Tuesday, February 1, 2011

WNU #1065: UN Troops Are “Tool” for US in Haiti

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1065, January 30, 2011

1. Haiti: UN Troops Are “Indispensable Tool” for US Policy
2. Haiti: Is the Election Runoff Finally Set?
3. Mexico: Security Operations Killed 111 “Innocents” in 2010
4. Mexico: US Agents Have Access to Detained Immigrants
5. Puerto Rico: Teachers, Media Condemn Police Actions
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, 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: UN Troops Are “Indispensable Tool” for US Policy
Even before a major earthquake hit Port-au-Prince in January 2010, the US embassy planned for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)--an international force then numbering about 9,000 soldiers and police--to remain in the country through 2013, according to a confidential US diplomatic cable released by the WikiLeaks group and published by the Spanish daily El País on Jan. 28.

The Oct. 1, 2008 cable by the embassy in Port-au-Prince described the UN mission as “a financial and regional security bargain for the USG [US government],” “a good deal for the US” and “an indispensable tool in realizing core USG policy interests in Haiti.” In the absence of a strong Haitian police force, the troops provide “a security force of last resort,” the cable said, and a withdrawal of MINUSTAH could lead to “resurgent kidnapping and international drug trafficking, revived gangs, greater political violence, an exodus of seaborne migrants, a sharp drop in foreign and domestic investment, and resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces.”

The cable goes on to say that in addition to providing “real regional security dividends for the US,” MINUSTAH, which is led by Brazilian officers and includes troops from other South American countries, helps US policy by “developing habits of security cooperation in the hemisphere that will serve our interests for years to come.” One major concern, however, is “Latin fears that any Haitian opposition to the UN presence undermines their domestic support for deployments in Haiti.” During protests over the high food prices in April 2008 [see Update #943], the cable reports, “the Brazilian MINUSTAH force commander told [the US ambassador] and others that his greatest fear was that his troops would be forced to fire on demonstrators. He understood that this could ignite opposition in Haiti, Brazil and other contributing countries to his troops’ presence in Haiti.”

The cable also contains the embassy’s assessment of drug traffickers’ influence in the Haitian Parliament at the time: “we estimate perhaps a score of deputies and senators are linked to the drug trade.” (El País 1/28/11)

Other cables, released by WikiLeaks the week of Jan. 17, suggest that pressure from the US resulted in a MINUSTAH “anti-gang” operation that led to several deaths and dozens of injuries among civilians in Port-au-Prince’s impoverished Cité Soleil section. In a June 10, 2005 meeting with Brazilian under secretary for political affairs Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, US ambassador to Brazil John Danilovich and an unnamed “political counselor” complained that “MINUSTAH has not been sufficiently robust,” apparently referring to concern by mission commander Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro about causing unnecessary casualties. Less than a month later, Gen. Heleno ordered the bloody operation in Cité Soleil [see Update #812].

Heleno was soon replaced by Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, who died of a gunshot wound on Jan. 7, just as MINUSTAH was about to undertake another operation in Cité Soleil [see Update #832]. The Brazilian government ruled the general’s death a suicide, but according to another cable, Dominican president Leonel Fernández expressed doubts during a Jan. 11 meeting with US deputy assistant secretary of state Patrick Duddy. President Fernández “believes that the Brazilian government is calling the death a suicide in order to protect the mission from domestic criticism,” the cable says. “A confirmed assassination would result in calls from the Brazilian populace for withdrawal from Haiti. Success in this mission is vital for President [Luiz Inácio] Lula [da Silva] of Brazil, because it is part of his master plan to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council." (Guardian (UK) 1/21/11)

*2. Haiti: Is the Election Runoff Finally Set?
On Jan. 28 Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced its new schedule for the long-delayed runoffs for the presidency and for many legislative seats. The CEP set Feb. 2 as the day when it would announce the results of the first round, held on Nov. 28; campaigning is to take place from Feb. 17 to Mar. 18; and the actual vote is planned for Mar. 20, with the preliminary results to be announced on Mar. 31. The second round was supposed to be held on Jan. 16 but was delayed by disputes over the results of the chaotic first round.

