Monday, September 23, 2013

WNU #1193: Honduran Indigenous Leader Jailed

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1193, September 22, 2013

1. Honduras: Indigenous Leader Jailed, Union Leader Attacked
2. Colombia: Injured GM Workers Continue Fight for Compensation
3. Argentina: Students Occupy Schools to Protest “Reform”
4. Brazil: Documents Expose US Industrial Espionage
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, 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. Honduras: Indigenous Leader Jailed, Union Leader Attacked
On Sept. 20 a judge in the southwestern Honduran department of Intibucá issued an order for the preventive detention of indigenous leader Berta Cáceres on charges of having broken into the property of a company constructing a hydroelectric project. Cáceres, the general coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was taken to the prison in La Esperanza, Intibucá. The charges stem from her support of indigenous Lenca communities in their protests against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on and near their territory; the struggle against the project has already cost the life of Tomás García, an indigenous leader the protesters said was shot dead by soldiers on July 15 [see Update #1185].

Cáceres and two other COPINH leaders, Aureliano Molina and Tomás Gómez, were charged on Aug. 14 in connection with the protests and were required to report to the judge every 15 days [see Update #1189]. Molina and Gómez remain free, but they must continue to report to the judge and are now forbidden to go near the hydroelectric project. In a Sept. 20 telephone interview from the prison, Cáceres told the Honduran radio station Radio Globo that she was holding her head high and that the business owners had made a mistake in thinking that the Lenca people would let up on their historic struggle (La Prensa (San Pedro Sula) 9/20/13; Vos el Soberano (Honduras) 9/20/13)

Less than a week earlier, in the early morning of Sept. 14, armed men tried to break down the door at the home of union leader Víctor Crespo in Puerto Cortés, near San Pedro Sula in the northern department of Cortés. They fled after Crespo’s neighbors woke up and became potential witness. Crespo, who is the general secretary of the Dockworkers Labor Union (SGTM), had received a number of anonymous death threats before the incident. He has been leading a struggle to win a collective bargaining agreement with Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC), a company which in February won the concession to operate and modernize the Puerto Cortés seaport. OPC is a subsidiary of the Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI), one of the world’s largest maritime operators; the company says the modernization will be completed by 2020.

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a global federation of 690 unions, says it has taken steps to ensure Crespo’s safety. The British-based Labour Start website has set up a letter activists can email to Honduran president Profirio Lobo Sosa calling for police protection for Crespo and adequate guarantees for the port workers’ collective bargaining rights; the letter is available at (ITF press release (English) 9/20/13; ITF press release (Spanish) 9/20/13 via Rebanadas de Realidad; América Economía 9/4/13)

*2. Colombia: Injured GM Workers Continue Fight for Compensation
A small number of former employees of GM Colmotores, the Colombian subsidiary of the Detroit-based General Motors Company (GM), remain encamped in front of the US embassy in Bogotá more than two years after they started a campaign to get the company to reinstate them and compensate them for work-related injuries [see Update #1155]. Off-and-on talks with GM over the past year have failed to produce an agreement; the most recent was held in August. According to Jorge Parra, the president of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of Colmotores (Asotrecol), the injured workers were laid off because of their injuries and should get the same compensation as auto workers in the US, where disabled workers can receive up to two-thirds of their salary for the rest of their lives. He says GM only offered $35,000 for each worker; company officials say they have made better offers.

“When we first came [to the embassy], they thought we would be here for a week,” Parra told the US magazine In These Times. “But we’re here for two years already, and we've shown that we have the determination not to give up.” The protests have worn the workers down, however. Only 13 of the 68 originally in the group are still active, and they admit to being discouraged at times, despite expressions of solidarity and some financial support from US unionists. But the protest remains an embarrassment for the US government, which as a result of a 2009 federal bailout is GM’s largest shareholder. The US is also concerned because of a free trade pact with Colombia which the US Congress approved in 2011 only after negotiators agreed on a detailed plan for labor protections [see Update #1101]. The situation of the laid-off GM Colmotores workers casts doubt on the effectiveness of the trade pact’s labor clauses. (ITT 9/13/13)

In other news, Charlotte, NC-based Chiquita Brands International Inc is trying to have the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismiss lawsuits by thousands of Colombians whose relatives were killed by paramilitaries from the rightwing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). In 2007 Chiquita admitted to having paid out $1.7 million to the AUC over seven years; the US government, which listed the group, now officially disbanded, as a terrorist organization, fined the company $25 million. The lawsuits, consolidated before a federal judge in West Palm Beach, Florida, seek to hold Chiquita liable for killings by the AUC.

The company’s lawyers say the suit is without merit because the AUC extorted the payments from Chiquita and Chiquita officials didn’t directly order the murders—although documents made public in 2011 indicate that the company hired the paramilitaries on as security guards, just as it had done earlier with leftist rebels when they controlled the area where Chiquita operated [see Update #1075]. Another of Chiquita’s arguments is that the suit was brought under the federal Alien Tort Statute, a law from 1789 whose application the US Supreme Court severely restricted in April when it threw out the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case [see Update #1173]. (Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 9/21/13 from AP; La Jornada (Mexico) 9/22/13 from AP)

*3. Argentina: Students Occupy Schools to Protest “Reform”
As of Sept. 20 Argentine high school students had occupied 10 schools in Buenos Aires to protest an “educational reform” program that the capital’s rightwing mayor, Mauricio Macri, plans to institute at the beginning of the next school year in March 2014. The students held assemblies at each school to decide whether to take action. Some schools voted against the occupations: 495 of the 565 students at Julio Argentino Roca voted not to occupy, as did 340 of 420 students at Normal 6. Students from the occupied schools held a joint assembly and announced plans for a Sept. 23 press conference.

Students in Buenos Airies have used the occupation tactic several times since 2012. The movement reflects many of the same concerns about neoliberal education programs that sparked the student movement in Chile and teachers’ protests in Mexico [see Updates #1182, 1191]. Protesters say Macri’s plan for a “new high-quality secondary school” (NESC) will reduce students’ options for different plans of study from 158 to just 10, with limitations on such fields as history and geography. Esteban Bullrich, the city’s education ministry, noted that the new program would only affect the students who enter high school in 2014, not the students now protesting. “We’re not just thinking about ourselves but about the future of public education,” student leaders answered, “and it actually offends us that Minister Bullrich should think that when we demand a better education, we’re doing it from egoism, from individualism.” (La Jornada (Mexico) 9/18/13 from correspondent; El Cívico (Buenos Aires) 9/21/13)

Public employees are also protesting the Macri government’s policies. On Sept. 17 hundreds of city workers held a march to demand a stay in the criminal cases against eight public employees arrested on Apr. 26 when some 200 or 300 municipal police agents fought protesters attempting to stop the demolition of a building at the José T. Borda public psychiatric hospital [see Update #1174]. As many as 50 people were reportedly injured in the confrontation, the most violent incident in recent Buenos Aires history. (LJ 9/18/13 from correspondent)

*4. Brazil: Documents Expose US Industrial Espionage
On Sept. 8 the “Fantástico” news program on Brazil’s Rede Globo television network presented documents indicating that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on Brazil’s giant semi-public energy company, Petrobras (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.). The allegations came one week after the same program presented evidence that the NSA had spied on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto [see Update #1191]. As in the earlier news program, the spying claims were based on documents given to Glenn Greenwald, a US blogger and columnist for the UK daily The Guardian who lives in Brazil, by former US intelligence technician Edward Snowden.

The “Fantástico” program showed a top-secret NSA presentation, dated May 2012, that the agency used to train new agents in accessing private computer networks. The name of Petrobras appears at the beginning of the document, under the title: “MANY TARGETS USE PRIVATE NETWORKS.” Other targets listed include the internet company Google, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ private network, and the SWIFT network, a cooperative linking over 10,000 banks in 212 countries. Greenwald and Globo reporter Sonia Bridi had blacked out the name of other targets on the grounds that these groups might be linked to terrorism and that revealing their names could compromise genuine US counterterrorism operations.

