September 7, 2012

  • Democrats’ emphasis on war and foreign policy draws mixed views at convention
  • Despite ban, corporate money still flows to Democratic convention
  • Activists and Charlotte residents point to housing crisis, call for banks to be held responsible
  • Colombian GM workers bring case to Detroit, resume hunger strike
  • For Gaza family, son’s death is reminder of daily struggle amid widening protests

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Police raid Honduran campesino community in Bajo Aguan

Early this morning, a joint military-police operation forcibly evicted at least 600 campesino families in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras.  FSRN’s Tim Russo brings us more.

The United Campesino Movement of the Aguan scrambled to quell a potentially explosive situation this morning, when 600 families woke to a military occupation of their community in Los Laureles. The farmers were aggressively rounded up and forced out of their homes at gunpoint. Los Laureles and two other communities did not enter a 2011 land deal between the United Campesinos and Honduras´ wealthiest landowner to sell land to local campesinos.

The forced eviction is part of a broader military operation in the country’s main African Palm producing region. African Palm, largely controlled by Miguel Facussé´s Dinant Corporation, is the primary product used in the production of agrofuels. The industry has been largely subsidized by international financial institutions supporting the United Nations’ greenhouse reduction plan.

On August 31, a coalition of human rights groups condemned the Honduran government for turning a blind eye on ongoing human rights violations in Bajo Aguan. The groups say at least 53 violent campesino deaths linked to Miguel Facussé have gone uninvestigated. Tim Russo, FSRN.

South Africa Human Rights Commission to investigate Marikana mine police shootings

South African platinum miners continue their wildcat strike that started four weeks ago.  The workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine are demanding a substantial wage increase. Two weeks ago, police opened fire on a group of miners, killing 34. This week, the miners saw some signs of progress towards the opening of negotiations. And today, the country’s Human Rights Commission said it would investigate the shootings. FSRN’s Davison Mudzingwa reports.

The South African Human Rights Commission announced it is opening an investigation into what some are calling a “massacre” of 34 protesting miners by security personnel.  Police say they fired in self-defense as the protesters advanced, but some accounts claim police fired on miners fleeing the scene.

Earlier this week, murder charges were dropped against the 270 striking workers who were part of the protest. They had been charged in the deaths under an apartheid-era law, even though police were responsible for the shootings. In addition to probing the incident, the Human Rights Commission said it would look into claims that Lonmin polluted local water supplies, according to the South African Press Association.

Lonmin management indicated today they are ready to negotiate with miners who are demanding almost $1,500 per month, three times what they are currently earning. However, Lonmin said they cannot afford the wage increase.  Davison Mudzingwa, FSRN, South Africa

Judge upholds Guantanamo detainees’ right to legal counsel

A Washington DC judge has rejected an effort by the Obama Administration to limit lawyer access of the 168 detainees at Guantanamo Bay.  The government argued that once prisoner habeas petitions are terminated, they are no longer under the Court’s Protective Order and the government has the power to determine how much lawyer access to provide.  But the judge struck that down, saying the court guarantees lawyer access even if the petition has been dismissed or denied.

Military judge orders accused Muslim gunman to shave beard

An Army judge at Fort Hood, Texas has ruled a Muslim defendant must shave his beard or have it forcibly removed.  FSRN’s Andrew Oxford reports.

Major Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 people in a shooting spree at Fort Hood in 2009, began growing the beard while in detention over the summer.  When Hasan appeared in military court unshaven, presiding judge Col.  Gregory Gross had the defendant removed from the proceedings.

The defense has argued that growing a beard was part of Hasan’s Muslim faith.  Invoking the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, his attorneys argued that forcing him to shave would be a violation of his civil rights. But the judge ruled that the federal act did not apply to court martial cases, and the beard was a disruption to court proceedings. That decision is consistent with the experience of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

“The religious rights, you know, there is a limit to them if you’re in the military.”

Chris Rodda is Senior Research Director with the group.

“A commander has the right to make a soldier be clean-shaven if they want to.”

The murder trial will now likely be delayed as Hasan’s lawyers appeal the order.  Andrew Oxford, FSRN, San Antonio.

Nicaragua pulls troops out of School of the Americas

Nicaragua’s President pledged this week to stop sending troops to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, previously called the School of the Americas. On Wednesday, President Daniel Ortega met with activists with School of the Americas Watch and pledged to pull out of the Georgia-based training facility.

“We’re not sending any and we’re not going to send any.”

Ortega said Nicaragua previously sent about 100 soldiers for training at the school.

“Clearly, the School used to prepare our soldiers. But there’s always the risk that what the School signifies has been contaminated. And now, the School is a symbol of death.”

In addition, the President said Nicaragua would soon be joining Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela in pulling out of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. Ortega called the Treaty the most important tool the US has authorizing intervention in Latin American countries.


Democrats’ emphasis on war and foreign policy draws mixed views at convention

The Democratic National Convention wrapped up today after President Obama officially accepted the party nomination Thursday night. In speeches designed to fire up Democrats for the final stretch of the campaign, he and other leaders laid out what they called a contrast in November’s election.

“When all is said and done, when you pick up that ballot to vote, you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation. Over the next few years big decisions will be made in Washington on jobs, the economy, taxes and deficits, energy, education, war and peace — decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and on our children’s lives for decades to come

The President and Vice President paid tribute to the US soldiers who’ve lost their lives overseas, but there was no mention of the many civilians of other nations killed by the so-called War on Terrorism, or of those killed in Yemen, Pakistan and other nations where the US has not officially declared war. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.


Despite ban, corporate money still flows to Democratic convention

As Democratic delegates pack up to leave Charlotte after the national convention, corporate lobbyists are also wrapping up a full week of events and parties. In order to track some of the money and its role in this week’s convention we’re joined by Craig Holman, Government Affairs Lobbyist with Public Citizen.


Activists and Charlotte residents point to housing crisis, call for banks to be held responsible

As questions of outside money at the convention continue, activists and residents in Charlotte have been using the DNC to raise awareness about the ongoing housing crisis and the role of big banks. Demonstrators gathered in front of Bank of America Thursday in support of one family facing foreclosure and to call on democrats to do more to hold banks responsible. FSRN’s Atecia Robinson reports.


Colombian GM workers bring case to Detroit, resume hunger strike

Workers at an auto plant in Colombia have restarted a hunger strike and brought their case to the GM headquarters in Detroit.

Workers at Colombia’s Colmotores plant say they were fired after injuries sustained on the job and after they began to organize for better conditions. They have been protesting across the street from the US Embassy in Bogota for more than a year. After workers launched a hunger strike in August, GM sent representatives to Colombia and negotiations began, but those talks broke off last week without a resolution.

Jorge Parra is one of the injured workers and the president of ASOTRECOL, an association of injured GM workers.

He told FSRN that he was fired in July 2011 shortly after he began to address the injuries with his fellow workers. He described the injuries as skeletal and muscular problems, such as herniated discs, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and problems in elbows and knees. After working at the plant nine years, his injury left him unable to continue to do his job as a welder.

“I was fired in retaliation for trying to organize them. They alleged that I was instigating actions against General Motors, but we were all just trying to exercise our rights.”

Parra is in Detroit, Michigan this week seeking to bring his case to GM’s officials. He’s joined others in restarting their hunger strike and said workers had been in front of the US Embassy for more than 400 days, living in tents on the street.

“My main objective is to try to talk directly to General Motors so they would do right by us. The Colombian subsidiary, Colmotores did not. And we found that with Colmotores and the Colombian government routinely violate workers rights and ignored us.”

Workers are demanding reintegration into the workforce, retraining for positions that they can do with their illnesses and compensation for their time away from work.

Parra said they have yet to receive a response from letters addressed to Catherine Clegg, vice president of GM’s Labor Relations office. GM did confirm to FSRN that they had received letters from ASOTRECOL, but said they had not responded because there was “no new information in the letters.”

Kate McBride, a spokesperson for GM, declined to confirm the exact amount of compensation or outline other conditions of the settlement, such as whether the workers were offered jobs at the Colmotores plant, but read a statement that said GM is committed to ensuring a safe, healthy working environment for all employees and that GM offered retraining programs, health coverage and support for workers families as part of the negotiations.

Frank Hammer is a retired GM worker and UAW-GM International Representative. He said the struggle of workers in Colombia offers a warning to other workers in the US.

“This experimentation that goes on in Latin America is designed ultimately to be spread around the world to all GM plants. If this is allowed to continue in places like Colombia that it’s not going to be long before these conditions become more manifest here in the United States and I think this would be intolerable.”

Workers say they will continue the strike for their demands, both in Detroit and in Bogota.


For Gaza family, son’s death is reminder of daily struggle amid widening protests

This week, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, protesting the high cost of living and unemployment. In both regions, some protesters have used self-immolation to draw attention to their plight. While several of these people were stopped before they hurt themselves, one person in Gaza died from his injuries. The 18-year-old was a member of an impoverished family from the Shati refugee camp in western Gaza city. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.

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