In Haiti Wednesday, presidential hopefuls Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly faced off in what the Miami Herald describes as a rare televised debate ahead of a vote now just 10 days away. According to the paper, there were few surprises. The latter, Mr. Martelly, continued his attempt to portray himself as a “political outsider” while the former, Madame Manigat, is said to have “resisted [Martelly’s] repeated attempts to paint her as part of the problem.”
As the LA Times reported earlier in the week there’s very little in terms of policy proposals which separates the two contenders. The lawyer for former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Ira Kurzban, translates his view of the race into US political terms, telling the Times it’s like having “an unpopular Republican and an unpopular 'tea party' candidate, with no Democrat allowed to compete.”
That may or may not be overly simplistic, but on what may become one most significant matters in coming months – the issue of security – a report from the AP this morning suggests there’s significant convergence between Manigat and Martelly: both candidates support reestablishing the Haitian army, dissolved by Mr. Aristide in 1995.
According to the AP, the position is a now popular one among many young Haitians who see a reconstituted military as a possible source of employment. [As CEPR’s Haiti Watch notes, 62% supported Aristide’s disbanding of the military in 1995]. But it also raises some serious concerns. As Reed Brody, a counsel for Human Rights Watch, tells the wire service:
“The Haitian army has basically been an army that's been used against the Haitian people. It was there as an instrument of repression, so it's hard to see what Haiti gains by bringing back the army.”
Madame Manigat says she would prevent those problems of the past, although she’s been short on details. For his part, Martelly has suggested that the recreation of a military that could deal effectively with internal security would be the first step toward ending the MINUSTAH’s military presence in the country. He apparently has the support of Haitian police chief Mario Andresol who says he hopes that, after the next president dedicates more money to the country’s police forces, a new military force should be created to “patrol Haiti's coastline and remote regions where smugglers receive South American drug shipments bound for the United States.”
But so far there has been little discussion about the specific limitations that might be imposed on a new Haitian military, a discussion which historian Laurent Dubois says must be “open and clear” before the idea moves forward any further.
A pre-election poll conducted by a Haitian polling firm, BRIDES, says Michel Martelly currently holds a 50.8% to 46.2% lead over Mirlande Manigat, although those numbers no doubt come with numerous caveats.
To other stories:
· On military matters of a different sort, IPS corrects something written here yesterday, saying a joint communiqué was, in fact, passed on the final day of “IBSA” meetings between officials of India, Brazil, and South Africa, opposing the creation of a no-fly zone in Libya, as well as “any coercive measures additional to those foreseen in Resolution 1970” if they are not “contemplated in full compliance with the U.N. Charter and with the Security Council of the United Nations.” [Resolution 1970 imposed a set of international sanctions on Libya and referred reports of human rights violations to the ICC for investigation]. Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota added the following after the release of the IBSA communiqué on Libya:
“It can be problematic to intervene militarily in a situation of internal turmoil and this can be considered only within the U.N. framework and with close coordination with the African Union and the Arab League.”
IPS adds that the IBSA trilateral meeting was most “emphatic” about the need for comprehensive Security Council reform. According to the press service, India, Brazil, and South Africa all demand that any reform to the UN include the “expansion of both permanent and non- permanent membership, and representation from Africa, Asia and Latin America.”
· BBC Mundo reports from Mexico on reforms made to the Mexican constitution this week which, for the first time, explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
· Also in Mexican Senate, EFE reports on reforms made to a longstanding but controversial immigration clause, Article 33. According to EFE, the article allowed any foreigner to be expelled from the country “without the right to an administrative or judicial hearing, as well as guaranteeing defense proceedings.” One of the most recent uses was in 1994 when Article 33 was invoked to “expel dozens of foreigners” after the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. The UN’s office in Mexico City has apparently praised the reform measure.
· Meanwhile, in the US, another migration-related issue – that of asylum – is beginning to take center stage. The Wall Street Journal reports that Mexican asylum requests are on the rise as more and more individuals say their government is no longer capable of protecting their lives and thus head north. The WSJ says the growing number of high-profile requests places the U.S. in a “thorny position,” stuck between “human-rights goals of supporting those in danger” and “standing by Mexico, a key ally who says it is capable of protecting its own citizens.” Stephen Legomsky, an asylum expert at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis tells the paper, “When you're granting asylum, you're admitting in effect that the government is going to persecute someone, or is too weak to give that person protection from others who could.” The paper highlights the case of Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez who first sought asylum in 2008 after being threatened by the Mexican military for writing critically about the institution.
· The New York Times reports that 10 members of the Barrio Azteca gang have been charged in last year’s murder of a US consulate employee, her husband, and one other in Juarez.
· EFE highlights new figures, reported by Mexico’s Milenio (originating from Mexico’s Defense Secretariat), which indicate 1,680 Mexican army special forces soldiers have defected over the last ten years. The army apparently has little idea about where such ex-soldiers have since gone, but there are, of course, various indications that many former soldiers have ended up on the payrolls of criminal groups – the most famous example being Los Zetas, a group of elite troops who first signed on as hired guns for the Gulf cartel in the late 1990s and today is active across much Mexico and Central America.
· Mexico is not the only one who seems incapable of accounting for members of its military. At Just the Facts, Adam Isacson says the 2009 Foreign Military Training Report released by the State Department last month indicates that just five Mexicans were trained by DOS’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program that year. In contrast, a report issued by the Republican staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May said the Narcotics Affairs Section at the US Embassy in Mexico alone had trained 4,933 Mexican security officials in 2009.
· On Colombia, La Silla Vacía’s Juanita Leon on the “good, bad, and ugly” of the proposed “Victim’s Law” now being debated in the Colombian Senate.
· In Nicaragua, La Prensa reports on FSLN youth protesting with song in front of the Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (Cenidh) in Managua.
· The New York Times looks at the devastating impact global warming is having on coffee production in Colombia. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal suggests coffee is a new success story in Guerrero, Mexico, where the bean is being substituted as alternative to illegal poppy production.
· Reuters notes that Mexican telecom magnate, Carlos Slim, has been named the world’s richest man for the second straight year by Forbes.
· Foreign Policy’s Elizabeth Dickinson spoke on International Women’s Day earlier this week with former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, now the head of UN Women.
· And finally recommendations from South America for the Middle East? Former Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim, spoke at a forum organized by Al-Jazeera in Qatar this week, suggesting Brazil’s transition from dictatorship to democracy may have something to teach those countries in the Middle East currently going through revolutionary transitions. Meanwhile, Andres Oppenheimer, following reports last month coming from the White House as well as former Chilean politician Sergio Bitar apparently, argues Chile could serve as a model for Egypt and Tunisia. Bitar was in Egypt last week on a delegation put together by the National Democratic Institute, sharing Chile’s experiences. For his part, Oppenheimer contends that Egypt should learn from Chile that you can throw out the dictator without throwing out the dictator’s economic policies. I imagine some would disagree.