Monday, October 1, 2012

WNU #1146: Mexican Right and Center Push “Labor Reform”

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1146, September 30, 2012

1. Mexico: Center-Right Bloc Pushes Neoliberal “Labor Reform”
2. Chile: Mapuches Block Roads to Protest Court Decision
3. Honduras: A Second Human Rights Attorney Is Murdered
4. Haiti: Protests Continue, Follow Martelly to New York
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, St. Lucia

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. Mexico: Center-Right Bloc Pushes Neoliberal “Labor Reform”
After a 14-hour session, the Chamber of Deputies of the Mexican Congress voted in the early morning of Sept. 29 to approve major changes to the 1970 Federal Labor Law (LFT). The 346-60 vote in the 500-member Chamber was pushed through by an alliance of the governing center-right National Action Party (PAN) and the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). There was one abstention, and many deputies from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) walked out of the session in protest before the vote. The measure, which was passed under a special “fast-track” provision, now goes to the Senate, which must act on it within 30 days.

The PAN has been pushing for changes to the LFT for years, with the strong support of business owners. The PRI, which has a base among old-line union bureaucrats, switched to supporting “labor reform” in April 2011 [see Update #1074]. Both current president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, from the PAN, and the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto, who succeeds Calderón on Dec. 1, back the new measure.

The last issue to be settled before the changes passed was a proposal from the PAN and the PRD for the new law to mandate direct, universal and secret elections of union leaders. The PRI and its satellite party, the Ecological Green Party of Mexico (PVEM), blocked with the small New Alliance Party (PANAL) to crush the proposal; the vote was 248-187 with one abstention. PANAL’s leader in the Chamber, Deputy Lucila Garfias Gutiérrez, charged that the proposal would violate constitutional protections for union autonomy; the PANAL is headed by Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, a former PRI leader who has held the presidency of the country’ largest union, the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), since 1989.

The changes--billed as “flexibilization” and a way to create some 150,000 new jobs each year--would eliminate many protections Mexican workers have under current law, although the law is often not enforced. The new measure would allow businesses to pay workers by the hour rather than for a full day; to hire employees for trial or training periods and then lay them off; and to outsource some of the work. The “reform” would place additional limits on the right to strike, and employers would only have to pay a maximum of 12 months’ lost wages in cases of unfair dismissals. (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/29/12, 9/30/12; Reuters 9/29/12; Los Angeles Times 9/27/12 from correspondent)

Labor lawyers Alfonso Bouzas and Carlos de Buen denounced the new law as something that “will affect the whole structure of Mexican labor law and return the country to 1910”—that is, to the period before the Mexican Revolution brought about major gains for labor. Independent unions protested the changes with several demonstrations in Mexico City during the days before the vote. Some 30,000 workers marched on Sept. 28, according to the organizers, although the Federal District (DF) police put the number at 10,000. Some unions and the #YoSoy132 (“I’m number 132”) student movement sponsored a sit-in to block entrances to the Chamber of Deputies building in the San Lázaro neighborhood. Deputies resorted to various maneuvers to get in; PVEM deputy Rosa Elba Pérez disguised herself as a police agent. (LJ 9/27/12, 9/28/12)

*2. Chile: Mapuches Block Roads to Protest Court Decision
Members of the Huilliche indigenous group blocked the highway between Valdivia and Paillaco in southern Chile’s Los Ríos region the morning of Sept. 28, burning rubbish and setting up barricades to protest a Sept. 21 Supreme Court decision denying them access to a sacred site. A communiqué from an organization calling itself the Huilliche Aynil Leufu Mapu Mo Resistance claimed responsibility for the action, which was also in support of a hunger strike that five Mapuche prisoners in Angol, Araucanía region, began on Aug. 27 [see Update #1143]. The Huilliche are a sub-group of the Mapuche, the largest indigenous group in Chile.

The Huilliches claim they should have access to the Ngen Mapu Kintuante area in Río Bueno commune; they say the area is a ceremonial religious center for them. The Valdivia Appeals Court upheld the Huilliche claim, but a five-member panel of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the site was on private property belonging to the Protestant minister Juan Heriberto Ortiz Ortiz. The court also found that the Huilliche community had occupied Ortiz’s land illegally. A group of masked people set fire to Ortizs house in June.

