Finance ministers from the G7 Industrialized Nations have pledged to forgive some $1.2 billion in debt owed by Haiti following last month’s devastating earthquake. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made the announcement during a two-day G7 meeting in the Canadian Arctic town of Iqaluit.
Jim Flaherty, Canadian Finance Minister: "We are committed in the G7 to the forgiveness of debt. In fact, all bilateral debt has been forgiven by G7 countries vis-à-vis Haiti. The debt to multi-natural — multilateral institutions should be forgiven, and we’ll work with these institutions and other partners to make this happen as soon as possible. And we discussed the long-term reconstruction assistance that Haiti will need as it emerges from the current, urgent situation as a result of the earthquake."
In Haiti some one million people remain homeless following the January 12 quake. International aid organizations have begun providing temporary housing supplies, but the aid is reaching just a fraction of the homeless population. Over the weekend, Doctors Without Borders handed out 1,800 tents. Last week, the United Nations said that more than 10,000 family-sized tents had been distributed. The United Nations estimates that 460,000 people remain in makeshift camps throughout Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, medical officials said clinics are still overrun with patients, and doctors are seeing an increase in infectious diseases.
Jean William Pape, head of the GHESKIO clinic in Port-Au-Prince: "We are seeing less acute cases, less trauma cases, but we are starting to see more cases linked to infectious problems, complications of cases that were operated on, as well as waterborne infectious diseases, such as infectious diarrhea."
In economic news, the latest employment figures show another 20,000 jobs were eliminated in January. Despite this, the nation’s official unemployment rate fell last month from ten percent to 9.7 percent. Labor economists have put the real unemployment rate at 16.7 percent when factoring in the underemployed and those who have stopped trying to find work. President Obama said the latest job report is encouraging.
President Obama: "Now, these numbers, while positive, are a cause for hope, but not celebration, because far too many of our neighbors and friends and family are still out of work. We can’t be satisfied when another 20,000 have joined the ranks and millions more Americans are underemployed, picking up what work they can."
Goldman Sachs has announced its chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, received a stock-based bonus of $9 million for 2009. The value of the bonus could soar if the stock value of Goldman Sachs continues to rise. The company posted a record $13.4 billion profit in 2009. Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase, has received a $17 million bonus. And Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman has received an $11 million bonus.
The New York Times is reporting US regulators are investigating whether the mortgage insurance market was improperly distressed in 2008 because of payment demands that Goldman Sachs and other banks made on AIG prior to the company’s collapse. The Times also reveals Goldman Sachs made more money off the taxpayer bailout of AIG than has been previously acknowledged. In addition to the nearly $13 billion of the AIG bailout that was directly funneled to Goldman, Goldman received a portion of the $11 billion that went to the French bank SocGen.
In news from Latin America, Laura Chinchilla is set to become Costa Rica’s first female president. She won Sunday’s election in a landslide.
Laura Chinchilla: "Costa Rica is my beloved fatherland. I defend her, I love her, I adore her, and I give my life to her."
Laura Chinchilla is seen as a protégé of Costa Rica’s outgoing president Oscar Arias, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Chinchilla promised to pursue the same economic policies of Arias that recently brought the country into a trade pact with the US and opened commerce with China.
In news from the occupied West Bank, Israeli security forces arrested two activists with the International Solidarity Movement on Sunday in an early morning raid. Israeli officials claimed Ariadna Jové of Spain and Bridgette Chappell of Australia had been involved in "illegal riots that interfered with Israeli security operations." Over the past few months, Israel has arrested and detained a number of nonviolent activists in the West Bank who have taken part in the weekly protests against the Israeli separation wall.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports the Israeli government has barred the Palestinian geographer Khalil Tafakji from traveling abroad for six months. For years, Tafakji has been researching Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank and the ways by which Palestinian land is taken over. He heads the cartography department of the Arab Studies Society.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Sunday Iran plans to build ten new uranium enrichment facilities during the next year. The move is expected to further raise tension with the West. The Iranian official, Ali Akbar Salehi, also said Iran would start producing uranium enriched to a level of 20 percent on Tuesday, in the presence of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. But Salehi also suggested production would be halted if Iran received fuel enriched to 20 percent from abroad.
At least five workers died Sunday in a massive explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems natural gas power plant in Middletown, Connecticut. The explosion destroyed the plant and could be felt up to thirty miles away. Rescue workers are still searching for workers who remain unaccounted for. The explosion occurred while workers cleared the plant’s natural gas piping system. Just three days before the blast, the federal Chemical Safety Board recommended changing national fuel gas codes to improve safety when gas pipes are being cleared in light of a deadly natural gas explosion at the ConAgra Slim Jim production plant in North Carolina last June.
Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu won Saturday’s mayoral election in New Orleans. Facing ten opponents, Landrieu won 66 percent of the vote. He becomes the city’s first white mayor in over three decades. He’s the son of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu and the brother of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.
Canadian border officials have blocked a young Chicago radio journalist from entering the country because he was planning to spend a week documenting protests around the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Martin Macias is a freelance reporter who was active in Chicago’s campaign against the 2016 Olympic bid. Macias told the Vancouver Media Co-op that Canadian border officials repeatedly questioned him about the upcoming anti-Olympic conference organized by the Olympic Resistance Network.
Martin Macias: "They wanted to know about the conference. They wanted to know about any kind of protest that I knew about. They wanted me to tell them about the organizers of the conference and what their numbers, phone numbers, were. They asked me why I was there, and I tried to establish that I was there as a radio journalist to talk to some people from the conference, residents of Vancouver who are outspoken about the Games or against the Games."
Martin Macias is not the first American to be stopped at the Canadian border and questioned about the Olympics. In November, two of my colleagues and I were detained at the border by Canadian authorities while I was on my way to speak at the Vancouver Public Library. The guards searched our car, papers and laptop computers, and questioned me about whether I was going to speak about the Olympics. See related story