Tuesday, April 1, 2014

WNU #1214: Paraguayans Hold First General Strike in 20 Years

Issue #1214, March 30, 2014

1. Paraguay: Workers and Campesinos Hold General Strike
2. Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé Step Up Fight Against Dam
3. Mexico: Bidding Set to Start on Energy Sector
4. Cuba: New Law Expands Foreign Investment
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, 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. Paraguay: Workers and Campesinos Hold General Strike
Starting on the evening of Mar. 25, thousands of Paraguayan unionists, campesinos and students participated in a 24-hour general strike to protest the economic policies of President Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara. Union sources said the action shut down transportation, schools and most businesses in Asunción. This was the country’s first general strike in 20 years, and the first major demonstration against the government since President Cartes’ inauguration last August. Cartes, a member of the rightwing Colorado Party, was elected in April 2013; the previous elected president, the left-leaning former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo, was removed from office by Congress in a de facto coup on June 22, 2012, one year before the end of his term [see Update #1135].

The general strike was sponsored by a broad range of organizations, including the Classist Union Current (CSC), the Organization of Education Workers of Paraguay-National Union (OTEP-SN), the National Campesino Federation (FNC) and the leftist Paraguay Pyahurã Party (PPP). It was scheduled to coincide with the Poor Campesinos’ March, an event campesino groups have held for 21 years to press for agrarian reform. The campesinos were also demanding controls over the prices of staple products and an end to an agricultural system based on large estates. Unionists were calling for a 25% increase in the minimum wage and were protesting the Public-Private Alliance Law, a proposal by Cartes that opponents see as a way to privatize public infrastructure, such as water treatment plants, Asunción’s international airport and toll highways from the capital to Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. Cartes had raised the minimum wage by 10% in February, from 1,658,232 to 1,824,005 guaranís a month (about US$373 to about US$410), but he acted without consulting union leaders, who dismissed the raise as inadequate.

The general strike opened with a music festival at the Plaza de la Democracia in Asunción the evening of Mar. 25 and a gathering of campesinos in front of the city’s cathedral. The government mobilized 26,000 agents of the National Police to monitor the strike and guard presidential offices and the Congress building, but there appeared to be no reports of violence. (Adital (Brazil) 3/26/14; InfoBAE (Argentina) 3/26/14; Mercopress (Uruguay) 3/27/14)

*2. Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé Step Up Fight Against Dam
Silvia Carrera, the traditional leader (cacica) of Panama’s indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé, announced on Mar. 30 that she would present an appeal the next day to the Supreme Court of Justice concerning land expropriated for the controversial Barro Blanco dam [see Update #1180]. She said this would be part of a legal action against Law 18. Passed on Mar. 26, 2013, the law allows the Public Services Authority (ASEP) to expropriate, evict and indemnify the population living beside the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí, where the dam is being built. According to Ngöbe-Buglé activists, some 3,000 people will be relocated because of the project, which is now said to be 64% complete.

The Ngöbe-Buglé have been protesting the construction of the dam for the past two years. They insist that since the project is in their own designated territory (comarca), construction should not have been started without first holding a referendum of the indigenous group’s members. In a television interview on Feb. 11, Silvia Carrera charged that the government of rightwing Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli had failed to respond to indigenous concerns because it has interests in common with Generadora del Istmo, S.A. (GENISA), the Honduran-owned company building the dam. Martinelli responded by charging that the Ngöbe-Buglé were playing electoral politics.

Meanwhile, protesters have set up barricades and a camp at the dam’s construction site in an effort to block the work. The Apr. 10 Movement, an indigenous community group that is independent of the traditional leadership, announced it would publicize information on attacks on human rights and environmental damage in the territory with the goal of stopping the dam. (Adital (Brazil) 3/27/14; Prensa Latina 3/30/14)

*3. Mexico: Bidding Set to Start on Energy Sector
After 75 years of state control over oil and gas production, the Mexican government is planning to open up about two-thirds of its reserves to bidding by private companies, according to information that Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), Mexico’s state-owned oil monopoly, passed on to potential bidders on Mar. 28. This is the first indication of what can be expected from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s controversial “energy reform” program. Changes to the Constitution enabling the program were passed by Congress and a majority of states in December, over strong opposition from grassroots organizations and parties on the left; doubts about contracting out oil and gas exploitation increased following fraud allegations against a major PEMEX contractor, Oceanografía SA de CV [see Update #1212].

PEMEX estimates that Mexico has reserves of oil and gas totaling some 112.8 billion barrels, but more than half (about 60.2 billion barrels) is in unconventional sources such as shale gas. PEMEX is asking for control over about 31% of the total, but most of this would be in proven reserves that can be exploited by conventional means. Outside contractors would be bidding largely for shale deposits and oil reserves deep in the Gulf of Mexico; PEMEX is seeking just 15% of the shale reserves, for example. However, private contractors will continue to be involved in PEMEX’s operations, as they are now.

