Tuesday, November 3, 2009

WNU #1010: “Popular Victory” in Honduras?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1010, November 1, 2009

1. Honduras: “Reactionary Accord” or “Popular Victory”?
2. Honduras: US Officials Finally Act
3. Mexico: Labor Rights Tribunal Is “Scandalized”
4. Haiti: UN Force Renewed, Labor Rights Certified
5. Links to alternative sources on: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Honduras: “Reactionary Accord” or “Popular Victory”?
On Nov. 1 Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales expressed optimism about an agreement his representatives signed with the country’s de facto government on Oct. 30 to end a political crisis that began with a military coup on June 28. At the same time, he warned against possible “manipulation” by de facto president Roberto Micheletti. “[W]e need to stay alert until compliance [with the accord] is accomplished,” he told the Venezuela-based TeleSUR television network.

Under the agreement, the two sides and the Organization of American States (OAS) were to name a Verification Commission by Nov. 2 to make sure the accord is carried out. The two sides were then to form a multi-party Government of Unity and National Reconciliation by Nov. 5 and proceed with the scheduled Nov. 29 general elections. The agreement does not explicitly restore Zelaya to the presidency but calls on the National Congress to “return the incumbency of the Executive Power to its state previous to June 28” until the end of Zelaya’s term on Jan. 27.

The members of the Verification Commission were already named by Nov. 1. OAS general secretary José Miguel Insulza, a Chilean diplomat, appointed former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006) and current US labor secretary Hilda Solis. Zelaya designated Arturo Reina Idiáquez, a former university rector who represents Honduras at the United Nations, and Micheletti appointed Arturo Corrales, a member of his negotiating team.

Zelaya told TeleSUR on Nov. 1 that under the agreement Congress needs to return him to power by Nov. 5, since the Government of Unity and National Reconciliation is scheduled to be installed that day. The OAS, which still hasn’t lifted the sanctions it imposed on Honduras after the coup, may also impose a different deadline: in an OAS meeting on Oct. 30, Bolivian representative José Pinelo proposed that the organization hold a special assembly in Tegucigalpa on Nov. 16 to reconsider the sanctions--if the agreement had been complied with. (Vos el Soberano blog 11/1/09 from TeleSUR, 11/1/09 from EFE; Honduras Coup 2009 11/1/09)

On Oct. 30 the National Front of Resistance to the Coup d’Etat, the trade union and grassroots coalition which coordinated nonviolent actions against the coup, issued a statement on the Oct. 30 agreement calling the restoration of Zelaya to office “a popular victory over the petty interests of the coup-making oligarchy.” The victory had been “obtained through more than four months of struggle and sacrifice by the people,” which “despite savage repression” had been able to become “an irrepressible social force.” Although Zelaya had agreed in the accord to “renounce” any efforts to rewrite the 1982 Constitution through a Constituent Assembly, the statement called constitutional revision an “aspiration that cannot be renounced” and for which “we will go on struggling in the streets.” (El Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra el Golpe de Estado blog 10/30/09)

Groups to the left of the National Front weren’t as optimistic. On Oct. 31 the Trostkyist Central American Socialist Party (PSOC) denounced the agreement as a “reactionary accord with a taste of treason.” It criticized the “bureaucratic vices” of the National Front’s leadership, which it said had “committed many errors in the more than 100 days of resistance.” (El SOCA website 10/31/09 via Vos el Soberano)

An editorial in the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada praised the “admirable demonstrations of popular resistance within Honduras,” which, along with “international isolation,” had “cornered” the coup regime. But it noted the accord’s "questionable elements," such as the inclusion of the coup’s perpetrators in the government of national reconciliation. The “formal conclusion of the political crisis” is something positive, the editors wrote, but “the international community should be careful that [the accord] isn’t used as a pretext to give accreditation to the failed coup and to leave unpunished the crimes against humanity committed during the last four months.” (LJ 11/1/09)

*2. Honduras: US Officials Finally Act
There is little question that the US was the main force behind the Oct. 30 agreement between the de facto Honduran government and representatives of deposed president Manuel Zeleya. Talks to end the crisis were deadlocked as of Oct. 23, after 16 days of negotiations [see Update #1009]. A delegation from the US headed by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon joined the talks in Tegucigalpa on Oct. 28, and an agreement was signed just two days later.

