October 15, 2009
- Obama defends Katrina recovery efforts in first Presidential visit to New Orleans
- US Senate considers merging two healthcare proposals; discusses public option details
- Conservationists preserve sea turtles, iguanas on Mexico´s Oaxaca coast
- UN renews Haiti peacekeeping mission
General Strike Paralyzes Puerto Rico
A 24-hour general strike is underway in Puerto Rico, where as many as a hundred thousand workers are protesting government layoffs.
Truck drivers honked their horns this morning as they blocked traffic.
Last month Governor Luis Fortuno announced the firing of 17,000 public workers. The move followed the layoffs of 4,000 workers in June.
The cuts are expected to push Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate as high as 17 percent.
A dozen unions participated in today’s general strike. Many businesses and schools were closed, but the airport remained open after the governor threatened to charge protesters with terrorism if they blocked airports and seaports.
Thousands March Against Utility Takeover
In Mexico City, tens of thousands of electrical workers and their supporters marched against the federal government’s take-over of a major energy utility. Daniel Hernandez reports:
Today’s march through downtown comes less than a week after President Felipe Calderon liquidated Central Light and Power. The utility provides energy to the Federal District and neighboring states. Armed federal police carried out the takeover just before dawn on Sunday.
The move was unexpected and left more than 44,000 people without jobs. Calderon says it was necessary to modernize the country’s infrastructure and to save money.
But critics say the utility’s liquidation a direct assault on the union, which is the oldest in the country and among its most powerful. Known as the S.M.E., the union supported the Zapatistas in 1994, and leftist presidential Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost to Calderon in a contested vote in 2006.
Calderon is offering each fired worker 33 months of their wages. In addition to marching today… many are starting to line up at their former workplaces to collect their severance.
Daniel Hernadez, FSRN, Mexico City
Violence Spikes in Pakistan
Violence against police and security forces continues to rise in Pakistan. This morning several attacks allegedly committed by Taliban insurgents killed 38 people. Teams of gunmen dressed in police uniforms attacked two police training centers and the Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore. A car bomb in the city of Kohat blasted a police station. And in Peshawar, a bomb aimed at a residence for government workers killed a child.
UN Considers Gaza Human Rights Report
The United Nations Human Rights Council met today in Geneva to discuss a report on allegations of war crimes during the Gaza conflict earlier this year. The council had previously deferred consideration of the report for six months. Known as the Goldstone Report, the findings from a UN investigation accuse both Israel and Hamas of war crimes in Gaza, but are most critical of Israel. The report accuses Isreal of using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure
Palestinian Authority Foreign Affairs Minister, Riad Al-Malki, told the UN evidence of Israeli military aggression is still visible.
“Israel continues to obstruct the reconstruction of the thousands of homes, vital infrastructure, hospitals, schools, mosques, economic, industrial and agricultural facilities and even the UN facilities damaged and destroyed in the onslaught.”
The council meets again on Friday. If it votes to approve the Goldstone report, the UN could push for war-crimes prosecution.
Terrorism Charges Upheld Against Animal Right Activists
A Federal Appeals court upheld terrorism charges against animal rights activists known as the SHAC 7. The charges stem from statements they made on their website in support of tactics like breaking windows in order to pressure corporations to stop contracting with the animal testing company Huntington Life Sciences. The activists were never accused of engaging in the tactics themselves. Free speech advocates say the ruling strikes a blow to the first amendment because it lowers the threshold of protection for vocal support of civil disobedience. The ruling also upholds the legal argument that civil disobedience is “terrorism.”
Human Rights Abuses At Fort Lewis Brig
Two soldiers who resisted redeployment to Iraq and Afghanistan say they’ve been subject to human rights violations. The soldiers are being held in a military prison at Fort Lewis in Washington state. They met with their attorney last night, but were denied privacy. FSRN’s Mark Taylor Canfield has more from Seattle.
Attorney James Branum claims that soldiers being detained at the Fort Lewis military brig near Tacoma are being denied basic human rights.
“Even prisoners have rights protected by the constitution – the 6th Amendment and 8th Amendment. 6th, of course, is right to council. 8th Amendment is freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.”
Branum is co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Military Law Taskforce which works to advocate for the legal rights of US soldiers. He is currently representing two US soldiers incarcerated at the Fort Lewis brig – Travis Bishop and Leo Church. Bishop was declared a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International after he refused to deploy to the war in Afghanistan.
Their attorney James Branum says he was previously denied access to his clients by the US Army, violating the 6th Amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees the accused the right to legal counsel. He claims that he has not been able to obtain confidential meetings with his clients. He also accuses the military of mistreating prisoners at the Fort Lewis brig claiming that they have been subjected to humiliating treatment including strip searches, and lack of personal privacy.
“Basically, you have to treat people with basic humanity. You can’t…there are certain boundaries, and unfortunately Fort Lewis has been violating those boundaries. This is unacceptable. It’s unconstitutional. It has to stop.”
Spokespersons at Fort Lewis have denied Branum’s charge that Travis Bishop and Leo Church have been barred from access to legal council. They also maintain that the presence of guards during private phone calls and consultations with attorneys is necessary for security at the prison. The US military has admitted that strip searches have been conducted in rooms equipped with video cameras, but they deny that any of those searches were ever recorded.
James Branum is filing an official complaint with the military demanding that conditions be improved for prisoners at the brig. He is also drafting a letter to President Barack Obama about the situation at Fort Lewis and says that if military authorities do not act on his demands, he will file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the US Army.
“If they don’t do it we file the Article 138 complaint. It goes all the way up the chain of command, and then we file a federal lawsuit as well.”
Mark Taylor-Canfield, Free Speech Radio News in Seattle.
Obama defends Katrina recovery efforts in first Presidential visit to New Orleans
President Obama made his first presidential visit to New Orleans today, where he spoke about the government´s efforts to help local residents recover from Hurricane Katrina. He said his administration freed more than $1.5 billion for recovery and rebuilding that had been tangled up for years.
“On the housing front we are tackling the corruption and inefficiency that plagued the New Orleans Housing Authority for years. We have also been able to dramatically cut the number of people who are still in emergency housing. We are moving families towards self-sufficiency by helping home owners rebuild and helping renters find affordable options. On the education front I have just visited Martin Luther King Charter School, the first school to reopen in the 9th Ward and an inspiration for the city.”
Obama spoke at a town hall meeting at the University of New Orleans. After a brief speech, he took random questions from audience members.
“Good afternoon my name is Gabriel Borne, from here in New Orleans, my question is regarding FEMA reimbursements. Why is it that four years after Katrina we are still fighting the Federal Government for money to repair our devastated city? Delgado Community College, the largest vocational educational institution in the region, recently had to turn away 1,500 students because FEMA is only offering $19 million to repair buildings that suffered $40 million in damage. We have been without a full service public hospital for the last four years because FEMA is offering $350 million less than the true damage costs incurred. I mean I expected as much from the Bush Administration but why are we still being nickled and dimed in our recovery?”
Obama: “Let me say this, first of all I will say to every single person in the Gulf Region you could not have a better FEMA director than we have right now and I think our agency is working around the clock to clear up red tape and eliminate bureaucracy on backlogs that go back years. I know that since a lot of these problems have been going since Katrina happened people understandably feel impatient. On the other hand these things are not going to be fixed tomorrow. So we are working as hard as we can, as quickly as we can, to process through many of these issues.”
Obama also visited the Martin Luther King Jr Science and Technology Charter School, it´s the only school in operation in the lower 9th ward since the floods caused by hurricane Katrina.
The President´s visit comes as some local politicians and community leaders demand more efficiency in the disbursal of hurricane recovery funds, and more government funds for coastal reconstruction, levee protection and the creation of small businesses. For more on reconstruction efforts, FSRN contacted Monique Harden, the co-director of Advocates for Environmental Rights, a public interest law firm that works with Katrina survivors in New Orleans.
US Senate considers merging two healthcare proposals; discusses public option details
In Washington, DC, a proposal for healthcare reform emerged from the Senate Finance Committee earlier this week. Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is attempting to merge two vastly different pieces of health care legislation, but he must create a product that appeals to 60 Senators in order for it to pass. As FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, the devil will be in the details.
Conservationists preserve sea turtles, iguanas on Mexico´s Oaxaca coast
Once thriving ecosystems on Mexico’s Pacific coast have been in steady decline for decades. While Mexico’s federal government did outlaw the killing and commercialization of sea turtles in 1990, relatively little has been done to take a comprehensive approach to overhauling ocean policy since then. But as FSRN´s Shannon Young reports, some small-scale efforts are taking conservation into their own hands.
UN renews Haiti peacekeeping mission
This week, the UN Security Council renewed its peacekeeping mission in Haiti, extending its mandate in the country by one year. Haitian and international officials credit some 9,000 peacekeepers, known by the acronym MINUSTAH, with improving security in Haiti since the US-backed ouster of President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004. But UN troops face increasing resistance from many Haitians who view them as a militarized occupation force. FSRN’s Ansel Herz reports from Port-Au-Prince.