Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WNU #1053: Panama Withdraws Anti-Labor Law

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1053, October 17, 2010

1. Panama: Government Withdraws Anti-Labor Law
2. Haiti: UN Troops Attack UN Protest
3. Chile: 31 Miners Died in Past Year
4. Latin America: Oct. 12 Brings Marches and Apologies
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin American Left, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

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: Government Withdraws Anti-Labor Law
After 90 days of negotiations with unions and other social organizations, on Oct. 10 the government of rightwing Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli approved an agreement to rescind a controversial law and replace it with a package of six separate laws. The original Law 30—which was passed in June and quickly became known as the “sausage law” because so many different measures were stuffed into it—ignited strikes and protests by unions and environmental groups that resulted in at least two deaths in July and forced the Martinelli government to negotiate [see Update #1044].

According to Genaro López, a leader of the large, militant Only Union of Construction and Similar Workers (SUNTRACS), the agreement eliminates the main features of Law 30 that the social movements opposed. López said the agreement removes Article 28, which allowed police agents to avoid prison when they committed criminal acts in the exercise of their functions, and restores a requirement for environmental impact studies for development projects, along with dues checkoffs for unions and a ban on hiring replacement workers in the case of a strike. The government still needed to send the new package of laws to the National Assembly for approval. (EFE 10/10/10 via Terra.com (Spain); Prensa Latina 10/10/10)

President Martinelli remains popular despite the opposition to Law 30. A poll the Unimer company conducted for the daily La Prensa from Oct. 7 to Oct. 11 gave him an approval rating of 69.4%. But a year ago, after three months in office, Martinelli had an approval rating of 85.9%; it had fallen to 65.7% by the summer. La Prensa noted that the 3.7% improvement in his October rating coincided with the success of the negotiations over Law 30. (EFE 10/16/10 via Infolatam)

*2. Haiti: UN Troops Attack UN Protest
On Oct. 15 about 60 Haitians protested an extension of the mandate for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) by blocking the entrance to the mission’s main logistics base near the Port-au-Prince airport. The Associated Press wire service reported that the protesters, many of them people left homeless by a major earthquake on Jan. 12, spray-painted slogans on cars and burned the Brazilian flag; Brazilian troops lead the joint military-police mission, which has occupied Haiti since June 2004.

MINUSTAH security forces reacted violently to the protest, with a plainclothes guard striking a protester and a Jordanian soldier firing a warning shot. AP journalists said a Haitian police agent hit protesters with his rifle and a UN vehicle “push[ed] through the crowd, knocking over protesters and journalists.”

The United Nations (UN) Security Council had voted unanimously on Oct. 14 to extend MINUSTAH’s mandate for one year, to Oct. 15, 2011. The council set the maximum number of soldiers for the force at 8,940 and the number of police agents at 4,391; in 2008 the maximum was 7,060 soldiers and 2,091 police agents[see Update #964]. The UN has budgeted $380 million for the mission this year. (AP 10/15/10 via San Francisco Examiner; AlterPresse (Haiti) 10/14/10; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 10/14/10)

Opposition to renewing the mandate is widespread among grassroots organizations, and protests against the UN occupation have been on the rise since the death of 16-year-old Gérald Jean Gilles at a MINUSTAH camp in Cap-Haïtien on Aug. 17 [see Update #1049]. At an Oct. 15 press conference, economist Camille Chalmers, executive secretary of the nonprofit Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA), denounced the mission as part of a “new offensive by American imperialism.” He cited a history of abuse, including a major case of sexual abuse that led to the removal of more than 100 Sri Lankan soldiers [see Update #923], and noted that MINUSTAH cost a total of $5 billion from 2004 to 2009. “[R]ather than serving to reinforce the institutional capabilities of the Haitian state, [these resources] have been squandered in the operational expenses of the UN mission,” Chalmers said. (AlterPresse 10/15/10)

On Oct. 14 the Haitian delegation to the third World March of Women conference, held in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told the 1,000 representatives from 42 countries that “Haitian women are fighting against the presence of MINUSTAH in our country.” (AlterPresse 10/16/10)

In other news, teachers’ unions, the labor group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers Struggle”), Solidarity With Haitian Women (SOFA) and the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) called for a demonstration on Oct. 15 to protest the killing of teacher Louis Jean Filbert, who was wounded on Oct. 8 during a rally for universal education; he died the next day [see Update #1052]. (Contrary to earlier reports, he was apparently hit by a tear-gas grenade, not a police bullet.) The police agent Francine Desruisseaux is suspected of causing Filbert’s death. As of Oct. 12 she was reportedly being sought by the authorities. (Radio Kiskeya 10/12/10; Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 10/13/10; AlterPresse 10/14/10)

*3. Chile: 31 Miners Died in Past Year
While the world media focused on the successful rescue of 33 Chilean miners on Oct. 12 and 13, 69 days after they had been trapped by a collapse in the San José gold and copper mine in the northern Atacama region, Chilean union leaders charged that persistent problems with safety in the country’s mines were being downplayed.

In the past decade Chilean 373 miners have died in accidents, 31 of them in the past year. Most of the deaths occurred in small- and medium-sized privately owned mines and among the freelance miners known as pirquineros; the multinationals and the state-owned copper mining enterprise, Corporación Nacional del Cobre, have a low rate of accidents. Reporting by journalists Pablo Obregón and Carla Gardella suggests that the accident rate increases as prices for copper rise and owners push to speed up the rate of extraction. There were 28 fatal mining accidents in 2002, when the price of copper on world markets was very low; the number rose to 40 in 2007 as the price of copper rose.

The San Esteban company, which owns the San José mine, has a record of safety problems. When a miner died at San José in 2004, the workers protested, calling the death “the culmination of a series of accidents” over the previous five years. The site was temporarily closed in 2007 because of structural problems, but the authorities decided to reopen it. The collapse that trapped the 33 miners on Aug. 5 was “an accident that never should have happened,” according to Marco Canales, a leader in the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT), the main Chilean labor federation.

Although rightwing president Sebastián Piñera has gotten a great deal of favorable publicity from the rescue of the miners, the media have generally ignored his government’s decision a few days before the San José collapse to close the Labor Ministry office in charge of enforcing standards for workers. After the collapse, it came out that the government agency charged with monitoring the safety of mines, the National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin), had just two inspectors in the whole Atacama region, where dozens of small- and medium-sized mines operate. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/16/10; Economía y Negocios (Chile) 8/15/10)

*4. Latin America: Oct. 12 Brings Marches and Apologies
Representatives of Chilean social and humanitarian organizations marked 518 years since the arrival of European colonizer Christopher Columbus by marching on Oct. 12 in the southern Araucanía region in solidarity with Chile’s indigenous peoples. About 5,000 people had held a similar solidarity march in Santiago the day before. The marches had a special focus on the situation of the Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous group, and a liquids-only hunger strike by Mapuche prisoners that ended on Oct. 8 after more than 80 days [see Update #1052]. A group of the prisoners released a communiqué on Oct. 12 calling on the government to fulfill the promises it made to them in negotiations to end the hunger strike. “A new process of struggle will begin,” the prisoners wrote. (Prensa Latina 10/12/10)

In Bolivia grassroots organizations held a march on Oct. 12 in La Paz they said was intended to increase awareness about the defense of the rights of Mother Earth.

Thousands of indigenous Colombians and a large group of public university students marched in Bogota for four hours on Oct. 12. The minga (indigenous mobilization) was organized by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia together with various organizations from the social movements.

In Guatemala hundreds of campesinos and indigenous people marked Oct. 12 by protesting in front of the Supreme Court of Justice, the National Congress and the Presidential Residence in Guatemala City. The National Coordinating Committee of Campesino Organizations charged in a communiqué that the indigenous people of Guatemala, who represent 42% of the country’s 14 million inhabitants, continue to be marginalized and that only “the mechanisms of imposition have changed.”

Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes offered apologies in the name of the state to the country’s indigenous people for the “persecution and extermination” to which they were subjected. Funes, from the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN), observed the anniversary by opening a national indigenous congress which was to discuss the problems indigenous groups face and ways to solve them with the aid of the government. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/13/10 from AFP, Prensa Latina)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin American Left, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

Culture shock for Latin American left

Dancing with Dynamite Book Review: The Future of Latin America’s Leftist Movements

Final Chilean Miner Brought To Surface After 22 1/2-Hour Rescue Effort

Brazil: Toward the Continuation of Lulismo

Controlling Coca Cultivation Bolivian Style

Peru: UN warned on oil development threat to uncontacted peoples

Coup in Ecuador?

Accusations that Weaken Us All: A response to Eva Golinger’s Attack on the CONAIE

Colombia: another indigenous leader assassinated

Colombia: SOA graduate charged in massacres

Venezuela Signs Nuclear Energy Deals with Russia

Venezuela Commemorates Indigenous Resistance with Abya-Yala Congress, Demonstrations

Panama: Indigenous, Labor, Environmental Groups Need Your Support

Saving Honduras?

Mexico: Tamaulipas beheading linked to case of slain US reporter?

The beginning of U.S. military assistance to Mexico

Mexican Representative Says There Will Be No Climate Deal in Cancun

Cuba's Crossroads

Cuba’s Campaign Against Medical Racism Spreads to Africa

New report on camp conditions by Refugee International

Haiti’s 1.3 Million Camp Dwellers Waiting in Vain

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