Monday, July 11, 2011

Historic Miners' Strike is Rallying Point for Chilean Left

On the 40th anniversary of Allende’s 1971 nationalization of the Chilean copper industry, workers at the state copper mining company Codelco (the largest producer of copper on the planet) have begun a historic general strike, their first in 20 years. According to Reuters and AFP, the first site to experience walkouts was Chuquicamata, the country’s number one producing copper mine, but roadblocks, demonstrations and sit-downs are planned at mines across the country. As  FT reports, the strikes have also been accompanied by heavy snowfall in some areas, grinding production at copper mines like Collahuasi, the world’s third-largest, to a screeching halt. Although the strikes are not expected to last more than 24 hours, the work stoppage is expected to cost the company more than $ 40 million.

Chile’s Federation of Copper Workers (Federacion de Trabajadores del Cobre – FTC), who represent 15,000 of Codelco’s 20,000 workers, called for the strike to draw attention to President Sebastian Piñera’s “modernization plan,” which they see as the first step towards Codelco’s privatization. The plan seeks to lay off about 2,600 miners, and has been framed by the government as necessary in order to compete with the private mining sector and increase production.

The strike comes as a hefty blow to President Piñera, whose approval rating has sunk to a record low. According to the latest Adimark poll, 60% of the country now disapproves of his administration. Over the past several weeks, Chile has also been wracked by protests from student groups and teachers’ unions, who say that the President’s education reforms will increase inequality in the country and have called for greater federal control over higher education, including increased access to scholarships for poor and middle income students.

Despite the fact that the president has proposed the creation of a $4 billion education fund, students have promised to continue their protests, including a walkout on July 14th. As EFE reports, these groups have joined in solidarity with the workers under the banner of “the Movement for Democracy for Chile,” and have attacked Piñera for promoting a “crisis of legitimacy” in the country.  

News Briefs

·         Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa has followed up on his promise to hold a series of national dialogues over constitutional reform in the country, with the first one taking place this Saturday. In addition to the major political parties, the meeting was also attended by members of the Electoral Tribunal and seven new political parties in the process of formation (the Frente Ampio de Resistencia Popular, Frente Amplio Politico Electoral, the Partido Convergencia Nacional, the Partido Transformación de Honduras, the Movimiento Tendencia Revolucionaria, Nueva Democracia and Movimiento Anticorrupción). According to La Tribuna, those gathered discussed the provision of a state health care system, land reform, anti-corruption measures, prosecuting human rights violations relating to the coup and organizing a Constitutional Assembly.

·         Argentine protest singer Facundo Cabral was killed while on tour in Guatemala on Saturday, and the UN-led Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has promised to investigate the killing. According to AFP, the likely target of the attack was Nicaraguan businessman Henry Farina, who hired Cabral to perform in the country.

·          The Miami Herald takes a good look at the conflict in Venezuela’s El Rodeo I and II prisons, which has now entered its fourth week. Although the paper claims that the issue has been overlooked in the wake of Chavez’s cancer scare, AFP reports that the Venezuelan government claims it is making progress in its dialogue with the prisoners.

·         The mayoral race in Buenos Aires came to an end yesterday, with current mayor Mauricio Macri taking 47 percent of the vote, compared to the government-sponsored Daniel Filmus’ 28 percent, according to Argentina’s Clarin.  The Associated Press calls the race “a test of President Cristina Fernandez's re-election hopes,” although Mercopress notes that Fernandez has an 18 point lead over her rivals.

·         According to Mexico’s El Universal, 107 people were killed in drug-related violence throughout the country this weekend, including 20 people at a bar in Monterrey. As Bloomberg notes, this is the latest sign of the city’s decline from major business hub to cartel battleground. Furthermore, although the Mexican government has claimed that the notorious Familia Michoacana has been nearly exterminated, the L.A. Times says that more than 1800 troops have been sent to Michoacan to battle their successors, the Knights Templar. Despite the violence, the New York Times reports that firms continue to pop up along the border.

·         Obama administration officials unveiled an update to the border security plan last Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reports. The plan contains no new funding initiatives, but calls for increased coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to combat smuggling.

·         Foreign Policy magazine highlights Cuba’s oil ambitions, with the country set to begin offshore oil drilling this fall. In response, anti-Castro hardliners in the U.S. congress have introduced several bills aiming to punish foreign oil firms seeking to drill in the country. As the Economist notes, the uncertainty of Chavez’s political future (and his generous provision of subsidized oil) makes oil drilling increasingly important for Cuba.

·         The Justice Department placing heightened scrutiny on human trafficking in Brazil, which now rivals Thailand as a major global hotspot for “sex tourism,” according to the New York Times.

·         The Economist reports on FARC resurgence in Colombia, where the group is stepping up the use of landmines and sniper attacks. Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into recent FARC attacks, with spcial attention given to indigenous communities in the country. The newly created Latin America Comunique blog takes a look at recent guerrilla campaign in northeastern Cauca, an area that the government has declared is “totally under control.” As the disparity between the government’s rhetoric and the actual security situation in the country grows, the possibility for a negotiated end to the conflict is becoming increasingly distant.  

·         Colombia Reports says that a municipal election candidate was killed outside of Medellin last Friday, making him the ninth local candidate to have been killed since October. Meanwhile, an investigation by DAS, the Colombian intelligence agency, has revealed that 414 members of Colombia’s Liberal, Conservative, U and MIRA Movement parties have criminal records, according to Caracol.

·         The Washington Post conducted an interesting interview with Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala during his visit to Washington last week. Despite the paper’s best attempts to delve into his connections to Hugo Chavez and his plans for Peru’s mining industry, Humala remained conspicuously tight-lipped.

·         Environmental activism researcher Manuela Picq has written an insightful op-ed for Al Jazeera English, in which she discusses the criminalization of environmental activism in Ecuador. Apparently President Correa has used legislation dating back to the country’s era of military rule in order to suppress protests against development projects by indigenous activists.