Tuesday, January 21, 2014

WNU #1205: Teachers’ Strike Closes Puerto Rico’s Schools

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1205, January 19, 2014

1. Puerto Rico: Teachers' Strike Shuts School System
2. Haiti: Judge Seeks Charges in Journalist's Murder
3. Argentina: Did Israel Kill Off AMIA Bombers?
4. Chile: Mapuche Environmental Activist Dies
5. Guatemala: Indigenous Ex-Rebel Leader Killed
6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

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. Puerto Rico: Teachers' Strike Shuts School System
According to Puerto Rican education secretary Rafael Román, some 35,000 of the island’s 38,000 public school classroom teachers stayed off work on Jan. 14, the first day of a two-day strike protesting changes to teachers’ pensions mandated in Law 160, which was approved by the Legislative Assembly and signed by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla in December [see Update #1204]. Student attendance was just 0.09%, Román said. While 51% of the principals reported to their schools for what was to be the first school day after Christmas break, Román admitted that the 1,460 schools in the system were effectively shut down. The job action was called jointly by all the Puerto Rican teachers’ unions, principally the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), Teachers’ Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR) and Educamos (“We Educate”).

Law 160 cuts teachers’ pensions from 75% of their final salary to 65%, increases their contributions to the pension fund from 9% to 10%, and raises the retirement age for new hires to 62. Gov. García Padilla—whose party, the New Progressive Party (PNP), is close to the Democrats in the US—insists that the changes are necessary to keep US rating agencies from reducing Puerto Rico’s general obligation bonds to junk status. The measures appear to be widely unpopular. AMPR president Aida Díaz, who supported García when he ran for governor in 2012, has threatened to call for more strikes if Law 160 isn’t amended. As an alternative to the pension changes, the teachers have proposed a 1% tax on multinationals to help cover Puerto Rico’s budget shortfalls. The companies “take $37 billion out of the country, which is almost three or four times the country’s budget,” Rafael Bernabe, the leader of the small leftist Working People's Party (PPT), said at a Jan. 14 support rally, which included the Sovereign Union Movement (MUS) and LGBT activists.

On the evening of Jan. 14 Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court responded to a suit from the AMPR by suspending application of Law 160 until Judge Pagán Osorio has completed a review of the changes, which the union contends are unconstitutional. Judge Osorio is to rule by Feb. 7. Meanwhile, the government and the unions began talks on Jan. 15 to seek a negotiated resolution to the pension dispute. (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 1/14/14; Prensa Latina 1/14/14, 1/15/14; El Diario La Prensa (NY) 1/15/14 from EFE; Washington Post 1/15/14 from AP; People’s World 1/16/14)

*2. Haiti: Judge Seeks Charges in Journalist's Murder
On Jan. 17 Haitian investigative judge Yvickel Dabrésil issued a report on the April 2000 murder of the popular journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, the guard at Dominique’s Haïti Inter radio station [see Update #1176]. Dabrésil recommended that the three-judge Appeals Court panel handling the case issue charges against Mirlande Libérus Pavert, a former senator from the Lavalas Family (FL) party, as the intellectual author of the killing. The report also named former Port-au-Prince deputy mayor Gabriel Harold Sévère and Marie Annette Auguste, a folksinger and FL activist widely known as Sò An (“Sister Anne”), along with six others: Frantz Camille, Jeudy Jean Daniel, Markenton Michel, Toussaint Mercidieu, Mérité Milien and Dimsley Milien. Dominique’s widow, Michèle Montas, said the report was “a positive step, almost 10 years after I went to the appellate court to demand that the intellectual authors, those who ordered and planned the crime, be identified.”

