Weekly News Update on the Americas

Chile: local Mapuche leader murdered

Victor Manuel Mendoza Collío, the werken (spokesperson) for an indigenous Mapuche community in the southern Chilean region of Araucanía, was shot dead the night of Oct. 29 by two unidentified men. A friend of the family said the assailants came to Mendoza Collío's home in the Requem Pillán community in Ercilla commune, Malleco province, and "killed him at the doorway of his house and in front of his six-year-old little girl, with a shotgun." According to preliminary information the authorities gave to the media, the killing was the result of a dispute within the Mapuche community; community members themselves strongly denied the authorities' version.

Argentina: new energy law seeks foreign capital

Argentina's Chamber of Deputies voted 130-116, with one abstention, on Oct. 30 to pass a new version of a 1967 federal law governing the exploitation of oil and gas resources. The controversial new version had already been approved by the Senate; it will become law once it is signed and published in the Official Gazette by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Under the revised law—which was pushed through the National Congress by the Front for Victory (FPV), President Fernández's center-left faction of the Peronist Justicialist Party (PJ)—concessions will be granted to private companies for 25 years for conventional oil drilling, for 30 years for offshore drilling and for 35 years for unconventional techniques like hydrofracking. The royalties the companies pay on oil and gas sales will be limited to 12% for the federal government and to just 3% for the oil-producing provinces, which technically control the resources. Private companies can also benefit from a provision letting them sell 20% of their production in international markets without paying export taxes if they invest $250 million over a three-year period.

Mexico: Supreme Court rejects energy referendum

In a 9-1 decision on Oct. 30, Mexico's Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) rejected two proposals to put President Enrique Peña Nieto's "energy reform"—a program for a partial privatization of the country's energy industry—to a vote in an official referendum. The court agreed on Oct. 17 to consider a referendum proposal from the center-left National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), which had presented a petition with two million signatures; a larger center-left party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), made a similar proposal. The justices ruled that voting on Peña Nieto's energy program would violate a constitutional prohibition against referenda on federal revenue policies. The two parties had argued that the vote concerned the use of national resources, not revenue. (New York Times, Oct. 30, from AP; La Jornada, Mexico, Oct. 31)

Haiti: protest leaders arrested after marches

Two Haitian human rights groups, the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) and the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), issued a joint statement on Oct. 27 demanding "the release of the political prisoners and the demonstrators arrested illegally" by the government of President Michel Martelly in recent weeks. Police agents arrested 18 demonstrators in Port-au-Prince on Oct. 17 during a march protesting government policies and marking the 208th anniversary of revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines' assassination; the police dispersed the demonstration with tear gas and gunshots. After an Oct. 26 march protesting the government's failure to hold partial legislative elections on that date, the authorities arrested Rony Timothée and Byron Odigé, two leaders in the Patriotic Force for Respect for the Constitution (FOPARC), which backs the Family Lavalas (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). In addition to the 20 arrests in Port-au-Prince, police detained three demonstrators in the city of Les Cayes, South department, on Oct. 12 during a protest demanding electricity.

Costa Rica: new strike closes major port

A longstanding dispute over the privatization of the port at Limón on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast led unionized dockworkers at the port's Limón and Moín terminals to walk off the job on Oct. 22 for the second time in two years. The open-ended strike left three ships stranded at the two terminals, which handle some 80% of Costa Rica's foreign trade. Facing his first major labor crisis since he took office on May 8, President Luis Guillermo Solís, of the center-left Citizen Action Party (PAC), responded quickly. He sent some 150 police officers to take control of the terminals late on Oct. 22; 68 people were arrested in the operation. The port was reopened the next morning, with foreign contract workers under police guard. Union officials denied that the port was operating normally, and as of Oct. 25 negotiations hadn't started between the union and the government.

Mexico: Guerrero governor goes, crisis remains

Protests against Mexican local governments and federal president Enrique Peña Nieto showed no signs of letting up the week of Oct. 20, nearly one month after the Sept. 26-27 killing of six people and the abduction of 43 teachers' college students in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Students held a two-day national strike on Oct. 22-23 to demand the return of the missing students, who were all from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa. Tens of thousands of students and teachers marched in a total of 18 Mexican states on the first day of the strike. The protest in Mexico City was reportedly one of the capital's largest demonstrations in recent years. The Federal District (DF, Mexico City) police estimated the crowd at 50,000, while the Los Angeles Times reported that at one point the march stretched along the broad Paseo de la Reforma from the Angel of Independence to the central Zócalo, a distance of more than four kilometers.

Mexico: privatization scandals multiply

The Sept. 26-27 killing and abduction of several dozen students in the southwestern state of Guerrero could be creating problems for Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto's efforts to improve the country's international image and to continue the opening of its economy to private businesses. Los Angeles Times correspondent Tracy Wilkinson reported on Oct. 25 that Peña's "government is clearly concerned it is losing a finely crafted domestic and international public relations campaign that emphasized major reforms of Mexico's energy sector. Publications in the US and Europe that once lavished praise on the president have turned the tables." (LA Times, Oct. 25)

Haiti: UN troop mandate renewed for one year

The United Nations (UN) Security Council voted unanimously on Oct. 14 to extend for another year the mandate for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the international military and police force stationed in Haiti since June 2004. For now the operation will continue to consist of 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents. The Council accepted UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon's recommendation to cut the number of soldiers to 2,370, but it decided to maintain the current troop strength until after March 2015, when Ban is to deliver a report on developments, including elections for local, municipal and some parliamentary posts. According to the government of President Michel Martelly, the elections, originally scheduled for 2011, will be held in the first three months of 2015; under the 1987 Constitution a presidential election should take place later in the year.