Thursday, July 16, 2015

$31-50 million funding gap for Haitian elections (July 16, 2015)

Three weeks before Haiti is scheduled to hold the first round of presidential elections this year, the government still lacks between 31 and 50 million dollars to carry out successful presidential elections this year. 

Nearly every electoral office is up for grabs in Haiti -- about 40,000 candidates have registered for 6,102 posts, including 140 mayors, 139 parliamentarians and the president. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for August 9, and runoffs would be held on October 25, which would also be the first round of presidential elections and local elections which have been postponed since 2011. 

A potential presidential runoff would be held in December, reports the Miami Herald.

But there are only funds for August's elections. Haitian officials say they need $31 million to cover the second and third election dates, while the U.S. State Department coordinator for Haiti, Thomas Adams, estimates a gap of as much as $50 million. The higher number includes costs such as election observation and support for Haiti's National Police, according to the official, who spoke at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing yesterday. 

A U.N. donors conference today in New York will attempt to raise some funds for the elections, according to the Herald piece.

Many fear political violence and do not trust elections officials to handle possible disruptions. Some well-known candidates, such as former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and university rector Jacky Lumarque, were deemed ineligible, reports Reuters. The provisional electoral council, which ultimately decides who appears on the ballot, determined neither of the two had passed the required investigations into their use of government finances. Both Lamothe and Lumarque have publicly contested their removals.

Concerns over electoral violence have heightened after the July 1 drawdown of United Nations peacekeepers, with the troop force now cut to 2,370 soldiers and 2,600 police, from a peak of more than 13,300 uniformed officers. Adams told the subcommittee the Haitian National Police does not have enough officers to control the entire country. He said Haiti needs 30,000 local police but only has 12,000, according to Reuters.

An op-ed in the Miami Herald yesterday, published by U.N. officials emphasizes that these elections are a milestone for Haiti, and have been delayed for years. Parliament has been suspended since January, and the electoral council has faced significant challenges in meeting requirements for a fair process, say Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and UN Development Program Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Jessica Faieta. 

The authors call for contributions from partners, noting that these elections "will mark the longest period of institutional stability that the country has enjoyed in recent history. It will be the second time since 2006 that a democratically elected president will hand over power to his successor."

Haiti is still reeling from the 2009 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, followed by a cholera epidemic the following year that caused 9,000 deaths and affected 735,000 people, reports aU.N. press release from yesterday

In this context, Al Jazeera has a piece looking at the last presidential elections in 2010, and some of the questions regarding potential fraud. Al Jazeera says it obtained documents showing that the U.S. Agency for International Development gave nearly $100,000 to a Haitian political movement with close ties to President Michel Martelly in the country’s 2010 elections. The money was allocated shortly after Washington helped overturn the election results to thrust Martelly into power, says the piece.

In other Haiti news, the Dominican Republic s demanding that Haiti apologize for hurling strong comments at the Dominican government over its controversial immigration immigration policy, refusing to resume dialogue with Haiti until a formal apology is received, reports TeleSur. Dominican authorities have taken offense to comments made by Haitian President Michel Martelly and Foreign Minister Lener Renauld before the Organization of American States last week, when they condemned the Dominican Republic for treating Haitians inhumanely and urged the country to "come to its senses."

The DR's request for a formal apology comes as an OAS delegation wraps up a mission in the two countries to assess the migration situation. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro ordered the delegation after the OAS meeting where Haitian officials made the comments that have prompted calls for apology. Though DR officials claimed that the OAS delegation found that Dominican immigration policy has been responsible, the OAS mission has not yet delivered a report on its findings.

A piece in NACLA looks at  the origins of Anti-Haitian Sentiment in the Dominican Republic, which began as an elite construction under the brutal Trujillo dictatorship. "The actions of the Dominican government are not simply attempts to protect their sovereignty, as they argue. Instead, potential deportations are the result of decades of clandestine government policies that did not base legal residency on documentation, but instead on where migrants resided and the work they did. Claims that Dominicans and Haitians cannot coexist ignore how anti-Haitian ideology was imposed to serve the goals of a dictator," writes Amelia Hintzen.

The Guardian has a feature on the gangs of Port-au-Prince. Politicians have long made use of armed groups to impose their will in the country's capital, according to the piece. Though some organizations are attempting to foment a peaceful co-existence among the various gangs, Haiti’s current political scene gives rise to concern that national politics will once again factionalize the city’s neighborhood communities.  

And an opinion piece in Foreign Policy in Focus questions the role of NGOs in Haiti. An estimated 10,000 non-governmental organizations operate in the country, which is often referred to as the republic of NGOs, says Nathalie Baptiste. Haitians call the expatriates who work for these organizations the "NGO class." "They live comfortably in the well-to-do suburb of Petionville in the hills above Port-au-Prince. Expensive grocery stores and restaurants cater to their tastes. Down below, many Haitians struggle to survive ... With the jobless epidemic in Haiti, job creation should be a priority for NGOs. Instead, they're often part of the problem."

News Briefs

  • Peruvian coca cultivation over the past year was at a fifteen-year low point, according to a U.N. report released yesterday. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in an annual report that 106,000 acres of land were used to grow coca in 2014, down 14% from 123,000 acres the prior year, the lowest since 1998, reports the Wall Street Journal. The decline could boost support for President Ollanta Humala, whose approval rating recently fell to the lowest point since he took office in 2011 due to a slowing economy and political scandals. The new numbers show that Colombia surpassed Peru in coca cultivation reports the Associated Press. But that doesn't necessarily mean Colombia is now the world's lead cocaine producer. Much of Peru's crop is more mature and higher yielding, having never been subjected to eradication.
  • Guatemala's opposition is also falling prey to corruption accusations: The United Nations' International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) announced yesterday that it will seek a preliminary hearing to strip Edgar Barquin -- leading vice presidential candidate and former central bank governor -- of his immunity over allegations of illicit association and influence trafficking. Two other lawmakers of Barquin's Renewed Democratic Liberty Party (Lider) were also involved, reports Reuters. The case could damage the candidacy of conservative businessman Manuel Baldizon, who boasts a solid lead in polls over President Otto Perez's right-wing Patriot party.
  • Honduras' outraged movement protesting against endemic corruption in the country will march to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa Friday before a scheduled meeting with U.S. Ambassador James Nealon, reports TeleSur. "Ambassador James Nealon will be receiving us, and will provide us with all the information about the US$2 million of financial support that his country gave to Honduras, especially what these resources will be allocated to," said Ariel Varela, one of the leaders of the protest movement.
  • An auction to open Mexico's oil and gas industry to private investment came up short of expectations yesterday, with successful bids made for just two of the 14 blocks tendered, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.) Nine companies participated in the auction. But, several blocks didn't receive offers, and others had bids that were below the minimum requirement for profit-sharing with the government. Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and French oil giant Total SA opted out of Mexico’s historic oil auction because the fields are too small, reports Bloomberg. None of the 14 shallow-water prospects in the Gulf of Mexico holds more than 384 million barrels of crude, according to Mexico’s National Hydrocarbons Commission. The U.S. and European explorers that abstained from the first round of bidding yesterday also probably balked at some of the financial and contractual terms insisted upon by the Mexican government, according to an expert quoted by Bloomberg.
  • Some Mexicans are wondering just how hard authorities are really trying to catch escaped drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, reports the Los Angeles Times. Security forces are making a show of searching buses in Mexico City and some homes in Sinaloa, but have refused offers of U.S. drones and special agents. 
  • Experts are all saying that El Chapo must have had inside help to build the mile long tunnel he used to escape from the Altiplano maximum security prison (see Monday's post.) Yesterday the government permitted journalists to visit Guzmán’s cell – now emptied of all his possession – in an area of the prison reserved for its most dangerous inmates. The New York Times reports that the maneuver required "extraordinary skill and determination," saying "the layers of security were reminiscent of prisons in the United States." The fact that the tunnel emerges exactly within the surveillance camera’s blind spot suggests somebody gave Guzmán’s engineers a copy of the prison plans, reports The Guardian.
  • The escape is the government's media Waterloo in the war on drugs argues Claudio Lomnitz inLa Jornada
  • Though Guzmán's escape is a hit for Mexico-U.S. relations, a far bigger break is required argues John Ackerman in the Huffington Post. "The blind support of the Barack Obama administration for the increasingly corrupt, violent and untrustworthy Mexican government has facilitated a downward spiral of institutional decay which must be urgently stopped. ... It is time for Washington to escape from the propagandists and lobbyists on the payroll of the Mexican government and international oil companies, in order to open its doors and listen directly to Mexico's powerful and dynamic civil society."
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff continues to deny rumors that she will be forced to exit her second term before it officially ends in 2018. But speculations continue, as corruption charges against allied politicians continue to crop up from an investigation into Petrobras and budget and economic woes besiege her administration, reports the Washington Post. Supporters of Rousseff's Workers' Party argue that the anti-government media is collaborating with the opposition Party of Brazilian Social Democracy to force her from power.
  • Release of political prisoners is not on the table in diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Venezuela said Venezuela's foreign minister. Delcy Rodriguez said there is no discussion of releasing opposition activists who were arrested for violent and illegal behavior, insisting it would set a dangerous precedent of apologizing for "terrorism," reports Reuters. A senior U.S. official told Reuters that Washington has pressed the government of President Nicolas Maduro to release political prisoners, and said that progress on the issue would be crucial to improving ties.
  • Venezuelan hardline opposition leader Maria Corina Machado said she will defy a one-year ban on holding office and run for parliament. The ban is a ploy by the government to avoid defeat in December's vote, she said, according to Reuters. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The Associated Press has a piece questioning a scholarship program that brought Palestinian medical school students to Venezuela. The 119 students welcomed to Caracas in November of last year were intended to be an array of international solidarity programs the late President Hugo Chavez established, the best-known of which provides communist Cuba with cheap oil in exchange for the services of tens of thousands of health professionals. But eight months later, about a third of the Palestinians have dropped out, complaining the program lacks academic rigor, according to interviews The Associated Press conducted with students, teachers and government officials. At least 29 have already gone home, while other dropouts are living in Caracas rent-free as they wait to receive plane tickets to go home.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed on yesterday that the FARC guerrillas' latest cease-fire will last four months, allowing time for government and rebel negotiators to try to work out a definitive end to the hostilities, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • The U.S. will remove Cuba from the bottom tier on its list of worst human trafficking centers, reports Reuters. It's another step in the ongoing rapprochement between the two countries. The upgrade would lift Cuba to the so-called "Tier 2 Watch List" from Tier 3, where it has languished for 12 years due to allegations of sex trafficking and what U.S. authorities have previously described as "coerced labor with Cuban government work missions abroad."
  • Suriname's Parliament gave the former military dictator Desi Bouterse a second term as president on Tuesday with no opposition — or even a formal vote — in the 51-member body, reports the Associated Press.
  • Latin America might be a key market for e-learning, reports Tech Crunch. While the U.S. accounts for about 22 percent of the global education expenditure, many believe the international e-learning opportunity will outpace the growth expected in the U.S., especially in emerging markets, which lack access to a solid traditional education system.  The recent eduK investment in Brazil, led by Accel's Kevin Efrusy, signaled that Silicon Valley VC players were intrigued by the ed tech space in Latin America, according to the piece. Having more than 2 million students enrolled in its 600 courses, eduK is now looking to expand beyond its borders into the rest of South America with the help of $10 million in new funding led by Accel.

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