Sunday, March 18, 2007

Latin America Solidarity News March 18th 2007

Events and Resources

The tale of Mundo, Daniel, the co-pilot, the duck, the mouse and the pig: Observing the 2006 Nicaraguan elections

Christchurch Tuesday 20 March, 12noon, Jobberns room, level 4, Geography building, University of Canterbury Geography Departmental Seminar by Julie Cupples

Last year Julie Cupples worked as an international election observer with the Carter Center for the 2006 Nicaraguan elections which saw Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Front for National Liberation returned to power. This talk will talk about some of the political complexities of the electoral process from the point of view of an observer.
Contact: to organise a meeting in your centre.
Also visit youtube at

Chance to hear Cuban ICAP (Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) visitors:
Buenaventura Reyes Acosta, Vice-president of ICAP and
Alicia Elvira Corredera Morales, Director of Asia-Pacific Division, ICAP
National Contact: Mike Treen DD - 64 9 845 4027; Mobile - 0295254744

Wellington meeting Tuesday April 17th:
Public meeting Havana Bar, 32a Wigan Street, 7.30pm.
Presentation and discussion followed by social.

Update on Oaxaca and report back from Central America
Hear Julie Webb-Pullman 13th April 6pm VTBD
Presentation of Commission report on Human Rights in Oaxaca (Mexico)

LAC AGM Thursday 26th April 6pm
Planning for new year! VTBD.

Habana Blues
World Cinema Showcase film festival is featuring a Cuban film - Habana Blues - in this year’s festival.
A captivating love letter to life on the ‘crazy isle’ of Cuba, Habana Blues follows a group of musicians struggling to make the big time. If that sounds like Buena Vista Social Club: the Return, be aware this is fiction – these young stallions play a vibrant hybrid of soul and rock, and their goal in life is to leave behind the politics of their impoverished island. Ruy and Tito are the Mick and Keith of the band who spend their days flogging everything from cigars to sombreros out of the back of Tito’s delicious red ‘52 Chevy. When their long-awaited break arrives in the guise of Spanish record producer Marta, their lives are thrown into turmoil by the tantalising prospect of a one-way ticket to Spain. For once they’ve left Cuba, they can never return.

World Cinema Showcase - Auckland - March 15 - April 4, 2007
World Cinema Showcase - Wellington - March 29 - April 11. 2007
World Cinema Showcase - Christchurch - April 12 - 25, 2007
World Cinema Showcase - Dunedin - April 19 - May 5, 2007


Chiquita admits to working with Colombian terrorist group
CBC News
The Chiquita banana company admitted to doing business with a Colombian terrorist organization on Wednesday and agreed to pay a $25 million US fine.
The Cincinnati-based banana company worked out the fine with U.S. federal prosecutors, who accused Chiquita of paying $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, a right-wing organization also known as AUC.
Chiquita Brands International said the payments were made to ensure the safety of its employees, who work on farms in volatile parts of Colombia, where leftist militants frequently clash with right-wing paramilitaries. AUC promised to keep Chiquita's workers safe in exchange for money, Chiquita said.
The United States designated the AUC a terrorist organization in September 2001. The AUC is alleged to be responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia in recent years. The group is also accused of running much of the country's cocaine trade.
"The payments made by [Chiquita] were always motivated by our good faith concern for the safety of our employees," Fernando Aguirre, Chiquita's CEO, said in a statement Wednesday.
Details of the fine and settlement agreement were not released Wednesday, but Aguirre said the company has money set aside to pay the $25-million fine.
The U.S. Justice Department launched a lengthy investigation into Chiquita's financial dealings with AUC several years ago. In April 2003, Chiquita officials and lawyers admitted to prosecutors they had been paying AUC, but still continued to hand money over to the AUC until 2004.
Federal prosecutors filed what's known as an "information" against Chiquita in a U.S. court Wednesday. Unlike an indictment, the information is resolved by the prosecutors and the defendants and is usually followed by a guilty plea.
Mayan activists 'purify' sacred site in Guatemala
IXIMCHE, Guatemala (AP) - A whiff of incense, a sputter of candles, a hum of prayer. Mayan Indian activists on Thursday offered the gentlest protest yet to the Latin American tour of U.S. President George W. Bush as they held a purification ceremony to drive out the "bad spirits" they said he had left behind during a stop at their ancient pyramid.
Bush visited Iximche, capital of the prehispanic Kaqchiqueles kingdom, during his daylong trip to Guatemala as part of a five-nation tour of Latin America.
The activists said the bad spirits were roused by Bush's policies, including the U.S.-led war in Iraq and an immigration raid last week in Massachusetts that netted several Guatemalan immigrants and left dozens of their children stranded at schools.
"Today is a special day on the Mayan calendar," said Jorge Morales, director of the Young Mayan Movement. "That's why we are taking advantage to do this special event to clean and get rid of the bad spirits and re-establish this sacred place's harmony."
The group of about a dozen ascended a partially restored stone pyramid to a central altar, where they burned incense, scattered holy water and bowed to the ground in prayer.
The organizers of the protest are leaders of Indian rights organizations associated with the left-leaning National Indian and Peasant Co-ordinating Committee.
© The Canadian Press, 2007

Si­ Es Verdad
by Tim Costello, Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith
March 15, 2007

President Bush got a big surprise on his goodwill visit to
Guatemala this week. Protesters filled the streets of
Guatemala City to denounce an immigration raid that took place
at a leather goods factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts on
March 6th. The raid resulted in the arrest of 361 people,
most of them undocumented immigrants from Guatemala and El
Salvador.Even the President of Guatemala criticized the raids
in his welcoming speech to Bush on his arrival. This is big
news in Guatemala because 10% of the entire Guatemalan
population - many of them undocumented - lives in the US.

The press in Guatemala - and in Massachusetts - has been filled
with stories of the raid and its aftermath of families
shattered,children separated from their parents, and children
being held in federal custody. According to the New York Times:

"Facing pointed questions from Guatemalan journalists,Mr. Bush
stood by the raid, saying, 'People will be treated with
respect,but the United States will enforce our law. Mr. Bush
said he disputed 'conspiracies' relayed by Mr.
Berger [Guatemala's President] that children were taken away
from families. Mr. Bush denied such accounts. 'No es la
verdad,' Mr. Bush said, 'That's not the way America operates.
We're a decent, compassionate country. Those are the kind
of things we do not do. We believe in families, and we'll treat
people with dignity."

Well, si­ es verdad. Days after the raids the
Massachusetts Department of Social Services ( DSS) reported
that they 'could not connect 100 children with their
families'. One woman arrested in the raid was flown back from
Texas where she was being held when her 7 year old daughter
called a hot line created to unite families divided by the raid
to ask about her mother'swhereabouts. Two nursing infants were
hospitalized for dehydration when they were separated from
their mothers.

Once again Bush is either lying or out of touch with reality.
The events of this raid have been well documented and
roundly condemned by the press and politicians in Massachusetts
across the political spectrum. In the era of global
communications, people in Guatemala didn't even have to rely
on the media; they could pick up the phone and call their
relatives in New Bedford to find out what was really going on.

The New Bedford raid had what is by now a familiar feel to it.
On March 6, up to 500 government agents, police, and others
surrounded the Michael Bianco, Inc.leather goods factory in
New Bedford Massachusetts. Inside, an announcement came over
loudspeakers, 'Stay where you are. Immigration agents are in
the building.' Panic ensued as workers made a run for it, but
the exits were blocked, some by police with guns drawn. Some
workers scurried into hiding places, hoping to wait out the

When the building was finally locked down agents instructed US
citizens or green card holders to move to one area and all
others to another area. Workers were interviewed. Some were
released in a few hours because of compelling health or family
reasons. But most were loaded onto buses and transported to a
holding facility on Fort Devens, a former military base about
60 miles away.

