Monday, March 31, 2008

WNU #941: Crackdown on Peruvian Leftists

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #941, March 30, 2008

1. Peru: Crackdown on Leftists
2. Argentina: Farmers Strike Continues

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: Crackdown on Leftists
As of Mar. 25, the government of Peruvian president Alan García had arrested nine leftist activists in less than month, charging that they were planning terrorist acts or were funded by the government of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías.

The Antiterrorist Directorate of the National Police of Peru (PNP) arrested seven activists on Feb. 29 as they were trying to return to Peru after attending a Feb. 24-27 conference of the leftist Bolivarian Continental Coordination (CCB) in Quito. The PNP claims the CCB supports two rebel groups, Peru's Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). According to PNP director general Octavio Salazar, the activists were planning to sabotage two summits to be held in Peru this year: the Latin American-European Union (ALC-UE) in May and the Asian Pacific Cooperation (APEC) in November. One of those arrested, Roque Gonzales La Rosa, served eight years in prison for the kidnapping of a Bolivian politician. The arrests came the day before an attack by the Colombian military on a FARC camp in Ecuadoran territory which set off a brief diplomatic crisis between Colombia and the left-leaning governments of Ecuador and Venezuela [see Updates #937, 939, 940].

Two more CCB members were arrested on Mar. 17 as they were allegedly trying to deposit $65,000 from Ecuador; Peruvian authorities said they suspected the money came from Venezuela. CCB founder Fernando Rivero told media in Venezuela that the group is autonomous and receives no support from Chávez's government.

Meanwhile, a congressional committee has begun investigating the Centers of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas ("Casas de ALBA," referring to a trade bloc promoted by Venezuela and Cuba). This is a nongovernmental organization with 150 offices in Peru providing medical attention to poor Peruvians, often by Cuban doctors in Bolivia and Venezuela. Its spokespeople deny receiving funds from Venezuela. Antiterrorism prosecutor Julio Galindo charged that "countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Guatemala" were trying "one way or another to destabilize" Peru. But former interior minister Fernando Rospigliosi said García's government was exaggerating the influence of the ALBA centers and the CCB "to make the public believe that the social movements which are being created by other causes are coming from a foreign influence."

The North American group Rights Action is calling for letters to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights (email, and Peru's embassies in Canada (fax 613-232-3062, email and the US (fax 202-659-8124, to "express...concern that the Peruvian government is violating fundamental human rights through the incarceration of its citizens for participating in political meetings and protests." (El Comercio (Quito) 3/1/08 from EFE; Notiver (Veracruz, Mexico) 3/25/08 from AP; Rights Action alert 3/22/08)

*2. Argentina: Farmers Strike Continues
Argentine farmer groups and the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner held six hours of talks on Mar. 28 aimed at ending a 16-day-old producers' strike that had restricted food supplies in major cities. Strike supporters lifted some of the blockades they had maintained on highways throughout the country, but more radical sectors said this was only a 48-hour truce and stayed at their positions at highway entrances.

The producers were protesting Fernández de Kirchner's increase in taxes on soy, a major export crop for Argentina. The president, from the left wing of the populist Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), insisted that she would not give in to "extortion" from the producers. She noted that many of the strikers were very wealthy and contrasted their "protests of abundance" with the "protests of poverty" in the early 2000s when "thousands of Argentines [were] blocking streets and highways because they needed work," along with middle-class demonstrators who had lost their savings in the 2001 financial crisis. According to Argentine journalist Stella Calloni, the strike is led by the far-right Argentine Rural Society. Strike supporters held a protest in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires the evening of Mar. 25. Calloni says most of the 5,000 protesters beating on pots and pans were from the capital's richest neighborhoods. Some activists referred to the strike support actions as "fashion protests."

The government has been backed by many activist groups, including the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA). A Maoist and a Trotskyist group were backing the strike, although not its rightwing leadership. Many groups, including the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Movement (MST), rejected both the government and the strike. The National Picketer ("Piquetero") Bloc said: "[W]e working people and broad sectors of the middle class find ourselves like the salami in the sandwich in this conflict of the 'country' against the government... No one cares about the situation of the people." (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/26/08, 3/27/08, 3/28/08, 3/29/08 from correspondent; Prensa de Frente (Argentina) 3/28/08)

Correction: In the original version we inadvertently called the MST the "Movement Toward Socialism"; see Update #960.

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Paraguay: Campesino Leader Charged For Confronting Crop Spraying

Bolivia: Government, Opposition Clash in Cooking Oil War

Ecuador: Manta Air Base Tied to Colombian Raid on FARC Camp

Yankees Head Home

Military Crisis in South America: The Results of Plan Colombia

The Andean Crisis and the Geopolitics of Trade

WSJ terror-baits free trade opponent

The Specious "National Security" Argument

Fruit Giant Chiquita Sued for Colombia Deaths

The Last Rebels of the Caribbean: Garifuna Fighting for TheirLives in Honduras

UN: Mexico Violating Human Rights of Migrants

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, March 24, 2008

WNU #940: Peruvian Indigenous Seize Oil Field, Ecuador IDs Colombian Bombs

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #940, March 23, 2008

1. Peru: Indigenous Seize Oil Field
2. Peru: Ex-Officer Loses Massacre Suit
3. Ecuador: ID Bombs Used on FARC Camp

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: Indigenous Seize Oil Field
At least two people were killed and 12 wounded on Mar. 22 in Peru's northeastern Loreto department in clashes between police and mostly Achuar indigenous workers who had been occupying installations on the Pluspetrol Norte oil company's lot 1AB since Mar. 20 in a labor dispute. The clashes occurred after the workers attempted to take over the Andoas airport on Mar. 22; they were then removed by police agents, who stayed to patrol the area.

According to a National Police communiqué, indigenous people firing shotguns killed police officer Jaime Armando Reyna Ruiz and wounded 11 other agents who were on patrol. Police colonel Armando Martínez said one worker was also killed. An indigenous leader, César García, said on the Radio Programas del Perú (RPP) radio network that in fact two indigenous people were killed, while Loreto departmental president Iván Vásquez told the media that 27 people had been detained. Outside agitators were "detected...inciting the natives to attack the police," according to Vásquez.

There have been a number of disputes between Pluspetrol and the Achuar communities [see Updates #838, 872]. In October the Federation of Native Communities of the Corrientes River (Feconaco) threatened to occupy oil wells if the company failed to comply with agreements it signed in 2006 relating to environmental issues and social programs. Local communities occupied some facilities in January. In the current dispute the workers are demanding a 50% wage increase. Pluspetrol, which is largely owned by Argentines, said it was in negotiations with the communities before talks were broken off because of the Mar. 20 occupation. The company said it was losing 23,000 barrels a day because of the occupation; the usual daily production is 47,000 barrels, according to Pluspetrol. (AFP 3/23/08; El Comercio (Ecuador) 3/23/08 from EFE; La República (Lima) 3/23/08)

*2. Peru: Ex-Officer Loses Massacre Suit
On Mar. 5 US District Judge Adalberto Jordan in Miami ordered retired Peruvian army major Telmo Ricardo Hurtado to pay $37 million to two survivors of a 1985 massacre in which soldiers under Hurtado's direct command killed 69 indigenous campesinos, mostly women and children, in the highlands village of Accomarca. The plaintiffs, Teófila Ochoa and Cirila Pulido, survived the massacre as teenagers, losing many of their close relatives. They sued Hurtado, who fled to the US in 2002, under the 1789 Alien Torts Statute; the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) represented them [see Update #935]. The $37 million award is mostly symbolic; Hurtado is currently in immigration detention.

Three Peruvian military units, led by officers Juan Rivera, David Castañeda and Luis Robles, backed up Hurtado's unit during the 1985 massacre. Rivera, currently in immigration detention in Maryland, is also being sued by Accomarca survivors with support from the CJA. Castañeda lives in Boston, where he has repeatedly applied for political asylum. Robles is still an active duty army officer in Peru, although his movements have been restricted because of an investigation by the courts. (Inter Press Service 3/5/08)

*3. Ecuador: ID Bombs Used on FARC Camp
Citing unnamed sources in the Ecuadoran Air Force (FAE), on Mar. 21 the Quito daily El Comercio reported that US "smart bombs" of the sort the US fired at Iraqi targets during the 1991 Gulf War were the ones the Colombian military used in a Mar. 1 attack on a camp of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ecuadoran territory. More than 20 people were killed, including FARC second-in-command Raúl Reyes and four visiting Mexican students [see Updates #937, 939].

The FAE sources reportedly said the camp was hit with 10 GBU 12 Paveway II bombs, 500-pound laser-guided weapons made by the US; the same sources said these bombs are not usually part of the arsenal employed with Brazilian Supertucano airplanes or Israeli Kfirs, the planes favored by the Colombian Air Force. The Colombian military insists that it used conventional bombs, fired from eight of its planes: five Supertucanos and three US-built A-37 planes. Ecuadoran authorities also are questioning the reasons for the flight of an HC-130 airplane, used for refueling helicopters, from the US base at Manta, Ecuador, just hours before the Mar. 1 attack. On Mar. 20 the ABN agency distributed a FARC communiqué, dated Mar. 14, charging that the US Southern Command had led the attack. The FARC also denied that Reyes' computer could have survived the bombing, "which pulverized everything around it." The Colombian government has charged that the computer has files compromising the Ecuadoran and Venezuelan governments. (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/21/08 from AFP, DPA, Prensa Latina; 3/22/08 from AFP, DPA, Notimex; AFP 3/23/08)

On Mar. 17 the Bogotá daily El Tiempo published a photograph, supposedly from a laptop computer found at the FARC camp, which it said showed Reyes together with Ecuadoran internal and external security minister Gustavo Larrea. It was in fact a picture of Patricio Etchegaray, general secretary of the Communist Party of Argentina, who said he had a long interview with Reyes three years ago at a rebel camp. El Tiempo issued a retraction in the afternoon, saying its information came from the Colombian police. El Tiempo is partly owned by the Santos family, which currently has two members in the government: Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos Calderón. (LJ 3/18/08 from DPA, AFP, Reuters)

Relations remained tense between Ecuador and Colombia, which have not resumed normal diplomatic relations since just after the Mar. 1 attack. On Mar. 21 Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa said the situation would get worse if it was true that one of the 23 people killed in the attack was Franklin Aizalia Molina, an Ecuadoran mechanic who lived with his parents in Quito. The parents said photographs of a body identified as that of FARC negotiator, propagandist and songwriter "Julián Conrado" (Guillermo Enrique Torres) were really of their son, who had disappeared around the time of the attack. The Ecuadoran government was to send a delegation of officials and relatives of Aizalia Molina to Bogotá on Mar. 24 to present fingerprints and genetic material to help establish the body's identity. (LJ 3/23/08 from Prensa Latina, DPA, AFP)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Paraguay: Elections, Yellow Fever, and a Meddling Ambassador

Fighting for Survival in Paraguay's Green Desert Wonderland

Peru: Coca Advocates Protest Suggested UN Ban

Chiquita sued over FARC payments

London Court Rules in Favor of Venezuela in Dispute with Exxon

Another SOA? Police Academy in El Salvador Worries Critics

Electrical workers union side-steps strike in Mexico City

Strike at Metropolitan University continues: second month

Grupo Modelo (Corona) out to smash independent union

Reciclamos! Is Community Recycling a Sustainable Livelihood in Coastal Mexico?

