Monday, November 1, 2010

WNU #1055: Did UN Troops “Import” Cholera to Haiti?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1055, October 31, 2010

1. Haiti: Did UN Troops “Import” the Cholera?
2. Honduras: Labor Struggles Heat Up
3. Mexico: Police Shoot Student Protester
4. Brazil: Workers Party Holds on to Presidency
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. For a subscription, write to . It is archived at

*1. Haiti: Did UN Troops “Import” the Cholera?
Hundreds of protesters marched on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) military base at the city of Mirebalais in Haiti’s Central Plateau on Oct. 29, charging that the Nepalese troops stationed there had caused a major outbreak of cholera. At least 330 people had died and 4,714 people had been hospitalized because of the disease as of Oct. 28, just eight days after the first cases were reported, mostly in Mirebalais and in the Lower Artibonite River region in the west [see Update #1054]. “Down with MINUSTAH, down with imported cholera,” chanted the protesters, largely students and other youths.

Mirebalais mayor Laguerre Lochard, who is running for the Senate in general elections on Nov. 28, had made the accusation a few days earlier. According to Lochard, human wastes from the base were spilling into the Meillé River, which flows into the Artibonite River. Experts suspect that the vibrio cholerae, the cholera bacterium, spread as people used water from the Artibonite; the cholera cases are mostly downstream from the point where the Meillé flows into the larger river.

The United Nations quickly denied the charge, claiming that the base’s wastes are properly managed through septic tanks that are emptied every week. MINUSTAH spokesperson Vincenzo Pugliese said on Oct. 28 samples collected from the base on Oct. 22 tested negative for cholera and that none of the Nepalese troops had the disease.

But Associated Press reporters found evidence on Oct. 28 that the septic tanks were overflowing and that human waste could run to the Meille either from the overflow or from the nearby landfill where matter from the tanks is buried. There were “visible signs where water has flowed [from the landfill] during recent heavy rains,” AP reported. On Oct. 29 Pugliese admitted to AP that the Nepalese troops had not in fact been tested for cholera since the outbreak. "By none of them presenting the symptom of the cholera there was no need to do another test,” he said.

Cholera is not common in the Western Hemisphere, and Haiti had not reported a case since it started keeping records in the middle of the last century. The disease is endemic to Nepal, which had an outbreak over the summer; the Nepalese troops started arriving in shifts for a six-month rotation on Oct. 9, a little more than a week before the first cases were reported. About 75% of people infected with cholera don’t show symptoms, but they can spread the disease for about two weeks, according to an Oct. 25 press briefing by Pan American Health Organization deputy director Jon Andrus.

Scientists from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were studying samples to see if they could determine the origin of the strain, but CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner said they might not be able to pinpoint the nation it came from. (AP 10/28/10 via The Star (Malaysia), 10/29/10 via Kansas City Star; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 10/29/10; Al Jazeera English 10/30/10)

The Oct. 29 march in Mirebalais was the latest and largest of a series of protests against MINUSTAH, a 13,000-member military-police mission that has occupied Haiti since June 2004. MINUSTAH troops and Haitian police broke up a demonstration at a base in Port-au-Prince on Oct. 15, a day after the United Nations Security Council renewed the mission’s mandate for another year [see Update #1053]. There was also a protest at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in the capital on Oct. 14, along with a protest in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, according to an Oct. 20 report from the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”). In the towns of Plaisance and Limonade, also in the north, campesino demonstrators combined the protest against the occupation with denunciations of the Monsanto Company, a US-based biotechnology multinational which offered Haitian farmers hybrid seeds after an earthquake struck southern Haiti on Jan. 12 [see Update #1036].

Activists in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, México and Puerto Rico held solidarity protests on Oct. 15 calling for an end to MINUSTAH and cancellation of Haiti’s foreign debt. MINUSTAH is led by Brazilian military commanders. (Adital (Brazil) 10/25/10)

Update, Nov. 1: The CDC has now reported that the cholera strain in Haiti matches one commonly found in South Asia, which includes Nepal. (New York Times 11/1/10 from AP)

*2. Honduras: Labor Struggles Heat Up
Representatives of Honduran unions and grassroots movements agreed on Oct. 30 to schedule a series of actions over the next two weeks around four issues: the national minimum wage, a law suspending pay increases for teachers, restrictions on pay increases for other public employees, and proposed legislation to allow temporary work.

Meeting at the Vicente Cáceres Central Institute in Tegucigalpa, representatives of the main labor federations, teachers’ organizations and the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), which grew out of opposition to a June 2009 military coup d’état, decided to hold informational assemblies with teachers and public workers around the country on Nov. 1, to be followed by marches in Tegucigalpa and the northern industrial city of San Pedro Sula on Nov. 3. These actions are to culminate in a “national civic strike”—a day of protests with some work stoppages--on Nov. 11.

As of Oct. 30 Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa had still not announced an increase in the minimum wage that was due in April [see Update #1047]. He finally set Nov. 1 as the date for the announcement, but the unions said the anticipated increase of 6% would not let workers catch up with increases in the cost of living.

