Monday, August 13, 2012

WNU #1140: New Puerto Rican Law to “Intimidate” Activists

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1140, August 12, 2012

1. Puerto Rico: New Law to "Intimidate" Unions and Students
2. Chile: High Students Occupy Schools to Demand Reform
3. Dominican Republic: Residents Protest New Barrick Gold Mine
4. Mexico: Did Romney Donor’s Casino Launder Drug Money?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Mercosur, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, 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. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Puerto Rico: New Law to "Intimidate" Unions and Students
On July 30 Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño signed into law a new Penal Code that he and legislators said would counter a recent rise in crime [see Update #1111] by imposing much stiffer prison sentences for a wide range of crimes. The new law, which replaces the Penal Code of 2004, also defines the seduction of minors through the internet as a criminal offense and gives the government the power to fire any public employee who commits a crime while carrying out a public function. “We’re not going to let the criminals take over Puerto Rico,” Fortuño said at the signing ceremony.

Fortuño insisted that the new code wouldn’t limit rights of free expression. But Puerto Rican legal experts noted that the revisions dramatically increased penalties for civil disobedience. For example, participating in a protest on the steps of the Capitol building that impedes the work of Puerto Rico’s legislature—like one carried out by students in June 2010 [see Updates #1039, 1100]--could now be punished with three years in prison, while in the 2004 Penal Code the penalty only applied if legislative work was interrupted through “intimidation, violence or fraud,” language which was removed in the new law.

Attorney César Rosado, a human and civil rights specialist who represents several unions, told the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día that the new law “tries to intimidate the unions and other pressure groups—like the student movement—which historically have distinguished themselves by presenting resistance to any measure they consider unjust. Establishing a three-year sentence is a big deterrent for protest.” Activists have frequently used nonviolent civil disobedience as a form of protest in Puerto Rico, most famously in the mass arrests that led to the removal of the US Navy proving grounds from the small island of Vieques in 2003. “In democracy it’s important to allow activism,” constitutional law professor Hiram Meléndez Juarbe told the newspaper, “even if at times it’s inconvenient for the government.” (END 7/30/12, 7/31/12)

In the US the maximum penalty for interrupting a session of Congress is six months in prison and/or a $500 fine. El Nuevo Día noted that the punishment for six Puerto Rican independence activists who interrupted Congress by singing patriotic hymns on May 6, 2009, was a fine. (END 7/31/12)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on Aug. 7 challenging the new law. The challenge was presented as an amendment to a complaint the ACLU filed against the Puerto Rico Police Department on June 27 alleging that the department violated the rights of protesters [see World War 4 Report 6/28/12]. (Jurist 8/8/12)

*2. Chile: High Students Occupy Schools to Demand Reform
Students had occupied several of the public high schools in Santiago by the morning of Aug. 10 in the latest protest against the privatization of Chile’s educational system that started under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Chilean high school and university students launched a militant movement in the spring of 2011 to demand free, high-quality public education; current demands also include rejection of the so-called “Hinzpeter Law,” legislation proposed by rightwing president Sebastián Piñera last year to impose severe penalties on people who occupy schools or public or private buildings, or who cause damage in protests. Student actions included some 40 marches in 2011 and five so far this year [see Updates #1130, 1135].

Radio Bío Bío reported on Aug. 10 that Special Forces from the carabineros militarized police used tear gas to remove some 30 students who had been occupying the Santiago Superior Institute of Commerce. The students responded with “rocks, paint and eggs,” according to the radio station, and then “fled and took refuge in the Darío Salas High School,” which remained occupied.

Two days earlier, on Aug. 8, marches sponsored by the Secondary Students Coordinating Assembly (ACES), with support from university student federations, ended violently. Santiago authorities refused the high school students permission to march in the central Alameda (Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins Avenue). When the crowd of 5,000-10,000 protesters tried to use the avenue, they were attacked with tear gas, a water cannon and mounted police. The youths threw rocks at police agents and built barricades; acts of vandalism included the burning of three buses. Some 75 protesters were arrested and 49 agents were reportedly injured. A demonstration in the seaside resort city of Viña del Mar ended with 11 people arrested and a pharmacy and supermarket destroyed. There were also marches in La Serena and Valdivia.

The student demonstrations have regularly ended with vandalism by hooded youths, and student organizers have sometimes suggested that infiltrators were behind the violence. After the Aug. 8 march ACES spokesperson Eloísa González said it was “quite suspicious” that with such a large police deployment it wasn’t possible to prevent the isolated activity of the people involved in setting vehicles on fire. Senator Guido Girardi, from the social democratic Party for Democracy (PPD), said there should be an investigation of why each demonstration involved people who “have the same interest as the government, that violence should be what occupies the pages [of the newspapers] and not the fundamental issue.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 8/9/12 from correspondent; EFE 8/9/12 via Latin American Herald Tribune; Prensa Latina 8/10/12)

*3. Dominican Republic: Residents Protest New Barrick Gold Mine
Residents of the area around the city of Cotuí, the capital of the Dominican Republic’s central province of Sánchez Ramírez, held a protest against the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation on Aug. 8, charging that the company’s giant Pueblo Viejo gold mine was contaminating drinking water and affecting residents’ health and their crops. The residents also complained that the company’s trucks had been causing accidents. The Pueblo Viejo, constructed on the site of a state-owned mine shut down in 1999, is scheduled to open this month [see Update #1139].

Barrick Gold is the largest open-pit gold mining company in the world; it maintains 27 mines, in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Tanzania and the US. (Adital (Brazil) 8/8/12 from TeleSUR; Prensa Latina 8/8/12)

The company has had two setbacks recently at its massive Pascua Lama mine in the Andes on the border between Argentina and Chile: dramatic cost overruns and an adverse decision from Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice [see Update #1138]. Former Barrick CEO Aaron Regent was fired at the beginning of July; his replacement, Jamie Sokalsky, is the company’s third CEO in less than four years.

Barrick’s problems are not unique. The gold mining industry has been expanding rapidly as the price of gold jumped to five times what it was 11 years ago—and protests about environmental damage have increased in parallel with the increase in mining. But gold’s price has only gone up 3.1% so far this year, and the New York Stock Exchange’s index of 16 gold-mining companies has fallen 17%, suggesting that the period of rapid expansion may be over. (BusinessWeek 7/27/12; Bloomberg News 8/7/12)

*4. Mexico: Did Romney Donor’s Casino Launder Drug Money?
According to an Aug. 4 report in the Wall Street Journal, the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles is investigating possible money laundering by Chinese-Mexican pharmaceutical entrepreneur Zhenli Ye Gon in the middle 2000s through the Las Vegas Sands Corp. casino company. The company, whose CEO and largest shareholder is US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to the Republican Party, reportedly failed to tell the authorities about suspicious money transfers by Ye Gon until the publication of a newspaper article about him in 2007. Adelson himself is apparently not being investigated at this point.

Ye Gon is in US custody awaiting extradition to Mexico on drug charges. He is accused of importing chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, and there are suspicions that he is connected with the Sinaloa drug cartel. In March 2007 police raided his Mexico City home and found almost $207 million in cash; the authorities described the raid as “the largest single drug cash seizure the world has ever seen.” Ye Gon reportedly transferred millions of dollars through Sands and was such a good customer at the company’s Venetian casino that he was given a Rolls Royce. He also transferred some $90 million through the Mexican subsidiary of the London-based corporation HSBC during the same period [see Update #1137].

Adelson was a major donor to former US House speaker Newt Gingrich’s campaign to be the Republicans’ 2012 presidential candidate. When Gingrich dropped out of the race, the casino magnate switched to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is now considered certain to win the Republican nomination. Adelson plans to donate $100 million to this fall’s Republican campaigns. He is also a strong supporter of rightwing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he was in Jerusalem in July when Romney and Netanyahu held a meeting there. (Reuters 8/4/12; Business Insider 8/7/12)

Adelson was having public relations problems even before the Ye Gon allegations appeared in the media. On Aug. 8 he filed a $60 million defamation suit against the Washington, DC-based National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). The group had quoted news reports carrying allegations by former Adelson employee Steven Jacobs that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his businesses in Macau, China.

“Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures--as we did--is wholly appropriate,” the NJDC said in response. “We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP [strategic lawsuit against public participation] suit as far and as long as necessary. We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency 8/8/12; The Jewish Week 8/9/12 from JTA)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Mercosur, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti

Americas: Governments Prioritize Profit over Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

From the Green Economy to Communality (South America)

Geopolitical Tsunami in the Southern Cone

The New York Times Publishes Misplaced Concerns Over Mercosur

Stolen As Infant, Argentine Man Reunites With Biological Family

In the Shadow of the Coup: Social Movements for Democracy Mobilize in Paraguay

Brazil mobilizes troops to southern borders in anti-narco drive

Bolivia: TIPNIS Communities Divided As Road Consultation Begins

Peru: Cajamarca dialogue nears collapse

Peru: state of emergency extended in VRAE

Peru: more protests over mining, water

Ecuador to export via north Peru pipeline

Colombia: blows against narco-para network?

Colombia: UN calls for dialogue with indigenous movement

Colombia: Minga of Resistance Launched against Quimbo Dam and Other Resource Extraction Projects

Former GM Workers' Hunger Strike Grows in Colombia

Venezuela with Two Months to Go till the Presidential Elections

Honduran President Puts “Tigers” Police Force on the Stree

Photo Essay: The "Caravan for Land and Territory" in Mexico

Mexican Communities Fight Mini-Dams  

The Wal-Mart Corruption Case: Innocents Abroad? (Mexico)

Mexican Mobility and Canada: Hardening Boundaries and Growing Resistance

Mexico’s Peace Movement Heads to the US

The Mexican Diaspora Rises

Cholera Continues to Spread as Response and Surveillance Weaken (Haiti)

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