Tuesday, May 10, 2011

WNU #1079: UN Admits—and Denies—Role in Haiti’s Cholera

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1079, May 8, 2011

1. Haiti: UN Admits--and Denies--Role in Cholera Deaths
2. Mexico: Rebels and Immigrants Join March Against “Drug War”
3. Mexico: LGBT Rights Activist Murdered in Guerrero
4. Puerto Rico: ACLU Delegation Criticizes Abuses
5. Latin America: May Day Marches Protest High Cost of Living
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, 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 Admits--and Denies--Role in Cholera Deaths
On May 3 a panel of four experts presented United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon with their report on the origin of the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti last October. As of Apr. 21 the disease had caused 4,575 deaths, according to the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP). Almost 300,000 people have contracted cholera, and the number is expected to rise as the rainy season starts.

The report, made public on May 4, agreed with most of the conclusions of Haitian and foreign observers who blame the outbreak on bad sanitation practices at a base operated by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 13,000-member military and police force that has occupied the country since June 2004 [see Update #1060].

The panel, which General Secretary Ban appointed in January, found that the cholera bacteria “did not originate from the native environs of Haiti,” where the disease was unknown for nearly a century. “Preliminary genetic analysis…indicate[s] that the strains isolated during the cholera outbreak in Haiti and those circulating in South Asia, including Nepal, at the same time in 2009-2010 are similar,” according to the report. The disease was first reported on Oct. 17 in Mirebalais in the Central Plateau, the panel found, and the “likely route of spread” to the rest of the country was from the Meye (or Meillé) River into the Artibonite, Haiti’s largest river. MINUSTAH maintains a base on the Meye near Mirebalais. “The sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp were not sufficient to prevent fecal contamination” of the river system, the report noted. The troops stationed there in October had just arrived from Nepal.

The report didn’t suggest any possible source for the disease other than the MINUSTAH base. However, the panel’s only stated conclusion was “that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances…and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual.”

At a May 5 French-language press briefing in Port-au-Prince, MINUSTAH spokesperson Sylvie van den Wildenberg repeated that the report blamed no one for the outbreak. “What’s important, today, is the response to the epidemic,” she told the reporters. “The priority of the UN in Haiti and of MINUSTAH is and will remain the response.” She “invited” the Haitian reporters to read the 32-page report, noting that “[f]or the moment, unfortunately, the text is only available in an English version.”

When a reporter from Radio Solidarité and Agence Haïtienne de Presse (AHP) asked “how we can hope the United Nations will accept its responsibilities,” Van den Wildenberg answered that she was against “pointing a finger at some blue helmet [UN soldier] who might be responsible for a cholera epidemic and 5,000 deaths in Haiti. This makes no sense, it’s reductionist, and it’s not fair.” (UN press release 5/4/11; AHP 5/5/11; National Public Radio blog 5/6/11; MINUSTAH press briefing 5/6/11)

The UN may be concerned about threats of legal action. Last January the feminist organization Haitian Women’s Solidarity (SOFA) said the Haitian government should file a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) charging MINUSTAH with a crime against humanity and should demand compensation for the cholera victims and the farmers and vendors who have suffered economically because of the epidemic [see Update #1062].

*2. Mexico: Rebels and Immigrants Join March Against “Drug War”
Tens of thousands of people participated in a silent “March for Peace With Justice and Dignity” in Mexico City on May 8 to call for an end to the US-backed militarization of Mexico’s fight against drug trafficking. Protesters, most of them dressed in white, carried signs reading: “No more blood,” “Justice,” “Peace,” “Let’s stop the bullets,” “Life isn’t trash” and, above all, “We’ve had it up to here” (estamos hasta la madre). More than 35,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa sent troops into the streets soon after taking office in December 2006.

As of the early afternoon on May 8, while the demonstration was still growing, the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) police gave a crowd estimate of 24,000; later the police raised their estimate to more than 80,000, while the organizers said 200,000 people had participated. Similar demonstrations were scheduled for the weekend of May 7-8 in 38 other Mexican cities in at least 12 states, with plans for support events in some 30 cities in Europe and North America.