Famously outspoken, Dominique had denounced both rightwing politicians and politicians in the populist FL, the party headed by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004). At least 19 witnesses testified before Judge Dabrésil in his 2011-2013 investigation, including Aristide and former president René Garcia Préval (1996-2001 and 2006-2011). The judge based his accusation against Mirlande Libérus on testimony from Aristide’s former chief of security, Oriel Jean, who was charged with drug trafficking by the US in 2004 [see Update #741] and served a three-year sentence ending in 2007. Jean named Libérus as the person who wanted “to shut Jean Dominique up.” Dabrésil noted that she refused to leave her residence in the US to testify in his investigation. FL supporters suggested that the report’s release was a maneuver by the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) as he and opposition parties argue over how and when to hold long-delayed legislative and local elections. Dabrésil’s report noted that Aristide said in his testimony that Libérus was innocent and “mustn’t be the victim of these lies” from Oriel Jean. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 1/18/14; Miami Herald 1/18/14 from correspondent)

Meanwhile, the cases against former “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986) for corruption and human rights abuses seem to remain stalled [see Update #1177]. Two Haitian human rights organizations held a press conference on Jan. 16 to mark the third anniversary of Duvalier’s return to Haiti. The Collective Against Impunity demanded that “the Appeals Court stop trampling on the rights of citizens” and set “a date by which to rule on the case.” The Duty to Remember Committee charged that Duvalier was “walking about the Republic as if nothing happened…and we, the victims, are the ones made to feel guilty.” Two international organizations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), jointly issued a similar statement the day before, denouncing a “lack of political will and unacceptable court delays” that “are allowing [Duvalier] to escape justice for human rights violations.” (The Jurist 1/15/14; AlterPresse 1/18/14)

There has been some progress on freeing the more than 5 million Swiss francs (about US$5.5 million) in a Swiss bank account held by Duvalier—apparently all that is left of the millions the dictator took when he fled Haiti in February 1986. As of Dec. 26, Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Tribunal (TAF) had ruled that the way was open for the money to be restored to the Haitian government, on the grounds that Duvalier and his relatives had failed to offer evidence that the funds came from any source other than the Haitian government. (France Antilles (Martinique) 12/26/13)

*3. Argentina: Did Israel Kill Off AMIA Bombers?
The 20-year-old investigation into the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires [see Update #1195] took a new turn on Jan. 2 with the publication of a claim by former Israeli ambassador to Argentina Yitzhak Aviran (1993-2000) that his country had killed most of the perpetrators. “The vast majority of the guilty parties are in another world, and this is something we did,” Aviran told the Spanish-language Jewish News Agency (AJN) in an interview about his experiences in Argentina. On Jan. 3 Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor dismissed the claim as “complete nonsense.”

The bombing of AMIA’s community center left 85 dead and some 300 injured in the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence since World War 2; it came two years after 29 people were killed in a bombing of the Israeli embassy. Argentine prosecutors have accused Iran of planning the attacks and using operatives from the Lebanese organization Hezbollah to carry them out. The investigation has made little progress over the past two decades, and former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) faces possible charges of impeding the initial inquiry [see Update #1167]. In 2013 Argentina and Iran agreed to proceed with a joint investigation into the AMIA attack, but Israel opposes the accord, as do Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman and spokespeople from Argentina’s Jewish community.

“From Aviran’s statements we can deduce the reasons why Israel has opposed the Memorandum of Understanding” with Iran, Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman said in response to the interview. Aviran’s “words are very serious because they would imply that Israel hid information from Argentine courts, blocking new evidence from appearing,” Timerman added. He demanded that Aviran tell Argentine prosecutors whether Israel has further information. (AJN 1/2/14; Haaretz (Israel) 1/3/14 from Jewish Telegraphic Agency; Buenos Aires Herald 1/4/14)

In other news, on Jan. 14 the US Supreme Court ruled in a 9-0 decision that the German auto manufacturer Daimler AG could not be sued in a US court for alleged human rights violations at the company’s Mercedes-Benz factory in Argentina. The ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman is the second time in a year that the court has thrown out a human rights suit based on the 1789 Alien Tort Statute: in April 2013 the court rejected a similar suit, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum [see Update #1173]. Mercedes-Benz is under investigation in Argentina for alleged violations and collaboration with the 1976-1983 military dictatorship [see Update #1156]. (Reuters 1/14/14)

