Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #954, July 13, 2008
1. Peru: Campesinos, Workers in General Strike
2. Haiti: Third Try to Appoint PM
3. Mexico: US-UK Firm Teaches Torture?
4. Links to alternative sources on: UNASUR, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, 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 email@example.com. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/
*1. Peru: Campesinos, Workers in General Strike
On July 8, thousands of Peruvians mobilized for the first day of a 48-hour national agricultural strike, called by the National Agrarian Confederation (CNA) and the Campesino Confederation of Peru to demand the repeal of a decree that makes it easier to sell campesino and indigenous land. The campesino mobilizations were strongest in the regions of Cusco, Puno, Ayachucho, Ucayali, Madre de Dios, Huanuco and Tacna. (Télam (Argentina) 7/8/08; La Jornada (Mexico) 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters) The decree, D.L. 1015, was signed on May 20 by President Alan García; it allows communally owned indigenous and campesino land to be sold to private investors with the vote of a simple majority of communal assembly members. The previous regulation, Law 26 505, required a two-thirds vote of the qualified members of each community in order for communal lands to be sold. (AIDESEP Communiqué 7/8/08) The new regulations also apply to the approval of mining concessions on communal lands. (LJ 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)
The Inter-Ethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP) warns that the new decree is a threat to more than 7,000 communities and hundreds of thousands of families in the Andean and Amazon regions of the country. "For campesino communities in Peru, communal lands are the material basis of life, an ancestral institution, a space of indigenous peoples' social, economic and cultural identity, where life is organized on the basis of democracy and social justice criteria, and the practice of ancient forms of communal work on the land (minga, aynia)," AIDESEP said in a statement. (AIDESEP Communiqué 7/8/08)
Campesinos blocked vehicle traffic on the streets of Yurimaguas in Loreto region, in the northern Amazon, and in Madre de Dios region, in the southern Amazon on the border with Brazil and Bolivia. In the Andes, campesinos blocked roads linking the city of Cusco with the cities of Puno and Abancay. The demonstrators also blocked the route of the train that takes tourists from Cusco to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, and dug trenches into the Valle del Ares route to prevent cars, buses and trucks from getting through. In Puno, in the southern Andes, demonstrators blocked urban and rural transport, cutting off the roads linking the region to Arequipa and Cusco.
The second day of the campesino strike, July 9, coincided with a 24-hour national general strike called by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) to protest the García government's economic policies and support the demands of the campesino and indigenous movements. The government had declared the CGTP's strike illegal and accused the organizers of being politically motivated. (Télam 7/8/08) On July 7, the government published a resolution in the official newspaper, El Peruano, authorizing the intervention of the Armed Forces in support of the National Police during the July 8-10 protests. (La República (Lima) 7/7/08)
Hundreds of thousands of Peruvians participated in the July 9 combined protest activities: the national strike, the Amazon and agrarian strikes and at least eight specific regional protests. CGTP general secretary Mario Huamán said workers in the retail vendor, textile, agroindustry, transport, crude oil, fishing and education sectors supported the national strike overwhelmingly. Mobilizations were strongest in the southern Andes and in the Amazon. A total of 216 people were reported arrested in incidents around the country, most of them for blocking roads in the southern regions, the country's poorest area and a stronghold of opponents of Garcia's government.
Campesinos mobilized and blockaded highways for a second consecutive day on July 9 in the southern regions of Arequipa, Tacna, Moquegua and Puno, joining other labor sectors and social movements. Schools, markets and malls were closed, and city streets were empty. In Arequipa, all traffic into and out of the city was blocked, and women staged a noisy protest by banging on pots and pans. In the city of Juliaca in Puno, stores were shut and there was no urban transport service. In the late morning, thousands of demonstrators marched through the city. In Santa Rosa, a district of Puno's Melgar province, passengers stranded by a protest roadblock got out of their vehicles and joined the strikers in an impromptu soccer match.
In the central Andean region south and east of Lima, all commerce was shut down in the cities of Cusco and Huancavelica (capitals of the regions of the same names) and in the province of Apurímac in Apurímac region. In Huancavelica, soldiers fired their weapons in the air when some 100 protesters seized the region's hydroelectric facility, according to Peruvian National Police director Octavio Salazar. (LR 7/10/08, __ ) A group of people trashed the Huancavelica regional offices of the government program "Juntos," stealing three computers and burning files and documents. "Juntos" is the National Program of Direct Support to the Poorest, a cash assistance program created in April 2005. (LR 7/10/08; RPP Noticias 7/9/08)
Cusco was completely paralyzed, with near-total support for the strike: more than 90% of residents skipped work or school. Bus drivers observed the work stoppage and PeruRail again suspended its operations, preventing more than 1,500 tourists from reaching Machu Picchu. Regional organizers estimated that some 100,000 people mobilized in marches and protests in Cusco province (a subdivision of the region, equivalent to a county). (LR 7/10/08; LJ 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters) The protests were peaceful; Cusco residents observed an agreement reached days earlier to allow the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings being held in the city July 9-11 to go on without disruption. (Andina Agencia Peruana de Noticias 7/7/08; LR 7/10/08)
In Ica region, protesters blocked the Panamerican South highway between kilometers 290 and 295 for six hours before police intervened and broke up the scene using tear gas bombs. The clash left five police agents hurt and 12 wounded. Demonstrators marched to the main plaza in the city of Ica, the regional capital. Traffic was also blocked in the towns of Chincha and Pisco, in Ica region.
