Tuesday, January 14, 2014

WNU #1204: Argentine Court Suspends Monsanto Construction

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1204, January 12, 2014

1. Argentina: Court Suspends Monsanto Plant Construction
2. Honduras: Audit Faults World Bank Loan in Aguán
3. Haiti: Union Leaders Fired Over Wage Protests
4. Haiti: Lavalas Expels Two Populist Politicians
5. Puerto Rico: Teachers to Strike Over Pensions
6. US: IRS Targets Cuba Solidarity Group
7. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, 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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Argentina: Court Suspends Monsanto Plant Construction
A three-judge panel of an appeals court in the central Argentine province of Córdoba has ordered the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company to suspend construction of a seed-drying plant in the town of Malvinas Argentinas pending the completion of an environmental impact study. The court’s 2-1 decision was in response to a suit by ecologists and Malvinas residents charging that local authorities violated environmental laws when they authorized the construction. Monsanto issued a statement saying the company had already completed its own impact study and would appeal the court’s decision.

Residents of Malvinas, a working-class suburb of the city of Córdoba, have been organizing against Monsanto since June 2012, when the company announced plans for the facility, which is to occupy 27 hectares. Activists began blockading roads to the site on Sept. 19, 2013; they have managed to cut off access ever since, despite death threats and violent attacks by Monsanto supporters [see Update #1201]. Monsanto calls the activists “extremists” who have “incited violence and systematically ignored judicial decisions,” preventing Monsanto employees and contractors from “exercis[ing] their right to work.”

Monsanto is a leading producer of genetically modified (GM) seeds and of the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as Roundup. The company reported on Jan. 8 that had earned $368 million in the quarter ending on Nov. 30, up from $339 million for that period the year before. (TeleSUR 1/9/14MercoPress (Montevideo) 1/10/14)

*2. Honduras: Audit Faults World Bank Loan in Aguán
On Jan. 10 the World Bank’s Office of the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman (CAO) released a report criticizing the process through which the bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) granted a $30 million loan in 2009 to the Honduran-based food-product company Corporación Dinant [see Update #1058]. An audit that the CAO started in April 2012 found that the IFC failed to apply its own ethical standards in issuing the loan, which is to be used in part for growing African oil palms in the Aguán Valley in northern Honduras. The Aguán’s largest landowner is Dinant’s founder, the politically well-connected cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum. Producing palm oil has become highly profitable, since the oil can be used both for food and as biofuel.

Human rights activists objected to the IFC loan, noting charges by campesino organizations that Facussé and other Aguán landowners acquired their huge estates illegally in areas slated for agrarian reform. Campesinos began a series of land occupations in late 2009 to promote their claims. Since then the region has been the site of bloody conflicts, with 104 campesinos killed as of July 2013, according to the North American nonprofit Rights Action [see Update #1182]. Some 40 of the deaths have involved Facussé’s security guards or have occurred on or near his property. In 2010 Rights Action sent the World Bank a letter describing the situation as a “human rights disaster” and charging the IFC with “gross negligence” in granting the loan. The IFC defended Facussé as a “very respected businessman.” It held up disbursement of the second $15 million of the loan but subsequently approved a $70 million investment in one of Dinant’s biggest lenders, the Banco Financiera Comercial Hondureña (Ficohsa), representing a 10% stake in the bank. (Global Post 1/4/14; Huffington Post 1/10/14; New York Times 1/10/14)

The Honduran government has militarized the Aguán, ostensibly to stop the violence, but campesino groups say the military is actually backing the landowners. Rights Action notes that the “Honduran regime remains in power due in large part to its political, economic and military relations with the US and Canada and the ‘development’ banks.” The group recommends that Canadian and US activists follow up on the CAO report by sending copies of news articles “and your own letters, to your politicians (MPs, Congress members and senators) and your own media.” (Rights Action 1/12/14)

*3. Haiti: Union Leaders Fired Over Wage Protests
Six workers at the One World Apparel S.A. garment assembly plant in the north of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, were given notices of dismissal on Jan. 8, four weeks after workers shut down production in the city’s apparel sector with Dec. 10 and Dec. 11 protests demanding a daily minimum wage of 500 gourdes (about US$12.08) [see Update #1203]. The fired workers--Jude Pierre, Luckner Louis, Deroy Jean Baptiste, Paul René Pierre, Jean Luvard Exavier and Rubin Mucial—are all on the executive committee of the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), a member union in the Collective of Textile Union Organizations (KOSIT), the labor alliance that led the December protests.

