Who rules from financial services rules?

SandersFINAL.jpgOn May 29 the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) issued a public statement in which it said that it “recognises Guyana as a jurisdiction with significant AML/CFT (anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing) deficiencies”.   That’s fair enough since Guyana is the only Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country that has not adopted AML/CFT legislation and other measures that have been arbitrarily stipulated by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and supervised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

However, in calling on its member-states “to implement further counter measures” against Guyana, CFATF made the absurd statement that it “considers Guyana to be a risk to the international financial system”… absurd because if all the financial transactions and the assets of all the banks in the Caribbean were to be added-up, they would not account for 1% of transactions and assets in the international financial system.   Therefore, Guyana, which has no offshore financial sector unlike, for instance, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Barbados and the British Virgin Islands, could not possibly account for even 0.1% of the transactions and assets of the international financial system.  What possible threat could Guyana, with such a minuscule sum, pose to the international financial system?  It is akin to suggesting that a gnat could fall an army of elephants.  Nonetheless, the FATF will now tell the world to blacklist Guyana for all financial transactions.

As a former Chairman of CFATF, I see no value in that organisation, which is supposed to be representative of the interests of its member-states, including Guyana, over-exaggerating the effect on the international financial system of small countries that, for whatever reason, are not able to implement all of the onerous requirements of the FATF.  The FATF is the hand-maiden of the rich countries of the world with a vested interest in the compliance of all other jurisdictions with onerous and costly rules that are arbitrarily made and that are enforced by measures inconsistent with international law, including countries such as the United States of America (US) extending the enforcement of its own laws into foreign countries.  The membership of FATF now consists of 34 countries, including China, Brazil, India and South Africa (CBISA) that it was convenient for the original members to let in given their new economic status. FATF membership is denied developing countries not considered ‘strategically important’.

The rules on matters such as tax competition, money laundering and terrorism financing were made before the CBISA nations joined, but even they have done little or nothing to alter the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of the FATF and its sister grouping, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that also has 34 members.  Significantly, the CBISA nations found membership of that body to be a step too far if they wished to maintain their ‘developing country’ credentials.

The OECD countries, particularly the US, have used the terrorist events of 9/11 to institute far-reaching measures on countries around the world.  While these measures have been pursued in the name of combating laundering of drug-related money and financing of terrorism, there is little doubt that financial institutions in the US and in major financial centres such as Britain have been the principal beneficiaries of the enforcement of rules that push financial services in competing jurisdictions out of business.

In a new and serious development, from July 1 the US Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FACTA) will compel financial and non-financial entities in foreign jurisdictions, including in the Caribbean, to share information with the American Inland Revenue Service (IRS) on “accounts held by US persons or by foreign entities in which US persons hold substantial ownership interests”.   If they fail to do so, the “IRS will cause these correspondent banks to withhold 30% of monies being transmitted to financial institutions outside of the US”.  In other words, 30% of all transactions will be withheld whether they involve US persons or not.

Governments in the Caribbean have accepted FACTA and many of them are now adopting legislation to give legitimacy to it as they have done with the FATF rules on AML/CFT.  Just as there was little collective action by Caribbean jurisdictions to negotiate compensations for the costs of implementing AML/CFT measures, there has been acquiescence in implementing FACTA even though compliance will add to the already heavy burden on governments and financial institutions.

Of course, every country should co-operate in combating serious crime but not a cost disproportionate to the risk they pose.  The OECD and FATF countries in relation to the AML/CFT measures and the US in relation to FACTA should provide compensation for the high costs that the governments of small countries and their financial institutions face. Their offer of ‘technical assistance’ is grossly inadequate and, usually, means placing their own people into the machinery of other governments, but avoiding the financial resources needed.  An authoritative study by the Commonwealth Secretariat (Sharman and Mistry 2008) revealed that costs of ‘the regulatory regime have been rising much faster than any associated tax or fee revenue gain, or the overall growth” of the financial services sector. The Commonwealth study is also explicitl that Tax Information Exchange Agreements that are an integral part of the AML/CFT measures do not compensate small countries “for the expense they must go to in bolstering OECD countries’ tax revenues”.

Guyana’s political parties should adopt the AML/CFT legislation or the country will be blacklisted to its detriment by the FATF.  That is the reality of coercive power.  For the Guyanese to continue to fight each other is to play someone else’s game by someone else’s rules.

Small countries such as Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean cannot singly resist the bludgeoning of multilateral organisations like the OECD and FATF, nor can they individually challenge the US.  But, they can together make a case for compensation – a case in which they could form alliances with countries, equally affected in other parts of the world, to take the issue as far as the General Assembly of the United Nations if necessary.  Right now, the law of the jungle prevails and the mighty rules.

In Guyana the political parties are fighting over the content of AML/CFT legislation, but they are missing the woods for the trees. The real struggle is an international one – and that struggle should also be CFATF’s on behalf of all its member states.

Gonsalves talks free movement of Caribbean nationals

unnamed‘A more mature, more profound regionalism’, says Dr The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, is the only way that regional governments and peoples can tackle the social and economic challenges as well as deal with the frequent natural disasters.  This approach, he challenged, “ought to be a noise in the blood, an echo in the bone of our Caribbean civilisation”.

A packed audience, including Alfonso Múnera, Secretary General of the Association of the Caribbean States; High Commissioner to Jamaica, Her Excellency Sharon Saunders; Veteran journalist and Chief Executive Officer of the Government Information Services (GISL) Andy Johnson, among others, was present for the Distinguished Open Lecture hosted by The University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine. A signatory of the 2001 Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy on behalf of the Government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, PM Gonsalves was ideally placed to review the Shanique Myrie case in the context of community law for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as envisioned by the 22nd meeting of the Conference of Heads of State.

In exploring the topic, “Free Movement of People, Shanique Myrie and Our Caribbean Civilisation”, he noted that the 2007 Conference decision further allowed all CARICOM nationals an automatic stay of six months upon arrival ‘in order to enhance their sense that they belong to, and can move in the Caribbean Community, subject to the right of Member States to refuse undesirable entry and to prevent persons from becoming a charge on public funds’.

Prime Minister Gonsalves pointed out several implications of the Myrie judgment.  Among these was the acknowledgement that decisions of Conference Heads are now explicitly accorded the status of being a vital part of Community law and therefore Conference decisions, particularly those which touch and concern the rights of Community nationals, must be carefully formulated. Further, CARICOM governments have an obligation to ensure that domestic law be put in conformity with Community law since – should there be inconsistency on any relevant matter – Community law would prevail. Also, immigration and other border control officials must incorporate the Myrie guidelines provided by the CCJ at the points of entry to Member States of CARICOM.  He advocated immense education of these officials and alterations of pre-existing domestic regulations and procedures to conform to Community law.

According to Prime Minister Gonsalves, “The Myrie judgment opens up the CARICOM’s Member States to all Community nationals, thus giving life and meaning to regional integration”. He acknowledged that there still remains a controversial and problematic legal issue of the machinery for the enforcement of the decisions of the CCJ.

His address was the third in a lecture series at The UWI St. Augustine focusing on CARICOM: exploring its usefulness to the region and its future, following its 40th anniversary celebrations under a year ago. Other speakers were the Rt. Hon. Perry Gladstone Christie, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque who addressed the issue, “Where is CARICOM going?”  The event was held at the Campus’ new Teaching and Learning Complex.

Lectures are free and open to the public.

pdf_icon_smallAddress by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves – Full text

Harold Brown secures binding $2bn investment in Antigua, one day after becoming Prime Minister

Antigua & Barbuda PM Harold Browne and principals of Yida International

Antigua & Barbuda PM Harold Browne and principals of Yida International

Following an eight-hour long session of negotiations on Saturday, one day after taking up the position of leader of the government, newly-elected Prime Minister the Hon. Gaston Browne signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Yida International Investment Antigua Ltd., paving the way for a two billion dollar investment project in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Memorandum of Agreement, which binds Yida International Investment Antigua Ltd., to the investment, will result in Guiana Island and surrounding lands transformed with the construction of five five-star hotels, 1300 residential units, a casino and conference centre, a 27 hole golf course, marina and landing facilities and a commercial, retail and sports facility.

Browne’s Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party defeated the Baldwin Spencer-led United Progressive Party in elections on June 13, 2014, taking 14 seats of the islands’ 17. 

Stop cursing CARICOM

SandersFINAL.jpgDr Franklin Johnston, a strategist, project manager and advisor to the Jamaica Minister of Education, wrote a column in the Jamaica Observer of May 30 in which he basically contended that the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) are the constructs of “Anglophone black people” and not in the interest of Jamaica.

Rooting his contentions in anti-colonialist sentiment, he stated without evidence that CSME is a “clever fiction inspired by the Brits, aided by Cabinets, and sustained by well-paid, unaccountable regional civil servants”.  He sets-up both CARICOM and CSME as hostile to the economic well-being of Jamaica. Further, he claims that “CSME zealots” all come to live in Jamaica; “we (Jamaica) are the big name brand”; “CSME disrespects us” (Jamaicans); and “we (Jamaicans) are small with a big brand and balls to match and need no union to prosper, but CSME controls us by making the arcane and distant familiar; “the phrase English-speaking Caribbean means zilch as CSME does not work”; and “Jamaica is the largest nation in CSME, so we are its backbone — finance, market, innovation, brand value, yet we are the poorest member”.

Dr Franklin is a welcome voice to the discussion of CARICOM and CSME – the exchange of views is imperative as all sections of the Caribbean Community work to improve and enhance the benefits of CARICOM for the people of all member-states. But, welcome should not be misconstrued as acceptance of the legitimacy of the arguments.  It is regrettable, for instance, that among the “Anglophone black people” who are accused of keeping “a colonial legacy alive” by constructing CARICOM and CSME would be radical Caribbean thinkers and leaders such as Michael Manley, P J Patterson, Norman Girvan, Louise Bennett, Arthur Lewis, Vaughan Lewis, William Demas, Eric Williams, Errol Barrow, Owen Arthur, C Y Thomas, Havelock Brewster, Shridath Ramphal, Alister McIntyre, T A Marryshaw and Ralph Gonsalves.   The resistance of all these men, who were at the centre of the creation of CARICOM and CSME, to colonialism in all its forms, is well-known. It is a terrible slur to denigrate their magnificent efforts on behalf of the entire Caribbean. It has to be assumed that ardour for his argument temporarily blinded Dr Franklin to veracity.

As for CARICOM and CSME being “clever fictions inspired by the Brits”, Dr Franklin denies a long history of agitation and advocacy for unity in the Caribbean by Caribbean people stretching back to the 1930s when their basic objective was to be rid of the British in an arrangement of independence by a unified Caribbean.  While, after the 1961 referendum in Jamaica, the West Indian goal of joint independence was shattered, the reality that none of the countries could survive alone remained and inspired the creation of CARICOM and CSME by Caribbean development economists, political scientists and historians.    While Britain regards greater economic integration of the Caribbean as important to the well-being of the people of the region, it is not alone in this view – the United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Russia, India and China also hold this view based on the small size of the economies of the region and the benefits that could flow from integrated production and joint financial strategies and negotiations.

It is most unfortunate that Dr Franklin, who advises the Jamaica Minister of Education, attempts to create a divide between Jamaicans and the people of other Caribbean countries by promulgating a false doctrine of Jamaican superiority as reflected in his remarks: “we (Jamaica) are the big name brand”; “CSME disrespects us” (Jamaicans); and “we (Jamaicans) are small with a big brand and balls to match and need no union to prosper, but CSME controls us by making the arcane and distant familiar.

The people of other Caribbean countries greatly admire the accomplishments of Jamaican musicians, athletes and thinkers. Indeed, when Jamaicans compete in international spheres in all endeavours, Caribbean people root for them as one of their own.  But, Dr Franklin should recall that little St Lucia with a population ten times smaller than Jamaica’s has produced two of the Caribbean’s three Nobel Prize winners in Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott – the other being V S Naipaul of Trinidad and Tobago;  Brian Lara of Trinidad and Tobago (with a population half that of Jamaica’s),  remains the cricketer with the highest number of runs in test cricket; and the leadership roles played in the international community by persons such as Guyana’s Shridath Ramphal and Grenada’s Alister McIntyre are cause for pride by Caribbean people as a whole.

Dr Franklin also asserts that “CSME zealots” all come to live in Jamaica”.  Quite what he means by this statement is not clear, but if he is stating that Caribbean persons are migrating to Jamaica, the facts do not support him.  While there are nationals of CARICOM countries who work in Jamaica under the skilled nationals certification programme, the number is miniscule in comparison with the number of Jamaicans who have migrated to countries such as Antigua and Barbuda.  Further, in contradiction to the inference that Jamaicans play little role in Caribbean integration, the heads of several important Caribbean institutions are Jamaicans committed to the regional ideal. These institutions include the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Export Development Agency, the Caribbean Development Fund and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

As for the trade relations of Jamaica in CARICOM, while the unfavourable balance of trade surplus with one country – Trinidad and Tobago – is often cited as detrimental to Jamaica, the largest portion of the cost of Jamaica’s imports is oil and gas which Jamaica needs in any event and would have to purchase elsewhere.  Jamaica enjoyed a large trade surplus with 7 of the 13 CSME countries in 2012.  And, while Jamaica should be doing better in the export of goods and services, it is not because CSME does not provide the opening; it is because the private sector there has not taken sufficient advantage of the opportunities, including integrating its production with resources from other CARICOM countries.  Further, Jamaica is the largest importer of CARICOM products because it has the largest population at 2.7 million people – twice the size of Trinidad and Tobago, and larger than Guyana, Belize, Barbados and seven countries of the Eastern Caribbean.  And, contrary to Dr Franklin’s claim, Jamaica is not the poorest country in CARICOM in per capita income, and it is one of the richest in natural resources.

Little is achieved by blindly cursing CARICOM for any of the woes that Jamaica faces – some of them could have been alleviated by active participation in making CARICOM and the CSME work more effectively; a fault which Jamaica shares with all CARICOM countries.

Responses and previous commentaries:www.sirronaldsanders.com

Moody’s downgrades Barbados again

moodys_0Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded Barbados’ government bond rating by three notches to B3 from Ba3, while maintaining its negative outlook on the island.

In a statement issued yesterday, the rating agency said the three-notch downgrade reflects the reinforcement of negative fiscal trends given the increasing size of the country’s fiscal deficit, which exceeded 11% of GDP in fiscal year 2013/14, and “our expectation of continued challenges to fiscal consolidation”.

Moody’s, which had previously downgraded the bond rating to Ba3 from Ba1 last December, also highlighted the increasing government debt ratios, projected at above 100% of GDP by fiscal year 2014/15, coupled with elevated short-term debt issuance and gross financing needs in excess of 30% of GDP in 2014 and 2015.

The agency is further projecting “ a decline in international reserves this year, due to large current account deficits and weaker private sector inflows” as well as “Central bank financing of the fiscal deficit that will increase pressure on the country’s currency peg to the US dollar”.

In terms of the widening government deficit, Moody’s explained that the situation was driven by lower-than-expected revenues, linked to last year’s slight economic contraction.

Despite the authorities’ recent efforts, expenditures remain high and rigid, particularly the public sector wage bill and transfers to loss-making public enterprises, and interest payments have increased significantly.

The government announced several fiscal adjustment measures, including widespread public sector layoffs, but we think the authorities will be challenged to meet a deficit target of 6-7% of GDP in the running [fiscal year], given Moody’s projection of a GDP contraction of around 1% this year,” the statement said.

It noted that the Government’s debt burden had also climbed sharply and that debt affordability has deteriorated significantly.

The debt-to-GDP ratio had risen to 97% as of March 2014 from 85% at the end of 2012, and interest payments now consume nearly 30% of the government’s revenues. These ratios are already among the highest in the B rating category, and we expect that government debt metrics will continue to worsen.

Concomitantly, there has been a marked deterioration in the government’s debt profile given a significant increase in domestic short-term borrowings over the past several years. During 2013, two-thirds of the government’s debt issuance was short-term, reflecting the challenges the government faces in terms of placing long-term debt. Because of this, the government’s gross financing needs will be in excess of 30% of GDP in 2014 and 2015, when short-term debt is included,” Moody’s said.

Last December, international reserves increased due to a US$ 150 million bank loan received by the government.

As a result, Moody’s said reserves had remained relatively stable throughout the first quarter of 2014, in part because the government received an additional US$ 75 million bank loan in March.

Nevertheless, at US $550 million reserves are roughly one-quarter lower now than they were at the end of 2012. As Moody’s expects a current account deficit of 8% of GDP in 2014 and private sector inflows to continue the downward trend they have exhibited since 2011, we anticipate international reserves will likely decline again,” the ratings agency warned.

It also pointed to increasing pressure on the Barbados dollar, noting that “part of the increase in the government’s short-term debt has been financed by the country’s Central Bank, a practice that became more prevalent last year.

While supportive of government borrowing costs, such financing of the fiscal deficit pressures the country’s currency peg to the US dollar, long considered a critical element of Barbados’ economic policy framework,” Moody’s said.

As a consequence of its latest review, Moody’s has retained its negative outlook on Barbados, saying its expectation was that “the government will continue to find it difficult to meet its fiscal deficit targets owing to both weak revenues and expenditure rigidities, (ii) high levels of domestic short-term borrowing will continue to undermine the government debt profile and lead to increased refinancing risks, and (iii) continued central bank financing of the fiscal deficit will compromise authorities’ ability to preserve the currency peg.”

Moody’s has also adjusted Barbados’ local-currency bond and deposit ceilings to Ba3, its long-term foreign-currency bond ceiling to Ba3, and its long-term foreign-currency deposit ceiling to Caa1. The short-term foreign-currency bond and deposit ceilings remain unchanged at Not-Prime.

Republished from Barbados Today. Credit to Kaymar Jordan.

VAT is the “Rolls-Royce of taxes”, says former Barbados tax administrator

Barbados Central Bank Governor, Dr. DeLisle Worrell, has been vocal against VAT - describing it as a "complex mess"

Barbados Central Bank Governor, Dr. DeLisle Worrell, has been vocal against VAT – describing it as a “complex mess”

The man who spearheaded the implementation of the value added tax (VAT) more than 17 years ago has defended the levy as “the Rolls-Royce” of taxes and dismissed lingering doubts about its appropriateness.

Breaking his silence in the wake of contention sparked by recent criticism of the tax by Central Bank Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell, Merton C. Moore, who was head of the VAT Implementation Unit and director of VAT between January 1997 and January 2000, referred to “certain misconceptions being articulated by usually well-informed persons”.

Moore, in an analysis entitled VAT for Barbados said: “The value added tax is a comprehensive broadbased indirect tax on goods and services with the potential to provide adequate revenue for the Government while offering the business sector room to see inflows of income over periods in a usable manner before onward passage to Government.

“While I do not profess to be an expert on tax systems internationally, it is my considered opinion that as a member of the fleet of indirect taxes I have had the honour to administer at any level over three decades, the VAT is the Rolls-Royce of taxes. Treat it with intelligence, integrity, care and respect and it is likely to reciprocate.”

Moore used the term “comprehensive” to describe the tax because, in his view, it “takes into account” several important factors. These included “the poor with low levels of income, the need to assist certain industries such as agriculture, the futility in taxing some services like medical services and domestic accomodation, the need to assist certain interest groups or classes – thus the reverse tax credit and the basket of goods, the need to offer registrants time to account for transactions among others, and the need to render exports more competitive”.

At his first quarter Press conference last month, Worrell called VAT “a mess”, “controversial”, and “inappropriate” for Barbados, recommending its replacement by “a simple sales tax”. The governor’s comments drew immediate criticism from former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, whose administration introduced it in January 1997, and economist Professor Michael Howard.

Moore, who said his experience with indirect tax started in 1966 when he entered the Civil Service in the Customs & Excise Department and worked for 34 years, regretted that “some persons remain implacably opposed to [VAT] and are not prepared to allow it a place in an imperfect world of imperfect peoples and systems”.

He pointed out that “over the last 50 years the popularity of the VAT has soared to the extent that more than 120 countries have adopted and adapted the system”, but added that “enforcement of indirect tax has always been a difficult task and calls for diligence, imagination, strong and positive action”.

Republished from the Barbados Nation, credit to Shawn Cumberbatch.

Controversy follows sudden closure of Jamaica Meteorological Service’s Twitter account

hurricane-sandy-jamaica

Popular @MetserviceJA Twitter account shuttered just days before the start of the 2014 Hurricane Season

The Meteorological Office of Jamaica’s Twitter account has been ‘ordered closed’ by Government officials just five days before the start of 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season, @MetserviceJA’s final tweets reveal.

While no reason has been given for the sudden closure, the topic has been trending in Jamaica for hours since the announcement, with many of the account’s 6,293 followers expressing outrage at the decision.

As one of the few Jamaican government entities with an active social media presence, @MetserviceJA became known for its operators’ levels of engagement.

pryce-metservice

Popular for its follower engagement, @MetserviceJA admonished Jamaican MP Raymond Pryce last week for his assertion that outcomes of heavy rainfall were due to climate change, insisting instead that poor planning was to blame for flooding.

 

On May 2014, the account publicly disagreed with Government MP Raymond Pryce, who asserted that recent flooding in some areas of Jamaica were due to climate change. In response, @MetserviceJA urged Pryce to “stop blaming climate change”, insisting instead that flooding was as a result of poor planning decisions and delayed roadworks.

Despite unanswered requests for clarity from members of the Jamaican public,  there is yet no indication from the  National Meteorological Centre on whether the account will be reactivated, or if an explanation behind its closure will be forthcoming.

In the interim, Jamaicans are urged to contact the Meteorological Service on contact numbers (876) 924-8404 or (876) 924-8055 to access storm and weather information.

Update – 10:49 PM

Possibly responding to users who suggested that his exchange with @MetserviceJA and the termination of the account may be linked, M.P. Raymond Pryce posted the following update to his official Twitter page -

Any further updates from the Meteorological Service will be reported as they come to hand.

Antillean welcomes new Social Media Manager

Brenda Sailsman joins as Social Media Manager of The Antillean, directing content for @theantillean  on Twitter, and overseeing a broadened news and policy portfolio of more than twenty Caribbean states.

Brenda Sailsman, Social Media Manager, antillean.org

The Antillean today welcomed Brenda Sailsman to its management team, following her appointment to the executive role of Social Media Manager.

Brenda, a Jamaican national, will lead coverage on news, economic and social policies in the member and associate states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as well as the wider Antilles and overseas dependencies. Her appointment comes as The Antillean continues its investment in rebranding and building out its Caribbean journalism team, which will see the re-launch of the new antillean.org, and a regional editorial team, in late 2014.

Speaking on her appointment, Brenda said “I am truly excited to be part of The Antillean in the capacity of Social Media Manager. This role gives me the opportunity to collaborate with others who share and understand the views of Caribbean people, as well as to help build awareness about issues that are common to us.”

Antillean Director, Jovan Reid, formally welcomed Sailsman to the management team and said “I am happy to have Brenda on board in this new phase for antillean.org. With our re-launch later this year, she will maintain our voice in the regional conversation on critical policy issues, and offer the impartial social-impact analysis that we want to continue to be known for in our brand of journalism.”

An established marketer, Brenda is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and has most recently co-authored the UNFPA-sponsored paper ‘Youth Voices: Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean’.

Brenda assumed duties on April 14, 2014 and may be reached at press@antillean.org for press releases, breaking news or tips.

St Lucia to begin public consultation on the Caribbean Court of Justice this year

The St Lucia government says it intends to begin public consultations on the island becoming a full member of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) later this year.

Caribbean leaders established the CCJ in 2001 to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region’s final court, but only Barbados and Guyana have signed on to the  appellate and original jurisdictions of the CCJ.

The other CARICOM countries have signed to the original jurisdiction that allows the CCJ to function as an international tribunal in dealing with breaches of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

“As I have often said the commitments that governments make at the CARICOM level must be upheld and must be sustained and so we are committed to that process and we believe it is one that we must continue to maintain…and hopefully by the end of 2010 going to 2011 St. Lucia will be in a position to move forward with the process,” Prime Minister Stephenson King told reporters.

King, who was among regional leaders attending the just concluded CARICOM intersessioanl summit, said there were a number of challenges, including constitutional requirements for a two-thirds majority in a referendum, to be dealt with before the island could join the CCJ.

On Friday, Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson called on his colleagues to ensure that they are full members of the CCJ.

“It weakens the CCJ when the country that is the headquarters of the CCJ, Trinidad and Tobago, is not a country that has acceded to the CCJ. So it is just one of those areas in which people see a yawning gap between the promise of unity and performance and as long as that is not resolved it will pose major difficulties for us.”

Thompson said that it was necessary for regional countries “to get with it” since their reluctance to join the CCJ could weaken the efforts towards establishing the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.

Original reporting via the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

World Bank offers CARICOM debt assistance

The World Bank has offered to help ease the heavy debt burden of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.

After meeting with Heads of Government yesterday – the first day of the 21st CARICOM Inter-Sessional Meeting being held in Dominica’s capital – World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the financial institution is currently studying the debt profiles of the region’s countries in order to construct appropriate plans to ease the load.

Zoellick said the Bank was willing to send teams to the various CARICOM member countries to see whether a strategy could be developed that focuses on growth as well as good fiscal management and effective use of debt.

“The next step is for the countries that are interested to ask us to have our teams come and we can come and try to outline that,” he said.

The Community’s crippling debt burden was among key matters the two sides discussed in a two-hour meeting that CARICOM Chairman and host Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit characterized as a “constructive engagement”.

The situation in quake-hit Haiti, climate change and tax haven issues were the other subjects of the exchange.

On Haiti, Zoellick said the World Bank supports a special multi-donor fund for the reconstruction of the quake-hit CARICOM member state. The fund will ensure that all donors’ resources are pooled, thus streamlining the assistance to Haiti.

He said it was best for there to be “one fund connected to the plans of the Haitians without having them to meet with 20 different donors with 20 different ideas”, adding that this would allow Haitians to be “in the driver’s seat”.

Ahead of the meeting with Zoellick, Prime Minister Skerrit had indicated that CARICOM wanted foremost for the Haitian government and its people to be at the centre of and leading the process of the country’s reconstruction.

“We have to ensure that the errors of the past do not repeat themselves where we, as non-Haitian nationals would go into Haiti and determine for them what they need, how they need it and how they should do it, and at the end of the day, nobody benefits,” he said at the time.

Zoellick said the World Bank was also considering how it could support CARICOM’s role in providing assistance to Haiti.

He also revealed that he had held discussions with the Haitian President earlier in the week on how the World Bank Group could best support that country in the immediate future. After the earthquake, the financial institution provided an additional US$100 million in grants, while its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) also made an additional US$35 million investment to help boost jobs.

With regard to climate change, the World Bank President indicated that the two sides discussed how they could work together to achieve the region’s goals in adapting to climate change.

“CARICOM is particularly active on climate change, and the world is increasingly recognizing the needs of the small island states.  The World Bank can help CARICOM with increasing its resilience to climate change, innovative financing, and low carbon growth strategies that include a focus on reducing the cost and increasing the efficiency of energy in the region,” Zoellick said.

“The Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, is exploring opportunities to support renewable options, such as geothermal, hydro, wind and solar, along with an energy efficiency programme.”

During the discussions with the leaders, Zoellick also promised that the World Bank would continue to support countries with advice and assistance to put necessary legal frameworks and treaties in place to meet international financial standards.

Several CARICOM countries are under pressure from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to meet specific tax information sharing standards (C360)

Harpooning Caribbean tourism: Swallowing a dead rat

CHIBA, JAPAN – JUNE 21: Japanese Fishermen slaughter a 9.95m Baird’s Beaked whale at Wada Port on June 21, 2007 in Chiba, Japan. Under the coastal whaling program, Japan is only allowed to hunt a limited number of whales every year and Wadaura villages are permitted to hunt 26 whales during the season that begins June 20 and ends August 31. Japan has also threatened to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in the prospect to add humpback whales to its annual cull. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

It’s the high seas equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. Several Caribbean governments are harpooning their own sustainable tourism industry by supporting Japan’s ruthless campaign to continue killing whales.

A group of International Whaling Commission (IWC) nations meeting from March 2 to 4 in Florida is reported to have considered recommending to the full membership that Japan, Iceland and Norway be allowed to hunt whales despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. Japan, in particular, would no longer have to pretend that, in killing thousands of whales every year, it is doing so for “scientific” purposes.

Japan does not deny that meat from slaughtered whales ends up in restaurants and shops.

As this commentary is being written a shipment of whale meat is being transported by ship from Iceland to Japan in an expensive and backward step to resuscitate trade in whale meat. Twenty-six nations condemned Iceland last October for expanding commercial whaling, pointing out that it brings little benefit to Iceland’s economy and great harm to its tourism industry.

Caribbean countries have nothing to gain if the proposal from the IWC’s small working group is adopted by the wider membership. Voting for it would certainly adversely affect the Caribbean’s brand of itself as environmentally friendly, and harm the growing whale-watching aspect of its tourism industry.

A study by a group of Australian Economists placed whale-watching as a US$2.1 billion global industry in 2008. In the Caribbean and Central American whale-watching is growing at a rate of 12.8%, three times more than the growth rate of the global tourism industry (4.2%). Countries in the region now earn more than US$54 million from whale-watching as part of their tourism product, while earnings from whaling are practically zero.

Despite this, members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Suriname have routinely supported Japan’s efforts in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to slaughter whales every year in defiance of the international prohibition.

Significantly, an international meeting in Martinique from 18 to 21 February on “Sustainable ‘blue’ tourism in the Caribbean” strongly urged Caribbean governments “to give their full support and encouragement to whale-watching activities as a valid and sustainable means of protecting marine mammal populations and creating jobs, earning foreign exchange and providing sustainable livelihoods for fishermen and local coastal communities” . In making this call, the participants – the majority of whom were from the Caribbean – recalled that in 2008, the Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit took the “principled position” to withdraw his Government’s support for whaling at the IWC as being “incompatible” with Dominica’s brand as a “Nature Isle”. They called on the leaders of other OECS countries to join him.

The stand-off at the IWC between whale killing by Japan and its supportive small states, and whale conservation by countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica, India, the United States, South Africa, Germany and Australia, has dragged-on for some time. Last year, the small working group was established to try to bring an end to the impasse. Many hoped that the group’s work would result in strong proposals to ensure that IWC rules are fully respected and implemented, and that whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale sanctuary would be phased out swiftly.

However, it appears that the small group has been coerced into entertaining a different kind of discussion – one in which Japan will be allowed to violate the rules the IWC itself has set and to ignore sanctuaries that have been established. One of the members of the group said that nations must “swallow a dead rat”.

Experts from around the world are deeply troubled by the proposals emerging from the group. The proposals include:

· No provisions to ensure that the existing ban on international trade in whale products is respected;
· Authorizing the killing of sperm whales.
· Continued whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary;
· Weakening of the IWC as a rule making and regulatory international body, encouraging unrestrained actions by individual nations.

Many governments have gotten away with supporting Japan because their publics are not fully aware that, apart from a small number of indigenous communities in the world, only an elite group in Japan consistently eat whale meat.

In the Caribbean, Japanese Associations have paid for the production and broadcast of television programmes which falsely promote whale-killing as a beneficial activity because whales eat fish in Caribbean waters depriving the local population of fish. This claim has been proven, scientifically, to be untrue.

Evidence of the abhorrence of whale killing and its adverse effect on the world’s biodiversity is the fact that an Oscar was recently awarded to “The Cove” – a documentary film depicting the grisly slaughter of dolphins by Japanese in a cove in south-western Japan.

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister, last month threatened to take action against Japan at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its Antarctic whale hunt. And, in New Zealand, the foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, Chris Carter, has called on the government to join Australia in taking Japan to the ICJ.

But, Japan remains determined in its stance, not only on whaling but on fisheries generally. Indeed, Japan is so obdurate that it has stated categorically that it will “opt out” of its obligation to stop importing Atlantic bluefin tuna if members of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species vote this month to add the fish to the treaty’s list of most-protected species. In other words, Japan will only respect those international rules that suit it.

Japan’s stance is bad news for small countries which depend, for their own survival, on international rules and respect for them within the UN framework.

Japan has helped to make rules that are imposed on small states – rules with which small countries been forced to comply or be punished. Among these are the regulatory and tax information requirements of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

If the proposals of the small working group are permitted by governments to proceed, Japan, Iceland and Norway will have a free hand, and Japan will no longer need to lure the support of small Caribbean countries in the IWC.

In June, the IWC will hold its annual meeting in Morocco. That’s the time that the OECS and Suriname governments should join the government of Dominica in taking a principled position that upholds their own interest.

Region in drought: the thirsty Caribbean

The countries of the Caribbean from Jamaica in the North to Trinidad in the South are facing the worst drought in decades. Throughout March, the Antillean will cover the water crisis in the region, causes, complications and the regional response.

Caribbean countries are considering options like desalination plants and cloud seeding to confront a drought that threatens the regional economy and which  experts warned about years ago.

In St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, they are warning of prosecution, including jail time, if consumers violate measures introduced to curb the use of water other than for drinking, cooking and bathing.

In a paper presented in a 2007 conference in Barbados, entitled “Coping with Drought in the Caribbean,” expert Bano Mehdi, cited scientific warnings about this drought, noting that “more intense and longer droughts have been observed over wide areas since the 1970s.”

From Trinidad and Tobago in the south, to Jamaica in the north, governments are implementing water rationing to deal with a drastic decline in capacity in the reservoirs. Some, like Guyana, are pumping a significant amount of money to help farmers overcome the problem.

“So far we have close to 10,000 acres of rice under stress; we have cattle, too, going through some very difficult conditions,” as well as crops under pressure in the interior of the country, said Guyana’s Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud.

“This time last year we were dealing with rainfall levels higher than the 2005 floods. The effects of climate change are hitting home very often,” Persaud added.
When the 2010 national budget was presented in mid-February, the Guyana government said it was allocating 29.4 million dollars to improve agricultural irrigation systems.

A few days later, President Bharrat Jagdeo said an additional 1.2 million dollars would be spent on efforts to confront the effects of El Niño/Southern Oscillation, the cyclical phenomenon in which warm surface waters of the equatorial Pacific flow eastward, altering weather patterns across the Americas.

“The entire apparatus of the government is focused on bringing as much relief as is humanly possible to our people across Guyana,” Jagdeo told farmers, noting that some communities are having difficulties obtaining even drinking water.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning is convinced that this drought is due the effects of climate change. His administration is looking to add to the single desalination plant to move the country away from “too-heavy reliance on surface water sources.”

“We believe it is El Niño, but it does not in any way negate our conclusion that as a result of climate change, among other things, we can experience droughts in Trinidad and Tobago,” Manning said.

