Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Haitian pols eking out transitional government agreement (Feb. 2, 2016)

Haiti's prime minister is expected to resign as part of an effort to form an interim government to take over from outgoing President Michel Martelly, according to Reuters.

Haitian authorities are desperately seeking a way out of a political impasse after questioned elections led to the indefinite postponement of runoff elections to selection Martelly's successor. There have been violent street protests and Martelly's mandate ends this Sunday. 

The opposition does not want elections organized under Martelly, or Prime Minister Evans Paul, who is considered to be part of the president's administration, reports Reuters.

The newest transition plan involves a new PM to be chosen by consensus and approved by parliament and the president this week. The new prime minister would rule jointly with a council of ministers after Martelly leaves office. The proposal specified that the new government would have to organize elections and hand over power by May, according to a local lawmaker cited by Reuters.
Yesterday the opposition "Group of Eight" refused to meet with an OAS mission sent to assist, saying it was not welcome, reports the Associated Press"The OAS doesn't help Haiti come out of crisis. They create more crisis," said Samuel Madistin, spokesman for the group. (See yesterday's briefs.)

In a strange move, Martelly, who went by "Sweet Mickey" in his previous career as a pop star, released a brash pop song jeering at his critics and aiming sexually suggestive lyrics at his main target, an award-winning female journalist, reports the Associated Press. The song, which matches suggestive lyrics with well-known radio reporter and human rights advocate Liliane Pierre-Paul is called "Give Them the Banana." 

The popular six-minute carnival song is seemingly is inspired from the campaign slogan, "Banana Man," of Jovenel Moise, an agricultural entrepreneur and Martelly's pick for the next president, explains the AFP.

News Briefs

  • In a New York Times op-ed Sonia Goldenberg, a former executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, lays out a peculiar aspect of the upcoming Peruvian presidential race: The candidate of the ruling Partido Nacionalista del Perú, Gen. Daniel Urresti, is on trial. He stands accused of ordering the killing of photojournalist Hugo Bustíos in 1988. "By perverse coincidence, the court is expected to give its verdict in the Urresti case just as Peruvians go to the polls in the first round of April's elections. Voters thus face not only the bizarre prospect of a presidential candidate who alternates campaigning with televised court appearances, but also the theoretical possibility of an elected president governing from prison. He is unlikely to win, but that may not be the prime objective of his candidacy. By anointing General Urresti as his political successor, [current President Ollanta] Humala seemed to exculpate a suspect under indictment. Peru's judges are not renowned for their independence and integrity; the presidential endorsement can certainly be seen as an attempt to influence the course of justice — and indeed could compromise the trial’s impartiality.
  • A historic trial in Guatemala will bring two former military officers to face charges of  sexual and domestic slavery and forced disappearance, more than 30 years after 11 Mayan women were enslaved and systematically raped. The landmark case is the first time that sexual slavery perpetrated during an armed conflict has been prosecuted in the country where the crimes took place, reports the Guardian.
  • After rejecting an executive bid to declare economic emergency, some members of the opposition-led National Assembly in Venezuela are calling for President Nicolás Maduro's ouster. "Someone said we should let the government finish its term so it can stew in its own juice. That would be irresponsible," said National Assembly Henry Ramos Allup to foreign reporters, according to AFP.
  • In the midst of economic meltdown, Venezuela's once highly regarded public university system is in slow-motion crisis, reports the Wall Street Journal. Trying to reverse the damage wrought by nearly non-existent resources is a priority for the opposition-led National Assembly. A legislative committee dedicated to the issue plans to recommend that money from the military budget be funneled to the universities.
  • Venezuela holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for this month. Ambassador Rafael Ramirez said he plans a Security Council debate on Feb. 15 on one of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's favorite themes: defending the national sovereignty of countries against what he saw as U.S. meddling in domestic affairs, reports the Associated Press. On the subject, he rejected suggestions that he would cooperating with U.S. investigations into billion-dollar bribery schemes that allegedly occurred at Venezuela's state-run oil company while he was in charge.
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights David Smilde interviews Javier Corrales a leading Venezuela scholar as well as a leading analyst of the struggle for LGBTQ rights in Latin America. This weekend the question of gay marriage in Venezuela made headlines after an opposition leader said that marriage equality was a "first world" issue and would not be a legislative priority given the current crisis.
  • Colombian FARC guerrilla group plans to join politics after signing a peace accord with the government, expected for March of this year. In an interview with Semana, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, known by his nom de guerre "Timochenko" said "We will put our arms to one side and take up the political struggle," reports Reuters.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will visit the U.S. this week on an official state visit, where he will update U.S. President Barack Obama on the ongoing peace negotiations and ask for millions more in aid, reports the Miami Herald. Colombia gets about $300 million a year from the U.S. in aid to combat the drug trade and alleviate poverty. Santos is expected to ask for a commitment to $500 million per year for the next decade. It's been dubbed "Plan Colombia 2.0."
  • In the first poll of the year Santos' approval rating has taken a beating: Amid widespread pessimism about the future of their country, 64% of Colombians said to disapprove of their president’s policies, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Cuban President Raul Castro conducted a state visit to France, where he met with President François Hollande, yesterday. Cuba seeks to encourage foreign investment, and today ministers promised French business leaders that the Communist-run country is open for business, reports Reuters. Meanwhile, the French government urged the United States to lift the economic embargo against Cuba, reports the Associated Press.
  • As Cuba is poised on the brink of change, a piece in the Guardian explores how the commercial frenzy lining up for a piece of Havana could impact the lives of Cubans in the capital. "Havana may well find itself catapulted from having too little money to having too much, too fast, with all the usual consequences. One insider describes some foreign developers' proposals for the harbor as looking like 'Las Vegas meets Miami in the Caribbean.'"
  • Interest in Cuba bound ferries in Miami is high enough that port authorities are considering temporary terminals for overnight ferries to Havana, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The World Health Organization declared yesterday that the explosive spread of the Zika virus, and potential links to birth defects and other neurological conditions constitutes an international public health emergency, reports the Wall Street Journal. The announcement was welcomed by Brazil's government, which said the designation will help countries around the world develop a coordinated effort to combat the virus, reports the Associated Press. The WHO, which emphasized the emergency stemmed only from potential links to microcephaly and Guillain-Barré, also said travel and trade shouldn't be restricted due to Zika. Among other recommendations, the committee of experts convened by the world health body suggested that surveillance for related conditions "should be standardized and enhanced, particularly in areas of known Zika virus transmission and areas at risk of such transmission," reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Brazilian legislators reconvene today after a six-week recess. Rousseff's odds of beating impeachment proceedings seem good now, according to Bloomberg, but she is unlikely to have support for the spending cuts and tax hikes administration officials say are needed to restore investor confidence. 
  • U.S. and Mexican authorities captured two dozen members of the powerful Sinaloa cartel in an operation on the two countries' border that also yielded assault-type weapons and hundreds of pounds of narcotics, reports Reuters. The sting known as Mexican Operation Diablo Express took place all of Friday as numerous law enforcement agencies converged onto Lukeville, Arizona, which sits on the border with Mexico, reports the Associated Press.
  • Shootouts in northern and southern Mexico this weekend left 18 dead, including three minors, reports the Associated Press. In Matamoros on the border with the U.S., a series of armed encounters between gunmen and security forces left eight dead. And in the southern state of Guerrero, at least 10 people were killed when an argument at a quinceañera devolved into violence.
  • InSight Crime has an interesting interview with academic Renata Keller, who examines the ways Mexico's current security problems, from tactical missteps and strategic errors to fundamental misconceptions about the nature of the conflict, lie in the nation's Cold War experience.
  • At El Faro (republished in English at InSight Crime), journalist Roberto Valencia argues against a widely cited annual index of the world's most violent cities, published by the Mexican Citizen's Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal – CCSPJP). (See last Thursday's briefs.) Valencia reviews the methodology used to calculate the city homicide rates that create a ranking -- which this year put Caracas at the lead -- and posits that the oversimplifications distort reality. He argues that instead San Salvador is the world's most violent city. "If you take into account how the tourism industry and foreign investment will be impacted, as the result of being labeled the world's most violent city, we cannot complain. In some ways, the shortcuts taken by the Mexican NGO in their methodology actually helped San Salvador out. We came out looking ok."

  • Ecuador's government sold oil exploration rights in a remote corner of the Amazon rainforest to a consortium of Chinese state-owned oil companies this week, reports the Los Angeles Times. The move was fiercely opposed by indigenous groups. Experts and activists fear that the deal could destroy a pristine rainforest ecosystem and threaten unique, endangered cultures, including two isolated indigenous tribes.

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