Weekly News Update on the Americas
Protesters tied up traffic in central Buenos Aires for more than five hours on Feb. 25 to press their demands for the center-left government of Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to increase pay and benefits in government antipoverty programs. Police rerouted traffic around the demonstration, which blocked cars and buses at the Obelisk in the Plaza de la República. The action was organized by several groups, including Barrios de Pie ("Neighborhoods Standing Up"), Polo Obrero ("Workers' Pole"), the Federation of Grassroots Organizations (FOB) and the Labor Association of Self-Managed and Contingent Cooperative Workers (Agtcap). Protest leaders held a meeting with government representatives during the protest, but these were "second-level functionaries," according to Barrios de Pie national coordinator Daniel Menéndez. "[T]he government is turning its back on the complaints of the lowliest people," he said.
The president of the Haitian Senate's Justice and Security Commission, Pierre Francky Exius, announced on Feb. 27 that the commission had summoned Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon and the command of the Haitian National Police (PNH) to testify about a crisis situation on Ile-à-Vache, a small island southeast of the city of Les Cayes in South department. Over the past month the police have beaten and shot at Ile-à-Vache residents protesting plans for a major tourism project on the island. Some protesters have fled the island, and one protest leader, a local police agent, has been arrested.
Fernando González, one of five Cuban agents charged with espionage by the US government in 1998, returned to Cuba on Feb. 28 after serving out a 15-year term in US prisons. Released from the federal correctional center in Safford, Arizona, on Feb. 27, González landed around noon the next day at Havana's José Martí International Airport, where he was met by Cuban president Raúl Castro. The Cuban government insists that its agents, who are widely known as the "Cuban Five," were never spying on the US and that their goal was only to gather information on terrorist plots by right-wing groups based in the Miami area.
Indigenous Honduran campesino Justiniano Vásquez was found dead on Feb. 21 in San Francisco de Opalaca municipality in the western department of Intibucá, where the victim's brother Entimo Vásquez is challenging the results of a Nov. 24 mayoral election. Justiniano Vásquez's body had deep wounds, and there were signs that his hands had been bound. Community members charged that the killing was carried out by Juan Rodríguez, a supporter of former mayor Socorro Sánchez, who the electoral authorities said defeated Entimo Vásquez in the November vote. Rodríguez had reportedly threatened Entimo Vásaquez in the past. San Francisco de Opalaca residents captured Rodríguez and turned him over to the police. The Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which reported Vásquez's death, demanded punishment for the perpetrators and called on the authorities "to carry out their work objectively [and] effectively."
In the latest protest against what activists say is the Brazilian government's diversion of funds from social services to sports events, more than 1,000 people marched in downtown São Paulo from the Praça da República to the Anhangabaú subway station on the evening of Feb. 22. The protest ended with some 1,000 agents of the militarized police using stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the marchers and making a total of 230 arrests. Among those arrested were five journalists, two photographers and three reporters; the reporters were from the newspapers O Globo and Folha de São Paulo and from the news website G1. Bruno Santos, a photographer for the Terra Brasil website, received an injury in his leg.
After a nine-month delay, a three-member Port-au-Prince appeals court panel held a new hearing on Feb. 20 to consider human rights complaints filed against former "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986). To the surprise of many observers, the judges ruled that the case could go forward, overturning a January 2012 decision by investigative judge Carvès Jean that the statute of limitations had run out on rights violations that occurred under Duvalier's dictatorship. "Serious indications relative to indirect participation and criminal responsibility of the accused, Jean-Claude Duvalier, are obvious," Judge Jean Joseph Lubrun said, citing Duvalier's apparent failure "to take the necessary and reasonable measures in order to prevent the commission of the crimes and to take the reasonable measures to punish the authors."
Some 56% of US adults support normalizing relations with Cuba or engaging more directly with the island's Communist government, according to an opinion poll released on Feb. 10 by the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC. Support for normalization was at 63% among Florida residents, significantly higher than in the country as a whole, while 62% of Latinos backed normalization. Even among Republicans the majority, 52%, wanted to improve relations; the number was 60% for Democrats. The poll, which claimed a 3.1% margin of error, was conducted in January among 1,024 US adults; the pollsters were Paul Maslin, who has polled for Democratic candidates, and Glen Bolger, a three-time winner of the "Republican Pollster of the Year Award."
More than 15,000 Brazilian campesinos marched some 9 km from a meeting at the Nilson Nelson Gymnasium stadium in Brasilia to the Plaza of the Three Powers on Feb. 12 to protest the slow pace at which the center-left government of President Dilma Rousseff is implementing agrarian reform. The protesters had been attending the Sixth Congress of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), the largest of the Brazilian groups organizing landless campesinos. Kelli Marfort, from the MST's Gender sector, called the government's policy an "embarrassment." "Last year 7,000 families were settled," she charged, saying that the MST alone has 90,000 families living in encampments and waiting for land. "A total of 150,000 families are in encampments in Brazil, many of them for more than 10 years. We're here to announce that we're not satisfied, and we're asking for a people's agrarian reform."