- Created on 10 May 2013
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide emerged from months of seclusion for a second straight day and took several swipes at the current government.
Speaking to a small group of mostly Haitian reporters and The Associated Press at his home in the capital Thursday, Aristide covered topics ranging from his shock at seeing the devastation caused by the 2010 earthquake to his political party's strength as the country heads to legislative and local elections.
He also thanked the thousands of supporters who cheered his motorcade Wednesday during a rare outing to answer a judge's questions in a closed-door testimony in the case of slain journalist. The crowds comprised one of the biggest demonstrations of its kind in years despite a police ban on all protests.
Aristide then took a few jabs at President Michel Martelly, saying the government has not done enough to address hunger in the impoverished country and called the administration's tax on international calls and money transfers to fund an education program a "problem."
"With all the respect that I have for the authorities in place, they are not able to solve the hunger problem by themselves," Aristide said in the office of his residence, calling it one of Haiti's "biggest problems."
"People know that when a dog is hungry it's doesn't play," Aristide said, quoting a Haitian proverb that roughly means hungry people can be unpredictable and even dangerous.
Aristide began to weep as he recalled watching images of Haiti's 2010 earthquake while in exile in South Africa. He said that before Wednesday he had ventured out of his house only once, on May 1, 2011, since his return earlier that year, but didn't say where he went.
He went before the judge after being summoned to answer questions in the case of a journalist's killing. Instead of returning straight to his home, he toured the capital shantytowns where he is still popular, drawing crowds of supporters as he passed through each neighborhood.
Aristide said the trek also allowed him to see the earthquake's devastation firsthand.
"I now know what it's like for you to be unable to leave the suffering caused by goudougoudou," Aristide said, using a common Haitian term for the quake.
Also on Thursday, Haiti's justice ministry said in a statement that three journalists who were covering the Wednesday march were roughed up by demonstrators and condemned the "act of aggression." The reporters worked for Radio-Tele Ginen, a media outlet that's long been seen as pro-government.
Aristide remains popular in Haiti, but was a divisive figure during his two presidential terms. He has kept a low profile since returning from exile in South Africa, showing up in public previously only for a brief television appearance from his home shortly after coming back.
The former leader acknowledged that he had been silent for two years, but said no one ordered him to keep quiet.
"I chose not to speak," he said. "I speak when I need to speak, and no one can stop me from speaking."
Aristide said he believed his Lavalas political party will be a contender during still unscheduled elections to fill 10 Senate seats and dozens of local posts. Haitian authorities are under pressure to organize the vote by year's end.
"If they have free and transparent elections, there's a good chance that we'll win a big portion of it," he said.
- Created on 07 May 2013
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe urged African intelligence services Monday to prepare for fresh onslaughts by foreigners and the continent's former colonizers to grasp its natural resources and potential wealth.
Mugabe said Africa's vast reserves of untapped resources and the world-wide recession have triggered a new scramble for control of its "raw wealth."
Opening a convention of the continent-wide 49-nation Committee of Intelligence and Security Services, Mugabe said outsiders have used at least 20 armed conflicts in Africa since 1990 to gather intelligence and deploy "stealth predator drones," unmanned surveillance aircraft, to spy on their countries.
"Our erstwhile colonizers continue to manipulate international institutional and conventions to justify unilateral military interventions in African states with the objective of extracting and unfairly exploiting our resources," Mugabe said.
He told Africa's annual meeting of security agents, who work under the cloak of secrecy, that they are now confronted by increasing human and drug trafficking, money laundering and cyber-terrorism.
Gen. Happyton Bonyongwe, head of Zimbabwe's feared domestic security agency, the Central Intelligence Organization, took over as chair of what is known as "the spies' organization" for the next year.
Among some 4,000 delegates at the opening were Zimbabwe's security commanders, the African Union's special representative on counter-terrorism and intelligence chiefs from as far afield as Sierra Leone, Senegal and other West African states, all of whom passed through strict airport-style metal detector devices.
Zimbabwean intelligence agents dressed in dark suits thronged the corridors of the downtown Harare convention center.
Mugabe said he hoped the visiting intelligence chiefs will enjoy "Zimbabwean hospitality" and visit the nation's tourist attractions. Accreditation forms for the convention asked delegates to provide details of their golfing handicap and several played golf in teams arranged Sunday.
Rungano Zvobgo, head of a Masvingo university in southern Zimbabwe, said the theme of the convention, which ends Wednesday, "The Role of Security Services in Protecting Africa's Natural Resources and Future Economic Development" is a fitting topic for intelligence agencies.
Zvobgo told the meeting that Congo sits on about $24 trillion worth of valuable minerals such as gold, diamond, tin, uranium and coltan. That is equal to the combined Gross Domestic Product of Europe and the United States, he said, and research shows that about $6 million worth of resources is smuggled out of Congo every day.
Coltan, also known as tantalite, is a black metallic ore is used in smart phones, computers and other electronic devices.
Zvobgo said that the use of the metal in the Sony PlayStation contributed to the rise in the price of coltan from $49 to $275 a pound (about half a kilogram) in 2000.
Congo has up to 80 percent of the world's coltan, which lies so close to the surface that it can be mined with shovels and pick axes, requiring no technology or expertise, he said.
In years of bloody conflict in the Congo, "rebel groups and government militias monopolize this mineral resource" to buy weapons and fund their operations, Zvobgo said.
Last year's conference of security agencies was held in Algiers, Algeria.
- Created on 30 April 2013
JOHANNESBURG — South African President Jacob Zuma said he found Nelson Mandela "in good shape and in good spirits" Monday, but a video of his encounter with the ailing anti-apartheid icon belies those cheery words, showing him with a vacant look on his face.
It's been more than three weeks since Mandela was released after a 10-day stay in the hospital, the third time in five months that he was hospitalized for a recurring lung infection.
"We saw him, he's looking very good, he's in good shape," Zuma told the South African Broadcasting Corp. on the doorstep of Mandela's Johannesburg home. "We had some conversation with him, shook hands, he smiled, as you can see him, that he's really up and about and stabilized. We're really very happy. We think that he's fine."
But the SABC video shows Mandela in an armchair, his head propped up by a pillow, his legs on a footrest and covered by a blanket, looking grey-skinned and unsmiling with his cheeks showing what appear to be marks from a recently removed oxygen mask.
Zuma jokes and laughs with two officials of the governing African National Congress, some Mandela family members and the former president's medical team while Mandela stares straight ahead, unresponsive. Zuma tries to hold Mandela's hand but, given his lack of response, ends up covering it with his own.
"Smile, smile," Mandela is urged as one of his grandsons grabs a cell phone to take a picture.
Mandela attempts a weak smile but, as the flash goes off, he closes his eyes and purses his lips. Mandela is known to dislike camera flashes, because his eyes are sensitive after years of working in the glare of a limestone quarry when he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
Mandela does not appear to speak during the televised portion of the visit, except for an "Oh," that could have been a gasp for breath, and one word to his doctor.
Monday's video likely will cause more concern for the many South Africans who revere Mandela as the founder of a free South Africa and who were buoyed by the aging icon's release from the hospital and family statements that he is doing as well as can be expected, for a 94-year-old. Mandela's 95th birthday is in July.
Social networks buzzed with criticism after the SABC video was aired Monday night.
"Everyone around him was all smiles but him. It was so hard and painful to see," said a post on Instagram.
"I didn't like seeing that footage ... There was something undignified about the whole affair," wrote one Twitter user.
Another attacked the government: "Mandela is not in good shape, the government have the nerve to lie straight to our faces."
In a string of criticism there was one, mild thumbs-up: "I don't think it was opportunistic of the ANC to publicize their home visit."
Zuma is expected to run for re-election next year and Mandela's name is the biggest drawing card of his ruling African National Congress party.
Mandela's forgiving spirit and belief in racial reconciliation helped hold South Africa together when it came to the brink of civil war before elections in 1994. The Nobel Peace laureate, who was imprisoned for 27 years by the racist white regime, became the first democratically elected president of South Africa that year.
- Created on 02 May 2013
DOUALA, Cameroon — The party of Cameroon's entrenched ruler Paul Biya won 56 of the 70 contested seats in the nation's first-ever senatorial election, the Supreme Court announced.
Supreme Court President Alexis Dipanda Mouelle said Monday that Biya's Cameroon Peoples' Democratic Party scored 73 percent of the vote, winning seats in eight of the country's 10 administrative regions. The opposition Social Democratic Front received 17 percent, with 14 seats in just two regions. The opposition claimed vote-rigging but international observers said instances of vote-buying and intimidation were too few to change the overall outcome of the ballot.
According to the constitution, the 80-year-old Biya, in power since 1982, gets to appoint the remaining 30 members of the legislative body, ensuring total control of the newly-created 100-seat Senate.
Its creation was mandated by the 1996 constitution but was put off for 17 years, with the ruling party citing lack of funding and other reasons. The constitution stipulates that in the event of a vacancy at the helm of the state, the leader of the Senate will run the nation for a period of 40 days before new elections. The head of the Senate will be elected by majority vote during their first plenary session next month.
In recent years, Biya changed the constitution to allow himself to run for life. He most recently won re-election in a poll that was widely criticized in 2011, and has indicated that he plans to run again in 2018, when he'll be 86. It's raised fears of instability among the international investors who have flocked to Cameroon to get a piece of the country's petroleum riches. Neighboring nations where longtime rulers died in office have spiraled into violence, including in Guinea where the death of dictator Lansana Conte in 2008 was immediately followed by a military coup.
Critics say the new Senate simply perpetuates Biya's grip on power: His party already accounts for 153 of the 180 members in the National Assembly.
Observers from the African Union acknowledged that vote-buying had occurred, though they said that the instances did not impact the outcome of the April 14 poll.
"We think that on the whole, the elections unfolded hitch-free. Of course there were cases of vote-buying and intimidation, but these were too isolated to have an impact on the overall results," Edem Kodjo, head of an African Union observation mission, said soon after the poll.
Despite the limited representation by the opposition, the creation of the Senate was applauded as a step forward.
"We should be happy after 17 years of grumbling by the opposition, that the Senate is finally in place. It may be good or bad, but it is there and it is now left for us to work towards changing its make-up," said Jean De Dieu Momo, leader of the opposition Party for Democracy and Development of Cameroon.
Ni John Fru Ndi, leader of the Social Democratic Front and Biya's most significant rival, issued a statement saying: "Though the elections were choked with fraud ... setting up the Senate is a sign of progress for Cameroon's democracy."
- Created on 24 April 2013
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti has violated international human rights obligations by failing to protect people who have been forced to leave the impromptu settlements that sprang up in the Caribbean nation after the 2010 earthquake, a global advocacy group said Tuesday.
A report by Amnesty International said it found that thousands of displaced people have been evicted from public spaces and private properties. People kicked out of settlements find themselves "further marginalized and driven deeper into poverty," it said.
The government of President Michel Martelly has condoned the evictions led by mayors, police officers and others, the report charged.
"They are tolerated by the state and carried out in total impunity by state agents and private individuals or groups (non-state actors) alike," it said.
Amnesty said it wrote to Martelly, the prime minister and mayors of two cities that have seen evictions in an effort to arrange meetings with them, but the requests were declined or went unanswered.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told The Associated Press Monday night that there were "some" landowners who were responsible for forced evictions but it was not something the government endorsed.
"We don't believe in forced evictions," Lamothe said by telephone. "There are some private owners that do it, but the government itself does not condone that."
Lamothe cited a government-led effort that pays rental subsidies to camp residents. He said it has "relocated over 1.2 million people and has respected their lives and in a peaceful matter. Our policy is respecting their lives and relocating them in a peaceful manner."
The post-quake encampments became symbolic of the widespread devastation caused by the January 2010 earthquake, which toppled thousands of buildings and killed more than 300,000 people. The number of people still living in camps has become a barometer of the success or failure of how to house Haitians, though it's unclear what happens to most people after they leave the formal camps.
Amnesty said its study documents a pattern of forced evictions of families left homeless by the quake.
This has involved mass removals without notice, it said. Amnesty said forced evictions violate the rights of displaced people at all stages: threats prior to an eviction, violence during eviction and homelessness afterward.
More than 20,000 families, about a fifth of those still living in makeshift camps, face forced eviction by private landowners or the authorities, the study said.
"Homelessness is the most immediate consequence of forced eviction," it said. "For those living in Haiti's makeshift camps and already coping with displacement, it signals the start of yet another phase of uncertainty, disruption and distress."
Like Lamothe, Martelly has said he opposes evictions but they've continued anyway. Residents of settlements and housing advocates have accused city officials and police officers of violently dismantling the tarp-like structures and evicting people.
Amnesty last week called for an investigation into the alleged police beating of a Haitian man who was protesting an arson attack in a camp under the threat of eviction.
The International Organization of Migration reported last week that 6 percent of the estimated 27,230 Haitians who have left camps this year came as the result of evictions. It didn't give a reason for the evictions, but some landlords and city officials have kicked people off public and private property to reclaim the land.
That group's report said 320,050 people remain in the settlements. This marks a 79 percent drop since the number of people living in the tent camps peaked at 1.5 million.