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News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Caribbean

'If I Was President': Wyclef Jean sets eyes on Haiti

Latimes wyclef jean

Wyclef Jean, the New York-raised hip-hop star, has declared himself a candidate for the presidency of earthquake-torn Haiti, reports Joe Mozingo in the L.A. Times.

"My father always told me life without sacrifice is not worth living, so today I take on the greatest sacrifice that a man can take on in the 21st century," Jean said, announcing his candidacy Thursday. "I'm running for president for my country of Haiti."

The announcement has met cheers and skepticism among Haitians, with younger people expressing enthusiasm for the idea but members of the political and intellectual establishment doubting Jean's viability as a leader as Haiti struggles to emerge from the disaster of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

"Bon bagay," Saintil Wilson, 22, said from a seaside slum. "Good thing. We need somebody who is younger and stronger and has more power to run Haiti."

"First, he doesn't know how the state works," sociologist Laennec Hurbon told The Times. "He hasn't any knowledge of the political parties. This is not a good thing for democracy in Haiti."

A journalist and United Nations advisor notes in the story that Jean does not speak French and is not fluent in Creole, the primary languages used in Haiti's government. There are also unresolved questions about whether Jean even qualifies to run. He was born in Port-au-Prince but left when he was 9 and has not lived permanently in Haiti since.

Jean, 37, the son of a Nazarene preacher, is a former member of the influential hip-hop group the Fugees. In the days after the quake, Jean was in Port-au-Prince helping collect dead bodies. His Yele Haiti Foundation raised millions of dollars for Haiti's quake recovery but also faced criticism for its financial practices.

Only a day into his run, the entertainer is already facing resistance in the thorny world of Haitian politics. For starters, an electoral council must validate whether Jean meets the qualifications to be a candidate. If he is certified as a candidate, he'll be running against an uncle, Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States. The party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom Jean criticized in 2004, is planning on painting the new candidate as a puppet of U.S. interests, Mozingo reports.

In 2008, Jean released a song titled "If I Was President," in which he sings, "If I was president / I'd get elected on Friday / Assassinated on Saturday / Buried on Sunday / They go back to work on Monday." One video for the track uses U.S.-style electoral imagery, not Haitian. Watch it here.

The Fugees were a New Jersey hip-hop trio featuring Jean along with Pras and Lauryn Hill. The group rose to prominence in the 1990s with such politically charged hits as "Fu-Gee-La" and "Ready Or Not," but they later split up as the members embarked on solo careers.

Count one former bandmate as a Jean skeptic. The New York Daily News reports that Pras is not endorsing Jean's run and will support a rival candidate in elections in November.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Wyclef Jean greets supporters after filing candidacy papers in Port-au-Prince, Aug. 4, 2010. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

Homeless in Haiti, and losing hope

Haiti amputee sounlove zamour

Misery is gripping the survivors of Haiti's catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, more than six months after the disaster and despite an international outpouring of humanitarian aid and goodwill. L.A. Times correspondent Ken Ellingwood was recently back in Haiti, where thousands sit in squalid temporary encampments waiting for relief, and new homes.

"At first we thought that the way the international community was coming together that in six months we'd be off the street. But we're still here," Stella Nicholas told Ellingwood from a shelter near downtown Port-au-Prince. "Our government is incapable of getting us out of this situation. I hope the international community can keep our hope alive, because it's fading."

Read the entire story here.

The Times also checks back in with quake survivor Sounlove Zamor, above, a 19-year-old amputee who has been waiting for several months for a trip to an Israeli hospital to be fitted with prosthetic limbs. Communication and passport issues have kept Zamor waiting and waiting. As a commenter on the story notes, Zamor is but one of many amputees hoping for prosthetic surgery.

An L.A. Times editorial recently called for the United States government to expedite visas for thousands of Haitians with sponsors in the U.S. Meanwhile, hip-hop entertainer Wyclef Jean is reportedly considering a run for Haiti's presidency in elections later this year. The deadline to declare a candidacy is Aug. 7.

So what's taking so long to get improvements to the people of Haiti?

Authorities in charge of the relief effort say that progress is actually impressive, given the scale of the disaster. Major outbreaks of illness or violence have so far been averted, although rape is increasingly a threat in some camps. The quake exacerbated existing problems in Haiti, such as deficiencies in infrastructure and the ambivalent nature of land rights in the country. Reaching recovery goals will take more time, officials say.

At a conference in New York in March, the international community pledged $9 billion in aid for reconstruction efforts in Haiti. To learn more about those efforts, visit the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission and the United Nations' Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, headed by former President Clinton.

Yet as reports frequently point out, skepticism remains high among ordinary Haitians who are still struggling to survive since the disaster struck. Richard Morse, a Twitter user in Haiti who rose to prominence in the days after the quake, recently tweeted: "First 2 questions to ask Haiti's Presidential Candidates 1) Are you planning any audits? 2) Are you planning any arrests?"

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Sounlove Zamor, 19, right, with her sister Baranatha, 20, at the general hospital in Gonaives, Haiti. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

'Dudus' in drag: How accused Jamaican drug lord evaded arrest

Chris duds coke cross dressing
When accused Jamaican drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke was finally arrested last week, authorities said he had evaded capture since last month's deadly clashes in West Kingston with the help of disguises. At the time of his arrest, The Times reports, "He was dressed like a woman and wearing a wig, police said."

The revelation that Coke moved about Jamaica disguised as a woman has sparked some discussion on the island about the nature and role of powerful "dons" in the broader society. Writing in the Jamaica Observer, columnist Chris Burns notes that while the image of Coke in a woman's wig is at first comical, it also reveals nagging social problems in Jamaica.

From his commentary, "Bad men seem to love women's wigs":

We would be fooling ourselves if we believe that crime and violence are not offshoots of deeper socio-psychological, emotional, economic and cultural struggles, such as poverty, low self-esteem, sexual struggles and repression, intolerance, poor parenting and socialisation, and emotional traumas from abusive homes and communities. Dudus, wittingly or unwittingly, might have opened up Pandora's Box to a greater solution to donmanship.

The writer Kei Miller, in a Facebook post titled "Bad men nuh dress like girl," points out some historical parallels:

This strange history of bad men dressing like girls actually stretches further back. Before there was Dudus, there was Natty Morgan. Natty also topped the charts of Jamaica’s Most Wanted and had been on the run, it seemed, forever and a day. For a while Natty had even lived across a swamp and many women would risk the deadly bites of alligators just to be with him on nights while he waited on the police to find him. After Natty was gunned down (having no pastor to protect him unfortunately) many a woman would come forward to testify that it was their frock that Natty had borrowed on this night or that ...

Coke was extradited to New York on Thursday and now faces multiple drugs and weapons charges. His lawyer told BBC Radio he was "deeply saddened" by the deaths in Tivoli Gardens, Coke's former stronghold neighborhood in Kingston. "Christopher 'Dudus' Coke is an unfortunate Jamaican who has gotten caught up in local political intrigue and international drama," said the lawyer, Tom Tavares-Finson.

The Observer says that Coke faces an "uphill battle" against the charges.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photos: A previous mugshot of Christopher Coke, and his mugshot from last week's arrest. Credit: Reuters and Associated Press

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding faces no-confidence vote by Parliament


Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding on Tuesday pledged tougher measures against gangs even as the country’s Parliament introduced a no-confidence motion against the leader after a police action last week that left more than 70 people dead.

“Gunmen who no longer flee when the security forces approach but engage them with vicious firepower must be confronted with the full force of the law,” Golding said, according to news reports. “The time for equivocation is over.”

The violence, which drew widespread criticism, resulted from the search for alleged drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who remained at large. Parliament was preparing Tuesday to censure Golding for his handling of a U.S. request to extradite Coke.

As La Plaza pointed out last week, a former prime minister of Jamaica has been blunt in his criticism of the security operation in Kingston, the capital. In an interview with L.A. Times special correspondent Chris Kraul, Edward Seaga called for Golding's resignation.

Seaga and Golding are rivals within Jamaica's Labor Party; both have represented the West Kingston area that encompasses the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood, Coke's stronghold. "The criminals are not the people who have been killed, just innocent people leaving their houses. The armed forces shot every man they could find," Seaga said.

There is no indication now that Golding will step down, but Seaga's claims are supported by Kraul's reporting. From this article in The Times, about a Kingston mortuary:

One of those waiting outside was Debbie Dale, whose son, Jamie, 21, was shot to death inside her house Wednesday in the Kingston Three neighborhood. She said about 10 officers knocked down her door and shot him at close range.