The conflict over the Ngen Mapu Kintuante area is part of a larger struggle by the Huilliches against three hydroelectric projects in the region which they say will violate their right to use ancestral lands that include important sacred sites. The first, the Central Hidroeléctrica Rucatayo, opened earlier this month on the Pilmaiquén River, despite resistance by the Huilliche communities; it is operated by the Hidroeléctrica Pilmaiquén S.A. company. Central Hidroeléctrica Osorno, one of the other two projects, will flood the Kintuante area if it is built. (Soy Chile 9/24/12; 9/25/12; Radio Biobío (Chile) 9/22/12, 9/28/12; Noticias Terra Chile 9/25/12)

Four of the five Mapuche prisoners who began fasting on Aug. 27 in Angol were still on hunger strike as of Sept. 29. The strikers--Daniel Leminao, Paulino Levipán, Rodrigo Montoya and Eric Montoya—are weak and have reportedly lost an average of 11 kilograms each. “They’re children, very young, they’re very thin,” said Manuel Andrade, a member of the Ethical Commission Against Torture (CECT). (Leminao is 18 years old and Levipán is 19; available sources did not give the ages of Rodrigo and Eric Montoya.) The strikers are demanding that the Supreme Court review and annul their sentences; other demands include an end to the use of militarization and “anti-terrorist” legislation against the Mapuches’ struggles for ancestral lands. Some 100 Mapuche activists and non-Mapuche supporters marched in Santiago the evening of Sept. 20 to demand the release of the four strikers. (Prensa Latina 9/21/12, 9/29/12)

*3. Honduras: A Second Human Rights Attorney Is Murdered
Unidentified assailants gunned down Eduardo Manuel Díaz Mazariegos, a prosecutor with the Honduran Public Ministry, shortly before noon on Sept. 24 near his office in Choluteca, the capital of the southern department of Choluteca. Díaz Mazariegos had worked on human rights cases as well as criminal cases for the ministry. He was the seventh Honduran prosecutor murdered since 1994, and his killing came less than two full days after the similar murder of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, an activist private attorney who represented a campesino collective in a dispute over land in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras [see Update #1145]. (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 9/24/12; EFE 9/25/12 via Univision)

The Associated Press wire service reported on Sept. 24 that Trejo had written a request in June 2011 for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) in Washington, DC, to order emergency precautionary measures for his protection. “If anything happens to me, to my goods or to my family,” Trejo wrote, “I hold responsible Mr. Miguel Facussé [and two others that AP declined to name], who can attack my life through hit men, since they know that the lawsuits against them are going well and that the campesinos are going to recover the lands that [Facussé and the others] stole from them illegally.”

Cooking oil magnate Facussé is the main owner of disputed land in the Aguán; presumably Trejo also named the two other major landowners in the dispute, René Morales and Reinaldo Canales. After Trejo’s murder Facussé issued a written denial of any “direct participation of my person or of the personnel of my companies in so abominable an act,” although he added that Trejo had committed “fraudulent acts against [Facussé's] company.” Marlene Cruz, an attorney who represents another Aguán collective, told AP that she and Trejo were scheduled to attend a hearing at the CIDH in Washington on Oct. 19. Cruz is now thought to be in danger.

Trejo, who came from a campesino family and was born in the San Isidro collective in northern Honduras, was also involved in another high-profie case: he had filed a complaint against a neoliberal project, the Special Development Regions (RED, also known as “Model Cities”), for creating privatized autonomous regions in the country. Trejo denounced the project in a television debate less than 24 hours before his assassination, saying it was backed by “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves of the government.” Michael Strong, the director of the US-based MGK Group, a leading “model cities” sponsor [see Update #1144], said he was “horrified” by the murder and that “if Trejo had lived long enough to be acquainted with us, he would have concluded that our approach is beneficial for Honduras.” (AP 9/24/12 via El Nuevo Herald (Miami))

*4. Haiti: Protests Continue, Follow Martelly to New York
A series of demonstrations that started in Cap-Haïtien, North department, on Sept. 12 to protest rising food prices and alleged corruption in the government of Haitian president Michel Martelly [see Update #1145] continued in various cities during the last week of September. Several hundred students demonstrated in Gonaïves, the main city in the northwestern Artibonite department, on Sept. 24 to protest Education Minister Vaneur Pierre’s visit to the Public University of the Artibonite at Gonaïves (UPAG). Pierre had to leave the campus; his vehicle remained in the control of student protesters for several hours. Chanting slogans against the Martelly government, the students then built barricades in the Bigot neighborhood in the south of the city and tied up traffic for several hours. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 9/25/12)

Several thousand people demonstrated in Cap-Haïtien on Sept. 27 in the city’s third major demonstration of the month. As in the earlier protests, North department senator Moïse Jean-Charles played a leading role. On this occasion Jean-Charles noted that the march had brought together different factions in the opposition, such as the Organization of the People in Struggle (OPL) and the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). The senator announced that Martelly needed to resign within two months but insisted that the president’s departure wouldn’t be accompanied by violence.

Dozens of people demonstrated on Sept. 27 in Jérémie, in the southwestern department of Grand Anse. In addition to protesting rising prices, they demanded clean water and access to electricity. (Radio Métropole (Haiti) 9/28/12; AlterPresse 9/28/12)

Several thousand people marched past the ruins of the National Palace in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 30 to protest the high cost of living and to mark the 21st anniversary of the coup against Aristide that led to three years of de facto military rule. Although organized by FL, the demonstration included figures from other parties, such as Paul Denis, director of the Unity party of former president René Préval (1996-2001, 2006-2011). (AlterPresse 9/30/12)

Statistics on recent price increases aren’t readily available, but the Haitian internet news service AlterPresse cited several examples from residents of Anse-à-Pitres in Southeast department. Since August the price of a 25-kilogram sack of rice has risen from 900 to 1,150 gourdes ($21.35 to $27.28), the residents said; a sack of flour went from 1,100 to 1,300 gourdes ($26.10 to $30.84); and a gallon of cooking oil rose from 300 to 450 gourdes ($7.12 to $8.07). However, the residents said the problem wasn’t limited to Haiti; they found similar price increases at the market in Pedernales across the Dominican border. (AlterPresse 9/27/12)

President Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe were in New York during the last week of September for the opening of the 67th United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Martelly and Lamothe held a public event with several hundred members of New York’s large Haitian community the night of Sept. 26 at Brooklyn College. Martelly claimed his administration had made advances in promoting education and in stimulating the economy, citing the creation of 6,000 jobs at the new “free trade zone” at Caracol in northern Haiti [see Update #1138]. (Haïti Libre (Haiti) 9/28/12)

Across the street from the campus several hundred other New Yorkers of Haitian origin stood in an intermittent light rain protesting the president. “Down with Martelly, down with the UN occupation”—a reference to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)--was a popular sign. Other protesters held up pictures of Martelly from his earlier career as the popular singer “Sweet Micky,” with the future president making obscene gestures or wearing revealing costumes. (Report from Update editor)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, St. Lucia

Chilean Students and Police Clash at Protest

Peru coca crop rises for sixth year: UN

Peru: Amazon Indians Win Court Case over Land Rights

Peru: court rules for indigenous sovereignty

AEI Event Aims to Discredit Ecuador and Assange, but Collapses

Government Negotiators and the Prospects for Peace in Colombia

Carter Center Conducts Study Mission to Venezuela Elections

UN report: drug trafficking threatens rule of law (Central America and Caribbean)

Left International Solidarity in Post-Coup Honduras

Lawyer Representing Authentic Campesino Movement of Aguan (MARCA) Murdered

Behind the Model Cities Memorandum of Understanding (Honduras)

Legal Challenges to Model Cities Law Proliferate (Honduras)

Women’s Gathering in Defense of Water, Life and Territory (Guatemala)

Q&A: Guatemala’s Bold Attorney General Makes a Dent in Impunity

Army’s Former Sex Slaves Testify in Guatemala

Mexico: Zetas' "El Taliban" busted by federals

Unions Oppose Labor Law Reform: for Quite Different Reasons (Mexico)

SME Wins Major Victory (Mexico)

An Unexpected Ally: St. Lucia to Maintain Recognition of Taiwan

Housing Exposition Exposes Waste, Cynicism (Haiti)

Reconstruction of the capital's downtown? Or of the ministries? (Haiti)

Haitian Prime Minister: Cholera Under Control

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