Tuesday, June 9, 2009

WNU #992: Puerto Ricans Protest Layoffs

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #992, June 7, 2009

1. Puerto Rico: Thousands Protest Layoffs
2. Guatemala: Campesinos Block Roads, Demand Land
3. Peru: Groups Condemn Killing of Protesters
4. Links to alternative sources on: Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

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. Puerto Rico: Thousands Protest Layoffs
In one of the largest demonstrations in recent Puerto Rican history, tens of thousands of people marched in front of the Capitol building in San Juan on June 5 to protest plans by Gov. Luis Fortuño of the conservative New Progressive Party (PNP) to lay off about 30,000 government workers and to privatize some public services. Estimates of participation ranged from 50,000 to 100,000. Many public employees attended despite veiled threats of reprisals if they were absent from work on June 5; supervisors had been drawing up lists of people who planned to take the day off.

Fortuño, who was elected by a wide margin last November [see Update #967], faces a growing movement against his economic policies. The Broad Front of Solidarity and Struggle (FASyL), a coalition of 22 unions, brought out an estimated 30,000 workers to protest the government’s policies during this year’s May 1 march for International Workers’ Day [see Update #988]. For the June 5 mobilization the FASyL was joined by a broad range of groups, including student and women’s organizations, environmental and religious groups, and the main opposition parties. Participants included Héctor Ferrer, president of the centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD); Juan Dalmau, secretary general of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP); actors René Monclova and Ineabelle Colón; and Denise Quiñones, Miss Universe 2001. The coalition’s spokesperson was Methodist bishop Juan Vera, while the Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a press release in solidarity with laid-off workers.

The organizers called the protest a “National Assembly of the People”; the demonstration became a mass meeting which adopted a declaration including demands from the various constituent groups. The protesters said they would continue the struggle with educational events and Assemblies of the People in each of the island’s 78 municipalities.

Fortuño says Puerto Rico is facing a $3.2 billion deficit this year, largely because of the US economic crisis, and that this can only be reduced through layoffs and cutbacks. The layoffs started with an announcement in late May by Carlos García, president of the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico (GDB, BGF in Spanish), that 10,400 employees would be let go. (Univision 6/5/09 from AP; Primera Hora (Puerto Rico) 6/5/09__, __; La Opinión (Los Angeles) 6/6/09 from EFE)

*2. Guatemala: Campesinos Block Roads, Demand Land
Thousands of Guatemalan campesinos blocked roads at seven or more sites on June 4 in a nationwide protest organized by the Committee for Campesino Development (Codeca) to demand that the government carry out agrarian reform, provide agricultural products for about 25,000 campesinos, buy land for cultivation and forgive debts that some campesinos incurred by taking out bank loans to buy land. Codeca spokesperson Mauro Bay said the campesinos had been making these requests of President Alvaro Colom’s government since Feb. 5, 2008 but had received no response. Presidential spokesperson Fernando Barillas said the government had offered to meet with Codeca leaders about the demands but Codeca had turned down the offer.

Campesinos blocked roads in at least seven departments: Mazatenango and Retalhuleu in the south, Suchitepéquez in the southwest, Totonicapán and Quetzaltenango in the west, and Alta Verapaz and Petén in the north. Some 500 campesinos blocked a bridge in El Zarco, Retalhuleu. A caravan of motorcyclists tried to break through, but campesinos with clubs blocked them; agents from the National Civil Police (PNC) were then called in. About 3,000 farmers from three communities in Suchitepéquez blocked the Pacific highway at a place known as Cocales. In Cuatro Caminos, Totonicapán, 800 local people cut off the road with rocks and boards, creating a 6 km line of vehicles and infuriating motorists. In Quetzaltenango, residents of five villages in Colomba municipality closed off a highway leading to the Mexico border, and many passengers walked kilometers to transfer to other buses.

