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Friday, January 13. Without any notice towards the wider public, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a proclamation of a new workers' rights policy carrying the unexciting headline “DHS Announces Process Enhancements for Supporting Labor Enforcement Investigations.” The policy specifically aims to support undocumented immigrant workers who are victims of abusive working conditions, wage theft or exploitation. It grants a new level of protection to whistle blowers, speaking out on behalf of exploited workers, and implements a system in which victims are able to report abuse and other mistreatment at a local, state or federal level. The new protection takes away workers fear of retaliation by making it easier to apply for temporary protection from detention and deportation at the DHS. Workers who are granted so-called “deferred action” will be allowed to stay and work legally while their employers are being investigated, and perhaps longer.   
Worker advocacy groups have been pushing the Biden Administration since day one, demanding a safe way of reporting abuse and exploitation. This is especially necessary considering the fact that undocumented immigrant workers make up the back bone of the US economy and have kept the country running during the Covid 19 pandemic. But the new policy is not only a victory for undocumented immigrant workers, allowing them to speak out without fear and putting pressure on employers to resolve grievances, as oppressive working conditions often affect citizen workers as well. Holding employers accountable for their actions is a necessary first step in any labor struggle.

Now it's on the Biden Administration to promote and defend this important new policy, for as long as the oppressed working people don't know about it, the new whistleblower system will be useless.

But even though this is a new milestone in workers' rights, one thing is clear. To end the system of abusive and oppressive labor established in the United States and abroad, all working people, regardless of race, legal status or field of work, have to unite in the struggle for workers rights!  

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For Years activists in Atlanta have been in the fight opposing the project "Cop City" which aims to tear down a local forest, to build the biggest police training facility in the nation. The predominantly Black, underserved local residents oppose the project. They had hoped that the area--a canopy of trees that serve as a buffer against climate change--would be turned into a municipal park instead of a symbol of oppression.

A week ago, at the site of the protests, 26-year-old environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán (Tortuguita) was shot dead by an Georgia State Trooper inside his tent. Hearing about it from Panama City, Panama where she lives, Manuel's mother said: “they killed him … like they tear down trees in the forest – a forest Manuel loved with passion.”

Manuel Esteban Paez Terán ¡PRESENTE!

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For years Colombian social leaders and human rights activists have been living in fear. Every year more than a hundred lose their lives due to violent attacks and assassinations. But 2022 marks a sickening new record in this bloodshed with 225 recorded killings of these important members of society. Over the cause of the year illegal armed groups have been intensifying the violence, especially in major drug trafficking areas. In a statement, the government's ombudsman Carlos Camargo said, "It's a serious impact on the basis of democracy, because these are leaders who take up the concerns of the people, who are spokespersons and who work for a country where human rights are respected."

Despite the newly elected President Gustavo Petro's pushes for peace, the violence is still ongoing. Striving for peace, Petro has started talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), plans on implementing a peace agreement with remaining dissident FARC fighters and bring gang violence to a halt and members to justice, by offering a reduced sentence to those who surrender.

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Solidarity with STIBYS & all Honduran Pepsi Workers!

 

The Honduran Bottlers Union – STIBYS – has informed the Honduras Solidarity Network that Pepsi's bottler and distributor in Latin America is engaged in union busting. The Central America Bottling Corporation (CBC) is a company that has two PepsiCo executives on its board, and has exclusive rights to sell Pepsi products in Honduras and all Latin America. CBC’s Honduran subsidiary, La Reyna, has refused to sign a union contract for five years in which workers have had no raise.  La Reyna has stalled, postponed, and obstructed, and STIBYS has finally concluded that La Reyna does not want an agreement. They want to strip STIBYS of members through attrition by undercutting permanent union jobs with nonunion contract workers who La Reyna allows to sell Pepsi to stores cheaper than the price STIBYS members are permitted to offer.

The situation has become so concerning that the Latin America regional branch of the International Union of Food Workers has organized a campaign in support of STIBYS targeting CBC and PepsiCo.

Your support can stop La Reyna’s outsourcing and get them to negotiate a fair and just union contract with STIBYS!

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Twenty-one years ago, on January 11, 2002 President Bush opened the torture facility Guantánamo. Since then approximately 779 individuals have passed through the prison and nine lives were lost, seven of  which were by suicide. Today the United States government still holds 35 men hostage, 20 of whom have already been cleared for release. Barely any of the 779 people have ever been charged with a crime let alone convicted. In 2022 the Biden administration has released one(!) person, 75 year-old "forever prisoner" Saifullah Paracha, who was detained in 2003. 