Following processing at Fort Devens, 70 of those arrested
were released for a variety reasons within a few days, 90 are
being held in various jails in Massachusetts and Rhode Island,
and 207 were flown far from their homes and families to jails
in Texas. 8 minors were picked up, 3 were released, the rest
are being held in Miami.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick engaged in a few
testy exchanges with the Department of Homeland Security as did
Senators Kennedy and Kerry and other members of the state's
Congressional delegation. Patrick attacked the 'race to the
airport,' to move the workers out of state before they could be
properly interviewed. Kennedy compared the effect of the raids
to, 'the tragedy and human suffering that we all
witnessed after the devastation wreaked by Hurricane
Katrina....These men and women had not harmed anyone. They were
victims of exploitation, forced to work under barbaric
conditions by an employer who knew that they could not afford
to complain. Their children, many of whom are United States
citizens, had done nothing wrong at all. None of them had any
reason to expect that the Departmentof Homeland Security would
decide to make an example out of them."

Kerry called for a Congressional investigation of the raid.

Meanwhile, immigrant rights groups rushed to court and won
a federal court order to halt the out of state flights. But
most of the captives had already been moved.

The Massachusetts DSS sent two teams of 18 social workers
to Texas to interview those arrested. They asked that 21 mothers
be returned to Massachusetts immediately. While the Department
of Homeland Security maintains that it has worked closely with
DSS in the aftermath of the raids, DSS Commissioner
Harry Spence angrily denies this: 'They stopped us at every
step of the way. ICE's rhetoric has been completely different
from the truth.'

The company - owned by Michael Bianco - makes backpacks and vests
for the military under a $138 million contract, and
employs about 500 people. The firm also makes high end leather
goods for name brands like Coach, Inc.

Bianco and four others were arrested following the raid
and charged with knowingly employing undocumented workers or
providing false documents to workers. But unlike the workers,
Bianco and the managers were immediately released on bail and
were back at work the next day.

The Pentagon's contract rules encourage sweatshop production
like those that exist at Bianco, Inc. In fact, Massachusetts'
politicians complained to the Department of Defense long
before the raids about poor labor conditions in
factories producing uniforms and other articles for the
military, although they did not specially mention Bianco.

At a press conference announcing the raid US Attorney Michael
Sullivan pointed to the 'horrible' conditions in the
plant. Indeed an 11 month long investigation, which included
the use of undercover agents, turned up evidence of classic
sweatshop conditions: low wages, no benefits, harsh working
conditions which included restrictions on workers talking or
using restrooms, and workers' pay being docked for
infractions of workplace rules.

Yet no attempt was made to enforce labor laws. Instead,
the victims of the labor abuse were arrested and transported
and their children subjected to what, by virtually any
definition, is child abuse by federal authorities.

The story of the New Bedford raid is still unfolding. But it
could have areal impact on the current immigration debate.

Many advocates of immigration reform see the increase in
the number of raids by the Bush Administration as a move to
satisfy both the hard-line anti-immigrant wing of the
Republican Party and the corporate wing that wants access to
cheap immigrant labor through a guest worker program.
By creating a crisis, the Bush Administration hopes to push
through an immigration reform bill that it likes. It's unclear
whether the strategy will be successful.

On the one hand, many well meaning people - and some not so well-
meaning people - are now calling for immediate action
on comprehensive immigration reform. Massachusetts Senator
Kennedy is preparing to refile a bill similar to one filed in
the last session of Congress that attracted bi-partisan
support. That bill would provide an amnesty for many ofthose
already living in the US. But it would also create a guest
worker program for future immigrant flows and increase funding
for enforcement. It is as we have often written a bad
bill. It will not prevent future immigrant flows; it does not
stop New Bedford-style raids but instead increases enforcement
funding; and it creates a guest worker program that
could institutionalize sweatshops, since it is clear that
authorities are not interested in enforcing labor laws even
when they know from their own investigations that rampant labor
law violations exist.

On the other hand, the New Bedford raid could have a positive
blowback effect. As a result of Bush's visit to Latin America
and the protests in Guatemala, the raid may serve to highlight
the need for a hemispheric approach to immigration reform. Real
reform must involve both the sending and the receiving
countries and as the US moves to further militarize the border
and more draconian raids take place, Latin Americans are
demanding more of a say in how immigration is managed. Latin
American countries weighed in on the U.S.immigration law
reform debate last year, and the coalitions of social
movements and labor such as the Hemispheric Social Alliance
have long proposed principlesto regulate immigration
throughout the Americas.

