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Mexico-U.S. caravan calls for end to War on Drugs

Calling for an end to the war on drugs, a transnational caravan of Mexican and U.S. human rights activists is highlighting failed policies they say are behind horrific violence in Mexico and Chicago’s status as the “deadliest global city.”

Led by poet Javier Sicilia, the Caravan for Peace arrives in Chicago Sunday night and will hold a series of community events including a march for peace from Little Village to Lawndale on Monday evening (more below).

The goal is to give voice to the victims of the drug war – which has resulted in 60,000 murders in Mexico since 2006 and mass incarceration of minorities in the U.S. — and to draw connections between U.S. and Mexican policies around drug enforcement, immigration, and weapons smuggling that foster violence and insecurity in Mexico and in Chicago communities, said Cristina Garcia of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, which is coordinating the host committee here.

A leading literary figure in Mexico, Sicilia launched a movement to challenge the heavily militarized drug policies of President Felipe Calderon last year after his 24-year-old son was murdered by drug traffickers.  He led a march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City that was joined by 100,000 people demanding an end to the war.

Chicago is one of 20 U.S. cities being visited by the caravan, which started in August in San Diego and will arrive in Washington DC on September 12.

Noting that Latin American leaders and communities in the U.S. have begun questioning the wisdom of drug prohibition, organizers call for a new approach to drug policy “based on citizen security and public health” and a broad discussion of options for regulating and controlling drugs.

They call for the U.S. to take steps to stop the flow of weapons in Mexico, including reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.  Researchers have linked its expiration to the upsurge in killings in Mexico.

They want financial institutions held accountable for preventing money laundering; an immediate suspension of U.S. aid to Mexico’s military and a shift in U.S. foreign aid from military assistance to human security and development; and reform of immigration policies that have criminalized migrants, militarized the border, and increased the involvement of criminal organizations in human trafficking.


Salicia and two busloads of activists including many survivors of violence will be greeted Sunday, September 2, with a mass at St. Pius Church, 1919 S. Ashland, at 6 p.m.

Events on Monday include a community dialogue from 1 to 4 p.m. at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th, and a march at 5 p.m., starting from the Little Village Arch at 26th and Pulaski and ending with a vigil at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington.

On Tuesday there’s a press conference at City Hall at 10 a.m., followed by events at the Lutheran School of Theology, Roosevelt University, Northeastern Illinois University, and the Albany Park Autonomous Center (full schedule here).

Hondurans mark coup anniversary

Local Hondurans and human rights activists will protest at the Honduran Consulate, 4439 W. Fullerton, on Thursday, June 28 from noon to 2 p.m. to mark the third anniversary of the 2009 coup and demand an end to U.S. military support, including financial assistance and “boots on the ground.”

A deadly attack on Honduran campesinos travelling by canoe on May 11, apparently killed by Honduran police officers accompanying U.S. DEA agents in a U.S. State Department helicopter, reveals the “quiet escalation” of the U.S. military presence there, according to a June 11 Nation article.

While Latin American nations have refused to recognize the post-coup government, the U.S. has embraced it, with President Obama welcoming Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to the White House last October and Vice President Biden travelling to Honduras to pledge continuing support in March.

Obama’s 2013 budget more than doubles military and police aid to Honduras, according to the Nation.

The pretext is the war on drugs, but the vice president of the Honduran Congress estimates that 40 percent of the nation’s police are involved in organized crime, and other officials have exposed “narco-judges” and representatives of drug cartels in Congress.

Human rights abuses have continued to mount, with 22 journalists among hundreds of Hondurans killed, the AFL-CIO reporting “numerous murders” of trade unionists, and the UN reporting that “human rights defenders continue to suffer extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture” and other abuses.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Triangle Fire every year

Kari Lydersen reports at Working In These Times on the Wal-Mart Workers Truth Tour featuring workers from the U.S. and Bangladesh, which was previewed here.

Robert Hodge, a leader of Warehouse Workers for Justice, described a class action lawsuit for wage theft at a huge Wal-Mart warehouse outside Joliet, and Cynthia Murray of Laurel, Maryland, talked about being unable to afford health care after 11 years as a Wal-Mart associate there.

Both said they were shocked to learn of conditions in Bangladesh, where garment workers recently won a minimum wage increase to $43 a month.  Labor rights activists call that a “malnutrition wage.”

It’s country where labor organizing its violently suppressed and working conditions result in hundreds of deaths in workplace explosions and fires every year, according to a report by SweatFree Communities.  Noting the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City, Kalpona Akter said, “In Bangladesh, we have one or two Triangle Fires every year.”

At the height of the campaign for a minimum wage hike last year, Akter was arrested and charged with inciting worker unrest. Some charges she faces are punishable by the death penalty or by life imprisonment, she said.

Her arrest has been protested by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.  Nineteen members of Congress, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky and then-Rep. Phil Hare,  called on Wal-Mart and five other companies doing business in Bangladesh to demand the charges be dropped.  Some charges have been filed by Bangladesh factory groups, including Nassa Group, Wal-Mart’s top supplier.

Progress Illinois has video of Akter, Hodge, and Murray.

Steve Franklin on Egypt

Steve Franklin has lots of stories about the courage and spirt of the journalists, bloggers, and labor and human rights activists he’s worked with in Egypt, and he shares some of them in the current issue of American Prospect.

Franklin, a veteran journalist who heads the Ethnic News Media Project at Community Media Workshop, has been doing trainings in Egypt for several years.  He writes of bloggers exposing brutal police violence, striking workers facing government thugs, and journalists expanding the boundaries of free expression — long before the 18 days that brought down Hosni Mubarak last month.

