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.
The US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined Jan. 28 to condemn the Cuban government's detentions of dissidents to keep them away from a Havana summit of hemispheric leaders. According to rights activists in Havana, an estimated 100 pro-democracy activists have been briefly detained or put under house arrest for the two-day summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which ends Jan. 28. Thirty dissidents were detained when they gathered in Santiago de Cuba as Cuban ruler Raúl Castro was giving his opening address to the summit. CELAC is supposed work towards economic integration of its 33 member states. Dissidents were planning two "parallel summits" this week to discuss human rights and other issues. Argentine activist Gabriel Salvia was deported by Cuban authorities when he arrived in Havana to join the parallel summit. "It is unacceptable to not to be able to do in Cuba what can be done in any other country that belongs to CELAC," Salvia said on his Twitter page.
According to Puerto Rican education secretary Rafael Román, some 35,000 of the island's 38,000 public school classroom teachers stayed off work on Jan. 14, the first day of a two-day strike protesting changes to teachers' pensions mandated in Law 160, which was approved by the Legislative Assembly and signed by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla in December. Student attendance was just 0.09%, Román said. While 51% of the principals reported to their schools for what was to be the first school day after Christmas break, Román admitted that the 1,460 schools in the system were effectively shut down. The job action was called jointly by all the Puerto Rican teachers' unions, principally the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), Teachers' Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR) and Educamos ("We Educate").