The Caribbean 21/11/10

This week, as the number of victims lost to cholera exceeds 1,200 in Haiti, the Dominican Republic has had its first cases of the disease. After the discovery on Tuesday of the case of Wilmo Louwes, a Haitian national who has now made a full recovery, a nation-wide search for people presenting symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, and dehydration was initiated.

President Leonel Fernández met on Wednesday with ministers from all parts of the Dominican government including, the Armed Forces, Health, Tourism, Agriculture, Public Works and the Foreign Office, to discuss prevention measures. As a result, the minister for the Armed Forces, General Joaquín Virgilio Pérez Féliz ordered the borders to be reinforced to prevent the entry of Haitians potentially infected with the disease.

Fears about the spread of cholera grew following an announcement by Pelegrín Castillo, presidential candidate for the National Progressive Force, who linked concerns about the disease to ongoing issues about immigration and border control. ‘Everybody knows of the existence of paths in the mountains that are used for the illegal trafficking not only of Haitians, but also people from other parts of the world,’ Castillo stated in a television interview on the Sunday night programme, D’Agenda.

Despite assurances made to the Haitian ambassador in the Dominican Republic, Fritz Cineas, that trade across the countries’ borders could continue safely, Haiti’s cholera epidemic continues to fuel longer term debates over the relationship between the two countries that share the island of Hispaniola.

Meanwhile in Puerto Rico, public wellbeing was also on the agenda as scrutiny of programmes to try and curb the national ‘epidemic’ of school bullying continued. The issue was particularly relevant after the fourth World Congress on the Rights of Children and Adolescents drew to a close on Thursday.

María de los Angeles Ortiz, of the Faculty for Education at the University of Puerto Rico, took one of the closing sessions as an opportunity to point out Puerto Rican teachers’ and professionals’ lack of training and expertise in the field. She indicated the need for both prevention and intervention-based programmes.

Many politicians have been forthcoming on how to solve the problem of violence amongst the nation’s young people and children. Latest to join the ranks is the new Progressive Party representative, Julissa Nolasco, who has submitted a bill that aims to combat bullying through the creation of interagency support teams. This comes as a response to statistics that seem to confirm the widely held view that the government and Department of Education have failed to enforce existing legislation regarding the issue.

Data from the Department of Education indicates that in the 2009-2010 school year, there were over 7,500 cases of reported bullying, the definition of which includes behaviours ranging from threats to physical assault. However, some claim that there is hope in the form of new initiatives. On Sunday, Juan Rivera Meléndez of the ASSMCA (Administration of Social Services for Mental Health and against Addiction) defended a series of educational programmes designed to prevent violence and bullying in schools. Teams from the institution have been touring schools to deliver workshops which include a section entitled ‘Don’t let them cross the line’ (‘Que no se pasen de la raya’), designed specifically to target bullying.


Border controls in Dominican Republic

Immigrant routes through the mountains

Cholera epidemic prevention

Bullying in Puerto Rican schools