Tuesday, November 26, 2013

WNU #1200: Opposition Charges Fraud in Honduran Election

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1200, November 24, 2013

1. Honduras: Opposition Charges Fraud in Election
2. Argentina: Residents Block Monsanto Plant
3. Haiti: Support Grows for Minimum Wage Increase
4. US: Annual SOA Protest Smaller But “Energizing”
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/policy

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. Honduras: Opposition Charges Fraud in Election
With about 43% of the ballots counted in Honduras’ Nov. 24 presidential election, Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), was ahead with about 34% of the votes, according to electoral officials on Nov. 25. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, running for the newly formed center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), was second with 28.4%, followed by Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with about 21%. Both Castro and Hernández, previously the National Congress president, claimed victory. Castro’s husband, former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), told reporters that there were “serious inconsistencies” in as many as 400,000 ballots. He said LIBRE supporters “are going to defend our triumph at the ballot box and if necessary will take to the streets.” There is no runoff in the Honduran presidential election; the candidate with a plurality wins.

While the results remain in dispute, the election clearly marked a shift in Honduran politics, which the PL and the PN dominated for most of the last century. LIBRE, which grew out of a broad movement resisting the military coup that overthrew Zelaya in June 2009, has now at the very least established itself as the main opposition party, following a pattern seen in many Latin American countries over the past 20 years. (BBC News 11/26/13 from correspondent; New York Times 11/26/13 from correspondents)

In addition to voting for the president, Hondurans were choosing the 128 deputies for the unicameral National Congress, 20 deputies for the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) and the governments of the 298 municipalities. Some 5.4 million Hondurans were eligible to vote. Hundreds of international observers arrived in the country to monitor the country, some from governmental organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU), and others from social organizations, including the international campesino movement Vía Campesina and Jubilee South/Americas, a Latin American network focusing on international debt.

In October LIBRE supporters reported a wave of pre-electoral violence against party activists and people active in other social movements [see Update #1199]. Violence, intimidation and irregularities continued up to election day. Two LIBRE members, María Amparo Pineda Duarte and Julio Ramón Maradiaga, were shot dead the evening of Nov. 23 in Cantarranas, in the south-central department of Francisco Morazán, as they were returning from an election training session. On the morning of Nov. 24 Radio Globo, an independent station, reported that the military had surrounded its transmitter. “We have not requested this presence,” an announcer said on the air. “They want to use this to pressure us and shut us up, but Radio Globo will be on the air, whatever it takes.”

Widespread blackouts were reported in Tegucigalpa in the week before the elections, threatening possible disruptions in the voting; the neighborhoods affected, including La Mercedes, Kennedy, San Francisco, Hato de Medio, Dilbio Paraleso, Nueva Capital Del Pantanal, Quesada and other marginalized areas, are LIBRE strongholds. International observers reported incidents of harassment by immigration officials and the military on Nov. 22 and Nov. 23. (Adital (Brazil) 11/22/13; Honduras Solidarity Network 11/23/13, 11/23/13; Honduras Culture and Politics 11/24/13)

*2. Argentina: Residents Block Monsanto Plant
As of Nov. 23 residents of Malvinas Argentinas in the central Argentine province of Córdoba had succeeded for more than two months in their effort to stop the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company from building a corn seed-drying plant in their town. After more than a year of protests against plans for the $300 million, 27-hectare plant--projected to be the company’s largest facility in Latin America [see Updates #1166, 1178]--the Malvinas Struggles for Life Neighbors’ Assembly announced a “Spring Without Monsanto” festival to be held outside the construction site on Sept. 19, three days before the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. The festival launched an open-ended blockade of the plant. With access cut off, the construction contractors removed their heavy equipment and the workers didn’t come to the site. Monsanto acknowledged that the project was suffering a setback.

After announcing plans for the facility in June 2012, Monsanto failed to answer when residents of Malvinas Argentinas, a working-class suburb of the city of Córdoba, asked for explanations. The company also didn’t provide an environmental impact study required by the General Law of the Environment. In November 2012 the Neighbors’ Assembly demanded that residents be allowed to vote on the plan. Mayor Daniel Arzani, from the Radical Civic Union (UCR), and provincial governor José Manuel de la Sota, from the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), refused to authorize the vote. According to opinion polls carried out in April this year by the National University of Córdoba (UNC), the Catholic University and the government’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigation (Conicet), nine out of 10 Malvinas Argentinas residents favored the call for a vote and 58% said they would vote against the construction.

On Oct. 31 Monsanto sent letters by registered mail to Sofía Gatica, a member of the Buenos Aires province-based Mothers of Ituzaingó environmental group, and to Eduardo Quispe, a member of the Malvinas Argentinas assembly. The company accused the activists of “harming public security” by their role in the blockade and claimed that “acts of violence against personnel” had taken place. (Página 12 (Buenos Aires) 11/23/13)

Adding to Monsanto’s public relations problems, on Oct. 20 the Associated Press wire service published an article detailing concerns that “uncontrolled pesticide applications could be the cause of growing health problems among the 12 million people who live in the South American nation’s vast farm belt.” Researchers have found a pattern of illness in provinces with large-scale farming, AP reported: “In Santa Fe, cancer rates are two times to four times higher than the national average. In Chaco, birth defects quadrupled in the decade after biotechnology dramatically expanded farming in Argentina.” Genetically modified (GM) plants now account for nearly all of the country’s soy production and most of its corn and cotton. Monsanto is the dominant force in the GM market, selling both the glyphosate-based Roundup pesticide and GM seeds for plants that are resistant to it.

The company insists that glyphosate is safe if applied in the recommended quantities and with the recommended precautions. But critics say that as weeds and insects develop resistance to pesticides, farmers have responded by increasing the amount they apply far beyond the recommended quantities. Use of agrochemicals in the country has jumped from 9 million gallons (34 million liters) in 1990 to more than 84 million gallons (317 million liters) now. AP calculated that “Argentine farmers apply an estimated 4.3 pounds of agrochemical concentrate per acre, more than twice what US farmers use.” (AP 10/20/13)

*3. Haiti: Support Grows for Minimum Wage Increase
Two major North American garment companies, Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc. and Fruit of the Loom, which is headquartered in Bowling Green, Kentucky, have announced that they will now require their Haitian suppliers to pay piece-rate workers at least the 300 gourde daily minimum wage (about US$7.22 at the time of the announcement) that went into effect by law in October 2012 [see Update #1197]. The increase will cover 90% of the workers; the rest are trainees who are paid at a lower rate. Scott Nova, a spokesperson for the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) labor monitoring group, told the Toronto Star that the companies will also be meeting with unions to discuss back pay. According to Nova, another major apparel company, North Carolina-based Hanesbrands Inc., has refused to make a commitment to honor the minimum wage.

The move by Gildan and Fruit of the Loom follows the release of a WRC report on Oct. 16 confirming earlier reports that none of the Haitian assembly plants were honoring the 300 gourde minimum wage; instead they were paying based on the old 200 gourde minimum. Adding to the pressure, on Nov. 14 the Washington, DC-based African-American foreign policy group TransAfrica released an open letter calling on North American manufacturers and retailers to remedy “systematic wage theft” by requiring their suppliers to pay at least the current minimum wage. More than 70 civil, human and worker rights organizations from Canada, France, Haiti and the US signed on to the letter.

At the legal minimum, Haitian apparel workers would be making $0.87 an hour; only Bangladesh and Cambodia pay apparel workers less. (TransAfrica letter 11/14/13; Toronto Star 11/18/13)

Meanwhile, in Haiti labor advocates have been organizing around plans for a new minimum wage. After many delays, on Aug. 29 President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) named the nine members of the country’s tripartite Higher Council on Wages (CSS), which is composed of government, management and labor representatives. The CSS is expected to recommend a new minimum wage on Nov. 29.

Some 250 workers attended a Nov. 17 forum on the issue at the Le Plaza hotel, facing Port-au-Prince’s central park, the Champ de Mars. Fignolé St. Cyr, one of the three labor representatives on the CSS and a spokesperson for the Autonomous Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH), described the difficulties the labor members face on the council, with government and management largely opposing any wage increase. Haitian economist Camille Chalmers of the Haitian Platform Advocating an Alternative Development (PAPDA), said the minimum wage should be set at 70 gourdes an hour (US$1.69), or 560 gourdes for an eight-hour day (US$13.49), based on the cost of living. Chalmers called for an hourly wage to replace the daily wage, to prevent management from abusing overtime; he also advocated cafeterias at the plants, with the meals coming from local producers as a way of supporting Haiti’s agricultural sector. (Haïti Libre (Haiti) 8/30/13Batay Ouvriye report 11/17/13). More than 90 artists and writers, including four Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonists, have signed on to an open letter supporting workers’ demands for a living wage of at least 500 gourdes a day. (Open letter 11/18/13)

