Monday, September 22, 2008

WNU #961: Striking Colombian Cane Cutters Attacked

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #961, September 21, 2008

1. Colombia: Striking Cane Cutters Attacked
2. Latin America: Markets React to US Crisis
3. Haiti: New PM Faces Storm Aftermath
4. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, 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 It is archived at

*1. Colombia: Striking Cane Cutters Attacked
On Sept. 15, at least 12,000 Colombian sugar cane cutters went on strike to protest the systematic violation of their labor rights and human rights. The workers cut sugar cane for 16 sugar mills in the Cauca river valley, primarily in the department of Valle del Cauca but also in the neighboring departments of Cauca, to the south, and Risaralda, to the northeast.

The same day the strike began, hundreds of agents from the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) of the Colombian National Police, together with army soldiers and private sugar company guards, attacked a group of striking cane cutters from the Incauca and Providencia sugar mills, injuring more than 100 workers, at least five of them seriously. Gildardo Nieves, from the Incauca mill, was badly wounded in the abdomen with a tear gas bomb which affected his vital organs. Four workers from the Providencia mill required medical treatment for open wounds and contusions to the eyes, face and torso.

The sugar workers called the strike to pressure the Association of Sugar Cane Growers, ASOCAÑA, to negotiate a list of demands presented to them by the cane cutters union on July 14. ASOCAÑA has refused to negotiate and instead took out paid ads on local radio and television stations, threatening layoffs in case of a strike and telling the community not to support or participate in the strike.

The sugar workers' union and human rights organizations grouped in the Campaña Prohibido Olvidar (Forgetting Is Prohibited Campaign) are demanding a full investigation into the Sept. 15 violence and an end to such attacks, respect for the labor and human rights of the sugar workers, and elimination of the current contracting system that forces sugar workers to endure 14-hour days and substandard wages. About 90% of the cane cutters in Valle del Cauca department are members of cooperatives which contract with the sugar companies; the government's Ministry of Social Protection claims that because the workers own the cooperatives, they don't have the right to bargain collectively or to strike. The workers want to end the contracting system and return to being hired directly by the sugar companies, as was the situation before 2000. Other demands include paid sick days and no reprisals against the strikers. (Communiqué from Movimiento de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Caña de Azúcar, Secretaría de Derechos Humanos de la Central Unitaria de Trabajadores CUT - Valle del Cauca, Asociación Nomadesc, Corporación Jurídica Utopía, Corporación Sembrar and other organizations belonging to the Campaña Prohibido Olvidar 9/15/08; El Diario del Otún (Pereira) 9/20/08; El Universal (Cartagena) 9/20/08 from Colprensa; El País (Cali) 9/20/08; see also: and

"We demand job stability; since the government of César Gaviria (1990-1994) we have been losing a percentage of our income because they kicked us out of the sugar companies, and now we have to pay social security and payroll taxes ourselves," said Azael Castro, a cane cutter for the Manuelita company. (El País (Cali) 9/20/08)
As of Sept. 20, the sugar strike was continuing; strikers were maintaining blockades at the entrances of the sugar mills, and production was halted. The news agency Colprensa reported that the strike had shut down four of Colombia's largest ethanol distilleries, causing ethanol shortages in the central area of the country. This in turn has led to a price increase for gasoline, which is sold mixed with ethanol.

Hundreds of family members of striking cane workers and other community supporters marched in the municipalities of El Cerrito and Pradera in Valle del Cauca on Sept. 19 to show their support for the workers' demands. The two municipalities are located between the Manuelita and Providencia sugar mills. (El Universal (Cartagena) 9/20/08 from Colprensa)

According to a report in the newspaper El Diario del Otún, published in Pereira, capital of Risaralda department, the strike so far involves more than 12,000 sugar workers and is affecting the Manuelita, Providencia, Pichichí, Cauca, Mayagüez, María Luisa and Central Tumaco plantations. The National Cane Cutters Union, which organized the strike, predicts that as of Sept. 23 more cane cutters will join in from the Risaralda, Ríopaila, Cabaña and La Carmelita plantations. (El Diario del Otún 9/20/08)

The workers and human rights groups are asking that messages be sent to Colombian officials supporting their demands; for details see the communiqué posted in English and Spanish at Send copies of all messages to Campaña Prohibido Olvidar at and Asociación Nomadesc at . (Communiqué from Movimiento de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Caña de Azúcar, Secretaría de Derechos Humanos de la Central Unitaria de Trabajadores CUT - Valle del Cauca, Asociación Nomadesc, Corporación Jurídica Utopía, Corporación Sembrar and other organizations belonging to the Campaña Prohibido Olvidar 9/15/08)

