Workers in Haiti's garment assembly sector observed International Workers' Day on May 1 with a march continuing their campaign for a minimum wage of 500 gourdes (US$12.69) for an eight-hour day. The protest—organized by the leftist labor organization Batay Ouvriye ("Workers' Struggle") and the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA) and backed by the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP) and other groups—started at the large industrial park in the north of Port-au-Prince. After a long march including a brief protest in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST), the protesters planned to conclude at the statue of revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the city's central Champ de Mars. Agents from the Corps for Intervention and the Maintenance of Order (CIMO), a riot police unit, blocked the marchers, hurling tear gas grenades and beating and arresting two students. Several assembly plant workers required treatment at a hospital.
Bypassing Parliament, on April 16 Haitian president Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky") issued a decree setting new minimum wage levels for different categories of employees, to go into effect on May 1. The decree basically follows recommendations made on Nov. 29 by the tripartite Higher Council on Wages (CSS), with the minimum wage ranging from 260 gourdes (US$6.60) a day in a category that includes bank employees, electricians and telecommunication workers to just 125 gourdes (US$3.17) a day for domestic workers. The decree confirmed the most controversial of the CSS's recommendations, a 225 (US$5.71) gourde daily minimum for hourly workers in the country's garment assembly plants, which produce for export and benefit from tax and tariff exemptions; this is just a 25 gourde increase over the minimum in effect since October 2012 under a 2009 law. For piece-rate assembly workers—the majority of the sector's work force—the rate remains at the October 2012 level, 300 gourdes (US$7.61) a day. (Haïti Libre, April 19)
On April 2 Pierre Espérance, the executive director of the Haitian nonprofit National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), received a letter at the organization's Port-au-Prince office warning him not to issue "false reports destabilizing for the country." "In 99 we missed you, this time you won't escape it, stop speaking," the letter's authors wrote, referring to a 1999 attack in which Espérance suffered bullet wounds to the shoulder and knee while driving in Port-au-Prince. Recent reports by the RNDDH have dealt with such subjects as the slow pace of the prosecution of former "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) and alleged ties between drug traffickers and the government of President Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky").
US citizen Alan Gross, serving a 15-year prison term in Cuba for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), held a liquids-only hunger strike from April 3 to 11 to protest his treatment by both the Cuban and US governments. According to Scott Gilbert, Gross' Washington DC-based lawyer, the prisoner started his hunger strike after he learned of an April 3 Associated Press report on ZunZuneo, the "Cuban Twitter" service that USAID launched after his arrest in December 2009. Gross was charged with seeking to subvert the Cuban government by supplying dissidents with Internet technology, and ZunZuneo had the potential to damage his legal case.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID), a US government foreign aid agency, secretly ran a cell phone-based imitation of the Twitter social networking service in Cuba from 2010 to 2012, according to an April 3 report by the Associated Press (AP) wire service. The service—named "ZunZuneo," Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet—was developed in conjunction with two private contractors, the Washington, DC-based Creative Associates International and the Denver-based Mobile Accord. ZunZuneo was popular with young Cubans, who were unaware of its origin; by 2012 the service had some 40,000 subscribers.
In a four-hour extraordinary session on March 29 attended by President Raúl Castro Ruz, the 612 deputies in Cuba's unicameral National Assembly of Popular Power voted unanimously to approve a new law governing foreign investment. Replacing a measure put in place in 1995 under then-president Fidel Castro, the Foreign Investment Law will allow foreign companies to operate in Cuba independently, rather than in joint ventures with state enterprises, according to a report in the Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde published shortly before the legislation was passed. Most foreign companies will be required to pay a 15% tax on profits, half the current rate, the article said, and they will enjoy a tax moratorium for the first eight years of their operations in Cuba. Rates may be higher for companies that exploit natural resources, such as nickel or fossil fuel.
Chanting "We're Dominicans and we're staying here," hundreds of people of Haitian descent and their supporters gathered in front of the Congress building in Santo Domingo on March 12 in the latest protest against Decision 168-13, a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) last September declaring that no one born to undocumented immigrants since 1929 was a citizen. Among the groups participating in the "Day of Fasting and Prayer" were the Bonó Center, a Catholic human rights organization, and Reconoci.do, a youth movement that has been organizing demonstrations for two years on the 12th day of the month to demand papers for the Dominican-born children of immigrants. Manuel María Mercedes and other members of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) joined the protest, as did legislative deputies Hugo Tolentino Dipp and Guadalupe Valdez and former labor minister Max Puig.
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.