November 22, 2017

Political Report # 1294 NAFTA Talks: What's the Deal?

By Arthur Stamoulis
Labor Notes

As renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) chugs along rapidly behind closed doors, President Donald Trump will soon be forced to decide whether to keep or abandon his campaign pledge to make the pact "much better" for working people.
NAFTA's renegotiation should be an opportunity to end its quarter-century legacy of job loss and wage suppression. Longtime fair trade advocates warn, however, that without increased public pressure, Trump could end up making NAFTA even worse for working people.
Rather than put good-paying jobs, better wages, and human rights at the center of NAFTA's renegotiation, as unions and others have demanded, big corporations are pushing to "modernize" NAFTA in ways that strengthen corporate power.
In recent weeks, as NAFTA's renegotiation reached its "middle stage," corporations have dramatically increased their pressure on the White House, descending on Capitol Hill in droves; holding multiple press conferences; sending various letters; and encouraging their friends in the "Goldman-Sachs wing" of the administration to intervene with the president.
Chamber of Commerce Vice President John G. Murphy explained during a mid-October press event, "We're urging the administration to recalibrate its approach and stop and listen to the business community, the agriculture community, the people who actually engage in trade."

Abstract, Slavery in Today’s Brazil: Law and Public Policy

:::::: Abstract ::::::

Slavery in Today’s Brazil: Law and Public Policy
by Ricardo Rezoned Figueira and Neide Esterci

The abolition of slavery in 1888 failed to eliminate the repressive and compulsory use of labor in Brazil. When pressure to reduce slave trafficking made African labor scarce, coffee producers in São Paulo recruited European migrants to replace it. Through indebtedness and compulsory work, migrants became captive to the landowners who hired them. As the occupation of the Amazon frontier became state policy in the 1960s, debt bondage was used against the thousands of migrant workers hired to clear the areas for agribusiness projects. Slavery had been prohibited since 1940, and in 1965 the Congress entered into two international agreements on slavery that included debt bondage. With the end of the military government in 1985, the category “slave labor” was incorporated into the regulatory framework for employment practices, and since then it has been broadened to include labor forced by violence, debt bondage, exhausting labor, and degrading working conditions. Tensions around the definition remain, however, and prosecutions under the law and guilty verdicts have so far been few.

Abstract, Migration and Trafficking of Persons for Labor Exploitation in the Textile Workshops of Buenos Aires under Neoliberalism

:::::: Abstract ::::::

Migration and Trafficking of Persons for Labor Exploitation in the Textile Workshops of Buenos Aires under Neoliberalism
by Debora Betrisey

The practices and political representations of the Argentine state with regard to trafficking in persons for purposes of labor exploitation, currently dominated by legal logic, treat immigrant workers as vulnerable victims. This robs them of any autonomy and ignores other aspects of their subjectivity, hindering the establishment of connections and solidarity with other social sectors in the national context that would allow them to contest the exploitation and domination to which they are subject.

November 20, 2017

Political Report # 1293 Who Ordered Killing of Honduran Activist? Evidence of Broad Plot Is Found

By Elisabeth Malkin
The New York Times

MEXICO CITY - It was just before midnight when two men kicked in the door to Berta Cáceres's house in the small Honduran mountain town of La Esperanza. Moving past the kitchen, one of them opened the door to her bedroom and fired six shots. She died moments later.
In a country where the fight to protect land rights provokes violent retaliation, the murder in March 2016 of another environmental defender might simply have receded into a grim tally of regrettable losses.
But Ms. Cáceres, 44, had won international acclaim for leading her indigenous Lenca community against a dam planned on their land. Her prominence transformed her killing into an emblematic crime - and turned the investigation that followed into a challenge to the entrenched impunity of the powerful in Honduras.
Now, 20 months after the killing, a team of five international lawyers has warned that the people who ordered it may never face justice.
The evidence, the lawyers said, points to a plot against Ms. Cáceres that was months in the making and reached up to senior executives of Desarrollos Energéticos, known as Desa, the Honduran company holding the dam concession.
"The existing proof is conclusive regarding the participation of numerous state agents, high-ranking executives and employees of Desa in the planning, execution and cover-up of the assassination," the lawyers wrote.
Desa has repeatedly denied any involvement in Ms. Cáceres' death or any connection to "acts of violence and intimidation."

Abstract, The Tip of the Iceberg: Media Coverage of “Slave Labor” in Argentina

:::::: Abstract ::::::

The Tip of the Iceberg: Media Coverage of “Slave Labor” in Argentina
by Marina Kabat, Agustina Desalvo, Julia Egan

The Argentina media often report “slave labor” conditions in clothing production and seed nurseries. A critical assessment of the types of coercion (economic and noneconomic) that hold workers under these brutal conditions indicates that instances of extraeconomic coercion are merely the extreme manifestation of a general situation in which economic coercion predominates. The determinants of the deterioration of working conditions in these two sectors include relative overpopulation and technological backwardness.

November 17, 2017

Political Report # 1292 Trump's New Cuba Sanctions Miss Their Mark

By William LeoGrande
Americas Quartely

After two years of restored diplomatic ties, new U.S. regulations on Cuba are bringing back a thicket of travel, financial and trade restrictions - and a tougher stance toward the island. The goal of these restrictions, according to U.S. President Donald Trump, is to starve the Cuban government of money from travel, remittances and commercial ties. But the real victims of the new sanctions will be U.S. residents whose right to travel is curtailed, Cuban families who depend on remittances to survive, the struggling Cuban private sector, and U.S. businesses that will face an even greater disadvantage competing with Asian and European firms.
The regulations issued by the Treasury and Commerce Departments on Nov. 8 re-impose significant limits on educational travel to Cuba that former President Barack Obama relaxed. They also redefine "prohibited officials of the Government of Cuba" expansively, potentially cutting off remittances to hundreds of thousands of Cuban families. Finally, they prohibit anyone subject to U.S. jurisdiction from engaging in any "direct financial transactions" with entities controlled by the Cuban military or security forces that "disproportionately benefits" those entities.

Abstract, Prostitution and Migrant Smuggling Networks Operating between Central America, Mexico, and the United States

:::::: Abstract ::::::

Prostitution and Migrant Smuggling Networks Operating between Central America, Mexico, and the United States
by Simón Pedro Izcara Palacios

During the past five years, a process of specialization has taken place in migrant smuggling networks that has led to the strengthening of those focused on transporting women. The reasons are that migrant women have been less affected than men by the violence in Mexico and that the adult entertainment industry pays the highest prices for irregular migrants. In-depth interviews with procurers, smugglers, and women from Central America describe the operation of the networks for the smuggling of women for prostitution operating between Central America, Mexico, and the United States and indicate that the recruitment of women is usually not coercive and that the employment of minors is more frequent in the United States than in Mexico.

November 15, 2017

Political Report # 1291 Trump Doubles Down on Sanctions and Regime Change for Venezuela

By Mark Weisbrot  lterNet

On November 3rd President Maduro of Venezuela proposed a meeting with creditors, for November 13th in Caracas, to discuss a restructuring of Venezuelan public debt. On November 8th, the Trump administration reacted by warning US bondholders that attending this meeting could put them in violation of US economic sanctions against Venezuela. Such a violation can be penalized by 30 years in prison and up to $10 million dollars in fines for businesses.
Then on Thursday, the administration added ten more Venezuelan officials to the list of people under US sanctions. The new targets included electoral officials and also the head of the government's main food distribution program.
The sanctions violate the charter of the Organization of American States (Chapter 4, Article 19) and other international treaties that the U.S. has signed.
It is important to understand both the context and the intended (as well as likely) effects of the Trump administration's' actions. With encouragement from Florida Senator Marco Rubio and other Republicans, Trump has been trying to help topple the elected government of Venezuela. After four months of violent street protests failed to accomplish this goal (and also alienated much of the Venezuelan population), most of the Venezuelan opposition opted to participate in the gubernatorial elections of October 15th.
The leading and most reliable pro-opposition pollster, Datanálisis, forecast an overwhelming opposition victory, with 18 governors. The result, however was the opposite: the governing PSUV (Socialist) party won 18 of the 23 races.
Although there appear to be false vote totals that swung one close governor's race (in Bolivar state) -- and this should be investigated -- the other results are not in question and were accepted by most of the opposition. There are various explanations for the surprise result, but the most credible and important appear to revolve around opposition voter abstention and higher than expected turnout of pro-government voters. Improved food distribution probably helped the government.
One thing that seems to have hurt the opposition was their support for the Trump sanctions. According to Datanálisis, Venezuelans were against the sanctions by a margin of 61.4 to 28.5 percent; and among the unaligned voters, more than 70 percent were opposed. Also, 69 percent wanted the opposition and government to re-initiate talks. The regime change strategy had failed.
But the Trump administration decided to double down on both regime change and sanctions. The strategy appears to be to prevent an economic recovery and worsen the shortages (which include essential medicines and food) so that Venezuelans will get back in the streets and overthrow the government.
The Trump sanctions explicitly prohibit new borrowing. This is to ensure that Venezuela cannot do what most governments do with most of their debt, i.e. "roll over" the principal by borrowing anew to pay the principal when a bond matures. For example, last week the government had to scramble to pay off $1.2 billion in principal for PDVSA bonds, to avoid default. (Although Venezuela cannot borrow on international markets right now, they could possibly do so in the foreseeable future).
The sanctions also make a debt restructuring much more difficult or impossible. In a debt restructuring, interest and principal payments are postponed into the future, and the creditors receive new bonds - which the sanctions explicitly prohibit. Now the Trump administration is also threatening even the negotiations for a restructuring, under the pretext that the chief negotiators Vice President Tareck El Aissami and Economy Minister Simon Zerpa, have been sanctioned for alleged drug trafficking and corruption, respectively. The Trump administration has not presented any evidence for these allegations.
The US Treasury statement of November 9 justifies targeting election officials because of "numerous irregularities that strongly suggest fraud helped the ruling party unexpectedly win a majority of governorships." This is a fabrication, and is reminiscent of the 2013 Venezuelan presidential election, when Washington was the last government to recognize the result. In that race, a statistical analysis of the election-day audit showed that the odds of getting the official result, if the true result was an opposition victory, were less than one in 25,000 trillion.
But this is what regime change efforts are all about: de-legitimation - if the election results don't concur, they must be declared fraudulent - and economic strangulation.
Of course, the Venezuelan government will have to make some serious economic reforms - most importantly, the unification of the exchange rate and other measures to bring down an inflation rate that is passing 1000 percent annually - if there is to be an economic recovery. But the price of oil has risen 33 percent from a low point in June, and despite declining oil production, Venezuela's exports are up 28 percent from last year (first eight months, estimate from Torino Capital).
Trump and his allies in the EU and the right-wing governments in Argentina and Brazil, as well as the fanatical Secretary General of the OAS, want to make sure that a recovery never happens. And despite all their blather about human rights and democracy, it is not a peaceful strategy they are promoting as they take measures to increase Venezuelans' suffering in the hopes of provoking the overthrow of the government. This is not "democracy promotion." It is regime change, by any means necessary - as Trump, in his usual blustery way, made clear when he threatened military action against Venezuela.

Original article can be found here:

Abstract, Migrant Smuggling on Mexico’s Gulf Route: The Actors Involved

:::::: Abstract ::::::

Migrant Smuggling on Mexico’s Gulf Route: The Actors Involved
by Simón Pedro Izcara Palacios

Migrant flows crossing Mexican territory into the United States along the Gulf route are mainly driven by a demand for cheap labor. The decrease in the number of migrants wishing to cross the border to escape the violence in Mexico has turned undocumented migrants into a rare and valuable commodity. The increasing costs of migrant smuggling as a result of organized crime and the activities of the immigration authorities have prompted employers to finance this activity to ensure that they receive enough workers. In-depth interviews with 70 migrant smugglers shed light on the function and participation of the different actors involved in migrant smuggling.

November 13, 2017

Political Report # 1290 Puerto Rico Still in Crisis, Human Rights Violation

By Carol Schachet  Grass Roots Online

More than a month since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the island remains devastated. More than half the population remains without electricity, drinking water and basic sustenance, making it not only a catastrophe but also a human rights violation, according to Jovanna Garcia Soto, Solidarity Program Officer for Latin America at Grassroots International. She notes that water, food and tarps remain priority needs, especially in the central area of Puerto Rico.
Jovanna flew to Puerto Rico to visit her family and to deliver much-needed funding support to organizations mounting a grassroots response, including grants from Grassroots International to support community-led just recovery efforts.
The Situation on the Ground
While the initial storm wreaked havoc for Puerto Rico's population and environment, the unfurling human disaster has less to do with weather than with political incompetence and willful indifference.
Approaching the airport, the impact of the hurricane was visible in two ways - the swelled size of the island's rivers, and the blue tarps providing temporary roofs to homes. Most of those tarps have been provided by grassroots organizations rather than FEMA, whose presence Jovanna said has been "slow to non-existent" for most communities.
Upon landing, the needs became immediate apparent. "The first thing I saw when we landed were around 25 people in wheelchairs waiting at the airport to flee the island. It is heartbreaking," Jovanna notes, commenting on the lack of basic services available to the vulnerable elderly population.
Leaving the airport, extensive damage showed itself along the sides of roads, and even more so toward the interior of the island. "Trees lay flat on the ground everywhere," Jovanna noticed. In her hometown, most of the trees planted by her grandparents were uprooted, their trunks flat and leaves gone. The few that remained upright show wounds from the hurricane's fierce wind.