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Date: Wed, 14 Oct 98 09:48:46 CDT
From: "Workers World" <ww@wwpublish.com>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Latin American Workers on Move
Article: 45244
To: undisclosed-recipients:;y Message-ID: <bulk.7760.19981015181604@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 15, 1998 issue of Workers World newspaper

Latin American Workers on Move

From Workers World, 15 October 1998

[The storm of economic crisis sweeping westward from Asia is already biting in Latin America. But moves by the continent's ruling classes to foist the crisis on the backs of the people will meet a working class that is assertive and politically conscious.

The clash between economic austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund and a mobilized working class opens up the possibility for a new stage of struggle on the continent. Such a struggle would have a worldwide impact, including on the working-class struggle in the United States.

Strikes and peasant mobilizations have swept nearly every South American country. After decades of repression, workers and students are gaining confidence in street battles and demonstrations. Anti-imperialism is on the rise. We report on some of these actions below, and ask:

Will the economic crisis translate into a political crisis for the region's ruling classes and their biggest backer, U.S. imperialism?]


Strikes and protests swept Ecuador on Oct. 1, as unions, students, and peasants took to the streets to protest President Jamil Mahuad's austerity measures. Mahuad left the country hours after the protests to meet with U.S. investors in New York.

Transportation in Quito and Guayaquil, the country's two largest cities, ground to a halt. In the countryside, peasants blockaded the main highways.

Oil workers in Quito also walked off the job. The government closed schools across the country as students joined with the workers and peasants in the streets. Union federations from Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Mexico and Colombia sent messages of support.

The main demand of the popular organizations was that Mahuad repeal an austerity package that has sent energy prices soaring over 400 percent since it was announced in mid- September. The package also included a 15-percent devaluation of the currency.

The government took a tough attitude toward the strike. After all, the same constellation of forces formed the social base for toppling President Abdala Bucaram in 1997.

Mahuad deployed 12,000 police and military troops in the capital city alone. Four people were killed and over 90 arrested in clashes between protesters and police.

While Mahuad's government was the main target of the protests, his Wall Street backers didn't get off the hook. A bomb exploded outside the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil, damaging the building.

Investors expressed concern over the protests. "The IMF and the International Development Bank are anxious to help Ecuador," economic analyst Santiago Millan told Reuters on Oct. 2. "But they need some sign Ecuador is stable enough politically to make some kind of reforms that won't be reversed."

Popular organizations showed no sign of backing down. Luis Villacis, president of the Popular Front--the coalition of unions, peasant organizations, indigenous groups and other popular organizations--announced a new general strike for Oct. 17, with road blockades going up as early as Oct. 7.


President Alberto Fujimori could not escape the protests of workers and students as hundreds stormed the presidential palace Oct. 1. The action came at the end of a day of protests called by the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers against Fujimori's pro-IMF economic policies and his anti-democratic regime.

At least 7,000 workers and students marched through the streets of Lima, chanting "Down with the dictatorship," and "No re-election." Fujimori, backed by the military and security forces, assumed dictatorial powers in 1992. He plans to run for a third term as president in 2000, violating the Andean country's constitution and despite the wishes of over 70 percent of the population, according to recent polls.

Protesters also slammed Fujimori's "nefarious economic policies" of privatizations and cutbacks in social services. Unemployment is on the rise.

When the demonstrators gathered at the presidential compound, a group of teenagers forced their way into the compound, looting the storage room of the presidential guard and painting the walls with graffiti. After several minutes, riot police stormed the compound with plastic shields and tear gas, arresting at least 30 people.

Hundreds of students took to the streets again Oct. 2 demanding that the government release all those arrested. "People have to protest in some way," said student organizer Jomar Melendez. "For eight years the government has refused to listen, and that gives the people the right to make demands."

Opposition to Fujimori has grown in broad sectors of the population, including many bourgeois parties that have backed Fujimori's war against the country's two armed revolutionary groups, the Communist Party of Peru (Shining Path) and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).


