Tuesday, June 21, 2011

WNU #1084: Brazilian Campesinos Demand Land, End to Violence

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1084, June 19, 2011

1. Brazil: Pará Campesinos Demand Land, End to Violence
2. Chile: “Historic” Student March Protests School Privatization
3. Mexico: Femicides Continue as "Drug War" Turns 40
4. Trade: US Congress Set to OK Colombia and Panama Trade Deals?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, 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. Brazil: Pará Campesinos Demand Land, End to Violence
More than 5,000 agricultural workers blocked the Trans-Amazonian highway in the northern Brazilian state of Pará on June 15 and 16 to push demands for land, government aid and an end to violence against activists. They continued the action after one protester was run over and killed on June 15, but they agreed to open up the highway on June 16 as the result of an agreement for Presidency Minister Gilberto Carvalho and representatives of the Mining and Energy Ministry and the Agrarian Development Ministry to meet with them on June 20.

The campesinos said that until the meeting had taken place they would continue the encampment they have maintained for the past month in front of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra) office in the Pará city of Marabá.

According to a June 17 statement from the Landless Workers Movement (MST), the Agriculture Workers Federation (Fetagri) and the Federation of Family Agriculture Workers of Brazil (Fetraf), the protesters are demanding land for the 8,000 families that are still living in encampments in the state; conditions that will make it possible for the families that have land to grow crops; roads to take the produce to market; credits for agricultural projects; technical advice; and electricity. “There’s money to build hydroelectric facilities, railroads, waterways, steel plants, etc., but they say there aren’t resources for agrarian reform and family agriculture,” the groups wrote, claiming that investment in small-scale agriculture is more beneficial to the economy than many large-scale projects.

Family farming accounts for more than 50% of the food consumed in large Brazilian cities, the groups say, based on numbers from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), but it uses far less resources than large-scale agriculture. “Almost 50% of rural properties in Brazil consist of less than 10 hectares and take up just 2.36% of the cultivable land,” the statement reads, “while less than 1% of Brazil’s rural properties have an area of more than 1,000 hectares but take up 44% of the cultivable land. That’s a lot of land in the hands of a few big landowners who raise crops only for export.”

The protesters are also demanding action on recent murders of campesino leaders, including environmental activists José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, a married couple who were killed on May 24 near their home in the village of Nova Ipixuna, Pará [see World War 4 Report 6/3/11]. According to the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission, 1,580 people were murdered in the Brazilian countryside from 1985 to 2010, and currently 1,855 people have received threats. (Adital (Brazil) 6/17/11)

Some 300 families in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais are also using an encampment to call attention to a land dispute. The families of the Drummond community in the city of Itabira are threatened with eviction from land they have lived on for 11 years; they say it was abandoned when they moved on to it. A local court has ruled against them and ordered their removal by July 31. According to Junio Cesar dos Anjos, a member of the group Popular Brigades, Itabira mayor João Izael has offered to provide land and construction materials so that the families can resettle elsewhere but he hasn’t given them guarantees. As of June 14 the families were continuing to camp out in shifts in front of Mayor Izael’s office to demand a formal agreement on a new place to live. On June 10 a Catholic priest, José Geraldo de Melo, started an open-ended hunger strike to support the families. (Adital 6/14/11)

*2. Chile: “Historic” Student March Protests School Privatization
Tens of thousands of students, teachers and supporters protested Chile’s education policies with a huge demonstration in Santiago on June 16 that the local daily La Tercera said was “the most massive march since the return of democracy” in 1990; the University of Chile radio station called it “historic.” The Carabineros militarized police gave a crowd estimate of 80,000, while organizers said 100,000 people had attended. Thousands more held marches in the cities of Concepción, La Serena, Temuco and Valparaíso. The nationwide protest followed several days of student strikes at dozens of high schools and universities.

The marches were called by the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH) and were supported by the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH), the Federation of Catholic University Students (FEUC), and politicians from the Communist Party of Chile (PCC), the Socialist Party of Chile (PSC) and the Broad Social Movement (MAS).

There were some disturbances during the generally peaceful march in Santiago. Fernando Echeverría, the Santiago metropolitan area intendant (a supervisor appointed by the president), said that 37 protesters were arrested during the demonstration, five police agents were injured and two offices were looted. He blamed the organizers, charging that they hadn’t provided enough security. But in general the organizers were delighted with the day’s events. “We’ve demolished the myth that we’re a minority,” FEUC vice president Pedro Pablo Glatz said, “because we’ve shown that our demand is the demand of the majority.”

The protesters were calling for more funding for education and for a reversal of decades of decentralization and privatization. Chile’s schools received the equivalent of 7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1973, and education was free, but school funding fell to 2.4% of GDP by the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship. (It has risen to 4.4% since then.) Administration of the public schools was turned over to the municipalities in 1990, and currently about 40% of the 3.5 million secondary students attend public schools, while some 50% study in subsidized schools, where the government and the parents share the costs. The remaining 10% go to private schools. Scholarships have also been cut back.

About 80% of the one million university students attend private institutions created during the military dictatorship starting in1981.

Rightwing president Sebastián Piñera has seen his approval ratings fall to about 36% since he took office in 2010, and his government was clearly worried by the massive protest on June 16. “Today’s march confirms the urgency for changes,” Education Minister Joaquín Lavín announced that evening, but he didn’t indicate whether he was planning to negotiate with the students. (Radio Universidad de Chile (Santiago) 6/16/11; LT 6/17/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/17/11 from correspondent and wire services)

*3. Mexico: Femicides Continue as "Drug War" Turns 40
More than 65 women have been murdered so far this year in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, according to the Mexican daily La Jornada. The victims included pregnant women and nine underage girls; the majority had been sexually abused before they were killed, and some had been tortured. Several of the corpses were dismembered.

Northern Mexico is especially affected by drug-related violence, much of it from wars between drug cartels that have intensified since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa began militarizing the fight against traffickers in December 2006. Mexican analysts say this “drug war” fuels violence against women in the region [see Update #1078].

“Women’s bodies are plunder in this war,” Alicia Leal, the president of the Monterrey-based women’s shelter Peaceful Alternatives, told La Jornada, with women being used for sexual exploitation, to frighten rivals and to threaten and hurt enemies. But Leal emphasized that the killings are also femicides—misogynistic murders. These killings “have a gender component,” Leal said. “In the majority of these deaths there is rape, there is mutilation of a sexual type. This is gender violence, period. Even if it suits the government to treat it as something generalized, the reality is different.” Leal and other Mexican feminists are calling for the criminal code to categorize femicide as a special crime. (LJ 6/12/11)

Resistance to the US strategy of dealing with drug problems through police and military operations continues to grow both in Mexico and in the US [see Update #1082]. The 40th anniversary of the declaration of a “war on drugs” by then-US president Richard Nixon (1969-1974) on June 17 provided opponents of the policy with an occasion to express their criticisms. They noted that after costing as much as a trillion dollars and causing millions of arrests, the US government’s “drug war” has had a minimal effect on drug use. Some 20-25 million people now use illegal drugs in the US, 10 million more than in 1970, although the government says the percentage of drug users in the population has come down some since the late 1970s, when US drug use was at its peak.

La Jornada notes that the person in charge of researching drug addiction for the US government is a Mexican-born neuroscientist and the great-granddaughter of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Dr. Nora D. Volkow, who heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse, grew up in the Trotsky Museum in Coyoacán, a borough of Mexico City. She favors treating addiction as a medical problem rather than a crime. (LJ 6/17/11, ___: New York Times 6/13/11)

*4. Trade: US Congress Set to OK Colombia and Panama Trade Deals?
US president Barack Obama and congressional leaders “are within striking distance of a deal” to ratify free trade agreements (FTAs, or TLCs in Spanish) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue said at a news conference in Washington, DC, on June 15. Donohue said the Chamber is “optimistic” that the trade agreements can be approved by July 1.

The agreements were negotiated and signed under the administration of former president George W. Bush (2001-2009), but they’ve been held up in Congress, largely by partisan maneuvers by Democratic and Republican politicians. US labor unions have tended to oppose the unpopular trade deals, and Obama himself expressed doubts about FTAs when he was running for the presidency in 2008.

Unions and social movements in the affected countries—especially Colombia [see Update #1075]—strongly oppose the agreements. US labor groups were sponsoring a Colombian trade delegation in Washington in mid-June to lobby against the Colombian accord. George Kohl, senior director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), told the Washington Post that the administration and Congress should hold off on the agreement until there is evidence that the Colombian government has fulfilled its commitment to reduce anti-union violence in the country. “Lets have real proof, not promises of proof,” Kohl said.

The DC-based nonprofit Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ) is urging activists to tell their congressional representatives to oppose the FTAs. A form letter and other information are available at http://afgj.org/?p=1219. (WP 6/15/11; AFGJ urgent action 6/16/11)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Outrage at HidroAysén Dams Raises Environmental and Political Consciousness in Chile

The Qom, the Indigenous People Who Came to Buenos Aires (Argentina)

In Bolivia, Social Protest Is a Way of Life

Moving Toward Socialism in Bolivia?

Peru denies plan to dissolve reserve for "uncontacted" peoples

Peru: leader of Puno protests under police siege in Lima TV station

Peru: victory in struggle against Inambari hydro-dam —for now

Peru: is Inambari hydro-dam project really cancelled?

Peru: nuclear plant to replace Inambari hydro project?

Oil, hydro development plans generate conflict in Amazon's divided Pastaza basin (Peru)

Peru: Aymara protest leader starts vigil at congress chambers after arrest warrant dropped

Peru’s Humala And García Both Hint At Pardon For Ex-Leader Fujimori

Peru: Humala Pledges Justice for Sterilisation Victims

Colombia’s Catch 22: Undermining the Victims’ Law

Venezuela: To Support it, Critically Support it, or not Support it?

Central America Should Turn to Community Policing, Experts Say

Mexico, Central American countries join challenge to Georgia immigration law

Alert: Salvadoran Student Anti-Mining Activist Assassinated

El Salvador: environmental activist killed, quickly buried in "mass grave"

The March Toward Unsustainability in El Salvador Gains Speed

Zelaya Accuses Honduran Government Of Breaking Cartagena Accord

Please, Stop Trying to 'Fix' Honduras: Letter to the Los Angeles Times

SlutWalk Lands in Tegucigalpa (Honduras)

Between Drug Trafficking and Electioneering, Guatemala Left High and Dry

Guatemala: Oil Companies and the Subservience of the Government

Mexico’s Spiraling Violence

On the Enemies List: Arms Dealers, the PRI, and the Pacifists

Capulalpam, the Babel of Land Disputes (Mexico)

Growing Ties Between Mexican and U.S. Labor

U.S. Must Stand Up to Unlawful Eviction of Haitians from Displacement Camps

U.S. Embassy Foresaw Haiti’s Earthquake Vulnerability\

WikiLeaked Cables Reveal: After Quake, a “Gold Rush” for Haiti Contracts

WikiLeaked Cables Reveal: U.S. Worried about International Criticism of Post-Quake Troop Deployment

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