The Monsanto Company, the Missouri-based biotech giant, has been refusing to cooperate with efforts by Puerto Rico's legislature to regulate the development and sale of seeds on the island. The company chose not to testify at a hearing of Puerto Rico's Senate Agriculture Committee held on June 17 for a bill, PS624, that would create a seed board and a certification and licensing system to regulate seed development and sale. Monsanto representative Eric Torres-Collazo wrote to the committee that the company's activities are not subject to regulation by Puerto Rico's legislature. "Monsanto does not produce, sell [or] offer...basic or certified seed with the purpose of planting in Puerto Rico," Torres-Collazo explained. The company has used the same reasoning to claim that it is exempt from a constitutional ban on individual farms larger than 500 acres.
The Collective for the Compensation of Cholera Victims (Comodevic) and Moun Viktim Kolera ("People Who Are Cholera Victims," Movik) sponsored a march in Port-au-Prince on May 31 to mark nine years since the arrival of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Marching from the Fort National neighborhood to the Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP), the protesters demanded that the international military and police force leave Haiti and called on the government to join legal actions seeking compensation from the United Nations (UN) for people affected by cholera. At least 8,096 people have died in a cholera epidemic that was set off in October 2010 by poor sanitation at a MINUSTAH base in the Central Plateau where Nepalese soldiers carrying the disease were stationed.
Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996, 2001-2004) made a tentative reentry into politics with a press conference held on May 9 at his home in Tabarre, a well-to-do suburb northeast of Port-au-Prince. Aristide said his political party, the Lavalas Family (FL), "is evolving, is becoming stronger and more powerful," and he appeared confident that it would be able to field candidates in parliamentary and local elections to be held before the end of the year; electoral authorities kept FL off the ballot in 2009 partial senatorial elections and in the 2010-2011 presidential and legislative elections. He predicted that the party would win seats, but not that it would dominate as it did during his 2001-2004 presidential term. "One person alone," "one political party alone" or "one group in society" can't solve the problem of hunger, Aristide said. "We have an indispensable coming together to do in order for us to diminish hunger in our country."
Several hundred Haitian unionists and activists marched in Port-au-Prince on May 1 to celebrate International Workers Day and to demand reform of the country's labor code, respect for labor standards and application of a legally mandated 300 gourde (about US$7.12) daily minimum wage for piece workers in the assembly sector. The march began at the large industrial park run by the semi-public National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi) in the north of the capital; the assembly plants there mainly produce apparel for sale in North America and are a focus of complaints over failure to pay the minimum wage. The unionists then moved on to the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development Ministry (Marndr) to highlight the situation of agricultural workers. Police agents blocked the march for 20 minutes because Haitian president Michel Martelly and other officials were attending an event at the ministry.
In a sharp reversal of its previous policy, the US government has decided to let René González, one of five Cuban men convicted of espionage in 2001, serve out the remainder of his probation in Cuba. González, a US citizen of Cuban origin, was released in October 2011 after spending 13 years in prison, but US officials initially turned down his request to serve his remaining three years' probation in Cuba. In 2012 the US let him visit the island for two weeks to see his brother, who was ill, and in April this year he was allowed another visit to attend the funeral of his father, who died on April 1. On May 3 US district judge in Miami Joan Lenard granted González's request to stay in Cuba; she said the US Justice Department now had no objection to the arrangement. Apparently the only condition was that he would need to renounce his US citizenship.
At least 60,978 of the people left homeless by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit southern Haiti in January 2010 were forcibly evicted from displaced persons camps between July 2010 and the end of 2012, according to a report released by the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) on April 23. The report, "'Nowhere to Go': Forced Evictions in Haiti's Camps for Displaced People," says that another 977 families were forcibly evicted during the first three months of 2013. The evictions have been tolerated by Haitian authorities, and in many cases government agencies have actively participated in the operations, Haitian human rights groups charge.
On April 8 Haitian business owner Bernard Schettini was installed as the director general of the National Industrial Parks Company (Sonapi), the semi-private agency in charge of the industrial parks that house many of the country's 23 apparel assembly plants. These factories, known as maquiladoras in Spanish-speaking countries, benefit from tax and tariff exemptions to produce goods for export to the North American market. Schettini replaced Georges Barreau Sassine, a former head of Haiti's industrial business association (ADIH) who assumed the Sonapi post in August 2012. Trained as an architect, Schettini was previously an executive at Texaco Haïti Inc., an oil supply company; it is unclear how much experience he has in the apparel industry, which in Haiti mostly produces T-shirts.
After months of struggle, 112 Haitian workers laid off last year by a coconut processing plant in the southern Dominican province of San Cristóbal learned on April 1 that they had won their suit for severance pay and back wages. In a March 18 decision that wasn't made public for two weeks, San Cristóbal Civil Appeals Court president Juan Procopio Pérez ordered the company, Coquera Real, and its owner, Rafael Emilio Alonso Luna ("Billo"), to pay 10 million pesos ($243,015) in back wages and 30 million pesos ($729,042) in fines for "non-payment of benefits over a period of 10 years." The court ordered the immediate seizure of Coquera Real's property to guarantee payment, as the company has declared bankruptcy.