Category Archives: Latin America

Moving to curtail rights abuses by companies


When it comes to power, think transnational corporations.

Back in March Foreign Policy published an excellent report on the power of the 21st Century corporation, including these observations:

Already, the cash that Apple has on hand exceeds the GDPs of two-thirds of the world’s countries. Firms are also setting the pace vis-à-vis government regulators in a perennial game of cat-and-mouse. After the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to discourage banks from growing excessively big and catastrophe-prone. Yet while the law crushed some smaller financial institutions, the largest banks — with operations spread across many countries — actually became even larger, amassing more capital and lending less. Today, the 10 biggest banks still control almost 50 percent of assets under management worldwide. Meanwhile, some European Union officials, including Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, are pushing for a common tax-base policy among member states to prevent corporations from taking advantage of preferential rates. But if that happened (and it’s a very big if), firms would just look beyond the continent for metanational opportunities.

The world is entering an era in which the most powerful law is not that of sovereignty but that of supply and demand. As scholar Gary Gereffi of Duke University has argued, denationalization now involves companies assembling the capacities of various locations into their global value chains. This has birthed success for companies, such as commodities trader Glencore and logistics firm Archer Daniels Midland, that don’t focus primarily on manufacturing goods, but are experts at getting the physical ingredients of what metanationals make wherever they’re needed.

Could businesses go a step further, shifting from stateless to virtual? Some people think so. In 2013, Balaji Srinivasan, now a partner at the venture-capital company Andreessen Horowitz, gave a much debated talk in which he claimed Silicon Valley is becoming more powerful than Wall Street and the U.S. government. He described “Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit,” or the creation of “an opt-in society, ultimately outside the U.S., run by technology.” The idea is that because social communities increasingly exist online, businesses and their operations might move entirely into the cloud.

The U.N. ponders a move

Two years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to begin the process of regulating the way transnational corporations impact human rights.

Here’s how the vote went:

  • In favor: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Venezuela, and Vietnam
  • Opposed: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, South Korea, Romania, Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America
  • Abstained: Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kuwait, Maldives, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, and the United Arab Emirates

The idea has won the support of more than 80 countries, though Obama’s America remains firmly opposed.

The work continues.

From the latest report from the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

The most egregious business-related human rights abuses take place in conflict-affected areas and other situations of widespread violence. Human rights abuses may spark or intensify conflict, and conflict may in turn lead to further human rights abuses. The gravity of the human rights abuses demands a response, yet in conflict zones the international human rights regime cannot possibly be expected to function as intended. Such situations require that States take action as a matter of urgency, but there remains a lack of clarity among States with regard to what innovative, proactive and, above all, practical policies and tools have the greatest potential for preventing or mitigating business-related abuses in situations of conflict. In the present report, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises outlines a range of policy options that home, host and neighbouring States have, or could develop, to prevent and deter corporate-related human rights abuses in conflict contexts.

>snip<

States should warn business enterprises of the heightened risk of being involved with gross abuses of human rights in conflict-affected areas and clearly communicate their expectations with regard to business respect for human rights, even in such challenging environments. With few exceptions, States have yet to convey their expectations of business behaviour in situations of conflicts. Normally, States would convey such expectations through policies, laws and regulations. For example, in the area of anti-corruption, States in recent years have agreed upon and communicated their expectations regarding standards of business conduct with respect to bribery through international conventions and domestic policies and regulations. However, unlike anti-corruption, the existing legal and policy framework relevant to conflict-affected regions does not have a component that is specifically designed to deal with the problems of business involvement.

This lack of regulatory clarity limits the ability of States to engage or advise business enterprises regarding acceptable conduct in or connected to conflict-affected regions. Therefore, states should review whether their policies, legislation, regulations and enforcement measures effectively address the heightened risk of businesses operating in conflict situations being involved in gross human rights abuses, including through provisions for human rights due diligence by business. They should ensure that their regulatory frameworks are adequate, the applicability to business entities is clarified and, for the most extreme situation, make sure that the relevant agencies are properly resourced to address the problem of business involvement in international or transnational crimes, such as corruption, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Abby Martin interviews one of the measure’s architects

In this, the latest episode of Abby Martin’s series for teleSUR English, the San Francisco Bay Area native interviews a diplomat who played a seminal role in shaping the UN panel’s mandate.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Bringing Corporations to Justice with Ecuador’s UN Rep

Program notes:

For the first time ever, progress is being made at the United Nations for a binding legal instrument that would hold corporations accountable for human rights violations. Transnational corporations — many with larger economies than the countries they operate in — have enjoyed immunity from charges for destroying the environment and taking human lives. But Ecuador is leading a fight in the UN to create an international treaty and standards that can change this equation. At teleSUR’s studios in Quito, Abby Martin interviews Ecuador’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Chair of the negotiations for the binding instrument, María Fernanda Espinosa, about the need for this step.

Paramilitaries assault striking Mexican teachers


A tweet from an activist on the scene captured the paramilitary in action.

A tweet from an activist on the scene captured the paramilitary in action.

The Mexican government’s battle against striking teachers from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE] heated up again Wednesday when armed thugs from state-backed paramilitaries joined in a police action against one of the roadblocks that have become the most powerful weapon of the action against neoliberal education “reforms.”

The assault came in the state of Chiapoas, and fatalities have been reported.

Meanwhile, strikers in another state, Michoacan, have taken the blockade action to the rails.

From teleSUR English:

Mexican State and municipal police accompanied by paramilitaries and hooded individuals with guns forcefully evacuated the only camp that civil society and teachers of the National Coordinator of Education Workers, CNTE, held in the state of Chiapas, Wednesday.

In a statement the CNTE said that 10 trucks loaded with a group of masked men came to the camp at highway San Cristóbal-Tuxtla Gutiérrez in Chiapas where about a hundred protesters were gathering before dispersing them with force. The CNTE was on high alert and reinstated its blockade soon after, according to student activist Omar Garcia.

There were reports that between one and two teachers were killed in the clashes and that two were detained. Videos circulating on social media website showed the masked men took part in cracking down on the protesting teachers, apparently with police permission. The news comes about a month after the Nochixtlan massacre claimed 12 lives in the state of Oaxaca.

Leaders of the CNTE have been protesting over the past few months against the neoliberal education reforms implemented in 2013 by President Enrique Peña Nieto

Railroads blockaded in Michoacan 

Elsewhere, striking teachers have extended their blockades to railroads, reports Fox News Latino:

Hundreds of striking teachers and their supporters effectively shut down the freight rail network in the western Mexican state of Michoacan on Wednesday.

Members of the militant CNTE union launched the protest around 8:30 a.m., blocking tracks with boulders, tree-trunks and even vehicles.

The blockades prevented the transport of thousands of freight containers from the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas, rail operator Kansas City Southern de Mexico said.

The state government urged the teachers to end the blockades and did not rule out the use of riot police to clear the rail lines by force.

Most of Michoacan’s 19,500 primary schools have been shut down since May 16 due to the CNTE strike, which is also having a major impact in several other states, including Oaxaca and Chiapas, where teachers and their allies have blocked highways.

Peña pushes on with ‘reforms,’ U.N urges talks


Plus the rising impact of ablockades and the latest violence. . .

The government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is pushing ahead with its neoliberal corporation-enriching educational “reforms,” and refusing to meaningfully engage with the striking teachers of Southern Mexico.

Teachers are striking in a region with a high population of indigenous peoples, where historically resistance to the central government has been strong.

And it’s important to remember that those 43 missing students kidnaped on the night of 26 September 2014 were attending the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, and had planned to teacher in villages in the region now most deeply affected by the strike by members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE], and not the government’s pet union, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE.

The latest on the government’s plans from teleSUR English:

Another round of negotiations between dissident Mexican teachers and government officials has ended without an agreement after the Ministry of Education refused to call off plans to announce a new education model on Wednesday, a move the national union argued proves that authorities are not taking seriously their demands to cancel neoliberal education reforms, local media reported.

Leaders of the National Coordinator of Education Workers, better known as the CNTE, characterized the nearly six-hour meeting dedicated to discussing education issues on Tuesday as tense and without agreements, while Undersecretary of Basic Education Javier Treviño Cantu described it as “successful.”

The CNTE accused the government of waging a “two-lane manoeuvre” in which authorities continue holding talks with the national dissident union to manage the conflict — which reached fever pitch when police violently cracked down on protesters in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca, one month ago   — while also plowing ahead with education policy plans that only take into account the opinions of the more government-friendly teachers union, the SNTE, La Jornada reported.

Both Education Minister Aurelio Nuño and Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong failed to attend the meeting, according to EFE. Nuño has been recalcitrant throughout the negotiations, refusing to engage in dialogue with the CNTE unless the union accepts President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2013 education reform. Osorio Chong, on the other hand, has attended previous sessions, though teachers have criticized his lack of political will and interest in the process.

According to members of the CNTE, the new education model Nuño is set to announce at 11:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday excludes the dissident union due to lack of consultation.

The UN urges Peña to negotiate with the CNTE

While the government has been holding inconclusive meetings with the CNTE, the real talks have been with the CNTE, and a new voice has been added to the chorus calling on the central government to talk with strikers from the CNTE.

Government World reports:

The head of the United Nations forum on indigenous issues today urged Mexican officials to meet with a wing of the national union of teachers to resolve the conflict in the southern state of Oaxaca, where violent protests over education took at least six lives.

“I would like to express my absolute rejection and condemnation of the events that took place on 19 and 20 June this year in Asuncion Nochixtlán and neighbouring municipalities in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico,” said Alvaro Pop, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

In addition to the people killed, more than 100 were injured in protests that followed President Enrique Peña Nieto’s changes to the education system.

The group that is protesting the changes is known as the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), an offshoot of the national teacher’s union.

In today’s statement, Mr. Pop urges the Government to dialogue in an “effective, participatory and mutually respectful manner” with the CNTE “to find a solution that respects national and international obligations undertaken by Mexico to promote and protect the rights of its indigenous peoples.”

Strikers impact the economy

One of the most effective tactics adopted by the strikers is to erect blockades in an effort to force the government to come to the bargaining table.

And now the Yucatan Times reports that the roadblocks are beginning to bite:

A delegation from the coastal city of Puerto Escondido called on the offices of the Interior Secretariat (Segob) in Mexico City to issue a plea for help.

“We cannot put up with the teachers’ blockades any more,” said spokesman Abraham Clavel, who operates a transportation service in the city. “They are strangling the state of Oaxaca. Puerto Escondido is under siege; there are no tourists.”

Government officials were told that 3,000 people have lost their jobs in the city and that hotel occupancy is less than 20% despite this being the high season for domestic tourism.

Clavel also said there have been fuel and food shortages caused by the blockades. “We’re fed up with always being put under siege,” he declared, claiming that the situation was “a disaster.”

He said combined losses in the region were running at 7.5 million pesos, or US $400,000, per day, and if the protests continue over the next few weeks another 3,000 people will be laid off by businesses in Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, Mazunte, Zipolite and Chacahua.

Violent confrontations continue

The Ayotzinapa students were kidnaped after the commandeered buses ot take them to a political rally, upsetting the wife of the mayor of Iguala, the real power in the local community rather than her spouse.

The students were then ambushed by a coalition of local and federal law enforcement, abetted by cartel gunslingers, who are widely suspected of subsequently killing all the students.

The latest round of violence erupted after another bus commandeering, reports Fox News Latino:

Students and teachers burnt three buses and a truck in the western Mexican state of Michoacan as part of a drive to pressure the government to hire 1,200 graduates from teacher training colleges.

In addition, the protesters have stolen 143 heavy vehicles including passenger buses, cargo trucks, fuel transportation trucks and tractor-trailers in the past few days.

The Secretariat of Public Security (Spanish: SSP) of Michoacan reported that the incident took place at 2 p.m. local time (7 p.m. GMT) when students and teachers burnt three buses crossing the Uruapan-Patzcuaro highway, near Morelia, capital of the state, up to the town of San Juan Tumbio, where they detained 15 passenger trucks.

Riot police prevented teachers and students from torching the remaining 12 buses, although the protesters managed to set fire to a Coca-Cola delivery truck on the Zacapu-Zamora highway.

Another version of the urge to purge, in Brazil


This time the targets of folks who have done a lot of good for Brazil’s poorest.

From teleSUR English:

Cuba is negotiating an extension beyond November for some 2,400 doctors in Brazil working under the joint social program “Mais Medicos (More Doctors).

Implemented by the government of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, the program has benefited nearly 63 million poor people.

According to an agreement reached by the Pan American Health Organization and the Brazilian Ministry of Health, the doctors will stay until at least November – after the Olympics in Rio and the country’s municipal elections. The new announcement follows a visit last week by the deputy Minister of Public Health of Cuba, Marcia Cobas Ruiz, who met in Brasilia with health authorities.

However, interim President Michel Temer announced last May that he wants to reduce the number of foreign doctors in the program from 13,000 to 3,000.

Since it was proposed, the social program has been criticized and opposed by pharmaceutical and medical corporations, as well as right wing politicians in the country.

Peña issues a non-apologetic corruption apology


Ah, the sheer hubris of it all, an apology that really isn’t from the Slick Willie of the South.

From United Press International:

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has apologized for a $7 million luxury home buying scandal of which he and his wife Angelica Rivera were previously cleared of wrongdoing.

Last August, an investigation by Mexico’s Public Function Secretariat found no conflict of interest perpetrated by Peña Nieto or Mexican Finance Secretary Jose Luis Videgaray over awarding contracts to companies that sold homes to them and first lady Rivera, according to federal comptroller Virgilio Andrade.

“There was no conflict of interest,” Andrade then told reporters. “Independently of what public opinion has established, this is the legal dimension of the case.”

Peña Nieto on Monday apologized, stating the scandal damaged the Mexican people’s faith in the presidency. He said he did not break the law and promised to work harder to fight corruption.

“For this reason, with all humility I ask your forgiveness,” Peña Nieto said while addressing political leaders during the unveiling of a new anti-corruption system broadcast on television. “I repeat my sincere and profound apology for the offense and indignation I have caused you.”

