Tuesday, August 17, 2010

WNU #1044: Tensions Continue Over Anti-Labor Law in Panama

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1044, August 15, 2010

1. Panama: Tensions Continue Over Anti-Labor Law
2. Mexico: Supreme Court Extends Same-Sex Marriage
3. Mexico: Rights Commission Faults Army in Students’ Deaths
4. Puerto Rico: Lebrón Remembered, Torres Freed
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago

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. Panama: Tensions Continue Over Anti-Labor Law
Hundreds marched in Changuinola, the capital of the northwestern Panamanian province of Bocas del Toro, on Aug. 8 in memory of two workers who were killed a month earlier while protesting legislation opposed by unionists and environmental activists. Erasmo Cerrud, a local leader in the country’s largest union, the Only Union of Construction and Similar Workers (SUNTRACS), charged that there had been no progress in the investigations into the deaths of the two workers, Antonio Smith and Virgilio Castillo, in confrontations with anti-riot police. “The dead and the wounded won’t be forgotten, and the struggle will continue,” Feliciana Jaén, a leader of indigenous women, told the marchers.

Passed in June, Law 30 ostensibly deals with the aviation industry, but sections aimed at union dues, the right to strike and environmental impact studies were put into the measure—now popularly known as the “sausage law” because so much was stuffed into it. Banana workers in Bocas del Toro went on strike on July 3 to protest Law 30, and the strike quickly spread across the country. A one-day nationwide general strike on July 13 forced the government to back down and to set up a commission to discuss modifications to the law.

Police repression was exceptionally severe in Bocas del Toro. Although Smith and Castillo are the only fatalities the government listed for Changuinola, on July 23 lawyers and labor and human rights activists charged that as many as eight people may have been killed in the area. The activists presented eight names of people they said seemed to have died from gunshot wounds, other injuries or asphyxiation from tear gas. In late July a group of 11 lawyers filed a criminal complaint calling for an investigation of Public Security Minister José Raúl Mulino, National Police director Gustavo Pérez, and the police chiefs of Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí and Veraguas provinces for murder, abuse of authority and violation of duties. (Crítica (Panama) 8/9/10; Adital (Brazil) 7/25/10; Newsroom Panama 7/27/10)

SUNTRACS held a demonstration near the presidential offices in Panama City on Aug. 9 during the first meeting of the commission on modifying Law 30. While the protesters demanded the repeal of the law and the removal of Mulino and Pérez from office, labor and grassroots representatives at the meeting called for broader participation. “We think that all the groups affected should be present in the dialogue, such as environmental, indigenous and human rights groups,” National Council of Organized Workers (CONATO) representative Rafael Chavarría told the Spanish wire service EFE. Like the protesters, the labor and grassroots representatives were pushing for complete repeal of the legislation. (EFE 8/9/10 via Terra.es)

Erasmo Cerrud, the Bocas de Toro SUNTRACS leader, was detained at a police checkpoint in La Chorrera municipality, west of Panama City, on Aug. 10 or 11 (the sources weren’t clear on the date). Police agents handcuffed Cerrud, threatened him with a pistol and held him for an extended period of time before finally releasing him. Cerrud, who is also a leader in the National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (FRENADESO), was returning to Bocas de Toro with a number of colleagues after going to Panama City for the commission meeting. (Rebanadas de Realidad (Argentina) 8/11/10 from FRENADESO and Kaos en la Red)

*2. Mexico: Supreme Court Extends Same-Sex Marriage
A full session of Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) decided by a 9-2 vote on Aug. 10 that same-sex marriages performed in the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) are valid in all the country’s states, although each state remains free to regulate marriages performed in its own territory. The court had ruled on Aug. 5 that the DF’s law allowing same-sex marriage was constitutional, denying a challenge from federal attorney general Arturo Chávez Chávez [see Update #1043].

During the Aug. 10 session the justices began deliberations on the federal government’s challenge to the provision in the DF legislation which allows same-sex couples to adopt. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/11/10)

Update: By another 9-2 vote, on Aug. 16 the SJCN upheld the DF’s legalization of adoption by same-sex couples, ruling that there were no legal arguments to prevent homosexuals from adopting children and that to deny them the right to adopt would be “to constitutionalize discrimination.” One justice, Arturo Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea, cited studies by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) indicating that children are happier with same-sex parents. (Milenio (Mexico) 8/16/10)

*3. Mexico: Rights Commission Faults Army in Students’ Deaths
On Aug. 12 the Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) issued recommendations in the case of two graduate students killed the early morning of Mar. 19 during a gunfight between soldiers and alleged drug cartel members in front of the prestigious Institute of Technology and Higher Education’s Monterrey campus (ITESM) in the northern state of Nuevo León [see Update #1026, where we gave the date as Mar. 20, following our source]. The incident took place as part of a heavily militarized “war on drugs” that President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa put into motion shortly after taking office in December 2006; the government and the army claim that most of the thousands of victims are cartel members.

