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.
Two Haitian human rights groups, the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) and the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), issued a joint statement on Oct. 27 demanding "the release of the political prisoners and the demonstrators arrested illegally" by the government of President Michel Martelly in recent weeks. Police agents arrested 18 demonstrators in Port-au-Prince on Oct. 17 during a march protesting government policies and marking the 208th anniversary of revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines' assassination; the police dispersed the demonstration with tear gas and gunshots. After an Oct. 26 march protesting the government's failure to hold partial legislative elections on that date, the authorities arrested Rony Timothée and Byron Odigé, two leaders in the Patriotic Force for Respect for the Constitution (FOPARC), which backs the Family Lavalas (FL) party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004). In addition to the 20 arrests in Port-au-Prince, police detained three demonstrators in the city of Les Cayes, South department, on Oct. 12 during a protest demanding electricity.
The United Nations (UN) Security Council voted unanimously on Oct. 14 to extend for another year the mandate for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the international military and police force stationed in Haiti since June 2004. For now the operation will continue to consist of 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents. The Council accepted UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon's recommendation to cut the number of soldiers to 2,370, but it decided to maintain the current troop strength until after March 2015, when Ban is to deliver a report on developments, including elections for local, municipal and some parliamentary posts. According to the government of President Michel Martelly, the elections, originally scheduled for 2011, will be held in the first three months of 2015; under the 1987 Constitution a presidential election should take place later in the year.
Hundreds of Haitians attended a private funeral mass on Oct. 11 in Port-au-Prince for "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986), who had died suddenly of a heart attack while eating breakfast with a friend the morning of Oct. 4 (not the night of Oct. 3 as reported previously). The government of President Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky”) apparently decided not to hold a state funeral for the late dictator, and Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe stayed away from the mass, as did the diplomatic corps. Former president Gen. Prosper Avril (1988-1990) and former acting president Boniface Alexandre (2004-2006) attended. Duvalier’s coffin was covered with a Haitian flag—but the current red and blue flag, not the red and black flag used by the 1957-1986 Duvalier family dictatorship. (Miami Herald, Oct. 11, from correspondent)
Former Haitian "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) died suddenly of a heart attack the night of Oct. 3 at a friend's home in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétionville, according to his lawyer, Reynold Georges. He was 63. Duvalier succeeded his father, François ("Papa Doc") Duvalier, at the age of 19. The older Duvalier had built and maintained a brutal dictatorship from 1957 until his death in 1971. The brutality continued under his son; an estimated 30,000 people were killed during the family's 29 years in power. Massive demonstrations and the withdrawal of US support forced Duvalier to flee to France on Feb. 7, 1986, reportedly carrying off millions of dollars looted from the national treasury. He returned to Haiti on Jan. 16, 2011. Despite facing corruption charges, Duvalier never came to trial; he also never came to trial for human rights abuses committed by his regime, although a court finally ruled on Feb. 20, 2014 that the human rights cases against him could proceed.
On Oct. 1 the National Security Archive, a Washington, DC-based research organization, published declassified US government documents about secret contingency plans that the administration of former US president Gerald Ford (1974-1977) made in 1976 for a possible military attack on Cuba. Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger called for the plans in response to Cuba's decision in late 1975 to send troops to support the left-leaning government of Angola against rebels funded by South Africa and the US; he was furious that Cuba had defied the US after a round of secret negotiations he had sponsored in 1975 aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries.
Some 30 Haitian women held a protest in front of the Ministry for the Feminine Condition and Women's Rights (MCFDF) in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 26 to demand the decriminalization of abortion. Under Article 262 of Haiti's Criminal Code, in effect since 1835, the sentence for a woman having an abortion and for anyone who helps her is life in prison. The law is apparently never enforced, but because of it all abortions in Haiti are clandestine and unregulated. The country has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the Americas, with 530 deaths for each 100,000 births; 100 of these deaths follow abortions. In a 2012 survey of 352 women who had abortions since 2007, 40% reported having complications. "Criminalization isn't a solution," the protesters, mostly young women, chanted. "We want to be educated sexually to be able to decide." The demonstration was sponsored by a number of women's rights organizations, including the Initiative for an Equitable Development in Haiti (Ideh), Kay Fanm ("Women's House") and Haitian Women's Solidarity (SOFA).