Tuesday, October 29, 2013

WNU #1197: Haiti’s UN Cholera Spreads to Mexico

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1197, October 27, 2013

1. Latin America: Haiti’s UN Cholera Spreads to Mexico
2. Brazil: Protesters Target Oil Auction, Transit Fare
3. Guatemala: Ruling Opens Way for Ríos Montt Amnesty
4. Haiti: Government Tries to Arrest Opposition Lawyer
5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Grenada, 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 http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Latin America: Haiti’s UN Cholera Spreads to Mexico
According to Mexican health authorities, 171 cases of cholera had been confirmed as of Oct. 18 in Mexico City and states north and east of the capital; one person had died from the disease. The outbreak, first identified on Sept. 9, apparently involves the South Asian strain of the cholera bacterium responsible for an epidemic that started in Haiti in October 2010. Scientific studies indicate that poor sanitary conditions at a United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) base used by Nepalese troops caused the outbreak in Haiti, infecting at least 682,573 people as of Oct. 10 this year and causing 8,330 deaths and almost 380,000 hospitalizations.

Mexico is the first mainland country in the Americas to report an outbreak from the South Asian strain. The disease hit the Dominican Republic in November 2010 and had killed 458 people there and sickened 31,070 by Oct. 6 of this year. Cases first appeared in Cuba in 2012; Cuban authorities reported 678 cases and three deaths as of Aug. 23 this year. There have also been isolated cases in Chile, Venezuela, Italy, Germany and Holland, apparently affecting people returning from vacations in Cuba.

People would be vulnerable to infection by the disease in much of Latin America because of poor water supply systems, according to Marcos Espinal, director of the transmittable diseases department of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO, OPS in Spanish). The Central American countries are a special concern, Espinal told the Spanish wire service EFE. The last cholera outbreak in Latin America, in 1991, caused 4,000 or more deaths in 16 countries, with 396,536 people infected, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Haitian and international organizations have unsuccessfully called on the United Nations (UN) to accept its responsibility for introducing the South Asian strain to the hemisphere. Several groups filed a class action suit against the UN in a US federal court on Oct. 9 on behalf of the victims in Haiti [see Update #1195]. (National Public Radio blog 10/23/13; EFE 10/26/13 via Terra Peru)

Correction: In Update #1196 we reported that murdered Guerrero activist Rocío Mesino’s brother was disappeared during the “dirty war” of the 1970s. The person disappeared was her father’s brother.

*2. Brazil: Protesters Target Oil Auction, Transit Fare
Hundreds of Brazilian unionists, teachers, students and leftists held a militant demonstration outside the Windsor Hotel in Rio Janeiro’s Barra da Tijuca neighborhood on Oct. 21 to protest an auction being held there for rights to develop the Libra oilfield in the Bay of Santos. Denouncing the auction as a partial privatization of the country’s largest source of petroleum, the demonstrators attempted to invade the hotel, confronting some 1,100 soldiers backed by agents of the National Security Force, and the federal, civil and militarized police. Protesters, some of them masked Black Bloc activists, fought with the agents, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least six people were injured, and a vehicle belonging to the Rede Record television network was set on fire.

Later that day, the Black Bloc held a second demonstration on the Rio Branco avenue. The slogan for the action, “A million against the auction and oppression and for education,” linked opposition to the auction with support for local teachers striking for better pay and working conditions [see Update #1195}. Another protest, held the same day in São Paulo, resulted in at least three arrests and attacks on two journalists.

The auction itself proceeded without problems. It ended in just 50 minutes, with the development rights going to a consortium of five companies. Brazil’s state oil company, Petrobras (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.), will have a 40% share in the field’s exploitation, followed by Shell Brasil, a subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Shell company, with 20%; France’s Total, with 20%; and two Chinese companies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC Limited) and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), with 10% each. The only bid came from this consortium; despite concerns that industrial spying by the US might affect the auction [see Update #1193], no US company bid for the Libra field.

