Weekly News Update on the Americas
On Nov. 29 Haiti's newly formed tripartite Higher Council on Wages (CSS) announced the minimum wage levels it is proposing to go into effect on Jan. 1. The nine-member council, which is composed of government, management and labor representatives, set different minimums for five job categories. For Category A, which includes bank employees, electricians and telecommunication workers, the new minimum is 260 gourdes (US$6.28) a day, while for Category B, which includes construction workers and truck drivers, the new rate is 240 gourdes (US$5.80). For Category C, which covers agricultural work and the important sector that assembles products for export, the new rate will be 225 gourdes (US$5.44). Two other groups will have their own minimums: 300 gourdes for public administrators (US$7.25) and 125 gourdes for domestic workers (US$3.02).
As of Dec. 8 the Mexican Senate was set to begin debates on President Enrique Peña Nieto's plan for opening up the state-owned oil and electric companies, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Federal Energy Commission (CFE), to greater participation by foreign and Mexican private companies. Supporters say the "energy reform" will bring needed capital investment and technical expertise to the energy sector, while opponents consider it a disguised plan for privatization, especially of oil production, which President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1934-1940) nationalized in 1938.
José Antonio Ardón, an activist in Honduras' center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), was gunned down by unknown assailants in Tegucigalpa's Altos de la Sosa neighborhood the evening of Nov. 30. Ardón had been part of the motorcycle group that provided an escort for LIBRE presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, LIBRE's presidential candidate in the disputed Nov. 24 general elections. He was known as "Emo Dos" ("Emo Two") because he had inherited his motorcycle from another activist, Mahadeo ("Emo") Sadloo, who was murdered in eastern Tegucigalpa on Sept. 7, 2011. LIBRE supporters say more than 250 people active in the party and other opposition groups have been murdered since the June 2009 military coup d'état that overthrew former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), Xiomara Castro's husband. (El Libertador, Honduras, Nov. 30; La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, Dec. 1)
Some 1,200 Brazilian indigenous activists encircled the Palácio do Panalto, which houses the president's offices, in Brasilia on Dec. 4 in a continuation of protests against proposals to change the way land is demarcated for indigenous groups. Currently the demarcations are worked out by the government's National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), but Congress is considering a measure, Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 215, which would give other government agencies a role in the process. During the Dec. 4 march a confrontation broke about between some protesters and the Palácio do Panalto security force, which used pepper spray to disperse the group. "Some participants were hospitalized," an indigenous leader, Marcos Xukuru, told the Brazilian news agency Adital. The marchers then moved on to the Justice Ministry and requested an interview with the minister; they were told he was out of the office. (Adital, Dec. 4)
On the morning of Nov. 28 some 60 men and women attacked an encampment of protesters who for the past two months had been blocking construction of a seed-drying plant in Malvinas Argentinas, a town in the central Argentine province of Córdoba, by the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company. The attackers, arriving in two rented buses, used rocks and clubs to drive away protesters at two points where they were blocking access to the construction site. Once the road was cleared, seven trucks delivered construction materials. Later, a confrontation broke out between the attackers and the protesters, who included Malvinas Argentinas residents and environmentalists from other parts of Argentina. Police agents finally intervened by firing rubbers bullets. As many as 20 protesters were injured in the incident, along with three police agents; it was unclear how many attackers were hurt.
Honduras' Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) issued an official announcement on Nov. 30 declaring former Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the presidential candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), the victor in general elections that were held on Nov. 24. According to the TSE, Hernández received 36.80% of the vote, while Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the candidate of the center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), received 28.79%. Results announced the day before showed Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with 20.28% of the vote and Salvador Nasralla of the Anticorruption Party (PAC) with 13.72%. The TSE didn’t announce final results for the 128 deputies in the unicameral National Congress, but earlier projections showed the PN winning 47 seats, followed by LIBRE with 39, the PL with 26 and the PAC with 13; each of three smaller parties is expected to have one seat.
Hundreds of Haitian immigrants fled the Dominican Republic from Nov. 23 to Nov. 25 following reports that mobs were killing Haitians in revenge for the murder of a Dominican couple; one or two men, reportedly Haitians, raped and murdered 63-year-old Luja Díaz Encarnación in the course of a robbery on Nov. 22 and killed her 70-year-old husband, José Méndez, in Neyba, the capital of the southwestern Dominican province of Baoruco. According to the Haitian nonprofit Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR), 347 Haitian citizens were repatriated in just two days, Nov. 23 and Nov. 24, at the southern border crossing between the Dominican city of Jimaní and the Haitian town of Malpasse; the refugees included 107 children. The fleeing immigrants told GARR that four Haitians had been killed with machetes and their bodies had been burned.
As many as 30 Haitians were killed when the boat they were traveling on ran aground and then capsized on Nov. 25 near Harvey Cays in the southern Bahamas. Bahamian authorities said 111 survivors were rescued, many of them suffering from hunger and dehydration. The badly overloaded 40-foot boat was apparently headed for Florida; Haitians seeking to enter the US w