It's time for immigrant rights advocates, labor unions, and
other elements of global civil society with a stake in
US immigration policy to step into the vacuum and create a new
immigration discourse and program based the realities of
immigrant flows in the age of globalization .

[Tim Costello, Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith are the
co-founders of Global Labor Strategies, a resource center
providing research and analysis on globalization, trade and
labor issues. GLS staff have published many previous reports on
a variety of labor-related issues, including Outsource This!
American Workers, the Jobs Deficit, and the Fair Globalization
Solution, Contingent Workers Fight For Fairness, and Fight
Where You Stand!: WhyGlobalization Matters in Your Community
and Workplace. They have also written and produced the Emmy-
nominated PBS documentary Global Village or Global Pillage? GLS
has offices in New York, Boston, and Montevideo,Uruguay.
For more on GLS visit: or email]

Full Tanks at the Cost of Empty Stomachs:
The Expansion of the Sugarcane Industry in Latin America

We, representatives of organizations and social movements of Brasil,
Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic,
gathered at a forum on the expansion of the sugarcane industry in Latin
America, declare that:

The current model of production of bioenergy is sustained by the same
elements that have always caused the oppression of our peoples:
appropriation of territory, of natural resources, and the labor force.

Historically the sugar industry served as an instrument to maintain
colonialism in our countries and the creation of dominant classes that have
controlled, through today, large extensions of land, the industrial process,
and commercialization. This sector is based on latifundio ownership, on the
overexploitation of labor (including slave labor) and the appropriation of
public resources. This sector was created upon intensive and extensive
monocropping, provoking concentration of land, profit, and wealth.

The sugarcane industry was one of the main agricultural activities developed
in the colonies. It allowed sectors that controlled production and
commercializaction to continue accumulating capital and with this contribute
to the development of capitalism in Europe. In Latin America, the creation
and control of the State, beginning in the 19th century, continued to
service the colonial interests. Currently, control of the State by this
sector is characterized by so-called "bureaucratic capitalism". The sugar
industry defined the political structures of national States and of Latin
American economies.

In Brasil, beginning in the 1970s, during the so-called world oil "crisis",
the sugarcane industry began to produce fuel, which justified its
maintenance and expansion. The same was repeated in 2004, with the new
Pro-Alcohol program, which principally serves to benefit agribusiness. The
Brasilian government began to stimulate the production of biodiesel as well,
principally to guarantee the survival and expansion of large extensions of
soy monoculture. To legitimate this policy and camouflage its destructive
effects, the government stimulated the diversified production of biodiesel
by small producers, with the objective of creating a "social seal". The
monocultures have expanded into indigenous areas and other territories of
native peoples.

In February of 2007, the United States government announced its interest in
establishing a partnership with Brasil in the production of biofuels,
characterized as the principal "symbolic axis" in the relation between the
two countries. This is clearly a phase of a geopolitical strategy of the
United States to weaken the influence of countries such as Venezuela and
Bolivia in the region. It also justifies the expansion of monocultures of
sugarcane, soy, and african palm in all Latin American territories.

Taking advantage of the legitimate concern of international public opinion
on global warming, large agricultural companies, biotechnology companies,
oil companies, and auto companies now perceive that biofuels represent an
important source for the accumulation of capital.

Biomass is falsely presented as the new energy matrix, the ideal of which is
renewable energy. We know that biomass will not actually be able to
substitute fossil fuels, nor is it renewable.

Some characteristics inherent to the sugar industry are the destruction of
the environment and the overexploitation of labor. The principal workforce
is migrant labor. As a result, processes of migration are stimulated, making
workers more vulnerable and attempts at organization more difficult. The
rigorous work of cutting sugarcane has caused the death of hundreds of

Female workers who cut sugarcane are exploited even more, as they receive
lower salaries or, in some countries such as Costa Rica, do not directly
receive salaries. Payment is made to the husband or partner. Child labor is
commonly practiced in the industry throughout Latin America, as well as the
exploitation of youth as the main labor force in the suffocating process of
cutting sugarcane.