The Brazilian government was “extremely pleased,” with the results, President Dilma Rousseff announced in a brief televised address. “The process initiated today will bring enormous resource to bear for the Brazilian people,” Rousseff said. “Education will gain a windfall.” She denied that privatization was involved in the auction, which brought the government $7 billion immediately and the potential for large royalties in the future. Libra is expected to produce 1.4 millions barrels a day; Brazil’s total production currently is 2.1 million barrels a day. (Adital (Brazil) 10/21/13; La Jornada (Mexico) 10/22/13 from AFP, DPA, Reuters; Dow Jones 10/22/13)

Opposition to the auction was an issue in a weeklong strike that the Only Federation of Oil Workers (FUP), which includes 14 unions, started against Petrobras on Oct. 17. The union was also demanding a 5% increase in real wages, along with better working conditions, guarantees for contract workers, help with drug prescriptions, and other benefits. The unions claimed 90% adherence to the strike. The job action was suspended on Oct. 23, two days after the auction was completed, with the workers winning an 8.56% wage increase—presumably in nominal wages—along with other benefits. The FUP leadership said local assemblies had approved the suspension. (Adital 10/23/13; TeleSUR 10/24/13)

A three-hour march held in São Paulo on Oct. 25 to demand free public transit turned violent when a group of protesters split off and attacked a bus terminal. Masked protesters, some of them reportedly Black Bloc activists, set a bus on fire and vandalized cash and ticket machines. About 60 people were arrested, according to the local press. The march was called by the Free Pass Movement (MPL), a group whose protests against high transit costs helped spark massive nationwide demonstrations in June [see Update #1182]. Also on Oct. 25, President Rousseff announced a $2.4 billion program for improving the São Paulo’s public transit. (BBC News 10/25/13; La Tercera (Chile) 10/25/13 from AFP)

*3. Guatemala: Ruling Opens Way for Ríos Montt Amnesty
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) voted 5-2 on Oct. 22 to issue a ruling that could lead to amnesty for former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83), who faces charges of genocide for the killings of 1,771 indigenous Ixil from March 1982 to August 1983 in a counterinsurgency campaign he headed. The CC ordered the trial judge, High Risk Cases Court judge Carol Patricia Flores Polanco, to rule on defense lawyers’ motion for a dismissal of the charges based on Decree 8-86, a 1986 blanket amnesty for all crimes committed by the Guatemala military and leftist rebels during Guatemala’s civil war, which started in 1960.

Judge Flores’ court convicted Ríos Montt on the genocide charges on May 10 of this year and sentenced the former dictator to 80 years in prison, but the CC set the conviction aside 10 days later on a technicality and ordered a new trial [see Update #1178].

Human rights groups denounced the CC’s Oct. 22 ruling as a transparent attempt to dismiss the case against Ríos Montt. Decree 8-86’s validity is questionable. It was issued by dictator Gen. Humberto Mejía Víctores (1983-86) shortly before he ceded power to newly elected president Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo (1986-1991). According to the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH), the decree violates Guatemala’s international treaty commitments and in any case was superseded by a later amnesty in the National Reconciliation Law of 1996, passed as part of the process that ended the civil war. The 1996 law’s Article 8 specifies that the “extinction of penal responsibility referred to in this law will not be applicable to the crimes of genocide, torture and forced disappearance.” (El País (Madrid) 10/23/13 from correspondent; Latin American Herald Tribune 10/23/13 from EFE; Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) blog 10/23/13)

*4. Haiti: Government Tries to Arrest Opposition Lawyer
A failed attempt by Haitian police to search the car of a prominent lawyer, André Michel, the evening of Oct. 22 quickly turned into an embarrassment for the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”). Riot police stopped Michel in the capital’s Martissant neighborhood after 6 pm, in violation of a constitutional ban on nighttime arrests except in cases of active crimes. Joined by Port-au-Prince Government Commissioner Francisco René, the city’s chief prosecutor, the agents tried to search Michel’s car. A crowd of local residents gathered to protect the attorney. The agents dispersed the crowd with tear gas and took Michel to the police headquarters, where he spent the night.

