Monday, April 9, 2012

WNU #1124: Did a Dominican Contractor Pay Haiti’s President?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1124, April 8, 2012

1. Haiti: Did a Dominican Contractor Give Millions to Martelly?
2. Chile: Carabinero Shot After Raid on Mapuche Village
3. Argentina: Menem to Be Tried for AMIA Bombing Coverup
4. Mexico: Study Blames NAFTA in Obesity Epidemic
5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Nicaragua, 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. It is archived at For a subscription, write to Follow us on Twitter at 

*1. Haiti: Did a Dominican Contractor Give Millions to Martelly?
Several construction companies controlled by Dominican senator Félix Bautista have paid a total of more than $2.5 million to Haitian president Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) since 2010, according to a Mar. 31 television report by Dominican investigative reporter Nuria Piera. At least two of the companies were awarded major contracts by the Haitian government for rebuilding in Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake: Hadom S.A., which won a $33 million contract to construct a new building for the Parliament, and Roffy S.A., which is getting $174 million for a housing project in the capital’s Fort National section. [The ceremony to mark the start of the Fort National project last year was called off because of protests by area residents who demanded greater transparency; see Update #1063.]

On Apr. 2 Bautista denied that he had ever given money to President Martelly; he charged that the bank transactions detailed in Piera’s report came from “anonymous documents with altered and distorted information.” Martelly’s office called the report a “media lynching” and said it was “part of a process that seeks to impede the change in Haitian politics and the modernization of the country that the president is carrying out.”

Martelly isn’t the only politician who could face problems if Piera’s corruption accusations turn out to be true. According to Piera, Bautista’s companies also contributed $250,000 to Mirlande Manigat, Martelly’s opponent in the March 2011 presidential runoff. The Haitian rebuilding contracts were awarded to Bautista’s companies in 2010, during the administration of former president René Préval (1996-2001 and 2006-2011), so Préval and his prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, could come under scrutiny. Dominican president Leonel Fernández is said to be close to Bautista, who represents San Juan de la Maguana province in the Senate for Fernández’s Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). On Apr. 4 Piera charged that Dominican intelligence services were persecuting people they suspected of being her sources for the report. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 4/2/12, 4/5/12; Miami Herald 4/2/12 from correspondents; Listín Diario (Santo Domingo) 4/3/12)

On Apr. 4, five days after the scandal broke, Martelly flew to Florida for surgery on his shoulder. According to his press office, he will return on Apr. 12, in time to meet Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, who will be making his first visit to Haiti. The operation will be the second Martelly has had for his shoulder; he was in the US for a similar operation from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3 last year, also during a political crisis—in that case, the crisis caused by the arrest of Parliament member Arnel Bélizaire [see Update #1103]. (AlterPresse 4/5/12)

In other news, the number of cholera cases rose in the Artibonite, Northwest and West departments when rainfall increased in late March. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO, or OPS in French and Creole) expects an additional 200,000 cases this year. As of Mar. 18, 7,056 people had died in the epidemic, which struck Haiti in October 2010, and 286,343 had been hospitalized, according to the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP), which reports a total of 531,683 known cases. (AlterPresse 4/5/12)

*2. Chile: Carabinero Shot After Raid on Mapuche Village
A sergeant in Chile’s carabineros militarized police force, Hugo Albornoz, died in a hospital in Temuco, the capital of the southern region of Araucanía, the evening of Apr. 2; he had been shot in the neck by unknown attackers earlier in the day. Sgt. Albornoz was part of a large group of police agents from the carabineros Special Operations Group (GOPE) that had searched through homes of indigenous Mapuche that morning in the village of Wente Winkul Mapu in Ercilla commune, Araucanía, for evidence about an October 2011 attack on the Centenario estate, the property of Juan de Dios Fuentes.

According to Luis Chamorro, a local prosecutor who led the search, the operation resulted in three arrests and the seizure of weapons and ski masks, but there was no confrontation with the inhabitants or any use of tear gas. After the agents left the village, they were fired on by about 15 men in the woods around the road, the authorities said. In addition to Albornoz, two other carabineros were hit, but their injuries were not life-threatening. (Radio Biobío (Chile) 4/2/12; AFP 4/2/12 via Univision; La Tercera (Chile) 4/3/12)

On Apr. 3 a spokesperson for Wente Winkul Mapu, Daniel Melinao, denied that village residents were involved in the shooting. “We don’t know where this bullet came from, but we are peaceful as a community, although we are also worried by the situation,” he said. (Radio Cooperativa (Chile) 4/4/12 via Mapu Express)

The Araucanía and Biobío regions in southern Chile have been in turmoil for years because of disputes between timber companies and Mapuche activists who say the companies are invading Mapuche ancestral lands [see Update #1113]. With about one million members, the Mapuche are Chile’s largest indigenous group; according to José Aylwin, co-director of the Temuco office of the Citizens’ Monitoring Center, one third of the country’s Mapuche population lives in Araucanía. “The state has, regrettably, generated violence for a long time” in the region by siding with the timber companies, he told Radio Cooperativa. Two companies, Arauco S.A. and Forestal Mininco, made $1.5 billion in profits in 2010 alone, Aylwin said. Sgt. Albornoz was the fourth person to die in the conflict in the last decade, Aylwin noted; the other three were Mapuche killed by carabineros. (Radio Cooperativa 4/3/12)

Luis García Huidobro, a Jesuit who said he witnessed the Apr. 2 raid, called it “a totally useless operation” involving “some 10 police vehicles, a small tank, a zorrillo [vehicle for dispensing tear gas], an armored bus for transporting carabineros, and various vans.” “They shouldn’t send carabineros,” he wrote in an open letter; “but should send someone from the government to open up a dialogue and return those lands so that there will be peace.” (Prensa Latina 4/3/12)

In other news, on Apr. 4 the House of Deputies voted 58-56 to approve an anti-discrimination law which had been languishing in Congress for seven years. The Senate passed the bill last September. The deputies’ action followed calls both in Chile and abroad for laws against hate crimes like the brutal assault that resulted in the death of a gay young man, Daniel Zamudio, on Mar. 27 [see Update #1123]. Some provisions of the bill still need to be finalized before it can become a law. (The Jurist 4/5/12)

*3. Argentina: Menem to Be Tried for AMIA Bombing Coverup
Unidentified Argentine judicial sources reported on Mar. 30 that federal judge Ariel Lijo has ordered former president Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999) to stand trial on charges that during his presidency he impeded the initial investigation into a July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires [see Update #978], The judge in charge of the original investigation, Juan José Galeano, is also to stand trial, along with former intelligence service directors Hugo Anzorreguy and Juan Carlos Anchezar, and two commanders of the federal police.

The bombing, generally considered the worst anti-Semitic violence since World War 2, killed at least 85 people and injured 300; Argentine prosecutors accuse the Iranian government of planning the attack and the Lebanese organization Hezbollah of carrying it out. Many Argentines suspected that Menem, a strong proponent of neoliberal economic measures and a favorite of the US government at the time, had interfered in the investigation to protect family friends, the late Syrian-Argentine business owner Alberto Kanoore Edul and his son, Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul. Alberto Jacinto is said to be linked to Mohsen Rabbani, a former cultural attaché to Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires who is suspected of masterminding the AMIA bombing.

Menem is now a senator for La Rioja province, and even if convicted he won’t face a prison sentence unless he is impeached by the Senate. (InfoBAE (Argentina) 3/30/12; Página 12 (Argentina) 3/31/12; BBC News 4/2/12) [Last September he was acquitted in a corruption trial stemming from the illegal sale of weapons to Croatia and Ecuador when he was president; there were suspicions of political interference in that trial--see Update #1097].

*4. Mexico: Study Blames NAFTA in Obesity Epidemic
A study published in the March issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health finds that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may be partly responsible for the sharp increase in obesity among Mexicans since the accord took effect in January 1994. Entitled “Exporting obesity: US farm and trade policy and the transformation of the Mexican consumer food environment,” the study indicates that by opening Mexico up to investment and food imports from the US, NAFTA altered Mexicans’ eating habits in a way that has affected their health.

Between 1988 and 1999 the average energy Mexicans obtained daily from fats rose from 23.5% to 30.3%--a 28.9% increase--while the consumption of refined carbohydrates rose by 6.3% and the consumption of soft drinks by 37.2%, according to the study. These changes coincided with increased imports of food products—including processed food and snacks—from the US, and with an increased US presence in food outlets. McDonalds, which opened its first Mexican restaurant in 1985, now has some 500 shops in 57 Mexican cities. The number of Wal-Mart stores jumped from 114 in 1993 to 561 in 2001; by 2005 Wal-Mart controlled 20% of the retail food sector in Mexico.

Weight problems increased in Mexico as these changes were taking place; from 2000 to 2006, for example, obesity and excess weight rose by 12%. The effects were especially severe among children. Alejandro Calvillo, director of the nonprofit group Consumer Power, says national surveys show obesity and excess weight increasing by 40% from 1999 to 2006 among children between the ages of five and 11.

According to David Wallinga, a co-author of the study and a science adviser at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minneapolis, “As Mexico’s food environment has come to resemble that of the US, with more ubiquitous sodas, processed meats and other processed snacks high in added fats and sweeteners, it’s no wonder that Mexico’s struggle with obesity and its related life-threatening problems—diabetes, stroke, heart disease—has become ‘Americanized’ as well.” (Common Dreams 4/5/12; Prensa Latina 4/5/12; La Jornada (Mexico) 4/6/12 from correspondent)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti

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The Southern Command Opens a Base in the Argentine Chaco: Humanitarianism or U.S. Control Center?

Chile: high court rejects challenge to hydroelectric dam project

Shifting Alliances in Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s Brother Complains of Prison Beating

Regional Peruvian Government Fights Conga Gold Mining: An Interview with Dr. César Aliaga Díaz

Peru: Cajamarca militarized on eve of regional strike

Peru Passes Monumental Ten Year Ban on Genetically Engineered Foods

Peru: oil industry blamed in mass dolphin die-off

Colombia: another indigenous leader assassinated

The Capital of Colombia Says, “Farewell to Arms”

Colombia’s FARC Release Hostages Held for 12 Years

FARC denies being weakened, rejects "terrorist" label

The Increasing ‘Americanization’ of the Colombian Conflict

Venezuela Rejects U.S. Democrat’s Calls for “Robust” Mission to Monitor Election

U.S. Narcotics Chief Defends Drug War During Central American Tour

US-Latin America: HR3783 and the Mega-Embassy That Never Was (Nicaragua)

Dying in Defense of Land in Mexico

Mexico’s Corn Festivals – a Haven from Transgenic Crops

Fear, Loathing and Electoral Love in Mexico

Juárez drug cartel leader gets life in US consulate killings

The People vs. The Pirates: Controversy Abounds in Haitian Reconstruction Investigations

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