Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1033, May 16, 2010
1. Puerto Rico: Cops Try to Isolate Student Strikers
2. Haiti: Monsanto Offers “Poisoned Present”?
3. Haiti: Anti-Préval Protests Continue
4. Honduras: Campesinos Evicted in Aguán Valley
5. Costa Rica: Limón Port to Be Privatized
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico
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 email@example.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/
*1. Puerto Rico: Cops Try to Isolate Student Strikers
Police agents took control of the entrances to the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in San Juan on the morning of May 14 in an effort to cut off student protesters on the campus from their supporters outside [see Update #1031]. The action came one day after an assembly of some 2,000 students voted to continue an open-ended strike that started on Apr. 21 at Río Piedras, the largest of the UPR’s 11 campuses, to protest plans for a $100 million cut to the annual budget of the public university, which has a student body of about 65,000.
The protesters accused the police of violating an unspoken agreement to avoid confrontations with the dozens of students who had been occupying the campus. Incidents broke out when supporters tried to get food past the police to the strikers inside the university gates; one parent, Luis A. Torres Mulle, was beaten and handcuffed by the police as he tried to bring food to his son. This was "an act of brutality by the same government that wants to finish off the students’ just struggle, a just, legal and democratic struggle by means of a legal and legitimate assembly,” Torres Mulle told the Guaynabo-based daily Primera Hora.
The May 13 student assembly, called by the Students General Council, voted to continue the strike until the university administration agreed to demands for limiting tuition increases to 4% and for keeping the university out of Public-Private Alliances (APP), a partial privatization program favored by Gov. Luis Fortuño, a leader of the conservative New Progressive Party (PNP). UPR president José Ramón de la Torre had hoped that the assembly would agree to let classes resume while negotiations continued.
University workers’ unions are backing the students; the budget cuts would end tuition exemptions for some groups of employees. There has also been strong support from Puerto Rico’s artistic community, including such popular musicians as Ricky Martin and Calle 13’s Residente. On May 13 playwright Roberto Ramos-Perea announced his support for the strikers, calling Fortuño’s government “dictatorial.” Artists and others demonstrated in front of the Río Piedras campus on May 16 to show support for the protesters, and one group of parents managed to throw bags with drinking water, roast chicken and other food into the campus. Also on May 16, Amnesty International (AI) reportedly called on the UPR administration to withdraw the police and allow the protesters access to food and water. (EFE 5/13/10 via terra.com; EFE 5/14/10 via Telemundo Atlanta; Primera Hora 5/16/10)
Labor and grassroots organizations opposed to Fortuño’s austerity policies are calling for a 24-hour general strike on May 18 to show support for the students. (Primera Hora 5/15/10)
*2. Haiti: Monsanto Offers “Poisoned Present”?
At a May 12 press conference Haitian agriculture minister Joanas Gué announced that the government had accepted a “gift of 475,947 kg [about 523.6 US tons] of hybrid corn seeds along with 2,067 kg of vegetable seeds” from the Monsanto Company, a US-based biotechnology multinational that produces genetically modified organisms (GMO). He denied that the seeds were genetically modified.
Jean-Yves Urfié, a retired chemistry professor and Catholic priest, had written an article charging that Monsanto was offering GMO seeds, which he called “a poisoned present to Haitian peasants,” since “to have the right to sow again later, it will be necessary to pay Monsanto royalties each time.” He said the seeds had been distributed in Gonaïves, Kenscoff, Pétionville, Cabaret, Arcahaie, Croix-des-Bouquets and Mirebalais. On May 13, after the press conference, Urfié published a letter withdrawing his original charge. He explained that “according to a credible agronomist, there was a real offer of 400 [metric] tons of GMO seeds, but Minister Gué personally rejected this offer.” (AlterPresse (Haiti) 5/13/10, 5/14/10)
The Monsanto controversy came as questions increased about other donations made after a Jan. 12 earthquake killed some 230,000 people and destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area. An investigation by CBS News found that most of the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by five US charities--CARE, Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund and the separate Clinton Foundation Haiti Fund—had still not reached Haiti four months after the earthquake. CARE had spent about 25% of the $444 million it raised, while Catholic Relief Services had spent just 8%. The charities said they were keeping the money for long-term projects. CBS calculated that enough had been raised to give “a check for $37,000” to each family made homeless by the quake. (CBS News 5/12/10; Center for Economic Policy and Research blog 5/13/10)
On May 14 France Hurtubise, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Haiti, announced that the office now estimates the number people left homeless by the quake at 1.7 million, up from previous estimates of 1.5 million. Most have been living in improvised shelters in informal encampments around the city. Hurtubise claimed that 235,000 people had been moved to new camps in the area and that 60,000 tents had been distributed to homeless families. (Radio Métropole (Haiti) 5/14/10)
Correction: This item originally omitted the name of Agriculture Minister Gué.
*3. Haiti: Anti-Préval Protests Continue
Several thousand people marched in Port-au-Prince on May 10 in the latest and largest in a series of demonstrations against the government of Haitian President René Garcia Préval [see Update #1032]. The protesters started from various neighborhoods in the capital, including St. Jean Bosco, Bel Air and Carrefour Feuilles, and converged on the ruins of the National Palace. A confrontation with the police started when the protesters approached the National Palace’s security perimeter; shots were fired, and police agents dispersed the demonstration with tear gas. Some people reportedly took advantage of the confusion to steal cell phones, jewels and money in the Champ-de-Mars park and along Capois Street; the police arrested seven people. Organizers charged that the trouble was caused by infiltrators sent in to disrupt the demonstration.
The protesters demanded the repeal of a law extending a state of emergency and a law conditionally extending Préval’s term past Feb. 7, 2011. Many also called for Préval’s removal, and supporters of the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004) demanded their leader’s return to the country from his exile in South Africa. Lavalas supporters were the largest group in the demonstration, which also included members of such political groups as the Fusion party and the Alternative coalition. Critics have charged that the alliance organizing the anti-Préval demonstrations is “unnatural” because it brings together longtime enemies like Aristide supporter René Civil and such Aristide opponents as Hervé Saint-Hilus, Evans Paul and Serge Gilles.
There were smaller demonstrations on May 10 in Miragoâne in the southwestern department of Nippes, in Cap-Haïtien in the North department, and in Jacmel in the Southeast department. Protesters demonstrated in Petit-Goâve, in the southwestern part of the West department, on May 13. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse 5/10/10; Radio Métropole 5/11/10, __; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 5/13/10)
*4. Honduras: Campesinos Evicted in Aguán Valley
The Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) reported that during the week of May 10 the police and military forcibly removed campesinos from at least four cooperatives in the northern Atlantic region of Honduras. The police evicted campesinos from the San Isidro cooperative on May 10 and left about 100 agents at the site to keep the campesinos from returning. On May 12 security guards working for landowners René Morales and Miguel Facussé, along with some 60 police agents and soldiers, removed campesinos from the El Despertar in the Aguán River Valley, according to one of the campesinos. The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH) reported that police and soldiers evacuated the San Esteban and Trinidad cooperatives on May 13.
MUCA and Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa signed an agreement on Apr. 18 that was supposed to bring an end to tensions over land in the Aguán Valley [see Update #1029]. But CODEH predicted on May 15 that “the tension will continue…if the causes which created it remain unchanged, including the complicity of the judicial personnel with the region’s big landowners; the lack of transparency and independence in the judicial system will go on being a bottleneck in finding solutions to conflicts.” (Adital 5/13/10 with information from Defensoresenlinea.com; Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 5/15/10 from Comunicaciones-SJ, 5/15/10 from CODEH)
On May 13 the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), Honduras’ main coalition of labor and grassroots organizations, sponsored an event at the Hibueras Institute in Tegucigalpa to show support for a hunger strike, then in its 17th day, by laid-off workers of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). University rector Julieta Castellanos has dismissed some 180 workers; the hunger strikers also blame her for the imprisonment of 16 leaders of the UNAH Workers Union (SITRAUNAH) at the end of March.
Castellanos is a member of a Truth Commission that the Lobo government has set up to produce a report on the coup carried out by the military June 28, 2009 and the human rights violations associated with it. “I don’t understand how it is that this lady is on the so-called Truth Commission,” SITRAUNAH general secretary Wilfredo Zelaya Galo said on May 13, “since she’s a human rights violator and is violating the rights and guarantees of each of the laid-off workers.” (Adital 5/13/10 with information from Defensoresenlinea.com; Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 5/15/10)
*5. Costa Rica: Limón Port to Be Privatized
On May 7 the management of the Limón and Moín ports on Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast signed an agreement with the de facto leadership of the dockworkers union to distribute $137 million among 1,400 workers as compensation for the privatization of the ports. The agreement ends a nearly four-year struggle against the government’s plan to sell off the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA), which manages the two ports. In January the leftist leadership of the JAPDEVA Workers Union (SINTRAJAP) was replaced in what the union leaders called a coup d’état, paving the way for the privatization agreement [see Update #1026]. Negotiating the accord was the last act of Álvaro González, labor minister in the administration of former president Oscar Arias, whose term ended on May 8; he was succeeded by President Laura Chinchilla Miranda, a member of Arias’ National Liberation Party (PLN). (La Nación (Costa Rica) 5/11/10)
Some of the former SINTRAJAP leaders were among the 28 people arrested during an Apr. 29 demonstration in Limón and Moín in which seven trucks were set on fire, three police agents received gunshot wounds, and many people were beaten or affected by tear gas. The protest was part of a national day of demonstrations against the Arias government’s labor policies. Albino Vargas, general secretary of the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), noted that there had been no problems anywhere in the country except, “curiously,” in Limón. The ANEP website blamed the violence on infiltrators and suggested that the goal was “to provoke panic, imprisonments and death” to create a situation where the privatization would be accepted. (La Nación 4/29/10; El País (Costa Rica) 4/30/10)
*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico
War Crimes against Women: A Private Hell (Latin America)
Indians Warn of War Against Amazon Mega-dam in Brazil
Brazil: Eviction from Rio's Slums Echoes Dark Past
Bolivia: six dead, one abducted in presumed narco attack
Taking Stock of Canada’s Mining Industry: Ecuadorian Landmark Lawsuit Challenges Canadian Mining Impunity
Colombia: paramilitary chief says he supported Uribe's election
Colombia: wave of deadly attacks on education workers
Colombia: indigenous communities targeted in war —again
Colombia to go Green in May 30 presidential race?
Ecuador: indigenous movement scores victory in water struggle —for now
San Juan Copola: The Roots of the Violence (Mexico)
Mexican Authorities Must Help Community Under Siege by Armed Group
Oaxaca: Aftermath of the Ambush
Mexicans Protest Toxic Waste Plant
Cuba: Democracy Promotion Programs under Fire as Fallout from Spy Arrest Continues
Of Donors and Disasters (Haiti)
Haitian Earthquake Survivors Need Social and Economic Rights
Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds
Five Years Later: Remembering Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
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Monday, May 17, 2010
WNU #1033: Puerto Rican Cops Try to Isolate Students
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