The government of Haitian president Michel Joseph Martelly presented a group of reporters with cash gifts during a reception on Dec. 23, according to an open letter published on Jan. 26 by the management of Radio Kiskeya. Reporters with press credentials for presidential functions were given "envelopes containing 50,000 gourdes [about US$1,065] and 40,000 gourdes [about US$852] respectively," the station wrote. Recipients said President Martelly had offered them what he called "a little gift whose small size they shouldn't take offense at," and then referred them to his spokesperson, Lucien Jura, and Esther Fatal, head of the Communication Office of the Presidency; the two officials gave the journalists the envelopes.
Haiti entered a long-threatened period of constitutional crisis on Jan. 12 when terms expired for all 99 members of the Chamber of Deputies and for 10 of the country's 30 senators; terms had already run out for another third of the senators. Since the government had failed to hold overdue elections for these seats, Parliament no longer had a quorum to pass laws and President Martelly was free to rule by decree in the absence of a viable legislature. He and the leaders of Parliament announced an agreement Dec. 29 that would extend the legislators' terms if Parliament met a Jan. 12 deadline to pass amendments to the electoral law, but the deal didn't win the agreement of the main opposition parties. The vote never took place.
Some 150 supporters greeted Puerto Rican independence activist Norberto González Claudio at San Juan's international airport on Jan. 15, hours after he was released from a federal prison in Coleman, Florida. González Claudio, a former member of the Boricua Popular Army-Macheteros, had served a three and one-half year prison term for his involvement in the group's 1983 armed robbery of $7.1 million from a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Conn.—until then the largest heist on record. Arrested in May 2011 in the central Puerto Rican town of Cayey after 25 years as fugitive, González Claudio pleaded guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence. He was due to be released last September, but his time in Coleman was extended four months because of an alleged infraction. His relatives and colleagues saw this as part of a pattern of physical and psychological torture they say he endured.
On Jan. 9 a federal district judge in New York, J. Paul Oetken, dismissed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the United Nations for a cholera epidemic introduced into Haiti in October 2010 by infected soldiers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). "The UN is immune from suit unless it expressly waives its immunity," Judge Oetken wrote in his decision, which was based on the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN and a US appeals court ruling in a 2010 sexual discrimination case. Lawyers from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), representing thousands of Haitian cholera victims, said they would appeal the decision, which came three days before the fifth anniversary of an earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti.
The heads of the three branches of the Haitian government reached an accord late on Dec. 29 aimed at heading off a constitutional crisis when the terms of one-third of the country's senators expire on Jan. 12, leaving the Parliament without a quorum. The agreement—signed by President Michel Martelly, Senate president Simon Dieuseul Desras, Chamber of Deputies president Jacques Stevenson Thimoléon and Superior Council of the Judicial Branch president Arnel Alexis Joseph—extends terms to April for current members of the Chamber of Deputies and to September for current senators. The term extension will be inserted into legislation amending the electoral law and will only take effect if Parliament passes it by Jan. 12. In the event that the long-stalled election law is passed, the government can proceed to form a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and schedule legislative, municipal and local elections, which have been delayed since 2011. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Dec. 30)
As of Dec. 11 authorities had closed the Playa Grande beach area in the western region of a national wildlife refuge on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques following the discovery of pieces of inactive munitions there. The US Environmental Protection Agency said the US Navy had removed a projectile, a mortar tail and other objects, although officials insisted that the materials didn't pose any danger to visitors. The munitions are left over from the Navy's use of Vieques for testing weapons from the 1940s until May 2003, when mass civil disobedience by Vieques residents and their supporters forced the Navy to withdraw. A total of 1,640 arrests were made from 1999 to 2003 as activists carried out militant protests, including a yearlong occupation of the bombing range. Federal judges handed down jail sentences to protesters totaling 26 years, along with fines totaling $50,980.
What do we make of this? Artist Tania Bruguera and some dozen others were arrested in Havana's Revolution Square Dec. 30. Bruguera planned to stage Yo También Exijo (I Also Demand), her participatory performance act that includes an open-mic section. She had succeeded in getting away with the open-mic trick in her performance of another act, El Susurro de Tatlin (Tatlin's Whsiper), at the 2009 Havana Biennial arts affair. But she was denied a permit to take the act to Revolution Square. Cuba's National Visual Arts Council issued a statement saying the performance was "unacceptable" given the "manipulation" of the "counter-revolutionary media." Bruguera's website tags the acts "Unannounced Performance," "Behavior Art Materials," and "Crowd Control Techniques." The planned event was poorly attended—possibly due to police pre-emptive measures. Havana Times ("open-minded writing from Cuba") stated: "Starting around noon Ministry of Interior troops, both in plainclothes and uniformed, were stationed at all points of access to the square..." Then the cops arrested the intended participants. Havana Times also reports that among the detained were Reinaldo Escobar, husband of dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila of opposition group Somos Más (We are More). Most have been released, including Bruguera, although she is apparently barred from leaving Cuba. (14yMedio, ArtForum, Dec. 31) #YoTambienExijo has become a popular hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.
Well, this was inevitable. The case of Assata Shakur affords the US political right the opportunity to take a hit at Obama's opening to Cuba while simultaneously getting subliminal licks in at the Black Lives Matter protests. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was of course the first to grandstand about it, demanding that Cuba turn over the veteran Black Panther he called "Joanne Chesimard" (her former name) before diplomatic ties are restored. He wrote in an open letter to Obama: "If, as you assert, Cuba is serious about embracing democratic principles [sic] then this action would be an essential first step." Cuba, of course, said no dice. Asked if returning fugitives was on the table, Havana's head of North American affairs Josefina Vidal told the AP, "Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted… That's a legitimate right."