Poll: Brazilian coup leader trails former president


Brazil’s interim president and leader of the legislative coup that suspended elected Brazilian President President Dilma Rousseff would lose an electoral contest if he ran for the office, trailing Rousseff’s predecessor and partisan ally.

The public opinion poll results make it clear that the Brazilian public is fed up with the interim government and its austerity polices and sell-offs of public assets.

From teleSUR English:

Suspended President Dilma Rousseff´s predecessor, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – popularly known as Lula – is the favored candidate for the 2018 presidential election, while “interim” President Michel Temer trails far behind with just 5 percent, according to a new Datafolha poll commissioned by the Globo newspaper.

The poll, of 2,792 respondents conducted between July 14 and 15, found that the former labor leader and Workers’ Party founder Lula leads voter preferences with 22 percent, followed by the Green Party’s Marina Silva at 17 percent. Silva finished third in the 2010 presidential election.

Lula has expressed interest in running in the 2018 election, saying that the more he and his ally Rousseff are attacked, the more likely he is to run.

Behind the two projected frontrunners, Temer ally and Senator Aecio Neves of the right-wing PSDB party polled in third with 14 percent. Neves lost the 2014 presidential runoff to Rousseff and was a leading advocate of the ill-footed impeachment campaign against her, widely condemned as a coup.

Neves has also been named in a high-profile scandal known as Operation Car Wash, involving the state oll company, Petrobras. Temer and a number of his top allies are also implicated in the corruption scandal.

The Datafolha poll found incendiary right-wing lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro — who dedicated his pro-impeachment vote in Congress to Rousseff’s dictatorship era torturer — trailed far behind Lula, polling at 7 percent, followed by former Lula Minister Ciro Gomes at 5 percent.

Mexican gov’t Aytozinapa claims hit once again


The disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa after police opened fire on them on the night of 26 September 2014 [previously] remains an open sore on the Mexican body politic.

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has been eager to sweep the presumptive massacre under the rug, or at least relegate the whole bloody mess to the past, but their own incompetence in stage-managing the coverup has been nothing less than inflammatory.

The government claims it has discovered the “historical truth,” claiming all the students were slain byu drug gang members and the bodies then incinerated in a dumping group with the ashes tossed into a nearby stream.

The latest revelation via teleSUR English:

An inquiry published Saturday has revealed that there is virtually no physical evidence to support the Mexican government’s version of the 2014 disappearance of 43 students traveling by bus to Mexico City. Government officials insist that a drug gang kidnapped the students at gunpoint, killed them and burned the bodies at a dumpsite near the southwestern town of Iguala, but the report, based on forensic records requested by the Associated Press, revealed no signs of a fire on the night in question.

But the notes of a forensic examination of the Cocula dumpsite in Guerrero state in western Mexico shows that investigators could not confirm a fire on the night that the students vanished on September 26, 2014. The AP obtained the documents under a freedom of information request permissible under Mexican law,

The AP inquiry is the latest in a series of independent investigations that undermines the Mexican government’s version of events. Police say that five suspects have confessed to the crimes but an international panel of experts earlier this year concluded that the confessions were obtained by torture.

Earlier this year the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) found animal and human remains at the dumpsite but said none of the remains corresponded to the government’s allegation that the bodies were incinerated by members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel. The Attorney General’s Office in April presented evidence of a huge fire and the discovery of the remains of at least 17 adults but the bone fragments were too badly burned to identify, the Argentine team said.

The government’s handling of the case has triggered massive protests that include parents and friends of the students, trade unions and grassroots organizations who believe that law-enforcement authorities are complicit in the slayings of the 43 students, who had effectively stolen a bus, ironically enough, to attend the commemoration of a 1968 police massacre of students.

More from the Associated Press report:

The report from international fire experts convened by the government was obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request. It shows the experts found evidence the Cocula dump had been the site of at least five fires, but could not determine when. Remains of 17 people were also found, but it was unknown when they were burned.

“The duration and dates of the fires could not be established based on the available physical data,” the report said.

>snip<

There was no information about the identities of the 17 remains found, but it was known that the remote dump had become a place to dispose of bodies for some time in an area where hundreds have gone missing.

>snip<

The Argentine team had previously advised of shell casings that suddenly appeared at the site and were later touted by the government as evidence that the students were executed at the dump.

Santiago Aguirre, deputy director of the nonprofit Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Center for Human Rights, which is representing the students’ families, said Friday the report displayed serious deficiencies and was part of “a deliberate attempt to fabricate a version not supported by scientific evidence.”

Before departing Mexico at the end of April, the team from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission urged the government to drop its theory and explore details in the investigation that point to other possible destinations for the students’ remains.

And because authorities failed to maintain control of the site, fabricated evidence could have been added to the already chaotic mix