Colombia: Thousands protest trade talks

Opponents of the proposed “free trade treaty” between the U.S., Colombia, Peru and Ecuador held a national day of protest Feb. 10 against the latest round of talks held Feb. 7-12 in the Caribbean port city of Cartagena.

Weekly News Update on the Americas said thousands of workers, campesinos, indigenous people and students marched in Cartagena. At least a thousand students and unionists braved riot police to march in Bogota, and other protests were held in Cali, Pereira, Medellin and other cities.

Meanwhile, the nearly 1,500 trade negotiators had problems of their own; by the final day, no agreement had been reached on any of the 23 areas discussed. The biggest sticking points were agricultural policy, because Andean farmers are concerned about competing against heavily subsidized U.S. agribusiness, and intellectual property, since the Andean countries worry they would lose their ability to produce generic medicines.

Canada: UFCW continues to back Wal-Mart workers

Wal-Mart’s chief executive sought last week to defend the company’s decision to close its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, after workers had voted to form a union. H. Lee Scott Jr. said the union’s demands would have forced an already unprofitable store to hire 30 more people and follow inefficient work rules. Scott said the company saw no advantage from the higher labor costs, and would not give in to the union to be “altruistic.”

UFCW-Canada’s National Director Michael Fraser responded with a pledge of continuing support to the Jonquiere workers.

“Wal-Mart, which now controls the working lives of 70,000 Canadians, made a business decision that the cost of disposing of 200 men and women in Jonquiere was a good long-term investment in creating fear in the rest of their employees across Canada and the U.S.,” Fraser said. “We will continue to be there for you as long as it takes until the wrong that Wal-Mart has done to you is made right.”

Fraser said the UFCW will file charges in Quebec for bargaining in bad faith, and will ask the Quebec Labor Relations Commission to force Wal-Mart to prove the Jonquiere store was losing money.

Mozambique: Refugees receive identity cards

The Mozambican government has begun issuing identification cards to refugees and asylum seekers, the Maputo daily Noticias reported Feb. 14.

Rosa Chissique, director of the National Institute for Assistance to Refugees (INAR), said the cards will allow refugees to look for work, go to school, open bank accounts, and rent housing. INAR estimates there are about 8,500 refugees in the country, mostly from the Great Lakes region including Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“I am happy,” Rwandan refugee Feliciano Nyaminani told reporters. “I came to Mozambique in 2002, but during all this time I could not work or open a bank account or send money to my country.” Nyaminani, who reached Mozambique after traveling through Congo and Malawi, said his six brothers were killed by the rebels in Rwanda, while his wife and two daughters were kidnapped. He said he hopes to return home some day.

Vietnam: Peace fund will take up Agent Orange

The Ho Chi Minh City Fund for Peace and Development, launched Feb. 15, is an avenue for local citizens to discuss and make proposals to municipal agencies on peace and development related issues, the Vietnam News Agency said last week.

This year the fund will focus on major issues such as mapping out an action plan to raise public awareness concerning the ongoing lawsuit of Agent Orange victims against several corporations that manufactured toxic chemicals sprayed on Vietnam during the war, and will mobilize financial resources for research and charity projects.

At the opening ceremony, former Vice President Nguyen Thi Binh, president of the Vietnam Fund for Peace and Development, said she hopes the fund will actively contribution to the country’s search for peace and sustainable development.

Nicaragua: Nicotex unionists rehired

On Feb. 7 management at the Nicotex plant in the northern community of Sebaco signed an agreement with the left-led Union Workers Federation-Jose Benito Escoba (CST-JBE, formerly the Sandinista Workers Federation) to rehire five union leaders it fired last November, the Campaign for Labor Rights said.

The agreement included compensation to the workers for back pay and damages, while the workers agreed to terminate judicial and administrative claims they had filed against the company. Both sides agreed to negotiate future problems.

Nicotex is a maquiladora (tax-exempt assembly plant producing mainly for export). Its biggest customer is the Montreal-based T-shirt manufacturer Gildan Activewear. Gildan has been the target of an international campaign by labor rights groups over Nicotex’ labor practices and over Gildan’s abrupt closing of its own plant in Honduras last fall, according to Weekly News Update on the Americas.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (
Julia Lutsky contributed to this week’s notes.