Friday, December 2, 2016

U.N. apologizes for failing to stop cholera outbreak in Haiti (Dec. 2, 2016)

The United Nations officially recognized direct responsibility for Haiti's deadly cholera outbreak, which since 2010 has killed 10,000 people. A new report by outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released yesterday outlines a new approach to fighting cholera in Haiti and "the preponderance of the evidence does lead to the conclusion that personnel associated with the [UN’s peacekeeping] facility were the most likely source [of the outbreak]."

The recognition comes after a six year delay, though in August Ban made a partial admission of responsibility. (See Aug. 22's post.) "As Ban and his senior team prepare to bow out from their positions at the end of the year, they have stepped up efforts to clean up what has become a fetid sore on the reputation of the UN around the world," writes the Guardian.

In a U.N. special general assembly meeting yesterday, Ban spoke directly to the Haitian people in three languages – Creole, French and English. "We apologize to the Haitian people. We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role." (The Guardian has the full video.)

U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston welcomed the apology, but slammed Ban's speech as a half-apology as the U.N. insists it has no legal responsibility towards victims. The Guardian notes that the "apology" was carefully worded to avoid falling afoul the U.N.'s legal position. Ban avoided any mention of who brought cholera to Haiti, even though the disease was not present in the country until United Nations peacekeepers arrived from Nepal, reports the New York Times.

The U.N. is trying to raise $400 million to invest in combating the epidemic and its impact over the next three years. If funds are obtained, it plans a two pronged approach: a community-based fund to help victims and new sanitation and treatments to reduce incidence of the disease. The plan presented yesterday includes rapid response teams, increase epidemiological surveillance, rapid detection and reporting, as well as support for longer-term water and sanitation services and vaccines, reports the Miami Herald.

But efforts could be cut short by insufficient funding, as they have over the past six years. The death toll could have been much lower with a vigorous response at the beginning of the epidemic, say experts.

The apology is an important step in securing donations, according to the Miami Herald. U.N. officials say they are close to raising $200 million for cholera treatment, but not the other half of the funding which would be for victims, reports the NYTimes.

Apologies are rare from the U.N., notes the NYTimes. In 1999 Kofi Annan, expressed “deep remorse” for the organization’s failure to protect civilians from the genocide in Rwanda five years earlier.