*2. Latin America: Markets React to US Crisis
Latin American currencies rose dramatically on Sept. 19 after the US government proposed an unprecedented $700 billion bailout of US financial companies holding bad debt. The Brazilian real went up 3.5% to 1.8298 to the US dollar, its biggest gain in six years, while the Colombian peso jumped 6.7% to 2,050.9 per dollar--the peso's biggest advance in at least 13 years, according to the Bloomberg news service. The rise in the currencies followed four days of equally dramatic declines as markets reacted to a financial crisis in the US that included the collapse of the Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. investment firm and a $85 billion bailout of the American International Group Inc. (AIG) insurance company. The real fell 4% from Sept. 15 to Sept. 18, while in Mexico City, stock prices on the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV) fell 8.3% between Sept. 16 and Sept. 17. (Bloomberg 9/19/08; La Jornada (Mexico) 9/18/08, some from wire services)

The ups and downs in Latin American markets were in line with turmoil in markets around the world. In contrast to other financial crises over the past 15 years, this time the crisis started in the US and other rich countries, not in the emerging markets. In the current situation, the emerging markets, especially in Asia, represent the only areas in the world with strong growth. The US reacted to previous crises by demanding that countries like Mexico and Argentina impose the neoliberal economic policies widely known as the "Washington Consensus." Now the situation is reversed. Walter Molano, an emerging markets analyst for the Connecticut-based BCP Securities investment firm, called the US bailout plan "incompetent" and compared it to plans made in Argentina in the past. The US "needs something like the Washington Consensus for Latin America," he said. (Clarín (Buenos Aires) 9/21/08)

The US financial crisis is expected to have a strong effect on Mexico, whose economy is closely linked to the US economy. Appearing before Mexcian congressional committees on Sept. 17, Finance and Public Credit Secretary Agustín Carstens Carstens called the US financial crisis "the worst in a half century" and predicted that the Mexican economy wouldn't resume significant growth until the last quarter of 2009. Analysts noted that Mexico will be especially affected by the decline in the US building industry, since hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants work in construction and supplement the Mexican economy with remittances to their relatives. (LJ 9/17/08, 9/18/08)

In recent years most South American economies have tried to reduce their dependence on US investments and trade. In La Paz on Sept. 18, representatives of the Bolivian state petroleum company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), signed an agreement with the Russian Gazprom company and France's Total for exploration for natural gas in Bolivia's southeast region. The energy project, the country's largest since the nationalization of the petroleum industry in 2006, will involve an investment of $4.5 billion. President Evo Morales said that there was an understanding that cooperation will extend beyond exploration and exploitation to include industrialization. (LJ 9/19/08 from correspondent and wire services)

*3. Haiti: New PM Faces Storm Aftermath
On Sept. 5 the Haitian Senate voted 16-0 with one abstention to approve a cabinet proposed by incoming prime minister Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis. This ended a five-month period in which the country was gvoerned by a caretaker cabinet [see Update #957]. (AlterPresse 9/5/08; Haiti Support Group News Briefs 9/5/08 from Reuters)

The new cabinet faces devastation left by four tropical storms that hit the country from Aug. 16 to Sept. 7 [see Update #960]. More than 550 people died because of the storms, and Pierre-Louis said as many as 1 million Haitians might have been left homeless. As of Sept. 18 the authorities estimated that losses in the agricultural sector were more than $180 million. The country doesn't have the resources to deal with the situation, the prime minister said. "We need major support and it is time for the world to understand that." (AlterPresse 9/17/08, 9/18/08; Haiti Support Group 9/13/08 from BBC)

As of Sept. 15, the US government had promised $29.3 million in aid, including $800,000 from the Defense Department to pay for rescue equipment. The US has also given logistical support with helicopters and a ship, the USS Kearsarge. (AlterPresse 9/19/08)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico

Violence on Chile's 9-11 commemoration

Uruguay: The Politics of Recent History

Bolivia: Opposition Accepts Morales's Call for Talks

The Machine Gun and The Meeting Table: Bolivian Crisis in a New South America

Reactionary Rampage: The Paramilitary Massacre in Bolivia

Bolivia: A Coup in the Making?

Bolivia: Pando governor arrested; US turns up the heat

Bolivia: who controls Pando?

Bolivia: 18 dead in Pando, governor ordered arrested

Peru: Piura Votes, A Dangerous Precedent

Peru: Buried But Not Forgotten on International Day of the Disappeared

Bolivia: government regains control of gas lines

Colombia: sugar cane workers threatened

Denmark: pro-FARC t-shirt peddlers convicted

Action Alert: Help Stop US-Colombia FTA

Cowboys and Indians of the Bolivarian Revolution

Venezuela: Human Rights Watch delegation expelled

El Salvador: FMLN activists attacked

Mexico: Bloody Independence Eve Celebrations

Mexican army seizes $26 million in Sinaloa raid

Deadly repression of prison uprising in Tijuana

International arrests follow Independence Day terror in Mexico

Mexicans block rail line to demand justice in narco-killings

Mexico's "New Labor Culture": An Interview With Union Leader Benedicto Martínez

Cross-Border Activists Escalate Fight Against "The Wall of Death"

Return of the Good Neighbor: From Cuba to Geneva

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and
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