"They took me outside the house while they questioned him. Then I heard the shots. They dragged him out by the feet, threw him in a van and drove away. Only then could I go inside. There was blood everywhere," Dale said. "They said later he died in a shoot-out, but he didn't have a gun."

Residents alleged that some of the killings by security forces were random.

Angry Tivoli Gardens residents lashed out against the operation in this video produced by the Jamaica Gleaner. Coke remains at large and is assumed to have left the area. Golding, meanwhile, is defending his government's actions against "dons" in Kingston's tough "garrison" neighborhoods, saying,  "This effort must be sustained. It may be a long haul but there must be no letting up."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A police officer and a scrawled message in support of Christopher "Dudus" Coke in Kingston, Jamaica. Credit: Associated Press.

Who controls the slums of Kingston?


The death toll rose to more than 70 in the Jamaican capital on Thursday in the fifth day of skirmishes  between government forces and loyalists of a powerful drug lord in the Tivoli Gardens slum of Kingston. The search continues for Christopher "Dudus" Coke, a 41-year-old "don" who is wanted in the U.S. on drugs and weapons charges. But local news reports say Coke has already escaped from the area.

Video of the gun battles from a local newscast is available here.

Morgues in Kingston are almost full, reports the Jamaica Gleaner. The chief public defender in Kingston, Earl Witter, is also raising questions about the government's conduct in the raid on Tivoli Gardens: Police officers and soldiers have killed dozens of people but seized few weapons.

The security situation in Jamaica this week raises a more troubling and fundamental question, analysts say. Who really controls the streets in the tough parts of Kingston?

Continue reading »

Trinidad and Tobago elects first female prime minister

Trinidad prime minister The tiny, twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago has elected its first female prime minister, 59-year-old Kamla Persad-Bissessar. In an early election called by Prime Minister Patrick Manning, Persad-Bissessar's five-party coalition captured 29 of 41 seats in polling on Monday, while Manning's People's National Movement won 12 seats. It had previously held 26.

An attorney, Persad-Bissessar told boisterous supporters that no ethnic or class group would dominate in Trinidad and Tobago under her government. Manning's PNM has dominated politics in the country for a half-century, drawing most of its support from citizens of African descent.

Persad-Bissessar is of Indian descent, as is about 40% percent of the population in Trinidad and Tobago, according to the CIA World Factbook. About 37% of the nation's population is of African descent.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Prime Minister-elect Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Monday. Credit: Associated Press.

At least 26 dead in battle over drug lord in Jamaican slum


 dudus coke apAt least 26 civilians are confirmed dead in Jamaica in fierce fighting between government forces and gunmen loyal to a wanted drug lord. News reports say that violence in the Tivoli Gardens slum of Kingston, Jamaica's capital, continued Tuesday as police and soldiers raided the compound where Christopher "Dudus" Coke, pictured left, is believed to be holed up.

The conflict began after Prime Minister Bruce Golding reversed his nine-month refusal to extradite Coke to the U.S. on drugs and weapons charges. Golding is the parliament representative of the West Kingston area that Coke is said to control.

In Jamaica, the political system is deeply intertwined with networks of powerful gangs that control slums and deliver votes to parties. Coke's gang, known as the Shower Posse and based in Tivoli Gardens, is tied to the ruling Labor Party. The drug lord has been described as a Robin Hood-like figure to his supporters.

Golding had argued the the U.S. indictment against Coke is based on illegal wiretapping, but after mounting public pressure, the prime minister reversed course and ordered Coke arrested on May 17. That's when, reports say, people in Tivoli Gardens began setting up barricades. Unrest began Sunday and erupted Monday as government forces moved in on Coke's stronghold.

The violence has forced schools and businesses to shut down, the U.S. Embassy to close, and the government to declare a state of emergency in parts of the city. Shootouts have also been reported elsewhere in the city's tougher neighborhoods, but so far the violence has not invaded Jamaica's well-known tourist resorts, the Associated Press reported.

The BBC reports that so far it does not appear that Jamaican security forces have been able to penetrate the "warren-like" slum. The political opposition on the island is now calling on Golding to resign over the outbreak of violence.

