Monday, December 29, 2008

WNU #972: Brazil Signs Arms Deal With France

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #972, December 28, 2008

1. Brazil: Arms Deal Signed With France
2. Argentina: Rights Violators Stay in Jail
3. Bolivia: Literacy Campaign Ends
4. Colombia: Government Spying on Emails
5. El Salvador: Armed Groups With Plastic Guns?
6. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Trade

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. Brazil: Arms Deal Signed With France
French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed a $12 billion strategic partnership agreement in Rio de Janeiro on Dec. 23, the second day of Sarkozy's official visit to Brazil. The two presidents also finalized nearly a dozen other agreements, covering space, nuclear energy, climate change, biodiversity, professional training and scientific and cultural cooperation. Sarkozy currently holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member European Union (EU), and his visit included the renewal on Dec. 22 of a strategic partnership agreement between Brazil and the EU. After the two-day official visit, Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, were planning a vacation at a Brazilian resort.

The strategic partnership agreement includes building four diesel Scorpène submarines and the development of a nuclear-powered submarine; the submarine sales are reportedly worth as much as $6.7 billion euros (about $9 billion). Part of the first diesel submarine is to be built in Cherbourg, France, but the work will be completed in a new facility in Sepetiba, west of Rio de Janeiro, along with the other diesel vessels. The first Scorpène is scheduled to be finished in 2016, with the nuclear submarine due in 2024. France will also aid in the manufacture of 50 EC-725 transport helicopters in Brazil by the Helibras company; the helicopter deal, reportedly worth 1.899 billion euros (some $2.64 billion), includes technology transfer from France.

Lula, a leader of the leftist Workers Party, insisted that Brazil's goal was to have "military capability, not meaning to attack anyone, but to defend oneself." The agreement reflects Brazil's major efforts to build up its military force, especially to protect its Amazon resources and its deepwater oilfields, which are located some 300 km from the coasts. The agreement also shows Brazil's determination to reduce its dependence on the US. In the last five years, Brazil has increased its purchases of US arms by 38%, but purchases from France have gone up by 175%.

French companies will benefit most from the deal; they are getting about 6 billion euros (some $8.45 billion), more than all of France's arms exports in 2007 (5.7 billion euros). But French analysts say France is also seeking a strong ally outside Europe and the US, one that is less "controversial" than China or Russia and more politically stable than India. Another of France's concerns is its status as the last European country with territory in South America. Lula and Sarkozy agreed to inaugurate a bridge over the Oyapock river in 2010 to increase trade between French Guiana, which borders Brazil and Suriname. (O Globo (Brazil) 12/24/08 from correspondent; La Jornada (Mexico) 12/24/08 from DPA, Reuters; Le Monde (Paris) 12/24/08 from correspondent; L'Humanité (Paris) 12/24/08)

*2. Argentina: Rights Violators Stay in Jail
On Dec. 22 the second chamber of Argentina's federal appeals court confirmed that "there is no medical examination that would justify" releasing Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, the first president of the 1976-1983 military regime, from prison. The ruling upholds an Oct. 10 decision by federal judge Norberto Oyarbide removing Videla from house arrest and sending him to the Campo de Mayo Federal Prison under the supervision of the Federal Penitentiary Service (SPF). Videla is being held on charges that the military regime had a systematic plan to keep pregnant detainees in secret detention centers until they gave birth. The babies were then adopted by military or police families or their friends; the mothers were killed.

The appeals court's decision came the same day that the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo group announced that it had found another of the adopted children, making a total of 96 identified so far. There are estimates that 400 to 500 babies were adopted in this manner. A total of about 30,000 people disappeared during the seven years of the US-backed military regime.

Less than a week earlier, on Dec. 18, another federal appeals panel ordered the release of 14 people charged with human rights violations during the military regime at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in Buenos Aires, including Capt. Alfredo Astiz ("The Blond Angel of Death"). The court based its decision on the fact that the accused were held more than three years without a conviction. Raúl Plee, the prosecutor in the case, agreed that the lengthy detention was contrary to Argentine law but asked the court to reconsider because of the likelihood that the men would try to escape. On Dec. 19, following a public outcry about the release, the court suspended its decision. As of Dec. 22, the suspects remained in prison and the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had decided to impeach the judges that ruled for the officers' release. (La Jornada 12/23/08 from correspondent, 12/20/08 from AFP; BBC 12/19/08; Clarín (Buenos Aires) 12/20/08)

*3. Bolivia: Literacy Campaign Ends
On Dec. 20 the government of Bolivian president Evo Morales announced that a three-year literacy campaign had concluded successfully, making Bolivia the third Latin American country to end illiteracy, after Cuba (1961) and Venezuela (2005). The government said the campaign had succeeded with 819,417 (99.5%) of the 824,101 people who had been identified as illiterate. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers that a country has eliminated illiteracy as a social phenomenon when the illiteracy rate falls below 3.9%. However, the correspondent from the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada reported that some of the program's graduates "scarcely learned to sign their names and recognize some letters."

The campaign employed Cuba's "Yes I Can" audiovisual method, which is used in 38 countries, including Mexico and Haiti, with variations for local languages and conditions. Cuba supplied 30,000 televisions for the campaign, and 130 Cuban advisers and 47 Venezuelan advisers trained the 46,457 Bolivian facilitators and 4,810 supervisors. Bolivian education minister Rafael Aguilar said the cost to Bolivia was 260 million bolivianos ($36.7 million). According to Cuba's ambassador to Bolivia, Rafael Dausá, 85% of the people who benefited from the campaign were women. But the organizers were disappointed that most Bolivians chose to learn to read in Spanish rather than in the two main indigenous languages; only 13,599 completed the course in Quechua and 24,629 in Aymara. (LJ 12/20/08 from correspondent; Adital 12/22/08 from Prensa Presidencial de Bolivia)

*4. Colombia: Government Spying on Emails
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a US-based interfaith peace organization with an affiliate in Colombia, is charging that Colombian government agencies have intercepted more than 150 email accounts of nonviolent groups like the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with Colombian nongovernmental organizations. FOR says Colombia's police intelligence agency was intercepting groups' email from December 2006 until as recently as November 2008. In a letter to US ambassador William Brownfield, 14 US-based groups noted that in 2006 the US State Department gave the police intelligence agency a $5 million contract to provide "internet surveillance software." "As a result," the letter says, "US taxpayers were apparently paying for Colombian agencies to spy on legitimate US and Colombian humanitarian organizations."

The surveillance is especially dangerous for Colombian groups, since rightwing paramilitary squads, which often work closely with the police and the military, have a record of violence against human rights workers and labor organizers. The Colombian groups monitored were the Movement for Victims of States Crimes, the Colombian Network for Action on Free Trade, the Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, and the Yira Castro human rights organization. (Prensa Rural (Colombia) 12/24/08)

In other news, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced in a Dec. 21 letter to the Colombians for Peace organization that it is planning to release six hostages unilaterally in the near future: three police agents, one soldier, former Meta governor Alan Jará and former legislative deputy Sigifredo López. The FARC said it intended to release the prisoners to opposition senator Piedad Córdoba. Rightwing president Alvaro Uribe announced on Dec. 22 that he wanted to avoid a "political spectacle" and that the hostages should be turned over to the International Red Cross. (Adital 12/22/08)

*5. El Salvador: Armed Groups With Plastic Guns?
On Dec. 14 the Salvadoran government's National Security Council (CNS) held a press conference to present evidence that at least 40 armed groups were active in the country, with a total of 400 members. The evidence included photographs of residents of the community of Dimas Rodríguez, near El Paisnal in San Salvador department, allegedly receiving "military training." Many of the residents are former rebels who demobilized in 1992 as part of a peace deal between the government and the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN), now an established political party. Residents said the photographs were from a "cultural event" they have held annually for the past 15 years to commemorate the community's rebel origins; the event includes a march of people dressed as rebels and carrying plastic rifles bought from a street vendor in downtown San Salvador.

FMLN supporters and human rights groups suggested that the government's charges reflected concern that the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) would lose ground to the FMLN in Jan. 18 legislative elections and Mar. 15 presidential elections. Polls show FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes well ahead of the ARENA candidate. (Servicio Informativo "alai amlatino" 12/22/08 from ContraPunto and Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIDH))

6. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Trade

Bolivia: plot to assassinate Evo Morales?

Mercenaries at Large in Colombia

Colombia claims hit against Sinaloa Cartel

Colombia and Venezuela: Testing the Propaganda Model

Costa Rica: From 'Green' to Gold?

Nicaragua: indigenous rainforest community wins title to ancestral lands

Mexico: presidential guard, beauty queen busted in narco wars

Mexico: Zihuatanejo police chief busted for protecting Sinaloa Cartel

Mexico: army pledges to hit back after decapitations

Lipan Apache to Obama: stop border wall construction

Free Trade, the Good Cop, and Other Myths

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

WNU #971: No "Turning Point" for US and Cuba

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #971, December 21, 2008

1. Cuba: No "Turning Point" With US
2. Latin America: Brazil Hosts New Summit
3. Mexico: Miner Leader Still in Jail
4. Haiti: Reporter Threatened
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba

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. Cuba: No "Turning Point" With US
In an interview this month with the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada, Cuban National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcón said that Cuba isn't counting on a major shift in US policy towards Cuba when Barack Obama becomes US president on Jan. 20. Alarcón, who lived in New York 1966-1978 as Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, noted that "many of my friends...people of what was the American New Left in other times" had wept at Obama's victory celebration in Chicago on Nov. 4. "I understood their hope," he told reporter Blanche Petrich, but "I know that we can't expect a big turning point with respect to Cuba."

What Obama promised for Cuba was limited, Alcarcón said: "to eliminate the restrictions that [outgoing president George W.] Bush added to the ones that exist, limiting remittances and trips to the island by Cubans living in the US. Since these were executive decisions, Obama can annul them with another executive decision. Objectively speaking, this isn't either the end of the blockade [the US economic embargo on Cuban] or the end of an aggressive policy, but it's very good news for Cubans on both sides of the [Florida] Straits. It's something healthy. If he doesn't do it, forget it. He won't do anything."

Alcarcón acknowledged that there has been a change, "not a radical one, but things aren't the same." What is new about Obama, he noted, was "that he arrived at the presidency thanks to the action of millions of US citizens who don't form a political party, who don't have an organization or program. This force, amorphous, unorganized, but with the ability to win--how is it going to operate now? Will it exist afterwards?" The position of the US in the world has changed in any case, according to Alarcón: "To try to hold back the fall of the empire and impose US hegemony is no longer feasible. This madness took them to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to being isolated." (LJ 12/16/08)

*2. Latin America: Brazil Hosts New Summit
From Dec. 15 to Dec. 17 Latin American and Caribbean countries held overlapping meetings of several regional groups in Costa do Sauipe, a luxurious tourist complex near Salvador in the eastern Brazil state of Bahía. The overall intention was to increase regional cooperation and integration in response to a growing world economic crisis and the waning influence of the US.

The regional groups included: the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a trade block in the Southern Cone made up of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay with Venezuela in the process of admission; the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a four-year-old combination of Mercosur with the Andean Community (CAN) trade bloc and other South American countries [see Update #777]; and the Rio Group, which was formed in 1986 as a successor to the Contadora Group and includes 23 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The main event was the Dec. 16-17 First Summit of Latin America and the Caribbean (CALC), the first to include all of Latin America and the Caribbean without the presence of leaders from Portugal, Spain or the US. The CALC was attended by 33 heads of state. The only leaders in the region who were absent were Colombia's Alvaro Uribe and El Salvador's Antonio Saca, both close US allies; the other main US ally, Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, participated.

The decisions made at the meeting were mostly symbolic, but the regional leaders considered them significant. UNASUR formalized the establishment of a regional defense council. The Rio Group voted on Dec. 16 to include Cuba, which had previously been excluded; Cuban president Raúl Castro was present for the summit, the first he had attended since replacing his brother Fidel Castro as head of state. The day also included a one-hour meeting between Castro and Mexican president Calderón, continuing a process of improving relations between the countries [see Update #966].

The summit was less united on economic issues. Left and center-left governments now dominate the region, but Calderón promoted "free-market" approaches, warning that leftist policies would cause foreign investment to dry up even more in the recession. The summit's final declaration didn't include Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez's proposal for a $5 bilion regional reserve fund, but it did approve a proposal he made with Bolivian president Evo Morales and Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa for a regional currency. It is to be called the sucre--the Spanish initials for Single System of Regional Compensation and also the name of Simón Bolívar's close collaborator, Antonio José de Sucre.

Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the meeting's host, emphasized that Mercosur had now made preferential tariff agreements with India and the Southern Africa Customs Union, composed of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Mercosur has also decided to offset a US decision in November to suspend some trade benefits for Bolivia worth about $21 million; this was meant to punish the country for its alleged failure to cooperate in the US-sponsored "war on drugs." Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Mercosur would absorb duty-free up to $30 million in Bolivian exports next year.

In a sign of the region's growing independence, the leaders joked openly about outgoing US president George Bush and a Dec. 14 incident in which an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. The other leaders laughed when Lula threatened to throw Celso Amorim's large-size shoes at President Chávez if he spoke too long. Chávez, known for speaking past time limits, smiled and finished in five minutes. (La Jornada 12/17/08, _, _, _, 12/18/08 from correspondent; Bloomberg 12/17/08; Inter-Press Service 12/16/08; AFP 12/16/08)

*3. Mexico: Miner Leader Still in Jail
On Dec. 12 a judge in Mexico's Coahuila state ordered the release of Carlos Pavón Campos, political affairs secretary of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM), on 5.611 million pesos bail (about $426,600). Pavón Campos had been held for eight days; he was arrested Dec. 4 on charges of defrauding union members [see Update #969]. On Dec. 15, it was reported that another SNTMMRM leader, Vigilance and Justice Council president Juan Linares Montúfar, had been denied bail on charges in a similar case. The union's general secretary, leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, is also charged; he fled to Vancouver in 2006 but continues to direct the union. The original charges reportedly included officials of the Scotiabank, but no action seems to have been taken against them. (La Jornada 12/13/08, 12/15/08)

SNTMMRM leaders see the charges as an effort to break the union. "The weight of the government, which has me and Juan Linares Montú jail, is the weight of the money of the owners of Grupo México and Altos Hornos [mining and metal companies], who are willing to pay whatever is necessary to get rid of the union," Pavón Campos told the media before his release. Along with a number of Mexican unions, the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), the United Steel Workers (USW) and the Brazilian Metal Workers union (CNM/CUT) are supporting the SNTMMRM. (Mexican Labor News and Analysis, December 2008, Vol. 13, #12) The US-based Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR) is calling for letters to Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa ( ) and Labor Secretary Fernando Gómez Mont (fax +525 55 546 5350) demanding Linares Montúfar's release and an end to government interference in the union; send copies to and . (CLR labor action alert 12/20/08 via PilsenProle)

*4. Haiti: Reporter Threatened
On Dec. 10 a Haitian court sentenced journalist Joseph Guyler Delva to one month in prison for alleged defamation and public insults against former senator Rudolph Boulos. Delva and his lawyer were not present at the trial, since it had been postponed several times. As of Dec. 18 Delva was free pending an appeal. On Dec. 15 he wrote that over the previous three weeks he had received a number of death threats, including two that mentioned Boulos' name.

Delva is Secretary General of SOS Journalists and president of the Independent Commission to Support Investigations Into the Murders of Journalists (CIAPEAJ). In the fall of 2007 Delva wrote an article saying Boulos was holding his office illegally because of his dual Haitian-US citizenship; he also accused Boulos of involvement in the blocking of investigations into the April 2000 murder of radio journalist Jean Léopold Dominique. Delva received death threats and left the country for several weeks in November 2007 [see Updates #923, 926]. Amnesty International (AI) is asking for letters to President René García Préval (fax +509 2228 2244), Justice Minister Jean Joseph Exumé (fax +509 2245 0474) and National Police Director Mario Andresol (fax +509 2245 7374) calling for protection for Delva and a thorough and impartial investigation into the threats he has received; send copies to SOS Journalistes, . (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 12/11/08; Reporters sans Frontieres 12/12/08; AI urgent action 12/18/08 via Haiti Support Group)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba

Latin America: Summit Seeks Full Regional Integration

Argentina: 50,000 March against Hunger

Paraguay: Rural Associations Protest Land Occupations

Events Commemorate 40th Anniversary of Brazil's 'Coup Within the Coup D'etat'

Bolivia hosts Andean indigenous summit

Bolivia: opposition radio station attacked

A Revolution Without Borders: Reappraising Bolivia's Crisis

Ecuador Defaults on Foreign Debt

Colombia: army kills indigenous leader

Colombia: A Day That Will Live in Infamy (Once Again)

More Than 100 Experts Question Human Rights Watch's Venezuela Report

Nicaragua: '80s nostalgia in wake of contested elections

El Salvador's 2009 Election: United for Change

Canadian Company Threatens El Salvador with Free Trade Lawsuit Over Mining Project

Growing Bloodshed Rocks Guatemala

Mexico: Calderón pledges "no negotiation" with cartels

Mexico: Ciudad Juárez civil strike to protest narco violence

Mexico: anti-kidnapping expert kidnapped

GM to idle Mexican plants

Protester halts border wall construction in El Paso

Cuba Matters

Finding Common Ground in Crisis: Social Movements in South America and the US

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alternative sources:

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Monday, December 15, 2008

WNU #970: Latin American Groups Mark Human Rights Day

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #970, December 14, 2008

1. Latin America: Groups Mark Human Rights Day
2. Argentina: Mass Graves Excavated
3. Haiti: US Resumes Deportations
4. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, US policy

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: Groups Mark Human Rights Day
On Dec. 10 human rights organizations in Latin America celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by holding ceremonies, staging protests and issuing reports on the situation in their countries.

The Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights (Provea) released its 20th Annual Report on the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela on Dec. 9. The report, which covers the period from October 2007 to September 2008, notes positive developments, including advances in education and in the right to nutrition; an increase in consumption by the poorest sectors; the creation of an office for the human rights of seniors; a decline in the repression of demonstrations; and a stronger commitment by the Attorney General's Office (FGR) to fight impunity for police agents. However, Provea reported that the number of people killed by security agencies or the armed forces had risen to 274, largely through executions. It also criticized the government of President Hugo Chávez for failing to slow the country's overall homicide rate, which Provea says rose 10.86% over the year before, to more than 10,000. It noted the high number of murders of campesinos and union members, which made Venezuela one of the most dangerous countries for unionists [see Updates #968, 969]. (Adital 12/10/08; El Universal (Caracas) 12/11/08)

Since Colombian president Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, more than 14,000 people have died or disappeared for social or political reasons, not counting deaths in combat, according to statistics released by human rights organizations in Geneva on Dec. 9. The groups attributed 75% of the killings to the government. Unionists and human rights activists have had especially high murder rates, with 40 unionists murdered in the first eight months of 2008. Of the 2,700 unionists killed in the last 20 years, 480 died in 2002-2007 period. The groups said 75 human rights activists have been killed or disappeared under Uribe's government, and that 932 people were tortured during the period, including 731 that died. The government released a report on Dec. 10 that gave a more positive view of the statistics, noting that while 99 unionists were killed in 2002, the number had fallen to eight in 2007. (Adital 12/10/08)

Brazilian human rights organizations were planning to mark the Human Rights Declaration anniversary by holding their 11th National Human Rights Conference, from Dec. 15 to Dec. 18. The theme will be "Democracy, Development and Human Rights: Overcoming Inequalities." The conferences, which include government and nongovernmental organizations, started in 1996 and were held annually until 2004; since then, they have taken place every two years. The conference organizers held state and district conferences up to Sept. 15 to build for the national meeting. (Adital 12/10/08)

In Guatemala, the organizations in the Convergence for Human Rights organized a caravan that visited different sites in the capital to promote human rights demands. At the US embassy, Aura Elena Farfán, from the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, delivered a communiqué to Ambassador Stephen Macfarland calling for the right to migrate, the right to development and the right to self-determination of peoples. The caravan also planned to visit the Defense Ministry to demand that the military comply with President Alvaro Colom's order to turn over military archives. At the Chambers of Business and Industry, the protesters were planning to demand respect for labor rights, the payment of minimum wage and benefits, and the right to social security. Other activities that day included a Human Rights Festival in the Plaza Central organized by the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH). (Adital 12/10/08 from Cerigua)

In Mexico the "All Rights for All" National Network of Civil Human Rights Organizations called on the federal, state and local governments to work with human rights groups and to end what the group called a policy of criminalization of social protest. It rejected efforts to reinstate the death penalty. Members of the organization Children for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence (HIJOS Mexico) demonstrated at the government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) offices to demand the release of political prisoners and the return of disappeared persons. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/11/08)

*2. Argentina: Mass Graves Excavated
The Argentine government, the opposition and grassroots organizations all marked Dec. 10 as the 25th anniversary of the return of democratic rule after a bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The Mothers (Founding Line) and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo--organizations of women demanding the return of youths disappeared during the dictatorship's "dirty war" against suspected leftists--demonstrated in the Plaza de Mayo to demand justice for the crimes of the period. "Let's look after democracy," said Tatí Almayda, one of the leaders of the movement. "And let's get justice now, also, because the perpetrators of genocide are dying of old age--and the mothers are too."

One day earlier, on Dec. 9, experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) reported on their excavations in Pozo de Arana, a secret detention center used by the dictatorship from 1976 to 1977, or later, near La Plata in Buenos Aires province. They reported that they had found more than 10,000 charred bone fragments in four mass graves at the site, along with a wall apparently used for firing squads. The excavations, which were ordered last year by prosecutor Félix Crous, confirmed testimony by witnesses that the military executed detainees at the center and then incinerated and buried the remains. The EAAF has sent 38 bone samples to specialists in the US who worked on identifying the remains of victims of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

Former Buenos Aires province police investigations director Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz and his deputy, Ramón Camps, were responsible for Pozo de Arana; police agent Miguel Kearney was in direct command of the detention center. Camps died of cancer in 1994 without having spent a day in jail; Kearney is currently in detention and is being tried for his role at the center. Etchecolatz was sentenced to life in prison in September 2006, thanks in part to the testimony of a former detainee at the center, Jorge Julio López, who disappeared at the same time that Etchecolatz was convicted [see Updates #869, 881, 892, 917]. Among those presumed killed at the center were six students from a La Plata high school who were seized on Sept. 16, 1976 for participating in a protest over increased bus fares; they were the subject of a well-known film, "La Noche de los Lápices" ("The Night of the Pencils").

Also on Dec. 10, a court upheld preventive detention for Juan Carlos Rolón, who has been accused of the disappearance and death of journalist Rodolfo Walsh in 1977; Walsh was reportedly executed at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in the city of Buenos Aires. (La Jornada 12/11/08 from Notimex, AFP, PL; El Diario (Mexico) 12/10/08 from AFP; El País (Spain) 12/11/08 from correspondent)

*3. Haiti: US Resumes Deportations
Haiti marked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' 60th anniversary with an official ceremony organized by the United Nations at the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL), a nongovernmental organization formerly headed by Prime Minster Michéle Duvivier Pierre-Louis. The event included the screening of a film, "The Dream of Water," as the opening of a human rights film festival. The Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (Pohdh) also organized activities to celebrate the anniversary. (AlterPresse 12/10/08)

Two days earlier, on Dec. 8, the US government acknowledged that it had resumed deporting Haitians. It suspended the deportations in September after Haiti was hit by two hurricanes and two tropical storms in one month, leaving at least 800 people dead [see Update #962]. "We determined that it was appropriate to resume based on the circumstances in Haiti," Nicole Navas, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said.

"We still have thousands of cubic meters of mud being removed from [the northwestern city of] Gonaïves," Haitian consul general in Miami told the Miami Herald. "There are still people in shelters, and of course people know children are suffering from malnutrition in Haiti." "Deportations at this time are simply inhumane, sending people to conditions of famine and disease," said Randolph McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services in Miami. The policy is "so cruel and misguided that I cannot explain it by any other way than to condemn the policy as racist." (Miami Herald 12/9/08)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, US policy

Brazil: high court upholds Amazon indigenous land rights

Bolivia: drought hits campesinos hard

DEA complicit in Bolivia coke trade: Evo

Evo Morales: DEA Complicit in Bolivia Drug Trade

Ecuador announces default on "illegitimate" debt

Colombia extradites Valle Cartel kingpin

Colombia: survivors remember "Bananera Massacre"

Colombian Cane Cutters Score Victory, But Struggle of Afro-Colombians Continues

Colombia: Social Conflict Replaces Warfare

Indigenous Justice in Colombia

Colombia: "We Need a Popular Movement in Order to Win the Elections"

Colombian army's "numbers don't add up" in war on FARC

Colombia's "Capt. Nemo" on trial

No Justice for Guatemala Massacre Victims After 26 Years

Mexico: narco-war death toll doubles '07; Juárez femicide breaks records

Mexico pledges to halve greenhouse emissions--with carbon-trading

Group Calls for Obama to Suspend CAFTA

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

WNU #969: US Crisis Squeezes Latin American Economies

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #969, December 7, 2008

1. Latin America: US Deficit Squeezes Credit
2. Argentina: Government Announces Stimulus
3. Mexico: Government Tries to Save Jobs
4. Mexico: Layoffs Up, Unionists Busted
5. Venezuela: Who Killed Aragua Unionists?
6. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, US policy

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: US Deficit Squeezes Credit
Efforts by the US to fight its own financial crisis may cut Latin American governments off from access to credit at a time when they need an estimated $250 billion for financing their 2009 budgets. The US has been issuing huge volumes of Treasury bonds and is running a fiscal deficit that could top $1 trillion next year. The Latin American Shadow Financial Regulatory Committee (CLAAF)--a group of economists including former Argentine finance minister Roque Fernández and former Venezuelan central bank president Ruth de Krivoy--warns that the massive borrowing by the US government may "crowd out" Latin American and other emerging economies from the credit markets.

The drying up of credit comes as the region is already suffering from other effects of the global crisis, notably a decline of demand for exports. The CLAAF said existing funding through the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions is inadequate and that "unprecedented resources" are needed. (Financial Times (UK) 12/4/08)

*2. Argentina: Government Announces Stimulus
On Nov. 25 Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced an economic stimulus package that includes tax breaks for Argentines who repatriate money they've sent abroad and invest it in infrastructure, real estate, agriculture, industry or government bonds; tax breaks for firms that create new jobs; an amnesty on unpaid taxes for the smallest employers if they give formal employment status to off-the-books workers; and a $21 billion public works plan intended to double the number of jobs in construction.

On Dec. 5 Fernández announced an additional $3.85 billion stimulus package meant to boost the economy with $1 billion in cheap credits for the automotive sector, $1.1 billion in other consumer credits, and a 5% cut in export duties for wheat and corn--although probably not for the soy producers, who staged a series of strikes earlier in the year when Fernández tried to increase their duties [see Update #955].

The Fernández government has also been moving to regain control of funds and companies that were nationalized under the neoliberal policies of previous governments, especially during the administration of former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999). In November the government finalized legislation to nationalize some $24 billion in private pension funds [see Update #965], and some of that money will be used to finance the infrastructure program. On Dec. 4 the Chamber of Deputies voted 152 to 84 to seize the country's largest airline, Aerolíneas Argentinas, from the Spanish company Grupo Marsans; the airline was privatized 18 years ago.

Argentina enjoyed five years of strong growth after its dramatic economic collapse at the end of 2001, but now it seems to have been brought down by the world economic situation. The Center for Financial Investigations at Buenos Aires' Torcuato Di Tella University reports that consumer confidence dropped by 24% in November compared to the same period in 2007, while willingness to buy high-cost products like cars and refrigerators fell by 41%. (MercoPress (Montevideo) 11/26/08, 12/5/08; BBC 12/4/08)

*3. Mexico: Government Tries to Save Jobs
In a Dec. 5 interview with Bloomberg Television, Mexican Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz Mateos said the government will react to job losses from the global economic crisis by spending $12.5 billion on roads, ports, railroads and other projects in the first quarter of 2009. He said the government is also studying programs to prevent layoffs in manufacturing. "In manufacturing we'll suffer the most in terms of jobs because of lower demand for our exports," he said. Mexico is especially vulnerable to the recession in the US, which buys 80% of Mexico's exports. Ruiz Mateos expects Mexico to grow at 1.5-1.8% next year, but a central bank survey of analysts reported a median estimate of just 0.38%. (Bloomberg 12/5/08) [Mexico's growth rate was about 3.3% in 2007, less than half the rates for Argentina (8.6%) and Venezuela (8.5%)--see Update #926].

Many Mexican companies are wholly or partly owned by foreign-based transnationals. As the crisis intensifies and the demand for credit increases in the more industrialized countries, the Mexican subsidiaries have sent more and more of their capital back into the countries where the transnationals are based. According to a report by the Banco de México, Mexico's central bank, the Mexican companies sent $2.287 billion abroad in the first nine months of 2008, almost as much as the $2.619 billion they sent abroad in all of 2007. Reinvestment in Mexico by these companies dropped precipitously during the summer of 2008. They reinvested $2.19 billion in the first quarter and $2.610 billion in the second, but in the third quarter the number fell by 95% to $134 million. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/1/08)

The same phenomenon has been occurring with Mexican business owners, who moved more than $19 billion out of Mexico from January through September to deposit in foreign bank accounts or to buy into foreign businesses. The outflow, which doesn't include money for buying real estate abroad, is a major cause of Mexico's balance of payments deficit, according to the Banco de México. It is 22% higher than the $15.560 billion direct investment that foreign capital made in Mexico during the same period. (LJ 12/3/08)

*4. Mexico: Layoffs Up, Unionists Busted
On Dec. 2 Altos Hornos de México (AHMSA), Mexico's main steelmaker, announced plans for laying off 8,500 contract workers in its Proyecto Fénix modernization project and 3,500 of its own employees. (La Jornada 12/3/08) In the two days after the layoff announcement, the Mexican government froze some funds belonging to the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMRM), which represents AHMSA workers, and arrested two union leaders. Based on complaints that the union mishandled a $55 million miners' fund, the federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) arrested the union's Vigilance and Justice Council president Juan Linares Montúfar on Dec. 3 and political affairs secretary Carlos Pavón Campos on Dec. 4.

The government said the complaints came from workers, but the union charged that the arrests are part of an anti-union drive by the government, AHMSA and the Grupo México mining company. Carrying the fight to the entire mining and metal industry, on Dec. 5 the SNTMMRM started open-ended strikes at mines belonging to Industrias Peñoles, the world's largest silver producer, to demand the union leaders' release and the unfreezing of the union's funds. The strike affected the Met Mex Peñoles plant in Torreón, Coahuila, and Peñoles mines in Fresnillo, Sombrerete (Sabinas), Zacatecas (Francisco I. Madero) and Concepción del Oro municipalities in Zacatecas state.

The SNTMMRM has been fighting the government since early 2006 when charges were filed against union general secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, who fled to Canada. Walkouts since then--including a strike at Grupo México's giant Cananea copper mine since July 2007 [see Update #945]--have cost the mining companies more than $2.5 billion, according to the Mexican Mining Chamber of Commerce. (Bloomberg 12/5/08, LJ 12/6/08)

According to the Mártires de San Angel Textile Industry Workers Union (STMSAIT), the textile sector has lost 150,000 jobs in the past five years, and 3,286 companies have shut down, partly because of competition from China. The union's head, Fermín Lara Jiménez, was jailed on Aug. 15 on charges of fraud involving $40 million; this was based on a complaint from the national export bank, Banco Nacional de Comercio Exterior (Bancomext). (LJ 12/7/08)

*5. Venezuela: Who Killed Aragua Unionists?
On Dec. 2 Venezuelan interior and justice minister Tarek El Aissami announced the arrest of Julio César Agrinzones (also given as "Arguinzones") Romero the night before on charges of killing three leftist Venezuelan unionists- -Richard Gallardo, Carlos Requena and Luis Hernández--the night of Nov. 27 in the city of Cagua, southwest of Caracas in Aragua state [see Update #968]. Although El Aissami said the government had not established who was behind the killing, he implied it was "over a job," hinting at internal conflicts in the pro-government National Workers Union (UNT), in which the victims were leaders.

Aragua union leaders rejected El Aissami's implication, saying that Agrinzones Romero was at work at the Pepsi Cola de Venezuela's plant in Villa de Cura in southern Aragua the night of the killing; Luis Hernández was president of the plant's union. Local unionists suspect the Colombian-owned Alpina food processing plant and state police under former governor Didalco Bolívar were involved in the murders. In a speech on Dec. 1 at the inauguration of the state's new governor, Rafael Isea, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez suggested that an unnamed "foreign-owned company against which they [the murdered union leaders] were fighting" was responsible.

On Dec. 2 some 7,000 workers from 17 unions protested and blocked roads in Aragua to demand a thorough investigation of the killings. (El Universal (Venezuela) 12/2/08; YVKE Mundial 12/2/08; El Carabobeño (Venezuela) 12/4/08; Venezuela Analysis (12/3/08)

Another Aragua unionist was murdered on Dec. 4. Simón Caldea, a leader of the Bolivarian Union of Industry and Construction Workers (UBT), was riding in a pickup truck on the Barbacoas-Camatagua highway when unknown persons in another vehicle shot repeatedly at the truck. Caldea was killed instantly, and two other unionists, Yagle Agrinzones and Héctor Mijares, were wounded. (El Nacional (Venezuela) 12/4/08; El Universal 12/4/08) [The sources did not mention any possible relation of Yagle Agrinzones to Julio César Agrinzones Romero.]

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, US policy

Bolivian opposition blasts report on Pando massacre

Zinc slump threatens Bolivian mining sector

Probe: Bolivian Peasant Killings an Anti-Gov. Massacre

Peru removes army chief, ends 125-year dispute with Chile?

Texan firm wins deal for Peru gas plant

Peru: Leftist Leaders Targeted by Anti-Terror Police

Ecuador backs Betancourt mission to free FARC hostages

Colombian consul recalled from Venezuela's restive Zulia state

Venezuela Proposes New Regional Currency During ALBA Summit

Adentro Barrio Adentro: An American Medical Student in Venezuela

Russian warship enters Panama Canal, first since World War II

US releases first tranche of Plan Mexico funds

Mexico: 13 killed in Sinaloa massacre

Mexico: home destroyed at contested Juárez barrio

Tijuana: army officers take over police force

Chiapas: Zapatistas to host "Festival of Dignified Rage"

Pain and Protest on the Day of the Butterflies: Violence Persists Against Women in Mexico

The Presidential Transition and Latin America Policy: Optimism for Change Dims as Reality Sets In

Dealing with Killers and Kidnappers: The High Cost of Free Trade

Latin America and the U.S.: A New Policy Direction

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


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Monday, December 1, 2008

WNU #968: Chilean Government Workers Get Raise

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #968, November 30, 2008

1. Chile: Public Employees Win 10% Raise
2. Mexico: Teachers Win Some, Lose Some
3. Venezuela: 3 Unionists Murdered
4. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, 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. Chile: Public Employees Win 10% Raise
The 15 unions representing Chile's government workers agreed on the night of Nov. 20 to end their four-day-old strike after the Senate approved a 10.4% raise earlier that day. The unions had demanded a 14.5% pay increase, arguing that the annual inflation rate had risen to 9.9% in October. Arturo Martínez, president of the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT), acknowledged that the raise "[m]aybe isn't all we hoped for." He noted that the settlement was between President Michelle Bachelet and the Congress, not the government and the unions, but said the salary increase was the result of the unionists' mobilizations, and "today it's possible to celebrate; the workers have triumphed."

Some 400,000 government workers had observed a two-day strike on Nov. 11 and 12. When Bachelet's government refused to offer more than 6.5%, the unions decided to call an open-ended strike starting Nov. 17 [see Update #967]. Public schools, customs offices, municipal governments, tax offices, public hospitals and clinics, and the judicial system were shut down. Garbage piled up on the streets, and exports were delayed, at a loss to the country of about $165 million a day. On Nov. 20 some 10,000 doctors joined the strike.

The increase will raise the average government worker's pay next July 1 from 144,000 to 159,000 pesos a month (from $290.90 to $321.21). The workers will also get a one-time bonus--$156 for the best-paid workers but $312 for the others. The total increase will cost the government $1.648 billion a year. President Bachelet asked Congress to exclude top officials from the increase, but the legislators, who will be covered by the increase, said the exclusion would be unconstitutional. Bachelet promised to look for legal mechanisms to exempt the president and cabinet ministers from the raise. "I'm an adherent of the position that those of us who are in a relatively more privileged situation than others are the ones who should tighten our belts the most," she said. (TeleSUR 11/21/08; La Jornada (Mexico) 11/21/08 from correspondent and unidentified wire services)

*2. Mexico: Teachers Win Some, Lose Some
As protests by teachers continued in several southern and central Mexican states, on Nov. 28 the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca (IEEPO) announced plans to work with Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) to produce an alternative to the government's new Alliance for Quality Education (ACE). The alternative program will be carried out "in accordance with the characteristics of the state," IEEPO director Abel Trejo González said. This is first time a state government has distanced itself from the ACE, which is promoted by Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and SNTE national president Elba Esther Gordillo Morales. Teachers have protested against the ACE since August, calling it an opening to privatization [see Update #864]. A strike by Section 22 set off a major uprising in 2006 that paralyzed much of the state for five months. (Mexico Solidarity Network Weekly News and Analysis, 11/30/08; La Jornada 11/29/08)

Also on Nov. 28, teachers in Guerrero, to the west of Oaxaca, ended a job action against the ACE that began on Sept. 1. Negotiations had settled about 80% of the strike issues, with the state accepting the payment of salaries to some 500 teachers who participated in the movement; the automatic granting of 700 teaching positions to graduates of the state's nine teachers colleges; an agreement not to reform the Social Security law for the state's public employees; and continuation of the custom of allowing teachers to propose their replacements when they retire. At noon on Nov. 28, the teachers ended an 88-day encampment in front of the government building in Chilpancingo. About 10,000 teachers then marched through the streets under banners depicting the teachers Lucio Cabañas Barrientos and Genaro Vázquez Rojas, who led an armed rebellion in the 1970s; the marchers thanked the population for its "tolerance, support and collaboration" during the strike. (LJ 11/29/08)

The day before, on Nov. 27, hundreds of teachers college students clashed with police agents near Morelia, Michoacán. Starting at about 7:30am, students at the Vasco de Quiroga Teachers College took over 21 buses to transport protesters the 22km to Morelia for an afternoon demonstration. About 300 police agents were waiting for them on the Pátzcuaro-Morelia highway. When the 500 students refused to leave the buses, the agents attacked with tear gas while a helicopter launched tear gas grenades from above. The students fought back, and in the end there were dozens of injured people on both sides; 133 protesters were arrested, two police vehicles were set on fire, and two police agents were detained by the students. The state released 130 of the detained students on Nov. 29; all were women, and many came from other states. Nine male students were charged with robbery, injury, riot and privation of a police agent's freedom. One agent had been released the evening of Nov. 27; the students released the other on Nov. 29 at the Vasco de Quiroga college, along with firearms they'd taken from the police. (LJ 11/28/08, 11/30/08)

The protest movement started with teachers in the state of Morelos, south of Mexico, who went on strike in August. They returned to the classrooms on Nov. 6 after 80 days. Spokesperson Lili Ibarra said the teachers were "motivated by our responsibility to the children and the school community" and were still determined not to allow the ACE to take effect in the state's 1,750 schools. They warned that they would no longer allow the sale of health insurance, products of transnational corporations and cola drinks in the schools; they would permit the distribution of nutritious foods and Mexican products. (Excélsior (Mexico) 11/6/08)

*3. Venezuela: 3 Unionists Murdered
Three leftist Venezuelan unionists were shot dead the night of Nov. 27 in the city of Cagua, southwest of Caracas in Aragua state, just days after two of them ran unsuccessfully in Nov. 23 state and municipal elections. In what appeared to be a planned assassination, one or two armed men on a motorbike gunned the unionists down as they were leaving a nightclub. The victims were Richard Gallardo, president of the Aragua branch of the National Workers Union (UNT), the main leftist labor confederation; Carlos Requena, a UNT national coordinator; and Luis Hernández, the general secretary of the union at Pepsi Cola de Venezuela's plant in Villa de Cura in southern Aragua.

The three men were also leaders in the Left Socialist Unity party (USI). Gallardo had been the USI candidate for deputy from Zamora municipality to the Aragua legislature, while Hernández ran for major of Zamora on the USI ticket, losing to Aldo Lovera from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the party of President Hugo Chávez Frías. Some media noted that Hernández had planned to file a challenge on Nov. 28 to the voting results in the mayoral race. But pro-Chávez media, the USI and UNT spokesperson Orlando Chirinos stressed that on Nov. 27 Gallardo, Requena and Hernández had been participating with activities with 400 workers at the Alpina food processing plant who said they had been attacked by state police. Aragua's current governor is Didalco Bolivar, an opponent of Chávez; the PSUV won the state back with the election of Aragua Mario Isea on Nov. 23.

Supporters of the murdered unionists protested on Nov. 28, forcing stores to close in Villa de Cura. Unionists and the USI have called for an investigation by the national government. Some people have pointed out that Alpina is owned by Colombians and that political assassinations in Colombia often involve similar attacks by killers on motorbikes. (USI press release 11/28/08 via Aporrea; Prensa Latina 11/28/08; El Universal (Venezuela) 11/28/08; El Nacional (Venezuela) 11/29/08; 11/29/08)

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

Chile: Women Trade Unionists Find their Own Voices

Paraguay: Mixed Results for Lugo's First 100 Days

Bolivia: terrorism charges for autonomy leader?

Peru: Garcia blames Mexican cartels for Sendero violence

Peru: Praying for Justice

Ecuador Seeks Non-payment of Illegitimate Foreign Debt

The Walk of Our Word: Colombia Will Walk the Minga!

What Next for the Popular and Indigenous Minga in Colombia?

CIA Coverup Followed Another Spy Flight Mystery in Colombia

Colombia signs free trade agreement with Canada

Venezuelan opposition contracting Israeli mercenaries?

Medvedev, Chavez meet on eve of naval maneuvers

Elections: Geopolitical Nadir for Chavez and His Movement?

Venezuela Elections Pose Big Test

Chavez Supporters Win 17 out of 23 Venezuelan States, but Lose 3 Most Populous

Radio Venezuela En Vivo: Election Updates and Analysis

Suit Filed Against Salvadoran Ex-President Cristiani and 14 Former Soldiers for 1989 Jesuit Massacre

Mexico: Calderon warns Obama on NAFTA revision

Mexico: Ciudad Juarez violence escalates

Free the Atenco 13!

Puerto Rico Teachers' Union Trounces SEIU

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

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. A print edition of the Update is also available via first class mail (a contribution of at least $30 is suggested to cover printing and postage within the US). Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly
Immigration News Briefs.

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