Ecuador’s paraplegic presidential candidate stirs hope for disabled

Lenin Moreno, right, presidential candidate from the ruling PAIS Alliance party, greets a supporter during a campaign rally along the streets in Babahoyo, Ecuador. (Reuters)
Updated 19 February 2017
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Ecuador’s paraplegic presidential candidate stirs hope for disabled

QUITO: An aide wheels out Ecuador’s presidential candidate Lenin Moreno, who lost the use of his legs two decades ago, to a stage in a working-class area of the mountainous capital Quito.
Behind him, a woman rapidly translates into sign language his promises of benefits for single mothers and retirees. Rows of wheelchair-bound supporters around the podium cheer on the leftist politician.
Moreno, 63, became paraplegic after being shot in the back during a robbery in 1998. He has put disability at the center of his campaign to be elected president of the poor Andean country on Sunday.
The former vice president and UN envoy on disability has vowed to further boost jobs and social benefits for disabled Ecuadoreans.
If he wins, he would be a rare wheelchair-bound head of state and one of the highest-profile disabled leaders since former US President Franklin Roosevelt, who had to use a wheelchair because of polio and died in 1945.
During Moreno’s 2007-2013 tenure as vice president, he helped build a database of disabled people so that they could receive medical treatment tailored to their needs, provided a monthly stipend of $240 for families who take care of a disabled relative, and created a loan program for disabled entrepreneurs in the country of 16 million.
For Ecuador’s estimated 400,000 people with physical, mental, auditive, or visual disabilities, Moreno is nothing short of a hero.
“He opened the door for us and he keeps opening doors for us,” said Gina Ruiz, a 52-year-old supporter who attended Moreno’s closing rally in southern Quito on Wednesday night.
Ruiz was forced to retire from her job as a teacher because polio eventually left her unable to walk. But thanks to a loan for disabled people, she opened a taxi company that now employs 20 people.
“Now the rest of my compatriots will have these opportunities too,” said Ruiz, beaming from her wheelchair as music and fireworks filled the air and Moreno was whisked away into a car after his speech.
Born in the Ecuadorean Amazon to left-wing teachers, Moreno had a long and difficult recovery process after thieves attacked him while he was out with his wife buying bread. He then chose to “continue living,” according to an official biography, and went on to write a half-dozen motivational books, including one called “Laugh, Don’t be Illinois.”
“I extend this dark hand, tanned by the sun, a little calloused because of these wheels, but sincere and honest,” Moreno told a crowd of supporters on Thursday.
Moreno’s opponents avoid criticizing his popular pro-disability projects or voicing potential concerns about his health.
But the main opposition candidate, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso, warns Moreno’s promises are untenable in the midst of a recession, low oil prices and high debt. Opponents also criticized the government for paying Moreno’s expenses during his time at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Mr. Moreno is a man with no leadership, no personal initiative, no knowledge of the economy, who pretends to fool Ecuadoreans with his soft voice,” Lasso said in an interview in his hot and humid coastal hometown of Guayaquil this week.
Polls suggest Moreno will edge out Lasso in Sunday’s vote, but he may not pocket enough votes to avoid an April runoff.
Much of the middle class in this country that exports oil, shrimp, bananas and flowers feel their own opportunities have shrunk during a decade-long leftist rule that has put emphasis on the poor.
“Disabled people have rights, but they are not the only ones,” said physiotherapist Christopher Aulestia, 25, who attended a rally to support Lasso in Guayaquil on Thursday.
“The middle class has been affected by so many taxes, it is difficult for us to contribute the way we used to,” he said, adding that he also doubted Moreno would follow through on his promises.
In the meantime, Moreno can bank on a 2013 policy that allows nearly 900 disabled and elderly people to vote from home.
“This is wonderful. It is mutual help, I am very happy,” said 85-year-old Laura Vasquez, who cannot walk and had not voted in seven years, speaking from her bed below a painting of Jesus Christ after casting her vote on Friday.


Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

In this Wednesday, March 20, 2019 file photo, a woman prays at the Potocari memorial center for victims of the Srebrenica genocide, in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (AP)
Updated 20 July 2019
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Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

  • The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II

THE HAGUE: The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday slashed the state’s liability for 350 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, saying peacekeepers had only a “slim” chance of preventing their deaths.
The 350 men were among 5,000 terrified residents who had sought safety in the Dutch peacekeepers’ base when the besieged Muslim enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.
The lightly armed Dutch troops eventually became overwhelmed and shut the gates to new arrivals before allowing Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic to evacuate the refugees.
The men and boys were separated and taken in buses to their deaths, their bodies dumped in mass graves.
Judges, however, on Friday reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent the Dutch state’s responsibility for compensation to the families in a case brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica victims’ organization.
The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II and the darkest episode in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
“The Dutch State bears very limited liability in the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ case,” the Supreme Court said. “That liability is limited to 10 percent of the damages suffered by the surviving relatives of approximately 350 victims.”

After the ruling, Mothers’ president Munira Subasic, who lost family members including her son, husband and father in the massacre, expressed disappointment.
“Today we experienced humiliation upon humiliation. We could not even hear the judgment in our own language because we were not given a translator,” she told AFP.
At Srebrenica “every life was taken away 100 percent. There is little we can do with 10 percent, but yes, the responsibility still lies where it does.”
“I only have two bones. I have found less than 10 percent of his body,” she added, referring to her teenage son.
The Dutch government accepted responsibility, saying it was relieved that “finally there was some clarity.”
A Dutch court originally held the state liable for compensation in 2014. In 2017 the appeals court upheld that decision before it was referred to the Supreme Court.
The lower court had said in 2017 that the Dutch actions meant the Muslims were “denied a 30 percent chance of avoiding abuse and execution,” and thus the Dutch state was liable for 30 percent of damages owed to families.
The Supreme Court agreed that “the state did act wrongfully in relation to the evacuation of the 5,000 refugees” in the compound, including 350 Muslim men the Bosnian Serbs were unaware of.
It said the Dutch peacekeepers “failed to offer these 350 male refugees the choice to stay where they were, even though that would have been possible.”
But explaining the decision to reduce the liability, the Supreme Court said that “the chance that the male refugees would have escaped the Bosnian Serbs had they been given the choice to stay was slim, but not negligible.”
Reacting to the ruling, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said in a statement the cabinet would “examine how to best implement the liability for damages suffered by the relatives in such a way it does justice to the Supreme Court ruling.”

In a swipe at the failure of other foreign powers to act during the 1995 crisis, the top court added that the “chance of Dutchbat (the Dutch UN mission) receiving effective support from the international community was slim.”
Former Dutchbat soldiers attending the case said they were disappointed on behalf of the victims’ families.
“I think the final judgment is a bit disappointing, especially when you see the court ruling of 30 percent and now it’s downgraded to 10 percent,” said Remko de Bruijne, a former Dutch blue helmet who served at Srebrenica.
“I think that’s not fair for the Mothers of Srebrenica but, on the other hand, now it’s clear,” he told AFP.
Srebrenica has cast a long shadow over The Netherlands, forcing a the government to resign in 2002 after a scathing report on the role of politicians in the episode.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is currently serving a life sentence in jail in The Hague after being convicted of genocide over Srebrenica and war crimes throughout the 1990s.
Ex-military chief Mladic, 76, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges at an international tribunal in The Hague.
Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic’s long-time patron during the war, was on trial in The Hague at the time of his death in 2006.