Weekly News Update on the Americas

Argentina: US hedge funds force bond default

The US financial services company Standard & Poor's Ratings (S&P) declared Argentina in default the afternoon of July 30 after last-minute negotiations failed to produce an agreement between the country and a group of creditors who insisted that they be paid in full for the $1.5 billion in Argentine bonds they own. This was Argentina's second default since an economic collapse in December 2001 brought on by a decade of extreme neoliberal austerity and privatization measures. Opinions were divided on how the new default would affect the country, which was already entering a recession. "The ordinary Argentine citizen will be the real and ultimate victim," Daniel Pollack, the mediator appointed by a US federal court in New York, said in a statement. But Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof was defiant. "We aren't going to sign any agreement that would jeopardize the future of Argentines," he said at a news conference after the negotiations ended on July 30.

Mexico: Maya campesinos beat Monsanto in court

A district court judge in the eastern Mexican state of Yucatán ruled in July against a license that the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) had granted the Missouri-based multinational Monsanto Company in 2012 for sowing 253,500 hectares with genetically modified (GM) soy in Yucatán and six other states. A group of campesinos from the Maya indigenous group filed a suit charging that the license endangered the traditional production of organic honey in a region including the Yucatán communities of Ticul, Santa Elena, Oxkutzcab, Tzucacab, Tekax, Peto and Tizimin. The judge's ruling was "a great achievement because there is recognition of our legitimate right to make decisions about our territory and our livelihood," Maya farmer Lorenzo Itzá Ek said. "[B]eekeeping is the main traditional economic activity we carry out, and we don't want our honey contaminated with transgenics or with toxic products like agrochemicals that kill our bees."

Latin America: Gaza attack draws strong protests

An Israeli military offensive on the Palestinian territory of Gaza starting on July 8 has brought widespread condemnation from governments and activists in Latin America. The response to the current military action, which is codenamed "Operation Protective Edge," follows a pattern set during a similar December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive in Gaza, "Operation Cast Lead," when leftist groups and people of Arab descent mounted protests and leftist and center-left governments issued statements sharply criticizing the Israeli government.

Central America: leaders hold migration summit

US president Barack Obama hosted a meeting in Washington DC on July 25 with three Central American presidents—Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala and Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras—to discuss the recent increase in unauthorized immigration to the US by unaccompanied minors. About 57,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from those three Central American countries, were detained at the Mexico-US border from October 2013 through June 2014. President Obama called for joint work to discourage further child migration; the US would do its part by making it clear that the minors would be repatriated unless they could convince US officials they were in danger if they returned, Obama said. The left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada headlined its coverage with the sentence: "The US has great compassion for child migrants; they'll be deported: Obama."

Police try to block annual SOA vigil

The US advocacy group SOA Watch reported on July 22 that the police in Columbus, Georgia, are trying to impose unacceptable restrictions on the annual vigil the group has held there every November since 1990 to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). According to SOA Watch, Columbus police chief Ricky Boren wants to limit the vigil to 200 people on sidewalks outside the US Army's Fort Benning, where WHINSEC is based. In previous years thousands of people have demonstrated at a gate leading to the base. Boren is also seeking to deny a permit for the group to post its stage and sound system at the usual spot.

Honduras: US deports migrants; violence continues

A plane chartered by the US government carried 38 Honduran deportees from an immigration detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, to the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on July 14. This was the first US deportation flight entirely dedicated to mothers and children: eight mothers, 13 girls and nine boys were scheduled for the trip, although two couldn't travel because of illness. Reporters, Honduran officials and Ana García de Hernández, the wife of President Juan Orlando Hernández, were on hand for the flight's arrival. President Hernández's government promised the deportees job leads, a $500 stipend, psychological counseling and schooling, but a returning mother, Angélica Gálvez, told the Los Angeles Times that in the end she and her six-year-old daughter Abigail didn't get enough money to pay for the three-hour trip to their home in La Ceiba. "They haven't helped me before," she said. "Why should I believe them now?"

El Salvador: workers win back pay in plant closing

On July 12 the 1,066 laid-off employees of El Salvador's Manufacturas del Río (MDR) apparel factory began receiving benefits, back wages and severance pay that they were owed after the plant closed suddenly on Jan. 7. MDR—a joint venture of Mexican company Kaltex and Miami-based Argus Group that stitched garments for such major brands as Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Lacoste, Levi Strauss and Adidas—shut down without notice after the Textile Industry Workers Union (STIT), an affiliate of the Salvadoran Union Front (FSS), spent two months attempting to negotiate a contract. No apparel plant in El Salvador has a labor contract.

BRICS nations plan new development bank

The BRICS group of five nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—held its sixth annual summit this year from July 14 to July 16 in Fortaleza in the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará and in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital. The main business for the five nations' leaders was formalizing their agreement on a plan to create a development bank to serve as an alternative to lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which are largely dominated by the US and its allies. Although the project will need approval from the countries' legislatures, the BRICS leaders indicated that the group's lending institution would be called the New Development Bank, would be based in Shanghai and would be headed for the first five years by a representative of India. The bank is to start off in 2016 with $50 billion in capital, $10 billion from each BRICS member. The BRICS nations will maintain control of the bank, but membership will be open to other countries; in contrast to the IMF and the World Bank, the New Development Bank will not impose budgetary conditions on loan recipients.

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