Tuesday, February 4, 2014

WNU #1207: Chilean Farmer Wins Monsanto Seed Case

Issue #1207, February 2, 2014

1. Chile: Farmer Wins Monsanto Seed Case
2. Haiti: Teachers Strike as Labor Unrest Grows
3. Nicaragua: Assembly Approves Constitution Changes
4. Guatemala: Tahoe Opens Troubled Silver Mine
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, El Salvador, 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. Chile: Farmer Wins Monsanto Seed Case
Chilean farmer José Pizarro Montoya received 37 million pesos (about US$66,582) in December from Agrícola Nacional S.A.C. (ANASAC), a Chilean distributor of agricultural products, to settle a suit he brought over the use of genetically modified (GM) corn seed from the Missouri-based Monsanto Company. Pizarro charged that ANASAC violated its contract with him by giving instructions for planting the Monsanto corn that resulted in business losses and eventually ruined him. The Santiago Chamber of Commerce found in Pizarro’s favor, and the Santiago Court of Appeals confirmed the decision in September. Pizarro is thought to be the first farmer in Chile—possibly the first in Latin America--to win a suit over the use of Monsanto’s GM seeds.

According to Pizarro, a vegetable farmer in Melipilla province in the Greater Santiago Region, ANASAC approached him in 2008 about growing GM corn. He signed a contract and leased 33 hectares for the planting. Everything was free the first year, Pizarro says, but later ANASAC began charging; the company also required him to use their own expensive machinery for planting. Later they gave him planting instructions which left him unable to sell his crop with a profit. Pizarro also charged that the government’s Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG) sided with the company against him. Under the terms of ANASAC’s contracts, farmers are barred from suing the company through regular courts, so Pizarro had to follow the expensive procedure of filing with the Chamber of Commerce. Despite winning the case, Pizarro says he ended up with a significant losses and still owes 90 million pesos (about US$161,955) to the Spanish-owned bank Banco Santander. In an interview in January Pizarro advised consumers: “Don’t eat things with transgenics; look for organics.” (Periodismo Sanador 1/22/14, English translation at Sustainable Pulse 1/23/14; Radio Cooperativa (Chile) 1/30/14)

Asked to comment by Chile’s Radio Cooperativa, José Ignacio Salazar, general manager of Monsanto’s Chilean subsidiary, answered in a brief note: “We wish to clarify that Monsanto was not a party in the suit concerning a farmer in the Melipilla and ANASAC, and so this decision has no relation with our operations in Chile.” ANASAC is Monsanto’s distributor in Chile and Peru; in January 2010 it announced the sale of its seed plant to Monsanto for $19 million. (Veoverde 1/31/14) Monsanto has been the subject of repeated protests in Latin America and the Caribbean [see Updates #1036, 1195, 1204].

*2. Haiti: Teachers Strike as Labor Unrest Grows
Haitian public school teachers started an open-ended strike on Jan. 22 around demands for higher salaries, payment of back pay, access to public credit programs and a regularization of job categories. After Jan. 22-23 talks with the national education minister, Vanneur Pierre, and others, a coalition of teachers’ unions—including the National Confederation of Educators of Haiti (CNEH) and the National Federation of Education and Culture Workers (FENATEC)—agreed to suspend the strike and resume classes on Jan. 27 in exchange for raises ranging from 29% to 57%, depending on the job category, to go into effect in April. Negotiations will continue on other issues.

One union, the National Union of Haitian Teachers (UNNOH), rejected the agreement, which UNNOH coordinator Josué Mérilien denounced as a “plot.” The union is calling for a base pay of 50,000 gourdes (about US$ 1,210) a month. Some teachers stayed off the job in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 27 and 28, and students from the capital’s Toussaint Louverture and Daniel Fignolé high schools took to the streets. In Carrefour, on the southwest outskirts of Port-au-Prince, students from the Henri Christophe high school began a march on Jan. 27 to the National Education and Professional Training Ministry (MENFP) in the center of Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of students and teachers joined the march; one Toussaint Louverture student, Jean Wisler Joseph, was arrested on a vandalism charge. Demonstrations continued on Jan. 28, with unidentified people hurling rocks at school buildings; some car windshields were smashed. There were also demonstrations in Petit-Goâve (West department) and Gonaïves (Artibonite department), where police responded with tear gas to rock-throwing students on Jan. 29. (Haïti Libre 1/25/14; AlterPresse 1/27/14, 1/28/14, 1/29/14)

Acting Port-au-Prince government commissioner Kherson Darius Charles, the chief prosecutor for the capital, brought charges against UNNOH coordindator Mérilien on Jan. 29 for “disturbances of public security, rock throwing and association with wrongdoers.” A hearing was set for Jan. 30 but ended abruptly because of a dispute between Charles and the union leader’s legal team. Mérilien left the courtroom and headed to the nearby Superior Teachers’ College (ENS), part of the State University of Haiti (UEH). Teachers and students joined Mérilien as he walked, turning the event into a solidarity demonstration. (AlterPresse 1/30/14)

In related news, tensions over the minimum wage for the country’s 30,000 garment assembly workers continue. On Jan. 20 managers from the One World Apparel S.A. garment assembly plant in the north of Port-au-Prince failed to attend a scheduled meeting at the local office of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) to discuss the firing of six workers on Jan. 8 [see Update #1204]. The fired workers 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 militant protests by apparel workers on Dec. 10 and 11 to demand a daily minimum wage of 500 gourdes (about US$12.10). Management claims the six unionists were responsible for acts of vandalism at the plant on Dec. 11.

MAST officials rescheduled the meeting for Jan. 29, apparently without taking any action against the One World Apparel managers for their failure to appear. Jude Pierre, one of the fired workers, said MAST officials seemed to be in complicity with the owners, while the Patriotic Democratic Popular Movement (MPDP), a coalition of 30 groups, called on the ministry to stop being “an instrument of the bosses.” (MPDP statement 1/20/14; AlterPresse 1/27/14)

The capital’s garment assembly companies have now fired at least 35 workers for their participation in the protests, KOSIT spokespeople said at a Jan. 28 press conference. The plant owners say they have a video showing vandalism by the protesters, but the unionists dismissed this as a “set-up” to justify repression of union activities. Meanwhile, there have been no negotiations on the minimum wage for piece-rate workers—the majority of employees in the assembly sector—and the government has yet to act on the recommendation of the tripartite Higher Council on Wages (CSS) that the minimum wage be set at 225 gourdes (about US$5.47) a day. KOSIT is demanding that the CSS renegotiate the recommendation. KOSIT spokespeople also announced that the Autonomous Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH) has been expelled from the alliance because of what the unionists called the “treason” of CATH spokesperson Fignolé St. Cyr, who is one of the three labor representatives on the CSS. He reportedly backed the council’s 225 gourde recommendation. (KOSIT press release 1/28/14)

*3. Nicaragua: Assembly Approves Constitution Changes
On Jan. 28 Nicaragua’s unicameral National Assembly voted 64-25 with no abstentions to approve a reform package changing 46 of the 202 articles in the country’s 1987 Constitution; only three of the Assembly’s 92 legislative deputies were absent. The 63 deputies from the governing center-left Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) all voted for the changes. They were joined by Wilfredo Navarro of the rightwing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC); the other opposition deputies all voted against the reform, and many walked out afterwards in protest. The amendments were initially approved on Dec. 10 but required a second vote to become official.

The constitutional reform removes restrictions limiting presidents to a total of two terms and preventing a president from holding office for two consecutive terms. The deputies also eliminated the requirement that the winner of a presidential election have 35% or more of the popular vote; now the presidency will go to whichever candidate has the highest number of votes, and there will be no possibility of a second round. Another major change concerns the role of the military: the army will now have responsibility for regulating the radio and telecommunication spectrum, and officers will be able to hold government posts without having to retire from the military. Opponents noted that the reform package strengthens the position of President Daniel Ortega Saavedra, who was in office from 1985 to 1990 and from 2007 to 2012; he is now serving a third term which is also his second consecutive term. With the reform in place, there will be no legal limitations to his seeking further terms. (Nicaragua News Bulletin 12/10/13; La Prensa (Nicaragua) 1/28/14 from AP; BBC News 1/29/14)