Meanwhile, a recently recovered US State Department memo from April 1977 reinforces earlier indications that former secretary of state Henry Kissinger (1973-1977) approved the atrocities committed by the Argentine junta in 1976 against suspected leftists. According to the memo, then-US ambassador to Argentina Robert Hill told then-assistant secretary of state for human rights Patt Derian about a conversation Kissinger held the previous June with Argentine foreign minister César Augusto Guzzetti. “Kissinger asked [Guzzetti] how long will it take you (the Argentines) to clean up the problem,” the memo says, referring to the Argentine left. “Guzzetti replied that it would be done by the end of the year. Kissinger approved. In other words, Ambassador Hill explained, Kissinger gave the Argentines the green light.” In 2003 the DC-based nonprofit National Security Archive released a memo describing a similar but somewhat less explicit conversation between Kissinger and Guzzetti in October 1976 [see Update #723]. (Mother Jones 1/14/14)

*4. Chile: Mapuche Environmental Activist Dies
The body of Chilean environmental activist Nicolasa Quintreman, an indigenous Mapuche from the Pehuenche subgroup, was found on Dec. 24 floating in the Lago Ralco reservoir in Alto Bío Bío commune in the central Bío Bío region. Prosecutor Carlos Diaz said there was no evidence of violence. The 74-year-old Quintreman, who was visually impaired, “apparently slipped and fell into the lake,” he said. Together with her sister Berta Quintreman, who survived her, Nicolasa Quintreman led a 10-year fight to stop the Endesa power company from building a dam on the Bío Bío river and flooding their ancestral village. The dam was eventually built, producing the reservoir in which Nicolasa Quintreman drowned. But the campaign of peaceful protests that the sisters led in the face of tear gas, rubber bullets and illegal raids by police was an inspiration for the growth of Chile’s environmental movement.

“She left a very profound mark,” center-left Party for Democracy (PPD) leader Domingo Namuncura said after Quintreman’s death. “This legacy that has since been followed by so many people, it will remain there, imperishable… Relations between indigenous people and the state are now seen differently.” (PiensaChile.com 12/24/13; Japan Times 12/29/13 from AP)

*5. Guatemala: Indigenous Ex-Rebel Leader Killed
Guatemalan indigenous activist Juan de León Tuyuc Velásquez was murdered the night of Jan. 15-16 by unknown persons in Sololá, capital of the western department of Sololá. The body had gunshot wounds and signs of beating. Tuyuc worked on development projects in indigenous communities, and under the pseudonym “Peter” he commanded a front of the leftist Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war. His sister, Rosalina Tuyuc, heads the National Coordinating Committee of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA), which represents women widowed by the war. Indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchú, the winner of the 1992 Nobel peace prize, described Juan Tuyuc as “committed to democracy, justice” and “the firm and lasting building of peace.” She called for the “prompt investigation, capture and application of the law to the material and intellectual authors of the crime.” (Latin American Herald Tribune 1/16/14 from EFE; TeleSUR 1/16/14, some from AFP)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

New Memo: Kissinger Gave the "Green Light" for Argentina's Dirty War

SCOTUS rules for Daimler in Argentina rights case

More Forced Evictions in Rio de Janeiro: What Happened to the Statute of the City? (Brazil)

Descendants of Slaves Report Military Abuses in Brazil

Managing Bolivian Capitalism

Bolivia: pro-MAS faction takes CONAMAQ office

Peru to move ahead with Camisea gas expansion?

Peru: new confrontation at Conga mine site

New Christie Attack Dog Attorney No Friend to Ecuador's Indigenous Peoples

Enemy of the State: The Battle Over Sustainable Development in Ecuador's Intag Valley

Colombia, a society tired of war

Southwest Antioquia: Microcosm of Social Conflict in Colombia’s New Gold Rush

Where is Venezuela’s Economy Headed?

Panama’s Indigenous Peoples: Paying the price for hydro

Construction of Nicaraguan Canal to Begin in Late 2014

Reagan-Era Criminal slanders FMLN (El Salvador)

US Congressional Appropriations Bill Would Impose New Restrictions on Honduras Support

Peña Nieto: Pemex for sale (Mexico)

Zapatistas at Twenty (Mexico)

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

Confirmed: The DEA Struck A Deal With Mexico's Most Notorious Drug Cartel

Behind a New Armed Conflict in Mexico

Mexico: Colima campesinos declare mine-free zone

Mexico City barrio resists spread of car culture

How Disaster Relief Became a Disaster of its Own - Jake Johnston in Boston Review (Haiti)

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