The firings appear to be part of a management drive to stop the protest movement. When union activists tried to hold another demonstration on Dec. 18 outside the city’s main industrial park, riot police blocked the protesters from marching and plant security guards prevented most workers from joining the action. Two participants were arrested and held over night at the Delmas 33 police station; one, Edouardo Iléma, a member of the group Workers’ Antenna, said hooded police pushed him to the ground and kicked and beat him. The two activists were released after an intervention by Mario Joseph, president of the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI). (AlterPresse (Haiti) 12/18/13, 12/19/13, 1/9/14)

According to Charles Auguste Archelus—the secretary general of the Confederation of Haitian Workers’ Forces (CFOH), one of the three union federations in KOSIT—a total of 26 workers at various plants have been fired so far for their role in the December protests. Archelus was one of three KOSIT representatives speaking at a meeting with solidarity activists in Brooklyn, NY on Jan. 11; the others were Dominique Saint-Eloi, general coordinator of the National Confederation of Haitian Workers (CNOHA), and Yannick Etienne, of the May 1 Union Group-Batay Ouvriye (ESPM-BO, “Workers’ Struggle”), which includes SOTA. The unionists were in the US in a Jan. 9-15 visit sponsored by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) labor monitoring group to meet with representatives of three North America manufacturers that have T-shirts stitched in Haiti: Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc., Kentucky-based Fruit of the Loom and Hanesbrands Inc., which is based in North Carolina. In November Gildan and Fruit of the Loom said they would 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 #1200]; it is unclear whether Hanesbrands has now joined the other two companies in this commitment. (Report from Update editor)

Despite the tensions in the garment assembly sector, on Jan. 2 the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced a $40.5 million grant to expand the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC), a massive facility built in the Northeast department since the January 2010 earthquake to house more assembly plants [see Update #1197]. The IDB says the new grant will “bolster the Haitian government's efforts to attract more job-generating investments in an economically disadvantaged but potentially productive region” by “financing the construction of more factory shells, canteens, administrative buildings and other service facilities, roads and utility networks.” The IDB had previously put $50 million into the project, which promoters say will generate 20,000 to 65,000 jobs; the US has donated $124 million. Currently the PIC has four tenants and employs less than 3,000 workers. (IDB press release 1/2/14 via 4-Traders; AlterPresse 1/10/14)

*4. Haiti: Lavalas Expels Two Populist Politicians
Division and confusion reportedly marred celebrations by Haiti’s Lavalas Family (FL) party in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 16 to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the overwhelming 1990 electoral victory of the party’s founder, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). Hundreds of FL supporters marched from the site of the St. Jean Bosco church, where Aristide served as a priest in the 1980s, to the Jean Aristide Foundation in the northeastern suburb of Tabarre. But participants reported that when party coordinator Maryse Narcisse tried to speak, she was drowned out by supporters of Senator Moïse Jean-Charles and Deputy Arnel Bélizaire, two populist members of Haiti’s Parliament. Following a dispute over planning for a November demonstration, the FL Executive Committee announced on Dec. 2 that the party “protests with all its might against any public declaration” from Jean-Charles and Bélizaire, describing them as “some people who present themselves as Lavalas Family members.”

Jean-Charles, a senator from the North department, ran on the line of the Unity party of former president René Préval (1996-2001, 2006-2011) in 2010 elections from which FL was excluded, but he says he was previously twice elected mayor of the town of Milot as an FL candidate. He has been a prominent speaker at FL-dominated demonstrations against current president Michel Martelly [see Update #1146]. Deputy Bélizaire was elected to Parliament as a candidate of the Veye Yo (“Watch Them”) party, which ran FL politicians when the FL was excluded [see Update #1104].

Charles reacted angrily to his de facto expulsion from the FL, charging on the radio that the party had been taken over by a “macouto-bourgeois group” (a reference to the Tontons Macoute, a paramilitary force used by the 1957-1986 Duvalier family dictatorship). He also claimed that FL coordinator Narcisse formerly worked for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) along with President Martelly’s wife, Sophia Martelly. The senator said he had asked Aristide himself to intervene. According to Jean-Charles, Aristide answered: “I am no longer involved in politics.” (Haïti Liberté 12/12/13 via Before It’s News; AlterPresse (Haiti) 12/16/13)

*5. Puerto Rico: Teachers to Strike Over Pensions
Scores of Puerto Rican teachers briefly occupied the Senate chamber in San Juan on Dec. 19 to protest legislation proposed by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla to change the retirement and pension system for the island’s teachers. After scuffling with Capitol building employees, the chanting teachers, many wearing yellow T-shirts, pushed their way into the chamber, forcing the 16 senators present to move to another room. Protests continued at the Capitol throughout the week, with teachers and police clashing outside the building on Dec. 21. Despite the actions, both chambers of the Legislative Assembly narrowly voted to pass the bill—the House of Representatives on Dec. 21 by a vote of 26 to 20 and the Senate on Dec. 23 by a vote of 14 to 13.

