Monday, April 2, 2012

UN Reluctance to Find Cholera's Origins Delayed Response in Haiti

The United Nations’ standing in Haiti was seriously damaged due to its failure to properly acknowledge its role in the 2010-2011 cholera outbreak, the New York Times argues in a long investigative piece, with an accompanying video and interactive map. The article explores the early days of the 2011 outbreak, victim by victim, and concludes that the United Nations and international aid organizations made several key mistakes which otherwise could have allowed them to contain the epidemic.

The first problem was that the UN was initially unwilling to acknowledge that peacekeeping troops from Nepal brought cholera to the island. A power struggle broke out among Haitian health officials, international health officials, and the UN about the importance of finding the cause of the outbreak. Some UN authorities argued that determining the origin of the epidemic had little priority, and that critics were trying to play a “blame game.” When a panel of independent experts arrived to the island in February 2011, charged with tracing the origins of the outbreak, the UN secretary general’s office pressured them not to release their findings until the Nepalese peacekeepers had left the island, the Times reports. The head of the UN stabilization mission also complained at the time that it was “really unfair to accuse the UN for bringing cholera into Haiti.”

Other issues delayed a strong-handed response to the epidemic, which killed over 4,600 people in just six months. Health officials could not agree over the best approach:

“Some health officials wanted to use the least expensive prevention and treatment strategies and to marshal resources for the long battle ahead. Others wanted to employ every available weapon at once, from free drinking water and antibiotics to aggressive case-tracking, mass vaccination, and water and sewer system building.”

The Times notes that organizations “outside” of the international health aid community -- notably, Doctors Without Borders and the volunteer force of Cuban doctors -- were the most effective at responding to the cholera outbreak during its early days.

Now cholera victims are seeking compensation from the UN, although the progress of the lawsuit is unclear. The victims’ lawyers argue that the UN’s handling of the legal proceeding could help help rebuild the peacekeeper’s relationship with the Haitians:

“The U.N.’s choice is simple,” the lawyers wrote in a legal article. “It can rise to the occasion and demonstrate that the rule of law protects the rights of poor Haitians against one of the world’s most powerful institutions, or it can shrink from the challenge and demonstrate that once again in Haiti, ‘might makes right.’ ”

News Briefs

  • The New York Times examines the campaigns of Mexico’s three presidential candidates, whom some commentators have nicknamed “the Pretty Boy” (the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto), the “Quinceañera Doll” (the PAN’s Josefina Vazquez Mota) and the “Tired Has-Been” (the PRD’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador). The article gives a fresh take on the advantages and the challenges each candidate must confront. Peña Nieto is arguably adapting the PRI strategy of old, involving mass give-aways of free gear in order to mobilize the vote, the Times reports. Much of Vazquez Mota’s campaign platform relies on “platitudes,” according to the Times’ critique, when some analysts say that the PAN candidate should focus on making “bold proposals.” Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, must find a balance between populism and a moderate approach, the Times says.
  • Even though the Chavez administration has expropriated property in working and middle-class neighborhoods in order to build housing for victims of flooding, many of the projects have yet to materialize, reports the Miami Herald. The article argues that these expropriations could become a sore issue for Chavez during the presidential campaign. Many of those who had their property seized are still awaiting payment from the government, while flooding victims are still waiting for their housing to be built.
  • El Nuevo Herald profiles a man who interrupted the papal mass in Havana by shouting “freedom.” In an incident described as “a sour sidelight to the pope’s visit last week,” the protester, identified as Andres Carrion Alvarez, caught the attention of photographers who were documenting the mass. After shouting “freedom” and “down with communism,” Carrion was photographed as security personnel removed him from the scene and beat him. He is now in state custody. Elsewhere, an Op-Ed in the Miami Herald issues a sharp critique of the Catholic Church’s apparently “tolerant” position towards the Castro regime. When the Castro regime eventually ends on the island, the Church will find itself out of favor with the Cuban people as a result, the Op-Ed argues.
  • Colombia, Brazil, and the Red Cross have completed the final preparations needed for the release of the FARC’s remaining 10 political hostages, says Colombia Reports. Five hostages are set to be released Monday, and the other five released on Tuesday evening. BBC Mundo confirmed that Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu will be present during the handover. Al Jazeera says the handover could be “over in a matter of hours” on Monday. If carried out successfully, the hostage release could prep important ground for potential peace talks between the FARC and the government. The government has long demanded the end of kidnapping of civilians, and the release of all hostages as a precursor for talks with the FARC. Now the rebels will likely claim they have met both these conditions and it is up to the government to show some good will towards them.
  • The New York Times with an obituary for Miguel de la Madrid, president of Mexico (1982-1988). One historian describes de la Madrid as “the father of Mexico’s political opposition, since it was his stubbornness that gave rise to it.” This refers in part to de la Madrid’s handling of the 1985 earthquake which devastated Mexico: he initially refused international aid and was slow to engineer a response, leaving citizens to organize their own disaster relief. These citizens’ groups eventually became key challengers to PRI rule, according to the obituary. The Wall Street Journal describes de la Madrid as Mexico’s “first modern technocratic” president, who inherited the country in the middle of an economic crisis, and who spent much of his term trying to fight his way out of its “financial hole.”
  • An Op-Ed in the Miami Herald criticizes a political stalemate in Haiti, which helped lead to February’s resignation of Prime Minister Garry Conille. According to the article, now is the time to speed up the selection process for a new prime minister. Otherwise, the country will remain in “caretaker status without the ability to sign new contracts, authorize new hires or start new projects in a country desperate for jobs.”
  • Haiti is not the only country where voids in political leadership need to be filled, quickly. A Miami Herald editorial argues that the US Senate needs to hurry up and appoint an assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The Obama administration’s appointee, Roberta Jackson, saw her nomination blocked by Republicans over a minor policy dispute. The editorial asks: “Why do Senate lawmakers resort to this tactic to bully administration officials over policy differences in this part of the world? Rarely, if ever, is a single senator allowed to deny office to, say, the assistant secretary for Europe or Asia. Are other parts of the world “more important” than Latin America?”
  • The AP reports on three victims in Sonora, Mexico, who may have been sacrificed to Santa Muerte, a cult strongly associated with the criminal underworld. These are the first confirmed reports of human sacrifices to Santa Muerte, according to the AP.
  • The New York Times on a case which seems to epitomize Brazil’s social inequality, after the son of a mining baron struck and hit a cyclist who lived in a shantytown. The article notes that while roadside deaths are on the rise in Brazil, this case has caught attention because it involves the son of Brazil’s wealthiest man. A rather unsympathetic portrait of Brazil’s elite emerges, in which the “club-hopping” son is described as “never spending more than about $3,300 a night,” a sharp contrast to the cyclist killed in the accident. The article asserts that the accident was avoidable, as the son had already received various reprimands for poor driving, but authorities did not suspend his driver’s license.
  • In other Mexico presidential campaign news, PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto said Sunday that he had a plan to install tax breaks in Mexico’s border states, in order to revive the local economy, reports Reuters.
  • The AP argues that Argentina’s campaign to regain sovereignty of the Falkland Islands will go nowhere. The article is a good summary of the very public spat over the past few months.

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