Cuba: Transvestites and Crossdressers Key Workers Against AIDS

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, March 18, 2008

WNU #939: Women's Day Protests, Ecuador Probes US Role in Attack

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #939, March 16, 2008

1. Latin America: Women's Day Protests
2. Mexico: Rural Activist Killed
3. Ecuador: Probes US Role in Attack
4. Argentina: Ex-Officer in Suicide?
5. Uruguay: Ex-Officer Wins Round in Italy

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: Women's Day Protests
Hundreds of Guatemalan women commemorated International Women's Day on Mar. 8 with a march through Guatemala City's Historic Center to demand an end to violence, to impunity and to discrimination against women. "Enough of all this violence," they chanted as they marched from the Supreme Court of Justice to the Plaza de la Constitución. In a theatrical presentation near the Metropolitan Cathedral, a group of women with painted faces mimed a rescue of a girl kidnapped by a soldier. Groups of indigenous women and girls also demanded an end to racism and to discrimination against women.

Hundreds of Salvadoran women marched in San Salvador, demanding greater "attention" to the violence women suffer. In Nicaragua, women demonstrated in different parts of Managua for the restoration of therapeutic abortion, which was criminalized by the National Assembly in October 2006 [see Update #873]. The protests were organized by the Women's Autonomous Movement and the Feminist Movement, which are composed of different civil society groups. Honduran women demanded the solution of murders of women in recent years, more respect for women's rights, and better working conditions.

In Uruguay women who work in the government and representatives of all the political parties met in a United Nations office to sign a joint work plan for the next two years. (El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 3/9/08 from combined wire services)

Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa used an official celebration in Emiliano Zapata, Morelos, to announce a new women's rights program, Pro-Equality, and regulations to enforce a year-old law to protect women from violence. Calderón listened as Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza, an indigenous Zapotec, charged that she was denied the post of mayor of Santa María Quiegolani, in Oaxaca, in a Nov. 4 election because she is a woman. Calderón said that by the end of his term in 2012 the government expects to bring about a 50% reduction in income disparity for women, a 30% reduction in the number of households in extreme poverty headed by women, and a 70% reduction in sexual harassment at the workplace. (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/11/08)

*2. Mexico: Rural Activist Killed
At around noon on Mar. 14 a group of armed men killed farmer leader Armando Villarreal Martha with submachine gun blasts near his house in Nuevo Casas Grandes municipality, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Villarreal Martha was the leader of the National Agrodynamic Organization (OAN). He was well-known for his campaigns for lower electricity rates for farmers and campesinos, and was imprisoned for a year and a half before being acquitted of charges in connection with the occupation of the Janos and Villa Ahumada customs station in 2002. Earlier this year he was involved in national protests calling for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) [see Updates #929-931, 933] and in demands for the reactivation of the petrochemical industry to make fertilizers and other chemicals cheaper for farmers. He ran as a local candidate for the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1988 and for the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in 1992. (La Jornada 3/15/08)

*3. Ecuador: Probes US Role in Attack
On Mar. 11 Fernando Cordero, vice president of Ecuador's Constituent Assembly, told Ecuavisa television that the Assembly's Sovereignty Commission would "do an audit" of the US military base at the southwestern town of Manta to see if the base was used in a Mar. 1 bombing raid by the Colombian military against a camp of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) inside Ecuadoran territory [see Update #937]. The FARC second-in-command, Raúl Reyes, was killed in the raid, along with about 20 other guerrillas and four visiting Mexican students. On Mar. 6 Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa indicated that the attack was carried out with "smart bombs"; some people doubt that the Colombian air force has the capability to use these hi-tech weapons. The US will have to leave the base in 2009, when a 10-year lease expires. (La Jornada 3/12/08 from AFP, PL, DPA, Reuters)

On Mar. 4 the Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR) started an investigation of the four dead Mexican students and the one surviving Mexican, Lucía Morett Alvarez, for possible links to the FARC. Some Mexican media have also suggested links to drug trafficking. In a Mexico City press conference on Mar. 14, family members denied that the students were members of any armed group. Morett's aunt, María Alvarez Moctezuma, said her niece, who is hospitalized in Quito for treatment of her injuries, was on a visit to the camp to carry out "interviews that would enrich her researches." Morett's parents have noted that Mexico failed to issue a complaint against Colombia for the attack on five unarmed Mexican citizens. (LJ 3/15/08)