The mobilization was inspired by Javier Sicilia, a well-known poet whose son Juan Francisco was killed in late March, apparently by gang members. Starting on May 5, Sicilia had led several hundred people from Cuernvaca, Morelos, where he lives, on an 85-km walk to Mexico City. They arrived in the Federal District on May 7 and spent the night at the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), after an evening event that included Mexican music and a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. The May 8 march proceeded from the campus to the Zócalo plaza in downtown Mexico City.

Over 150 organizations endorsed the weekend’s demonstrations, along with many victims of the violence. Olga Reyes Salazar, whose family took refuge in Mexico City after six members had been murdered in Ciudad Juárez [see Update #1071], was scheduled to read demands at the protest in the capital.

Immigrants and immigrant rights activists were also prominent in the events: drug gangs regularly rob, kidnap and even murder immigrants from Central America. A group of immigrants and activists set off for Mexico City on May 4 from Ciudad Ixtepec, in the southern state of Oaxaca, riding “The Beast”-- the freight train often used by immigrants traveling north [see Update #1062]. Another contingent of 80 immigrants joined hundreds of Mexicans in the March for Peace in Puebla, capital of the central state of Puebla. Their banner read: “We immigrants too have had it up to here.” (Adital (Brazil) 5/4/11; Agencia Reforma (Mexico) 5/4/11 via NTRzacatecas.com; El Universal (Venezuela) 5/8/11; El Universal (Mexico) 5/8/11; La Jornada (Mexico) 5/8/11, 5/9/11)

At least 15,000 members and supporters of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), some wearing ski masks, turned out for the May 7 March for Peace in San Cristóbal de las Casas in the southeastern state of Chiapas. At what was the mostly indigenous group’s largest mobilization at least since 2001, speakers stressed that they hadn’t come “to speak of our sorrows, of our struggles, of our lives and deaths”; instead, they were there to express solidarity with “those who want life.” The violence in the “drug war” has largely been concentrated in the north, near the US border. (LJ 5/8/11)

*3. Mexico: LGBT Rights Activist Murdered in Guerrero
Quetzalcóatl Leija Herrera, the president of the Center of Studies and Projects for Integral Human Development (Ceprodehi) in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, was found dead in the early morning of May 4 near the main plaza in Chilpancingo, the state capital. According to the Forensic Medical Service, he was been badly beaten, especially on the head, and died of the injuries.

Leija Herrera was a prominent defender of the rights of sexual minorities in the state. In 2008 he lobbied unsuccessfully for a civil union bill then before the state legislature. He and Ceprodehi also worked on HIV/AIDS prevention and other issues, sponsoring workshops on the correct use of condoms and on defending the human rights of non-heterosexuals. A number of Guerrero-based social organizations, writers and academics signed on to an open letter to Gov. Ángel Aguirre Rivero and the state prosecutors’ office calling Leija Herrera’s murder “a homophobic hate crime” and calling for punishment for this and other assaults against LGBT people. The letter denounced what it called “complicit silence and impunity on the part of the state and its institutions.” (Adital (Brazil) 5/4/11; La Jornada de Guerrero 5/6/11)

*4. Puerto Rico: ACLU Delegation Criticizes Abuses
Following up on earlier efforts to highlight human rights abuses in Puerto Rico [see Update #1072], the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hosted a high-publicity fact-finding delegation in San Juan on May 2 and 3. The group, which included ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero, political scientist Angelo Falcón, actress/choreographer Rosie Perez and recently retired baseball player Carlos Delgado, interviewed University of Puerto Rico (UPR) students, UPR rector Ana Guadalupe, union leaders, journalists, police chief José Figueroa Sancha and others.

At an emotional May 3 press conference, the delegation members said the situation was worse than they had expected. They found clear evidence of police abuses in the handling of student strikes and protests at the UPR over the past 18 months, they said, and even police chief Figueroa had finally acknowledged that there had been abuses. Perez called the treatment of the students “deplorable.” She charged that “the culture of fear here” inhibits free speech. “It breaks my heart,” she added.

Puerto Rican secretary of state Kenneth McClintock criticized the delegation for announcing its preliminary findings so quickly and said the “rights of those thousands of students” who wanted to attend classes “should be equally entitled to ACLU interest and protection as the rights of the hundreds who participated in the demonstrations.” Romero agreed that students have the right to attend classes, but he called the use of “excessive force against students who are exercising their right to free expression in a public place anti-American and unacceptable.”

The delegation expects to present a final report to the US Department of Justice by September. (ACLU announcement 4/27/11; El Diario-La Prensa (New York) 5/3/11; Associated Press 5/4/11 via CBS News; Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 5/4/11)

*5. Latin America: May Day Marches Protest High Cost of Living
This year many of the traditional International Workers Day marches on May 1 focused on demands for wage increases and for fighting the high cost of living following recent jumps in food and fuel prices.

Chile’s major unions commemorated May 1 with a massive march in Santiago criticizing the government of rightwing president Sebastián Piñera and demanding a new labor accord.

Colombian unions held marches in the main cities, with about 10,000 people joining the protest in Bogotá, according to the Unitary Workers Central (CUT), the largest labor federation. The marchers’ demands included rejection of a planned free trade agreement (FTA, TLC in Spanish) [see Update #1075].

In Panama, several thousand marchers called for pay raises and the freezing of prices for the main commodities in the “consumer basket” (canasta básica), the combination of foods and other staples the average family is expected to need. Latin American governments generally use the consumer basket to measure inflation.

Thousands of Salvadoran public employees and members of labor and campesino unions held three marches from different points in El Salvador to demand better working conditions and to protest the high cost of living and the crime situation.

In Honduras thousands of members of the three main labor federations—including the militant teachers’ unions—marched to demand a pay raise, the lowering of costs in the consumer basket, a constituent assembly to revise the Constitution, the return of deposed president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), and the country’s reintegration into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a regional trading bloc created by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004.

More than 50,000 Guatemalans marched in the capital to show their concern about the cost of living and to protest labor rights violations. Their demands also included the abolition of child labor and the promotion of rights and opportunities for women.

Mexico’s largest independent labor federation, the National Workers Union (UNT), led its May 1 march to the Zócalo plaza with a demand for the Congress to reject a proposed reform of the labor code [see Update #1074].

Hundreds of Dominican workers marched to demand a general increase in pay now being discussed with the government and the employers’ associations. The current legal minimum wage in small businesses is just 5,158 pesos ($136) a month; the legal minimum is 5,820 pesos ($153) for medium-sized companies and 8,465 pesos ($223) for the large ones. The National Confederation of Union Unity is demanding a 30% increase for workers who are paid the minimum wage and a 25% increase for workers who receive up to 50,000 ($1,319) a month. (La Jornada (Mexico) 5/2/11 from AFP, PL and correspondent; El Diario-La Prensa (New York) 5/2/11, print version only, from EFE, Notimex and correspondent)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti

Cables of Interest on Latin America, released April 25-May 8, 2011

Brazilian Supreme Court Legally Recognizes Same-Sex Couples

Brazil Breaks Relations With Human Rights Commission Over Belo Monte Dam

Bolivia: The Boomerang Effect for Morales

Bolivia Steps Up Campaign at U.N. to Legalise Coca Leaf

Peru: "uncontacted" peoples resist encroachment as Amazon oil leases proliferate

Displaced Campesinos in Colombia Want a Say on Land Restitution Bill

Honduras: Teargassed Open, for Business

Video Reports: Repression and Resistance in Post-Coup Honduras

Community Radio Stations: The Voice of Honduran Resistance

Anti-Drug War Movement Emerges in Mexico

Protesters Demand End to Drug War, Calderón Digs In

Mexico: Zapatistas join Drug War protest

Consumers and Guns, Assassins and Money: Mexico’s Transnational Violence

“Operation Fast And Furious” Under Scrutiny For Passing Guns To Mexican Drug Smugglers

Mexico No Longer Has Free Press Thanks To Drug War & Violence

'Sustainable Rural Cities', a Nightmare Come True in Chiapas

Mexico: coal mine hit by deadly disaster operated "outside of the law"

Castro Critical Of U.S. Attack That Killed Osama bin Laden

American Professor Prohibited From Returning to Cuba

‘Our Misery, Their Jobs’: the Humanitarian Industry in Post-Earthquake Haiti

Haiti: Just When You Think It Can't Get Worse

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