Weekly News Update on the Americas
On the morning of Nov. 28 some 60 men and women attacked an encampment of protesters who for the past two months had been blocking construction of a seed-drying plant in Malvinas Argentinas, a town in the central Argentine province of Córdoba, by the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company. The attackers, arriving in two rented buses, used rocks and clubs to drive away protesters at two points where they were blocking access to the construction site. Once the road was cleared, seven trucks delivered construction materials. Later, a confrontation broke out between the attackers and the protesters, who included Malvinas Argentinas residents and environmentalists from other parts of Argentina. Police agents finally intervened by firing rubbers bullets. As many as 20 protesters were injured in the incident, along with three police agents; it was unclear how many attackers were hurt.
Honduras' Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) issued an official announcement on Nov. 30 declaring former Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the presidential candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), the victor in general elections that were held on Nov. 24. According to the TSE, Hernández received 36.80% of the vote, while Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the candidate of the center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), received 28.79%. Results announced the day before showed Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with 20.28% of the vote and Salvador Nasralla of the Anticorruption Party (PAC) with 13.72%. The TSE didn’t announce final results for the 128 deputies in the unicameral National Congress, but earlier projections showed the PN winning 47 seats, followed by LIBRE with 39, the PL with 26 and the PAC with 13; each of three smaller parties is expected to have one seat.
Hundreds of Haitian immigrants fled the Dominican Republic from Nov. 23 to Nov. 25 following reports that mobs were killing Haitians in revenge for the murder of a Dominican couple; one or two men, reportedly Haitians, raped and murdered 63-year-old Luja Díaz Encarnación in the course of a robbery on Nov. 22 and killed her 70-year-old husband, José Méndez, in Neyba, the capital of the southwestern Dominican province of Baoruco. According to the Haitian nonprofit Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR), 347 Haitian citizens were repatriated in just two days, Nov. 23 and Nov. 24, at the southern border crossing between the Dominican city of Jimaní and the Haitian town of Malpasse; the refugees included 107 children. The fleeing immigrants told GARR that four Haitians had been killed with machetes and their bodies had been burned.
As many as 30 Haitians were killed when the boat they were traveling on ran aground and then capsized on Nov. 25 near Harvey Cays in the southern Bahamas. Bahamian authorities said 111 survivors were rescued, many of them suffering from hunger and dehydration. The badly overloaded 40-foot boat was apparently headed for Florida; Haitians seeking to enter the US without authorization frequently travel through the Bahamas. Bahamas military spokesperson Lt Origin Deleveaux said the survivors would be processed at a military base on New Providence and then repatriated to Haiti.
With about 43% of the ballots counted in Honduras' Nov. 24 presidential election, Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), was ahead with about 34% of the votes, according to electoral officials on Nov. 25. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, running for the newly formed center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), was second with 28.4%, followed by Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with about 21%. Both Castro and Hernández, previously the National Congress president, claimed victory. Castro's husband, former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), told reporters that there were "serious inconsistencies" in as many as 400,000 ballots. He said LIBRE supporters "are going to defend our triumph at the ballot box and if necessary will take to the streets." There is no runoff in the Honduran presidential election; the candidate with a plurality wins.
As of Nov. 23 residents of Malvinas Argentinas in the central Argentine province of Córdoba had succeeded for more than two months in their effort to stop the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company from building a corn seed-drying plant in their town. After more than a year of protests against plans for the $300 million, 27-hectare plant—projected to be the company's largest facility in Latin America—the Malvinas Struggles for Life Neighbors' Assembly announced a "Spring Without Monsanto" festival to be held outside the construction site on Sept. 19, three days before the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. The festival launched an open-ended blockade of the plant. With access cut off, the construction contractors removed their heavy equipment and the workers didn't come to the site. Monsanto acknowledged that the project was suffering a setback.
Two major North American garment companies, Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc. and Fruit of the Loom, which is headquartered in Bowling Green, Kentucky, have announced that they will now require their Haitian suppliers to pay piece-rate workers at least the 300 gourde daily minimum wage (about US$7.22 at the time of the announcement) that went into effect by law in October 2012. The increase will cover 90% of the workers; the rest are trainees who are paid at a lower rate. Scott Nova, a spokesperson for the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) labor monitoring group, told the Toronto Star that the companies will also be meeting with unions to discuss back pay. According to Nova, another major apparel company, North Carolina-based Hanesbrands Inc., has refused to make a commitment to honor the minimum wage.
Some 2,000 activists traveled to Columbus, Georgia, for the 23rd annual vigil outside Fort Benning to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). The activities, held this year from Nov. 22 to 24, were sponsored by SOA Watch, which opposes the US Army's training of Latin American soldiers, charging that SOA graduates have been among the region's most notorious human rights violators. Previous years were marked by trespass arrests as protesters tried to enter Fort Benning; nearly 300 activists have served prison sentences of up to two years for acts of civil disobedience since the vigils began. This year no protesters entered the base. One activist chained himself to the base's fence on Nov. 23 but eventually unlocked himself after local police agents refused to arrest him.