Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Haiti Rocked by Anti-Martelly Protests

Haitian President Michel Martelly faced some of the largest opposition protests of his administration on Monday, with major marches being held in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, the country’s two largest cities. Perceived corruption, rampant poverty and delayed elections were among the demonstrators’ main grievances.

The BBC describes yesterday’s protests as among the largest since Martelly took office two years ago, while Reuters claims that they “surpassed scenes in May this year when deposed former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made a rare court appearance.” Thousands turned out at demonstrations in both cities, calling for Martelly’s immediate resignation.  In Port-au-Prince supporters of the president organized counter-protests, leading to violent conflicts which were broken up by police and UN peacekeeping forces. The AP reports that at least one person was shot in the resulting clashes.

In response to the protests, the president called for national unity. “If we didn't have our heads together, we wouldn't have a Haitian state,” Martelly told a gathering at the historic site of a decisive battle in the country’s war of independence on Monday.

But the demonstrators are not alone in their dissatisfaction with the current government. Several members of the international community have also made it known that their patience for the delayed vote is wearing thin. Legislative and local elections were supposed to have been held before the end of the year, but the president and lawmakers are still hashing out the details of an electoral reform bill. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have threatened to push for aid cuts to the country because of the delay, and Vice President Joe Biden called for elections to be scheduled last month. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has also tried to put pressure on the government to set a date for elections, announcing that he would withdraw his country's UN peacekeepers from Haiti due to the lack of progress on overdue elections.

News Briefs
  • While Venezuelan lawmakers are still debating a bill to grant President Nicolas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months, Noticias24 and El Nacional report that the president has called on his supporters to hold a demonstration outside the presidential palace today in support of the measure. The legislature is expected to approve the bill in a second round of debate later today.
  • It turns out that socialist Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos is less of a threat to President Dilma Rousseff’s reelection than originally thought. The announcement of his alliance with Marina Silva last month caused many analysts to identify him as Rousseff’s main challenger, with most predicting that his poll numbers would rise as he gained a national profile. However, now that he is more well-known nationwide, polls show Brazilians like him even less. A new survey by Ibope gives Dilma 43 percent support, 14 percent support for conservative candidate Aecio Neves, and just 7 percent for Campos, meaning the president could win the vote next year in a single round.
  • Lucia Nader of Brazilian human rights NGO Conectas has an interesting post for openDemocracy on a lesser-known side effect of Brazil’s economic boom in recent years: a reduction in available funding for human rights advocacy organizations in the country.  According to Nader, Brazil’s development has been accompanied by a drop in international donations to human rights nonprofits, which worsened after the 2008 financial crisis. She claims that this would not be so bad if Brazilian philanthropists had made up the gap, but this has not been the case. While the state makes some funds available for human rights groups, many fear this money will come with reduced autonomy and credibility. The solution for human rights groups in emerging economies, Nader writes, is to “develop a greater philanthropic tradition,” in which local human rights groups restructure and learn to raise more funds locally.
  • Following last week’s announcement by Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon that armed forced had uncovered a FARC plot to assassinate ex-President Alvaro Uribe, current President Juan Manuel Santos has sought to downplay the allegations. El Tiempo reports that Santos told reporters they were “old news,” and that he heard similar reports during his time as Uribe’s defense minister. News site La Silla Vacia notes that investigative journalists have endorsed the veracity of the assassination plot, raising questions about whether Santos is simply trying to get rid of a negative distraction from the peace process.
  • Reuters looks at the difficulties faced by FARC deserters in Colombia, and on the country’s efforts to facilitate their reintegration to society. Defense Minister Pinzon recently told the news agency that the guerrillas are seeing a wave of desertions now that peace talks have begun, which rebel leaders say is patently false.
  • Peruvian Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza has resigned after he was linked to the latest corruption scandal to hit the government of President Ollanta Humala. Pedraza stepped down following local press reports tying him to Oscar Lopez Meneses, a businessman and firm ally of imprisoned ex-intelligence director Vladimir Montesinos. Last week it was revealed that Lopez enjoyed a permanent police escort outside his home, information which Pedraza claimed had been hidden from him. According to Diario Gestion, he will be replaced by Walter Alban Peralta, former ombudsman and, until now, the country’s OAS ambassador.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez returned to work as planned yesterday. La Nacion reports that the president announced a cabinet shakeup yesterday, naming youthful economic policy advisor Axel Kicillof as her new economy minister.  Additionally, she picked Chaco province governor Jorge Capitanich to be her new cabinet chief. BBC reports that she also released a video message thanking devotees for their support.
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Panama last night for a series of meetings today with President Ricardo Martinelli. The AP reports that the purpose of his visit is to highlight the ongoing Panama Canal expansion, as well as to talk bilateral trade and security issues with Martinelli.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters in DC yesterday in which he defended the Obama administration’s Cuba policy, touting loosened restrictions on travel as key to promoting democracy on the island. The Miami Herald reports that he also touched on climate change, endorsing the use of renewable energy sources throughout the hemisphere.  The Wall Street Journal notes that the speech is also notable for Kerry’s characterization of U.S. relations with Latin America. According to the secretary of state: “The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over… That’s worth applauding. That’s not a bad thing.”
  • The New York Times is the latest news outlet to report on Mexico’s growing “middle class,” particularly in the central state of Guanajuato. Unlike other media, however, the NYT at least acknowledges that this narrative is complicated by the country’s economic statistics, which show that 45 percent of the country still lives below the poverty line. 

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