Tuesday, January 11, 2011

WNU #1062: 2011 in Haiti—“Year of Revolt” or More of the Same?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1062, January 9, 2011

1. Haiti: “Core Group” Contemplated Election Day Coup
2. Haiti: Women’s Group Calls for Charges Against UN
3. Haiti: 2011—“Year of Revolt” or More of the Same?
4. Argentina: Agribusinesses Accused of Enslaving Workers
5. Mexico: Activists March for Central American Immigrants
6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, 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: “Core Group” Contemplated Election Day Coup
As of Jan. 7 it was still unclear when or whether the second round of Haiti’s controversial Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections would take place. A runoff was originally scheduled for Jan. 16 but has been postponed indefinitely as a result of charges that political groups, including the Unity party of President René Préval, compromised the voting through fraud [see Update #1060]. A 12-member technical team from the Organization of American States (OAS) was in Port-au-Prince analyzing the voting results and was expected to issue a report early in the week of Jan. 10 on the validity of the elections.

Many Haitian politicians, including 12 of the 18 presidential candidates, have called for annulling the Nov. 28 vote and for holding a new election. On Jan. 7 the chief of staff for US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Cheryl Mills, indicated to the Associated Press wire service that the US might support an annulment if the OAS report recommended it.

Whether or not the Nov. 28 balloting is upheld, it is obvious that there will be no new president in place when Préval’s five-year term expires on Feb. 7. Préval claims he can remain president until May 14 because he himself didn’t take office until May 14, 2006, due to problems with that period’s electoral process [see Update #1032]. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse (Haiti) 12/29/10; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 1/6/11; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 1/7/11)

While politicians and others focus on the voting process, many question whether the winning candidates will have any real authority in a country dominated by foreign powers, especially after a major earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti last January. In an interview with BBC Brasil published on Dec. 29 by the Brazilian daily Folha do Basil, Brazilian diplomat Ricardo Seitenfus, the outgoing OAS representative in Haiti, charged that representatives of the international community had openly discussed removing current president Préval from office on Nov. 28, the day of the elections.

During a “the meeting of the Core Group (donor nations, the OAS and the United Nations)…[s]ome representatives suggested that President René Préval should leave the country and that we should think about a plane for this,” Seitenfus said, without specifying which representatives made the suggestion. “The Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, arrived, and before long he said we shouldn’t count on him for any solution outside of the Constitution, and he asked if President Préval’s mandate was being negotiated. There was silence in the room.” Eventually Seitenfus himself “reminded [the group] of the existence of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and that any discussion of President Préval’s mandate would be, for me, a coup d’état.” (Folha do Brasil 12/29/10)

“[W]e have no comment to make on Ambassador Seitenfus' descriptions of what he heard at such a meeting,” the US embassy in Haiti told Ansel Herz of the Inter Press Service (IPS). (IPS 1/6/11) The “Core Group for Haiti” “consists of the United States and other countries and international organizations that are involved with promoting democracy and stability in Haiti,” according to the US State Department. (US State Department 2/2/07) The US has flown two Haitian presidents into exile so far in the past 25 years: “President for Life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier in February 1986 and President Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

*2. Haiti: Women’s Group Calls for Charges Against UN
On Jan. 6 United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon announced the names of the four experts who will serve on a panel to investigate the causes of the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in mid-October. The panel will be headed by Dr Alejandro Craviolo, a Mexican who works with the International Center for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research in Bangladesh; the Peruvian Claudio Lanata, a researcher at the Nutritional Research Institute in Lima; US national Daniele Lantagne, who works at Harvard University; and Indian national Balakrish Nair, director of the National Institute of Cholera & Enteric Diseases in Kolkata (Calcutta).

Secretary General Ban announced the formation of the panel on Dec. 17 in response to strong evidence that disease came from infected Nepalese troops in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 13,000-member police and military force that has occupied Haiti since June 2004 [see Update #1060]. Ban insisted that the panel would be independent.

“What is the head of MINUSTAH looking for with this new inquiry?” the feminist organization Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA) asked in a document dated Jan. 5, noting that several experts had already pointed to the UN troops as the most likely source. SOFA called on the Haitian government to file a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) charging MINUSTAH with a crime against humanity and to demand that the occupation forces supply vaccinations to the whole population and compensate the cholera victims and the farmers and vendors in the Artibonite and Central Plateau regions who have suffered economically because of the epidemic.

As of Jan. 6 there had been 3,481 deaths from cholera in Haiti, according to government reports; 157,000 people had contracted the disease, and the death rate was 22 a day. As of that date the UN had only received $44 million of the $174 million it had requested from donor nations to fight the epidemic, according to Elisabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "It’s shameful that that the UN appeal to fight against cholera in Haiti should only receive 25% financing,” Byrs said. (Radio Kiskeya 1/6/11; AlterPresse 1/6/11)

*3. Haiti: 2011—“Year of Revolt” or More of the Same?
Criticism of both the Haitian government and the international community continues to mount as the Jan. 12 anniversary of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake approaches. The quake killed as many as 250,000 people and destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and other cities in southern and western Haiti, leaving more than 1.5 million people homeless. One year later the majority of the displaced still live in improvised shelters without proper nutrition, sanitation or medical care.