Workers do not have any control over the total amount of their production
and as a consequence over their salary, as they are paid according to the
quantity cut and not for hours worked. This situation has serious
implications for the health of workers and has caused the death of workers
through fatigue and the excessive labor that requires cutting up to 20 tons
per day. The majority of contracts are through third party intermediaries or
"gatos". This complicates the possibility of achieving workers' rights, as
formal work contracts do not exist. The figure of the employer is hidden in
this process, which negates the very existence of labor relations.

The Brasilian State stimulates the use of resettled lands under agrarian
reform and lands of small producers, currently responsible for 70% of the
production of food, for biofuel crops, compromising food sovereignty.

As a result, we assume the commitment of:

Expanding and strengthening the struggles of social movements in Latin
America and the Caribbean, through an articulation among existing workers'
organizations and support groups.

Denouncing and combating any agrarian model based on monocultures and
concentration of land and profit, destructive of the environment,
responsible for slave labor and the overexploitation of the working force.
Changing the current agrarian model implies a full realization of a profound
Agrarian Reform that eliminates latinfundios.

Strengthening rural workers' organizations, salaried workers, and
farmworkers to construct a new model that is closely cemented to farmworker
agriculture and agroecology, with diversified production, prioritizing
internal consumption. It is important to fight for a policy of subsidies for
the production of food. Our principal objective is to guarantee food
sovereignty, as the expansion of the production of biofuels aggravates
hunger in the world. We cannot maintain our tanks full while stomachs go
[Comissao Pastoral da Terra (CPT)
Grito dos Excluídos
Movimento Sem Terra (MST)
Servico Pastoral dos Migrantes (SPM)
Rede Social de Justica e Direitos Humanos
Via Campesina]

Bush to Press Free Trade in a Place Where Young
Children Still Cut the Cane
March 12, 2007 New York Times

CHIMALTENANGO, Guatemala, March 11 -- Work starts early
for the people of the Guatemalan countryside, sometimes
as early as 5 or 6. Not the time, the age.

Guatemalan children shine shoes and make bricks. They
cut cane and mop floors. At some factories exporting to
the United States, they sew and sort and chop, often in
conditions so onerous they violate even Guatemala's
very loose labor laws.

"They like us young people because we don't say
anything when they yell at us," said Alma de los
Angeles Zambrano, 15, who recently quit after 18 months
at a food processing plant to work part time for an
organization trying to improve conditions for young

President Bush is likely to miss this side of
Guatemala's labor market when he comes to this rural
area on Monday to visit a thriving agricultural
cooperative that sells products to Wal-Mart's stores in
Central America. The president will meet with Mariano
Canu, the leader of a United States-backed co-op that
hopes to take advantage of theCentral American Free
Trade Agreement. Mr. Canu is doing well enough that his
children are in school preparing for Guatemala's new

Opening up trade, Mr. Bush argues, will ultimately
raise wages and improve working conditions in Central
America. "My message to those trabajadores y
campesinos," Mr. Bush said last week, using the Spanish
words for workers and peasants, "is you have a friend
in the United States of America. We care about your

But this country's young workers, most of them poor
indigenous people, say they often feel that nobody
cares about them: not their parents, who send them off
to the work force; not their stern bosses, who treat
them like adults; not the dysfunctional government off
in Guatemala City.

"It's a major concern," said Manuel Manrique, Unicef's
representative in Guatemala. "Child labor keeps
children out of school. The numbers are very high and
there's a social acceptance in this country that child
labor is O.K."

None of the child workers interviewed around here said
they had yet felt any benefits of Cafta, as the trade
pact is known, which Guatemala signed nearly two years
ago and which slipped through the United States
Congress by a hair. One provision in Cafta, which is
intended to increase trade by eliminating tariff and
nontariff barriers, requires companies to adhere to
local labor laws and commits the United States to
helping improve inspections.

But that is easier said than done. Guatemala's labor
code sets the minimum age for employment at 14. In some
cases, though, the government can provide work permits
to even younger children. Children under 14, who require
parental permission to work, are supposed to work in
apprenticeships appropriate for their age. Economic
necessity in the family must be shown, which is not a
problem in this country where 80 percent of the
population lives in poverty and two-thirds of that
number, or 7.6 million people, live in extreme poverty.

But with little enforcement of labor laws, those
conditions are routinely violated. Guatemalan
workplaces can resemble grade schools, with adult
supervisors standing over little laborers like the
strictest of teachers.

The State Department acknowledged in its latest human
rights report for Guatemala released this month that
"child labor was a widespread and serious problem" and
that "laws governing the employment of minors were not
enforced effectively."

A few hours before leaving for Guatemala on Saturday,
Gordon D. Johndroe, the National Security Council
spokesman traveling with Mr. Bush, said: "Cafta, in its
nine-month existence, is beginning to bring economic
benefits to the people of Central America, but it will
clearly take some time before all those benefits are
fully realized. We'll continue to work with the
Guatemalan government to make sure all obligations to
their people are met."

An independent study of the issue estimated that about
a million Guatemalan children under age 18 are working.
Another review by the United Nations found 16 percent
of children between the ages of 5 and 14 in the labor
force in2000, more of them boys than girls.

The child workers are people like Maria, 16, who
lamented her four years in the labor force but at the
same time insisted that she not be fully identified so
as not to endanger a job that is helping to support her
parents and four brothers and sisters.

"My father hits me and tells me I can't study," she
said, tears running down her cheeks. "He stays home and
drinks and I have to go to the factory."

She studies on the sly. On Sundays, her only day off,
she goes to special classes for young laborers offered
by the Center for Study and Support for Local
Development, a small group known by its Spanish
initials, Ceadel. Despite having worked at a factory
since she was 12 and at home for years before that,
Maria has now completed the equivalent of third grade.

"I can be so tired, so exhausted, but I feel so good
when I come home and read," she said, her tears
stopping and her face lightingup. "It can be any book.
I just like to see the words."

Critics of Cafta see Guatemala's child labor problem as
evidence of the flaws in so-called free trade.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, was one of the
principle opponents of Cafta while he was in the House
of Representatives. "These trade agreements were
written for investors in large American corporations,"
he said in a telephone interview. "They weren't written
for American workers and they weren't written to
protect Central American children."

Cafta's backers, however, say it will take time to lift
countries like Guatemala out of poverty and to improve
longstanding social problems like child labor. The
United States government is paying for efforts to
improve the Ministry of Labor, which is now so
dysfunctional that some inspectors say that since they
work during the day they cannot possibly investigate
reports that children are working night shifts.

Mr.Bush, in his speech in Washington before leaving on
his Latin American trip, said American government aid
had helped lift Guatemala's percentage of children who
complete first grade to 71 percent from 51 percent, a
significant increase but one that illustrates the dire
state of education in the country.

"Children have more energy and they don't complain or
know anything about unions," said Carlos Toledo, whose
Asociacion Nuestros Derechos aids child laborers. "For
a company, they are perfect."

To draw attention to the issue of child labor in
advance of Mr. Bush's visit to Chimaltenango, the
National Labor Committee, a New York-based group that
has investigated gross labor violations worldwide,
interviewed child workers in the area.

The group focused on Legumex, a factory that exports
broccoli, melons and other fruits and vegetables to the
United States, and in a report to be issued on Monday
accuses it of violating a host of labor laws, including
employing children, some as young as 13, for shifts
longer than permitted.

Charles Kernaghan, director of the labor group, traced
the food exports to American food service marketers
that distributes to schools, hospitals, restaurants and
the military. "It is very possible that children in the
U.S. may be eating broccoli harvested and processed by
other children in Guatemala," Mr. Kernaghan said in a

But at Legumex, executives interviewed about child
labor in general insisted that they were complying with
labor laws. They said they did not employ children
under 18 without parental permission. They said they
paid low wages -- which they said were the legal minimum
of about a dollar a day but that Mr. Kernaghan said
were well below it -- because of the low prices paid for
their products in the United States.

"We're a developing country," said Hermann Peterson,
the company's auditor. "We can't have the
same conditions as factories in the United States."

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