Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WNU #1030: Puerto Rican Students Strike Against Cuts

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1030, April 25, 2010

1. Puerto Rico: Students Strike Against Budget Cuts
2. Honduras: Anti-Sweatshop Campaign Hits Nike
3. Guatemala: NGO Blasts Maquilas’ Abuse of Women
4. Haiti: Government Suspends Forced Evictions
5. Uruguay: Junta Foreign Minister Gets Jail Term
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Haiti, US

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. Puerto Rico: Students Strike Against Budget Cuts
As of Apr. 25 students were continuing an occupation of the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in San Juan to protest plans to cut next year’s budget by $100 million. The cutbacks might mean an end to exemptions for students with less resources at the public university. About 65,000 students are enrolled in the UPR’s 11 campuses, of which Río Piedras is the largest.

The occupation began on Apr. 21 as a 48-hour protest; two days later the students announced that the protest would be open-ended strike. Student representatives met with UPR president José Ramón de la Torre on Apr. 23, but the strikers said on Apr. 25 that the university still hadn’t responded to the demands they presented at the meeting. According to press reports, about 70 students were carrying out the occupation at the Río Piedras campus. Giovanni Roberto, a spokesperson for the strikers, said the number of protesters had stayed about the same since the beginning, with some students joining during the weekend while others went home to visit their families.

Support for the strikers has come from a number of groups, including the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) and the All Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico Coalition, which had led the struggle against layoffs of government employees last fall [see Updates #1006, 1008]. Supporters have come to the locked gates of the campus to demonstrate, hold press conferences and visit the strikers. “Support has been growing from the beginning,” Roberto said on Apr. 25. “We thought we were going to die of hunger, but it was the opposite—people have come by bringing us food. We expect the support to go on increasing and that this will get to the administration.” (EFE 4/23/10; Primero Hora (Puerto Rico) 4/25/10 from Inter News Service, 4/25/10 from staff reporter)

*2. Honduras: Anti-Sweatshop Campaign Hits Nike
On Apr. 9 Biddy Martin, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin (UW) in Madison, announced that the institution was cancelling its sports apparel contract with Oregon-based Nike, Inc because of the company’s failure to provide legally mandated back pay and severance packages worth some $2.1 million to more than 1,600 workers for two Nike contractors in Honduras. This was the first victory in a campaign started by students at various North American campuses last fall around the closing of two plants, Vision Tex and Hugger de Honduras, in January 2009 [see Update #1016]. UW made some $49,000 in 2008 and 2009 for allowing Nike to use the university logo on its clothing and products.

Chancellor Martin’s decision followed organizing on the campus by the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC) and a rally of more than 100 students on Apr. 8, with the support of two campus unions, AFSCME Local 171 and the Teaching Assistant Association. A week later, on Apr. 17, two of the Nike subcontractors’ former employees, Gina Cano and Lowlee Urquia, visited the campus as part of a North American tour. The workers said the management of the two maquiladoras—tax-exempt assembly plants producing mainly for export—didn’t compensate them for overtime, imposed unreasonable quotas, and failed to pay required contributions to the national health benefit program. (Socialist Worker 4/14/10; In These Times 4/21/10)

Meanwhile, the California-based Dole Food Company, Inc--formerly Standard Fruit Company--has announced plans to close 13 estates in Yoro department in northern Honduras, leaving about 2,300 agricultural workers without jobs. The company said the estates are unprofitable and indicated that it would pay the workers their benefits.

The employees are represented by the Unified Union of Standard Fruit Company Workers (Sutrasfco), which is affiliated with the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH), one of the country’s three main labor federations. Hilario Espinoza, the CTH’s general secretary, has said that the company was really trying to destroy Sutrasfco by replacing the unionized workers with a non-union workforce. “We would need to carry out a strike if it’s necessary,” he added, “because it’s not possible that they should be able to fire workers to bring in other people.” (El Tiempo (San Pedro Sula) 4/10/10; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 4/23/10, 4/24/10)

[Toro department is near the Aguán River Valley, recently the scene of tension over a land dispute between campesinos and influential landowners; see Update #1029.]

*3. Guatemala: NGO Blasts Maquilas’ Abuse of Women
On Apr. 22 the French nongovernmental organization (NGO) Doctors of the World (MdM) released a report on the condition of women in Guatemalan maquiladoras in the apparel and food processing industries. “The job is unstable and badly paid, the work is dangerous for health, there is psychological and sexual harassment, insults, physical abuse, unjustified firings and interminable workdays,” according to the report, based on interviews in 2006-2009 with 530 women working in 16 factories in Chimaltenango and Sacatepéquez departments in western Guatemala.

