Tuesday, May 17, 2011

WNU #1080: Homeless Haitians Face Evictions as Aid Falls Short

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1080, May 15, 2011

1. Haiti: Aid Falls Short, and the Homeless Face Evictions
2. Haiti: New President Inaugurated in the Dark
3. Honduras: Violence Continues Against Activists and the Media
4. Mexico: Government Accused of GMO Violations
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba

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: Aid Falls Short, and the Homeless Face Evictions
As of May 12 a group of Haitians left homeless by a massive January 2010 earthquake were facing possible expulsion from their displaced persons’ camp at the Palais de l’Art, in Delmas 33 in the northeast of Port-au-Prince. A lawyer for the property’s owner said he was asking the Interior Ministry to remove the camp residents within eight days. The residents reported that the owner had already started harassing them: on May 9 they found the doors to the toilets locked, and on May 10 the front gate was locked, trapping them in the camp. More than 150 families have been living at the site, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

The intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM, OIM in French and Creole) reported in April that some 234,000 people have been removed since June 2010 from 247 of the more than 1,000 improvised camps that formed after the earthquake. Of the 680,000 homeless people still living in the camps--in unsanitary conditions, without basic services and with the constant danger of violent crime, especially against women and children—about 166,000 were also threatened with the possibility of eviction into even worse conditions, according to the IOM. With the season for tropical storms set to begin in June, the Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR), a Haitian human rights organization, is calling on the government to intervene to protect the displaced. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 5/12/11; Adital (Brazil) 5/12/11 from JRS)

The size and condition of the homeless population in Haiti 16 months after the earthquake has inspired calls for government action in the US as well.

On May 10 the House of Representatives passed a bill, HR 1016, requiring the president to report on the effectiveness of US assistance to Haiti. This followed the Apr. 19 release of an audit by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers US foreign aid programs. The audit covered 16 grants, totaling $139 million, awarded from January 2010 through June 2010 to provide temporary housing to the earthquake victims; the main grantees were CHF International, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and GOAL Ireland.

The OIG found that the grantees had only completed 22% of the planned shelters by November 2010 and that there was a 65% shortfall in the efforts to repair “14,375 homes minimally damaged in the earthquake.” The shelters themselves were inadequate, the auditors reported, and unlikely to last the three years required by the USAID. The way the grants were made excluded Haitian businesses, and even though USAID was informed of the importance of clearing space for reconstruction, the agency didn’t arrange for using heavy equipment to remove rubble until November.

The DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) notes that while little is being done for Haiti’s displaced population, one US charitable organization is addressing what it calls a “critical shortage of hotel space that meets even the most basic standards for business travelers.” The Clinton Bush Fund, which was established after the earthquake by former presidents Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and George W. Bush (2001-2009), is spending $2 million to finish building the Oasis Hotel, a luxury facility whose construction was delayed because of the earthquake. “The Oasis Hotel symbolizes Haiti ‘building back better,’ and sends a message to the world that Haiti is open for business,” according to Paul Altidor, the fund’s vice president of programs and investments in a May 9 press release. (CEPR, Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, 5/6/11, 5/11/11; Clinton Bush Fund press release 5/9/11)

International aid and recovery efforts were the subject of a conference that Haitian organizations and international solidarity groups held in Port-au-Prince on Apr. 28 and 29 [see Update #1073]. Participants in the gathering--entitled “What Financing for What Reconstruction?”—criticized international aid efforts that they said increase the country’s political and financial dependency and are “led by foreign businesses,” according to Beverly Keene, an Argentine-based activist who works with Jubilee South. The participants contrasted this with aid provided by Cuba and other countries in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which they said had respected the needs and culture of the Haitian people.

The conference proposed the establishment of a Permanent Assembly of Social Movements to insure a leading role for the Haitian people in the reconstruction. The participants also called for the withdrawal of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 13,000-member international military and police operation, and the elimination of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC, or CIRH in French and Spanish), which international donors set up in March 2010 to monitor aid distribution. The IHRC is co-chaired by former US president Clinton, who is also the United Nations special envoy for Haiti. (Adital 5/11/11)

*2. Haiti: New President Inaugurated in the Dark
Popular Haitian singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) was sworn in as his country’s 56th president on the morning of May 14 in a ceremony attended by outgoing president René Préval, members of Parliament and a group of foreign dignitaries, including Dominican Leonel Fernández, Honduran president Porfirio Lobo, Surinamese president Desiré Bouterse and former US president Bill Clinton. The event was held in a temporary structure set up in downtown Port-au-Prince for the Parliament after a January 2010 earthquake destroyed much of the capital. The actual administration of the oath of office took place without electric lights or a working sound system because of a brief power outage in the building. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 5/14/11; Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 5/14/11; Radio Métropole (Haiti) 5/14/11)

Martelly’s term officially runs until Feb. 7, 2016; he was elected in a runoff vote on Mar. 20, more than a month after outgoing president Préval’s term officially expired.

In a joint session on May 9, the two chambers of Parliament rushed through a group of amendments to the 1987 Constitution. The revised document will allow dual citizenship, a provision supported by many people in Haiti’s large diaspora, and sets up a Constitutional Council to rule on constitutional issues. The Constitution continues to provide for the existence of an army, although the country has had no military force since then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the Armed Forces of Haiti (FadH) in 1995. An attempt to allow two consecutive presidential terms was defeated; presidents are still limited to two non-consecutive five-year terms. (Radio Kiskeya 5/13/11)

*3. Honduras: Violence Continues Against Activists and the Media
Honduran campesino Henry Roney Díaz was killed on May 7 when soldiers, police and private guards tried to remove campesinos occupying an estate in the Aguán River Valley in the northern department of Colón. Díaz was a member of the El Despertar cooperative, one of the groups forming the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA). Manuel Vásquez, another member of the cooperative, was wounded in the same clash.

The FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) reports that the security guards were working for the wealthy Nicaraguan René Morales, one of the largest landowners in the region. Morales’ farms have been the target of several land occupations since April 30, when campesinos from MARCA and the larger Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) decided to take over the La Trinidad, El Despertar, San Esteban and Guanchías estates to protest what they consider the government’s failure to comply with agreements signed in April 2010 [see Update #1029].

Another campesino, José Paulino Lemus Cruz, was shot dead on May 10 as he traveled from the Guadalupe Carney community to Los Leones, also in the Aguán Valley. Lemus Cruz belonged to a third local organization, the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA). Other members of the group discounted robbery as a motive; none of the victim’s belongings appeared to have been taken. Supporters of the campesino movements say the two latest deaths bring the number of activists killed in the valley over the last 15 months to 27. (Adital (Brazil) 5/10/11 from defensoresenlinea.com; Rel-UITA (Argentina) 5/11/11 via Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más blog; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 5/11/11)

Violence against journalists also continues. Two men on a motorcycle gunned down television reporter Francisco Medina outside his home in the northern city of Morazán on the night of May 10. Medina was often critical of the police and of private security firms contracted by ranchers in the area and had received death threats, according to colleagues. He was the 11th journalist killed during the last year and a half in Honduras. Only two of the murders have been solved. (Tico Times (Costa Rica) 5/13/11, some from AP)

While violence flared in the north, from May 4 to 7 the Honduran government hosted a conference in Tegucigalpa to promote business investment in the country. Speakers at the conference, “Honduras Is Open for Business,” included President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), US under secretary of commerce for international trade Francisco Sánchez and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Foreign investment declined by 46% during the unrest following the June 2009 coup that overthrew then-president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales. (New Statesman (UK) blog 5/8/11)

*4. Mexico: Government Accused of GMO Violations
The Mexican government is violating its own laws on genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the way it handles experimental corn crops, according to a complaint the Greenpeace organization has filed with federal environmental protection authorities. The group charges that the government has failed to monitor experimental transgenic corn adequately, has allowed the corn to be planted on private farms, and hasn’t ensured that the plants are disposed of properly after cultivation.

Raising GMO corn is illegal in Mexico, but the government can permit some experimental cultivation as long as there are strict controls to prevent contamination of the country’s at least 52 native varieties, which indigenous farmers developed over thousands of years. Experimental planting has been allowed in the Cuauhtémoc Valley in Chihuahua and the Laguna region of Coahuila, both in the relatively arid north, where the government claims there are few native varieties of corn at risk. However, contamination was detected in 70 hectares of land in the Cuauhtémoc Valley in September 2008.

Greenpeace calls experimental planting “a farce.” According to Aleira Lara Galicia, coordinator of the group’s National Sustainable Agriculture Campaign, corn reproduces through open pollination, so that the wind or insects can spread the GMO breeds to places far away from the experimental areas. Pollen doesn’t respect borders, she says, and transgenic corn was already detected in the southern part of Oaxaca as early as 2001. (Vanguardia (Coahuila) 5/9/11; Adital (Brazil) 5/9/11 from Servindi and Vanguardia)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba

WikiLeaks cables expose Israeli military intrigues in Latin America

Argentina: dirty war "death pilots" arrested

Argentina: ex-military officers get life in Margarita Belén massacre

Protests as Chile approves mega-scale Patagonia hydro project

Brazil's disappearing favelas

Brazil: Accusations Mount against Pulp and Paper Giant

También La Lluvia: Postscript (Bolivia)

Judge Won't Recuse Self from Chevron Trial (Ecuador)

U.S. Senate Could Vote On Free Trade Agreement With Colombia In June

Colombia Extradites Controversial Alleged Drug Trafficker Makled to Venezuela

What the Farc files really reveal

Venezuela disses "dodgy dossier" on FARC ties

Panama: Indigenous Movement Deeply Concerned About the Barro Blanco Dam

El Salvador Urged to Protect Journalists After Death Threats

Who’s Killing The Journalists Of Honduras?

Guatemala: Zetas massacre 27 farmworkers

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya May Return To Honduras

Mexico’s Anti-Drug War March Demands Far-Reaching Political Reforms

March for Peace with Justice and Dignity, May 5-8

Mexico’s March for Peace, Justice and Security

Mexico’s Drug War Victims Find Their Voice in Massive Silent March

Mexico: nine dead in Oaxaca electoral violence

Apartheid Housing Posed as Solution to Climate Vulnerability in Chiapas

Cuban Government Says Dissident Died of Pancreatitis, not Police Beating

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