Sunday, July 27, 2008

WNU #956: Mexicans Start PEMEX Referendum

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #956, July 27, 2008

1. Mexico: PEMEX Referendum Starts
2. Colombia: Bogotá Unionist Found Dead
3. Haiti: Téléco Probe Hits McCain Backer
4. Haiti: Constant Convicted in New York
5. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, 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. Mexico: PEMEX Referendum Starts
On July 27 voters in Mexico's Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and nine states were scheduled to vote in a non-binding referendum on President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's proposals to allow more involvement the state oil monopoly, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), by local and foreign private companies. Voters were to answer yes or no to two questions: "1) Currently the exploitation, transport, distribution and refining of hydrocarbons are exclusively activities of the government. Do you agree or not that private companies should now be able to participate in these activities? 2) In general, do you agree or not that the initiatives currently being debated in Congress relating to energy reform should be approved?"

The vote has been promoted by former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and by an alliance of left parties known as the Broad Progressive Front (FAP). Congress and the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) refused to implement the referendum, arguing that it has no basis in the Constitution or in Mexican law. The DF's PRD government is sponsoring the vote in the capital, while in the rest of the country political and social organizations are organizing the balloting.

The July 27 vote includes the DF, México state, Michoacán, Guerrero, Morelos, Tlaxcala, Baja California Sur, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo. In the DF 17,000 volunteers were to oversee voting at 5,586 ballot boxes; 25,000 people volunteered to manage 6,500 ballot boxes in the nine states. A total of 12 million ballots--one for each question--were printed for the DF. The operation is headed by Manuel Camacho Solís, now a PRD politician but formerly Mexico City mayor (1988-1993) for the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the head government negotiator in 1994 talks with the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). A group of intellectuals and artists have been prominent in the drive to turn out the vote.

Two more stages are planned in the referendum: the southeastern states and a few others are voting on Aug. 10, while the northern and western states vote on Aug. 24. Organizers said they expected the votes in the DF and México state to be tallied by the end of the day on July 27. (Mexican Labor News and Analysis, July 2008, Vol. 13, #7; La Jornada (Mexico 7/27/08, _, _ )

*2. Colombia: Bogotá Unionist Found Dead
The body of Colombian unionist Guillermo Rivera Fúquene was found buried in a garbage dump in a rural area of Ibagué, Tolima department, on July 15. Rivera Fúquene, an economist in the Bogotá Controller's Office and the president of the Public Services Union of Bogotá (Sinserpub), disappeared on Apr. 22 after putting his daughter on a school bus in the Tunal section of the capital. According to his wife, Sonya Betancur (also given as "Sonia Betancourt"), the last news she heard after his disappearance was that he had been detained by the police. The center-left Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA), of which Rivera Fúquene was a member, said it had indications from a witness and videotapes that the Bogotá police were involved. The authorities in Ibagué determined that Rivera Fúquene was strangled and then buried on Apr. 28.

In a press conference in Bogotá on July 15 after Rivera Fúquene's body was identified, members of the Unitary Workers Confederation (CUT) charged that the government was carrying out a "dirty war" against members of leftist groups. The CUT demanded an investigation into the murder and said "the facts demonstrate that, contrary to the official propaganda, there still aren't sufficient guarantees on the part of the state" for leftists "to exercise constitutional rights to life, liberty and union organizing and participation." (Notice from Confederacíon de Trabajadores de Colombia 7/15/08; El Tiempo (Colombia) 7/17/08; TeleSUR 7/18/08, some from EFE)

*3. Haiti: Téléco Probe Hits McCain Backer
On July 14 former US Congress member James "Jim" Courter (R-NJ, 1979-1991) resigned from the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in which he was one of 20 national finance co-chairpeople. The resignation followed a July 9 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fine IDT--the New Jersey telecommunications company of which Courter is CEO--$1.3 million for failing to file a contract for telephone service to Haiti in 2004, during the administration of President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

The fine results from a 2005 lawsuit by IDT's former manager for the Caribbean, Michael Jewett, who claims he was fired when he balked at negotiating an illegal deal involving IDT, Aristide and Haiti's state-owned telephone monopoly Télécommunications d'Haïti (Téléco). According to Jewett, IDT's long-distance payments to Haiti were just 8.75 cents a minute rather than the legal tariff, 23 cents, which mainline US carriers such as AT&T were paying. In exchange for the lower rate, IDT allegedly sent its payments to a shell company, Mont Salem (or Mount Salem) in the Turks & Caicos, which then sent 3 cents to Aristide and the rest to Téléco.

According to New York-based investigative reporter Lucy Komisar, IDT was tightly linked to prominent Republican politicians. The company's board included former Massachusetts governor William Weld, former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former US ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick. Courter himself is close to US vice president Dick Cheney, Komisar told Radio Métropole, a Haitian radio station. Except for Courter, the Republican politicians all bailed out after Jewett's suit was unsealed in July 2005. (Condé Nast Portfolio 7/11/08, 7/15/08; Radio Métropole 7/23/08)

Aristide supporters, who say the administration of Republican US president George W. Bush removed the Haitian president from office in 2004 because of his leftist stances, deny the claims that IDT was paying a kickback to Aristide. They say Komisar's reporting is suspect because it is funded by the anti-Aristide Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project (HDP). Turks & Caicos lawyer Adrian Corr--who Komisar says is legal counsel for Aristide at Miller Simons O'Sullivan--and Aristide's US attorney, Ira Kurzban, both say they are contemplating a defamation suit against Komisar and Portfolio, a monthly business magazines that carried her stories on its website. (Haïti Liberté 7/23/08)

*4. Haiti: Constant Convicted in New York
On July 25 a jury in Brooklyn, New York, convicted rightwing paramilitary leader Emmanuel ("Toto") Constant of mortgage fraud [see Update #910]. He faces a 5-to-15 prison sentence in New York, followed by deportation to Haiti. "The trial proved there is rampant fraud in the mortgage industry," said Constant's lawyer, Samuel Karliner. "His role was minor." But attorney Jennie Green from the New York-based nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) expressed a "hope that after [Constant] serves a stiff sentence in New York, he faces trial" for crimes in Haiti that included "murder and rape and other torture of thousands." (New York Daily News 7/25/08; CCR press release 7/25/08)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico

Eduardo Galeano - Latin America: A Kingdom of Paradoxes

United States Announces IV Fleet Resumes Operations Amid South American Suspicions

Total Recall in Bolivia: Divided Nation Faces Historic Vote Written

Bolivian President Evo Morales on the WTO's Round of Negotiations

Peru's García unpopular despite boom

Ecuador: Tension rises in the 'citizens' revolution'

Wayward Allies: President Rafael Correa and the Ecuadorian Left

Colombia: FARC releases eight hostages

Robert Gates joins PR offensive for Colombia FTA

Scenarios for the FARC

Nicaragua: The Tenuous Indigenous-Sandinista Alliance

Guatemala: Forced Disappearance and the Search for Justice in El Jute

Oaxaca: After the Barricades

Mexico: excavations conclude at "dirty war" site

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