Weekly News Update on the Americas

Mexico: authorities 'rescue' maquila workers

Federal and state authorities said they rescued 129 Mexican workers on Feb. 5 from sexual and labor exploitation at Yes Internacional SA de CV, a Korean-owned garment assembly plant in Zapopan in the western state of Jalisco. The factory was closed down, and four of the executives were detained, according to the National Migration Institute (INM). The workers--who were mostly women, including six minors--reported being subjected to blows and insults, and federal authorities indicated that they would investigate reports of interrupted pregnancies and serious injuries apparently resulting from sexual assaults. In 2013 Jalisco police said they rescued at least 275 people who had been held in inhumane conditions in a tomato-packing factory.

Haiti: union and maquilas negotiate on pay

Haiti's Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), which represents a number of workers in the Port-au-Prince garment assembly sector, has reached an agreement under which the owners of three factories are to honor the legal minimum wage of 300 gourdes (about $6.38) a day for piece workers in the industry. The 300-gourde minimum went into effect in October 2012 but has generally been ignored by management. According to a Jan. 6 SOTA press release and a Feb. 6 radio interview with Yannick Etienne of the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (BO, Workers' Struggle), under the agreement workers who were receiving 225 gourdes a day now receive 300 gourdes and those who received 300 gourdes receive 375. In addition, the three companies agreed to provide back pay to cover the difference between the old and the new wages for two months during which SOTA and the companies negotiated; this would come to about $4,255 collectively for the workers in one of the companies, Multiwear SA. Although the agreement falls far short of the 500-gourde minimum garment workers had demonstrated for in December 2013, BO organizer Etienne considers management's agreement to the raise and the principle of back pay a significant step forward.

Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé set deadline to stop dam

Panamanian officials and leaders of the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group were scheduled to meet on Feb. 2 to discuss the controversial Barro Blanco hydroelectric project, which is being built on the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí. Ngöbe-Buglé representatives are calling for the cancellation of the dam and say there will be forceful actions if the government doesn't agree to their demand by Feb. 15. President Juan Carlos Varela has named a committee to represent the government in the talks; it is headed by Vice President Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado, who is also the foreign relations minister, and includes security minister Rodolfo Aguilera, governance minister Milton Henríquez, labor minister Luis Ernesto Carles and environmental minister Mirei Endara. Some members of the committee held a preliminary meeting with indigenous leaders on Jan. 29, and the government's technical commission was studying the area around the dam on Jan. 31.

Chile: two found guilty in Horman murder case

Retired Chilean army colonel Pedro Espinoza and former Chilean air force intelligence agent Rafael González Berdugo have been convicted in the murder of US journalist Charles Horman and US graduate student Frank Teruggi during the days after the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende Gossens. Judge Jorge Zepeda sentenced Espinoza—formerly an officer in the now-defunct National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) who has been described as the right-hand man of DINA head Manuel Contreras—to seven years in prison for the two murders. González Berdugo was sentenced to two years of police surveillance as an accomplice in Harmon's murder. Judge Zepeda ruled in the case on Jan. 9 but the decision wasn't announced until Jan. 28. Last summer the judge officially ruled that "US military intelligence services played a fundamental role in the murders" by supplying information to the Chilean military. (El Ciudadano, Chile, Jan. 31)

Dominican Republic: thousands to become stateless

Tens of thousands of Dominicans born to undocumented immigrants were set to become stateless when a deadline to regularize their status passed on Feb. 1, according to the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI). "Even if these people are able to stay in the Dominican Republic after the deadline expires, their futures are woefully uncertain," AI Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas said in a statement. The people at risk are mostly Haitian descendants who were affected by Decision 168-13, a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) in September 2013 declaring that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen. Their situation was supposed to be remedied by Law 169/14, which was passed in May 2014 to set up a process for people to regularize their status. AI says the law's implementation has been inadequate.

Haiti: president gave reporters Xmas presents

The government of Haitian president Michel Joseph Martelly presented a group of reporters with cash gifts during a reception on Dec. 23, according to an open letter published on Jan. 26 by the management of Radio Kiskeya. Reporters with press credentials for presidential functions were given "envelopes containing 50,000 gourdes [about US$1,065] and 40,000 gourdes [about US$852] respectively," the station wrote. Recipients said President Martelly had offered them what he called "a little gift whose small size they shouldn't take offense at," and then referred them to his spokesperson, Lucien Jura, and Esther Fatal, head of the Communication Office of the Presidency; the two officials gave the journalists the envelopes.

Argentina: Fernández flips on prosecutor's 'suicide'

Argentine federal prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment late on Jan. 18 with a gunshot wound to his head. Nisman had filed a 289-page criminal complaint on Jan. 14 charging that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and eight others, including two Iranians, had acted to cover up the alleged role of the Iranian government in the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. The bombing, which left 85 dead and some 300 injured, is considered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack carried out anywhere since World War II. Nisman's death came the day before he was to testify to the National Congress about the charges.

Argentina: many are suspected in AMIA coverup

While the US media focused on the late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman's Jan. 14 charges against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, many people have been accused over the years of blocking the investigation into the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building. The people suspected include a former president, a judge, an intelligence chief, and officials of two foreign governments. After an inquiry that has gone on for 21 years under several different governments, Argentine prosecutors have still not won a single conviction in the case.

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