from Weekly News Update on the Americas
NOTE: Nearly a year has passed since the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica met in Washington DC May 28, 2004 to sign the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Since then, the national legislatures of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have approved the treaty, and the Dominican Republic is now also slated to join. But the treaty has been met with militant protest–often put down with bloody repression–throughout the region. As the treaty goes before Nicaragua’s National Assembly, that country is the latest to see the streets of its capital filled with angry farmers, workers and students. Meanwhile, protests continue even in those countries which have already approved the treaty–over its terms, as well as related economic issues, with fresh violence reported in April from El Salvador and Honduras. The treaty is returning instability to the isthmus before it has even taken effect–and the U.S. media are paying little note. Our colleagues at Weekly News Update on the Americas provide details.–WW4 REPORT
NICARAGUA: MOBILIZATION AGAINST CAFTA
Hundreds of Nicaraguans marched in Managua on April 14 against ratification of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The march was sponsored by nongovernmental organizations, unions and agricultural associations as part of an April 10-16 Week of Action to build opposition to the trade accord, which the government of President Enrique Bolanos is pressuring the National Assembly to ratify. Organizers said they were planning sit-ins, assemblies and meetings with cooperatives so that people will be informed about the “asymmetric” effects of the accord, which they say will subject Nicaragua’s small and medium agricultural producers to competition from mammoth US agribusinesses.
Earlier in the day university students marched to the National Assembly to protest CAFTA and an increase in bus fares that took effect on April 4. Some students seized a bus at the campus of the National Engineering University (UNI) and threatened to burn it. Instead, they took it to Avenida Universitaria and smashed the windows. Students from UNI and the Managua campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua) blamed each other for the attack on the bus. Bus drivers said they would go on working normally despite the incident. Ramon Cruz, director of the Parrales Vallejos Cooperative, said the drivers didn’t want confrontations with the students. “We’re united with the students in the struggle; we could even lend them the buses so we can go together to protest before the people who are really responsible for this crisis.” (La Prensa, Nicaragua, April 15)
On April 16 thousands of people rallied in Ticuantepe, 20 km south of Managua, against the trade treaty. Former president Daniel Ortega (1984-1990), now general secretary of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), told the crowd the accord will cause “a real social earthquake” by putting “thousands of agricultural producers” out of work. The National Union of Agricultural Producers and Ranchers (UNAG) is strongly backing the campaign against CAFTA. UNAG says its 170,000 members–who produce 75% of the nation’s basic products, according to a national study–“aren’t prepared to compete with the transnationals.” (Prensa Latina, April 16, 17; Notimex, April 17)
Also on April 16, President Bolanos met with a group of US Congress members–Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI), Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and John Carter (R-TX). Kolbe said CAFTA “will help harmonize economic relations and improve the standard of living of the people of Nicaragua with more jobs, better prices and access to the US market, to its products. This is what free trade’s about.” (EFE, April 16, quote retranslated from Spanish)
EL SALVADOR: RUBBER BULLETS AT CAFTA MARCH
On April 14 in San Salvador, agents from the Order Maintenance Unit (UMO) used pepper gas and rubber bullets against hundreds of people who were marching against the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Photojournalist Borman Marmol from the daily La Prensa Grafica was wounded by a rubber bullet; community radio representative Alexander Aguilar was also hit by a rubber bullet when he came to Marmol’s aid. Organizers of the protest say at least four other people were wounded by rubber bullets fired by the UMO agents. According to La Prensa Grafica, none of the injuries were serious. Delegates from the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s office said the clash erupted when demonstrators tried to remove the police barricades blocking them from reaching the main government building. No arrests were reported. (LPG, April 15)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 17
HONDURAS: STUDENTS PROTEST PRICE HIKES
On April 7, Honduran police and soldiers used tear gas and water cannons to break up a demonstration in Tegucigalpa by some 3,000 high school students who were protesting a fuel price hike resulting in bus fare and food price increases. High school students had marched in the capital the previous day, April 6, without incident. The price of fuel was raised on April 3. The students are also demanding prompt payment of a student subsidy, reduction in bus fares and more attention from the Education Ministry for each of the high schools.
The students walked out of their classrooms at 10 public high schools around the capital on the morning of April 7 and marched to the Congress building, blocking roads and throwing rocks at public buildings and buses along the way. The Metropolitan Police said there were no arrests or injuries, although student leaders said a number of students were beaten by police.
At the Congress building, the students met up with a protest by public employees who had been on strike since March 15 to demand a raise promised to them in 2000. (EFE, April 3, 7; AP, April 7; La Prensa, Honduras, April 8; Tiempo, Honduras, April 7, 8) Adding to the chaos, some 400 former employees of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal blocked the entrance to the tribunal building on April 7, demanding the payment they had been promised for their work counting ballots. (Tiempo, April 8)
The government had told the more than 40,000 state workers on April 6 that they had 24 hours to end their strike or they would be fired without compensation. A spokesperson for the National Association of Public Employees of Honduras (ANDEPH) said the strike would continue. Also on April 6, President Ricardo Maduro had decreed a state of emergency in the country’s 28 state hospitals, shut down by some 8,000 striking health workers–mainly auxiliary nurses–who are only treating emergency cases. (AP, April, 7; Prensa Latina, April 7) The state of emergency paves the way for the government to hire some 1,600 replacement workers to staff the hospitals. (La Tribuna, Honduras, April 7)
During or after the April 7 student march, police arrested three 15-year old students from the Saul Zelaya Jimenez Institute and accused them of shooting to death a prison guard, Hernan Ovidio Flores, in Tegucigalpa’s Morazan neighborhood. Police say the students shot Ovidio point blank during the march, then fled in a taxi, but were pursued and arrested by agents, who confiscated a 9mm pistol from them. According to police, one of the students confessed that he planned to shoot someone at the demonstration to draw attention to his high school, after being told to do so by the gang known as “18.” The students said they were innocent and had nothing to do with the shooting, and that they got in the taxi to flee the tear gas. (AP, April 8; LT, April 9)
Thousands of students from the Mixed Teacher Training School (Escuela Normal Mixta) marched again on April 8, amid a heavy presence of riot police. No incidents were reported. (LT, April 9) Students from the National Autonomous University had marched against the fuel price and bus fare hike on April 5. (Tiempo, Honduras, April 6)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 10
See also WW4 REPORT #108
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution