Tuesday, September 19, 2017

María slams Caribbean, will hinder recovery from Irma (Sept. 19, 2017)

Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica yesterday. The storm, which went from a Category 1 to a 5 in just one day, caused devastating and "mind boggling," according to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who communicated his experience live on Facebook. "So far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with," he wrote, after detailing how the winds tore off the roof of his residence, reports the Guardian. There was no official news of deaths yet. The immediate focus today is on rescuing people Skerrit said.

The arrival of María so soon after Hurricane Irma already devastated the region could complicate disaster recovery and much needed aid, reports the New York Times. María was expected to hit the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico today, islands still working to restore services and even food supplies, reports the Guardian separately. Guadeloupe, which is serving as a base for relief operations and a sanctuary for St Martin refugees is also is also in the storms path, notes the New York Times in a separate piece. The constant onslaught also sparks resistance among residents who are forced to evacuate and prepare for disaster repeatedly. In other cases, preparations for Irma are serving residents now in Maria's path.

The number of storms in the Caribbean this year is not unheard of, but is higher than average so far this year. A typical season has 12 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, with three of those becoming major hurricanes. So far this season, which is more than halfway through, there have been 13 named storms, including seven hurricanes, four which have been major, according to the NYT.

Irma killed nearly 50 people two weeks ago, and destroyed thousands of homes and livelihoods. In all, rebuilding the ruins in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, will cost nearly $13bn, according to the Centre for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology in Germany. As these storms become increasingly likely, rebuilding will have to take such disasters into account -- especially considering that tourism is the economic lifeblood of the region, argues the Economist.

Several factors play against such preparedness, writes Sarah Maslin: weather patterns are changing more quickly than expected, short-term thinking often encourages economic growth over sustainability, and entrenched poverty in the region's countries. Donors are quick to alleviate immediate disasters, but often fail to help prepare for them in advance, she notes. 

And when it comes to climate change, it's always hard to pin responsibility on any one factor: "Rich countries have resisted the idea that they bear unique responsibility for climate change and should pay compensation to countries that suffer from it. Besides, it is hard to figure out what part of the damage from bad weather comes from global warming, what nature would have done anyway and how much responsibility developing countries bear for poor planning and shoddy construction."

News Briefs
  • NAFTA discussions are moving forward at "warp speed," it's just not very clear where they're going and whether they'll get there in time, said Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative. The Trump administration has promised to substantially change the agreement, which governs most of North America's economy, in record time. Elections next year could complicate legislative approval in all three countries, so negotiators are aiming to have a new agreement by the end of the year. But some of the more ambitious proposals, such as setting new requirements for the use of American-made goods and lowering barriers to exporting American agricultural products are meeting with resistance from Mexico and Canada, reports the New York Times. And a new U.S. proposal requiring countries to reaffirm the pact every five years (a "sunset clause") could complicate long-term planning for businesses.
  • Trump said that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is responsible for the country's "growing crisis” and that the U.S. was ready to take further action to ensure democracy was restored in the Latin American nation, reports Politico. The U.S. President spoke at a dinner with Latin American presidents, held on the sidelines of this week's U.N. General Assembly meeting. Last night's dinner included President Michel Temer of Brazil, President Jose Manuel Santos of Colombia, President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama and Vice President Gabriela Michetti of Argentina, along with other officials and diplomats from the region. (See yesterday's post.) Trump is expected to call out Venezuela in his address to the U.N. today, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuela’s opposition blamed the government for the death of a sick activist in detention, saying he was framed and then denied medical help, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post.)
  • A U.S. security expert revived allegations that a Venezuela-owned company in Nicaragua may have laundered money for Colombia's demobilizing FARC guerrillas in testimony before the US Senate, reports InSight Crime. Douglas Farah, the president of the national security consulting firm IBI Consultants, pointed to ALBA Petróleos and Albanisa, two subsidiaries of Venezuela's state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA), which operate in El Salvador and Nicaragua, respectively as potential money laundering vehicles for the FARC. The allegations are not new, notes InSight, which spoke with Farah about the allegations. "One of the clearest indicators [of illicit activity] is when things make no economic sense," Farah told InSight Crime. "What we saw in Nicaragua was this company [Albanisa] suddenly flushed with cash and setting up a whole host of companies overnight, but the purpose of these activities can't be generating profit; it is money laundering. Money laundering doesn't require investment to make profit, just to move large amounts of money though the system," Farah told InSight.
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales will also address the U.N. General Assembly today, and is expected to mention the U.N. backed anti-corruption commission that has accused him of involvement in illicit campaign financing, reports El Periódico. (See yesterday's briefs.) Government sources say Morales will not meet with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. Morales is attempting to oust CICIG head Iván Velásquez, who Guterres has supported.
  • Raquel Dodge swore in as Brazil's new prosecutor general, assuming office just after her predecessor accused President Michel Temer and the country's two previous presidents of commanding criminal networks. "Now, the entire nation will be watching to see whether Ms. Dodge pushes forward with the judiciary’s crackdown on political corruption, or dials back the pressure in the interest of political stability," reports the New York Times.
  • U.S. diplomat William R. Brownfield is stepping down from the State Department after 40 years in foreign service focused on Latin America, reports the Washington Post. The departure comes at a poor moment for U.S. counter-narcotics efforts abroad, and as a cocaine production surge in Colombia affects relations with the U.S. "Colombia’s drug-production relapse has clearly weighed on Brownfield, and he said whoever succeeds him will have to cope with both a flood of methamphetamine and opioid trafficking from Mexico as well as the latest new surge of South American cocaine," reports the Washington Post.
  • A Colombian court sentenced 32 former paramilitary leaders for crimes committed under the banner of the former Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC. The case shows "that justice can be achieved under special frameworks created by peace agreements between the government and armed groups, even if it involves lengthy and complicated judicial proceedings" reports InSight Crime. The cases examined more than 250 homicides, over 320 incidents of forced disappearances, 213 incidents of forced displacement, as well as incidents of illegal recruitment and gender-based violence -- all committed between 1999 and 2006.
  • Bolivian lawmakers from the ruling MST party have asked the country's Constitutional Court to allow President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term, despite a referendum last year in which citizens rejected changing the constitution to remove presidential term limits, reports the BBC.
  • Venezuela's crime surge is caused, in part, by institutional weakness and disruption caused by: a surge in oil income, a revolutionary form of governance, and militarized policing, argues David Smilde in the latest issue of NACLA. In the same issue, Rebecca Hanson moderated a round-table discussion that pointed to militarized policing initiatives such as the Operación Liberación del Pueblo as a motor of violence in the current context. (See Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights for those pieces.)
  • Health and environmental concerns are pushing textile artists around the world back towards natural dyes. A New York Times feature looks at the Mexican village of Teotitlán del Valle a historical weaving center where some families are working to preserve traditional dying methods.

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