Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WNU #987: Mexican Copper Strike Heats Up

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #987, April 26, 2009

1. Mexico: Cananea Strike Heats Up
2. Chile: 3 Charged in “Caravan of Death”

3. Nicaragua: Police Sign “Plan Mexico” Pact
4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Biodiversity, Summits

ISSN#: 1084‑922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to . It is archived at

*1. Mexico: Cananea Strike Heats Up
On Apr. 14 Mexico's Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JFCA) declared illegal a strike that the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM) has led since July 30, 2007 over safety issues at Grupo México's giant copper mine at Cananea, in the northwestern state of Sonora [see Update #969]. The JFCA ruling cleared the way for the company, owned by billionaire Germán Larrea, to proceed with plans to close the mine and fire all 1,200 workers; it announced the firings the next day. On Apr. 23 the second district judge in labor matters for the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), Antonio Rebollo Torres, issued a temporary injunction suspending the firings and the JFCA decision. [In what was supposed to be a final decision, the JFCA had ruled in the workers’ favor in April 2008; see Update #945.]

The SNTMMSRM responded to Grupo México efforts to fire the Cananea workers by calling on its steelworker members in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, an industrial seaport and steel center on Mexico’s west coast, to take action to block the port. In other cities, such as Taxco, miners blocked highways and seized tollbooths.

The effort to close the mine is the latest development in a three-year struggle between the union and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which has held Mexico’s presidency since 2000 and strongly backs Grupo México. The fight in early 2006 when the federal government officially removed SNTMMSRM head Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, charging him with corruption. Gómez Urrutia, who fled the country, inherited the union leadership position from his father, but many union members consider him effective in fighting for their rights and continue to support him as he directs the SNTMMSRM from Vancouver, British Columbia. The struggle between the union and the government has included a number of strikes and other actions; the strike at Cananea has lasted the longest.

For most of the past two years Grupo México seemed willing to wait out the strike despite large losses. Some analysts think the company is forcing the issue now because of its likely loss of the bankrupt US mining company ASARCO LLC, which owns Southern Copper Corporation (formerly Southern Peru Copper Corporation). Grupo México took over ASARCO in 1999 but lost control when the company went bankrupt. US judges have been ruling against the Mexican company in the proceedings, and on Apr. 22 Judge Richard Schmidt of the US bankruptcy court in Corpus Christi, Texas, approved a plan to sell ASARCO to India's Sterlite Industries for $1.7 billion. There is speculation that Grupo México intends to close the Cananea mine to eliminate the SNTMMSRM and then reopen it more profitably with a new, pro-company union.

The confrontation between the SNTMMSRM and the government is heating up just as Mexican unions plan their traditional massive marches for May 1. On Apr. 22 former Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the 2006 presidential candidate of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), led a delegation of senators from the PRD, the Workers Party (PT) and the Convergence to Cananea to express support for the union. López Obrador said he was forming a National Committee of Defense and Solidarity with the Miners of Cananea to help to supply basic necessities and medicine to the strikers and their families. In the past he and the PRD have generally avoided taking strong positions in labor struggles. (Mexican Labor News & Analysis April 2009, Vol. 14, No. 4; La Jornada (Mexico) 4/25/09, 4/26/09; Reuters 4/22/09; Milenio (Mexico) 4/23/09; El Universal (Mexico) 4/23/09)

*2. Chile: 3 Charged in “Caravan of Death”
Chilean judge formally charged three retired military officers in Santiago on Apr. 20 with the murder of 14 prisoners in Antofagasta in northern Chile on Oct. 19, 1973, near the beginning of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship. The deaths of the 14 prisoners, mostly members of the Socialist Party, occurred on the “Caravan of Death,” in which a military group headed by Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark executed more than 90 political prisoners as it traveled through the country. The three officers are Gen. Gonzalo Santelices, Maj. Patricio Ferrer and Lt. Pablo Martinez Latorre. Santelices was head of the Santiago garrison, the nation’s largest, in February 2008 when the investigation into the murders resulted in his retirement. ( (Chile) 4/20/09; MS-NBC 4/20/09 from AP; La Tercera (Chile) 4/23/09)

*3. Nicaragua: Police Sign “Plan Mexico” Pact
In a ceremony in Managua on Apr. 24, Nicaraguan National Police director Aminta Granera and US ambassador Robert Callahan signed an agreement making Nicaragua a member of the Mérida Initiative, a program the US government started in 2007 ostensibly to fight drug cartels and organized crime. Nicaragua is to receive $1.5 million in US aid to improve the sharing of fingerprint information among Central American countries, develop a special investigations unit and equip agents better, according to a statement from the US State Department. The government of President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has frequently criticized US policies, but Nicaragua’s only criticism of the Mérida Initiative--expressed at the ceremony by Deputy Foreign Minister Valdrack Jaentschke--was that the aid was inadequate. (AFP 4/24/09; La Prensa (Nicaragua) 4/25/09)

[Most of the program’s aid goes to Mexico. Many Mexican and US activists have opposed the initiative, calling it “Plan México” in reference to the US-sponsored Plan Colombia program; in that program much of the aid has reportedly ended up supporting the military’s counterinsurgency operations. See Update #952.]

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Biodiversity, Summits

Argentina Remembers: Mobilizations Mark 33rd Anniversary of Military Coup

Bolivia: Unraveling the Conspiracy

Peru: indigenous peoples block Amazon tributary to resist oil operations

Terminating Food Sovereignty in Ecuador? President Correa Opens Door to Terminator Seeds

Nineteen Reasons Why Nortec Ventures Should Stay Out of the Intag Region of Ecuador

Paramilitary commander appeals to Colombian authorities from US prison

San José de Apartado: Colombian Peace Community Stands Up for Humanity

What We Want: Voices from the Salvadoran Left

Military-backed Mapping Project in Oaxaca Under Fire

Chiapas: Zapatistas protest renewed repression

Migrant workers lose out in NAFTA nations: studies

Mexico: Piedras Negras police strike to protest militarization

Mexico: Tijuana Cartel operative busted —as narco wars grind on

The Wrong Solution to Mexico's Security Crisis

Without Corn There is No Country: Open Letter to President Obama

"An Equal Partnership" at the Summit: Matching Words with Deeds

Mr. President: Calderon is not Mexico

Earth Day 2009 Special Report: Fighting to Save Mexico's Mangroves

Haiti Donors Conference: A New Paradigm or New Packaging?

Haiti: Fanmi Lavalas Banned, Voter Apprehension Widespread

April Biodiversity Report

The Declaration of Cumaná

ALBA Summit Ratifies Regional Currency, Prepares for Trinidad

Summit: Behind the Smiles and Handshakes

Mixed Feelings About Obama's First Meeting with Hemispheric Leaders

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