Caribbean Theater

Haiti: UN 'peacekeeping' mission turns 10

Jubilee South/Americas, a Latin American network focusing on international debt, has announced a campaign to end the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), an international military and police force that has now been in operation for 10 years. The campaign is to run from June 1 to Oct. 15, when the United Nations Security Council will vote on whether to renew the mandate for the Brazilian-led mission, which was established on June 1, 2004, three months after the overthrow of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). Over the years it has been held responsible for acts of corruption, sexual assaults, the killing of civilians, and the introduction of cholera into the country through negligence in October 2010. As of April this year, 8,556 people had died in the epidemic and another 702,000 had been sickened. Currently the force includes more than 5,000 soldiers and nearly 2,500 police agents, mostly from Latin American countries; the official cost of the mission is currently close to $600 million a year.

Dominican Republic: will new citizenship law work?

A new naturalization law went into effect in the Dominican Republic on May 23 when it was officially promulgated by President Danilo Medina. The law seeks to regularize the status of thousands of Dominicans, mostly Haitian descendants, affected by Decision 168-13, a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) last September declaring that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen. The new law—which President Medina had promised to introduce to Congress on Feb. 27—was approved quickly once he finally presented it in May. The Chamber of Deputies passed the bill on May 16, and the Senate voted 26-0 on May 21 to approve it.

Cuba: four Miami residents arrested as terrorists

The Cuban government arrested four US residents on April 26 and charged them with planning to attack military installations, according to an Interior Ministry note published on May 7. The four suspects—José Ortega Amador, Obdulio Rodríguez González, Raibel Pacheco Santos and Félix Monzón Álvarez—had planned to burst into a military unit, murder soldiers and officers, and "make a call for violence," according to an article dated May 7 but published the next day in the youth-oriented Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde. The article links the alleged plans to the US government's failed "Cuban Twitter," the cell phone-based social network ZunZuneo. "It's quite obvious," the article said, "that these violent actions of attacking Cuban military installations, with the intent of creating panic and confusion, are very similar to the supposed 'social explosion' hoped for by ZunZuneo's creators."

Haiti: police repress workers' May Day demo

Workers in Haiti's garment assembly sector observed International Workers' Day on May 1 with a march continuing their campaign for a minimum wage of 500 gourdes (US$12.69) for an eight-hour day. The protest—organized by the leftist labor organization Batay Ouvriye ("Workers' Struggle") and the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA) and backed by the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP) and other groups—started at the large industrial park in the north of Port-au-Prince. After a long march including a brief protest in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST), the protesters planned to conclude at the statue of revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the city's central Champ de Mars. Agents from the Corps for Intervention and the Maintenance of Order (CIMO), a riot police unit, blocked the marchers, hurling tear gas grenades and beating and arresting two students. Several assembly plant workers required treatment at a hospital.

Haiti: president sets minimum wage by decree

Bypassing Parliament, on April 16 Haitian president Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky") issued a decree setting new minimum wage levels for different categories of employees, to go into effect on May 1. The decree basically follows recommendations made on Nov. 29 by the tripartite Higher Council on Wages (CSS), with the minimum wage ranging from 260 gourdes (US$6.60) a day in a category that includes bank employees, electricians and telecommunication workers to just 125 gourdes (US$3.17) a day for domestic workers. The decree confirmed the most controversial of the CSS's recommendations, a 225 (US$5.71) gourde daily minimum for hourly workers in the country's garment assembly plants, which produce for export and benefit from tax and tariff exemptions; this is just a 25 gourde increase over the minimum in effect since October 2012 under a 2009 law. For piece-rate assembly workers—the majority of the sector's work force—the rate remains at the October 2012 level, 300 gourdes (US$7.61) a day. (Haïti Libre, April 19)

Haiti: human rights activist threatened

On April 2 Pierre Espérance, the executive director of the Haitian nonprofit National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), received a letter at the organization's Port-au-Prince office warning him not to issue "false reports destabilizing for the country." "In 99 we missed you, this time you won't escape it, stop speaking," the letter's authors wrote, referring to a 1999 attack in which Espérance suffered bullet wounds to the shoulder and knee while driving in Port-au-Prince. Recent reports by the RNDDH have dealt with such subjects as the slow pace of the prosecution of former "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) and alleged ties between drug traffickers and the government of President Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky").

Cuba: did USAID KO deal for Gross release?

US citizen Alan Gross, serving a 15-year prison term in Cuba for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), held a liquids-only hunger strike from April 3 to 11 to protest his treatment by both the Cuban and US governments. According to Scott Gilbert, Gross' Washington DC-based lawyer, the prisoner started his hunger strike after he learned of an April 3 Associated Press report on ZunZuneo, the "Cuban Twitter" service that USAID launched after his arrest in December 2009. Gross was charged with seeking to subvert the Cuban government by supplying dissidents with Internet technology, and ZunZuneo had the potential to damage his legal case.

USAID's 'Cuban Twitter' scheme flops

The US Agency for International Development (USAID), a US government foreign aid agency, secretly ran a cell phone-based imitation of the Twitter social networking service in Cuba from 2010 to 2012, according to an April 3 report by the Associated Press (AP) wire service. The service—named "ZunZuneo," Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet—was developed in conjunction with two private contractors, the Washington, DC-based Creative Associates International and the Denver-based Mobile Accord. ZunZuneo was popular with young Cubans, who were unaware of its origin; by 2012 the service had some 40,000 subscribers.

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