Domestic violence victims being deported

Victims of domestic violence are being detained and deported when they contact local law enforcement to report abuses, according to a new report released here by the Latino Union of Chicago.

It’s happening under the so-called “Secure Communities” program, which coordinates local police agencies with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  ICE claims the program targets individuals convicted of violent crimes, but critics have charged that many others are caught up in it.  According to the report from Latino Union and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, women are being fingerprinted and detained when they go to police to report crimes.

“Secure Communities is a direct attack on immigrant women, families, and victims of domestic violence,” said Gladys Zarate, a founder of Weaving Dreams, a domestic workers collective.

“As we honor contributions of the women’s movement on International Women’s Day, we demand that Illinois take immediate steps to protect women and families by opting out of this voluntary program,” she said.

Day laborers mark Human Rights Day

Day laborers will host their supporters, including elected officials and allies from labor, faith, and community organizations, at a celebration on International Human Rights Day marking the tenth anniversary of the Latino Union – and the release of a new report on “excluded workers.”

The tenth anniversary fundraiser takes place tonight, Friday, December 10, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th Street.

Latino Union organizes low-income immigrant workers, including day laborers in communities like Pilsen and Albany Park.

The unemployment crisis has exacerbated longstanding problems including wage theft and unsafe working conditions and “forced us to find new solutions,” said Jose Luis Guillardo, a Latino Union leader.

“We are very fortunate to have such a strong network of people that believe in workers rights as human rights,” said Patricio Ordonez, a day laborer who coordinates the Albany Park Worker Center.  “This is the product of ten years of organizing.”

The new report (pdf) comes from the Excluded Workers Congress, which the Latino Union helped found in June.  The group brings together organizations working across the nation with workers excluded from legal protections for organizing and collective bargaining, as well as minimum wage and health and safety standards.

That includes millions of workers, according to the report, including 1.5 million farmworkers, 2 million domestic workers, and 3 million tipped workers.  The report describes conditions, provides individual stories, and relates successful organizing campaigns in nine sectors, including day laborers, guest workers, workfare workers, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, and the formerly incarcerated.

The exclusion of sectors of the workforce from labor rights has its roots in slavery and racism, the report argues.  And it denies workers rights guaranteed under the UN Declaration of Human Rights, including “the most basic right: the right to organize.”

EWC is backing legislation that would bar employers from using immigration enforcement to undercut organizing efforts, and calling for a minimum wage that keeps pace with inflation.

Report from Honduras

With the killing of journalists in Honduras the subject of a recent report – part of the emergence of death squads since the massive military repression which followed last year’s coup has ended – a delegation of human rights activists who visited Honduras last month holds a report back session Friday, August 6 at 8 p.m. at Decima Musa, 1901 S. Loomis.

The group travelled throughout the country and met with political prisoners, campesinos, indigenous leaders, human rights advocates, and a respected independent Catholic journalist who has received several death threats.

Honduras: “Impunity” in journalist killings

The murder of journalists is going uninvestigated in post-coup Honduras, creating “a climate of lawlessness that is allowing criminals to kill journalists with impunity,” according to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Meanwhile local activists who travelled to Honduras to observe protests on the one-year anniversary of the coup on June 28 met with a Honduran journalist who visited Chicago in March, and who has received numerous death threats.

The CPJ report looks at the killing of seven journalists between March 1 and the middle of June this year, most of them “clearly assassinations carried out by hit men.”  It identifies motives related to the journalists’ work in several cases.

A New York Times article on the CPJ report mentions an official truth commission investigating the coup.  You have to read In These Times to learn that human rights groups are sponsoring an alternative truth commission.

The official truth commission is restricted to issues surrounding the coup itself, and is not charged with looking into human rights violations, according to Victoria Cervantes of La Voz de los de Abajo, a local solidarity group.  Only the alternative commission is investigating the killings, abductions, and torture that have followed in the wake of the coup, she said.

There is continuing “death squad-type activity” that is “very targeted, very deliberate, very specific,” Cervantes said.  And “there is no investigation, no action.  There is total, absolute impunity for violence against journalists and against resistance activists.”

Cervantes was part of the La Voz delegation in June, consisting of a dozen human rights activists, mainly from Chicago.  She said that despite violence, the movement resisting the coup continues to organize, forming neighborhood committees and assemblies in Tegucigalpa and other cities.

At least 100,000 Hondurans marched in protest on June 28, the anniversary of the coup, she said.  (See Kari Lydersen’s report from Honduras on the anniversary protest at In These Times.) In addition to demonstrations in smaller cities, protestors in the countryside blocked highways for hours, she said.

The Chicagoans visited Father Ismael Moreno (known as Father Melo), director of Radio Progreso in a small northern city.  The Jesuit priest has received several death threats – including a call on his cell phone telling him his head would be cut off – and no longer travels alone or at night, Cervantes said.

Moreno visited Chicago in March (see previous post).

Reports from the La Voz delegation are at the Honduras Resist blog.

Last month 27 members of Congress, including Representatives Danny Davis, Bobby Rush, and Jan Schakowsky, wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling on the State Department to investigate continuing human rights violations in Honduras (pdf).

The letter notes that nine journalists have been killed and others “have been tortured, kidnapped, and suffered death threats.”

Far from pressing for human rights improvements, the U.S. has been pushing for reinstatement of Honduras’s membership in the Organization of American States, which was suspended after the coup.

Cervantes said an OAS vote slated for this week may be postponed because other Latin American countries continue to oppose reinstatement.

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