Tuesday, March 11, 2014

WNU #1212: US Dockworkers Walk Out to Back Honduran Unionists

Issue #1212, March 9, 2014

1. Honduras: Solidarity Action Hits US Port
2. Mexico: Citigroup, PEMEX Embroiled in Fraud Scandal
3. Chile: Environmentalists Declare “Glacier Republic”
4. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago

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: Solidarity Action Hits US Port
Dockworkers at the Port of Portland in Oregon walked off their jobs at the container yard on Mar. 4 to honor a picket line set up by a small group of Honduran dockworkers protesting what they said were labor abuses at the Puerto Cortés port in northern Honduras. The picketers were members of the Dockworkers Labor Union (SGTM), which has been in a dispute since last year with Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC), the Honduran subsidiary of the Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) [see Update #1193]. A US subsidiary of ICTSI operates Terminal 6 in the Oregon port, and the dockworkers there, who are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), have had their own disputes with the company.

The job action in Portland only lasted from the morning to the evening of Mar. 4. A labor arbitrator ordered the ILWU members back to work, ruling that while the walkout was not illegal, it was unjustified because the Honduran workers weren’t employees of the US subsidiary. The ILWU workers returned to the job in the evening, but about 100 ILWU members and supporters protested at the Honduran consulate in San Francisco on Mar. 7, charging that the company had identified two Honduran workers who were part of the picket line, Carlos Alvarado and Glen Galdames, to the Honduran government. As a result the police had sought the two men after their return to Honduras on Mar. 6, the ILWU said. The Solidarity Center—the foreign policy arm of the US AFL-CIO labor federation, which the ILWU recently left--wrote to US ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske on Mar. 6 urging her to demand that the Honduran government stop trying to arrest Alvarado and Galdames. ICTSI Oregon chief executive Elvis Ganda responded that the unions were “making baseless allegations about events in Honduras.” (Associated Press 3/4/14 via SFGate; ILWU press release 3/4/14 via Longshore & Shipping News; The Oregonian 3/4/14, 3/7/14)

OPC won a 29-year concession in February 2013 to operate and modernize the Puerto Cortés seaport. According to the SGTM, the company signed a labor agreement with the government without consulting the workers. The union’s general secretary, Víctor Crespo, began receiving death threats, and on Sept. 14 armed men tried to break down the door at his home; they fled after Crespo’s neighbors woke up and became potential witnesses. Crespo relocated to an undisclosed country, but his father, Víctor Manuel Crespo Puerto, died on Jan. 28 of injuries he received when he and other family members were run down by an armed man in a stolen car.

In December OPC began laying off a large number of unionized workers. A protest by the dockworkers broke out at the port on Feb. 26, and it was joined by truckers angry at poor service at the terminal and OPC’s decision to increase the fees. “The Honduran military responded to the protest by invading the port and arresting approximately 129 workers, who were charged with ‘terrorism’ and ‘damaging the national economy,’” according to the ILWU. (La Prensa (San Pedro Sula) 2/27/14; Rebanadas de Realidad 1/18/14 from International Transport Workers Federation (ITF); ILWU press release 3/4/14)

*2. Mexico: Citigroup, PEMEX Embroiled in Fraud Scandal
Some 1,200 employees of the Mexican oil company Oceanografía SA de CV began blocking the four entrances to the Laguna Azul industrial dock in Ciudad del Carmen in the eastern state of Campeche early on the morning of Mar. 7, disrupting the operations of at least 40 companies that provide services to Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the government’s giant oil monopoly. The workers were demanding payment of wages that have been held up since the government’s Finance Secretariat took over the bankrupt company at the end of February after it became mired in allegations of fraud.

Oceanografía is a private company that has contracted with PEMEX and its main exploration and production subsidiary, Exploración y Producción (PEP), for some 40 years. The company was PEMEX’s main contractor under the administrations of presidents Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012), who are both members of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). From 2003 to 2013 Oceanografía won some 100 contracts worth a total of nearly $3 billion for services to PEMEX such as the maintenance of equipment and the installation of oil extraction structures in the Gulf of Mexico. But on Jan. 15 of this year Oceanografía CEO Amado Yáñez told investors that the company wouldn’t be able to meet its debt obligations, and on Feb. 11 the government issued a fine of about $1.9 million and blocked the company from bidding on government contracts for 21 months.

Oceanografía had borrowed some $585 million from Banco Nacional de Mexico (Banamex), Mexico’s second largest bank, which was bought in 2001 by Citigroup Inc., the third largest banking group in the US. As Oceanografía’s money problems mounted, Citigroup began reviewing the loans, for which the oil company had offered invoices to PEMEX as collateral. On Feb. 28 Citigroup announced that it had worked with PEMEX and found that only $185 million of the collateral could be verified. Apparently Oceanografía had falsified invoices to PEMEX, possibly with collaboration from Banamex and PEMEX employees. The Mexican government quickly took control of Oceanografía so that services to PEMEX would be maintained, while Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR), the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts all began inquiries. On Mar. 4 Mexican attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam suggested that money laundering might also be involved. “Money laundering can start with the initial crime of fraud, but it does not stop there,” he said.

