Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Death, economic toll rising in Haiti (Oct. 11, 2016)

The death toll in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew continues to grow as bodies are collected from the wreckage of homes and towns. 

There is a big divergence between official government figures -- which say there are 372 dead -- and local estimates however. Authorities are only reporting verified deaths, but in many areas where they haven't yet reached, locals have already buried their dead or stopped looking for those who were washed out to sea, reported the New York Times this weekend. 

Local officials have said the toll in Grand-Anse alone tops 500, according to the Associated Press.

The U.N. made an emergency appeal for nearly $120 million in aid yesterday, saying about 750,000 people in southwest Haiti alone will need "life-saving assistance and protection" in the next three months. The World Health Organization said today that it will send 1 million doses of cholera vaccine to Haiti"as soon as possible" and said safe drinking water and treatment of those affected by the disease are top priorities, reports the Associated Press.

Over 200 cases of cholera have been reported in affected areas, more than the usual rate of infection. The WHO is considering giving people a single dose of the vaccine, rather than the usual double dose, in order to cover more people, albeit for a shorter time, reports Reuters.

It has taken nearly a week for local healthcare providers to get a grip on the human toll, as the injured make their way towards public hospitals through the wreckage and swollen rivers, reports the Miami Herald.

Yesterday U.S. military-led effort began moving relief supplies into the area, and will eventually be supplanted by international relief organizations.

Diverse features in the media portray different aspects of the tragedies wrought by Matthew.

The worst-hit southwestern peninsula of Haiti remains isolated. The Associated Press focuses on lack of medicines that have left gravely injured patients languishing.

The New York Times profiles the case of Jérémie, an isolated coastal town in the country's south. It had just made huge inroads in terms of connectivity -- roads and cell phone service were giving local farmers and businesses new opportunities. But the storm destroyed the forests that formed part of the area's natural preserve, as well as homes and roads, destroying economic plans. In the meantime, locals are attempting to count the dead, and trying to prepare for a new onslaught of cholera caused by lack of access to fresh water and modern sanitation.

On a broader level, more than half of the country's population was already undernourished before the storm hit, and one in four children is stunted, reports the Guardian. Famine could take hold within a few months if the situation is not handled correctly, said interim President Jocelerme Privert according to the BBC.

News Briefs
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos promised to donate the Nobel Peace Prize award -- about $930,000 -- to the victims of Colombia's armed conflict. He spoke after attending mass in Bojayá, where at least 79 people were killed in a FARC mortar attack on a church. The 2002 fighting was some of the worst endured in the conflict, but the township overwhelmingly supported the agreement narrowly rejected by Colombian voters, reports the New York Times. FARC leaders have visited the town twice in the years after the attack, which occurred in the midst of fighting with right-wing paramilitaries. They asked for forgiveness and discussed measure to rebuild with community leaders, reports the Associated Press. Ninety-six percent of the town's voters supported the pact, though critics say the terms were too lenient for the FARC guerrillas. "Such was the deep, almost desperate, desire here for an end to this war," notes the NYT. (See Friday's post.) 
  • The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Santos gives the leader a breath of fresh air, argues Juanita León in a New York Times Español op-ed. The prize also puts the world's eyes on the leader of the opposition to the agreement, former President Álvaro Uribe and pressures him to prioritize peace over his electoral ambitions, she says. The piece looks at how Santos' aloof personality permitted him to successfully carry out the FARC negotiations, but also put him at a disadvantage in selling the pact to the Colombian people, despite the fact that the agreement "would help close the inequality gaps between rural and urban Colombia, to reduce coca cultivation, and give victims more truth, more reparations and a little more justice."
  • This weekend Uribe gave some recommendations to "improve" the agreement -- focused on fiscal responsibility for government commitments, defense of private property and limitations to popular consultation. His demands reflect not only the desire of many Colombians to see the FARC cede more, but also a vision of a more conservative society that has clashed with the more liberal pact, writes León in la Silla Vacía. Yet, the divergences between Santos and Uribe are not so great, and the major challenge now will be convincing FARC leaders that they cannot be elected to political office while serving sentences for human rights crimes, and that they must spend the time restricted to agricultural colonies.
  • Note: Friday's post noted the similarity between Uribe's criticisms of the transitional justice part of the rejected agreement, and those of Human Rights Watch. Both call for more stringent loss of liberties for FARC guerrillas found guilty of human rights violations, and to limit leaders' political participation. But Friday's post failed to note a critical area of divergence between Uribe, who differentiates between FARC and military committed atrocities, and Human Rights Watch, which demands justice for military crimes such as the "false positives" case in which at least 3,000 civilians were killed and passed as guerrilla combatants. HRW Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco has emphasized this divergence between the two group's opposition to the peace accord, see, for example, Aug. 19's briefs.
  • A far less optimistic development would be the violation of the cease-fire. In La Silla Vacía Hector Rivera argues that Uribe's Centro Democrático will be betting on that, and pushing stories of FARC violations. Colombian citizens must focus on maintaining the cease-fire while negotiations continue, he said.
  • Even as the FARC peace process struggles to overcome its current situation of uncertainty, the Colombian government and the country's second largest guerrilla force, the ELN, announced that formal peace talks will formally begin in Ecuador on Oct. 27, reports the Miami Herald. Though the talks had been announced earlier this year, shortly after the ELN increased hostilities, including abductions. In the past few weeks, however, it has released three hostages and promised to release two more before talks start. It's an important move to push forward the FARC talks as well, notes Juanita León in La Silla Vacía, but could also further entangle them.
  • A feud among leaders of the Mexican Zetas cartel led to the massacre of 42 people in the Coahuila state town of Allende. But locals say as many as 300 people were killed between January 2011 and August 2012. Yet at every level, the government failed to investigate the killings and defend the rights of the victims, according to a new study by El Colegio de México and noted human rights activist, Sergio Aguayo. The report released this weekend details how 26 people were killed in just two days in March of 2011, yet authorities failed to take action for three years, reports Animal Político. The report also raises the issue of U.S. involvement: two of the Zeta leaders involved are protected DEA witnesses, which has thwarted attempts to investigate the case, notes the New York Times.
  • In light of the absolute failure of Mexico's war on drugs -- an estimated 150,000 people have died and 28,000 are missing in the past decade -- Mexico must decriminalize drugs for personal use, argues José Luis Pardo Veiras in a New York Times op-ed. He calls for a nuanced policy that allows authorities to move beyond the "good" and "bad" dichotomy in fighting drug trafficking. "Traveling through Mexico’s depressed areas makes anyone understand that organized crime is, in many of them, the only constant presence, the start and the end of everyday life. There, where the state does not reach, or does only to fight crime, illicit means are often the just source of employment," he writes.
  • Mexican Finance Minister José Antonio Meade says protectionist measures will hurt both his country and the U.S., in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in the context of the fall IMF meetings in Washington.
  • Despite significant changes in Cuba over the past few years, many of the political and human rights problems remain the same. The limitations to democracy and civil rights in Cuba are well known. But the political opposition has failed to evolve and adapt their fight to have meaning for the average citizen. They use, to increasingly less effect, the same tools and strategies, argues Carlos Manuel Alvarez in the New York Times Español op-ed. The piece has a refreshing take on the contradictions of the Cuban dissidents, especially their distance from Cuban society. "The opposition, naturally, demands democracy, freedom of expression, but doesn't hitch those aspirations to identifiable social dramas: the government's rejection of gay marriage, the illegal condition of eastern migrants in Havana, or the classist gap between the figureheads of the new U.S.-Cuba investors and the average citizen ... Cuba needs the miracle of an active dissidence that puts us back in modernity, and that wants and knows how to salvage something of the little good that's left: free and universal health and education, social secularism, citizen security. Areas which are worsening and diffusing in giant steps."
  • The Venezuela-disaster journalism genre is really the country's success story of the year. The Guardian's latest contribution to the international media's coverage (far less scandalous than other paper's) includes colorful highlights, such as the weight of the stacks of worthless bills needed for a supermarket trip, and the miles and miles of empty fertile land, kept fallow because the price of vegetables provides little incentive to farmers. Lack of food is humorously called the "Maduro diet" -- though the extent and scale of malnutrition is a hotly debated subject.
  • A ray of hope in Venezuela's political stalemate in the midst of the recall referendum stalemate: all parties seem to agree on having Vatican mediation, reports Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • Brazilian federal prosecutors filed charges against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, alleging hehelped the Brazilian engineering giant Odebrecht obtain lucrative contracts in Angola favoring the nephew of his first wife, reports the New York Times. He was charged with corruption, money laundering, influence peddling and conspiracy and could face up to 35 years in prison if found guilty, reports the Wall Street Journal. A judge in Brasilia would have to accept the charges for Lula to face trial.
  • Brazil's lower chamber of congress approved a constitutional amendment that would cap government spending for the next two decades, reports the the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday's vote passed the bill by a wide margin, a political victor for President Michel Temer, though the project must still clear other legislative hurdles. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • The Wall Street Journal has a piece on how the long commodities slump worldwide has forced many economies in Latin America -- including Brazil -- to focus on reforms to increase productivity. 
  • Zika babies -- born with microcephaly and other deformities apparently caused by the mosquito-borne virus -- are turning one in Brazil. The evolving complications of their medical conditions are leading doctors to call the condition congenital Zika syndrome, and include swallowing difficulties, epileptic seizures and vision and hearing problems, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court ruled that rodeo sport of "vaquejada" inflicts needless animal cruelty and violates the country's constitution. Good news for animal rights campaigners, but bad news for practitioners of the widely popular sport, that aims to pull bulls onto their backsides by pulling on its tail, reports the Wall Street Journal. But ridding rural areas of the practise, which many see as a key component of identity, won't be easy say local authorities.
Note: There will be no briefing tomorrow as I will be observing Yom Kippur.

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