In Lima, the strike's main impact was a reduction in public transportation and the blocking of traffic by hundreds of workers marching from different points of the capital to a rally in the central Plaza 2 de Mayo. The government deployed soldiers to assist police in keeping control of streets, airports and strategic services such as water and electricity.
In the Andean region northeast of Lima, commerce was shut down in the cities of Huánuco (capital of Huánuco region) and Huaraz (capital of Ancash region). More than 40,000 people marched through the streets of Huaraz, demanding the resignation of regional president (governor) César Alvarez.
In the city of Trujillo, capital of La Libertad region on Peru's northern coast, students, workers and professors from the National University of Trujillo burned tires near the university campus. Later some 12,000 people marched through the city. Blockades and demonstrations also took place farther north in the coastal city of Chiclayo, capital of Lambayeque region.
In the region of Tumbes, bordering with Ecuador on the northern coast, more than 5,000 members of the Association of the Board of Users of the Special Trade Treatment Zone of San Pedro de Tacna, a coalition of 45 associations of small business owners, mobilized to demand that import taxes be reduced from 8% to 4% and that more merchandise be allowed to enter the country. Also in Tumbes, a clash broke out between construction workers trying to seize the Tumbes bridge and police agents determined to stop them. Police used tear gas bombs against the crowd; from the demonstrators' side, bottles, rocks and sticks were thrown at police.
The northern Amazon city of Iquitos, capital of Loreto region, was paralyzed as thousands of protesters converged in a march that covered more than 20 blocks. Participants included indigenous communities, labor unions, social movements and political parties.
The biggest conflict took place in Madre de Dios region, in the southern Amazon, where the campesino strike had begun on July 7 to protest Decree 1015. In Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital, demonstrators marched to the offices of the regional government to demand that regional governor Santos Kaway Komor participate in the mobilization. But the governor was not present, and the crowd grew angry. Police intervened with tear gas bombs, triggering a fire that quickly consumed the building. In the resulting fray, at least 21 police agents were reported injured by rocks and arrows, and firefighters were allegedly blocked from reaching the scene. An unspecified number of local residents were also injured. As gas tanks inside the government building exploded, the crowd fled in panic; thieves then looted the offices, and robbed a cash machine at a Banco de la Nación branch down the block. Correspondents for the Lima daily La República said the fire was started by members of the Native Federation of Madre de Dios. But in the afternoon, the regional Defense Front held a press conference denying that demonstrators were responsible for the fire and the vandalism, blaming it instead on infiltrators, possibly sent by the government. Luis Zegarra, leader of the Defense Front, told La República that after three days of striking, local residents felt indignant because the regional government appeared to be ignoring their demands. Still, he said, "the people of Madre de Dios are peaceful." (LR 7/10/08, __; LJ 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)
The strike was called to protest the high cost of living and the government's failure to keep its promises. Peru has experienced a nearly 10% economic growth rate recently, but that growth has come with what Huamán called an "incessant rise in the cost of living." Workers are demanding an overall salary increase to compensate for the inflation, and want the government to change "the neoliberal economic policy that attacks the interests of the poorest people." The recent economic growth has been concentrated in the capital and coast regions, while the Amazon and Andes regions have been left behind.