The investigators found that workdays were as long as 11 hours, while the pay was 51.75 quetzales a day ($6.46), below the minimum wage of 56 quetzales ($7). In the apparel maquiladoras, 65% of the women received less than 1,500 quetzales a month ($187.5), while in the food processing plants some 70.5% of the women got less than 1,000 quetzales ($125) a month. About 34% of the food processing workers interviewed were minors, while 4% of the apparel workers were minors. Some 56.2% of the food processors were indigenous, while 41% of the garment workers were indigenous. Just one third could read and write. Seven out of 10 of the women in food processing were single mothers, as were more than half of the women in the apparel plants.

The report found that 90% of the women interviewed had suffered either psychological or physical abuse. The workers put up with the abuse because “they are regularly threatened with being fired if they try to defend their rights,” said Pilar Giraux, the head of the MdM mission in Guatemala. There are 180 maquiladoras in Guatemala, employing 75,000-100,000 people. (EFE 4/22/10 via terra.com (Spain))

*4. Haiti: Government Suspends Forced Evictions
The Haitian government decided on Apr. 22 to declare a three-week moratorium on forced evictions of homeless Port-au-Prince residents from improvised encampments at schools and other private property where they have been living since a Jan. 12 earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti. The government made the decision because “there are a lot of tensions,” Edmond Mulet, a Guatemalan diplomat and the acting head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), said at a press conference later on Apr. 22. “There are pupils who want to return to their schools to continue their studies; there are displaced people who are installed in the schools,” Mulet explained. “Well, instead of having confrontations, a moratorium has been established.” (Radio Métropole 4/23/10 from AFP)

The Haitian government had been evicting thousands of people from the encampments since early April, from sites that included private schools, a golf course and a soccer stadium [see Updates #1028 and 1029]. Although the government claimed the homeless would be moved to two new camps prepared outside the city, by most accounts many people were left living in the street.

On Apr. 14 the nonprofit Bagay Dwol [“Strange Things”] Haiti Relief Fund reported on evictions at Caradeux Delmas 75, in eastern Port-au-Prince, where it said some 3,200 families were living in five camps: Camp Benediction, “Toto” Terrain Crisis Committee (CCTT), Camp Canaan, Refugee Camp and Camp Toussaint Louverture. Residents said government bulldozers came without warning the evening of Apr. 4 with Haitian National Police (PNH) escorts. “The use of batons [was] reported, and firearms were discharged into the air six times. The residents then reported that their homes were destroyed, first by the officers and then by the…bulldozers.” This continued for three nights, driving out 500 residents, who are “now living on the streets,” according to the remaining camp residents. (Bagay Dwol blog 4/14/10; Christian Science Monitor 4/20/10)

*5. Uruguay: Junta Foreign Minister Gets Jail Term
On Apr. 20 Uruguayan criminal judge Juan Carlos Fernández Lecchini handed down a 20-year prison sentence to Juan Carlos Blanco--foreign relations minister from 1973 to 1976, at the beginning of a 1973-1985 military dictatorship—for "especially aggravated homicide" in the case of the schoolteacher Elena Quinteros. With the judge’s decision, all the principal figures accused of human rights violations during the dictatorship have received prison sentences, although some face additional charges. Former dictator Juan Bordaberry (1973-1976) has been sentenced to 30 years in prison, former dictator Gregorio (“Goyo”) Alvarez (1981-1985) to 25 years, and eight other former officials to 20-25 years for homicides, kidnappings and forced disappearances.

Quinteros was abducted from the grounds of the Venezuelan embassy in Montevideo on June 28, 1976, when she sought asylum there. The abduction led to a break in diplomatic relations with Venezuela until 1985. Blanco still faces charges, along with Bordaberry, in the homicide of four Uruguayans in Buenos Aires. Under Uruguayan law, his sentence in the Quintero case will be appealed automatically. (Prensa Latina 4/21/10; AFP 4/22/10 via Notiero Legal)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Honduras, Haiti, US

Protests Mark Auction of Brazil's Belo Monte Dam

Cochabamba: Evo offends global gays

Cochabamba: police bar Ecuadoran indigenous march

Climate Change Conference in Bolivia: In Defense of Pachamama

Bolivia: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of Cochabamba Water War

Photo Essay From Bolivia: Memories of the Water War and Preparation for the World Climate Conference

News Roundup: World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth

Bolivian Climate Conference: Morales and International Peoples' Proposals for Change

Scenes From the People’s Climate Change Summit in Bolivia

Colombia: An Anti-Coke Campaign Effervesces at NYU

Colombia’s DAS Carried Out “Political Warfare” Against Journalist Hollman Morris, Files Indicate

U.S. Advises Security Apprenticeships in Colombia

Honduras and the Political Uses of the Drug War

Broadcasting Women's Voices in Haiti's Reconstruction: Women's Community Radio

Defense Secretary Gates' week in Latin America

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