Monday, November 5, 2012

WNU #1150: Sandy Kills at Least 68 in the Caribbean

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1150, November 4, 2012

1. Haiti: Hurricane Sandy Kills 54, Threatens Food Supplies
2. Jamaica: Sandy’s Damage Won’t Affect IMF Austerity Plan
3. Cuba: Sandy Is Latest in Decade of Devastating Storms
4. Caribbean Region: Will Sandy Force Real Discussion of Climate Change?
5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, 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: Hurricane Sandy Kills 54, Threatens Food Supplies
Tropical storm Sandy began hitting southern Haiti with heavy rain on Oct. 23, just as it was intensifying into a Category 1 hurricane; the rain continued through Oct. 26. Haiti suffered the worst damage of the Caribbean nations that Sandy affected, even though the storm’s center never passed over the country. At least 54 people died, roads and bridges were damaged, and homes were destroyed. About 200,000 people suffered from the effects of the hurricane, according to official figures, with the damage concentrated in five departments: South, Southeast, Grand Anse, Nippes and West.

Crops were ruined in the southwestern peninsula, including local staples like bananas and breadfruit. The new destruction followed the devastation of other crops by the hurricane Isaac on Aug. 24 and comes at a time when rising prices on international markets have driven up the cost of imported food, sparking large demonstrations in September to protest the high cost of living [see Update #1146]. Since August the price of a marmite (about five pounds) of black beans has risen from 200 gourdes ($4.75) to 300 gourdes ($7.12). “The economy took a huge hit,” Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the Reuters wire service. “[F]ood security will be an issue.” Another concern is that the contamination of water by flooding may lead to an increase in cholera cases. More than 7,000 Haitians have died of the disease since it was brought to the country in October 2010 by troops of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) [see Update #1134]. (AlterPresse (Haiti) 10/24/12, 10/27/12, 10/31/12; Reuters 10/29/12)

At an Oct. 30 press conference Agriculture Minister Thomas Jacques announced ambitious plans for distributing seeds to farmers, subsidizing the repair and maintenance of irrigation systems, restoring damaged roads, and carrying out an agricultural reform that would enable Haitian farmers to supply 60% of the country’s food needs within three years; he put the current level at 45%. But Jacques acknowledged that government failures in the past were responsible for much of the damage from Sandy. One of the main causes of the flooding was the lack of river maintenance over the past decade, he said. Jacques also noted the absence of an agricultural insurance system, with the result that farmers won’t receive compensation for their losses. (AlterPresse 10/31/12)

Also on Oct. 30, Prime Minister Lamothe and President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) declared a one-month state of emergency. Under the 1987 Constitution a state of emergency gives the president powers that include ordering evacuations, allocating funds without reference to the official budget, and using accelerated procedures to sign contracts. The president doesn’t have the power to limit free speech or other political activities under the state of emergency. (Haïti Libre (Haiti) 10/31/12)  [President Martelly has tried to exceed his constitutional powers in the past, however; see Update #1148.]

*2. Jamaica: Sandy’s Damage Won’t Affect IMF Austerity Plan
The tropical storm Sandy, now a Category 1 hurricane, hit eastern Jamaica directly on Oct. 24, with the eye making landfall on the southeast coast around 2 pm. One person was killed when a boulder rolled over a house in St. Andrew parish, which includes Kingston, and dozens of people lost their homes in the eastern parishes: St. Thomas, Portland and St. Mary. There was damage to crops and to public infrastructure. Local Government Minister Noel Arscott accompanied Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in an aerial tour of the area on Oct. 25. “Looking from the air, you could see the entire destruction of the banana crops. Not so much for coconuts, but cash crops and banana plantations have been hit severely,” he told reporters. (The Gleaner (Jamaica) 10/25/12, 10/26/12)

Preliminary estimates of the damage came to almost $5 billion, and on Oct. 24 Prime Minister Simpson Miller expressed her hope that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would take Jamaica’s losses into consideration in ongoing negotiations for a new loan to the country. But on Oct. 30 Finance Minister Peter Phillips said the lending institution would not relax its demand for austerity measures. Funds for dealing with hurricane damage will have to come from grants and reallocation within the government’s budget, he said. (The Gleaner 10/31/12)

*3. Cuba: Sandy Is Latest in Decade of Devastating Storms
Tropical storm Sandy had become a Category 2 hurricane by the time it slammed into eastern Cuba early on Oct. 25. Eleven people were killed in the eastern provinces of Santiago and Guantánamo. Official sources reported that 132,733 homes were damaged in Santiago province, of which 15,322 were destroyed; 1,052 homes were leveled in just two communities, Banes and Antilla, on the northeastern coast in neighboring Holguín province. The dozen homes that made up the little fishing village of Tortuguilla in Guantánamo province were swept away. In the central provinces heavy rains caused flooding; an official in Encrucijada municipality in Villa Clara province told the local press that the floods there were the worst in 30 years.

Sandy follows a pattern of severe hurricanes striking Cuba in recent years, including Michelle in 2001 and Dennis in 2005, and the combined effect of Gustav, Ike and Paloma in 2008. Economic damage was extensive, with banana, coffee, bean and sugar crops ruined throughout the region. As of Oct. 27 Venezuela had promised to send a total 611 tons of humanitarian aid to be split between Cuba and Haiti. (La Jornada (Mexico) 10/27/12 from correspondent; AP 10/28/12 via Miami Herald)

*4. Caribbean Region: Will Sandy Force Real Discussion of Climate Change?
Although the worst damage from Sandy took place in Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, the storm also affected other parts of the Caribbean. One man died in Juana Díaz in southern Puerto Rico on Oct. 26 when he was swept away by a river swollen because of rain from the edges of the storm, and 3,500 homes were damaged in the Dominican Republic. Sandy hit the Bahamas after leaving Cuba, and one man was killed there. The total number of deaths from Sandy in the Caribbean islands was at least 68. (AP 10/28/12 via Miami Herald) [The reported death toll in the US, which Sandy struck starting on Oct. 29, was 110 as of Nov. 4. (CNN 11/4/12)]

Although the region has always been susceptible to damage from hurricanes, “[t]he two dozen island nations of the Caribbean, and the 40 million people who live there, are in a state of increased vulnerability to climate change,” according to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Climate Change Center. “Higher temperatures, rises in sea level, and increased hurricane intensity threaten lives, property and livelihoods throughout the region.” (NACLA 11/3/12)

The relation of climate change to extreme weather remains controversial in the US, but it seems to be widely accepted in the Caribbean. On Oct. 31 Cuba’s official news agency, Prensa Latina, discussed a call by Carlos Rodríguez, a researcher at the government’s Physical Planning Institute, to prioritize preventive measures against disasters like Sandy that are related to climate change. By 2050 more than 2,500 square kilometers of Cuban territory may be submerged because of the rising sea level, he said, and the number could go up to 5,600 square kilometers by 2100. Studies by Cuban institutions agree that this will affect some 577 settlements identified as vulnerable, according to Rodríguez, who insisted that this issue needed to be considered in all planning for the island. (PL 10/31/12)

On Nov. 4 centrist French politician Brice Lalonde, a founder of the small Ecology Generation party and now the coordinator of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, noted that Sandy damaged both Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, and New York, the largest city in the US. “This is also a moral question,” he wrote. “If climate change increases the intensity of hurricanes, and if the gases released by coal, gasoline and natural gas are the main agents of climate change, then Manhattan, the economic capital of a great country that is greedy for fossil fuels, will probably have its share of the responsibility for future flooding in Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince. Will Sandy push American voters to reflect on climate change?…. Will a part of America go on ignoring climate change?” (Le Journal du Dimanche (France) 11/4/12)

*5. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Caribbean, Haiti, US/immigration

Agribusiness as Usual: The Death of Peasant Farming in Argentina

Chile: Violence and Repression against the Mapuche Population

Brazil: Indigenous Community Faces Eviction

Bolivia Returns to the Global Bond Market

Peru's Sendero Luminoso back—and the "dirty war"?

Peru: threats against Cajamarca movement

Peru and Ecuador Set to Auction Off More of Amazon for Oil

The Military's Human Rights Record and the Peace Process in Colombia

Venezuela’s Mission Robinson Literacy Program Celebrates 9 Successful Years

Honduras Truth Commission Releases Report about Coup-Related Violence and Repression

Guatemala's Palm Industry Leaves Locals Contemplating an Uncertain Future

Monsanto’s bile against Mexico’s honey

Indigenous Communities in Mexico Fight Corporate Wind Farms

Climate Change and the Caribbean

Over 50 Dead from Hurricane Sandy in Haiti

Assessing the Beginnings of Haiti’s Latest Unnatural Disaster

Ground Zero: The Tohono O'odham Nation (US/immigration)

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