from Weekly News Update on the Americas
DR-CAFTA SHOWDOWN NEARS
On June 30 the US Senate voted 54-45 to approve the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), a pact largely eliminating tariffs on about $32 billion in annual trade between Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the US. Also on June 30, the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee voted 30-11 to send the measure to the full House for a vote. The House debate will probably start on July 11, when Congress returns from its Independence Day recess.
DR-CAFTA, which is strongly backed by the administration of US president George W. Bush, is expected to face serious opposition in the House, especially from Democrats. DR-CAFTA opponents are urging activists to communicate with their representatives during the recess and pressure them to vote against it. The Stop CAFTA Coalition has set up a website (www.stopcafta.org) with talking points and additional background. So far only the legislatures of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have approved the measure. (Radio Mundo Real, July 1; NYT, July 1; Campaign for Labor Rights Action Alert, June 30)
On June 29, the day before the Senate vote, the Associated Press wire service revealed that for more than a year the US Labor Department suppressed studies it had commissioned from the International Labor Rights Fund on labor conditions in Central American countries. “In practice,” one study said, “labor laws on the books in Central America are not sufficient to deter employers from violations, as actual sanctions for violations of the law are weak or nonexistent.” The Bush administration claims Central America has made progress on working conditions, and is using this as an argument in favor of DR-CAFTA. The Labor Department, which calls the studies “unsubstantiated” and “biased,” initially barred the contractor from distributing them and ordered it to remove them from its website. Under a new agreement, the International Labor Rights Fund can now distribute the studies, but it will not receive $250,000 of the $937,000 it was to be paid for the work. (Miami Herald, June 30 from AP; NYT, July 1)
In the middle of June former Wal-Mart Stores executive James Lynn filed a suit in Arkansas against the company charging that he was fired in 2002 “for truthfully reporting the abysmal working conditions in Central American factories utilized by Wal-Mart and for refusing to comply with Wal-Mart’s demand that he certify the factories in order to get Wal-Mart’s goods to market.” Wal-Mart says it fired Lynn for “having inappropriate contact with a woman who directly reported to him,” but it acknowledges it spied on him. Wal-Mart says several factories that Lynn reported on subsequently corrected their problems. But Charles Kernaghan of the New York-based National Labor Committee told the New York Times that workers at one of the factories, located in Honduras, reported continuing problems as recently as April of this year. (NYT, July 1)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 3
GUATEMALA: UNION OFFICE RAIDED
Unknown persons raided the Union of Education Workers of Guatemala (STEG) office in Guatemala City some time between the evening of June 25 and the morning of June 27. The intruders stole a computer with extensive information on the National Assembly of Teachers’ programs and history; destroyed two other computers; spilled red paint on all the files and destroyed other papers; and painted red crosses on walls and desks. A desk drawer containing cash was left open, but the money was not stolen.
Unidentified vehicles began to park outside STEG’s office in March after the union joined other groups in demonstrating against DR-CAFTA. STEG has also opposed the Law of Concessions, a measure for the privatization of public resources, and has protested government corruption and human rights abuses. Social organizations, especially those that oppose DF-CAFTA, have been subject to a large number of break-ins this year. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA (GHRC-USA) is asking for appeals to Guatemalan president Oscar Berger Perdomo (fax +502-2-251-2218, firstname.lastname@example.org) and Attorney General Juan Luis Florido (fax +502 251 2218) to insure the safety of STEG members and to carry out a thorough investigation of the break-in. (GHRC-USA Urgent Action 6/28/05; Guatemala Hoy, June 30)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 3
HONDURAS: COMMUNITY LEADER SHOT
On June 5, paramilitaries stabbed and wounded Feliciano Pineda, a leader of the Montana Verde community in Gracias municipality, Lempira department in western Honduras. Pineda was left in critical condition with stab wounds to his face, neck, back, sides and hands, and a blow to his spine. Community members took Pineda to a hospital in Tegucigalpa, but despite his precarious state of health, agents from the General Department of Criminal Investigation (DGIC) transferred him in chains to the regional jail in Gracias. (Rights Action, June 10; Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Indigenas de Honduras-COPINH Urgent Alert, June 10/) The Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) points out that the DGIC is run by Napoleon Nazar, who in the 1980s belonged to an army death squad linked to the disappearance of more than 150 activists. (Prensa Latina, June 10)
The paramilitaries who shot Pineda have been identified by eyewitnesses as Delfino Reyes, Santos Reyes, Pablo Reyes and Cecilio Reyes, some of whom were involved in the Jan. 8, 2003, violent arrest and subsequent torture of Montana Verde Lenca indigenous council members Leonardo and Marcelino Miranda, as well as in legal proceedings as false witnesses against Montana Verde community leaders. The Miranda brothers remain jailed in Gracias since their arrest. (RA, June 10; COPINH Urgent Alert, June 10)
The four paramilitaries were briefly detained but were then granted conditional freedom by Gracias judge Atiliano Vasquez. Vasquez previously served as the private accusing lawyer in two politically motivated cases against Montana Verde community leaders; after becoming a judge, he was put in charge of all the Montana Verde cases and has consistently issued flawed rulings against community members. (RA, June 10)
COPINH is calling for messages of protest to President Ricardo Maduro (fax #504-221-4552, 221-4545, 221-4647); Supreme Court president Vilma Morales (504-233-8089, 234-2367); and Congress president Porfirio Lobo Sosa (504-238-6048, 222-3471, 237-0663). Rights Action also suggests contacting US ambassador to Honduras Larry Palmer (fax #504-236-9037); Honduran ambassador to the US Mario Miguel Canahuati (fax #202-966-9751, email@example.com); and Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio Lopez (fax #504-232-6894, firstname.lastname@example.org); with copies to COPINH at fax 504-783-0817, email@example.com.
On June 8, police and local judicial authorities carried out a violent eviction of the Lenca indigenous community of Golondrinas, in Marcala municipality, La Paz department. Police beat up and arrested dozens of community members, stole work tools and other property and bulldozed the entire community’s homes and property to the ground. The land had been abandoned for 25 years when the community began squatting it in May 2004, and although the National Agrarian Institute (INA) ruled that the lands belonged to the municipality of Marcala, they have now been transferred to a private construction company, ASOTRAMM. (RA, June 10; PL, June 10; Community Member’s Eyewitness Report posted on indigena.nodo50.org, June 15)
In other news, some 500 members of the gay and lesbian community of San Pedro Sula marched on June 4, demanding respect for their rights. (La Prensa, Honduras, June 5)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 19
EL SALVADOR: FIRED WORKERS ON HUNGER STRIKE
Eight former employees of the Salvadoran Interior Ministry began a liquids-only hunger strike outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador on May 26 to demand severance pay. They were among 106 employees dismissed in December 2004 and denied severance pay because they worked on an annual contract and were not covered under laws against unjustified dismissal. Many had worked for the Salvadoran government for more than 20 years.
On June 23, some of the hunger strikers moved to the Legislative Assembly and occupied the chamber, causing the session to be suspended. William Huezo, president of the General Association of Public and Municipal Employees (AGEPYM), said the hunger strikers were in “critical health,” but he hoped Deputy Archbishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez would mediate so that they could win the payment of one month’s wages for each year they worked. (La Nacion, Costa Rica, June 19 from ACAN-EFE; El Diario de Hoy, San Salvador, June 24)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 26
PANAMA: SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM HALTED
Panama’s grassroots movements won a victory on June 27 in their fight against changes to the country’s Social Security Agency (CSS) when President Martin Torrijos and his council of ministers formally asked the National Assembly to approve a bill suspending the reform package for 90 days. The National Front for the Defense of Social Security (FRENADESSO)–representing thousands of construction workers, teachers, doctors and CSS workers, among other sectors–responded by immediately calling off the strike it began on May 27. The National Assembly unanimously approved the 90-day suspension of the CSS reforms on June 30, and Torrijos signed the suspension into law on July 1, exactly a month after he signed the bill enacting the reforms.
FRENADESSO had set suspension of the reforms as a condition for beginning a dialogue with the government over the measure’s more than 180 articles. The talks began on June 28, although FRENADESSO chose not to join them until the suspension of the reforms is officially enacted. Participants in the dialogue include government representatives, business associations, retiree organizations, unions and professional guilds. The Council of Rectors of Panama’s public and private universities is facilitating, with the Panama Bishop’s Conference and the National Ecumenical Committee acting as observers. The talks are scheduled to conclude on Aug. 29. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, June 28 from AP; EFE, June 30, July 1)
Weekly News Update in the Americas, July 3
Some 6,000 Panamanians (or 2,500 to 3,000, according to police) marched on June 16 in Panama City to demand the repeal of reforms to the Social Security Agency (CSS). During the march, police used tear gas to break up a roadblock set up by students, workers and CSS employees along the trans-isthmus road. Marches also took place in the cities of Colon and David. (EFE, June 16)
Weekly News Update in the Americas, June 19
On June 4, after a six-hour meeting by strike leaders, FRENADESSO urged Panamanians to reject a planned referendum on the broadening of the Panama Canal, free trade agreements and the Puebla-Panama Plan. (La Prensa, Panama, June 5)
Weekly News Update in the Americas, June 5
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #110
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution