Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WNU #1060: Specialist Confirms UN Caused Haiti’s Cholera

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1060, December 12, 2010

1. Haiti: Specialist Confirms UN Caused the Cholera
2. Haiti: Protests Greet Dubious Election Results
3. Puerto Rico: Police Occupy Campuses
4. Latin America: Argentina, Brazil Recognize Palestine
5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, 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 weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com . It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/

*1. Haiti: Specialist Confirms UN Caused the Cholera
A report by a leading French cholera expert, Dr. Renaud Piarroux, concludes that the outbreak of the disease in Haiti in mid-October originated at a base maintained by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) near Mirebalais in the Central Plateau. “No other hypothesis could be found,” Piarroux wrote, even though he and his team had looked for “another explanation, even an improbable one, [that] could be advanced to explain the sudden occurrence of this cholera epidemic.”

MINUSTAH is a 13,000-member military and police force that has occupied Haiti since June 2004; it was the target of repeated protests even before the cholera outbreak [see “Haiti: Anti-Occupation Protests Boil Over,” WNU supplement 11/18/10].

In interviews with Haitian, Cuban and World Health Organization (WHO) medical personnel and with local residents in the most severely affected areas, Piarroux, who heads the mycology and parasitology department at the La Timone hospital in Marseilles, found that the first reported case was in the village of Meillé, near Mirebalais, on Oct. 14. MINUSTAH troops from Nepal, which had been experiencing a cholera epidemic, arrived in the area on Oct. 8 and Oct. 12; their base is located upstream from Meillé on a small tributary of the Artibonite River, a major waterway which traverses central Haiti.

The epidemic spread downstream to Mirebalais by Oct. 16, and then it appeared in a more explosive form on Oct. 19 in the Artibonite delta region near the western coast. From there it has spread to other departments and to the Dominican Republic. The official death toll from the disease in Haiti had reached 2,120 as of Dec. 10.

Cholera is generally transmitted through human excrement, and Meillé residents reported that a “nauseating” black liquid had been flowing into their river from pipes at the base in mid-October. Although there were no problems at the base when he inspected in early November, Piarroux noted that “nothing can exclude the possibility that measures were taken to eliminate the suspect fecal matter and to erase the traces of a cholera epidemic among the soldiers.” He recommended the opening of “a judicial inquiry into the origins and development of the epidemic, for even if the epidemiological inquiry leaves no doubt about what happened, it wasn’t intended to establish the responsibilities of specific parties.”

The French and Haitian governments had asked Piarroux to carry out the investigation, but as of Dec. 10 the report had not been officially released. UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said in New York on Dec. 7 that the evidence wasn’t conclusive. According to the French daily Le Monde, the UN is concerned about protecting its troops, while “the Haitian government has preferred to suppress the matter so not to embarrass MINUSTAH during an electoral period”--presidential and legislative elections were held on Nov. 28—“which is delicate for the authorities.” (Washington Post 12/8/10 from AP; Le Monde (France) 12/11/10, 12/12/10)

In a Dec. 7 newspaper column, former Cuban president Fidel Castro wrote that reports from Cuban doctors in Haiti support Piarroux’s conclusions. Cuban medical brigades have been a major force in treating patients since the epidemic started [see Update #1058]. But Castro cautioned against blaming Nepal, a former colony of the United Kingdom, for the situation. Nepalese men “were utilized in [Britain’s] colonial wars, and now they seek employment as soldiers,” he noted. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/8/10)

A group of researchers wrote in a Dec. 9 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that genome sequences from Vibrio cholerae bacteria pointed to South Asia—which includes Nepal--as the most likely source of the epidemic. They dismissed claims that the current epidemic was caused by the effect of climate changes on dormant local bacteria. “Our data distinguish the Haitian strains from those circulating in Latin America and the US Gulf Coast and thus do not support the hypothesis that the Haitian strain arose from the local aquatic environment…. It is therefore unlikely that climatic events led to the Haitian epidemic, as has been suggested in the case of other cholera epidemics.” (NEJM 12/9/10)

*2. Haiti: Protests Greet Dubious Election Results
On the evening of Dec. 7 Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced the preliminary results of presidential and legislative elections held on Nov. 28. The elections had been chaotic and sometimes violent, and the majority of the presidential candidates denounced the process as fraudulent even before the polls closed [see Update #1058].

According to the CEP, former senator Myrlande Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP) led with 31.37% of the votes, followed by Jude Célestin (Unity), the candidate backed by current president René Préval, with 22.48%. Popular singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response) came in a close third with 21.84%, and Jean Henry Céant (Love Haiti), former lawyer for ex-president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) was fourth with 8.18%. The remaining candidates each received less than 5% of the vote. If the results are confirmed on Dec. 20, Manigat and Célestin will face each other in a runoff on Jan. 16.

Two of the 11 Senate races in contention were settled in the first round, with one victory going to the candidate of Préval’s Unity party. Unity candidates will be in the runoffs for the remaining nine seats. There were 18 victors in the voting for the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, eight of them from Unity, which will have 58 candidates in the runoffs for the other 81 seats. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 12/7/10)

The announcement of the preliminary results set off three days of militant protests, many of them by Martelly supporters who felt he was fraudulently denied the second place. Thousands of protesters blocked streets with barricades and burning tires, paralyzing economic activity in Port-au-Prince and many other cities. Stores were burned or vandalized, and at least five people were killed in confrontations between protesters and police or between different political groups. The protests finally seemed to slow down on Dec. 10 in what reporters described as a “tense calm,” but banks, schools and larger stores remained closed in Port-au-Prince. (AlterPresse 12/9/10; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 12/10/10)

The intensity of the demonstrations may have resulted more from anger over the broader situation—the military occupation by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the rapidly spreading cholera epidemic, the situation of the 1.3 million people still homeless 11 months after the Jan. 12 earthquake—than from interest in the elections themselves. Just 22.87% of Haiti’s 4.7 million voters turned out on Nov. 28, according to the CEP’s disputed preliminary count. Edmond Mulet, the Guatemalan diplomat who is acting head of MINUSTAH, reportedly hoped for 40%.

The leading candidates were mostly conservative or centrist. Manigat, whose husband was president for four months in 1987 before being removed by a military coup, campaigned largely around changing the Constitution to allow dual citizenship for the many Haitians living in the US. Célestin was expected to follow Préval’s centrist policies, while Martelly’s political positions were unclear. (Radio Canada 12/7/10, some from AFP and Reuters)

The only leading candidate with significant support from left-of-center groups was Céant. Former president Aristide’s populist Lavalas Family (FL) was barred from running, but three important members of the FL directorate--Euvonie Auguste, Jacques Matelier and René Civil—announced their support for Céant on Oct. 19, saying that thousands of Lavalas supporters would vote for him. (FL coordinator Maryse Narcisse said on Oct. 18 that FL was supporting no candidate, and Aristide himself, in exile in South Africa, had made no statement.) (Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 10/19/10) On Oct. 27 Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the spokesperson for the Papaye Peasant Movement (MMP), based in the Central Plateau, officially endorsed Céant. The MPP is one of the country’s largest peasant groups; Jean-Baptiste and FL are longtime opponents. (Radio Kiskeya 10/27/10)

Much of the left, like many voters, stayed clear of the elections. On the weekend of Dec. 4 the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”) issued a statement rejecting any elections held under military occupation. “The electoral process can’t escape this simple logic. The imperialists are the ones who financed it and organized it, and due to the extreme weakness of the [Haitian] ruling classes and profound incapacity of the reactionary government, they are the ones who actually direct it.” The group concluded that “under occupation, nothing democratic and progressive can be accomplished.” The statement charged that none of the presidential candidates had even taken a position on the presence of MINUSTAH troops. (Adital (Brazil) 12/6/10)

*3. Puerto Rico: Police Occupy Campuses
Students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) started a 48-hour strike on Dec. 7 to oppose plans for an $800 tuition surcharge at the public university beginning on Jan. 1 [see Update #1057]. Five people were injured during the first day of the strike as students confronted guards at the Río Piedras campus in San Juan, and the campus was closed down through Dec. 8. On Dec. 10 police chief José Figueroa Sancha announced that police agents would patrol UPR campuses, at the request of university president José Ramón de la Torre. This is the first time the police have had a presence in the university in nearly 30 years.