To protest this injustice, 35 activists in orange jumpsuits and black hoods gathered in front of the White House to remember its victims.  The protest was accompanied by a number of speeches. First was Herb Geraghty, organizer for Witness Against Torture and activist. In his opening remarks he defined Guantánamo as the representation of "the worst of this country’s xenophobia" and called on President Biden to keep his promise and shut down Guantánamo Bay Prison. Following Herb, Dr. Maha Hilal, an expert on institutionalized Islamophobia and co-director of Justice for Muslims Collective, held a powerful speech, stating that Guantánamo's existence “…has institutionalized Islamophobia...that in turn has been used to…demonize, criminalize and to justify state violence against Muslims." The third speech was by James Yee, a former U.S. Army prison chaplain to detainees at Guantánamo, who after speaking out against the crimes committed by the U.S. in the facility, was arrested and held in solitary confinement for 76 days while being falsely accused of aiding the “terrorist enemy.” He talked about his first hand insight into the prison's daily abuse and his own experience of being framed and criminalized as a terrorist. After a reading of the 35 names of the men still imprisoned in Guantánamo,  Imam Saffet A. Catovic offered a final prayer in which he called for justice to be done here in the U.S. and throughout the world while referring to Guantánamo. 

After the White House gathering, a small group of activists marched to the Washington Post headquarters to promote coverage on the ongoing injustice in Guantánamo. The group was met with security guards who denied them access to the building and asked the activists to step back on the sidewalk and off their private property. There was no interest by the editors to hear or be informed about the issue. Evidently, the publication’s masthead motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” has not been conveyed to the security and journalistic personnel. 

A summary of the entire three day action by Wittness Against Torture, will be up on the website soon.

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Faced with the escalation of violence in the community of Guapinol in Tocoa municipality in Colón Department, Honduras, the Observatory for Justice for the Defenders of the Guapinol River have expanded their mandate. Originally formed to lead a campaing to “Free the Guapinol 8” (political prisoners), the Observatory, consisting of both domestic and international partners, is now calling for independent investigations and effective protection measures for community residents in Guapinol and for members of the Municipal Committee for the Defense of Public and Common Goods of Tocoa (CMDBCPT).

According to the Observatory, the Honduran government has neglected its obligation to protect the Montaña de Botaderos National Park “Carlos Escaleras.” That neglect has resulted in the recent assassination of two water and environmental defenders on January 12: Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla. In recent weeks, the families of Guapinol have been the targets of slander campaigns on social media and in the press. This social stigmatization comes on top of the threats, criminalization, arbitrary detention and murders they have experienced since 2018. Why? Because they dared to organize publicy against the government’s carving out a slice of the national protected area in order to grant a concession to the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares (owned by the land baron family Facussé) to extract iron oxide. The large-scale industrial mine would contaminate the drinking water sources (two separate rivers) for thousands of families. Those in positions of power have the sole objective of silencing the voices of opposition.

The Observatory calls for an independent investigative entity to take into account the activities of both water defenders assassinated on January 12, as well as the Guapinol community as a whole and the CMDBCPT. The Observatory calls for establishling lines of investigation and hypotheses of the crimes, as required by regional and international human rights standards. The Observatory will also continue working on its original mandate so that the Honduran State complies with the resolution of the United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention. This would require the government to make full reparations to the eight defenders of Guapinol who were arbitrarily detained for 914 days and ensure that this violation of their human rights is not repeated.

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At the World Economy Forum in Davos, the Colombian government has unexpectedly announced its break with fossil fuels. The minister of mines, Irene Vélez, has stated that the Colombian state will put a halt on any further exploration of oil and gas. The transition from fossil fuels to more green energy generation was a central part of president Gustavo Petro's election campaign. Asked about this decision, Vélez has declared that it "has been very controversial" but that "This decision is absolutely urgent and needs immediate action." But the veracity of this plan is questionable when looking at the fractured congress, bleak economic outlook, and a history of u-turns in policies. 

Criticism of the plan comes from a number of individuals and institutions. Colombia's finance minister always ensured to the international community that the country will remain open for new oil and gas projects. He has stated that the country, which relies on fossil fuels for half of its export revenue, needs the profit generated by the fossil industry. Economic analysts note that this decision will not affect the international demand and will only hurt the country in the long run. Criticism also comes from environmental experts who see the real trouble in cattle-ranching and unsustainable agriculture, the main cause of deforestation. Furthermore, they criticize that the key issues are not addressed and the new project will have no significant impact on the global climate.

President Petro has backed the plan, stating that alternative economies like tourism and green energy will make up for the loss in fossil fuel revenue.        

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Nina Lakhani covered in The Guardian the murder of Guapinol defenders Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor condemned the murder and calls for an independent investigation.
ContraCorriente published an important investigation into the economic ties between Lenir Pérez and the State of Honduras. "Lenir Pérez, the businessman who owns the concessions in the Guapinol mine and the Palmerola airport, maintains his power intact despite the official discourse of President Xiomara Castro against these projects. Accused of benefiting from his relations with former president Juan Orlando Hernández to obtain irregular contracts and abuse the human rights of communities, Pérez could maintain privileged access to the new government through the legal work of Pamela Blanco Luque, partner and wife of Tomás Vaquero, Minister of Government, Justice and Decentralization."