Tuesday, October 25, 2011

WNU #1102: Haitians Protest UN on Cholera Outbreak Anniversary

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1102, October 23, 2011

1. Haiti: Anti-UN Protest Marks Anniversary of Cholera Outbreak
2. Chile: Student Strikers Occupy Congressional Budget Meeting
3. Colombia: Education Protests Shut Down 32 Universities
4. Honduras: Human Rights Center Created for Aguán Valley
5. Links to alternative sources on: Food Crisis, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico

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: Anti-UN Protest Marks Anniversary of Cholera Outbreak
Haitian activists marched in Port-au-Prince on Oct. 19 to demand the immediate withdrawal of the thousands of foreign soldiers and police agents in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); they also called for the United Nations to pay compensation for the country’s current cholera epidemic. The organizers chose Oct. 19 for the protest to mark one year since the outbreak started, apparently because of poor sanitary conditions among Nepalese troops at a MINUSTAH base near Mirebalais in the Central Plateau.

The disease, unknown in Haiti for at least a half century, has sickened hundreds of thousands of Haitians in the past year and has killed 6,559, according to government figures. The international health organization Doctors Without Borders (known by its initials in French, MSF) estimated that 75-80% of cholera cases reported in the world so far in 2011 have been in Haiti. The United Nations continues to deny responsibility despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the disease came from its troops [see Update #1094].

“MINUSTAH must leave,” the protesters chanted as they marched towards the capital’s main cemetery, where they burned a small coffin representing the mission. More than 100 people took part, according to the on-line Haitian news service AlterPresse; the leftist group Batay Ouvriye, which participated, estimated the crowd at 400. This was the third sizeable demonstration against MINUSTAH in the past two months; protests have increased since evidence became public that Uruguayan troops had sexually abused Haitian youths in the southern coastal town of Port-Salut [see Update #1095]. (AlterPresse 10/20/11, ___, 10/21/11)

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Oct. 15 to extend MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year; the force, led by Brazilian officers, has been occupying Haiti since June 2004. The 15 nations on the council voted to reduce the mission by some 2,750, leaving 7,340 soldiers and 3,241 police agents, about the same number as before a January 2010 earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti. The Security Council also called for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “to continue to take the necessary measures to ensure full compliance of all...personnel with the United Nations zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.” (AFP 10/15/11 via Montreal Gazette)

*2. Chile: Student Strikers Occupy Congressional Budget Meeting
About 50 Chilean students and their supporters took over a congressional budget subcommittee’s meeting in Santiago on Oct. 20 to demand that the government hold a binding plebiscite on their demands. A massive student movement has paralyzed universities and secondary schools for nearly six months around calls for reversing the privatization and decentralization of the education system that started during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Various polls show about 80% of the population supporting the students’ demands, which won some 87% of the more than one million votes case in a nonbinding grassroots plebiscite students and teachers held Oct. 7-9 [see Update #1100].

Bursting into a meeting attended by Education Minister Felipe Bulnes and some university rectors along with senators and deputies, the protesters unfurled a banner reading “Plebiscite now” and drove Bulnes from the room. The activists remained for eight hours, live-streaming the occupation on the internet and calling for supporters to gather at the building. Senate president Guido Girardi, a member of the opposition to the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera, promised not to bring in the police to remove the demonstrators, as had happened to protesters earlier in the day at a session of the Chamber of Deputies in the Congress building in the city of Valparaíso.

The protesters ended the occupation in the evening after a group of senators and deputies agreed to the protesters’ demand that they introduce a constitutional amendment to allow an official plebiscite on education. The current Constitution, ratified in 1980 under the Pinochet government, limits plebiscites to special cases, such as clashes between the executive and legislative branches. In a sign of the students’ distrust of politicians, the occupiers required the legislators to sign a written agreement.

The takeover of the budget meeting followed two days of student mobilizations. The first day, Oct. 18, brought burning barricades to the streets of Santiago and an incident in which a bus was set on fire and the driver was injured. The police reported 61 arrests, but President Piñera’s spokesperson, Andrés Chadwick, insisted that the country was “in absolute normality” and that “there is no strike.” Tens of thousands of protesters marched in a national mobilization on the second day, Oct. 19. The media estimated the crowd in Santiago at 60,000, while the police gave the number as 25,000. The organizers—the Teachers Association of Chile and the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH)—said 300,000 people had participated nationwide. The police reported 263 arrests.

“The struggle we’re in isn’t easy,” student leader Camila Vallejo Dowling said. “The government has closed the door on us, it doesn’t want to listen, it isn’t capable of seeing the situation Chile is living through: an historic moment for making structural changes in education.” She added that the struggle might have to go on past this year. (InfoBAE (Argentina) 10/20/11 from Emol.com (Chile) and La Tercera (Chile); TeleSUR 10/20/11 via YouTube; La Jornada (Mexico) 10/19/11, 10/20/11 from correspondent and unidentified wire services)

*3. Colombia: Education Protests Shut Down 32 Universities
On Oct. 12 Colombian university students proceeded with plans announced in September to carry out an open-ended strike against proposed changes to the education system that they say will lead to privatization. A total of 32 public universities have gone on strike, according to the Broad National Student Panel (MANE), a national coordinating group, which has called for weekly demonstrations in support of the strike, including a special national mobilization at all public universities on Oct. 26.

The students say they will stay on strike until the government withdraws a proposal for amendments to Law 30, which has governed education since 1992, and agrees to talks around the student movement’s demands. The strikers are also planning discussions with professors and university workers “so that we can jointly construct the model of the university that we want,” according to Sergio Fernández, a spokesperson for the Colombian Student Organization (OCE). Fernández said a gathering in Bogotá on Nov. 12-13 will bring together students, professors, workers and others “to construct a different proposal for higher education.” (El Universal (Cartagena) 10/17/11; Notimex 10/22/11 via Diario de Yucatán (Mexico))

A medical student, Yan Farid Cheng Lugo, was killed by a homemade explosive device and 10 others were wounded in Cali, in the western department of Valle del Cauca, during the nationwide demonstrations that marked the first day of the strike on Oct. 12. MANE charged that the student’s death was not an accident, as the police claim. In MANE’s account, a group of unidentified people hurled the device from a bridge as some 15,000 students marched in the local protest. “We have reported and verified on repeated occasions that government agents infiltrate our actions in order to legitimize repression and the murder of students,” MANE wrote, “and for this reason we demand that the government clarify its participation in these actions that have put the student movement in mourning today.” (Prensa Latina 10/13/11)

In other news, Colombian authorities arrested US Navy gunner’s mate Lemar Deion Burton on Oct. 12 as he attempted to leave the country at Bogotá’s El Dorado airport; they charge that he was carrying about five kilograms of high-grade cocaine. The US Navy said Burton was based with the Navy Munitions Command at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily, Italy, and was visiting Colombia on personal leave. Burton is not part of the US military mission in Colombia, according to the US embassy, so he is not covered by the immunity agreement that protects mission members from prosecution in Colombian courts. (ABC News blog 10/19/11)

*4. Honduras: Human Rights Center Created for Aguán Valley
Honduran and international human rights and grassroots organizations announced on Oct. 21 that they were forming a center to monitor and prevent rights violations in northern Honduras’ Lower Aguán Valley, where dozens of people have been killed over the past two years in land conflicts [see Update #1096]. The Human Rights Monitoring Center for the Aguán is scheduled to open on Nov. 11; it will be based in the city of Tocoa, Colón department.

According to Wilfredo Paz Zúniga, the center’s spokesperson and also the local coordinator for the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) coalition, the center’s functions will include stationing observers at demonstrations, land occupations and highway blockades to avert excessive use of force by police agents; protecting people whose lives are threatened; assisting victims of violence or repression; taking preventive measures; reporting human rights violations; and collecting information for legal action against rights violators.

In the area’s most recent violence, campesino Segundo Mendoza Ramos was killed on Oct. 15 and two other campesinos were wounded by gunfire the next day, according to the Honduras office of the European organization FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN). The incidents were reportedly connected to efforts by private security guards for a major landowner, Miguel Facussé Barjum, to end a land occupation by members of a campesino group, the Campesino Movement of National Reclamation (MCRN). (Adital (Brazil) 10/21/11)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Food Crisis, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico

The Food Crisis Strikes Again

'Argentine Strength' Carrying Cristina Fernandez to Presidential Re-Election

Argentina: Divided Opposition Goes All Out for…Second Place

Chile: Mapuche protest Panqui hydro project

Militarism in Paraguay: The Other Side of the Economic Model

Landmark Vote in Brazil Upholds Indigenous Rights on Belo Monte

The Rubber Tappers of Sao Bernardo, Brazil: Struggling Still in the Memory of Chico Mendes - Photo Essay and Report

TIPNIS Marchers, Bolivian Voters Send Wake-Up Call to Evo Morales

Bolivia: anti-road protesters in dialogue with Evo Morales

Bolivians spoil ballots in judicial elections?

Peru: park rangers in incident with "uncontacted" indigenous band

Peru: Humala's first scandal involves ag-biz land-grab

Peru: ton of cocaine seized in Sendero stronghold

Uncovering the U.S. War in Colombia

Colombia: When Humanitarian Law Is Just Rhetoric

US Presidential Candidates Attack Chavez as Campaign Strategy; Say God Made US an Empire (Venezuela)

Guatemala: ex-dictator Oscar Mejía declared a fugitive

NAFTA Is Starving Mexico

The Birds and the Bees and the GMOs (Mexico)

Agrotoxins Kill (Mexico)

The President, the PRI, and the Poet (PRI)

The Trenches of Mexico: “You Can’t Call the Police on the Army”

Mexico City Legislators Push To Ban Bullfighting

Occupy Tijuana Tests Rights

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