The strike also served to channel the discontent of specific sectors and regions. In Ayacucho, the Front to Defend the People's Interests marched to demand the expulsion, on sovereignty grounds, of 200 US soldiers who have been stationed in the area since June, allegedly carrying out civic activities. (LJ 7/10/08 from AFP, DPA, Reuters)
*2. Haiti: Third Try to Appoint PM
On June 23 Haitian president René Préval nominated economist Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis to succeed acting prime minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was forced to resign on Apr. 12 following violent protests over the rising cost of food [see Update #943]. Préval made two other nominations before naming Pierre-Louis; Parliament rejected both [see Update #951]. Pierre-Louis was an official at the National Airport Authority from 1979 to 1982, during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc," 1971-1986), and held a cabinet post in the first administration of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1991. She has worked with various nonprofit organizations and has been director of the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL), which funds libraries, youth education programs and women's networks in Haiti; it is supported by the Open Society Institute of US financier George Soros. If confirmed, Pierre-Louis would be Haiti's second woman prime minister. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs 6/23/08 from Reuters; AlterPresse 7/12/08)
Business sectors support Pierre-Louis, and on July 11 the Franco-Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CFHCI) and the Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy (CLED) called on Parliament to move ahead with the confirmation. (AlterPresse 7/11/08) Activists have objected to FOKAL's connection with Soros, a proponent of the neoliberal economic policies that many blame for Haiti's current economic crisis. Supporters of Aristide's Lavalas Family (FL) party oppose Pierre-Louis because she broke with Aristide during his second administration (2001-2004) and publicly criticized his government. At a conference in Miami on July 9, LF supporter Father Gérard Jean-Juste--who was imprisoned by the interim government that succeeded Aristide in 2004 [see Updates #834, 835]--denounced "the collaboration of Michèle Pierre-Louis with the Duvalier dictatorship as an official of the International Airport."
There have been rumors about Pierre-Louis' sexual orientation. On July 9 Rev. Sylvain Exantus, president of the Protestant Federation of Haiti (FPH), called for a commission to investigate the nominee's morals, saying that the Bible calls sexual relations between people of the same sex an "abomination." The Catholic church hasn't expressed a position, but Jérémie bishop Willy Romélus remarked that if the rumors about Pierre-Louis were true, she wouldn't be the first person with a same-sex orientation to occupy an elevated position in the Haitian government. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse 7/8/08, 7/9/08)
*3. Mexico: US-UK Firm Teaches Torture?
According to the online magazine Narco News, the company that taught torture methods to police agents in León in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato [see Update #953] is Risks Incorporated, a private security firm with offices in Miami and the United Kingdom. One of the two instructors involved in the training may be Risks Incorporated's Andrew "Orlando" Wilson, who served in the British military 1988-93, including 22 months in Northern Ireland. The other instructor appears to be Gerardo "Jerry" Arrechea, a Cuban-Mexican martial arts instructor; he seems to be the same "Jerry Arrechea" that the rightwing Miami-based Comandos F4 organization lists as its Mexican contact. In 2007 Risks Incorporated said its instructors used "psychological torture" in some courses "to show how easy it is to break a hostage and we're being nice!" (Narco News 7/7/08)
Officials in León, which is governed by the center-right National Action Party (PAN) of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, have refused to apologize for the training. On July 10 they showed a videotape of two agents who had been victimized in the sessions. In the tape the two agents, identified by nicknames, said they were "happy" with their treatment. (La Jornada 7/11/08) But on July 11 Mayor Vicente Guerrero Reynoso apologized publicly for the treatment of León resident Angel Segura Medina by police on Mar. 21. After arresting him for beating his wife, three agents beat Segura Medina for 30 minutes. (LJ 7/12/08)
On July 8 Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), announced the resignations of DF public safety secretary Joel Ortega Cuevas and DF prosecutor Rodolfo Félix Cárdenas as the result of a June 20 police operation in which 12 people were killed, several of them under age. While raiding the News Divine discotheque for serving alcohol to minors, DF police agents attempted to arrest the patrons and blocked the exits, causing a fatal stampede. A report by the DF Human Rights Commission noted that any minors being served alcohol were legally victims and should not have been subject to arrest. The DF, which is governed by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), has followed a policy "in which youths are criminalized, especially the poorest ones," the report said. (LJ 7/9/08, __ )
*4. Links to alternative sources on: UNASUR, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico
UNASUR and the Challenge of Being South American
Argentina: Mining Corp. Charged with "Crimes Against Environment"
Get On The Bus: Curitiba, Brazil Rolls Out a Transit Solution
Bolivia: USAID Expelled From Chapare
Politics in Bolivia: Volatile Loyalties, Deep Divisions
Peru general strike: land struggle or "conspiracy"?
Peru: Matsés indigenous people say no to oil exploration
Peru: loggers attack "uncontacted" indigenous people
French deal in Colombia hostage case?
FARC leaders captured in rescue operation to face extradition?
Chávez in lovefest with recent Colombian nemesis
Nicaraguans Demand Justice from World-Bank Financed Sugar Cane Company
US Embassy Admits to Intervention in 2004 Salvadoran Presidential Elections
Federal police occupy Mexican village in toxic waste fight
Narco-killing spree in Tijuana, Culiacán
Survivors demand justice after Matamoros girls drown in Rio Grande
Confrontation Over Mexican Oil Privatization Plan Intensifies
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Sunday, July 13, 2008
WNU #954: Peruvian Campesinos, Workers in General Strike
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