Until Oct. 28 the administration of US president Barack Obama had publicly let Latin Americans take the lead in negotiations, claiming the US wanted to avoid “intervention.” “Not all countries have the same weight, especially in relation to Honduras,” Michael Shifter, vice president of the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Inter-American Dialogues, told the BBC network, referring to longstanding US economic, political and military ties to the country. “Who knows what would have happened if the [US] delegation had arrived earlier?” asked Eduardo Enrique Reina, the Honduran ambassador to the US appointed by Zelaya in July. (BBC 10/30/09 via Vos el Soberano)

Various US interests had been stepping up pressure on the Obama administration for a solution. On Oct. 27, just as the State Department delegation was about to leave for Tegucigalpa, seven trade associations--including the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the National Council of Textile Organizations and the National Retail Federation--sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton a letter on the crisis. "We are increasingly concerned that with the continued uncertainty regarding the political situation…the US-Honduran textile complex--one of the most vibrant in the Western Hemisphere--is in danger of being permanently damaged," the associations said. Imports of textiles and apparel from Honduras dropped by 38% in June, July and August this year, according to the letter, and exports of US textile products to Honduras fell by 38% in August, September and October, a $165 million loss. (The Hill (Washington, DC) 10/28/09) Honduras is a major center for the maquiladora industry, the tax-exempt assembly of products like apparel chiefly for export [see Updates #1005, 1006].

Meanwhile, US supporters of the coup were experiencing setbacks in their efforts to claim that the coup was legal and backed by a majority of Hondurans.

Several legal experts had already dismissed an August report by the Law Library of Congress claiming that Zelaya’s removal was constitutional [see Update #1009]. On Oct. 27 Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Librarian of Congress James Billington calling the report “misleading to the Congress and the public” and charging that it “contains factual errors and is based on a flawed legal analysis.” They asked for the Law Library to issue a corrected version including other views. The report had been requested by a Republican, Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois, and Republican Congress members promptly charged Kerry and Berman with censorship. (The Hill 10/27/09; Miami Herald 11/1/09)

In late October the CID Gallup polling organization released the results of a survey it conducted Oct. 13-19 among 1,420 Hondurans over 18; the company put the margin of error at 2.8%. Some 42% of those interviewed recognized Zelaya as their president, as against 36% for de facto president Roberto Micheletti; 18% recognized no president. Those surveyed were split over whether it was necessary for Zelaya to be returned to office—with 49% against and 47% in factor—but 60% said that Zelaya had always or almost always done “what is good for the people,” while 59% said Micheletti had rarely or never done this. (La Nación (Paraguay) 10/28/09 from AP; Honduras Coup 2009 10/31/09). The latest poll followed the same pattern as the three other polls that have been taken in Honduras since the coup [see Update #1009].

*3. Mexico: Labor Rights Tribunal Is “Scandalized”
The International Tribunal on Freedom of Association, a new body investigating violations of the right to unionize, held its opening sessions on Oct. 26 and 26 in Mexico City. Created by more than 30 Mexican and foreign civil society organizations, the tribunal includes 16 authors, academics and labor and human rights activists from eight different countries. They heard testimony and received documents from 16 cases brought by trade unions alleging that the Mexican government had violated International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 87, on freedom of association and the right to organize, and Convention 98, on the right to collective bargaining.

The complainants included the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a rank-and-file caucus in Mexico’s largest union, the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE). Mexican teacher Gerardo Cruz described how CNTE offices “were occupied, damaged and ransacked" by goons from the SNTE executive committee on the day of a local union election. Another focus was on the government’s Oct. 10 liquidation of the state-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) and the dismissal of some LFC 43,000 workers in what many consider an effort to break the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), one of the country’s oldest and strongest independent unions [see Update #1008]. The Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) was invited to the public hearings but failed send a representative.

