Tuesday, November 27, 2012

WNU #1153: Leaders and Movements Protest Attack on Gaza

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1153, November 25, 2012

1. Latin America: Leaders and Movements Protest Attack on Gaza
2. Argentina: Unions Call First General Strike in 10 Years
3. Mexico: Torture and Disappearances Are on the Rise
4. US: SOA Protests Continue; Church Expels Activist Priest
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, Trade

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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Latin America: Leaders and Movements Protest Attack on Gaza
In a Nov. 17 statement the leaders of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a trade bloc made up of Argentina, BrazilParaguay (suspended), Uruguay and Venezuela, expressed their “strongest condemnation of the violence unleashed between Israel and Palestine” and their “concern with the disproportionate use of force” since Israel began a military offensive against Gaza on Nov. 14. Mercosur also expressed “its support to the request from the state of Palestine to obtain the status of [United Nations] observer member.”

The four active Mercosur members are among the 11 Latin American countries that have recognized Palestine as a state [see Update #1063]; the others are Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Peru. Mercosur signed a “free trade” agreement with the Palestinian National Authority in December 2011; it signed a similar trade agreement with Israel in 2007, a move opposed by many leftists, who feel cutting off trade with Mercosur would put pressure on the Israeli government. Israel’s annual exports to Mercosur are worth about $700 million; Brazil by itself is the third largest recipient of Israeli exports in the world. (MercoPress (Montevideo) 11/17/12; Aporrea.org (Venezuela) 11/19/12; People’s Daily (China) 11/21/12)

[Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur after the legislature's sudden impeachment of President Fernando Lugo on June 22 but remains a member; see Update #1135.]

Some Latin American leaders were stronger than others in their condemnation of the Israeli operation, codenamed “Pillar of Defense,” which was suspended in a ceasefire agreement on Nov. 21. On Nov. 19 Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said “the first step” for resolving the conflict “should be the creation of a free and independent Palestinian state that can negotiate peace as an equal with the state of Israel.” Also on Nov. 19, El Salvador’s governing leftist party, the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN), condemned the offensive as a “new massacre…against the people of Palestine” and charged that Israel had provoked the conflict. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had characterized “Pillar of Defense” as “savage” a few days earlier, while the Cuban government repeated its “most firm support for the just cause of the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights, which include the creation of an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

“[W]e back the right of the Palestinian people to be able to have their own free, independent and autonomous state,” Chile’s rightwing president, Sebastián Piñera, said during a visit to Turkey on Nov. 19, but he stressed that Chile “also support[s] Israel’s right to count on secure borders in peace.” According to the Spanish wire service EFE, Chile has the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East.

Many groups in the region held protests against the Israeli offensive. About 30 Uruguayans demonstrated in Montevideo on Nov. 19 in front of the Israeli embassy, calling Israel a “genocidal state.” Dozens of members of the Salvadoran Palestinian Association and other organizations protested the same day in front of the Israeli embassy in El Salvador. (EFE 11/19/12 via Diario de Yucatán (Mexico))

A Mexican group protested at the Angel of Independence in Mexico City on Nov. 20, and another demonstration was held in front of the Israeli embassy. Activists were planning a further show of support for the Palestinians in front of the United Nations (UN) office in Mexico City on Nov. 27, two days before Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is scheduled to ask the UN General Assembly for observer status for Palestine. (Adital (Brazil) 11/22/12) Hundreds of Colombians and resident Palestinians demonstrated at the Israeli embassy in Bogotá on Nov. 20; the protest tied up traffic in the city center for about two hours. A protest in Managua the next day by Nicaraguans, resident Palestinians and US citizen Nan McCurry targeted the US embassy. “I’m asking the government of my country to stop supporting Israel so that this war will end immediately,” McCurry said in a brief speech. (People’s Daily 11/21/12, 11/21/12)

A number of Arab and Palestinian groups, with the support of Brazil’s Unified Workers’ Central (CUT), are holding a Free Palestine World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1. The goal is “to consolidate and strengthen the international solidarity movement for the rights of the Palestinians.” (Adital (Brazil) 11/20/12)

*2. Argentina: Unions Call First General Strike in 10 Years
Argentina’s largest union federation, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), and the more radical Federation of Argentine Workers (CTA) sponsored a nationwide general strike on Nov. 20 to protest President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s economic policies. The majority of the country’s unions supported the strike call, as did leftist parties and the leftist Classist and Combative Current (CCC), but the CGT section led by Antonio Caló, representing 33 industrial and service unions, ignored the strike call. Organizers called the action a success, while President Fernández dismissed it as “a phenomenon limited to some service unions and to the area around the federal capital.”

The strikers blocked the main highways into Buenos Aires and other major cities. Schools, courts, banks and gas stations were closed in Buenos Aires province, where about a third of the country’s population lives, and hospitals only accepted emergency cases. In the central province of Santa Fe, the strike shut down Rosario, the main port for the export of agricultural goods; oil production was affected in Río Negro, Neuquén and La Pampa provinces. Airports remained open but had many less flights than usual.

In addition to blocking roads, strikers reportedly threw stones at buses and punctured tires to keep people from going to work. CTA Pablo Micheli leader said strikers had blocked roads at 300 points; the media estimated that the number was 160. While claiming that hundreds of thousands of workers supported the strike, Micheli admitted that without the blockages “the strike wouldn’t have had the rate of observation that it had.” “[I]n Argentina there’s no right to strike,” he said. “We were forced to have piquetes [militant road blockages] so that the workers could justify not having gone to their work places.”

The strikers’ demands included an increase in the minimum wage and in social assistance programs; the elimination of a tax on workers’ incomes; and an increase in retirement pensions. The groups supporting the strike protested the loss of purchasing power by much of the population; some private economists claim the annual inflation rate will come to 25% this year.

The Nov. 20 action was Argentina’s first general strike since December 2002, and it marked the end of a long-time alliance between CGT general secretary Hugo Moyano and the faction of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist) formed by President Fernández and her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) [see Update #988]. (Terra.es (Spain) 11/21/12 from Europa Press and unidentified wire services;La Jornada (Mexico) 11/21/12 from correspondent)

*3. Mexico: Torture and Disappearances Are on the Rise
Complaints about abuses by Mexican police and soldiers have increased dramatically over the past seven years, according to testimony by Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, the president of the government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), to the Mexican Senate’s Human Rights Commission on Nov. 21. Plascencia was reporting principally on the period from Jan. 1, 2005 to July 31, 2012, which overlaps the administration of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and his militarization of the “war on drugs.” Calderón took office on Dec. 1, 2006; he will be succeeded this Dec. 1 by Enrique Peña Nieto.

During the 2005-2012 period the CNDH received 5,568 complaints about alleged failures to follow required procedures in issuing or executing warrants for searches, Plascencia said. The agency is also investigating 2,126 cases of people who were reportedly disappeared. There were more than 9,000 complaints citing arbitrary detentions, a 121% increase during the period. In 2005 there was only one complaint of torture; in 2011 the number of complaints about torture or other cruel and degrading treatment had risen to 2,040. Since 2005 the CNDH has received a total of 34,385 complaints against federal public servants, with an 84% increase just in the last three years. The alleged abuses were “mainly concentrated under the headings of illegal searches, forcible disappearances, arbitrary detentions, executions and torture,” Plascencia said. (La Jornada (Mexico) 11/22/12)

On Nov. 21 Guerrero governor Angel Aguirre Rivero publicly apologized at a ceremony in Acapulco for the deaths of two students and a gas station worker during a confrontation on Dec. 12, 2011 between police and students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, located in the Guerrero village of Ayotzinapa. The apology was in response to a March recommendation by the CNDH, which also required compensation for the victims’ families and for people injured in the incident [see Update #1123]. Víctor Hugo Pérez, human rights director for the federal Public Security Secretariat (SSP), was also present to offer his “profound and heartfelt apology” for the role of federal police agents in the confrontation.

The brother of the gas station worker was the only relative of a victim to attend. The other families and students from the college boycotted the ceremony; instead, they held a press conference where they demanded punishment for the officials they say are responsible for the killings. State police agents Ismael Matadamas Salinas and Rey David Cortés Flores are the only suspects detained in the case, although the Guerrero legislature is considering a petition for lifting the immunity of former state chief prosecutor Guerrero Alberto López Rosas and former state public security secretary Ramón Almonte Borja. (LJ 11/20/12, 11/22/12)

*4. US: SOA Protests Continue; Church Expels Activist Priest
The 22nd annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), brought several thousand activists to the Army's Fort Benning base in Columbus, Georgia, for a series of events from Nov. 16 to Nov. 18. One demonstrator, Robert Norman Chantal of Americus, Georgia, was arrested when he climbed over the base's fence during the concluding event, a symbolic funeral march, on Nov. 18. He was released later on his own recognizance, according to a Fort Benning representative. Chantal, who faces a possible six-month sentence, will be tried in a US District Court on Jan. 9.

The protest’s sponsor, SOA Watch, opposes the US Army’s training of Latin American soldiers, charging that SOA graduates have been among the region’s most notorious human rights violators. The group’s protests have gained some sympathy in Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela have ended their relations with the school, and in September Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega told a human rights delegation that Nicaragua will withdraw from SOA/WHINSEC [see Update #1144]. There may also some movement in US ruling circles. On Nov. 14 Denis McDonough, national deputy security adviser to US president Barack Obama, met with an SOA Watch delegation; the group asked for the school to be shut down by executive order. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) is planning to introduce legislation in Congress in January to suspend operations at the school and investigate human rights abuses in Latin America. (SOA Watch press release 11/18/12; Columbus (GA) Ledger-Enquirer 11/18/12)

On Nov. 19, the day after this year’s protests, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, a Catholic religious order, issued a statement confirming that the Vatican was dismissing SOA Watch’s founder, Father Roy Bourgeois, from the priesthood and from his order for participating in an August 2008 rite ordaining a woman as a priest. Bourgeois said that the dismissal was “very difficult and painful” but that his “only regret is that it took me so long to confront the issue of male power and domination in the Catholic Church.” (Religion News Service 11/21/12 via Washington Post)

The Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) responded to the decision with a statement noting Bourgeois’ solidarity with Hondurans after the June 2009 military coup and praising him as “a humanist, a tireless fighter for the imparting of justice, a defender of the poor and a companion to social struggles throughout the continent.” (Adital (Brazil) 11/23/12) Bourgeois’ supporters have started an online petition at http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/727/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=11972 where people can express their solidarity with his “decision to follow his conscience.”

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, Trade

#Radical Media: Communication Unbound (Latin America)

Latin America’s Left Turn Collides with Indigenous Movements

Argentina fights US order to pay $1.33 billion debt

Industrial Soy and Sugar Cane Fuel Native Land Conflicts in Brazil

Brazil: crime wars rock Sao Paulo

Brazil: Amazon native killed by federal police

Brazil: violence halts work at Belo Monte dam

Bolivia: dissent over indigenous identity in census

Peru: Amazonian leaders press land demarcation

Peru: campesino alliance with "illegal" miners

Colombia: indigenous peace proposal advanced

Colombia rejects Hague ruling in Nicaragua maritime dispute

Mass Participation in Debate on Venezuela’s Socialist Plan

EL Salvador: Proposed Culture Law Would Provide Healthcare and Funding for Artists

Murders of Teenagers and Opposition Party Members Underscore Impunity in Honduras and the Failure of U.S. “Vetting”

Honduras’ Party Primaries: Voters Went to the Polls, But Can Next Year’s Elections be “Free and Fair”?

Action Alert! Protect Pacific Resistance in San José del Golfo, Guatemala

Canadian Mining on Trial (Guatemala)

Guatemala’s ‘Little School of the Americas’

Should Chiapas Farmers Suffer for California’s Carbon? (Mexico)

War or Peace in Mexico?

Mexico: pressure mounts for drug legalization

Returning Migrant Children Pose Educational Challenge in Mexico

The Caribbean’s Agricultural Crisis

Cholera Continues to Spread After Hurricane Sandy (Haiti)

Quebec fracking ban challenged under NAFTA

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