Tuesday, October 20, 2009

WNU #1008: Indigenous People Mark Oct. 12 With Protests

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1008, October 18, 2009

1. Latin America: Indigenous People Mark Oct. 12 With Protests
2. Mexico: Marchers Back Electrical Workers Union
3. Mexico: UN Reports on Attacks Against Rights Activists
4. Puerto Rico: General Strike Protests Layoffs
5. Links to alternative sources on: Trade, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, 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. Latin America: Indigenous Mark Oct. 12 With Protests
On Oct. 12 tens of thousands of indigenous people in the region marked 517 years since the arrival of European colonizer Christopher Columbus by protesting around current issues such as the seizure of traditional lands by businesses and the damage to the environment from mining and oil drilling.

In Santiago, Chile, thousands of people marched along Bernardo O'Higgins Avenue in the historic center and rallied in a nearby plaza as speakers denounced “the Spanish invasion” of the past and the repression of Mapuche activists by the current government [see Updates #979, 985]. The Mapuche are the country’s largest indigenous group, and Mapuche activists and their supporters have carried out civil disobedience to reclaim land they say was stolen from them in southern Chile. Mapuche speaker Manuel Calfío stressed that Santiago’s Mapuche residents supported the demands of their brothers and sisters in the south.

In Bolivia Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, called Oct. 12 a “day of mourning…not a day of celebration,” although Foreign Minister David Choquehuenca and legislators attended a Spanish Heritage Day ceremony at the Spanish embassy.

In Quito, an Ecuadorian indigenous leader, Lourdes Tibian, told the Ecuavisa television network that “the conditions of the indigenous peoples since the Spanish invasion haven’t changed at all down to the present.” The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the main indigenous umbrella group, led nationwide protests from Aug. 27 to Oct. 5 over the autonomy of bilingual education and revisions to the water and mining laws; one person was killed in the Amazon region in the demonstrations. CONAIE and the government of President Rafael Correa are now in negotiations over the issues. (Univision 10/12/09 from AP)

Some 25,000 indigenous Colombians started a march on Oct. 12 from several towns and cities in the southwestern Valle del Cauca department that was to culminate in a demonstration of some 40,000 in the departmental capital, Cali. The main focus was on the environment, Feliciano Valencia, a leader of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), told reporters; the protest was called the “World Minga for the Liberation of Mother Earth and Against Global Warming.” “There has to be a very strong call to humanity, because life is at risk,” he said. (“Minga” comes from a Quechua word for collective work.) The marchers also protested the economic policies of President Alvaro Uribe and attacks on indigenous communities by leftist rebels, rightwing paramilitaries and drug traffickers despite the communities’ insistence that they are neutral in the conflicts [see Update #997].

The minga was promoting a “congress of the peoples” that the indigenous organizations are planning for next year, CRIC adviser Marcos Cueitia said. The congress, whose date and location are not yet set, will include “indigenous communities, Afro Colombian [communities], labor unions, campesinos, NGOs [nonprofit organizations], grassroots organizations. The goal is a country with a project that’s different from war, aggression and death.” (Agence France Presse 10/13/09; El Extra (Fort Worth, TX) 10/16/09 from Notimex; El Tiempo (Colombia) 10/15/09).

Several thousand indigenous activists, environmentalists, campesinos and students held protests across Panama demanding respect for their land rights and rejecting energy projects that they said fail to respect the autonomy of indigenous people and cause forced evictions. Indigenous protesters closed the border with Costa Rica for several hours in the morning at the Sixaola border crossing. In Panama City, indigenous leader Cecilio Guerra, who burned a Spanish flag close to the presidential palace, told reporters that over 21 hydroelectric concessions and nine mining projects are affecting indigenous communities. Representatives of the Ngobe-Buglé peoples and other campesinos sought a meeting with rightwing president Ricardo Martinelli, but the government would only allow six people in the delegation. The indigenous activists refused to accept this condition and waited outside the presidential palace for more than three hours before dispersing. (AFP 10/13/09; Servicio Informativo "Alai-amlatina" 10/15/09)

In Guatemala, 19-year-old protester Imer Boror was killed and two other protesters were wounded as Mayan indigenous people blocked entry points into Guatemala City to demonstrate against the government's mining policies. The killing, which took place on El Caminero Boulevard, in Mixco municipality, 22 km south of the capital, was part of a day of protests that an indigenous leader, Juana Mulul, called a "defense of Mother Earth and our territory." After Boror’s death, President Alvar Colom agreed to appoint a commission to meet with indigenous leaders. Aparicio Pérez of the Farmers Union Committee (CUC) said representatives would ask the government to annul mining, hydroelectric and cement concessions because "multinational companies are taking over natural resources, which have long been the source of life for rural families" [see Updates #999, 1003].

According to government statistics, 42% of Guatemala's 12 million inhabitants are indigenous; others estimate that over 60% are indigenous. (AFP 10/13/09; Adital 10/13/09; World War 4 Report 10/18/09)

*2. Mexico: Marchers Back Electrical Workers Union
At least 150,000 Mexicans joined a march from the Angel of Independence in downtown Mexico City to the central Zócalo Plaza in the late afternoon of Oct. 15 to protest the Oct. 10 seizure by Mexican soldiers and federal police of facilities of the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC). Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s center-right administration decreed the liquidation of the company and terminated its employees as the security forces were occupying the plants [see Update #1007]. The number of workers laid off is now said to be more than 43,000.

The Oct. 15 demonstration was so large that protesters were already waiting in the mammoth Zócalo while marchers were still setting off from the starting point more than two miles away. The Angel of Independence circle was packed at the beginning of the march, and many demonstrators, including former Mexico City mayor and 2006 presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, started from other locations—the nearby statue of Diana the Hunter and points along the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard. The Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), a 95-year-old independent union which represents the LFC’s active workers and about 23,000 retirees, estimated that more than 350,000 people took part in the protest; police put the number at about 150,000.

The speakers included leaders of various unions and legislative deputy Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, who in his long career has led the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and is now in the small leftist Workers Party (PT). They called for rescinding the LFC’s liquidation and expressed solidarity with the SME. The federal government says the company had to be closed because it was inefficient and lost too much money, but SME general secretary Martín Esparza Flores charges that President Calderón’s goal was to break the union and to pave the way for privatization of the LFC. According to the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada, the average pay for LFC workers was 6,000 pesos a month (about $455). (LJ 10/16/09; Agence France Presse 10/16/09)

During talks after the protest, the government offered to negotiate over finding employment for the workers if they would accept the liquidation, but at departmental assemblies on Oct. 17 the union leaders announced that they would continue their strategy of legal challenges and demonstrations. (LJ 10/18/09)

On Oct. 14 the United Steelworkers (USW), the largest industrial union in North America, expressed solidarity with the SME, which has called for support from unions in Mexico and other countries. “The actions of the Mexican government in using federal forces to take over the public utility, dismissing the workers and thereby effectively disbanding their union is an outrageous act of union busting,” USW international president Leo Gerard said. (USW press release 10/14/09)

*3. Mexico: UN Reports on Attacks Against Rights Activists
The Mexico Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented a report in Mexico City on Oct. 13 on the dangers facing human rights activists in Mexico. According to the report, “Defending Human Rights: Caught Between Commitment and Risk,” the OHCHR found 128 cases of aggression against activists from January 2006 to August 2009, including 10 murders. OHCHR staff visited 10 of Mexico's 32 states to compile the report, interviewing non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights defenders, victims of aggression, journalists and government authorities.

Noemí Ramírez, head of the nongovernmental Mexican Academy for Human Rights, told the Inter Press Service (IPS) that the situation of human rights defenders is "worrying." She laid much of the blame on the government of President Felipe Calderón of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). Violence has risen in the country since Calderón launched a massive “war on drugs” after taking office in December 2006. "The government has vilified the work of rights defenders,” she said. “There has been a serious deterioration in the situation under the present administration."

Incidents involving violence against human rights defenders include the murder of Raúl Lucas and Manuel Ponce, leaders of the Organization for the Future of the Mixteca Indigenous Peoples, whose bodies were found Feb. 21 in the southern state of Guerrero. They had been tortured and executed; the crimes remain unpunished. In the same month, the Tlachilollan Mountain Human Rights Center closed one of its offices in Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero, because of threats, intimidation and persecution of activists for indigenous peoples' rights. (IPS 10/14/09)

*4. Puerto Rico: General Strike Protests Layoffs
A one-day general strike protesting plans to lay off 16,970 of Puerto Rico’s 180,000 public employees in November shut down all state-owned enterprises and the island’s schools and colleges on Oct. 15; most private businesses reportedly remained open remained open, and ports and airports were said to be functioning normally. There were protests throughout Puerto Rico, with tens of thousands of people converging on San Juan's Plaza Las Américas, the biggest shopping mall in the Caribbean. Hundreds of trucks drove slowly around the Milla de Oro area honking their horns, while some employees of the companies along the way gathered at doors and windows to show their support for the protest. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” office worker Yadira de León told the Associated Press news service. “I support it because the situation is difficult [for the laid-off workers], but I have to work.” De León’s 11-year-old daughter was with her because the schools were closed.

Organizers said more than 100,000 people had participated in the San Juan demonstration, while the police declined to give an estimate. The general strike was backed by all the island’s main labor organizations, including the General Workers Union (UGT) and the All Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico Coalition. Economists said the Oct. 15 strike would cost the economy at least $32 million.

If Gov. Luis Fortuño goes ahead with the November layoffs, the total job losses for the year will be above 21,000. The government laid off 7,816 employees in May but had to hire more than 3,000 temporary teachers and assistants when the school year started in August. Fortuño says the job cuts, expected to save $386 million, are necessary because the government faces a $3.2 billion deficit this year due to the world economic crisis, but economists say the cuts will prolong the recession. Union leaders accuse Fortuño of planning to privatize government services [see Update #1006]. (El Diario-La Prensa (New York) 10/15/09 from AP; Univision 10/15/09; Latin American Herald Tribune 10/16/09 from EFE)

In New York, with the largest community of people of Puerto Rican descent outside the island, labor unions and other groups held a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Oct. 15 to support the demands of the strikers. In the late afternoon, as many as 200 activists gathered in a heavy rain outside the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office in midtown for a lively solidarity rally organized by the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights and other grassroots organizations. After the rally, protesters carried out a “huevazo,” hurling eggs at a poster with Gov. Fortuño’s picture. (Terra (Spain) 10/15/09 from EFE; eyewitness report)

Protests continued after Oct. 15. Members of the National Hostosian Independence Movement (MINH) demonstrated against the governor when he appeared at a ceremony at the Julita Ross amphitheater in Toa Baja on Oct. 17. The labor unions said on Oct. 16 that they planned to continue the struggle until they had overturned Law 7, which permits the layoffs. Methodist bishop Juan Vera, a spokesperson for protest organizers, warned that there may be another general strike. “The people are tired of so much abuse,” he told the Cuban news service Prensa Latina. (ED-LP 10/18/09 from AP; PL 10/16/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Trade, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico

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Colombia: army officer detained in massacre of indigenous people

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Hugo Chávez: Iran aids Venezuela uranium exploration

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Honduras: Talks Seek Solution to 102-Day Crisis

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Guatemala: one dead in anti-mine protests

Mexico Revs up War on Workers; Obama Shrugs

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