Some 54% of Nicaraguans of voting age approve the reform “somewhat” or “very much,” according to a survey of 1,200 citizens carried out by the CID-Gallup polling company Jan. 10-16; 39% were opposed, according to the poll, and 7% didn’t know or didn’t answer. President Ortega’s approval rating was 48%, up from 42% in September, while 52% expressed a preference for the FSLN; 40% of those surveyed said they didn’t favor any of the political parties. Despite the support for Ortega and the FSLN, only a little more than a third of the respondents believed that the president would leave the country better off than he found it, while 40% thought he wouldn’t bring about a major advance. (El Nuevo Diario (Nicaragua) 2/2/14)

*4. Guatemala: Tahoe Opens Troubled Silver Mine
In mid-January the Canadian-US mining company Tahoe Resources Inc. announced that its El Escobal silver mine, located in San Rafael las Flores municipality in the southeastern Guatemalan department of Santa Rosa, is now in commercial production. “Our Guatemalan team has done a terrific job in delivering this world-scale silver mine within four years of the company’s initial public offering,” a Tahoe vice president, Ira Gostin, told Mining Weekly Online. Tahoe Resources is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Reno, Nevada; the Goldcorp Inc. mining company, also based in Vancouver, owns 40% of the mine. Tahoe, whose stock has risen 12% in the past year, is now considering several other exploration prospects in Guatemala and in the rest of Latin America, according to Gostin. (Mining Weekly Online 1/20/14)

The controversial El Escobal mine has faced strong opposition from the local Xinka indigenous community over the past four years [see Update #1186]. Two security guards and two community members have been killed in the dispute, and in July 2013 a court order delayed completion of the mine for several months. On Jan. 22, shortly after Tahoe announced the mine was in production, Alberto Rotondo, the mine’s former security chief, was declared in contempt of court for failing to attend a hearing in connection with violence at the mine in April 2013. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but on Jan. 23 he called in sick and was allowed to remain in the hospital. The Canadian nonprofit MiningWatch noted the difference in the government’s treatment of Rotondo and its treatment of five community members arrested around the same April incidents. While Rotondo has been under house arrest, the community members were imprisoned; two were released on bail after two months, and three spent six months in jail. Eventually they were all released due to a lack of evidence.

MiningWatch is urging North Americans to sign on to a letter started by the Network in Solidarity With the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) calling on Tahoe to abandon the El Escobal mine. The letter can be accessed at http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6497/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15609. (Rabble.ca 1/27/14)

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

Has the DNI Come around to Recognizing that Latin America Poses Few Threats to the U.S.?

Argentine Activists Win First Round Against Monsanto Plant

Western Coverage Victimizes Argentina's Media Monopoly

Destitute Chilean Farmer Defeats Monsanto in Landmark Legal Victory

The Criminalization of Poverty in Brazil, a Global Power

Washington and São Paulo: Spying and a Fading Friendship

Facing the New Conquistador: Indigenous Rights and Repression in Rafael Correa’s Ecuador

Lessons From a Peace Community and the Political Economy of Conflict (Colombia)

Coal Spill Puts Spotlight on Colombia’s Labor and Environmental Struggles

Venezuelan LGBT Movement Submits Proposal for Same Sex Marriage

Leftist Costa Rica outsider leads election, run-off expected

El Salvador: FMLN wins first round of presidential elections

El Salvador Election Offers a Choice between a Neoliberal Past and a FMLN Future

NACLA Radio—The International Vote: Salvadoran FMLN Candidate Sánchez Cerén Visits D.C.

Iran-Contra Official Uses Washington Post to Smear Salvadoran Candidate

World Bank Forced To Admit Failings On Controversial Human Rights Scandal (Honduras)

Congress’ Last Stand: Privatizations among New Laws in Honduras

Power, Violence and Mining in Guatemala: Non-Violent Resistance to Canada’s Northern Shadow

Mexico’s late-breaking sunshine rules open new era of toxics reporting

Mexico’s Armed Self-Defense Forces Surge

In the Fog: The Struggle for Power, Territory, and Justice in the Mexican State of Michoacán

A Break in a Dutch Tourist’s Murder (Mexico)

US, rights groups condemn Cuba detentions

What the New DNI Threat Assessment Says about Haiti

The U.S.-Central American Border (US/immigration)

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

For immigration updates and events:


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