Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1036, June 6, 2010
1. Haiti: Thousands of Farmers Reject Monsanto Seeds
2. Mexico: High Court Backs 2 Otomí Women
3. Puerto Rico: University Cutbacks Pay for Wall Street Bonds
4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Central America, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, US-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 firstname.lastname@example.org. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/
*1. Haiti: Thousands of Farmers Reject Monsanto Seeds
Thousands of peasant farmers gathered in the main plaza in Hinche, a city in Haiti’s Central Plateau, on June 4 to protest a donation of about 476 metric tons of hybrid seeds from the Monsanto Company, a US-based biotechnology multinational that produces genetically modified organisms (GMO). Agriculture Minister Joanas Gué admitted on May 12 that the government was accepting Monsanto’s offer, supposedly intended to help the country recover from a devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. The seeds are not GMO, but critics say they are still a “poisoned present” [see Update #1033].
The June 4 protest started with a 7-km march--accompanied by Haitian instruments such as bamboo flutes and conch shell horns--from the nearby town of Papaye to Hinche’s Charlemagne Péralte plaza, named for the Hinche-born leader of an armed movement against the 1915-1934 US occupation of Haiti. The organizers burned a small quantity of hybrid corn seeds and then distributed “Creole corn” seeds (from locally produced corn) to the protesters, many of whom wore red shirts and straw hats with such slogans as “Down with Monsanto” and “Down with [Haitian president René] Préval.”
According to Kettly Alexandre of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), the protest’s main sponsor, 8,000 to 12,000 people joined the march; some organizers gave the number as 20,000. Other groups participating in the protest included Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen ("Small Haitian Peasants Unity"), the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA) and Action SOS Haïti. There were also campesino groups from Brazil and the Dominican Republic that like the MPP are affiliated with the international Vía Campesina movement. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 6/4/10; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 6/5/10; EFE 6/5/10 via Terra.es; Rebelión (Spain) 6/6/10)
MPP coordinator Chavannes Jean-Baptiste has compared the hybrid seeds’ potential effect on Haitian agriculture to the January earthquake. Critics of Monsanto point to possible health risks because the hybrid corn seeds are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram, a toxic chemical. But the main complaint from Haitian farmers is that they would need to buy the hybrid seeds from Monsanto each year; many see the donation—which is being distributed in part by the US Agency for International Development (USAID)--as an effort to increase Haitian dependency on expensive seeds from abroad.
On June 1 Monsanto spokesperson Darren Wallis denied any ulterior motives in the donation, which the corporation says is worth about $4 million: "We do not have a commercial corn business in Haiti.” "[T]he ones hurt by the action [of burning Monsanto seeds] will be Haitian farmers and the Haitian people, not those watching on the sidelines," Wallis said, just three days before the massive protest in Hinche.
Dina Brick, technical adviser for food security at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told the Catholic News Service (CNS) that farmers and seed suppliers said local seed supplies were sufficient. But many peasants were low on cash because of economic and social dislocations after the earthquake, she said, and had to cut back on their purchases of local seeds. (Huffington Post 5/17/10; CNS 6/1/10)
*2. Mexico: High Court Backs 2 Otomí Women
Two indigenous Mexican women, Teresa González Cornelio and Alberta Alcántara Juan, were released from prison on Apr. 28 after serving more than three and a half years of a 21-year sentence for allegedly kidnapping six agents of the now-defunct Federal Investigation Agency (AFI). Their release followed a unanimous ruling by a five-member panel of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) that the two women, street vendors who belong to the Otomí indigenous group, had been falsely imprisoned. The charges against them stemmed from a Mar. 26, 2006 incident in the market in Santiago Mexquititlán community, Amealco de Bonfil municipality in Querétaro state; the AFI agents had raided the market in an unsuccessful search for pirated DVDs, destroying the women’s booth in the process [see Update #1023].
Justice Arturo Zaldívar, a member of the SCJN panel, said the ruling was intended to set a precedent for the rights of indigenous women. "We tend to think that this is not the first time [an injustice] has happened and that it is, in fact, a common practice, undermining human rights...which is more than embarrassing for our judicial system," Zaldívar said. According to the Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Center, which represented González Cornelio and Alcántara Juan, 8,000 indigenous women are in Mexican prisons, and nine out of 10 were not given access to a translator at their trials. (Many Mexicans speak indigenous languages and need translation for court proceedings, which are in Spanish).
A month after their release, González Cornelio and Alcántara Juan were again working as street vendors selling traditional indigenous handmade cloth dolls. They said several politicians had visited them in prison and promised them better jobs but failed to follow through. They refused to name the politicians. (SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico 5/19/10 via Allbusiness.com; El Universal (Mexico) 6/2/10)
*3. Puerto Rico: University Cutbacks Pay for Wall Street Bonds
In meetings with striking students on June 2 and June 4, officials of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) announced that the public university was $200 million in debt and that they intended to cover the debt with $200 million in tuition surcharges over the next three years—about $1,000 for each student. There will also be an “enormous reduction” in the pay to university employees, Board of Trustees president Ygrí Rivera said; this would be done through lower salaries and other cutbacks, not layoffs. Finally, UPR officials plan cuts in the budgets for books, professional services, scholarships and other aid to students, and the purchase of equipment.
Students went on strike at the Río Piedras campus in San Juan on Apr. 21 to oppose budget cuts, and the protest has spread to 10 of the 11 campuses of the UPR, which has a student body of about 65,000 [see Update #1034]. The strikers’ National Negotiating Committee has refused to give in on the cutbacks; committee members released a video on the internet and through the student radio station, Radio Huelga (“Strike Radio”), outlining what they considered the movement’s achievements and demands.
UPR authorities say that with the Puerto Rican government reducing its subsidy to the university, they need a loan of $40 million if they are to meet the payroll in July. Scotia Bank, Banco Santander and the government development bank, Banco Gubernamental de Fomento, all turned down UPR’s requests for a loan.
But the Argentine blog Argenpress says the main problem is the more than $700 million in bonds UPR has floated over the years on Wall Street financial markets. Much has been for massive construction projects, including the $78 million in bonds that helped finance Plaza Universitaria, a complex of buildings that has been turned over to a private company. A bond sale in 2004 was handled by Sidley Austin LLP, a large US corporate law firm. A Sidley Austin attorney, Thomas Green, later led the defense of former governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (2005-2009), who was acquitted of multiple corruption changes in US federal court in March 2009. (Primera Hora (Puerto Rico) 6/5/10; Argenpress 6/3/10)
*4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Central America, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, US-Mexico
Latin America Mostly at Odds With US on Israeli Raid
A Second Independence for Argentina
Argentine ex-officers go on trial for "Operation Condor" crimes
Human Rights Groups Say Brazil's Policy of Saturation Policing Criminalizes Poverty
Brazil’s Nuclear Diplomacy and Its Quest for a New International Politics
Exclusive: The U.S. Paid Money to Support Hugo Banzer’s 1971 Coup in Bolivia
Video From Bolivia - The other debt crisis: Climate debt
Letter to Obama: Push Peru's President on Trade, Forestry and Indigenous Rights
Peru: Native Peoples' Right to Consultation on Land Use Enshrined in Law
Peru president: no decision yet on Lori Berenson
"Pocahontas" protests Peruvian president
Tragic BP Gulf Spill Casts Light on Chevron Disaster in Ecuador
Colombian Army Attacks Striking BP Workers
Colombia: army attacks striking workers at BP facility
Tropical storm hammers Central America amid climate change fears
Nicaragua breaks ties with Israel
Nicaragua signs convention on indigenous peoples
Foosball with the Devil: Haiti, Honduras, and Democracy in the Neoliberal Era
Growing Protests As UN Attacks Haitian Refugee Camp
"We are at a Crossroads" - Yannick Etienne on Sweatshops as a Development Model (Haiti)
US-Mexico: Huge weapons cache seized in Laredo
For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:
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Monday, June 7, 2010
WNU #1036: Haitian Farmers Reject Monsanto Seeds
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