Haitian national police confirmed on Monday that nearly three dozen detainees escaped from a prison in the provincial city of Saint-Marc, 100 km (60 miles) north of Port-au-Prince. According to reports, the detainees sawed through a cell window and jumped out. The five guards on duty at the time have been detained on suspicion of aiding the escape, and one guard has been arrested.
Police Commissioner Berson Soljour said four of the escapees had been recaptured and security measures around the city have been put in place in efforts to find the others. Authorities in the Dominican Republic have been working with Haitian police to prevent the fugitives from crossing the border.
Similar prison breaks have occurred across Haiti in recent years. In August, 329 inmates escaped from a prison in Croix-des-Bouquets using weapons allegedly smuggled in by guards. Following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, nearly all 4,000 inmates held in the National Penitentiary escaped. Many remain on the run.
Prisons in Haiti, like most in Latin America and the Caribbean, are notoriously overcrowded. The Saint-Marc prison held nearly 500 prisoners, with 36 prisoners occupying a cell designed to hold eight. Many inmates, including those that escaped, spend years in jail awaiting trial. In Haiti, 67.7 percent of the total prison population is pre-trial detainees, one of the highest percentages in the Americas.
Yesterday in the city of Juan Dolio in the Dominican Republic, the Dominican and Haitian governments began the third round of bilateral talks concerning the legalization of the thousands of Haitians that live in the Dominican Republic without legal documentation. In a press conference after the talks concluded, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said that the Haitian government will provide documentation for the process of naturalization and regularization to its poorest citizens in the Dominican Republic for only 1,000 Dominican pesos ($23).
The pledge comes one month after the Haitian government announced the implementation of the Programme d'identification et de documentation des immigrants Haïtiens (Identification and Documentation Program for Haitian Immigrants—PIDIH) that would provide Haitian residents in the Dominican Republic with documents like an government identification, birth certificate and passport for 2,500 pesos ($57).
The Dominican Senate passed the Plan Nacional de Regularización de Extranjeros (The National Plan of the Regularization of Foreigners) last month as a response to a ruling issues last September by the Tribunal Constitucional (Constitutional Tribunal) that retroactively stripped citizenship from Dominicans born after 1929 to undocumented immigrants. Since the Dominican government began the process of regularization on June 2, more than 80,000 have signed up to start the process. However, only 20,000 of this group have some type of identification, and only 300 fit all the requirements.
Beyond the discussion of immigration, the Dominican Minister of the Presidency Gustavo Montalvo asked that the Haitian government end the current ban on importing Dominican products, which he said has resulted in “increasing the informal market” and has “created competitive disadvantages.” Nevertheless, Montalvo said that with the bilateral talks this year the countries have made more progress than in the previous 50 years.
Protesters in Haiti called for the resignation of Haitian President Michel Martelly as they closed a major road in Port-au-Prince on Thursday. Some 2,000 protesters accused Martelly of corruption and demanded that the government hold elections.
This is the third protest against the Haitian government this week after elections have been delayed for almost two and a half years. In March, a U.S. Congressional delegation to Haiti—including Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Frederica Wilson—voiced concern over Haiti’s delay to hold elections. UN Special representative and head of the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH), Sandra Honoré, has encouraged the participation of all actors after the executive, the legislative and political parties reached the Accord of El Rancho in February, agreeing to combine parliamentary and municipal elections. If elections are not held by the end of 2014, the parliament will dissolve in January of 2015, allowing Martelly to rule by decree.
The protests on Thursday were broken up by riot police and UN peacekeepers after the blockade and the Associated Press reported that at least 10 protesters were detained. Demonstrations overtook the northern city of Cap-Haitien on Sunday, and protests in the capital turned violent on Monday after protesters smashed car windows in Port-au-Prince.
The Brazilian state of Acre has asked the government to temporarily close the Brazil-Peru border to control Haitian migration. Acre’s secretary of justice and human rights, Nilson Mourão, said the levels of Haitian migration into the region are unsustainable and have strained the capacity of social services in the area.
