Caribbean Theater

Haiti: Martelly harasses opponents, gets award

Haitian investigative judge Sonel Jean François ordered political activist Rony Timothée provisionally released on June 4 while an inquiry continued into charges that he had set fire to a vehicle and incited others to crime during a May 14 demonstration against the government of President Michel Martelly. Timothée—a spokesperson for 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)—was arrested by armed civilians on May 17 with a misdated warrant and was held in prison in Arcahaie, a town some 30 km north of Port-au-Prince, starting on May 19. Judge François is also investigating two other defendants in the case, Assad Volcy and Buron Odigé.

Puerto Rico: austerity law may spark strike

As of June 19 several Puerto Rican public employee unions appeared set to call a general strike to protest Law 76, a special austerity measure that Gov. Alejandro García Padilla signed on June 17. A coalition of 35 unions said it had selected a date for a general strike but would keep it secret so as to take the government by surprise; the union didn't describe the form the strike would take. Two major unions—the Union of Workers of the Electrical Industry and Circulation (UTIER), which represents workers at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA, AEE in Spanish), and the Authentic Independent Union (UIA), which represents workers at the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA, AAA in Spanish)—held strike votes on June 17 and then staged a protest at San Juan's Plaza Las Américas shopping mall. Some unions also started holding smaller job actions in the first week of June. In October 2009 the unions responded to earlier austerity measures with a powerful one-day general strike, but it was unclear whether they would be able to mount a similar action now.

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").

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