Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sexual assault in Bahamas 'has reached unacceptable heights'

By ALESHA CADET:


WHILE the number of reported rape cases in the Bahamas is increasing, convictions of sexual offenders are not, according to the Bahamas Crisis Centre.

Dr Sandra Dean Patterson, director of the Centre, told The Tribune that sexual assault in the Bahamas has reached "unacceptable heights."

"Rape has almost become endemic in our society," she said.

Donna Nicolls, a counsellor at the Centre added: "There is certainly an increase in the number reported because of the advocacy and the laws. There are also cases that came to our attention that are not being reported - that goes without saying."

"We see a lot of the results now of the rapes and molestation that have never been documented because of fear.

"What is not happening is convictions. I personally get excited when I see convictions.

"But the women are choosing to not go through the legal process, the process is demeaning," Mrs Nicolls said.

According to Dr Patterson, the system for dealing with sex crimes has to be improved. Victims currently wait up to eight years to get justice, she pointed out.

"We have to do more to address it. It is very important that people be charged."

Head of the Central Detective Unit (CDU) Asst Supt Leon Bethel told The Tribune that sexual offences are difficult to police and investigate.

"As long as the matter comes to us we investigate it and send them to court, (but) is hard to police sexual intercourse, it normally happens behind closed doors," he said. "It is a manifestation to what is going on in the society."

According to Assistant Superintendent Moxey, head of the CDU's Technology Management Section: "The basic approach we have is an educational awareness programme.

"In addition we are trying to put the persons before the court. The penalties are stiff, the laws are adequate," he said.

ASP Moxey told The Tribune one of the biggest areas of concern in recent years has been sex crimes committed by minors, but the police's efforts to speak with and educate students seem to be having a positive impact.

"We cannot eradicate it totally, but we can have the problem reduced to a minimum through educational changes," he said.

March 31, 2010

tribune242

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The secrecy of the Commonwealth Secretariat: Time for reform

By Andrew Smith, (Intern, Human Rights Advocacy Programme, CHRI):


After more than 60 years in existence, the Commonwealth Secretariat (the Secretariat) continues to operate in an environment of secrecy, largely insulated from public scrutiny and the full involvement of civil society organisations.

Over a decade has passed since the right of access to information was recognised as ‘legal’ and ‘enforceable’ at the 1999 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Its importance has since been reiterated at the 2007 CHOGM and Commonwealth bodies have described it as “fundamental” and “a cornerstone of democracy and good governance.” A model law has also been drafted to assist domestic legislators.

However, the Secretariat’s own information disclosure practices fall far short of international standards. Comparable organisations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Union and the Council of Europe have all adopted comprehensive access to information policies with many progressive provisions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is currently reforming its disclosure policy.

The comparison highlights that the Secretariat’s disclosure practices do not adhere to international best practice standards, that they do not adequately serve its goals of democracy, freedom and sustainable development and that the need for reform is urgent.

Most interstate policies adopt strong object clauses, affirming their commitment to access to information as a fundamental human right. Further to this, their common aim is to maximise the ‘effectiveness’, ‘quality’ and ‘legitimacy’ of their organisation’s output through increased transparency, civic engagement and accountability.

The World Bank states that its commitment to openness is “driven by a desire to foster public ownership, partnership, and participation in operations and is central to achieving the Bank’s mission to alleviate poverty and to improve the design and implementation of their projects and policies.”

The European Union reflects this sentiment, emphasising the importance of openness in its democratic system. As publicly funded organisations, they recognise the democratic right of their stakeholders to hold them to account.

The UNDP identifies its stakeholders as the parliaments, tax payers and public of their donor and programme countries.

The World Bank and IMF both report increased demand for accountability following the financial crisis, the former promising to hold itself to the same human rights standards it expects of its member states.

The Secretariat is a publicly funded body mandated to act in the ‘common interest of the people’. As such it must adopt an access to informational policy which facilitates civic engagement and accountability. This will increase the legitimacy of the Secretariat as a democratic organisation and improve the effectiveness of its policy outcomes.

The rhetoric of the object clauses are mostly supported by substantive policy provisions. Whilst not entirely compliant with international standards, they are substantially more progressive than the Secretariat’s practices.

The Secretariat currently operates a ‘positive list’ approach to disclosure, voluntarily publishing a limited range of documents on its website on a routine basis. Documents include ministerial communiqués, commonwealth declarations, newsletters, speeches, statements, reports and strategic documents.

This discretionary ‘positive list’ policy presumes the confidentiality of undisclosed documents without considering the nature of the information’s content or the interests at stake. All of the aforementioned interstate organisations have abandoned ‘positive lists’ in favour of the principle of ‘maximum disclosure’.

The World Bank regards this as the ‘paradigm shift’ in its policy whilst the Council of Europe explains that now “transparency is the rule and confidentiality the exception.”

The principle of maximum disclosure is formulated to maximise the availability of information, guaranteeing access to information as a fundamental human right. The principle has two features.

Firstly it presumes that all information is eligible for disclosure on request, unless specified under the exemption schedules.

Secondly, there must be an obligation to routinely publish a specified list of documents. Applying this obligation to as broad a range of documents as possible at various developmental stages facilitates civil society involvement whilst reducing the costs associated with information requests. All of the aforementioned policies comply with both features of the maximum disclosure principle.

The Secretariat must broaden its practice of routine disclosure, establish it as a duty and reverse the presumption of confidentiality for unpublished documents. This would represent a substantial departure from current practice and a positive step towards compliance with international standards.

The presumption of disclosure is not absolute and is constrained by the principle of limited exemptions. Confidentiality may be upheld in narrowly defined circumstances for the protection of legitimate interests from specified harms. This requires a case by case assessment and does not permit blanket exclusions based on official classifications or document type.

The Council of Europe schedule is weakest, excluding all classified information from disclosure. The World Bank refuses to disclose information falling within its schedule as it “could” cause harm, presuming confidentiality and failing to engage in an individual assessment of relevant interests. Some exemptions are overly broad, including those relating to ‘corporate administrative matters’ and ‘deliberative information’.

Similarly, the UNDP excludes ‘draft documents’ entirely, limiting the scope for civil society engagement.

The European Union has two exemption schedules. The first complies with international standards, citing legitimate interests. It is also the only schedule with a ‘severability clause’, allowing for the partial publication of documents. A second schedule entirely excludes ‘sensitive documents’ from disclosure due to their confidentiality statuses.

It is critical that exemptions are subject to a ‘public interest override’. If the public interest in disclosure is greater than the likely harm, then there must be an obligation to disclose. The UNDP and Council of Europe policies both lack public interest overrides. The World Bank only provides a discretionary override which can also be reversed to withhold information otherwise routinely disclosed.

The European Union only provides a public interest override for two categories of ‘interests’ under its first schedule and none under the second. The Secretariat must note that these policies fail to provide adequate safeguards against the abuse of the limited exemptions principle.

Documents ‘excluded’ from disclosure must only retain their confidentiality for as long as the public interest demands. Retention schedules must also be available to respondents whose applications are refused. Documents that are scheduled for destruction are presumed to be of no use to the originator, and therefore disclosure cannot be deemed harmful to the public interest.

It is the Secretariat’s blanket policy to retain the confidentiality of all undisclosed documents for thirty years. They are then only made publicly available subject to the Secretariat’s discretion and the consent of concerned third parties. None of the interstate organisations analysed have a default thirty year declassification period.

The European Union and the Council of Europe both set thirty years as the maximum period for refusing disclosure. Within this limit, the European Union provides that excepted material may only remain confidential for the period which it remains harmful.

The Council of Europe and World Bank adopt tiers of confidentiality with limitation periods dependant on document type. The former has periods of one, ten and thirty years and the latter has periods of five, ten and twenty years.

The UNDP does not specify its declassification periods. When initiating reforms the Secretariat must strive to disclose confidential information as promptly as the public interest test allows.

International standards require that refusals to disclose documents are accompanied with reasons and the availability of two tiers of appeal. The independence of the second tier must be guaranteed. The Secretariat has no procedure for requesting documents and therefore no appeals mechanism.

The European Union provides the opportunity for a ‘confirmatory request’ to the original decision maker followed by an appeal to an Independent Ombudsman or the Court of First Instance. This does not apply to ‘sensitive documents’.

The World Bank and UNDP provide for a first review by an internal panel and a secondary review by an independent panel. The World Bank only permits appeals where a prima facie case is made of a policy violation or where there is a public interest case to be made for disclosure. Appeals on the latter ground may not be heard by the secondary panel, meaning the public interest is never determined independently.

The Council of Europe does not have an appeals mechanism. The Secretariat must incorporate a two tier appeals mechanism with a guarantee of independence into its information disclosure policy.

Information request procedures must be accessible and user-friendly, communicating decisions or the requested documents promptly and at a reasonable price. The aforementioned policies all adopt provisions to this effect.

The Secretariat only permits access to unpublished public documents by appointment at the library of its London headquarters, refusing to provide copies. This is extremely restrictive for the majority of commonwealth citizens. Increased accessibility must become a reform priority.

The Secretariat has the opportunity to advance to the forefront of international transparency and democratic standards by adopting a progressive access to information policy. It must undertake reforms immediately in the spirit of transparency with the maximum involvement of Commonwealth stakeholders.

This consultation, along with an assessment of existing access to information policies and model laws, will greatly assist the Secretariat in remedying the deficiencies of its current practices and enable the Commonwealth to better pursue its goals of freedom, democracy and sustainable development.

March 30, 2010

caribbeannetnews

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jamaican appointed Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) judge - will this prompt progress?

By Oscar Ramjeet:

The Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) appointed a Jamaican as the newest judge in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Oscar Ramjeet is an attorney at law who practices extensively throughout the wider CaribbeanHe is Professor Charles Anderson, an academic who replaces Duke Pollard, who goes into retirement on June 10 next when the new judge will assume duties.

He is the first Jamaican to be appointed to the regional court, and the omission of a judge from the largest country in the region has been criticised, especially since that country contributes 27 percent of the costs to run and administer the Court.

Former Attorney General of Jamaica, Dr Osward Harding, who is now the President of the Senate, had indicated to me two years ago that several highly qualified Jamaicans, including a few outstanding Senior Counsel, were overlooked five years ago.

Now that that a Jamaican has been appointed as a judge, one wonders if this will accelerate the powers that be in Kingston to join the Appellate Division of the Court.

Pollard's appointment in the regional court was criticized in some quarters since he was never in active law practice, never served as an advocate either as counsel or prosecutor and has never sat as a judge. He has been an academic throughout his legal career and was involved in preparatory work for the establishment of the CCJ.

The tenure of CCJ judges expires at 72 years of age, but Pollard was given a three year extension two and a half years ago.

Since Pollard's appointment was criticised, legal practitioners want to know why the RJLSC chose a law professor rather than an experienced judge.

Anderson holds a law degree from the University of the West Indies and a Doctorate in Philosophy (Phd) in international law from the University of Cambridge. For most of his career, he has been a member of the Law Faculty of UWI. He was appointed lecturer in 1994, senior lecturer in 1999 and was made professor in 2006. He spent a year as a research fellow at the University of Sheffield between 1994 and 1995, and a year as senior lecturer on fellowship at the University of Western Australia in 1996. He is currently the executive director of the Caribbean Law Institute Centre (CLIC).

Professor Anderson and Professor Simeon McIntosh were involved during the past two years travelling around the Caribbean participating in seminars promoting the CCJ, and urging governments to join the Appellate Division of the Regional Court

The lone female judge in the Court, Desiree Bernard, who was Chief Justice and former Chancellor of Guyana, will reach the age of retirement in March next year, and already there are discussions in the legal circles whether she will be given an extension and, if not, whether another female will be appointed to replace the distinguished Guyanese, who had many firsts in her homeland - the first female judge, first female Court of Appeal Judge, first female Chief Justice, first female Chancellor of Guyana and first female Head of the Judiciary in the Caribbean. She is also the first solicitor to be appointed a judge, the reason being that the legal profession in Guyana was fused in 1979 and Justice Bernard, a practicing solicitor, automatically became an attorney at law since both solicitors and barristers were known as attorneys as of November 1979.

Justice Bernard was appointed a High Court Judge in 1980. I recall writing a piece in the local newspapers under the headline "High time for a female judge in Guyana" and I suggested her appointment although she was from the practicing Bar, and the following week she was named.

Belize will soon be on board as the third jurisdiction to join the CCJ, and I look forward for Dominica and Jamaica to do so soon rather than later. I am also hopeful that Trinidad and Tobago will consider joining now that there is a new opposition leader in Kamla Persad Bissessar, a West Indian trained attorney who served as attorney general in the Basdeo Panday administration.

March 29, 2010

caribbeannetnews

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jamaica: Deceptions, dons and underdevelopment

Claude Clarke, Contributor:


It was Mahatma Gandhi who said "to believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest". In election after election in post-Independence Jamaica our leaders have invited us to trust what they professed to have been their beliefs; but they have failed in almost every instance to live up to them. Gandhi would have condemned them all as dishonest.

We need only compare the ideals expressed by our recent prime ministers while campaigning for office to their actions when those beliefs were put to the test. The most recent and I believe most striking example of this is Bruce Golding's abrupt about-face on his professed abhorrence of garrison politics.

We should have known better. Many of us were prepared to put the most favourable interpretation on this 'new and different' Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader's choice of 'the mother of all garrisons' to be his home constituency; and were willing to believe that his purpose was to reform from within, and in so doing create a model on which all other garrisons could be reformed. But recent events have proven us to have been far too generous with our trust.

Two and a half years after coming to office, and 15 years since he walked away from the JLP and declared his independence from the garrison form of politics, Golding's constituency is as deeply steeped in garrison politics as it ever was.

In two and a half years as chief executive of our country, Mr Golding, despite his earlier strong human-rights advocacy, has missed every opportunity to take a public stand in defence of the rights of our citizens; that is until he was confronted by the case of Christopher Coke. His stout defence of Mr. Coke's rights, from all appearances at the risk of Jamaica's international relationships and economic well-being, speaks powerfully to the value he places on this individual.

Not that the Government is not duty bound to stand up to the mightiest of forces in defence of the rights of the least of our citizens. It is. Not that the Government does not have the right to deny an extradition request in Jamaica's public interest. It does. What is remarkable about the prime minister making Coke's extradition case his first notable effort to protect the rights of a Jamaican citizen is that he has obviously calculated that, notwithstanding the consequences to Jamaica, a greater interest is served by protecting Coke.

Since the prime minister's human-rights epiphany so strains credibility and logic, we are forced to conclude that he believes that Coke's protection is in the public interest; in which case he is allowed by the treaty to deny the request.

But what is it about Mr Coke that makes him so valuable? 'Dudus' Coke is widely believed to be the country's most prominent and effective practitioner of the garrison style of social and economic organisation. He is Jamaica's 'chief don' and commands the title 'President' in the area that he controls. What is the message conveyed to him and his 'subjects', to Jamaica and to the world, when a prime minister invests him with such high national value?

So much so that the Government now has to be defending allegations that it directly or indirectly engaged a firm of US lawyers to lobby the United States government, with a view to preventing his extradition. Doesn't this effectively provide the ultimate imprimatur for the activities for which Mr. Coke is notorious? And doesn't this seriously contradict the anti-don, anti-garrison beliefs Mr Golding earlier espoused?

For those of us who believe economic development cannot take place in a social and economic environment dominated by garrisons, this is a most frightening situation. Not simply because of our opposition to garrisons and dons, but because we recognise that the growing control of our society by garrisons and their dons has been a major cause of the underdevelopment of our economy and society. Their suppression of our people's 'unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' is manifested in the growing lawlessness and fear under which we have lived since this freakish phenomenon began to engulf our society in the 1960s.

The right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is no less an entitlement of the Jamaican citizen than it is of the American. And the obligation to secure these rights for Jamaicans is as binding on the Jamaican Government as securing them for Americans is binding on the US government. But garrisons undermine the ability of Government to deliver on this obligation. Dons usurp the role of government, and have no purpose but to use the people under their control to secure and strengthen their own wealth and power.

They operate through patronage, intimidation and fear; it is never their purpose to secure freedom and opportunity for the people they control. Despite this, respective Jamaican governments have been prepared to condone and co-opt the garrison into their practice of politics, even while they grandly inveigh against them officially.

Social and economic freedom is at the core of successful economic activity. Without it, no effort by Government to promote investments, production and development will ever achieve the peace and prosperity our people crave. The garrison system not only denies our people these basic conditions, it sucks life and substance from the economy. It channels taxpayer-funded government contracts to dons, and feeds official corruption. The enforced 'protection services' of the dons is an unwanted and unproductive cost of doing public and private business, compounding the uncompetitiveness of our economy. They are a deterrent to production and the efficient functioning of the formal economy. Above all, the garrison form of organisation denies economic opportunity and employment for our people and leads them instead to a future of street scuffling, crime and servitude.

warlords

Garrisons must be seen and treated as what they really are: the means through which our people are kept enslaved and denied the right to be all that they can be. They will take us in the direction of Somalia, controlled by warlords, rather than Singapore, characterised by order and prosperity. They lead us towards backwardness and jungle justice, not modernity and the rule of law. The loud, clear and eloquent statement made by the prime minister by his stance in the Dudus affair is that he will pay any price and force the country to do likewise to protect the favourite don of his favourite garrison. In doing so, we may have crossed the Rubicon towards the utter failure of Somalia, rather than climb the first rung towards the success that is Singapore.

I do not know whether the prime minister will change direction before our final disintegration into the squalor of a failed state; but for Jamaica's sake, I hope that he or someone else will salvage the situation and pull us back towards sanity. Jamaica can still develop into a state which can deliver on the promise of freedom and the optimisation of human potential. But our approach to leadership must be radically changed.

This fiscal year, the Government spent almost 45 per cent of the country's output, and yet it could not provide the public goods and services that a modern democratic government is expected to deliver. When Government takes so much of what we produce, we have every right to expect top-quality affordable health care, education, water, electricity, public transportation, roads, public safety and justice.

We have every right to expect a social and economic environment that encourages and facilitates our hopes for economic upliftment. We have every right to expect our Government to foster a high-quality social capital that enables us to achieve levels of production that can create peace and prosperity. The Jamaican Government squanders much of our resources through general economic mismanagement, but has made the situation far worse by rendering itself hostage to dons and garrisons.

Now that the very leadership which we were led to believe was committed to breaking the links to these garrisons has instead elevated itself to a position of national importance, we seem to be perched on the precipice of social and economic disorder.

Our country desperately needs to be rescued. Do any of our political leaders have the honesty, moral authority, courage and political gravitas to make this change? Are there men and women who will live what they say they believe and summon the courage to act on those beliefs?

The Christopher Coke case has found our prime minister wanting. Can anyone else in the Government or the Opposition rise to the required standard of leadership? And will he or she speak up before it is too late?


Claude Clarke is a former trade minister and manufacturer. Send feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.

March 28, 2010

jamaica-gleaner

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Barbados cannot allow unmanaged migration to continue, says PM

By Andre Skeete:


BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (JIS) -- Barbados cannot continue to "bury its head in the sand" and ignore the fact that there is a serious problem with undocumented immigrants.

Barbados Prime Minister David ThompsonThis from Prime Minister, David Thompson, who stressed that Barbados was being presented with many challenges due to increased pressure on its limited resources.

"We don't have the financial resources to do it, we don't have the physical space, we have housing challenges, [and] we have big health issues because of squatting.

"It has created a situation where you have substandard housing in some areas, squatting in water zones in this country... elements of corruption in the public sector have been encouraged, with people seeking to get false identification cards, with persons renting ID cards that don't carry photographs so that children can go and receive benefits in the polyclinic system...we are not going to allow that to happen," he said.

Thompson was speaking during the final Town Hall meeting to discuss the Green Paper on Immigration last evening at the Barbados Workers' Union headquarters, Solidarity House, Harmony Hall, St. Michael.

The Prime Minister explained that all Government was seeking to do was to implement a managed migration programme, which would reduce too many decisions being placed at the discretion of a minister, allow persons travelling to Barbados to know what was expected of them or what they are entitled to and the requisite body they would have to report to have any concerns addressed.

He stressed that the idea was not "to chase everybody out" but to find ways to deal with it, taking into account Barbados' financial commitments, its obligations to CARICOM and to international bodies.

Responding to critics who point out that many Barbadians had migrated to the Caribbean and other countries some years ago, the Prime Minister stated the majority of these persons travelled under legal guest worker programmes or other official migrant schemes.

"The vast majority of Barbadians migrated under schemes...the Windrush scheme, many other people went to work in the London transport or to train as nurses. They went under orderly immigration programmes. That is all we are saying is necessary," Thompson contended.

