Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Buenos Aires Paralyzed by Union Strikes

Anti-government strikes by labor unions shut down much of BuenosAires and other Argentine cities on Tuesday, closing public transport, roads and businesses, and grounding flights.

In the capital, most of the metro lines and trains were suspended, while unionists picketed the main roads in and out of the city so there was little traffic. Flights were canceled, and many banks and schools closed their doors, as the Associated Press reported.

The shut-down marked the first general strike in Argentina for a decade. It was called by two main unions, the General Labor Confederation (CGT) and the Argentine Workers Association (CTA), with support from the Argentine Agrarian Federation, bringing together bus drivers, train conductors and workers at ports, banks and airlines, reports Reuters. The unions are demanding pay rises and lower income taxes for workers, who have been hit hard by inflation.

One of the most prominent union leaders behind the strike is Hugo Moyano, a one-time ally of the Kirchners who is now a fierce opponent of President Cristina Kirchner, and is described by Reuters as “gruff former truck driver.” As well as his economic demands, Moyano has also criticized Kirchner's authoritarian attitudes, telling press that her team “can’t manage the country in the way that it does, without providing answers, with authoritarian attitudes, imposing everything and defying all the world,” reports the AP. He comes from a different branch of Kirchner’s Peronist Party: “While Mr. Moyano represents Peronism's traditional union roots, Mrs. Kirchner is firmly aligned with the party's left,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Kirchner’s approval ratings have plummeted to 32 percent since her re-election in October last year, amid concerns about rising crime and a faltering economy. The government claims inflation stands at 10 percent, though independent economists say it might have reached 27 percent. The economy is likely to grow by less than 3 percent this year, after averaging over 7 percent a year since 2003, reports the WSJ. Unemployment stands at 7.6 percent

The president won re-election promising wage hikes, and wages have gone up by an average 25 percent this year, but this has brought many more workers into a bracket where they must pay income tax, causing discontent.

The general strike follows protests by some 2 million people on November 8, many of them members of the middle classes who are angry over Kirchner’s leadership.

The union bosses hailed the action as a success. CTA head Pablo Micheli said "Thousands joined us to protest a government that doesn't want to listen to us," as the Buenos Aires Herald reports.

Kirchner responded with defiance, telling a crowd at a Sovereignty Day event, “No one is going to pressure me, especially with threats, bullying or thugs,” reports MercoPress, while her ministers described the strike as “extortion.”

Meanwhile, Kirchner’s office has revealed details of her salary in response to controversy over an alleged pay hike -- she grossed some $13,600 this month, compared to $10,000 in January, reports EFE.

News Briefs

  • Inmates in a prison outside Guatemala City rioted on Monday, taking eight guards hostage and demanding better conditions in the facility, before setting the guards free the following day after negotiations with the authorities, as InSight Crime reportedAccording to El Faro, the police have blamed the MS-13 gang for the disturbances, while the government has said it is the fault of the Mexican Zetas, who have a strong presence in the country.
  • Brazilian authorities have managed to get back stolen public money hidden abroad for the first time, after a Channel Islands court found that funds belonging to congressman Paulo Maluf should be returned to the government. The Financial Times calls the case, which comes in the wake of prison sentences for politicians involved in the mensalao scandal, “one more chink in the armour of impunity traditionally enjoyed by corrupt and powerful politicians in Brazil.”
  • El Faro has an interview with Salvadoran priest Antonio Rodriguez, who has strong criticism for the government-negotiated truce between the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs, despite having been an advocate for such a deal in the past.
  • Marine General John Kelly has taken up leadership of the Southern Command (Southcom), which carries out US military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean, replacing Air Force General Douglas Fraser, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The Washington Post has an opinion piece calling on President Barack Obama to end the “inhumane, irrational — and ineffective” war on drugs, in the light of votes to legalize marijuana in Washington and Colorado. NPR hosted a debate on the same issue (available in audio format).
  • Latin America’s Moment blog at the Council on Foreign Relations looks at economic ties between the European Union and Latin American countries, noting that, taken as a whole, EU direct investment in the region is more than double that from the United States.
  • The Mexican and US governments have signed a deal to redefine the terms of how they share water from the Colorado River, reports the NYT.
  • Venezuela’s economy expanded for the eighth consecutive quarter, growing 5.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, reports Reuters.
  • IPS reports on the struggle of families in Mexico to fund the search for their missing female relatives, which averages $23,000 per case.
  • The Guardian has an interview with Chilean student protest leader Camila Vallejo.

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