According to Public Utilities Minister Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, the water levels in the reservoirs “are well below their long-term averages for this time of year.” The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has placed a ban on citizens using water to wash vehicles or water plants and lawns.
So stringent has been the measure that Manning dismissed a contractor working at his official residence after pictures were published in the newspapers showing sprinklers being used to water the lawns.

WASA regional manager Collin Nym said the outlook was bleak for 2010 because lower rainfall had exacerbated production constraints at one of the main water treatment plants and the desalination plant.

“We have a large reservoir and we did not capture as much rainfall as we anticipated. Between January and June 2009, we faced a lot of problems,” he said. “The Meteorological Office predicted that we would have 80 to 90 millimeters of rainfall for January, and we only saw five.”
The Jamaican government has hinted at the possibility of cloud seeding, which involves the use of chemicals to influence rainfall in areas where the drought is more severe.

Water Minister Horace Chang met recently with a group of experts from the University of the West Indies (UWI) to discuss the possibility of cloud seeding, but it is a very expensive option.

Authorities already had to cut a drought mitigation program due to the austerity measures required by a recently signed, multi- billion-dollar Standby Agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The scheme was expected to include the reactivation of several abandoned supply wells in Jamaica. According to Chang, the National Water Commission is losing an estimated 2.2 million dollars in revenues per month as a result of the country’s worst drought in decades.

“We have been spending more money and we have lost significant revenue… People can’t pay if they don’t get water, so we have to spend more money in terms of operational costs,” Chang said.

Corporations are also complaining.

“If the drought continues, we will definitely look to start trucking water to the different factories, but there is a cost involved in doing that,” said Omar Azan, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers Association.

In St. Lucia, the authorities issued a “Declaration of Water Related Emergency” on Feb. 24, and have warned that persons contravening the new measures could face both a fine of not less than 1,110 dollars and imprisonment of not less than six months.

Among the measures contained in the declaration is a ban on the use of water for watering of gardens, lawns, grounds and farms as well as for supplying ponds, swimming pools, “or for use other than normal domestic services such as drinking, cooking, washing, bathing and sanitation.”

Dominica, which boasts 365 rivers, has warned consumers that the drought could get worse.

Based on information from the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology, in Barbados, “we will experience severe dryness for some time to come. If it does continue… it means the water level will definitely get lower and there will not be sufficient pressure to provide water to many communities,” said Gwennie Dickson, spokesperson for Dominica’s Water and Sewerage Company.

The Antigua and Barbuda public utilities authority said that at the normal rate of consumption, the Potworks Dam wouldn’t have enough water to take the country to the end of March.

Adrian Trotman, acting chief of applied meteorology and climatology at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology, warned that countries like Barbados could experience drought conditions for a long period.

“This is the view of scientists of the Caribbean Drought and Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPMN), who have been analyzing rainfall trends in the Caribbean since January 2009,” Trotman said in a statement.

“Water resources managers across the region are urged to implement the necessary measures to conserve water, as the drought conditions are expected to persist over the next three months,” he added.

The CDPMN, which was launched in January 2009 under the six- year Caribbean Water Initiative project, has warned that unless the precipitation situation is closely monitored, “one often does not realize that drought is upon you or is approaching – until the effects are already felt.”

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramerica network. Tierramerica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank. (c) NoticiasFinancieras – Inter Press Services – All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2010 IPS.

Disasters need more than prayers

The massive earthquakes in Haiti and Chile within six weeks of each other, on January12 and February 27 respectively, revealed the limited capacity of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to respond to disasters on this scale.

To date, CARICOM countries have not been able to mobilize support for Chile and have virtually left the problem to be tackled by the Chilean government, the United States of America, better-off Latin American nations and the international institutions. CARICOM countries simply do not have the resources in any form to cope with massive disasters within their own member states, let alone to provide help to other countries.

In this regard, CARICOM countries need to thank God that the 7.0 earthquake that buckled Haiti did not extend into Jamaica.

Nonetheless, high praise should be given to CARICOM countries for their efforts, at both the level of governments and the public, to help Haiti. In proportion to their capacity, many of them have been very generous.

Barbados has now emerged as the country which, on a per capita basis, has pledged the most to Haiti’s relief and reconstruction. Prime Minister David Thompson has revealed that the Barbados government is donating US$1 million to Haiti, the same figure as the governments of the two countries at either end of CARICOM’s economic scale – oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana, the poorest country, in per capita income terms, after Haiti in the region.

While Guyana’s contribution was exemplary, the donation of Barbados is outstanding for not only has the government pledged US$1 million, but it has been shouldering the costs for the operations of the Regional Security System (RSS) that has provided much needed security and other services to Haiti. Barbados shares the RSS with six island-territories of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) but Thompson revealed that “no other contributions have been forthcoming” from other states.

CARICOM countries gave as much as they could. They did so directly and through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). But, at the end of the day, large though the contribution was in relation to the means of these countries, it was a drop in the Ocean measured against the scale of Haiti’s needs. Haiti required the large scale assistance of countries such as the United States, Canada, France, Brazil and the international institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

In early March at a meeting of CARICOM finance ministers, Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington, declared that the region “cannot fail to take cognizance of the near similar situation (to Haiti) which has befallen Chile.” He urged assistance ‘to the best of our ability at this time”.

The number of dead and injured in Chile was not as great as in Haiti even though the 8.8 tremor was much stronger than the earthquake that bowed Haiti. Nonetheless, as this commentary is being written, the United Nations Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reports that 723 people were killed and 2 million (about 10 per cent of the population) have been made homeless and are walking the streets. Six regions were declared as zones of catastrophe.

But CARICOM countries are already over-stretched in Haiti. It is doubtful that any of them, except perhaps for Trinidad and Tobago, could make anything more than a token gesture of assistance to Chile.

Fortunately, there are governments that can provide immediate relief assistance and Chile has the financial capacity to undertake the reconstruction that has been estimate, so far, at US$30 billion – 15 per cent of Chile’s annual economic output. The country is the best managed in Latin America with a public debt of only 6 per cent of its GDP. By comparison, the majority of CARICOM countries have a debt to GDP ratio of one hundred per cent and more.

Further, over the last decade Chile saved much of the profits from sales of copper by state-owned mines and taxes on private miners. Its sovereign wealth funds now hold about US$15 billion. With this kind of record and assets, Chile will easily be able to access capital markets at low interest rates for rebuilding.

How to establish machinery for avoiding huge human and infrastructural catastrophes as a result of natural disasters is something that should now be actively exercising the minds of Caribbean leaders.

St Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas recently observed that “there is a wave of volcanic activity that is taking place in this region” and he called on his country’s National Emergency Management Agency “to review the country’s capacity to deal with an earthquake”. He would know that to do so the Agency would require greater resources from the government than it now has.

Among the factors that all governments should take into account is the legislation and enforcement of far better building standards than now exists. Equally, they should all subscribe to the Caribbean Catastrophe Facility Risk Insurance Facility which paid out very quickly to Haiti and gave the government some resources to help rebuild the broken country.

The underlying point about all this is that CARICOM countries could not cope with two disasters simultaneously among its own membership, and while they have been valiant in Haiti in relation to their means, their financial contribution to Haiti was miniscule. Nonetheless, disaster threatens them in the form of hurricanes and earthquakes and they are ill-prepared to cope – a fact that international financial institutions and large countries should take into account by ceasing to graduate them from concessionary lending; urgently addressing their burdensome commercial debt problems; and stopping the demand in the World Trade Organisation and in trade agreements that they give reciprocal treatment to countries and regions much larger than they are.

Of course, the principal lesson to be learned from the experience of Haiti and Chile is that the countries that will recover faster and reconstruct quicker from disasters are the ones with the prudently run economies that benefit from greater resources. In this connection, CARICOM countries could make their economies stronger by accelerating the completion of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy with an effective governance structure.

Praying that disaster does not kick down the doors of two or more CARICOM countries at the same time won’t be enough.

To OAS or not to OAS: That is the question


Heads of government pose during the official photo of the Latin American leaders summit in Cancun on February 22, 2010. (REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar)

At a meeting of leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean on February 23, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments supported a joint “Declaration on (the) Falklands Islands Issue”.

The Declaration “confirmed their support of Argentina’s legitimate rights in the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands Issue”, and recalled “regional interest in having the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom resume negotiations to find a fair, peaceful and definitive solution to the dispute over the sovereignty” of the Falklands/Malvinas islands.  They went further to call on the European Union (EU) countries to amend their charter to remove the Falkland Islands from the list of overseas territories associated with the EU.

The support of Latin American countries for Argentina in this matter is quite understandable.  They have links of language, culture, history and proximity that go back centuries.

But the support of CARICOM countries for Argentina’s “legitimate rights” is puzzling.  Both the UK and Argentina have claimed the Falklands/Malvinas for almost two hundred years.  So what now makes Argentina’s rights more “legitimate” than Britain’s?  And, why call for “negotiations” between Argentina and Britain to find “a fair peaceful and definitive solution” to the dispute if it has already been decided that Argentina’s rights are “legitimate”?

Unless there is something they have not made public, this position by Caribbean governments appears on the surface to run counter to their own national interests.

The Caribbean has always strongly supported a people’s right to self-determination.  It is in fulfillment of their own right to self-determination that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are independent states.  In this regard, since the people of the Falklands/Malvinas have consistently and overwhelmingly chosen to be British, Caribbean governments would certainly not argue that the manifest wish of the people of the Falklands/Malvinas should be ignored, particularly since Britain has exercised de facto sovereignty over the islands continuously since 1833.

The national interests of twelve of the fourteen independent CARICOM countries are much more bound-up with Britain than they are with Argentina.  CARICOM’s trade with Britain far exceeds trade with Argentina; investment in CARICOM countries from Britain is much greater than any investment from Argentina; official development assistance from Britain to CARICOM countries directly and indirectly (through the European Union and the Commonwealth for instance) is much larger than any assistance from Argentina; the number of tourists from Britain to CARICOM countries is considerably greater than from Argentina; and far more CARICOM nationals live, work and study in Britain than in Argentina.

What appears to have triggered this discussion at the 33-nations Cancun meeting is the fact that a British oil exploration company, Desire Petroleum Plc, announced that it had started drilling for oil 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of the Falklands/Malvinas.  Argentina objects to this development.

In giving support to Argentina, CARICOM countries run the risk of compromising their own interest.  For instance, where would they stand if Venezuela objected to oil exploration off part of Guyana, despite long-standing international arbitrations and agreements confirming Guyana’s title?  Also, where would these countries stand if Venezuela objected to oil explorations that might be granted by some of them near Aves Island/Bird Rock to which Venezuela lays a claim? In the case of Belize where Guatemala claims the entire country, the same argument applies.

Then we come to the matter of the creation of a grouping of these 33 countries that excludes Canada and the United States.  Some of the Latin American leaders – in particular those with a strong anti-American position – proclaimed to the media that this new grouping should replace the Organization of American States (OAS).

Well, replacing the OAS is simply in no country’s interest – not even those with the most rabid anti-American governments.  There has to be a forum in the Hemisphere where all its countries are represented and where discussions can take place at all levels of government and on all issues.  And that organization is clearly the already well-established OAS.  In this regard, Cuba should return to the Organization and the exclusion of the present elected government of Honduras should cease.

In any event, I suspect that only a very few governments touted the idea of an “alternative” organization to the OAS and even fewer would have supported it.  Certainly for CARICOM countries, there is no other organization in which they can engage the US government on a regular and sustained basis at all levels.  That alone makes the OAS worthwhile for them.

Further, CARICOM governments greatly value their relations with Canada which has been an ally and partner for generations in the Hemisphere and in the Commonwealth. They would want deeper not distant relations with Canada.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Latin American and Caribbean countries establishing a grouping that is not an alternative to the OAS, but is additional to it.

However, no one should believe that it will be anything more than an opportunity for dialogue at the level of leaders.  It will have no secretariat and therefore little means of implementing decisions; decisions will have to be made by consensus, therefore no binding decisions will be made; and, in truth, the grouping is so amorphous and made up of countries at such different levels of development and with such differing interests and ambitions, that its meetings will be largely obligatory and its decisions only declaratory.

The Summit “Declaration of Cancun” does have as one of its objectives “the coordination of regional positions ahead of meetings and conferences of global reach…  to project the region and increase its influence”.  This is to be welcomed provided that the view of smaller Caribbean islands are seriously considered and reflected by the larger Latin American states.

This brings us to the OAS itself.  The US government should regard this move by Latin American and Caribbean countries to set up a Hemispheric grouping, which deliberately excludes it, as a firm warning that its neglect of Latin America and the Caribbean’s development needs and issues, and its oftentimes casual dismissal of their positions is not in the interest of the United States.  The authorities in Washington need to engage Latin American and Caribbean countries as genuine partners and neighbours and a strengthened and revitalized OAS is the place to do so.

In this connection, CARICOM countries should indicate their support for the re-election on March 23 of the incumbent Secretary-General, Jose Miguel Insulza.  His task over the last five years in a fractious organisation, which also relies on consensus for decision-making, has not been easy.  But, he has tried to introduce reforms and he has been the most forceful Secretary-General the OAS has seen for a long time. Additionally, he has been very mindful of his obligations to his Caribbean member states.

He has also taken on Hugo Chavez over violations of media freedom in Venezuela and he has not been afraid to point out shortcomings by the US government.  To have offended both these adversaries, he must have done something right for the rest.

Over the next five and final years as Secretary-General, Insulza can be bold in giving the OAS real direction in reforming its mandate and establishing it as a meaningful forum for settling hemispheric issues and advancing democracy, development and human rights.

France in Haiti: A Fresh Start by Sarkozy?

Sarkozy in Hiati At last a French President visited Haiti – a country that contributed greatly to France’s accumulation of wealth in the 18th Century and which France impoverished for a century after that.

Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in devastated Haiti on February 17, a month and five days after a massive earthquake ravaged the Capital, Port-au-Prince killing more than 200,000 people; maiming tens of thousands of others, and wreaking billions of dollars in damage.

The extent of the damage and loss of life in Haiti were undoubtedly due to the country’s lack of physical infrastructure and its poor building standards, neither of which could be accomplished in a situation where 70 percent of its gross domestic product was paid over to France for over a century.

This is not to ignore the excesses of Haitian governments, particularly under the Duvaliers, which also deprived the country of monies that should have been pumped into constructing infrastructure, providing education and health facilities, and establishing regulatory bodies to ensure higher standards across a range of activity including the construction of buildings.

The harsh imposition by France of a levy of 90 million gold francs, which Haiti did not finish repaying until 1947, also does not excuse recent Haitian governments and political parties for failing to spend aid funds on an agreed and country-wide development programme instead of on narrow political interests.

Indeed, on any programme for constructing a new Haiti – both in a physical and societal sense – Haitian governments should be mindful that not only the Haitian people but the entire international community will want guaranteed machinery to ensure that aid money is spent on sustainable development.

The challenge is huge. Taking Haiti off the world’s “sick man” list is not a short-term or cheap affair. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has calculated that the rebuilding programme will cost US$14 billion and will take at least 10 years.

And, while there have been mountainous pledges of assistance from many governments as television images riveted the eyes of the world on Haiti, experience of previous disasters elsewhere in the world teaches that pledges often fall by the way side as soon as the cameras move on.

Acknowledging “the wounds of colonization” and saying that he knows well “the story of our countries on the question of debt”, President Sarkozy , in addition to cancelling all of Haiti’s US$77 million debt to France, also promised to provide aid of US$400 million over the next two years.  Included in the aid package is US$40 million in support of the Haitian government’s budget.

This latter commitment was warmly welcomed by Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive who described it as “crucial” and added: It means we are going to use it the way we want”. The Prime Minister’s statement is understandable given that the government has to try to provide some basic services, such as policing, to the country in circumstances where government revenues must be very little.

But the question still arises as to whether the French government’s pledge to Haiti is enough.

Haiti’s exiled former President Jean Bertrand Aristide had calculated the sum that France extracted from Haiti, as the price for recognising its participation in the international community in 1825, as US$21 billion in today’s values.

As Sarkozy was entering Haiti, Professor Norman Girvan of the University of the West Indies, and former Secretary-General of the Association of Caribbean States, in an invited comment to the Associated Press was pretty clear about France’s obligation to Haiti and what Sarkozy should do.

He declared: “If President Sarkozy were to make restitution in the name of all the decent people of the French Republic for the historic wrong; and support the efforts of the Haitian people to rebuild their shattered lives and their economy with the resources thereby provided, he would undoubtedly gain the respect of the entire world and be a prime candidate for the award of the Nobel Prize for 2010”.

Somehow, I don’t believe that President Sarkozy will be a Nobel Prize recipient for returning to Haiti what was so callously extracted from it, and which is the underlying basis for its persistent poverty and  underdevelopment. And, it is instructive that the Haitian government is not pushing it. Millien Romage, a legislator for Aristide’s party also told the Associated Press: “This is not a time to be making loud demands. We don’t want to fight. But perhaps the French could recognize their debt by helping us to get out of poverty. They can help build roads, houses, schools.”

Sarkozy has at least made a start and it is to be hoped that when France joins other nations at a high-level international donors’ conference for Haiti, which will be held in New York next month, the French government will open its cheque book more generously to a country that it exploited and impoverished.

Canada, which has no history of exploitation of Haiti (or any other country for that matter) has been far more generous than France.   Even before the calamitous January earthquake, Canada had pledged more than US$500 million to Haiti over the next five years.

And, in a visit that preceded Sarkozy’s, Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, discussed with the Haitian President, Rene Preval, the creation of a common fund for Haiti’s recovery to be managed jointly by the Haitian government and donors.

A partnership between the Haitian government and the international community is crucial to the successful construction of Haiti and to the restoration of its society.

Calls for the Haitian government to be “masters of their own development”, should be tempered with realism. Governance in Haiti was fractious before the Earthquake, the government is now in tatters, and many who were leaders in Haitian society were victims of the earthquake. In this connection, Haiti needs a lot of help including help in the governance of the country over the next few years.

The representative of the 14 governments of the Caribbean Community, former Jamaican Prime Minister, P J Patterson, put the task ahead in clear terms at the Ministerial Conference on Haiti held in Canada on January 25 when he said: “Reconstructing Haiti needs to encompass more than replacing destroyed buildings and infrastructure and eviscerated institutions and must include a developmental dimension. Rebuilding should therefore also include the empowerment of the Haitians by the teaching of new skills”.

Professor Rex Nettleford is dead

Vice-chancellor emeritus at the University of the West Indies, Professor Rex Nettleford is dead.

Professor Nettelford died late this evening at the George Washington Hospital in the United States six days after collapsing in a US hotel.

He would have been 77 tomorrow.

Rex Nettleford is the recipient of Jamaica’s third highest honour – the order of Merit and is a cultural advisor to the prime minister.

He graduated from the University of the West Indies with History (hons.) and as a Rhode Scholar from Oxford University with postgraduate studies in Politics.

He’s also the author of several publications including, “Manley and the New Jamaica”, “The African Connexion”, and “In Our Heritage”. His latest published book is “Caribbean Cultural Identity, the case of Jamaica” (Jamaica Gleaner).

Caribbean islands prepare to take in Haitian refugees

Several Caribbean nations are bracing for an influx of Haitians fleeing their earthquake-hit country, with some already preparing to house, clothe and feed them, whether they enter legally or not.

Some expect to see an increase in Haitians entering their countries as they seek an escape from the death and devastation brought on the already impoverished nation by Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

In the Bahamas, Director of Immigration Jack Thompson has confirmed that a hold has been placed on the repatriation of Haitians who have entered the country illegally.

“We have no intentions of repatriating the Haitians at the Detention Centre at this time given the extent of the devastation in Haiti,” said Thompson.

In fact, on the morning after the earthquake, a flight that was scheduled to repatriate 72 Haitians was cancelled.

Officials say that Inagua, the closest of the Bahamas islands to Haiti, is likely to be the first affected by Haitians fleeing the devastation.

Thompson said the Immigration Department is therefore preparing to send tents, bedding, food and additional personnel to Inagua.  Two Immigration Officers, 50 Defence Force Officers, eight police officers and a Red Cross team are stationed on the island.

“We are in the advanced stages of having Inagua in a state of readiness in the event we need to move in that direction,” he said.

Additionally, the Detention Centre in New Providence is being put “in a state of readiness” with tents, portable toilets, bedding and food.

“We want to be ready,” Thompson said. “We take this very seriously. We want to ensure that we are prepared and we are ready.”

Over in Jamaica, coastal surveillance for asylum seekers has begun offshore the parishes of Portland – one of the island’s nearest points to Haiti – and St Marys, and preparations have been put in place to “receive, screen and treat” those who come over.

Ministry of National Security Richard Reese also told the Jamaica Observer newspaper that a facility has already been identified to house Haitians likely to seek refuge here, although he did not disclose the location.

Additionally, Director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Jamaica Wenford Henry said that organisation is also preparing to help Haitians who come to the island.

“Our members in Portland and St Thomas are mobilised, and we are making our facilities available just in case we need to house anybody and care for them,” he said.

Meantime, the Dominica government has announced that the stay of all Haitians already in the island will be automatically extended, regardless of their current status.

“We decided…that nationals of Haiti who are on island or whose stay may have already expired, or is soon to expire, or who may have arrived here in an irregular way without the proper documentation, that we will extend their stay for a further six months,” National Security and Immigration Minister Charles Savarin told a press conference yesterday.
“Nobody needs to be in hiding. Nobody needs to fail to contact their people overseas because they fear that if immigration were to find them that they would be sent home with nowhere to go because there is now no home in Haiti,” he added.

Countries across the region have been playing their part to help the disaster-struck Haiti since Tuesday’s quake, offering aid in various forms to their Caribbean brothers and sisters. (C360)

Powerful 7.3 earthquake and aftershocks hit Haiti, tsunami watch issued

A powerful earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale struck the poverty stricken capital of Haiti. A tremor was felt in Jamaica, and a tsunami watch was issued for Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and Cuba

A powerful, magnitude 7.3 earthquake off the Haitian coast has rocked the capital and sparked a tsunami alert for states in the immediate vicinity.

Eyewitnesses in Port-au-Prince told the Associated Press a hospital and other buildings had collapsed and people were calling for help.

A visiting US official told the agency the sky was “just grey with dust” and he could hear distant screaming.

The impoverished state has been plagued by natural disasters.

Tuesday afternoon’s earthquake was centred about 15km (10m) south-west of Port-au-Prince, according to the US Geological Survey.

It was quickly followed by two strong aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude.

The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was the possibility of a local tsunami that could affect “coasts located usually no more than a 100km [60 miles] from the earthquake epicentre”.

A tsunami watch was in effect for Haiti, the neighbouring Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas.

An AP cameraman saw the wrecked hospital in Petionville, a hilly suburb of the capital, and Henry Bahn, a visiting official from the US Department of Agriculture, said he had seen houses which had tumbled into a ravine.

“Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken,” said Mr Bahn.

He had, he continued, been walking to his hotel room when the ground began to shake.

“I just held on and bounced across the wall,” he said.

“I just heard a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance.”

Rocks, he added, were strewn all over the place, and the ravine where several homes had fallen in was “just full of collapsed walls and rubble and barbed wire” (BBC)

Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit assumes chairmanship of CARICOM

The Hon. Roosevelt Skerritt, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of  Dominica assumed the Chairmanship of the Caribbean Community on 1 January 2010. He will serve in this position until 30 June 2010.

The outgoing Chairman, H.E. President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana served from 1 July-31 December 2009. The Chairmanship of CARICOM rotates among Member States every six months.

From 1 July-31 December 2010, the Chairmanship goes to Haitian President, H.E. Rene Preval.

This change in chairmanship also affects the Bureau of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM which comprises the current Chairman, the outgoing and incoming Chairmen, and the Secretary-General.

With this rotation, the Bureau now comprises Hon. Roosevelt Skerritt Prime Minister of Dominica; H.E. Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana, H.E. Rene Preval, President of Haiti, and H.E. Edwin W. Carrington, CARICOM Secretary-General.

The Bureau of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM initiates proposals for development and approval by the Ministerial Councils; updates the consensus of the Member States on issues to be determined by the Conference, facilitates implementation of Community decisions, and provides guidance to the CARICOM Secretariat on policy issues.

Lisa Gale becomes first female Director of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce

The Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry has announced that Lisa Gale has been appointed as the organisation’s new Executive Director. She assumes office on January 1, 2010, and will become the first female to hold the post in the Chamber’s history.

With a wealth of experience in Economics and International Trade, her prior immediate post was as Senior Economist in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, where she advised Government on international trade policy for eight years. Within this role she interacted with CARICOM and other regional organisations, and liaised with the public on international trade matters.

Mrs. Gale holds a bachelors degree in Economics and a masters degree in International Trade Policy, and she has benefitted from a plethora of training courses organized by the World Trade Organization.

Commenting on her appointment, the new Executive Director said that she looks forward to implementing her mandate to carry the Chamber forward into the next decade.

Barbados: School teacher shown in shocking video says it was only a prank

St. Leonard’s Secondary teacher admits to being in shocking flogging video, but claims that it was only a prank

The Daily Nation (Barbados) reports:

A video clip circulating on the Internet called "Barbados Flogging, Brutality, Coach Of St Leonard’s Boys’ Cricket Team Goes Wild On Bad Students" with a teacher brutalising two boys with a belt in a room is a hoax.

According to the teacher, Michael Franklin, who was named in the video, as well as two parents, one of whom is the mother of one of the boys in the video, it was all a prank.

The video uploaded onto YouTube.com showed two boys receiving blows all over their hands, heads and shoulders with other voices in the background filming, talking and some chuckling.

The individual who uploaded the clip, under the name bajanreporter, wrote: "St Leonard’s Boys’ School cricket coach flogging pupils on a school trip, it appears some fellows went to a strip club and got back late – the teacher went berserk. Yes, they were wrong but to be treated like plantation slavery days?"

The same clip was uploaded by another online author bajandream who linked it to a website antillean.org, a pan-Caribbean non-profit media outlet, covering news, features and opinions on social issues in the Caribbean region and the wider Americas.

However, when the Daily Nation spoke to Franklin yesterday, he said he was never contacted to find out what really happened in the video.

"First of all, no one went to a strip club, no one was in trouble. That video came out last April. Second, parents were there. And third, the boys were video-taping and felt that they would have some fun.

"What you are seeing on the clip is not a consequence of anybody doing anything wrong. It was a dramatisation. It looked so real, but it was a prank and parents were there. We were doing some filming and everyone was in one room," he stressed.

Franklin admitted that the video looked more real than amusing, "but the boy and his brother put it on facebook.com [in April] and people were a little annoyed. Now it has come back up again with someone writing something on [the video]".

Kay Brome, the mother of one of the boys in the video, also said that the video was "only a prank".

"There were parents there and I was one of the parents there. I was in the room. It was just a prank and a demonstration. There was nothing to be alarmed about. The boys had a camera and they wanted to videotape. It was just a fun thing.

"I didn’t know it was going to get to this level. People wrote things there and made people look like something happened. The boys were not getting beat. It wasn’t anything serious and there is nothing more to explain to it," she said.

Jamaica reshapes tax package after public outcry

Jamaica’s prime minister, citing “public anger,” has reshaped a tax package required to obtain a $1.3 billion loan from the IMF by restoring an exemption on many  basic foods and services and raising rates for the highest income earners.

In a broadcast to the nation late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Bruce Golding spelled out significant revisions to the government’s week-old tax package in response to what he called “loud and profound” opposition from the Jamaican people.

The original package aimed at raising an additional J$21.8 billion in taxes was part of a broad agreement on an economic program announced last Thursday for Jamaica to receive the $1.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

It had included broadening a General Consumption Tax (GCT) to include previously exempt basic foods and items, such as vegetables, bread, sardines, animal meal and fishing gear.

Citing public outcry, Golding said the exemption on these basic items was being restored, although the announced GCT rate increase to 17.5 percent from 16.5 percent would remain.

Restoring the exemptions would “lessen the impact, especially on the poor and low-income families,” he said.

“This government does not have to await an eruption to recognize that it has to change course … We have listened, and we have heard,” the prime minister said in his broadcast.

But he stressed Jamaica urgently needed to raise extra tax revenue to obtain the international financial support it needed to confront the impact on its economy of the global recession. The recession has hit tourism on the Caribbean island and dented demand for key exports of bauxite and alumina.

“Without that additional revenue, there will be no IMF program,” Golding said. “Without the money from the IMF, the exchange rate would come under severe pressure because, with the fallout in bauxite and alumina earnings, remittances and other inflows, we would have difficulty in meeting the demand for foreign exchange,” he added.

“Without an IMF agreement, the additional funds from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank which we need to support the budget would not be forthcoming.”

Citing “the principle of sharing the burden more proportionately, more equitably,” Golding announced new income tax increases for high-earning categories.

Individuals earning more than J$5 million annually would be required to pay an additional 2.5 per cent, while those earning more than J$10 million each year would have to pay an additional 10 per cent. This would be a temporary measure applying from Jan. 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011.

All Jamaicans already pay a flat income tax rate of 25 per cent of salary.

Golding also announced additional tax rates ranging between 20 and 25 percent for certain luxury goods, such as jewelry , large-size television sets, shotguns, jet skis and pleasure boats.

The prime minister said he had consulted with IMF officials in redesigning the tax package, which will form part of the medium term economic program being presented by the government to obtain the IMF loan, expected in the New Year.

Golding said last week that the loan terms included “harsh conditions” that would require imposing new taxes and cutting government jobs.

Ratings agencies have already downgraded Jamaica’s credit ratings as delays in negotiating the critical deal with the IMF have eroded investor confidence in the country, which remains dependent on disbursements from multilateral institutions (Reuters)

Jamaican government imposes new taxes ahead of holiday season

Editor’s note: Following public outcry, Prime Minister Bruce Golding has changed this tax package. Please click here for further details

On the eve of the Christmas holiday, the Jamaican government has announced new taxes which will become effective from January 1, 2010.

Speaking in parliament today, Finance Minister Audley Shaw revealed that General Consumption Tax (GCT) will increase from 16.5 per cent to 17.5 per cent, with the aim of raising JA$3.6 billion for the government.

The Special Consumption Tax on cigarettes will also be increased from JA$8,500 per 1,000 sticks to JA$10,500 per 1,000 sticks to raise JA$1.41 billion, while the controversial gas tax will be increased to 15 per cent to raise JA$ 9.4 billion.

GCT will now also be applied to electricity, but only for residential customers who use more than 200 kilowatt hours each month, and this is expected to raise a further JA$1.2 billion for the government.

A number of items previously exempted from GCT are also now being taxed, including: fresh fruit and vegetables, ground provisions, banana, onion, garlic, meat, poultry, fish, corned beef and pickled mackerel. Canned sardines, mackerel, bread, buns and bullas will also now be taxed, in addition to medical and surgical prostheses and orthopedic appliances. PM Golding has also hinted that there may be an increase in property taxes come April 1, 2010.

Finance Minister Shaw said the tax increase was unavoidable at this time, and are aimed to earn the government an additional JA$ 21.8 billion per year.

The current tax measures are expected to raise JA$5.4 billion by the end of the fiscal year in April 2010, however the government has indicated that it needs to raise JA$10 billion to fill the current deficit. The finance minister however has not said how the additional JA$4.6 billion was to be raised.

Earlier today, media reports indicated that more taxes may be announced after the Jamaican government signs a funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund in 2010.

New taxes for Jamaica immediately after IMF deal

With Jamaica returning to the IMF for loan funding in 2010, the government is advising Jamaicans to prepare for more taxes after the agreement has been signed

Even in the wake of new taxes being announced ahead of the holiday season, Jamaicans have been given early warning that when the government signs an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it will have no choice but to impose new taxes as part of overall measures to contain expenditure and increase revenue.

In fact, Prime Minister Bruce Golding says the new taxes would have to be imposed almost immediately after the deal is reached.

“Up to the end of October our revenues were running J$17.8 billion (US$201 million) below projections. We have tried to contain our expenditure. We have actually tightened expenditure to the point where our expenditure is running J$7 billion (US$79 million)behind projections…but you will no longer have the facility to go to the market to say lend me an extra J$10 billion (US$112 million). We are going to have to close the gap in this fiscal year… So more taxes will have to come”, he said, ahead of his presentation today in Parliament when he is expected to provide an update on the IMF negotiations.

Golding explained that central to the IMF programme are performance targets that have to be met which is why the negotiations are taking so much time. These performance targets, he said must include getting the deficit down over the medium term.

“We are going to have to align our expenditure with our revenue. In the first year it is going to be significant but it is going to be continued over the medium term with some expectation that you will see a return to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth so that some of the adjustments that would normally be necessary at that stage will be covered by growth,” he said.

The Prime Minister said this would require the imposition of new taxes that can be collected almost immediately upon signing of the IMF agreement.

Golding said central to the programme is the intention to bring down interest rates, which would involve looking at the profile of our debt. He said Jamaica is paying the highest interest in the world with interest rates of up to 24 percent. He said Jamaica’s focus is not just how to endure the recession but was also about how to get the country on a path to recovery.

He said the vision for the transformation of the economy is not the role of the IMF.

“It is our job, as the IMF only comes in to provide you with assistance particularly in a time of crisis. Part of our problem is that the economy has not for many decades diversified itself to identify new spheres of growth that can have the multiplier effect to embrace other sectors of the economy,” Golding insisted, adding that the country must now move beyond the heavy dependence on bauxite and tourism.

Some of the areas that Government would be looking at in order to move the country forward will include securing new investments , the development of the creative industries, expanding agriculture through agro-processing and stimulating small and medium sized enterprises to provide new jobs, products and services.

Despite the challenges that face the country with the conditions that will accompany the IMF agreement, the Jamaican leader said the government will have to find creative ways of ensuring that new programmes can be implemented and cited as examples public private sector partnerships (Caribbean360).

Report says region’s GDP will fall with no climate deal

If no international agreement is reached to mitigate the effects of climate change the cost for Latin America and the Caribbean could be equivalent to 137 percent of the region’s current Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of this century.

The prediction is made in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) report ‘Economics of Climate Change in Latin America and the Caribbean’ which was presented this week during a side event of Climate Change Conference taking place in Copenhagen.

The study projects that without international mitigation efforts, the region could suffer important losses in agriculture and biodiversity, strong pressures on infrastructure and a growing intensity of extreme weather events.

The report forecasts that without international mitigation actions, by the year 2100, the region could suffer important losses in agriculture and biodiversity, strong pressures on infrastructure and a growing intensity of natural disasters. These accumulated losses would represent a significant proportion of current GDP, it said.

According to the study, climate variations and extreme weather events will mean that by 2100, the cost of climatic disasters will increase from an annual average of US$8.6 billion (2000-2008) to a maximum possible of almost US$250 billion.

Although Latin America and the Caribbean is the second region in the world with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions after Africa, it is suffering the effects of global warming more than any other, says the report.

The study said this urgently demands technological and financial support from developed countries for the region’s efforts of adaptation and mitigation.

The report was prepared by ECLAC with the collaboration of the governments of Germany, Denmark, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union, the Inter American Development Bank (IDB), the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and a broad network of academic and research institutions (Caribbean360).

Jamaica closer to IMF deal

The standby facility is being negotiated with the IMF in the face of a fall-off of some US$1 billion in the Golding administration’s revenue and foreign exchange earnings, due to the global economic downturn impacting key sectors such as bauxite and tourism

The Jamaica government is reportedly closer to reaching a deal for US$1.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

An IMF team arrives in the island today to continue negotiations on the US$1.2 billion standby facility. However, there is still no word on when an announcement of the final arrangements will be made.

Minister with Responsibility for Information, Telecommunications and Special Projects in the Office of the Prime Minister, Daryl Vaz, said that the negotiations were “far advanced”.

But he could not say whether the impending meeting would result in a conclusion of the arrangements.

“I would not be in a position to tell you that the Minister of Finance (and the Public Service) would be in a position to make (details of) the agreement known in Parliament next week Tuesday,” he said.

“But what I could say is that, if he does not, because it has not reached finality, then he would then be in a position to tell us where we are.”

Responding to a question regarding Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s undertaking to provide an update on the status of the discussions before Christmas, Vaz pointed out that “the fact that the IMF team arrives here (Thursday) afternoon, after protracted negotiations, indicates that that is still on the cards”.

The standby facility is being negotiated with the IMF in the face of a fall-off of some US$1 billion in the Golding administration’s revenue and foreign exchange earnings, consequent on the global economic downturn impacting key sectors such as bauxite and tourism (Caribbean360).

Beyond Kyoto: The importance of the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change

The UN Climate Change Conference is being held in Copenhagen from December 7 -18, with the aim to achieve a new set of binding agreements after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Our correspondent Delaney Brown explains the Summit’s importance and outlines its desired outcomes.

Climate change will soon become a bigger security threat to humanity than that of nuclear proliferation, and it has taken a long time for the international political  community to realize that climate change is real, and that man is largely responsible for it.

Already, we are witnessing the consequences of our inaction to curb excess greenhouse gases being emitted in the atmosphere: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record; the Arctic ice cap is melting; oil and food prices are soaring, and we are experiencing more and more extreme weather situations across the globe. The sustainability of our planet is at stake, and world leaders must recognize that the Copenhagen Summit is one of the most important gatherings of our time.

Above all, now is the time to set aside narrow national interests and political differences to see the greater goal — working to secure the future of our planet, by agreeing to a multilateral deal based on equity and justice.

Kyoto was not enough — and the United States needs to be on board

During the Kyoto negotiations in 1997, the EU originally proposed a 15% cut in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2010. The United States ensured that these cuts were lowered dramatically to 5.2%, even though President Bill Clinton later failed to ratify the Protocol, paving the way for President George W. Bush to pull out altogether.

In addition, China, India and other developing countries were not included in any emission limitations in the Kyoto Protocol because they were not main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the pre-treaty industrialization period, although China is now the major greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

These new realities underscore that future emission cuts will have to be more dramatic than those set in Kyoto, because global greenhouse gases have rapidly increased in recent years. Abstract reduction targets cannot happen again.

The Small Island Agenda

The Group of Least Developed Countries has asked the world’s major economies to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperature by 2050.

In order to reach the 2°C mark by 2050, developed countries must cut emissions to 25-40% below the 1990 levels by 2020, and 50-80% below 1990 levels by 2050. And while negotiations show that ambitions have been raised about emissions cuts in each country, these cuts are still not enough, particularly for small Islands.

The Alliance of the Small Island States (AOSIS) cites UN based scientific climate change studies, which state that rising temperatures must be limited to 1.5 °C above 1990 levels by 2020. UN Ambassador and Chair of AOSIS, Dessina Williams, claims that the 2°C proposal is ‘unacceptable because this temperature exceeds safe thresholds for protecting small islands.’ The UN also reacted negatively to the 2 °C negotiations in September; stating this temperature rise would damage the world’s coral reefs, affect small islands, low-lying areas and African countries already susceptible to drought and desertification.

Copenhagen agreements must not keep less developed states in a state of underdevelopment

Coincidentally, the countries which are most vulnerable to climate change tend also to be those with the most economic vulnerability. The Copenhagen Summit therefore must discern what different peak global emissions imply for developing countries in respect of meeting the needs of their people. A proposal that leaves developing countries unable to grow is not only unwise, but also extremely detrimental.

The current US proposal for the Copenhagen Summit means that Africa would have negative economic growth – an unacceptable position which is ignorant of the fact that developing countries must have developing space. Copenhagen’s focus should therefore be directed at helping emerging countries generate economic growth based on a low carbon output. The CO2 emission rates for China are the highest in the world, with India trailing close behind. Yet per person, these nations have small carbon footprints with millions still living in extreme poverty. In India, for example, over 400 million people live without electricity.

Other parameters of the agreement must include how the emissions reductions targets will bring about a temperature rise of less than 1.5 °C as recommended by UN Climate Change Studies and affirmed in the AOSIS Climate Change Declaration. A mere temperature goal is not enough. We must frame specific targets that must be quantifiable, measurable and transparent. The higher a country’s per capita emissions, the higher its reduction targets should be.

Heads of government need also to understand what the necessary percentages in reductions of CO2 emissions in the next 40 years will mean in terms of energy consumption, energy technologies and how to get there. Firm and aggressive emission reductions must be developed, all while combating global deforestation, a human activity that causes over 40% increase in CO2 emissions.

The agreement must also include sustainable development, and a commitment to the financing of technology transfers to mitigate the adaptation to a low carbon economy. If a treaty is not developed at the Copenhagen Summit, we must at the very least, have a strong political commitment where participants are bound with a legally binding agreement to follow within months, not years.

Lastly, there must also be a transformation on an individual level. Many of us, especially those in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles dramatically. It is now time for each person in every country to start doing his or her part to kick the carbon habit, because the sustainability of our planet is at stake, and our quality of life with it.

Caribbean hoping demands will be met at climate change conference

As the highly anticipated global climate change conference begins in Copenhagen today, the Caribbean will be seeking limits on temperature rises and carbon  emissions from developed countries which they say are most responsible for causing global warming.

They will be hoping for a legally binding agreement coming out of the 11-day meeting in the Denmark capital.

Ahead of the conference, the leaders met to shore up their position. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago at the end of last month, Caribbean leaders and their counterparts in other Commonwealth countries agreed on a united front to try to seal a firm deal on climate change.

The resolution reached during the meeting, ‘The Port of Spain Climate Change Consensus; Commonwealth Declaration, 2009′, highlighted the need for “an ambitious mitigation outcome at Copenhagen to reduce the risks of dangerous climate change without compromising the legitimate development aspirations of developing countries”.

“We stress our common conviction that urgent and substantial action to reduce global emissions is needed and have a range of views as to whether average global temperature increase should be constrained to below 1.5 degrees or to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” the document said, adding that an internationally legally binding agreement in Copenhagen is essential.

“We agree that an equitable governance structure to manage the financial and technological support must be put in place.  We agree that a future governance structure should provide for states to monitor and comply with arrangements entered under a new Copenhagen agreement.”

Meantime, Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas says he will also be using the conference to seek support for local projects.

Thomas, who will also be leading the delegation of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said Grenada will be looking for help for the protection of the island’s coastline, reforestation and the preservation of Grand Anse Beach (Caribbean 360)

IICA promotes agrotourism in Barbados with “Sweet Life” expo and folk fair

Bridgetown, Barbados – The local office of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) is today hosting a food and entertainment exposition dubbed as “D’ Sweet Life” at  Sweetfield Manor, Brittons New Road in St. Michael.

The free event continues IICA’s drive to promote agrotourism, a sustainable tourism and rural development activity in which tourists have the opportunity to get acquainted with agricultural areas, local products, traditional cuisine and local culture, while bringing much-needed economic activity to rural communities.

IICA’s push for agrotourism promotion in the region follows successful implementation in other developing states such as Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, and comes as a direct response to the mandate of CARICOM Heads of Government to help the agricultural sector meet its challenges through better technical support in agricultural development, food security and rural prosperity.

The “Sweet Life” food fair runs from 1 to 7 pm, and will feature popular chefs Max Benz and Peter Edey, health and wellness activities and entertainment from artistes including Mr. Dale, Mikey, Sing Out Barbados, the Tuk Band and Mother Sally.

The event is jointly sponsored by the Barbados Agricultural Society, the National Union of Farmers, The Ministry of Tourism and the Association of Women in Agriculture.

Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Stabroek News in Guyana has confirmed that President Bharrat Jagdeo has been nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to combat climate  change. He was nominated by Professor David Dabydeen, Director of the Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick.

President Jagdeo has led a campaign to fight climate change by monetizing the value of Guyana’s forests, and in November 2009 signed a deal with Norway which will see that country giving Guyana up to US$250 million by 2015 to preserve its rainforests¹.

The Guyanese President has expressed some hope that this model could be looked at by other forest-rich, developing states ahead of the Copenhagen Summit this month, where a number of low income states are expected to make a case for financial assistance to cope with the impact of climate change and to meet the requirements of proposed new carbon emission targets.

In October this year, US President Barack Obama was controversially awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.

Barbados Family Minister says men deserve more legal rights to their children

Men should be allowed more legal rights to their children, says Minister of Family, Youth and Sports Esther Byer-Suckoo.

She was speaking yesterday at the launch of sociologist Lloyd Springer’s new book, Fatherhood In The Neighbourhood, at Warrens Office Complex, Warrens, St Michael.

The author interviewed and surveyed 50 boyfriends and husbands, who were non-residential, working-class men, about fatherhood.

His book revealed that men believed that the legislation on parental rights was against them and biased towards women.

The book also revealed that the majority of men wanted DNA testing as a policy to determine fatherhood.

“Too often fathers have their rights rescinded; access seems as a privilege restored when the father has met certain criteria, often established and monitored by the mother. This is wrong,” Byer-Suckoo said.

“Unless the father is likely to harm the child, he must be allowed to see his children, regardless of how he gets along with the mother or when last he has paid child support,” she stressed.

She said that as a result, the role of the father was part of the on-going legislative review process.

“Children are not to be used as pawns. Whatever the adult relationship is, children need their fathers, and not just to provide that financial support. The role of fathers is often seen as being the financial provider, and while we must continue to encourage men to financially support their children and provide for their physical needs, their roles must be redefined to be more than the family purse,” she said.

The minister, who is also a medical doctor, said mothers should also read the book because of the relevant parenting issues raised.

“[Fathers] need to be seen as nurturers also and this needs to start from the ante-natal clinics as they don’t encourage men to be a part of that activity . . . and inside the labour ward.

“When we send those messages to fathers during the ante-natal and birthing process, we are essentially telling them that they don’t need to be a part of this nurturing. So we have to change the message,” she emphasised (Barbados Nation).

Please see our related article “Are Barbados’ child support and paternity laws skewed against men?” for background on the debate over male parental rights in Barbados.

US Senators seek vote against IMF, World Bank loans to Antigua over Stanford fraud

A group of senators wants the United States to oppose any new international loans to Antigua until the island nation compensates victims of the fraud allegedly  run by R. Allen Stanford, whose bank was located there.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Banking Committee, and seven other senators on Tuesday introduced a resolution to have Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner direct the U.S. representatives at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to oppose new loans to Antigua “until that government cooperates with the United States” and compensates the Stanford investors.

The so-called sense-of-the Senate resolution would be nonbinding. It wasn’t immediately clear when the Senate might vote on it.

Treasury spokeswoman Meg Reilly declined to comment. Spokesmen at the embassy of Antigua and Barbuda in Washington had no immediate comment.

Stanford, a flamboyant Texas financier and prominent figure in the Caribbean, is in jail awaiting trial on U.S. federal charges he ran a $7 billion Ponzi scheme by promising huge returns on certificates of deposit from now-closed Stanford International Bank in Antigua. Investors were promised the CDs were safe. Money poured in from around the world, with nearly 28,000 depositors from 113 countries investing in the CDs, according to authorities.

The court-appointed receiver tracking down investors’ lost money has said he hopes to gain control of more than $1.5 billion that would be returned to them. But an attorney representing the investors has said that goal may be unrealistic and victims should prepare to recover as little as 2 cents on the dollar.

Stanford has pleaded not guilty and denied the Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil fraud allegations.

Stanford had ties with the Antiguan government and is alleged to have loaned it about $85 million, which presumably came from Stanford investor funds, Shelby said in a news release. He said Antigua has refused to cooperate with the receiver and therefore should be denied the loans it is seeking from the World Bank and the IMF, which receive significant funding from the U.S.

“It is essential that to the extent possible these victims get their money back,” Shelby said in a statement. “It is absurd that the (Antiguan government) is standing in the way of helping victims, while also holding out its hand for funding.”

Also proposing the resolution were: Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire (AP)

Barbados in another phase of Independence struggle, says Prime Minister

As Barbadians mark their country’s 43rd year of Independence from Britain today, Prime Minister David Thompson has described the current recession as the  second phase in the island’s struggle for independence.

And in his Independence Day message he reminded citizens of the country’s ability in the past to overcome many hurdles and encouraged them to summon that spirit once again to get over this one.

"I believe that this recession signals the second phase in our struggle for independence. I believe that the world will be a different place after this recession. I am convinced that several G20 powers will emerge from it with the capacity to produce and deliver consumer goods and services throughout the world. We therefore face the prospect of a global recovery with huge pockets of unemployment and poverty in the less developed countries of the world," Thompson said.

"The challenge facing small island states like Barbados is to become more enterprising, to spot niches in the market place and to capitalize on them. It is a wake-up call for all of us to make a contribution to one of the last hurdles on the way to winning gold by achieving "developed country" status. It is a call to pursue excellence in the struggle for economic enfranchisement."

Thompson therefore called on Barbadians at home and abroad to revisit and draw strength from the vision of their forefathers.
"It is a vision of victory, of relentlessly struggling against the odds, of facing each new hurdle with confidence until we win the gold," he said.

"Let us not consider this current recession as a disaster but as an opportunity. Let us understand our history as a race to overcome the many hurdles placed in our way. Let us honour all 10 of our recognised National Heroes as leaders who have shown us how to overcome the legal, religious, social, political, economic and psychological hurdles that have been erected to retard our progress," Prime Minister Thompson further urged.

He said that while Barbados "leads the pack" in the quality of life it affords its citizens and residents, has consistently pursued and achieved excellence in a range of human endeavours, and has consistently scored high marks on the indices of human development, the people cannot become complacent and must work to continue and improve these high standards.

In this year’s Independence Day Honours, two lawyers were named the newest recipients of knighthoods.

They are Queen’s Counsels Philip Marlowe Greaves and Maurice Athelstan King, both of whom were ministers in the Cabinet of Barbados’ first prime minister and ‘Father of Independence’, Errol Barrow (via Caribbean360)

Constitutional reform referendum defeated in St. Vincent & the Grenadines

433pxElizabeth_II_greets_NASA_GSFC_e[1]The national referendum on constitutional reform in St. Vincent & The Grenadines has been defeated, with 43.13% (22, 493) of voters opting for the new charter and 55.64% (29, 019) voting against. The referendum required a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

The proposed constitution would have removed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and installed a non-executive president in her stead, while simplifying the procedure to replace the British Privy Council as the nation’s highest court of appeal.

Speaking before the results were announced, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that the seven year process which led up to the drafting of the new constitution should be viewed as lighting a beacon to “illuminate the pathways against the remnants of colonialism, in the interest of [Vincentians’] humanisation”.

Despite extensive campaigning in favour of the new constitution from the ruling United Labour Party, the new charter was heavily criticised by the opposition New Democratic Party who argued that it did nothing to reduce the power of the Prime Minister or to strengthen democracy in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. The Government was also heavily criticised for its arrogance and unwillingness to give way on differences with the opposition and citizens during the drafting stages of the constitution.

Political commentators in St. Vincent & the Grenadines have noted that while the referendum was largely billed as apolitical, the result is a damning one for the ruling ULP government, which will announce general elections in 2010. Had the referendum vote been a general election result, the opposition party would have won 13 of the island’s 15 constituencies.

Speaking to BBC Caribbean after the results were announced, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves commented that while he did not anticipate the result, it was clear that the people of St. Vincent & the Grenadines did not consider the new constitution to be deserving of their support.

“We were engaged in a noble enterprise, we did not succeed from the ‘yes’ campaign at the polls to persuade the majority of those who went to vote that the constitution was worthy of being changed, and that the [new constitution] was worthy of being supported”, Dr. Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves also conceded that the opposition ran a “spirited campaign” to mobilize Vincentians against the referendum, saying that there was a sense that the public had grievances against the government and its representatives.

Meanwhile, Opposition leader Arnhim Eustace said he was pleased with the result: “I’m happy with the decision taken because we felt that there are too many difficult issues that are outstanding and need resolution in the proposed constitution”, Mr. Eustace said.

The Vincentian referendum was the first of its kind in the Eastern Caribbean, where a number of states have proposed the idea of constitutional reform and republicanism, but are yet to take it to a national vote.

Referendum day on monarchy, constitutional reform in St. Vincent & the Grenadines

The people of St. Vincent & the Grenadines will today decide whether to replace the island’s constitution, which has been in place since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1979.

If approved, the new constitution will abolish the island’s monarchy, removing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and replacing her with a non-executive president nominated by both political parties. The charter will also establish a Court of Appeals to replace the British Privy Council, which remains the highest appeals court in the island.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and his ruling United Labour Party has campaigned heavily in favour of constitutional reform along republican lines, going so far as to promise a public holiday if the referendum succeeds.

Speaking to the Trinidad Express, Gonsalves said: “I find it a bit of a Nancy story that the Queen of England can really be the Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines”. The opposition New Democratic Labour Party (NDP), though also in favour of a republican system, is opposing the selection of a president by parliament and insists that the office should be filled by a nationally elected candidate.

The opposition further argues that the new constitution will do nothing to reduce the power of the Prime Minister or to strengthen the country’s democracy, claiming that the proposed charter does not go far enough to rework the mandate of the Integrity Commission, Human Rights Commission, the office of the Ombudsman and the Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Fringe groups in the island have gone further to oppose the new constitution, arguing that it will bring “communism” to St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

The referendum requires a two-thirds majority vote for passage and will be observed by missions from CARICOM and the Organisation of American States. There are 97,000 registered voters, with an undetermined number of people who have died or moved away on the electors list.

Queen Elizabeth II is coincidentally on a rare trip to the region to open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad & Tobago on November 27, in her capacity as head of the Commonwealth.

Update: The referendum was defeated by a significant margin in results announced at 2230.

Rio’s Olympic bid win: all that glitters isn’t gold

rio-olympics-2016The announcement that the 2016 Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro was met with wild celebration by locals. Cities all over the globe compete furiously to   bring the Olympics home, and the residents of Rio were eager to welcome the world to their doorstep.

Aside from the tremendous prestige generated by having global attention for several weeks, people welcome the Olympics because of anticipated revenue from corporate sponsorship, the selling of broadcast airtime to advertisers, and increased long-term tourism due to a raised profile. These perceived economic advantages make it seem as though winning an Olympic hosting bid is like winning the lottery.

Unfortunately, the Olympics are far more likely to harm the average resident of Rio than to help him or her. Construction of giant mega-stadiums and the gentrification of large urban areas in preparation for the games’ visitor surge will displace many.

For proof of this, one needs look no further than the city of Vancouver, today on the eve of the 2010 Winter Games. Human Rights watchdog groups have been lobbying vigorously to curb the evictions and displacements that are befalling the city’s poor as Vancouver reshapes itself to host the Games. Loopholes in legislation which protect civil liberties and rights of tenancy are being exploited to evict residents and clear space in which to erect Olympic infrastructure and stadiums. In addition, the homeless are being “cleaned” from the streets, that is to say, arrested or rounded up and shuttled to who-knows-where.

Faulty legislation is not the only mechanism by which the underprivileged can be made to suffer for the Olympics’ sake. The enormous amount of money that will be invested into areas surrounding Olympic landmarks will raise property value at an unnaturally rapid rate. Vastly increased rents will follow, and as a result, those who live in what is currently low-income housing will become unable to continue paying rent, and will find themselves homeless.

One can expect these effects to be particularly profound in Rio de Janeiro. The socio-economic map of Rio is such that some of the world’s lowest-ranked neighbourhoods on the Human Development Index are scattered throughout the boroughs of the city, many a matter of steps away from affluent urban centres, and not just concentrated in a single, low-income district. The games are going to be held at various stadiums throughout the city as well, not concentrated either. If either the games or the city’s poor were centralized, it is conceivable that the two spheres could partly avoid one another. However, with the poor living throughout the city, and the games being held throughout the city, there is no chance that the two will not clash. Olympic displacements may be worse than any city in recent memory, and the cost to the people of Rio will be immense. Increased poverty and homelessness will exacerbate the city’s already infamously high rate of crime and violence.

One might think that the revenue earned by the Olympics will allow Rio to compensate its population for the trauma it will suffer – that the economic boost will make the displacements and evictions a worthwhile sacrifice. Such an attitude is mere wishful thinking.

Corporate sponsorship and advertising will certainly bring capital, but the very nature of commercial trade is to funnel and concentrate money to one or two other parties. These will likely be other corporations, or perhaps even a branch of Rio’s municipal government. Either way, the money is not likely to be equitably redistributed, and the underprivileged who will suffer most will not reap financial benefits after the fact.

Tourism is more promising, at least in theory. Foreign visitors spend money not just on hotels, but also at shops, restaurants, and so forth. In this way, some tourist money is injected directly into many strata of a population. However, Rio de Janeiro is already a famous vacation spot. The Olympic promise of long-term tourism is mostly important for less frequently considered destinations. For example, Salt Lake City successfully bolstered its reputation as a skiing centre by hosting the 2002 Winter Games. For Rio, this kind of advertising is unnecessary. It is Brazil’s former capital, the third largest city in South America, and is world famous for its history, landscapes, and festivals. It will certainly see a tourism surge for the duration of the Games, but in the long term, it does not need the Olympics’ help to advertise as a holiday destination. The promise of tourism, therefore, is woefully insufficient compensation for infringements on civil liberties.

Even if the economic advantages were realized to their maximum potential, and the earnings gathered were redistributed responsibly and justly, the importance of these gains is commonly over-estimated. They are sudden, short term bursts of capital which have little effect on a city’s overall economic landscape. James Wood, an economist at the University of Utah was quoted in the Voice of America on January 2006, describing the relative insignificance of Olympics-generated revenue versus a more commonplace event: the relocation of a company. Such an event brings new people with new incomes, increasing spending, and attracts further migration. These are the sorts of changes, he argues, that alter economic patterns. A sudden influx of capital, he says, “doesn’t mean too much” for the typical family.

With only a little investigation it becomes clear that hosting the Olympics will not be beneficial to the people of Rio; its only likely consequence is the provision of short term monetary boosts which will fall along existing economic disparities. Corporations and the government will receive temporary reinforcement through sponsorship and advertising deals, while the underprivileged will suffer particularly extreme evictions, displacement, and rent increases that will put them on the streets. This means that the best case scenario, unfortunately, is that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will widen the gap between the rich and the poor. Perhaps it is not worthy of celebration after all.

Cambodia: An Introduction to Poverty and Improvement

23800_CAMBODIA-10083 New beginnings! Our beloved website has a new face and a new name. A change of scenery is good for everyone – and I speak from experience. Since my last article found a home on the then Bajan Dream website, I myself have found a new home. My ever-itchy feet have led me a half a world away to Cambodia – the land with a haunted past and promising future. But more on that later – It is good to be back!

For my first article for our new website, I wanted something thought provoking or at least, interesting. I have plenty of inspiration in both departments these days. My current day job involves writing, editing and creating documents for Cambodia’s largest agricultural NGO. I’ve spent time wandering through villages so basic and so beautiful that it would literally break your heart. And I’ve had hands-on experience with the improvements taking place here, transforming a once hope-impoverished country into an impressively resilient kingdom.

Why would you be interested in Cambodia, you ask? Well, for one thing many of my upcoming articles are likely to be based on knowledge gained while I’m here or influenced by what I see here. And secondly – and most importantly – because Cambodia represents, simultaneously, the best and the worst the world has to offer. It is a place as charming as it is devastating and as impressive as it is impoverished. Many of the issues we discuss on this website are directly or indirectly evident in Cambodia – and many of them more blatantly obvious for the lack of infrastructure and the exceedingly wide gap between the upper and lower classes. In that way, it may serve as a foundation for discussion on hot topics because it often occupies the extreme side of the scale we use to measure these issues against.

But before we can plunge into the issues at hand, we must first familiarize ourselves with the nature of the beast.

Cambodia, like all developing countries, did not end up in its current state by one singular event. Its destiny has been wrestled with through years of political upheaval and war. A history of Cambodia would take use many pages, but suffice it to say that the road to poverty and corruption was a long and winding one marked with interior power struggles and exterior influences.

The infamous period of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, which eventually led to the death of approximately 2 million Khmer people and one of the most grisly and mysterious genocides of our time, was the breaking point for Cambodia. At the height of her power, Cambodia produced one of the world’s most amazing tributes to solidarity – the Angkor Wat Temples – and led the region in rice production due, for the most part, to an elaborate and inspired irrigation system that is truly a marvel of ancient agriculture. Today, however, her people struggle to survive on sustenance farming that fails to adequately feed most households while her politicians fight generation’s worth of corruption and greed.

Cambodia holds a place on several top 50 lists – though most of them are not list to be aspired to. According the United Nations website, Cambodia is high on the 50 poorest countries list. Out of the 177 countries included in the United Nation’s Human Development Index List, Cambodia is 131. She also ranks high on the “Most Corrupt Countries” list developed by Transparency International – coming in the top ten with a Corruption Perceptions Index of 2.2. The United Nations also has a list of 48 “Least Developed Countries” and Cambodia is included on that. And while those lists could be assumed to be subjective, the cold hard numbers never lie: Even at a lowered poverty line of $0.50 USD per day, over 30% of Cambodians still live in poverty (the normal poverty line is $1.25 USD a day). Cambodian farmers harvest a measly 1.7 tons per hectare of rice compared to the 2.59 and 4.51 tons per hectare in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam respectively (USDA Statistics, 2007 and 2009). When 85% of a countries total population depends on rice farming for their livelihood, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to get the picture. Cambodia has fallen on hard times.

But while the light at the end of this depressing tunnel of human doubt may be out of sight, the silver lining to the thundercloud of despair is becoming more and more obvious. Cambodia has become a training ground for inspired non-governmental organizations and has, for the last 20 years, benefitted from some of the most impressive acts of kindness the better-off of the world could bestow.

The United States spent $62 million USD in 2007 alone, making Cambodia the third largest international recipient of United States Government Aid. Organizations like the one I work for have become so adept at using new ideas that one could easily say that “thinking outside the box” has become more common than thinking inside of it. Using knowledge gained from the successes and mistakes made in other countries across the globe, the non-profit, civil society sector of Cambodia has been able to change basic, foundational areas much faster and more efficiently than we saw in other countries in previous years.

As an example, using the “teach a man to fish” philosophy, my organization promotes an ecologically friendly and non-technologically based rice production improvement system, based on simple improvements in transplanting and crop care. The idea is to use what is available and improve upon it through techniques discovered by a Jesuit priest in Madagascar. Some harvest studies have shown a doubling in tonnage per acre during the first year of implementation. Here in Cambodia, we’ve gone back to the basics working to create methods that are as sustainable as they are useful.

So what can we – as readers, as activists and as people – learn from Cambodia’s trials and triumphs? We can learn that hope cannot be killed, massacred, or starved to death. We can recognize that even a mere five years of destruction and disaster can set a nation back for twenty or more years. We can acknowledge that money, in the long term, won’t feed the starving but that knowledge most certainly will. And we can rejoice that there are people, organizations and governments striving to make an impact and improvements far beyond their borders.

Time alone will tell whether Cambodia can truly rise from the ashes. I will probably be long gone before that day occurs. However, even as I take my lessons with me, I am hopeful that we can all glean some knowledge from the strife that this country has endured. This year abroad will doubtlessly provide me enough fuel for my creative fires to feed you a thousand tales. I look forward to sharing them with you.

Naming the rose: Barbados’ British place names vs. African heritage

3341680081_3e6d147f30In the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, the fair maiden enquires, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet’s point is well taken, as she poses that immortal question, expressing her love only for Romeo, but none for his Montague family name.

Someone told me recently that Accra Beach on the south coast of Barbados was named after the Ghanaian capital Accra. I like the sound of that and I seriously hope this is the case. Accra Beach is one of my favorite beaches on the island and I have fond memories of my many visits there. It is believed that the Barbadian population is eighty percent descended from Ghanaians, so it would be very appropriate if there’s a little piece of West Africa along the Bajan south coast.

So should Bajan, or for that matter other Caribbean modern day decision makers, be more revolutionary in naming the newer housing developments, new towns, districts or renaming some of the existing towns and villages to reflect their African heritage?

In fact, it is suggested by many that the more place names we adopt from the mother continent and incorporate them into our Caribbean geography the better.

With place-names like Worthing, Hastings, Dover Brighton and Folkstone; it is easily understood why the ‘old colonials’ felt the need to transplant the English south coast to a tiny tropical island thousands of miles away. The assumption is that they were homesick after a long journey across the Atlantic Ocean, and felt the need to remind themselves of their homeland.

But the English connection does not stop there, because further inland the English traveler can find a plantation called Yorkshire, along with a Newbury, St Helens, Windsor, Eastbourne, Lancaster, Cheltenham and even an Oxford and Cambridge, among many other very recognizable place names, from not only England but Scotland and Ireland too.

Decision makers have kept the flame of empire burning bright and held on to the old worn-out ‘Little England’ tag, which says so much of what Barbados was in the past.

For the modern day Barbadian, regardless of his hue, there is a brighter identity to be attained and whether Nelson’s statue still has a ringside seat at the proceedings; maybe a high wind of change is on the radar for our new towns and districts this century.

Would swapping the English rose for an African one smell just as sweet?

Shakespeare would agree I’m sure.

Barbados presents new immigration policy for public review

caricom The Government of Barbados’ green paper on immigration reform has been made available for public review.

The document, titled “A Comprehensive Review of Immigration Policy And Proposals For Legislative Reform”, outlines the details of the Government of Barbados’ new immigration policy, which was first tabled in June 2009 by Prime Minister David Thompson.

The controversial policy aims to reduce the number of migrants coming into Barbados, and will make it more difficult for ‘illegal’ immigrants to gain residency status on the island by virtue of the length of time spent in Barbados – a key feature of the former immigration policy.

In June 2009, Prime Minister David Thompson prefaced the proposal for a new immigration policy with an amnesty for undocumented CARICOM migrants, under which they had until December 1, 2009 to regularize their status or face deportation. The amnesty was met with a wave of criticism by CARICOM leaders, which saw Prime Minister Thompson often adopting a defensive stance, stressing that immigrants were quickly becoming a ‘social and economic burden’ on Barbados.

Statistics: The New “It” Job

csdLOGOTypically, the mention of the word statistics conjures an image of a disheveled old man with glasses labouring tirelessly, crunching numbers and stressing over mind boggling equations. We traditionally see this profession as dull and boring, with very few job opportunities outside of government — but the reality is quite different.

With the mountain of data being produced (literally exabytes each year), and the exponentially increasing need for immediate quality data, statistics is now “en vogue. No longer is the statistician  confined to the government sector, but companies like Google, Netflix, and Amazon all have Statisticians on staff. And with the volume of data expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 60 per cent, the demand for statisticians and data analysts is also expected to grow at alarming rates.

What we have seen over the years is that as the demand for this unique brand of mathematically gifted individuals increase, more and more young people are being drawn to this profession.  This has ushered in a new brand of Statisticians and Data Analysts that are young, multi-disciplined, highly computer literate and even fashionable.

In fact, so much has the statistical profession changed over the years, that it has spawned a whole new category of professionals that are demanding top dollar in the global job market. In today’s world, a degree in statistics gives you the option of also becoming a statistical analyst, or a statistician — add to this training in other disciplines like information technology and biology and you have struck gold. You can easily secure a job as a biostatistician (US$100 thousand per year), data miner (US$110 thousand) or statistical programmer (US$175 thousand) in virtually any country across the globe.

Hal Varian, Chief economist at Google predicts that statistics will yield the top earning jobs in the next ten years. One might be wondering, what lead to this tremendous increase in demand for professionals in this field. The answer is simple; we are now living in the ‘Information Age’. We now live in a world where data is collected on almost everything we do. From the websites we visit, to the things we buy, to the places we go, data is being collected. What this has created is a mountain of data, which requires skilled professionals to break it down into meaningful information. With the advent of globalization, and the reduction in barriers to trade, whether or not a company survives depends on its ability to gather meaningful information before the competition. In the world in which we we now live, a manufacturer’s ability to spot future trends, and to analyse spending patterns could mean the difference between great success and bankruptcy. As such, more and more companies are demanding professionals in the arena of statistics.

On a much larger scale, whether or not a country develops depends critically on their ability to obtain and understand the economic and social statistics produced by the national statistics agency. Data on unemployment and inflation inform fiscal and monetary policy, which charts out the direction an economy takes. Information on international trade and balance of payments speak to the country’s current account balance, and even gives insight into the amount of foreign exchange required for the normal functioning of the economy.

The fact of the matter is, as data continues to grow the demand for analysts and statisticians will continue to increase, as people move away from taking decisions on a whim, and move towards evidence based decision making. We have entered into the information age, and with it has come the dawn of the modern statistician.

IMF to Jamaica: “There will be pain”

An official of the International Monetary Fund is  predicting some amount of “pain” for Jamaica’s 2.7 million inhabitants when the Fund completes the process of lending Jamaica money to assist with budgetary obligations.

The official, who spoke with the Observer from his Washington, DC headquarters last week on condition of anonymity, said that although things may be tough, the strings that tied past agreements between Jamaica and the Fund may not be as tight this time.

“There is no doubt that there will be some amount of pain to be felt by the Jamaican people after this agreement is finalised,” the official said. “The standard of living of Jamaicans may be affected during the life of the agreement. However, we can’t say how tough things will be, or even give an indication. We have a duty to protect social spending and we will insist upon that. The objective and goals of the agreement are still being hammered out, so we can’t say what the conditions under which the loan will be granted will be.”

Finance Minister Audley Shaw last week confirmed that Jamaica would be seeking to draw down US$1.2 billion in support from the IMF through its Special Drawing Rights to shore up the 2009-2010 budget which has suffered internal and external battering, due mainly to the effects of the global recession.

A significant drop in revenue from the bauxite and alumina sector; a fall in remittances, the island’s leading earner of foreign exchange; and shortfalls in income tax and general consumption tax collections have led to the Government’s dilemma and added speed to the Bruce Golding administration’s efforts to seek external funding.

The IMF, which was formed in 1944 to help regulate the world’s economies that had been badly affected by the Second World War, has assisted most of its 186-member countries with funding since.

As far as meeting the September deadline for the loan approval, as is hoped by Jamaica, the official said that it was possible, but many things needed to be done.

“It’s realistic, but they [Jamaican Government] still have work to do, as the process takes a while,” he said. “If it was a case of dire emergency, then a loan package could be approved in less than two weeks. But Jamaica is not melting down, that’s not the case, so there is no mad rush. I understand the anxiety, but these negotiations have their own rhythm.

“The IMF looks at the needs of the country at the time  and adds some security measurements. There are some parameters that a country uses to assess its vulnerability. The IMF will look, for example, at a country’s international reserves and determine how many months of imports they represent. Obviously, the more reserves a country has, it would be in a better position,” he said.

“We have not discussed conditionalities yet with the Jamaica Government, because we don’t know for sure what the Government wants,” added the IMF official. “The Government has more work to do, and right now their technical people are hammering out the details. When that is completed, we will outline the conditionalities. At this point we can’t say to the Government that in order to get the loan, you will have to cut back on this programme or that programme.”

Two funding economists and a press officer from the IMF visited Jamaica last week to hold preliminary talks with government officials, in what was described as a low-profile visit.

There was speculation from Prime Minister Golding that among the first casualty under the IMF agreement would be the chopping of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), a programme under which each member of parliament is allotted $40 million to spend on projects in his/her constituency.

MPs had hailed the CDF, introduced by the Golding administration, as something that is achieving the desired effect of improving the lives of constituents.

Some financial analysts and government officials have been painting a fresher picture of the IMF as an institution that is not as hostile to Third World countries as it was during the 1970s and 1980s when Jamaica borrowed from the Fund.

“The IMF now is far more liberal than it was in the early years. It is more receptive to the needs of its members and it no longer carries a hard-line position on certain things, like privatisation of government entities,” said the IMF official. “Naturally, we believe that private ownership is always the best, but if governments can show why companies under their control should not be privatised, the IMF would not necessarily stick to its position.”

Jamaica joined the IMF on February 21, 1963. The island last borrowed US$77.75 million from the organisation on December 11, 1992 and paid off that loan on March 16, 1996.
Before that, in the 1990s, Jamaica benefited from loans under the Fund’s stand-by arrangements.

The Jamaica Government borrowed US$82 million on March 23, 1990, which was repaid by May 31 the following year. On June 28, 1992, Jamaica received US$43.65 million under the same stand-by arrangement, and completed its repayment on September 30, 1992.

According to the IMF’s mission statement, its job is to promote a stable international monetary system, in which member countries can achieve high rates of employment, low inflation and sustainable economic growth.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Bruce Golding said Cabinet should by next week have the final proposal from the Ministry of Finance for a stand-by loan facility with the IMF.

Speaking at a press briefing at Jamaica House Monday, Golding said the Government has met with the Opposition, as well as various leaders from the private sector, and trade unions, in seeking to build consensus, before signing off on a Letter of Intent for the IMF.

Golding pointed out that any arrangement with the Fund meant that adjustments would have to be made in the economy, in order to ensure that the country received maximum benefit.

Golding said that one advantage of this type of arrangement was that the country could get the support it needed over that period of adjustment. “For example, you can pay for the oil when it arrives at the dock, secondly, it opens the doors of not only other multilateral institutions, but commercial institutions when they are back in business.”

The bane of IMF funding – borrow at your own risk

Depending on whom you ask, “International Monetary Fund” is a dirty phrase. It evokes images of scheming westerners forcing innocent, hard done by states to neglect their citizens and sell-off their resources.  When people compare the IMF’s numerous failures to its few successes, they feel confident that this image is accurate. They feel, or at least strongly suspect, that the IMFs true agenda is not to aid developing nations, but to perpetuate uneven terms of trade that advantage of the West.

In brief, here is the reasoning behind that view: the IMF lends money to states on the condition that they make certain fiscal policy decisions. They tend to insist that countries generate fast capital by focusing on primary product exports – food, metals, coffee, etc. At the same time, they insist that states curtail government spending – which includes slashing imports – meaning that states are unable to obtain the materials they would need to industrialize. In essence, states are pressured to sell inexpensive products without the ability to develop a manufacturing infrastructure. They sell cheap and buy expensive.

The downsides here are obvious. States are trapped on the disadvantaged side of uneven terms of trade. They have to buy expensive products from overseas, having no ability to make them at home, while only earning modest revenue from their cheap exports. Moreover, primary product export economies are famously fragile. If a state focuses on selling its abundant supply of, say, pineapples, a minor drop in the global price of tropical fruit can devastate the whole economy. Diversified and industrialized economies, on the other hand, are far less affected by the vicissitudes of the market.

IMF cuts in government spending do not stop with imports. Social services are cut. Wages are lowered. In other words, maintaining a standard of living becomes increasingly difficult for citizens in all walks of life.

The bottom line for most countries that have accepted IMF loans and policies has been failure. They may amass capital in the short-run, but they sacrifice long-term and lasting growth. Meanwhile, the population suffers. Given that this is the outcome more often than not, and given that, in spite of this, the IMF continues to advise the same “band-aid” strategies over and over, many people have come to regard the IMF as some kind of evil, insidious organization.

Still, it is worth keeping in mind that the IMF is asked the impossible: to step into sinking, collapsing economies and save the day. When its efforts fail, it receives all the blame. Furthermore, mistrust of the IMF means it is being approached increasingly later in the process of economies’ decays, making them even more difficult to bail out. Perhaps the IMF’s harsh structural adjustment programs are often the best solution, but frequently, the best solution is not good enough.

Of course this argument has been made before and is highly speculative. The fact is the IMF pushes strategies that rarely work, and has made little effort to adapt or become accommodating to the needs of the borrowing countries. That their inflexible and dubious strategies benefit the West is hard to swallow as coincidence. This, however, does not mean that people should decry the IMF. It means that people should focus their attention on the world leaders who chose to invite the IMF into their homes.

The IMF needs to be regarded as exactly what it appears to be and nothing more: an institution which pushes for harsh social policies in the developing world that benefit the West, and have a chance of benefiting the borrowing country in a specific, limited way. They offer short-term capital at the expense of long-term growth. Sometimes, only sometimes, it is worth borrowing their money.

It is hard to accuse the IMF of equivocation and manipulation when their habits have been clearly established. Disastrous IMF experiences in developing countries these days are the fault of the governments who choose that path.  Countries need to fully understand the IMF before borrowing from it, and by now they have no excuse not to. States need to stop hoping for loopholes in the policies and need to stop hoping that the IMF will change – from this delusion the catastrophes arise. The IMF will not change; it will continue to offer stop-gap solutions which favour Western consumers. If that is what the country needs, governments should accept the cost and live with it. If the country needs something else, governments need to demonstrate the willpower to turn down IMF aid, rather than take out loans and hope for the best.

The IMF is not charitable or flexible, but it delivers what it promises: short term solutions according to a strict, liberal free-market standard. The world has seen how the IMF operates and the price it asks. Leaders need to examine whether or not structural adjustment is appropriate before borrowing. If it turns out that the most important goal is halting the IMF’s perpetuation of West-favouring mechanisms, the solution is not to raise accusations of neo-imperialism after the fact – the solution is walking away.

An ounce of prevention…

Déjà vu? Jamaica’s Return to the IMF, is this the 1970s all over again?

For months speculation was rife that there was an imminent return to the IMF. The recent interest rate hike, the current public sector wage freeze and the significant devaluation of the Jamaican dollar all screamed IMF, yet on countless occasions we were reassured by our government that they were not considering a return to the IMF. Similar to their misguided utterances late last year that we would not be affected by the global financial meltdown, the Jamaican government, well aware of the nation’s apprehension towards resuming relations with the IMF, sought to convince us that despite implementing a number of textbook IMF preconditions, the Jamaican government was not seriously considering a return to the IMF.

However, with the writing now clearly on the wall, they can no longer deny that a return to the IMF may be the only option available to us. The problem is, can a fragile Jamaican economy survive the stringent conditions of a borrowing relationship with the IMF? But, with dying revenue streams, will the government be able to secure financing from other sources in this global financial crisis? As it stands right now, the prospects are dim. Basically, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

The mere mention of the word IMF to the typical Jamaican, elicits a sense of disgust and disdain, as memories of the harsh times of the 70’s and 80’s are conjured up. Difficult economic times of devaluations and layoffs, interest rate hikes and scarcity, budget cuts and social turmoil have characterized our past experience with the IMF. So it is no question that the idea of a return to the IMF would be greeted by dismay from the majority of the Jamaican populous. However with a dim economic outlook and the recent damning predictions by the World Bank, it seems we must bite the bullet and plunge into the deep end.

Given the IMF’s track record of failed Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), the traditional apprehension of the typical Jamaican to the nation’s return to the IMF seems warranted and justified. Empirical evidence shows that very few nations if any can attest to the success of past SAPs, as the implementation of these policies in most nations was followed by periods of severe economic hardships and near collapses of markets. The history of the impact of the effects of IMF policies leaves much to be desired, as is evidenced by their recent utterances.

However, despite recent acknowledgements from the IMF that their traditional one-size-fits-all approach to economic reform has done more harm than good, I am yet to see a significant change in their approach. Their traditional preconditions of devaluation, higher interest rates and cuts in government spending still holds true today, and as such the Jamaican government’s justification of a new IMF simply just is not enough. As one writer puts it, an acknowledgement of past failures is simply not enough to signal a change in the policies of the IMF. There has to be a fundamental shift in their approach, and this will not happen overnight. However, with no other apparent option, what should the Government of Jamaica do? If they are unable to fill the budget deficit by sourcing cheap loans from other sources, they will have no choice but to call on the IMF for budgetary support. However, the Government of Jamaica maintains that this is not the only option that they are currently exploring, and that they are only seeking to establish this relationship should all other options fail.

While not seeking to enter into a full borrowing arrangement with the IMF, the standby loan facility being sought by Jamaica is certainly not without conditionalities. One only has to look at the recent experiences of Latvia and Ghana, in order to deduce what the future holds for us. The Northern European nation of Latvia, recently entered into an arrangement similar to the one being sought by the Jamaica with the IMF. Their experiences to date are horrifying. Having signed a 27 month stand by agreement, the IMF required Latvia to cut its budget deficit by 7% by the end of 2009. In order to obtain this, the Latvian government has had to cut public sector wages by 15% and pensions by 10%. As expected, this resulted in civil unrest which resulted in the collapse of the Latvian government. However, to make matters worse, the newly installed government was forced to cut public sector wages by an additional 20% and pensions by a further 10% in order to receive the second installment of the loan.

What this signals to me is that despite the purported rhetoric of a new IMF, their actions remain the same. The effects of the conditions attached to the loans they disburse continue to have far reaching destabilizing effects. With the Jamaican government already in a precarious position with public sector workers due to its failure to grant their agreed 7% increase, any venture down this path will no doubt lead to severe social unrest. But as a likely precondition of the proposed arrangement, what does this mean for Jamaica?

The Ghanaian experience with the IMF paints an equally gloomy picture. Currently negotiating a standby agreement with the IMF, Ghana is already feeling the effects of IMF loan preconditions. While still awaiting approval from the IMF board, Ghana has already been required to increase fuel prices by 30%, remove all subsidies, and cut its budget deficit by 37% in one year. As a sub-Saharan African country, one would expect some leniency, however, if Ghana was not spared the traditional stringent requirements of the IMF, one can only speculate as to what the future holds for a country such as Jamaica. On the 20th of July 2009, the Government of Jamaica is expected to address the nation re: our future with the IMF. On this “D-Day”, the citizens of Jamaica will find out our fate, as the government seeks to fix the ballooning hole in the 2009/10 Government of Jamaica Budget.

Stuck in a precarious position it seems they may have no other option but to go to the IMF, may God help us.

David Thompson to fellow CARICOM Prime Ministers: Butt out.

Reprinted from the Daily Nation, Barbados —

Prime Minister David Thompson has spoken out strongly against those Caribbean governments that have commented publicly on his administration’s new immigration policy, saying their reaction was hurting the regional integration process more than the policy itself.

“There seems to be a mad rush now for everybody to say something new. I have announced a domestic immigration policy that is not a matter for other Caribbean prime ministers to comment on,” Thompson said, referring to a six-month amnesty offered to Caribbean Community (Caricom) nationals living in Barbados illegally to regularise their status or face deportation.

Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo has expressed concern about the treatment meted out to his nationals in Barbados, many of whom claim they have been roughed up by immigration authorities and deported.

St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is another regional leader to raise concern about Bridgetown’s policy, saying it flies in the face of the spirit of Caricom.

But Thompson said it was a matter that Barbados has a right to pursue.

“It is a sovereign matter which our Parliament and our policy directives base the objectives on,” he said. “Therefore, to have a scenario where everybody is seeking to say something seems to me to be doing more to damage the objectives of Caricom than anything else.”

Despite the Barbados leader’s latest pronouncement, the issue is sure to stir up debate when Thompson sits at the table with his regional counterparts at the Caricom Heads of Government Summit in Guyana from July 2-4.

Last weekend, Opposition leader Mia Mottley called on the government to “correct the unfortunate reputation that Barbados is rapidly developing” as a result of its new immigration policy.

“A government is entitled to implement strong policies. These policies, however, must be applied consistently, fairly and humanely,” she said.

Mottley also expressed fear that “for a country where people’s standard of living depends on people visiting our shores, any reputation of Barbados being inhospitable to visitors will affect our economy”.

“A hostile environment for immigrants must not be an unwelcome environment for Caribbean visitors,” she said.

“The focus must be simply those who have arrived and who have never been documented. Further, when people are asked to leave that they are given the time to pack up their belongings and leave in a manner that does not reduce them to feeling like criminals,” the opposition leader added.

Should Barbadians fear a multicultural society?

The long-standing patterns of illegal immigration into Barbados, and the recent declaration of an amnesty policy, have drawn colourful debate. However, this issue is actually composed of two separate issues. On the one hand there is immigration law (Whom does it affect? How illegal is it? What should legislative response be?), and on the other hand there is ethnic heterogeneity itself – multiculturalism – and the risks that may be involved in opening national doors to people who may import alien and potentially destabilizing beliefs and preconceptions.

The hypothetical argument, “we must stand unflinchingly by our immigration laws, because an influx of immigrants can degrade the social order” is typical, and relies on assumptions about multicultural society. Yet, in the debate surrounding CARICOM migration, the notion of multiculturalism itself is rarely analyzed for what it is, or what it can be. Therefore, this article will offer a brief focus on ethnic diversity itself, and examine the major worries associated with it. It will be up to the reader to determine whether or not this insight is valuable to contemporary CARICOM issues, but given how frequently multiculturalism appears in the discourse, it seems prudent to attempt a discussion.

Those who wish to prevent ethnic heterogeneity (or at least, curb it) are generally concerned with two major points. The first is that distinct racial, ethnic, or cultural minorities can radically alter political landscapes. One such altered landscape is known as consociationalism, wherein ethnic or racial groups are guaranteed by law to have political representation.

Apart from consociational power-sharing arrangements, ethnically diverse societies can also witness the rise of special interest political parties which split votes and form coalitions, or they may also witness the rise of powerful lobby groups that manipulate government decision makers. Across each of these configurations, the common worry is that minority populations are using their collective influence to direct state resources to their own particular preferences. Each of these resonates unpleasantly with long-time residents of a nation, who may feel that state resources spent in the interest of specific groups are not being spent towards the national good.

The second concern harboured by multiculturalism’s critics is that it may degrade social cohesion. Areas which house multiple racial, ethnic, or cultural groups frequently see “ghettoization” – the involuntary or voluntary marginalization of one group as it establishes a community distinct from the rest of the country, creating strong social cleavages. For example, Chinese residents of an especially well established “Chinatown” may find themselves having no need to learn the country’s official language, as Mandarin employment and social network opportunities are just down the street. The concern is that such segregation makes it difficult for different groups to coexist, leading to social instability, even violence.

Ultimately, both the concern that multiculturalism damages a political landscape and the concern that multiculturalism leads to volatile social conditions boil down to the question of integration. Integration is the willingness of one group to adopt the norms, customs, and lifestyle of a majority group or dominant other. If integration is occurring far and wide, ethnic minorities will not seek the political power necessary to preserve their old way of life. Likewise, if integration is occurring, members of an ethnic group will intersperse naturally with the rest of the population, rather than form racial or ethnic “ghettos.”

In order to fear for the well-being of political or social order when faced with multiculturalism, one must assume that integration, for one reason or another, is unlikely. However, it turns out that integration is not as difficult or unpopular as one might expect.

According to research, more often than not host countries and ethnic majorities have supported integration, and newcomers have proven willing. The groups that refuse to integrate are almost exclusively those which have a history of self governance in the region, or have religious imperatives for isolating themselves. For example, Aboriginals and French Canadians each have a history of self governance in Canada and are the only ethnic groups to grapple politically with the national government. All things being equal, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that immigrants are unwilling to integrate into the culture of their new host country.

Still, what about when all things are not equal? One may remain unconvinced that integration and harmonious coexistence come easily, especially given that many countries suffer from deep ethnic divides. However, experience shows that hostilities between ‘ethnic group A’ and ‘racial group B’ rarely solidify unless they become politicized. This means that only when one group feels that, for example, the other is receiving preference from the government, or one’s own group is disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, do tensions truly grow and perpetuate themselves (Mahmood Mamdani recognizes the importance of this dynamic in his in-depth analysis of the Rwandan genocide).

Once ethnicity or race becomes, or is perceived to have become, hierarchical in its relation to the state, tensions strengthen to the point that they can dissolve social cohesion – but rarely before. It is difficult to find ethnic-based hostility in a country today that is not steeped in this politicization of identity, wherein groups complain of legal injustices, preferential treatment, penal imbalances, and so forth. It is not an inherent result of multiculturalism for cultures to breed hate and mistrust. Such tension emerges when political conditions create them.

So, perhaps multiculturalism itself carries little inherent risk of fragmentation and instability. Integration is a real option if the research is to be believed and cross-ethnic hostility is more the result of identity politicization than it is of different cultures mingling. Admittedly, this analysis is quite abstract and theoretical, while reality is more complicated.

Racism in a country can hinder integration, for example, even if immigrants are perfectly willing to assimilate. Nonetheless, those whose political opinions are influenced by conceptions of multicultural societies would do well to recognize that many problems associated with multicultural societies have little to do with ethnic diversity itself, and more to do with avoidable political pitfalls, such as the lack of government-provided integration assistance to immigrants. In this respect, this article’s brief discussion of multiculturalism may prove useful.

Barbados: Illegal immigrants have rights too…

Whether in response to seasonal changes, variation in food supply, threat to one’s safety, or to seek work and other economic opportunities, people have migrated from one environment to another since the time we wandered the earth as nomads. Movement is in the nature of our species, and people will continue to migrate across imposed boundaries in search of a better life. As we acknowledge and ultimately accept this tendency, hopefully we will move towards a world of transnational citizenship and increasing soft-border policies to alleviate problems surrounding the rights of the undocumented, along with the lack of accountability inherent in undocumented immigration. Until then, undocumented immigration will continue to be a complicated issue not only in Barbados, but also everywhere around the world, and it is not an issue that can be looked at in isolation.

Immigration policy is entangled with the notion of sovereignty. Sovereignty has to do with jurisdiction over the territory and boundaries of a nation and the right to make laws, including the right to determine who is a citizen and who enters the country. But sovereignty is also a concept that continually evolves as our global economy becomes more and more interconnected.

Although there is a growing consensus in the global community to lift border controls for the flow of capital, information, and other services to further globalization, when it comes to immigrants and refugees, the idea of complete sovereignty still reigns. Nevertheless, every nation has been transformed by the implementation of laws and regulations necessary for economic globalization, and we must accept as a possibility that sovereignty itself has been transformed.

The major implication for immigration policy is the impact of these developments on state sovereignty, and it is no longer sufficient for nations to assert a sovereign role when implementing immigration policies. The fact is, considerable innovation in immigration policy is essential given the current transition to a global economy of integration, communication and globalization.

A radical rethinking of citizenship, hard-border policies, and current levels of sovereignty are therefore crucial in order to keep up with the changes of these transnational processes. Only then can the rights of undocumented immigrants be clearly defined and the problems of accountability with undocumented immigration be properly addressed.

Do undocumented immigrants have rights? Under current laws, all residents – citizens and non-citizens alike – have access to international human rights; they are not predicated on nationality. Likewise, a sovereign nation is accountable to all its residents on the basis of international human rights. As a sovereign nation, Barbados has the right to determine who can stay or who must leave. But a lack of transparency and accountability in the implementation of policies invariably leads to a lack of public trust, and the immigration policy recently implemented in Barbados raises many questions.

For starters, why doesn’t the new policy mention anything about non-CARICOM residents such as European and North American expatriates? Surely these undocumented immigrants affect the diminishing resources on the densely populated island just as much as Guyanese, yet the Guyanese population continues to be targeted by some media and law enforcement. Nations cannot have an immigration policy that facilitates the movement and well-being of some people at the expense of others, and it is integral that immigration policies be implemented with transparency.

Apart from this, it is the absence of clarity and certainty to the undocumented immigration issue that also causes fear to develop among immigrants. Undocumented immigration is a grey area because – by it’s very nature – it is undocumented. It is filled with deceptive statistics that promote xenophobia among citizens, and the topic often becomes a scapegoat for other problems affecting a nation.

In Barbados, it is claimed by some that increasing crime rates are a result of the rising numbers of undocumented immigrants. This is an absurd assertion since the Barbadian administration cannot even provide an accurate estimate of the size of the undocumented immigrant population. Indeed, the myth of the ‘criminal immigrant’ has been used as propaganda throughout history to perpetuate intolerance for immigrants and foster support for strict immigration policies.

Just how large is this undocumented population in Barbados anyway? Because undocumented immigrants are held in the shadows of society, largely unorganized and fearful of deportation, it is extremely difficult to measure and prove any statistics related to this group, much less a correlation between undocumented immigration and increasing crime rates.

Additionally, problems of access to employment increase the potential for tension between residents. Although Barbados currently stands as one of the most prosperous nations in the Caribbean, it is not immune to the global economic crisis and unemployment levels in Barbados have likewise been affected. Again, since there is no way to measure this allegation, there is no way we can assume undocumented immigrants are exclusively responsible for taking jobs Barbadians would otherwise hold. Although it is historically noted that undocumented immigrants affect the labor market resulting in cheaper labor, to place full blame on immigrants is to turn a blind eye on pandemic economic recession.

It is direly important that immigration policies be designed and implemented in a humane way that provides equal access to a path towards citizenship. No human being is illegal, and to bestow this term is dehumanizing. Those who migrate illegally are often some of the poorest residents of the community; they do not have the means, resources or time to attain citizenship legally. Some people are running for their lives, some are escaping religious persecution, and others have a family to feed. With no alternative, people risk everything they have in hopes for a better life.

The reality of refugees, displaced persons and other transnational migrants makes the case for trans-border policies and transnational citizenship rights. In an ever-changing world, our ideas of citizenship must follow suit to encompass the international human rights we are entitled to assert.

Given the current mobility of people, capital, commodities, ideas, and symbols, the enjoyment of civil and social rights should also be made possible for all residents. Because regardless of any implemented immigration policy, individuals will continue to migrate by any means necessary, legally or illegally.

Is diplomacy a real solution to the North Korean threat?

North Korea’s recently increased belligerence regarding the development of its intercontinental nuclear missile program is inspiring anxiety worldwide. Given the ongoing wars in the Middle East and the global economic slump, this seems a particularly bad time to have to deal with the militarism of North Korea and its unpredictable leader, Kim Jong-Il. The world is becoming uneasy.

Despite what one may suspect given his reckless willingness to threaten the United States, Kim Jong-Il is not crazy. Crazy does not keep a person in power over an impoverished population that has been given virtually no liberty. Crazy does not manufacture a cult of personality strong enough to grant legitimacy to an inherited position.

This means that global leaders have been quite correct to engage Kim Jong-Il in dialogue and political pressure. After all, if he were crazy, one could just hope that his commitment to nuclear proliferation was a temporary mood. As it stands, something more proactive is called for, and global governments have been exploring a variety of tactics to diffuse this threat.

One possibility that has struck everyone even remotely paying attention is a pre-emptive strike, a la the American invasion of Iraq. In this case, at least, the WMD element is clear. However, the US cannot launch another “police action” in Korea like they did in the 1950s. For one thing, North Korea today has one of the largest and best trained armies in the world. The absence of opportunity for personal prosperity in the cripplingly poor nation has left military life a very desirable path for some million people. Moreover, security has been kept at the forefront of North Korean political culture by the proximity of its traditional enemy, the South. Finally and perhaps most importantly, China views North Korea as its responsibility; or at least, views North Korea as part of its domain. So, familiarly, military intervention by any country would be unacceptable to China. The might of North Korea coupled with incredibly strong Chinese interest in the region makes military action profoundly unwise.

In light of this, economic sanctions have emerged as a favourite alternative. Sanctions can often be potent enough to enforce compliance, but in this case, they do not seem to be working. This can likely be explained by the fact that North Korea receives little regular foreign aid to begin with. Isolation has been official Western policy towards North Korea since it split from the South. Economic sanctions against a country that is already completely marginalized is like turning the temperature down a few degrees in a room that is already well below freezing.

Granted, North Korea does rely quite heavily on China which has just renewed its commitment to sanctions. Regardless, Kim Jong-Il has become quite talented in exploiting back channels and loopholes in restrictive trade policies. Moreover, China might be unwilling to completely shun North Korea – such a move would be so significant that they may wish to save it as a potential bargaining chip for use in future negotiations with the US. Essentially, China is the only state whose sanctions might seriously harm North Korea, yet its ability and willingness to do so are questionable.

The most successful method thus far of curbing Kim Jong-Il’s nuclear zeal is, simply, to pay him off. In the early 1990s, Washington purchased his cooperation with an enormous amount of fuel and two nuclear reactors (supposedly incapable of producing any weapons-grade material). Given that Kim has sold his proliferation ambitions for generous aid packages in the past, he may simply be rattling the saber now in the hopes of a repeat transaction.

The problem with the pay-off strategy is, of course, that it sets a bad precedent. It establishes that, in spite of economic isolation, Kim Jong-Il can get whatever he needs as long as he threatens convincingly. At best, this approach is a stall.

The only way to eliminate the North Korea threat in a lasting and meaningful way is to enable the economic and political development of the country so that tyrannical regimes are both less powerful and less desperate. This approach would mean the end of the isolationist policies which force this kind of extreme behaviour in the first place. The argument being made here is not that North Korea has been victimized unfairly. Whether or not the policy of isolation has been warranted, it has not been effective. It has been counter productive.

Isolation has allowed the North Korean idea of self-reliance to become dogmatic. It is precisely this kind of sentiment that calls for unwavering dedication to nuclear armament. Moreover, and more obviously, isolation has led to economic stagnation, which keeps many North Koreans uneducated and poor, allowing authoritarian regimes to persist unchallenged. In essence, the punitive policy of isolation aimed at Kim Jong-Il’s government has inadvertently upheld it.

On the other hand, economic development would enable the growth of a North Korean middle class, reshaping the demographic landscape beyond the current powerless, easily controlled, impoverished masses. Inclusion on the world stage would create a flow of ideas and undermine the “us versus everyone” paranoia that feeds militarism. In a developed and connected North Korea, the need to act bombastically to achieve state goals would wane, as would the nationalism that currently allows Kim Jong-Il to do so.

No doubt Kim Jong-Il would oppose such development, especially if spearheaded prominently by foreign powers. He has used isolation as a political tool, keeping his population docile while at the same time promoting self-reliance through militarism. A global campaign to develop North Korea would therefore be incredibly difficult. Nonetheless, if world leaders are committed to ending this particular source of anxiety, they will need to turn their efforts towards developing that strategy. Until they do, they will have to accept paying Kim Jong-Il to quiet down once every few years – which is exactly what he is hoping for.

Illiteracy linked to crime, poverty in Guyana

Via Adam Harris of Kaiteur News —

Some time back I wrote about the inability of many young people to read. The students of the University of Guyana became angry to the point that they actually challenged me to prove to them that they really could not read. There were others who thought that I was unfair.

So one day I conducted a simple test in the Prime News studios. I gave a few of them a newspaper to read. Then I asked them to paraphrase what they had read. I asked another set to simply read a few passages for the purpose of recording.I still remember this graduate student breaking down in tears after trying a few times to read a simple paragraph.

Then on Thursday at a meeting at Kaieteur News, I learnt that many of the reporters, including those who consider themselves senior reporters, do not read the newspapers at all. They could not tell me what was there in some of the pages. There were the few who perused the pages to see if their story was carried.
I suppose that reading is a dying custom. The other day I happened to be talking with some welfare people and the conversation gradually veered to the extent of illiteracy in the society.

I do not think that I would be exaggerating if I conclude that 40 per cent of many young men walking the streets cannot read or write.

I know for a fact that many of the young criminals cannot read, and by young, I mean men between the ages of 16 and 35. As a young man, the people who could not read were the old people who had grown up in this country when there was no compulsory education, when women were groomed to be housewives and therefore did not need an education although I wondered how they would count the money their spouses gave them.

I remember writing that there is no greater joy than ploughing through the pages of a book and forming the mental images. I now wonder how does an individual feel when he sees a newspaper and cannot decipher what is on the pages. The words, perhaps, look like decorated lines.

I cannot but help recall the two criminals who went to a home to help themselves to whatever they could. They encountered a sign at the gate that read, ‘Beware—the dogs bite’. One turned to the other and asked what does the sign say to which he got the reply that the homeowner was indicating that he was not at home and people could leave what they have at the gate.

They jumped the gate and came face to face with three sizeable dogs. And the animals were not smiling. There was the expected confrontation and the two men eventually managed to scale the fence and into another yard where there were “more flingings” with some other dogs. I saw the two bleeding men limping and hurrying along the road as I was heading home and concluded that they were the victims of some robbery or at worse, an attack from some people. One of them was crying. They were hard put to explain their injuries to the police who happened by a short while later.

In court their lawyer made an interesting point. He argued that people with vicious dogs should put up a sign so that innocent people may be warned. He argued that his clients were innocent and that the homeowner had no sign.

These two men actually said that there was no warning sign. The photographs tendered proved otherwise but as if for fun, the magistrate asked them to read the sign. And again one said that it was a notice informing people that the homeowner was not at home.

The lawyer then tried “a thing”. He said that the homeowner should have placed a picture of a dog on the sign to accommodate those who cannot read.

I still remember the days when, as a young man at La Jalousie, I had to read letters for the recipients. It was a community effort, actually, because on Saturdays I had to read three of four letters to a group of people. Today, I would have to do the same to young people. What is worse is that these are the people who cannot qualify for certain jobs but they want money so they turn to crime.

I posit that once this trend continues, the society would not be safe because being unable to reason, these young men are going to invade wherever they think they should. Life would be pretty uncomfortable. These are the very people who give a statement and when asked to read it back to ensure that it is accurate, cannot. Their lawyers then claim that the statement was given under duress.

It is this illiteracy that fosters so many repeat criminal offenders like the chain snatchers and the carjackers. And the Education Ministry is not doing much because it apparently does not know where to start.

Imagine a woman getting a result from a medical examination and not knowing what that result is.

I travel and young people sitting next to me on an aircraft would ask me to fill their Customs declaration forms. Immigration officers have to do the same for them. The education system has collapsed and this collapse was not long in the making.

Guyana’s high emigration due to hopelessness, says union boss

General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Norris Witter, has stated that his fellow countrymen have been leaving to endure harsh conditions in other territories like Barbados because they see no hope in Guyana.

As undocumented Guyanese nationals ponder an uncertain future in Barbados, Witter issued a call for government to start taking more responsibility for the welfare of citizens.

In addition to those there illegally, Guyanese who have resided in Barbados legally are now being faced with delays in having their work permits renewed and are also filled with uncertainty as to what their fate would be.

Reports out of Barbados have indicated a sense of “quiet anxiety” among the Guyanese population. Last weekend President Bharrat Jagdeo raised the matter of the treatment of CARICOM nationals by Barbados in particular at a special CARICOM meeting called to address the financial crisis. Jagdeo last week said he would attend the meeting especially since he felt that the rights of his people need to be protected.

This came in the wake of the May 5 announcement by Barbados’ Prime Minister David Thompson that his Cabinet intended to clamp down on undocumented CARICOM nationals.

At a Press conference on Monday, Witter told reporters that he understood that the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) was still a work in progress and the realisation of many of its ideals would take some time.

Touching directly on the predicament of Guyanese who have settled illegally in not only Barbados, Witter said this was the position since Guyana had reached a state of hopelessness. “People are leaving and enduring a lot of things because they see no hope of a good future in Guyana,” he said. He emphasised too that with the economic situation the world over, many countries will begin to follow the pattern Barbados has started and so Guyana would begin to receive an influx very shortly.

Against this background, he urged that it was time for government to stop “the blame game. It is time that the government of this country starts taking responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. Stop blaming the United States and every other country”.

Meanwhile, Witter said the people of Guyana also had a role to play in ensuring that the government addresses their welfare. “And if the government don’t see to it that it is addressed then you need to take the necessary action to ensure this is done,” he urged.

Via Starbroek News, Guyana —
Photo is an unstaged scene in an area of Bartica, Guyana.

Barbados signs visa waiver with European Union

Officials from Barbados, the Bahamas, St. Kitts & Nevis and Antigua & Barbuda met with E.U. counterparts today in Brussels to officially waive visa requirements between their respective states¹.

The new visa regime provides for visa-free travel for EU citizens (excluding those from Britain and Ireland) when travelling to these four territories, as well as for citizens of these countries when travelling to the EU for a period not exceeding three months during a six-month period.

To qualify for visa-free travel, citizens from the EU and the countries concerned must be in possession of valid ordinary, diplomatic or official passport. Visa-free travel applies to all categories of persons and for any travel purpose (ie., tourism, cultural visits, scientific activities, family visits, business etc.), except for persons carrying out a paid activity.

The EU and the six countries will apply the visa waiver agreements on a provisional basis from May 28, 2009, pending completion of official procedures.

Barbados recently announced an immigration amnesty for illegal Caribbean immigrants, with a renewed deportation push beginning December 1, 2009. Government however stopped short of applying this immigration control policy to European and non Caribbean nationals.

Is America’s hegemony really necessary to maintain world order?

After its participation in WWII, the United States achieved a meteoric rise to prominence and influence. The fall of the Soviet Union left the USA as sole superpower, with one of the largest economies in the world and uncontested military might. The USA became global hegemon.

A state possessing hegemony finds itself in a unique position: it can project (or perhaps impose) its vision and values on the rest of the world without encouraging the same behaviour from others – for no other state approaches the power necessary to challenge the hegemon should its vision differ. This is the reason that the United States can launch pre-emptive invasions while any other country attempting the same would be accused of violating sovereignty; it is the reason that the United States can sit on the UN Security Council and also unilaterally defy it, without punishment.

However, with the recent economic crash in the USA, some have begun to speculate that the country’s capacity to act as global hegemon is diminishing. This belief is reinforced by some of President Obama’s foreign policy activities. He has talked openly of creating a world of equal partners, and has taken steps towards reconciliation with long-standing political enemies, such as Cuba. Do these things signal the end of US supremacy?

Probably. It would be no real surprise if US power waned. The strain of acting as global hegemon is too great for any state to sustain indefinitely – history has seen countless powers rise and fall. Being the top tier in a hierarchy of nations means absorbing concentrated blame when international affairs go awry. To be the chief supervisor of a world order requires tremendous resources, and it means funneling those resources away from oneself. Eventually, populations become unwilling to pay these prices. Constant blame calls a country’s trustworthiness and competence into question (the private military contractor formerly known as Blackwater, anyone?) and hurts the pride of its citizens. With ballooning problems stemming from the economic crash, Americans may very well feel that issues at home deserve more attention than issues abroad. Compound this with a sinking global reputation following some debacles under the Bush administration, and it seems quite plausible that the Americans might willingly step down from their role as global hegemon.

The question arises: is the fall of a sole superpower a good thing, a bad thing, or nothing at all? One might be immediately gladdened by the dissolution of a seemingly unfair hierarchy, yet many experts in the fields of international relations and political science point to ways that hegemony is stabilizing. They argue that a hegemon can impose order on an otherwise chaotic system. Politics between states is anarchic by default. No state has authority over any other; they are equal, in a sense. No country has recourse to a global governor should its neighbour choose to invade it, break an agreement for selfish gains, etc. This creates an environment in which inter-state trust is lacking, for there is no guarantee that noble behaviour will be rewarded or that opportunism and deceit will be punished. How could you trust your neighbours to honour a treaty, knowing there would be no consequences if they broke it as soon as doing so was in their interest?

A global hegemon, the argument goes, can remove this dilemma. With one state holding unassailable economic and military strength, there exists a leader – an entity that can reward and punish – that has to the power to hold countries accountable for their actions. Under this system, international cooperation becomes easier, since states can trust that their neighbours will act in accordance with the rules and incentives provided under the hegemon’s auspices.

One problem with this idea is that no given state has the legitimacy to spearhead the shaping of the world. States, and particularly their leaders, have personal interests. Countries need to secure access to resources, and politicians need to impress their constituents or clients. It is unreasonable to expect that anyone can wear the hat of national leadership while also wearing the hat of an unbiased, just, altruistic world patron. There is no state, no leader, who is neutral and objective enough to inhabit this role – those who try inevitably meet resistance from those whose values differ (it is not difficult to interpret the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” in these terms). Such a conflict may undermine global stability in the long run, creating new chaos while resolving the old. Moreover, as mentioned before, hegemony is not sustainable – ultimately the burdens become too great for one entity to shoulder.

This is not to say that the world must choose between ineffective and impermanent hegemony on the one hand and anarchy on the other. Multilateral institutions (economic unions, regional associations, etc) should not be underestimated, despite the fact that they only function so long as their members choose to cooperate. Consider how, at the very least, small and temporary agreements are relatively easy to create and abide by. States often have common goals, and if one cannot trust others to honour agreements for honour’s sake, one can always trust others to act in their own interest. Once the ball of cooperation has begun to roll under these simple and rational conditions, precedents become set, and norms and expectations develop. These can be built upon to create lasting institutions between increasing numbers of states, which can provide positive and negative incentives as well as any hegemon can. Turkey and the European Union demonstrate this phenomenon.

The EU, an institution which was formed by a slow process of mutually beneficial monetary collaboration, is now reputable and powerful. For years, Turkey has petitioned for entrance, attempting social and political reforms in order to meet admission standards. The benefits that come with EU membership have motivated Turkey to try to conform to a certain structure. This shows how multilateral institutions, developed from the bottom-up and with the input of many nations, wield the power to affect political change. It is slow and difficult, but institutions such as this can mitigate international anarchy, while having advantages over a hegemon by being more sustainable and more legitimate, as they feature input, participation, and burden-sharing from varied sources.

The hegemony of the United States may very well diminish, this is no surprise. President Obama’s actions and words seem to welcome such an event, and US domestic conditions are right for it. This does not mean that the sphere of international relations is doomed to mistrust and anarchy, as multilateral agreements have the power to carve out pockets of shared norms, expectations, and incentives, in which real cooperation and collaboration can exist. Despite hegemonic stability theory, order and good relations do not require a single superpower nation.

‘Policy’ image by Mark Cummins

Summary of the Government of Barbados’ 2009/10 budget

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance David Thompson presented a $3 billion budget today, May 18, 2009, announcing measures which he hopes will stabilize employment and widen the social safety net. However, coming on the heels of a dire warning from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s about the state of the Barbados economy and government’s massive debt, today’s budget said little about how government will raise its revenue, and it is devoid of any taxes.

I.    Preamble
II.   Domestic Economic Review
III.  Debt, Debt, Debt
IV.  Social Safety net
V.   Musings on taxation
-     Your reactions

PREAMBLE (Live blogging commenced 3:45 pm) **

- Budget presentation begins with usual preamble: economy is bad, world in recession, “none of the developed countries have come up with the economic vaccine” to cure current economic malaise, says PM. Prime Minister says we must admit that there are some things we simply do not know how to fix.

- Thompson: “Sand, sun and sea are as common as amusement parks and satellite TV” says PM, how do you convince a family to come to Barbados – where it would cost them six times as much compared to elsewhere? How do we become profitable and competitive in tourism, financial services – how can we promote our agricultural product, when it costs less to import than it does to produce here? How do we keep manufacturing competitive, when in countries paying slave wages can produce cheaper goods. These are the challenges we face? [Editor’s note: As the budget presentation progressed, little was said to answer these questions].

- Thompson invokes cooperation between John McCain and Barack Obama, David Cameron and Gordon Brown (of the UK) saying that there must be bipartisanship in difficult times. This is likely aimed at the opposition Barbados Labour Party. “The national good must supersede all considerations – now is the time for that approach to problem solving”. We need as leaders to inspire our population, Barbados depends squarely on us rallying the country behind objectives. “No one knows what lies beyond the bend, in fact we have not even seen the bend”. We will not shy away from making hard or difficult decisions for fear of political or other fallout.

- Thompson: The national cake has gotten no better. To protect the vulnerable, we will have to take some from the slightly better off. At the end of the day, it is one Barbados [Editor’s note: Thompson announced no taxes on the rich, despite this statement].

- Even more preamble about the recession globally etc. Rehashing what we’ve already heard. Likely intended to set the context of the actual budget, which hopefully will come shortly.

^ Back to top
v   Domestic Economic Review
v   Debt, Debt, Debt
v   Social Safety net
v   Musings on taxation
-   Your reactions

DOMESTIC ECONOMIC REVIEW

- Lower tourism receipts and oil prices stymied real output growth. GDP fell by 2.8% during the first quarter of 2009 due to recession. The capital account is in deficit and net international reserves fell by $48.3 million. Tourism activity continues to decline, and in the first quarter of 2009 ‘value added’ in this sector fell by 6.2%, due to a fall off in arrivals.

- Output in construction continued downward trend in first quarter of 2009, registering a 4.6% decline after a 3.4% decline in 2008.

- Unemployment level at end of 2008 was 8.1%, and during first quarter of 2009 unemployment was slightly less. In Feb. 2009, inflation was 7.6%. Foreign reserves are now at $8.7bn. The external current account has a deficit of $16.9m for the first quarter of 2009, a slight improvement over the levels for the comparable period in 2008.

- Barbados’ major trading partners will be hurt by recession and will have spillover effects on Barbados .. Real output will fall between 2-2.5% in 2009, much the same as in 2001. Tourism is projected to fall 4.5% by end of year. Unemployment is expected to rise by the end of the year [DT did not say by how much].

- Performance of the economy in first three months reflects the difficult times: output fell by 2.8%, one of the most pronounced retractions since 2001 recession. DT seems to be repeating himself with respect to the global recession, unemployment. Possible decline in net international reserves by end of 2009, even in spite of the US$100m bullet loan from Trinidad earlier this year aimed at propping up the foreign reserves.

- DT: Challenges for Barbados are phenomenal… we need to see ourselves as “TEAM BARBADOS”, facing a competitive match. We need not to market just hotels, sand and sea, but the whole Barbados experience. ‘Every Barbadian everywhere must be brought into Team Barbados network – we must use Facebook, Youtube and blogs so that people see Barbados as place of opportunity and employment’ [Editor comment: Really?].

^ Back to top
v   Domestic Economic Review
v   Debt, Debt, Debt
v   Social Safety net
v   Musings on taxation
-   Your reactions

DEBT, DEBT, DEBT

- Central government debt outstanding is over $5bn, 26.1% of this is in foreign debt. Central Government debt to GDP ratio was 83.2% in 2008, and is now 87.2% in 2009. Total public sector debt was 98.7% of GDP in 2008. By end of year, total debt is expected to be 102.3% of GDP.

- Government’s focus has been on local borrowing in the past.. In 2009, a change in the composition of financing is expected. The deficit is expected to be financed by local and foreign entities, and in 2010, it is possible that the deficit will be financed largely by local lenders.

- DT: The high level of debt is major cause for concern… especially because it causes us to question sustainability of our fiscal policy. This high level of debt has attracted scrutiny by S&P and Moody’s. Government therefore seeks to raise 5% of GDP in revenue by 2010, and if this is achieved it will bring the debt ratio down by 70% by end of 2018. Govt will also seek to limit foreign borrowing in this period [Editor’s note: DT did not say how he plans to do this].

- DT: We need to protect foreign exchange earnings, decrease public sector waste and reduce debt [Editor’s note: DT said nothing about how he would reduce public sector waste]. Downgrades in debt ratings mean that we will have to borrow at much higher interest rates and thus make our debt more expensive. Also, it means that international institutions may not want to buy our bonds.

- DT: S&P rating maintained at BBB+ but outlook changed from stable to negative. Moody’s said it placed government bond ratings on review for possible downgrade, suggesting ‘structural elements’ as part of the cause. Thompson then reads a press release from Moody’s, and blames the opposition BLP for high debt, saying that he and the DLP warned them about the debt, now ‘chickens have come home to roost’. He also said that the BLP saw ratings change to negative even in good economic times.

^ Back to top
v   Domestic Economic Review
v   Debt, Debt, Debt
v   Social Safety net
v   Musings on taxation
-   Your reactions

SOCIAL SAFETY NET

- DT: The poor cannot be allowed to slide back into deep poverty. Jobs, training, health and housing are the four main priorities. The protection of jobs is a social and economic issue, says Thompson.

- BIG NEWS… employment stabilization: Social partnership program to save jobs is key initiative. Social partners have maintained levels of employment in times when they otherwise wouldn’t. It has cut into their profits and is not sustainable – government understands this. The PM therefore is offering businesses with cash flow problems a 1 yr deferment of contributions to National Insurance, which will take the form of a loan. This arrangement becomes effective July 1, 2009 and the loan will be repayable over 5 years at a 3% rate of interest. To qualify, employers must have been tax compliant as of June 30, 2009 and must give a commitment to maintain current employment levels. Workers benefit by keeping their job and income, employers benefit because it solves cash flow problems.

- PM announces a waiver of owed taxes: NIS, Income tax, VAT. This waiver will be half of penalties and interest owed.

- Training: Suite of courses at SJPP and Barbados Technical & Vocational announced for Barbadians, people in training will continue to receive unemployment benefits even when they ordinarily would expire [Editor’s note: Seeking more clarification on this].

- Housing: most salient points – 20 units to be constructed at Tweedside Rd., 36 units at Epsteen(?) Village in St. Michael, 16 units at Searles Crt., 24 units at Haggat Hall, 20 units at Clapham. If you are working for less than $3,000 per month, unable to service a mortgage and have not had previous public sector housing, you also qualify for Rent to Own Programme.

- Health & the Queen Elizabeth Hospital: Prime Minister’s wife, Mara Thompson, is to head a voluntary task force to get Barbadians exercising, and a tax incentive for gym membership and gym equipment. [Side talk from parliamentarians saying that Mara Thompson should start with getting the Prime Minister to exercise]. Consultative work to start immediately on whether a new hospital should be built or the current hospital refurbished. Barbados only has one public A&E hospital.

- PM: Many charities do not actively seek to raise funds by way of covenant because of the long bureaucratic delays. Thus, covenant rules will be abolished. Instead, donation receipts will be accepted in place of the covenant. Small organizations will now not be required to file registration with CAIPO to be recognized as a benevolent organisation; instead a letter from the Ministry which the charity concerns will suffice. The PM has announced other measures to aid charities including: (i) expanding the Income Tax Act to include other organisations which can accept covenants (ii) allowing cash donations and property for tax purposes (iii) donations of more than $1 million will be carried forward for five years with restrictions on how much can be claimed each year.

- Small businesses will be able to receive up to 90% of the money owed to them after completing government contracts, instead of dealing with long bureaucratic delays. A committee of permanent secretaries has been set up to see this through, as well as ‘ensuring’ expediency of payment to temporary public sector workers.

- Difficulties with CL Financial in Trinidad have impacted on Clico Barbados. DT: “In the US, the government uses public sector funds to bail out such companies – we haven’t done that in Barbados. We are working on a private sector solution”. Insurance Corporation of Barbados pulled out of an arrangement to buy Clico Barbados subsidiaries, and as a result a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between CLICO and the Government, which gives a government committee the authority to sell CLICO subsidiaries.

^ Back to top
v   Domestic Economic Review
v   Debt, Debt, Debt
v   Social Safety net
v   Musings on taxation
-   Your reactions

TAXATION

- Editor’s note: The PM alluded to raising taxes, and outlined none. He alluded to raising water rates, but has not announced a new rate. The taxation/revenue raising aspect of the budget was extraordinarily brief and superficial.

- DT: Many concessions cannot be made this year. Yet, dealers of new vehicles will get an increase in government rebates from 15% to 20%, which will reduce the excise tax they currently pay. Automobile dealers claim that there is currently a 43% decline in the sales of automobiles.

- First time home owners will also get refund of VAT on building materials costing up to $200,000 for a home valued no more than $400,000. There is also now no restriction on who is eligible for this refund – previously it was limited to individuals in a lower income bracket.

- Water rates will be increased. Current rates have the Water Authority in severe cash flow problems. A committee has recommended a 100% increase, but PM has advised that this rate is too high, and has recommended another review of rate increase. The increase [still unspecified] will be effective Jul 1, 2009. Also a reverse osmosis plant will be built to provide 5 million more gallons per day, old mains will be replaced and new mains laid.

adobelogo2 Download full budget presentation

Moody’s puts Barbados ratings on watch for possible downgrade

Moody’s Investors Service is reviewing its credit ratings on Barbados’ foreign- and local-currency bonds for possible downgrade amid mounting government debt, predicting the Caribbean island’s ability to cover its debt will worsen in coming years.

The nation’s local-currency rating is A3, four notches above junk territory, while its foreign-currency rating is Baa2, two notches above junk.

Tourism is critical to the country, making up 16% of its economic activity, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. But the recession has reduced business and leisure travel.

Moody’s senior analyst Alessandra Alecci noted that Barbados’ credit metrics have been deteriorating in recent years, starting even before the beginning of the global downturn. Since 2000 the nation’s public debt has more than doubled, and by the end of next year may exceed 100% of its economic output, compared with 65% in 1999.

However, Moody’s says it has no concerns about the government’s ability to finance its short-term needs and noted it has faced worse economic downturns without compromising its long-standing commitment to maintain its currency peg.

Last month Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services also took a more pessimistic view on the country, changing its ratings outlook to negative from stable, citing the government’s budget gap, which including off-budget spending widened to 6.6% of GDP last year from 3.8% a year earlier amid the global downturn.

From the Wall Street Journal
See also ‘Standard & Poor’s: Barbados economic outlook negative,
US dollar peg in jeopardy

Jamaica introduces $5,000 note, worth US$55


With the JA$1000 note now worth US$11, the BOJ is set to release a new JA$5,000
note (US$55) into circulation on Monday

The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) today confirmed speculations that a new note – denominated JA $5,000 – will be introduced from Monday, May 18, 2009 (photo at the end of this post).

As Jamaica’s economy sees a high debt burden, rising inflation and a falloff in exports, the value of the Jamaica dollar has plummeted, such that even this new bill will only be worth US$55 at the current exchange rate.

Jamaica’s long-standing highest denominated bill was JA$1,000, now worth less than US$12.

Early reaction out of the island suggests that an overwhelming majority of Jamaicans are against the introduction of the new note.

Comments on the Jamaica Gleaner blog have drawn comparisons between Jamaica and Zimbabwe, with (unfounded?) speculation that the country will soon be returning to the International Monetary Fund. Others seem to have resigned themselves to waiting for a subsequent announcement: that of a JA$10,000 bill. Says one commentator, with the highest US dollar note being the $100 greenback, a JA$5,000 bill is “just the tip of the iceberg”.

New note features late Prime Minister Hugh Shearer


Meanwhile, the Bank of Jamaica has not given any official rationale for the introduction of the new note, and the media is actually downplaying speculation that that the introduction of the note has anything to do with the state of the economy or an immediate demand for a bigger note to store value. In fact, the Gleaner even suggests that the move was ‘more likely driven by a wish to celebrate the life of Hugh Shearer’ – an assumption they likely made due to the fact that the note’s launch on May 18 will also be Shearer’s birthday.

What the Gleaner did not mention however is that the value of the JA$1,000 has plummeted by fifty percent since it was launched eight years ago: in 2001, when the JA$-US$ exchange rate was 44.8:1, the $1000 note was worth US$22 – now, it is worth just US$11.2. When governments want to celebrate a former leader they launch stamps – when governments launch a $5,000 note, there is nothing to celebrate.

The Government of Jamaica under Finance Minister Audley Shaw presented its budget on April 23rd, announcing a range of much-protested taxes aimed at meeting a shortfall in the government’s revenue.

On the same day that Jamaica launches its new note, the Government of Barbados will also present its budget, which comes on the heels of a dire warning by Standard & Poor’s that Barbados’ 2:1 peg to the U.S. dollar is also in jeopardy, given government’s debt and spending. In addition, Moody’s is also considering downgrading Barbados’ ratings over its increasing debt.

Ralph Gonzalves blasts Barbados’ immigration policy, threatens CSME withdrawal


Prime Minister of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonzalves

St. Vincent & the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has lashed out at Barbados’ new immigration policies regarding illegal Caribbean immigrants, saying that such policies could collapse the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Delivering a ministerial statement in St. Vincent’s House of Parliament today, Gonsalves also charged that Vincentians were discriminated against by neighbouring territories and hinted that his country might also consider withdrawing from the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

He named Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia and Jamaica as suffering the same discriminatory fate.

In a speech punctuated with emotion, Gonsalves said every member of state was not abiding by the letter and the spirit of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramus.

“In one or two-member countries, the immigration authorities are dismissive of their countries’ treaty commitments. My office receives heart-rending stories of Vincentian nationals who have been subjected to unfair, unconscionable, and discriminatory treatment by some immigration authorities within member states of CARICOM.”

He also announced that a letter outlining the circumstances had been sent to Prime Minister David Thompson.

“It is sad to note that in the 21st century, some responsible persons, including some political leaders are stoking chauvinistic fires which are latent in our Caribbean societies.This has led here and there to an outpouring of a malignant xenophobia particularly against Guyanese, Jamaicans, Vincentians, St. Lucians and Grenadians.

“This must be stopped if not CARICOM would shortly be rent asunder,” he added.

In an apparent reference to Barbados, the Vincentian leader said it was historically tempting for him (Thompson) to bash immigrants at times of domestic economic difficulties.

“But to do so against one’s CARICOM brothers and sisters is surely unacceptable . . . .

“My government is being patient with CARICOM and we will never lightly abandon the CSME. But the discriminatory antics against our nationals by some immigration authorities must stop,” he said.

Gonsalves said his government had gone way beyond the treaty and had accomodated CARICOM nationals who were not yet entitled to the right of unemployment.

In response, Thompson said he “had not heard or seen the verbatim statement” of Gonsalves, but indicated he had been invited to attend the next meeting of OECS leaders in Tortola.

“I am sure there will be adequate opportunity for Prime Minister Gonsalves and myself to speak to matters of mutual interest and concern either at the bilateral or multilateral level,” Thompson said.

Thompson recently announced a new policy which gives CARICOM illegal immigrants until December 1 to apply for immigrant status. Those who remain on the island illegally after the date will be deported, he said.

Despite his criticism of Barbados and its policy of self interest, Gonzales has nonetheless expressed his desire to join ALBA (The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), and he is the only CARICOM leader to establish diplomatic ties with Iran. While these may bode well for St. Vincent, neither of these moves is in the spirit of CARICOM, whose other major tenet is cooperative foreign policy between member states.

Portions of this story were adapted from the Daily Nation.
See also A Taboo Critique of the CSME.

Pearls in Pigs’ Ears: The Facts about the Swine Flu Pandemic

Typical scene in Mexico via Cristiano Oliveira

If you have a TV or the internet – which if you are reading this article, you obviously do – and if you have used either of those tools in the last two weeks, then you have seen and heard much about the now infamous ‘swine flu’, or A(H1N1). And, if you are like many people, this disease is both frightening and surprisingly mysterious considering the wide media coverage associated with it.

The words “pandemic,” “worldwide,” and “lethal” send shivers down one’s spine but it seems that the only advice on avoiding infection is to wash your hands and cross your fingers. Many of us watch the local news at night awaiting confirmation that this deadly disease has come to our region. But the questions still abound. Where did it start? How many have died? Is it even that serious or that deadly?

For every announcer proclaiming imminent disaster, there are dozens saying that the threat is overstated. Who are we to believe? And how do we shuffle through all the facts and figures to get a good grasp on the real situation? Like many circumstances, it isn’t a lack of information or even incorrect information that is the issue. It’s simply a matter of organizing and analyzing the information that is out there and then applying it to your specific situation.

For the next couple of minutes I would like to clarify some of the questions I had concerning this virus and the stigma around it, as well as look at what proactive measures are being taken to confront this situation. So lets all douse ourselves with hand sanitizer and dive in shall we?

Pandemic panorama

There are certain words in our English language whose mere use in a sentence sends up little red flags of anxiety and distress. These words often sound intimidating, mysterious, tragic or troublesome. Pandemic is one such word. Whether plastered across the front page in black in white or uttered in reverence on TV, the word pandemic conjures up mass destruction, frighteningly overcrowded hospital scenes and diseased and destroyed populations.

But what is a pandemic? Is it a disease affecting millions? Is there a qualification based on number of countries, continents or reported cases? Is it defined by medical or logistical terms?

For the answer I went to the WHO or the World Health Organization. They define a pandemic as having three major qualifications:

1. Emergence of a new disease to a population.

2. Agents infect humans, causing serious illness

3. Agents spread easily and sustainably among humans

There was surprisingly no mention of cross-continental infection nor were there any qualifying number of cases reported. What this means is that a disease can be pandemic within a region, a country, a continent or the world. It isn’t so much a question of where as of how it is transferred and how easily it is transmitted.

Previous influenza pandemics

Having now defined the nature of the beast it is prudent to consider the history of pandemics in order to understand the fear related to them. There have been many pandemics in the history of the world ranging from typhoid to malaria to HIV/AIDS, but to more accurately compare the current situation to the situations of the past I want to look at the influenza pandemics and their historical influence.

Influenza, or more commonly known as the flu, is a tricky little virus with a varied and elaborate history. It dates back to the very beginning of medicine. Hippocrates described the virus in 412 BC. But our long history with this little virus hasn’t given us much concrete information. All we know for sure is that it is bound to change and it is bound to change quickly. The virus itself constantly mutates and is therefore almost impossible to destroy or vaccinate against. Exports say that influenza pandemics have been around since 1580 and have occurred every 10 to 30 years since then.

While the pandemics have ranged between simple outbreaks and society- destroying magnitudes, the worst of the worst is easy to point out. Between the years of 1918 and 1919 a strain of the flu known as the Spanish Flu killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide and infected 1/3 of the Earth’s entire population. Now that, my friends, is truly devastating.

More recently, we have dealt with the Avian Flu and the worries of a serious pandemic caused by that variation of influenza. As early as 2004, scientist identified cases in Vietnam. Soon ripples of worry and concern turned to tidal waves of panic as people prepared for an imminent outbreak. However, those worries have, for the moment, proven futile. According to the WHO, Avian Flu is not considered pandemic currently because the virus has not shown a sustained ability for human-to-human transmission.

So what about this swine flu? Is it capable of a Spanish Flu sized destruction? Or is it just another hyped-up worry caused by over-analytical scientists? If I had those answers I wouldn’t be writing here today. I would be in some very important meeting with some very important people. Because the fact is that we simply don’t know. And that fact is scary in itself.

But before we lose sleep over whether or not to travel, eat pork or shake hands with the local pig farmer, let’s get a better grasp on the disease itself.

Pearls in Pigs Ears

Here’s what we do know: The ‘swine flu’ or A(H1N1) was first reported in Mexico. Since the initial occurrence, there have been 898 confirmed cases in 18 countries. Total deaths as of May 3, 2009 were 20 with 19 occurring in Mexico and 1 in the US.

Scientists can tell us that the term swine flu usually refers to an influenza virus that occurs in pigs. These viruses are common in pigs in many parts of the world, however, until the recent outbreak, the spread of swine flu to humans was very rare and the spread of the virus by human to human transmission was unknown. This current virus is considered to be a mutant strand of influenza and its ‘newness’ is a big part of the concern in the scientific community.

We know the symptoms are similar to those of seasonal flu – chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pain, headaches, etc. – but beyond that the virus is simply too new to give us many facts.

Concerned?

Does this mean that we are up the creek without a paddle?

Not exactly.

WHO: No need for panic

Unlike some individuals, the human race as a whole has learned some things from past mistakes. The World Health Organization was created in 1948 to combat diseases and provide a higher level of health to all people worldwide. As part of this mission, the WHO has focused efforts to prevent pandemics and to address them quickly and efficiently if they occur.

How does an organization go about these lofty goals? The WHO states on their website that they desire to “improve public health infrastructure through pandemic planning and to strengthen coordination mechanisms at national and international levels.” Basically, they desire to provide greater planning prior to pandemic emergencies and better communication during those emergencies.

To do this they have set up 120 National Influenza Centres in 90 countries. These centers track, research and identify strains of influenza. They also help participating countries prepare pandemic plans.

So while we may not have all the facts about this virus, we can sleep well tonight knowing that there are people out there searching for those facts and responding to the crisis at hand.

The world is an ever-changing place and so it is only fitting that the beings in it be ever-changing as well. And that means humans, animals and, yes, even viruses. Adaption is the name of the game and while influenza may have the upper hand today the cure or preventive measure may be just around the corner. So for now, wash those hands and cross those fingers. Hopefully the ‘swine flu’ will soon be just a short paragraph in the pages of pandemic history.

Swine flu masks in Mexico, photo by Cristiano Oliveira

Jamaica: Subdued tax protests ahead of Opposition’s budget reply

bruce-effigy

In Jamaica – Tensions run high after new taxes:
‘Bruce [Golding] you are wicked! You must hang!’

As new taxes announced in Jamaica’s recent budget came into effect yesterday, isolated protests in Kingston and St. Catherine reached fever pitch this morning as the opposition PNP prepares to deliver its first response to the JLP budget today.

This morning, two effigies of Prime Minister Bruce Golding (pictured above) and Finance Minister Audley Shaw were hoisted on Old Hope Road in Kingston, with the former captioned “Bruce you are wicked, you must [hang]”. Meanwhile, residents in the Central Village community are on edge after an early morning protest was shut down by police, after residents blocked the busy Mandela Highway with burning tires. A similar scene obtained along Washington Boulevard as residents there too protested the imposition of taxes on essential staple items, including petrol, salt, rolled oats, drink syrup and noodle soup.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bruce Golding has turned down a request by the PNP Youth Organisation (PNPYO) to discuss alternatives to the government’s budget, stating that he expected any response to the budget to be outlined by the PNP during the course of the budget debate. PNPYO President, Damion Crawford, however dismissed the Prime Minister’s response as unsatisfactory, stating: “yet again, in his own dictatorial style, [the Prime Minister] has imposed what he believes is right on the people and has refused us audience”. A full list of the items that will now be taxed was only released yesterday – a move that has been widely criticized by observers in the PNP.

Opposition leader Portia Simpson-Miller has given some momentum to today’s protests, and has called for Jamaicans to register their disapproval with the government’s $18bn tax package by wearing black and honking their car horns in protest of the ‘most burdensome tax package ever’.

More information:

Book Industry Association of Jamaica concerned about GCT
Golding turns down PNPYO’s request
image Revised list of taxable items

CARICOM disjointed again, this time over ALBA


Heads of states attending the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) Summit, including Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and The Grenadines and Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica (Photo: AP)

It seems that every time the countries of the Caribbean Community and Common market (Caricom) make one step forward in the quest for deeper integration, they take two steps backward and the goal becomes even more elusive.

There have been several recent manifestations of this, one of them being the approach to ALBA – the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas – created by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

One member government of CARICOM is formally a member of ALBA and two others have indicated that they might join the organisation.

The government that has joined ALBA is Dominica and the governments that have announced their intention to do so are St Vincent & the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda.

In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, the government announced in March that it will “be engaging Venezuela and the other members of ALBA with the view towards formalizing its participation.”

Meantime, the Prime Minister of St Vincent & the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, attended a meeting of ALBA in Venezuela that preceded the Summit of the Americas and he is reported to have said that his government is ready to join.

The known members of ALBA are: Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Dominica.

Beginnings

When ALBA was conceived, it was not a Treaty organisation and its principles resided in economic cooperation arrangements which appeared to benefit countries that joined it with Venezuela being the principal donor.

As Professor Norman Girvan argued in a May 2008 paper, “ALBA does not take the form of an international or intergovernmental organisation, treaty or integration scheme in the normal sense.

There is no set of ALBA statutes or obligations by which adhering states agree to be legally bound under international treaty law. ‘Principles’ and ‘agreements’ appear to be of a political nature; they are bilateral or trilateral documents to which specific Heads of government subscribe.”

Military aspect

Since then, however, a military dimension has crept into the organisation.

Both Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega have argued that the member countries of ALBA “should work to form a joint defense strategy and start joining our armed forces, air forces, armies, navies, National Guards, and intelligence forces, because the enemy is the same, the empire (meaning the United States).”

Given the present stridency in the attitude toward the United States by the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua in particular, this military alliance may indeed be formed even though by any rational analysis there is no evidence of a military threat to these countries from the current administration of Barack Obama.

No bullying

Indeed, if his words are to be taken as his bond, Obama stated quite clearly at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago that US bullying will not occur under him.

He said, “I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values. So I’m here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration.”

If the military dimension of ALBA becomes a requirement of membership, the tiny Caribbean countries of Dominica, St Vincent & the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda should re-think their positions.

The last thing that small countries need is to be embroiled in the politics of militarism – especially when the battle is not their own.

Problems

As matters stand, the association by Dominica and St Vincent with ALBA arising from the Venezuela meeting prior to the Summit of the Americas would have posed problems for Caricom governments, particularly host government Trinidad and Tobago, which spent millions of dollars on the event.

Although representatives of all 34 governments had agreed the joint Declaration before the Summit, the ALBA countries decided at their Venezuela meeting that it was “unacceptable” because it does not provide answers to the global financial crisis and “unfairly excludes Cuba”.

Both Dominica and St Vincent & the Grenadines participated in the ALBA decision even before there was a caucus of Caricom Heads of Government on the eve of the Summit. There was, therefore, no joint Caricom position as there should have been.

Poor document

The reality is that the joint Declaration was a poor document and it did fail to address the crucial issues that face the entire Hemisphere and particularly small countries.

But, every government had the opportunity to involve itself actively in negotiating its formulation for over a year.

Instead of giving the Declaration the close political attention it required, many governments left it to bureaucrats who did the best they could without serious political direction. The result was a document that satisfied no one.

What all of this indicates is an apparent readiness by some Caricom governments to pursue opportunities for individual short-term economic benefits even if the pursuit of these opportunities diverges from the commitment to joint Caricom policies and actions.

It is as if Caricom is the enduring and reliable family to which the prodigal son can always return after wasting his effort elsewhere.

But the truth is that when these countries act on their own to seize short-tem opportunistic advantages, they weaken Caricom as an instrument for their joint advancement. It is already severely weakened and its survival endangered.

It is time for all the member governments to care for Caricom again in their individual and collective interest, based on policies that they debate and agree frankly and fully in recognition of their peoples’ need for solidarity in a highly competitive world.

Trade amongst each other is not the underpinning of the Caribbean Community; the main pillar is the strength that meaningful unity can bring to bargaining with more powerful countries and regions which no longer pretend to care about size and vulnerabilities and whose main objective is their own interest.

via BBC Caribbean
See also ‘
A Taboo Critique of the CSME

Jamaican finance Minister Shaw presents Government’s budget

Some details contained in this article have changed. On December 17, 2009, the Government of Jamaica announced a range of new taxes to further close the fiscal deficit. See full details here 

- Audley Shaw is beginning his budget presentation to Parliament.

- Our problems are not all external, corruption and inefficiency have been made here in Jamaica.

- "When we should have been growing, we borrowed. Now, we find ourselves with scarce resources and massive debt burden".

- "Debt management, tax reform, corruption have moved from endemic to epidemic proportions".

- The recession and weather developments in 2008 contributed to a contraction of 0.6% in the Jamaica economy.

- "Financial system remains strong and well capitalised".

- The budget assumes that recession will not recover until the second quarter of 2010 + that commodity prices remain depressed.

- Assumptions based on IMF report of yesterday which says that global economy will contract for first time since WW.

- Real GDP decline to 3.5%, remittances have slowed, inflation is expected to be in the range of 11-14%.

- Jamaica economy has a number of fundamental structural weaknesses – hurt by crisis but not caused by it. Weaknesses include large fiscal deficits and consequently one of the largest debts in the world.

- Tax reform is an essential element of national development strategy. Goal is to ensure JA has a competitive tax system.

- Established forensic data intelligence mining unit to identify self employed persons; tax administration will put the spotlight on tax cheats.

- 200,000 who should be on the tax roll are off and not paying taxes – Shaw invites them to start now. No questions will be asked about prior years of noncompliance for tax cheats. This amnesty programme will run until Oct 2009. If tax cheats do not register before this time they will be liable to pay all owed taxes.

- Shaw threatens to come for corrupt IRD and customs workers, and says some have already been arrested.

- Public accountability protectorate re-established after being closed in 1991 by the previous government. This office will have the responsibility of investigating the entire government service of Jamaica.

- Reports of JDF and JCF patrolling some areas as speech is ongoing

- PATH programme, education and community development to be pursued as part of expanding the social safety net. Education funding will expand to 13% of GDP.

- $106 billion for capital investment projects for central government and government agencies including the National Housing Trust.

- Central gov targeting fiscal deficit of JA $65.4 billion.

- Tourism declined by 1.1%, remittances down by 16.6%, bauxite earned $4.4b last year, down from an expected $8.5b. This has contributed to a tremendous fall off in revenue. Just over $100 million in revenue is expected in the bauxite and aluminum industry this year (down from average of at least $5 Billion).

- Fiscal gap of just over $18bn. This will be met by an increase in taxes on fuel, expanding on GCT base, increase of minimum tax threshold. Shaw says fuel will still be below most Caribbean islands in price of fuel. He says, in fact, that Jamaica is third in the region for lowest price of fuel behind the US and Trinidad & Tobago.

- Portion of increase on fuel will go towards road maintenance fund – will not all go towards budget. This will repair roads damaged by hurricanes as far back as 2004, and roads badly in need of repair under former government. This year road maintenance will be allocated 20% of fuel tax, next year 35%, following year 50%.

- There will be an oversight board to monitor use of funds.Various stakeholders, including taxi assns, transport authority etc

- “In addition to road maintennance fund to fix the roads of Jamaica it is now ‘give back time’ to PAYE workers”. Minimum income tax threshold has been doubled from $220,000 to $440,000 by January 2010. On July 1 2009, it will be first adjusted to $320,000 then will move to $440,000 in January 2010. This comes at an annualised cost of $12bn to government and will see 85,000 persons no longer paying income tax in Jamaica, this – combined with those under the old threshold – amounts to 132,000 PAYE workers no longer paying income tax.

- Transfer tax now 4%, stamp duty will be moved downwards to 3%. This reduces costs in real estate investment.

- GCT on telephone instruments up to 20%. Narrowing range of items that are exempt from GCT (like VAT, at 16.5%) will yield $7.5bn. These items include salt, rolled oats, live birds, fish and printed material. Opposition member with responsibility for finance Omar Davies, speaking after the session, says he needs to see a more complete list of items that will now be taxed, in order to assess the impact on Jamaicans’ cost of living. These items will be taxed from April 27th.

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- Petrol tax now $8.75 per litre. And there will be an increase on petroleum products from 2-5%. Estimated revenue yield is $13.328bn. Effective 27th April.

- Shaw ends with bible verse Isa. 8:12: “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in”.

- Before the reading of the bible verse was even complete, reports are that a section of Red Hills Road has been blocked (GoJamaica). TVJ news at 7 said however that these reports were unfounded.

- ** House adjourned. Opposition will reply on April 28th. We will attempt to live blog again on that date. Consider subscribing to this blog.

Download entire budget speech

Sustaining satisfaction: Tourism in a time of trouble

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The dream vacation of a warm sun shining on clear waters while the wind sways the palm leaves above you and your umbrella-wielding drink has long been a staple for every nine-to-fiver on both sides of the Atlantic. Equipped with their two weeks worth of vacation, obnoxiously colored clothing and overstuffed bags and wallets, many a Yankee and Brit has boarded a plane headed for a warmer climate. And many of those planes have landed in the Caribbean.

Over the past 30 years, the Caribbean has seen a major jump in tourism and in dollars earned from this lucrative trade. As the dollar climbed ever higher, chased closely by the pound and euro, more and more people flocked to the sun-swept shores of the Caribbean Islands as well as other tropical destinations worldwide. But now the dollar is plummeting, the pound is suffering and the word ‘economy’ is almost constantly tied to the term recession whenever, and wherever, it is mentioned. Shock waves from this economic upheaval have been felt in most every industry worldwide. So as the recession continues, the question becomes – are people still dreaming of a sunny shore? And if so, are they pursuing those dreams with their hard-earned money?

As with most topics, the answer depends on whom you ask. There seems to be two schools of thought on this topic so today we will explore both. The first school of thought seems to be the more logical of the two. It serves to reason that travel and tourism is not a necessity of life and therefore money spent on travel is considered expendable income. And in a time of recession the amount of expendable income is significantly lowered thus people begin to trim the fat and use a larger percentage of their overall income on necessities such as food and clothing.

This logical “fun vs. food” argument is supported by many experts worldwide who point out that the first thing to go from a household budget will be the extravagances of travel. Dr. Alan Greenspan supported this idea when he traveled to the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s First Annual Caribbean Tourism Summit in the summer of 2008. He pointed out that in the short term tourism is linked closely with the global economy and that there is no escaping this fact. He went on to bring up another issue that is unique to the travel industry: the cost of fuel for airline companies. The ever-increasing cost of oil has prevented many airlines from cutting their costs as they might have done in the past to ease the stress of economic upheaval. With an increase in travel cost and a decrease in expendable income, these experts predict a definite and painful slow down for the tourism industry as early as this spring.

What all these naysayers can’t account for, however, is the apparent lack of proof that this condition of “fun vs. food” is occurring.  Many global tourism companies reported greater gains last fall, and while there have not been many earnings reports released in 2009, 2008 was a positive year for many packaged tourism companies including Europe’s two largest companies, TUI Travel and Thomas Cook. These companies were so certain of their business that Peter Long, TUI’s chief executive, even went as far as to proclaim tourism as “recession proof.” While this might be slightly overstating the positive side of the business, there does seem to be solid proof that tourism and travel are seldom the first on the chopping block when economic times get hard. Several analysts have pointed out that tourism survived major blows after the September 11 attacks in 2001 as well as the Tsunami in 2004 and an increased awareness of SARS disease. By all current signs, it appears that people do and will continue to pursue those dream destinations.

But even the most hopeful of outlooks has to be realistic at some point. Even if people do continue to travel, it is very likely that how they travel and where they travel will be significantly different than in years past. Most experts predict that people will stay closer to home or be more selective when choosing a destination. The budget traveler is now the most important and most prolific traveler on the market. As the demand for luxury decreases, those business and destinations that will stay afloat are those that can convert their image or update their image to that of a “good value” destination or a budget location.

The growing importance of strategic marketing and business adaptation has also increased the awareness of structural weaknesses at the regional level. The Caribbean tourism industry was developed without much thought or organization at the government level. The destination was so perfect and the climate so ideal that marketing and business structure was almost not needed and certainly neglected. For almost 30 years, the regional governments have done little besides levy taxes and increase fees for visitors. While other destinations have laid out airline plans to increase ease of travel between islands and multiple destinations, the Caribbean has failed to pursue such efforts. Even regional marketing, which will be direly needed as travelers ‘shop around’ for the best deals, has been neglected.

There are several businessmen sounding the alarm and asking for changes. Among them is Ralph Taylor, the current chairman of the Barbados Tourism Authority. In June 2008, Mr. Taylor addressed these issues during a speech and beseeched regional governments to acknowledge the importance of tourism to the region by developing new and aggressive strategies for this industry. He supports using a regional marketing fund created cooperatively by the governments and the industry. Other issues that must be faced are the need to develop new airline carriers in the US and Europe as well as creating a hub for transportation within the Caribbean. Relying on the old carriers and systems simply will no longer be enough. A frightening example of this is American Airlines’ announcement in 2008 to significantly cut the number of flights they currently offer. This is upsetting because American currently provides almost 60 percent of all visitors to the Caribbean. Action is needed and it is needed now. By integrating timetables, organizing airline options and updating current systems, the Caribbean can continue to be a desirable destination for those in the Northern Hemisphere.

The tourist industry has its work cut out for it in 2009. Will, as some predict, the tourism trade drop in coming months? Or will it find new and unique ways to adapt to an ever-changing and increasingly volatile market? For countries in Caribbean and other tourist-based economies these questions are as vital as any facing the financial or housing markets but with the correct attention and support by government officials and industry heads, these dream destinations can avoid the nightmarish consequences of a declining economy which could leave the tourist trade to wither in that warm tropical sun.

Photo credit to loimere

Plane Hijacked in Montego Bay, Jamaica

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A man is holding several hostages on an airplane at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica, after apparently sneaking aboard the charter flight, it has been reported.

The crew of the Canjet plane and 169 passengers were held for 30 minutes before the passengers were released after they were robbed. It has been reported that the hijacker entered the plane after getting onto the runway.

The gunman reportedly checked in for the flight then forced his way past security and went on board brandishing a firearm.

Police negotiators have engaged the hijacker and are trying to ensure the safe release of the remaining passengers and crew.

One shot was fired on board but no injuries are reported.

The plane was due to fly to Canada.

Update 2:03AM – Hijacker identified as Jamaican, Montego Bay resident (GoJamaica) however at 3:OOAM sources say gunman is Latino – and that CanJet intended to make scheduled stop in Cuba. That is unconfirmed at this time.

Update: 2:05AM – Radio Jamaica reporter Latoya Johnson says 167 of 169 passengers have been released after being robbed.

Update: 2:34AM – Reports are that seven hostages remain on board. Five crew, two passengers.

Update 2:44AM - A hostage-taker released all but two passengers and five crew members early Monday from a charter plane at a Jamaican airport, officials said.

Police had the plane surrounded and were negotiating with the hostage-taker. It was not immediately known what the man’s demands were.

Passengers were boarding the CanJet flight at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay late Sunday when the man took an undisclosed number of them hostage, said Elizabeth Scotton, a spokeswoman for the company managing the airport.

About 150 people were scheduled to be on the flight, said Jamaican police Lt. Col. Derek Robinson, and it was not known how many were on the plane (CNN).

Update 2:54AM – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper happens to be in Jamaica – he is currently there to present a CDN$18.5m grant to Jamaican Justice system – ironically (Gleaner)

Update 2:58AM – PM Bruce Golding and Ministers of Security and Information overseeing negotiations with hostage taker, TVJ reports.

Update 3:06AM – Final two passengers released, crew remains hostage.

Update 3:07AM – Canjet releases statement (Canjet)

Update 3:23AM – Jamaica’s Info Minister Daryl Vaz: 2 crew members have locked themselves in the cockpit. Gunman’s father at scene.

Update 3:32AM – Gunman is acting alone. Unstable young man with personal problems in his life. Not acting as part of any international organisation (via Nationwide Jamaica radio)

Update 3:35AM – Gunman refusing to come off. Reporters refusing to release “all they know” about young hostage. Gunman’s father and sister on the scene. Talk of initiating a ‘speedy end’ to the situation (via Nationwide Jamaica radio)

Update 3:38AM – Gunman’s demand is to go to Cuba (CNN)

Update 4:11AM – Awaiting further news out of Jamaica. Silence on wires, nothing further from sources.

Update 4:30 AM – Gunman and crew remain on board. Editor off. Next major update at 8AM, unless situation changes violently.

Final update – Military and police went aboard aircraft and captured gunman after negotiations failed. The gunman is twenty-one years old and described as mentally unstable. No one was killed or injured in the ordeal (ABC7)

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Stephen Fray is being described as jovial, timid and reserved by friends and members of his community in Albion, Montego Bay. The 21 year old is a former student of the Mount Alvernia Preparatory School, Cornwall College and graduated from the Montego Bay Community College last year.

He lives with his father and grandmother in the quiet residential Albion community and is viewed by neighbours as polite and helpful.

But the Gleaner Power 106 News has learnt that he has been dealing with serious personal issues. Its understood that he was upset because of a failed relationship.

Fray was an avid track and field athlete while he attended Mount Alvernia Prep and excelled at academics. The Fray family is renowned for business in Montego Bay.

Stephen’s grandfather once operated a furniture store, and some of his other relatives are said to operate their own businesses.Its understood that Stephen’s father is a licensed firearm holder and his sister is employed to the Sangster International Airport (Gleaner).

5th Summit of the Americas: What’s not making the news on day two

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We invite bloggers and monitors to fact check and add any new developments to the story via email (address below) or in the comment box accompanying this article. Photo credits to Georgia P.¹ Some links to late updates from mainstream media are at the end of this post.

  • Drummit 2 Summit’, a grassroots group formed to protest ‘energy insecurity, anti-sustainable development and pauperism in Trinidad & Tobago’ has (as of 3:30pm) been shut down by police in St. James with the threat of mass arrest. Permit for peaceful protest at St. James auditorium revoked – protest deemed illegal . As of 4:25pm riot police are moving in on a bunch of drummers in a circle, singing, dancing and clapping. TV coverage of the event and police stand off lead to protest being allowed to continue. Official who revoked permit admits to being coerced by police to do so. At 5:10 pm, police were advised by a senior superintendent to leave the peaceful protest, which was then allowed to continue until 6pm.
  • There are serious issues with respect to the timeliness of public transcripts being made available. At the time of writing, there are no transcripts available from yesterday’s opening speeches and definitely no transcripts from today’s events. This presents a major difficulty for citizen journalists, bloggers and followers of the Summit who are not in Trinidad. (We, however have an article with the full rundown of yesterday’s opening).
  • Summit organisers cite “a lack of discipline” among reporters and all reporter pools have been suspended for today. Since reporters can’t ask questions to leaders directly, public information will now come via Summit mouthpiece, Felipe Noguera, who will provide a synopsis of each leader’s speech and his personal opinions in response to reporters’ questions.
  • It is alleged that Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, former Attorney General and member of the opposition party, has distributed flyers on what he terms “the dictatorship of Patrick Manning” to all Summit leaders (TBC).
  • EfE reports that five ALBA states will not sign Summit Declaration. This is in spite of the fact that Hugo Chavez, head of ALBA, has gone out of his way to appear chummy and cooperative with President Obama.
  • Evo Morales says that Bolivia cannot implement biofuels of any sort – not feasible for developing LAC states. Says that the type of capitalism that disregards human life must end, and condemns the United States’ interference in Bolivian elections when he ran for President. Says US front line workers remain ‘pro George Bush’ and that President Barack Obama should heed the world’s call for an end to the blockade against Cuba. Morales, who recently completed a hunger strike against liberalism, said the socialist movement is “for the people” and the right wing is losing base support all over Latin America.
  • Riot police surround and break up small, peaceful assembly of labour leaders at the Cipriani Statue in downtown Port of Spain. ‘Overkill’.
  • Hugo Chavez proposes that next Summit be held in Havana, Cuba. Press communication indicated Pres. Obama smiled, did not respond.
  • Alleged altercation between foreign press and police at the Hyatt – Summit Hotel – journalists say restrictions are too stringent.

Updates from mainstream media 04/19

Obama pursues charm campaign at Americas summit

Tax haven initiatives a key matter of interest at summit bilaterals, says Bahamas PM

Concerns raised by Summit Leaders: Canada, USA et al.

Coverage of the St. James Summit 2 Drummit protest

A Slum on the Edge of the Americas Summit: Leaders Need Not Look Far to See Poverty and Violence Outside Summit Venue

While Latin American leaders bite, Obama keeps his cool at Fifth Summit

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No gloves, no holds barred. The Fifth Summit of the Americas opened today in Trinidad & Tobago with a barely-diplomatic condemnation of United States policy, the Western-dominated capitalist economy and even the United Kingdom, compliments of Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Speaking on behalf of South American states, de Kirchner called out the United States and Western countries on their double standards – a claim she supported by citing Cuba’s expulsion from the OAS, and Britain (to which she she did not even afford the dignity of naming), who went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

New regional order – no US intervention, full Cuban inclusion

President de Kirchner’s impassioned and emotive address condemned the unregulated systems that created the global financial crisis which, she said, paradoxically occurred at a time when economies were growing in Latin America – economies that are now shrinking as a result. She invoked President Obama’s mantra of change repeatedly, calling for a new regional order in the Americas, in which they were no subordinates, only equals. The Argentine President also blasted the United States’ policies of intervention into other countries, and condemned the “absurd” embargo and blockade of Cuba, a statement that was applauded by the pro-LAC audience.

Ortega: You have to change, not us!

President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua followed President de Kirchner in his capacity as President of SICA (Central American Integration System) and delivered a broad-ranging, acerbic attack on US policy – particularly with respect to the United States’ tacit support of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, and the funding that the US government provided to the regime to defeat the Sandinista revolutionaries. This, according to Ortega, reflected the “terrorist policies of the United States under Ronald Reagan”, who he says armed, funded and defended the dictatorial Somoza leaders.

Ortega also made clear his distrust of, and lack of faith in, US presidents, derisively mentioning that he had previously meet Ragean, Carter and Bush Sr. on Nicaraguan issues. On Carter, Ortega reflected passionately on an argument he had with the former president in which Ortega said “Nicaragua has never invaded the United States… it has never even launched a stone against the United States or imposed a government on it – so, President Carter, it is you who have to change, not Nicaragua!”.

On his meeting the current president, Barack Obama, Ortega simply reflected: “I shook his hand, he said something in Spanish, I said something in English, and that was it.”

Cuba inclusion and, curiously, a call on Puerto Rico?

In the height of his speech, Ortega was applauded as he echoed the sentiments of President de Kirchner in calling for the full and complete integration of Cuba into the hemisphere: “I refuse to call this a Summit of the Americas. Yes, we have gathered here, we have the Presidents [sic] of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the President of the US and PM of Canada here but there are two representatives missing here today. One is Cuba – Cuba! Who’s crime has been that of fighting for independence, fighting for sovereignty, offering solidarity without conditions to our peoples – and just because of that, they are punished, they are penalized”. Then, he touched on Puerto Rico, saying that the island was still suffering under the ‘colonial yoke’ of the United States, concluding that “the day will come when we have the grand alliance, including Puerto Rico”.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion, the irony of dates and a letter from Raul Castro

The irony that Friday’s Summit was forty-eight years to the day that the CIA sponsored Bay of Pigs Invasion took place in Cuba was not lost on Ortega, or Raul Castro for that matter. Ortega reflected on a conversation he had with a bemused Castro ahead of the Summit, speaking on the event’s scheduling dates. Ortega invited Castro to write a letter – which Ortega then read – furthering the rebuke on US policy. Concluding on Cuba, Ortega echoed calls for the full removal of the embargo against Cuba and the dissolution of the Helms-Burton Act.

Immigration, the trap of fund conditionalities

President Ortega also blasted the United States on its immigration stance, saying that the United States would be wiser to provide funds to Latin American countries without the conditionalities of IMF loans – conditionalities which he termed to be “instruments of global capitalist dictatorship”. This, Ortega said, would have the effect of stemming outward migration since infrastructure, jobs and social equality could be boosted at home. He also said that these funds would serve the double task of curbing not only migration, but the reach of drug money in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Obama: “I didn’t come here to debate the past, I came to debate the future”

Sardonically thanking President Ortega for not blaming him for things that happened “when I was four years old”, Barack Obama took the floor as third speaker in his capacity of President of the United States. Stating his seriousness on “launching a new chapter” in hemispheric relations, he cautioned that issues and progress could be stymied if states dwelled on stale arguments. In so doing, he dismissed the bulk of Presidents de Kirchner’s and Ortega’s speeches, stating that he came to the Summit not to debate the past, but to debate the future. President Obama said that he promised a new partnership, with no senior or junior partner, working together for shared prosperity.

Among the new initiatives being pursued by the Obama administration is a new microfinance growth fund aimed at supporting entrepreneurship in the region, as well as partnership on climate change and security in the region.

On Cuba, President Obama said that he sought a “new beginning”, stating that there was now a long journey that needed to be travelled to undo the mistrust. Referencing this week’s earlier removal of some restrictions on Cuba, Obama says that he is prepared to have his administration liaise with Cuba on a range of issues from free speech to drugs and human rights. “I am not interested in talking just for the sake of talking. My presence here indicates that the United States has changed”, Obama said.

Concluding, in a subtle swipe at President de Kirchner, Obama said that while he supports non-intervention in other countries, the United States could not then be blamed for all that is wrong in the hemisphere when it does not intervene – “that’s the exchange, that’s the old way of doing things, the American people need some positive reinforcement if they are to be engaged in helping the poverty that you are experiencing”.

CARICOM’s response

With the issue of Cuba now dealt with, Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow took the penultimate speech slot in his capacity as Chairman of CARICOM. He called for substantive results, saying that he wanted this regional meet not to be just a “pageant accompanied by summitry”, but one that could directly enhance the welfare of all nations involved. He took particular issue with the United States’ renewed commitment to target offshore banking – a mainstay of the Obama campaign – citing that offshore banking contributes greatly to Caribbean economies, and that “Meryl Lynch and Bear Sterns did not come down because of Caribbean jurisdictions”.

He also took issue with graduating Caribbean countries (that is, changing their listed income category) based on GDP alone, thereby making some of them ineligible for grant aid and lower interest funding, pushing them towards private market borrowing and debt.

The official speeches on this opening day of intense debate was closed with the event’s host, Trinidad Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

He offered the Bolivian president – fresh from a political hunger strike – a doubles.

Cuba, Chavez-Obama showdown shaping Summit headlines on opening day

Earlier this week in Washington…

US wary of Cuba issue ‘distracting’ Americas Summit

The United States, facing a clamour of calls to normalize ties with Cuba, does not want the prickly Cuban issue to dominate a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders next week, a senior US diplomat said…1

Meanwhile, in the real Americas…

Obama faces pressure to ease Cuba restrictions

Barack Obama’s efforts to mend the battered US image in Latin America were overshadowed by heavy criticism of Washington’s policy towards Cuba as he arrived in Trinidad for his first major meeting in the region 2

Change of agenda?…

Raúl Castro: I’m willing to talk to U.S.

On the eve of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, Cuban President Raúl Castro declared Thursday that his government is willing to discuss ”everything” with Washington, including human rights, political prisoners and freedom of the press.

Castro said Havana has ”sent word to the U.S. government in private and in public” that it is open to talking about anything, as long as it’s “on equal terms” 3

OAS, U.S. warm up to Cuba after Raul Castro overture

The head of the Organization of American States said Friday that he will ask its members to readmit Cuba 47 years after they ousted the communist nation. And in another step toward improving relations, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Cuban President Raul Castro’s latest comments a “very welcome gesture” 4

U.S. policy to Cuba has ‘failed’: Clinton

U.S. policy toward Cuba has “failed,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday, as she welcomed an “overture” for wide-ranging talks from Cuban President Raul Castro.

“We are continuing to look for more productive ways going forward because President (Barack) Obama and I and the administration view the present policy to Cuba as having failed”, Clinton said 5

And then, there’s Hugo Chavez…

Chavez Tells Obama To “Wash His [Behind]”

Marxist Hugo Chavez wants desperately to insert himself into the conversation. In a recent speech Chavez attacked Obama and told him to go wash his ass6

Words hurt: is it time for hate speech legislation in Barbados?

Carl Walker-Hoover was a boy scout who went to church every Sunday with his mother, and prayed every morning before school. He was bullied, daily, taunted about his alleged sexuality and ostracized. When it didn’t stop, he wrapped an electrical cord around his neck and hanged himself. He was just 11 years old. Tomorrow is his birthday.

Carl Walker-Hoover’s death is not unique, the hurt he experienced is not atypical and the circumstances that led to his death occur in Barbados – daily. Anyone who argues to the contrary is delusional.

By 2009, humans have advanced to accept and appreciate these now-universal truths: the world is not flat, slavery is wrong and ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is nonsensical. Carl Walker-Hoover’s death may have been miles away, but the problem of bullying and hate speech is universal.

This article gives a basic overview of these two social issues in Barbados and concludes with a call for legislation similar to what obtains in normal, civilized states.

Bullying in Barbadian schools

Bullying is prohibited within schools and has been since a broader, revamped code of conduct was introduced in 1994/1995. Students who breach the code receive no mandated punishment, it is the prerogative of teachers to do something, or nothing at all. There are no anti-bullying NGOs as they are in the United States and there is no school that has an anti-bullying centre. Even if these facilities existed, a counter-culture that mandates against and punishes “snitching” remains in effect, which may mean that those bullied never report it. In the absence of pro-active monitoring within schools and workplaces,  as well as educational campaigns – bullying remains covered up.

There has also never been a study on bullying in schools; there is nothing to quantify just how many victims of bullying there are, the remedies available to them, or their general emotional stability. Of the two Ministers of Education in Barbados, neither has pursued this issue or even made mention of its existence. One, in fact, is too busy trying to get parliamentarians out of the closet, and believes that the answer to decreasing the stigma attached to HIV+ persons is to throw drugs at them so they look healthy enough not to be jeered at.There is also no denying that a small island mentality prevents dialogue on this matter: bullying, like the once-common lashing of wives by husbands, is a fact of life – surviving it makes you a man. If even a dead one, eventually.

The hypocrisy of so-called disciplinarian school principals also needs to be brought to light in this regard. While they are keen to make public shows of expelling children for breaches of school uniform code, and while they ban drums at sports events, none of them has lobbied government to investigate the spate of bullying, and none of them has called media cameras to discuss it themselves. Bullying in Barbados is officially a non-issue.

Hate speech – a cultural wont?

By way of simple introduction, Jane Shuttack recently moved to Barbados from the USA, and her blogs often force one to look inward at the things we often take for granted here in Barbados. She recently wrote about a time when a friend – a Barbadian – commented on her weight gain, much to her offense. After an entire year comparing thoughts and contrasting cultures, she accepts the undeniable fact that Bajans say whatever they want to say – feelings be damned.

This observation even holds true for hate speech. In fact, many revel in it.

One definition of hate speech follows as:

Speech intended to degrade a person or group of people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, social class, appearance, mental capacity, and any other distinction that might be considered by some as a liability.

Of particular interest to this article is hate speech towards sexual orientation, but this in no way diminishes the equal seriousness of all other categories. In fact, the use of hate speech in almost each of the above categories is so entrenched in Barbadian society that it is almost cultural. As someone with a special-needs relative, it was not uncommon to hear ‘that child is retarded (or stupid, slow, etc.)!’, and in some neighbourhoods where travelling [normally East Indian] salesmen ply their trade, it is expected that someone will announce the arrival of the ‘coolie man’. Exported to anywhere but Barbados, those expressions could land one before a magistrate. Here, it is ok.

Hate speech against homosexuals in Barbados is particularly rife and equally vehement. Though, for the moment, public response in Barbados excludes the mass village stonings that obtain in Jamaica, it appears that for some insecure men, the labeling and taunting of suspected homosexuals is part and parcel of being male. This ignorance fuels the speech that fuels the ignorance… and the cycle goes on, ad nauseum. Going on the same definition of masculinity that has seen some idiots fracturing their penises in reverence to deejays’ predilection for rough sex, any detours from the hyper-masculine, brutish, rude boy image is viewed as dirty, effeminate, gay. It deserves no mention that ‘downlow’, masculine men are key practitioners of homophobia and hate speech, since one clearly cannot be gay if he verbally assaults homosexuals. The cycle continues.

What makes hate speech unique is that the things on which the hate is predicated are unchangeable. Those who still believe that homosexuality is a choice are often anti-intellectual spiritists who prefer to believe that a man in Barbados, Jamaica or anywhere would choose to be gay, being so absolutely intrigued at the prospect of continuous verbal assault and physical violence that they revel in having sex with members of their own gender. Smarter people however realise that homosexuality is not a choice, it is not changeable, it is not ‘curable’ by marriage or prayer and many homosexuals, if surveyed, might even express thoughts of wishing to be straight – if only to escape the pressures imposed on them by society.

The case for legislation

Protecting the vulnerable in society should be the mandate of any government.

Anti-bullying legislation and laws barring hate speech have minimal cost attached and immense public benefits, both for the victims and wider society. Carl Walker-Hoover is the embodiment of the case against bullying, and any psychologist can make the case against hate speech: it changes nothing, it edifies no one and, as was evidenced in Columbine, it often leads to reciprocated hate. In fact, the true social cost of bullying and hate speech is yet to be quantified through research: how many former victims now victimise their spouses or children? how many former victims now live in depression, or have maladjusted personalities? Victimizers too, need to be evaluated – normal people do not bully, or inflict hurt and pain on other humans.

Until government or a consortium of NGOs agrees that this issue is worthy of further study, the answers needed to put a face and cost to bullying and hate speech will continue to elude us. Barbados can never be accused of being a civilized, developed society if action isn’t taken to label these crimes as crimes, and Barbadians will continue to do a disservice to the morality they claim to have if they continue to wink their eyes at this destructive behaviour.

Have you ever been bullied, or been a victim of hate speech?
Please share your story via comment or email.

A Young Spin on an Old Tale: Youth and HIV/AIDS

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For centuries conventional wisdom has held that ‘everything that can be said has been said’ and this dogma holds particularly true in journalism. There are very few ‘new’ stories – only old stories with a new spin. And so it is that many valid journalistic points go unnoticed or are undermined by that dreaded demon – apathy.  So allow me to start my first article for the Bajan Dream Project by making you a promise: the following article will not change the world or solve the problem. How’s that for a let down? But here’s the upswing: the following article will hopefully change your point of view and initiate conversations that could eventually lead to actions which might possibly invoke societal changes that could through the course of time lead to resolution. Because you never know when one of your readers will be the person destined to change the world…

Today I will tackle a topic that has had as much publicity as any topic in the last 20 years – HIV/AIDS and its effects on society. Because the topic is so broad, we will narrow it down and take a detailed look at one category of this disease – the youth epidemic. How many of you were aware that HIV/AIDS in people age 13-24 is one of the fastest growing demographics on the planet? According to one United States based report the number of young people living with AIDS has increased 42% since 2000 – a truly alarming rate! In order to correctly address this issue we must first understand its origin and its unique challenges. Before we jump into preventive measures, let’s look at the reasons this particular demographic is so vulnerable to this deadly disease.

It is estimated that over 60 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV/AIDS in the last 20 years. Of those people almost half were infected between the ages of 15 and 24.  While the previous generation had the excuse of ignorance to fall back on, today’s generation cannot claim that they have not heard of the disease and, for the most part, been informed about its causes, risks, and presence in society. Ask any school kid from Bridgetown to Bangkok and most will be able to tell you more about the disease than any 75 year old on the planet. So if the information is available why is the number increasing?

Information vs. Education

First of all, let us distinguish between being ‘informed’ and being ‘educated.’ An informed person can tell you the where’s and why’s about AIDS – how a person becomes infected, what behavior is risky. It takes an educated person, however, to understand the impacts of this knowledge on their daily lives. Take for example your basic history lesson: Once upon a time there was a large battle and many men died. You are now an ‘informed’ person. But to educate a person about history is to explain why the battle took place, what the outcome was, and how it led to the society we have today. Education is more than books and papers – it is open discussions and in-depth understanding. Which leads us to the issue with HIV/AIDS in our schools and community programs. While students read about HIV/AIDS, there is often a stigma around having a discussion about this disease with parents or teachers. It’s a black hole, a three-letter word not to be spoken about or discussed outside high school health class. If we truly want to address this issue, each school, each community and each family must make an effort to do away with the stigma surrounding the disease and instigate in-depth discussions with the youth.  Studies show that our youth, because of their inexperience, often rely on others to make decisions for them. This leads to risky sexual behavior such as not using condoms or having multiple partners. Many young people are becoming sexually active at earlier ages further increasing their risk. If our youth can’t approach adults when facing these decisions who can they turn to?

But surely a lack of education isn’t the only reason for this epidemic. There must be societal factors as well.  Much of the spread of HIV/AIDS can be attributed to social taboos and stigmas.  Two of the prominent societal taboos deal with women’s rights and homosexual behavior.

Women’s rights & Homosexual taboos

During the early 90′s, the Center for Disease Control in the United States published a study showing that young women, aged 16-21, were 50% more likely to contract AIDS than were their male counterparts. Many experts believe that this is in part due to what is believed to be the women’s ‘role’ in a sexual relationship. Many young women begin having sex with a partner who is older. Often this leads to a lack of negotiation where matters of safety and risk are concerned. Younger women are less likely to demand that a partner use a condom or ask if their partner has been exposed to HIV/AIDS or other STDs. Because many societies across the globe do not encourage or promote community programs or health services for young women, these young girls are left to make life-altering decisions on their own.

If ever there were a societal taboo, homosexuality would be it. In many countries, homosexual behavior is illegal and punishments are severe. Even in tolerant societies, homosexuality remains taboo. This has led to a majority of homosexuals not disclosing their practices. As a result many homosexuals do not get tested for HIV/AIDS and a surprising amount continue to have heterosexual partners as well, therefore increasing the likelihood of spreading the disease between sexes. In many regions, including the Caribbean, the actual number of homosexuals living with HIV/AIDS is considered unknown because of the rampant homophobia in those areas.

While sexual activity leads to most of the HIV/AIDS exposure, we cannot ignore the substance abuse exposures. Not only does the use of ‘dirty’ needles and reusing drug paraphernalia spread HIV/AIDS but drug users are more likely to partake in risky sexual behavior therefore increasing their exposure.

Understanding these root issues can provide us with a foundation to explore the correct methods to address the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in today’s youth. Twenty years ago no one knew how to prevent a disease this rampant. Program after program was tried – and many failed. However, unlike the preceding generations, we now have the tool of experience to aid us in our quest to finally conquer this disease.

Not a hopeless situation

One of the most important factors to address when discussing strategies for the future is to recognize that this disease is controllable and that there are programs that have worked and continue to work.  This is not a hopeless situation! There are answers and methods that work. As with any truly successful program, a successful HIV/AIDS program is comprehensive. It has the components of education, prevention, risk management, and community out reach. Programs within the schools must be matched by community support – namely health centers and services – that are available to all persons regardless of age and sexual orientation. While prevention and education must be focused around the youth, adults must also be informed and efforts must be made to change societies norms and taboos. The youth look to adults to make decisions and set examples. Without adult efforts and cooperation, programs involving youth are worthless.

Efforts are already being made – and progress becoming evident – from programs implemented worldwide. In the Caribbean, several countries have reported a decrease in new HIV/AIDS patients due largely in part to programs that incorporate education, new health centers, and combining access to condoms with prevention programs.

As the fight against HIV/AIDS marches forward, a few things are certain. The disease will not disappear and the number of people affected by it will only continue to grow. Every day new information, new medication and new programs become available. It is of vital importance that we give our youth every opportunity to access these components. It is also vital that we continue to face up to the taboos within our society and to do our part to help within our community – be it through volunteering or simply educating ourselves on the disease.

Our youth will need a strong support system if they are to face the problems before them. We – the older generation – are the only ones they have to turn to. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So let us be helpful, supportive and open. We cannot change the world – but we can influence those around us.

Castro: Easing of Cuba Restrictions ‘Positive’, But Not Nearly Enough

Via Granma, ‘Reflexiones del Compañero Fidel
Translation by Miguel Gutierrez,
worldmeets.us

“Forty-eight years ago, mercenary forces in the service of a foreign power invaded their own homeland, escorted by a U.S. squadron that included an aircraft carrier and dozens of fighter aircraft. This date cannot be forgotten. The great power of the North is capable of applying the same formula to any Latin American country. This has occurred on many occasions throughout the history of our hemisphere. Has any promise been declared that such an actions will never be repeated, directly or via indigenous armies, as have occurred in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and other countries?

The cunning and devious attack on Girón Beach [the Bay of Pigs] cost us more than 150 lives and hundreds of seriously wounded. We should like to hear some self-criticism from that powerful nation – and a guarantee that such events will never happen again in our hemisphere.

April 13th marked the seventh anniversary since the failed coup against the Revolution in Venezuela.

For the sake of democracy and human rights, we need a voice in Washington to tell us that the School of the Americas, which specializes in coup and torture, will be closed forever.

We cannot forget that right now, this April, the leader of ARENA [Rodrigo Ávila], Bush’s oligarchic ally in the Iraqi genocide, continues to govern El Salvador. With a million human lives sacrificed [in Iraq], there is enough blood to drown all of Bush’s accomplices.

Does this recollection offend anyone? Or is mentioning this prohibited in the name of decency, ingenuity and complicity?

The [Obama Administration] measure to ease restrictions on travel is itself positive – albeit minimally. We need many others, including the elimination of the murderous Cuban Adjustment Act [and the Helms-Burton Act], which is applied exclusively to our country alone. [Cuba]. We would like a response to the question of whether the immigration privileges used to combat the Cuban Revolution and strip it of human resources shall be granted to all Latin American and Caribbean people. But everything in Port of Spain [site of the Fifth Summit of the Americas] will be secret. Listening to the debate will be prohibited, as will discussing the pronouncements of heads of state and government. In any event, we will learn what each of them says.

We don’t want to hurt Obama in the slightest, but he will be president for one or two terms. He has no responsibility for what happened in the past, and I am convinced that he would not commit the atrocities that Bush did. After him, however, may be someone else the same or worse than his predecessor. Men come and go; peoples endure.

There are other extremely grave problems such as climate change, and the current president of the United States has decided to cooperate on this issue , which is so vital for humankind. We must acknowledge this.

Enough for today. I don’t want to add another word.”

5th Summit of the Americas: New leaders, fresh hopes and the question of Cuba

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Designed and initiated by the Clinton administration in 1994, The Summit of the Americas was first held in Miami with 34 high level leaders from North America, South America and the Caribbean, with hopes of fostering discussion on a variety of issues affecting the Western Hemisphere.

The Miami Summit marked the first time since 1967 that a forum was attended by 34 leaders of the 35 nations in the Western hemisphere – with Cuba being the only country in the region that is not a member of the Summit. Since 1994, Summits have been held irregularly throughout the hemisphere from Quebec to Santiago. While themes have varied over the years, the common thread of all summits is the overall objective to improve the quality of life of people in the region through multilateral cooperation on the political, economic, environmental, social and security challenges affecting the region today.

The upcoming 5th Summit of the Americas will be held on April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago, under the theme “Securing our Citizens Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security, and Environmental Sustainability”. Unlike previous summits which focused on contentious issues such as trade and migration, the 5th Summit Agenda will instead address common problems affecting the hemisphere, and will work to combat criticisms of ineffective mandates and a lack of transparency at past Summits.

Such issues to be discussed include social equity, energy cooperation, environmental sustainability and the strengthening of public security, and it is expected that there should be more consensus among the Summit participants, given these more feasible themes. Additionally, this Summit is particularly interesting as it will be the first time many newly-elected leaders will meet to discuss current situations facing the region, and it is hoped that this will cultivate new, stronger partnerships between nations to achieve human prosperity related to equity, inclusion, and social development.

Moreover, considering the recent developments in the Obama administration’s reassessment of Cuban policy and the increasing level of publicity surrounding nations wishing Cuba to participate in the Summit as a member of the Organization of the Americas (OAS), this Summit will most likely be a rather productive forum in this regard. Indeed, damaging policies can be discussed and possibly reversed only if leaders are willing to attend the forum as equals, and partners with a shared sense of responsibility for current affairs.

Criticisms of prior Summits

Past Summits have been criticized for designing inefficient mandates and lacking transparency. Observers, for example, have long questioned the effectiveness of the Summits, noting that a majority of Summit goals have never been met. Summits have also blamed for producing overly ambitious documents that mandate new initiatives, yet which ignore the status of the implementation of over six hundred initiatives previously introduced at the previous Summits.

While past Summits have not followed up on the implementation of all initiatives, there has however been a number of successful initiatives to the region, including a reduction in the cost of remittances, the creation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, increased provisions of anti-retroviral therapy to HIV/AIDS patients, support for democracy in Haiti and reductions in child labor. While it is unrealistic to think that all of the designed initiatives would be effective measures for the region, the OAS must do more to ensure the initiatives designed at this Summit are achievable, measurable and enforceable. Additionally, as many countries lack the organizational capacity, political will or financial resources to implement the mandates, it is integral that countries work together and support each other to achieve human prosperity.

In the past, the Summit has fallen short of its own ideals, but this does not mean that we should give up on the possibility of achieving successful mandates at this Summit. These criticisms should instead serve as motivation to hemispheric leaders to make this Summit better than its predecessors by  addressing these weaknesses directly.

The issue of transparency also needs to be address within this Summit, as many have criticised previous Summits’ closed-door meetings with top level leaders, an issue which raises questions about clouded secrecy through exclusivity. Many civil society and anti-globalization organizations contend that they should have more of a role in the Summit to ensure greater transparency, even though some of the sixty-five proposed commitments under the Draft Declaration of the Summit are meant to encourage countries to increase participation of civil society and business groups in the Summit process. Still, it is integral that transparency is seen to be a main feature of the 5th Summit, especially since its mandates will affect the welfare of all people in the hemisphere.

Why this summit is different

The 5th Summit of the Americas holds incredible potential given the number of new leaders representing their countries for the first time. Eleven new leaders, namely, Cristina Fernandez-Kirchmer of Argentina, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Álvaro Colom of Guatemala, Jose Rosales of Honduras, Felipe Calderon of Mexico, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and USA’s Barack Obama will all be meeting many of their counterparts in the region for the first time.

For Obama, the opportunities to hold informal meetings will prove to be invaluable early in his administration, especially as Cuban policy is currently being reassessed. Additionally, for many sub-regions, this Summit presents an invaluable opportunity to be heard.

Cuba Inclusion

The battle of ideologies in the context of the Cold War led to the exclusion of Cuba from OAS in 1962, following Fidel Castro’s rise to power. While all of Latin America and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have bridged their differences with Cuba, the U.S. still maintains a strict policy of isolation under a trade and travel embargo, which has endured nearly five decades. As the new administration assesses the failed embargo and recognizes how it is only hurting America and Cuba, Obama has responded by loosening travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba. New legislation is already being proposed in Congress and we are ultimately witnessing a tipping towards a trend of lifting the U.S. embargo against Cuba altogether. Much of the world is against the outdated embargo, and Congress is finally listening. As a majority of Americans support lifting the embargo, the U.S. now has the obligation to reestablish a new relationship with Cuba through a reevaluation of old Cold War policies.

Judging from recent announcements made by leaders in Latin America, CARICOM, and the world in general, there is a growing momentum in favor of reincorporating Cuba as a member of OAS. Although Cuban inclusion does present some challenges to the integrity of OAS and its commitment to promote and defend democracy and human rights, most countries share a vision that Cuba’s readmission would begin the healing process and allow for a normalization of relations. The exclusion of Cuba is not helpful in achieving improved respect for human rights in Cuba, and likewise, Cuba should also do its part to help end the embargo by working to align its laws and polices with obligations under the American Concentrations on Human Rights.

In the latter respect, Cuba seems to be making progress. On March 18, Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez and European Union (EU) Development & Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Louis Michel, jointly announced Cuba’s willingness to discuss human rights (with respect to its prisons) with the EU. This is a great advancement for Cuba and the EU, given the fact that there has been ongoing political rife between them for the past five years. Additionally, U.S. Congressional delegations have met separately with Raul Castro and Fidel Castro hoping to improve relations between the U.S.A and Cuba by opening dialogue and discussion.

The Summit is meant for discussing the most serious challenges facing the region and advancing an agenda for the promotion of human prosperity, environmental sustainability and energy security. Since Cuba is a part of the region, and ultimately affected by the same common problems, it is therefore logical for Cuba to become a member of the OAS. As a result, it is only natural for hemispheric leaders to lobby for policies that are beneficial to all people in the region, and any advancement should also provide economic and social security to the people of Cuba as well.

Importance of the Summit

I believe this summit can effectively address the need to help those less fortunate in the region. There are still too many people living in abject poverty and the development of effective initiatives must be secured and enforced at the 5th Summit.

Leaders can come together as peacemakers, as the representatives and messengers of the people. However, this is no time for polite banter; hopefully leaders sense the urgency of taking bold action and working collaboratively to design effective initiatives that address the growing inequalities in our political, economic, environmental and social life.

It is also essential that each leader attends the Summit with a shared sense of responsibility for our current affairs, with a willingness to work collectively to combat the worst economic crisis in generations, increasing climate temperatures and our dependence on outdated sources of energy. Bringing the leaders together to discuss common concerns, to seek solutions and to develop a shared vision for the future of the western hemisphere, whether it be economic, social, or political in nature, will – at the very least – foster a sense of equality that has been missing in the many of the regions’ policies for nearly five decades.

Now is the time to put the gloves down and work together to brainstorm and design effective initiatives that will benefit the lives of all people in the western hemisphere.

Are Barbados’ child support and paternity laws skewed against men?

The Men’s Educational Support Association (MESA) calls for a change in the Maintennance Act and paternity rules in Barbados. Our Gender writer, Kathy Lehay believes it is a call worth endorsing.

When MESA speaks, some feminists yawn.

While at times misogynist, their musings still need to be considered objectively since it does not serve the agenda to ignore them blankly. Indeed, gender inequality thrives when one gender group self identifies as being less than the other – and this has, at times, been MESA’s claim in many of its messages.

One area  in which Barbadian men claim to be maligned is with respect to child support and paternity testing, which MESA chairman Ralph Boyce says is skewed in favour of women.

Under the current Maintenance Act, men in Barbados are obliged to pay child support to a former spouse, even for a child that is not theirs. Compounding this, Boyce says, men are solely responsibility for covering the costs of paternity tests, and the chairman is further incensed that there is no refund available for negative results.

The Maintenance Act’s so-called ‘assault on men’ goes further by stipulating that only the legal guardian of a child – normally the female – can give permission for the child to have its DNA tested, a request which she could theoretically deny and thus hold a man responsible for child support in perpetuity for a child which he did not father. In addition, courts have been known to block requests for DNA testing and fail to recognise test results.

In light of the above, I endorse MESA’s lobbying drive to have the Maintenance Act revamped, and to legislatively mandate that the authority to initiate paternity tests (and the responsibility to pay for them) be shared equally between partners.

While I do not subscribe to the underlying implication that all women are prone to putting ‘jackets’ (outside children) on unwitting men, denying them the right to know the child’s paternity and extracting money from them, it would be naive of me to think that it does not happen – albeit as an exception rather than the rule. Moreover, the Maintenance Act as it stands now can only serve to inflame tensions between men and women, inspiring the same distrust and disrespect within men for women that leads to domestic abuse, gender based violence and discrimination.

It goes without saying that skewing legislation in favour of women does not does not make for gender equality.

This and other issues – including MESA’s new stated commitment to spearhead programmes for abusive men – are contained in the organisation’s annual report for 2008, available from the organisation’s headquarters at #10 Garrison, St. Michael.

The views expressed above are solely those of the named author, Kathy Lehay, and do not represent the Antillean’s official view.

US: White House confirms change in Cuban policy but trade embargo remains

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via HuffPo

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama is allowing Americans to make unlimited trips and money transfers to family in Cuba and easing other restrictions Monday to usher in a new era of openness toward the island nation ruled by communists for 50 years.

The formal announcement was being made at the White House Monday afternoon, during presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs’ daily briefing with reporters, a senior administration official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity before the announcement.

With the changes, Obama aims to lessen Cubans’ dependence on the Castro regime, hoping that will lead them to demand progress on political freedoms, the official said. About 1.5 million Americans have relatives on the island nation that turned to communist rule in 1959 when Fidel Castro seized control.

Obama had promised to take these steps as a presidential candidate. It has been known for over a week that he would announce them ahead of his attendance this weekend at a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

“There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans,” Obama said in a campaign speech last May in Miami, the heart of the U.S. Cuban-American community. “It’s time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It’s time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime.”

Other steps taken Monday include expanding the things allowed in gift parcels being sent to Cuba, such as clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other personal necessities.

The administration also will begin issuing licenses to allow telecommunications and other companies to provide cell and television services to people on the island, and to allow family members to pay for relatives on Cuba to get those services, the official said.

Last May, former President George W. Bush announced a new policy that people living in the United States could include cell phones in gift parcels sent to Cubans. At the time, Bush aides said that U.S. residents could pay for the cell service attached to phones they send.

However, though American cell phones with service contracts from the U.S. work on some parts of the island, service is not always reliable and depends on the phones’ specifications.

Sending money to senior government officials and Communist Party members remains prohibited under Obama’s new policy. Restrictions imposed by the Bush administration had limited Cuban travel by Americans to just two weeks every three years. Visits also were confined to immediate family members.

Francisco Hernandez, head of the exile group the Cuban American National Foundation, was once a staunch supporter of travel restrictions but supported Obama’s announcement, saying he hopes it will inspire both sides to reconsider long-held positions.

It will help Cubans become more independent of the state “not only in economic terms but in terms of information, and contacts with the outside world,” said Hernandez, who was imprisoned by the Cuban government for nearly two years after participating in the 1961 failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

Miami travel agent Tesie Aral said her phone has been ringing nonstop in anticipation of the announcement, with a tenfold increase last Friday alone.

“People were already planning to travel more based on their ability to go every 12 months,” said Aral, owner of ABC Charters. “Whether they can travel more frequently than that depends on the economy.”

Also in that Miami speech nearly a year ago, Obama promised to depart from what he said had been the path of previous politicians on Cuba policy _ “they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington, and nothing changes in Cuba.”

“Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy,” he said then. “This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century _ of elections that are anything but free or fair; of dissidents locked away in dark prison cells for the crime of speaking the truth. I won’t stand for this injustice, you won’t stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba.”

He also promised to engage in direct diplomacy with Cuba, “without preconditions” but with “careful preparation” and “a clear agenda.”

Some lawmakers, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, are advocating wider revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Castro came to power in Havana.

But the official said that Obama is keeping the decades-old U.S. trade embargo, arguing that that policy provides leverage to pressure the regime to free all political prisoners as one step toward normalized relations with the U.S.

Regional: Trinis, fearing currency devaluation, hoard US dollars

Via Shaliza Hassanali, Trinidad Guardian —

Fear of an impending depreciation of the T&T dollar, after the Fifth Summit of the Americas, is forcing citizens to buy and hoard US currency. And this situation has created a shortfall at commercial banks in T&T during the last few weeks. While the shortage already has been causing many who depend heavily on the US dollar to reel under pressure, economist Indera Sagewan-Alli is predicting that the hoarding will intensify and the situation will only get worst.

Sagewan-Alli said sourcing US currency at local banks during the last few weeks had proven nothing short of a headache. “Three weeks ago, my husband put in a request for US currency at a bank. Just this week the bank informed him that he would get the US, but only in the form of cheques and in small increments.” The shortage, Sagewan-Alli says, stems from people buying and hoarding US dollars, based on reports that Government plans to depreciate the TT dollar after the summit.

“People fearing the devaluation are choosing to convert their TT dollars into US dollars. They are waiting for that time when they anticipate there would be a devaluation and would be able to make a capital gain.” The buying price for US$1 at commercial banks is $6.30. But Sunday Guardian was reliably informed that some people were paying black market prices—as much as $7—for US$1, because of the short supply. “Those who are hoarding the US are waiting for the best price to sell. As we speak, the hoarding is intensifying. The fear of a devaluation is there, and it’s worsening,” Sagewan-Alli explained.

Sagewan-Alli said if the Central Bank failed to inject more US currency into the economy during the coming weeks, black market prices would soar. “There are no indicators that black market prices would fall.” In light of the fears, Sagewan-Alli is calling on the Central Bank to come clean and tell the public whether the dollar will be devalued. “The Central Bank ought to put the country’s mind at rest.” Sagewan-Alli said the Central Bank’s supply was constrained by its ability to pump US dollars into the system. “Our non-energy capacity to generate foreign exchange through exports is very limited.”

She also commented on RBTT Bank’s, Republic Bank’s, First Citizens’ and the Bank of Baroda’s move to reduce their prime lending rate from 13 to 12.75 per cent in April. While RBTT stated in a published notice its changed rate was concurrent with the decrease in the Central Bank’s repo rate from 8.75 to 8.50, and in keeping with changing market conditions, Sagewan-Alli said the .25 per cent reduction was not good enough. “We need to see lending rates much like what we are seeing around the world, which is one or two per cent and in some cases even less.”

Please also see related FOREX story, ‘Standard & Poor’s: Barbados economic outlook negative, US dollar peg in jeopardy’

Regional: Trinidadians unimpressed with Summit of Americas $500m bill

Via the Trinidad Guardian —

poll apr12

The Fifth Summit of the Americas conference in Trinidad and Tobago, starting Friday, was among the subjects respondents were asked to give their opinion  during a nationwide survey on current issues conducted by the ANSA McAL Psychological Research Centre, UWI, St Augustine, for the Sunday Guardian. A representative random sample of 503 respondents comprised people 18 years and over, with 39 per cent Afro-Trinidadians, 42 per cent Indo-Trinidadians, 18 per cent Mixed Persons and one per cent of indeterminate race. The sample consisted of 48 per cent males.

The man in the street in T&T and the women, too, are looking on amused as Prime Minister Patrick Manning and his government engage in a spending spree of more than $500 million, at last count, to host the 33 visiting heads of state and their entourages for the Summit, which ends Sunday. More than half of the 503 respondents in an ANSA McAL Psychological Research Centre dismiss the Summit as merely an “eye game” opportunity to see US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, in the flesh, walking and talking on T&T soil.

Seeing controversial heads like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is going to be a lagniappe, respondents indicated. A massive 73 per cent of respondents believe the huge financial outlay for Manning and company to hobnob with the movers and shakers of power in the western hemisphere is a distinct waste of time. They passionately feel the money would be better spent on healthcare and education, particularly as the country, despite experiencing an energy bonanza that enriched the Treasury, is now, nevertheless, gripped by the global financial crisis.

A little more than half of the respondents also told the pollsters they were not too interested in the goings-on at the Summit, primarily because few individual citizens would benefit from the Government deciding of its own accord it wanted to take centre stage and play host to the hemisphere’s political leaders. A few, however, saw a silver lining in the Summit cloud, in the sense that we just might be able to get some advice from the distinguished visitors on how to curb the runaway crime wave, as well as how to weather the recessionary onslaught. Asked if they agreed with the amount of money being spent to host the Summit, 73 per cent stressed loudly and clearly they didn’t, 17 per cent approved, while ten per cent had yet to form an opinion.

Trade, tourism to benefit

The minority percentage in favour of the Government taking the bite said the trade and tourism sectors could gain from the venture, and in any event, T&T could not have backed out, having given its word before the advent of the financial crisis, that it would host the Fifth Summit.

One respondent suggested that, in preparing for the Summit, the Government would get a hands-on idea of where the acute needs of the country lie. Another declared: “You have to spend money to make money.” The doubting Thomases who pooh-poohed the huge expenditure being incurred waxed lyrical. “There are too many poor and needy people in the country to waste so much,” said one respondent. “Money should be spent on bettering schools, hospitals, etc,” said another. “America is a bad influence, and we should strive to stay away from them and their values and avoid forming bonds with them,” said another respondent.

On the touchy subject of what benefits could accrue, 43 per cent believed we could gain, while a similar amount also ruled out any advantages coming our way, with 15 per cent stating they had yet to form an opinion. Among those who saw benefits for T&T was a respondent who declared: “It is drawing attention to the country, since Barack Obama is going to be here.” Others predicted our development thrust towards Vision 2020 would get a fillip. Some respondents were a little more wary.

“We will be recognised for the few weeks of the Summit (and) then when it ends, we will be forgotten,” said one respondent. Pressed by the pollsters on how interested they were in the actual hosting of the Summit, 49 per cent of respondents said they were keeping abreast of developments; it was outside the radar of 47 per cent, while four per cent were of no fixed view. “The Summit does not benefit the individuals in this country… no personal benefits for individual citizens,” said one respondent.

Remembering Sam Lord’s Castle: the tragic fairytale of Barbados’ best hotel

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Update: Sam Lord’s Castle destroyed by fire – October 20, 2010

A fire of unknown origin broke out at the historic Sam Lord’s Castle on October 20th, 2010.  Reports indicate that the building was extensively destroyed, leaving only its frame. The Antillean’s original news story is below.
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Here’s a fairy tale for you…

Once upon a time, Barbados was the it country for tourism in the West Indies.

Its economy was strong, its tourism product (honed from early colonial days) was the envy of other islands, and the standard of its accommodation was bar none.

That was then.

Then, as fairy tales go, I stayed in a castle in St. Philip, built by a notorious buccaneer who probably could have never had a clue that the mansion he founded on plunder could one day be one of the greatest hotels in Barbados’ stock. That castle, of course, was Sam Lord’s Castle, a 248 room mixed hotel/villa masterpiece which I and so many other ‘royals’ feel in love with.

That was the heyday of Barbados’ tourism supremacy, when a Bold & Beautiful crew filmed and stayed there, when it was not uncommon to neighbour a noted millionaire beside your immaculate seaside villa – the good days.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, and Sam Lord’s (then owned by Marriot’s) was sold to (presumably) a local company called Grants Hotels Inc. in 2001.

In short order, the quality and standards that seasoned repeat visitors grew accustomed to had gone, the Castle’s debt grew and its coup de grace was its sale to the CLICO Group of Companies in 2005.

The rest, as they say, is history and photos speak louder than words:

That video was yesterday. Let’s rewind to 2005…

Sam Lord’s Castle is set to arise from the ashes of bankruptcy and a two-year closure to once again become one of Barbados’ top hotel properties.

When the transformation of the famous property is complete, it will be one of this island’s largest hotel facilities.

The Sunday Sun has learnt that the 248-room facility would be transformed into a 650-room property – 450 hotel rooms and 200 condos – as part of the $54 million facelift for the historic St Philip hotel.

Leroy Parris, chairman of Clico Holdings Barbados Limited, the company buying the debt-strapped Sam Lord’s property, confirmed the upgrade and said discussions were ongoing to secure international branding for the property through a North American hotel chain¹.

That hasn’t happened yet.

Clico Holdings (Barbados) Ltd’s new Sam Lord’s Castle hotel and condominium venture could be replicated in the rest of the eastern Caribbean if it is a success. This was stated by Leroy Parris, executive chairman of the insurance and finance group, as he spoke at a Press conference held [in 2006] to introduce a new line of Clico insurance products.

Success?

The story continues…

During the question-and-answer period, Parris said he had a “tourism vision” for Clico, but was keeping it “close to his chest” until he had the opportunity to discuss it with executives from Trinidadian parent company CL Financial Ltd².

CL Financial Ltd?

Isn’t Clico Holdings (Barbados) “separate and distinct” from its parent company CL Financial in Trinidad³? The recent drama and PR response coming out of Barbados says as much, yet one can’t help but to  wonder if the failed restoration of Sam Lord’s Castle thus far speaks to a cash issue at home. Some will recall that there was even speculation that Sam Lord’s may be ready for Cricket World Cup 2007, which gives an idea of just how long the Castle was slated to be redeveloped.

Given that Clico touts the Castle among its high value assets which can be easily liquidated if need be, it takes little to imagine that it would not be very sagacious at this time to touch Sam Lord’s if liquidity issues necessitate its future sale by Clico. That said, to be fair, Mr. Parris recently said that Sam Lord’s Castle’s redevelopment is “still on stream”, albeit with no definite timeline and during intense questioning about whether Clico (Barbados) was facing a financial crisis.

I respectfully digress, and take Mr. Parris’ guarantee at face value.

Loving Sam Lord’s Castle as much as I and my fellow guests did, the watch and wait period seems like forever. Indeed, the longer that the Castle remains in ruin will not only be a shame to its legacy and the Barbados tourism product that was, it will also stand as a blight on Clico’s fiscal image at a time when it could ill afford any hint of financial distress.

Standard & Poor’s: Barbados economic outlook negative, US dollar peg in jeopardy

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Sovereign ratings agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has downgraded its outlook on the Barbados economy from “stable” to “negative”¹.

The announcement comes just over a year into the Democratic Labour Party administration led by Prime Minister David Thompson.

Debt and an uncertain Barbados to US dollar peg

In explaining the ratings agency’s decision, S&P analyst Olga Kalinina cited the island’s growing fiscal deficits and the consequent increase in the government debt burden, which she says does not bode well for Barbados’ long-standing commitment to maintain the currency peg.

The Barbados dollar has been pegged to the US dollar at 2:1 since 1975.

Bleaker outlook for 2009 as debt reaches 44% of GDP

S&P expects a bleaker outlook for the remainder of 2009 as real GDP contracts by 2.1% this year, compared to a modest growth of 0.5% in 2008.

Meanwhile, central government’s deficit will reach 5.7% of GDP, and net general government debt will increase to 44% of GDP this year.

The analyst also warns that although the current account deficit will shrink to 6% of GDP in 2009 (down from 11% in 2008, a decline mainly attributable to savings from oil imports), Barbados’ low foreign direct investment and financial account inflows are expected to put pressure on Central Bank reserves.

In this regard, the financing gap is expected to climb to 169% of current account receipts and useable reserves, and the gap is expected to hold at more than 165% for the next three years. The financing gap last stood at 143% in 2007.

Government’s inconsistencies, CLICO and further reserve depletions do not rule out another downgrade – and further pressures on currency peg

Standard & Poor’s stresses that the negative outlook on Barbados reflects the sum total of these growing imbalances, caused primarily by government’s inconsistent fiscal and monetary policy.

Citing the state’s “accommodating fiscal policy” amid the worsening economic situation, Kalinina cautions that the deterioration of the government debt dynamic will necessitate a combination of public sector borrowing, which in turn will lead to international reserve depletion. Ratings will come under further downward pressures if the loss in reserves is higher than expected, which will “intensify pressure” on the currency peg.

S&P will also consider a further downgrade if the economic deterioration puts a strain on the strength of social cohesion, or if the fiscal deterioration (including possible pressures from the CLICO issue²) is more severe than expected.

S&P’s warnings seem eerily similar to those expressed in March by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, who described the Barbados economy today as a “perfect storm”³.

Regional: Abuse of young women fuelling HIV epidemic in Jamaica

Reprinted from the Jamaica Observer, Jamaica —

imageKINGSTON, Jamaica (PANOS) – Tishanna* – diagnosed as HIV positive at age 21 – never knew her father. What she does know is that her great need for love and the abuse meted out by relatives while she was still a small child, has derailed her dreams and changed her life forever.

Now 25, Tishanna was sexually, physically and mentally abused by more than one family member in Kingston, from age six until age 12, when she was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in the United States.

The young woman states that her mother was a busy and hard-working woman who was not always around, and was thus compelled to leave her in the care of relatives. Tishanna was constantly beaten by one uncle and raped by another relative, whom she refuses to name. She never told her mother about the abuse.

The young woman notes that the abuse she endured between ages six and 12 is something she has not forgotten, and that it has shaped the adult she has become.

“It [the abuse] let me grow up to hate men. It made me reckless – I would do anything. I didn’t care if I got hurt. It also pushed me to have sex from an early age. I just did not care who I was having sex with because nobody cared about me.”

Women are vulnerable

In Jamaica, violence against women, especially rape is a matter of grave concern. Sex crimes alone account for 827 of the more than 5,000 major crimes reported between January and September 2008. Rape accounted for more than half (536) of the sex crimes reported between January and September 2008. There were 485 incidents of rape between January and September 2007.
But, in addition to rape, a significant number of women experience other forms of gender-based violence, such as physical violence and sexual coercion.

Like Tishanna, some survivors of violent sexual acts are directly at an increased risk of HIV infection, as traumatic abrasions and lack of lubrication increase the risk of transmission. Sexual violence can also lead to the increased likelihood of high-risk behaviours.

The 2008 UNAIDS country report on Jamaica indicates that violence and abuse remains a serious problem for young people in Jamaica. According to the report, physical and sexual abuse affects roughly one in 10 Jamaican youth.

The report also noted that approximately 11 per cent of respondents reported having been threatened or harassed into having sex by friends (44 per cent), neighbours (17 per cent), relatives (16 per cent), and family friends (13 per cent).

The country report also quotes the most recent Jamaica Reproductive Health Survey (2002), which states that about 20.4 per cent of young women between the ages of 15 and 19 years report having been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point during their life. Overall, one-fifth of Jamaican women have experienced forced sexual intercourse.

Control violence and abuse to fight HIV-AIDS

The issue of violence and abuse remains a critical one in the fight to reduce the spread of HIV, especially among women who may lose the ability and the inclination to negotiate for safer sex.

Kingston-based counselling psychologist with the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre, Faith St Catherine says, “Abuse destroys self-esteem – of anybody. It creates unhealthy dependencies and the feeling that they [the victims] cannot do anything on their own. They do not feel strong enough to negotiate for safe sex and do not feel that they deserve anything good and so they ‘take what they get’. Women have been dis-empowered by years of abuse and feel that dependency is their lot in life.”

St Catherine notes, “Some, when abused over and over again early in their life, learn that the way to get people to love you is to have sex with them. Some appear to be addicted. We find this syndrome in a lot of children who have been sexually abused. They can’t help themselves.”

The primary contributors to the HIV epidemic in Jamaica are said to be socio-cultural, behavioural and economic factors that result in risky behaviours such as multiple sex partners, older men having sex with younger women, and early sexual engagement.

An estimated 1.5 per cent of the adult population of Jamaica is HIV-positive. Men and women between 20 and 39 years old account for 54 per cent of reported AIDS cases in Jamaica. UNAIDS estimates that 25,000 people in Jamaica are living with HIV.

Strong link between abuse and sexual risk-taking

Dr Glenda Simms, Kingston-based consultant on gender issues, says there is a whole body of research connecting abuse and risk-taking behaviour.

“Research shows a significant percentage of prostitutes were violated and sexually abused as children and this has influenced their behaviour as adults. Child abuse distorts natural sexual development, which should have been allowed to proceed normally.”

Concern about economic conditions and cultural traditions, which reduce the power of women and girls to negotiate safe sex, was expressed by Dr Leith Dunn, head, Institute of Gender and Development, University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona.

“Because you have unequal gender roles with women often in subordinate and dependent relationships, they [women] therefore have less power in negotiating safer sex. Safer sex is ensuring that you can use a condom every time.”

She added: “If you are dependent on a man for your economic well-being, you are less likely to demand that he use a condom. Men are also at risk because of the idealised images of masculinity, which dictate that the man should have a lot of women, and can take risk without fear of the consequences. The woman says no, but the man says ‘I am a man and I am entitled’.”

Married women are poor negotiators

Dr Simms is also concerned that married women in Jamaica are one of the larger risk groups for HIV because of cultural constraints.

“Marriage has a certain meaning in this society. The woman is seen as belonging to the man. The man is seen as the master of the woman. Because of that, marriage is seen as this precious institution designed for people to have children – they [women] are not capable of negotiating safe sex even when they suspect the man is playing around. The tragedy is that husbands cheat with women and with men as well.”

Dr Simms claims that married women of all classes in Jamaica are affected.

She is not satisfied that enough is being done for this group.

“We were focusing on the treatment of HIV-AIDS and we not doing enough for prevention. It is not just about condom use. We need to interface with and empower women at all levels about the right to say no. Men also need to be educated that women are not their property, even though this is difficult in our culture.”

In 2007, the Ministry of Health and Environment secured 40 per cent of the funding needed to implement a $200 million, five-year strategy to fight the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Policy helps

The Government of Jamaica recently began implementing its third National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS/STIs, for the years from 2007 to 2011. The plan focuses on achieving universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support.

Marion Scott, Behaviour Change Communications Officer with the Ministry of Health, notes that there are several programmes that are intended to strengthen the ability of women to negotiate safer sex throughout the island. These include interventions for sex workers, and targeted community intervention and intervention at clinics.

“The issue of negotiating for safe sex remains a challenge because there are a lot of economic factors that sustain the vulnerability of women. But our programmes are continuing,” Scott says.

St Catherine notes that women who believe that abuse and dependence is their lot in life come into her office everyday. Despite this, she says, the culture that facilitates violence and abuse, and strips women of negotiating power, is changing.

“It is changing because people are more aware. The laws now say that those who are aware of abuse and do not report it are liable, so people are more likely to intervene on behalf of affected women and children. I have noticed a greater willingness to report and to intervene. We still have a long way to go but the increase in awareness has helped.”

In the meantime, the evidence of what abuse can do manifests in the lives of women like Tishanna, who says that at age 21, when she discovered that she was HIV+, she wanted to kill herself.

“I wanted to die,” she says. “But, I found Jamaica AIDS Support, which gave me reason to what to live again.”

But, Tishanna believes her dreams of becoming a chef will never materialise. She blames her disappointments and misfortunes on her abusive relatives.
To those who are doing the same she says, “You see how nice children are? You need to protect them. What happens to them early can scar them for life.”

Terry Schwarzfeld’s alleged killer charged, sentenced for further tourist crimes

A St. Philip man accused of the murder of Canadian visitor Terry Schwarzfeld today pleaded guilty to five robbery charges which occurred at Long Beach, Christ Church last year.

Curtis Joel Foster, 24, of Wiltshire Avenue, Bayfield, who faced a total of eight charges including rape of a German visitor last July was sentenced to two years imprisonment to run concurrently on each robbery offence.

Foster appeared in the Oistins Magistrate Court before Magistrate Michelle Weekes accused of killing Schwarzfeld who was attacked and struck at the back of the head while walking along Long Beach with her daughter-in-law Luana Cotsman on February 28.

Schwarzfeld subsequently died four days later after she was airlifted to Canada in an unconscious state.

The murder accused was not required to plea to two other indictable offences: robbing Cotsman of over $1240 in cash and articles as well as raping a German visitor at the same beach on July 2.

Five visitors were also among the victims he admitted robbing at Long Beach.

