Haitian President Rene Preval had hoped his biggest challenges would be building new roads, creating a stronger central government, and stabilizing Haitian politics—not leading a near complete rebuilding of his country's capital in the last year of his presidential term. This according to the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles who recently sat down with the president—clad in his new work uniform of jeans and a white button-down shirt—for an exclusive interview (in Creole). In the up-close look at the president, the paper writes: “Until the earthquake, Préval, 67, governed deliberately, sequentially, from behind the scenes, focusing on one issue at a time to the exclusion of everything else. Now the micro-manager has been forced to multi-task.” His most recent political decisions include the postponing of legislative elections, originally scheduled for Feb. 28. That decision means Haiti is unable to pass any new laws, according to the Herald’s reporting, nor will Mr. Preval be able to carry out a constitutional reform that he sought before the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Further, the president is facing a rising wave of discontent. The Herald cites a recent editorial co-written by a group of Haitian intellectuals which ran in one of Haiti’s major newspapers last week. The group of academics “questioned the government's ability to pull the country out of the crisis” and asked for an increased international presence that might limit the decision making power of the Preval government. As Reuters reports, disappointment in Preval’s government since the quake has also led to new calls for former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return from exile in South Africa. [Since the quake, Aristide has said he would like to return to his native Haiti, but Reuters says the international community would likely oppose such a move, fearing increased political instability]. According to Jim Morrell of the D.C.-based Haiti Democracy Project, beneath the calls for Mr. Aristide’s return is simply a desire for competent leadership. “[The] question that Haitians are really asking is, what would the mechanism be to get capable Haitians into the country who could manage the situation?” As one Haitian tells the news agency, “We need someone new to take charge here. If it's not Aristide, then someone competent.”
Also this morning, there is news that UN special envoy for Haiti, Bill Clinton, will be named the international coordinator for relief efforts in the country. The official announcement on Mr. Clinton’s selection is expected sometime later this week by Sec. General Ban Ki-Moon. The New York Times reports that 9 of 16 UN food distribution sites are up and running, allowing Haitians to pick up 55-pound bags of rice with a special food voucher. A handful of other sites will begin operations in the coming days while two sites in Cite Soleil are still considered “too dangerous” because of a “significant increase in gang violence” in the area. The LA Times adds reporting on the reopening of some schools in Haiti. “The entire national school system -- already among the poorest in the world -- had been shut down, although schools in much of the country were not directly affected,” the paper writes. Most schools in Port-au-Prince itself do not plan to reopen until at least March. And with opinions this morning, Barron Young Smith in The New Republic asks: How did Haiti become a battleground for the great powers of the world? Kerry Kennedy and Monika Kalra Varma of the RFK Center for Human Rights write at Foreign Policy in Focus about what a “human rights-based approach” to Haiti’s recovery should look like.
In other news today:
· Via CIP’s Adam Isacson at Plan Colombia and Beyond, there’s analysis of President Obama’s 2011 foreign aid request for Latin America, included in the president’s annual budget which was unveiled yesterday. According to CIP, the request shows marked declines in military and police assistance funding for much of the region (although the request is only for State and Foreign Ops budgets, not Defense). This includes a 30% decrease in aid for Mexico (more on the Merida Initiative from this new CRS report) and an 11% decrease for Colombia—the United States’ two largest aid recipients in the region. There are, however, significant increases for many Central American countries, as well as money for the “Caribbean Basin Security Initiative,” a new counter-narcotics/citizen security plan for Caribbean nations. Also, via the Lexington Institute’s Phil Peters at The Cuban Triangle, news that President Obama has included a $20 million request to continue USAID’s Cuba democracy program. No details on Radio and TV Martí whose budgets, Peters notes, are included in a larger account for international broadcasting.
· From Honduras, there are rumors that Brazil may be considering recognizing the government of Pepe Lobo shortly. Foreign Minister Celso Amorim recently said he “sees some positive steps on the path to reconciliation.” but added “we will wait and see how this evolves.” In particular, he called Pepe Lobo’s decision to give Mel Zelaya passage to the DR an important step forward. MercoPress speculates that we could see more discussion of Honduras at a meeting of Rio Group nations later this month. Also, the D.C.-based Latin America Working Group has a statement out demanding that violence directed at Honduras’s LGBT community be investigated by the new Lobo government. And Pepe Lobo himself offered a somewhat interesting logic for not rejoining ALBA, saying earlier this week that he has no interest any bloc whose “objective is to attack the United States.”
· In the LA Times, more today on a potential alliance between the left-leaning PRD and the right-leaning PAN ahead of July gubernatorial elections in Mexico. Twelve of the country’s 31 states will be up for grabs this summer and an alliance between the two parties would be an attempt to thwart a PRI takeover of state power before 2012 presidential elections.
· Time has an interesting piece about how cacao production has replaced that of coca in the San Martín department of Peru. “The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) talks about a ‘San Martin model’ as a success story for replacing coca with legal crops. Chocolate is leading the way,” the magazine writes in detailing the USAID-funded alternative crop program. Meanwhile, not such positive news from a recent piece in Mexico’s El Universal which says the power of the Mexican drug cartel “empire” reaches out into some 14 Latin American countries now, as well as into Europe, Australia, and the US.
· A Guatemalan judge says 8 individuals suspected of killing prominent lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg, will stand trial. This after U.N. investigators said Rosenberg arranged his own death by contracting the hitmen who killed him nearly one year ago.
· From El Salvador, new pieces at NACLA and at IPS examine the murder of anti-mining activists, killed between June and December 2009. As both highlight, a new gold mining project by the Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining Corporation has come under intense scrutiny by residents of Salvador’s northern departments. Last month, President Mauricio Funes said no new mining extraction projects would be authorized by his government.
· And finally, in his weekly Guardian column CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot provides an interpretation of US interventionism in Latin America—policies and actions frequently based on the United States’ fear of “losing” a region used and abused for its natural resources, markets, and political allegiance. While unsure of the conclusions to draw, it’s nonetheless interesting to read this opinion alongside another EFE report out this morning which begins: “Spain and the United States agreed Monday on the need for Latin America to assume a role of ‘global interlocutor’ to participate in overcoming problems like the economic crisis and confronting challenges like climate change.”