Many landmark events happened in the Caribbean this year, prompting reactions from the regional blogosphere – from student protests at the University of Puerto Rico to the release of Cuban political prisoners. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these was the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Many bloggers were still wrapped up in the novelty and fresh hopes for the New year when disaster struck on January 12, setting a sombre tone for the months ahead. Here are our picks for the stories that defined the Caribbean blogosphere in 2010…
The Haiti Earthquake
Sudden, unexpected, unforgiving: Measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, this earthquake was bound to do serious damage wherever it struck. In Haiti, a poor island nation with inadequate infrastructure and the majority of the population living in sub-standard conditions, the effects were disastrous. As the death toll continued to rise and the country remained immobilized, the region (and the world!) came to the country's aid. Bloggers were desperately hoping that the rescue efforts would prove successful, even in the face of massive aftershocks; citizen media rose to the challenge, sending out valuable first-hand information.
Global Voices Online sent a team to Haiti in the earthquake's aftermath, primarily to offer support for citizen media, since we believe that there is a real need to amplify Haitian voices when it comes to relief and reconstruction efforts. Our Managing Director, Georgia Popplewell, and former GV Lingua Team Leader, Alice Backer, “[made] contact with Haitians using citizen media tools, and [identified] others with the potential to participate in and enrich the online conversation, given the right resources”, with a view to increasing the amount of local citizen media activity. Visit our Special Coverage Page for various perspectives on the earthquake and subsequent relief efforts.
As if the devastating effects of the earthquake on the local food supply weren't enough, Haitian farmers also had to hurriedly mobilise against Monsanto, a company that produces genetically modified seed and wanted to get a foot in the door, via “a donation of conventional corn and vegetable seeds to farmers in Haiti, to help increase food production and aid long-term earthquake recovery.”
Towards the end of a trying year, the country faced a debilitating cholera crisis, braced for a hurricane and, when it appeared that the cholera epidemic was brought into the country by (largely unwelcome) UN peacekeepers, tried as best it could to function in the midst of violent protests.
Natural disasters and health challenges were not the only challenges the island nation faced. Its annus horriblis came to a climax with the staging of the country's controversial elections; bloggers are still questioning the transparency of the process, even as results continue to be verified.
These ripple effects of the January 12 earthquake have undoubtedly made 2010 a year Haiti would rather forget, but the reality is that other regional territories were also affected by the tremor. The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the same island, Hispaniola [ES: La Española]. Since borders are fluid and permeable, everything that affects one country affects the other in some way or another. Therefore, the Dominican Republic also felt the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit Haiti, leaving at least 300,000 dead and many thousands more homeless and living in extremely harsh conditions.
The Puerto Rico Student Protests
Puerto Rico battled a severe economic crisis during 2010. The despair and angst caused by conservative public social and economic policies provided the context for the student strike that paralyzed the main campus of the state-run University of Puerto Rico during two months starting in April 2010. Students of campuses from all over the island joined the protest against educational budget cuts, and their plight catalyzed a national social movement.
Students protest at the main campus of the UPR. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz of Diálogo. Republished under a CC License.
In December 2010, students of the main campus in Río Piedras, San Juan, declared a second strike, this time specifically against an annual $800 fee. The government ordered the Police to occupy the university’s campuses, which has led to violent confrontations with students. During both strikes, students have creatively used online platforms, blogs and social media networks, to express themselves.
The Jamaica State of Emergency
The eyes of the world were focused on Jamaica from late May, as the Prime Minister finally stopped trying to escape the inevitable and allowed the US extradition request for alleged drug don Christopher “Dudus” Coke to be signed, setting in motion a series of events that practically held the country in a vice grip for over a month. As @anniepaul put it:
The pact between the criminals and the state has been broken, we are being shown the consequences of that rupture…
Citizen media did a stellar job as a reliable source of information throughout the unrest. Our Special Coverage Page has all the details.
The Release of Cuban Political Prisoners
Over the course of the last few months, the Cuban government, as part of a deal brokered by the Spanish government and the Catholic Church, has released several prisoners of conscience, albeit to exile in Spain. The move followed the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapato Tamayo, after which the situation on the island became even more tense, with Cuban authorities clamping down on bloggers and activists around the time of Tamayo's funeral. Thirteen prisoners are still due to be released under the agreement; although the deadline has already passed, bloggers are still watching the situation closely.
This was not the only important story to come out of Cuba this year: soon after Fidel Castro admitted to a reporter (and subsequently retracted his statement) that the Cuban economic model no longer works, the government began the process of cutting 500,000 state jobs, in an effort resuscitate the island's struggling economy.
Interestingly, the government also announced that a submarine fiber optic cable linking Venezuela, Cuba, and Jamaica, will be operating by January of 2011. Although this will greatly enhance the quality of Internet connectivity, it will not necessarily lead to more access.
Plane crash in Central Cuba. Courtesy of Escambray.
On November 4, sixty-eight people died in the crash of an Aerocaribbean plane in central Cuba. Social media networks immediately became one of the main channels of communication.
Several regional territories had to say goodbye to national icons this year: Barbados lost its relatively new and certainly youngest-ever Prime Minister, Jamaica – and indeed the world – lost reggae icon Gregory “Cool Ruler” Isaacs to cancer and Monserrat (and calypso fans everywhere) said their final farewell to Arrow, the man who brought us the mega-hit “Hot, Hot, Hot”.
In other music news, reggae star Buju Banton was a regular topic of discussion in the regional blogosphere, as he went to court in the United State to defend himself against drug trafficking charges. After the judge presiding over his case declared a mistrial in September, the singer is scheduled to go through the process again, with a new trial beginning early in the New Year.
The 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season started early, with Hurricane Earl, which was closely followed by Igor and finally, Tomas, the storm which appeared to have done the greatest damage. When neighbouring nations pledged their relief support in the hurricane's aftermath, Trinidad and Tobago's newly-elected (and first female) Prime Minister came under fire for her statement that that any release of the twin island republic's aid dollars hinged on reciprocal economic benefits. Her words was interpreted as insensitive and prompted an online boycott of Trinidad and Tobago products across the region.
From natural disasters to political wrangling, 2010 was a busy year – and as 2011 approaches, the Global Voices Caribbean Team will continue to monitor the regional blogosphere in an ongoing effort to facilitate meaningful conversation and understanding throughout the Caribbean archipelago.