from Weekly News Update on the Americas
On Jan. 15, a group of 56 Uruguayan sugar cane workers (referred to in local slang as peludos, hairy ones) and supporters occupied a 36-hectare plot near Bella Union in Artigas department, at Uruguay’s northern triple border with Argentina and Brazil, to demand farmland for six working families. The occupied land in Colonia Espana is owned by the National Colonization Institute and had been abandoned for 11 years; it is close to the entrance to the sugar refinery of the Agricultural Cooperative of the Uruguayan North (CALNU).
The occupation is being carried out by members of several labor organizations: the Union of Sugar Workers of Artigas (UTAA); the Union of CALNU Workers, Artigas (SOCA); the Association of Small Farmers and Rural Salaried Workers of Bella Union (APAARBU); and the National Union of Salaried Employees, Rural Workers and Similar Workers (UNATRA), an affiliate of Uruguay’s only labor federation, the Inter-Union Workers Plenary-National Workers Convention (PIT-CNT). The UTAA has a radical history; in the 1960s it was closely linked to Raul Sendic, founder of the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement, a leftist rebel organization. The occupiers say they are defending the land rights of the cane workers and the state against the exploitation of speculators and profiteers.
Local cane workers have been left desperate by the decline of the sugar industry; only 3,000 hectares of sugar cane are currently planted, down from 9,000, and the seven-month harvest time is now two months. Only 124 cane producers are still in business, and the salaries of local industrial and farm employees have been cut in half. Unemployment in the sector is over 80% and poverty and hunger are rampant in the region. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Jan. 15; Radio El Espectador, Montevideo, Jan. 16)
Cane workers met on Jan. 20 in Montevideo with representatives of the PIT-CNT and authorities from the state company ANCAP (National Administration of Fuel, Alcohol and Portland) to discuss a plan under which CALNU’s sugar refinery would be reactivated as an alcohol production plant by Alcoholes del Uruguay (ALUR), a company owned 90% by ANCAP and 10% by the National Development Corporation. Former rebel leader Raul Sendic, now the vice president of ANCAP, participated in the meeting and described it as positive. Alcohol produced at the CALNU refinery would be exported to Venezuela in exchange for $7 million which the Venezuelan state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), has invested in the project. Sendic said there is no deadline for repaying PDVSA’s investment. ANCAP will invest $4 million in the project.
Sendic said the project’s advisory council will include representatives of the state institutions involved as well as representatives of the cane planters, cane harvesters and refinery workers. The project will employ 400 workers to harvest 3,500 hectares of sugar cane; after 10 years the project is expected to create between 1,500 and 2,000 jobs in Bella Union. After the meeting, the cane workers met with Livestock, Agriculture and Fishing Minister Jose Mujica, another former Tupamaro leader. The National Colonization Institute said it will give the cane workers 200 hectares to begin work on the project. The cane workers clarified that any agreement on the project is not in exchange for ending the Bella Union occupation. (Espectador website, Jan. 20; Resumen Latinoamericano, Jan. 29) Mujica planned to travel to Bella Union on Feb. 1 to explain the alcohol production plan to local residents and involve them in the project.
Cane workers and supporters from various social organizations marched on Jan. 27 to the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fishing in Montevideo in support of the Bella Union occupation. A representative from the occupation read a statement saying that while they are demanding land for six families, they realize “this is only a patch” because “hundreds of families are in the same conditions.” (Resumen Latinoamericano, Jan. 29)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5
Weekly News Update on the Americas
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution