Weekly News Update on the Americas
Dockworkers at the Port of Portland in Oregon walked off their jobs at the container yard on March 4 to honor a picket line set up by a small group of Honduran dockworkers protesting what they said were labor abuses at the Puerto Cortés port in northern Honduras. The picketers were members of the Dockworkers Labor Union (SGTM), which has been in a dispute since last year with Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC), the Honduran subsidiary of the Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI). A US subsidiary of ICTSI operates Terminal 6 in the Oregon port, and the dockworkers there, who are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), have had their own disputes with the company.
Some 1,200 employees of the Mexican oil company Oceanografía SA de CV began blocking the four entrances to the Laguna Azul industrial dock in Ciudad del Carmen in the eastern state of Campeche early on the morning of March 7, disrupting the operations of at least 40 companies that provide services to Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the government's giant oil monopoly. The workers were demanding payment of wages that have been held up since the government's Finance Secretariat took over the bankrupt company at the end of February after it became mired in allegations of fraud.
Greenpeace Chile announced on March 5 that it had established a new country in the glacial regions of southern Chile, the "Glacier Republic." The group said the country will remain independent until the Chilean government passes laws to protect Chile's glaciers. Greenpeace based its claim to the territory on a loophole in Chile's laws, which include no claim to sovereignty over the glaciers. In the past the loophole has made the glacial regions vulnerable to environmental damage by mining companies, but Greenpeace now hopes to use it as a way of bringing attention to projects such as the mammoth Pascua Lama mine that the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation has been building high the mountains on both sides of the border with Argentina. Greenpeace is also targeting what it calls "an even greater danger"—the Andina 244 project of the state-owned copper company Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco), which Greenpeace says "provides for the destruction of 5,000 hectares of glaciers, directly affecting water reserves for Chile's entire central zone."
Protesters tied up traffic in central Buenos Aires for more than five hours on Feb. 25 to press their demands for the center-left government of Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to increase pay and benefits in government antipoverty programs. Police rerouted traffic around the demonstration, which blocked cars and buses at the Obelisk in the Plaza de la República. The action was organized by several groups, including Barrios de Pie ("Neighborhoods Standing Up"), Polo Obrero ("Workers' Pole"), the Federation of Grassroots Organizations (FOB) and the Labor Association of Self-Managed and Contingent Cooperative Workers (Agtcap). Protest leaders held a meeting with government representatives during the protest, but these were "second-level functionaries," according to Barrios de Pie national coordinator Daniel Menéndez. "[T]he government is turning its back on the complaints of the lowliest people," he said.
The president of the Haitian Senate's Justice and Security Commission, Pierre Francky Exius, announced on Feb. 27 that the commission had summoned Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon and the command of the Haitian National Police (PNH) to testify about a crisis situation on Ile-à-Vache, a small island southeast of the city of Les Cayes in South department. Over the past month the police have beaten and shot at Ile-à-Vache residents protesting plans for a major tourism project on the island. Some protesters have fled the island, and one protest leader, a local police agent, has been arrested.
Fernando González, one of five Cuban agents charged with espionage by the US government in 1998, returned to Cuba on Feb. 28 after serving out a 15-year term in US prisons. Released from the federal correctional center in Safford, Arizona, on Feb. 27, González landed around noon the next day at Havana's José Martí International Airport, where he was met by Cuban president Raúl Castro. The Cuban government insists that its agents, who are widely known as the "Cuban Five," were never spying on the US and that their goal was only to gather information on terrorist plots by right-wing groups based in the Miami area.
Indigenous Honduran campesino Justiniano Vásquez was found dead on Feb. 21 in San Francisco de Opalaca municipality in the western department of Intibucá, where the victim's brother Entimo Vásquez is challenging the results of a Nov. 24 mayoral election. Justiniano Vásquez's body had deep wounds, and there were signs that his hands had been bound. Community members charged that the killing was carried out by Juan Rodríguez, a supporter of former mayor Socorro Sánchez, who the electoral authorities said defeated Entimo Vásquez in the November vote. Rodríguez had reportedly threatened Entimo Vásaquez in the past. San Francisco de Opalaca residents captured Rodríguez and turned him over to the police. The Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which reported Vásquez's death, demanded punishment for the perpetrators and called on the authorities "to carry out their work objectively [and] effectively."
In the latest protest against what activists say is the Brazilian government's diversion of funds from social services to sports events, more than 1,000 people marched in downtown São Paulo from the Praça da República to the Anhangabaú subway station on the evening of Feb. 22. The protest ended with some 1,000 agents of the militarized police using stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the marchers and making a total of 230 arrests. Among those arrested were five journalists, two photographers and three reporters; the reporters were from the newspapers O Globo and Folha de São Paulo and from the news website G1. Bruno Santos, a photographer for the Terra Brasil website, received an injury in his leg.