The three hour meeting was attended by newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for Immigration and the Social Partnership, Senator Harry Husbands; Permanent Secretary with responsibility for Immigration, Gilbert Greaves; and Chief Immigration Officer, Erine Griffith.

March 27, 2010

caribbeannetnews

Guyana's president says Caribbean is on the verge of bankruptcy

GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo says the Caribbean is on the verge of bankruptcy as many countries are spending more on servicing external debt than their national revenue and has reiterated his call for urgent debt relief by the international financial institutions (IFIs).

Jagdeo who heads a special task force by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to assess the financial crisis and come up with solutions told a media conference here on Friday that region’s debt situation is worsening.

Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo. AFP PHOTO“The region is heading towards bankruptcy if countries could be declared bankrupt, many of the countries simply cannot pay their way, and they can’t meet recurring cost and pay their debts, unless there is radical restructuring or increase sources of revenue, the situation will get worse,” Jagdeo declared.

The president believes the poor productivity and the heavy debt build up in the region was responsible for this situation in many Caribbean countries.

This, he said, was exacerbated by the global financial crisis as the demand for exports, remittances and tourism were negatively impacted

“We hope with the abatement of the crisis, not that we are out of the woods as yet and it is still very tenuous , but this may improve the macro-economic fundamentals of these countries, but they simply can’t sustain their large quantity of debts,” he explained.

Jagdeo said during the CARICOM heads meeting with top officials of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) earlier this month in Dominica the region’s crisis was highlighted.

He however explained that there is a huge challenge of crafting a regional debt strategy since individual countries have unique debt problems and this must be address on a case by case basis.

The president said that “many countries will not have a good future unless their debt problems are tackled.”

Jagdeo said the situation despite not being amplified is very serious and noted that Guyana was once in this position where it was faced with a huge debt overhang.

“We had that when the debt burden use to suck up over 94 percent of our revenue, it sucked the life out of our economy, and we had tough period of dealing with that,” the president added.

During the heads meeting in Dominica, the World Bank President Robert Zoellick committed to sending experts to the various Caribbean countries to assess their debt management strategies.

Only recently a senior St Lucia government official has said Caribbean countries are facing serious challenges of a similar nature as a result of their high levels of debt.

Director of Finance Isaac Anthony told a Caribbean Development Bank (CDB)/Institutional Investor Roundtable discussion that high debt levels have become a feature of most countries in the region.

“If you look right across the region the story is essentially the same. Revenues have declined substantially, while expenditure has remained pretty high, particularly given the needs of the government to provide much needed social safety net programmes,” said Anthony.

“This has resulted in a significant amount of debt by a number of countries. The question is: how do you really deal with this particular situation; clearly there will be need for the governments to maintain a fiscal policy stance that seeks to boost revenue, keep recurrent revenue under control while maintaining sustainable debt levels,” he told the forum.

Anthony pointed this Eastern Caribbean island as an example, where last year, the economy contracted by 5.2 per cent as a result of the global economic and financial crisis.

March 27, 2010

caribbeannetnews

Friday, March 26, 2010

Health reform in the United States

Reflections of Fidel

(Taken from CubaDebate)




BARACK Obama is a fanatical believer in the imperialist capitalist system imposed by the United States on the world. "God bless the United States," he ends his speeches.

Some of his acts wounded the sensibility of world opinion, which viewed with sympathy the African-American candidate’s victory over that country’s extreme right-wing candidate. Basing himself on one of the worst economic crises that the world has ever seen, and the pain caused by young Americans who lost their lives or were injured or mutilated in his predecessor’s genocidal wars of conquest, he won the votes of the majority of 50% of Americans who deign to go to the polls in that democratic country.

Out of an elemental sense of ethics, Obama should have abstained from accepting the Nobel Peace Prize when he had already decided to send 40,000 soldiers to an absurd war in the heart of Asia.

The current administration’s militarist policies, its plunder of natural resources and unequal exchange with the poor countries of the Third World are in no way different from those of its predecessors, almost all of them extremely right-wing, with some exceptions, throughout the past century.

The anti-democratic document imposed at the Copenhagen Summit on the international community – which had given credit to his promise to cooperate in the fight against climate change – was another act that disappointed many people in the world. The United States, the largest issuer of greenhouse gases, was not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, despite the sweet words of its president beforehand.

It would be interminable to list the contradictions between the ideas which the Cuban nation has defended at great sacrifice for half a century and the egotistic policies of that colossal empire.

In spite of that, we harbor no antagonism toward Obama, much less toward the U.S. people. We believe that the health reform has been an important battle, and a success of his government. It would seem, however, to be something truly unusual, 234 years after the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776, inspired by the ideas of the French encyclopedists, that the U.S. government has passed [a law for] medical attention for the vast majority of its citizens, something that Cuba achieved for its entire population half a century ago, despite the cruel and inhumane blockade imposed and still in effect by the most powerful country that ever existed. Before that, after almost half a century of independence and after a bloody war, Abraham Lincoln was able to attain legal freedom for slaves.

On the other hand, I cannot stop thinking about a world in which more than one-third of the population lacks the medical attention and medicines essential to ensuring its health, a situation that will be aggravated as climate change and water and food scarcity become increasingly greater in a globalized world where the population is growing, forests are disappearing, agricultural land is diminishing, the air is becoming unbreathable, and in which the human species that inhabits it – which emerged less than 200,000 years ago; in other words, 3.5 million years after the first forms of life emerged on the planet – is running a real risk of disappearing as a species.

Accepting that health reform signifies a success for the Obama government, the current U.S. president cannot ignore that climate change is a threat to health, and even worse, to the very existence of all the world’s nations, when the increase in temperatures – beyond the critical limits that are in sight – is melting the frozen waters of the glaciers, and the tens of millions of cubic kilometers stored in the enormous ice caps accumulated in the Antarctic, Greenland and Siberia will have melted within a few dozen years, leaving underwater all of the world’s port facilities and the lands where a large part of the global population now lives, feeds itself and works.

Obama, the leaders of the free countries and their allies, their scientists and their sophisticated research centers know this; it is impossible for them not to know it.

I understand the satisfaction in the presidential speech expressing and recognizing the contributions of the congress members and administration who made possible the miracle of health reform, which strengthens the government’s position vis-à-vis the lobbyists and political mercenaries who are limiting the administration’s faculties. It would be worse if those who engaged in torture, assassinations for hire, and genocide should reoccupy the U.S. government. As a person who is unquestionably intelligent and sufficiently well-informed, Obama knows that there is no exaggeration in my words. I hope that the silly remarks he sometimes makes about Cuba are not clouding his intelligence.

In the wake of the success in this battle for the right to health of all Americans, 12 million immigrants, in their immense majority Latin American, Haitian and from other Caribbean countries, are demanding the legalization of their presence in the United States, where they do the jobs that are the hardest and with which U.S. society could not do without, in a country in which they are arrested, separated from their families and sent back to their countries.

The vast majority of them immigrated to Northern America as a consequence of the dictatorships imposed on the countries of the region by the United States, and the brutal policy to which they have been subjected as a result of the plunder of their resources and unequal trade. Their family remittances constitute a large percentage of the GDP of their economies. They are now hoping for an act of elemental justice. When an Adjustment Act was imposed on the Cuban people, promoting brain drain and the dispossession of its educated young people, why are such brutal methods used against illegal immigrants of Latin American and Caribbean countries?

The devastating earthquake that lashed Haiti – the poorest country in Latin America, which has just suffered an unprecedented natural disaster that involved the death of more than 200,000 people – and the terrible economic damage that a similar phenomenon has caused in Chile, are eloquent evidence of the dangers that threaten so-called civilization, and the need for drastic measures that can give the human species hope for survival.

The Cold War did not bring any benefits to the world population. The immense economic, technological and scientific power of the United States would not be able to survive the tragedy that is hovering over the planet. President Obama should look for the pertinent data on his computer and converse with his most eminent scientists; he will see how far his country is from being the model for humanity he extols.

Because he is an African American, there he suffered the affronts of discrimination, as he relates in his book, The Dreams of My Father; there he knew about the poverty in which tens of millions of Americans live; there he was educated, but there he also enjoyed, as a successful professional, the privileges of the rich middle class, and he ended up idealizing the social system where the economic crisis, the uselessly sacrificed lives of Americans and his unquestionable political talent gave him the electoral victory.

Despite that, the most recalcitrant right-wing forces see Obama as an extremist, and are threatening him by continuing to do battle in the Senate to neutralize the effects of the health reform, and openly sabotaging him in various states of the Union, declaring the new law unconstitutional.

The problems of our era are far more serious still.

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international credit agencies, under the strict control of the United States, are allowing the large U.S. banks – the creators of fiscal paradises and responsible for the financial chaos on the planet – to be kept afloat by the government of that country in each one of the system’s frequent and growing crises.

The U.S. Federal Reserve issues at its whim the convertible currency that pays for the wars of conquest, the profits of the military industrial complex, the military bases distributed throughout the world and the large investments with which transnationals control the economy in many countries in the world. Nixon unilaterally suspended the conversion of the dollar into gold, while the vaults of the banks in New York hold seven thousand tons of gold, something more than 25% of the world’s reserves of this metal, a figure which at the end of World War II stood at more than 80%. It is argued that the [U.S.] public debt exceeds $10 trillion, more than 70% of its GDP, like a burden that will be passed on to the new generations. That is affirmed when, in reality, it is the world economy which is paying for that debt with the huge spending on goods and services that it provides to acquire U.S. dollars, with which the large transnationals of that country have taken over a considerable part of the world’s wealth, and which sustain that nation’s consumer society.

Anyone can understand that such a system is unsustainable and why the wealthiest sectors in the United States and its allies in the world defend a system sustained only on ignorance, lies and conditioned reflexes sown in world public opinion via a monopoly of the mass media, including the principal Internet networks.

Today, the structure is collapsing in the face of the accelerated advance of climate change and its disastrous consequences, which are placing humanity in an exceptional dilemma.

Wars among the powers no longer seem to be the possible solution to major contradictions, as they were until the second half of the 20th century; but, in their turn, they have impinged on the factors that make human survival possible to the extent that they could bring the existence of the current intelligent species inhabiting our planet to a premature end.

A few days ago, I expressed my conviction, in the light of dominant scientific knowledge today, that human beings have to solve their problems on planet Earth, given that they will never be able to cover the distance that separates the Sun from the closest star, located four light years distant, a speed that is equivalent to 300,000 kilometers per second – if there should be a planet similar to our beautiful Earth in the vicinity of that sun.

The United States is investing fabulous sums to discover if there is water on the planet Mars, and whether some elemental form of life existed or exists there. Nobody knows why, unless it is out of pure scientific curiosity. Millions of species are disappearing at an increasing rate on our planet and its fabulous volumes of water are constantly being poisoned.

The new laws of science – based on Einstein’s theories on energy and matter and the Big Boom theory as the origin of the millions of constellations and infinite stars or other hypotheses – have given way to profound changes in fundamental concepts such as space and time, which are occupying theologians’ attention and analyses. One of them, our Brazilian friend Frei Betto, approaches the issue in his book La obra del artista: una vision holística del Universe (The Artist’s Work: a Holistic View of the Universe), launched at the last International Book Fair in Havana.

Scientific advances in the last 100 years have impacted on traditional approaches that prevailed for thousands of years in the social sciences and even in philosophy and theology.

The interest that the most honest thinkers are taking in that new knowledge is notable, but we know absolutely nothing of President Obama’s thinking on the compatibility of consumer societies with science.

Meanwhile, it is worthwhile, now and then, to devote time to meditating on those issues. Certainly human beings will not cease to dream and take things with the due serenity and nerves of steel on that account. It is a duty – at least for those who chose the political profession and the noble and essential resolve of a human society of solidarity and justice.



Fidel Castro Ruz
March 24, 2010
6:40 p.m.

Translated by Granma International

granma.cu

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Haiti's yawning leadership vacuum

By COHA Research Associate Ritika Singh

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated entire sections of the Republic of Haiti on January 12th intensified an already unbearable burden for the small Caribbean country. Described by the Inter-American Development Bank, without hyperbole, as “the most destructive natural disaster in modern times,” the Port-au-Prince earthquake and its aftershocks have left approximately 230,000 Haitians dead, displaced more than 1.2 million people, and generated an estimated $14 billion in damages.

Plagued by abject poverty and political instability for most its history, Haiti remains perpetually ranked as the most unqualifiedly destitute nation in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, President René Préval continues to be engulfed by international criticism as well as much abuse at home for demonstrating a breathtaking failure in leadership at a time when his country desperately required a firm hand.

Immediately following the earthquake, Préval disappeared from the public arena, and instead of taking control, he chose to all but totally shy away from a decision-making role.

In the aftermath of his nation’s tragedy, President Préval repeatedly was criticized for failing to show leadership in a time of awesome catastrophe. According to Amy Wilentz, at the University of California at Irvine, “President René Préval of Haiti is odd… his reaction to the destruction of his country is to walk around with his shoulders down, like a beaten dog.”

Similarly, Ludovic Comeau, a former chief economist at Haiti’s central bank, said “He just doesn’t have what it takes,” in response to the president’s languorous and demonstrably ineffectual reaction to his county’s calamity. Préval’s elemental competency as president indeed has been called into question, both among Haitians and from all corners of the international community.

Plummeting Leadership Qualities
At a mass grave for earthquake victims, mourners railed against Préval, telling reporters that his pathetic behavior was as “expected” and that the country needed “someone competent to take charge.” In a country as fragile and ripped apart as Haiti, Préval’s primary aim should have been to reassure and unite his people when they were suffering most and required constant reassurances.

Instead, his invisibility, if not quietism, has triggered anger and resentment among the ranks of a legion of current critics, further exacerbating an already spear-headed political situation.

From the beginning of the crisis, COHA was told by Préval’s battalion of critics that he has turned out to be a totally inept emergency leader (for a country undergoing the most severe emergency in its history). One can think of almost no country in the world that would have so pathetically handled its post-earthquake situation, while it appeared to be totally paralyzed.

Préval and Aristide: An Ancient Relationship Gone Sour
René Préval spent the majority of his political career linked to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide with Aristide repeatedly being described by average Haitians as “a fiery populist demagogue who could command Haiti’s poor masses as firmly as Moses did the Red Sea.”

Aristide had electrified the country with his 1990 presidential campaign and then went on to win the election by an overwhelming majority. Haitians called the two men, who had been the best of friends as well as the closest of political allies for years, “the Twins.”

When Aristide was inaugurated in 1991 for his first presidential term, Préval was his immediate choice to be prime minister. However, less than a year into Aristide’s second term, his Parliament – led by René Préval – usurped his authority in a no confidence vote. Aristide attempted to rule without parliamentary support, but eventually was ousted by a military coup and was forced into exile by a US-Canadian, French and UN complot.

Upon his election, Préval now began to downplay his links to Aristide, eventually, running for the presidency in his known name in 1996 on a completely new platform and under the banner of his own LESPWA party. After several decades of being roiled by dictatorships and political unrest, the philosophical, soft-spoken, and indecisive professional agronomist appealed to a country that he hoped was looking for a level-headed and highly regarded politician to calm the country’s turbulent political atmosphere.

Préval took office amid high expectations that he would end the country’s long and tormented history of violence and economic stagnation.

Préval as a Ruler
Préval eventually turned on Aristide in order to cravenly expedite his own political aspirations. Préval was elected for a second term in 2006 after two years of intense political strife that eventually required the presence of Brazilian-led international peacekeeping forces in Haiti. Claiming the vote count was being conducted in a fraudulent manner, Préval demanded that he immediately be declared the winner.

After protests and riots had paralyzed Port-au-Prince, the Provisional Electoral Council appointed him president with 51.15% of the vote. Préval then proceeded to disqualify fifteen political parties, including Aristide’s still popular Lavalas party, from taking part in this year’s elections.

Opposition leaders, including Aristide (who, even in exile, remained highly popular with poverty-stricken Haitians) have accused Préval of restructuring the Parliament in order to facilitate the constitutional changes necessary for him to run for a third term in November 2010.

However, prospects for Préval’s third term look anything but promising for the president, who said in a radio interview after the earthquake: “I don’t do politics, okay?” Opposition parties are using Préval’s woeful and inadequate response to the earthquake as an opportunity to further stomp on his ailing administration.

Evans Paul, a longtime opposition figure, condemned Préval when he declared, “During the greatest disaster Haiti has ever faced, our president has been incapable of pulling himself together, much less this deeply divided society. He has single-handedly shown the Haitian people that he cannot lead them.”

During Préval’s first term in office, he was credited with building dozens of public schools, putting thousands of people to work, and issuing titles to thousands of hectares of farmland. In his second term, Haiti experienced modest, but hopeful levels of economic growth.

Unfortunately, Préval’s inaction since the earthquake has overshadowed all of the achievements of his previous incumbencies. Indeed, he seems to have sealed his political destiny forever.

Judith Marceline, a Haitian woman who lost everything after the quake except for the clothes she was wearing, may have described it best: “I stood in line for hours to vote for Mr Préval in 2006. Today, I wonder why I supported him.”

Rene Préval now has been working breathlessly to prove to a hopelessly skeptical world that he is no longer standing on the sidelines in the aftermath of the disaster. Struggling to counter the perception by the international community that Haiti’s government is scarcely better than a Mickey Mouse game, he has vowed that “Haiti will live on after the quake.”

The Haitian president came to Washington on March 10th with a game plan and a list of priorities for Haiti’s recovery effort. His request for continued help from the US came two weeks before international donors would meet at the United Nations on March 31st to plot the country’s long-term reconstruction. Préval is hoping the US will play a leading role at the conference and will drum up support among donors who largely had frozen funding to the government because of Haiti’s legendary history of corruption and squandered aid.

Préval says he is working hard to meet the demands of the Haitian people and the international community in facilitating the estimated $11.5 billion reconstruction effort needed to rebuild the devastated country, although it is likely that many will remain skeptical of such claims.

As coverage of the earthquake fades from the front pages of newspapers, Haiti needs an effective leader now more than ever. The leadership vacuum that the country now faces becomes more apparent every day as the country struggles to recover and rebuild its most basic institutions and infrastructure.

Although Préval may be taking important steps behind the scenes, simply helping to manage the large-scale reconstruction effort is not enough. The country needs more than an administrator in these trying times – it needs a president. In this respect, President Préval woefully has let his country down.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, visit www.coha.org

March 25, 2010

caribbeannetnews

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bahamas: State Minister for Social Services Loretta Butler-Turner laments opposition to proposed marital rape law by those it would assist

By Keva Lightbourne ~ Guardian Senior Reporter ~ kdl@nasguard.com:



State Minister for Social Services Loretta Butler-Turner said yesterday that unfortunately some of the people the proposed marital rape law was designed to assist were among those individuals who spoke out against it.

"It really was an opportunity for the women of The Bahamas and the people of The Bahamas to support something very progressive to bring further empowerment to our people," the minister told The Nassau Guardian.

"Unfortunately it appears that the people it was going to help the most were equally as vocal against it, and those persons do not wish to see progress," Minister Butler-Turner said.

Her statement came hours before the House of Assembly was prorogued, wiping clean its legislative agenda. Up to press time yesterday Minister Butler-Turner had no idea whether the proposed amendment to the Sexual Offences Act, which would have outlawed marital rape in the country, would be re-introduced to Parliament during the next session.

"It has to definitely be determined by the Government of The Bahamas. That has to be a Cabinet decision. From a personal stand point it is something that I would like to certainly see become law," said Minister Butler-Turner.

Furthermore, she had no idea whether the bill would be placed on the table again for further discussion.

But Butler-Turner said she would continue to push for the bill to become law.

"One of the challenges that I try to overcome each day is certainly bringing greater empowerment to not just women but ensuring people everywhere are on an equal footing. As I sit as vice-president of the American Commission on Women it is imperative that I continue to fight for equality for all persons. So yeah, it is something that I will continue to agitate for," the minister said.

She added that she was encouraged by those who came out in support of the legislation, especially the churches.

I was extremely encouraged by groupings of men, groupings of women but in the end analysis I cannot say that I was ecstatic over the reception we received in certain quarters.

"But there were very, very encouraging signs from important sectors of our society, but even that does not militate against the fact that I do not think we had a unanimously overwhelming clear consensus on the matter," she explained.

The amendment would mean that a spouse could be sentenced to up to life in prison for the rape of a spouse, even on a first offense, as is the case for others convicted of rape. The current Bahamian law permitting forms of marital rape stands in opposition to the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The U.N. has advised that The Bahamas should eliminate the prohibition against spousal rape.

In an earlier interview with The Nassau Guardian, Director of The Crisis Centre Dr. Sandra Dean-Patterson appealed to the government not to let this amendment die.

She said it would be disappointing if the proposed ban is not re-introduced after Parliament is prorogued.

"I would say that the violence in our country must be of such concern and worry to all of us. It is a threat to The Bahamas with this senseless killing that is taking place of men in particular, and in the new year we have to come together as political parties, individuals, civic organizations, trade unions [and] churches to confront violence in all of its manifestations," Dean-Patterson said.

March 24, 2010

thenassauguardian

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jamaica: Pastors, pulpits and politics

HEART TO HEART
With Betty Ann Blaine



..."in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned..." (Titus 2: 7,8)

Dear Reader,

Over the years, I have been a constant public critic of the failures of the Jamaican church. While I have openly recognised and congratulated the church on its history and continued commitment to education and social outreach, I keep reminding those of us who are the body of Christ that the area of greatest weakness is that the church has failed to act as the conscience of the state. To put it another way, the church has been reluctant and afraid to speak truth to power.

The words of the late Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr are haunting. In the book, Strength to Love, King asserted: "The church must be reminded that it is not the master nor the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool."

It is clear that some of our Jamaican pastors have forgotten whom they serve, and the most recent case in which the Rev Al Miller, one of the country's most influential pastors, has sided with the government on the extradition of a reputed "drug lord" and community "strongman", is to my mind the most glaring example of pastors allowing themselves to be used as tools of the state.

One of the observations I have made concerning Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Rev Al Miller is how quickly they have both became converted to full-fledged human rights activists. In fact, they have all but eclipsed Jamaicans for Justice and the Independent Jamaica Council on Human Rights in this particular so-called human rights case. Never before have I heard a pastor and a politician achieve such unison of thought and purpose, and speak so eloquently and stridently about the human rights of any Jamaican citizen in a country where violating people's rights is an accepted way of life. Are we to understand from the pastor and the politician that the human rights of some Jamaicans are more important then the human rights of others?

Somebody needs to tell Rev Miller that the debate surrounding the extradition of Coke is best left to lawyers, judges, politicians and to those constituencies where morality is inapplicable and where the law is supreme and self-serving. In biblical terms, it is the divide between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the system of Rome. One examined the soul of man, while the other was sworn to the service of Caesar.

There must be a greater motive unknown to us that would cause a pastor to ignore the brutality associated with "strongmen", and choose instead to focus on the "principle" of the extradition matter. I am reminded of a recent case where the accused rapist of a nine-year-old girl was set free because of a technicality involving DNA evidence. The question for the pastor is, where would you focus - on the horror of the crime or on the technicality of the law? What Rev Miller doesn't seem to realise is that lawyers have no responsibility to debate morality, but as a pastor he is absolutely obligated to doing so.

In fact, it is the moral failings of Jamaican society in general, and our political leaders in particular, which should be the concern of every pastor, let alone one who sits at the right hand of the prime minister. Instead of focusing on an issue that is best left to constitutionalists, lawyers and judges, Rev Miller ought to be speaking about the social ills in the society that have led to the ascendancy of "strongmen" and drug lords. The question that should be exercising the mind of every Jamaican pastor is, how do we build a society in which we can strengthen family life, protect our children and promote a consistent ethic of human life? Rev Miller needs to be reminded that if God is not at the centre of national life, then we can never achieve human rights.

Instead of "selling out" to man's politics, Rev Miller should be steadfastly focusing on perpetuating God's politics, and should make note of the fact that any discourse that is disconnected from moral values quickly degenerates.

Rather than "parroting" the government's position on the extradition, Rev Miller should be calling the leaders to a higher moral standard which dictates that they clean up and dismantle their garrison communities so that the murder and abuse of citizens will end, and that the scourge of strongmen will be cauterised and eventually eliminated.

Rev Miller should be calling for a deeper discourse about vision and values in public life. He should be speaking about how a new vision for the common good could inspire us all to lives of service and to a whole new set of public priorities.

Instead of pandering to politicians, Jamaica's pastors should heed the words of Rev Martin Luther King who warned that "if the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority". In his book, God's Politics, author Jim Wallis asks, "Who will question the self-righteousness of nations and their leaders? Who will not allow God's name to be used to simply justify ourselves, instead of calling us to accountability? And who will love the people enough to challenge their worst habits, coarser entertainments, and selfish neglects?

I would implore Rev Miller to ponder on those things and to keep in mind that politics without a soul is anti-God. He should bear in mind too that pastors and politicians can make strange bedfellows.

With love,

bab2609@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

jamaicaobserver

Monday, March 22, 2010

Delay in joining Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is amazing

By Oscar Ramjeet:


As Belize is about to join the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final court, one of the seven judges and the Court Registrar visited the country and held discussions with local judges and explained the Rules and Procedure of the regional court with practising lawyers.

Oscar Ramjeet is an attorney at law who practices extensively throughout the wider CaribbeanTheir visit coincided with a farewell sitting for Appellate Court Judge, Jamaican-born Boyd Carey.

Justice Adrian Saunders, who was involved in drafting the Rules of the CCJ and Registrar, Dawn Pierre, explained to more than three dozen lawyers at a workshop on Saturday, the rules and procedures to be followed in filing appeals to the regional court.

Belize is the third CARICOM country to get rid of the Privy Council as the final Court, and the first to do so since its establishment, when only two countries, Guyana and Barbados, went on board. It baffles me why the other member states are hesitant and/or reluctant to do so, especially countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, which were in the forefront in the setting up of the Court. However, I have been reliably informed that Dominica is in the process of making preparations to join, but that country is now experiencing parliamentary setback since the opposition party is boycotting parliament, claiming irregularities at the last general elections.

Jamaica as well as St Lucia are also considering joining in the near future. The Patrick Manning administration in Trinidad and Tobago is all in favour of the regional court, but in order for that country to join it must get the support of the Opposition, since it requires two thirds of the vote, and the then opposition leader, Basdeo Panday, was not in favour of the move. However, now that there is a new leader of the opposition UNC, in Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is a West Indian- trained attorney, it is likely there will be a change in that regard.

The CCJ has been established since February 14, 2001, by an agreement signed by a dozen regional governments on February 15, 2003, but the inauguration took place nearly five years ago on April 15, 2005.

The Court has not heard many cases in its Appellate jurisdiction since only two of the 12 countries have accepted the CCJ as the final appellate court, and this is very unfortunate since the Port of Spain based Court has the best court facilities on the planet. I was privileged to visiting the Court and was impressed with what I have seen - besides the well equipped libraries, spacious conference room, robing room etc. I was elated with the court room appearance, with the most modern telephonic and fascinating equipment. The facilities include: A document Reader/Visual Presenter: Ability to use laptop computers, DVF/VCR: Audio/Video Digital Recording (microphones situated throughout the courtroom) ; wireless internet access, and audio/video transcripts.

International jurists who have visited the CCJ and read its judgments generally have a high opinion of the court. One of them, Francis Jacobs, a Privy Councillor and former Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, said that the CCJ is of a high calibre and would be able to take account of local values and develop a modern Caribbean jurisprudence in an international context. He also took a swipe at some Caribbean leaders when he said, "It is regrettable that political difficulties have obstructed acceptance of its Appellate jurisdiction and that the outdated jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council survives for many of those states.

One of the most respected Caribbean jurists, Dominican born Telford Georges, said before his death that he regarded it as a "compromise of sovereignty" for us to remain wedded "to a court which is part of the former colonial hierarchy, a court in the appointment of whose members we have absolutely no say."

I sincerely hope that steps will soon be taken by those countries that have not yet joined will do so as soon as possible.

March 22, 2010

caribbeannetnews

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jamaica: Extradition or not ... Coke is it!

Tyrone Reid, Sunday Gleaner Reporter:



COKE



Christopher 'Dudus' Coke will remain on the United States most-wanted list even if he is not extradited by the Jamaican authorities.

An official of the US Attorney's Office says the west Kingston strongman known as the 'President' will remain a priority for American law-enforcement agencies even if the Bruce Golding administration decides not to send him to America for trial based on the present extradition request.

"The indictment and the extradition are two separate things. The indictment is the charges against him, and the charges still stand," said Rebekah Carmichael, who is attached to the United States Attorney's public information office for the Southern District of New York.

Carmichael told The Sunday Gleaner: "The indictment still stands whether a defendant is extradited or not. The indictment continues to exist, the charges continue to exist."

As a result, Coke remains on the US Department of Justice's list of Consolidated Priority Organisation Targets, which includes the world's most dangerous narcotics kingpins.

No comment

Carmichael declined to say what measures US authorities were prepared to implement to ensure that Coke faces the court. "I would not be able to comment on that, we have no comment," she said.

She also refused to comment on the Jamaican Government's decision not to sign the request for the extradition of Coke.

At the time the indictment was issued against Coke, Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, described the charges against him as "another important step in our bringing to justice the world's most dangerous criminals, wherever they may be found".

Coke is "charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana and conspiracy to illegally traffic in firearms. If convicted on the narcotics charge, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, as well as a fine of up to (US)$4 million, or twice the pecuniary gain from the offence," read a section of a release issued by the US Attorney's Office last August.

Since then, Prime Minister Bruce Golding has argued that that there is an insufficiency of credible evidence to substantiate a criminal charge against Coke, and that the other available evidence was obtained in breach of the Interception of Com-munications Act, 2002.

While the prime minister did not rule out honouring the extradition request, he argued that the Government would have to be presented with information in accordance with Jamaican law.

The Government has also asked the US authorities to disclose the name of the police officer who passed the intercepted communication to them.

Under local laws, the policeman, so far identified only as 'John Doe', was not authorised to pass the information to the US authorities and committed a criminal offence.

But so far, the Americans have refused to disclose the name of the police officer or state if he is still in Jamaica.

This has led to a stalemate, which the US argues, can be resolved by placing the extradition request before the Jamaican courts, while the Golding administration claims that both parties should sit and try to arrive at an amicable solution.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com

March 21, 2010


jamaica-gleaner

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Port au Prince, Haiti: Nou Bouke! We are exhausted!

By Jean H Charles:


This graffiti is now covering most of the remaining walls of Port au Prince, Haiti. During election time, candidates commandeered slogans and graffiti on the walls for a price. This slogan Nou Bouke (pronounced key) has nothing to do with politics; it is the cry of exasperation of a people that have endured misery, deception, earthquake, hurricane and ill governance constantly for the past sixty years!

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comI received last week a challenge from a brother from Jamaica now living in the Turks and Caicos asking me to clarify or expand on the issue of governance and democracy in Haiti, the relevance of the demise from Haiti and the forced exile to South Africa of Jean Bertrand Aristide and last but not least the issue of redemption to Haiti from France. I welcome the challenge hoping neither of us will be a winner but the larger community will benefit in knowledge and understanding from the exchange.

On the issue of redemption for past slavery, one will be surprised to find out I have single-handed initiated the process for putting on the table the issue of redemption for Haiti. It all started during a cursory visit to a bookstore in downtown Port au Prince. I came upon an issue of Paris Match where I read that a legislator from Martinique has succeeded in having the French Parliament pass a resolution condemning slavery as an act of cruel and inhuman treatment inflicted by France upon million of slaves. My legal mind told me that France has opened a hole that will make it liable and vulnerable to demand for compensation from former colonies in general and from Haiti in particular.

In a follow up conversation with my father, a retired chief judge of Haiti Civil Court and past Dean of a law school, I revived the discussion concerning the pros and cons of such an approach. On a strict construction of the law, the doctrine of clean hands and the doctrine of viability of an action in criminal matters are in full force. France cannot continue to benefit from the billion of dollars in retribution paid by Haiti while it has enjoyed the forced labor and the sweat of generations of slaves enriching named French citizens individually and the nation as whole for several centuries. Haiti has conquered its freedom on its own, paying a price in gold to have that freedom recognized by France is unconscionable morally and it is illegal now, considering the resolution passed by the French Parliament. There was a guest in my home at that conversation; he was a personal advisor of Jean Bertrand Aristide. He brought the issue to the President, the rest was history.

President Aristide could have called upon the best legal minds of the world, including those from France to make the legal case for Haiti for retribution in light of this new development. He chose instead to pursue a political and demagogic road poisoning for ever the legal advantage. At the other end of the spectrum France and Belgium owe the rest of their former colonies an obligation to help extract the virus of distrust, dissent and internal fratricide injected into the ethos and the culture of most of the former French and Belgium colonies. From Congo to Madagascar, from Haiti to Gabon and from Senegal to Tunisia, the story is the same with some variances, France meddling and the sequels of French culture is at the heart of the poor governance, the internal fighting and the robbing of the natural resources depriving the citizens of enjoying in peace their God given national endowment.

Should President Aristide have been deposed from power and sent to exile? This debate will continue for generations yet the truth of the matter is Aristide was deposed by a popular movement of the people of Haiti led by students who found his policies of dividing the already disjointed Haitian family too much to endure. As usual, France and the United States have come at the end to claim the paternity of the movement and lead the transition to their own advantage. Sending Aristide to exile was a small price to pay to bring about solace to million of Haitian families.

Under the Duvalier regime, the repression was codified and led by uniformed tonton macoutes, under Arisitide, the repression, the kidnapping and the killings were done by thugs, hired renegade paid by the government with not even a uniform to claim the appearance of a state enterprise. His complete disregard for law and order was putting the nation at its core into the path of disintegration. This axiom enshrined in the Preamble of the, Constitution of the United States is of value to the people of Haiti as well as the people of the world:

“All men are created equal; they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute a new government. It is the duty of the people to rise and to defend themselves against that tyrant.”

We often tend to follow the politics that the mice are smaller than the rats, as such we can live with the mice. Duvalier’s son was better than Duvalier therefore we can live with him. Arisitide was better than Duvalier fils therefore he is acceptable. Preval is better than Aristide, we should give him a chance.

The principle of democracy is a simple one. I have often called upon Ernest Renan as my preferred prophet for spreading the message. You shall defend your frontiers and your territory with all your might! You shall instill into the souls of your citizen the love and the admiration of the founding fathers! You shall take all the necessary measures to insure that no one is left behind!

In Haiti today the people are crying nou Bouke! nou Bouke! We have enough of this government that is interested in perpetuating itself while playing a scant view of the welfare of its people. Confirmed reports have informed me that before the earthquake some 900 projects vetted by Haiti’s own service of business promotion that would bring jobs for the Haitian people have been blocked by the Haitian government because graft has not been tendered for a final approval. After the earthquake the only reconstruction firms that can obtain a permit to start demolition projects are those introduced by or retained with the first Lady of Haiti.

It might be time for Haiti and for the friends of Haiti to plan regime change in Haiti, if the country should enjoy free and fair elections leading to democracy. The Haitian people did have their Friday of Crucifixion for too long it is time now for them to have their Easter Sunday. It is also the quickest way to bring about a minimum of coordination to the avalanche of help brought about by the international community to the gallant people of Haiti averting as such a second disaster.

It was a brother from Jamaica who sparked the Haitian revolution changing the world for ever and for the better! His name was Bookman. Would you, my dear brother from Jamaica, lend a hand again?

March 20, 2010

caribbeannetnews

Friday, March 19, 2010

Too late to avert second Haiti disaster, says aid coordinator

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP) -- Despite billions of dollars in pledges and an unprecedented humanitarian drive, it is likely too late to avert a second disaster in quake-hit Haiti, a top US aid coordinator warned Thursday.

Tents and tarpaulins are simply not enough to protect tens of thousands of Haitians from the coming rains and hurricanes, and a new wave of quake survivors could perish in a second "catastrophe," InterAction chief Sam Worthington predicted.

"Having observed camps on very steep slopes and that you cannot simply relocate hundreds of thousands of people easily, we anticipate that the rainy season will lead, to a certain degree, to another catastrophe that despite the hard work of the international community will be hard to avoid," he told AFP.

"Deaths, landslides and so forth," he explained, adding: "What we can do is work with the UN to create shelters that people can find refuge in, but there simply isn't the time."

In Haiti for a week for meetings with top government officials, including President Rene Preval, Worthington is coordinating the massive US NGO effort but is realistic about what can be achieved.

"We're in a race against time and even though a large number of people will be moved, I do anticipate that, sadly, many will be affected by the fact that they are living in areas that are dangerous.

"One could get a tent, one could get plastic sheeting but to get people in temporary shelter in such a way that it will withstand a hurricane or rains and ultimately rebuild, we are talking about an effort that will take years."

Teams from the International Organization for Migration are laboriously trawling hundreds of camps to register the particulars of each family, while other UN agencies draw up emergency plans for flood and hurricane prevention.

Some 218,000 Haitians are deemed to be in "red camps," those considered at gravest flood risk, and the race is on to find them alternative shelter before the rain and possibly calamitous landslides.

There have already been a few nights of torrential downpours in the past week and sustained rains could spell disaster in Port-au-Prince where countless people subsist in wretched conditions perched on treacherous slopes.

"Our community is talking about a second disaster happening when the rains hit," said Worthington. "I am not sure to what extent that can be avoided."

"Unfortunately, many of the camps are in areas that have no drainage whatsoever and many of the shelters are on slopes that are 20 degrees or steeper," he told AFP after a briefing at the UN logistics base.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti as dusk fell on January 12 was one of the worst natural disasters of modern times, if not the worst. It left at least 220,000 people dead and affected three million Haitians.

March 19, 2010

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hope for a basic shift in US Cuba policy disintegrates into continued polarization

By COHA Research Associate Katya Rodriguez:


Washington severed relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961 and launched its economic embargo against Havana the following year. Its intended target was to transform Cuba’s political system from being sympathetic to Moscow’s brand of Communism to one more harmonious with the Cold War ideology being proselytized by the White House. However, most regional specialists now dealing with the embargo issue, after forty-eight years in operation, agree that it has not been particularly effective in persuading the island leaders to take steps toward the democratization of the country. Instead, it only has served to damage Washington’s economic, diplomatic and national-security interests affecting Cuba as well as the remainder of the region.

During most of the last half century, discussions aimed at normalizing relations with Cuba have been rare and mainly unproductive. Due to Obama’s optimism for political change toward Cuba during his presidential campaign, there was considerable hope that the sterility and selective indignation that had characterized US policy toward Havana would be altered in a more constructive direction. But his election did not by any means serve to initiate a paradigm shift in US-Cuban relations, and after a year, one could say that when it came to change in Latin America, the direction of the new administration was more in reverse than in fast-forward. Once hopeful attitudes and expectations are now disintegrating, and as a result, there is a growing continuum of hostility between the United States and Cuba. Meanwhile, Washington, if anything, is becoming more isolated from much of Latin America than meaningfully connected to it.

This growing animosity was underlined when news surfaced that Cuba had not been eliminated from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which would be issued in its finalized form in April. Scandalously (given the paucity of incriminating evidence in recent years), Cuba has held a prominent position on that infamous list since 1982, and its ancient tenure in this category represents the second-longest in duration after Syria, despite the Cuban government’s futile protests that it does not in any form deserve to be stigmatized in this manner.

While President Obama acknowledged that the policies made by prior U.S. administrations that were intended to democratize Cuba have come to no avail, he has not put to work a policy aimed at constructive engagement. Although he has been chief of state for over a year now, he has done little to fulfill his campaign promise to meet with Cuban leaders and take necessary steps toward normalizing ties with Cuba. His less-than-significant move to free up remittances allowed to be sent to Cuba as well as lifting travel restrictions against Cuban- Americans visiting Cuba reveal themselves as merely a reversal of nuisance regulations implemented by George W. Bush. If Obama intends to live up to the hype he initiated during his campaign in terms of thawing an otherwise fallow relationship with Cuba, he needs to address a much longer and larger restrictive strategy towards US-Cuban policies than just those put into effect by the previous administration. Furthermore, his executive orders regarding Cuba are not being enforced. On January 21, 2009 he signed orders instructing the CIA to close Guantanamo Bay; a year later, it remains open and Reuters reported that the deadline has been extended to an additional three years.

Obama has ordered that the release of all political prisoners held in Cuba as a reoccurring condition to regain ties. It has been indicated that Raúl Castro is willing to release anyone of importance to the US if the White House sees to it that the Cuban Five are freed. International support against the imprisonment of the Cuban Five remains strong. On January 28, 2010 three Argentinean men climbed Mount Aconcagua, the second tallest mountain in the world, to display a banner that read, “Obama, free the five Cuban heroes now!” The United Nations defended the Cuban Five, stating that the trial was not impartial; it happened in South Florida where anti-Castro sentiments are strong and harsh punishment for Castro supporters is routine. On October 10, 2009 a judge decided that the sentences were excessive and reduced them for three of the five. Antonio Guerrero’s sentence was reduced from a life sentence to a twenty-year term, due to insufficient evidence. The sentence reductions reflect negatively on the US criminal system and raises doubt that their right to a fair and speedy trial was acknowledged. If the United States truly wishes to have better ties to Cuba, the prompt release of prisoners in both countries will stimulate change.

By far the most damaging action taken by an administration supposedly trying to re-establish relations with Cuba was to abrogate the US Practice of almost automatically placing Cuba on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. According to Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives, a non-governmental research library located at George Washington University, the reason for Cuba’s inclusion on the list is punishment for not participating in Washington’s global War on Terror. This accusation is far from legitimate since Cuba has laws against terrorism. In addition, being on the list prohibits Cuba from receiving US foreign assistance, permission to export goods to the US, and requiring special licensing requirements for businesses exports to Cuba. But one would hope that the US possessed a justifiable reason for maintaining Cuba on its list rather than an ideological commitment to political values. For twenty-eight years, Cuba has languished on the list with no action toward democratic change or presenting credible evidence of Cuba supporting the War on Terror. Keeping Havana on the list for another year with no concrete evidence that it benefits the United States leads to the conclusion that it only negatively affects Cuba. Recalling Obama’s words on May 23, 2008 concerning US arrogance towards Latin America, it would appear that the US is in need of a pressing review of a hemispheric policy that brings with it vital new ideas.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, visit www.coha.org

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bahamas: US tax treaty 'hasn't created Armageddon'

By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor:


THE Bahamas' Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) with the United States "hasn't created the kind of Armageddon" many feared when this nation signed that treaty back in 2002, a senior Ministry of Finance official said yesterday, adding that the number of requests submitted by Washington had not been "exorbitant".

Rowena Bethel, in-house legal adviser at the ministry, told a Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) luncheon yesterday that the Bahamas' first-ever TIEA, which took effect with the US for criminal tax matters from January 1, 2004, onwards, and New Year's Day 2006 for civil matters, had "been a fairly smooth process to date".

Responding to questions from STEP members as to how the US TIEA had worked and been administered in practice, Mrs Bethel said the Bahamas' "long-standing relationship" with Washington in many areas had ensured the tax information exchange process had been relatively hassle-free.

"I'm not aware that there have been any issues in terms of processing of requests from the US, and that speaks in the Bahamas' favour," Mrs Bethel said. "It hasn't been an exorbitant number of requests, to my knowledge.

"We have a long-standing relationship, and it [the US TIEA] hasn't created the kind of Armageddon spoken about" when the Bahamas signed the agreement back in 2002.

The Bahamas' experience in responding to US requests for assistance under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) had served it well in dealing with TIEA requests, she suggested, as the processes involved had their similarities.

Referring to the wider TIEA network the Bahamas had signed up to, Mrs Bethel added: "What we're looking at is the new norm, and operating within the scope of the new norm, recognising certain obligations have to be met, and the parameters to work within."

Analysing the TIEAs' likely impact on the Bahamas financial services industry going forward, Mrs Bethel said this nation was "very good at adjusting", as it had shown throughout its history, and the key was its response to the new international financial services regulatory climate and whether it "takes advantage of the opportunities" now presenting themselves.

"It's a foregone conclusion that things have changes, and in many ways they've changed irreversibly," she told STEP members. "It's important to see how we can benefit from the new opportunities that have emerged from these changes.

"What is important is building a strategy to ensure the Bahamas remains a viable and competitive centre."

Moving forward, Mrs Bethel said the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development's (OECD) 'Peer Review' programme, which would assess the Bahamas and 90 other nations on their compliance with global standards for tax transparency and information exchange, was they key consideration this nation had to be aware of.

The review would take place in two phases, the first of which would assess whether the Bahamas had the legal, administrative and regulatory framework to achieve the desired standards. The latter would assess whether this nation was effectively implementing them, and exchanging tax information in an effective manner.

Asked why several TIEAs, including those the Bahamas had agreed with the UK, France and the Netherlands, included a provision that made information exchange on criminal tax matters retroactive to January 1, 2004, Mrs Bethel replied that based on the OECD model agreement, the earliest tax year for which information could be shared was the one that began on that date.

She added: "The Bahamas hasn't done anything outside the standard, except set a floor in terms of how far back it goes in providing assistance in criminal tax matters."

March 17, 2010

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The pain of enlightenment: Discarding the colonial mask

By NOELLE NICOLLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
nnicolls@tribunemedia.net:


MANY times in life we are confronted with the truth that ignorance is bliss..

But less we become too blind to our own self-destructive ways, let us not forget that "when you're dumb, you're dangerous".

A truth all too uncomfortable to accept is the fact that neither the abolition of slavery, majority rule, independence, civil rights, nor Christianization, restored the humanity, identity, position of power or culture of African people, now dispersed around the globe.

In the Bahamas, immigration officers regularly conduct raids on the Haitian community at job sites in the early morning, or bus stops in the mid afternoon. When a Haitian child returns home from school to a vandalized and empty house, what sort of humanity is there to speak of for that child? This is the unspoken reality of disempowered African people, in this instance Haitians in the Bahamas. Parents deported to Haiti with no consideration for their children. Children abandoned by the State, many times left to wonder the streets until a relative or community member absorbs them into the family.

African people, a classification for all people of African descent, have been so far removed from themselves they have virtually lost the ability to progress, to unify, to function at an optimum level, to move forward as a people. Almost every day this is played out, not in history class, but in headline news.

Atlanta, Georgia billboard: "Black children are an endangered species".

Voice of America: "UN Calls for Action to Prevent Spread of HIV/AIDS in Haiti". Jamaica Observer: "Jamaican government failing crime fight".

National Press Review:" Genital herpes hits black women hardest".

Seven-Sided Cube: "Deadly massacre in Nigeria didn't even spare infants".

Seattle Local: "Rate of black men's imprisonment rising".

Freeport News: "Chilling crime statistics".

Far from progress, the African community is on the path to self destruction..

This is no secret, examples abound, and this is no coincidence, but who really wants to look at the real reasons why. Reasons exist - rap music, no respect for elders, violent video games, drugs, homosexuality, the devil - but most are little more than symptoms, fantasies, illusions or white lies.

What of the deep wounds, festering below the surface, starving the African of vitality, depriving the African of self-knowledge, making the African prone to participate in his own demise?

Having been emasculated by the dehumanising experience of the Maafa, or centuries of suffering through slavery, imperialism, colonialisation, post-colonialism, and Willie Lynch inspired behaviour, most Africans are zombies to their own condition.

Many people tire to hear African people speak about slavery and its associated conditions because they lack an appreciation for the fact that colonial narratives persist today to the great detriment of African people.

Many people encourage the African community to forgive and forget, to move on, and to see modern society as a post-racial society, only because they lack an understanding of the lies, damned lies and the lying liars that perpetuate the myths.

I recall an elder advising me on dealing with someone who had done me wrong, forgive, but don't forget. I recall an African American civil rights activist saying, what we seek is not post-racial; because the racial identify of the African community is important culturally and spiritually.

The movement is for integration not assimilation, and in some instances, the desire is for separate but equal institutions.

The highest order of resistance is needed in the African community to push back, to challenge the thinking that slavery does not matter. Slavery is not just about physical barriers, many of which have been removed, or mental chains, many of which have been theorised, slavery is a symbol for the real and tangible loss of identity, loss of power and loss of culture, continually corroding the foundations on which African communities try to build.

The perpetuation of slavery-derived colonial narratives occur to the detriment of African people, most powerfully because it deprives African people of self-knowledge. These narratives will never be challenged or changed by the ruling minority class, the dominant culture, deniers of their existence, by assimilationists, or other races for which they have no negative impact. The African community will only be restored when it restores its own sense of "Nyon Nyor Nyan", which means "Who are we?" in the Grand Dakar Wolof language of West Africa.

Anyone educated in the formal education system, under established institutional structures, will be hard pressed to understand these perspectives. Anyone engaged in self-discovery - tantamount to awakening one's African consciousness at some level - might share a glimmer of understanding. Sadly, many who participate in this journey reach only as far as intellectual engagement, stopping just short of applying their knowledge to restore their way of life, stopping just short of where their real power lies.

My family is a living testament of this. Most Bahamian families do not contemplate the question: should we send the children to church? That is a given. To be a good Christian in a Christian nation, children must go to church. So I was surprised to hear my father recount the story about his argument with my mother over whether or not my brother and I should be sent to church.

My father was never sold on the idea of Church, thinking Sunday was the day for the family to spend together on the beach, and share Sunday dinner. Beyond that, he had fundamental problems with religion. Although he grew up grounded in a Church going family, Western religion never satisfied his spiritual needs. In the end, he gave in to my mother's wishes, for the sake of peace making. In the case of my mother, she knew of no alternative to satisfy the family's spiritual needs, so church was it.

Why all the scepticism of that which is so called holy? I completely understand my father's sentiments today, because African people have suffered greatly from the destructive colonial narratives about African history, culture and identity; from lies, dammed lies, and lying liars, the biggest of which have been perpetuated by Christians.

Christians, particularly Christian missionaries, are responsible for some of the greatest atrocities to the African race and they continue to wield their power to the death of the African spirit. It would serve African people well never to forget this fact, particularly as they seek to restore some semblance of order to their communities.

Unfortunately, there is little spiritual or intellectual freedom in the Bahamas to critically examine the Christianization of African people, without being oppressed, ostracized, or damned to hell. This process is important not to bash Christianity, or instruct Christians on how to be Christians, but for African people to take back rights to their own spirituality.

The Haitian case study is a clear example of how colonial narratives work their magic, a type of magic far worse than the 'black magic' of Hollywood's invention, Vodou portrayed in images of sorcery, zombies, bad spells and evil spirits. The seeds of intolerance, self-hate and division planted to turn Vodou into Satan and all things evil are the same seeds sewn to blind African people of their traditional African cultural practices. Many of these practices are retained in the West today, and they have the potential to be sources of great pride and vehicles for strengthening the African community.

Last month news emerged out of Haiti of Christian Evangelicals violently disrupting a Vodou ceremony being conducted for deceased earthquake victims..

According to Haitian police, protesters were responding to calls from their pastor, who urged his followers to attack the ceremony. The evangelicals threw rocks at practitioners, urinated on their Vévé, or sacred religious symbols, and vandalised their altars that contained offerings of food and rum for the ancestors.

Around the same time news emerged that Christian missionary groups were discriminating against Vodou practitioners in the distribution of relief supplies, using the aid as bargaining chips for buying souls. Some Vodou practitioners reportedly converted to Christianity out of fear they might lose the opportunity to receive badly needed supplies.

Since the January 12 earthquake, Catholics, Baptists, Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other missionaries flocked to Haiti. The presence of Christian missionaries in Haiti is nothing new. Over the years, the army of Christian aid organisations have grown so large they virtually run Haiti's social services.

The relationship is not strictly benevolent, because for hundreds of years Christian missionaries have tried to entrench the colonial narrative equating Vodou with devil worship. Their efforts suffered a major blow in 2003, when Haiti's Catholic President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide declared Vodou an official religion of Haiti, setting out regulations for Vodou ceremonies, such as marriage, to have equal status to Christian ones.

It was no surprise then to hear Christian evangelical Pat Robertson speak of Haiti's pact with the devil. This is how the lie goes. A black witch doctor slave named Boukman and a Vodou priestess Cecile Fatiman presided over a pagan ritual on 14 August 1791 in which participants sacrificed a pig and drank its blood in order to form a pack with the devil in exchange for freedom from the French. On August 22, 1791, the Africans entered into a rebellion that persisted - not without setbacks - until Haiti declared itself free: the first free African republic.

As convenient a lie the 'pact with the devil' story may be, this colonial narrative, invented originally by Christian missionaries to demonize African liberationists and Vodou practitioners, is a corruption of actual historic events that should be a source of pride and strength for the African community. Instead, it is a source of shame and scandal; a mechanism to deny African people knowledge of one of the most important meetings and ceremonies perhaps to the entire emancipation and independence movement.

The story of the meeting at Bwa Kayiman in the northern mountains of Haiti some say is an amalgamation of two historical meetings: one a planning meeting, the other a Vodou ceremony. Whether it was one or two, the basis of the meeting was to unify the various African groups originating from different places in Africa, speaking different languages, and living on different plantations in Haiti. The Africans summoned the sacred energies of the universe and the power of the ancestors to support them on their mission to launch the liberation war. There was likely the ritual sacrificing of an animal and spilling of blood which is not only common in African tradition, but in secular and sacred rituals across the globe.

As a child, you learn one of the most sacred pacts two friends and make is to prick the hand of the other and exchange a handshake of blood. Christians ritually use blood in the Holy Communion. The ritual use of blood is not unique to traditional African culture.

There is a famous prayer, widely believed in Haiti to have been delivered by Boukman at the ceremony: "The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light. The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer.

The white man's god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It's He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It's He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men's god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that speaks in all our hearts."

This information is the basis on which Christian missionaries and colonizers believed Haiti made a pact with the devil. This is the basis on which the myth continues to be perpetuated. This is just one example of the countless lies, dammed lies and lying liars.

Clearly, there was no pact with the devil; this was a highly spiritual initiation ceremony calling on the spirit of God to prepare the African warriors for the ensuing battle. If Christians believe this to be a "pact with the devil" then sobeit; this simply reveals their lack of knowledge and perspective, and their linear way of thinking.

If in order to elevate African people out of poverty; liberate African people from mental slavery; and restore the functioning of the traditional African community, the cost were a so called "pack with the devil", that deal would be signed, sealed and delivered. I certainly would book myself on a one-way ticket to the eternal inferno.

The Christianisation project has rendered African people an impotent lot, with most African people living in hell on earth already, consoled only by a great faith in eternal life after death. With this thought I am always reminded of the 'great prophet' Jimmy Cliff, who said: "Well, they tell me of a pie up in the sky, waiting for me when I die, but between the day you're born and when you die, they never seem to hear even your cry. So as sure as the sun will shine, I'm gonna get my share now, what's mine."

The impact of colonial narratives is not just born out in the lies themselves, but also in the lies of omission implicit in the telling of these stories. This became apparent to me when I realized that although I rejected the colonial image of Vodou, I had no understanding of what the real Vodou was.

Recently, my level of understanding evolved. Where I would have once spoken about Voodoo, I now speak about Vodou, because Vodou, spelt as such, is considered the most correct phonetic English translation from the Fon language word "Vodun", which means sacred energies, and Voodoo too readily conjures up the invented Hollywood image.

"Haitian deities are living entities, living energies in nature. The energies in Vodun are not perfect like the Catholic Saints. No. They mirror the imperfect world and are found always in the universe and may be elevated or not. In Vodun, there are no middlemen between you and what is good, sacred and divine. Your highest self is in you, or you may allow the mass consciousness to take you over," writes Marguerite Laurent, an award winning playwright, performance poet, political and social commentator, author and human rights attorney, in her essay on counter-colonial narratives on Vodun.

Vodun, as you will find is consistent with many traditional spiritual practices, is very unlike modern religions, in that it has no prescribed doctrine. There is a priestly order, but these community leaders are often keepers of the secrets of the community, keepers of the community's oral history, and vehicles for the community to govern itself and elevate its sacred values.

"It's an African tradition, a way of life, a psychology, philosophy, art, mythology for taping into and understanding and controlling human nature; it's the use of herbs, prescient dreams, a healing way of being, of excavating the unconscious and bringing forth the sacred energies that we all are essentially a part of," writes Ms Laurent.

The Hollywood version of 'Voodoo' is far removed from the real practice of Vodou, just as the truth of 'Haiti's pack with the devil' is far removed from the truth of the events giving birth to Haiti's 13-year liberation war.

Narrative

Although I always suspected and at some point knew the colonial narrative of Vodou was false, I had no idea what the truth was, or where the source of unfiltered truth resided. The only frame of reference I had to approach Vodou was still the negative perspective shaped by the colonial view I rejected. I realized the same was true with my understanding of traditional African culture.

The colonial narrative instructs me that Africans had no history, Africans had no inventors, Africans had no advanced medical technologies, Africans had no religion or valid world views, Africans worshiped many gods, Africans were primitive in this that and the next. I knew the colonial narratives were false, but I had no concept of what the unfiltered truth was. I suspect that was the same problem my father faced when he had to contemplate the question: should the children go to church.

I came to learn that in the area of religion and spirituality, there is a rich African culture that is perhaps becoming increasingly more relevant in modern times. The Bahamas has its very own African religious retention, Obeah, but this practice is merely written off as devil worship or black magic. Very little work has been done in the study of Obeah towards its recognition as a valid, albeit endangered, African retention in the Bahamas.

The Bahamas is even lagging in the Caribbean, where places like Jamaica, have elevated religious retentions like Revivalism and Kumina, even if only at a ceremonial level.

Although Obeah, in its present day form, does not retain the type of structure, with collective rituals found in Haitian Vodou or Afro-Cuban Lucumi tradition, or Trinidadian Shouter Baptists, it is still has a valid story to tell of "Nyon Nyor Nyan".

The knowledge that other living African traditions have to share with us is vast. In contrast to the colonial narrative about life and death, heaven and hell, which is based on a linear model, the Bantu-Kongo cosmology of the Kikongo people teach us about the coil of life on which past, present and future exist on an unbroken continuum. Life has no beginning or end; it merely constitutes a cycle of unending change. This gives birth to the central importance of ancestors, because the energy of a person never truly dies. Below the invisible wall between the physical and spiritual world lies the ancestral realm. The physical world is capable of interacting with the spiritual world, because the continuum is fluid.

The primacy of the ancestors is consistent in all traditional African religions, and based on this world view the failure of African people to cultivate a relationship with their ancestors could be a source of their demise. Dr Fu-Kiau Bunseki, a traditional Bantu healer, suggests that each living human being is a seed of a seed of a seed of a seed of a seed of a seed of a seed of a seed. There is a perpetual transfer of form and energy from one seed or generation or ancestor to another.

Ancestor

The inclination to remember and the desire to reconnect is deeply rooted in African tradition. In African culture the genesis of each individual flows from the original ancestor who was given life from the hands of the Creator, not the parents from which one was born. The honouring of one's ancestors is a recognition of that continuation, a recognition of the shoulders upon which each person stands.

The Dagara people of present day Burkina Faso teach us about the relationship between the ancestors and community. "For the Dagara people, death results in simply a different form of belonging to the community. It is a lesson from nature that change is the norm, that the world is defined by eternal cycles of decline and regeneration. Death is not a separation but a different form of communion, a higher form of connectedness with the community," writes Malidoma Some in "The Healing Wisdom of Africa".

African cultures have a systems approach to living, unlike the compartmentalized worldview typically found in the West. In African culture, the individual is an integral part of the community, just as each part of the body is essential to the functioning of the whole. This notion of the part to the whole is related to the concept of destiny.

Yoruba culture has something important to teach us about destiny. In the order for the community or the whole to function properly, each part has to be aligned with its purpose. A person's individual destiny is discovered in Yoruba culture through divination. Divination is based on binary code, which is the basic language the modern computer operates on. This ancient African technology is used to intuit the patterns of creation which contain the physical and spiritual DNA of a person. These dimensions are inseparable, as the physical aspect of a person is simply the manifestation of the spirit.

A visit to the career counselor is insufficient to determine one's true destiny.

The condition of the West is chaotic in the Yoruba world view, because individuals primarily determine their roles in society based on the pursuit of a personal passions or consumerist wants. Destiny helps to bring the individual into alignment with the community, with nature, with the universe and with themselves.

The Rastafari community provides an interesting case study for the impact embracing African culture can have on African men, who bear the brunt of the criticism for societal ills.

While the Rastafari community is not a homogenous group, consisting of various liturgical and non-liturgical orders, there are various elements that unify the way of life of the Rasta man, which are all deeply rooted in African tradition.

The fact that Rastafari is a relatively modern practice does not take away from its grounding. Rastafari men are respectful, enterprising, self-sufficient, family-oriented, and highly spiritual.

This is the model of the man for which the wider society elusively seeks. Perhaps we have much to learn from them.

This discussion of African spiritual traditions is in no way exhaustive.

Rather, it serves to shed a ray of light on an entire system of knowledge that most African people are not exposed to because of the omissions symptomatic of colonial narratives.

The limited exposure that is gained is so heavily influenced by these colonial narratives that their point of view is invariably distorted. African spiritual traditions are not evil, devilish, pagan, or polytheistic.

On the contrary, they are an essential part of who we are and keys to restoring the African community.

This acknowledgement can only come with the discarding of the colonial mask.

If African people would give up the pleasure of basking in the bliss of ignorance, and suffer through the pain of their own enlightenment, they might just discover the reality of "Nyon Nyor Nyan".

March 15, 2010

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