Most people assume that the two contenders for the presidency will be Mirlande Hyppolite Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP) and popular singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response). Jude Célestin, the candidate of President René Préval’s Unity party, came in second in the CEP’s official results, but a team from the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded that Martelly should have been in second place. On Jan. 26 Unity leaders issued a communiqué agreeing to have Célestin withdraw from the race, although there was no sign that Célestin was willing to go along with the decision.

The US had been putting pressure on Préval and Unity leaders, suspending US entry visas for many of them [see Update #1064]. According to Ginger Thompson of the New York Times, unnamed “senior officials” in the administration of US president Barack Obama also “made it clear that Washington would withhold more than $1 billion in aid from Haiti unless there was an election the United States deems credible.”

Meanwhile, 12 of the original 18 presidential candidates continued to call for annulling the entire vote and holding a new election. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 1/26/11; New York Times 1/27/11; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 1/28/11)

*3. Mexico: Security Operations Killed 111 “Innocents” in 2010
Hundreds of students, residents, artists, religious people and activists from some 70 organizations started a fast the morning of Jan. 29 in Ciudad Juárez, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, to mark the first anniversary of the Jan. 30 massacre of 15 youths in the city’s Villas de Salvárcar neighborhood. “No more blood!” “No more impunity!” and “No more feminicides!” were among the slogans of the commemoration. Later in the morning a group of the fasters marched to Puerto de Anapra, near Sunland Park, New México, where they and US residents held a ceremony in memory of the victims. The demonstrators were divided by a metal fence the US government has built at the border and watched over by US Border Patrol agents.

The youths at Villas de Salvárcar were attending a party when they were killed, apparently by a drug gang that intended to kill a different group. The massacre came as violence, much of it drug-related, continued to escalate in northern Mexico following President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s decision to militarize the “drug war” after taking office in December 2006 [see Update #1064]. Participants in the Jan. 29 events said they were “fed up with the violence and the actions of the authorities against the criminal underworld, since they don’t bring results and the bloodshed continues.”

Participants also remembered the hundreds of women murdered in the area since 1993, including Rubí Marisol Frayre and her mother, activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz [see Update #1061]. (La Jornada (Mexico) 1/30/11)

2010 left “the highest number of violent deaths in recent years” in the country, National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) president Raúl Plascencia Villanueva said in Mexico City on Jan. 26 as he presented the semi-independent commission’s annual report to the federal Congress. Plascencia Villanueva said the situation has “had an unjust effect in the sphere of the rights and freedoms of people who have nothing to do with criminality: 111 innocent people, without links to any crime, lost their lives over the last year in public security operations; in the vast majority of the cases, they are still waiting for justice to be carried out.” (LJ 1/27/11)

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton gave a more upbeat view during a brief visit to Guanajuato state in central Mexico on Jan. 24. She admires President Calderón, she told a press conference, and is impressed by his leadership in the fight against organized crime. “We still have work to do," Clinton admitted. “I'm not going to deny that. But we are making progress.” She noted that the US is providing $500 million this year through the Mérida Initiative security cooperation agreement for Mexico’s anti-drug operations. (LJ 1/25/11; EFE 1/25/11 via Fox News Latino)

*4. Mexico: US Agents Have Access to Detained Immigrants
A secret US diplomatic cable released by the WikiLeaks group and published by the Spanish daily El País on Jan. 23 reveals that the main Mexican intelligence agency, the Center for Investigations and National Security (CISEN), “has allowed USG [US government] officers to interview foreign nationals detained at Mexican immigration detention centers dispersed around the country for potential CT [counterterrorist] information of interest.” The May 16, 2008 cable—described as a “scene setter for the visit to Mexico of FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] deputy director John S. Pistole”--also reported that “senior migration officials” in Mexico “are sympathetic to our concerns” and are working with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency to locate terrorism suspects.

El País noted that “Mexico is a very nationalist country where the intervention of third parties causes political and social frictions.”

Another US embassy cable, marked “confidential,” shows Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa in effect acknowledging that he needs US assistance to regain control of the violence-wracked border city Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua state. The Feb. 18, 2010 cable describes a meeting between Calderón and US homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano the day before. “Mexico needs the right USG counterparts, and Calderón asked whether the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) might fill that role,” the cable said, referring to a joint project of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the customs and immigration agencies in El Paso, Texas.

