The Caribbean 13/02/2012

Dominican government accused of repression tactics; Puerto Rican Constitution anniversary marked by controversy; Haitian president criticized for political interference in the Bahamas.

Dominican government accused of ‘open repression’ of political opponents

The director of the Asociación Dominicana de Abogados (Dominican Association of Lawyers – ADOMA), Juan Manuel Morel, has expressed concern over what he called ‘open repression‘ on the part of the government of President Leonel Fernández.

Morel voiced his concerns following the encarceration of various opposition actors, including the journalist Guillermo Gómez and members of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (Dominican Revolutionary Party – PRD), ahead of the upcoming elections in May 2012.

On Sunday Gómez accused the government of pursuing him and his family for making allegations of corruption against government civil servants.

Gómez, who has also been accused of spying on the Dominican first lady, Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, asserted that the raids carried out on his home residence and workplace last Friday were aimed at silencing his complaints against the government.

In an ironic statement addressed to the president, he pleaded with Leonel Fernández to show him respect, before saying, ‘What more does your corrupt government want to do? […] You have not used tanks to kill me and my family, to gun down a family that respects society. I am ready, Mr. President, to defend my honour’.

In the same statement Gómez renewed his allegation that for the last twelve years the PLD administration has supported a centre dedicated to monitoring citizens’ private telephone calls.

Elsewhere, the president of the Municipal Committee of the PRD, Geovanny Tejada, denounced the unexplained arrest and subsequent release of three PRD representatives last Friday as part of the government’s ‘repressive plan’ against opposition groups.

Tejada pointed to the recent detentions, along with the destruction of propaganda supporting the PRD presidential candidate, Hipólito Mejía, as ‘a provocation on the part of the government and the PLD [Partido de la Liberación Dominicana – Dominican Liberation Party]’.

He furthermore claimed that the PLD had resorted to terrorizing its political opposition due to ‘difficulties’ between PLD presidential candidate Danilo Medina and his vicepresidential running mate, the first lady Margarita Cedeño de FernándezEarlier in the week Medina had refuted claims that the first lady had been using state resources to fund her electoral campaign.

Another illegal craft intercepted en route to Puerto Rico

The Dominican Navy, in conjunction with the US coastguard service, announced on Saturday that it had intercepted an illegal craft carrying 22 people en route to Puerto Rico.

The boat, holding 18 men and four women, was detained at sea, just a day after Dominican officials had called off the rescue mission for a shipwreck which occurred last Saturday, leaving 52 people dead.

The passengers of this latest vessel were arrested and are now under investigation, while the head of the Navy, Vice-admiral Nicolás Cabrera Arias, reiterated his commitment to the struggle against the illegal trafficking of humans to Puerto Rico.

Each year thousands of Dominicans use fragile, illegal crafts to attempt the crossing to the Puerto Rican coasts, with hopes to improve their economic situation.

Anniversary of Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth Constitution provokes further debate over island’s status

The 60th anniversary of the signing of the Constitución del Estado Libre Asociado (Constitution of the Free Associated State – ELA) of Puerto Rico was marked by ongoing debates over the future of the island’s political-territorial status.

On 6 February, 1952, nearly 100 delegates of the Constituent Assembly met at a special session to sign the Puerto Rican ‘Carta Magna’, confirming the island’s political ties to the USA, which has since retained sovereignty over Puerto Rico.

The historic signing of the constitution is still a point of contention in Puerto Rico, as the island’s political parties gear up for a plebiscite over the status of the territory. In the referendum, which is set for 6 November, 2012, Puerto Ricans will be asked whether they agree with maintaing the island’s current status as a commonwealth territory.

This Saturday the opposition Partido Popular Democrático (People’s Democratic Party – PPD) announced that it would participate in the referendum, but only to vote in favour of maintaining the island’s current status.

The president of the PPD, Alejandro García Padilla, stated that by voting in favour of the island’s commonwealth status, PPD members would be sending ‘a vote of rejection to the governor Luis Fortuño, the resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, and the PNP [Partido Nuevo Progresista – New Progressive Party] with all their abuses, their bad policies and their attempts to divert attention from all the failures of their government’.

Pedro Pierluisi, the resident commissioner in Washington, responded by saying: ‘Today the leaders of the People’s Party confirmed once more that what they want is to keep the island a colony and to leave Puerto Rico in its current state of limbo’.

Haitian president criticized for political interference in the Bahamas

Political observers in the Bahamas have denounced comments made by Haitian President Michel Martelly regarding the upcoming Bahamian elections as an ‘insulting’ example of interference in the country’s political system.

As part of an official visit to the Bahamas last week, Martelly met with members of the Haitian community residing in the country on Tuesday night.

In his speech, expressed in Haitian Creole to some 6,000 ex-patriate listeners, Martelly took the opportunity to urge Haitian-Bahamians to organize themselves and vote in a bloc for the party that best serves their interests.

Martelly reiterated his statements the following day at a press conference, saying that he had heard of Haitians being mistreated in the Bahamas, including reports of Haitians being arrested for illegal immigration despite having permits to work or reside in the country.

The Haitian president also lamented the Bahamian citizenship laws, which prevent the children of Haitian immigrants from applying for Bahamian citizenship until they are 18 years old, despite being born in the Bahamas.

Several Bahamian political actors remarked that Martelly’s comments were ill-timed considering the proximity of the country’s general elections, which are scheduled for May 2012.

Perry Christie of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) claimed last year that the reason successive Bahamian governments had been hesitant to take a strong stance against illegal Haitian immigrants was precisely because they feared a voting bloc of Haitian-Bahamians.

MP Fred Mitchell echoed the sentiments of several other Bahamian politicians, stating: ‘People vote for their best interests, they don’t in my view vote as a bloc. Every Bahamian who is voting will vote for the party that is in the best interest of the Bahamas’.

Firearms melted down to tackle violence in Jamaica

This week Jamaican officials and police officers looked on as some 2,000 illegal firearms were melted down as part of a programme to reduce gun trafficking and violent crime on the island.

Many of the guns had been seized in police operations, although the furnace was also used to destroy old police and military firearms to prevent them from falling into the hands of criminals.

According to National Security Minister Peter Bunting, the programme constitutes the first step towards reducing the stockpiles of illegal guns in Jamaica, which has one of the highest rates of gun crime in the world.

The BBC’s correspondent in Kingston, Nick Davis, reported that criminal gangs are often as well armed as Jamaican security forces.

While the murder rate on the island has fallen recently, Jamaican officials have proclaimed themselves keen to do more to stem the country’s endemic violence.

UN report shows Jamaica has highest rate of youth crime in the region

A new study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has shown that Jamaica has the highest rate of youth crime convictions in the Caribbean.

The report estimated that youth crime in Jamaica is costing the country some 3.21 per cent of its gross domestic product, as the nation spends more than $529m per year of public and private funds to fight the trend.

A further $4.3m is thought to be lost each year in potential investments, while around $95m which could flow into Jamaica through tourism is diverted elsewhere as visitors to the island are put off by its crime rate.

The UNDP singled out Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago as nations experiencing a substantial increase in gang-related homicides. Homicide rates have increased significantly throughout the Caribbean over the last twelve years, with the except of Barbados and Suriname.

The report emphasized that ‘crime has become one of the main challenges threatening economies and livelihoods in Caribbean countries, but the right mix of policies and programmes can halt the problem’.