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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