Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #996, July 5, 2009
1. Peru: Strikes, Protests and “Cold War”
2. Honduras: Activist Priest Forced to Hide
3. Haiti: Some Unions Back Down on Minimum Wage
4. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, 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 email@example.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/
*1. Peru: Strikes, Protests and “Cold War”
Thousands of riders were stranded in Lima early on June 30 at the beginning of a 24-hour national strike by Peruvian urban transportation workers and owners. The strikers were protesting new regulations that were to take effect on July 1 and a new rate for fines that starts on July 21. In the southern Lima neighborhood of Villa El Salvador, a group of strikers hurled rocks at buses not honoring the strike call; police agents responded by shooting in the air, according to Radio Programas del Perú (RPP). In the north of the city some strikers stoned buses and burned tires; others used rocks to block the Carretera Central, which links Lima to the center of the country.
In Puno region, bordering Bolivia in the south, a group of strikers blocked various highways, but transportation was reportedly normal in neighboring Arequipa region. Omar Calderón, president of the Association of Urban Mass Transit Companies, said a total of 60,000 vehicles were idled nationwide. By the end of the strike on July 1, the police reported having arrested about 100 strikers in Lima. Motorcycle Taxi Drivers Confederation of Peru president Ricardo Alberga announced that his group planned another strike on July 7-9. (ADN (Spain) 6/30/09 from EFE; Qué (Spain) 7/1/09 from EFE)
A clash between campesinos and police on July 1 in San Tomás, capital of Chumbivilcas province in Cuzco region in southern Peru, left one protester dead and a police agent seriously injured. The campesinos had been holding an open-ended strike since the week before to protest the granting of mining concessions, which now occupy 70% of the area, and a Water Resources Law which declares water a national resource and regulates its use. The confrontation started when the police tried to remove protesters blocking a highway leading to the town. The protesters threw stones at the agents, who fired their weapons, killing campesino Remigio Mendoza Ancalla. Police commissar Herbert Montes de Oca received head injuries; he was taken to the local hospital in a coma but required special medical attention in another facility. Some 1,000 protesters surrounded the hospital for about 10 hours, preventing Montes de Oca’s evacuation by helicopter until the government agreed to send a high-level delegation on July 4 to hear the campesinos’ demands. (La República (Peru) 7/03/09; ADN 7/2/09; Qué 7/2/09)
The government of President Alan García is still shaken by a similar but much larger and deadlier confrontation on June 5 during protests over concessions and resources in Amazonian Peru; the incident, in Bagua province in the northern region of Amazonas, resulted in 24 deaths among the police and a disputed number of civilian deaths [see Update #992]. In a June 30 session of Congress, 56 legislators supported a censure vote against Prime Minister Yehude Simon and Interior Minister Mercedes Cabanilla. This was a majority of the about 100 Congress members present, but it fell a little short of the 61 votes (out of 120) required to remove the cabinet.
President García and his social democratic Peruvian Aprista Party (PAP) now claim they are engaged in what García called, in a June 28 newspaper article, a “continental cold war,” presumably because of alleged interference in Peru by leftist and left-leaning governments like those in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. Confirmation seemed to come during the June 30 transportation strike when a Venezuelan national was arrested driving protesters and carrying metal spikes and homemade weapons in his car. He was released after 48 hours for lack of evidence; local media described him as a cabdriver who has lived in Lima for years with his Peruvian family. (Prensa Latina 7/4/09; Qué 7/1/09 from EFE)
As of July 3 the Front in Defense of Life and Sovereignty, a coalition of social organizations and left-leaning parties, was planning a nationwide mobilization July 7-9 against the neoliberal economic model and for the cancellation of the nearly 100 decrees passed to implement a Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC for its initials in Spanish) with the US. The protesters are also calling for the immediate resignation of Simon’s cabinet and the return of Alberto Pizango Chota, president of the Inter-Ethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Forest (Aidesep) and a leader of the indigenous protests in the Amazonian regions. (Prensa Latina 7/4/09; Adital 7/3/09)
*2. Honduras: Activist Priest Forced to Hide
Father José Andrés Tamayo, an activist Honduran priest who was the Central American recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for 2005, went into hiding shortly after the June 28 military coup that removed President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from power [see Update #995], according to phone calls he made on July 1 to New York’s Spanish-language daily El Diario-La Prensa and the US-based Catholic News Service.
On June 29 Tamayo joined a group of several hundred protesters who were taking seven rented buses from the eastern department of Olancho, where Tamayo is based, to Tegucigalpa to join ongoing demonstrations against the coup. When soldiers shot out the buses’ tires near the town of Los Limones, the protesters decided to block the road. During the night of June 30-July 1 the soldiers attacked, beating the protesters and firing their weapons “in all directions,” according to Tamayo, who escaped into a house and hid under a bed. Some protesters were arrested and taken to a police station, where they were beaten, stripped and threatened with shotguns before being released after four hours.
