Tuesday, December 29, 2009

WNU #1018: Mexico City OKs Same-Sex Marriage

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1018, December 27, 2009

1. Mexico: Federal District OKs Same-Sex Marriage
2. Colombia: Who Killed Gov. Cuéllar, and Why?
3. Bolivia: Government Wants Immigrants Back
4. Panama: Families Mark 20 Years Since US Invasion
5. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

1. Mexico: Federal District OKs Same-Sex Marriage
On Dec. 21 Mexico City’s legislature, the Federal District Legislative Assembly (ALDF), voted 39-20 to permit same-sex marriage; another 39-20 vote later in the session gave same-sex couples the legal right to adopt children. Deputies from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the small leftist Workers Party (PT) voted for the measure, while the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the small Ecological Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) opposed it. Two deputies from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) voted with the opposition, and five abstained. PAN coordinator Mariana Gómez del Campo and PRI coordinator Israel Betanzos said they would challenge the law’s constitutionality before the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN).

Federal District (DF) head of government Marcelo Ebrard—in effect, Mexico City’s mayor—is a member of the PRD and is expected to sign the bill. If he does, the Mexican capital will become the first city in Latin America to recognize same-sex marriages. (Associated Press 12/21/09; La Jornada (Mexico) 12/22/09). [The DF was the first Mexican political unit to approve same-sex civil unions, in a vote on Nov. 9, 2006; see Updates #874, 905].

2. Colombia: Who Killed Gov. Cuéllar, and Why?
Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba announced on Dec. 26 that she had asked the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to state whether they are responsible for the Dec. 21 abduction of Luis Francisco Cuéllar, governor of the southern department of Caquetá; his body was found with a slashed throat outside the state capital, Florencia, on Dec. 22. Police agent Javier García Gutiérrez was also killed in the incident, and two agents were injured. The government of rightwing president Alvaro Uribe immediately blamed the FARC for the kidnapping and deaths. Agencia de Noticias Nueva Colombia (ANNCOL), a news agency which carries communiqués from the rebels, called the government’s claim “irresponsible,” but as of Dec. 26 there had been no denial from the FARC.

Many governments—including those of Chile, France and the US--issued statements denouncing the killings. On Dec. 23 the center-left government of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa expressed its “most energetic condemnation and rejection of the kidnapping and murder” and its “solidarity with the relatives of the governor and the police agents.”

The incident may put a brake on negotiations that Sen. Córdoba and the organization Colombians for Peace had been holding with the FARC for the unilateral release of two soldiers the rebels are holding captive: Pablo Emilio Moncayo and Josué Daniel Calvo. President Uribe reacted to the abduction and killing by announcing that his government would take military action to free all FARC prisoners. As of Dec. 26 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which had been making arrangements for the transfer of the prisoners, had suspended its participation, citing the lack of safety guarantees if the government is carrying out military actions.

The case of Pablo Moncayo, a noncommissioned officer, is especially familiar to the Colombian public because his father, the schoolteacher Gustavo Moncayo, has been carrying out a "walk for peace" for several years to call for the government and the FARC to negotiate his son’s release [see Update #909]. Gustavo Moncayo has asked the government not to attempt a rescue of his son. (El Universal (Caracas) 12/26/09; Prensa Latina 12/23/09, 12/26/09; El Tiempo (Colombia) 12/23/09; EFE 12/23/09)

Aside from delaying or possibly sabotaging the prisoner release, the operation against Gov. Cuéllar seemed badly timed in other ways for opponents of President Uribe, one of the US government’s few remaining Latin American allies. Elections are scheduled for Mar. 14 to select 102 senators and 166 representatives for the Congress, along with five members of the Andean Parliament; on May 30 voters are to choose the president and vice president, with a runoff on June 20 if no one wins a majority. Uribe, who has based much of his political career on confrontations with the FARC, is contemplating a controversial run for a third term. Cuéllar’s death is “opportune” for Uribe, Argentine-born journalist Irene Selser wrote in her column in the conservative Mexican daily Milenio on Dec. 24. It also “legitimizes the presence in the country of US troops, who will be arriving in the next weeks to ‘defend…democracy from these narco-terrorists,’ as the White House put it” on Dec. 23.

The FARC unit that operates in Caquetá is the Teófilo Forero column, which is known for such spectacular operations as the kidnapping of Green presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and the hijacking of former senator Eduardo Gechem Turbay’s plane, both in February 2002. But recently the unit has been quiet, according to Selser, who wrote that “a possible action of infiltration by the US can’t be discounted.” The Venezuela-based television network TeleSUR reported on Dec. 23 that according to its Colombia correspondent “some Colombians have indicated that the governor’s death could be a matter of a ‘false positive’ carried out by the Colombian government”—a reference to cases of the Colombian military killing civilians and then dressing their bodies in FARC uniforms. (Prensa Latina 12/26/09; Milenio 12/24/09; El Tiempo (Colombia) 12/23/09; Colombia Reports 12/23/09)

But others thought the operation may have stemmed simply from local Caquetá politics. The rebels frequently accused Cuéllar of supporting the rightwing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) when he was mayor of Morelia, and they had kidnapped him for ransoms a total of four times before the Dec. 21 incident.

Meanwhile, this year the national government was investigating Cuéllar for “parapolitics,” based on accusations by former paramilitary leader Luis Alberto Medina Salazar (“Cristo Malo”) that the governor had funded paramilitaries. In an appearance before the prosecutor’s office in Bogotá in early November, Cuéllar denied the charges, which he said were politically motivated. In fact, a political rival, former governor Juan Carlos Claros, allegedly had members of the Heroes of the Andaquíes Bloc—a paramilitary group reportedly tied to Claros—plant 300 uniforms camouflage uniforms in one of Cuéllar’s ranches in 2005 to create the appearance that Cuéllar was still working actively with the paramilitaries. (Rebelión 12/24/09)

In other news, the Corporation Humanitarian Action for Coexistence and Peace in the Antioquian Northeast (Cahucopana) reported the discovery of the body of Luis Alberto Aris Pran (presumably a local resident) on Nov. 21 in Remedios municipality in the northwestern department of Antioquia. According to some reports, the killing was carried out by paramilitaries operating in the region; the group is said to include an army deserter. On Dec. 13 the vendor Sergio Alonso Gallego was murdered in Remedios; the motive and identity of the killers is unknown. (Adital 12/22/09 from Prensa Rural)

3. Bolivia: Government Wants Immigrants Back
At a ceremony in La Paz marking International Migrants Day on Dec. 18, Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca said the leftist government of President Evo Morales had an “obligation” to help Bolivian migrants return to their country. “The recovery of our natural resources is important for us so that Bolivians who for different reasons have gone abroad to look for work or to study can return to our country and can build [their] dreams in our lands,” Choquehuanca said, linking the issue to the government’s nationalization policies. He also announced accords with Spain to make it easier for Bolivian immigrants to Spain to get drivers’ licenses there.

Alfonso Hinojosa, who heads Bolivia’s consular offices, told the Spanish wire service EFE that the government had taken several steps to encourage the return of migrants, including an offer of land to Bolivian immigrant communities in Argentina and Chile. The government is also considering incentives for Bolivians working at low-wage jobs in shops in Argentina and Brazil to come home, he said. According to the government more than two million people have left Bolivia in the past 30 years, most of them moving to Argentina, where about 1.5 million Bolivians are living. Some 250,000 Bolivians are in the US, and around the same number live in Brazil, while as many as 350,000 may have immigrated to Spain from 2002 to 2007. (La Opinión (Los Angeles) 12/23/09 from EFE)

4. Panama: Families Mark 20 Years Since US Invasion
Relatives of people who were killed when the US military invaded Panama in 1989 marked the 20th anniversary of the intervention on Dec. 20 with a protest outside the old US embassy in Panama City, burning effigies of US president Barack Obama and Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli. The Association of Relatives of the Fallen is calling for a Truth Commission to investigate the events of December 1989, including possible war crimes. The protesters said they have brought this demand to four Panamanian governments without success and are now trying to get action from rightwing president Martinelli, who took office on July 1.

Some 26,000 elite US troops invaded Panamanian cities and installations in the early morning of Dec. 20, 1989; they were joined by 12,000 soldiers from the more than 100 bases the US still maintained in the Canal Zone at the time. The invasion, codenamed “Operation Just Cause,” was ordered by then-president George H.W. Bush without a declaration of war and without approval from the United Nations; the pretext was that the US needed to end drug trafficking by the regime of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, who for most of his career had been a paid informant of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The operation, following the “overkill” strategy of Gen. Colin Powell, then the head of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, included bombing civilian areas in Panama City and Colón. Official sources say 427 people were killed in the invasion, but relatives and social organizations put the number at 4,000. Local media said 14,000 homes were destroyed and estimated the material damage at $1.5 billion.

The protesters noted that Martinelli had agreed to give the US access to as many as 11 new Panamanian bases, allegedly to fight narcotrafficking under the US-funded Mérida Initiative [see Update #1012]. The first of these bases opened on Dec. 1 on the Pacific island of Chapera. (Prensa Latina 12/20/09; Earth Times 12/20/09 from DPA; La Jornada 12/21/09, from AP, DPA, Notimex)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico

Brazilian Guarani Tortured and Murdered

Bolivia Debates Media Law Reform

Bolivia: Native People Take First Steps Towards Self-Government

Bicentennial and Breaking Continuity: Ecuador, Latin America, and Obama

Canada-Ecuador: When Stock Exchanges Fuel Human Rights Violations

Colombia: Chicha, Fashionable Survivor

Colombia: FARC blamed in slaying of Caquetá governor

Venezuela signs new oil deals with China, imposes power cuts on industry

Honduran Coup d'état Finds Rival in Nicaragua

El Salvador: Ramiro Rivera Shot to Death in Cabañas

Action Alert: Demand an Investigation Into the Murder of Anti-mining Activist Ramiro Rivera Gómez

Hitmen Assassinate Prominent Woman Activist in Cabañas; Pro-Mining Violence Continues

El Salvador: another anti-mining activist assassinated

Killing Activists in Honduras

Mexico: Where the Holidays are a Cruel Hoax

Mexico: Drug War in Guerrero: A War on the Poor

Mexico: Quintana Roo journalist 12th killed in 2009

Mexico: grisly vengeance follows Arturo Beltrán Leyva killing

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

WNU #1017: Reporter Threatened Over Honduran Election Story

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1017, December 20, 2009

1. Honduras: Reporter Threatened Over Election Story
2. Honduras: De Factos to Leave ALBA, Keep Oil Deal
3. Colombia: Peace Community Called “FARC Haven”
4. Puerto Rico: Thousands Protest Anti-Gay Crimes
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Drug War

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: Reporter Threatened Over Election Story
Ernesto Carmona, the Chilean general secretary of the Investigation Commission on Attacks Against Journalists (CIAP) of the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP), told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina on Dec. 17 that the life of Swedish journalist Dick Emanuelsson was in danger because of an article he wrote questioning official turnout projections in the Nov. 29 Honduran general elections [see Update #1015]. Rightwing forces in the country have claimed there was high voter participation, which they say validated a June 28 coup that removed President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office; coup opponents said turnout was about 30-40%.

Emanuelsson, who is based in Honduras, wrote an article on Dec. 1 about an interview he held with Rolando Bú, coordinator of the election monitoring nonprofit Fundación Hagamos Democracia (FHD). The interview focused on the discrepancy between the 61.3% voter participation rate given by Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the 47.6% figure the FHD gave based on its own monitoring of polling places; Emanuelsson also revealed that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) paid up to 29% of the FHD’s $300,000 budget for 2009.

Bú later charged that Emanuelsson taped the interview without permission, and he threatened to press charges. Emanuelsson said one of Bú’s secretaries told him he might “meet the same fate as Father [José Andrés] Tamayo”—a Salvadoran environmental activist and priest who has been ordered expelled from Honduras [see Update #1004]. Emanuelsson thinks he might be physically attacked, according to CIAP. “Things are ugly here, and every day it seems more like Colombia,” Carmona quoted Emanuelsson as saying. The reporter left Colombia previously because of death threats. (PL 12/17/09; Rebanadas de Realidad (Argentina) 12/1/09)

The TSE isn’t expected to give its final count until Dec. 23 at the earliest, but on Dec. 19 its website showed a participation rate of 49.4%--with “100.07%” [sic] of the 2,297,465 votes counted. The total of blank and spoiled ballots was 155,584, according to the website, so that the total valid votes in the official count represented about 46% of registered voters, far below the TSE’s original figure. It is unknown how many voters spoiled their votes or left them blank on purpose to protest the de facto government, but the pro-coup Tegucigalpa daily La Tribuna showed a picture of a spoiled ballot: the voter had written “coup-perpetrating SOBs” across the pictures of the presidential candidates. (Honduras Coup 2009 12/19/09; La Tribuna 12/13/09)

*2. Honduras: De Factos to Leave ALBA, Keep Oil Deal
On Dec. 16 de facto Honduran president Roberto Micheletti Bain sent the National Congress a proposal for Honduras to withdraw from the Venezuelan-inspired Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America trade bloc (ALBA, formerly the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America). De facto presidency minister Rafael Pineda Ponce said the move only concerned the ALBA pact and “will not affect in any way commercial or other types of relations that have been maintained, or the importation of oil or anything connected to PetroCaribe,” a system through which Venezuela provides oil to other Caribbean countries at favorable terms. Honduras currently receives 20,000 barrels a day; it pays 60% of the cost in 90 days and the rest over 25 years at just 1% interest a year.

Deposed president Manuel Zelaya called Micheletti’s move “insolent” and charged that the de facto government had wasted “more than $100 million coming from ALBA and Petrocaribe.” He noted that Micheletti was president of the Congress when it approved Honduras’ entry into ALBA in August 2008; Honduras joined PetroCaribe in January 2008. Congress won’t take up Micheletti’s proposal until it resumes its sessions in January. (Honduras Laboral 12/16/09; Página 12 (Argentina) 12/17/09; Adital 12/18/09)

Also on Dec. 16, de facto president Micheletti blamed coup opponents for the murder the night before of 16-year-old Kathleen Nicolle Rodríguez Cabrera. Two men on a motorcycle shot her as she, her boyfriend and two friends were driving in a Tegucigalpa neighborhood. Rodríguez Cabrera, who was eight months pregnant, was pronounced dead at the hospital; doctors saved the baby, who was reportedly in critical condition in an incubator.

The murder victim’s mother was Karol Cabrera, a radio and television broadcaster who supports the coup. Police were investigating the possibility that the murder was revenge by the resistance for her commentaries, but on Dec. 17 Francisco Murillo López, head of the National Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DNIC), indicated that the likely cause of the murder was a fight between youth groups supporting two different local soccer teams, the Olimpia and Motagua clubs. There are reports that Rodríguez Cabrera’s boyfriend was connected to one of these groups. Attorney Fredin Funes of the Lawyers’ Front Against the Coup d’Etat charged that Micheletti’s statements were irresponsible and that the de facto president “is inciting [people] to repression and revenge.” (EFE 12/16/09; El Tiempo (San Pedro Sula) 12/16/09, 12/18/09; La Tribuna 12/17/09)

*3. Colombia: Peace Community Called “FARC Haven”
The US-based Colombia Support Network (CSN) is calling for letters to Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot (wsj.ltrs@wsj.com) to protest a Dec. 14 opinion piece about the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in the northwestern Colombian department of Antioquia. In the article the paper’s Latin America correspondent Mary Anastasia O’Grady repeated charges from a former rebel commander, Daniel Sierra Martinez ("Samir"), that despite the community's claim of rejecting the presence of all weapons and armed groups, it is really a “safe haven” for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). “Samir” also claimed that when he was a rebel leader, “the supposed peaceniks who ran the local NGO”—the faith-based human rights group Justice and Peace—“were his allies and an important FARC tool in the effort to discredit the military,” O’Grady wrote.

People familiar with the community say its members have been harassed and attacked repeatedly by all sides in Colombia’s internal conflict--the military, the rightwing paramilitaries and the rebels [see Update #966]. According to a CSN statement, “more than 30 Peace Community residents have been murdered by FARC guerrillas since 1997.” In a letter to Gigot, the well-known Colombian human rights activist Father Javier Giraldo Moreno called O’Grady’s article “libelous,” “repulsive and despicable” and a “disgrace.” He said it repeated disinformation that reflects a “media strategy, directed during the last 13 years by [the Colombian military’s] Seventeenth Brigade), which seeks to destroy the Peace Community.” (WSJ 12/13/09; CSN statement 12/15/09; CSN Urgent Action 12/16/09; Giraldo Moreno letter 12/18/09)

*4. Puerto Rico: Thousands Protest Anti-Gay Crimes
On Dec. 16 the body of an unidentified man was found in a motel in the southern Puerto Rican city of Ponce; he had been stabbed 20 times and partly decapitated. Julio Serrano, spokesperson for the National Association for the Defense of Homosexuals, said the police should investigate the possibility that this was a hate crime against gays. Serrano added that no one has ever been charged with an anti-gay hate crime in Puerto Rico and that "not doing anything creates a climate of homophobia, hate and persecution." (Univision 12/17/09)

Thousands of people had demonstrated in San Juan the evening of Nov. 25 to protest what they called the Puerto Rican government’s indifference in the similar case of Jorge Steven López Mercado, a gay university student whose dismembered and burned body was found on Nov. 12 in the southern town of Cayey. Juan Martínez Matos confessed to the murder, saying he killed López Mercado, who was dressed as a woman, when he found out that the victim was a man. Prosecutors charged Martínez Matos with murder but not with a hate crime. "We are gay people, heterosexual people, young and old,” Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesperson for the US-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said at the candlelight protest outside the Puerto Rican Justice Department. “It’s Puerto Rico that’s marching tonight.” There were also vigils in New York, Los Angeles and other US cities. (EFE 11/25/09; Universo Gay (Spain) 11/26/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Drug War

Memory and Justice: A Photo Essay on Argentina's Human Rights Movement

Colombia: AQIM-FARC "narco-terrorism" charged in al-Qaeda conspiracy indictments

Colombia: FARC and ELN broach merger

Colombia: Ex-Paramilitary Implicates Two U.S. Companies in Murder of Trade Unionists

Colombia and Honduras: It's Holiday Shopping Time, while the Peace of the Graveyard Marches on

Venezuela: Chávez sees Curaçao threat

Nicaragua Names an Ombudswoman for Sexual Diversity

El Salvador: another anti-mining activist assassinated

Honduras: reject amnesty for abuses during coup

Gay activist assassinated in Honduras

Amnesty: Full and Prompt Investigation Needed Into Death of Honduran LGBT Human Rights Campaigner

Speech by Honduran Ambassador Rodolfo Pastor de Maria y Campos at Georgetown University

Amid Repression, Mobilizing Against the Coup Continues in Honduras

Guatemala: Army Records Spur Hopes for Justice

International Day for Human Rights “Celebrated” in Guatemala City

Rody Alvarado Peña and Guatemala's Lingering War

Critiquing the Trajectory of the Zapatista Movement

Mexico: kingpin Arturo Beltrán Leyva killed in shoot-out

Drug War Sea Change in the US Congress?

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WNU #1016: New Campaign Against Honduran Sweatshops

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1016, December 13, 2009

1. Honduras: Anti-Sweatshop Campaigns Advance
2. Colombia: Attorney and Labor Leader Threatened
3. Chile: Will Frei Murder Affect Runoff?
4. Haiti: US Indicts 5 in Téléco Bribe Case
5. Venezuela: Offer to Save Bronx Jobs Rebuffed
6. Trade: US Think Tank Admits NAFTA Failed Mexico
7. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua Honduras, Mexico, NAFTA, Human Rights Day

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: Anti-Sweatshop Campaigns Advance
Students at North American campuses are demanding that their universities drop licensing agreements with the Oregon-based Nike, Inc sportswear manufacturer unless 1,800 workers for two Nike contractors in Honduras get legally mandated back pay and severance packages worth more than $2 million. Officials at Purdue University in Indiana announced on Dec. 2 that they were reviewing the situation, and on Dec. 7 University of Wisconsin-Madison chancellor Biddy Martin said she was giving Nike four months to clear up problems with alleged labor abuses.

The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a Washington, DC-based monitoring group, reported in October that the Vision Tex and Hugger de Honduras maquiladoras—tax-exempt assembly plants producing for export—failed to pay their workers the compensation required by law when they closed in January [see Update #1005]. The contractors say they can’t pay, and Nike is questioning how much of its product came from the two plants. A similar student anti-sweatshop campaign forced Russell Athletic of Atlanta to agree on Nov. 17 to rehire 1,200 workers it laid off in January at its Jerzees de Honduras plant [see Update #1013]. (Purdue press release 12/3/09; The Capital Times (Madison, WI) 12/8/09)

Plant closings have become a major labor issue in Honduras. The country’s maquiladora sector lost 36,000 jobs from 2008 to 2009 because of the world economic crisis. At the same time, the situation for labor rights deteriorated after a June 28 military coup removed President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office. "We don’t have concrete data, but we’ve received reports of women who have had to work weekends to make up days missed because of arriving late due to the protests,” Women’s Rights Center director Yadira Minero told the Inter Press Service (IPS) wire service. (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/24/09 from IPS)

On Dec. 10 Judge Ernesto Flores Bardales in El Progreso municipality, Yoro department (near San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras), ordered unconditional freedom for Bartolo Fuentes, a journalist and city council member that factory owners had charged with obstruction of justice and abuse of authority in another plant closing. On May 13 Fuentes and other reporters covered a sit-in at the Zip Porvenir free trade zone by some of the 400 workers laid off when the Star, SA maquiladora closed at the end of March. The workers were demanding their full severance pay and compensation for maternity leave and sick days.

The Chahin-Hawit family, which owns the free trade zone, charged that Fuentes was instigating the protest and that he abused his authority by agreeing to hold the workers’ severance checks in trust; the workers refused to endorse the checks because they felt they were entitled to more compensation. The company finally settled with the Star Workers Union (SITRASTAR) in July, paying a total of more than 1 million lempiras ($53,000) to some 134 former workers. The Star plant reportedly produced apparel for the Anvil, Nike and Adidas companies. (Honduras Laboral 12/10/09 from Comun-Noticias)

Fuentes was briefly detained on Sept. 15 when he tried to make a speech at El Progreso’s official Independence Day celebration. Mayor Alexander López had Fuentes’ mike shut off after he began to denounce the coup d’état. When the council member continued to speak to the cheering crowd, Police Commissioner Flores Mejia ordered police agents to arrest him. A video of the incident was widely circulated on the internet. (Honduras Laboral 9/15/09 from Comun-Noticias)

*2. Colombia: Attorney and Labor Leader Threatened
The US-based Colombia Support Network (CSN) reported on Dec. 10 that for the last several weeks Colombian human rights attorney Jorge Eliécer Molano-Rodríguez had “received worrisome visits to his apartment building by individuals who refused to give their names to the building watchman, and his companion has been stalked by strange men…. Molano’s legal work has involved him in some of Colombia’s most controversial cases, representing, among others, families of victims of the Palace of Justice murders; of the Feb. 21, 2005 massacre of members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó; and of the Army’s ‘false positives’ kidnapping and murder of civilian youths in San José de Guaviare, and in Bolivar and Cesar departments.”

CSN is asking for people in the US to write to members of Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (secretary@state.gov and http://www.state.gov/), US ambassador Mr. William Brownfield (AmbassadorB@state.gov) and other officials to express concern and to urge them to communicate to Colombian officials the need to protect Molano. (CSN urgent action 12/10/09)

According to the National Directorate of Colombia's National Union of Food Industry Workers (SINALTRAINAL), on Nov. 24 union president Luis Javier Correa Suárez received a threatening call on a mobile phone assigned to him by the Interior Ministry’s protection program. A man who identified himself as Arnold Jiménez told Correa: “You have until the 22nd to renounce, and there won’t be another phone call.” When Correa asked why, the man replied: “You know why, don’t play games, you know what I mean” and hung up. This came during a contract dispute with the Industria Nacional de Gaseosas S.A., a bottling company owned by Coca-Cola’s Colombia branch.

The union has called for international solidarity. The British-based Colombia Solidarity Campaign recommends sending protests to Colombia’s London embassy (elondres@cancilleria.gov.co and mail@colombianembassy.co.uk) and messages of support to the union (areainternacional@sinaltrainal.org), with copies to the Colombia Solidarity Campaign (info@colombiasolidarity.org.uk ). (LabourNet 12/11/09)

*3. Chile: Will Frei Murder Affect Runoff?
Rightwing billionaire Sebastián Piñera led the presidential race in Chile’s general elections on Dec. 13 with about 44% of the vote, followed by the candidate of the ruling center-left Concertation coalition, the Christian Democratic former president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1994-2000), with about 30%. The two candidates will face each other in a runoff on Jan. 17, with both seeking votes from supporters of former Socialist deputy Marco Enríquez Ominami, who came in third with 20%; he has refused to endorse either of the frontrunners. Jorge Arrate of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), in fourth place with 5% of the vote, threw his support to Frei after the voting on Dec. 13. (Agence France Presse 12/14/09)

Parties on the right won 16 of the 38 seats in the Senate and 58 of 120 seats in the Chamber of Deputies; this was the right’s strongest showing in the lower house since the end of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship headed by the late Gen. August Pinochet. Concertation candidates won 19 seats in the Senate and 54 in the Chamber of Deputies. Three PCCh candidates won seats in the Chamber; they will be the first Communist legislators since the military coup of 1973. (Milenio (Mexico) 12/14/09 from DPA; Prensa Latina 12/14/09)

On Dec. 7, less than a week before the elections, Appeals Court judge Alejandro Madrid charged three people with murder in the 1982 death of former president Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-1970), the father of the Concertation candidate. The Frei family had long suspected that Frei Montalva, who had moved from supporting Pinochet to opposing the dictatorship, died from gradual poisoning rather than the natural causes cited in the official autopsy report. After a seven-year investigation, Judge Madrid concluded that low doses of mustard gas and thallium ultimately led to Frei Montalva’s death. The accused are a doctor with military connections, a former intelligence agent and Frei Montalva’s driver. Judge Madrid also accused three doctors of complicity in the murder or of helping in the coverup. If the judge’s conclusion is correct, this was the first murder of a president in Chile’s history.

“There is no doubt that Pinochet ordered this murder," Álvaro Varela, a lawyer for the Frei family, told the New York Times. The dictatorship was suspected of killing several opponents using special poisons developed by the chemist Eugenio Berríos, who was murdered in Uruguay in the 1990s; his body was found there in 1995 [see Update #664].

Asked if the timing of the charges was connected to the elections and Frei Ruiz-Tagle’s poor showing in the polls, Justice Minister Carlos Maldonado said that instead of questioning the charges, people “should be ashamed that 27 years have had to pass so that truth and justice could start to be done in this case.” (NYT 12/8/09; impre.com 12/9/09 from AP)

*4. Haiti: US Indicts 5 in Téléco Bribe Case
On Dec. 7 the US Justice Department unsealed an indictment charging two former Haitian officials, two former executives of an unnamed Florida telecommunications company and the president of Florida-based Telecom Consulting Services Corp with foreign bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. According to the indictment, the telecommunications company paid more than $800,000 to shell companies to be used for bribes to officials of Haiti's state-owned telecommunications company, Télécommunications d'Haiti (Haiti Téléco). Two other Florida executives pleaded guilty to related charges last spring. The rightwing Haitian daily Le Matin reported that the unnamed Florida company was Terra Telecommunications Corporation.

The US says the alleged bribery went on from November 2001 through March 2005—in other words, during much of the second term of left-populist president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004), and during the first year of the conservative interim government installed after Aristide was forced from power in late February 2004. (Justice Department press release 12/7/09; Miami Herald 12/9/09; Le Matin 12/11/09)

There have been repeated accusations of corruption in Téléco. In July 2008, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined IDT, a New Jersey telecommunications company closed linked to the US Republican party, some $1.3 million for failing to file a contract for telephone service to Haiti in 2004; a former IDT manager charged that the company had negotiated an illegal deal with Téléco [see Update #956].

*5. Venezuela: Offer to Save Bronx Jobs Rebuffed
According to former employees of the Stella D’oro Biscuit Co. in New York City, CITGO, the US subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) oil monopoly, attempted to buy the company’s Bronx plant in early October to save the jobs of 136 unionized workers but the Connecticut-based private equity firm that owned the company ignored the offer. The facility was closed on Oct. 8.

The plant closing followed a bitter labor dispute that started in August 2008 over demands for cuts in wages and benefits by the private equity firm, Brynwood Partners. The workers went on strike, holding out for 11 months. The job action ended in July when the National Labor Relations Board ordered the company to take back the strikers under the terms of their old contract and with back pay. Brynwood responded by selling Stella D’oro to snack food giant Lance, Inc., which quickly moved production to a non-union shop in Ohio.

Several of the workers and their supporters spoke with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez on Sept. 23 when he was in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. A week later, CITGO executive Andreas Rangel came to New York to talk to the workers. According to Bronx community activist René Rojas, CITGO wanted to buy or rent the plant and reorganize it as a worker-run cooperative, possibly selling the cooperative’s cookies at CITGO’s 7,000 gas stations. But Brynwood failed to respond to CITGO’s phone calls and emails, the workers said.

While the government of Venezuela seemed interested in saving the plant, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg “didn’t even try to find a solution,” said local labor activist Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez. “It’s such a travesty.” (The Indypendent (New York) 11/20/09)

*6. Trade: US Think Tank Admits NAFTA Failed Mexico
On Dec. 9 the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an influential Washington, DC-based think tank, released “Rethinking Trade Policy for Development: Lessons From Mexico Under NAFTA,” a study on the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement and related neoliberal economic policies on Mexico’s economy.

The study found that in the period since the agreement went into effect in 1994, Mexico’s annual per capital growth rate has been slow (1.6% in 1992-2007, compared to 3.5% in 1960-1979) and job growth has been weak, with net losses in agriculture and manufacturing (except for the export-oriented maquiladora sector). Contrary to the projections of neoliberal economists, NAFTA did not increase investment—foreign investment increases were more than offset by decreases in domestic investment. And less restricted trade with the US has made Mexico “excessively dependent on the United States as an export market, with more than 85% of Mexican exports going to the United States, up from 70% in 1990… For this reason, the current recession is hitting Mexico harder than any other country in Latin America.”

The study’s findings are not new—a joint statement by Canadian, Mexican and US labor federations made many of the same points in August [see Update #1001]. What is new is the fact that a prestigious US think tank discussed these issues, specifically challenging what the report notes is a widespread assumption in the US “that Mexico was the undeniable winner from NAFTA.” (Carnegie Endowment 12/7/09; New York Times blog 12/10/09)

*7. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua Honduras, Mexico, NAFTA, Human Rights Day

"Blonde Angel of Death" goes on trial in Argentina

With Victory, Morales and Social Movements Confront New Challenges in Bolivia

The Speed of Change: Bolivian President Morales Empowered by Re-Election

Peru: Violence Targets Anti-mining Activists

Peru: peasants march for justice after slaying of mine opponents

Ecuador Uses WTO Rules to Make Medicines More Accessible

US denies role in Colombian raid on Ecuador

Where Does US Military ‘Aid’ to Colombia Go?

Colombia investigates Chiquita officials

A Scandal Brews as Colombia Subsidizes Millionaire Farmers

DEA: Venezuelan cocaine ops aided FARC

Report From a Fact-Finding Trip to Nicaragua: Anti-Poverty Programs Make a Difference

"Honduran Elections": A Parody on Democracy

Honduras and a Divided Latin America

For Some Hondurans, Elections Change Little

Honduran Youth Under Attack

Democracy in Honduras: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

On Presidents and Precedents: Implications of the Honduran Coup

Honduran Coup Regime Erects Superficial Reality Around Elections

Amnesty International cites Mexico on Lomas de Poleo land conflict

Inter-American Human Rights Court rebukes Mexico in Juárez femicide case

Mexican Electrical Workers Union Changes Strategy in Face of Calderon
Government's Intransigence

Reforming North American Trade Policy: Lessons from NAFTA

Human Rights Day celebrations met with repression around the globe

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


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Monday, December 7, 2009

WNU #1015: Honduran Resistance Plans New Strategies

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1015, December 6, 2009

1. Honduras: Resistance Plans New Strategies
2. Honduras: Confusion Wins in Turnout Dispute
3. Mexico: Electrical Workers Continue Protests
4. Bolivia: Morales Headed for Election Sweep?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Dominican Republic

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: Resistance Plans New Strategies
At a meeting on Dec. 3 at the headquarters of the Union of Workers of the Brewery Industry and the Like (STIBYS) in Tegucigalpa, 300 members of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup d’Etat, a coalition of Honduran grassroots organizations, agreed not to end a five-month struggle that they started on June 28 when the military removed President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales from office. “We’re going to continue the struggle, but only for the Constituent [Assembly], not for the restitution [of Zelaya],” general director Juan Barahona told the Agence France Presse (AFP) wire service, referring to demands for a convention to rewrite the country’s 1982 Constitution. The Resistance Front also said it would institute a “pause” in its daily street demonstrations, although it was planning a march for Dec. 11.

The Honduran social movements’ proposal for changing the Constitution was one of the factors precipitating the coup; President Zelaya had called for a nonbinding referendum on June 28 asking if a vote on the Constituent Assembly should be included in the Nov. 29 general elections.

The Dec. 3 Resistance Front meeting came in response to a decision the outgoing National Congress made the day before not to restore Zelaya to office. The deputies had voted 111 to 14, with three deputies absent, to uphold Decree 141-2009 of June 28, in which they rubberstamped Zelaya’s removal from office and replaced him with de facto president Roberto Micheletti Bain. This vote, along with US recognition for the de facto government’s Nov. 29 elections, seems to guarantee that the coup regime will remain in power until Jan. 27, when Zelaya’s term expires [See Update #1014]. (Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 12/4/09; TeleSUR 12/4/09 via Vos el Soberano; Adital (Brazil) 12/3/09)

Like the Honduran resistance, the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) rejected what it called a “return to ‘business as usual.’” “The crisis in Honduras does not end with the election results,” Javier Zúñiga, head of the AI delegation in Honduras, said in a Dec. 3 statement. “There are dozens of people in Honduras still suffering the effects of the abuses carried out in the past five months. Failure to punish those responsible and to fix the malfunctioning system would open the door for more abuses in the future.”

AI called on the “future government” elected on Nov. 29 to “[r]epeal all legislation, decrees and executive orders issued by the de facto authorities”; take law enforcement powers away from the military; “[e]nsure that all members of the security forces are held accountable for human rights abuses” under the de facto regime; and “[d]evelop a National Plan for the protection of human rights.” The organization urged activist to send letters supporting these demands by going to: http://www.amnesty.org/en/appeals-for-action/call-honduras-hold-security-forces-accountable-human-rights-abuses. (AI statement 12/3/09; EFE 12/4/09 via Vos el Soberano)

On Dec. 4 the Mexican daily La Jornada published an article charging that Honduran members of the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei were a major force in the June 28 coup. Liberal Party (PL) politician Mauricio Villeda and PL presidential candidate Elvin Santos’ wife, Becky de Santos, are reportedly in Opus Dei, along with business leaders like Antonio Tavel Otero, who owns two-thirds of the country’s cell phone operations. In the first days of the coup, Tavel withdrew all advertising from media that opposed the de facto government, notably Radio Globo.

One of the causes of the June coup, according to Zelaya adviser Nelson Avila, was the president’s veto in May of a law Congress passed to ban the “morning after” contraceptive pill. The coup wasn’t really to fight the influence of leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, journalist Manuel Torres told La Jornada: “The coup responds to very conservative tendencies which are seeking to go backwards, not only in civil and political rights, but also in social rights. It’s a platform against change.” (LJ 12/4/09 from correspondent)

*2. Honduras: Confusion Wins in Turnout Dispute
On Dec. 4 the French wire service AFP reported that with 57% of the votes from Honduras’ Nov. 29 general elections officially counted, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) had revised its earlier turnout estimate down from 61.3% to about 49%. Two days later, on Dec. 6, the CNN cable news network reported that it had gotten figures from TSE spokesperson Roberto Reyes Pineda showing that participation was at 56.6%, with 2,609,754 people voting out of a total of 4,611,000 registered voters. The TSE has to provide the final results within 30 days of the election. (Diario el Tiempo (Venezuela) 12/4/09 from AFP; AFP (in English)12/4/09; CNN 12/6/09)

Turnout was the main issue in the Nov. 29 vote. As expected, the center-right National Party (PN) carried the elections easily: PN candidate Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo won the presidency, and PN candidates took 71 of 128 seats in the National Congress, followed by candidates from the Liberal Party (PL, also center-right) with 44. But the de facto government, in place since June 28, was focused on getting a high turnout to back its insistence that the elections were legitimate. Deposed president Manuel Zelaya and other opponents of the de facto government called for voters to boycott the elections; they estimated that the turnout was just 30-40% [see Update #1014]. Participation in the 2005 general elections was about 55%. (Reuters 12/5/09)

The confusion in the official figures started at a press conference held the night of the elections. The TSE gave the media its own turnout projection of 61.3%--and also a figure of 47.6% from the election monitoring nonprofit Fundación Hagamos Democracia (FHD).

According to FHD representative Rolando Bú, the group had observers at 1,173 of the country’s approximately 8,000 polling places and based its projections on the voting at these polling places in previous elections; he put the method's margin of error at 1%. [Following our sources, in Update #1014 we reported incorrectly that the TSE had contracted the FHD to do exit polls.] The FHD says it has monitored electoral processes successfully in 80 countries. It gets funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega have accused the group of having links to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/1/09 from correspondent; Rebanadas de Realidad (Argentina) 12/1/09; El Tiempo (San Pedro Sula) 12/1/09; Honduras Coup 2009 blog 12/4/09)

The US government and media have generally ignored the confusion, even with the TSE’s own figures showing three very different turnout rates. “Turnout was 61%--higher than in the previous election, and evidence that Hondurans had rejected Mr. Zelaya's call for a boycott,” the Wall Street Journal wrote on Dec. 2, without mentioning other estimates. “The biggest loser in the vote may be Mr. Zelaya,” the article added. US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs Arturo Valenzuela called the elections “a significant step in Honduras' return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup.” (WSJ 12/2/09)

*3. Mexico: Electrical Workers Continue Protests
On Dec. 4 tens of thousands of laid-off Mexican electrical workers and their supporters again took to the streets of the capital to protest Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s sudden liquidation of the government-owned Central Light and Power Company (LFC) the night of Oct. 10. The center-right government claims it took the step because the company was inefficient and was losing money; opponents say the government is seeking to privatize the LFC and to break the powerful independent Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), which represented the company’s 44,000 active employees and some 23,000 retirees [see Update #1012].

Accompanied by unionists from the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), the Autonomous National University of Mexico Workers Union (STUNAM) and other unions, along with students and activists from grassroots organizations, the electrical workers held marches on different avenues--Tlalpan, Insurgentes, Paseo de la Reforma and Zaragoza—ending in an eight-hour rally at the Monument of the Revolution. The protest was called the “taking of Mexico City” to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the entrance of revolutionary heroes Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa into the capital.

STUNAM leader Agustín Rodríguez told the protesters that they might need to “discuss a general strike,” but SME general secretary Martín Esparza indicated that the union and the government had resumed negotiations. He had met with governance undersecretary Gerónimo Gutiérrez, and the government had agreed to extend Social Security to all the laid-off workers for one year, Esparza said. The benefits, which in Mexico include healthcare, were to expire in a week for some 20,000 laid-off LFC workers who had refused to sign up for the government’s compensation package.

The SME has proposed a five-member team to mediate future talks with the government, including Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) rector José Narro Robles, National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) director general Enrique Villa Rivera, and Congress members from the three largest political parties. (La Jornada 12/5/09, __; La Luz Es del Pueblo blog 12/5/09, __)

*4. Bolivia: Morales Headed for Election Sweep?
According to exit polls by three different firms, Bolivian president Evo Morales appears to have won a second five-year term in general elections on Dec. 6 with 61-63.2% of the vote. Rightwing former Cochabamba governor Manfred Reyes Villa was projected to get 23-25%, followed by center-right business owner Samuel Doria Medina with 7%.

Morales, a leader in the cocalero (coca grower) movement who at his inauguration in 2006 became the country’s first indigenous president, was expected to win easily. There was more question about the results for the Plurinational Assembly, which will have 130 deputies and 36 senators. The exit polls indicated that Morales’ leftist Movement to Socialism (MAS) party had won the two-thirds majority it would need to pass major constitutional reforms. (AFP 12/6/09; El País (Spain)12/7/09 from correspondent)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Dominican Republic

Abortion Phone Line in Argentina: More Information, Fewer Risks

Turning Activists Into Voters in Uruguay: The Frente Amplio and José Mujica

Uruguay Elects Former Guerrilla as Next President

Honduran elections exposed

Honduras: "An election validated by blood and repression"

Honduran Elections Marred by Police Violence, Censorship, International Non-Recognition

Live From Honduras: Electoral Observations

Election Report From Honduras: The People Say “We Didn’t Vote!”

Honduran "Electoral Observers" Launch Verbal Attack on Americas Program Director

Latin America: Summit Does Not Recognise Elections in Honduras

Behind Bars in Honduras: An Interview with a Women's Rights Leader Before the 'Free' Election

Operation Sofia: Documenting Genocide in Guatemala

Electrifying Guatemala: Clean Energy and Development

Win for Environmentalists as San Xavier Mine Suspends Activities

A Giant Step Backward: The Dominican Republic Reforms Its Constitution

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

WNU #1014: Former Rebel Wins Uruguayan Presidency

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1014, November 29, 2009

1. Uruguay: Former Rebel Wins Presidency
2. Honduras: Did Abstention Win the Vote?
3. Guatemala: Campesinos Continue Land Protests
4. Haiti: Charge Manipulation of 2010 Elections
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, 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. Uruguay: Former Rebel Wins Presidency
Honking car horns and waving flags in a heavy rain, tens of thousands of Uruguayans gathered on Montevideo’s main avenues the evening of Nov. 29 to celebrate the victory of José (“Pepe”) Mujica in that day’s runoff election for the presidency. According to projections based on early returns, Mujica, the candidate of the center-left Broad Front (Frente Amplio, FA), had won 50.1-51.6% of the votes, against 44.4-46.2% for former president Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995) of the center-right National Party. Mujica had been heavily favored in opinion polls, and Lacalle quickly conceded in a televised address.

Mujica and his running mate, former economy minister Danilo Astori, will begin a five-year term on Mar. 1. Mujica is succeeding the moderate socialist Tabaré Vázquez, who in 2004 became the first Broad Front candidate to win the presidency. (La Capital (Rosario, Argentina), 11/29/09; Reuters 11/29/09)

Mujica was a founding member of the rebel National Liberation Movement-Tupamaros (MLN-T). He participated in clandestine actions starting in 1969, was taken prisoner en 1970, and was one of the 111 prisoners, mostly Tupamaros, who broke out of the Punta Carretas prison in September 1971. He was captured again in 1972 and remained a prisoner under brutal conditions during the 1973-1985 military dictatorship. Freed by a 1985 amnesty, Mujica led the former urban guerrilleros into the Broad Front coalition in 1989, winning a seat in the Chamber of Deputies in 1995 and in the Senate in 1999. He is married to a Senator Lucía Topolansky, also a former member of the MLN-T. (Agence France Presse 11/29/09)

*2. Honduras: Did Abstention Win the Vote?
At about 10 pm on Nov. 29, Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced at a press conference that Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa of the center-right National Party (PN) had won the presidency in the general elections held that day; Hondurans also voted for deputies to the National Congress and the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) and for members of the nation’s municipal governments. With 8,682 ballot boxes counted, about 60% of the total, Lobo had won 52.29% of the votes, while his main rival, Elvin Santos of the badly divided Liberal Party (PL, also center-right), trailed with 35.74%. The remaining three candidates got less than 3% each; more than 6% of the votes were blank or invalid. The TSE projected that the turnout was 61.3% of the voting population, about six percentage points higher than in the 2005 elections.

With these results, said Enrique Ortez Sequeira, a TSE magistrate from the PL, “the world is obliged to recognize us, because today we, seven million Hondurans, have told them that we want to live in peace and democracy.” (El Tiempo (San Pedro Sula) 11/30/09)

Lobo had been expected to win easily. But the main issue in the election, voter turnout, was more difficult to resolve. Conservative forces were hoping to use the elections to legitimize the de facto government put in place when President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales was removed from office by a military coup on June 28. Zelaya and the labor and social movements that opposed the coup called for a boycott of the vote, and a number of Latin American nations announced that they wouldn’t recognize elections organized by a coup regime. Because of objections by many members, the Organization of American States (OAS) was unable to send observers [see Update #1013].

In a statement on Nov. 29, the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup d’Etat, a coalition of grassroots organizations, said its national monitoring operation had found that “the level of abstention is, at a minimum, 65-70%, the highest in the nation’s history… In this form the people have castigated the coup-perpetrating candidates and the dictatorship.” (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Comunicado No. 40 11/29/09 via Vos el Soberano) “Abstention won, even counting the votes of all the candidates; abstention was more than 60% in the country,” President Zelaya said on Nov. 30. He noted that without electoral observers from the OAS, the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU), "we can’t certify that the data that’s going to come out is correct.” (ANSA 11/30/09)

Some independent observers also cast doubt on the TSE’s projections of high turnout. A worker with the Danish Association for International Cooperation who visited voting centers in Tegucigalpa in the afternoon saw few voters, no lines and election workers passing the time in friendly conversations. (MS Central America 11/30/09)

Although not agreeing with the boycotters’ claims of 65-70% abstention, the nonprofit group that the TSE contracted to do exit polls, Fundación Hagamos Democracia (FHD), also disagreed with the official turnout projection of 61.3%. The FHD’s projection for turnout was about 47.6%, significantly lower than the 2005 turnout. At the Nov. 29 press conference, TSE magistrate Ortez Sequeira noted that the FHD’s exit polls were close to the TSE’s projections--except on the question of turnout. Skeptics also noted TSE president Saúl Escobar’s admission at the press conference that the electoral results were being delayed because of a technical problem in verifying the digitalized data. (El Tiempo 11/30/09; Honduras Coup 2009 blog 11/30/09)

With the legitimacy of his election under scrutiny, Porfirio Lobo has called for a “government of national unity, of reconciliation,” and has promised a “broad and sincere” dialogue of all the sectors. There has been speculation that if he assumes office when Zelaya’s term ends on Jan. 27, Lobo will extend an amnesty both to Zelaya and to the perpetrators of the coup. (BBC 11/30/09)

*3. Guatemala: Campesinos Continue Land Protests
Thousands of campesinos blocked highways in western Guatemala on Nov. 25 to press a demand for the government to allocate 350 million quetzales (about $42 million) to the National Lands Fund (Fontierras) for renting farmland to be used by more than 100,000 campesino families. The protesters stopped traffic on six highways in Cuatro Caminos, Totonicapán, Los Encuentros, and La Cumbre at kilometer 123 of the Las Verapaces and Las Victorias road, between Quetzaltenango and Colomba Costa Cuca. According to José Hernández—one of the leaders of the Coordinating Committee of Regional, Campesino and Independent Organizations, which called the protest—every two hours the protesters were opening the roads up and letting traffic pass for one hour. The organizers said 10,000 campesinos took part; the police estimate was 5,000.

Fontierras, with an annual budget of just $5 million, is supposed to carry out land reform by buying estates and turning them over to campesino groups. The protesters say the process is too slow to address the historic problem of land inequality in the country, which leaves many poor families without plots to farm. [Thousands of campesinos blocked roads in seven departments over land issues on June 4; see Update #992.]

The protesters also staged a sit-in on Nov. 25 outside the Congress building in Guatemala City, where members of health and road worker unions were protesting at the same time. The National Health Workers Union was calling for 1.290 billion quetzales (about $156 million) to be added to the annual public health budget, currently at 3.411 billion quetzales (about $411 million). (Miami Herald 11/25/09 from AP; Guatemala Hoy 11/26/09)

*4. Haiti: Charge Manipulation in 2010 Elections
On Nov. 25, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced that it was rejecting the applications of 16 of the 69 parties that submitted candidates for legislative elections scheduled to be held on Feb. 28. The largest of the rejected parties is the Lavalas Family (FL) of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004); among the others were the Lespwa (“Hope”) coalition, until now the party of current president René Préval; Working Together to Build Haiti (KONBA); the Union party; and the Solidarity Effort for the Construction of the People’s Camp (ESCAMP), formerly part of Lespwa. Voters are to elect 98 of the 99 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 10 of the country’s 30 senators.

Critics charged that President Préval was manipulating the elections to favor the Unity party, a new coalition with which he is replacing Lespwa, part of a process in which a number of parties and coalitions are regrouping. The Union party said it had been rejected after its coordinator, Chavannes Jeune, turned down an invitation from Préval to join Unity. CEP president Gaillot Dorsainvil insisted on Nov. 26 that the council had acted independently to exclude parties that hadn’t complied with the law.

Several of these groups are split by internal conflicts, as had been the case with the FL when the CEP wouldn’t include it in the Apr. 19 Senate elections earlier this year—the party had originally presented two different lists of candidates, and Aristide, the head of the party, reportedly refused to sign necessary paperwork as a protest against his removal from office in 2004 [see Update #980]. But this time LF director Maryse Narcisse presented a unified list with an authorization signed by Aristide, who has been in exile in South Africa since 2004.

Aristide confirmed this in an interview on Nov. 25 with Radio Solidarité, saying that the CEP’s decisions “shouldn’t be dictated by the government.” The ex-president, who usually avoids interviews, announced that he didn’t want to remain the head of the FL and that after a party congress was held, he would devote himself to education. (AlterPresse 11/24/09, 11/25/09, __; Haiti Press Network 11/25/09; Reuters 11/25/09; Radio Métropole 11/27/09)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Abortion Phone Line in Argentina: More Information, Less Risks

The Unpredictable Future: Stories From Worker-Run Factories in Argentina

Israeli Knesset demands extradition of Argentine junta officers

Brazil: Luladinejad

U.S. Court Allows Suit Against Bolivian Ex-President "Goni" and Minister of Defense to Proceed.

Afro-Peruvians receive official apology —but no reparations

US and Colombian Activists Target "World of Coca-Cola"

Tensions with Venezuela escalate as Bogotá boycotts Quito summit

Chavez Rejects U.S. Mediation in Venezuela-Colombia Spat, U.S. Withdrawal is “Only Solution”

Venezuela: anti-impunity activist assassinated

Salvadoran Gangs: Brutal Legacies and a Desperate Hope

No Fair Election In Honduras Under Military Occupation

Honduras: Elections as coup laundering

Hearing at the IACHR on the Situation of Women's Rights within the Context of the Honduran Coup d'Etat

Report on Women's Human Rights Violations Shows Systematic Attack on Women Under Honduran Coup

Women Leaders Urge Clinton to Condemn Violence Against Women in Honduras

Honduran Dictatorship Is A Threat to Democracy In the Hemisphere

U.S. Groups That Supported Coups in Haiti and Venezuela Will Observe Elections in Honduras

Honduras: Coup Security Forces Raid Campesino Organization Day Before the Elections

AFL-CIO Letter to Clinton Opposing Honduran Elections

Honduras: real repression in prelude to bogus elections

Abortion in Mexico

Mexico: Gender in the Workplace

Mexico: Call to Action in Solidarity with SME: Focus on Consulates, Send Letters, Emails

Mexican radio journalist found assassinated in Jalisco

Mexico: anti-mining activist assassinated in Chiapas

Two-faced Democracy in Haiti

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Update subscribers also receive, as a supplement, our own weekly Immigration News Briefs.

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