Caribbean: Looking Back on 2011

The regional blogosphere in 2011 saw a few territories, most notably Cuba, taking front and centre – especially when it came to digital activism. The rest of the Caribbean meanwhile, grappled with everything from homophobia to states of emergency, weathered hurricanes and questioned the boundaries of online privacy, discussed a plane crash and World AIDS Day and became ardent fans of Project Runway.

Here's a quick look at what our Spanish Language Editor, Firuzeh Shokooh Valle and I agreed was noteworthy this year…

Haiti – Earthquake recovery, Aristide & elections

As physically and economically ravaged Haiti struggled to find its bearings a year after the January 12, 2010 earthquake, Twitter was full of tweets bearing the hashtags #remember #Haiti as netizens recalled the devastation and spared a thought for earthquake victims and survivors alike.

The country was soon to face another strange reality in the form of ousted dictator Jean Claude Duvalier's curiously timed return to his homeland. There was soon talk of an impending arrest for acts of corruption during his tenure, but although charges were filed, the case soon appeared to fall by the wayside, reportedly because the statute of limitations had expired.

Tent city, Juvenat, by caribbeanfreephoto, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons License.

A couple of months later, the country's elections took centre stage, with reports of election threats and subsequent violence. As it turned out, the candidate accused of leveling those threats, Michel Martelly, popularly known by the moniker “Sweet Micky”, went on to claim victory in the polls.

Throughout the earthquake and election turmoil, frustration continued to mount against the United Nations presence in Haiti (MINUSTAH), partly as a result of its troops being responsible for an outbreak of cholera that killed thousands of Haitians, and partly for their crimes against the Haitian people.

Cuba – Deaths of dissident and Las Damas leader and reforms

The (albeit measured) jubilation over the release of Cuban political prisoners in 2010 soon turned to sadness following the death of opposition member Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia. Local dissidents insisted that he had been beaten by police, while the government maintained that Soto's “acute pancreatitis…led to multiple organ failure”, even calling the allegations of police brutality a “'smear campaign’ aimed at weakening the Cuban revolution.”

The incident called into question modus operandi of the Cuban government, especially considering its routine crackdowns on Las Damas de Blanco, one of the most respected opposition movements on the island, whose members comprise the wives of prisoners of conscience.

The Ladies in White were soon thrust into the spotlight again – this time because of the hospitalization of the group's vibrant leader, Laura Pollan, who subsequently passed away. The official cause of death was an unidentified infection that reportedly turned out to be dengue fever, but some camps suggested that her treatment may have been sub-standard because of her political stance.

Even as tributes poured in for the late human rights activist, bloggers expressed concern for the safety of other Cuban dissidents, given the climate of apparent state-sanctioned aggression against them.


#TwitHab 2011. Photo by Elaine Díaz.
#TwitHab 2011. Photo by Elaine Díaz.

One of the high points in the Cuban blogosphere this year was the first meeting of users of the social network Twitter #TwitHab, held last July in Havana at 23rd and 12th of the Vedado district and in the Pabellón Cuba.

The event hosted almost 100 people, mostly young journalism students, administrators, professors, journalists and bloggers, among others. The event was not free of controversy; nevertheless, Twitter has evidently served as an interesting venue for expression, debate and solidarity.

The sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), held in Havana from April 16-19, marked a turning point for the Cuban economic system, and for Cuban society at large. Party members approved measures to institute term limits for top party and government leaders, legalize home ownership and sales, and restructure state salaries so that they will be determined in part by the amount and quality of labor performed by workers.

Dominican Republic – Drugs, hurricanes and gold medals

Last November, the Partido de  la Liberación Dominicana (PLD-Dominican Liberation Party) nominated Margarita Cedeño, the wife of current president Leonel Fernández, to run for vice-president in the next elections. The drug connection between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico has also made headlines this year: September saw was the sentencing of the infamous Figueroa Acosta case [es], considered one of the most scandalous cases of drug trafficking in both these islands.

At the start of the hurricane season, Hurricane Irene devastated the north coast of Dominican Republic [es] leaving approximately 30,000 affected and 11,000 people displaced. (The storm also affected the Bahamas).

Finally, it was a great year in sports: the Dominican Republic achieved a historical record of medals [es] in the past edition of the Pan-American Games held in Guadalajara, Mexico, with seven gold, nine silver, and 17 bronze medals in 26 events.

Trinidad and Tobago – State of emergency

In August, many netizens were taken aback at the unexpected declaration of a state of emergency, ostensibly to deal with the country's rising crime rate. Nicholas Laughlin summed up the general feeling by pointing out that “this legal step, which affects a broad range of civil rights, has triggered widespread debate about the roots of violent crime in Trinidad and Tobago and the implications of the government's latest strategy.”

The government's gaffes resulted in confusion and mounting frustration; bloggers vented online here and here. When the state of emergency finally came to an end and as expected, violent crime rebounded, the citizenry was left wondering what it achieved, if anything at all.

Puerto Rico – Domestic violence and crime, the arts and sports

The year 2011 was the most violent in the Island’s history with 1,136 murders as of early in the day December 31 [es], a 15% increase from 2010. Twenty-six women were murdered (eight cases are still under investigation) by their partners or ex-partners, one of the highest rates in years.

The feminist movement and a group of active feminist bloggers [es] have been at the forefront, denouncing the state’s lack of action against domestic violence. The United States Justice Department also accused the Puerto Rico Police Department of a pattern of civil rights violations and illegal practices.
On the other hand, it was a wonderful year for the arts and sports. The Puerto Rican hip hop duo Calle 13 achieved a record in the most recent Latin Grammy Awards where they won nine awards for their most recent album “Entren los que quieran” for a record of a total of 19 Latin Grammys in their career.  Their beautiful song “Latinoamérica” has already become a kind of an anthem for Latin Americans all over the world.
In sports, the Puerto Rican professional basketball player José Juan Barea became one of the most beloved national icons after winning the 2011 US National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Championship playing for the Mavericks team from Dallas, Texas (check this short video on Barea’s life).


Finally, Caribbean bloggers were eloquent in their farewells to some luminary people, both home-grown and international. Trinidad and Tobago lost an environmental champion with the passing of Professor Julian Kenny, as well as an important cultural icon with the death of Dr. Pat Bishop. Remembrances also poured in as tech-minded bloggers learned of the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and wrote about how his visionary products helped to transform their work and their lives.

The human rights activist Sonia Pierre died on December 4. She was 48. Pierre dedicated her life to advocate for the rights of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic and of Dominicans of Haitian origin. Pierre was the founder of MUDHA — Movimiento De Mujeres Dominico-Haitiana or Movement of Dominican Haitian Women. She is remembered as a courageous activist who fought against racism and sexism all her life.

More to look forward to

We have no doubt that in 2012, Caribbean bloggers will have a lot more to talk about – the outcome of Jamaica's recently-held general elections is just one topic that comes to mind – and we look forward to following the regional blogosphere as we continue to strive to facilitate a meaningful exchange of ideas.

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle contributed to this post. In the Cuba section, excerpts from posts by GV authors Ellery Biddle and Elaine Díaz are included. Thanks to Emil Rodríguez Garabot for his help on the section on Dominican Republic.

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