Monday, August 22, 2016

Haiti's cholera outbreak a sign of deeper problems at the U.N. (Aug. 22, 2016)

Last week the United Nations admitted partial responsibility for the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti that has caused up to 10,000 deaths in the ensuing years. (See last Thursday's and Friday's briefs.)

The low-key admission, which was immediately followed by a U.S. court decision upholding the organization's immunity from lawsuits, is the equivalent of a diplomatic earthquake, explains Jonathan Katz in the New York Times Magazine. Scientists and researchers have repeatedly pinned the blame for the cholera outbreak on peace keepers who knowingly allowed their infected feces to infect a river used by locals for drinking, bathing and washing -- violating basic public health principles and U.N. protocol.

"Yet for six years, as thousands — if not tens of thousands — of Haitians died painful, degrading deaths of dehydration from severe vomiting and diarrhea, the world’s most important international humanitarian organization destroyed evidence, dissembled and, when all else failed, stonewalled," writes Katz.

Katz also makes the case that the big winner of the diplomatic immunity issue -- which could still be appealed to the Supreme Court -- is the U.S. government, which has defended the U.N. and could face a high bill for potential reparations to victims.

Katz extensively cites a deeply critical report by a U.N. advisor, that links immunity to a lack of accountability that "has allowed the cholera crisis — one of the peacekeeping mission’s “three major sins,” along with sexual assault by peacekeepers and a general refusal to accept accountability ... — to metastasize into a threat to the organization."

New York Times editorial calls on the new secretary general who will take over next year to make oversight and accountability a priority for the U.N., saying "the years long effort to dodge accountability in an emblematic case of institutional failure was predictable. A string of recent scandals has shown that the United Nations has been unwilling to police itself, learn from its errors, correct course and make amends." The editorial also calls for a full apology to victims, as well as compensation and an explanation as to why the U.N. took so long to recognize its role in the situation.

The Guardian has an editorial making a broader case regarding peace keeper failures and how "a culture of denial undermined faith in an institution that is badly needed." The editors call for the election of a new secretary general to mark a period of change in that regard. 

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the organization's member states to fund sanitation infrastructure and treatment necessary to end Haiti's cholera epidemic. U.N. member states have pledged less than 20 percent of the $2.2 billion required for a national eradication plan, reports the New York Times

News Briefs
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto plagiarized a good portion of his undergraduate law thesis. The report was published this weekend byAristegui Noticias. It's the latest volley in the war between investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui, whose investigative team reported the purchase of a luxury home by Peña Nieto's wife from a government contractor in 2014. The ensuing scandal had a major negative impact on the president's popularity, while Aristegui was dismissed by her employer, a move she said was politically motivated, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Mexican Human Rights commission report on egregious human rights violations committed by police in a battle against alleged drug cartel members in Michoacán last year describes a "a menacing mix of murder, cover-ups and ineptitude," reports Reuters. (See Friday's post.)
  • The Guardian highlights the case of a Mexican man languishing in pre-trial detention and facing up to a decade of prison time over killing three rabbits as an example of "the absurdity and inequity of a justice system in which less than 1% of crimes are punished; a system in which drug capos can repeatedly escape from high-security prisons and politicians can face credible allegations of money-laundering or drug trafficking with little consequence, yet prisoners accused of minor crimes can languish in overcrowded prisons for months – or even years." More than 40 percent of the country's prison population has been denied bail while their cases wend their way through the slow justice system.
  • Mexican reporter Noé Zavaleta, Veracruz correspondent for Processo, had to flee the state following threats he received after publishing a book focusing on widespread corruption and violence during Governor Javier Duarte's tenure, reports the Guardian. Veracruz is one of the most dangerous places in the region for reporters. (See Aug. 5's post.) 
  • Thousands of Chileans protested the country's much lauded private pension system -- implemented under dictator Augusto Pinochet 35 years ago. Critics say the system, lauded by international organizations such as the World Bank, hasn't lived up to its promises, and up to 84 percent of the population wants a change, reports the Wall Street Journal. Under the system, workers pay 10 percent of their earnings into accounts managed by individual companies, and receive about 34-38 percent of their pre-retirement earnings. President Michelle Bachelet's popularity has dipped to 15 percent, and she is proposing pension increases in a bid for support. But protesters demand a full dismantling of the system which they say benefits for-profit companies without assuring contributors a dignified return, according to Reuters.
  • Pinochet's widow is under investigation for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from the state by selling properties designated as community centers, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuela's opposition is planning a major protest for Sept. 1, demanding a presidential recall referendum this year. The question is really whether the armed forces will allow them to march, according to the Miami Herald. The piece makes the case that the military's privileges and future are tied to the ruling PSUV party and the armed forces have every incentive to prevent masses from gathering to protest against it.
  • Potential coup plotters in Venezuela beware, says President Nicolás Maduro, pointing to the purge the Turkish government is instigating after a failed attempt at relieving Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Did you see what happened in Turkey?” Reuters reports said Maduro saying last week. "Erdoğan will seem like a nursing baby compared to what the Bolivarian revolution will do if the right wing steps over the line with a coup."
  • The break from Brazil's political melodrama is done, time to go back to the impeachment saga. President Dilma Rousseff's political trial in the Senate is set to begin on Thursday. She faces charges of using accounting tricks to mask a budget deficit, maneuvers she says were lawful. Two-thirds of the 81 Senators must vote against her for the impeachment to go through, allowing President Michel Temer to finish out her term through 2018, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • During the games residents of favelas say violence in their communities was made worse by a police focus of protecting "rich foreign visitors and targeting poor local residents," according to the Guardian.
  • The Rio Olympics were over, and the results weren't bad, according to theWall Street Journal. But with the party over, Rio must now face the familiar challenges of crime and violence, pollution and gridlock. But there are some promises of long-term benefits from the megagames. The criticisms of the Rio Olympics and the infrastructure promises it entailed are well known. But the benefits for Rio have been extensive, argues theNew York Times, yielding massive projects that have been on urban planner wish-lists for years, including about a 100 miles of rapid bus lanes, tunnels, a light rail system, a new subway line and a revitalized port. The piece looks at some of the less talked about projects, such as the overhaul of the City of God favela's public clinic, or the Meu Porto Maravilha rehabilitation. A less optimistic take from the Guardian, which says the city now faces a post-Olympics hangover. "In a short while the Olympic Games will be memory, but they will last for us, who live in Rio, as a major object of political dispute and a challenge for the future. Rio de Janeiro is good – incredible – at the spectacular. Our problem is the everyday."

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