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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Panama Seeks Disposal of U.S. Chemical Weapons

Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Núñez Fábrega has announced that he has “a firm commitment from the United States” to clean up abandoned chemical weapons the U.S. left when it ceased occupying the small Latin American country in 1999. From 1945 until 1999, the U.S. maintained chemical weapons stores on various bases in Panama, and used a number of Panamanian islands for testing of those munitions before using them in conflicts with Japan and Vietnam. The U.S. is a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and when United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, it declared it had not abandoned chemical weapons in any other nation’s territory. But a number of deaths have been attributed to the derelict munitions, left in hidden caches throughout Panama, in the intervening years.

In 2003, the U.S. offered to fund and train a Panamanian work force to deal with the unexploded ordnance and containers of what are believed to be mustard and phosgene, among other toxic chemicals, in exchange for a “quit-claim” provision exonerating the U.S. government of liability. But then foreign minister Jose Miguel Aleman explained, “It was not acceptable to us because it did not comply with the OPCW treaty, which says that any nation that abandons chemical weapons is responsible for cleaning up those weapons.”

Boston Bus Driver’s Strike

More than 33,000 children were left to find their own way to school this morning when Boston Public Schools bus drivers went on an abrupt strike. The drivers in United Steelworkers Local 8751 have been unsuccessful in their negotiations with Veolia, the private company that is contracted by the state to provide transportation to school children. Members of the Local 8751 cited unilateral changes in their contracts with Veolia as well as disorganization and irregularities in their pay. While various politicians expressed outrage, others suggested the bus drivers were justified in their wildcat protest. Boston’s drivers are the fourth group of drivers that have gone on strike against Veolia in this year alone. City officials and national Steelworkers union officials have urged the drivers back to work tomorrow, but when local 8751 president Dumond Louis asked the workers to go back to work this afternoon, he was greeted with boos and shouts of “No!”

Haitians Sue U.N.

Advocates for the thousands of Haitians afflicted by cholera have filed a suit against the United Nations with the Federal District Court in Manhattan today, in a bid to pressure the international organization into accepting culpability for introducing the deadly sickness to the small island of Hispaniola. Prior to the Haiti earthquake of 2010, the bacteria was unknown on the island but since U.N peacekeepers arrived, more than 8,300 Haitians have died from cholera, while over 650,000 have taken ill.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School believe they have traced the specific strain of the cholera bacteria back to Nepal, and that it was carried to Hispaniola by Nepalese soldiers who came to Haiti to serve as U.N. peacekeepers. “What scares me is that the strain from South Asia has been recognized as more virulent, more capable of causing severe disease, and more transmissible,” said John Mekalanos from Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School. “These strains are nasty. So far there has been no secondary outbreak. But Haiti now represents a foothold for a particularly dangerous variety of this deadly disease.” Cases of cholera brought on by the Nepalese strain have been found in the United States, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic.

Fighters Clash in CAR

At least 30 are dead after fighters from a vigilante civil protection group clashed with Séléka rebels in the Garga village of the Central African Republic. Since President Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia’s supporters ousted François Bozizé Yangouvonda in March, the country has been rife with conflict. Djotodia’s militia was ostensibly absorbed into the national army, but accounts from locals suggest that Séléka is still very much engaged in attacking villages loyal to Former president Bozizé. A number of local protection forces have risen up to engage with the marauders.

Citing the simmering conflict’s potential to expand into a renewed civil war, diplomats at the U.N. are attempting to pass a resolution that will see roughly 3,500 African Union or United Nations peacekeepers deployed to CAR.

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