Nicaragua: Korean firm accused in attack on maquila workers

According to a report by a US-based labor rights monitoring group, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), managers employed by the major Korean apparel firm Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd orchestrated an attack on laid-off Nicaraguan unionists and their supporters on March 4 at two of the company's plants in a "free trade zone" in Tipitapa municipality, Managua department. Sae-A supervisors reportedly promised workers 100 córdobas (about US$4.04), a production bonus and a free lunch if they broke up a rally and leafleting that about 30 workers were holding outside the two factories, EINS and Tecnotex, at the start of the workday. Some 300-350 workers came out of the plants and attacked the protesting unionists with metal pipes, belts and scissors, the WRC says, while police agents and plant security guards on the scene did nothing to stop the violence.

US high court ruling threatens human rights suits

In a unanimous decision issued on April 17, the US Supreme Court sharply restricted the use of the 1789 Alien Tort Statute for foreign nationals to sue for human rights violations that took place outside the US. The case at issue, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, was brought by 12 Nigerians now living in the US; they charged that Royal Dutch Petroleum (better known as Royal Dutch Shell) and other oil companies with a presence in the US conspired with the Nigerian government to commit human rights violations against Nigerians protesting environmental damage by the companies.

Mexico: narco-violence from Yucatan to Rio Grande

Six people were strangled to death and one decapitated in the Mexican tourist resort of Cancún April 14—the latest mass killing to strike the city in the last few weeks. Police found the bodies of the five men and two women in a shack in the outskirts of the Yucatan Peninsula city, which has largely escaped the drug-related violence that has rocked Acapulco, a faded tourist destination on the Pacific coast. Quintana Roo authorities said the vicitms were small-scale drug dealers. In a separate incident that day, police found the body of another man in Cancún who had been gagged, bound and wrapped in sheets. (AP, April 15) The slayings come one month after seven were killed when gunmen burst into Cancún's La Sirenita (Little Mermaid) bar, targeting members of the city's taxi-drivers who were holding a meeting there. Several Cancún taxi drivers had been arrested recently for selling drugs or participating in drug-related killings, authorities said. (AP, Univision, March 15)

Mexico: Guerrero teachers form alliances

Dissident teachers in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero continued their protests against planned changes in the educational system on April 10 with a march in Chilpancingo, the state capital, that brought together a broad range of grassroots and labor groups. According to the State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG), the protest's sponsor, 100,000 people participated, making the march the largest in the state since 1984; Guerrero's Governance Secretariat estimated the crowd at 40,000. At a concluding rally in the city's Zócalo, the main plaza, the organizers announced the formation of a new coalition, the Guerrero Popular Movement (MPG). Commentators noted that a popular uprising that paralyzed the neighboring state of Oaxaca in the summer and fall of 2006 featured a similar coalition, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO); the national daily El Economista wrote that the groups forming the coalition in Guerrero were even more radical than the ones that made up the Oaxaca organization.

Haiti: maquila sector tries to improve its image

On April 8 Haitian business owner Bernard Schettini was installed as the director general of the National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi), the semi-private agency in charge of the industrial parks that house many of the country's 23 apparel assembly plants. These factories, known as maquiladoras in Spanish-speaking countries, benefit from tax and tariff exemptions to produce goods for export to the North American market. Schettini replaced Georges Barreau Sassine, a former head of Haiti's industrial business association (ADIH) who assumed the Sonapi post in August 2012. Trained as an architect, Schettini was previously an executive at Texaco Haïti Inc., an oil supply company; it is unclear how much experience he has in the apparel industry, which in Haiti mostly produces T-shirts.

Brazil: human trafficking crackdown in Amazon

The Brazilian state of Acre declared a state of "social emergency" April 10 in response to a surge of undocumented migrants from neighboring Bolivia and Peru—originating in countries from Haiti and the Dominican Republic to Bangladesh to Senegal and Nigeria. Officials said some 1,700 migrants had arrived during the past two weeks. The state "has been turned into an international travel route controlled by coyotes,"  said Nilson Moura, Acre's secretary for Justice and Human Rights., referring to the smugglers who guide the migrants into Brazil, often in exchange for exorbitant fees. The jungle town of Brasileia has become a key transport point for migrants bound for Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian police last year raided a number of sweatshops in Sao Paulo and the capital, Brasilia, where undocumented immigrants from Bolivia and Pakistan were found working in unsafe conditions for very little or no pay. (BBC, April 11; AFP, April 10)

Mexico: teachers block Acapulco highway

Five people were arrested and five injured on April 5 when some 2,000 agents of Mexico's Federal Police (PF) removed more than 3,000 dissident teachers who were blocking a highway in the southwestern state of Guerrero to protest planned changes in the educational system. The demonstration, organized by the State Organizing Committee of Education Workers in Guerrero (CETEG), tied up traffic along the highway from Mexico City to the resort city of Acapulco from about 1 pm until the police action at about 6:30 pm; the road is heavily traveled during the spring vacation period around Easter. The protest took place at the spot near the state capital, Chilpancingo, where two students and a gas station worker were killed on Dec. 12, 2011 in a confrontation between police and students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College, in the Guerrero village of Ayotzinapa. (La Jornada, Mexico, April 6)

Dominican Republic: laid-off Haitian workers win

After months of struggle, 112 Haitian workers laid off last year by a coconut processing plant in the southern Dominican province of San Cristóbal learned on April 1 that they had won their suit for severance pay and back wages. In a March 18 decision that wasn't made public for two weeks, San Cristóbal Civil Appeals Court president Juan Procopio Pérez ordered the company, Coquera Real, and its owner, Rafael Emilio Alonso Luna ("Billo"), to pay 10 million pesos ($243,015) in back wages and 30 million pesos ($729,042) in fines for "non-payment of benefits over a period of 10 years." The court ordered the immediate seizure of Coquera Real's property to guarantee payment, as the company has declared bankruptcy.

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