Protests broke out in the downtown area the next morning, with several dozen youths throwing rocks and burning tires. Michel was taken to a judge who tried to send him to prison, but protesters and fellow attorneys removed Michel from the courthouse to the bar association office. In the afternoon three senators, who as legislators have immunity from arrest, took the lawyer under their protection. As of Oct. 24 Michel was still free and giving interviews to the media.

Michel represents the plaintiffs in a case charging President Martelly’s wife, Sophia Martelly, and his son, Olivier Martelly, with corruption. Judge Lamarre Bélizaire, who is close to the government, issued an order on July 26 for Michel to appear in court, but the attorney ignored the order [see Update #1188]. He kept a low profile for two months, but then participated in two large anti-government demonstrations starting on Sept. 30. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 10/23/13; Miami Herald 10/23/13 from correspondent; New York Times 10/24/13 from AP)

The incident with Michel coincided with the Oct. 23 release of a statement by the French-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) about threats to radio journalist Jean Monard Métellus, host of the popular weekly political talk show “Ranmase” (“Wrap Up”). Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon had warned on Oct. 19 of reports about a contract for Métellus to be killed by two motorcycle hit men for $10,000. RSF said “protection needs to materialize quickly, just as a rapid investigation into the origin of the threats is also needed.” Dozens of people demonstrated outside Radio Télévision Caraïbes (RTVC), the station where Métellus works, on Oct. 25 to show their support for the journalist and their opposition to the government. “We’re facing a power which is in the process of constructing a dictatorship in the country,” warned Marie France Claude, a member of the Haitian Christian Democratic Party (PDCH). Opposition representatives regularly voice harsh criticisms of the government on “Ranmase,” although government ministers also appear on the program. (AlterPresse 10/26/13; MH 10/23/13 from correspondent)

In other news, a report released by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) on Oct. 16 confirmed earlier reports that management at Haiti’s 24 garment assembly plants circumvents the current 300 gourde a day (about $6.85) minimum wage requirement by setting unrealistically high quotas for piece work [see Update #1179]. “The majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income,” according to the report. The offenders include the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC) in northern Haiti, built in part with aid from the US ostensibly intended to help the country recover after a January 2010 earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti. (NYT 10/16/13)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Grenada, US/immigration

Chile: Police Special Forces Evict Mapuche Community From Contested Lands

Chile: Time for Starbucks to Stop Union Busting

Chile’s 40 Year Anniversary in Photos: Part 2, Resistance, Past and Present

Brazil: deadly prison riot sets off angry protests

US Speaking Tour - From the Mines to the Streets: A Bolivian Activist’s Life

Indigenous Language Recovery in Peru

Colombia-Ecuador: Serious Revelations About Spraying Glyphosate on the Border

Colombia: Paramilitary Group Threatens Indigenous Protesters with ‘Social Cleansing’

This Is Peace: "Walking The Word" in Colombia

Opposition Use Presidential Security Decree to Label Venezuelan Government “Dictatorial”

AULA Blog on Venezuela Gets It Wrong

5 Ongoing Media Myths about Nicaragua and Reagan

The Return of the Nicaraguan Revolution

Honduras Elections: Violent Attacks Against Opposition Candidates Provoke Increasing Concern

Chixoy Dam Justice And Reparations Delayed: 31.5 Years And Counting (Guatemala)

Mexico: San Sebastián Bachajón, Six Months after the Assassination of Juan Vázquez Guzmán

An Extermination of Social Leaders (Mexico)

Anabel Hernández: Mexico's new narco order

Tijuana kingpin killed by gunman in clown costume

NSA Spy Revelations Show Need to Recast US-Mexico Security Programs

IOM Reports Big Drop in IDP Population after Removing 3 Areas from “Official” Camp List (Haiti)

Forced Evictions in Haiti's Top-Down Post-Earthquake Reconstruction

30 years on: The legacy of Reagan's invasion of Grenada

Activists Turn to Direct Action (US/immigration)

Until the president stops deportations, we will stop them ourselves (US/immigration)

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