Monday, October 17, 2016

U.N. promises cholera aid for Haiti, storm victims increasingly frustrated (Oct. 17, 2016)

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Haiti on Saturday, voicing support for the storm-ravaged country and criticizing the international community's slow response to the latest humanitarian crisis, reports the Miami Herald

The brief visit came as victims expressed frustration, and sometimes violence, in response to delays in much needed emergency aid, reports the Associated Press.

U.N. trucks with supplies were looted during his visit, showing the increasing desperation of communities desperate for resources in the wake of Hurricane Matthew two weeks ago, reports Reuters. Rock throwing residents of Les Cayes were dispersed with teargas, according to the AP. (See last Thursday's post.)

The official death tally from Hurricane Matthew passed 500, but unofficial estimates go as high as 1,000 dead. About 175,000 have been forced into shelters by the destruction. Anticipated funding for U.N. efforts in Haiti over the next two years will be $400 million and will focus on eliminating cholera and an assistance package for the estimated 700,000 victims of the disease since it was introduced to the country in 2010 by U.N. peacekeepers. Fears are mounting after the storm of a new cholera resurgence. 

New York Times piece gives wrenching details of the devastation the disease has wrought so far, and how "cholera is stalking the areas gutted by the hurricane, a long peninsula of coastal towns and mountain villages where clean water was already hard to find, long before the storm."
Haiti's provisional electoral council (CEP) set Nov. 20 as the date for the oft-postponed presidential elections. But that may be unrealistic considering extensive storm damage to roads and polling places (schools) in many communities, reports the Miami Herald. The new timetable would set the runoff for Jan. 29, meaning that if none of the 27 presidential candidates wins in the first round, the country risks again missing a constitutionally mandated deadline for an elected president. Haiti is governed by an interim president after botched presidential elections last year, but his term expired in June.

Hurricane Matthew's wake of destruction has only strengthened the resolve of many Haitian immigrants who are stuck on the U.S.-Mexico border as they attempt to migrate to the U.S., reports Reuters. The U.S. had recently announced it was resuming deportations to the island, suspended after the 2010 earthquake, but in light of the recent destruction will be temporarily suspending them again.

News Briefs
  • On Friday Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro presented next year's national budget -- a Supreme Court decision last week allowed the government to sidestep getting approval from the opposition-controlled National Assembly. It's the latest in a string of decisions that permits the executive to consolidate power and sideline lawmakers, reports the New York Times. The budget is 22 percent smaller than this years when adjusted for inflation, a sign of austerity for a country whose economy is expected to contract by ten percent next year.
  • In the midst of widespread shortages of basic foodstuffs, and with growing citizen unrest, the Venezuelan government is experimenting with lifting price controls. The move, which has been tested since March in western Zulia state, has been extended to six border states, reports the Wall Street Journal. It means imported food can be obtained, but at high prices that push inflation even further up. Already Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in the world, the IMF predicts 500 percent for this year. The program could be extended to Caracas, according to the piece.
  • In a twist on reporting on Venezuela, the Financial Times has a piece on how Venezuela's wealthy are actually living quite well in the midst of shortages and inflation. "Despite their grumbles, most of the country’s wealthy live their lives in dollars. As the local currency has plummeted, remaining in Venezuela has become much more affordable."
  • Indigenous communities along Nicaragua's Caribbean coast say they are being violently displaced by settlers taking over their lands, reports the New York Times. So far more than 30 Miskitos has been documented, and settlers say over 80 farmers have been killed. Nicaragua was a pioneer in granting indigenous communities land rights, but the current conflict harkens back to civil war conflict with Sandinista guerrillas, according to the piece.
  • El Salvador won a long-running legal battle on Friday when the World Bank's international arbitration panel found the government did not owe compensation to a mining company that was denied a gold-drilling concession, reports the New York Times. It was a case watched by anti-mining activists, who said it pitted the rights of governments to protect citizens and the environment from corporate challenges. The decision vindicates the government's right to limit mining, but the lawsuit should have never been allowed to happen, according to critics. El Salvador's government spent more than $12 million on its legal defense, reports the Guardian.
  • Colombia's ELN guerrilla group said it will not be rushed into a peace deal, reports the BBC.
  • Woodrow Wilson Center Latin America program director Cynthia Arnson analyzes positive signs in Colombia after the plebiscite rejecting the FARC peace deal in Americas Quarterly. She highlights the boost of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Juan Manuel Santos, as well as the FARC commitment to maintain the bilateral cease-fire. Civil society pressure has been in favor of reaching a new deal as well. But she emphasizes the particular relevance of former President Álvaro Uribe's suggestions for modifying the deal. He led the vote against the pact, but suggestions for modification were rather conciliatory, she said, suggesting "an opening to achieve a national consensus over peace, one far broader than the 54,000 votes by which the “No” campaign won." But it won't be easy, she warns. "All of Colombian society, backed by bipartisan majorities in the United States, have an obligation to rescue the opportunity to end 52 years of war with the FARC, and potentially with the ELN. The best solution is one for which all can claim credit. The silver lining in the cloud of the “No” vote may be precisely that new chance."
  • Interesting Indepaz piece on the issue of drug trafficking as a political or common crime (and whether it can be amnestied by the peace agreement). Hat tip: Juan Gabriel Tokatlian.
  • The White House released a presidential directive aimed at promoting engagement with Cuba and make the current rapprochement between the two countries irreversible, reports the Miami Herald. The move was accompanied by new round of regulatory changes aimed at enhancing U.S.-Cuba trade. The Obama directive says the president would like to see the longstanding embargo on trade lifted, and emphasizing that in the meantime the government must work to help authorized trade between the two countries. 
  • The latest regulatory changes are welcome, and recognize Cuba as a partner, but still don't go far enough, said Cuba's top negotiator with the U.S. Josefina Vidal also criticized that the new guidelines continue to harbor intentions of economic, political and social change in Cuba, reports the Miami Herald.
  • American Airlines is betting big on Cuba, with 56 weekly flights already scheduled. They're still flying half empty, but the airline is betting on pent up tourism demand, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The Associated Press has a feature on Cuba's artisanal fashion industry, which is providing islanders with "simple but fun-and-stylish clothing produced on the island with natural fabrics and sold at competitive prices."
  • With all the campaign talk about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, it's easy to forget that large portions of the frontier are already fenced, tightly guarded, and still ineffective, reports the New York Times, which visits the area in question. No matter what, people will find a way to keep filtering through.
  • At least 25 prison inmates were killed in clashed between rival criminal groups in a northeastern Brazilian jail, reports Reuters. Seven were beheaded, and six burned to death, the latest violent development in an overcrowded and underfunded penal system, reports AFP. The fight started during visiting hours and about 100 inmates' relatives were briefly held hostage.
  • Mexico says it plans to extradite Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán to the U.S. in the beginning of 2017, despite ongoing appeals by his lawyers, reports Reuters.
  • Confusing opinion results (with somewhat questionable utiltiy) from the World Economic Forum: authoritarian leaders around the world, like in Singapur, the Gulf States and Rwanda are seen as more trustworthy than those in more democratic countries. Politicians in democracies such as Brazil, Paraguay, Nigeria, Mexico and Romania are seen as exhibiting the lowest ethical standards, reports the Financial Times.

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