A week after carrying out a crippling general strike, unions in Colombia announced an indefinite general strike beginning Oct. 7. The main union federations ratified the strike at a Sept. 30 meeting.

Wilson Borja, president of the Federation of State Workers, warned that President Andres Pastrana's proposed raises of 14 percent do not even cover the projected 18.5 percent inflation for 1998. The unions also blasted Pastrana's value-added tax, raising the prices of basic goods.

"The strike is because of the fiscal adjustment," Borja said. He called Pastrana's economic plan "an assault against all Colombians."

The strike is backed by the country's three main union federations, including the communist-led United Workers Federation. The United Workers Union, representing the country's oil workers, is also expected to back the strike.

The unions also announced the "taking of Bogot " on Oct. 14, when unionists will march through the streets of the capital.

Workers' mobilizations are continuing in advance of the general strike. On Sept. 30, workers at the national Agrarian Bank held nationwide demonstrations against government plans to close regional offices. Workers from the Bogot Energy Company also declared an indefinite national strike beginning Sept. 30.

Pastrana is asking for emergency powers to implement his economic plan, claiming the powers are necessary to negotiate with the country's main armed opposition, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army and the National Liberation Army.

MEXICO: Thousands mark shooting anniversary

On Oct. 2, 1968, Mexican government sharpshooters opened fire on a student demonstration in Mexico City, killing hundreds. In those days Mexico's U.S. backers uttered barely a word of protest.

But for Mexico's progressive movement, the students' blood still stains Tlatelolco Square, known as the Plaza of Three Cultures. Some 120,000 massed at the plaza this Oct. 3 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the massacre. The common theme of the meeting: truth and justice.

Raul Alvarez Garin, an organizer of the 1968 student protest, addressed the crowd--many of whom were not yet born at the time of the massacre. "Thirty years have passed and we still continue searching with indignation as justice is concealed, as the proof and the archives are hidden," he said. A basic demand has been for the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has held the presidency uninterruptedly since 1968, to turn over the records of the massacre. The PRI calls the archives "military secrets."

Zapatista National Liberation Army leader Subcommander Marcos sent a letter to the demonstration. "The movement of 1968 framed the history of this country in a definitive way," he wrote. "From then two countries faced off: that built on the base of authoritarianism, intolerance, repression and the most brutal exploitation, and that that wanted and wants to build on democracy, inclusion, freedom and justice."

A message was also read from Erika Zamora, a student currently in jail in Acapulco on charges of belonging to the People's Revolutionary Army (EPR).

Speakers referred to the Mexican government's continued repression against the EZLN and the EPR, and especially the continued militarization of Chiapas, the EZLN's base of support. The demonstration came just a day after Mexico's attorney general, Jorge Madrazo Cu,llar, exonerated top officials of the PRI of responsibility for the December massacre of 45 peasant EZLN supporters in Acteal, Chiapas. EZLN supporters charge that the government armed PRI supporters and coordinated the paramilitary attack on the villagers.

The government also increased military patrols in EZLN- dominated regions on the eve of local government-sponsored elections in the southern state.


The streets of La Paz, Bolivia's main city, were quiet on Oct. 1--except for squads of trade unionists patrolling the streets to enforce a general strike in the city. Public and transport workers formed the core of the mass protest against rising telephone, water and electricity prices. Unions blamed the price hikes on a 1994 wave of privatizations of public services.

Food stores and public transportation were closed completely. The May First transport union reportedly blocked key entrances to La Paz and neighboring El Alto.

The following day the Neighborhood Councils Federation in El Alto organized a protest of 10,000 people against the price increases. Demonstrators burned in effigy the head of the government Electricity Board, who had defended the privatizations.

The community group threatened to seize the water and power companies if prices did not come down, according to an Oct. 2 French News Agency report. The Aguas de Illimani water company is controlled by a French-based company, while the Electropaz power company is in the hands of a Spanish firm.

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