Tamayo was in hiding when he made the calls. There have been several attempts against the priest’s life since 2001 because of his campaigns to protect the forests; he had been assigned bodyguards by the previous government, but they were apparently withdrawn after the coup. (Catholic News Service 7/1/09; La Opinión (Los Angeles) 7/2/09 from ED-LP; New America Media 7/2/09, translated from ED-LP)
With the de facto government clamping down on independent media and most international reporters concentrated in Tegucigalpa, there has been little coverage of repression in the countryside following the coup. "The country is heavily militarized, and there are reports of people imprisoned, detained and even disappeared," Pedro Landa, executive director of the Catholic charitable agency Caritas Honduras, said on July 1. A group of about 30 soldiers shut down Radio Progreso, a Jesuit-run station in the northern city of El Progreso, on June 28. The staff reopened the station the next day, despite threats from coup supporters. (CNS 7/1/09)
*3. Haiti: Some Unions Back Down on Minimum Wage
During the week of June 29 Haitian president René Préval and pro-business groups pushed hard to water down a bill Parliament passed in May to raise the minimum wage from 70 gourdes ($1.74) a day to 200 gourdes ($4.97). Claiming that the wage increase would jeopardize the free trade zone (FTZ) factories--maquiladoras that assemble goods largely for export--Préval has proposed an increase to 125 gourdes for that sector [see Update #994]. On June 29 Préval met with journalists to explain his position. Jobs in the FTZ sector have grown from 8,000 in 2007 to 25,000 now, he said, and those jobs would be put at risk by a large wage increase. (AlterPresse 6/29/09)
Four labor organizations met with the Social Affairs Committee of the Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies on July 1 to discuss the issue. The Union Coordinating Committee, the General Workers Confederation (CGT) and the union at the Compagnie de Developpement Industriel S.A. (Codevi) plant in northeastern town of Ouanaminthe near the Dominican border all indicated that they were resigned to accepting a lower increase in the minimum wage in the hope of preventing layoffs. Etienne Romain from the Codevi union noted that his members’ current pay is 125 gourdes a day, so there would be no change for them. But workers from an industrial park on the highway to the Port-au-Prince airport insisted on the 200-gourde increase. One woman said she was ready to join the students, referring to militant demonstrations students have been holding in Port-au-Prince since June 3 to support the demand for 200 gourdes. (Haiti Press Network 7/2/09; Radio Métropole 7/2/09)
The concern with keeping maquiladora jobs in Haiti comes at a time when the sector has declined dramatically in the Caribbean Basin as a result of the economic downturn in the US and competition from Chinese factories. The share of the US import market held by the six countries in the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a 2005 trade pact with the US, fell from 13.3% in 2004 to 9.8% in 2008. The worst hit was Haiti’s closest neighbor, the Dominican Republic, where apparel exports have fallen by more than half and 73,000 jobs have been lost since 2005. DR-CAFTA was promoted as a way to boost the region’s apparel industry and to counter competition from China. (NACLA Report on the Americas, July-August 2009)
Correction: Following our source, in Update #993 we reported incorrectly that the Codevi workers were receiving 350 gourdes a day. The Codevi union was first organized by the Batay Ouvriye (“Workers Struggle”) labor organization, but the current Codevi leadership is reportedly not affiliated with Batay Ouvriye, which fully supports the 200-gourde increase.
*4. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico
Peru approves controversial Amazon oil contract —in wake of uprising
Bolivia bashes Obama over trade sanctions
Colombia: ex-para warlord names top generals as collaborators
The Venezuelan Coup Revisited: Silencing the Evidence
El Salvador: anti-mining organizer missing, foul play suspected
Honduras: Zelaya's jet denied entry; military admits coup was "criminal"
Honduran golpista: Obama a "little black man who knows nothing"
It's Not About Zelaya
Bertha Oliva: Coup leaders reviving despotism of the 80s in bid to crush participatory democracy
OAS holds emergency session on Honduras; Ortega fears "blood-bath"
Honduras: de facto regime intransigent; US stance equivocal
Resistance continues in Honduras —despite state of emergency
Behind the Honduran Coup
Honduras: Regime Faces International Isolation
Honduras: Decree Suspends Basic Rights
Anti-Coup Protests Reported Across Honduras
Mexico’s Emerging Narco-State
Mexico's Elections and the Deepening Crisis of Political Legitimacy
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009
WNU #996: Protests and “Cold War” in Peru
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