Cuban street artist Danilo Maldonado AKA "El Sexto," known for his satirical graffiti, was released Oct. 21 after 10 months in prison for "disrespect toward government officials"—which holds a penalty of three years, although he was never formally charged. "We are very happy to learn that in the end he is being freed," said Amnesty International's Robin Guittard. "He's just an artist who tried to do an art show, to use his legitimate right to freedom of expression. That should never lead people to be sent to prison. That's a very cold reminder of what's the situation of freedom of expression today in Cuba." The artist's mother, Maria Victoria Machado, added: "A government that doesn't let itself be criticized starts to lose credibility." Maldonado received the Human Rights Foundation's Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent this past April. Amnesty in September declared Maldonado Cuba's only "prisoner of conscience," although the group said it was considering other cases.
The US government on May 29 formally removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a positive step toward restoring Cuba-US diplomatic relations. US President Barack Obama said in April that he would drop Cuba from the list. In December Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro stated they would take steps to restore diplomatic relations that were severed in 1961 by the US. Removal from this list ends a variety of sanctions from the US including opposing financial backing of the World Bank and International Monetary fund, US economic aid bans, and bans on US arms exports. Although not all sanctions have been removed from Cuba, the removal from the list may make private US companies and banks more likely to do business with Cuba. The two sides have held several rounds of negotiations since December and have stated they are close to a deal with to reopen US embassies. As of now, the only countries left on the list are Iran, Syria and Sudan.
A general strike by Haitian transit workers and opposition groups paralyzed Port-au-Prince and some other cities Feb. 9-10 in a protest against high fuel prices and the government of President Michel Joseph Martelly. With most forms of public transportation shut down, the capital's streets were empty except for rocks and burning tires that strike supporters set up as barricades; some streets were turned into improvised soccer fields. People generally stayed home, and most government offices, businesses, banks and schools were closed. There was little violence, although one police agent, Ravelin Yves André, reportedly received a stab wound in the impoverished Cité Soleil sector while trying to remove burning tires.
The body of a Haitian immigrant, Claude ("Tulile") Jean Harry, was found hanging from a tree in Ercilia Pepín Park in Santiago de los Cabelleros, the capital of the northern Dominican province of Santiago, on Feb. 11. Dominican police spokespeople say they are working on the theory that Jean Harry was killed to prevent him from testifying about the Feb. 9 murder of Altagracia Díaz Ventura. According to the police, Díaz Ventura was killed by her sister-in-law, Annery Núñez, who then stole the victim's money and furniture. Jean Harry did odd jobs in the area; he may have been paid to help move the furniture and could have found out about the murder. Annery Núñez had turned herself into the police as of Feb. 15.
Haiti's Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA), which represents a number of workers in the Port-au-Prince garment assembly sector, has reached an agreement under which the owners of three factories are to honor the legal minimum wage of 300 gourdes (about $6.38) a day for piece workers in the industry. The 300-gourde minimum went into effect in October 2012 but has generally been ignored by management. According to a Jan. 6 SOTA press release and a Feb. 6 radio interview with Yannick Etienne of the labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (BO, Workers' Struggle), under the agreement workers who were receiving 225 gourdes a day now receive 300 gourdes and those who received 300 gourdes receive 375. In addition, the three companies agreed to provide back pay to cover the difference between the old and the new wages for two months during which SOTA and the companies negotiated; this would come to about $4,255 collectively for the workers in one of the companies, Multiwear SA. Although the agreement falls far short of the 500-gourde minimum garment workers had demonstrated for in December 2013, BO organizer Etienne considers management's agreement to the raise and the principle of back pay a significant step forward.
Tens of thousands of Dominicans born to undocumented immigrants were set to become stateless when a deadline to regularize their status passed on Feb. 1, according to the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI). "Even if these people are able to stay in the Dominican Republic after the deadline expires, their futures are woefully uncertain," AI Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas said in a statement. The people at risk are mostly Haitian descendants who were affected by Decision 168-13, a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) in September 2013 declaring that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen. Their situation was supposed to be remedied by Law 169/14, which was passed in May 2014 to set up a process for people to regularize their status. AI says the law's implementation has been inadequate.
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.