Since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, more than 15,000 Haitians have migrated into the Amazon region of Brazil through Brazil’s border with Peru in order to look for jobs.
Acre’s local government says it is not equipped to receive the new migrants, who have overcrowded shelters as they await documentation. This month alone, the arrivals have tripled to between 70 and 80 a day, prompting Mourão’s request to temporarily close the border between the Peruvian town of Iñapari and the town of Assis in Brazil.
This is not the first crackdown on Haitian immigrants in Brazil. In 2012, Brazil restricted Haitian immigration after 4,000 Haitians crossed into the country through the Amazon. After granting 1,600 visas to incoming Haitians fleeing the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, the Brazilian government declared it would only grant 100 temporary work visas and 2,400 humanitarian visas to recent migrants. Hundreds of Haitians were stranded in Peru after the changes were implemented.
Four years after the earthquake in Haiti—which killed 220,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless—817,000 Haitians are still in need of humanitarian assistance and 172,000 still live in displacement camps.
Government officials from the Dominican Republic and Haiti will meet next month to discuss a controversial court decision that would take citizenship away from thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, Haiti’s foreign minister Pierre Richard Casimir said on Thursday. A commission made up of five officials from both countries will meet in Ouanaminthe, a town on the Haitian border, on January 7.
Earlier this week, Dominican President Danilo Medina and Haitian President Michel Martelly, met during a summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and Petrocaribe. The two leaders agreed to create a commission to discuss the court ruling, which could retroactively render approximately 200,000 individuals stateless. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who chaired the meeting, announced the creation of the joint commission, which will have Venezuela, the UN, the European Union and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as observers.
The ruling has become source of international debate, as advocates of those affected by the decision accuse the Dominican Republic of discriminating agaimst Dominicans of Haitian descent and violating their human rights. Some Haitian diaspora leaders have even called for an international boycott of the Dominican tourism industry.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has urged the Dominican Republic to restore nationality to those affected by the court decision. Critics of the court decision also published an open letter to Dominican president Medina condemning the decision.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe plans to do a tour of Silicon Valley companies and universities today in an attempt to attract investment to the Caribbean nation. Lamothe has meetings scheduled with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, as well as executives from Google, Apple and other top executives about opportunities for technological innovation in Haiti.
A mere .02 percent of Haitians have regular access to the Internet, and limited infrastructure and frequent blackouts have hampered efforts to increase connectivity. The 2010 earthquake exacerbated these conditions, though part of the millions of dollars in recovery aid has been spent trying to get the long impoverished country wired, including a $3.9 million program launched this fall to deploy 65 miles of optical fiber in the country's southern region.
At a tech conference in San Francisco yesterday, Lamothe said the Haitian government’s top priority is lifting people out of extreme poverty, and “the best way to do it is through technology.” He went on to say that the country could overcome its infrastructural challenges by storing data in digital clouds, and that the government could partner with business on the effort. Lamothe’s trip to California comes only two days after violent anti-government demonstrations erupted Haiti, where protesters opposed corruption and the high cost of living and demanded that President Michele Martelly step down.
Uruguayan President José Mujica announced at the Council of Ministers on Monday his decision to withdraw Uruguayan troops from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Mission was installed by the UN Security Council in 2004 following the coup d’état against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and was reinforced in early 2010 when a devastating earthquake resulted in more than 220,000 deaths, according to government figures.
The UN has encouraged a progressive reduction of MINUSTAH’s troops as the peacekeeping mission’s mandate is coming to an end in June 2014. The latest Security Council resolution established that troops must be reduced to 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents—down from the 8,690 officials who are currently on the island.
According to Uruguayan Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, Mujica ordered the early withdrawal of the Uruguayan troops, which must be done in coordination with the Security Council and other countries from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The president stated that the process should not be postponed any further, since other countries like Brazil have already decided to leave.
With 950 officials in Haiti, Uruguay is second only to Brazil as the country that provides the greatest number of military officials to MINUSTAH. Besides Uruguay, other nations with peacekeeping troops in Haiti include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru.
The presence of peacekeepers has been the target of popular protests and a source of controversy in Haiti because of the peacekeepers’ role in re-introducing cholera to the country, numerous cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving MINUSTAH personnel—including the sexual assault of a young Haitian man by Uruguayan troops—and other abuses.
Thirty million people live in modern slave-like conditions according to a report published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation yesterday, titled the Global Slavery Index. An estimated 3.73 percent of the 29.6 millions of people in modern slavery—defined as those exposed to a range of practices, including forced and bonded labor, human trafficking, forced marriages, and the use of children in the military—are in the Americas.
Of the 162 countries ranked in the index, Haiti scored second with 210,000 slaves out of a population of 10.1 million. The report estimates that one in 10 Haitian children are trapped in an exploitative system of child labor, known as restavek, and that the number increased after the 2010 earthquake devastated the already poor Caribbean nation. Mauritania came in first with 151 thousand slaves out of a total population of 3.8 million. In the Americas, Peru was ranked 65 with 82,000 slaves out of a total population of 30 million, followed by Uruguay at 72 and Colombia at 73.
In absolute terms, India, China, Pakistan and Nigeria have the highest numbers of people enslaved. The Walk Free Foundation report was supported by global leaders such as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft. Clinton said, "I urge leaders around the world to view this index as a call to action, and to stay focused on the work of responding to this crime."
Human rights activists filed a lawsuit in New York yesterday against the United Nations, demanding compensation and public responsibility for the cholera epidemic that has affected thousands of people in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Numerous independent reports, including one produced by an expert panel commissioned by the UN, have concluded that the epidemic was most likely introduced by UN peacekeeping forces who were carrying a strain of the disease from Nepal, and that they did not take sufficient precautions to prevent its spread.
Cholera infections had not been reported for nearly a century in Haiti prior to the 2010 epidemic. The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti—the group representing the families and individuals seeking compensation in the trial—estimates that 685,000 Haitians have been affected by the disease since 2010. So far, 8,400 Haitians have died from cholera and the disease is expected to claim an additional 1,000 lives each year. Expert reports found that the disease was spread from a UN camp with “documented sanitation deficiencies,” and then carried by sewage channels into the island’s Artibonite River, used by many Haitians for bathing and drinking water.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced in February that UN would not provide compensation to victims of the outbreak, citing provisions of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which grants the UN immunity from domestic laws. International law experts agree, saying it is unlikely the case will be considered by the federal court where it was introduced, provided that the UN has enjoyed legal immunity from domestic laws since World War II. Haitian President Michel Martelly spoke on the issue last week in his address to the UN General Assembly, saying the entity has “a moral responsibility” to compensate victims.
The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic ruled on Thursday that anyone born in the country after 1929 to undocumented immigrant parents would lose their citizenship.
Formerly, the Dominican Republic granted citizenship to anyone born on its soil. But starting in 2007, electoral authorities began denying identity documents to Dominicans of Haitian descent. Three years later, the government approved a new constitution stating that citizenship will be granted only to those born in the country to at least one parent of Dominican blood or whose foreign parents are legal residents.
Citing the 2010 constitution, Thursday’s ruling deemed that any Haitian migrants that came to work in the Dominican sugarcane fields since 1929 were seasonal workers “in transit,” and that their children were not entitled to automatic citizenship.
The Court said officials are studying birth certificates of more than 16,000 people, and gave the Electoral Commission one year to produce a list of people to be excluded from citizenship. The ruling overwhelming affects the estimated 1 million individuals of Haitian descent, throwing them into legal limbo.
Reed Brody, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the ruling “cuts against the rights of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic, and could immediately undermine their access to education and health services.” Some activists have said that they will contest the ruling before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The decision will likely exacerbate already sour relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, who share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and have a long history of conflict, including a massacre of 20,000 Haitians that was orchestrated by former Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1937. Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe did not issue a statement in response to the ruling.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.