Tuesday, October 11, 2011

WNU #1100: Chile Government Meets Students With Repression

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1100, October 9, 2011

1. Chile: Government Meets Students With Repression
2. Haiti: Protesters Demand Decent Jobs and Housing
3. Puerto Rico: Governor Promises to Clean Up the Police
4. Mexico: “Walked” US Guns Found at Cartel Enforcer’s Home
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba

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. Chile: Government Meets Students With Repression
In what appeared to be a sudden increase in repression, Chile’s militarized carabineros police used water cannons and tear gas to break up an unauthorized march by student strikers in Santiago on Oct. 6. Many protesters responded by throwing rocks and sticks at the agents. More than 130 people were arrested during the confrontations, and 25 police agents and dozens of civilians were injured. The police action came one day after student leaders and the rightwing government of President Sebastián Piñera broke off talks they had been holding on education reform.

The weekly student demonstrations in favor of reversing the country’s highly privatized education system have frequently resulted in violent clashes at the end of the route [see Update #1098], but on Oct. 6 the police moved against the marchers almost as soon as they began walking from the Plaza Italia along the central Alameda (Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins Avenue) toward the La Moneda presidential palace. Student leaders--including Camila Vallejo Dowling, president of the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) and a spokesperson for the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH)--were hit by the water and were affected by the tear gas. Two journalists were injured: CNN reporter Nicolás Oyarzún and Megavisión camera operator Jorge Rodríguez. Chilevisión reporter Luis Narváez was arrested when he asked for the identity of an agent who had beaten a Chilevisión camera operator.

In another sign that President Piñera is moving towards increased repression, on Oct. 2 the government proposed legislation with harsher penalties for people who occupy schools or public or private buildings, or who cause damage in protests. Students have occupied many universities and secondary schools during more than four months of strikes for education reform.

Student leaders accused the government of sabotaging the negotiations by refusing to consider the strikers’ demand for free public education and instead continuing to push for subsidized education for the poorest 40% of students. “We, the students and social actors, weren’t the ones who wanted to break off the discussion,” FECH president Vallejo said on Oct. 8. “It was the government itself, because they don’t have the political capacity, they don’t have the will to take into consideration the demands of the great majorities of our country.” At a meeting on Oct. 8, CONFECH decided to call for two days of strikes and protests on Oct. 18 and 19. (Prensa Latina 10/6/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 10/7/11 from correspondent; Radio Universidad de Chile 10/8/11)

As of the afternoon of Oct. 9, 1,032,803 Chileans had voted in the National Plebiscite for Education, a three-day grassroots referendum on the demands of the student strikers, organizers of the voting said. According to Jaime Gajardo, president of the Teachers Association of Chile, preliminary results showed 89% to 95% of participants supporting the demand for a free public education system administered by the national government. Organizers said 723,614 people voted at 1,711 tables set up on Oct. 7 in public spaces throughout the country, and 309,189 more voted on the internet; the tables closed down after the first two days, but internet voting was to continue through the end of Oct. 9.

Plebiscite organizers admitted that they didn’t have the ability to prevent people from using false taxpayer identification numbers (RUTs) to vote more than once, but they said they would use data base analysis to try to determine the percentage of fraudulent votes. Gajardo noted the lines at the voting tables and the festive mood among the ten thousands of voters. “Could anyone question that there was a high rate of participation?” he asked. (Radio Universidad de Chile 10/9/11)

*2. Haiti: Protesters Demand Decent Jobs and Housing
Chanting “This has to change,” some 200 Haitians marked World Day for Decent Work on Oct. 7 with a march to the National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi), where most of Port-au-Prince’s low-wage assembly plants are located. Some of the marchers had their faces covered to keep from being identified; managers at three Sonapi plants fired a total of six officers of the newly formed Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA) in the last week of September [see Update #1099]. Police agents from the Departmental Unit for the Maintenance of Order (UDMO) were stationed at the industrial park to keep the marchers from accessing the plants.

The jobs at these factories, which stitch garments for export, are basically temporary and don’t offer decent pay or benefits, according to Yanick Etienne of the leftist group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”). Évèle Fanfan, one of the march’s organizers, said that jobs should be a real factor in social mobility. “If a worker is employed in an assembly plant, his or her children shouldn’t have to work there in the future,” Fanfan said. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 10/7/11)

Four days earlier, on Oct. 3, the Collective of Organizations for the Defense of the Right to Housing held a rally outside the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) to demand a government housing program to replace the tens of thousands of homes destroyed in a devastating earthquake in January 2010. Among the protesters were representatives of various camps where thousands of the homeless have been living since the quake, and delegates from the Grito de los Excluidos (“Cry of the Excluded”), an organization that sponsors mobilizations in Latin America and the Caribbean each year on Oct. 12. The delegates were from various Caribbean countries, including Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico; there were also participants from Chile, France and the US. (Radio Métropole (Haiti) 10/6/11)

On Oct. 4 the Senate voted 17 to three, with nine abstentions, to confirm President Michel Martelly’s choice of Garry Conille as prime minister; the Chamber of Deputies had already approved the nomination on Sept. 16 [see Update #1099]. In an interview with the Reuters wire service after the Senate vote, the new prime minister appeared to have the same concerns as the organizers of the Oct. 3 and Oct. 7 protests. His top priority was “jobs, jobs, jobs,” Conille said, along with getting the rebuilding process in motion. “The Haitian people have been incredibly patient,” he told Reuters. “I think we need to move faster. We need to change lives faster.... We still have about 600,000 people living under tents, we still have tons and tons of debris to be collected.”

But grassroots organizations remained skeptical about Conille, who has served as chief of staff for former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), the UN’s special envoy to Haiti. Conille will “defend Clinton’s interests,” not Haiti’s, Philefrant Saintnaré, a spokesperson for the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), told the online Haitian news service AlterPresse. “Haiti is in a phase of recolonization,” Saintnaré said; with Conille in office, the imperialist forces will be able to fulfill their dream “of monopolizing the peasants’ lands in order to set up free-trade zones [tax-exempt industrial parks] and to produce biofuels.” (Reuters 10/5/11 via AlterNet; AlterPresse 10/6/11)

*3. Puerto Rico: Governor Promises to Clean Up the Police
Rightwing Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño is now trying to control damage from a Sept. 8 report by the US Justice Department condemning unconstitutional conduct by the island’s police force [see World War 4 Report 9/10/11]. The report cited “continued civil rights violations,” “the failure to implement meaningful reforms,” discrimination against Dominicans, and failure to report and investigate alleged sex crimes and domestic violence. The US government’s criticisms followed repeated charges of police brutality from Puerto Rican student protesters and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [see Update #1079].

Gov. Fortuño says that he has been working to end abuses in the department since he took office in 2009. His reforms have included appointing an independent monitor, replacing police superintendent José Figueroa Sancha, improving training programs, and instituting a detailed “use of force” policy. “Most of the problems occurred before my time,” Fortuño told the New York Times in an interview. “I accept responsibility. My mandate is to change that. But this will take time. It was years in the making, and it will take years to fix.”

But there are many questions about the impact and direction of Fortuño’s reform program. The Times notes that just this summer a police department internal affairs agent, Norman Torrens, was suddenly demoted after he reported that police in Vega Alta in the north were manipulating crimes statistics. Torrens is now suing the deparment.

One example Fortuño gave the Times of his reform efforts was his decision to get “expert” advice from the New York City Police Department after Puerto Rican police agents clubbed and pepper-sprayed student protesters, apparently without provocation, at the Capitol building on June 30, 2010 [see Update #1039]. (NYT 10/5/11) On Sept. 24 of this year, less than two weeks before the Times article appeared, New York police officers themselves were videotaped pepper-spraying youthful protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement for no apparent reason.

*4. Mexico: “Walked” US Guns Found at Cartel Enforcer’s Home
Forty of the firearms that Mexican police seized on Apr. 30 at the home of an alleged drug trafficker in Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua turn out to among the 2,000 weapons that reached Mexico as a result of the US government’s bungled Operation Fast and Furious [see Update #1095]. The house, which was empty when police arrived, belonged to José Antonio Torres Marrufo, considered by US authorities a top enforcer for the Sinaloa drug cartel of Joaquín Guzmán Loera ("El Chapo"). The weapons were bought legally in Phoenix, Arizona, then taken to El Paso, Texas, and smuggled across the border to Ciudad Juárez.

Fast and Furious was an effort by the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to catch suspected gun smugglers by letting rifles “walk” after they were purchased instead of arresting the purchasers immediately. The intent was to trace the smugglers’ activities, but ATF agents lost track of some 2,000 weapons, which apparently got into Mexico. Officials assume the drug cartels received most of them and that the weapons have been used in the fighting that has led to some 40,000 deaths in the last five years. “These Fast and Furious guns were going to Sinaloans, and they are killing everyone down there,” an unidentified “US government source” told the Los Angeles Times. About 100 weapons seem to have gone through El Paso. “But that's only how many we know came through Texas,” the source said. “Hundreds more had to get through.” (LAT 10/8/11)

Meanwhile, ammunition is apparently even easier to buy and to smuggle than assault rifles. While ammunition sales are strictly regulated in Mexico, there are few limits in the US. The 1968 Federal Gun Control Act required ammunition sellers to be licensed and to keep a log of all ammunition sales, but these restrictions were eliminated in the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act. Many states regulate ammunition sales to some extent, but a few, including Arizona, have virtually no regulation. Federal agents seized 95,416 rounds of ammunition at Arizona's six ports of entry along the Mexican border in the last fiscal year. The ammunition in Mexico is “all coming from the US," Jose Wall, a senior ATF trafficking agent in Phoenix, told USA Today. “I can't remember where I've seen ammunition from anywhere but the US.” (USA Today 10/9/11)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba

A View from Inside an 'Occupied' Chilean School

China-Brazil Relations: Disputes with Regional Implications

Man Sentenced to Jail for Racism against Brazilian Indians

Bolivia: Exploiting the TIPNIS Conflict

TIPNIS March in Bolivia: A Letter to Evo Morales from Pablo Solon

Dancing With the Devil: Drug War Politics in Bolivia

New oil deal for indigenous peoples in Peru, Bolivia?

Peru: 300 women liberated from sex slavery in Amazon

Colombian Students Mobilise Against Education Reforms

US-Colombia: Long-Stalled Trade Accords Move Forward

Venezuela and Russia Sign Bilateral Accords Worth $8 Billion

El Salvador: For Salvadoran Activist, It Is Necessary to Change the Development Paradigm

Civil Society Combats Growing Militarism in Post-Coup Honduras

Obama Meets With Honduran President Lobo; Praises Return To Democracy

The Deadliest Place in the World for a Journalist (Honduras)

Guatemala Maya petition OAS body for justice

UN urges probe into Mexico journalist deaths

Mexico: another Sinaloa Cartel kingpin busted —but still not El Chapo

Mexico: Mata Zetas jack up Veracruz body count

The Train of the Flies (Mexico)

Documents Claim U.S. Attorney General Holder Knew About “Fast and Furious” In 2010 (Mexico)

Cuba: Salvaging a Revolution?

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