News Briefs
  • Castro's remains travelled from Santa Clara towards Camaguëy yesterday -- in a so-called "Caravan of Liberty" followed by Cubans paying final respects, reports the Miami Herald. Crowds have been lining up along the highway towards Santiago de Cuba, and "mourning for Castro has reached near-religious peaks of public adulation across" the country, according to the Associated Press.
  • The New York Times has a collection of propaganda posters from over the years, some of which have come to be regarded as art. 
  • Elaine Díaz, the editor-in-chief at Periodismo de Barrio, agrees with Trump that a better deal between Cuba and the U.S. could certainly be obtained, noting that what there is so far is a "realistic" deal. For Cubans a better deal would include a return of the Guantanamo military base and the lifting of the embargo, she writes in a Guardian op-ed. "There is no way of fully normalizing relations between Cuba and the US without doing these things. We do not deserve to have a torture camp in our backyard. Cubans do not deserve to suffer economically just so the US can make our government look bad. By doing so for more than five decades, the US government has transformed our political system into a lighthouse of resistance and dignity." She emphasizes the growth of new independent media in Cuba -- independent from the state and also from U.S. funding. "Cubans have proved that we can take care of our humans rights, defend them, fight for them. Even if it is a long and hard process, I’m confident that fully restoring civil liberties in Cuba is going to be my generation’s legacy for the future."
  • With Fidel gone, Cuban President Raúl Castro should theoretically have more leeway to implement economic reform. But he "faces a perfect storm of bad news that will make it difficult for Cuba’s economy to get back on its feet," writes Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.
  • The New York Times profiles Raúl Castro's possible inner circle ... 
  • Cuban dissident artist Danilo "El Sexto" Maldonado was detained and badly beaten last weekend after mocking Castro's death, say family members. He remains in detention, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Combatting inequality in Latin America requires addressing the "extreme concentration in access and control of land and in the distribution of benefits from its exploitation," according to a new Oxfam study.
  • Read more here:
  • Canada is scrapping visa requirements for Mexicans, and preparing for a potential surge in migrants as the U.S. potentially prepares to adopt a harder stance towards undocumented immigrants, reports the Guardian. The visa requirement was put in place in 2009 by a Conservative government, seeking to stem rising rates of asylum claims from Mexicans. 
  • Mexico's Central Bank governor will be stepping down midway through next year, creating more uncertainty for an economy already battered by the U.S. election and potentially negative Trump policies next year, reports Reuters.
  • Yesterday was officially "D Day" in Colombia, which means FARC fighters have five days to start moving towards concentration zones where they will lay down arms. But already the government is running into potential implementation difficulties. La Silla Vacía reports on the legal difficulties regarding dividing an amnesty law in order to move forward quickly or following the agreement to the letter which could take longer. Though President Juan Manuel Santos won a major victory in getting the revamped agreement through Congress this week, about 40 legal and constitutional changes must be carried out to implement the peace accord. And the government is hoping for a "fast-track" from Colombian courts in order to get the reforms completed more quickly, reports the Wall Street Journal. "Yet this milestone, which paves the way for the disarmament of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is being greeted with more apprehension than jubilation," notes a New York Times editorial calling for rapid implementation to avoid potential cracks in the bilateral cease-fire. The government aims to implement the agreements before the 2018 congressional elections, where a win by former President Álvaro Uribe, who has opposed the deal, could affect the process. But the immediate challenge will be protecting demobilized fighters and preventing organized crime groups from moving into former FARC dominated communities, Luis Moreno Ocampo told the WSJ. (See yesterday's briefs and Nov. 23's post.) 
  • Forced displacement due to armed conflict in Colombia has been spurred more by threats of death or forced recruitment than by actual violence, according to a new study of data in Tumaco, reports La Silla Vacía. In fact, as actual homicides increase, displacement actually decreases, according to the study.
  • A new Atlantic Council - IDB report outlines alternative scenarios in addition to major trends and uncertainties facing the region. It finds that if the region and the world move ahead without any major intervention, 57 million more Latin Americans and Caribbean citizens will join the middle class. A region that embraces better governance could see large reductions in homicides and less tax evasion, while greater integration could help the transition to a higher-value-added economy. But fragmentation or an erosion of governance could result in more crime, low productivity, and difficulties in attracting foreign investment.
  • Brazilian business giant Marcelo Odebrecht reportedly agreed to sign a plea-bargain agreement in connection with the Petrobras corruption investigation yesterday. His testimony could potentially implicate many politicians who took kickbacks on contracts, reports the Wall Street Journal. Seventy-seven people, including Odebrecht SA current and former execs, started signing plea agreements yesterday, and the firm has separately agreed to pay about $2 billion in fines. 
  • And Brazil's Supreme Court indicted the president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros yesterday on charges of misusing public funds, reports Reuters. Calheiros, a key Temer administration ally, faces 11 investigations for corruption, eight of them for what prosecutors describe as kickbacks in the Petrobras corruption scandal. The indictment comes as tensions between politicians and the judiciary are running high after the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill that would punish overzealous prosecutors and judges in corruption cases with jail time. (See yesterday's post.)
  • "The maelstrom of Brazilian politics is entering yet another, tumultuous phase: paranoia," according to a New York Times piece. (See yesterday's post, for example.)
  • The Mercosur trade bloc suspended Venezuela's membership yesterday for failing to fully incorporate accords into national law. The suspension will be confirmed later today, reports the BBC. (See Sept. 22's briefs.)
  • Corruption networks deeply engrained in the Guatemalan government remain, despite the high profile arrests of last year, says human rights activist Helen Mack in an interview with Plaza Pública (translated to English by InSight Crime.) "The structures are reconstituting themselves and the system is the same, as are the characters. They have stripped away the visible faces, but the shady characters, which are the ones working behind the scenes, are still operating. This gray zone makes it difficult to completely purge the state of corruption."
  • Hearings have started on the first Inter-American Commission on Human Rights case on LGBT torture. It's been an eight-year legal battle for a gay Peruvian man who accused police of raping him, reports Reuters.

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