Friday, February 22, 2013

'Baby Doc' Trial Postponed, Again

Once again Haitian ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as “Baby Doc,” has defied a judge and failed to appear at a hearing over whether he can be tried for crimes against humanity.

The Associated Press reports that Duvalier’s attorney, former Senator Reynold Georges arrived some 90 minutes after the hearing was scheduled to start yesterday, claiming that he had filed an appeal of the judge’s order with the Supreme Court. Georges confidently announced that he expected the Supreme Court to reject both the summons of Duvalier as well as the effort to reinstate charges of crimes against humanity against his client.

“We’re waiting for the Supreme Court decision and we’re going to win,” Georges said. According to the AP, he also referred to himself as “Haiti’s Johnnie Cochran,” a reference to O. J. Simpson's controversial defense lawyer.

This is the second time that Baby Doc has failed to appear at a scheduled hearing over allegations that that he ordered murders, disappearances and torture during his 1971-1986 rule. Earlier this month the hearing was postponed after the defense contested that the coincidence of the trial date with the 27th anniversary of his ouster could lead to civil unrest.

This time the judge presiding over the hearing, Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun, rejected the defense’s argument. Lebrun maintained that Georges could not appeal directly to the Supreme Court, and ordered Duvalier to appear in court “without delay” on March 1. Human Rights Watch spokesman Reed Brody praised Lebrun’s decision, telling the AP that it represented “an important victory for Duvalier’s victims who never gave up hope of seeing him in court.”

But it’s not clear how the latest court order differs from previous statements from Judge Lebrun. After he agreed to reschedule the hearing earlier this month, Lebrun threatened to have the ex-dictator arrested if he failed to show up again, which appears to have been an empty threat.

This, and the fact that Duvalier has been allowed to travel freely throughout the country while supposedly under house arrest, suggest the odds of the Duvalier regime’s victims seeing justice in Haiti any time soon are slim.

News Briefs
  • United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has invoked the UN’s legal immunity in response to an attempt to sue for damages related to the cholera epidemic in Haiti. The claim was submitted by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) in 2011. Citing research showing that the country’s cholera epidemic was likely introduced by UN peacekeepers, the IJDH is seeking to require the international organization to install a new water and sanitation system, pay compensation to victims and publicly apologize.  Yesterday the UN leader called Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him that the international organization would not compensate the victims, The Guardian reports.
  • Yesterday evening the Guatemalan government announced there had been a shootout between criminal groups in the remote jungle Peten region in the north of the country, and said they had reason to believe that Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman may have been killed there. Authorities subsequently backed away from the claim late last night, however, after the shootout could not be confirmed.  Prensa Libre reports that Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said officials had been sent to the location in order to investigate the incident. “We cannot say it with certainty, but it might be him,” Lopez said.
  • Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas announced via state television yesterday that Hugo Chavez continues to battle respiratory failure, saying that the trend “has not been favorable.” El Nacional reports that, in a rather densely worded statement, Villegas also said that treatment of Chavez’s “base illness,” (presumably the cancer in his pelvic region) has “not yet presented significantly adverse effects.”
  • 2012 was the deadliest year in the past decade for human rights activists in Colombia, according to a new report released by local NGO Somos Defensores. The organization found that although the government invested nearly $100 million in programs to protect at-risk human rights defenders last year, 69 were killed, the highest number of murders since 2002. Semana magazine has created a helpful infographic based on the data, and the full report is available at the group’s website.
  • Despite a Boston Globe report earlier this week which claimed senior officials in the Obama administration are considering removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terror, both the White House and U.S. State Department have denied this.
  • A former Honduran national police chief, General Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, is directly blaming the murder of his son on Sunday on the country’s armed forces and police, La Prensa reports. While officials said the teenager had been killed by gang members, Ramirez claimed to have proof that his murder was the result of a botched kidnapping orchestrated by corrupt elements of the security forces. Ramirez, who was removed from office in May amid a scandal implicating the police force in a high profile journalist’s murder, is calling for the resignation of his successor, Juan Carlos Bonilla, as well as that of Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla.
  • The Miami Herald and the AP report on the Venezuelan government’s announcement this week that it intends to switch the country over from analog to digital broadcasting, noting that the overtly anti-Chavez Globovision network has not been invited to participate in the change. Globovision, which has been sued by the government several times in recent years over allegedly sensationalist reporting, claims this is part of an attempt by the Chavez administration to force the network off the air. While the Herald portrays the announcement as part of the government’s construction of a “powerful state-run media apparatus” in the country, it’s worth pointing out that the audience share of state television remains far lower than that of private companies (see this 2010 report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research).
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday announced an increase in the monthly stipend guaranteed to the 2.5 million people living below the poverty line in the country. Rousseff said that poor Brazilians would now receive around $35 a month through the country’s much-lauded Bolsa Familia cash transfer program, which has lifted 36 million people out of extreme poverty since 2003.
  • MeroPress reports that former Brazilian Environment Minister and politician Marina Silva has launched a new political party in the country, known as “The Sustainability Network.” Silva, who won 19 percent of the vote in the 2010 presidential elections, has not announced whether she will run for president in 2014.
  • Yet another mining conflict is brewing in northern Peru this week. According to Peru21, some 150 locals in the northern Trujillo province have set up roadblocks leading to Lagunas Norte gold mine, operated by Canada's Barrick Gold Corporation. Demonstrators have demanded a meeting with local government officials, and so far no major clashes with authorities have been reported.
  • Peruvian officials announced a massive shakeup of the country’s police force yesterday. According to La Republica, some 80 percent of ranking officers (over 4,000 mid and high-level officials) in the Peruvian National Police will be reassigned to other posts in an effort to crack down on corruption and abuse of authority in the police force.
  • One year after Argentina saw its worst train accident in 40 years (in which 51 were killed and some 800 sustained injuries), BBC Mundo looks at the country’s troubled rail system. Last month President Cristina Fernandez announced that she would oversee “the most significant railway renovation project of the last 50 or 60 years,” but it remains to be seen if it will amount to the major overhaul most analysts say is badly needed.
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero takes a look at the flourishing video game development scene in Uruguay, profiling the success of the Ironhide Game Studio, which is behind the popular online game “Kingdom Rush.”
  • The AP reports that former Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who led the Caribbean country from 1991 to 1995 and again from 2001 to 2010, has been hospitalized after collapsing from an apparent seizure. 

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