July 23, 2010

  • Voters in Burundi elect national assembly amidst boycott, claims of fraud
  • Sex workers say discriminatory policies block key funding in fight against HIV/AIDS
  • BP technician says warning system on rig was silenced before explosion
  • Democrats postpone action on climate change bill
  • US renews ties to Indonesia special forces with record of human rights abuses
  • Botswana court denies Bushmen access to water on traditional lands

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DADT opponent Lt.  Dan Choi given honorable discharge
The country’s most outspoken critic of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy says he has been given an honorable discharge from the Army National Guard.  Lt. Dan Choi is the West Point grad and Arab linguist who came out on national television in 2009.  Choi said he learned of the discharge from his commanding officer this week, but ABC news reports the discharge orders officially came at the end of June.


Charlie Rangel ethics hearing scheduled
The House Ethics Committee will begin hearings next Thursday concerning alleged ethics violations of long-time Democratic New York Representative Charlie Rangel.  After 18 months, an investigative subcommittee found there was enough evidence to go to committee hearing.  Rangel has been criticized for raising money for a private venture using official congressional letterhead and a failure to disclose about a half million dollars in assets.  The Congressmember spoke to reporters yesterday, saying he’s been pushing for a trial.

“So I don’t feel badly.  Why would I feel bad, when I’ve asked them for 2 years.  So this is it.  And it’s what I’ve been waiting for and we’ll see what happens.”

Rangel stepped down from his position as Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee in spring after the ethics panel found he accepted travel from corporate interests.


Feinberg won’t ask bailout firms to return executive compensation
Today, Kenneth Feinberg, the White House’s so-called “pay czar” said the government wouldn’t ask 17 financial firms to return executive payouts they made while receiving bailout funds.  He said the $1.6 billion in bonuses were technically legal at the time, because Congress had not yet enacted restrictions on compensation.


UK oil trader Trafigura fined for toxics dumping in Ivory Coast
Controversial UK-based oil trader Trafigura was today fined 1.3 million dollars for illegally exporting tons of hazardous waste to West Africa.  From London, FSRN’s Naomi Fowler reports:

Back in 2006, over 30,000 Africans were made ill and an unknown number died when toxic waste was dumped in densely populated areas of Ivory Coast.  Last year after a civil action, Trafigura was forced to pay compensation to thousands of Africans who needed medical treatment.  However, they refused to admit legal liability and used English libel laws to stop reporting on the case.  Today, they’ve been convicted on criminal charges.

The court found that when Trafigura originally tried to unload the waste from a ship in Amsterdam, they deliberately concealed its dangerous nature.  When local residents there complained about the smell and the company hired to dispose of the waste asked for more money, Trafigura pumped the toxic waste back on board.  They then headed straight for the West African coast, simply dumping it in different parts of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city.

Trafigura’s lawyers say they’re considering an appeal.  Naomi Fowler, FSRN, London.

Mexican electric workers end hunger strike
A group of hunger strikers in Mexico have ended their nearly three-month protest today, after two of strikers became critically ill.  The protesters are former union employees of the state run utility Luz y Fuerza.  Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderon, closed down the utility last fall, putting 44,000 people out of work and effectively destroying the country’s oldest union.


Venezuela and Colombia break diplomatic ties
Tensions between Colombia and Venezuela have been building over the past years.  And now the Venezuelan government says it will sever diplomatic ties after Colombia accused it of harboring guerrillas.  For FSRN, Laura Del Castillo reports.

At a meeting of the Organization of American State, Colombia’s diplomat used satellite photos, videos and maps to show alleged camps of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombian and National Liberation Army.  But the official did not present any evidence of actual collaboration between the Colombian rebels and the Venezuelan army.

In response, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on Thursday denied the accusations and announced the severing of ties.  He also announced increased military presence along the border.  Chavez did leave open the possibility of lowering tensions after August 7, when Colombian president-elect Juan Manuel Santos takes office.

The US State Department has taken Colombia’s side, stating that Venezuela has a duty to stop terrorist groups from using its territory.  Adding to the tension, the US has recently entered an agreement with Colombia to increase US military presence there, a move Venezuela sees as a threat.  While no one denies that the FARC and ELN have a strong presence in Venezuela, these groups are also known to operate in Panama, Ecuador and Peru as well.  Laura Del Castillo, FSRN.



Voters in Burundi elect national assembly amidst boycott, claims of fraud
Voters went to polling stations across Burundi today to choose members of the country’s national assembly. Zack Baddorf reports from Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, about claims of “massive fraud” and the potential security threat after the deadly al Shabaab attack in Uganda.


Sex workers say discriminatory policies block key funding in fight against HIV/AIDS
In Vienna, the International AIDS Conference closes today. Throughout the week, sex workers from around the world have raised the issue of discriminatory policies that lead to the ongoing spread of HIV. Groups say one of the main obstacles is PEPFAR – the US initiative that funds HIV/AIDS programs. FSRN’s Shuk-Wah Chung has this report.


BP technician says warning system on rig was silenced before explosion
A key alarm on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig never went off on April 20 because it was set to bypass, essentially silencing the rig’s main warning system. That’s according to testimony today by a chief electronics technician on the rig. Mike Williams told a joint investigation hearing looking into causes of the fatal explosion that he discovered that the alarm had been turned to bypass five weeks before the explosion, but when he questioned supervisors they told him that the top official on the rig had ordered the alarm to be “inhibited.”

Meanwhile, Admiral Thad Allen said today that equipment and vessels are ready to move away from the site of the oil spill, to prepare for a tropical storm that could hit the region as early as Saturday morning.

“The intention right now is to put the vessels in a safe place so they can return as quickly as possible to resume their operations. This is not a hurricane this a tropical storm right now, which means the winds are somewhere between 39 and 75 miles an hour. I think right now the forecasts are in the low 40s.”

After the storm, Allen said the priority would be to continue work on the well. A cap on the well will remain and the process of permanently sealing the well could resume after the vessels and equipment return.


Democrats postpone action on climate change bill
Senate Democrats announced they’re shelving a comprehensive climate change bill – at least for now. It leaves future action on the measure in doubt. Matt Laslo reports from Washington.


US renews ties to Indonesia special forces with record of human rights abuses
The US military announced it is re-establishing ties with Kopassus – a unit of Indonesia special forces that operated during the genocide in East Timor and in crackdowns in Aceh. Human rights activists are condemning the move, saying it’s still the same, deadly Kopassus – and the U.S. is failing to hold the unit accountable.  Tanya Snyder reports.


Botswana court denies Bushmen access to water on traditional lands
The indigenous people of Botswana may appeal a court ruling that denies them access to water on traditional lands. On Wednesday, Botswana’s high court ruled that the Kalahari Bushmen, also known as the San, or Khwe and seen as southern Africa’s oldest inhabitants – are not entitled to access water or drill a new well inside land that the government converted to a game preserve. Meanwhile, tourism and diamond mining continue in the area. It’s the latest in an ongoing battle in this landlocked country that shares South Africa’s northern border – and it’s being watched as a key fight for indigenous rights in the area.

To hear more on the case, we’re joined by Tess Thackara, US coordinator with Survival International, an international organization that advocates for indigenous rights and has been involved in the case.