Tuesday, June 22, 2010

WNU #1037: Puerto Rican Students Win Demands

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1037, June 20, 2010

1. Puerto Rico: Student Strike Wins Most Demands
2. Mexico: Labor, Left Denounce “Solution” at Cananea Mine
3. Venezuela: Left and Right Charge Union Repression
4. Latin America: Colombia Leads in Murdered Unionists
5. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US-OAS

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: Student Strike Wins Most Demands
After a new four-day round of talks with a court-appointed mediator, students and the Board of Trustees at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) reached an agreement on the night of June 16-17 to end a two-month strike that had closed 10 of the public university’s 11 campuses [see Update #1036]. The trustees agreed to drop plans for cutbacks in the budget and for reductions in scholarships and tuition exemptions, and they postponed until next January a plan to impose a special tuition surcharge of about $1,100 for each of the next three years. They also agreed not to penalize the strike leaders. The strikers’ National Negotiating Committee (CNN) said the shutdown would end if students ratified the agreement in a national assembly on June 21.

The breakthrough in negotiations came after the mediator, former judge Pedro López Oliver, brought all 13 trustees into the talks, which had been dominated previously by Board of Trustees president Ygrí Rivera. Rivera and three other trustees refused to sign the final agreement.

The strike began on Apr. 21 with a two-day protest at the Río Piedras campus in San Juan, the largest campus in the system, which has a student body of about 65,000. On Apr. 23 student leaders at Río Piedras declared an open-ended strike, which quickly spread to all but one of the other campuses. The strikers won support from Puerto Rican unions and grassroots organizations along with much of the island’s artistic community, reflecting anger at Gov. Luis Fortuño’s policy of responding to the world economic crisis with layoffs, budget cuts and privatization. There was also strong international support for the students [see Update #1034].

Strike leaders called the agreement the first big victory for the student movement in the university’s 107-year history. They said they planned to use the June 21 national assembly, to be held at the Pachín Vicéns Auditorium in the southern city of Ponce, to solidify the student movement. Meanwhile, after celebrating on the night of June 17, students who had been sitting in at the various campuses began clearing out their encampments. Arianis Pacheco, an education student at Río Piedras, told a reporter on June 18 that they would donate the food they’d been stockpiling to earthquake victims in Haiti. (Univision 6/17/10 from AP; Prensa Latina 6/17/10; New York Times 6/17/10 from correspondent; El Nuevo Herald (Miami) 6/18/10; El Nuevo Día (San Juan) 6/19/10; Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 6/18/10 from staff, 6/19/10 from IPS)

*2. Mexico: Labor, Left Denounce “Solution” at Cananea Mine
Mexico’s independent labor movement reacted angrily to the government’s use of hundreds of police agents the night of June 6 to break a three-year strike at the giant Cananea copper mine in the northern state of Sonora. Later the same night, police stormed the sealed Pasta de Conchos mine in the northern state of Coahuila, where family members were protesting the failure to retrieve the bodies of miners killed in a methane explosion on Feb. 19, 2006; only two of the 65 bodies have been recovered [see Update #944]. Both mines are owned by the powerful Grupo México corporation.

Officials of the National Workers Union (UNT), the largest independent labor federation, announced on June 9 that they would hold a national day of action protesting the assault on Cananea. They are also filing a complaint against the government of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa with the International Labor Organization (ILO). The Cananea strikers are members of Section 65 of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers and the Like of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM). The national union has been in a four-year struggle with the federal government over corruption charges against its leaders; supporters consider the charges an attempt to break the union [see Update #1022].

On June 10 members of the Pasta de Conchos families resumed their protest by joining an encampment in the Zócalo plaza in downtown Mexico City where members of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME) were on the 47th day of a mass hunger strike. The electrical workers are protesting their sudden layoffs last October [see Update #1034]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/10/10, 6/11/10)

Former Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the presidential candidate of a center-left coalition in 2006, promised to organize the collection of provisions for the Cananea strikers and to fight a “lynching campaign” in the media, which he accused of “demonizing” the workers. During a visit to the Section 65 union hall in Cananea on June 14, López Obrador charged that the miners were the victims of a “mafia of power” and noted that when the Cananea mine was privatized in 1990, former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) “sold it to [Germán] Larrea [Mota-Velasco],” the main shareholder in Grupo México, “for $400 million, when it was worth more than $2 billion, according to an assessment by the Nacional Financiera,” the government’s bank for the development of small and medium businesses. (LJ 6/15/10)

US unions joined the denunciations of the police actions at Cananea and Pasta de Conchos. President Calderón “has launched a reign of terror against working people,” United Steelworkers (USW) international president Leo Gerard said on June 7, calling on the US Congress to “halt delivery of all funding to Mexican security forces” under the Mérida initiative, which is nominally aimed at fighting drug trafficking [see Update #952]. (USW press release 6/7/10) “As long as the Mexican military and police continue to violate the fundamental rights of workers, the US Congress should freeze current funding for these forces and any proposals for future support,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest US labor federation, said in a June 9 statement. (AFL-CIO blog 6/9/10)

Grupo México officials said they would need four months to get the mine operating again and would spend as much as $114 million to clean it up. According to Gustavo Ortega, a technical director, the company had lost some $3.5 billion during the 34 months of the strike. Isaac López, director of operations at the mine, told the Milenio Diario newspaper on June 14 that the mine would probably employ 800 non-union workers in the future, including some former members of Section 65. “The safest thing right now is for us not to have a union for the new workers,” he said. “Later, we’ll see."

Some people have asked why the company would accept big financial losses instead of just meeting the strikers’ demands, which focused on health and safety issues. The answer may be in plans to step up mining activity in Mexico—apparently without unions. On Apr. 7 Manuel Luévanos Sánchez, president of the Council of Directors of the Chamber of Mining of Mexico, told a meeting of the group that 70% of Mexico’s territory could contain mineral wealth. He called on the government for a "complete solution to the union problems that generate a growing uncertainty in the industry and slow down investments, putting at risk thousands of sources of employment.” (El Universal (Mexico) 6/14/10; Prensa Latina 6/20/10)

*3. Venezuela: Left, Right Charge Union Repression
The Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecámaras) filed a complaint at a meeting of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva on June 11 against the labor and business policies of President Hugo Chávez’s leftist government. In addition to protesting the nationalization of businesses, the group charged that the government was “criminalizing protest” by labor unions and that the murders of some 200 unionists over the past five years had gone unpunished. On June 15 pro-government unionists protested in front of the Fedecámaras office in Ciudad Guayana in the eastern state of Bolívar, denying that there was repression of labor and charging that the business group, which supported a 2002 coup against Chávez, was trying to destabilize the government. (El Nacional (Caracas) 6/11/10 from EFE; El Diario de Guayana (Venezuela) 6/16/10)

One of the cases of alleged repression cited by Fedecámaras is the imprisonment since Sept. 29, 2009 of Rubén González, general secretary of the Ferrominera Workers Union (Sintraferrominera), which represents employees at the government-owned Ferrominera Orinoco (FMO) in Ciudad Guayana. González is charged with instigating criminal activity and with agavillamiento (“forming criminal gangs”).

The charges stem from a dispute last August at Ferrominera, an iron ore mining subsidiary of CVG, the national heavy industry holding company. According to the government and another Sintraferrominera official, Alfredo Spooner, González led a band of 20 to 50 workers that attacked other workers in an effort to force a strike by the company’s 6,232 employees. González’s supporters, including anarchists and some other leftists, say that there was a 16-day strike at the company by many of the workers and that on Aug. 26 FMO president Radwan Sabbagh publicly signed an agreement with González ending the strike and promising that there would be no reprisals against the strikers. The supporters also say that far from opposing the Chávez government, González is a member of the pro-government United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). (Aporrea (Venezuela) 8/19/09 from Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN), 5/10/10; Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo action alert 6/4/10)

*4. Latin America: Colombia Leads in Murdered Unionists
The number of trade unionists murdered around the world increased by 30% in 2009, according to an annual survey released on June 9 by the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The majority of the 101 murders cited in the report took place in Latin America, with 48 in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 12 in Honduras, six in Mexico, four in Brazil and three in the Dominican Republic.

“Colombia was yet again the country where standing up for fundamental rights of workers is more likely than anywhere else to mean a death sentence, despite the Colombian government’s public relations campaign to the contrary,” ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder said. “The worsening situation in Guatemala, Honduras and several other countries is also cause for extreme concern.” (ITUC announcement 6/9/10)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, US-OAS

Bolivia: government appeals to Amazon peoples not to march for autonomy

One Year since the Bagua Massacre: New Actors Facing a State in Crisis

Peru: regional strike paralyzes south over Camisea LNG project

Peru: police clash with protesting mineral workers

Amnesty International: free Alberto Pizango (Peru)

Peru: Amazon leader returns from asylum to slam French oil company

Colombia: US documents on Palace of Justice affair reveal army massacre

The Glory of the Heir (Colombia)

Colombia: rival presidential candidates back hostage rescue mission

WOLA Announces Second Death Threat From Colombian Paramilitaries For Working With Displaced Peoples

Colombia: Ten Injured as Riot Police Break Strike at Calgary-Owned Oil Company

Colombia: president-elect Santos pledges to escalate war

Central America: Food Security Further Undermined by Climate Disasters

Building Socialism from Below: The Role of the Communes in Venezuela

Interview: Return to El Salvador

Honduras: Violence and Human Rights Violations Escalate

Extending the Reach of Safe Abortion in Mexico

Tear Gas in Cananea (Mexico)

Mexico: mass "narco-graves" found in Cancún

Mexico: 200 dead in one week of narco-violence

Mexico Awaits BP's Oil Blowout; Savaging Turtle Island

Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s Government Puts Limits On Cash Exchanges; Hopes To Hinder Drug Cartels

Mexico: mayor who stood up to cartels assassinated

Media took gov't cash during trial of 'Cuban 5'

Musical Passions: Cuba’s Cultural Ambassadors

Katrina Redux: New Disaster, Same Contractors in Haiti

A Bad Week for the Monroe Doctrine

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