*4. Argentina: Ex-Officer in Suicide?
On Feb. 25 the body of retired Argentine military officer Lt. Col. Paul Alberto Navone was found by an employee of the Air Force's Hotel Parque, in Ascochinga, a town some 55km north of Buenos Aires. He had been shot in the chest; a 9mm pistol and a suicide note were found near the body. Navone, who lived in Ascochinga, had been scheduled to appear that day before federal judge Myriam Galizzi in an investigation of the disappearance of twin babies born in Paraná, Entre Ríos province, in 1978, during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship's "dirty war" against suspected leftists. The parents were Raquel Negro and Tulio "Tucho" Valenzuela, a leader of the Montoneros rebel group. Claiming ill health, Navone had gotten his court appearance postponed to Mar. 3.

The government has been investigating the kidnapping of some 600 babies during the dictatorship, generally the children of leftists who were disappeared by the military. Former navy officer Héctor Febres was also expected to testify in the investigation when he died suddenly on Dec. 10. The cause of death was a heart attack, but there were traces of cyanide in his body, and two coast guard officers were charged with homicide [see Updates #927, 929]. Estela de Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, which has agitated for decades for clarification of the theft of the babies, said she would demand an investigation to see if Navone "was eliminated, as may have happened with Héctor Febres." (Clarín (Buenos Aires) 2/26/08; Página 12 (Buenos Aires) 3/2/08)

*5. Uruguay: Ex-Officer Wins Round in Italy
On Jan. 17 the Review Court of Rome dismissed the Italian case against former Uruguayan navy captain Néstor Jorge Fernández Tróccoli, who was arrested in Salerno on Dec. 23 in connection with Operation Condor, a clandestine program of cooperation between South American militaries during the 1970s and 1980s [see Update #929]. Fernández Tróccoli, who headed Uruguay's secret services for the 1973-1985 military dictatorship, is one of 140 military officers and soldiers from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay that Italy is seeking for crimes against more than 25 people of Italian origin. The Italian court found that there was insufficient evidence against Fernández Tróccoli. However, as of February he was still held in prison because of an extradition request from Uruguay. (Terra (Spain) 2/6/08 from EFE)

More breaking stories from alternative sources:

Brazil: Activists protest at World Biofuels Market

Chile: Emerging Party Seeks Self-Government for Mapuche People

Bolivian Social Movements Mobilize for Constitutional Referendum

Colombia: US hand in Raul Reyes hit?

Hypocrisies of a US-backed Crisis

Photo Essay: Colombia--Massive Demonstrations Against Paramilitary and State Terror

Justice Department harasses Salvador solidarity committee

Waiting for Hector: An Implacable Fight for Justice in Nueva Linda, Guatemala

Belize Sows Seeds for Food Security

Mexico: Mass graves in Ciudad Juárez

Mexico: Pemex scandal hits Calderón administration

Mexico: guerilla convicts' sentences reduced

Mexico: Brad Will family protest Oaxaca investigation

Mexico: Oaxaca--APPO activist freed from prison

Mexico: Tabasco Maya community joins Zapatista movement

Mexico: Chiapas--two more sentenced in Acteal massacre

Mexico: Chiapas--prisoners on hunger strike; land conflicts continue

For more Latin America news stories:

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:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

WNU #938: "Truce" in Puerto Rican Teachers Strike, NAFTA Under Fire

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #938, March 9, 2008

1. Puerto Rico: "Truce" in Teachers Strike
2. Mexico: NAFTA Under Fire on All Sides
3. Colombia: Bush, Uribe Push FTA

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: "Truce" in Teachers Strike
At a massive assembly in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan on Mar. 5, some 10,000 members of the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) almost unanimously backed the union leadership's recommendation to suspend a strike that started on Feb. 21 over wages, classroom size and health issues [see Updates #932, 936, 937]. FMPR president Rafael Feliciano recommended that the union start a process of reflection and analysis on the strengths and weaknesses of the strike, although without acceding to Law 45's ban on strikes by public employees. The assembly also strongly rejected the reported interference of the US-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its vice president, Dennis Rivera, in the situation.

Education Secretary Rafael Aragunde had met six of nine conditions the union set for returning to work. These included a commitment not to penalize teachers who observed the strike; an agreement not to privatize the education system (through charter schools); a $150-a-month pay hike that will raise the monthly base salary to $1,750 as of July 1 (in addition to a $100 raise that went into effect on Jan. 1); and an agreement to seek legislation that would gradually raise the base rate to $3,000. But some of these agreements were made before the strike, and the government has not backed down from its decertification of the union, which the FMPR is challenging in court. Negotiations are to continue on other issues, and the union reserves the option of resuming the strike.

The union and the Education Department continued to disagree on the effectiveness of the 10-day job action. The department insisted that by the strike's conclusion 82% of the teachers were back in the classrooms and student attendance had reached 68%. But FMPR president Feliciano said 50% of the schools had remained paralyzed by the strike. Many teachers crossed picket lines, some because they opposed the strike and some because they feared reprisals from the government, but many teachers militantly staffed the picket lines and turned out for several large demonstrations. The Mar. 5 assembly was reportedly the largest in the union's history.

The strike also won support from many students and parents, and from other unionists. In New York City, with a large population of Puerto Rican descent, professors and other employees in the City University of New York (CUNY) backed the FMPR. On Mar. 4 more than 80 New Yorkers maintained a picket line in front of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) on Park Avenue in solidarity with the strikers.

Decertification would mean the FMPR was no longer the exclusive bargaining agent for the teachers, and it would lose automatic dues checkoffs. At the Mar. 5 assembly, the union passed out forms to members authorizing a new vote for exclusive representation if the FMPR remains decertified; they were also asked to sign forms authorizing deduction of their FMPR dues from their paychecks. (Bandera Roja (Puerto Rico) 3/4/08, 3/6/08; Claridad (Puerto Rico) 3/6/08; Primera Hora (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) 3/5/08; El Paso Times (Texas) 3/7/08 from AP)

*2. Mexico: NAFTA Under Fire on All Sides
At a Feb. 29 press conference in Mexico City, researchers from the Economic Investigations Institute (IIEC) of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) gave a generally negative assessment of the economic impact of the 14-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Mexico. According to the institute's Emilio Romero, Mexico has lost 2 million agricultural jobs during the period, while 400,000 Mexicans now migrate to the US each year. José Luis Calva said that since NAFTA took effect in 1994, Mexico's growth rate has averaged 3% a year, as opposed to a rate of 6.1% a year from the end of the 1910 revolution until 1982. Agricultural production has increased, he said, but productivity increased much more slowly than in the US; Mexico's rate grew from 1.7 to two tons per hectare while the US rate grew from seven to 8.9 tons.

Calva recommended that NAFTA's three members--Canada, Mexico and the US--pool resources to aid the development of Mexico's most backward regions, and loosen restrictions on immigration by the labor force in order to allow an improvement of wages. This process would be similar to what happened in the European Union (EU), he noted. (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/1/08)

In the US, the two contenders for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination for the November elections, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), both criticized NAFTA while campaigning for a Mar. 5 primary in Ohio, where the agreement is unpopular. Clinton's husband, then-president Bill Clinton, pushed ratification of NAFTA through Congress in 1993. There are also questions about the depth of Obama's opposition to NAFTA. According to a memo by Canadian political and economic affairs consular officer Joseph De Mora, Obama's senior economic policy adviser, University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, met Canadian officials at the Chicago consulate in February and told them that Obama's position was "more reflective of political maneuvering than policy" and "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans." (New York Times 3/4/08)

*3. Colombia: Bush, Uribe Push FTA
On Mar. 5 US president George W. Bush suggested that a diplomatic crisis which broke out between Andean nations after a Mar. 1 raid by Colombia on a rebel camp in Ecuador [see Update #937] was a reason for Congress to ratify a Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC in Spanish) with Colombia. Congress has been reluctant to back the deal, citing the Colombian government's human rights record. "If we fail to approve this agreement, we will let down our close ally, we will damage our credibility in the region and we will embolden the demagogues in our hemisphere," Bush said, apparently referring to Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. (New York Times 3/5/08)

Colombian trade, industry and tourism minister Luis Guillermo Plata was in New York on Mar. 8 to push the FTA. Accompanied by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and other officials, Plata participated in a roundtable in Queens to defend President Alvaro Uribe's human rights policies. "At this time, the government of Colombia has more than 1,900 unionists under its protection," he said, claiming that the number of murders of unionists had fallen to 26 in 2007 from 196 in 2006. Outside the restaurant where the meeting was held, a group of youths from a local group, the People's Referendum on Free Trade, chanted slogans against the FTA. (El Diario-La Prensa 3/7/08)

On Mar. 6 about 200 people rallied outside the Colombian consulate in New York to protest murders in Colombia by rightwing paramilitaries. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against the paramilitaries in Colombian cities on Mar. 6; on Feb. 4 there were even larger government-backed marches against the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (ED-LP 3/7/08)

Correction: This item originally gave Mar. 8 as the date for the marches against the paramilitaries in Colombia; the marches were on Mar. 6 both in Colombia and in New York.

More breaking stories from alternative sources:
Argentine War Criminal Works with US Department of Defense

Food & Energy Sovereignty Now: Brazilian Grassroots Position on Agroenergy

Bolivia, Peru resist international pressure on coca

Iran to launch TV station in Bolivia's coca country

Bolivian electoral court halts referendums; eastern regions voice defiance

Bolivia to Hold New Constitution Referendum on May 4

The Cost of Power: Coal Mining and Human Rights in Colombia

Colombian high court issues ruling on Peace Community

Chavez CIA-baits Venezuelan "anarchists"

Violence at university workers strike in Mexico City

Hope in the Time of NAFTA

Cuba going globophile?

Andean Crisis Special:
Lines drawn in Andean crisis

Colombian Military Incursion Into Ecuador Sparks Regional Crisis

Latin American Anti-Militarist Declaration

Uribe: Chávez supports "genocide"

Colombia charges: Chávez funds FARC

Colombia Border Trouble

Russian "death merchant" busted in Thailand linked to FARC?

Mexican students killed in Colombian strike on Ecuador?

Colombians march against state, paramilitary violence

Washington's Role in Current Conflict Between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador

Uribe's Colombia Destabilizing Latin America

Colombia Menaces the Region: Interview with Fred Fuentes in Caracas

Yankees Go Home: U.S.'s Unspoken Role in the Andean Conflict

From war fever to schmoozing: Andean crisis resolved?

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:

Sunday, March 2, 2008

WNU #937: Colombia Kills FARC Negotiator

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #937, March 2, 2008

1. Colombia: FARC Negotiator Killed
2. Puerto Rico: US Union Denies Rumors

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. Colombia: FARC Negotiator Killed
The Colombian military killed 18 members of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ecuadoran territory early in the morning of Mar. 1, including the group's second-in-command and chief spokesperson and negotiator, Raúl Reyes. According to Colombian defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, "a human source" gave information that Reyes had arrived in the area, near the San Miguel river in a zone known as Granada, bordering on Colombia's southern Putumayo department. Shortly after midnight the Colombian air force bombed the camp where Reyes was staying. Afterwards, the Colombian military removed Reyes' body to Colombia "to keep the guerrilleros from taking it away," Defense Minister Santos said; photos of the corpse quickly appeared in the media.

The Colombian military said Guillermo Enrique Torres ("Julián Conrado"), another FARC negotiator, was killed in the operation; there were also reports that Reyes' partner Gloria was killed. (Reyes, whose real name was Luis Edgar Devia, leaves three children; two of them are medical professionals.) Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa said his country's soldiers later found the other FARC members' bodies "in underwear, pajamas." They were "massacred while they slept," according to Correa. The Ecuadoran soldiers also rescued three wounded guerrilleros.

In addition to commanding the FARC's Southern Front, Reyes headed failed 1998-2002 peace negotiations with former president Andrés Pastrana; he remained the group's most visible spokesperson. He was killed just three days after the FARC's Feb. 27 release of four hostages--former National Congress members Gloria Polanco, Jorge Eduardo Gechem, Luis Eladio Pérez and Orlando Beltrán--to Venezuela. [This was the second release since the beginning of the year; see Update #930.] Former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, who accompanied the freed hostages to Caracas, called Reyes' killing "a premeditated blow to the process" of starting prisoner exchanges between the government and the FARC. "A few months ago I was with Reyes in one of his camps," she told the Mexican daily La Jornada, "and I was able to verify his wish to achieve an exchange, so that his death is a great loss not just for the FARC but also for hopes for peace for Colombia."

The New York Times noted that the FARC's highest commander, Manuel Marulanda Vélez ("Tirofijo"), is reportedly ill; with Reyes gone, Eastern Front commander Jorge Briceño Suárez ("Mono Jojoy"), known as a hardliner, is a "contender to succeed" Marulanda.

The Colombian government's decision to attack the FARC in Ecuadoran territory heightened tensions with both Ecuador and Venezuela, whose leftist governments are allied. According to President Correa, rightwing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe called him and said the Colombian military had attacked while "in hot pursuit" of the FARC. Citing the evidence that the guerrilleros were in fact asleep, Correa said Uribe either "was deceived, or yet another time he has lied to the Ecuadoran government." On the evening of Mar. 1 Ecuador formally protested the incursion into its territory; on Mar. 2 Correa told Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías that he was recalling Ecuador's ambassador, Francisco Suescum, from Bogotá and was moving troops towards the Colombian border.

On Mar. 2 during his weekly television program, "Hello, President," Chávez announced that he was closing Venezuela's embassy in Bogotá and was sending 10 battalions to the border with Colombian. A Venezuelan battalion can have 576 soldiers; the Venezuelan military has about 40,000 soldiers, including reservists. Chávez called Reyes' killing "a cowardly murder, coldly prepared," and described Uribe as a "lackey," a "liar" and a "criminal" who "does what [US president George W.] Bush tells him to do." (LJ 3/2/08 from correspondent, AFP, DPA, Reuters, Notimex; NYT 3/2/08 from correspondent; El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 3/2/08 from AP)

*2. Puerto Rico: US Union Denies Rumors
As of Feb. 29 the 41,000-member Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) was maintaining an open-ended strike at public schools that started on Feb. 21 over wages, classroom size and health issues [see Update #936]. Meanwhile, controversy continued over the role of Change to Win, a US labor federation reportedly jockeying to replace the FMPR as the teachers' representation. New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez noted that Dennis Rivera--vice president of the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a major component of Change to Win--seems to be deeply involved in the effort. Calling Rivera "the most influential Puerto Rican labor leader in the US," Gonzalez said members of independent unions in Puerto Rico "never expected" to see Rivera "treat them just like those old Washington labor leaders have done for so long."

Rivera has denied rumors reported in the New York Spanish-language daily El Diario-La Prensa on Feb. 23 about an alleged meeting with Puerto Rican governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá in September at a San Juan restaurant; Rivera supposedly offered Acevedo $3 to 4 million in political donations in exchange for the elimination of the FMPR. "That's a total fabrication," Rivera told Gonzalez on Feb. 28, although he said he did "meet with the governor of Puerto Rico in a public restaurant around August.... I've met with him maybe 20 times." According to El Diario-La Prensa correspondent Jesús Dávila, the executive director of the Brotherhood of Health Employees, Sixto Alvelo, saw Rivera and Gov. Acevedo meeting with former FMPR leaders at the Atlántica restaurant on Sept. 22. When Dávila asked the governor's office about the meeting, Acevedo denied through a spokesperson that he had met with Rivera at the Atlántica at any time in 2007 to discuss the FMPR; he also denied that there had been any offer of money. (Daily News 2/29/08; ED-LP 3/1/08 from correspondent (print edition only)

Correction: In the print and email versions of Update #936 we should have described Peruvian politician Ollanta Humala as a "former presidential candidate"; we also cited the Cuban news service Prensa Latina for the item, which actually came from La Prensa of Panama.

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