In other news, protests continued against President Martelly’s government. Thousands joined an opposition march in Port-au-Prince on Nov. 18, the anniversary of the 1803 Battle of Vertières, in which Haitian fighters decisively defeated an invasion mounted by French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The march followed much the same route as a Nov. 7 protest [see Update #1199)--from Bel Air in Port-au-Prince to Pétionville, a generally well-to-do suburb, and then back to the Champ de Mars. As on Nov. 7, Martelly supporters attacked the protesters with rocks and some gunfire, while police dispersed the demonstration with tear gas. As many as three people were reportedly hit by bullets and taken to the capital’s main hospital. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 11/18/13, 11/18/13; USA Today 11/18/13 from AP)

*4. US: Annual SOA Protest Smaller But “Energizing”
Some 2,000 activists traveled to Columbus, Georgia, for the 24th annual vigil outside Fort Benning to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). The activities, held this year from Nov. 22 to 24, were sponsored by SOA Watch, which 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. Previous years were marked by trespass arrests as protesters tried to enter Fort Benning; nearly 300 activists have served prison sentences of up to two years for acts of civil disobedience since the vigils began [see Update #1013]. This year no protesters entered the base. One activist chained himself to the base’s fence on Nov. 23 but eventually unlocked himself after local police agents refused to arrest him.

The police estimated the number of protesters at 1,700, far less than the 22,000 reported in 2006; Father Roy Bourgeois, who started the protests in 1990, put this year’s attendance at about 2,000. But Bourgeois noted that the participants were younger this year, with over half seeming to be high-school and college students; SOA Watch said the vigil had “energized the movement.” “I think that as teenagers and as young adults who are going to be a part of the culture when we grow up, we should be educated on what our government is doing, who our government’s involved with, and I think that it’s such a good cause to be down here,” Audrey Lodes, who rode to Columbus on a bus from Nerinx Hall High School, a Roman Catholic girls school in Webster Groves, Missouri, told a reporter. “And I think it’s such a different perspective on our government than we ever see in the newspapers or in the media,” she added. (WTVM (Columbus, Georgia) 11/23/13;
Columbus Enquirer-Ledger 11/24/13)

Correction: This item originally described the Nov. 24 action as the 23rd annual vigil. It was the 24th.

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, US/policy

Fuel Politics in Latin America: Where to Begin?

Bachelet triumphs in Chile election but faces runoff

Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo elected to Congress

The June Uprisings in Brazil: Below and Behind the Huge Mobilizations (Part 1)

The June Uprisings in Brazil: Below and Behind the Huge Mobilizations (Part 2)

Bolivia: Two Years After Chaparina, Still No Answers

Sendero Luminoso in Bolivia?

Bolivia: repression against dictatorship survivors

Peru: 'narco-terrorist' busted; narco-politician exposed

Colombia: Looting Under Legal Camouflage

Empires of Gold and Colombian Extractivism Today

Colombia: Cauca campesino leader assassinated

Colombian high court upholds 'Framework for Peace' law

Venezuela's Legislature Gives Maduro Decree Powers to Fight Corruption and “Economic War”

Honduran Elections: Live Blog

Honduras: Indigenous Movement Defends Land and Rights as Election Looms

Making Sure Votes Count in Honduras?

ALERT: Please Support Labourstart Campaign (Mexico)

Teachers Situation Complicated: Negotiations, Protests (Mexico)

AMLO Threatens to Shut Down Senate over Energy Reform (Mexico)

The DVD Shootings (Mexico)

The Disappeared and Mexico's New Dirty War

Narco-terrorism in Michoacán (Mexico)

Michoacán mayor murdered by Knights Templar? (Mexico)

NSA Staffed U.S.-Only Intelligence “Fusion Center” in Mexico City

Gildan, Fruit of the Loom Commit to Ensuring that Haitian Workers Receive Minimum Wage

Border Patrol International: “The American Homeland Is the Planet” (Haiti/Dominican Republic)

John Kerry’s Rhetoric Does Not Match Reality (US/policy)

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