The tuition increase is the main issue that was left unsettled after a 62-day student strike last spring, and UPR administrators and the Puerto Rican government are clearly afraid of a renewal of the student protests, which shut down 10 of the 11 UPR campuses and largely defeated efforts to impose an austerity budget. Some observers think students are less likely to support a strike now, and the authorities are playing to students’ concerns about their education. On Dec. 7 UPR Board of Trustees president Ygrí Rivera warned that the loss of more school days in a strike might lead to the university being denied academic accreditation and possibly funds from the US federal government. (Prensa Latina 12/7/10; EFE 12/10/10 via Telemundo TV Atlanta )

The use of police on campus might build support for more protests, however. Student strikers responded to the police presence at Río Piedras by starting a vigil there, while an assembly of professors at the campus decided not to hold classes as long as the police remained. (La Raza (Chicago) 12/10/10)

On Dec. 12 hundreds of parents, students, professors, alumni and university employees marched against the surcharge in a demonstration organized by the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU) and the National Confederation of Associations of University Professors (CONAPU) and endorsed by the Action Committee of Mothers, Fathers and Relatives of UPR Students. With banners, puppets and drums, the protesters marched in San Juan from the Capitol to La Fortaleza, the governor’s residence; the traditional Christmas-season Three Kings led the parade, carrying Puerto Rican flags. Alis Morales Pérez, a spokesperson for the relatives’ committee, told reporters that she was “the mother of three daughters at Río Piedras that I raised by myself” and “[u]nlike the legislators” she didn’t “have the money to pay even the $800 for one of them, much less the $2,400 to cover the [extra] tuition for all three.” (Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 12/11/10, 12/12/10)

UPR professors noted parallels between the protests in Puerto Rico and those in the United Kingdom, where students held massive mobilizations on Dec. 9 against the imposition of tuition at public universities. “What’s obvious in both cases is that the citizenry and the students are demanding that the state honor its moral and ethical responsibility for public education,” historian Pedro Reina said. According to social sciences professor Samuel Silva Gotay, “both [countries] are experiencing the imposition of the economic policies of neoliberalism…. They could destroy a whole generation of the intellectuals who are the ones that the development of any country or place depends on.” (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 12/12/10)

*4. Latin America: Argentina, Brazil Recognize Palestine
On Dec. 3 the government of Brazil announced that it was recognizing Palestine as an independent state within the borders defined in 1967. Argentina followed on Dec. 6. Uruguay is planning to recognize Palestine in 2011, Foreign Relations Vice Minister Roberto Conde has told the AFP wire service.

A total of 104 countries recognize Palestine, which declared itself a state in 1988. Until this month’s declaration, the only Latin American countries that recognized it were Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Israeli officials are reportedly concerned that Mexico, Ecuador and El Salvador may follow Brazil and Argentina’s lead. Once Uruguay has proceeded with the recognition, Paraguay will be the only full member of the important Mercosur trading bloc that doesn’t recognize Palestine. In his Dec. 6 statement on Palestine, Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman was careful to note that “Mercosur maintains relations of friendship and cooperation with Israel, which remain reflected in the Free Trade Agreement signed with the State of Israel.” (AFP 12/6/10 via Terra.com (Argentina); Jerusalem Post 12/10/10)

On Dec. 9 Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva offered his “solidarity” to Julian Assange, the Australian national who started WikiLeaks.org, a group that is in the process of releasing some 250,000 diplomatic cables from US embassies [see Update #1959]. Assange was arrested in London on Dec. 7 on sexual assault charges filed in Sweden. “I’m surprised they arrested the man and I didn’t see any protest,” Lula said. “The guy was just posting what he read.” Lula said WikiLeaks had “exposed a diplomacy that seemed to be untouchable,” and he warned Brazilian diplomats to be careful not to have the same thing happen to them. “If you don’t have anything to write, don’t write silliness,” he said. (Bloomberg 12/9/10)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti

The Tyranny of Soy Agribusiness in Paraguay

The Bolivian Road to Socialism

Ecuador's Fickle Friend: Canada

Colombia’s Álvaro Uribe Faces Scrutiny In Washington Over Lawsuit Alleging Drummond Supported Paramilitaries

Venezuela to Map Sources of Air Pollution Nationwide

Venezuelan National Assembly Passing “Popular Power” Package of Laws

Canadian Mining Company Being Sued for Violent Death of Community Leader in Guatemala

Peasant, Indigenous Organizations Reject Market Schemes for Global Warming (Mexico)

Central America is Present: The Mesoamerican Climate Justice Campaign Makes its Way to Cancun

Protesters Say "No" to Climate Market in Cancun

Interview: Dr. William I. Robinson on Power, Domination and Conflicts in Mexico

Photo Essay: Haiti’s Presidential Elections

Haiti: As Elections Derail

"Miami Rice" - The Business of Disaster in Haiti

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