Five Codeca leaders met with Agricultural Affairs Secretary Juan Alfredo de León in Guatemala City during the day. In the afternoon they agreed to suspend the actions and continue the dialogue on June 16. (Prensa Latina 6/4/09; ADN (Spain) 6/4/09 from EFE; Prensa Libre (Guatemala) 6/4/09, 6/5/09)

*3. Peru: Groups Condemn Killing of Protesters
On June 5 Peru’s largest labor confederation, the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), condemned what it called “the slaughter ordered by the government of President Alan García,” referring to the deaths of at least 20 police agents and indigenous protesters earlier that day when police tried to break up a demonstration blocking a road in Bagua province in the northern region of Amazonas. The CGTP called for Congress to repeal the decrees on drilling, mining and land rights that Amazonian indigenous groups had been protesting since Apr. 9. The labor group had held a one-day national strike on May 26 to support the demands of the Amazonian indigenous group leading the protests, the Inter-Ethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Forest (Aidesep) [see Update #991]. (CGTP press release 6/5/09)

A June 5 statement by the Andean Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI) said “56 days of peaceful indigenous struggle and of supposed dialogues and negotiations…ended in the usual bullets, the same bullets as in more than 500 years of oppression.” The group, including organizations in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, called for indigenous people to hold sit-ins in front of Peruvian embassies and for United Nations (UN) agencies and international organizations like Amnesty International (AI) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) to “send missions immediately to Peru to stop this violence and to see that indigenous rights are respected.” (CAOI statement 6/5/09 via Minga Informativa de Movimientos Sociales)

Colombian human rights and grassroots organizations planned a demonstration at the Peruvian embassy in Bogotá for the afternoon of June 8. Indigenous and other organizations in Mexico were to send an open letter to President García demanding the "cancellation of the international accords—like the FTA [Free Trade Agreement, TLC in Spanish]—that bring violence to the life of the Peruvian indigenous peoples.” The decrees the indigenous people oppose are part of a package intended to bring Peru into compliance with an FTA with the US that went into effect this year. On June 8 the London-based nonprofit Survival International called for petroleum companies to suspend their operations in the Amazon region until the situation is resolved. Peruvian organizations are planning a march in Lima on June 11 in solidarity with the indigenous protesters. (Adital 6/8/09)

Meanwhile, the Peruvian government may be using the events as a pretext for cracking down on opposition legislators in the Congress, which is dominated by García’s social democratic Peruvian Aprista Party (PAP). On June 6 Elizabeth León, vice president of the Congress’s Ethics Commission, said the commission would investigate whether there were grounds to take action against Congress members who had supported Alberto Pizango Chota, the Aidesep president. Pizango reportedly went into hiding after the June killings. (24 Horas Libre (Peru) 6/7/09)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

The Rainforest’s Cry: Amazon Uprising and Opposing Perspectives of Development in Peru

Peru: protesters seize Camisea pipeline valves, pledge to resist army

Peru: 25 dead as National Police attack Amazon road blockade

50 Days of Protest and One Massacre in the Peruvian Amazon

Peru: dozens decamp in jungle jailbreak

Peru: Amazon uprising spreads

Colombia biofuel production linked to human rights violations

Colombia: ex-senator sentenced in Uribe bribery scheme

Colombian para operative sentenced in Texas

Colombia to train Baja California state police

Colombia’s Fascist Attack on Academic Freedom

Colombians Build Support for a Constitutional Referendum for Water

Álvaro Uribe, Otra Vez? Colombia's Re-election Debate

El Salvador Inaugurates its First Leftist Government

Interview: Members of University Front of Roque Dalton from the National University of El Salvador

The Struggle Against Impunity in Guatemala Continues: 31st Anniversary of the Panzós Massacre

Guatemala's "Twitter Revolution"

Obama's Choice: Human Rights First or Plan Mexico

OAS Opens Doors to Cuba Without Conditions

Father Gérard Jean-Juste: The People's Priest (1946-2009)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources: http://nacla.org/articles

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