Confrontations leave 15 injured in Colombia, 66 arrested in Chile
[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for May 2 with material from Agence France Presse and Deutsche Presse Agentur.]
Thousands of workers in different Latin American countries marked workers’ day on May 1, with massive demonstrations in Venezuela and marches in Colombia that left 15 injured and, in Chile, at least 66 arrested.
With an eye toward the May 30 presidential elections, Colombian unions
marching in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Pereira, Neiva and Popayán pressed candidates for the creation of “more and better jobs and for curbing violence against union activists and society.”
Amid demands on the leaders in election polls, independent Antanas Mockus and governing-party candidate Juan Manuel Santos, a number of disturbances and explosions of homemade bombs were reported on Saturday in Bogotá and Bucaramanga.
Fifteen were injured, including five reporters. Also affected were presidential candidates Rafael Pardo of the opposition Partido Liberal and leftist Gustavo Petro, who were forced to leave a plaza in central Bogotá because of teargas launched by police when incidents broke out after a march.
In Chile, as unions took advantage of the celebration to issue a warning to recently elected rightist President Sebastián Piñera, the day was marked by reports of conflicts between demonstrators and police, resulting in 66 arrests.
“It is a disgrace that the owners of capital are governing the country,” declared Arturo Martínez, leader of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), after a march of 10,000 workers joined by leaders of Concertación, [the coalition] that had governed for the past 20 years, which was rebuked by the demonstrators.
“Since the right took the government, the CUT will be its social and political counterpart. Chile belongs to everyone, not just to some. Regardless of whether they have taken control, we workers know that we did not elect this government, that this government has to respond to our demands,” Arturo Martínez asserted.
For the first time since his election in 2006, President Evo Morales was absent from demonstrations attended by thousands of workers in Bolivia, since he has become the target of attacks by unions demanding a 25 percent wage increase [instead of the five percent offered by the government]. The workers have announced a 24-hour work stoppage for next Tuesday if authorities do not meet their demands.
But coinciding with workers’ day, the Morales administration announced the nationalization of three power companies operated by private French, British and Bolivian consortia.
In Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva used the occasion to promote the candidacy of Dilma Rousseff, his former chief of staff, in the October elections. “You know which one I want,” said Lula during an event in São Paulo. He recalled that his country no longer depends on the International Monetary Fund.
“I doubt very much whether in other parts of the world a president, after seven years in office, would have a workers’ celebration,” said the former metal worker, who took office in January, 2003.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chávez held separate demonstrations, celebrating on one side the accomplishments of the Bolivarian revolution and on the other demanding greater respect for democracy and the rights of union activists. The president conveyed congratulations to the workers and invited them “to socialism, which is the domain of the working class.”
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa vindicated his policies in support of workers by extending greetings to “the great working class,” criticized what he termed the “long, sad night of neoliberalism” and declared that during his administration advances have been made through the “citizen revolution.”
Other marches by thousands of people took place in Uruguay, for better salaries and justice for acts of the dictatorship; in Argentina there were demands for more jobs and better salaries; in Paraguay wage adjustments were demanded; and in Peru workers said they had nothing to celebrate after layoffs by the government of Alan García..
In Honduras, unions asked for the reinstatement of former President Manuel Zelaya. In Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador, neoliberal politics was denounced. Nicaraguan head of state Daniel Ortega announced wage increases in the public sector, with funds from Venezuela and the Alianza Bolivariana de Nuestra América estimated at three million dollars a month.
In Guatemala, labor groups demonstrated in solidarity with migrants in the United States, who are demanding repeal of a controversial law in Arizona criminalizing illegal migration.