Tuesday, January 25, 2011

John Ross and Los de Abajo

Our longtime friend John Ross died last week in Mexico. An appreciation of John as a political thinker by WNU co-editor David Wilson appeared on the MRZine website on Jan. 24:


We will notify our readers as soon as we have more information on memorial events for this amazing activist journalist.

The Editors

Monday, January 24, 2011

WNU #1064: Puerto Rican Students Start CD Actions

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1064, January 23, 2011

1. Puerto Rico: Student Strikers Start Mass CD Actions
2. Mexico: US Pays Colombia to Train Mexican Soldiers
3. Mexico: UN Calls for Inquiry in Migrants’ Kidnapping
4. Haiti: Duvalier Is Back--But Why?
5. Haiti: US Pressures Préval, Starts Deporting
6. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, 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. Puerto Rico: Student Strikers Start Mass CD ActionsChanting slogans from a student strike at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), on Jan. 21 a group of students and activists interrupted a talk that conservative Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño Bruset was giving at Valladolid University Law School in Valladolid, Spain. The activists said they were Puerto Ricans living in Spain who wanted the international community to know about Gov. Fortuño’s “destruction” of the UPR, and “the repression, the criminalization and abuse of power against the student demonstrators.” A group of students has been on strike at several of the university’s campuses since December to protest an $800 surcharge on tuition at the large public university [see Update #1063].

Fortuño was visiting Spain as part of a trade mission that the protesters denounced as “a subterfuge by this colonial administration so as not to confront the social and political situation that the country is undergoing.” (Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 1/22/11)

Earlier in the week, UPR students and their supporters began a series of mass civil disobedience actions, blocking entrances to the Río Piedras campus in San Juan to escalate their protest against the surcharge. A total of 49 protesters were arrested on Jan. 19, including Sister Elizabeth Concepción, from a Catholic community in the El Volcán neighborhood of Bayamón; solidarity activist Mary Ann Grady; and Rafael Feliciano, president of the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR). There were 44 arrests on Jan. 20; among the detainees was the well-known environmental activist Alberto de Jesús Mercado (“Tito Kayak”). (Primera Hora 1/20/11; El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 1/20/11, 1/21/11)

The UPR administration claimed that 90% of the students had registered for the semester and had paid the surcharge by Jan. 21. At a Jan. 22 press conference Xiomara Caro, a spokesperson for the Student Representative Committee (CRE), said that the actual number given by UPR president José Ramón de la Torre was 35,407 registrations from a student body of 61,565, nowhere near 90%. She noted that the strikers hadn’t asked students not to register; instead, strike supporters could stay in school by paying the first installment of the fee, but they were urged to mark their checks “Payment Under Protest.”

Caro said another round of civil disobedience was planned for the next week. (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 1/23/11; Huffington Post 1/18/11)

*2. Mexico: US Pays Colombia to Train Mexican SoldiersSome 7,000 Mexicans have participated in a program through which the Colombian government trains Mexican soldiers and police in techniques for fighting drug cartels, according to an article in the Jan. 22 Washington Post. The administration of US president Barack Obama is encouraging this effort, and the US is paying part of the costs. Washington’s share so far is $800,000, according to the article.

The program provides the Obama administration with “a politically viable way to improve Mexican security forces without a substantial American military or police presence in Mexico,” reporter Juan Forero writes. "The American military can indirectly do a lot more through the Colombians than they politically would be able to do directly," Roderic Ai Camp, of Claremont McKenna College in California, told the Post. "Given the loss of half of Mexico's national territory to the United States in the 19th century, and the Mexican army's hesitant cooperation with their American counterparts, the Colombians are a logical proxy."

Nearly 35,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since Mexican president Felipe Calerón Hinojosa militarized the fight against drug trafficking soon after taking office in December 2006; the US helps fund this “war on drugs” through the Mérida Initiative, a security cooperation agreement between the Mexico, the US and Central American countries [see Update #1059]. “Mexico has what we had some years ago, which are very powerful cartels,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos told the Post. “What we can provide is the experience that we have had dismantling those cartels, training intelligence officers, training judicial police.” (WP 1/22/11)

The Colombian military is notorious for human rights violations, including the practice of creating “false positives”—murdering civilians and counting them as rebels killed in battle. An article in the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada about the Post’s revelations drew a number of sarcastic comments on the Mexican paper’s website. “Don’t forget to give them a lot of courses in HUMAN RIGHTS and the PREVENTION OF DRUG ADDICTION,” one reader wrote. “Will the course include the subject ‘obtaining false positives’…?” another asked. One comment called the program a “training camp for prospective Zetas,” referring to Los Zetas, a criminal gang started by Mexican Special Forces deserters and specializing in the drug trade. (LJ 1/23/11)

*3. Mexico: UN Calls for Inquiry in Migrants’ KidnappingOn Jan. 21 United Nations high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay called on the Mexican government to determine whether there was complicity by the military, the police or other officials in the mass kidnapping of some 40 Central American immigrants by an armed gang in the southern state of Oaxaca on Dec. 16.

The incident, which brought protests from Mexican human rights activists [see Update #1062], took place as some 250 immigrants were riding on a freight train operated by Ferrocarril del Istmo de Tehuántepec, a company owned by the federal government. Mexican police, soldiers and immigration officers detained some of the immigrants but let the rest proceed. The train operator then tried to extort money from the immigrants but wasn’t satisfied with the amount they offered. A short while later, an armed group entered the train, robbed and beat the immigrants, and abducted about 40. The whereabouts of the victims are still unknown. (New York Times 1/22/11)

With an increase in news stories about the mistreatment, kidnapping and murder of undocumented Central Americans in Mexico, the Mexican government has been working to improve relations with Central American governments on immigration issues. Mexican and Honduran officials held their first high-level meeting on immigration on Jan. 22 in Mexico City. The two governments agreed to carry out a joint campaign to warn undocumented immigrants about the dangers they might encounter and to advise them on their rights and obligations and where they can file legal complaints or seek assistance. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/23/11)

*4. Haiti: Duvalier Is Back--But Why?On Jan. 21 former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986) gave his first press conference since arriving unexpectedly in Port-au-Prince the evening of Jan. 16 after 25 years of exile in France. Speaking at a private residence in Montagne Noire, on the eastern edge of the capital, Duvalier expressed his “profound sorrow” on behalf of his “compatriots who legitimately claim that they were victims” of his regime, along with his “sympathy” for his “millions of supporters,” especially the “thousands” who were “cravenly assassinated…roasted…their houses, their goods pillaged, uprooted.”

Duvalier said his “departure” from Haiti in a US plane on Feb. 7, 1986, was “voluntary” and that he had wanted “to avoid a bloodbath and to facilitate a conclusion to the political crisis.” His return this year was to express his “solidarity” with the victims of a devastating January 2010 earthquake, he said. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 1/22/11)

Duvalier didn’t return “to support the Haitians or to take part in politics,” National Disarmament Commission director Alix Fils-Aimé said on Jan. 18 as he filed a legal complaint against Duvalier for his imprisonment in the notorious Fort Dimanche prison in April 1976. The former dictator came “to demonstrate to the Swiss bankers that he doesn’t have any pending business with the justice system, and so to get the $8 million dollars unfrozen from his accounts,” Fils-Aimé said.

Others share Fils-Aimé’s opinion, although they give $6 million rather than $8 million as the amount of money currently frozen in Duvalier’s Swiss bank accounts because of claims by the Haitian government that he had embezzled it. A new Swiss law will take effect on Feb. 1 that would allow Swiss authorities to transfer the funds to the Haitian government, and Duvalier had to move quickly if he hoped to get the money. According to New York Times reporter Ginger Thompson, Duvalier suffers from lupus and may have pancreatic cancer. “[S]o what did he have to lose?” an unnamed official said to Thompson.

“This was probably a calculation on Duvalier’s part, that the state was so weak that he could return to Haiti and leave without being charged with anything,” Human Rights Watch spokesperson Reed Brody told the Times. “Then he could go back to Swiss authorities and argue that he should get his money because Haiti’s not after him anymore.” If so, the ploy backfired. Haitian authorities opened a case against Duvalier for embezzlement on Jan. 18 and told him not to leave the country. (NYT 1/21/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/22/11)

Duvalier’s return has increased pressure for the return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004). Despite factional disputes within his Lavalas Family (FL) party, several FL leaders were united on Jan. 19 in calling for the Haitian government to renew Aristide’s diplomatic passport so that he could leave South Africa, where he has lived in exile since 2004. Aristide himself issued a statement that day saying he wanted to return to Haiti “[t]o contribute to serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education.” He also cited “medical reasons.” “It is strongly recommended that I not spend the coming winter in South Africa because in six years I have undergone six eye surgeries.” (Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 1/19/11; Haïti Libre 1/19/11)

Haitian president René Préval was asked about Aristide’s possible return at a joint press conference that he held with Dominican president Leonel Fernández on Jan. 22 during a brief visit to Santo Domingo. Préval said that the 1987 Haitian Constitution did not allow for exile and insisted that Aristide was therefore free to return. (Radio Kiskeya 1/22/11)

*5. Haiti: US Pressures Préval, Starts DeportingWhile media attention remained focused on the return of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier to Haiti, disputes over the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections continued. A week after a technical group from the Organization of American States (OAS) recommended a runoff between presidential candidates Mirlande Hyppolite Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP) and popular singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response) [see Update #1063], Haitian president René Préval still had not agreed to have his Unity party’s candidate, Jude Célestin, cede the number two spot on the ballot to Martelly.

The US government appeared to be pressuring Préval to accept the OAS recommendation. On Jan. 22 Unity’s coordinator, Senator Joseph Lambert, confirmed in a radio interview that the US was now suspending entry visas for a number of Unity members and supporters, including Social Affairs and Labor Minister Gérald Germain; former interior minister Jean Joseph Molière; former commerce and industry minister Jean François Chamblain; and René Momplaisir, an activist in grassroots organizations linked to ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas Family (FL). Momplaisir apparently supported Célestin in the November election.

Senator Lambert said these people weren’t too disturbed about the visa denial, but he acknowledged that a meeting of party leaders the night before had discussed the possibility of Célestin’s withdrawal from the race. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 1/23/11)

At the same time that it was apparently pressuring Préval on the elections, the US government issued a new travel advisory for its citizens on Jan. 20. The US “strongly urges avoiding all but essential travel” to Haiti because of dangers from crime, violent protests and the cholera epidemic, the warning said. Previously the US had simply “recommend[ed] against non-essential travel” [see Update #1061].

Also on Jan. 20, the US carried out its first deportation of Haitian immigrants since an earthquake devastated southern Haiti in January 2010. A group of 27 Haitians were flown to Port-au-Prince, including Lyglenson Lemorin, who was charged in an alleged conspiracy to destroy the Sears Tower a Chicago but was acquitted in 2007. (US Department of State travel warning 1/20/11; Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 1/21/11)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti
Book Review: Dancing with Dynamite in Latin America

Flash Flooding In Brazil Claims More Than 470 Lives And Shines Spotlight On Brazilian Housing Policy

Brazil: New President's First Steps Fuel Optimism of Women's Movement

Brazilian Authorities Approve Amazon Dam Despite Presence of Uncontacted Indians

Bolivia: New Pension Law Lowers Retirement Age, Raises Expectations

Peru: labor, campesino unrest plagues mineral sector

U.S. Company Threatens Peru with Free Trade Lawsuit

Colombia: Piedad Córdoba’s Turbulent Fall

Arrests Made in Arson of Venezuelan Government Building, Opposition Involvement

Coca-Cola Workers on Strike in Carabobo, Venezuela

Honduran Constitution: Still Explosive, But No Longer Set in Stone

Ciudad Juárez: another "femicide" activist murdered (Mexico)

The Murdered Women of Juarez (Mexico)

The New Wave of Cross-Border Activism (Mexico)

Mexican Military Raids Social Organization’s Office

The Lead Prosecutor in the Cuban Five Case Refused a DHS Request to Press Criminal Charges Against Posada Carriles

Haiti: ex-dictator Duvalier charged with theft, corruption

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Our weekly Immigration News Briefs has ended publication; for news, information and announcements in support of action for immigrant rights in the United States, subscribe to Immigrant Action at:
You can also visit the Immigrant Action blog at:

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

WNU #1063: Honduran Right Offers Constitutional Reforms

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1063, January 16, 2011

1. Honduras: Right Wing Offers Constitutional Reforms
2. Honduras: Campesino Leader Kidnapped, Released
3. Puerto Rico: Student Strike Resumes
4. Haiti: Quake Anniversary Ceremonies Protested
5. Latin America: Four More Countries Recognize Palestine
6. US: SOA Protesters Get the Max, Again
7. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, 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. Honduras: Right Wing Offers Constitutional Reforms
On the evening of Jan. 12 Honduras’ National Congress passed reforms to Articles 5 and 213 of the 1982 Constitution that would open the way to changing key elements of the document--including the ban on presidential reelection--by popular referendum. The changes were proposed by the rightwing National Party (PN) of President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa and were backed by other parties, including the Liberal Party (PL) of former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009); 103 of the 128 legislative deputies voted for the reforms.

Two different sessions of the National Congress need to approve an amendment, so the changes will not be official unless approved the next session, which begins on Jan. 25.

Commentators were quick to note that the military removed former president Zelaya from office in June 2009 on the pretext that a nonbinding referendum he was promoting could have resulted in similar changes to the Constitution. President Lobo and many of the current legislators supported the 2009 coup as a defense of the Constitution. “So something that was bad when Zelaya tried it is good now?” a reporter asked President Lobo on Jan. 12. “Let’s not mix water with oil,” Lobo answered, claiming that Zelaya had been trying to extend his term.

Grassroots organizations denounced the new reforms as an inadequate response to the popular pressure for more extensive changes to the current Constitution, which was created at the end of nearly two decades of military dictatorship. The National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of many different groups opposing the 2009 coup, said it would continue to push for a constituent assembly with the power to rewrite the Constitution, the object of the June 2009 referendum. The FNRP says it gathered 1,342,876 signatures for such an assembly during a petition campaign in the spring and summer of 2010 [see Update #1051].

Tomás Andino, a former Congress member from the center-left Democratic Unification (UD) party, attributed the government’s reforms to international pressure. He said the US was following a policy of supporting “moderate coup supporters” and dissociating itself from the “recalcitrant coup supporters.” According to Andino, Washington pushed the Lobo government in December to return Zelaya to Honduras from exile and to punish the "visible faces of the coup." The government’s failure to follow the US plan lost Honduras $215 million of US aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Andino said, and could result in the loss of other aid. (Prensa Latina 1/12/11; La Nación (Costa Rica) 1/13/11, some from ACAN-EFE; Red Morazánica de Información 1/13/11 via FNRP website; Honduras Culture and Politics blog 1/13/11) The US announced the Millennium Challenge suspension on Jan. 6. (AP 1/6/11 via SFGate)

*2. Honduras: Campesino Leader Kidnapped, Released
Honduran campesino leader Juan Ramón Chinchilla was safe and was staying in an undisclosed location on Jan. 11 after two days in captivity, according to the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of labor and grassroots organizations. Chinchilla, a leader in the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), said a group of hooded men seized him on Jan. 8 on a road near La Concepción, Tocoa municipality, in the northern department of Colón. The kidnappers questioned him, beat him and burned his hair, Chinchilla said. Most of the men wore uniforms; some spoke English and one spoke a language Chinchilla couldn’t understand. He escaped while the kidnappers were moving him to another location on the night of Jan. 9.

The FNRP thanked political and social organizations and the international community for mobilizing in Chinchilla’s defense. The kidnappers “were concerned about the national and international pressure,” Chinchilla told an interviewer. “They were monitoring the news on the internet and radio. That is why they decided to move me to another location…. I believe that all of this pressure helped so that something worse did not happen.”

The Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras has been the site of repeated and often violent land struggles between campesino families, grouped together in the MUCA, and large landowners seeking to use the land for growing African oil palms [see Update #1059]. Chinchilla and the FNRP suggested that three of the largest landowners in the country, Miguel Facussé Barjum, Reinaldo Canales and René Morales, were behind Chinchilla’s kidnapping. (Prensa Latina 1/11/11, 1/12/11; FNRP website 1/12/11 from Rel-UITA (Argentina))

*3. Puerto Rico: Student Strike Resumes
Students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) renewed militant protests around economic issues as the school reopened on Jan. 11 following winter holidays. The actions had started in December in opposition to an $800 tuition surcharge for 2011 [see Update #1060]; protest leaders said the increase would keep as many as 10,000 of the system’s 65,000 students from attending the public university. The students called a 48-hour strike on Dec. 7-8, and an indefinite strike starting on Dec. 14, but the actions were only observed at six of the UPR’s 11 campuses, in contrast to the 10 campuses shut down last spring, when students beat back major budget cutbacks with a two-month strike. (People’s World 1/10/11)

The students’ first action when school reopened was a march on Jan. 11, but acts of vandalism by masked youths during the march put the student movement on the defensive. On Jan. 12 police agents arrested nine students at the Río Piedras campus in San Juan as they distributed fliers; they were released later in the day for lack of evidence to support charges. An assembly of student strikers that evening condemned the arrests as a demonstration that “the university administration and the executive [of the Puerto Rican government] continue to restrict, without right or reason, freedom of expression, reflecting in the process the totalitarian character of [Gov.] Luis Fortuño’s government.” The assembly also condemned vandalism and the “irresponsible use” of masks for “acts…which go against the spirit of struggle of this student movement,” but the students defended the “use of masks as a way to protect the compañeros and compañeras from being arrested or penalized for participating in demonstrations and public activities.” (Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 1/13/11, ___)

On Jan. 13 some 75 strikers attempted to disrupt the first day of registration with a sit-in at the Río Piedras campus’ administrative buildings. The protesters occupied a stairway and hung a giant banner reading: “No fees” in various languages and quoting the German philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Only through education can man be a man; man is no more than what education makes of him.” Police agents eventually used pepper spray and their shields to push the protesters outside, where a larger number of students continued to demonstrate. Seven arrests were reported. (Primera Hora 1/13/11; Puerto Rico Indymedia 1/14/11)

*4. Haiti: Quake Anniversary Ceremonies Protested
Thousands of Haitians turned out for religious ceremonies in Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country on Jan. 12 to mark the one-year anniversary of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that leveled much of the capital and the surrounding area. Cardinal Robert Sarah, sent by Pope Benedict XVI, joined the papal nuncio and Haitian bishops and priests in a special mass at the ruins of the city’s Catholic cathedral. Protestants held a service at the Champ-de-Mars park, across from the shattered National Palace, while Vodou followers participated in a ceremony of remembrance at the National Bureau of Ethnology.

The death toll from the earthquake has generally been estimated at 220,000 to 250,000, but on the anniversary Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive announced that the official estimate had risen to 316,000. Some 206,000 victims were reportedly buried just in the mass graves at Saint-Christophe (Titanyen) north of the capital. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 1/12/11)

Not all the anniversary ceremonies went smoothly. The government planned an event to mark the start of an ambitious housing project supposed to provide some 3,000-4,000 apartments in the impoverished Fort National neighborhood near the center of Port-au-Prince. The event was called off after a group of unidentified persons threw stones and an apparently unrelated group of about 20 local residents carrying signs occupied the site. Police and members of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), an international police and military operation, intervened, but there were no reports of injuries. The protesters said they didn’t oppose reconstruction but were demanding greater transparency. “We want explanations, we want to know how the state expects to help people who well before Jan. 12 [2010] lived in subhuman conditions,” a protester explained to a MINUSTAH agent, who took notes. “This is unacceptable now in the 21st century.” (AlterPresse (Haiti) 1/12/11)

A memorial at the Applied Linguistics Faculty of the State University of Haiti (UEH) for more than 150 students and faculty lost in the quake was disrupted by dozens of protesters, mostly from the UEH Human Sciences Faculty (FASCH), demanding justice for sociology professor Jean Anil Louis-Juste. A well-known radical, Louis-Juste was shot dead in broad daylight in downtown Port-au-Prince just a few hours before the earthquake [see Update #1026]. The FASCH students were protesting the lack of progress in the murder investigation and what they said was UEH rector Jean Vernet Henry’s failure to honor Louis-Juste on the Jan. 12 anniversary. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 1/12/11)

In other news, on Jan. 13 Organization of American States (OAS) representatives in Haiti sent President René Préval a report by OAS technical experts on the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections. The report recommended that presidential candidates Myrlande Manigat and Michel Martelly (the popular singer known as “Sweet Mickey”) should be the two candidates in a runoff election originally scheduled for Jan. 16. Martelly would replace Préval’s designated candidate (and future son-in-law), Jude Célestin, who was originally assigned second place. One person was killed on Jan. 14 during street demonstrations against the OAS recommendations, and 14 people were arrested; they were released without explanation the same day. The detainees had been carrying a large amount of money in their vehicles, along with old tires and pamphlets proclaiming Célestin the victor; witnesses said they had been shooting guns and building barricades. (AlterPresse 1/14/11; Radio Kiskeya 1/15/11)

Adding to the tensions, former “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986) arrived in Port-au-Prince on an Air France flight at about 5 pm on Jan. 16, apparently without warning, after nearly 25 years of exile in France. Several hundred supporters and opponents gathered at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport as the news spread. The ex-dictator stayed at the airport for about three hours and then was driven away in a vehicle under heavy escort by Haitian police and MINUSTAH agents. (AlterPresse 1/17/11)

*5. Latin America: Four More Countries Recognize Palestine
On Jan. 14 Guyana’s Foreign Ministry announced that his country was recognizing Palestine as an independent nation in the hope that “that the increasing recognition of the state of Palestine will contribute to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the creation of lasting peace and stability in the region.” Guyana is the sixth South American country to recognize Palestine in a little more than a month. (Haaretz (Israel) 1/14/11)

Brazil started the wave of recognitions on Dec. 3, and Argentina followed on Dec. 6 [see Update #1060]. Bolivian president Evo Morales announced his country’s decision to recognize Palestine on Dec. 22; Bolivia had broken relations with Israel in January 2009 in response to an Israeli offensive in Gaza. (Reuters 12/22/10 via Europa Press) On Dec. 24 Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry announced that President Rafael Correa had approved that day “official recognition by the government of Ecuador for the Palestinian State as free and independent, with the borders from 1967.” (EFE 12/24/10 via La Hora (Quito))

The government of rightwing Chilean president Sebastián Piñera announced its recognition of Palestine on Jan. 7. A statement read by Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno stressed that Chile has also “fully supported the right of the state of Israel to exist inside secure and internationally recognized borders.” Like Bolivia, Chile didn’t define the borders of the Palestinian state; Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador all specified the borders from 1967, which would include Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Moreno noted the presence in Chile of large communities of people of Arabic and Jewish descent; there are about 300,000 Arab Chileans and 30,000 Jewish Chileans. Moreno also announced a visit by Piñera to Israel and Palestine and Mar. 4 and 5. (AFP 1/7/11 via El Comercio (Quito))

Venezuela had recognized Palestine earlier, as had three other Latin American countries: Costa Rica, Cuba and Nicaragua. Uruguay indicated that it would make a similar move sometime in 2011 [see Update #1060].

*6. US: SOA Protesters Get the Max, Again
For the second year in a row, a federal court in Columbus, Georgia, has sentenced activists to six-month prison terms for trespassing on the US Army's Fort Benning base during protests against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). This is the maximum sentence for the offense, and US federal magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth surprised observers when he imposed the penalty on three activists in January 2010 [see Update #1020].

Four of the activists arrested during the most recent protest—the 20th annual demonstration, held last Nov. 20—have received six-month sentences. Father Louis Vitale and Michael Omondi were sentenced after making a no-contest plea in November, and Nancy H. Smith and Christopher Spicer were sentenced by US Magistrate Stephen Hyles on Jan. 5. This is the third time Father Vitale has served time in jail for participating in the protests against SOA, which trains Latin American soldiers. SOA Watch, which sponsors the protests, says SOA graduates are among the region's most notorious human rights violators.

Information on sending letters of support to the jailed activists is available at http://www.soaw.org/about-us/pocs . (SOA Watch 1/5/11; Bryan County (GA) News 1/6/11 from AP)

Correction: In Update #1058 we reported that the 2010 SOA Watch demonstration was about the same size as in 2009, based on police and media reports indicating that about 5,000 people participated in both. An experienced activist who was present for both protests reports that the 2009 demonstration was larger, with significantly more than 5,000 participants.

*7. Links to alternative sources on: South America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

The Decade that Transformed a Continent

Once Upon a Time in Argentina: Mary Anastasia O’Grady’s Latest Fairy Tale

Argentina: "national hero" recast as mass murderer of indigenous people

Chile: Flood of Indigenous Demands a Challenge for Government

Easter Island: Chilean forces suppress indigenous protests

Protests paralyze southern Chile

The Rio de Janeiro War: Farce and the Geopolitics of Crime

Flash Flooding In Brazil Claims More Than 470 Lives And Shines Spotlight On Brazilian Housing Policy

Inter-American rights commission to rule on Bazilian Amazon land claim

Bolivia: New Pension Law Lowers Retirement Age, Raises Expectations

Open Letter to Evo Morales and Álvaro García Against the Gasolinazo

WikiLeaks Peru: cable alleges military ties to narco-traffic

Peru: army rewrites history of "dirty war"

Peru: evidence mounts of "uncontacted peoples" in Amazon oil zones

The Battle Next Door: An Insider’s Experience with Colombian Military Discourse

Two, Three, Many Colombias

Colombia: new charges in "false positives" scandal

Venezuelan link seen in supposed FARC-ETA connection

Hugo Chávez: "I am not a dictator"

New U.S. Ship Deployment to Costa Rica Heightens Tensions

US: Wrong on Honduras

Guatemala declares emergency as Zetas threaten state

Mexico: Zapatistas deny link to Fernández de Cevallos kidnapping

Mexico: leader of "Santa Muerte" cult detained on kidnapping charges

Mexico: 2010 narco-violence again breaks record

Mexico: Guerrero campesinos reinstate blockade against Parota hydro-dam

The Other Arizona Shooting (Mexico)

Where the People Order and the Law Obeys: The Policía Comunitaria in Guerrero, Mexico

Mexican Army attacks human rights defenders in Oaxaca

Former CIA Asset Luis Posada Goes to Trial (Cuba)

Haiti One Year Later: Light at the End of the Tunnel or Oncoming Train?

Haiti: January 12, 2011 - Frustration, Anger, Exclusion

Beyond the Blue Helmets: Stability in Haiti Requires New Elections

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Our weekly Immigration News Briefs has ended publication; for news, information and announcements in support of action for immigrant rights in the United States, subscribe to Immigrant Action at:
You can also visit the Immigrant Action blog at:

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

WNU #1062: 2011 in Haiti—“Year of Revolt” or More of the Same?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1062, January 9, 2011

1. Haiti: “Core Group” Contemplated Election Day Coup
2. Haiti: Women’s Group Calls for Charges Against UN
3. Haiti: 2011—“Year of Revolt” or More of the Same?
4. Argentina: Agribusinesses Accused of Enslaving Workers
5. Mexico: Activists March for Central American Immigrants
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, 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. Haiti: “Core Group” Contemplated Election Day Coup
As of Jan. 7 it was still unclear when or whether the second round of Haiti’s controversial Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections would take place. A runoff was originally scheduled for Jan. 16 but has been postponed indefinitely as a result of charges that political groups, including the Unity party of President René Préval, compromised the voting through fraud [see Update #1060]. A 12-member technical team from the Organization of American States (OAS) was in Port-au-Prince analyzing the voting results and was expected to issue a report early in the week of Jan. 10 on the validity of the elections.

Many Haitian politicians, including 12 of the 18 presidential candidates, have called for annulling the Nov. 28 vote and for holding a new election. On Jan. 7 the chief of staff for US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Cheryl Mills, indicated to the Associated Press wire service that the US might support an annulment if the OAS report recommended it.

Whether or not the Nov. 28 balloting is upheld, it is obvious that there will be no new president in place when Préval’s five-year term expires on Feb. 7. Préval claims he can remain president until May 14 because he himself didn’t take office until May 14, 2006, due to problems with that period’s electoral process [see Update #1032]. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 12/29/10; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 1/6/11; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 1/7/11)

While politicians and others focus on the voting process, many question whether the winning candidates will have any real authority in a country dominated by foreign powers, especially after a major earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti last January. In an interview with BBC Brasil published on Dec. 29 by the Brazilian daily Folha do Basil, Brazilian diplomat Ricardo Seitenfus, the outgoing OAS representative in Haiti, charged that representatives of the international community had openly discussed removing current president Préval from office on Nov. 28, the day of the elections.

During a “the meeting of the Core Group (donor nations, the OAS and the United Nations)…[s]ome representatives suggested that President René Préval should leave the country and that we should think about a plane for this,” Seitenfus said, without specifying which representatives made the suggestion. “The Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, arrived, and before long he said we shouldn’t count on him for any solution outside of the Constitution, and he asked if President Préval’s mandate was being negotiated. There was silence in the room.” Eventually Seitenfus himself “reminded [the group] of the existence of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and that any discussion of President Préval’s mandate would be, for me, a coup d’état.” (Folha do Brasil 12/29/10)

“[W]e have no comment to make on Ambassador Seitenfus' descriptions of what he heard at such a meeting,” the US embassy in Haiti told Ansel Herz of the Inter Press Service (IPS). (IPS 1/6/11) The “Core Group for Haiti” “consists of the United States and other countries and international organizations that are involved with promoting democracy and stability in Haiti,” according to the US State Department. (US State Department 2/2/07) The US has flown two Haitian presidents into exile so far in the past 25 years: “President for Life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier in February 1986 and President Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

*2. Haiti: Women’s Group Calls for Charges Against UN
On Jan. 6 United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon announced the names of the four experts who will serve on a panel to investigate the causes of the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in mid-October. The panel will be headed by Dr Alejandro Craviolo, a Mexican who works with the International Center for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research in Bangladesh; the Peruvian Claudio Lanata, a researcher at the Nutritional Research Institute in Lima; US national Daniele Lantagne, who works at Harvard University; and Indian national Balakrish Nair, director of the National Institute of Cholera & Enteric Diseases in Kolkata (Calcutta).

Secretary General Ban announced the formation of the panel on Dec. 17 in response to strong evidence that disease came from infected Nepalese troops in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 13,000-member police and military force that has occupied Haiti since June 2004 [see Update #1060]. Ban insisted that the panel would be independent.

“What is the head of MINUSTAH looking for with this new inquiry?” the feminist organization Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA) asked in a document dated Jan. 5, noting that several experts had already pointed to the UN troops as the most likely source. SOFA called on the Haitian government to file a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) charging MINUSTAH with a crime against humanity and to demand that the occupation forces supply vaccinations to the whole population and compensate the cholera victims and the farmers and vendors in the Artibonite and Central Plateau regions who have suffered economically because of the epidemic.

As of Jan. 6 there had been 3,481 deaths from cholera in Haiti, according to government reports; 157,000 people had contracted the disease, and the death rate was 22 a day. As of that date the UN had only received $44 million of the $174 million it had requested from donor nations to fight the epidemic, according to Elisabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "It’s shameful that that the UN appeal to fight against cholera in Haiti should only receive 25% financing,” Byrs said. (Radio Kiskeya 1/6/11; AlterPresse 1/6/11)

*3. Haiti: 2011—“Year of Revolt” or More of the Same?
Criticism of both the Haitian government and the international community continues to mount as the Jan. 12 anniversary of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake approaches. The quake killed as many as 250,000 people and destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and other cities in southern and western Haiti, leaving more than 1.5 million people homeless. One year later the majority of the displaced still live in improvised shelters without proper nutrition, sanitation or medical care.

There has been little progress in the reconstruction effort, according to a Jan. 6 report by the aid organization Oxfam International. The report’s authors blame indecisiveness by the Haitian government, a lack of coordination among donor nations and a failure to act by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC, or CIRH in French and Spanish), a group set up last March to disburse and monitor international aid [see Update #1032]. Just 15% of the temporary shelters needed for the homeless have been built, while only 5% of the rubble has been removed, the report says, making new construction almost impossible. Donor nations have released about $2 billion dollars so far, 42% of the amount promised for last year. (AlterPresse 1/7/11)

The problem with the reconstruction aid is that the donors’ “objectives and their policies first and foremost aim to benefit their own investors, farmers, manufacturers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs),” Alex Dupuy, a Haitian-born sociology professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, wrote in the Jan. 7 Washingon Post. One example is the US. “According to news reports, of the more than 1,500 US contracts doled out worth $267 million, only 20, worth $4.3 million, have gone to Haitian firms. The rest have gone to US firms, which almost exclusively use US suppliers. Although these foreign contractors employ Haitians, mostly on a cash-for-work basis, the bulk of the money and profits are reinvested in the United States.”

Dupuy noted the “dramatic power imbalance between the international community--under US leadership--and Haiti…The IHRC, originally conceived by the State Department, has effectively displaced the Haitian government and is in charge of setting priorities for reconstruction.” Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has admitted that Haiti has lost its sovereignty, according to Dupuy, who concluded that international aid is actually hurting Haiti. (WP 1/7/11)

Even an official of the international community came to this conclusion. “Nothing gets resolved; it’s made worse” by international operations, the Organization of American States (OAS) representative in Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus, told the Swiss daily Le Temps in an interview published on Dec. 20. “They’re trying to make Haiti into a capitalist country, an export platform for the American market; it’s absurd. Haiti ought to go back to what it is, that is, an essentially agricultural country rooted in customary law… If there is any evidence for the failure of international aid, it’s Haiti.”

Seitenfus, a Brazilian diplomat, also questioned the need for the international “peacekeeping” force, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). “Haiti isn’t an international menace. We’re not in a civil war situation. Haiti isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan… When the unemployment rate is 80%, it is inexcusable to deploy a stabilization mission. There’s nothing to stabilize, and everything to build.” The United Nations (UN) has made “the Haitians into prisoners on their own island.” The UN mandate “is to maintain the peace of the cemetery.” (Le Temps 12/19/10 via AlterPresse 12/21/10)

Seitenfus hoped to have his two-year term as OAS representative extended when it expired in two months, but OAS secretary José Miguel Insulza “asked me to take a vacation” after the Le Temps interview appeared, the diplomat said in a later interview. (Folha do Brasil (Brazil)12/29/10)

On Jan. 1 about a dozen Haitian grassroots and leftist organizations marked the 207th anniversary of their country’s independence with a statement declaring 2011 a “year of revolt.” They pledged “to continue to struggle against imperialist domination, against exploitation, against the MINUSTAH” so that the country could regain its sovereignty.

“The urban and the rural masses must reject imperialism, the bourgeoisie, the traditional politicians, along with the fraudulent elections that have brought us to this situation today,” wrote the organizations, which included Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle), the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP) and the Gramsci Circle. “[W]e must not defend either the old or the new restavek [servant] politicians who struggle for power. Like Président Préval, they have the same agenda and are going to rule in opposition to us.” The organizations also said they would fight for the United Nations to compensate the victims of the cholera epidemic and would struggle alongside those displaced by the earthquake “in favor of a new state, for a more just society.” (AlterPresse 1/5/11)

*4. Argentina: Agribusinesses Accused of Enslaving Workers
Labor ministry inspectors from the Argentine national government and the Buenos Aires provincial government said they found 199 farm workers in conditions close to slavery during raids carried out at the end of December and the beginning of January on estates in the area of San Pedro, about 100 km west of the national capital. The inspectors said 130 of the laborers, including some 30 children and adolescents, were producing for the Dutch-based multinational Nidera, and 69 were producing for the Argentine company Southern Seeds Production SA; the workers appear to have been subcontracted through temporary agencies.

The labor ministries charged that the workers were recruited from the northern provinces of Santiago de Estero and Tucumán without being told where they were going or how much they would be paid. After arriving in Buenos Aires province, the workers were kept in inadequate housing, including trucks, in unsanitary conditions, and were not allowed to leave the farms, according to the ministries; food and other necessities were deducted from their wages, at exorbitant prices. Labor ministry officials estimated that at least 1,000 people were working in these conditions in the San Pedro area alone.

Another 274 workers were found in similar conditions during raids on farms in Ramallo and Arrecifes, Buenos Aires province, on the morning of Jan. 7.

Nidera’s Argentine subsidiary is the country’s leading seed supplier and one of the largest exporters of grains and vegetable oils. In 1996 it was the first Argentine company to obtain permission to market genetically modified soy. The government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner charges that the company has evaded paying $260 million pesos (about $63 million) in taxes. Soy producers staged a major national strike in early 2008, eventually defeating efforts by the government of President Fernández to raise the tax on soy exports from 34% to 44% [see Update #955].

According to press reports, the Union of Rural Workers and Dockers (UATRE) has been complicit in the hiring of the temporary workers. Union leader Gerónimo Venegas is active in the right wing of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), in opposition to Fernández, a left Justicialist. (Página 12 (Buenos Aires) 1/2/11, 1/7/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/7/11)

Nidera “categorically denies” all the accusations that its “seed division in Argentina had employed temporary workers who were unregistered and exploited by the company.” (Nidera website, accessed 1/9/11)

*5. Mexico: Activists March for Central American Immigrants
Mexican activists, local residents and state authorities committed themselves to working for the rights of Central American immigrants at the Jan. 8 conclusion of a caravan from Arriaga in the southwestern state of Chiapas to the nearby town of Chahuites in Oaxaca. Oaxaca governor Gabino Cué Monteagudo met with the caravan’s members at the Chahuites municipal auditorium while local residents, mostly members of the Zapotec indigenous group, carried signs with slogans welcoming “brother and sister migrants” and telling them to “feel at home” in the town. “What we’re clear about is that in this state’s territory the human rights of Oaxacans and of other people, wherever they come from, will be maintained,” the governor promised. (El Universal (Mexico) 1/9/11)

The caravan was organized to fight attacks on undocumented Central American immigrants as they travel from Guatemala through Chiapas to Oaxaca, often by riding freight trains, on their way to the US. In addition to arresting the immigrants, Mexican police and immigration authorities sometimes rob the Central Americans or demand bribes, and criminal gangs, including the brutal Los Zetas drug traffickers, have carried out mass kidnappings, demanding ransoms from the immigrants’ relatives. A group of 20-50 immigrants were kidnapped near Chahuites on Dec. 16, and another group was seized on Dec. 22. The president of the government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, said on Jan. 7 that the commission had recorded 214 mass kidnappings in 2010, with 10,000 kidnapping victims just in the six months from April to September. (People’s Weekly World (US) 1/5/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/7/11, ___ )

About 100 activists and religious people joined the Jan. 7-8 “Step by Step Toward Peace” caravan, including Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, coordinator of Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road, a shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca; Irineo Mújica, a member of Amnesty International; and Elvira Arellano, an activist with the Chicago-based United Latino Family Without Borders who was deported from the US in 2007. The authorities eventually provided police protection for the caravan, but initially they were hostile. Arellano reported that National Migration Institute (INM) personnel intercepted her, her son Saúl and Irineo Mújica on Jan. 4 and called local police.

The activists originally planned to ride from Arriaga on Jan. 7 on a freight train often used by the immigrants, but authorities announced that the train—which Central Americans have nicknamed “The Beast”--wouldn’t run again until Jan. 10. The group instead drove most of the 40 km to Chahuites in a caravan, walking the last 5 km alongside the train tracks. (LJ 1/8/11, ___)

A 17-year-old Mexican youth, Ramsés Barrón Torres, was shot dead around 3 am on Jan. 5 on the Mexican side of the border fence that separates Nogales, Sonora, from Nogales, Arizona. The circumstances remain under investigation. Sonora police said Barrón Torres was shot by an agent of the US Border Patrol. Barrón Torres, who lived near the fence, was apparently returning to Mexico from the US side with a friend when the shooting occurred. US authorities have implied the the youth was involved in drug smuggling, but neighbors and family members suggested that he had been visiting a girlfriend who lives on the US side. (LJ 1/6/11, 1/8/11; Nogales International (Arizona) 1/7/11; Arizona Daily Star 1/8/11)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff: From Imprisoned Guerrilla Fighter to "The Most Powerful Woman in the World"

Dilma Rousseff: In Lula's Shadow

Brazil: The ‘Security Threat’ of Rio’s Favelas

Study Finds That Nearly Every Woman Living with HIV and AIDs in Brazil has Suffered Violence

Bolivia's Climate Paradox: Latin American progressive governments still bet on "extractivismo"

Walmart's "Love, Earth" Jewelry Line Doesn't Live Up to Green Promises (Bolivia)

San José of Apartadó, Peace Community: Liberty as a survival instinct (Colombia)

Colombian Major and Four Soldiers Accused In “False Positive” Murders

Interview: Afro-Colombian Farmers on Displacement and Resistance

Chavez Rejects University Law as Venezuelan National Assembly Begins New Term

U.S. Sends Mixed Signals in Ambassador Spat as Congress Vows Harder Line against Venezuela

A Decade of Refounding Honduras

Guatemala: State of Siege, Two Steps Backwards

Cancún Pact: No Victory for Climate Justice (Mexico)

Mexico Detains Leader Of Santa Muerte Cult On Kidnapping Charges

Acteal, Mexico: Building Autonomy in the Shadow of Repression

Why Does Health Care in Cuba Cost 96% Less than in the US?

Not enough colère against cholera (Haiti)

Presidential Runoff In Haiti Delayed Until February

Haiti: The Year of Living Dangerously – Part 1

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Links but No Update for January 2, 2011

[There is no Update this week; we'll be back next week. Below are links to stories from other sources.]

South America Shows Unity in Support of Palestinian Statehood

Understanding Empire in Latin America

Brazil - Cablegate : how the US sees the landless movement in Brazil

Transport Workers In Bolivia Strike Due To Rise In Fuel Prices

Bolivian President Evo Morales Revokes Controversial Gas Decree

Bolivia: Evo reverses fuel price hike after protests

Peru: Decades On, Women Remain Last in Line for Justice

San José of Apartadó, Peace Community: Liberty as a survival instinct (Colombia)

Venezuela And United States Pull Ambassadors Following Dispute Over Larry Palmer Nomination

Venezuela to Prioritize Tenants' Rights in 2011

Lone Police Officer In Northern Mexican Town Still Missing After Four Days

Holding Mexico Hostage

Salvation: Cuba's International Medical Brigades

OAS Diplomat's Words Rattle Haiti’s Occupation Regime