Hundreds Protest in Cape Haitian Ahead of Moise Funeral

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, on the eve of slain President Jovenel Moise’s national funeral to be held there Friday.The day began with a special mass in honor of Moise, attended by members of the president’s PHTK political party. Immediately afterward, protesters wearing white in a sign of mourning marched through the streets chanting, “Justice!””We are saying there must be justice for President Moise,” a protester wearing a Haitian flag bandana on his head told VOA Creole. An investigation into Moise’s death has already resulted in more than 20 arrests.Other protesters yelled slogans against opposition politicians and wealthy Haitians, whom they blame for the assassination.A band played traditional rara music while marching alongside protesters. The demonstration ended at the Vertières historical site, located to the south of Cape Haitian, where one of the most decisive battles of the Haitian Revolution was fought in 1803.In some parts of the Caribbean nation’s second-largest city, tires were seen burning in the streets. VOA Creole’s reporter in Port-au-Prince, who traveled Thursday to Cap-Haitien, said she saw a group of people trying to set fire to a bridge. Police rushed to the scene to stop them, she said. The main highway to the north was jammed with cars, the reporter said.Extra security measures are in place as the city prepares to host an A-list of Haitian government officials, foreign officials, diplomats and ordinary citizens for Moise’s funeral on Friday.Moise was assassinated inside his private residence in a wealthy suburb of the Haitian capital in the pre-dawn hours of July 7. His wife, Martine Moise, was injured during the attack and was transferred to a Miami, Florida, hospital for treatment. The first lady returned to Haiti last weekend to help plan and attend her husband’s funeral.New US Haiti envoyMeanwhile in Washington, the U.S. State Department announced the appointment of a new envoy to Haiti. Ambassador Daniel Foote is a career Foreign Service officer whose experience as a diplomat includes serving as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince twice. He also served as U.S. ambassador to Zambia under the Trump administration.A State Department statement emailed to VOA says Foote will work with the U.S. ambassador to “lead U.S. diplomatic efforts and coordinate the effort of U.S. federal agencies in Haiti from Washington, advise the secretary and acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and coordinate closely with the National Security Council staff on the administration’s efforts to support the Haitian people and Haiti’s democratic institutions in the aftermath of the tragic assassination of Jovenel Moise.”U.S. Representative Albio Sires applauded the appointment in a message posted on Twitter.I welcome the Biden admin’s naming of Daniel Foote as special envoy for #Haiti. It’s a positive step toward supporting the Haitian people in restoring their democracy. https://t.co/lpJTxs6iog— Albio Sires (@RepSires) July 22, 2021“I welcome the Biden admin’s naming of Daniel Foote as special envoy for #Haiti. It’s a positive step toward supporting the Haitian people in restoring their democracy,” Sires said.It is unclear when Foote will arrive in Haiti, but earlier this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the U.S. would send a delegation to attend Moise’s funeral. She did not specify who would be part of the delegation.Washington diaspora honor MoiseAt the Haitian Embassy in Washington, Haitian Americans and foreign dignitaries gathered for a somber ceremony honoring Moise. Among the diplomats present was former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten. He declined to comment to VOA on the event.During the well-choreographed program featuring a slideshow of Moise, poetry, prayers and music, Haitian Ambassador Bocchit Edmond recounted highlights of Moise’s political career in French and English. He also criticized The New York Times for reporting that Moise was seeking a third term. Haiti’s constitution bars heads of state from seeking successive terms.”They killed the president but not his dream,” Edmond said.Members of the Haitian diaspora who spoke to VOA after the program expressed sadness and regret about not being in Haiti for the funeral.”No matter where we are living in the world, we can come together in support of an event like this,” Jean Junior Morisett told VOA. “I would personally love to travel to Haiti to attend the funeral, but unfortunately, I’m unable to. So, I’m participating in this event in honor of the president.”Marie Rachelle Volcy, a member of a musical group that sang during the memorial service, said the people of Haiti should know they are in the thoughts and prayers of the diaspora.”You’re not alone. We don’t know where we are heading, we know how this started. Although we are not physically by your side, we do share the burden of having lost a fellow Haitian who was a child of Haiti,” Volcy said. “We will continue to pray and work together toward peace.” 