“Secretary Napolitano responded that EPIC can help to identify the right organized crime targets,” the cable continued, “but that Mexico must move beyond military deployments and establish a police capacity in Ciudad Juárez capable of policing every block and street. Social services and rule of law must also be extended throughout the city.” (El País 1/23/11)

*5. Puerto Rico: Teachers, Media Condemn Police Actions
Student strikers at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) continued using mass civil disobedience the week of Jan. 24 to push their demand that the university drop an $800 tuition surcharge the administration is imposing this year [see Update #1064]. Some 200 protesters occupied parts of the Río Piedras campus in San Juan at various times on Jan. 25, with a total of 32 arrests. "We’re going to emphasize civil disobedience as a strategy to bring the message that there are students ready to commit themselves totally because they believe there are alternatives to the fee,” said Xiomara Caro, a spokesperson for the Student Representative Committee (CRE). (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 1/25/11)

On Jan. 27 the strikers took their protest to the Capitol building in San Juan, where they demonstrated in support of a measure that Rep. Luis Vega Ramos of the centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD) had introduced in the House of Representatives to allocate to the UPR what he said was a $50 million surplus in the government’s Fiscal Stabilization Fund. Students blocked avenues around the Capitol, and about 30 were arrested, including Xiomara Caro. Vega Ramos’ legislative measure--which would make the tuition surcharge unnecessary--was defeated by representatives from Gov. Luis Fortuño’s conservative New Progressive Party (PNP), which holds a majority in the House. (END 1/27/11)

Meanwhile, police tactics during the protests have become a separate issue. Reporters and photographers have been complaining ever since the civil disobedience actions began on Jan. 19 that police agents were keeping them from covering the arrests. On Jan. 21 Puerto Rican Journalists Association (ASPPRO) president Rafael Lenín López and Puerto Rican Photojournalists Association president Luis Rolón issued a statement saying the police seemed to be “trying to prevent the people from seeing how they are arresting civil disobedients.” They charged that agents kicked cameras and wouldn’t allow members of the press to enter the Río Piedras campus. “The police cannot determine how the press should cover the news,” the statement said.

On Jan. 26 the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP) issued its own statement on the actions of the Puerto Rican police, expressing solidarity with ASPPRO and condemning the arrest on Jan. 25 of Ricardo Olivera Lora Ricardo, the director of Radio Huelga, the UPR strikers’ radio station. (Puerto Rico Daily Sun 1/21/11; New California Media (NCM) 1/25/11 via Vos el Soberano (Honduras); FRELAP statement 1/26/11, posted on ASPPRO website; Adital (Brazil) 1/28/11)

At a Jan. 29 press conference María Gisela Rosado, director of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU), said “acts of torture” during the arrests “have been obvious in the visuals shown on television, on internet networks, in the written press.” She said police agents were “following the governor’s directives” as they “apply pressure points, block the detainees’ breathing and the flow of blood to their heads…touch women’s bodies and pursue university students with tear gas and pepper spray.” (Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 1/29/11) Police colonel Leovigildo Vázquez, who heads the operations, has told reporters that the agents are acting “professionally,” since they’ve been trained in using “pressure points to weaken the body” though “pain.” (Adital 1/26/11 from NCM)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti

The Human Faces of Latin America’s Cold War (Latin America)

Women Lead Latin America’s Growing Anti-Militarization Movements

Judge Opens Investigation Into Death Of Salvador Allende (Chile)

Action Alert: Sign Letter to Hillary Clinton in Support of Traditional Coca-Chewing Rights (Bolivia)

Bolivia: People with Disabilities Demanding Rights and Payment

International gains for Palestinian sovereignty; Zionists aghast (Peru)

Ecuador: Seven Foreign Oil Companies to Pull Out

Pentagon moves ahead with Colombian bases plan

Human Rights in the Rear View Mirror: Colombian Commandos Training Mexican Military and Police

Clinton in Mexico: "No Alternative" to Taking on Traffickers

Mexican Labor Year in Review: 2010

Oaxaca meets the new boss-—or does it? (Mexico)

Mexico - A Man of Peace: Don Samuel Ruiz 1924-2011

U.S. Authorities In Phoenix Break Up Gun Running Ring For Sinaloa Cartel (Mexico)

The Man-made Aftershocks of a Natural Disaster: Haiti One Year Later

Cracking the Donor Discourse on Haiti

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