Southern Cone

Brazil: unions respond to protests with general strike

Tens of thousands of Brazilian workers participated in a one-day general strike in 20 or more cities on July 11, with strikers holding generally peaceful rallies and marches that blocked highways and bridges at dozens of points throughout the country. The strikers' demands included the reduction of the work week from 44 to 40 hours; a speeding up of the agrarian reform program; greater public funding for health and education; control of inflation; and changes in economic policy. The action, the National Day of Struggles, was called by the six main labor confederations, including the Unified Workers Central (CUT), which is affiliated with the center-left Workers Party (PT) of President Dilma Rousseff. The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and the National Students Union (UNE) backed the strike. 

Argentina: Mapuche to block Chevron from territory

In a press conference on July 11 representatives of Argentina's indigenous Mapuche and of indigenous communities in the Vaca Muerta region in the southwestern province of Neuquén announced plans to block the California-based Chevron Corporation from drilling for natural gas in their territories. In December 2012 Argentina's state-controlled Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) oil company signed an agreement for a $1 billion hydrofracking pilot project in the Vaca Muerta area, despite a November decision by an Argentine judge to embargo Chevron's assets in Argentina because of a $19 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador for environmental damage and injuries to the health of indigenous residents in the Amazon rainforest. YPF and Chevron are scheduled to sign an additional accord on July 15; the oil companies deny that the drilling will be on Mapuche lands.

Argentina: Israel secretly bought uranium in 1960s

According to declassified British and US documents that the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive (NSA) made public on June 25, Israel secretly bought 80-100 tons of Argentine uranium oxide ("yellowcake") in the 1963-1964 period. The uranium ore was purchased to be used as fuel at Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert and ultimately for producing plutonium for the country's clandestine nuclear weapons program. France had cut off Israel's supply of French uranium, and the Israeli government was looking for new sources, including South Africa and Argentina. The Argentine president at the time was Arturo Umberto Illia (1963-66) of the centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR).

Chile: students march as election season starts

More than 100,000 Chileans marched in Santiago on June 26 in the latest massive demonstration for a system of free secondary and higher education to replace the heavily privatized system created under the 1973-1990 military dictatorship. There were similar protests in cities throughout the country, along with walkouts by port workers in support of the students' demands. In addition to high school and university students, the march drew port workers, teachers, copper miners and municipal health workers.

Brazil: Rousseff offers protesters a plebiscite

On June 24 Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff began a week of meetings with various groups—youths, unionists, campesinos, political party leaders, state governors, congressional leaders and Supreme Court members—in response to the massive protests that broke out in the middle of the month. Rousseff initially proposed a plebiscite on holding a constituent assembly to reform the Constitution, but she quickly dropped the idea. Instead, she proposed a plebiscite that would allow voters to choose from various options in three areas: public financing of political campaigns, methods of electing legislators and voting by party list. The vote would be held by October.

Brazil: 10 dead as police raid favela

At least 10 people were killed June 25 when elite troops from the Special Operations Battalion (BOPE) of Brazil's Military Police raided the Nova Holanda favela in Rio de Janeiro's sprawling northern district Complexo da Maré. Authorities said the deaths occurred following a gun battle between police and criminals taking advantage of protests sweeping through the city to loot and steal. One police officer was reportedly among the dead. Protests continue throughout the city; on the day of the clash, hundreds blocked streets for several hours in the outlying districts of Capao Redondo and Campo Limpo. The following day, violence exploded as some 100,000 marched in Belo Horizonte, where Brazil played Uruguay in Confederations Cup semi-finals. Stores were looted, vehicles burned, and one protester killed when he fell from an overpass. (Zero Hora, AP, June 27; Al Jazeera, June 26; Correio do Brasil, June 25)

Brazil: protests continue despite concessions

The massive protests that have shaken Brazil for more than a week continued on June 22, although on a smaller scale than during the previous two days. The largest actions of the day focused on the protesters' objection to the allocation of money to preparations for the 2014 World Cup soccer championship and the 2016 Olympic Games while health, education, transportation and infrastructure remain underfunded. Some 70,000 people marched on the soccer stadium in the country's third largest city, Belo Horizonte in the eastern state of Minas Gerais, where the Mexican and Japanese teams were playing. "World Cup for whom?" and "FIFA out!" the marchers chanted, referring to the International Federation of Association Football, which sponsors the championship. Police agents used tear gas to keep the protesters from approaching the stadium. In Salvador de Bahia, in the impoverished northeastern state of Bahia, about 12,000 protesters marched on the Fonte Nova stadium, site of a soccer match between Brazil and Italy. Some protesters carried signs with cartoons of business owners and sports association directors sitting on big bags of money.

Brazil: tensions had been growing before protests

Although commentators expressed surprise at the size and spontaneity of the protests that swept Brazil in the third week of June, leftist and grassroots organizations had been focusing on some of the issues for some time. In May groups in Rio de Janeiro issued a report highlighting the displacement of thousands of families to make way for facilities to be used in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Impacted communities in Rio were planning to hold a "People's Cup Against the Removals" on June 15, the day that the Confederations Cup soccer matches were to start in Brazil in the lead-up to the World Cup next year. The grassroots event, which included amateur soccer matches, an exhibit of photos and videos, political discussions and cultural events, was intended to build ties among the affected communities. (Adital, Brazil, June 13)

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