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Iran Water Shortage Protests Result in 3rd Death, Extend Into 7th Day 

Water shortage protests in drought-plagued southwestern Iran appear to have spread to more cities and resulted in what authorities say is a third fatality as the unrest extended into a seventh day.

Videos posted to social media appeared to show street protests on Wednesday in several parts of Khuzestan province, including the capital, Ahvaz, and the cities of Behbahan, Dezful, Izeh, Masjed Soleyman, Ramshir and Susangerd.

In one clip said to be from Izeh, security forces appeared to fire tear gas at protesters. In another clip said to be from Masjed Soleyman, demonstrators chanted, ”Police, support us,” a reference to local concerns about security forces cracking down harshly on earlier rallies.

Other social media videos appeared to show Iranians in the city of  Yazdenshahr, in neighboring Isfahan province, rallying in support of the Khuzestan protesters. The Isfahan rally would be the first such protest in the province since the daily protests began in Khuzestan last Thursday and evolved into the widest and most sustained disturbances Iran has seen in months.

VOA could not independently verify the videos said to be from Khuzestan and Isfahan. Iran has barred VOA from reporting inside the country.

In another development, Iranian state-approved news site ILNA  quoted the top official of Izeh city in Khuzestan, Hassan Nabouti, as reporting the death of one person in local protests against water shortages on Tuesday.

Nabouti said the person was wounded in the protests, taken to a hospital by a private car and was pronounced dead. Nabouti said an investigation was under way to identify the attacker and added that 14 security personnel were hurt in the protests. 

Another Iranian state news agency, Fars, identified the fatality as a young man named Hadi Bahmani.

Social media users posted video on Thursday purporting to show Bahmani’s burial on the outskirts of Izeh. They said he was a 17-year-old construction worker.

Iranian state media previously reported the killings of two men by gunfire during demonstrations last Friday.

Social media videos that appeared to be from Tuesday’s protests in Izeh but that could not be verified by VOA showed protesters chanting ”Death to Khamenei” and ”Reza Shah, bless your soul.” Gunshots were also heard in those videos.

“Death to Khamenei” has been a common refrain of Iranian anti-government protesters angered by the authoritarian rule of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in recent years. 

“Reza Shah, bless your soul” also has been uttered in previous waves of Iranian street protests as a sign of affection toward the founder of the nation’s former monarchy, Reza Shah. Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ousted Reza Shah’s son from power in Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Digital communication with the Iranian protest regions remained difficult. London-based internet monitoring group NetBlocks said there had been a “significant regional disruption to mobile internet service in Iran” since the water shortage protests began one week ago.

“Cellular data analysis metrics corroborate widespread user reports of cellular network disruptions, consistent with a regional internet shutdown intended to control protests,” Netblocks said in an online statement. 

Iranian state-approved news agency ISNA  said President Hassan Rouhani told Khuzestan’s provincial governor in a Thursday phone call that authorities must listen to and respect the rights of protesters who have suffered from drought and extreme heat. ISNA said Rouhani also had ordered First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri to visit Khuzestan on Friday to investigate the situation there.

In a Wednesday press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was closely following  the Khuzestan protests, ”including reports that security forces have fired on protesters.” 

“We support the rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and to express themselves. Iranians, just like any other people, should enjoy those rights without fear of violence, without fear of arbitrary detention by security forces,” Price said.

Iran’s water shortages are partly the result of weather-related factors, including a sharp drop in rainfall, which has been more than 40% below last year’s levels in recent months, and high summer temperatures.

Experts say decades of Iranian government mismanagement also have fueled the drought. They blame authorities’ poorly considered placement and construction of hydroelectric dams and the diversion of water from Khuzestan’s rivers and wetlands to industrial sites in neighboring regions, practices that have dried up sources of drinking and agricultural water for the province’s residents.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service . Click here  and here  to read the original Persian versions of this story.

