Tuesday, March 2, 2010

WNU #1023: Guatemalan Teachers Block Roads, Occupy Plaza

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1023, February 28, 2010

1. Guatemala: Teachers Block Roads, Occupy Plaza
2. Mexico: 2 Otomí Women Sentenced for “Kidnapping”
3. Mexico: Summit Creates New Hemispheric Organization
4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, 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. Guatemala: Teachers Block Roads, Occupy Plaza
Thousands of Guatemalan public school teachers blocked roads on Feb. 22 to push their demand for the government of President of Alvaro Colom to give them a 16% pay raise this year. According to Joviel Acevedo, head of the 80,000-member National Teachers Assembly (ANM), the protesters obstructed highways connecting Guatemala with Honduras, El Salvador and México, and blocked roads accessing Guatemala City. Amilcar Montejo of the Municipal Transit Police (PMT) told reporters the blockages had caused chaos in various routes leading to the center of the capital. A group of unionists including Acevedo occupied the Education Ministry (Mineduc).

The government had promised the teachers an 8% pay raise last year and another 8% raise in 2010, but it failed to deliver on the promise in 2009. Education Minister Bienvenido Argueta said the government would pay this year’s 8% raise but doesn’t have enough money for last year’s increase. The median salary for Guatemalan teachers is $440 a month, but many are covered by individual contracts that only pay around $240 a month. The teachers are also pushing for the national education budget to be increased to 12 billion quetzales a year (about $1.47 billion).

On Feb. 24 the teachers continued the protests by splitting into different groups and holding marches that tied up traffic in the capital’s four main entry points. Later in the day some 5,000 unionists from all of Guatemala's 22 departments occupied the Plaza de la Constitución in the center of the city, camping out in tents and cardboard boxes and promising to remain until they get the 16% pay hike. (EFE 2/22/10; Latin American Herald Tribune 2/24/10 from EFE; Guatemala Hoy 2/25/10, 2/26/10)

In an apparently unrelated development, on Feb. 25 President Colom accepted the Constitutional Court’s order to remove Education Minister Argueta from office. The court had ruled on a request from legislative deputy Nineth Montenegro, of the opposition Encounter for Guatemala party, to remove Argueta for disobedience. Montenegro said Argueta had failed to turn over full information on the beneficiaries of a government family support program, Mi Familia Progresa (“My Family Progresses”). (Prensa Latina 2/26/10)

*2. Mexico: 2 Otomí Women Sentenced for “Kidnapping”
On Feb. 19 Fourth District judge Rodolfo Pedraza Longhi, in Querétaro, capital of the central Mexican state of Querétaro, upheld a 21-year prison sentence for two indigenous women charged with kidnapping six agents of the now-defunct Federal Investigation Agency (AFI). The two women--Teresa González Cornelio and Alberta Alcántara Juan—had been charged in connection with a Mar. 26, 2006 incident in the market in Santiago Mexquititlán community, Amealco de Bonfil municipality, which the AFI agents raided in an unsuccessful search for pirated DVDs.

Some vendors reportedly held the federal agents until they agreed to pay for damage they had done in the raid. Prosecutors claimed that González and Alcántara were among the vendors that detained the agents. Judge Pedraza Longhi ruled against the defendants on the kidnapping charge and also convicted Alcántara of possessing 400 grams of cocaine.

The defendants’ lawyers, from the Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Center and the Fray Jacobo Daciano Human Rights Center, filed an appeal on Feb. 25. They said that the agents contradicted each other in court and that the only evidence against González and Alcántara was a newspaper photograph showing them near the agents at the time of the incident. The lawyers already succeeded in reopening the case once, in April 2009, when a judge ruled that the evidence was contradictory and required prosecutors to present the case again. In September the prosecutors decided to drop charges against a third woman, Jacinta Francisco Marcial, who was arrested with González and Alcántara.

The British-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) has declared González and Alcántara prisoners of conscience. On Feb. 12 AI Mexico researcher Rupert Knox charged that the two women had been “framed as a convenient target because of their marginal status in society as poor indigenous women." They are members of the Ñañú ethnic group, a part of the Otomí group, which is mainly based in Querétaro and Hidalgo. According to Knox, the defendants didn’t have access to an interpreter during the judicial procedures and weren’t informed of their legal rights. They have been held in jail since their arrest in August 2006. (La Jornada (Mexico) 2/23/10, 2/25/10; Latin American Herald Tribune 2/24/10 from EFE; AI 2/12/10)

*3. Mexico: Summit Creates New Hemispheric Group
The Latin America and Caribbean Unity Summit, a two-day meeting of 32 regional leaders in Cancún, in the eastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, ended on Feb. 23 with an agreement that included the formation of a new hemispheric organization, provisionally named the “Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.” The leaders made plans for further meetings, in Venezuela in July 2011 and in Chile in 2012, to continue discussing the mechanics of the new group and to establish its final name.

The leaders also pledged $25 million for rebuilding Haiti, devastated by a Jan. 12 earthquake; supported Argentina’s claim of sovereignty over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands, currently held by Great Britain; and condemned the 50-year US trade embargo against Cuba.

The regional leaders seemed to have very different views of the new organization, which will include all the countries in the Western Hemisphere except Canada and the US, in contrast to the 62-year-old Organization of American States (OAS), which until last June included all the countries except Cuba. Bolivia’s leftist president, Evo Morales, said the new group will be parallel to the OAS and shows that “the empire has lost.” The region’s people are now not “a kneeling chorus, subordinate to Washington,” Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez said, calling the group the “reborn…project and dream of [Simón] Bolívar,” the 19th-century Latin American independence leader.

But the summit’s host, rightwing Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, insisted that the new group “shouldn’t and doesn’t represent any threat or reason to worry for anyone.” “We’re not thinking about whether we have an organization with or without another country,” he said. “It’s not a question of an American organization without the US, as has been said.” Center-left Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took a middle course. He compared the decision to form a new organization to a child who had reached adulthood and needed to follow his or her own path. (La Jornada 2/24/10, __; Adital 2/23/10 from Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias; New York Times 2/24/10; The Guardian (UK) 2/25/10)

A verbal dispute broke out between President Chávez and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe on Feb. 22 during a working lunch for the regional leaders. Although the argument took place at what was supposed to be closed-door meeting, reports quickly went out to the internet and the international media. The two presidents agreed to discuss their differences in a “respectful dialogue” mediated by Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, President Calderón told the media afterwards. (LJ 2/23/10)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti

Prison Violence and Security in Latin America

Resisting Mining: Brutal Repression and Uprising in Argentina

"State of exception" in quake-stricken Chile

Coca production down in South America, up in Peru: UN

New Sendero attack in Peru's conflicted VRAE

Peru: still no justice in Bagua massacre

Peru: indigenous organizations demand protection for "isolated peoples"

Peru: No Justice for Indians in Amazon Massacre

Peruvian State Protects Mining Company Instead of Citizens: Interview with Mario Tabra Guerrero

China enters free trade deal with Peru

Ecuador: indigenous movement calls national uprising

Colombia: indigenous communities targeted in war —again

Colombian re-election referendum unconstitutional: court

Venezuela: Chávez unveils Campesino Militia

Venezuela: rights chief disputes critical OAS report

Venezuela Creates Peasant Militias, Enacts Federal Government Council

Venezuela’s Revolution Faces Crucial Battles

Spain: judge accuses Venezuela in FARC-ETA assassination plot

Honduras: National Resistance Front marches against repression

Honduras Palm Oil Plantations: Sustainable Development Facade

Honduras: new charges against Zelaya; coup leader ousted from military

Mexico: violent evictions in Chiapas rainforest clear land for biofuels?

US closes Reynosa consular office as Mexican narco-violence spirals (Mexico)

Mexico: activist accused in Brad Will murder free at last

Mexico: massacre in Oaxaca village

Raising Up Another Haiti

Haiti: Peasant Organizations Provide Humanitarian Aid

HAITI: Secure Shelters Scarce as Rainy Season Looms

Haiti: Private Contractors 'Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot'

Beyond Supply and Demand: Obama’s Drug Wars in Latin America

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