The government claims that the program will increase production from 2.5 million to 6 million barrels a day. Martí Batres, president of the newly formed center-left National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party, called the production goal irrational. “This will also produce more greenhouse gases, global warming and other environmental consequences,” he said. (Reuters 3/26/14; La Jornada (Mexico) 3/29/14; Mexican Labor News & Analysis, March 2014)

In other news, two activists, Ignacio García Maldonado and Emanuel López Martínez, were shot dead on the early morning of Mar. 29 while they were driving near Ciudad de las Canteras in the southern state of Oaxaca. García Maldonado belonged to the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), a leading force in a movement that paralyzed much of the state for months in 2006 [see Update #1054]. The two men had been involved in peace talks between two communities in the Sierra Sur region, Santiago Amoltepec and San Mateo Yucutindoo, and they were traveling in a vehicle borrowed from the Human Rights Advocacy of the Human Rights of the Peoples of Oaxaca (DDHPO), apparently as part of this work. Oaxaca attorney general Joaquín Carrillo Ruiz promised a speedy investigation of the double murder. (LJ 3/30/14)

*4. Cuba: New Law Expands Foreign Investment
In a four-hour extraordinary session on Mar. 29 attended by President Raúl Castro Ruz, the 612 deputies in Cuba’s unicameral National Assembly of Popular Power voted unanimously to approve a new law governing foreign investment. Replacing a measure put in place in 1995 under then-president Fidel Castro, the Foreign Investment Law will allow foreign companies to operate in Cuba independently, rather than in joint ventures with state enterprises, according to a report in the Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde published shortly before the legislation was passed. Most foreign companies will be required to pay a 15% tax on profits, half the current rate, the article said, and they will enjoy a tax moratorium for the first eight years of their operations in Cuba. Rates may be higher for companies that exploit natural resources, such as nickel or fossil fuel.

The new policy includes guarantees that foreign property won’t be nationalized, as happened after the 1959 Revolution, except when national interests are involved, and in these cases the owners will receive compensation.

Vice President Marino Murillo, who is in charge of the economic sector, told the National Assembly that the country needs to have its gross domestic product (GDP) reach a 7% annual rate of growth, with accumulation or investment rates of 20%, and that this will only be possible with outside investment. The new investment will be oriented toward priority sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, wholesale trade, industry, tourism, construction, energy, mines and transportation, according to Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca. The law will allow investment by Cubans living abroad, but Malmierca noted that the Cuban American community based in Miami would still be restricted from investing because of the US government’s trade embargo against Cuba.

The new law is to go into effect in 90 days. It follows other moves by the Cuban government since September 2010 to build up the private sector at the expense of state enterprises [see Update #1128]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 3/29/14 from AP, AFP, DPA, 3/30/14 from Reuters, AP, AFP, DPA)

Correction: Following our source, in Update #1212 identified, Catholic University of Chile assistant professor Juan Luis García as “García Juan Luis.”

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, US/immigration

Argentina’s Desaparecidos on the 1976 Coup Anniversary (Interview With Camilo Juárez)

The Bolivian Transportation Sector, Regional Integration and the Environment

Peru: Senselessness in the VRAE Region

Peru to loosen oversight on energy projects

Peru: artisanal miners block highways again

COP Out? Peru Pulling the Plug on Environmental Oversight in View of COP 20

Colombia: Peace Talks Fail to Stop Human Rights Abuses Ahead of UN Review

One-Third of Colombia’s Newly-Elected Senators Have Paramilitary Ties

UNASUR Urges Peace in Venezuela, US “Prepared” to Use Sanctions

Venezuela: Wayúu protest militarization

Venezuela arrests generals accused in coup plot

Venezuelan Human Rights Experts Call for End to “Media Distortion” of Protests and State Response

The “Cubanization” of U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela

Venezuela: When Some of the Most Important News Comes in the Form of Corrections

Honduras: Is it possible to defend human rights where rights have died?

Death, Child Deportation Continue on the Migrant Trail (Mexico)

Mexican President Praises, but Many Protest Energy Reform on Anniversary of Expropriation of the Foreign Oil Industry

Impact of Energy Reform Now Clear: Two-thirds of Oil Reserves Auctioned Off

A New Gas Pipeline for Texas-Tamaulipas (Mexico)

U.S. Radiation Leak Concerns Mexicans

Living Legacy of Machismo: Rape Victim Charged for Self-Defense in Mexico

Michoacán cartel boss 'killed' —again! (Mexico)

Michoacán: cannibalization of 'community police'? (Mexico)

Border crossings refocus immigration debate on families (US/immigration)

Turning the tide: inside a Texas city’s struggle to stop deportations (US/immigration)

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