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Biden Condemns Cuba for Crackdown on Freedom Protesters 

U.S. President Joe Biden assailed the Cuban government Thursday for its crackdown on freedom protesters on the island nation and imposed sanctions on the head of the Cuban military and the internal security division that led the attacks on demonstrators.“I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out in an effort to intimidate and threaten the Cuban people into silence,” Biden said in announcing the sanctions.”The Cuban people have the same right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as all people,” Biden said. “The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime.”Biden’s rebuke of Cuba’s actions is an about-face for him. He had promised to try to ease relations with the country that is a mere 145 kilometers from the U.S. coastal state of Florida after former President Donald Trump had taken a tough stance against Cuba.The sanctions targeted Alvaro Lopez Miera, the Cuban minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, and the Cuban Ministry of the Interior’s Special National Brigade, also known as the Black Berets.The sanctions, imposed under the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act, freeze any of the Cubans’ assets under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit travel to the U.S. As a practical effect, the action serves to publicly name and shame Cuban officials for the crackdown.U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined Biden in condemning the Cuban government’s response to the protests that started July 11. Hundreds of dissidents have been arrested in the most significant demonstrations in Cuba in decades. Many of the protesters remain out of touch with family members.“The actions of the Cuban security forces,” Blinken said, “lay bare the regime’s fear of its own people and unwillingness to meet their basic needs and aspirations.”He said Lopez Miera and the Special National Brigade “have been involved in suppressing the protests, including through physical violation and intimidation.”Biden said Thursday’s sanctions and condemnation of the government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel were “just the beginning – the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.”“As we hold the Cuban regime accountable,” Biden said, “our support for the Cuban people is unwavering, and we are making sure Cuban Americans are a vital partner in our efforts to provide relief to suffering people on the island.”The U.S. leader said his administration is “working with civil society organizations and the private sector to provide internet access to the Cuban people that circumvents the regime’s censorship efforts.”In addition, Biden said the U.S. is reviewing its cash remittance policy to prevent theft of the money by Cuban officials. Expatriates have reported sending money to relatives in Cuba only to find that the government has pilfered it.Biden said the U.S. is committed to increasing the size of its embassy staff in Havana to provide consular services to Cubans after all but 10 U.S. diplomats there were withdrawn in 2017 and 2018. Numerous envoys in Havana had complained of sonic attacks that left them physically impaired.“Advancing human dignity and freedom is a top priority for my administration, and we will work closely with our partners throughout the region, including the Organization of American States, to pressure the regime to immediately release wrongfully detained political prisoners, restore internet access, and allow the Cuban people to enjoy their fundamental rights,” Biden said.

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How Social Media Gave Cuban Protesters a Voice

When thousands of Cubans took to the streets to protest this month, their calls for freedom and an end of “the dictatorship” were heard across the world, thanks to the rise in social media.In the town of San Antonio de los Baños, 20 kilometers southwest of the capital, Havana, residents gathered on July 11 to protest the shortage of basic products and medicine. Their calls were shared via Facebook Live in broadcasts known on the island as “direct.”The images revealed an unprecedented crowd, replicated in at least 20 towns and cities throughout the island.But by about 4 p.m., the broadcasts suddenly came to an end in several areas, due to internet service restrictions and selective blocking of some networks.FILE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at Orlando Regional Medical Center, June 23, 2020, in Orlando, Fla.The partial interruptions led Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to request that President Joe Biden’s administration support efforts to maintain internet service in Cuba with the use of wi-fi balloons, The Associated Press reported.Andrés Cañizález, a Venezuelan journalist and managing director of Medianálisis, a nonprofit that promotes and supports media, believes frustration at Cuba’s socio-economic situation has been “heating up” in recent months, in part because of comments shared via social media by youths and artists.“What we have seen now was unpredictable in Cuba, it was an outbreak, but expressions of rejection of the dictatorship on social media can connect with the Arab Spring,” Cañizález told VOA in an interview, referring to the movement demanding democracy and greater rights across several countries in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011.“Once the first demonstrations are seen on the streets, it has a multiplier effect on a jaded population,” Cañizález added.Cañizález, who previously lived in Cuba, cited the title of a book by the Czech author Václav Havel to describe the impact of social media on the protests.”For me, social media is ‘The power of the powerless.’ They are catalysts. It is the possibility that ordinary people or activists who do not have a cannon, a newspaper or a news channel, can demonstrate, connect, speak with others and express their rejection of what they are living. That’s key,” he said.Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel visits with residents after arriving in Caimanera, Cuba, Nov. 14, 2019.Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has denounced the protests, saying they involved “vulgar” behavior by protesters who attacked police.Cuban authorities have said that some protesters “had legitimate dissatisfactions” but blamed the protests on U.S.-financed “counter-revolutionaries” exploiting economic hardship caused by U.S. sanctions, Reuters reported.Hundreds of protesters and opposition figures have been arrested, rights groups say. At least 47 are journalists, according to the Cuban Institute for the Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP), an organization that supports opposition media on the island. Journalists who spoke with VOA this week say police attempted to intimidate them in custody, or that security guards had been positioned outside their homes. One journalist, Juan Manuel Moreno Borrego with the local news website Amanecer Habanero, was detained briefly Thursday while covering protests, ICLEP says.FILE – Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., takes notes during a Senate Judiciary Hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2021.Daily unique users of Psiphon increased significantly since the protests, said Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn.“What it does is to allow people that are in a country where the government has cut off the internet, trying to isolate people and keep them from communicating, they can use this technology so that they can still communicate,” Blackburn told VOA, which is also part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media.“As of (July 14) we had over a quarter million Cubans that were using this in their fight for democracy, their fight for freedom, their fight to get food and water and electricity and jobs,” Blackburn added.She pointed to the video footage and interviews coming out of Cuba as an example of the importance of such tools.Journalist Díaz told VOA that restrictions on internet connectivity are a common characteristic of dictatorships, such as Cuba, China, Russia, Belarus and some countries in the Middle East.He said the worst restrictions are in Venezuela, which has “the most blocked web pages, more people imprisoned by online opinions and with the greatest drop in connectivity in the region.”But even with those obstacles, citizens find ways to access information and document events.“People without internet can continue to record what happens. You can record, photograph, write, interview, document,” he said. “And then when the connection comes back, when someone reconnects, the information flows again.”Stopping that process is difficult in countries like Cuba or Venezuela, Díaz said, adding, “Hope is contagious.”Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.This report originated in VOA’s Spanish language service. 

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US Training of Foreign Militaries to Continue Despite Haiti Assassination

The United States will not reconsider the type of training it provides to foreign military members despite finding that seven of the 25 individuals arrested in the assassination of Haiti’s president were at one time trained by the U.S.

As VOA first reported, U.S. defense officials last week said that the seven received U.S. military training, both in the U.S. and in Colombia, between 2001 and 2015, when they were part of the Colombian military.

But Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Thursday there was nothing to tie that training to the alleged participation in the plot that killed Haitian President Jovenel Moise earlier this month.

“We know that these seven individuals got nothing certainly related, at all, or that one could extrapolate, as leading to or encouraging of what happened in Haiti,” Kirby told reporters during a press gaggle.

“I know of no plans right now as a result of what happened in Haiti for us to reconsider or to change this very valuable, ethical leadership training that we continue to provide to partners in the Western Hemisphere and to partners around the world,” he added.

While some of the training took place in Colombia, Pentagon officials say some of the Colombian nationals were trained at seminars in Washington. Some also took courses at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), based at Fort Benning in the southern U.S. state of Georgia.

WHINSEC, established in January 2001, replaced the School of the Americas, which came under heavy criticism in the early to mid-1990s after its graduates were implicated in human rights violations, including murders and disappearances, in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Honduras and Panama.

In an interview with VOA in April, WHINSEC Commandant Colonel John Dee Suggs said the new school was designed with a focus on human rights and ethics.

“There is a pretty rigorous review of people and their human rights history,” Suggs told VOA. “We will only train people who have the same human rights values that we have, who have the same democratic values that we have.”

“We’re not shooting anybody. We’re not teaching anybody to … go into a house and take these folks down,” he added.

Pentagon officials told VOA this week that the Colombians who trained at WHINSEC took courses in cadet leadership, professional development, counter-drug operations and small unit leader training.

“All WHINSEC courses include human rights and ethics training,” one official added.

Pentagon and State Department officials have previously said they are continuing to review their records to determine whether any other suspects received training from the U.S.