Al Jazeera's English-language network recently produced an in-depth video report on the culture of violence of extrajudicial police killings in Jamaica. The local news source Jamaica Observer is updating with developments on the current conflict in Kingston.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Christoper "Dudus" Coke. Credit: Associated Press

University student strike engrosses Puerto Rico

  Student strike puerto rico

The University of Puerto Rico remains paralyzed by a student strike that has lasted more than five weeks, engrossing the entire island. Students shut down the campus on April 21 over austerity measures that university officials sought in order close a massive budget shortfall. The strike at the university, which serves 62,000 students, reflects wider economic troubles in Puerto Rico. The U.S. commonwealth is in the midst of a deep recession.

Students are reportedly barricaded behind campus gates under heavy police watch at 10 of the university's 11 campuses. Supporters have been hurling food and water over campus fences to reach the students, resulting in violent confrontations with police. In one widely reported incident, police beat and arrested a man who was attempting to deliver food to his son, a striking student.

Media reports say support for the strike is widespread on the island, but university officials disagree, saying it is being led by a small minority. Last year, discontent with the economic policies of Republican Gov. Luis Fortuño -- who sought to lay off thousands of government workers -- led to an island-wide national protest.

"Not since Puerto Rico rallied to chase the United States Navy out of Vieques a decade ago have so many different social sectors rallied around a single cause," reports the Miami Herald.

Striking students are keeping a live radio stream online, at Radio Huelga. Lively debate is heard among students over how to proceed. "The strike has not resolved anything," one student is heard saying on the radio stream. "We are only aggravating the university."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Students on strike at the University of Puerto Rico. Credit: Associated Press

Cuba's Raul Castro meets the cardinal


A rare meeting has taken place between Raul Castro, Cuba's communist president, and the head of the Roman Catholic Church on the island nation.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and other leaders of the church discussed "issues of mutual interest" with Castro, official Cuban media reported. The encounter occurred Wednesday but wasn't reported until now. Cuba's Granma newspaper carried a photograph of Castro, in military green, shaking hands with Ortega and Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, head of the Cuban Bishops Conference. The BBC quoted church sources as saying the leaders talked about imprisoned dissidents with an eye to next month's visit to Cuba of the Vatican's foreign secretary, Dominique Memberti. 

Ortega is widely credited with easing tensions over a recent slew of anti-government protests. The Cuban-born cardinal, who is also archbishop of Havana, brokered a deal between authorities and the female relatives of political prisoners that allowed the so-called Ladies in White to resume weekly demonstrations free of harassment.

Bishops Conference spokesman Jose Felix Perez told Reuters: "This is the first time the conference has had such a high-level meeting," adding, "It was especially relevant in the context that the church has recently been working to mediate solutions to a number of difficulties in society."

Relations between the church and Cuba's leaders were strained for years but have improved since the 1990s, especially after the government loosened restrictions on religion and Pope John Paul II visited the island in 1998.

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Cuban President Raul Castro meets with Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Archbishop Dionisio Garcia in Havana. Credit: Granma.

The perils of displacement in Haiti

Haiti displacement

Nearly four months after the Haiti earthquake, the situation appears uniformly bleak for hundreds of thousands of people living in temporary encampments in and around Port-au-Prince, Ken Ellingwood reports in The Times. Some segments of the society want things to return to normal -- but how can normality be achieved with more than a million left homeless after the quake? Where will they go?

The Haitian soccer federation wanted to get a season underway, for example, which meant removing 3,000 who were living on the field of the Port-au-Prince soccer stadium. More than 1,300 families are still living under tarps in the stadium parking lot, preventing fans from showing up. In Croix-des-Bouquets, the private school Lycee Jean Jacques wants to resume classes, but that would mean removing about 10,000 people crowded into tents on its campus.

"We are hungry," says a message painted on a wall at the school. "Give us food."

Haiti's government plans to build massive provisional housing sites for homeless earthquake survivors on the outskirts of the city, but hasn't found enough land to put them on. The aid agency Oxfam is urging Haiti to first establish the housing camps before allowing the homeless to move from other encampments. As The Times previously reported, people are already moving to Corail Cesselesse, the first of the new provisional housing sites.

"I don't like it," one woman arriving at the camp said. "It's like a wasteland."

For "stories from Haiti, told by Haitians," check out the films by students from the Cine Institute, as seen on They are raw, moving films, told directly by the people who are living the story. This short film, "The Silent March," documents a mournful Carnival observance in the southern city of Jacmel, where the Cine Institute is located.

You can learn more about the film school here.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Residents arrive at the new Corail Cesselesse housing site outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 10. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times


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About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson