From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
U.S. Visa for Castro's Daughter Stirs Controversy
Last week, Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela received a visa to travel to the United States, sparking controversy among Cuban-American senators. Head of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, Castro will attend events in San Francisco and New York beginning on May 24. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) criticized the visit, calling Castro “a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy.” AS/COA’s Senior Policy Director Christopher Sabatini told Fox News Latino: “The U.S. government is clearly trying to demonstrate a new, more fluid relationship with some elements of the regime.”
UN Begins Cuban Human Rights Investigation
On May 22, the Geneva-based UN Committee Against Torture announced it would begin an investigation into human rights in Cuba, and demanded information from the Cuban government on poor prison conditions, detention of political dissidents, and harassment of government critics. The same day, government-run Cuban newspaper Granma published a report on prison conditions on the island, writing that the penitentiary system protects prisoner rights and “respects dignity.”
Incumbent Party Wins Dominican Elections
Danilo Medina of the incumbent Dominican Liberation Party declared victory on Monday after winning just over 51 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election. The Dominican Revolutionary Party candidate and former President Hipólito Mejía won almost 47 percent of votes. In an article for Americas Quarterly, former Dominican Ambassador to the U.S. Flavio Darío Espinal argues that Medina owes his victory to President Leonel Fernández’s sound management of the country and missteps by Mejía in the last weeks of the campaign. Mejía questioned the election results, accusing the government of vote-buying, but appeared to concede defeat yesterday.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on the Dominican election.
A 19-year old Haitian man who accused six Uruguayan UN peacekeepers of sexually assaulting him testified in a closed Uruguayan civilian court on Thursday. According to the victim, Johnny Jean, the six marines who were serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) raped him on a UN base in Port Salut last September.
The peacekeepers involved, including one who recorded the incident with his cell phone, were recalled to Uruguay and imprisoned shortly after the case began making headlines. A preliminary investigation conducted by the UN and the Uruguayan Navy concluded that the peacekeepers had acted indecently but had not raped the Haitian man. As a result, the peacekeepers were released in late 2011, pending the outcome of the current investigation. According to Uruguayan Supreme Court spokesman Raul Oxandabarat, next steps in the case will depend on how Judge Alejandro Guido received Mr. Jean’s testimony
Tensions between UN peacekeepers and the local Haitian population have run high since Nepalese peacekeepers were found to be the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak. Less than two years later, the disease has spread across the country and spilled into the Dominican Republic, killing over 7,000 Haitians and infecting 530,000 more—roughly 5 percent of the total population. To make matters worse, the Centers for Disease Control report published last week shows that the cholera strain is evolving to circumvent immunity, igniting fears of a potential second wave of the epidemic.
Despite rising antagonism toward the UN presence in Haiti—and the potential for violence if the accused Uruguayans are found not guilty—newly confirmed Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe ruled out the possibility of a hasty removal of UN troops. "Once we increase our security forces, the number of MINUSTAH troops will gradually fall," Lamothe said.