from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Thousands of workers from Costa Rica’s Social Security Institute, Electricity Institute, National Insurance Institute and other companies marched in San Jose on June 7 to oppose the US-sponsored Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and to protest a recent Constitutional Court decision annulling a series of benefits public workers had won through collective bargaining. According to the march organizers, 15,000 people participated.

The unionists said the court decision was intended to “smooth the way for CAFTA.” “The first victims of this CAFTA are the labor rights we’ve won,” National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) general secretary Albino Vargas told the ACAN-EFE wire service. “With CAFTA, Costa Rica will have to agree to downgrade its labor legislation with the rest of the Central American countries, which means taking away rights from those who won them through struggle.” Costa Rica signed on to DR-CAFTA, but it is the only signatory nation whose legislature hasn’t ratified the agreement. President Oscar Arias, who was inaugurated on May 8, is a strong supporter of the accord. Arias was on a visit to Europe on June 7, and Vargas charged that the new president would be holding a “chat” with the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Europe while his country is “violating labor rights.” (La Nacion, Costa Rica, June 7)

The march came two weeks after a May 24 armed robbery at the office of the country’s largest labor organization, the Rerum Novarum Workers Confederation (CTRN). [Rerum Novarum is an 1891 papal encyclical on worker’s rights.] Unidentified assailants burst into the office in the morning and held pistols to the heads of two union staffers. The intruders robbed all the staffers present of their personal possessions, and then searched the office, taking a computer which had the text of a complaint the union was filing with the ILO. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) wrote to Arias demanding an “exhaustive” investigation of the incident to find the authors of these “intimidating and threatening” acts. (Yahoo de Argentina, June 5 from Europa Press; Upside Down World, June 7)


On May 28 or 29 robbers broke into the central office of the Women’s Sector (Sector de Mujeres) organization in Guatemala City, stealing cell phones and the fax machine, rifling through files, and leaving traces of blood close to the windows and on the floor. In its 12 years of operation, Women’s Sector has organized and spoken out against violations of women’s rights and reported on the government’s failure to implement parts of the 1996 peace accords. It is one of the organizations sponsoring a legal action challenging the constitutionality of Guatemala’s participation in the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). (La Semana en Guatemala May 29-June 4; Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA urgent action, June 5)

The Women’s Sector office was robbed again two weeks later, apparently on June 6. This time the intruders destroyed furniture and left a piece of glass covered with blood, apparently to intimidate the staffers. Sandra Moran, a member of the group, said the new break-in might be connected to a comparison Women’s Sector made between the current wave of murders of women in Guatemala and the methods used by paramilitaries during the country’s 36-year civil war. Another organization, the National Union of Guatemalan Women (UNAMG), reported that its office in Chimaltenango was also robbed in the early morning of June 6. The intruders stole computer equipment with important information and searched through desks. (Guatemala Hoy, June 7; La Jornada, Mexico, June 8)

On June 5–before the second break-in at the Women’s Sector–the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC)/USA asked for letters to Guatemalan president Oscar Berger Perdomo (e-mail: presidente@scspr.gob.gt, fax +502 2251 2218) and Attorney General Juan Luis Florido (fax +502 251 2218), with copies to GHRC-USA (e-mail: ghrc-usa@ghrc-usa.org), urging a thorough investigation and noting that the government is required under the peace accords to “take special measures to protect those persons or entities working in the field of human rights.” (GHRC-USA urgent action, June 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 11


On June 5 some 35 Guatemalans between the ages of 60 and 95 began a liquids-only hunger strike in front of the Constitutional Court (CC) in Guatemala City to protest an effort to overturn the Law of the Older Adult, which would guarantee a minimum pension for seniors. As of June 13, 32 of the strikers remained in the encampment living on water and some liquid nutrients, although at least 25 had been taken at various times to a public assistance center. “We’d rather die of hunger here in front of the CC than on our knees waiting for the government to take pity on us,” Hector Montenegro, 70, president of the National Association of Older Persons Without Social Coverage (ANPTESCS), told the Spanish wire service EFE. This was reportedly the first mass hunger strike ever carried out by Guatemalan seniors.

Congress passed the law last year, but President Oscar Berger vetoed it November. A technical error in the veto allowed the law to be restored, but the CC suspended it in early June, before it had gone into effect, so that the court could consider a challenge to the law’s constitutionality by private attorney Rafael Zetina, who claimed the government lacked resources to pay the pensions and that the law would encourage “vagrancy.”

The law mandates a monthly pension of 578 quetzales (about $76). According to Zetina and the government, about 60,000 older Guatemalans qualify and the pension will cost the government an extra $35 million. ANPTESCS calculates that the total additional cost is about $31.5 million, which the group says can be covered by 1.85% of the Value-Added Tax (IVA, a sales tax). (El Nuevo Herald, June 5 from AP; Prensa Latina, June 9; Univision TV, June 13 from EFE)

In the early morning of June 19, police agents forcibly removed a group of seven hunger strikers who had encamped in front of the Presidential Office in solidarity with the protesters at the CC. “There were probably more than 50 [agents], and they dragged away the little old ladies,” ANPTESCS president Montenegro said. “They took them to the general hospital.” Rosa Maria de Frade insisted that the police took the protesters “because they showed symptoms of dehydration, but it was a mutually agreed-on action.” The Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA (GHRC-USA) reported that some of those refusing to go were beaten, and that Ramiro Ortiz, 84, said police clubbed him on the back. (ENH, June 19; GHRC-USA urgent action, June 12)

As of June 20, the encampment at the Presidential Office had grown to include some 60 seniors. “We are putting up with hunger, heat and rain to see if President Oscar Berger will pay attention,” said 68-year-old Regina Morales. “We won’t leave here until we talk with the president,” others said.

The Presidential office was the target of two other protests at the same time. Students from teacher training schools marched to the office beating on drums to protest the addition of a year to their course of studies and what they said was a disguised plan to close down government-run teacher education schools and privatize the process. Another group of protesters were demanding legal titles to lands they had settled on; one of the leaders, Roly Escobar, said the government had promised them the titles two and a half years earlier. Some 380 settlements are registered in the capital’s metropolitan area for the legalization process, according to the National Coordination of Community Residents and Marginalized Areas; a total of 567 settlements are registered nationally. “The lack of seriousness of the executive has led to more than 800,000 families not having a legalized place to live,” Escobar said.

The three simultaneous protests caused a traffic jam, tying up hundreds of vehicles in the Historic Center for more than an hour. (Prensa Libre, Guatemala, June 21)

GHRC-USA is asking for letters to President Oscar Berger (fax: +502 2251 2218) and Interior Minister Carlos Vielman (fax: +502 2362 0237, e-mail: ministro@mingob.gob.gt), with copies to GHRC-USA (ghrc-usa@ghrc-usa.org), to demand an investigation of the June 19 police operation and to urge the authorities to guarantee the rights and safety of all the elderly protesters and the organizations supporting them. (GHRC-USA urgent action June 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 25


A decision by Managua bus cooperatives at the beginning of May to raise fares from about $0.15 to about $0.18 set off a month of violent clashes between Nicaraguan riot police and students demanding a lower fare. The cooperatives insisted that the rising cost of fuel forced them to increase the fares and that they could hold the fares down if the government provided a subsidy of about $1 million a month. The national government of right-wing president Enrique Bolanos and the Managua government, headed by Dionisio Marenco of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), blamed each other for the failure to provide the subsidy.

A similar dispute over fares in March and April in 2005 followed almost exactly the same pattern. This year’s confrontations are taking place during the run-up to Nov. 5 presidential and legislative elections, which will pit pro-Bolanos candidates against FSLN candidates.

The violence reached a high point in the week of May 22, when university and high school students battled riot police for five consecutive days. At least 10 people were seriously injured as students used rocks and home-made mortars against police using rubber bullets and tear gas. On May 24 bus drivers began attacking protesters outside the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) Managua campus, shooting a student in the thigh and using metal tubes and bottles to beat a young free-trade zone factory worker they mistook for a student. The students burned two buses during the week and seriously damaged three more with rocks. (Nicaragua News Service, May 23-9; Prensa Latina, May 27; La Prensa, Managua, May 23, 25; El Nuevo Diario, Managua, May 23, 24, 25)

After a brief truce, new confrontations broke out between police and students on May 31, during which students captured an agent from the anti-riot police and held him at the National Engineering University (UNI) until a mediator could arrange a release. A meeting between leaders of the students, transportation cooperatives and unions on May 31 failed to secure an agreement. On June 2 two people wearing hoods burned a vehicle belonging to the government’s Highway Maintenance Fund (FOMAV) near the UNAN campus, but it was not clear whether they were students.

Also on June 2, Gustavo Porras, general secretary of the National Workers Front (FNT), announced that students, workers and social organizations had agreed to hold a march together on June 6 to pressure the government to provide a permanent solution by allocating a transportation subsidy. Porras said the march would be followed up with sit-ins at various locations on June 7. (PL, May 31, June 2)


Thousands of Salvadorans protested the two-year anniversary of the election of rightwing president Antonio Saca by marching and blocking highways throughout the country. The largest protest was in San Salvador, where at least 25 activists were arrested. Actions also took place in Ahuachapan, Cojutepeque, Sonsonate, La Union, Sensuntepeque, Morazan, Guatajiagua, Chalatenango, San Vicente and Usulutan. (Adital, June 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 4


Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #122


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution