project of the North Carolina-based Jubilee House Community Inc. foundation, which was invited to Nicaragua in 1993 by former foreign minister Father Miguel D'Escoto. Supporters can write first lady Rosario Murillo (, with a copy to asking her "to investigate this situation assure that justice is done." (Campaign for Labor Rights Labor Alert 2/8/08)

*4. Mexico: Oaxaca Top Cop Shot
A group of five men armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles and 9mm pistols shot and killed Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, director of the Auxiliary, Industrial, Bank and Commercial Police for the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, on Jan. 30 as he was jogging on the track at the Bosque El Tequio sports complex near Oaxaca city. Also killed in the military-style ambush were one of Barrita Ortiz's bodyguards, Juan Eduardo Prado Pérez; government employee Rafael Alonso Muñoz; and sports trainer Virginia Galán Rodríguez, who won the state sports prize in 2003. Two other people were wounded. It was not clear whether Muñoz and Galán were with Barrita Ortiz's group.

Barrita Ortiz was accused of directing violent police actions against activists in Oaxaca, notably during a huge police operation on Nov. 2, 2006 and a smaller one on July 16, 2007 [see Updates #873, 908]. On the day of his killing there was speculation that the rebel Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) or the leftist Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) were involved. APPO spokesperson Florentino López Martínez dismissed the rumors: "Our movement doesn't use arms, we've said it repeatedly." State government officials suggested that the culprits were more likely to be organized crime groups, which are known to carry out large, violent attacks. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/31/08)

*5. US: Activists Protest "Plan Mexico"
On Feb. 7 Henry Ruben and other US activists were forcefully removed from a public hearing held by the US House Subcommittee on Western Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC on "Plan Mexico," a secretive $1.5 billion package of military aid to Mexico, ostensibly to fight narco trafficking. The activists had demanded that the hearing include testimony from groups that oppose the plan, including the United Steelworkers (USW) and the San Francisco-based nonprofit Global Exchange; the people called to testify were supporters of the plan, like Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon.

The protest was organized by Friends of Brad Will, a group of relatives, friends and colleagues of an independent US journalist who was killed while covering a protest in Oaxaca on Oct. 27, 2006. Oaxaca state prosecutors ruled that he was killed by leftist protesters, despite witness reports and videotapes from Will's own camera implicating two minor government officials [see Updates #872, 893]. The group is demanding an end to impunity in Mexico. (Friends of Brad Will press releases 2/7/08)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:
Argentina: Transvestites Find a Voice

Peru: Cuzco residents protest tourism development

Peru: Free Trade Deal an Andean Tragedy

Ecuador: Indigenous Confederation Inaugurates New President and Announces National Mobilization

Russia to extradite Israeli spook to Colombia

Uribe exploits mobilization against FARC

Civil Wars North and South: Perspectives on Colombia from the US Civil War

Steel Worker's Strike Shuts down Venezuela's Largest Steel Plant

Detentions, torture and violence in Chiapas

Calderón to demilitarize Mexican drug war?

"We Learn As We Go" - Zapatista Women Share Their Experiences

Video: Stop Plan Mexico!

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

For immigration updates and events:


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

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

WNU #933: Mexicans Protest NAFTA

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #933, February 3, 2008

1. Chile: Mapuche Activist Ends Fast
2. Mexico: Campesinos Protest NAFTA
3. Mexico: Mine Union Set to Deal?
4. Trade: Dominica Joins ALBA

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. Chile: Mapuche Activist Ends Fast
After 112 days on hunger strike, on Jan. 30 imprisoned Chilean activist Patricia Troncoso Robles ended a protest which started in October around demands for the release of 20 indigenous Mapuche prisoners and an end to the military's presence in Mapuche territories. In an agreement negotiated by Conference of Bishops president Alejandro Goic, Troncoso will be transferred to a prison work and study center; beginning in March she will have weekend releases. Mapuche prisoners Jaime Marileo Saravia and Juan Millalén will have the same benefits; they were part of the hunger strike but resumed eating after 60 days [see Updates #921, 929, 932].

Known by her nickname, "La Chepa," Troncoso is a non-Mapuche supporter of the indigenous cause. In 2001 she was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined about $900,000 for her alleged involvement in setting a fire on land in southern Chile occupied by the Forestal Mininco company, part of the CMPC group, which is owned by the Matte family. The family backed the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet; CMPC head Helidoro Matte has holdings worth more than $5.6 billion. (Radio Universidad de Chile 1/31/08; TeleSUR 01/31/08)

On Feb. 2 Troncoso issued a statement condemning the release of police sergeant Walter Ramírez, who had been detained in connection with the murder of Mapuche student activist Matías Catrileo Quezada [see Update #929]. She demanded that "these cowards"--soldiers and police accused of killing Mapuche activists--"be tried by civilian courts" and that "once and for all trials by military prosecutors be reformed and changed." (Kaos en la Red 2/2/08)

Correction: In this item we originally gave an incorrect translation for "La Chepa," the nickname of Chilean activist Patricia Troncoso Robles. We do not know the meaning of the nickname, which in colloquial Spanish means "hump." In some parts of the Caribbean it means "good luck." If you know the correct translation, please write us at

*2. Mexico: Campesinos Protest NAFTA
Led by a caravan of 21 tractors, tens of thousands of campesinos, unionists and activists marched through downtown Mexico City on Jan. 31 from the Angel of Independence to the Zócalo plaza, where speakers demanded a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). "NAFTA's very good--for the goddamn gringos," was a popular slogan. Artemio Ortiz, representing the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), said the neoliberal economic model exemplified by NAFTA had failed; he called for more mobilizations on Mar. 18, when Mexicans celebrate the nationalization of the oil industry; Apr. 10, the anniversary of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata's assassination; and May 1, International Workers' Day.

The organizers claimed that 200,000 people participated in the march, which was sponsored by the National Campesino Confederation (CNC), six of the 12 organizations in the Permanent Agrarian Congress (CAP), and a number of unions and other groups. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/1/08)

There were also protests in various states, including sit-ins in local offices of the Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) and blockades of highways and international bridges. (LJ 2/1/08) From Jan. 28 to 29 about 100 dairy farmers from Hidalgo and other states set up a stable at the Monument to the Revolution in downtown Mexico City to protest the low prices at which they have to sell milk to companies like Queen and Lala. The farmers gave out 25,000 liters of milk to people in the area before ending their protest in response to a promise for talks with Sagarpa and the Economy, Finance and Social Development secretariats. (LJ 1/30/08)

The government of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa has been citing statistics to show that Mexican producers have benefited from NAFTA. But protests by farmers have grown as NAFTA has phased out tariffs on agricultural products from the US and Canada. Anti-NAFTA sentiment broke out in an unexpectedly large demonstration in Mexico City on Jan. 31, 2003 [see Update #679]. This year's demonstration was even larger, bringing together rural organizations with very different political orientations and including unions and leftist groups. The CNC, with the largest contingent, is close to the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); ironically, the CNC supported NAFTA when it went into effect in 1994 under a PRI government. (LJ 2/1/08)

*3. Mexico: Mine Union Set to Deal?
As of Jan. 29 Mexican officials and representatives of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM) said they had agreed on a "no aggression" pact and were ready to negotiate starting on Jan. 30. The union and the government have had a series of confrontations since February 2006, when the Labor and Social Security Secretariat removed SNTMMRM general secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia from his post for alleged corruption. Topics for negotiation were to include the removal of police and soldiers from the giant Cananea copper mine, site of a six-month strike; the disposition of bodies never recovered from the Pasta de Conchos coal mine after a February 2006 explosion that killed 65 workers; mine safety issues; strikes likely to break out in the mining industry; and wage and contract issues [see Updates #839, 842, 930, 931]. Union representatives say they expect Gómez Urrutia to return to Mexico from the Canada by March at the latest. (LJ 1/29/08)

Corrections: In the original version we incorrectly stated that SNTMMRM leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia was in the US; he has been living in Canada.

*4. Trade: Dominica Joins ALBA
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA)--a trade pact formed by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004 as an alternative to the virtually defunct US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)--held its sixth conference Jan. 25-26 in Caracas. At the conference the Caribbean nation of Dominica officially joined the group, which by 2007 had grown to include Bolivia and Nicaragua [see Update #900]. Representatives attended from Ecuador, Honduras, Uruguay, Haiti and several other Caribbean nations.

The meeting included the signing of several trade agreements, with Nicaragua pledging to supply milk, corn, beans and beef to Venezuela while Venezuela sells Nicaragua oil under preferential terms. Cuba has an agreement to send doctors to Venezuela in exchange for oil discounts. The conference also announced the creation of an ALBA bank, starting with $1 billion to $1.5 billion of capital, to support joint efforts such as farming projects and energy ventures.

ALBA's growth remains slow. In Ecuador and Haiti plans to join face strong internal opposition. The principles behind ALBA are "like motherhood. You can't be against them," Prime Minister Ralph Gonzalez of St. Vincent and Grenadines said. "But when you start to add names--[Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez, [Cuban president Fidel] Castro, [Nicaraguan president Daniel] Ortega--people get scared. So we have to educate our people before we can become full members." Joel Suárez of Cuba's Martin Luther King Center stressed the importance of involving social movements to back governments' efforts to join ALBA. ( 1/28/08)

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