The unions seem even more concerned about legislation that General Workers Central (CGT) general secretary Daniel Durón said would liquidate gains made by workers over many years. The National Congress voted 79-3 night of Oct. 27--with 25 legislative deputies abstaining and 21 absent from the session--to approve a measure proposed by Lobo to suspend for one year an automatic annual wage increase for teachers that was legislated in 1993. The new law also suspended special arrangements for other public employees.

Finance Minister William Chong Wong said on Oct. 28 that these measures were necessary because the government doesn’t have the “economic capacity” to pay increases. In Spain the government has lowered salaries in the public sector because of the world economic crisis, he said, but in Honduras “no one’s salary is being reduced.” The FNRP and teachers and public employees unions protested the vote with a march through the streets of Tegucigalpa and a sit-in in front of the National Congress on Oct. 28. (La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 10/31/10; Prensa Latina 10/28/10; EFE 10/28/10 via (Spain); FNRP communiqué #76 10/28/10)

The proposed Law of Temporary Work would allow a business to utilize temporary or part-time workers for up to 40% of its workforce. Current law only allows full-time, permanent employment. The unions say this will reduce benefits for the part-time workers and allow the exploitation of seasonal employees. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog 10/24/10)

*3. Mexico: Police Shoot Student Protester
On Oct. 30 Mexico’s Public Security Secretariat (SSP) announced that it had put two federal police agents “at the disposal” of Public Ministry officials investigating the shooting of a college student the evening before near the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez (UACJ) campus in the northern state of Chihuahua. José Darío Alvarez Orrantía, a sociology student at UACJ, was hit in the abdomen as dozens of students marched in the 11th Walk Against Death in Ciudad Juárez, an opening event in a three-day conference treating the dramatic surge in violence in northern Mexico.

Alvarez Orrantía was reported in stable condition at the city’s General Hospital after emergency surgery the night of Oct. 29 that included the removal of about one-third of his intestine.

According to a communiqué from the SSP, federal police agents in two patrol cars were taking a suspect to the Public Ministry when “they encountered various persons” at Plutarco Elías Calles avenue and Hermanos Escobar street, “among them some with their faces covered, for which reason the federal agents got out of the patrol cars and fired in the air in a preventive and warning manner.” The communiqué does not explain how Alvarez Orrantía came to be shot. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/30/10, 10/31/10, ___)

The conference--the International Forum Against Militarization and Violence organized by the local Plural Citizen Front coalition--was intended to open dialogue about the use of federal troops in the “war on drugs” declared by President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa shortly after taking office in December 2006. According to one of the organizers, Julián Contreras Álvarez, the militarization of the fight against drug trafficking is intended to repress and contain social movements and put down disturbances caused by the economic crisis. He said the policy has been an incentive and a direct cause of the violence that the border region is now suffering.

The Walk Against Death is a weekly event commemorating victims of the violence; the Oct. 29 walk was for 14 local youths gunned down at a party in the Horizontes Sur neighborhood on Oct. 22 by an unidentified armed group. (El Diario (Ciudad Juárez) 10/28/10)

UACJ Javier Sánchez Carlos said on Oct. 30 that officials from various universities had sent messages of solidarity and had protested the acts of “barbarity” by federal forces. One of the first messages came from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM), where two graduate students were gunned down by federal troops on Mar. 19 [see Update #1044]. (LJ 10/31/10)

*4. Brazil: Workers Party Holds on to Presidency
Voters chose Dilma Rousseff of the leftist Workers Party (PT) to be Brazil’s 36th president in a runoff election on Oct. 31. Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) president Ricardo Lewandowski said in a press conference in the early evening that Rousseff’s victory was now mathematically certain. With 93.25% of the ballots counted, Rousseff had won 55.43% of the valid votes to 44.57% for José Serra of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB); the two candidates had led in the first round on Oct. 3. More than 93 million Brazilians participated in the Oct. 31 voting.

Rousseff, whose four-year term begins on Jan. 1, will succeed fellow PT member Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who remains popular after serving two consecutive terms. She will be the country’s first woman president. (Prensa Latina 10/31/10)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

Hunger Strikes Across Latin America Fuelled by Institutional Deafness

Former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner Dies Of A Heart Attack

Argentina: Kirchner's Death Raises Questions About President Fernández

Peru: New Leftwing Mayor of Lima to Face Uphill Task

Venezuela Proposes Free Movement and Residency in South America

Venezuelan Unions March to Control Companies, Throw Out “Reformist” State Management

The Drug War: Towards a 'Plan Central America'

Obama Administration Continues to Disregard Congressional Concern for Human Rights, Democracy in Honduras

Photo Essay: K’iche’ People in Guatemala Reject Exploitation of their Natural Resources

Mexico: narco-massacre in Nayarit

Mexico: police rescue 23 Central American migrants abducted for ransom

Mexico: another narco-massacre...

Uphold Human Rights, Halt Drug War Aid to Mexican Security Forces

Justo Castigo in Oaxaca: Political Murders, Drug Murders, or Retributive Justice?

Frente Auténtico Del Trabajo (FAT) Wins Election at UE Sister Shop

One Year Later: Mexican Electrical Workers Continue Battle for Jobs

Two Worlds Collide at Cancun Climate Talks

UN investigates cholera spread in Haiti

Ideological dogmatism and United States policy toward Haiti

Sweatshops Over Homes in Haiti

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