Under the new law, starting at the end of the school year pensions will be reduced from 75% of a teacher’s final salary to 65% and teachers’ contributions to the pension fund will increase from 9% to 10%. For newly hired teachers, retirement age will be increased to 62; currently teachers can retire at 55 after 30 years in the education system or at 60 after less than 30 years. Gov. García Padilla insisted that the changes were necessary because of threats from US credit rating agencies, principally Moody’s Corporation and Fitch Ratings Inc., to lower Puerto Rico’s general obligation bonds to junk status if alleged problems in its pension systems weren’t solved. Opponents of the changes charge that the Puerto Rican government is letting Wall Street dictate its policies.

The three teachers unions—the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the Teachers’ Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR) and Educamos (“We Educate”)—have called for a 48-hour strike by the 41,973 active teachers starting on Jan. 14 in an effort to have the new law overturned or declared unconstitutional. (EFE 12/19/13; Reuters 12/24/13; Rebelión 1/2/14; Global Post 1/7/14 from EFE; Claridad (Puerto Rico) 1/9/14)

*6. US: IRS Targets Cuba Solidarity Group
The New York-based nonprofit Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) announced on Jan. 6 that the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has recommended ending the group’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Founded in 1967 by the late Rev. Lucius Walker [see Update #1048], IFCO is the first national foundation in the US controlled by people of color. It is probably best known as the sponsor of Pastors for Peace, which for the past 22 years has organized the US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, an annual shipment of humanitarian aid to Cuba; Pastors for Peace has also provided humanitarian aid for Nicaragua, Haiti and other countries.

The IRS’s two-year investigation started with a letter to the service from two members of Congress—Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC)—suggesting that IFCO was tied to terrorist organizations because of some $1.2 million in aid it sent to the people of Gaza through the Viva Palestina group in 2009. In its report, the IRS cites a “comprehensive report” by Steve Emerson’s notoriously inaccurate Investigative Project on Terrorism to suggest that some of the aid may have gone to the Hamas organization, which the US lists as a terrorist group. The IRS also charges that the Friendshipments and some aid for US medical students in Cuba may violate the 50-year US embargo against Cuba. In an appeal by New York attorney Martin Stolar, IFCO denies sending aid to Hamas; notes that the relevant US agency, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), has never penalized it for the Friendshipments; and states that OFAC has licensed the medical students to spend money in Cuba.

IFCO has asked supporters to contact US Congress members “and let them know that we need their support. Ask them to contact the Treasury Department to ask them to stop this political persecution and harassment against IFCO.” Treasure can also be contacted directly by fax at 202-622-6415 or via internet at http://www.treasury.gov/connect/Pages/contact-us.aspx. (IFCO letter 1/6/14; Vice (Montreal) 1/8/14; Ahora (Cuba) 1/10/14 from Radio Havana)

*7. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/immigration

UN Climate Negotiations: Indigenous Resistance from Within (Latin America)

Andean protesters resist death-marred Dakar Rally (Argentina/Bolivia)

Sawhoyamaxa Battle for Their Land in Paraguay

Chico Mendes: 25 Years after His Death (Brazil)

Peru: Achuar leader on prison hunger strike

One-quarter of Colombia's Indians Displaced - Report

The Crisis of the National State: How Will Colombia Weigh In?

Colombia: ecologists cut off talks on alpine mining

Venezuelans Call for Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage

Panama, Nicaragua canal plans stalled

Costa Rica: the next narco-state?

Guatemala grapples with opium boom

US ambassador to Honduras offers tacit support of brutal crackdown

Honduras and the Dirty war Fuelled by the West's Drive for Clean Energy

Zapatistas: Twenty Years After (Mexico)

The Permanent People’s Tribunal and the Counterinsurgency War in Chiapas (Mexico)

Zapatista's Warning Over NAFTA Rings True 2 Decades Later (Mexico)

20 Years on, Mexico is NAFTA's Biggest Lie

NAFTA Hurt Workers on Both Sides of the Border (Mexico)

An Honest Look at Mexican Economic Growth in the NAFTA Era

"It's not just 2 pesos; It's the country:" Mexico City's #PosMeSalto Movement Protests Rising Transit Cost

Four Years after Earthquake, Housing, Sanitation, Health Care are Still Pressing Needs in Haiti

Questions about the reconstruction's housing projects (Haiti)

Meet the New Boss: Jeh Johnson (US/immigration)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


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