The Bánzer regime is destroying the crops under a "Dignity Plan," which calls for supposedly eliminating all coca trafficking in five years. Bánzer also claims peasant demonstrators are part of an anti-government guerrilla movement. "The only army existing in Chapare is the army of poverty," responded peasant leader Evo Morales. At least eight people have been killed by police during the protests and 40 farmers have disappeared in the last two weeks of confrontations. Members of the Bolivian Workers Federation (COB) engaged in the national strike in the urban areas have also come up against daily cop attacks.
Unemployment rises in Brazil
Unemployment in Sao Paulo, Brazil, hit a record high of 18.1 percent according to figures compiled by the labor research institute Dieese. Thirty-two thousand workers lost their jobs this March, bringing the total number of workers laid off or fired this year to 142,000.
Killing of union defender in Colombia sets off strike
Some 10,000 oil workers and other public sector workers organized a 24-hour national strike in Colombia April 20 to protest the assassination of Eduardo Umaña. Umaña was a lawyer who defended a number of oil workers at the state-run Ecopetrol company, including the former president of the public sector workers union, César Carrillo. The Bolivian government accused Carrillo of terrorist acts against the oil industry. The strike seriously impacted petroleum and gas distribution, Ecopetrol general manager Joachim Gómez said.
5,000 doctors strike in Nicaragua
Doctors blocked roads across Nicaragua April 23, passing out information and building support for their two-month- long strike. Close to 5,000 government-employed doctors have been on strike since February 25, demanding a raise in wages. Cops broke up the road block injuring six of the strikers on a highway 80 miles west of the capital city Managua. The eight state-owned hospitals and dozens of clinics have been virtually shut down since the strike began.
Panama banana workers strike
Workers at Chiriqui Land Co., a Chiquita Brands subsidiary, went on strike February 19 to protest the company's consideration of closing down the Puerto Armuelles operation and laying off the workers there. The strike has been a "serious interruption" to production, costing the company more than $13 million in exports. Workers from the Armuelles division produce half of Chiquita's annual production in Panama.
Hondurans: No to U.S. execution
Some 500 people assembled at the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, April 22 to protest the execution that day of Honduran national José Roberto Villafuerte in the state of Arizona, and to demand that the U.S. government get its troops out of Honduras. Villafuerte was arrested and convicted for a murder he denied committing, without notification to the Honduran government. Villafuerte was not informed of his right to contact the Honduran consulate. About 100 protesters were Lencan (indigenous Honduran) peasants who had a sign that read "We condemn the U.S. army invasion in the indigenous territories of the Lenca people." A force of 2,000 U.S. soldiers have set up military operations in the Lenca region.
Tensions bubble in Israel over occupation of Palestinian lands
Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated April 12 to counter a government-organized event in Hebron celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel and the 1967-68 seizure and occupation of the West Bank city. Protesters heading to Hebron by bus were stopped by army personnel. When the protesters got off the busses and laid in the street to try to prevent pro-settlement forces from getting to the event, 29 were arrested. Some activists were eventually allowed to enter Hebron, where they protested peacefully. Peace Now spokesman Hagit Yaari called the celebration "a political move by the government" aimed at "provocation." About 400 Zionist settlers live in Hebron, a city of 120,000 Palestinians, guarded by Israeli troops. Some 20,000 pro-settlement rightists, many of whom were wearing T-shirts and hats proclaiming `Hebron is Ours,' filed through the Palestinian areas. At least once, the rightists provoked skirmishes with Palestinian shopkeepers on their way to the Hebron meeting.
In other news, on April 15 Tel Aviv released Ahmed Qatamesh, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was held in Israeli jails for nearly six years without charge or trial. Under Israeli law, prisoners can be held indefinitely in "administrative detention" - a tactic used to jail thousands during the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising. At least 200 Palestinian and Lebanese people are now detained without charge. "I think they realized that prison can not change and will not change my ideas and thoughts," Qatamesh said.
Turkey gov't attacks `Islamists'
Turkish prime minister Mesut Yilmaz, in the name of combating "Islamic fundamentalism" is implementing a series of undemocratic laws to close space for public assembly. Ankara has jailed mayors, shut down community centers, and tightened dress codes in recent months. Radio stations and other forms of media are also under scrutiny. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mayor of the Turkish city Diyarbakir and well-known figure in the main "Islamist" party, was sentenced to 10 months in jail April 21 for supposedly "inciting hatred" in a public speech. One day earlier 16 businessmen accused of financially supporting "Islamists" were arrested in police raids. Meanwhile, opposition forces that include Deniz Baykal's Republican People's Party, are pressuring Yilmaz to call early general elections, which he agreed to hold next March.
Romanian workers protest
"What does the government think we eat?" chanted Dumitru Costin, one of 5,000 workers at Revolution Square in Bucharest, Romania, April 7 protesting the sharp decline in the standard of living there over the last two years. "Just potatoes," the crowd responded. A similar action of 5,000 took place the same day in Craiova demanding raises in wages and pensions.
Turkmen president visits D.C.
The Clinton administration hosted Turkmenistan president Saparmurat Nyazov at the White House April 23, gave him special accommodations, and a $750,000 "grant" in an effort to win his support in a struggle over what nation will control oil-rich Central Asia. Four months earlier Nyazov made a deal with Iranian president Mohammad Khatami to set up a natural-gas pipeline between Iran and the former Soviet republic. Washington is trying to economically isolate Tehran through a trade embargo. After meeting with U.S. president William Clinton and vice-president Albert Gore, Nyazov agreed for a U.S. company to do a "feasibility study" of building another pipeline that goes around Iran, cutting through Turkey. U.S. officials reportedly made less progress in changing Nyazov's stance of refusing to sell off state- owned industries.
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