Caribbean Theater

Puerto Rico: bonds are junked despite 'reforms'

The US financial services company Standard & Poor's Ratings (S&P) announced on Feb. 4 that it was reducing the Puerto Rican government's bonds to junk status; another US ratings agency, Moody's Corporation, made a similar move on Feb. 7. Gov. Alejandro García Padilla responded on Feb. 4 that Puerto Rico would be able to overcome the financial crisis by implementing budget cuts; for the fiscal year 2014-2015 the island would have its first balanced budget since the 1970s, he said. The government faces a tremendous $70 billion debt, fueled in past years by its ability to offer tax-free municipal bonds to US investors. For comparison, last July the US city Detroit declared bankruptcy because it faced a debt of $28 billion; with a much larger debt, Puerto Rico is ineligible for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy protection. The administration of US president Barack Obama has indicated that it isn't considering a bailout for the island. (Prensa Latina, Feb. 5; Reuters, Feb. 7)

Haiti: teachers strike as labor unrest grows

Haitian public school teachers started an open-ended strike on Jan. 22 around demands for higher salaries, payment of back pay, access to public credit programs and a regularization of job categories. After Jan. 22-23 talks with the national education minister, Vanneur Pierre, and others, a coalition of teachers' unions—including the National Confederation of Educators of Haiti (CNEH) and the National Federation of Education and Culture Workers (FENATEC)—agreed to suspend the strike and resume classes on Jan. 27 in exchange for raises ranging from 29% to 57%, depending on the job category, to go into effect in April. Negotiations will continue on other issues.

US, rights groups condemn Cuba detentions

The US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined Jan. 28 to condemn the Cuban government's detentions of dissidents to keep them away from a Havana summit of hemispheric leaders. According to rights activists in Havana, an estimated 100 pro-democracy activists have been briefly detained or put under house arrest for the two-day summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which ends Jan. 28. Thirty dissidents were detained when they gathered in Santiago de Cuba as Cuban ruler Raúl Castro was giving his opening address to the summit. CELAC is supposed work towards economic integration of its 33 member states. Dissidents were planning two "parallel summits" this week to discuss human rights and other issues. Argentine activist Gabriel Salvia was deported by Cuban authorities when he arrived in Havana to join the parallel summit. "It is unacceptable to not to be able to do in Cuba what can be done in any other country that belongs to CELAC," Salvia said on his Twitter page.

Puerto Rico: teachers' strike shuts school system

According to Puerto Rican education secretary Rafael Román, some 35,000 of the island's 38,000 public school classroom teachers stayed off work on Jan. 14, the first day of a two-day strike protesting changes to teachers' pensions mandated in Law 160, which was approved by the Legislative Assembly and signed by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla in December. Student attendance was just 0.09%, Román said. While 51% of the principals reported to their schools for what was to be the first school day after Christmas break, Román admitted that the 1,460 schools in the system were effectively shut down. The job action was called jointly by all the Puerto Rican teachers' unions, principally the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), Teachers' Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR) and Educamos ("We Educate").

Haiti: judge seeks charges in journalist's murder

On Jan. 17 Haitian investigative judge Yvickel Dabrésil issued a report on the April 2000 murder of the popular journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, the guard at Dominique's Haïti Inter radio station. Dabrésil recommended that the three-judge Appeals Court panel handling the case issue charges against Mirlande Libérus Pavert, a former senator from the Lavalas Family (FL) party, as the intellectual author of the killing. The report also named former Port-au-Prince deputy mayor Gabriel Harold Sévère and Marie Annette Auguste, a folksinger and FL activist widely known as Sò An ("Sister Anne"), along with six others: Frantz Camille, Jeudy Jean Daniel, Markenton Michel, Toussaint Mercidieu, Mérité Milien and Dimsley Milien. Dominique's widow, Michèle Montas, said the report was "a positive step, almost 10 years after I went to the appellate court to demand that the intellectual authors, those who ordered and planned the crime, be identified."

Haiti: union leaders fired over wage protests

Six workers at the One World Apparel S.A. garment assembly plant in the north of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, were given notices of dismissal on Jan. 8, four weeks after workers shut down production in the city’s apparel sector with Dec. 10 and Dec. 11 protests demanding a daily minimum wage of 500 gourdes (about US$12.08). The fired workers--Jude Pierre, Luckner Louis, Deroy Jean Baptiste, Paul René Pierre, Jean Luvard Exavier and Rubin Mucial—are all on the executive committee of the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), a member union in the Collective of Textile Union Organizations (KOSIT), the labor alliance that led the December protests.

Haiti: Lavalas expels two populist politicians

Division and confusion marred Dec. 16 celebrations by Haiti's Lavalas Family (FL) party in Port-au-Prince to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the overwhelming 1990 electoral victory of the party's founder, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). Hundreds of FL supporters marched from the site of the St. Jean Bosco church, where Aristide served as a priest in the 1980s, to the Jean Aristide Foundation in the northeastern suburb of Tabarre. But participants reported that when party coordinator Maryse Narcisse tried to speak, she was drowned out by supporters of Senator Moïse Jean-Charles and Deputy Arnel Bélizaire, two populist members of Haiti's Parliament. Following a dispute over planning for a November demonstration, the FL executive committee announced Dec. 2 that the party "protests with all its might against any public declaration" from Jean-Charles and Bélizaire, describing them as "some people who present themselves as Lavalas Family members."

Puerto Rico: teachers to strike over pensions

Scores of Puerto Rican teachers briefly occupied the Senate chamber in San Juan on Dec. 19 to protest legislation proposed by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla to change the retirement and pension system for the island’s teachers. After scuffling with Capitol building employees, the chanting teachers, many wearing yellow T-shirts, pushed their way into the chamber, forcing the 16 senators present to move to another room. Protests continued at the Capitol throughout the week, with teachers and police clashing outside the building on Dec. 21. Despite the actions, both chambers of the Legislative Assembly narrowly voted to pass the bill—the House of Representatives on Dec. 21 by a vote of 26 to 20 and the Senate on Dec. 23 by a vote of 14 to 13.

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