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.
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."
An unknown assailant shot Haitian human rights activist Daniel Dorsinvil (or Dorsainvil) dead in Port-au-Prince's Canapé Vert neighborhood the afternoon of Feb. 8; Dorsinvil's wife, Girdly (or Gerly) Larêche, was also killed. Dorsinvil was the coordinator of the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) and a founder of the recently formed Patriotic Democratic Popular Movement (MPDP), a coalition of 30 groups; Larêche's brother Ronald Larêche is a legislative deputy from Northeast department for the Unity party of former president René Préval (1996-2001 and 2006-2011).
On Feb. 5 the Dominican government presented the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva with its National Regularization of Foreigners Plan, a program for determining the status of the tens of thousand Dominican residents who were stripped of their citizenship last September by a Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruling. The court's Decision 168-13 declared that no one born to undocumented immigrants since 1929 was a citizen. Human rights groups estimate that this affects some 200,000 people, mainly Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The US financial services company Standard & Poor's Ratings (S&P) announced on Feb. 4 that it was reducing the Puerto Rican government's bonds to junk status; another US ratings agency, Moody's Corporation, made a similar move on Feb. 7. Gov. Alejandro García Padilla responded on Feb. 4 that Puerto Rico would be able to overcome the financial crisis by implementing budget cuts; for the fiscal year 2014-2015 the island would have its first balanced budget since the 1970s, he said. The government faces a tremendous $70 billion debt, fueled in past years by its ability to offer tax-free municipal bonds to US investors. For comparison, last July the US city Detroit declared bankruptcy because it faced a debt of $28 billion; with a much larger debt, Puerto Rico is ineligible for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy protection. The administration of US president Barack Obama has indicated that it isn't considering a bailout for the island. (Prensa Latina, Feb. 5; Reuters, Feb. 7)
Haitian public school teachers started an open-ended strike on Jan. 22 around demands for higher salaries, payment of back pay, access to public credit programs and a regularization of job categories. After Jan. 22-23 talks with the national education minister, Vanneur Pierre, and others, a coalition of teachers' unions—including the National Confederation of Educators of Haiti (CNEH) and the National Federation of Education and Culture Workers (FENATEC)—agreed to suspend the strike and resume classes on Jan. 27 in exchange for raises ranging from 29% to 57%, depending on the job category, to go into effect in April. Negotiations will continue on other issues.