Haiti in presidential vacuum as parliament selects interim government (Feb. 8, 2016)
Haiti's President Michel Martelly stepped down yesterday, without a democratically selected successor to take his place. The period of uncertainty -- in which an interim government will be selected in upcoming days, comes on the 30-year anniversary of the ouster of the country's last dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Haitians voted last year in a first round of presidential elections, but the process and the results have been widely questioned. The second round of voting has been postponed twice, and the second-place candidate has refused to participate until the process is reexamined.
In a nearly 20-minute speech before a joint session of Parliament, Martelly said his "biggest regret is that the presidential election was postponed," reports the Associated Press. Martelly defended his government's record and said he had waged war on extreme poverty, ignorance, misery and disease, reports the Miami Herald.
He ended his speech with the ominous declaration that for the moment "there is a presidential vacuum."
Protestors for and against Martelly were out on the streets in recent days, and at least one person was beaten to death Friday, reports the New York Times. Yesterday riot police clashed with protesters, reports Reuters.
Yesterday should have been the first of three days of Carnival celebrations in Haiti, but the festivities were suspended because of tensions, notes the AP.
Politicians agreed on the outlines of how to choose a provisional government to rule until elections are held: the prime minister will remain until Parliament picks an interim president, which should occur in the coming days. Afterwards legislators will select a new consensus prime minister. The interim government will review the questioned October balloting.
The deal announced Saturday says an election will be held by April 24, and a new president installed May 14. But the uncertainty and political tension is far from over, reports the Miami Herald in an earlier piece from this weekend.
The group of eight losing presidential candidates from October's election, reject the parliamentary role in the plan, and are calling for a Supreme Court judge to lead the process. They say the legislators who were elected in the same flawed October first round, do not have the legitimacy to oversee the interim government or a new vote, according to Reuters. They are calling the agreement a parliamentary "coup d'etat," reports the Miami Herald.
Protests continued after the announcement of the interim government deal, and discord seems likely to continue, reports the Associated Press.
It is not clear whether the opposition demand for an independent verification commission for October's election results would be met, according to the AP.
An OAS official quoted by the NYTimes says the agreement required 28 meetings, and that "The headline should read: 'A blood bath was avoided.'" A special OAS mission was in Haiti to observe last week's negotiations and help foster dialogue.
Haiti's last interim government was formed in 2004, when President Jean Bertrand-Aristide was ousted by a rebellion and a U.N. peacekeeping force came to stabilize the country. It wound up governing for two years, reports the AP.
Salvadoran police have begun to arrest former military officers who are accused in the killings of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her teenage daughter, reports the New York Times. At the time the killings caused international outrage and helped erode U.S. support for the right wing Salvadoran government, reports the Associated Press. The move breaks with years of inaction on a case that's emblematic of the country's civil war. Police say they arrested four of sixteen men sought in the case in raids on Friday and Saturday. The case was not fully prosecuted in El Salvador after the 1992 peace agreements that ended the conflict, and the case was taken up in Spain, where a judge issued arrest warrants in 2011. Five of the six priests were Spanish. Last week a U.S. federal judge ruled that one of the accused who was in the U.S. should be extradited to Spain. It's not clear whether this decision spurred the Salvadoran authorities, notes the NYTimes. Right-wing political parties are protesting that the arrests violate the peace accords and will polarize the country, reports El Faro. Some experts are cynical about the impact of the arrests. Whether the men will ultimately be extradited to face trials in Spain remains an open question, according to the Los Angeles Times.
On the subject of historic memory, Rachel Hatcher, has a piece in El Faro contrasting El Salvador's post-war tendency to erase the past, compared to what she calls Guatemala's consensus regarding lessons from the past.
In a parallel case, an Argentine judge has ordered the exhumation of mass graves in Spain as she is looking to override a 1977 amnesty law to seek justice for Franco-era crimes ranging from torture to extra-judicial killings in a lawsuit opened in 2010, reports Reuters.
Argentina made a $6.5 billion offer to U.S. bondholders Friday, but still has significant hurdles to ending the long-standing stalemate with defaulted debt owners, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri got a political boost last week when a dozen lawmakers from the main opposition party split off into an alternate faction. The move increases Macri's chances of pushing his legislative agenda through Congress, where he lacks a majority, reports Reuters.
The New York Times profiles Bernard Aronson, the U.S. envoy to peace talks between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Aronson, who runs a Washington-based private equity firm, previously participated in peace negotiations in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Aronson said that peace at an earlier date -- in the case of El Salvador and likely Colombia -- would have been impossible, as guerrilla fighters had to reach the conclusion that peace was preferable to fighting. (See Friday's post.)
Zika corner: Brazilian scientists said they detected the mosquito-borne Zika virus in human saliva and urine, but it's not clear whether the disease could spread by other means yet, reports the New York Times. The announcement, on the eve of Carnival celebrations caused unease that Zika could be spread by kisses, which are traditionally freely exchanged during the festivities. Specifically, authorities said pregnant women should stay away from crowds and avoid sharing cups or cutlery with anyone suspected of being infected with the virus. If such women are in touch with someone showing the symptoms of Zika, "do not kiss them, obviously," reports the Washington Post. Economic slump has affected Carnival celebrations in Brazil, as cities around the country have sought ways to cut back on expenses. But kissing appeared as prevalent as ever, reports the Los Angeles Times.
On Friday the United Nations high commissioner for human rights called on Latin American countries hit by the Zika epidemic to allow women access to abortion and birth control. It's a polemic debate in the predominantly Catholic region, where most countries have fairly restricted access to abortion. The debate comes as authorities in several countries have advised women to postpone pregnancies due to potential birth defects associated with Zika. But the recommendations are irresponsible, according to reproductive rights advocates, who note that most pregnancies in the region are unplanned, reports the Guardian.
The explosive spread of the epidemic and potential effects on fetuses have raised fears of an increase in dangerous, clandestine abortions, reports the Washington Post. The number of illegal abortions in Rio de Janeiro is increasing. Last week in Colombia, a woman was allowed to abort her fetus at 32 weeks, the first case of a Zika-related legal abortion in the country. The piece explores the abortion-Zika situation around the region.
In a New York Times op-ed Brazilian bioethics professor Debora Diniz looks at the issue of abortion and Zika, noting that while panic about the virus is now widespread, the reality is that "the epidemic mirrors the social inequality of Brazilian society." The spread is concentrated among young, poor, black women in the country's poorest areas. Her research has shown that 1 in 5 Brazilian women have had an abortion by the age of 40. But this too in an example that shows inequality: those who can afford safe abortions and those who can't. Women are those in charge of family planning, and also likely those who will be caring for disabled and dependent children, she writes. She calls for a women to be given the power to manage their pregnancies: sexual and reproductive education in schools, accessible and affordable contraception, and safe and legal abortion. Her organization, Anis — Institute of Bioethics, is preparing to present a case to the Supreme Court with these demands. Brazil's anti-abortion lobby has compared the proposal to "Nazi philosophy," and argue Zika-afflicted women should be offered counseling and support, not an abortion they will later regret, reports the Washington Post.
Inequality and old social problems are behind the spread of Zika in Brazil, notes a piece in the Guardian, that shows how favelas are bearing the brunt of the epidemic.
Pope Francis will begin his Mexico visit on Friday. He will celebrate Mass in Ciudad Juarez, on the U.S. border, which was for years the most violent cities in the world. Relatives of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, a human rights case that has become emblematic of the widespread phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Mexico, will attend, reports Reuters. He will also celebrate Mass with indigenous communities in Mexico's poorest state, Chiapas, speak with young people in Morelia, the capital of violence-torn Michoacan state, and visit prison inmates in Ciudad Juarez. His journey will go from southern to northern Mexico, a path meant to represent the perilous route that migrants take to reach the U.S., explains the Los Angeles Times. At the Ciudad Juarez Mass he will make a plea for the fate of immigrants.
The New York Times has a feature that follows the exhausting journey of 10 Central American men through Mexico as they attempt to reach the U.S. The difficult trip has become even riskier due to a Mexican crackdown on migrants. "Over two days in early November, the 10 migrants here in Arriaga, in Chiapas State, would trek more than 40 miles through dense forests, sun-bleached farmland and highways patrolled by the authorities, terrain so unforgiving that some of their shoes fell apart. A journey of 30 minutes by car required more than 20 hours of walking. They would spend a sleepless night on a concrete porch, bracing themselves for the hostile residents of a village to attack. One would fall gravely ill, splitting the group and threatening to end the journey. Only two of the men would make it to the United States."
A Cuban delegation met with U.S. officials in Miami to discuss strategies against human trafficking and migration fraud, reports the Miami Herald.
Tattoos, a practise that was driven underground by the Cuban Revolution, are coming back in style in Havana, reports the Associated Press. The practise is neither legal nor illegal, joining a gray category that Cubans call "alegal."
The Miami Herald reports on the ongoing methodology (and truthfulness) debate behind Venezuela's homicide statistics: just how violent is Caracas, which was recently declared the world's murder capital. (See Jan. 28th's briefs, as well as last Tuesday's and Friday's.)