There has been little progress in the reconstruction effort, according to a Jan. 6 report by the aid organization Oxfam International. The report’s authors blame indecisiveness by the Haitian government, a lack of coordination among donor nations and a failure to act by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC, or CIRH in French and Spanish), a group set up last March to disburse and monitor international aid [see Update #1032]. Just 15% of the temporary shelters needed for the homeless have been built, while only 5% of the rubble has been removed, the report says, making new construction almost impossible. Donor nations have released about $2 billion dollars so far, 42% of the amount promised for last year. (AlterPresse 1/7/11)

The problem with the reconstruction aid is that the donors’ “objectives and their policies first and foremost aim to benefit their own investors, farmers, manufacturers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs),” Alex Dupuy, a Haitian-born sociology professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, wrote in the Jan. 7 Washingon Post. One example is the US. “According to news reports, of the more than 1,500 US contracts doled out worth $267 million, only 20, worth $4.3 million, have gone to Haitian firms. The rest have gone to US firms, which almost exclusively use US suppliers. Although these foreign contractors employ Haitians, mostly on a cash-for-work basis, the bulk of the money and profits are reinvested in the United States.”

Dupuy noted the “dramatic power imbalance between the international community--under US leadership--and Haiti…The IHRC, originally conceived by the State Department, has effectively displaced the Haitian government and is in charge of setting priorities for reconstruction.” Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has admitted that Haiti has lost its sovereignty, according to Dupuy, who concluded that international aid is actually hurting Haiti. (WP 1/7/11)

Even an official of the international community came to this conclusion. “Nothing gets resolved; it’s made worse” by international operations, the Organization of American States (OAS) representative in Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus, told the Swiss daily Le Temps in an interview published on Dec. 20. “They’re trying to make Haiti into a capitalist country, an export platform for the American market; it’s absurd. Haiti ought to go back to what it is, that is, an essentially agricultural country rooted in customary law… If there is any evidence for the failure of international aid, it’s Haiti.”

Seitenfus, a Brazilian diplomat, also questioned the need for the international “peacekeeping” force, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). “Haiti isn’t an international menace. We’re not in a civil war situation. Haiti isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan… When the unemployment rate is 80%, it is inexcusable to deploy a stabilization mission. There’s nothing to stabilize, and everything to build.” The United Nations (UN) has made “the Haitians into prisoners on their own island.” The UN mandate “is to maintain the peace of the cemetery.” (Le Temps 12/19/10 via AlterPresse 12/21/10)

Seitenfus hoped to have his two-year term as OAS representative extended when it expired in two months, but OAS secretary José Miguel Insulza “asked me to take a vacation” after the Le Temps interview appeared, the diplomat said in a later interview. (Folha do Brasil (Brazil)12/29/10)

On Jan. 1 about a dozen Haitian grassroots and leftist organizations marked the 207th anniversary of their country’s independence with a statement declaring 2011 a “year of revolt.” They pledged “to continue to struggle against imperialist domination, against exploitation, against the MINUSTAH” so that the country could regain its sovereignty.

“The urban and the rural masses must reject imperialism, the bourgeoisie, the traditional politicians, along with the fraudulent elections that have brought us to this situation today,” wrote the organizations, which included Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle), the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP) and the Gramsci Circle. “[W]e must not defend either the old or the new restavek [servant] politicians who struggle for power. Like Président Préval, they have the same agenda and are going to rule in opposition to us.” The organizations also said they would fight for the United Nations to compensate the victims of the cholera epidemic and would struggle alongside those displaced by the earthquake “in favor of a new state, for a more just society.” (AlterPresse 1/5/11)

*4. Argentina: Agribusinesses Accused of Enslaving Workers
Labor ministry inspectors from the Argentine national government and the Buenos Aires provincial government said they found 199 farm workers in conditions close to slavery during raids carried out at the end of December and the beginning of January on estates in the area of San Pedro, about 100 km west of the national capital. The inspectors said 130 of the laborers, including some 30 children and adolescents, were producing for the Dutch-based multinational Nidera, and 69 were producing for the Argentine company Southern Seeds Production SA; the workers appear to have been subcontracted through temporary agencies.

The labor ministries charged that the workers were recruited from the northern provinces of Santiago de Estero and Tucumán without being told where they were going or how much they would be paid. After arriving in Buenos Aires province, the workers were kept in inadequate housing, including trucks, in unsanitary conditions, and were not allowed to leave the farms, according to the ministries; food and other necessities were deducted from their wages, at exorbitant prices. Labor ministry officials estimated that at least 1,000 people were working in these conditions in the San Pedro area alone.

Another 274 workers were found in similar conditions during raids on farms in Ramallo and Arrecifes, Buenos Aires province, on the morning of Jan. 7.

