A piece this week at Global Post asks whether Haiti’s “gruesome brush with cholera” represents a “failure” of international aid efforts or a model of containment [As of yesterday, Jacob Kushner writes, the disease had not spread through Haiti’s tent camps where 1.3 million people still live – and where international efforts have been focused]. But such questions may be quickly overshadowed by more serious and immediate concerns.
The AP’s Jonathan Katz reports from Haiti that the UN is now carrying out an investigation of a UN peacekeeping base controlled by Nepalese soldiers near the epicenter of the outbreak. The official investigation follows “persistent accusations” by residents of the area that “excrement from the newly arrived unit caused the cholera epidemic that has sickened more than 4,000 people in the earthquake-ravaged nation.” The UN peacekeeping mission (Minustah) maintained its “categorically denial” that it is to blame for the infection yesterday. But the AP reveals distressing new evidence from the Nepalese base that sits above a tributary to the Artibonite River (the source of most infections) which, at the very least, suggests the UN has been less than transparent about sanitation conditions there.
In a statement Tuesday, the Minustah said the Nepalese base uses “seven sealed septic tanks built to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, emptied every week by a private company to a landfill site a safe 820 feet (250 meters) from the river.” But Jonathan Katz says “those are not the conditions the AP found on Wednesday.” The AP:
“A buried septic tank inside the fence was overflowing and the stench of excrement wafted in the air. Broken pipes jutting out from the back spewed liquid. One, positioned directly behind latrines, poured out a reeking black flow from frayed plastic pipe which dribbled down to the river where people were bathing.”
Samples from the broken sanitary pipes were collected by uniformed military personnel on Wednesday, with a handful of journalists present. Then, “about a half hour later, as AP and Al Jazeera journalists stood by, the Nepalese troops began hacking around the septic tank with pickaxes and covered the exposed pipe jutting from behind the fence, but did not plug it.” Al-Jazeera who has video from the Nepalese base, adds that cholera is endemic to Nepal, with the same strain found by researchers in Haiti present in the Himalayan country. Even so, Eric Mintz, an epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the AP that the strain is too common to be considered a “smoking gun.” [The CDC is not taking part in the investigation in Haiti, however].
The Wall Street Journal this morning makes mention of the AP’s reporting on the Nepalese base, as well as the UN investigation which has begun there, while pointing to more general concerns about inadequate sanitation infrastructure and an increasingly limited clean water supplies in areas which could soon be affected by the outbreak. “Only 29% and 12% of urban and rural Haitians, respectively, had ready access to sanitation in 2008,” the paper reports. And in many rural areas, “the situation is worse than it was two years ago.”
Now this morning, reports from Al-Jazeera that the first wave of cholera are being reported in the capital of Port-au-Prince. “Just about 24 hours ago,” Al-Jazeera’s Seb Walker reports, “the UN announced that there were 174 suspected cases in [Cite Soleil]” – one of the capital’s most famous slums. “If cholera spreads in the city, it's going to be extremely difficult to deal with and many people could die, this is what we are hearing from health officials all the time,” Walker reports.
AQ and Independent Television News (with a video report) have a bit more on what the growing cholera threat could mean for the already questionable Nov. 28 elections. And in today’s Miami Herald, Laura Wagner, a researcher working in Haiti, writes the following: “If cholera were to spread in Port-au-Prince, in the camps, it would be an unthinkable catastrophe, an inconceivable nightmare.” There are growing signs that this nightmare could be beginning.
To other stories:
· In Mexico, reports on the wave of mass murders that have struck the country over the last week. The New York Times reports that “in the span of a week, a devastating wave of attacks has killed dozens of civilians, rattled a public not easily shocked anymore and forced the government to concede that innocents are being swept up in the violence.” The latest attacks include the killing of four men in Juarez after gunmen opened fire on buses carrying workers home from the late shift at an automobile upholstery factory in the city. Authorities say the attack on maquiladora workers is one which “has no precedent” in the country’s notorious “murder city.” [More from the LA Times].
· Also yesterday, another potential first: a mass killing in a working class neighborhood in the Mexican capital of Mexico City. The Times warns that investigators have “not determined a motive or whether it was linked to organized crime.” But the paper says “the city has long feared that mass violence would reach here.” As the AP notes, Mexico’s El Universal covered the events writing that “massacres have arrived in DF.” Those attacks follow three others throughout the country this week, making it five significant civilian massacres in seven days. Also yesterday, the AP reports that nine police officers were killed in the state of Jalisco after an “hours long gun battle with gunmen.” [That report also says that yesterday the United States “delivered three mobile X-ray inspection vehicles to Mexico as part of the Merida Initiative anti-drug aid plan”].
· In Nicaragua, US Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela held a “frank and respectful” conversation with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Managua. El Nuevo Diario says the two avoided sensitive “internal political questions,” instead focusing on matters of “common interest,” namely economic relations and the fight against organized crime. Like his Costa Rican counterpart, Laura Chinchilla, President Ortega once again said Thursday that he supports new regional mechanisms for fighting the proliferation of narcos in Central America. [Valenzuela says they also broached the subject of Honduras].
· On the issue of drug trafficking in Central America, Kevin Casas-Zamora of Brookings argues the US is not doing enough to support Central America’s fight against traffickers. Specifically, he says the US is making a mistake by underfunding the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). A different take on the same issue from NACLA, which sees the expansion of a US-backed militarized drug war entering the Central American isthmus. Kevin Alvarez, for NACLA:
“U.S. anti-drug policies have not been able to impede production of drugs in Colombia, or other parts of South America. They have not been able to stop drugs smuggled through Mexico, and they have not been able to stop the historic high number of illicit drugs that enter the United States today. Nonetheless, U.S. policymakers are attempting to replicate the same failed strategy, as they turn to Central America, sandwiched between Colombia and Mexico, in an attempt to cut off the traffickers before they ever reach Mexico and the U.S. border.”
· Also, a recent interview with Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, by Mexico’s La Jornada (h/t IKN). And news from BBC Mundo that the director of the police hospital where Correa was allegedly held during this month’s uprising-turned-coup attempt has been placed under “90 day preventive detention.”
· Argentine foreign minister Hector Timerman says he anticipates current president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will pursue a second term in office after the death of her husband Wednesday. “We have said all along that (the next Argentine president) could be a he or a she ‘penguin’, now there’s no question that it’s going to be her”, Timerman told CNN. Meanwhile various Latin American leaders, of all ideological stripes, arrived in Buenos Aires to honor the country’s first gentleman. According to Telesur, the leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Uruguay all noted that to deepen Latin American integration would be to honor the legacy of the departed ex-president and UNASUR secretary general. That news as Venezuela proposed that inhabitants of the region “should be able to move freely and live anywhere within the region” at the 10th South American Migration Conference held in Cochabamba, Bolivia earlier this week.
· And finally Brazilians head to the polls Sunday. Latest poll numbers from Datafolha show Dilma Rouseff maintaining a 10 point lead over Jose Serra (50 to 40%). Another poll from Ibope gives Dilma a slightly larger 13 point edge. The Wall Street Journal says the biggest winners of this year’s campaign have been Brazil’s evangelicals while the Guardian criticizes the weak environmental pledges that both candidates have made, particularly on deforestation of the Amazon and carbon emissions.