Weekly News Update on the Americas: Honduras Strike, Peru Repression, Haiti’s Elections and Tense Homeless-NGO Relations

Posted on August 24, 2010

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Weekly News Update from on the Americas

*1. Honduras: Unions Plan for General Strike
Thousands of Honduran workers marched in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula on Aug. 18 to demand an increase in the minimum wage and to show solidarity with teachers who were in the 14th day of an open-ended strike. The protest–initiated by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), Honduras’ main coalition of labor and grassroots organizations [see Update #1042]—was part of a strategy to build gradually for a national general strike against the government of President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa, according to Juan Barahona, an FNRP leader.

Police agents dispersed the San Pedro Sula demonstration when the protesters blocked the highway leading to Puerto Cortés, the country’s main commercial port.

The minimum wage, currently 5,500 lempiras a month (about $290), was supposed to be raised in April, but the business sector blocked the pay hike. The unions are calling for a 30% increase but have indicated that they are willing to negotiate with the government. The Aug. 18 demonstration was also intended to press the government to rehire workers at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) who were laid off earlier in the year by university rector Julieta Castellanos [see Update #1033].

The teachers’ strike, supported by four of the six unions in the Federation of Teachers Organizations of Honduras (FOMH), is over money the government owes the teachers’ pension fund going back to 2007 under then-president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales. The government holds that it owes $94 million and offered to pay by the end of the year, while the unions claim the amount may be as high as 4.6 billion lempiras (about $242 million). The government has also rejected the teachers’ demand for the firing of Education Minister Alejando Ventura.

On Aug. 20 thousands of teachers escalated their job action by blocking Fuerzas Armadas and Miraflores boulevards in Tegucigalpa. Hundreds of police agents violently dispersed them with tear gas and nightsticks. According to the police, about 20 teachers were detained and a number were treated for minor injuries. (Univision 8/18/10 from EFE; El Universal (Venezuela) 8/20/10; TeleSUR (Venezuela) 8/21/10 from PL, AFP, EPA)

Also on Aug. 20, the FNRP and the three main labor confederations—the Unitary Confederation of Honduran Workers (CUTH), the General Workers Central (CGT) and the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH)—set up a national strike committee and regional committees to prepare for a national general strike around a seven-point program. CUTH general secretary Israel Salinas didn’t set a date but said the strike was imminent. Campesino organizations are planning to hold mobilizations at the same time around land issues.

For now “we’re going to the bases for consciousness raising,” CGT general secretary Daniel Durón said, “because a general strike isn’t just a declaration by three men, four, 10 people.” He added that the external factors for the strike were there and that now the unions were going to deal with the internal ones. (Red Morazánica de Información 8/20/10 via FNRP website)

*2. Peru: Police Repress Protest, Kill Boy
Henry Benítez Huamán, 14, died on Aug. 12 from a gunshot wound he received one week earlier when police agents attacked protesters in the town of Kitena, in La Convención province in Peru’s southeastern Cusco region. Another victim, Juan Carlos Aragón Monzón, remained hospitalized in Cusco city with a gunshot wound in his right leg, while 18 people were apparently injured by rubber bullets. The autopsy report on Benítez Huamán showed he was hit by a metal bullet in the chest, disproving initial claims by the police that they only used rubber bullets. The demonstrators were protesting plans by the Camisea LNG consortium to export natural gas.

Cusco governor Marcelo Angulo blamed the leaders of the protest for allegedly manipulating Benítez Huamán into joining the action, but his family said he was returning home for lunch when he was hit and wasn’t involved in the demonstration. According to the boy’s aunt, Luz Benítez, police captain Neils Aróstegui at first denied him medical treatment at the police post. A police doctor treated the boy later, but Benítez Huamán was only taken to a hospital in Cusco city on Aug. 9, after the intervention of Peruvian prime minister Javier Velásquez. The family and leaders of the Federation of Convención Campesinos are demanding an investigation.

Peru’s Association for Human Rights (Aprodeh) charged on Aug. 13 that at least 47 civilians have been killed in protests by the National Police since President Alan García started his second term in 2006. According to Aprodeh, the dead included at least one other minor: nine-month-old Angélica Santiago Rufino was suffocated when her mother tried to protect her from tear gas the police used at a hospital in the Amazonian region of Ucayali. (La Primera (Peru) 8/13/10; Adital (Brazil) 8/18/10)

Recent grassroots protests against the multinational Camisea LNG consortium included general strikes and road blockages in the Cusco, Arequipa and Tacna regions on June 17 and 18. (WW4 Report 6/19/10)

In other news, on Aug. 18 a Lima court revoked parole for Lori Berenson, a US citizen who had been released from prison in May after serving almost 15 years of a 20-year sentence for collaborating with the rebels of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) [see Update #1019]. In a court appearance on Aug. 15 she noted that she was never involved in any killings or other violent actions. “If my participation contributed to societal violence, I am very sorry for this,” she said. (New York Times 8/19/10 from correspondent)

*3. Haiti: Board Approves 19 Presidential Candidates
On Aug. 20 Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced that it had approved 19 and rejected 15 of the 34 people who had applied to run for the presidency in general elections scheduled for Nov. 28 [see Update #1043, where we gave the number of applicants as 33, following our sources]. The approved candidates included Jude Célestin (Unity); former prime minister Jacques Edouard Alexis (Movement for the Progress of Haiti, MPH); former senator Myrlande Hyppolite Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP); economist Leslie Voltaire (Together We Are Strong); Chavannes Jeune (Alliance of Christians and Citizens for the Reconstruction of Haiti, ACCRHA); and singer Joseph Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response).

The CEP has excluded the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) from the ballot, but it approved several presidential candidates associated with the party: former prime minister Yvon Neptune (Haitians for Haiti ); current social affairs minister Yves Christalin (Organization Future); and Jean Henry Céant (Love Haiti). But a Florida-based Lavalas activist, Lavarice Gaudin, was rejected.

Other rejected candidates included Haitian-born US hip-hop star Wyclef Jean and his uncle, former ambassador to the US Raymond Alcide Joseph. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 8/20/10; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 8/20/10)

Meanwhile, more than a million people left homeless by a massive Jan. 12 earthquake are still living in some 1,000 improvised encampments in the Port-au-Prince area. On Aug. 19, the United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) issued a report on the situation in the camps. “The anger of the displaced against the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and international agencies continues to manifest itself and to intensify in the camps,” the Catholic organization wrote, citing “conflicts between the NGOs and some camp committees [and] between the owners of private properties and the displaced.” The JRS called on the government to coordinate the activities of the NGOs and to provide for urgent needs of the displaced, and for international agencies and organizations not to exclude local people from the decision-making process. (AlterPresse 8/19/10)