Monday, July 1, 2013

WNU #1182: Chilean Students March as Elections Near

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1182, June 30, 2013

1. Chile: Students March as Election Season Starts
2. Brazil: Rousseff Offers Protesters a Plebiscite
3. Honduras: Anti-Mining Activists Report Death Threats
4. Haiti: Public University Students Protest Tuition Hike
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

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. Chile: Students March as Election Season Starts

More than 100,000 Chileans marched in Santiago on June 26 in the latest massive demonstration for a system of free secondary and higher education to replace the heavily privatized system created under the 1973-1990 military dictatorship [see Update #1172]. There were similar protests in cities throughout the country, along with walkouts by port workers in support of the students’ demands. In addition to high school and university students, the march drew port workers, teachers, copper miners and municipal health workers.

Leaders of the different sectors spoke at a closing rally after three feeder marches converged on the central Alameda (Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins Avenue). “Today the focus is not [just] on Santiago or education,” Federation of Catholic University Students (FEUC) president Diego Vela told the crowd. “It’s on the precarious situations that continue to occur in all regions.” The fact that “port workers are on strike and copper workers have disrupted productivity” is “a reminder that we’re not alone.” Andrés Fielbaum, the president of the Federation of University of Chile Students (FECH) and a spokesperson for the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH), called for nationalizing the copper industry to pay for improved education. “Recovering our natural resources is the way in which we will fund our basic human rights,” he said.

Groups of hooded youths confronted the carabineros militarized police before the march in Santiago and at its conclusion. The carabineros reported 98 arrests and said four agents were injured. Media reports focused on the violence rather than on the participation by unionists in the demonstrations, as did the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera. Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick linked the masked youths to the piquetero (“picketer”) movement in Argentina, best known for militant demonstrations by the unemployed. “This coordination still exists,” he said. “There’s contact with the Argentines who operate by surprising [the public] with interruptions in transit and by trying to achieve the greatest disruption.” FECH president Fielbaum told the Associated Press wires service that Chadwick’s remarks “are in line with the logic that we’ve seen in recent weeks: since the government doesn’t know what to do with education, it tries to evade the subject.” (Santiago Times 6/26/13; Global Post 6/27/13; AP 6/29/13 via Terra (Chile))

The demonstrations came just four days before June 30 primaries intended to select candidates for this year’s presidential election, to be held on Nov. 17. Fielbaum had stressed back in April that students could take advantage of the electoral process to press their demands. As it happened, some 70 of the schools that students had occupied to push their demands were among the ones to be used for polling. The government insisted that the schools had to be freed by June 27 so that polling places could be set up. At 3 am on June 27 carabineros burst into 21 schools in Santiago and seven in other parts of the country, dispersing the students and arresting about 150. Protesters said the removals were violent in some cases and several students were seriously injured. Santiago Rebolledo, a former mayor of a Santiago-area commune and the president of the Chilean Association of Municipalities, denounced the government’s move, saying that talks between the association and the students had been progressing. “[W]hat happened this morning, in truth, reminds us of the worst moments of the dictatorship,” Rebolledo said after the police operation. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/28/13 from correspondent)

The June 30 primaries were Chile’s first ever. Former president Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), a Socialist seeking a second term, won the nomination of the center-left New Majority coalition with 73.07% of the votes; she was backed by her own party, the For Democracy Party (PPD) and the Communist Party of Chile (PCC). According to opinion polls, Michelet is also expected to win the presidency in November. The other candidates for the New Majority nomination were Andrés Velasco, Michelet’s former finance minister; Claudio Orrego, from the Christian Democratic Party (PDC); and Radical Party senator José Antonio Gómez. Former economy minister Pablo Longueira won the primary for President Piñera’s center-right Alliance for Chile coalition with 51.35% of the vote to 48.64% for former defense minister Andrés Allamand. Nearly 3 million people turned out for the primaries, about twice as many as were expected. (El Universal (Caracas) 6/30/13; Télam 7/1/13)

*2. Brazil: Rousseff Offers Protesters a Plebiscite
On June 24 Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff began a week of meetings with various groups—youths, unionists, campesinos, political party leaders, state governors, congressional leaders and Supreme Court members—in response to the massive protests that broke out in the middle of the month [see Update #1181]. Rousseff initially proposed a plebiscite on holding a constituent assembly to reform the Constitution, but she quickly dropped the idea. Instead, she proposed a plebiscite that would allow voters to choose from various options in three areas: public financing of political campaigns, methods of electing legislators and voting by party list. The vote would be held by October.

In a note published on June 28, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) supported Rousseff’s proposal, which he said “has the merit of breaking the impasse on this decisive question, which for decades has entered and left the national agenda without accomplishing significant changes.” Rousseff and Lula are both members of the center-left Workers Party (PT). The opposition parties oppose the plan, which some analysts think could open the way to the sort of political transformation that center-left presidents have carried out in other Latin American countries. In the opposition’s counter-proposal, the National Congress would develop a reform plan and the government would then hold a referendum allowing voters to accept or reject the entire project. (El País (Madrid) 6/28/13 from correspondent; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/29/13 from AFP, DPA, Notimex)

For its own part, the National Congress responded to the protests with legislation, much of which had been stalled for months. On June 26 the legislators voted down a constitutional amendment that would have limited federal prosecutors’ authority to investigate crimes; many protesters considered the amendment an effort by politicians to stymie corruption investigations. In addition, the Senate passed a bill making corruption a crime as serious as murder or rape; the Chamber of Deputies is expected to pass it later. The Chamber passed a bill allocating 75% of royalties from oil production to education programs and the remaining 25% to healthcare.

Meanwhile, the protests continued, although on a smaller scale than the week before. On June 26 some 50,000 people demonstrated in Brazil’s third largest city, Belo Horizonte in the eastern state of Minas Gerais, while Brazil’s soccer team was playing the Uruguayan team; the allocation of funds to international sports competitions rather than education and health has been a major grievance in the demonstrations. Hooded youths threw rocks at the police, who used tear gas to keep the protesters 3 km away from the city’s Mineirão stadium. According to the authorities a young man was seriously injured and at least 24 people were arrested; looting was reported, along with two fires and damage to dozens of stores. In Brasilia, protesters kicked soccer balls towards the police line at the Congress building. (LJ 6/27/13 from Reuters, AFP, DPA, Xinhua)

One of the main triggers of the mass protests was a series of small demonstrations early in June by the Free Pass Movement (MPL), a São Paulo-based organization fighting an increase in transit fares. MPL was the first group scheduled to meet with Rousseff on June 24. Before the meeting, they issued an open letter to the president saying they were surprised by the invitation since “social movements in Brazil always suffered repression and criminalization…. We hope that this meeting will mark a change of position by the federal government that will extend to other social struggles: to the indigenous peoples, who, like the Kaiowá-Guaraní and the Munduruku, have suffered various attacks from large landowners and the public power; to the communities affected by evictions; to the homeless; to the landless; and to the mothers whose children were murdered by the police in the peripheral neighborhoods.” (Adital (Brazil) 6/24/13)

Correction: In the third paragraph we originally wrote that  the Chamber of Deputies’ bill concerned oil revenues; the bill concerns the royalties from oil production.

*3. Honduras: Anti-Mining Activists Report Death Threats
Members of communities opposing open-pit mining in the northern Honduran department of Atlántida have received death threats because of their activitism, according to a June 7 communiqué issued by the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ) and the Atlántida Environmentalist Movement (MAA). The groups said police agents in the service of Lenir Pérez, owner of the Alutech metal company, assaulted members of the Nueva Esperanza community on June 3, intimidating them and making death threats. On June 6 the residents received additional death threats from a group of “heavily armed men” operating in the area with the support of the national police, the communiqué charged. The groups blamed Tela municipality mayor David Zaccaro, who “instead of supporting the communities has made common cause with the mine owners, especially Lenir Pérez…who is carrying out violence and provoking the communities.”

In a separate statement, a Catholic group, the Caretian Missionaries, charged on June 10 that “alleged mineworkers” had made threats by text message on Jan. 28 to Father César Espinoza, a priest who opposes the mining, and to nuns in the group. The MADJ and the MAA asked for national and international organizations to write to Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda (, Director of Protection for Human Rights Defenders Rodil Vazquez (, Mayor Zaccaro ( and other officials to ask the government to end the repression and the threats. (Religión Digital (Madrid) 6/15/13; Adital (Brazil) 6/25/13)

Meanwhile, violence continues against campesinos demanding land in northern Honduras’ Lower Aguán Valley. On the morning of May 30 gunmen on a motorcycle shot campesino leader Marvin Arturo Trochez Zúñiga and his son Darwin Alexander Trochez dead while they were drinking coffee in their residence in La Ceiba, Atlántida’s departmental capital. Marvin Trochez’s wife was seriously injured. The double murder brings the number of campesinos killed in the dispute since January 2010 to 104, according to the North American group Rights Action.

Marvin Trochez was active in the Campesino Movement of National Reclamation (MCRN). He was a leading figure in the June 2011 occupation of the Paso Aguán estate, which is managed by cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum’s Grupo Dinant company; at least five people, including four security guards, were killed in a violent confrontation there on Aug. 14, 2011 [see Update #1093]. A year later, on Aug. 9, 2012, Marvin Trochez’s oldest son, also named Marvin, was killed on the estate along with another campesino identified only as “Carlos.” Three more MCRN members, Orlando Campos, Reynaldo Rivera Paz and José Omar Rivera Paz, were shot dead on Nov. 3 [see Update #1151]. Fearing for his own life, Marvin Trochez began carrying a handgun, but this led to his arrest for illegal weapons possession. He eventually went into hiding with his family in La Ceiba, where he had relatives. (La Haine (Spain) 6/5/13 from Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán (MUCA); Rights Action press release 6/6/13 via Scoop (New Zealand))

Correction: this item originally referred to Rights Action as "Rights Watch."

*4. Haiti: Public University Students Protest Tuition Hike
Students from the State University of Haiti (UEH) took to the streets of Port-au-Prince on June 27 to protest an increase in their registration fees from 500 gourdes (about $11.53) to 1,000 gourdes. The administration also added a 500 gourde surcharge and changed the cut-off date for registration. The protesters reportedly threw rocks and bottles, set up barricades of burning tires and smashed the windshields of a dozen vehicles parked at the administrative building. Six students were arrested; they were released later in the day. UEH rector Jean-Vernet Henry quickly announced that the increase had been made without his knowledge; the old fees would be restored, university officials said, along with the old registration date.

As the national public university, UEH attracts students who can’t afford to pay for private education. “[T]he great majority of the youths can’t even pay the required 500 gourdes,” ethnology student Amos Toussaint said. “[A] decision like this is aimed at excluding those who don’t have the means to pay the admission costs.”(Haïti Libre (Haiti) 6/28/13; AlterPresse (Haiti) 6/28/13) UEH students tied up parts of downtown Port-au-Prince for several days last October protesting the killing of a student by an agent of the Haitian National Police (PNH) [see Update #1152].

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

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