The US continues to insist that its spying is directed at preventing terrorist attacks. On the evening of Sept. 8, after the program aired, US director of national intelligence James Clapper issued a statement denying that the US is engaged in industrial espionage: “What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of--or give intelligence we collect to--US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

Brazilian energy experts are skeptical. Infrastructure specialist Adriano Pires says the US could be interested in ocean-floor exploration technology, especially in the geological formations known as pre-salt layers. “Petrobras is the world’s number one in drilling for oil at sea,” he told Globo reporters on the Sept. 8 program. “Pre-salt layers exist all around the world--there’s a pre-salt in Africa, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the North Sea. If I have this technology, I can drill for oil anywhere I want.” Former Petrobras Director Roberto Villa suggested that the spying could affect an auction to be held in October for exploration of Brazil’s Libra Field in the Bay of Santos. Only Petrobras is supposed to know which are the field’s richest lots. “If this information was leaked and someone else has obtained it, he would be in a privileged position at the auction,” Villa said. “He’ll know where to invest and where not to. It’s a handy little secret.” (O Globo (Brazil) 9/8/13 (English), O Globo 9/8/13 (Portuguese); The Guardian (UK) 9/9/13)

On Sept. 17 Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington, DC, scheduled for Oct. 23. A statement from Rousseff’s office cited the US government’s “lackof…explanations and commitment to cease interceptive activities… The illegal interception of communications data belonging to citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government [is] a grave matter, an assault on national sovereignty and individual rights, and [is] incompatible with relations between friendly nations.” (Los Angeles Times 9/17/13)

In other news, late on Sept. 19 a court in Pará state sentenced rancher Vitalmiro Bastos Moura to 30 years in prison for ordering the 2005 murder of US nun and environmentalist Dorothy Stang [see Update #899]. Bastos had been convicted before but was later released; this was his fourth trial in the case. Another rancher, Regivaldo Galvão, has also been found guilty of ordering Stang’s murder; the Supreme Court authorized his conditional release in 2012 when he appealed his 2010 conviction. One of the men who carried out the killing was freed in July of this year after serving just six years of a 27-year sentence. (Reuters 9/20/13)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

What Do Latin American Countries Stand to Gain from the TPP?

U.S. Urged to Curb Militarization in Latin America

The Other September 11: The Legacy of Chilean Socialism and Salvador Allende

Brazil: “The Oil Is Ours” – But Its Secrets Are the NSA’s

Brazilian president postpones Washington visit over NSA spying

Awá: Top Human Rights Watchdog Demands Answers from Brazil

Peru: Andean Self-determination Struggles against Extractive Capitalism

Peru: police fire on Cajamarca campesinos —again

Colombia: 60% of indigenous face 'extinction'

Colombia: gains seen as peasants end strike

You Probably Didn’t Hear that Venezuela Was Again Ranked the Happiest Country in South America

We Are (Almost) All Chávez: Challenges in the Deployment of the Chavista Political Identity

Corpoelec Workers Protest Conditions as Venezuelan Electricity Minister Vows to “Restore Confidence” in Power Grid

Guatemala - Massacre in San Jose Nacahuil: Whoever is Responsible, Minister López Bonilla Should be Removed

Popular Resistance Rises to Mexico’s Neoliberal Reforms

Photo Essay: Following Police Eviction, Mexico's Teachers Keep Fighting for Quality Education

The Unequal Fury of Floods (Mexico)

Alberto Patishtán: Message from the Mexican State

Another UN Soldier Accused of Rape in Haiti

Restoration of the Haitian Army: Martelly Keeps One Campaign Promise

“Do the Yankees Want More Hitters?”: My Encounter With a U.S. Border Patrol Agent (US/immigration)

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