Nidera’s Argentine subsidiary is the country’s leading seed supplier and one of the largest exporters of grains and vegetable oils. In 1996 it was the first Argentine company to obtain permission to market genetically modified soy. The government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner charges that the company has evaded paying $260 million pesos (about $63 million) in taxes. Soy producers staged a major national strike in early 2008, eventually defeating efforts by the government of President Fernández to raise the tax on soy exports from 34% to 44% [see Update #955].

According to press reports, the Union of Rural Workers and Dockers (UATRE) has been complicit in the hiring of the temporary workers. Union leader Gerónimo Venegas is active in the right wing of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), in opposition to Fernández, a left Justicialist. (Página 12 (Buenos Aires) 1/2/11, 1/7/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/7/11)

Nidera “categorically denies” all the accusations that its “seed division in Argentina had employed temporary workers who were unregistered and exploited by the company.” (Nidera website, accessed 1/9/11)

*5. Mexico: Activists March for Central American Immigrants
Mexican activists, local residents and state authorities committed themselves to working for the rights of Central American immigrants at the Jan. 8 conclusion of a caravan from Arriaga in the southwestern state of Chiapas to the nearby town of Chahuites in Oaxaca. Oaxaca governor Gabino Cué Monteagudo met with the caravan’s members at the Chahuites municipal auditorium while local residents, mostly members of the Zapotec indigenous group, carried signs with slogans welcoming “brother and sister migrants” and telling them to “feel at home” in the town. “What we’re clear about is that in this state’s territory the human rights of Oaxacans and of other people, wherever they come from, will be maintained,” the governor promised. (El Universal (Mexico) 1/9/11)

The caravan was organized to fight attacks on undocumented Central American immigrants as they travel from Guatemala through Chiapas to Oaxaca, often by riding freight trains, on their way to the US. In addition to arresting the immigrants, Mexican police and immigration authorities sometimes rob the Central Americans or demand bribes, and criminal gangs, including the brutal Los Zetas drug traffickers, have carried out mass kidnappings, demanding ransoms from the immigrants’ relatives. A group of 20-50 immigrants were kidnapped near Chahuites on Dec. 16, and another group was seized on Dec. 22. The president of the government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, said on Jan. 7 that the commission had recorded 214 mass kidnappings in 2010, with 10,000 kidnapping victims just in the six months from April to September. (People’s Weekly World (US) 1/5/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 1/7/11, ___ )

About 100 activists and religious people joined the Jan. 7-8 “Step by Step Toward Peace” caravan, including Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, coordinator of Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road, a shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca; Irineo Mújica, a member of Amnesty International; and Elvira Arellano, an activist with the Chicago-based United Latino Family Without Borders who was deported from the US in 2007. The authorities eventually provided police protection for the caravan, but initially they were hostile. Arellano reported that National Migration Institute (INM) personnel intercepted her, her son Saúl and Irineo Mújica on Jan. 4 and called local police.

The activists originally planned to ride from Arriaga on Jan. 7 on a freight train often used by the immigrants, but authorities announced that the train—which Central Americans have nicknamed “The Beast”--wouldn’t run again until Jan. 10. The group instead drove most of the 40 km to Chahuites in a caravan, walking the last 5 km alongside the train tracks. (LJ 1/8/11, ___)

A 17-year-old Mexican youth, Ramsés Barrón Torres, was shot dead around 3 am on Jan. 5 on the Mexican side of the border fence that separates Nogales, Sonora, from Nogales, Arizona. The circumstances remain under investigation. Sonora police said Barrón Torres was shot by an agent of the US Border Patrol. Barrón Torres, who lived near the fence, was apparently returning to Mexico from the US side with a friend when the shooting occurred. US authorities have implied the the youth was involved in drug smuggling, but neighbors and family members suggested that he had been visiting a girlfriend who lives on the US side. (LJ 1/6/11, 1/8/11; Nogales International (Arizona) 1/7/11; Arizona Daily Star 1/8/11)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff: From Imprisoned Guerrilla Fighter to "The Most Powerful Woman in the World"

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Bolivia's Climate Paradox: Latin American progressive governments still bet on "extractivismo"

Walmart's "Love, Earth" Jewelry Line Doesn't Live Up to Green Promises (Bolivia)

San José of Apartadó, Peace Community: Liberty as a survival instinct (Colombia)

Colombian Major and Four Soldiers Accused In “False Positive” Murders

Interview: Afro-Colombian Farmers on Displacement and Resistance

Chavez Rejects University Law as Venezuelan National Assembly Begins New Term

U.S. Sends Mixed Signals in Ambassador Spat as Congress Vows Harder Line against Venezuela

A Decade of Refounding Honduras

Guatemala: State of Siege, Two Steps Backwards

Cancún Pact: No Victory for Climate Justice (Mexico)

Mexico Detains Leader Of Santa Muerte Cult On Kidnapping Charges

Acteal, Mexico: Building Autonomy in the Shadow of Repression

Why Does Health Care in Cuba Cost 96% Less than in the US?

Not enough colère against cholera (Haiti)

Presidential Runoff In Haiti Delayed Until February

Haiti: The Year of Living Dangerously – Part 1

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