Caribbean: What Happened in 2012 (Part 1)

This year, events in the Caribbean blogosphere were curiously bookended by hunger strikes. In January 2012, Cuban prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza died as a result of a hunger strike he had undertaken about two months before. On December 5, 2012, Trinidadian environmental activist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh ended his own 21-day hunger strike based on assurances that the government, the Highway Re-route Movement and various civil society groups would undertake an independent study about the section of proposed highway his lobby group was against. This resorting to hunger strike speaks volumes about the frustration many Caribbean citizens feel about their ability to have their voices heard. Here is a look back – by country – at some of the regional issues that generated meaningful online discussion this year…

The Bahamas
Elections were the hot topic of interest in the Bahamian blogosphere this year, with netizens weighing in here and here, after the results were out. The country got a new government: the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which previously occupied the opposition bench in Parliament, was voted into power in what bloggers called a “landslide” victory.

An economic embargo that has been in place for half a century seems almost unbelievable, but that's the reality that Cuban bloggers were discussing on the 50th anniversary of the United States’ embargo against the island. The most interesting part? The difference in perspective between Cubans still living in Cuba and those who are part of the diaspora.

The papal visit to Cuba in March also caused a lot of furor in the Cuban blogosphere, with many seeing the pontiff's trip as the Vatican's endorsement of the Castro regime, despite its questionable human rights record. Alienating bloggers further was the inability of the pontiff to meet with local opposition groups; the entire situation came to a head when the Archbishop of Havana asked that protesters who were demanding freedom for political prisoners and an end to the persecution of opponents of the regime, be forcibly removed from a church. Statements the Archbishop made afterwards did not help matters.

Pope Benedict XVI; CC image by Catholic Church (England and Wales)

In May, Cuban bloggers were talking about Mariela Castro's visit to the United States in her capacity as the Director of the country's Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (National Center for Sex Education), as well as the state of human rights on the island, following a request for information by the United Nations‘ Committee Against Torture with regard to alleged human rights abuses. Press freedom on the island also came under scrutiny.

A more optimistic note was hit when bloggers got excited about Cuba's Click Festival, which focused on Internet and Society in Cuba, and the role technology can play in the country's future.

French-speaking Caribbean
One of the biggest points of discussion in the Haitian blogosphere this year was the Jean-Claude Duvalier trial. At the end of January 2012, the investigative magistrate looking into human rights charges against Haiti's ousted dictator “Baby Doc”, came to the decision that “the statute of limitations had run out” on those human rights abuses – but not on Duvalier's misappropriation of public funds. Haitians, both on the island and throughout the diaspora, watched as the greater charges against the formerly feared dictator fell away and he headed to court for what was essentially a slap on the wrist for financial impropriety.

Wyclef Jean; CC image by jdlasica

In August, the island was hit by Tropical Storm Isaac and two months later, a storm of a different nature took hold as musician and activist Wyclef Jean's defunct charity Yéle Haiti faced various allegations of financial impropriety. That same month, Mother Nature once again took a toll on Haiti in the form of Hurricane Sandy.

Issues of ethnicity, national identity, religion and immigration were once again raised with bloggers from Martinique and Guadeloupe, following some controversial political statements as well as the “Miss Black France” beauty contest. One of the most controversial posts of the year came from Martinique, about the alleged cancellation of the release of the American movie “Think Like A Man” in French movie theaters, which also raised questions about race and ethnicity. The debate continued following the French presidential elections; there was discussion as to whether Francois Hollande's new government – in which he had promised an equal number of women and men and ministers, and from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds – was appointing ministers for their competence or as ethnic tokens.

Read the second part of this post to find out more about what happened this year in Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

The images used in this post are as follows:
– Photo of Pope Benedict XVI by Catholic Church (England and Wales), CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
– Photo of Wyclef Jean by jdlasica, CC BY-NC 2.0

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