Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WNU #1105: Chilean and Colombian Students Plan Simultaneous Demo

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1105, November 13, 2011

1. South America: Chilean and Colombian Students Plan Simultaneous Demo
2. Haiti: NGO Petitions UN on Cholera as Vaccine Controversy Heats Up
3. Mexico: Government Proposes Its Own “Fast and Furious”
4. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, 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. South America: Chilean and Colombian Students Plan Simultaneous Demo
Chilean students are planning to join with Colombian students in a binational demonstration on Nov. 24 as part of ongoing protests in defense of education in the two countries. Leaders of the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH) made the announcement after a 12-hour meeting on Nov. 12 in the Catholic University of the North in the city of Antofagasta; the leaders also called for local demonstrations in Chile on Nov. 14, 17 and 18.

Chilean students have been on strike for six months around demands to reverse the privatized and decentralized higher educational system put in place under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet; a similar strike began in Colombia on Oct. 11 and 12 to protest proposed legislation that students said would lead to privatization of their universities. These are the second and third major strikes by students in Latin America in the past two years; the first came in the spring of 2010, when students shut down Puerto Rico’s public university [see Updates #1057, 1102, 1104].

In both Chile and Colombia there are signs that the student strikers and the rightwing governments may be able to work out compromises. In Chile, Confech and secondary school leaders met with opposition senators and deputies on Nov. 9 in the port city of Valparaíso, where the National Congress holds its sessions; some 30,000 students and teachers marched there later in the day. Opposition politicians are now calling for free education for 70% of the poorer students at public universities, and possibly a similar measure for private universities; these politicians also propose returning control of the primary and secondary schools to the central government.

Under pressure from both students and the opposition, the government of Chilean president Sebastián Piñera has offered to increase the share of education by 7.2% in the budget for 2012--to $11.65 billion out of a total budget of $60 billion. The students have rejected this as “insufficient,” but political observers see a significant shift in Finance Minister Felipe Larraín acknowledgment that there may have to be changes in the tax structure. Previously the government insisted that it would not increase taxes. (La Tercera (Chile) 11/13/11; EFE 11/13/11 via El Nuevo Herald (Miami); La Jornada (Mexico) 11/10/11 from correspondent)

Chilean students too may be under pressure to settle after six months of protests. Public support for their demands remains high but seems to be slipping. Support for the demands fell to from 79% in September to 67% in October, according to a survey of 1,110 people by the Adimark GfK research group, while opposition to the students’ tactics rose from 45% to 57%. Support for President Piñera remained around 31%. (Bloomberg 11/7/11)

In Colombia the government moved toward a compromise after less than a month of strikes and mobilizations. On Nov. 9 President Juan Manuel Santos offered to withdraw his proposed changes to Law 30, which governs higher education, if the students ended the strike. The Broad National Student Panel (MANE), the strike’s national coordinating group, met on Nov. 12 to discuss Santos’ offer. The next day student leaders announced that they would lift the strike if the government met three conditions: it would need to suspend discussions of the proposed legislation in Congress, agree to a dialogue with the students on building a new educational system, and give guarantees that the academic period would be completed. (LJ 11/11/11 from AFP, DPA, Notimex; Europa Press 11/14/11)

Even while apparently considering a compromise, the two governments have continued to use force against the student movements. In Chile the carabineros militarized police arrested 57 protesters for “disorders and illegal occupation” at the Santiago de Chile University. Police agents claimed they found six Molotov cocktails during the raid, along with some acid and fuel. The university rector’s office said the protesters had maintained an occupation of school facilities despite a decision by a majority of students to end it while continuing the mobilization. (Adital (Brazil) 11/11/11 from TeleSUR)

In Colombia, police agents from the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) and the Mobile Carabinero Squad (Emcar) used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a demonstration on Nov. 11 in Popayán municipality in the southwestern department of Cauca. Ten students were arrested. According to participants and local grassroots organizations, the demonstration, part of a national day of protest by students and unionists, had been peaceful until police agents intervened. The Isaías Francisco Cifuentes Human Rights Network of the Colombian Southwest said letters of protest could be sent to President Juan Manuel Santos (comunicacionesvp@presidencia.gov.co), Attorney General Viviane Morales, (denuncie@fiscalia.gov.co ) and other officials, along with a copy to redfcifuentes@gmail.com . (Adital 11/11/11)

Correction: The item originally omitted the date of the meeting in Antofagasta.

*2. Haiti: NGO Petitions UN on Cholera as Vaccine Controversy Heats Up
Sylvie van den Wildenberg, spokesperson for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), acknowledged in Port-au-Prince on Nov. 11 that the mission had received a petition for relief filed on behalf of hundreds of thousands of cholera victims. Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that the cholera epidemic that struck Haiti in October 2010 was caused by poor sanitation at a base operated by MINISTAH, a 10,000-member international military and police operation which has occupied the country since June 2004 [see Update #1094]. Almost 500,000 Haitians have contracted the disease over the past year, and some 6,500 have died from it. MINUSTAH and the United Nations (UN) have refused to accept responsibility for the epidemic. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 11/11/11)

The petition was filed on Nov. 3 by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its Haitian affiliate, the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI). At a press conference in New York on Nov. 8, IJDH director Brian Concannon said the hope was that MINUSTAH would issue a public apology, set up a tribunal for evaluating the victims’ claims and fund a program to provide sanitation, potable water and medical treatment. Haitian grassroots organizations have made similar demands in the past [see Update #1086].

It isn’t clear whether any legal mechanisms exist that could compel MINUSTAH to compensate the victims. The occupation force is covered by a status of forces agreement (SOFA) between the Haitian government and the UN. The agreement requires MINUSTAH to set up a standing commission to handle claims, but after seven years in Haiti the force has still not created the commission. At the New York press conference Concannon said the petitioners will press their claims in a Haitian court if MINUSTAH fails to act on the petition, but he suggested that the real goal was to appeal to international public opinion. “We’re hoping that this is the case that’s too big to fail,” he said. (Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch 11/8/11)

Meanwhile, the Haitian government and Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health, a Boston-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that runs a network of clinics in Haiti, are planning a pilot program to vaccinate 100,000 people against cholera starting in January. Dr. Paul Farmer, a US medical doctor and a Partners in Health co-founder, announced the $870,000 program at an Oct. 19 press conference in Miami, saying that vaccination was now necessary because medical NGOs were withdrawing from Haiti. The vaccine, Shanchol, is produced by the Paris-based multinational Sanofi SA (formerly Sanofi-Aventis).

[Farmer also serves as the UN deputy special envoy to Haiti, assisting former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), while at the same time sitting on the board of directors of the IJDH, the group that filed the petition against MINUSTAH.]

Other medical experts question the value of vaccinations in fighting the water-borne epidemic when Haiti needs funding to build permanent infrastructure to make clean water available to the population. One problem with the vaccine is that has to be administered in two doses two weeks apart, a difficult procedure in a country where hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced because of a January 2010 earthquake. The French-based group Doctors Without Border (known by its French intitials, MSF) calculates that vaccinating the entire population of 9.5 million would cost $40 million; MSF says the vaccine’s protection starts to diminish after three years. (Reuters 10/19/11; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 11/10/11)

On Nov. 8 the New York Times noted that Cuban doctors in Haiti have had “a lead role” in fighting the epidemic. A Cuban clinic in Mirebalais in the Central Plateau was the first to report the outbreak, and since then the Cuban medical teams have treated 76,000 of the country’s nearly half million cases, with 272 fatalities—a mortality rate of just 0.36%. The average for the country is 1.4%, more than three times the rate at the Cuban clinics. (NYT 11/8/11)

*3. Mexico: Government Proposes Its Own “Fast and Furious”
At a Nov. 10 session, the Mexican Senate called on the government of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa to start criminal proceedings against US officials involved in two programs that let firearms enter Mexico illegally. The programs, Operation Wide Receiver in 2006 and 2007 and Operation Fast and Furious in 2009 and 2010, were supposed to help US agents trace illegal gun smuggling by monitoring suspect weapons purchases. But the agents lost track of some 2,300 firearms that were transported into Mexico, largely for the use of drug cartels [see Update #1104].

“If we sent packages of drugs to the US in a government operation,” said Jesús Murillo Karam, a senator from Hidalgo state for the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), “they’d be asking us to put those officials in jail—and they’d be right, as we are when they send us arms this way.” The senators agreed that Mexico should demand the US officials’ extradition; they also expressed their support for an initiative by US attorney general Eric Holder for controlling gun sales near the Mexico-US border. (Prensa Latina 11/10/11; Milenio (Mexico) 11/11/11)

In the course of the debate, Sen. Pablo Gómez Alvarez, who represents the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) for the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), charged that President Calderón was proposing operations like Fast and Furious as part of his “war on drugs.” Sen. Gómez was referring to a package of amendments to the Federal Law Against Organized Crime that were sent to the Senate on Aug. 31, 2010; the Senate has yet to act on the proposed legislation. One section of the proposed amendments would allow the government to use “goods or resources that could be the object, instrument or product of crime…in order to permit, under close watch, their delivery, distribution or transportation within the national territory.” The goal would be “to identify and, if possible, detain, with the use of necessary technological advances, the persons or organizations involved.”

Gómez said the amendments would also allow for undercover agents to infiltrate criminal organizations, giving the agents a “license to kill,” like the fictitious James Bond. The senator called the measure “the best way for legally creating a criminal state in order to fight crime.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/13/11)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba

Paraguay Cattle Health Scare Blamed On Human Error

Brazil: court approves controversial dam construction

Bolivia: TIPNIS 'Untouchable' But Still Controversial

Bolivia agrees to restore US diplomatic ties —but just says no to DEA

Peru: anti-mining protesters occupy Cajamarca

Ecuador: indigenous leaders file OAS complaint against Correa

AFL-CIO Makes Two Major Labor Conflicts a Test of Labor Action Plan with Colombia

Venezuela Rejects “Aggressive” Accusations by US Official Brownfield on Drug Trafficking

Nicaragua: Surviving the Legacy of U.S. Policy (Photo Essay)

A Peaceful Nicaraguan Election Brings a Mandate for Sandinista Social Programs

Amnesty calls on Nicaragua to investigate electoral violence

Voters Elect Presidents in Nicaragua and Guatemala

Honduras: Purging Schools of Police Crime

“Genocidal” General Wins Presidential Elections in Guatemala

Chiapas: political prisoners suspend hunger strike, fearing risk to lives (Mexico)

Report on the 2011 Observation and Solidarity Brigade to Zapatista Communities (Mexico)

Mexico: HRW charges widespread rights abuses in "drug war"

Mexico: interior secretary killed in (mysterious?) air crash —again

The U.S. War in Mexico

Cuba: Same-Sex Couples Want to Be Counted

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:

No comments: