Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WNU #983: Martinique Accord Signed, Strike Suspended

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #983, March 22, 2009

1. Martinique: Accord Signed, Strike Suspended
2. Mexico: Does the US Own Banamex?
3. Mexico: Indigenous Protests in Oaxaca
4. Haiti: Lavalas Marches, Students Protest
5. Guatemala: US Knew About 1980s Abuses
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Martinique: Accord Signed, Strike Suspended
On Mar. 14 the French government and the government of the French Caribbean department of Martinique signed an accord with the Feb. 5 Collective ending a general strike that had paralyzed the department since Feb. 5. The accord, which the parties had agreed to on Mar. 11, meets a principal demand of the strikers: a raise of 200 euros a month (about $253) for low-wage workers, with smaller raises for other workers. Major business owners had agreed earlier to bring down prices on some 400 basic items by 20% one month after stores reopen. Negotiations are to continue until Mar. 27 on 87 additional points, including pensions and water and agricultural issues. The Feb. 5 Collective, a coalition of unions and grassroots organizations that led the strike, agreed to a “suspension of the conflict” but “reserves the right to start the movement up again,” said the collective’s president, Michel Monrose. The accord was called an “exit from the crisis” rather than an “end to the conflict.”

Some 20,000 people marched on Mar. 14 in the departmental capital, Fort-de-France, and other parts of Martinique to celebrate the accord, chanting: “We are marching towards victory.” The settlement is similar to the accord won on Mar. 4 by a 44-day general strike in the nearby overseas department of Guadeloupe, which helped trigger the strike in Martinique and similar protests in the overseas department of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean [see Update #982].

Unions and left parties in European France said they were in part inspired by the example of the overseas departments as they planned a massive one-day general strike on Mar. 19 to protest the French government’s pro-business response to the world economic crisis. “The victory of the women and men of Guadeloupe calls for more victories” was the title of the call for the Mar. 19 mobilization by major left and social democratic parties, including the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), the French Communist Party (PCF) and the Socialist Party (PS). (Le Monde (France) 3/16/09 from correspondent; Nouvel Observateur (France) 3/17/09 from Reuters; Life on the Left blog on 3/18/09 via MRzine; “Appel unitaire pour le 19 mars : la victoire des Guadeloupéennes et des Guadeloupéens en appelle d’autres,” on the NPA website, undated).

*2. Mexico: Does the US Own Banamex?
On Mar. 19 Mexico’s Finance and Public Credit Secretariat (SHCP) ruled that due to the current economic crisis, exceptions could be made to a law banning foreign governments from owning Mexican banks. The SHCP indicated that the 20-year- old article 13 of the Law of Credit Institutions should be revised. Although the ruling didn’t mention any banks by name, the question arose because of the US government’s continuing efforts—at a cost of $45 billion since October—to prop up the mammoth US-based Citigroup banking group, which owns Banamex, Mexico’s second largest bank. In a partial nationalization, the US bought preferred shares in Citigroup last fall. In February US officials said they would convert up to $25 billion of the preferred shares to common stock, which would give the US government a stake of as much as 36% in the banking group and therefore in its subsidiaries.

Banamex itself was nationalized by the Mexican government in 1982, along with the rest of the banking system, in response to a major debt crisis. The government reprivatized the system in the early1990s, but the banks were bailed out again through the Fund for Bank Savings Protection (FOBAPROA) after an economic collapse at the end of 1994, the year the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect [see Update #547]. Most of Mexico’s banks are now foreign-owned. Citigroup bought Banamex in May 2001 for $12.5 billion [see Update #590]. (Reuters 3/19/09; La Jornada (Mexico) 3/20/09)

Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos announced on Mar. 16 that Mexico was raising tariffs on the importation of 90 industrial and agricultural products from the US. The move was in retaliation for the US government’s suspension of a NAFTA-mandated program allowing Mexican truckers to carry out some operations inside the US. The 90 products accounted for $2.40 billion in 2007, representing 1.7% of Mexico’s imports. Almost 70% of the products traded between Mexico and the US are shipped by truck. (LJ 3/17/09)

*3. Mexico: Indigenous Protests in Oaxaca
About 25,000 members of the indigenous Movement of Triqui Unification and Struggle (MULT) marched in Oaxaca city in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca on Mar. 18 to demand that the state government start talks on incidents of violence against the Triqui and others over the past two years. The protesters tied up traffic as they marched from the Monumento a La Madre along the Cerro del Fortín highway to the city’s main plaza.

The incidents the protesters cited included the disappearance on July 5, 2007 of Triqui sisters Virginia and Daniela Ortiz Ramírez; 46 murders in the part of the state where the Triqui live; the disappearances of Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Cruz Sánchez, members of the rebel Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), in May 2007, and of Lauro Juárez, an indigenous Chatino who supported the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) , in December 2007; and the continued imprisonment of eight residents of San Agustín Loxicha by the federal government on charges of belonging to the EPR [see Updates #547, 907, 919]. State officials met with MULT leaders to discuss the cases. (La Jornada 3/19/98)

On Mar. 20 about 150 residents of San José El Progreso and Magdalena Ocotlán in Oaxaca used rocks and cables to block the entrance to the Cuzcatlán mine, owned by the Canadian company Fortuna Silver Mines. The Coordinating Committee in Defense of the Natural Resources and Our Mother Earth of Ocotlán Valley organized the protest to demand that the federal Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat cancel the permit for the mine, which is not yet in operation. According to Agustín Ríos Cruz, a spokesperson for the group, local residents have suffered from the contamination of local rivers by metals like mercury and copper or chemicals like cyanide and arsenic; residents report that 20 farm animals have died. The company denies the charges. (LJ 3/21/09)

*4. Haiti: Lavalas Marches, Students Protest
Former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Haiti on Mar. 9 along with a large group of private investors for a 24-hour visit they said was aimed at increasing international aid for the country; Haiti was hit by two hurricanes and two major tropical storms last summer [see Updates #962 ]. Supporters of the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004) held demonstrations to call for Clinton’s help in arranging for Aristide, who has lived in South Africa since being removed from office in February 2004, to return to Haiti. The demonstrators were at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the north of Port-au-Prince when Clinton and Ban arrived; FL supporters also gathered in front of the presidential palace in the center of the capital as the visitors met with President René Préval. Tens of thousands of people took part in the actions, according to the pro-FL Agence Haïtienne de Presse (AHP) press agency.

LF supporters said they wanted to show their appreciation to Clinton for restoring Aristide to power after he was overthrown in a 1991 coup by army officers linked to the US; Clinton ordered a US military intervention in 1994 and returned Aristide to office. Clinton, whose wife Hillary Clinton is now US secretary of state, told the demonstrators: “Your future can be better than your past.” René Civil, one of the organizers of the demonstrations, took this to mean that “Aristide’s return is the future,” but he admitted that Clinton hadn’t responded directly. (AlterPresse 3/9/09; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 3/11/09; AHP 3/9/09, 3/10/09)

A final date for Aristide’s return to Haiti has not yet been determined, South African foreign affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told South Africa’s National Assembly on Mar. 13. "The South African government continues to provide accommodation and services to former president Jean Bertrand Aristide equivalent to those provided to a South African cabinet minister until conditions in Haiti permit the return of the former president and his family," she said. "The monthly costs related to his accommodation, transport, office support staff and security are similar to the cost associated to a South African cabinet minister." Aristide has been made an honorary research fellow at the University of South Africa, and in 2007 he received a doctorate in African languages. (The Times (New Zealand) 3/13/09 from South African Press Association SAPA)

In February students at the Superior Teachers College (ENS) in Port-au-Prince, the country’s only teachers college, started protesting curriculum changes; protesters said administrators had eliminated math and science classes to focus on school management. On Feb. 26 about 100 students from the ENS occupied the offices of the rector of the State University of Haiti (UEH) to push their demands for restoring basic science to the curriculum. Professors were also reportedly involved in the occupation. On Mar. 4 a confrontation broke out between police and protesters, with students hurling rocks at police vehicles and smashing windshields. The local tax office, the Carrefour branch of the General Directorate of Taxes (DIG), was unable to operate because its computer network is connected to the rector’s office. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs 2/17/09 from AP; AlterPresse 3/4/09; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 3/5/09)

*5. Guatemala: US Knew About 1980s Abuses
The National Security Archive (NSA), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit institute, posted declassified US government documents on its website on Mar. 18 that it says show the US government knew US-backed Guatemalan officials were behind the disappearance of thousands of people during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war. "Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise leftwing in orientation," a 1984 State Department report said. "The government is obviously rounding up people connected with the extreme leftwing labor movement for interrogation," then-US ambassador Frederic Chapin wrote in a 1984 cable.

The NSA obtained the documents from the U.S. State Department under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). State Department spokesperson Fred Lash told the Associated Press that he was unaware of the declassified documents and could not immediately comment. More than 200,000 people, mostly Mayan civilians, died in the 36-year conflict. (Miami Herald 3/19/09 from AP)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico

Brazil: Supreme Court rules Raposa-Serra do Sol indigenous territory

Bolivia: Morales initiates land reform; ranchers pledge resistance

Bolivia seeks State Department approval for Czech aircraft sale

Bolivia: Total gas operation illegal

Bolivia’s Rocky Road to Decolonization: Corruption, Expropriation and Justice

Peru: Few Benefits from Boom for Poorest Mining Districts

Peru: Spying on Social Movements

Ecuador: The Logic of Development Clashes with Movements

An Open Letter to Rafael Correa

Colombia: DEA claims blow against FARC "narco-terrorist" network

Colombia: Supreme Court approves new probe of para-linked general

Lands cleansed by paramilitaries returned to Afro-Colombians

Peru: Colombian state oil company set to enter uncontacted tribal lands

Venezuela: Chávez sends army to seize airports, seaports

Sixth Circuit upholds judgment against Salvadoran ex-military commander

FMLN Wins Presidency

El Salvador: Crisis, Poverty Huge Challenges for Leftist President

El Salvador: Voting in Rebel Territory

FMLN Victory El Salvador - Funes: "We Have Signed a New Accord on Peace and Reconciliation"

VIDEO: Historic Power Shift in El Salvador

Narco-imbroglio mires NAFTA trade

Mexico claims blows against Gulf, Sinaloa cartels

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