The Oceanografía collapse has resulted in a number of embarrassments in both Mexico and the US. Citigroup had to write down its profits for 2013 by $235 million, while PEMEX and the Mexican government will need to explain their over-reliance on Oceanografía. There have also been suggestions that two of the children of former president Fox’s wife, Marta Sahagún de Fox, were involved. In 2005 a Chamber of Deputies commission found indications that Sahagún's sons Manuel and Jorge Alberto Bribiesca and their uncle, Guillermo Sahagún, arranged PEMEX contracts worth 5.929 billion pesos (nearly US$448 million) for Oceanografía from 2002 and 2006. As of Mar. 5 Mexican investigators said they had no indications that the Bribiesca brothers were involved in the fraud. (Reuters 2/28/14; Bloomberg News 2/28/14; ADNPolítico.com (Mexico) 3/5/14; La Jornada (Mexico) 3/8/14, 3/8/14)

The scandal broke just three months after Mexico approved constitutional amendments laying the groundwork for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “energy reform” program, which would open up PEMEX to extensive contracting with Mexican and foreign oil companies [see Update #1203].

*3. Chile: Environmentalists Declare “Glacier Republic”
Greenpeace Chile announced on Mar. 5 that it had established a new country in the glacial regions of southern Chile, the “Glacier Republic.” The group said the country will remain independent until the Chilean government passes laws to protect Chile’s glaciers. Greenpeace based its claim to the territory on a loophole in Chile’s laws, which include no claim to sovereignty over the glaciers. In the past the loophole has made the glacial regions vulnerable to environmental damage by mining companies, but Greenpeace now hopes to use it as a way of bringing attention to projects such as the mammoth Pascua Lama mine that the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation has been building high the mountains on both sides of the border with Argentina [see Update #1198]. Greenpeace is also targeting what it calls “an even greater danger”—the Andina 244 project of the state-owned copper company Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco), which Greenpeace says “provides for the destruction of 5,000 hectares of glaciers, directly affecting water reserves for Chile’s entire central zone.”

Setting up a capital city of tents on the ice, Greenpeace announced the new country with a video and a full-page ad in the New York Times. The idea was met with enthusiasm by some Chileans. Juan Luis García, an assistant professor of glacial geology at the Catholic University of Chile, called the project “a great initiative and a beautiful way of protesting.” On Mar. 6 the 99-year-old poet, mathematician and physicist Nicanor Parra, who won Spain’s prestigious Cervantes prize for literature in 2011, applied for a passport and sent a letter of support to the Glacier Republic’s embassy in Santiago. (BioBioChile 3/5/14; Santiago Times 3/6/14; Adital (Brazil) 3/6/14)

In related news, late on Mar. 3, a Chilean environmental court revoked a $16 million fine that environmental regulator Juan Carlos Monckeberg imposed on Barrick’s Pascua Lama project last May [see Update #1179]. But the ruling may increase Barrick’s penalties. The court held that Monckeberg erred in grouping the mining company’s 23 environmental infringements in five categories; instead, he will now have to impose a separate fine for each of the infringements. The court’s decision doesn’t affect the project’s suspension, which remains in effect. (Mining.com 3/4/14)

Correction: following our source, we originally gave Juan Luis García's name incorrectly.

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago

A struggle against the growing hegemony of agribusiness (Brazil)

Team Klamazon Returns: Klamath River Indigenous Youth and River Activists Bring a Message From the Amazon (Brazil)

For Abortion Rights in Bolivia, A Modest Gain

US Oil and Gas Firm Hunt Urged to Suspend Amazon Exploration (Peru)

What Do the Local Ecuadorian Elections Tell Us about Alianza PAIS?

Ecuador's President Correa Suffers Political Setback in Local Elections

Chevron Wins Latest Round in Ecuador Pollution Case

US judge blocks enforcement of Chevron judgment (Ecuador)

Venezuelan Barrio Organization Calls for Peace to Deepen the Revolution

NYT Violates Standards of Basic Economics and Journalistic Procedures in Reporting on Venezuela Inflation

The Legacy of Hugo Chávez One Year After His Death (Audio) (Venezuela)

Manufacturing Contempt for Venezuela

Venezuela’s Opposition Is United Against Maduro, But Internally Divided

Violence Against Women in Mexico and Central America and the Impact of U.S. Policy

Nicaragua: electoral violence on Caribbean coast?

El Salvador, Costa Rica Elections 2014: Tests for Social Democracy in Central America

Presidential Elections in El Salvador: The Lion vs. The Dentist

Salvadoran Youth, Facing Big Challenges, Mobilize for Mar. 9 Election

Honduras: Indigenous Tolupanes Return to Their Territory with IACHR Orders of Protection

In Mexico, Hate Continues to Kill Women

Midwives, givers of life in rural communities, in danger of disappearing (Mexico)

A Line under the Parrot’s Nest (Mexico)

NAFTA’s Bad Apples (Mexico)

Mexico Truth Commision Prepares Final Report

UN Official Calls for Cholera Compensation; UN Cholera Coordinator is Interviewed; Insider Tells of UN Cholera Cover-up (Haiti)

Trinidad and Tobago: Battling the Resource Curse

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