Haitian President Moise was shot and killed in the predawn hours of July 7 at his private residence in a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince.

Earlier this week, Haiti sworn in a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, as part of an attempt to stabilize the country following Moise’s death.

Haitian authorities say they are continuing to investigate Moise’s assassination.

Officials have accused Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor with ties to Florida, as being the plot’s mastermind.

Some information from AFP was used in this report.

 

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Canada To Have 30-40 Athletes at Friday’s Opening Ceremony

Canada may be sending one of their biggest Olympics teams to the Tokyo Games but only a small fraction will attend the opening ceremony, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said on Thursday.Around 30-40 athletes from the 370-strong team will be at Friday’s event in a largely empty Tokyo Olympic stadium, bar a few hundred officials.”Athletes are only arriving in the village five days before they compete,” the COC said in a news release. “This means that there are less athletes in the village and that most of them are on the verge of competing.”The focus of Team Canada remains on safety, performance, and adhering to the letter and spirit of the Tokyo 2020 playbooks.”Basketball player Miranda Ayim and rugby sevens co-captain Nathan Hirayama will be the flag bearers for Canada’s biggest Olympic team since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. 

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More Residents Flee as Fires Ravage Western Canada

Thousands of residents fled blazes in western Canada on Wednesday with several hundred soldiers scheduled to deploy to fight this year’s virulent and early fires, which are wreaking havoc across portions of western North America.”I have a holiday trailer that is my new home,” said Margo Wagner, head of a district in the western province of British Columbia, who has found herself among the evacuees.The fire marks the second time in four years that her home in the province’s central Canim Lake rural area has been threatened by a blaze.South of the border, a number of communities in the United States are being threatened by wildfires, creating conditions that are so extreme that the blazes have generated their own climate, according to experts.Nearly 80 huge fires are currently ravaging hundreds of thousands of hectares in California, Oregon, Montana and Nevada.The largest among these is still the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which has burned through a section of land the same size as the city of Los Angeles, in just two weeks.In neighboring California, several towns were evacuated as they faced rising flames from the Dixie Fire, a conflagration that may have been caused by a tree falling on Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) lines.Back in Canada, British Columbia declared a state of emergency on Monday, with more than 5,700 people under an evacuation order and more than 32,000 people under evacuation alert.”We did it in 2017 and we will do it again in 2021. Is it stressful? Is it scary? Absolutely it is,” Wagner said.Other neighboring areas are preparing for the worst since weather conditions — particularly wind and heat — are not expected to give 3,000 firefighters already fighting the blazes a break anytime soon.”I have been living here in Ashcroft for almost 25 years now and I have never seen anything like this before,” said Mayor Barbara Roden, whose municipality in the center of the province has been on high alert since July 14.”The most frightening thing in a lot of ways is that we’re all looking at the calendar and this is only halfway through July,” she said.Climate change amplifies droughts which dry out regions, creating ideal conditions for wildfires.The Canadian armed forces are preparing to deploy 350 additional troops to British Columbia and 120 to Manitoba, a central province also struggling with large fire outbreaks, according to the Canadian Joint Operations Command.In Ontario, some 75 military personnel are helping firefighters.   

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US Extends Closure of Land Borders with Canada, Mexico

The United States has extended the closure of land borders it shares with Canada and Mexico to non-essential travel through Aug. 21, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday.DHS extended the closures by 30 days after Canada said on Monday it would allow fully vaccinated visitors from the U.S. for non-essential travel beginning Aug. 9, ending a 16-month travel ban prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.The U.S. and Canada’s easing of travel restrictions comes as the delta variant spreads in parts of the U.S. where vaccination rates are relatively low, raising concern among U.S. health officials.DHS said it “is in constant contact with Canadian and Mexican counterparts to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably.”Businesses in the U.S. and Canada have pushed to have limits lifted on non-essential travel between the two countries that were imposed in March 2020. The U.S. has allowed Canadians to enter the country by air after first receiving a negative COVID-19 test, but Canada has not allowed travelers from the U.S. to do the same.The Biden administration created interagency working groups last month with Canada, Mexico, Britain and the European Union to study how to eventually lift border and travel restrictions.
 

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