While signs of a political revolution in Egypt have seized the attention of US policymakers, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton found time for a short visit to Haiti Sunday where another political crisis remains unresolved. The Washington Post says Ms. Clinton was there to continue to push the Haitian government toward accepting a set of OAS recommendations that would drop the Preval government’s candidate, Jude Celestin, from a second-round runoff, now scheduled for March 20. Clinton to reporters Sunday:
“We've made it very clear we support the OAS recommendations and we would like to see those acted on.”
However, as the AP reports, Sec. of State Clinton clarified remarks made by the United States’ ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, last week, saying the US has no plans to cut aid to the country at this time, despite electoral uncertainties.
Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) is expected to release its final decision about Nov. 28’s highly questionable vote this Wednesday. Meanwhile, Jude Celestin has continued to remain quiet after his party, INITE, suggested last week they were no longer supporting their candidate’s bid for the presidency.
Clinton’s Haiti agenda included a meeting with President Rene Preval himself, and, according to the US Secretary of State, a principal topic of discussion was what would occur after Preval’s term expires on Feb. 7. The AP notes that “a law passed by an expiring Senate last May would allow [Preval] to remain in power for an extra three months, but it is not clear if his government would continue to be recognized by donor countries.” Clinton, on that issue before her meeting with Preval:
“That's one of the problems we have to talk about. There are issues of a continuing government, how that can be structured. And that's what I'm going to be discussing.”
Each of Haiti’s three remaining candidates – Celestin, Michel Martelly, and Mirlande Manigat – all met with Sec. of State Clinton separately at the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince Sunday as well. Only Madame Manigat spoke to the press afterwards, saying she did not get the sense that the US wanted the elections to be cancelled. Rather, political stability seems to be the United States primary concern, according Manigat.
While in Port-au-Prince, Clinton also visited a cholera treatment clinic run by Partners In Health. The co-founders of PIH, Dr. Paul Farmer (today the UN’s deputy special envoy to Haiti) and Ophelia Dahl, speak with the LA Times in Los Angeles this weekend, about the situation in Haiti. According to Farmer, Haiti’s number one public health challenge at the moment is “rebuilding public health systems” – what he describes as moving from “community-based care” to the construction of actual hospitals and a new infrastructure that can be overseen by the Haitian state.
To other stories:
· The New York Times, also on Haiti, examines some of the “old wounds” which have been reopened by Jean-Claude Duvalier’s unexpected return to Haiti two weeks ago. But the paper notes there has also been a “deafening silence” among those who were tortured by Duvalier’s regime. The Times: “In the two weeks since Mr. Duvalier’s surprise return from exile, only a handful of the tens of thousands of people who human rights groups say were illegally detained and tortured by his regime have come forward to press charges.” The paper explores some reasons why. And, in the Washington Post, journalist Marjorie Valbrun offers her opinion on why Baby Doc returned. Having conducted a series of interviews with Duvalier in France almost a decade ago, Valbrun paints a picture of soft-spoken, recluse who has long been determined to return a homeland he has sorely missed.
· In the Mexican state of Guerrero, gubernatorial elections Sunday may have returned the left-leaning PRD to power – that according to Reuters which declared a PRD victory late Sunday. Other news agencies – including the AP are more cautious, even while noting that Guerrero’s State Electoral Institute said the PRD's candidate Angel Aguirre had won 57 percent of the ballot with 55 percent of the votes tallied. (The PRI's candidate Manuel Anorve had taken just 42 percent). What is clear, however, is the PAN’s failure in this first vote of a long electoral season. Its candidate dropped out of the race at the last minute throwing his support behind the PRD.
· Also in Mexico, the AP says federal prosecutors have charged two federal police officers in the killing of a bodyguard to Ciudad Juarez mayor, Hector Murguia. According to the Attorney General’s office, the men are being charged with homicide, abuse of authority and improper behavior. Both officers have already been detained, although the details of the shooting remain sketchy. The AP also says 33 ex-mayors accused of corruption in the state of Veracruz have been ordered arrested. The group is among a total of 115 one-time municipal employees in the state who are believed to have embezzled some $5.5 million between 2004 and 2008.
· Mexico’s El Universal reports on the idea of creating a “unified front” of security forces between Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom mentioned the plan Friday, saying the integrated forces would work to fight narco-traffickers in the region. Colom, in an interview with El Universal:
"Organized crime is both a global and regional problem. It’s frequently said that “Los Zetas” are a Mexican organization, but it’s also true that we have captured Guatemalans, Honduras, and Salvadorans. This criminal group has been globalized, and so the solution to their serious aggression of which we are all victims has to be regional – I call it a “Mesoamerican Plan of Security and Justice,” counting on the support and shared responsibility of the United States.”
Colom mentions working from Colombia as well and says he’s also had discussions with the European Union about supporting regional anti-narco activities. Boz and Gancho with more. And Michael Shifter, in the special Latin America-focused, February issue of Current History, has a country-by-country assessment of security challenges facing Central America.
· At the Open Society Institute’s blog, Kathleen Kingsbury writes on an online town hall held by President Obama last week in which he said drugs should be treated “more as a public health problem.”
· The New York Times this weekend on a major drug bust in Spain earlier this month which suggests growing links between traffickers in Argentina and Europe. The seizure of 2000 pounds of cocaine in Barcelona came aboard a private jet flying in from Argentina, and now there appear to be some questions about the role of some Argentine military officials in the operation. The Times: “Last week, the Argentine Air Force dismissed Commodore Jorge Ayerdi, the head of the Morón air base, where the Challenger 604 plane took off on Jan. 1.” Argentina’s Defense Minister has called for a thorough investigation and currently a judge is investigating at least 18 air force officials who may have been involved.
· The Times also reports this weekend on the Luis Posada Carriles trial, focusing on the Venezuelan government’s longstanding inability to get Posada extradited to Venezuela for the bombing of a Cuban passenger jet in 1976. According to the paper, neither the State Department nor the Justice Department has ever presented Venezuela’s request for extradition to a federal judge.
· Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the AP on a mysterious explosion at a military arms depot, some 60 miles outside the capital of Caracas. At least one person was killed in the blast.
· Also, the AP has a long report this morning on the recently passed “Law for the Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination” in Venezuela. The law, if enforced, would put restrictions on foreign monies accepted by Venezuelan NGO’s working on “political rights” issues in the country. According to the AP, the new law allows the government to “fine a group double the sum it receives from abroad, bar offenders from running for office, and impose similar penalties for inviting foreigners who publicly give ‘opinions that offend state institutions.’” Marino Alvarado, head of the rights group, PROVEA, tells the wire service his organization’s challenge is “how not to disappear.” Like many others, the AP notes PROVEA “relies almost exclusively on overseas funds, including donations from the European Union and U.S.-based NGOs but not the U.S. government.” At least one chavista politician Roy Daza tells AP that human rights groups will not be affected by the law, saying it is meant to restrict only “organizations that attack Venezuelan institutions.” As an example, Daza cited Sumate, which the AP says helped organize a failed 2004 recall vote against Chavez.
· Like the AP last week, the New York Times looks at faltering popularity for Evo Morales in Bolivia after last month’s “Gasolinazo.”
· New pre-election poll numbers in Peru show Alejandro Toledo widening his lead over Luis Castaneda and Keiko Fujimori.
· Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is in Argentina for her first foreign visit since taking office one month ago.
· An easing of US Cuba travel restrictions, announced on Jan. 14, went into effect late last week after being published in the Federal Register, says the Havana Note.
· Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos speaks with BBC’s Hardtalk. A short excerpt from the interview, posted at BBC Mundo, has Santos saying he would not prevent judicial investigations of his former boss, ex-President Alvaro Uribe.
· And John Lindsay-Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, says there is evidence that the US is building new military outposts in Colombia, despite the Colombian constitutional court’s striking down of a military base deal last year. Lindsay Poland: “U.S. military agencies in September 2010 signed contracts for construction at Tolemaida, Larandia and Malaga bases in Colombia worth nearly US$5 million, according to official U.S. documents available to the Fellowship of Reconciliation.” Those contracts included two for special operations unit (SOCSOUTH) “Advanced Operations Bases” in Tolemaida, south of Bogotá. Additionally, Army Corps of Engineer documents indicate planned 2011 expansions of Southcom “Counter-Narcoterrorism” sites in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador and Belize, as well as a $10 million upgrade in Soto Cano, Honduras.” For more details and relevant links, see the FOR.