In a surprise move, Cuban president Raúl Castro and US president Barack Obama announced in separate television appearances on Dec. 17 that their two countries were now working to renew diplomatic relations, which the US broke off nearly 54 years earlier, in January 1961, under former president Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961). The two countries were releasing a total of 58 prisoners in the agreement, officials said, and the US will loosen some restrictions on contacts with Cuba by US residents; however, the US government's 52-year-old embargo against trade with Cuba will remain in effect.
US president Barack Obama's Dec. 17 announcement that the US would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba was "an historic triumph for the society and the government of the island," the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada asserted in an editorial the next day. "[T]he hostility converted into Washington's government policy has arrived at its end—although the repeal of the blockade laws is still pending—and this occurred without Havana's having made any concession in its political and economic model." The paper added that the policy change demonstrated "the correctness of the position of the Latin American governments, which advocated for decades for an end to the official US hostility to Cuba." (LJ, Dec. 18)
On Dec. 17, less than a week after the Associated Press reported on a failed effort by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to co-opt Cuban hip-hop artists, agency administrator Rajiv Shah announced that he was leaving his post in February. Shah's announcement came the same day as news that the US was moving towards normalizing relations with Cuba and that the Cuban government had released imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross. Shah didn't give a reason for his resignation but said he had "mixed emotions." In a statement released that day US president Barack Obama said Shah, who has headed the USAID since December 2009, "has been at the center of my administration's efforts to advance our global development agenda." (AP, Dec. 17)
At least two Haitian protesters were wounded by gunfire and another apparently shot dead in two days of opposition demonstrations in Port-au-Prince Dec. 12 and 13; there were also protests in the northern cities of Cap-Haïtien and Gonaïves. The demonstrations, which drew thousands, came as the government of President Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky") was taking steps aimed at defusing a political crisis that has been building for several months.
Haitian president Michel Martelly announced on Nov. 28 that he was setting up an 11-member commission to make recommendations within eight days on how to break a deadlock holding up long-overdue partial legislative elections. Haiti hasn't had any elections since March 2011 runoffs from the 2010 elections. Elections were scheduled in 2012 for 10 of the country's 30 senators but have been postponed for two years because Martelly's government wants changes to Haiti's electoral laws and six opposition parties refuse to accept the amendments. The terms for the 10 senators expire on Jan. 12; in the absence of elections, President Martelly could say the Senate lacked a quorum and could try to rule by decree. This in turn would set off a constitutional crisis, since the current 10 senators announced Nov. 17 that they would refuse to step down in January if no elections were held.
At least four demonstrators were wounded in the northern Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas on Nov. 18 when counter-demonstrators opened fire on an opposition march commemorating the anniversary of the 1803 Battle of Vertières, which marked the final defeat of French forces trying to regain control of Haiti. The several hundred marchers had reached the neighborhood of Delmas 32 and were about to turn back toward downtown Port-au-Prince when they were met with a hail of rocks. The marchers responded with more rocks, and the police used tear gas against the attackers. The gunfire started a little later. Two people were hit in the neck, one in the knee and one in the side; all four were taken away for medical care. The police said they recovered more than a half-dozen 9 mm caliber cartridges from the site. The marchers dispersed after the attack.
The Dominican Republic's Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruled on Nov. 4 that the country must withdraw from the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CorteIDH), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS). The TC ruling, Decision 256-14, was based on a technicality involving a 1999 agreement with the OAS court, but observers assumed that the TC was actually reacting to an Oct. 22 announcement that the human rights court had condemned the Dominican Republic's treatment of immigrants and their descendants, notably the TC's controversial Decision 168-13 of September 2013, which declared that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen. The 2013 decision excludes thousands of Haitian-descended Dominicans from citizenship; it has been met with protests from international rights groups, the Haitian government and many Dominicans, including members of the country's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).
In a Nov. 2 editorial, the New York Times, possibly the most politically influential US newspaper, called for the US government to free three imprisoned Cuban agents in exchange for the release of US citizen Alan Gross, who has been serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba since 2011 for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Cubans are three of the "Cuban Five," a group of agents convicted in 2001 of espionage against the US; they insisted they were spying on Cuban-American terrorists based in southern Florida, not on the US. Two have already been released on probation after serving time, and two more are scheduled for release within the next 10 years, but the group's leader, Gerardo Hernández, was sentenced to two life terms. In 2012 Cuba indicated that it was open to exchanging Gross for the Cuban agents.