The CNDH said it couldn’t determine who killed the students, Jorge Antonio Mercado Alonso and Javier Francisco Arredondo Verdugo, because the military and state authorities had created obstacles to the investigation, including the alteration of the crime scene. However, it found that the “irregularities detected imply a failure to fulfill the public function of obtaining justice” and resulted in a violation of the human rights of the victims and their families. The CNDH also criticized the military for shooting with high-powered weapons so close to a university campus, and called on the military to pay compensation to the victims’ families and to improve its handling of investigations.

According to the CNDH, the victims’ bodies were moved, weapons were planted near them, and an ITESM security camera that recorded the incident was destroyed. The military initially claimed that the students were drug cartel employees; military spokespeople said later that the students died in crossfire between the military and cartel members. The CNDH noted that according to the forensic evidence the students didn’t die immediately from their wounds and received injuries in their faces while still alive—in other words, they were beaten as they lay dying. (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/13/10)

*4. Puerto Rico: Lebrón Remembered, Torres Freed
Hundreds of supporters of Puerto Rican independence gathered at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, one of the island’s oldest cultural centers, in San Juan on Aug. 2 to commemorate Dolores ("Lolita") Lebrón Sotomayor. Lebrón, who died the day before of cardiovascular complications at the age of 90, led an armed attack on the US Congress on Mar. 1, 1954, and spent 25 years and six months in a US prison before being pardoned in 1979 by US president Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). She was a “mythic figure,” Rubén Berríos, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), told the Spanish wire service EFE. “Lolita’s death wasn’t a death, because she will never be forgotten,” said former prisoner Rafael Cancel Miranda, one of the five participants in the attack. “The person who hasn’t left anything behind is forgotten.”

Lebrón continued to be a political activist after her release. At age 81 she served 60 days in prison in 2001 for participating in a nonviolent civil disobedience protesting the US military testing grounds on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques [see Updates #596, 599]. (EFE 8/2/10 via Terra.es)

On July 26 US authorities released independence activist Carlos Alberto Torres from the federal prison in Pekin, Illinois. Torres had served 30 years of a 78-year sentence for “seditious conspiracy.” He was a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), which took responsibility for numerous bombings in the US in the 1970s, although Torres himself wasn’t charged with any of the attacks. He refused a clemency offered by US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001) in 1999.

Torres told EFE after his release on parole that he would return to Puerto Rico and continue his political activities while being “a good citizen who respects the laws.” "I’m still the same fighter, but things have changed in Puerto Rico and in the world,” he said. "Now I believe I can pursue Puerto Rico’s independence from within a movement that is integrated into civil society--which is different from what we did in the 1970s.” (EFE 7/26/10 via Terra.com)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago

Chile: Mapuche Prisoners on Hunger Strike to Demand Talks

Americas Social Forum Celebrates Change in Paraguay

Oscar Olivera: Opposition in Times of Evo (Bolivia)

Uribe to Teach at Georgetown University

Uribe Appointment Undermines U.N. Flotilla Investigation

Car Bomb Rattles Bogotá, Colombia; Authorities Suspect Terrorist Attack

Somos Pacifico! Rap Trio Choc Quib Town Puts Colombia’s Pacific on the (Music) Map

Oil, Gas, and Canada-Colombia Free Trade

Uribe’s Parting Shot

Colombia's new president joins Chávez to honor Bolívar

Colombia and Venezuela to Restore Diplomatic Relations

Venezuela: Ending farmer exploitation

A worker-run energy plan in Venezuela

The Lowest Form Of Military Aggression (Costa Rica)

Honduran Peasant Leader Assassinated

Honduras Down the Memory Hole

What the Zapatistas Can Teach Us About the Climate Crisis (Mexico)

Wonks bash Mexico's Fox over legalization proposal

Haiti: A Walk Inside the Camps

Convictions in NYC terror case linked to Trinidad coup attempt

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