Monday, June 25, 2012

WNU #1134: Could an “All-Out” Effort End Haiti’s Cholera Epidemic?

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1134, June 24, 2012

1. Haiti: Could an "All-Out" Effort End the Cholera Now?
2. Haiti: UN Troops Try to Invade Public University
3. Costa Rica: Port Workers Strike Again in Anti-Privatization Struggle
4. Honduras: Woman Dies in Airport After US Deportation Flight
5. Mexico: OAS Agency Reports 8 LGBT Murders in Guerrero
6. Mexico: Republicans Push "Fast and Furious" Conspiracy Theory
7. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/immigration

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: Could an "All-Out" Effort End the Cholera Now?
The cholera epidemic that has killed more than 7,200 people in Haiti since October 2010 could possibly be brought to an end “in just months,” according to a leading French cholera expert, Dr. Renaud Piarroux. “But it would be necessary to go all out in the areas where cholera is being transmitted,” he added in a little-noted interview with Radio France Internationale on Apr. 16, “and, of course, we’d need to have the means of identifying [the cholera], with an epidemiological surveillance that is faster and more effective than what is being done currently.”

Piarroux is an epidemiologist and specialist in tropical medicine at a public hospital in Marseilles and at the University of Aix-Marseilles. He was the first medical expert to identify a base maintained by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) near Mirebalais as the source of the outbreak [see Update #1060]. Later studies confirmed MINUSTAH’s role in bringing the epidemic to Haiti.

In the radio interview, Piarroux based his conviction that the epidemic can ended quickly on the decline in cases earlier this year compared to the same period last year. “[W]hile there were more than 1,000 deaths because of cholera during the first trimester of 2011,” he said, “only some 40 have been counted between Jan. 1 and Mar. 27” of this year. But Piarroux warned that “there are still active centers [of the disease], particularly in the north of the island, and these centers could expand in the rainy season.” In these places “it’s necessary to fight the cholera with the maximum of tools. For example, it’s necessary to bring chlorine, to bring water, to bring soap.”

The Haitian government and the United Nations deputy special envoy for Haiti, Paul Farmer, a US doctor who started the widely respected clinics of Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante, are promoting a vaccination campaign instead of the sort of effort Piarroux described [see Update #1105]. Piarroux expressed doubts about the campaign. “[T]he vaccine that will be used is of mediocre effectiveness,” he said. “The protection afforded by this vaccine is a little above 50%. This is not a very effective vaccine.”

He also questioned the plans for the initial phase of the campaign, in which about 1% of the population would be vaccinated. This would take place in areas like the western coastal city of Saint-Marc, where there are now very few cholera cases, rather than in the active centers that remain dangerous. “Maybe if the companies that are marketing a vaccine want to test their vaccine, want to use it in field trials, that’s is where they should intervene,” Piarroux said. (Haiti Chery blog 4/20/12; interview transcript by Haiti Chery 4/20/12; AlterPresse (Haiti) 6/15/12)

[A field trial of the cholera vaccine, Shanchol, in February 2011 on 240,000 inhabitants of Mirpur, a suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh, led to protests by the Health Rights Movement National Committee of Bangladesh, citing many of the same concerns raised by Piarroux. (News from Bangladesh Special Report 9/29/11)]

US media coverage has been promoting the vaccination option. In a May 26 editorial, the Washington Post wrote that “until recently, international health organizations dragged their feet on vaccines, worrying they might be too expensive or difficult to administer. They preferred a systemic infrastructure fix. That’s simply indefensible.” The editorial predicted that “[I]t would take just $40 million to administer oral vaccines to every person in Haiti,” while admitting that “there will be logistical hurdles” for a vaccination program.

The Post dismissed the claims of “thousands of Haitian cholera victims [who] have demanded millions of dollars of reparations from the United Nations, citing the disease’s introduction by the [MINUSTAH] peacekeepers.” Money from the United Nations “would be more profitably spent on a much more aggressive cholera vaccination program,” the editors wrote. (WP 5/26/12)

*2. Haiti: UN Troops Try to Invade Public University
Brazilian soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) made three attempts on June 15 to enter the Human Sciences Faculty (FASCH) of the State University of Haiti (UEH) in Port-au-Prince by force, according to faculty, students and local media. “We don’t know the reason for this criminal and inopportune visit,” the FASCH’s dean, Hancy Pierre, told the online Haitian news service AlterPresse. “It’s a disgrace for the country.” In Haiti security forces are expected to get permission from university authorities before entering a campus.

The soldiers arrived at the FASCH around 11 am. Students quickly closed the front gates, and the soldiers reacted by firing rubber bullets and sending a tear gas grenade into the school’s enclosure. “We didn’t fail to remind them that there was no one to rape at the FASCH and that we didn’t need for them to come infect us with cholera,” one student said, referring to the 10,000-member international force’s responsibility for a number of sexual abuses and for triggering the outbreak of cholera in 2010 [see Updates #1060, 1095]. MINUSTAH troops made two more attempts to enter the school in the afternoon, disrupting classes and a student-faculty assembly.

Some FASCH professors have denounced MINUSTAH as an occupation force since its arrival in Haiti in June 2004, and student organizations have protested the troops with press releases, signs and banners, including signs they have posted at the school’s entrance. On June 18 the Mobilizing Committee for Reparations for Cholera Victims issued a press release citing three other attacks by MINUSTAH soldiers on UEH students: the Jan. 20, 2009, beating of student and artist Don Camelo; the beating of student Jean Willy Belfleur the next day; and the May 24, 2010 arrest of student Frantz Mathieu Junior [see Update #1035]. (Radio Kiskeya (Haiti) 6/15/12; AlterPresse (Haiti) 6/18/12; Let Haiti Live website 6/19/12)

According to MINUSTAH communications director Eliane Nabaa, the Brazilian troops were carrying out “a reconnaissance patrol in the area so as to be able to identify displaced persons camps [when] suddenly they were attacked with rocks and broken bottles by the local population and the students.” The FASCH is located in a residential neighborhood; none of the camps for people who were left homeless by a January 2010 earthquake are in the area. (AlterPresse 6/21/12)

*3. Costa Rica: Port Workers Strike Again in Anti-Privatization Struggle
The 1,500 workers in Costa Rica’s two Caribbean ports, Limón and Moín, went on strike on June 12 to oppose a 30-year concession the government of President Laura Chinchilla has granted to a Netherlands-based container management multinational, APM Terminals. The two ports handle about 80% of the country’s international trade.

The strike quickly shut down shipping operations, leading to a loss of some 300 million colones ($600,000) in its first 36 hours, according to Alan Hidalgo, the head of the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Shelf (JAPDEVA), which manages the ports. On June 14 the government sent some 500 police agents to the ports, with specialized units from the Ministry of Public Security taking control of Costa Rica’s two main roads. Clashes broke out in Limón between police and unidentified persons who set a truck on fire and blocked roads with ditches.

The “acts of vandalism aren’t by the workers but by common criminals,” José Luis Castillo, the head of the JAPDEVA Workers Union (SINTRAJAP), said on June 15. Union leaders charged that the authorities had brought in Panamanian workers to staff the facilities but said the Limón port was only operating at 5% capacity despite the presence of police and strikebreakers. According to Castillo, 100% of the Costa Rican workers were participating in the strike.

The job action was the latest phase of the workers’ fight against government moves for complete privatization of the ports, which started in 2006 with a plan to sell off JAPDEVA. The union agreed in principle to the privatization of JAPDEVA in May 2010 [see Update #1033], but the concession granted to APM Terminals appears to be the first step putting the agreement in practice. The multinational is to invest some $990 million in building a port that can handle the larger ships that will take advantage of the expanded Panama Canal starting in 2014. The government claims that the building and operation of the facility, to be completed in 2016, will create 2,000 jobs directly and another 8,000 indirectly. The workers argue that the concession gives the company a monopoly over the ports and will lead to a loss of jobs.

The government and the union reached an accord on June 19 after a 15-hour negotiating session. The union agreed to end the strike, while the government promised to invest $70 million in modernizing the existing port facilities. Castillo called the strike a “first round” in the struggle against the APM concession, with subsequent actions to take place in the courts. Meanwhile, other unions are planning a one-day strike on June 26 against the government’s fiscal policies and in support of the port workers. (Prensa Latina 6/14/12; AFP 6/15/12 via Terra (Peru); EFE 6/19/12 via Siglo 21 (Guatemala))

*4. Honduras: Woman Dies in Airport After US Deportation Flight
Honduran national Cintia Yadira Herrera died of heart problems on June 18 shortly after arriving at San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras on a mass deportation flight arranged by US immigration authorities. She took a few steps after disembarking from the plane in Ramón Villeda Morales Airport and then collapsed, according to firefighters who came to her assistance; she died in the airport. Herrera was 33 or 34, according to different media reports, and was the mother of three children.

According to some of the other 102 Honduran deportees on the chartered plane, Herrera had said she felt ill from the beginning of the flight. Her family blamed the US government for her death. “The immigration authorities in the US didn’t listen to my daughter’s pleas, even though she told them she didn’t feel well,” José Herrera told reporters.

Cintia Herrera left her home in the eastern department of Olancho in March to join her husband, Luis Matute, in the US. She was captured by US immigration authorities the day she arrived in the country and was held in detention until she was put on the flight. Humanitarian organizations estimate that each day about 100 Hondurans leave their country to look for work in the US. About one million Hondurans now live in the US, and remittances from US-based Hondurans to Honduras exceed $2.5 billion a year. The US deports more than 20,000 Hondurans annually. (La Prensa (San Pedro Sula) 6/20/12; EFE 6/21/12 via Univision)

*5. Mexico: OAS Agency Reports 8 LGBT Murders in Guerrero
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), reported on June 18 that eight members of the LGBT community in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero have been murdered since the beginning of the year. The latest victim was 18-year-old Antonio Calderón Peralta, whose body was found in Chilpancingo, the state capital, on June 9. The youth, who was dressed in women’s clothes, had been beaten to death. The discovery of Calderón’s body came two days after Guerrero’s LGBT community held a march in Chilpancingo supporting sexual diversity.

The IACHR called on the Guerrero government to investigate the killing, to determine “whether this murder was committed because of the victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation,” and “to punish the persons who are found to responsible.” The agency noted that the killings have taken place “in a context of impunity and lack of due investigation of these deeds.” (AFP 6/19/12 via Noticias de Querétaro; La Jornada de Guerrero 6/22/12)

*6. Mexico: Republicans Push "Fast and Furious" Conspiracy Theory
US president Barack Obama invoked executive privilege on June 20 to justify the Justice Department’s refusal to provide the House of Representatives with some of its documents relating to Operation Fast and Furious, a bungled program in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) inadvertently let about 2,000 firearms “walk” into Mexico during 2009 and 2010. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had subpoenaed the documents from the Justice Department. The House of Representatives could vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to comply with the subpoena.

The bickering between Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled House over Fast and Furious comes as Obama campaigns to win reelection on Nov. 6 in what is expected to be a close race with the presumed Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Rep. Issa denies that there is any political motivation in his investigation of Fast and Furious. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/21/12 from AFP)

Issa and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) vigorously pursued the Fast and Furious investigation last year, but the probe appeared to lose momentum in October when the two Congress members learned that the administration of Republican former president George W. Bush (2001-2009) had run a similar program, Operation Wide Receiver [see Update #1104]. Another drawback for the investigation was the way it focused attention on the lax gun control laws in the US; these law make it relatively easy to purchase weapons in Southwestern states and then smuggle them to drug cartels in Mexico, where nearly 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since the end of 2006. Issa and Grassley are both strong opponents of gun control [see Update #1095].

But recently Fox News and other rightwing media have started promoting a conspiracy theory—originated by Michael Vanderboegh, a blogger reportedly connected to anti-government militias—that makes the Fast and Furious investigation more acceptable to gun control opponents. According to Vanderboegh, the Obama administation purposely let the guns go to the drug cartels so that the resulting bloodbath in Mexico could be used to justify strict federal gun control legislation.

Issa and Grassley have picked up on this idea. Grassley cited it in a television interview, while Issa asked at the National Rifle Association’s April convention: “Could it be that what they really were thinking of was in fact to use this walking of guns in order to promote an assault weapons ban? Many think so.” Issa went further on Fox News. “Very clearly,” he said, “they made a crisis and they’re using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people’s 2nd Amendment rights.” (Los Angeles Times 6/22/12; New York Times 6/22/12)

While acknowledging the political motive for the Republicans’ Fast and Furious inquiry, the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada reminded Mexican readers that the Obama administration is in fact holding back information on an operation that “exhibits the government in Washington as a provider of arms for the drug cartels that operate in our country.” The new government elected in Mexico’s presidential and legislative voting on July 1 will “need to analyze seriously the appropriateness of continuing” with the current militarized “war on drugs,” which La Jornada described as “a security strategy promoted by the US that not only has been ineffective in [achieving] its objective and has generated counterproductive effects for the country; it has also implied an unacceptable abandonment of national sovereignty and has exposed Washington’s hypocrisy in its supposed promise to combat narco trafficking and eradicate violence.” (LJ 6/21/12)

*7. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Puerto Rico, US/immigration

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