The tribunal is to issue verdicts in April 2010 after hearing other cases, but it made a preliminary declaration at the conclusion of the first two sessions. “We are concerned, surprised and even scandalized by the gravity of labor rights violations and the violence against workers that is occurring in Mexico," the members wrote. (Inter Press Service 10/29/09)

At an impromptu rally outside the Mexico City offices of the Federal Reconciliation and Arbitration Council (JFCA) on Oct. 31, SME general secretary Martín Esparza Flores told thousands of union members about plans to fight the LFC liquidation with legal challenges and a possible national solidarity strike by other unions. On Nov. 2 the SME leadership was to announce a financial plan for the laid-off workers, who have now gone for four weeks without a paycheck. The government is pushing for the workers to sign up for a severance package, which would mean giving up the right to challenge their termination. As of Oct. 31, 18,500 laid-off workers, about 42% of the total, had signed up, according to the STPS. SME spokesperson Fernando Amezcua questioned the number, saying 30,000 workers, about 70% of the work force, had filed the challenges called for by the union. (La Jornada 11/1/09)

As an extra incentive, on Oct. 18 the government announced that it would provide jobless electrical workers with scholarships of 5,387 pesos (about $405.11) a month for retraining if they sign up for the severance package by Nov. 14. The scholarships are to cover up to three months of classes in fields such as computer work, automobile repair and refrigeration. There will also be classes in English. (CNN Expansion 10/18/09; LJ 10/19/09)

*4. Haiti: UN Force Renewed, Labor Rights Certified
On Oct. 13 the United Nations (UN) Security Council approved a one-year extension of the mandate for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 9,000-member military and police force that has occupied Haiti under Brazilian leadership since June 2004. The main change in the mandate is a slight reduction in the number of soldiers from 7,000 a 6,940, with the number of police agents increasing from 2,000 to 2,211. (Adital 10/15/09)

According to Radio Jamaica on Oct. 20, US president Barack Obama has certified Haiti as having fulfilled workers' rights criteria. The country was required to establish an independent labor ombudsperson’s office and a program operated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to assess compliance with basic labor rights in Haitian factories. Some local producers also had to participate in the ILO program. The labor rights certification means that Haiti will continue to be covered by HOPE II, US trade legislation which gives duty-free access to the US market for some apparel products and other articles assembled in the country, including brassieres, luggage headgear and sleepwear. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, called the certification a sign that Haiti was ready for business. (Radio Jamaica 10/20/09)

Former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), now a special UN envoy to Haiti, has joined with US and Brazilian business interests to promote the development of assembly plants (maquiladoras) in Haiti that would benefit from the HOPE II legislation [see Update #1007].

On Oct. 30 the Haitian Senate passed a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis, with 18 of the 27 members in favor of the motion. Pierre-Louis is now required to resign, and President René Préval will have to appoint a new prime minister. The motivation for Pierre-Louis’ removal, which was promoted by senators from President Préval’s Lespwa (Hope) party, is not clear, although critics said she had failed to move quickly to revive the economy during her 14 months on the job. The president is expected to nominate Planning and External Cooperation Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to replace her.

Both the UN and the US expressed concern that a new prime minister should take office as soon as possible. “The international community wants stability, predictability, and a government favorable to Bill Clinton's business investment project,” University of Virginia professor Robert Fatton told the Miami Herald. “Whether it's Michèle Pierre-Louis or not is irrelevant” to major players like Canada, France and the US. (Miami Herald 10/29/09; AlterPresse 10/30/09, __, __)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico

Peruvian Cardinal Does Not Want Rebel Priest as President

Ecuador: The Battle for Natural Resources Deepens

Ecuador: Oil Giant Is Gone, Legal and Environmental Mess Remains

The Continuity of Immunity for Tío Sam in Colombia

International Criminal Court warns Colombia on paramilitaries

US signs military base plan with Colombia

Coca-Cola: Off the Hook for Colombia Terror

Venezuela: Colombian incursions, espionage charged

Venezuelan Labor Between Chavez and the Golpistas

Venezuela: Demarcation Without Land

"No Pago" Confronts Microfinance in Nicaragua

Obama shouldn't cave in to the far right on Honduras

Video: 100 Days of Resistance in Honduras

Clock ticking in Honduras

Honduras: deal announced, but coupsters admit it's bogus

Honduras: Solution or Stall?

Agreement to End Honduran Coup Marks Victory and Challenge

The Hidden Side of Mexico's Drug War

Mexican Political Prisoners Gloria Arenas and Jacobo Silva Released

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