December 11, robbing Annie Goris, a Belgian tourist of over $235 in cash and articles; November 12, robbing English visitor John Barnes of cash and articles valued at over $2159; November 6, robbing Claudine Sesions of cash and articles valued at $2319; April 8, robbing Shelly Legault and Kathy Foster of cash and articles valued at $240. (Source).

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Just two days after Terry Schwarzfeld’s funeral, Barbados authorities are reporting that a suspect is now in custody and will be charged in connection with her murder today. Starcom Network News reports:

Lawmen have made a significant breakthrough in their investigations into the attacks on two Canadian visitors on Long Beach, Christ Church. That incident has resulted in the death in Canada of one of the women – 60 year old, Terry Schwartsfeld. This morning, the Police Public Relations Officer, Station Sergeant Anthony Depeiza says they have a suspect in custody. This after police increased the reward for information to twenty thousand Barbados dollars last week.

Further media details indicate that the suspect is a 24 year old man. Apparently, the man was found with a camera, jewelry and an imitation firearm.

RIP: Terry Schwarzfeld dies after Long Beach attack. Reward doubles to $20,000.

The Antillean expresses its sympathy to the family of Terry Schwarzfeld. Schwarzfeld died today in Canada, after she was attacked on Long Beach in Barbados last month.

The Ottawa Citizen reports:

OTTAWA — Terry Schwarzfeld, the Ottawa woman who was attacked and robbed while on vacation in Barbados last month, has died.

Schwarzfeld and her daughter-in-law, Luana Cotsman, from Guelph, were attacked by a lone man while walking on Long Beach, in the island country’s south end, during the afternoon of Feb. 28.

Schwarzfeld was struck in the back of the head with a hunk of wood. She was flown back to Ottawa, unconscious, and died Wednesday morning.

Cotsman is recovering from her injuries.

The man fled after the attack, and police in the Caribbean country recently announced a reward of $10,000 Barbados dollars (about $6,400) for information leading to his arrest.

Officials are also installing police kiosks at Long Beach, where the attack occurred.

Schwarzfeld was recently elected national president of the Canadian Hadassah-WIZO website, a Jewish woman’s philanthropic organization.

An active member of Ottawa’s Jewish community, Schwarzfeld was an ardent campaigner for women’s rights in Israel.

She is survived by her husband, Stephen Cotsman, and three adult sons: David, Adam and Simon.

Related stories…
$1000 bounty on the head of Terry Schwarzfeld’s attacker
Learning from the Terry Schwarzfeld Case

$10,000 bounty on the head of Terry Schwarzfeld’s attacker

Update – March 18, 2009: Terry Schwarzfeld has died. More…

The Government of Barbados is stepping up its criminal investigation into the attack on Terry Schwarzfeld, the Canadian visitor who was attacked in Barbados on February 28 on Long Beach. Commissioner of Police, Darwin Dottin (pictured), announced in a special press conference today that BDS$10,000 (CDN$ 6,443) is being offered for information leading to the attacker’s arrest, while the Police Force investigates a number of tips coming through on Crimestoppers Barbados.

The Commissioner also outlined plans for increased police presence in tourist areas, mooting the idea of setting up a dedicated Police tourist unit and monitoring all tourist excursions on the island.

The Police Force has also revealed the crime rate against tourists: of 1.2 million visitors to Barbados last year, 242 reported crime against them – a crime rate of 0.02%.

CBC Barbados carries the full report:

The man who robbed and assaulted two Canadians at Long Beach in Christ Church now has a price on his head.

This is part of the plan announced by the police as they launch an all-out offensive against tourist related crime.

He said they have interviewed several persons and have used crime stoppers to help to find the assailant. Shortly they plan to offer a $10,000.00 reward for information leading to the arrest of the Long Beach assailant.

Commissioner Darwin Dottin says the force is not close to solving the Long Beach incident but finding the culprit is now the first order of business.

He has told a press conference that a team of top detectives has been assigned to the case.

Commissioner Dottin has also revealed that the force has come up with a plan for tackling visitor related crime.

It’s entitled policing the Tourism Sector 2009. The plan makes provision for dedicated patrols in tourist frequented areas as well as random visits.

Commissioner Dottin has also revealed that the force will be taking some other serious steps to prevent attacks on visitors.

They include the installation of surveillance cameras at designated sites, the establishment of a special patrol and co-ordination of information on land tours.

Commissioner Dottin says he has met with the diplomatic corps and has assured the members that Barbados is still a safe country and the crime rate remains one of the lowest in the region¹.

Earlier in the day, the Government also outlined plans for stepped up security on Long Beach. Already, potential hiding areas have been cleared and there has been a marked increase in police patrols. The Nation newspaper reports:

Stepped beach patrols have been put into effect at Long Beach, Christ Church, where an unknown attacker beat up two Canadian tourists, one of whom is said to be in poor condition.

Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy and Member of Parliament for the area, Dr Denis Lowe, visited the location yesterday and spoke of plans to make it more secure.

There will be also a general debushing of the area and police kiosks will be set up.

Sealy said clearing up the area would be tackled sensitively, since most of the vegetation was there to prevent beach erosion.

The tour of Long Beach was prompted by the attack on Canadian tourists Terry Schwarzfeld and her daughter-in-law Luana Cotsman while taking a walk on the beach around 4:30 p.m. on February 28.

Schwarzfeld, 60, who was on vacation with her husband and other family members, suffered serious head injuries and was airlifted back to Canada. To date she is still in an unconscious state and doctors say her prognosis is “poor”.

Sealy deemed it an extremely unfortunate incident, adding his and Lowe’s major concern was for Schwarzfeld, her daughter-in-law Cotsman and their family at this critical time of their lives.

Lowe, who also lives in the area, said the incident further showed the need for greater vigilance in areas where tourists came to find rest and relaxation.

He said however, it was encouraging to hear the husband Stephen Cotsman still speaking positively of Barbados.

Cotsman, in an interview with an Ottawan newspaper, said for the past six years they had stayed at the same condo in Barbados.

He said he and his wife had walked the beach at least 50 times and never felt uncomfortable or threatened.

Last week Thursday the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs cautioned visitors “to avoid unattended or isolated areas, including beaches, at any time”.

“Travellers should be particularly vigilant when using Long Beach, where incidents have been reported,” the department added.

Police public relations officer Station Sergeant Anthony Depieza said extensive investigations were in progress.

“We have questioned a number of persons and have been following up a number of leads as we hope to bring the perpetrator to justice as soon as possible.”

Assistant Superintendent Lybron Sobers of the Oistins Police Station Lybron has confirmed there were a number of attacks in the area over the past months, mainly during the day and on women².

Members of the public, tourism stakeholders and the diplomatic corps have been reassured that The Government of Barbados and The Royal Barbados Police Force remain committed to solving this case, and protecting all visitors to Barbados from crime – rare though it may be.

Barbados’ chief prosecutor dismisses case against arrested journalists

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Charles Leacock, has ordered that charges brought last December against two media workers in Barbados be dropped (related story). Photojournalists Jimmy Gittens and Cherie Pitt were arrested on December 20 while in pursuit of a story.

The media workers were at the time attempting to take photographs of a police constable on drugs charges when an altercation occurred with officers on duty at the compound of the Central Police Station in the capital.

Pitt, 30, a photographer with the Nation newspaper was subsequently charged with resisting and assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duties, while Gittens, 36, a freelance videographer with the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was charged with obstructing an officer in the execution of his duties.

The duo had been released on bail, pending their return to court on May 11.

However, after reviewing the court file, the DPP has ordered that all charges against the two be dropped.

“I do hereby order that all criminal proceedings (against Pitt and Gittens) be discontinued,” said the DPP in his official communication on the matter dated March 5.

The media case had generated much public outcry and was met with a unified stance by local media workers backed up by their companies.

Pitt and Aimey’s arrest stirred outcry in the local blogosphere, with Global Voices covering the reactions for the world, translating blogs into every major world language. Police and press interaction has occasionally been antagonistic in Barbados, though recent dialogue between the BAJ and the Royal Barbados Police Force seems – for the time being – to show promise in improving relations.

Learning from the Terry Schwarzfeld case

photo terry low res
New details: Terry Schwarzfeld died on March 18, 2009 (More…). Barbados police question trio in relation to Schwarzfeld attack… Police confirm that there have been a number of attacks in the area in the past months, mostly in daytime and involving (local) women… Government implements beach patrols, police kiosks, debushing and more… Minister expresses concern for families… police say there are a number of leads (link)

Unlike the government-led response that followed in the wake of a violent double murder in Antigua¹, Barbados’ response to the Terry Schwarzfeld case has barely made a blip in local and international headlines, save for comments from Canadian² and Barbadian diplomats attesting to Barbados’ safety.

While it is true that Barbados can ill afford negative publicity at a time when government is looking to the Canadian market to shore up tourism revenues, the perception of silence on government’s end – whether real or imagined – is even more devastating from a public relations point of view, if all that potential tourists have to go on is conjecture from less informed sources.

Since Schwarzfeld’s attack the Ottawa Citizen has been among a handful of media outlets in Canada giving frequent updates on Terry’s condition, with some none-too-flattering portrayals of Barbados. One such story comes from Kathy Fischer, another Canadian who was attacked on Long Beach last year, who tells the Citizen that there is a systematic cover up of “brutal” crimes against tourists in Barbados:

Anybody I talk to, if I hear they’re going to Barbados, I try to warn them… every time you mentioned it, there were more brutal reports that came in. It’s very prevalent and it’s being so well covered up.³

Fischer believes this, even in light of her admission that the Barbadian authorities did all in their power to reassure her and make her remaining days in Barbados as comfortable as possible:

Fischer and [her companion] were put up at the best hotel in Bridgetown. Everybody on the island seemed to want to be helpful, she said, including the two detectives assigned to the case. “They were extremely nice to us, but we always just kind of got the sense that it was caretaking until we left”, she claims.

Nothing short of billboards, daily news bulletins and the eventual capture and crucifixion of her attacker could have pleased Fischer at the time, it seems, but that is her prerogative as a victim of crime, and her point of view is understandable. What Barbados can not allow, however, is for these sentiments to be all that our potential visitors have to go on: reading the accounts of victims can only make the readers feel like victims themselves.

What Barbados should have done then, and should do now, is to engage with the media openly, in addition to the “behind the scenes” diplomacy and one-on-one family support that has traditionally been the status quo in cases such as these. Speaking directly to the affected market (as Antigua did with the UK press) is infinitely better than allowing subjectivity to fill the void.

The fact is this: Barbados has the safest profile of all its Caribbean neighbours in domestic crime, especially crimes against tourists. The Ottawa Citizen itself, under the subheading ‘Trouble in Barbados’, could only cite 2006 as the latest crime against a tourist who, incidentally, was raped by another tourist.  Allegations of cover ups are seemingly impossible to prove, but when one objectively considers that not even secret extra-spousal affairs stay private in this tiny island, “brutal crimes” against tourists cannot exist with any frequency and escape the snares of the local grapevine, empowered with internet blogs, anonymous forums and the like. Few of these reports exist.

All crime is regrettable and the cases of Kathy Fischer and Terry Schwarzfeld are heartbreaking for all Barbadians. The falloff in visitor confidence if these cases are badly handled is even more so. The rarity of crime against tourists should not be an excuse to use old methods of diplomacy at a time when anyone with a computer can script Barbados’ media relations for it, if Barbados does not do it for itself. Now is the time for Government to respond to the fears being stirred in the external media, and clearly name the “no go” areas in Barbados, even if it means admitting that this paradise is not perfect.

Take action: Do you know anything about Terry Schwarzfeld’s attacker? Report it anonymously to Crime Stoppers here.

Central Bank of Barbados: Another $100,000 in new bills missing.

▪ Related story… $1.4m stolen from Central Bank of Barbados

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The hunt is on for more hundred dollar bills which went missing from the Central Bank of Barbados last month after this country’s largest heist.

The Bank has revealed that on-going inventory checks have discovered a further missing bundle of the brand new $100 notes.

The total value of the missing notes is BDS$100,000.

In a press release issued on Monday, the Central Bank said that the Royal Barbados Police Force has also been notified about the missing bills.

They bear serial numbers from E 2132001 through to E 21343000.

The serial numbers of all the missing notes, including those recovered to date, are E22515001 – E22517000; E22521001 – E22522000; E22525001- E22529000; E22530001- E22537000; and E21342001- E21343000.

“A democracy with caveats”: police aggression against journalists in Barbados

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It is textbook in its simplicity: a police officer sworn “to serve and protect” makes his way to a court appearance charged with possession and trafficking of cocaine, while journalists arrive to take photos for the press. Simple? Not in Barbados. For, in Barbados, this ‘oasis of calm in an otherwise troubled world’, two journalists now await trial after a brutish arrest in their line of duty[¹]. Welcome to Barbados, a democracy with caveats.

Reactions around Barbados

“Commissioner Dottin has once again promised to have some sort of investigation or inquiry into the incident – the same as he always promises whenever the police shoot an unarmed citizen in the back of the head or beat up working reporters.”

Barbados Police Out Of Control – Journalists Arrested For Reporting On Crooked Cops – Call For Commissioner’s Resignation (Barbados Free Press)

“It feels like there is a creeping disrespect for journalism and it’s coming from all sides.”

Barbados Media Personnel Urged To Support Colleagues In The Face Of Police Harassment (Barbados Underground)

“The action of the Police force in this matter reeks of the Gestapo tactics which takes place in Zimbabwe and other oppressive dictatorships around the world.”

“Royal Barbados Police Force Making my Ass Sick” (Peter Boyce)

Support our journalists

Show your support for the arrested journalists by attending their court hearing tomorrow, December 22, at the District A Criminal Court at 0900.

$1.4 million in cash stolen from the Central Bank of Barbados

What is believed to be a massive theft has taken place at the Central Bank.

About $1.4 million comprising brand new $100 notes has disappeared from the top financial institution located within the Tom Adams Financial Centre, Church Village, in The City.

The Central Bank went public yesterday about the missing $100 notes, adding that police had been called in to investigate what could be the island’s biggest heist.

The sum missing was not disclosed by the bank, but sources close to the investigation confirmed that the missing amount was more than $1 million.

According to the statement from the bank, the $100 notes bore serial numbers ranging from E22515001 through to E22517000, E22521001 to E22522000, E22525001 to E22529000 and E22530001 to E22537000.

The money was discovered missing on October 30, 2008.

Stressing that the notes might already be in circulation, the Central Bank called on the public to help solve the matter.

“Members of the public who come into possession of any of the notes with serial numbers in the range indicated above should not negotiate the notes, but bring them directly to the Central Bank. The bank will exchange the notes for other new notes,” it said.

Promising to keep the public abreast of any further developments in the matter, the bank said it was advised “to exercise some restraint in releasing more detailed information at this time, so as not to compromise the investigation”.

In light of this incident, the Central Bank said it had launched an “immediate audit and evaluation of the systems and processes currently being used”, and was “conducting a full assessment of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the notes”.

Update 19/11/2008: Corey Rock, a vault attendant aged 25 of Ashton Hall, St. Peter has been charged in relation to this case… See related news story

Update 21/11/2008: Shawn Durand Hurst and Shawn Antonio Rollins, 21 and 35 years respectively, have been charged with handling stolen property and money laundering… See related news story

Rock Hall Freedom Village: Last remaining slave hut wrecked by EPA

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Via Liesl Harewood, Guest writer —

I have had the privilege of discovering the village of Rock Hall, St. Thomas over the past three months as I engaged in an agro-tourism consultancy. Perhaps it is my recent involvement with the community that caused me to take the demolition of the building highlighted in the Weekend Nation, October 31, 2008 to heart. I even recall the thrill I felt on the afternoon I “discovered” what some persons indicated was indeed one of the last remaining structures from that time – others argued that there were no such structures left.  I took pictures as if this building was my personal treasure. That magical moment of reflection and marvel about the struggles of those before us will never be experienced by others or future generations. Thanks a lot. In fact, the area of Rock Hall is earmarked as a UNESCO world Heritage Site, but who cares right?

Imagine me, a newcomer to Rock Hall, feeling this pain. What about the residents, and furthermore those born and bred there? Barbados needs to wake up and realize that we cannot keep destroying our architectural heritage and replacing it with condos and villas. All that glitters is not gold. The government needs to be held accountable for its actions, because for too long we sit back, complain, and move on.

My questions are simple. Is the government now completely ignoring the Freedom Village initiative that was earmarked for Rock Hall? Millions of dollars spent on a Freedom Monument (so you create something new), but then that actual relic and artifact that is indigenous to the times of post-emancipation (the house), you destroy? What will it be replaced by? It is not beachfront property so that rules out a condominium. Is simply erecting the statue the end of the Freedom Village project? Where is the bridge connecting the main road to the statue? And the kiosks, museum, amphitheatre that were earmarked for this project? Surely you cannot be going ahead with this project if you have now destroyed a relic and one of the last remaining ties and reminders of the accomplishment of our ancestors. Let us keep putting National Trust signs on the plantation houses and great houses, but a house built by a freed person, on land bequeathed to him by a plantation owner in the first free village on the island — let’s destroy it.

On CSME, the harsh reality is – Barbados can’t do without it

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Amidst the criticisms of the Caribbean Single Market & Economy and the nationalistic loathing visited upon it by opinionists in the region, it behooves us to take a cogent look at our current situation as isolated small island developing states and realize that (1) no one cares about the West Indies, but the West Indies and (2) we are far too small to even contemplate being so nationalistic that we think we can do without others – especially our Caribbean neighbours.

The nation state is dead. Long live the nation state!

State-centric rhetoric that put nationhood before all else, shunned foreigners and projected national interests at all costs have their place in the annals of international relations’ history and no where else – not least in the Caribbean. Economic crises loom in the North and will shortly visit the South, Caribbean populations meanwhile – seemingly oblivious – continue to surge, while the borders we are so keen to protect and insulate from ‘foreigners’ (read: West Indians) are bursting at the seems with involuntarily unemployed and highly-skilled nationals who can hardly find work in some of the more well-off territories, a case which is particularly pronounced in Barbados.

That Barbadians then should seek to take such a cut and dry approach to any discussion on the CSME is as disappointing as it is ahistoric. Its two greatest leaders, Errol Walton Barrow – “the Father of Independence” – and Grantley Adams, the President of the West Indies Federation, were staunch regionalists, and it takes little to imagine that they are now both rolling in their graves at the temerity of modern-era Barbadians who appear to despise the very thought of a closer regional union.

Clinging to a thinly-woven fabric of a Barbadiana gone by, some Barbadians now choose to be ignorant of the lessons of the failed Federation, when a then-prosperous and arrogant Jamaica dismissed regional union – only to suffer an unfortunate turn of fate that now sees it woefully trailing its neighbours in Human Development indices and socioeconomic development. Not only are they blind to history, but appear to believe that Barbados is immune to a similar fate and that, even in the midst of global turmoil, Barbados needs no one, especially not the West Indies.

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A taboo critique of the CSME: We’ve had enough anti Barbadian rhetoric

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When Ralph Gonzales could cite the Revised Treaty of Chaguramus in declaring that David Thompson went ‘against the spirit of the regional integration movement’ by asking employers to give first preference to Barbadians seeking jobs in their own back yard, one must critically ask by what measure is the Prime Minister of Barbados (and the Prime Minister of Barbados alone) judged when it becomes remiss of him to put Barbadian interests first before those of sovereign CARICOM states.

Update: This issue has been revived since Barbados’ announcement in 2009 of a new immigration policy and Ralph Gonzalves’ subsequent rebuke of Barbados for its alleged discriminatory, anti-CARICOM practices. Readers are urged to apprise themselves of the more recent developments regarding the Thompson administration and CARICOM.

When Caribbean leaders could invent a mechanism in whose name a Vincentian Prime Minister could chide a Barbadian Prime Minister for urging his private sector to give first preference to Barbadians for Barbadian jobs [¹], then it is clear that that mechanism is flawed.

Yet, curiously, such an utterance is taboo in political circles. That mechanism, the Caribbean Single Market & Economy, has been sacrosanct to the Arthur administration for almost a decade, and it is yet uncertain whether it will continue to enjoy the same reverence under the new David Thompson administration – change touters be damned.

The narrative surrounding the CSME is, for all intents and purposes, heartwarming. As if penned by J. K. Rowling herself, its fanciful rhetoric seeks to convince us that a regional union is the end of all the problems we now singularly face as insular small island developing states. We will negotiate as one, we will trade as one, we will hang our criminals as one and yet, no one is willing to compromise their national interests to the full extent needed to enact this beguiling “One Caribbean” ideal. And it appears that no one is expected to, except Barbados.

The facts speak for themselves. The piecemeal adoption of the CSME has been led mostly by Barbados – with former Prime Minister Owen Arthur pursuing it with almost spartanic furore, albeit with no one else. The Caribbean Court of Justice, the supreme court of appeal which is to replace Her Majesty’s Privy Council, is supported only by Barbados and Guyana. Trinidad, the country in which the court sits, retains the Privy Council while Jamaica is still trying to figure out whether the CCJ is even constitutional. The single monetary policy continues to be fraught with ‘dialogue’ and ‘debate’, while few other tenets of the arrangement ever seem palatable to the other CARICOM member states. Few tenets that is, except for the Free Movement of Persons Act.

There, around the clause of free movement, near every government stands united in agreement that it is their privilege – nay, their right – to have their nationals roam, live and settle in the states around them, notwithstanding the institutional incapacity of receiving states to handle a deluge of new migrants and their demands on social services, and not nearly considering the possibility of the emergence of sub-societies and worsened social exclusion within states with particularly high numbers of new migrants.

Notwithstanding the passions that may rally some to defend it, the social and economic merits of the free movement of persons depend on three assumptions being generally applicable across member countries. First, there has to be the assumption that there is excess skill chasing too few jobs at home, giving local labour the impetus to emigrate. Second, one must also assume that there will be sufficient jobs in the receiving state to meet the demand created by new job-seeking migrants (notwithstanding the fact that this is mutually exclusive with the first assumption), and third, it must also assume that no one state’s nationals would be more inclined to emigrate than another’s, ergo creating a situation in which one state observes disproportionately more inward migration than outward, and that migration patterns will be more or less comparable among member-states – Haiti (when it eventually acquiesces), included.

As absurd as it would be to argue that these assumptions apply evenly to all member states, it would be equally absurd to assume that Barbados – with its stronger currency and social welfare novelties – would not experience a disproportionate level of immigration versus emigration, to the detriment of its native population. For all these reasons, Prime Minister Thompson is beyond criticism, especially if CARICOM presses on with its original target to allow free movement of all community members within the region by 2009[²].

When Ralph Gonzales could cite the Revised Treaty of Chaguramus in declaring that Thompson went “against the spirit of the regional integration movement” by asking employers to give first preference to Barbadians seeking jobs in their own back yard, one must critically ask by what measure is the Prime Minister of Barbados – and the Prime Minister of Barbados alone – judged when it becomes remiss of him to put Barbadian interests first before those of sovereign CARICOM states. Having been elected to office through the hopes of Barbados’ unemployed youth, the working poor and tomorrow’s pensioners, this ambiguous doctrine of regionalism now places Thompson in breach of his oath by condemning a practice which disenfranchises the very Barbadians who elected him.

Far be it from David Thompson to put his island’s interests before CARICOM – after all, he is no Ralph Gonzales. With US$7 million in Iranian aid, Gonzales – in his other regional headline this week – has defended his country’s friendship with Iran, even in the absence of diplomatic relations with Tehran from other member states. Ironically, that runs contrary to a CARICOM tenet of coordinated and cooperative foreign policy, but alas, for others self-interest is not taboo.

Glorious uncertainties in Prime Minister Thompson’s budget

David ThompsonLike a cautious batsman on a sticky wicket, Prime Minister David Thompson today began his first budget presentation to the people of Barbados by framing the island’s economic outlook for 2008-2009 within the context of a lethargic global economy. Indeed, he had no other choice.

Based on current estimates, Barbados’ economic growth is expected to peak at 2.5% in 2009, limited by an inflation rate that is set to reach 7.9% by year-end, while public debt is to rise to almost 8% of the Gross Domestic Product. Figures, he says, are subject to review if the global economy performs even more poorly. In other bleak news, the trade deficit is set to increase due to a surfeit of local manufacturing output, while tourism and other key sectors are also expected to see declines.

Labeling this budget as one of restraint, the Prime Minister made it clear that this was not to be the typical ‘honeymoon’ budget of previous incoming governments, while at the same time curiously unveiling incomprehensible plans such as building port facilities for private jets and ships in the north of the island, as well as plans to reclaim land from the Caribbean Sea in a bid to address increasing shortages on the mainland. Indeed, the budget of restraint was, in many ways, very unrestrained; it came to include all the key buzzwords and concepts from a development textbook, while being overly optimistic about the island’s financial ability to meet them. Yet, this remains a feature of all budgets; grand projects with grand ideals, often emotive and compelling, thrown in to inspire awe and suggest moves to ‘modernity’ which we are largely ill-prepared to take.

In the end however, this budget will not be remembered for what it can’t deliver. David Thompson has managed to tap into the pulse of the people in a way that the former administration somehow forgot how to, addressing – on paper – the key issues of social and economic concern for the majority of Barbadians. Indeed, he has boasted of his success with ‘participatory governance’, having held extensive focus group discussions with Barbadians to gauge the public’s concerns and perceived needs.

Key elements of the budget are as follows:

  • Controversial capital-intensive highway flyovers – a hand-me-down from the previous administration – have been canceled.
  • Integrity and freedom of information legislation is actively being developed by a cross-sectoral board of advisors.
  • Statistical collection methodologies are to be modernized through technical assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank, with the aim of producing new, accurate data on controversial unemployment and public debt figures.
  • Affordable access to higher education is further being facilitated through an increase of over 300% on loan amounts from the Student Revolving Loan Fund, while repayment periods are to be extended to 30 years, with an interest rate fixed at 1.5% above prevailing bank savings rate.
  • Free public transportation for school children has also been introduced – both as a means to cull the divisive ‘minibus culture’ and reduce costs to poor families. Projected savings start from a minimum of $400 per annum for single-child families.
  • The National Housing Corporation is being put on target to provide 2,000 low income housing solutions per year. Meanwhile Value Added Tax on building materials will also be refunded to first-time home buyers with a gross income of up to $42,000 and for houses up to a value of $150,00, in a creative means-tested approach of alleviating the high costs involved in home ownership.
  • Foreign land ownership has been banned from Pico Teneriffe in the North to Skeete’s Bay in the South in a move to ‘protect the patrimony of Barbadians’. Tourism development is to continue when it is not deemed to be ‘in conflict with the aspirations of the population’.
  • Government is expected to liquidate $200m worth of shares in the Insurance Corporation of Barbados and the Barbados National Bank to fund the expansion of the Queen Elizabeth hospital. Further fundraising is expected to be sought through philanthropic donations and corporate sponsorship.
  • Government’s income is to be shored up by increased tax rates on banks, insurance companies and new-car dealerships, as well as tax hikes on lottery winnings, alcohol, tobacco products, road and license taxes and a monthly tax on mobile phone top-ups.
  • New taxes will add $104m to the Treasury, while benefits are expected to cost $82m, leaving a net revenue gain of $22m.

While moderately impressive on paper, it remains left to be seen what impact these new amendments will have on the cost and quality of living in Barbados in the trying times ahead, even as fears are already mounting that newly heavily-taxed companies will pass on increases to consumers, thus negating any dent in living costs.

Through hiking taxes on key services, increasing demand on an already-ailing public transportation system, expanding social services in a time of economic restraint and increasing cost burdens on the private sector, uncertainty prevails among skeptics as to whether this seemingly all-encompassing budget will live up to its mandate to deliver relief where it really counts.

Prime Minister’s budget speech 2008

New cabinet announced by Prime Minister Thompson

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Update: PM Thompson to announce Cabinet reshuffle, November 22, 2008 |
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Below is the full list of cabinet members. There has been no mention of Deputy Prime Minister, and it appears the Social Transformation Ministry has been disbanded, with new ministries of Community Development, Social Care and Family being created.

Hon. David Thompson – Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Economic Affairs and Development, Labour, Civil Service and Energy.

Hon. Freundel Stuart – Attorney-General and Minister of Home Affairs.

Hon. Christopher Sinckler – Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Business.

Hon. Donville Inniss – Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and International Business.

Hon. Dr. David Estwick – Minister of Health, National Insurance and Social Security.

Hon. Ronald Jones – Minister of Education and Human Resource Development.

Hon. Dr. Denis Lowe – Minister of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Urban Development.

Hon. Patrick Todd – Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Urban Development.

Hon. Richard Sealy – Minister of Tourism.

Senator Haynesley Benn – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Hon. George Hutson – Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce.

Hon. Michael Lashley – Minister of Housing and Lands.

Hon. Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo – Minister of Family, Youth Affairs, Sports and the Environment.

Hon. Steve Blackett – Minister of Community Development and Culture.

Hon. John Boyce – Minister of Transport, Works and International Business.

Senator Maxine McClean - Leader of Government Business and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Senator Darcy Boyce - Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office with special responsibility for Finance and Energy.

Senator Arni Walters - Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office with special responsibility for Employment, Labour Relations and the Social Partnership.

Barbados election results 2008: former opposition Democratic Labour Party to form new government in a 20-10 parliamentary split.

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Update – Barbados time – Recounted constituencies have gone to the Barbados Labour Party as expected. The final split of parliament is as predicted ealier; twenty to the Democratic Labour Party, ten to the Barbados Labour Party. Result commentary is here.
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The results of the 2008 General Elections in Barbados are in and the former opposition Democratic Labour Party has clearly won twenty (20) seats in parliament, with the Barbados Labour Party clearly winning eight (8). Two constituencies, St. Andrew and St. Joseph, are pending a recount and are expected to go to the Barbados Labour Party to bring their tally to ten (10) seats. The Prime Minister-elect is The Hon. David Thompson, who will lead Barbados into the next five years.

The Bajan Dream Project has provided real-time results throughout the vote counting process, and we thank our five hundred odd visitors who chose us as their source for Barbados Election Results 2008. Commentary and other updates are to follow later in the day, with our hopes for Barbados under this new administration and commentary on today’s results. Thank you for linking to us today.

Click below for complete results.

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Family dead as apartment collapses into underground cave in Brittons Hill, Barbados

Officials of Miami-Dade search and rescue on the scene of the incident. On Monday, Attorney General Dale Marshall declared the switch from rescue to recovery mode, after cadaver dogs detected bodies in two areas of the cave. Rescue dogs have found no signs of life. It is highly unlikely that any of the family members survived, coming on to 48 hours since being trapped underground. Reports are that the family could be buried some 50 to 100 feet underground. Monday, 8/27/07. 20:00 Barbados time.

Brittons Hill Apartment

Brittons Hill Apartment
Remains of the apartment building after a section collapsed into an underground cave in Brittons Hill, St. Michael, trapping a family of five.

Efforts have shifted from rescue to recovery, though no bodies have been recovered as yet.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the individuals involved in the building collapse at Brittons Hill, St. Michael today.

A section of the apartment building pictured above collapsed at 4 a.m. this morning into an underground cave, trapping a family of five.

Recovery of a vehicle from the sunken garage. Compliments Voice of Barbados.

Up to the time of this post (1900), the family has not been retrieved.

A specialist search and rescue team is scheduled to arrive from the United States to assist in the recovery efforts.

The Prime Minister, members of cabinet, search and rescue officials and community members are to be lauded for their diligent efforts today, and we continue to hope and pray for the recovery of the family, and answers to the many unanswered questions surrounding this incident.

Where do women fit into Barbados’ poverty situation?

Via Nalita Gajadhar, National Organisation of Women, Barbados —

Barbados is a small country in the Caribbean, with a population of 250,000. Our Government statistical department reports that there are about 30 percent of the population living in “poverty”. Poverty has been defined here by the quality of housing, inborne toilet facilities, access to electricity and water.Over the past two years, the Government has placed on its agenda “Poverty Alleviation”, which has now moved to “Poverty Eradication”. To solve some of the problems identified, like inadequate housing, a Committee was established called the Poverty Alleviation Committee which allowed, in theory, for quick response to the public with urgent needs. This committee will assist with housing and the provision of immediate needs.

Another committee established was the Urban and Rural Development Commission. Here members of the public can again apply for immediate assistance to housing, and similar emergencies. There is also a component which will assist with small loans for the creation of micro businesses.

There has also been attempts by Government to provide money to Community Based Organisations that have skill training components to assist with the issue of poverty in the community.

It is, however, my opinion that there is a reluctance to admit that to solve the problems of poverty one must first tackle the issue of women in their reproductive age, providing them with life skills, issues of self-esteem and further opportunities for education to break the cycle of poverty.

A large number of Barbadian households are headed by single women, and within them is a large percentage of children with multiple fathers, (one mother, six children, seven fathers). New pregnancies from new relationships are seen as opportunities to get support for the children of old relationships and the very serious and tragic cycle continues, as the young girls in these homes usually start having children in their teens as a result of early sexual relationships to “alleviate” their economic hardship. Education of these young people is critical to end this cycle.

I should state that education up to tertiary level is free for every one in Barbados. Yet a large number of our students are leaving schools with out any level of certification. The students who are in most need for a number of reasons which must be clear to you fall through the very large cracks in the system.

In the area of housing there is a need for the creation of special development areas, this area not defined geographically, but defined by other means can give many women the opportunity to raise the standard of living.

Historically, Barbadian women have always endeavored to own their own homes, and over the years many homes have passed from one generation to the other, however, the houses are quick to fall into a state of disrepair if there is not adequate income to maintain the home. Policy to assist these home owners by providing some concessions and discounts for repairs will greatly assist these people who are not able to benefit from claims on tax refunds for mortgage interest and home repairs.

Teen pregnancy must be tackled seriously as this too contributes to the cycle of poverty. I must say that although it is not considered a serious problem, the consequence and the contribution to the level of poverty makes this issue serious.

Students are permitted to return to schools after their pregnancy but a large number of them do not and are not encouraged to do so even though the law states that children must be in schools until age 16. The development of a facility which takes into consideration the needs of this group will greatly assist in solving some of the problems.

Employment opportunities are very few for women without education. Efforts have been made to attract foreign business to the country but in the main areas have been in data processing where the wages are extremely low and the conditions of work to say the least, challenging. At the international level and with the move towards globalisation and free trade, policy and rules must also take into account the actions of these companies who leave their countries where certain rules and conditions apply and go into “less developed” countries and ignore not only the rules of their own country but try to break or ignore the local rules, labour laws and rights of workers to join unions.

In the most part our people will not call themselves poor, and it is my observation that a large number of them will wait until they are very desperate before appealing for welfare assistance, and even when they do so they appeal only for assistance to send their children to school.

Welfare assistance then is given way too late, and taken away as soon as the women make attempts to make their lives better by trying to find some kind of work. There needs to be a “weaning” period from welfare, and there is also a need for the department to look at its methods of assessment of clients.