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Friday, October 30, 2009

Report recommends tax changes for British Overseas Territories

LONDON, England, October 30, 2009 - A report commissioned by the United Kingdom government is recommending that British Overseas Territories, including those in the Caribbean, introduce more taxes to put their economies on a firmer footing.

The report, prepared by former director of the Bank of England Michael Foot, reviewed the three Crown Dependencies - Guernsey, Isle of Man and Jersey - and six Overseas Territories - Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

"The tax regimes in most of the Overseas Territories have not evolved beyond the imposition of specific transaction and consumption taxes; they operate a range of customs duties on imports, on which they are heavily reliant for revenue," Foot said, adding that there are no taxes levied on income, profits and capital gains, and no sales or value added taxes.

Foot said that consultancy firm Deloitte, which played a part in the review, found "a compelling case for those of the nine jurisdictions which do not already operate VAT or Goods and Services Tax (GST) to consider introducing such a system to increase the sustainability of their business models by broadening their revenue bases".

"Deloitte noted that this would be of particular importance for the Overseas Territories should the global trend for reducing reliance on customs duties continue," he said.

Foot himself said that none of the jurisdictions he had reviewed could afford to be complacent.

"Some now face difficult decisions and will need to look afresh at options for controlling public expenditure and increasing revenue," he said.

The UK Minister for the Overseas Territories, Chris Bryant, said he welcomed Foot's "balanced and intelligent report", which also stated that British offshore financial centres must ensure they meet international standards on tax information exchange, financial regulation, anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.

"I have argued for some time that the Overseas Territories need to have robust governance of financial institutions, transparency in financial systems, proper regulation of off-shore financial services and a broader tax base," Bryant said.

"The Overseas Territories have made substantial progress, especially in relation to financial transparency. I shall be working closely with the governments and governors to ensure that these recommendations are taken forward."

Lord Bach, Ministry of Justice Minister for the Crown Dependencies, added that the review was "helpful" and that it recognised that in a fast changing and increasingly complex financial environment, there is no room for complacency.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

UN General Assembly urges end to US embargo on Cuba

By Sebastian Smith:

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) -- The UN General Assembly called overwhelmingly Wednesday on US President Barack Obama's administration to end Washington's Cold War-era trade embargo against Cuba.

This was the 18th year running that the UN General Assembly condemned US trade restrictions on the communist-ruled island.

The non-binding vote was backed by 187 countries, ranging from Latin American neighbors of Cuba to members of the European Union and other close US allies.

Only Israel and tiny Palau supported the United States, while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.

The margin of opposition to the US embargo has grown steadily since 1992, when 59 countries voted in favor of the resolution. The figure was 179 in 2004, 182 in 2005, 184 in 2007, and 185 last year.

The embargo was imposed nearly five decades ago at the height of the Cold War when Cuba was a Soviet client state.

Cuba's Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, called the embargo "an absurd policy that causes scarcities and sufferings. It is a crass, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights."

He told the General Assembly that despite signs of a US-Cuban thaw since Obama's election last year "there has not been any change in the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade."

Voting for the UN resolution would be "an act against aggression and the use of force. It would be an act in favor of peace," he said.

However, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, dismissed the "painfully familiar rhetoric."

"The hostile language we have just heard from the foreign minister of Cuba seems straight out of the Cold War era and is not conducive to constructive progress," she said.

Rice said Washington was offering Havana "a new chapter" in their relations but had as yet received no answer.

She rejected assertions that the US embargo was responsible for Cuba's crushing poverty, blaming the near permanent economic crisis in the country on government control over the economy and society.

"There are many things the government of Cuba could do," she said. "Positive measures could include liberating the hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Cuban jails (and)... demonstrating greater respect for freedom of speech."

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly reinforced Rice's statement saying the US would consider lifting the embargo "when the government of Cuba starts to make some positive steps toward -- toward loosening up its repression of its own people."

Kelly said in Washington that the yearly UN vote "obscures the facts that the United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian relief to Cuba" that last year totaled 717 million dollars.

The US economic, trade and financial sanctions were imposed 47 years ago following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the Caribbean island nation by US-backed Cuban exiles.

Since taking office in January, Obama has moved to ease tensions with small steps such as relaxing rules on visits and money transfers to the island.

But so far, the US administration has not taken major strides in its approach to the Americas' last remaining communist regime.

In July, the two countries officially restarted a dialogue on migration issues which had been suspended since 2003, and talks are also under way aimed at restarting bilateral mail service which was cut off in 1963.

October 29, 2009


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Caribbean sees drop in HIV, AIDS cases

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AFP) -- The number of people with HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean is on the decline, but more must be done to contain the disease, a senior official said Monday, on the eve of a regional meeting on the ailment.

The ninth annual general meeting of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) is to be held on the island of Grenada from October 28 to 30.

The Guyana-based PANCAP unit of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) headquarters said the region recorded 17,000 new infections last year compared to 20,000 the previous year.

PANCAP also said there were 11,000 deaths compared to 14,000 during the same period in 2008.

"The figures are still very high for such a small region," said PANCAP director Carl Browne, comparing the Caribbean on a per capita basis to sub-Saharan Africa.

Latest statistics show that 230,000 people in the Caribbean and 22 million in Africa live with HIV and AIDS. And the prevalence rate among adults in sub-Saharan Africa is five percent compared to 1.1 percent in the Caribbean.

Authorities say the decline in new infections is due to massive public education and increased condom-use, while the reduced number of deaths is a result of better access to care and treatment.

The estimated 150 participants at the PANCAP general meeting are to discuss the latest advancements in developing an HIV vaccine that has shown a 31 percent rate of success.

They will also examine the impact of HIV and AIDS on the Caribbean's finance and education sectors.

October 27, 2009


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Central America most crime-ridden region in world, UN report finds

21 October 2009 – Central America has become the region with the highest levels of non-political crime worldwide, with an average murder rate of 33 per 100,000 inhabitants last year, three times greater than the global average, a new United Nations report warns, noting that crime threatens the region’s development.

Some 79,000 people have been murdered in the region over the past six years, but despite these heightened levels of violence, solving the problem of insecurity is possible within the framework of democracy, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Report on Human Development in Central America 2009-2010.

“Apart from its economic costs, which are concrete and indisputable, one of the main reasons why this is a crucial issue is that violence and crime are affecting the day-to-day decisions of the population, making insecurity a clear hindrance to human development,” UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Rebeca Grynspan said.

“One of the most difficult costs to quantify is that of lost freedoms,” she added. “No aspect of human security is as basic as keeping the population from being victimized by fear and physical violence.”

Security involves intelligent diagnosis, a real political will and an integrated system for adopting and executing short- and long-term actions, the report says.

“Security is everyone’s right, and the State has the duty to provide it,” said Hernando Gómez Buendía, the general coordinator of the report. “Without security, there is no investment. Without investment, there is no employment, and without employment, there is no human development. Security is an essential part of the development strategy of nations and cities.”

Security requires a very hands-on management of the problem, and an intelligent citizen security strategy for human development would not be complete without the participation of local governments, according to the report. This assumes direct knowledge of the problem, proximity, decentralization and flexibility on the part of national and local authorities.

Both the strong-arm and the soft touch approaches have failed and must evolve toward a “smart” strategy of citizen security for human development with a new comprehensive strategy that includes preventive and coercive actions, congruence with the justice system and respect for the values of civility, it adds. Real political will, clear leadership, and continuity from one government to the next are crucial.

U.N. News

Friday, October 23, 2009

Barbados opens region's first HIV/AIDS Food Bank

The HIV/AIDS Food Bank is managed by a Community Nutrition Officer, with specialist training in HIV nutrition, assisted by a cadre of dedicated volunteers. Psychology services will be provided by a clinical psychologist; while HIV testing and counseling, and community health education will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.(File photo)BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, October 23, 2009 - Barbados has become the first country in the region to have a dedicated HIV/AIDS Food Bank and Personal Development Centre.

Health Minister Donville Inniss, in officially opening the Vashti Inniss Empowerment Centre this week, said the new facility signalled government's commitment to meet the 2006 United Nations' General Assembly goal of Universal Access to comprehensive HIV prevention, programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010.

"The results of the scaling up of efforts have been promising, with statistics showing that persons are now learning to live with HIV instead of waiting to die from it," he said.

"In scaling up towards universal access, countries must ensure that nobody is left behind and our efforts must therefore be equitable, accessible and affordable. The opening of the HIV/AIDS Food Bank and Personal Development Centre is one of the ways in which this Government cements its commitment to universal access."

He explained that universal access signified a concrete commitment and a renewed resolve among people around the globe to reverse the course of the epidemic: "It is not a new initiative, but rather it builds on past processes and infuses existing initiatives with new momentum."

The Health Minister further observed that "AIDS is an exceptional crisis requiring an exceptional response" and reflected that other commitments had been made in response to the pandemic. Among them was the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in 2001, where the disease increasingly received the political and financial attention it deserved.

Inniss said the facility would improve accessibility to essential prevention and care services, noting that government recognised that cost should not be a barrier to accessing essentials such as medicines, diagnostics and services and meaningful information.

"Services must be available when and where people need them, and they should be able to access them, without fear of prejudice and discrimination," he stressed. "Our programmes must also be sustainable, knowing that HIV is a lifelong challenge requiring sustained action for preventing new infections and saving and improving the quality of the lives of those with HIV. Services must, therefore, be available throughout people's lives rather than as one-off interventions."

The facility houses the food bank and a personal development centre - named after an early pioneer in empowering persons infected and living with HIV, retired health educator Vashti Inniss - that provides comprehensive HIV prevention and psychosocial support and care services to those in need.

Minister Inniss said the combined facility would ensure that prevention, treatment, care and impact mitigation services are delivered with the full inclusion of people living with HIV, civil society, faith-based organisations, private sector, international partners and government.

The HIV/AIDS Food Bank is managed by a Community Nutrition Officer, with specialist training in HIV nutrition, assisted by a cadre of dedicated volunteers. Psychology services will be provided by a clinical psychologist; while HIV testing and counseling, and community health education will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.

The unit also houses the Sex Worker's Project and three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that cater to the needs of persons living with HIV (PLHIV).

Inniss said that housing these NGOs in this state-owned and operated facility represents the Ministry's strengthening of strategic alliances with key partners who comprise the National AIDS Programme.

The HIV/AIDS Food Bank and Personal Development Centre is also located next door to a specialty clinic responsible for the management of PLHIV in Barbados and is also neighbour to the private sector AIDS Foundation Inc of Barbados.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The ALBA and Copenhagen

Reflections of Fidel

(Taken from CubaDebate)

THE festivities at the 7th ALBA Summit, held in the historic Bolivian region of Cochabamba, demonstrated the rich culture of the Latin American peoples and the joy elicited in children, young people and adults of all ages through the singing, dancing, costumes and expressive faces of the individuals representing all ethnic groups, colors and shades: indigenous, black, white and mixed race people. Thousands of years of human history and treasured culture were on display there, which explains the decision of the leaders of several Caribbean, Central and South America peoples to convene that summit.

The meeting was a great success. It was held in Bolivia. A few days ago, I wrote about the excellent prospects of that country, the heir to the Aymara-Quechua culture. A small group of peoples from that area are striving to show that a better world is possible. The ALBA – created by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Cuba, inspired by the ideas of Bolívar and Martí, as an unprecedented example of revolutionary solidarity – has demonstrated what can be done in just five years of peaceful cooperation. This began shortly after the political and democratic triumph of Hugo Chávez. Imperialism underestimated him; it blatantly attempted to oust him and eliminate him. The fact that for a good part of the 20th century Venezuela had been the world’s largest oil-producer, practically owned by the yanki multinationals, meant that the course they embarked on was particularly difficult.

The powerful adversary had neoliberalism and the FTAA, two instruments of domination with which it crushed any form of resistance in the hemisphere after the triumph of the Revolution in Cuba.

It is outrageous to think of the shameless and disrespectful way in which the US administration imposed the government of millionaire Pedro Carmona and tried to have the elected President Hugo Chavez removed, at a time when the USSR had disappeared and the People’s Republic of China was a few years away from becoming the economic and commercial power it is today, after two decades of growth over 10%. The Venezuelan people, like that of Cuba, resisted the brutal onslaught. The Sandinistas recovered, and the struggle for sovereignty, independence and socialism gained ground in Bolivia and Ecuador. Honduras, which had joined the ALBA, was the victim of a brutal coup d’état inspired by the yanki ambassador and boosted by the US military base in Palmerola.

Today, there are four Latin American countries that have completely eradicated illiteracy: Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. The fifth country, Ecuador, is rapidly advancing towards that goal. Comprehensive healthcare programs are underway in the five countries at an unprecedented pace for the peoples of the Third World. Economic development plans combined with social justice have become real programs in the five different states, which already enjoy great prestige throughout the world for their courageous position in the face of the economic, military and media power of the empire. Three English-speaking Caribbean countries have also joined the ALBA, in a determined fight for their development.

This alone would be a great political merit if, in today’s world, that were the only major problem in the history of humankind.

The economic and political system that in a short historical period has led to the existence of more than one billion hungry people, and many more hundreds of millions whose lives are barely longer than half the average of those in the wealthy and privileged countries, was until now the main problem for humanity.

But, a new and extremely serious problem was extensively discussed at the ALBA Summit: climate change. At no other point in history, has a danger of such magnitude arisen.

As Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega bade farewell to the people in the streets of Cochabamba yesterday, Sunday, that same day, according to a report by BBC World, Gordon Brown was chairing a session of the Major Economies Forum in London, mostly made up of the most-developed capitalist countries, the main culprits for carbon dioxide emissions, that is, the gas causing the greenhouse effect.

The significance of Brown’s words is that they were not uttered by a representative of the ALBA or one of the 150 emerging or underdeveloped countries on the planet, but Britain, the country where industrial development began and one of those that has released the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The British prime minister warned that if an agreement is not reached at the UN Summit in Copenhagen, the consequences will be "disastrous".

Floods, droughts, and killer heat waves are just some of the "catastrophic" consequences, according to the World Wildlife Fund ecological group, referring to Brown’s statement. "Climate change will spiral out of control over the next five to ten years if CO2 emissions are not drastically cut. There will be no Plan B if Copenhagen fails."

The same news source claims that: "BBC expert James Landale has explained that not everything is turning out as expected."

Newsweek reported that every day it seems more unlikely that states will commit to something in Copenhagen.

According to reports from a major American news outlet, the chairman of the session, Gordon Brown, said that ""If we do not reach a deal at this time, let us be in no doubt: once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement, in some future period, can undo that choice. He continued by listing conflicts such as "climate-induced migration" and "an extra 1.8 billion people living and dying without enough water."

In reality, as the Cuban delegation in Bangkok reported, the United States led the industrialized nations most opposed to the necessary reduction in emissions.

At the Cochabamba meeting, a new ALBA Summit was convened. The timetable will be: December 6, elections in Bolivia; December 13, ALBA summit in Havana; December 16, participation in the UN Copenhagen Summit. The small group of ALBA nations will be there. The issue is no longer "Homeland or Death"; it is truly and without exaggeration a matter of "Life or Death" for the human race.

The capitalist system is not only oppressing and pillaging our nations. The wealthiest industrialized countries wish to impose on the rest of the world the major responsibility in the fight against climate change. Who are they trying to fool? In Copenhagen, the ALBA and the countries of the Third World will be fighting for the survival of the species.

Fidel Castro Ruz
October 19, 2009
6:05 PM

Cuba's declining trade betrays depth of its crisis

By Marc Frank:

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Business between Cuba and four of its top five trading partners has declined sharply this year in a reflection of the communist-led Caribbean island's deep economic crisis, trade reports from the countries said.

Reductions in exports to and imports from Cuba ranged from 20 percent to as high as 50 percent, according to the reports from China, Spain, Canada and the United States. In descending order, they are the top traders with Cuba after Venezuela.

Numbers were not available for Venezuela, which is the leading economic and political ally of Cuba's government and supplies the island with oil.

China, Cuba's second trading partner, reported that imports from the island fell 48.2percent to $368 million through August, while Chinese exports to Cuba dropped 12.7 percent to $641.9 million.

Spain, tied with Canada as the island's third biggest trading partner, said its exports to Cuba declined 43 percent to $394 million through July, while imports were down 24 percent to $91 million.

Canada, which did $1.4 billion in trade with Cuba last year, said exports plummeted 52.4 percent to $242 million through August and imports fell 55.7 percent to $283 million.

The United States, which is Cuba's fifth trading partner despite its 47-year-old trade embargo against the island, said sales to Cuba totaled $383.8 million through August, down 23 percent.

Most US exports to Cuba are agricultural products, which are permitted under an exemption to the embargo.

While no information was available from Venezuela, Cuba's close socialist ally, it is likely the value of its exports to the island -- mostly oil -- will fall dramatically from 2008's $5.3 billion due to lower oil prices.

Cuba's economy has been spiraling downward since last year when three damaging hurricanes raked the country, followed by the onset of the global financial crisis.

The combination of rising prices for its imports and declining value of its key exports also depleted cash reserves to the point that the government froze the local accounts of hundreds of foreign businesses and stopped or slowed payments to many foreign creditors.

Cuba's government has forecast a decline of $500 million in export revenues this year and slashed imports by 22.5 percent.

The island's trade deficit soared to $11.4 billion in 2008, up 65 percent, according to the National Statistics Office.

October 21, 2009


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Region´s lowest paid: Afro-descendents, indigenous and women

Latin America´s steady economic growth over the past nine years has not been enough to end income disparities for women, indigenous groups and Afro-descendants, according to a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank.

In the paper, “New Century, Old Disparities: Gender and Ethnic Wage Gaps in Latin America,” economists evaluated household data from 18 Latin American countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela – and found “women and ethnic minorities are clearly at a disadvantage.”

“Females in the region earn less than their male counterparts even though they are more educated,” the study said. “A simple comparison of average wages indicates that men earn 10 percent more than women. But once economists compare males and females with the same age and level of education, the wage gap between men and women is 17 percent.”.

In the seven countries that had data based on ethnicity — Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru — research showed that the indigenous and Afro-descendant population earned on average, 28 percent less than the white population.

“Polices aimed at reducing these inequalities are still lacking. This is more than just a moral necessity. It is an essential strategy to reduce poverty in the region,” said economist Hugo Ñopo, the lead author of the study.

In the seminar “Afro-descendant women and Latin American Culture: Identity and Development” held in Montevideo, Uruguay in late September, found that extreme poverty in indigenous and Afro-descendent populations in the region is double that of the rest of the population.

Rebeca Grynspan, Latin America director for the United Nations Development Program said that statistics on the Afro-descendant population “hide more than they show” because they are pure averages. She said inequality is also the result of present-day discrimination, not only past discrimination.

Latinamerica Press

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) to use virtual SUCRE from next year

But according to media reports, the three who already use the EC dollar under the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, said they would not be participating in the proposed currency at this time.COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, October 19, 2009 - Member nations of Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) have agreed to implement a single currency to be used among themselves from next year, but the three Eastern Caribbean countries who are part of the nine-member Venezuela-led bloc say they won't be a part - a position that was accepted by a weekend summit.

The decision to go ahead with the use of the use of the virtual Single Regional Payment Compensation System (SUCRE) as a replacement for the US dollar in commercial exchanges among members was endorsed by the Prime Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica at ALBA's Seventh Summit in Bolivia.

But according to media reports, the three who already use the EC dollar under the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, said they would not be participating in the proposed currency at this time.

The intention is to have the SUCRE replace the US dollar as the main trading currency among ALBA members.

There will be no bills issued in SUCRE. It will instead be used for electronic payment, and each country can withdraw the equivalent in its own currency.

A multidisciplinary team from the ALBA nations will begin technical operations for the SUCRE's implementation on January 1st next year.

In addition to the Eastern Caribbean nations, ALBA includes Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and, of course, Venezuela.

Their summit ended with resolute support for ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and opposition to US military bases in Latin America.

According to a statement, the leaders and representatives from the nine participating countries called for the reinstatement of Zelaya, and asserted that they would reject any government elected by the presidential election next month.

The summit discussed a draft declaration to put in place policies and procedures to protect the country and analysed the issue of the expansion of US military bases in Colombia.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Obama's Nobel Prize: The stupidity of political bigotry

By Sir Ronald Sanders:

Barack Obama did not ask for the Nobel Peace Prize and he was probably the most shocked person to learn that it had been awarded to him.

He certainly made no secret of his surprise at the news. And, he was dignified and humble in publicly saying that he didn't feel that he deserved to be "in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honoured by this prize - men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace".

In selecting Obama, the Nobel Prize Committee said: "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future". Few, except Obama's bitterest antagonists in the US Republican Party and right wing groups would deny that statement.

The Committee also justified awarding the Prize to Obama by saying it "attached special importance to Obama's vision of, and work for, a world without nuclear weapons". That, too, is true. Obama could not be any clearer on this issue.

I part company with the Committee in its prospective explanation that "as President (Obama) created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play". This latter assertion is left to be seen.

From a Caribbean standpoint, his desire for multilateral diplomacy - rather than the enforcement of a US position - is yet to be tested and will be judged on the readiness of his administration to include Caribbean governments directly in: addressing the economic development needs of the area through bilateral assistance and the mobilization of resources from the international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank; reviewing US policy on the deportation of criminals; reassessing and re-modeling the anti-drug trafficking programme in the area; and fashioning machinery that will allow Caribbean financial services to continue to compete in the global market place, particularly in relation to US businesses. On this, judgment of Obama's willingness to engage even the smallest of nations in multilateral decision-making has to be withheld.

But, whatever reservations may be harboured by non-Americans about the early award of the Peace Prize to Obama, two things cannot be denied. First, the Nobel Prize Committee is right in its assessment that Obama has captured the world's attention and given people of many nations cause to hope for a better future. And, second, he has been awarded the prize without seeking it.

In this regard, Barack Obama is far above reproach. His declaration that he did not feel he deserved to be in the company of the notable persons who preceded him also marked him as a special human being.

Every citizen of the United States of America should have rejoiced in the selection of one of their own for the Prize, especially coming after a period in which its government's policies and practices estranged the US from most of the rest of the world and created deep resentment of Americans as a nation. Americans of every stripe should have been delighted that their country had returned to a place of global honour.

And, it is worth saying that while the period before Obama was particularly awful under the administration of George W Bush, the previous Bill Clinton government was not without its flaws.

Any who would question my observation of the Clinton government should look at the number of routine air strikes in Afghanistan that killed many innocent people and spurred deep resentment.

For the Caribbean, the dislocation of banana farmers from their preferential market in the European Union was a direct result of the Clinton administration's decision to act in the World Trade Organization for US multinational companies that were banana plantation owners in Latin America as well as financial contributors to the Clinton presidential campaign. It was also under the Clinton administration that the US took a hawkish position in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that blacklisted several Caribbean jurisdictions over financial services. Many never recovered.

There is no doubt that no one person in US history has done more to improve global attitudes to the US than Barack Obama. The American people purged themselves when the majority of them elected him President for the content of his character above the colour of his skin, and for recognizing that he had a quality in his reasoning and his aspirations that was inspiring and believable.

But, instead of applauding Obama's appreciation by a prestigious body that has honoured human achievement and ambition for over a century, Republicans and right-wing groups in the United States denigrated it.

Fox News called the Nobel Prize "tainted" and one commentator wallowed in the gutter to ask if the Prize Committee was pursuing "a policy of affirmative action" - in other words Obama got the Prize because he is black. The ridiculousness of the last comment is evidenced by the people who have won the Peace Prize in modern times. For the most part, they are not white and at least three of them are black - Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King.

These same groups cheered, celebrated, and rejoiced when their own country lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympics simply because Obama joined the effort to convince the Olympic Committee to choose Chicago. How sick is that?

As a non-American, wary of the tendency for big powers to overlook the human value of small countries and their tendency to marginalise weak nations in pursuit of their own interests, I have to hope that, in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama so early in his Presidency, the objective of the Committee was to hold him to the values that he has espoused and encourage him to live up to them.

But, those Americans who maligned this unsought honour to one of their own should be ashamed of their deplorable behaviour. The awful spectacle to the world of their bigotry on this particular issue lost them respect and was nothing short of stupid.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The free trade what???

By David Roberts:

David RobertsSo what is the Barack Obama administration's strategic plan with respect to Latin America? It's tempting to conclude it simply doesn't have one, at least at the moment. From a political perspective, the man who should be behind policy towards the region, Arturo Valenzuela, hasn't even taken up his post yet, nine months into the administration, as his nomination as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs has been blocked by Republican senators led by Jim DeMint in protest of Obama's stance on the Honduran coup. The irony is, of course, that Obama doesn't really have a policy on Honduras either, being mildly critical of both elected President Manuel Zelaya and interim leader Roberto Micheletti, but clearly preferring not to get too involved.

And apart from a lot of pleasantries about there being no senior or junior partners in Washington's relationship with Latin America, so far Obama himself has shown scant interest in his southern neighbors. He's only set foot in Latin America once since taking office - a very brief visit to Mexico in April while on his way to the fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain - and has generally adopted a "let's be nice to everyone and sit on the fence" approach, even with regards to Hugo Chávez & Co.

But rather than ask what the strategic plan on Latin America is, maybe first we should ask whether the Obama government needs a plan at all? If his policy is going to be what we've seen so far, perhaps not, but with respect to trade at least, he should have one, as the region needs it. Yet, here again there's not much cooking. While visiting Chile last week, Obama's commerce secretary Gary Locke made it pretty clear that we shouldn't expect much in the way of more free trade agreements with Latin American countries, let alone deals on a more regional basis. Asked about the prospects for ratifying the FTA reached under George W Bush with Colombia, Locke declined to give any indication of whether or when it would get the nod from Capitol Hill, saying the priorities for the Obama administration in terms of passing legislation are healthcare and energy.

That's perhaps not surprising, considering the strong opposition to free trade in the US congress, mainly among Democrats like Obama (many of whom prefer protectionism), the lack of the fast track authority for ratifying deals and the current economic climate. But what was perhaps surprising was that Locke, when asked about the topic by a reporter, obviously was not even aware of past attempts - led by US governments - to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which was supposed to be the free trade bloc par excellence, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego (conveniently excluding Cuba) and be in place first by 2000 (according to George Bush Sr) and then by 2005.

Indeed, the Summits of the Americas were in a sense born out of attempts to maintain the moribund process of FTAA and continental integration alive, a process that fell apart amid unseemly squabbling between free traders and Chávez's Alba bloc of nations over everything from intellectual property to US farm subsidies, with Bolivia's Evo Morales calling the FTAA "an agreement to legalize the colonization of the Americas."

October 18, 2009


A Nobel Prize for Evo Morales

Reflections of Fidel
A Nobel Prize for Evo
(Taken from CubaDebate)

IF Obama was awarded the Prize for winning the elections in a racist society despite being African-American, then Evo deserves it for winning in his country despite being an indigenous man, and moreover for keeping his promises.

It was the first time in the two countries that someone from each of their respective ethnic groups became president.

More than once, I noted that Obama was an intelligent, educated man in a social and political system in which he believes. He aspires to extend health services to almost 50 million U.S. people, to pull the economy out of the profound crisis it is experiencing, and to improve the image of the United States, deteriorated due to its genocidal wars and torture. He does not conceive of or desire, nor can he change, his country’s political and economic system.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to three U.S. presidents, a former president and a presidential candidate.

The first was Theodore Roosevelt, elected in 1901, the man of the Rough Riders that landed their riders – without their horses -- in Cuba for the U.S. intervention in 1898 to prevent our country’s independence.

The second was Thomas Woodrow Wilson, who took the United States into the first war to divvy up the world. In the Treaty of Versailles, he imposed such harsh conditions on defeated Germany, that it laid the foundations for the emergence of fascism and the breakout of World War II.

The third is Barack Obama.

Carter was the former president who, several years after ending his mandate, was awarded the Nobel Prize. Without a doubt, one of the few presidents of that country incapable of ordering the assassination of an adversary, as others did; he returned the Canal to Panama, created the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and avoided falling into large budget deficits or squandering money for the benefit of the military-industrial complex like Reagan did.

The candidate was Al Gore when he was already vice president, the U.S. politician who knew the most about the terrible consequences of climate change. He was the victim of electoral fraud when he was a presidential candidate and had victory snatched away from him by W. Bush.

Opinions about the awarding of this prize have been very much divided. Many are based on ethical concepts or reflect evident contradictions in the surprising decision.

They would have preferred that prize to be the fruit of a task fulfilled. The Nobel Peace Prize is not always awarded to people who deserve that distinction. Sometimes individuals have received it who are resentful, arrogant or even worse. Lech Walesa, upon hearing the news, said disdainfully, "Who, Obama? It’s too fast. He hasn’t had time to do anything."

In our press and on CubaDebate, honest and revolutionary comrades have been critical. One of them said, "In the same week that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Senate passed the largest military budget in history: $626 billion". During the television newscast, another journalist commented, "What has Obama done to achieve such a distinction?" Others asked, "And what about the war in Afghanistan and the increase in bombings?" Those are viewpoints based on reality.

In Rome, the filmmaker Michael Moore made a lapidary statement: "Congratulations, President Obama, on the Nobel Peace Prize; now, please, earn it."

I am sure that Obama would agree with Moore’s statement. He possesses sufficient intelligence to understand the circumstances surrounding the case. He knows that he has not yet earned that prize. That morning, he stated, "I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize."

It is said that there are five members on the famous committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize, all of them members of the Swedish Parliament. A spokesperson said that it was unanimous. One question fits here: did they or did they not consult the winner? Can a decision of this type be made without first notifying the winning individual? This cannot be judged morally in the same way if the person knew or did not know beforehand about the awarding of the prize. It is also fitting to affirm that about those who decided to award it to him.

Perhaps it is necessary to create a Nobel Prize for Transparency.

Bolivia has major gas and oil deposits and holds the largest known reserves of lithium, a mineral greatly needed in our era for storing and using energy.

Evo Morales, a very poor indigenous farmer, traveled throughout the Andes, together with his father, before he was six years old, shepherding the llamas of an indigenous group. They led them for 15 days to reach the market where they sold them to buy food for the community. Responding to a question of mine about that unique experience, Evo told me that at the time, "they stayed in the 1,000-star hotel," a beautiful way of referring to the clear skies of the mountains where telescopes are sometimes placed.

During those hard years of his childhood, the alternative for the farmers in the community where he was born was to cut sugar cane in the Argentine province of Jujuy, where part of the Aymara community sometimes took refuge during the sugar cane harvest.

Not very far from La Higuera, where Che, wounded and disarmed, was murdered on October 9, 1967, was Evo, who was born on the 26th of that same month in 1959, not yet 8 years old. He learned to read and write in Spanish, walking to a little public school five kilometers from the hut where, in a rustic room, he lived with his brothers and sisters and parents.

During his eventful childhood, wherever there was a teacher, Evo was there. From his race, he acquired three ethical principles: not to lie, not to steal, and not to be weak.

When he was 13, his father permitted him to move to San Pedro de Oruro to go to high school. One of his biographers tells how he was better in geography, history and philosophy than in physics and mathematics. The most important thing is that Evo, to pay for his studies, would wake up at 2 a.m. to work as a baker, construction worker, or in other physical labor. He attended classes in the afternoon. His classmates admired him and helped him. From the very start, he learned to play wind instruments and was a trumpet player in a prestigious band in Oruro.

When he was still an adolescent, he organized his community’s soccer team, and was its captain.

Access to the university was not within his reach, being an Aymara Indian and poor.

After his last year of high school, he served his mandatory military term and returned to his community, located high up in the mountains. Poverty and natural disasters forced his family to migrate to the subtropical region of El Chapare, where they were able to obtain a small land parcel. His father died in 1983 when he was 23 years old. He worked hard on the land, but he was a born fighter; he organized all of the workers, created labor unions and with them filled the vacuums to which that the state was not paying attention.

The conditions for a social revolution in Bolivia had been created over the last 50 years. On April 9, 1952, before the start of our armed struggle, the revolution broke out in that country with the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement of Víctor Paz Estenssoro. The revolutionary miners defeated the forces of repression and the MNR took power.

Revolutionary objectives in Bolivia were far from being met. In 1956, according to well-informed people, the process began to fall apart. On January 1, 1959, the Revolution was victorious in Cuba. Three years later, in January 1962, our country was expelled from the OAS. Bolivia abstained. Later, all of the governments except for Mexico broke off relations with Cuba.

Divisions in the international revolutionary movement made themselves felt in Bolivia. Still to come were 40 years more of blockading Cuba, neoliberalism and its disastrous consequences, The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and the ALBA; still to come, above all, were Evo and the MAS in Bolivia.

It would take to long to sum up that rich history on a few pages.

All I will say is that Evo was able to overcome the terrible and slanderous campaigns of imperialism, its coups d’état and interference in internal affairs, and to defend Bolivia’s sovereignty and the right of its millenary people to have respect for their customs. "Coca is not cocaine," he exclaimed to the largest marijuana producer and largest consumer of drugs in the world, whose market has maintained the organized crime that costs thousands of lives every year in Mexico. Two of the countries where the yanki troops and their military bases are located are the largest producers of drugs on the planet.

Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador are not falling into the deadly trap of drug trafficking; they are revolutionary countries that, like Cuba, are members of the ALBA. They know what they can and should do to bring health, education and well-being to their peoples. They do not need foreign troops to combat drug trafficking.

Bolivia is going forward with a program of its dreams under the leadership of an Aymara president who has his people’s support.

In less than three years, he eradicated illiteracy: 824,101 Bolivians learned to read and write; 24,699 did so in the Aymara language and 13,599 in Quechua; it is the third country to be free of illiteracy after Cuba and Venezuela.

Free medical attention is provided to millions of people who had never received it. It is one of seven countries in the world that in the last five years has most reduced its infant mortality rate, with the possibility of reaching the Millennium Goals before 2015, and it is the same case with maternal deaths, in a similar proportion. Restorative eye surgery has been performed on 454,161 people, 75,974 of them Brazilians, Argentines, Peruvians and Paraguayans.

An ambitious social program has been established in Bolivia: all of the children in public schools from first to eighth grade receive an annual donation to help pay for their school materials, benefiting almost two million students.

More than 700,000 people over the age of 60 receive a voucher for the equivalent of some $342 annually.

All pregnant women and children under the age of 2 receive assistance of approximately $257.

Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, has placed under state control the country’s principal energy and mineral resources, respecting and compensating each one of the interests affected. It marches along carefully, because it does not wish to retreat a single step. Its hard currency reserves have been growing. Evo has no less than three times what the country had at the beginning of his administration. It is one of the countries that makes the best use of foreign cooperation and firmly defends the environment.

In a very short time, he has been able to establish the Biometric Electoral Register, and approximately 4.7 million voters have been registered, almost one million more than on the last electoral register, which in January 2009 had 3.8 million.

On December 6, there will be elections. It is a sure thing that the people’s support for their president will grow. Nothing has been able to stop his growing prestige and popularity.

Why isn’t he awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

I understand his big disadvantage: he is not a U.S. president.

Fidel Castro Ruz
October 15, 2009
4:25 p.m.

Translated by Granma International

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham: Minuscule tax benefit from huge bank profits

By KRYSTEL ROLLE ~ Guardian Staff Reporter ~

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham yesterday expressed concern that some of the banks in The Bahamas are able to take large profits out of the country while paying very little taxes.

"I find it very distasteful, and I am very annoyed by it quite frankly, angered would be a better word, that some of the banks in The Bahamas are able to repatriate huge profits from The Bahamas and pay minuscule sums," Ingraham said during debate in the House of Assembly yesterday on a bill to amend the Criminal Justice International Co-operation Act in the House of Assembly on Thursday. The bill, which was passed yesterday, seeks to allow The Bahamas to provide assistance to foreign jurisdictions on fiscal criminal tax matters.

"And if there was a (corporation) tax on banks in The Bahamas, a low tax of ten percent or five percent, then they'd be able to deduct that amount from the tax that they'd pay back in Canada or elsewhere, they'd pay it anyhow and leave the money here," Ingraham said.

He added that the government does not have a problem entering into double taxation agreements.

Those agreements are designed to protect against the risk of an individual or a corporate entity being taxed twice where the same income is taxable in two states.

However, he said the Bahamian tax system is not as broad as countries such as Barbados to take account of various things that are normally taxed in that country.

"Banks in The Bahamas are able to make profits here in this country, [and] send it to their operations in Barbados. Barbados gets its share of taxes, then they pay their home country and we get pittances," he said.

In addition to the Criminal Justice International Co-operation Act, three other bills were passed yesterday.

The House of Assembly also passed a bill to amend the Magistrates Act, which seeks to amend the definition of "circuit justice" in section 2 of the act.

The Merchant Shipping Oil Pollution Amendment Bill was also passed. It seeks to regularize the shipping industry.

Finally, the Bill to Amend the Registrar General Act, which seeks to increase the number of assistant registrar generals under the act, was passed. It also seeks to repeal a section of the act to remove the provision for the registrar general to be a magistrate, ex officio.

October 16, 2009


Thursday, October 15, 2009

No referendum needed for St Kitts-Nevis to join the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), says Prime Minister Denzil Douglas

BASSETERRE, St Kitts (CUOPM) -- St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas said on Tuesday the twin-island Federation does not have to hold a referendum to join the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The Caribbean Court of Justice in TrinidadResponding to a question during his weekly radio call in programme “Ask the Prime Minister,” Douglas said St Kitts and Nevis would proceed to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), as part of the collective body that presently utilizes the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) system.

“I have been advised of this sometime ago. We do not necessarily have to hold a referendum if we want to advance to the CCJ as our final appellate court rather than utilizing the (London-based) British Appellate Court,” said Douglas, who said he was willing to check with legal advisers to see if the position remains the same.

“We support the CCJ. We are not against it for we support it, but we will advance with the other OECS countries as the entirety of the OECS Supreme court system,” said Douglas.

Of all the CARICOM member countries only Barbados and Guyana have the CCJ as their final appellate court.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is the regional judicial tribunal established by the “Agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice.” It had a long gestation period commencing in 1970 when the Jamaican delegation at the Sixth Heads of Government Conference, which convened in Jamaica, proposed the establishment of a Caribbean Court of Appeal in substitution for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The Caribbean Court of Justice has been designed to be more than a court of last resort for Member States of the Caribbean Community. For, in addition to replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the CCJ will be vested with an original jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of the Treaty Establishing the Caribbean Community. In effect, the CCJ would exercise both an appellate and an original jurisdiction.

In the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, the CCJ will consider and determine appeals in both civil and criminal matters from common law courts within the jurisdictions of Member states of the Community and which are parties to the Agreement Establishing the CCJ. In the discharge of its appellate jurisdiction, the CCJ will be the highest municipal court in the Region.

In the exercise of its original jurisdiction, the CCJ will be discharging the functions of an international tribunal applying rules of international law in respect of the interpretation and application of the Treaty.

By interpreting and applying the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which establishes the CSME, the CCJ will determine in a critical way how the CSME functions.

Member States signing on to the agreement establishing the CCJ agree to enforce its decisions in their respective jurisdictions like decisions of their own superior courts.

October 15, 2009


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Free movement issue tops CSME meeting

GEORGETOWN—The free movement of labour and goods, reduction of the food import bill, and strategies to ensure the general public’s effective participation in the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) were among the key issues raised at an open forum of the Convocation on the CSME held in Bridgetown, Barbados. The forum on Saturday afternoon brought the curtain down on the two-day convocation at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre, which was held to receive a report of an audit of the status of implementation of the CSME.

The audit was mandated by the Caricom heads of government, four of whom were at the convocation—David Thompson, Prime Minister of Barbados and Lead Head of Government with responsibility for the CSME; Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda; and Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Patrick Manning, Prime Minister of T&T. The forum, which lasted for more than two hours, benefitted from robust interaction among the heads of government, ministers, regional institutions and organisations, representatives of civil society, the labour union, the private sector and the media. In particular, the free movement of labour and the attendant consequences for member states emerged arguably as one of the more pressing issues at the convocation.

CSME, a thorny issue:

Characterised from the floor alternatively as the “feel of the CSME” and a “thorny issue,” the free movement of labour element of the Community’s flagship programme elicited several recommendations. They ranged from the establishment of a labour market information system and a social welfare stabilisation programme to the full exploration of lifestyle and demographic changes that would be wrought by the free movement of people. The labour movement, which was well represented at the convocation, reiterated its support and commitment to the CSME and recommended the establishment of a regional labour market information system so that the Community could be adequately informed about employment opportunities and other pertinent data from which residents could make informed decisions. The time ripe for such a regional facility, the trade unions argued.

Dialogue and discussion between governments and labour were also critical to progress within the CSME, the trade unions stressed, and suggested that regional tripartite consultation committee forum be set up aimed at promoting and monitoring regulatory labour market developments at the regional level, suggesting areas for improvement and advising on strengthening social capital. The business community expressed concern about the likely change in the demographics of member states, particularly those in the Eastern Caribbean that may occur from the free movement of people in the region. The region must be able to address those facts head-on and until such time as the benefits associated with the CSME are firmly ventilated and understood, there will always be objections, Robert LeHunte, the Caribbean Association of Indigenous Bankers representative, said.

“Life as they know it with those changes will not be the same and people must be aware of that,” he said.

He was also of the view it was important for the community to understand the benefits of political union. “We are missing some of those issues…; the politics of fear can take us that far, but the politics of inclusion is also important,” he said, while underscoring the goals and ideals of the CSME would not be achieved unless there was a mechanism for corporate governance that was not possible without political union.

14 Oct 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Free movement hot topic at CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) convocation

GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- The free movement of labour and goods, reduction of the food import bill, and strategies to ensure the general public’s effective participation in the CSME were among the key issues raised at an Open Forum of the Convocation on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) held in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The Open Forum on Saturday afternoon brought the curtain down on the two-day Convocation at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre, which was held to receive a Report of an Audit of the status of implementation of the CSME.

The Audit was mandated by the CARICOM Heads of Government, four of whom were at the Convocation – David Thompson, Prime Minister of Barbados and Lead Head of Government with responsibility for the CSME; Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda; and Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Patrick Manning, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Open Forum, which lasted for more than two hours, benefitted from robust interaction among the Heads of Government, Ministers, regional institutions and organisations, representatives of civil society, the labour union, the private sector and the media.

In particular, the free movement of labour and the attendant consequences for Member States emerged arguably as one of the more pressing issues at the Convocation.

Characterised from the floor alternatively as the “feel of the CSME” and a “thorny issue”, the free movement of labour element of the Community’s flagship programme elicited recommendations ranging from the establishment of a labour market information system and a social welfare stabilisation programme to the full exploration of lifestyle and demographic changes that would be wrought by the free movement of people.

The labour movement, which was well represented at the Convocation, reiterated its support and commitment to the CSME and recommended the establishment of a regional labour market information system so that the Community could be adequately informed about employment opportunities and other pertinent data from which residents could make informed decisions. The time ripe for such a regional facility, the trade unions argued.

Dialogue and discussion between governments and labour were also critical to progress within the CSME, the trade unions stressed, and suggested that regional tripartite consultation committee forum be set up aimed at promoting and monitoring regulatory labour market developments at the regional level, suggesting areas for improvement and advising on strengthening social capital.

The business community expressed concern about the likely change in the demographics of Member States, particularly those in the Eastern Caribbean that may occur from the free movement of people in the Region.

The Region must be able to address those facts head-on and until such time as the benefits associated with the CSME are firmly ventilated and understood, there will always be objections, Mr. Robert LeHunte, the Caribbean Association of Indigenous Bankers representative said.

“Life as they know it with those changes will not be the same and people must be aware of that,” he said.

He was also of the view that it was important for the Community to understand the benefits of political union.

“We are missing some of those issues…; the politics of fear can take us that far, but the politics of inclusion is also important,” he said, while underscoring that the goals and ideals of the CSME would not be achieved unless there was a mechanism for corporate governance that was not possible without political union.

The Audit identified five basic challenges which would affect the pace at which economic integration could be achieved:

  • surviving the current global economic downturn and emerging from it as a transformed and more resilient Community which is still committed to its original purpose;

  • strengthening the market integration process and stimulating increased cross-border activity, especially in favour of the Member States with negative trade balances;

  • increased investment to build up the general infrastructure and for increased production and job creation;

  • mobilizing adequate resources for implementing effective Community sectoral and other progammes to sustain the supply of skills and for export expansion;

  • reaching agreement on mobilizing adequate resources and execution of a scheduled plan of actions for implementation of the macroeconomic and other measures to establish the single economic space

The matters raised at the Convocation will be considered by officials in November. A final report of the CSME appraisal is expected to be ready for submission to the Twenty-First Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government in 2010.

October 13, 2009


Monday, October 12, 2009

The bells are tolling for the dollar

Reflections of Fidel

(Taken from CubaDebate)

THE Empire dominated the world more through the economy and lies than by force. It obtained the privilege of printing convertible currency at the end of World War II; it had a monopoly of nuclear weapons; it had virtually all the gold in the world; and was the only large-scale producer of productive equipment, consumer goods, food and services at global level. However, it did have a limit on printing paper money: the backing of gold, at the constant price of $35 per troy ounce. That was the case for more than 25 years until, on August 15, 1971, via a presidential order from Richard Nixon, the United States unilaterally broke that international commitment by defrauding the world. I shall insist on repeating that. In that way it launched on the world economy its rearmament costs and military adventures – in particular the Vietnam war – which, in line with conservative calculations, cost no less than $200 billion and the lives of more than 45,000 young Americans.

More bombs were dropped on this little Third World country than all of those used in the last world war. Millions of people died or were mutilated. When the conversion rate was suspended, the dollar became a currency that could be printed at the will of the U.S. government without the backing of a constant value.

Treasury bonds and bills continued to circulate as convertible currency; state reserves continued nourishing themselves on those bills which, on the one hand, served to acquire raw materials, properties, goods and services from every part of the world and, on the other, privileged U.S. exports in the face of other economies of the planet. Time and time again, politicians and academics refer to the real cost of that suicidal war, admirably described in the film by Oliver Stone. People tend to make calculations as if the millions were the same. They do not usually take note of the fact that the millions of dollars of 1971 are not the same as the millions of 2009.

One million dollars today, when gold – a metal whose value has been the most stable throughout the centuries – has a price in excess of $1,000 per troy ounce, is worth approximately 30 times what it was worth when Nixon suspended the conversion rate. In 2009, $6 trillion is equivalent to $200 billion in 1971. If this is not taken into consideration, the new generations will have no idea of imperialist barbarism.

In the same way, when one speaks of the $20 billion invested in Europe at the end of World War II – in virtue of the Marshall Plan for reconstructing and controlling the principal European powers that had the necessary workforce and technical culture for the rapid development of goods and services – people usually ignore the fact that the real value of what was invested at that time by the empire is equivalent to a current value of $600 billion. They do not note that today, $20 billion would barely stretch to building three large oil refineries capable of supplying 800,000 barrels of gasoline per day, in addition to other oil derivatives.

The consumer societies, the absurd and capricious waste of energy and natural resources that are currently threatening the survival of the species, would not be explicable in such a brief historical period if one is unaware of the irresponsible manner in which developed capitalism, in its superior phase, has ruled the destinies of the world.

That astounding waste explains why the two most industrialized countries of the world, the United States and Japan, are indebted to approximately $20 trillion.

Of course the U.S. economy has an annual gross domestic product of $15 trillion. The crises of capitalism are cyclical, as the history of the system irrefutably demonstrates, but this time it is about something more: a structural crisis, as Professor Jorge Giordani, Venezuelan minister of planning and development, explained to Walter Martínez in the latter’s Telesur program last night.

News agency reports circulated today, Friday October 9, add irrefutable data. An AFP cable from Washington notes that the budget deficit of the United States in the fiscal year 2009 is rising to $1.4 trillion, 9.9% of the GDP, "something unseen since 1945, at the end of World War II," it adds.

The deficit in 2007 was one third of that figure. High deficit figures are expected for the years 20010, 2011 and 2012. That huge deficit is fundamentally determined by the U.S. Congress, to save that country’s major banks, to prevent unemployment rising above 10% and to pull the United States out of recession. It is logical that if they flood the nation with dollars, the large commercial chains will sell more merchandise, industries will increase production, fewer citizens will lose their homes, the unemployment tide will stop rising, and Wall Street shares will increase in value. However, the world can no longer return to what it was. The economist Paul Krugman, an eminent Nobel Prize winner, has just affirmed that international trade has suffered its greatest fall, worse than that of the Great Depression, and has expressed doubts on its recovery in the short term.

Nor can the world be inundated with dollars and think that those bills without backing in gold will maintain their value. Other economies, today more solid, have emerged. The dollar is no longer the hard currency reserve of all states; on the contrary, its holders wish to move away from that currency, while as far as possible avoiding its devaluation before they can get rid of it.

The European Union euro, the Chinese yuan, the Swiss franc, the Japanese yen – despite that country’s debts – even the pound sterling, together with other hard currencies, have moved to take the place of the dollar in international trade. Gold metal is once again becoming an important international reserve currency.

This is not a capricious personal opinion, nor do I wish to slander that currency.

Another Nobel Prize winner in economy, Joseph Stiglitz, commented, according to one news agency, that the most likely thing is that the green bill will continue its decline. He stated this on October 6 at the IMF World Bank Joint Annual Meeting in Istanbul. Violent repression could be noted in that city. The event was greeted with broken windows in the commercial sector and fires from Molotov cocktails.

Other agencies talked of the fact that the European countries are fearful of the negative effect of the weakness of the dollar compared to the euro and the consequences of that on European exports. The U.S. treasury secretary stated that his country "was interested in a strong dollar." Stiglitz made fun of an official statement and stated, according to EFE: "In the case of the United States money has been squandered and the reason has been the multimillion rescue of the banks and defraying the cost of wars like that of Afghanistan." EFE reported that the Nobel Prize winner "insisted that instead of investing $700 billion to help bankers, the United States should have directed part of that money into helping the developing countries which, at the same time, would have stimulated global demand."

Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, raised the alarm a few days earlier, warning that the dollar could not maintain its status as a reserve currency indefinitely.

Kenneth Rogoff, an eminent professor of economics at Harvard, stated that the next major financial crisis will be that of "public deficits."

The World Bank declared that "the International Monetary Fund has demonstrated that the central banks of the world accumulated fewer dollars during the second half of 2009 than at any other point in the last 10 years and increased their euro holdings."

That very same October 6, AFP reported that gold reached the record figure of $1,045 per ounce, prompted by the weakening of the dollar and fears of inflation.

The Independent newspaper of London published that a group of oil producing countries were studying the possibility of replacing the dollar in commercial transactions with a basket of currencies including the yen, the yuan, the euro, gold and a new unified currency.

The news leaked or deduced with impressive logic was refuted by some of the countries presumably interested in that protection measure. They do not want it [the dollar] to collapse, but neither do they want to continue accumulating a currency that has lost its value thirty-fold in less than 30 years.

I must mention a cable from the EFE agency, which cannot be accused of being anti-imperialist and which, in the current circumstances, includes opinions of particular interest:

"Experts in economy and finance were in agreement today in New York in affirming that the worst crisis since the Great Depression has resulted in this country playing a less significant role in the world economy."

"The recession has led to the world changing its way of looking at the United States. Our country is now less significant than before and that is something that we have to recognize," affirmed David Rubenstein, president and founder of the Carlyle Group, the largest risk capital company in the world, addressing the World Business Forum."

"The financial world is going to be less centered in the United States… New York is never again going to be the world financial capital and that role will be shared with London, Shanghai, Dubai, Sao Paulo and other cities," he noted.

"…sort out the problems that the U.S. will confront when it comes out of the ‘great recession,’ which will probably go another month or two."

"…’enormous public debt, inflation, unemployment, loss in value of the dollar as a reserve currency, energy prices…"

"The government must reduce public spending in order to confront the debt problem and do something that it doesn’t much like: increase taxes."

"Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at the University of Columbia and UN special adviser, agreed with Rubenstein that the economic and financial predominance of the U.S. ‘is fading.’"

"We have left a system centered in the U.S. for a multilateral one…"

"…’20 years of irresponsibility by the first part of the Bill Clinton administration and then that of George W. Bush,’ yielded to the pressures of Wall Street…"

"…the banks negotiated with ‘toxic assets2 to obtain easy money,’ Sachs explained."

"’The important thing now is to recognize the unprecedented challenge that supposes achieving sustainable economic development in line with the basic physical and biological rules of this planet’…"

On the other hand, the direct news from our delegation in Bangkok, capital of Thailand, was not at all encouraging:

"The essential issue being discussed – our minister of foreign affairs noted textually – is the ratification or not of the concept of shared but differentiated responsibilities between the industrialized countries and the so-called emerging economies, basically China, Brazil, India and South Africa, and the underdeveloped countries.

"China, Brazil, India, South Africa, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the ALBA are the most active. In general terms, the majority of the Group of 77, are holding to firm and correct positions.

"Figures being negotiated for the reduction of carbon emissions do not correspond to those calculated by scientists for keeping temperature increases to a level below 2 degrees Celsius, 25-40%. At this point, negotiations are moving around a reduction of 11-18%.

"The United States is not making any real effort. It is only accepting a 4% reduction in relation to the year 1990."

In the morning of today, October 9, the world awoke to the news that the "good Obama" of the enigma explained by the Bolivarian President Hugo Chávez at the United Nations, has received the Nobel Peace prize. I do not always agree with the positions of that institution but I am obliged to acknowledge at this moment in time, that – in my view – it was a positive measure. It compensates for the setback that Obama suffered in Copenhagen when Rio de Janeiro and not Chicago was chosen as the venue for the 2016 Olympics, which prompted irate attacks from the extreme right.

Many people will say that he has not as yet won the right to receive such a distinction. We would like to see in the decision, more than a prize to the president of the United States, a criticism of the genocidal policy followed by more than a few presidents of that country, who have brought the world to the crossroads where it finds itself today; an exhortation to peace, and the search for solutions that will lead to the survival of the species.

Fidel Castro Ruz
October 9, 2009
6.11 p.m.

Translated by Granma International

How realistic is it for the Caribbean to join the G20?

By Dr Isaac Newton and Debbie Douglas:

In the Caribbean, schisms have opened up over such pressing issues as immigration, foreign policy agendas, borrowing from the IMF, implementation of the Caribbean Court of Justice, viability of the Caribbean Single Market Economy, and leadership clarity over regional direction.

More worrisome are: inadequate critical discussions on national and regional issues over the development of the region, preferred worldview that excellence is imported and things foreign are superior, and threats over sub-regional and regional splits on South American alliances.

But excluded from serious public debates are priorities such as ecological security, fiscal scare, die-hard poverty and rising debt. The paradox is that year after year, the Caribbean spends wasteful resources on conferences that do not yield positive outcomes.

Yet, in this climate, some conscientious political analysts and social scholars attempt to differentiate local realities from global trends. They are on a mission to decipher where points of intersection could help clarify, the key variables needed for the Caribbean to forge its own success pathway.

Against this wider backdrop, former Antigua and Barbuda diplomat, Sir Ron Sanders has written two articles: “Can the Caribbean rely on the G20?" and "Who is listening when the Caribbean speaks?

We have read Sir Ron Sanders’ admirable endeavors to support Caribbean leaders by articulating why they should be given a place at the table where decisions that affect them, directly and indirectly, are made. Such places include the G20, the IMF, and the World Bank.

We know that the Caribbean has played a significant historical role in providing resources that European countries and the USA used to catapult their societies into advanced economies. We are aware also that the Caribbean continues to advance ideals of democracy, with geographic strategic value for Europe and North America. From this angle, we resonate with Sanders’ righteous anger, for rallying against wrongheaded attitudes that arrogantly dismiss the Caribbean and arbitrarily victimizes poor regions.

We particularly embrace Sanders’ enormous optimism, and praise his outstanding passion for envisioning the Caribbean as qualified to enter into the G20 circle. But we are aware of the dizzying nature of how unlikely his goals are to be attained. Added to that, is the unsentimental cost of the possibility of being slighted by the major powers of the world.

There is a difference between a coconut tree and a lamp post-- both are firmly planted in the ground-- one has roots but the other does not. In the same way, Sanders’ desire may be exceedingly earnest but his declaration appears incredibly inaccurate. For the Caribbean to execute its lofty goal of achieving G20 status, it must be willing to put vital steps in place to get there.

At best, Sanders’ articles contribute to our understanding of how geo-politics and ethics are deeply connected to our conceptions of sustainable development and identify. At worst, his ideas illustrate how the Caribbean itself, fails to create added value to penetrate world shaping institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and the G20.

First, the G20 nations deliberately set up structures to protect self interests; they are not too much concerned with building bridges or even recognizing how their fate and the Caribbean’s destiny are interlinked. When shoring up their faltering economies, being charitable towards the Caribbean, is the last thing on their minds.

Second, the very nature of G20 is discriminatory. It is designed for well developed and highly integrated economies both to support each other and to superimpose their collective financial agendas on the rest of the world. The Caribbean’s economies are too meager and far too insignificant to be considered worthy of inclusion.

Third, although ‘a little leak can sink a big ship’, Caricom seems inept, to reverse president Jean Bertrand Aristide’s ousting, when outside powers, unseated a democratically elected leader, from amongst its rank. It took an African country to offer him a place of refuge.

Fourth, until the Caribbean gets its strategic intelligence, market integration, immigration freedom, and innovative educational practices act together, our future seems dismal. Caribbean leaders must concentrate on internally derived development solutions, and on the capacity to ignite the genius of its people, both at home and abroad, to facilitate its growth. Since these dynamics are not in place, why should the most powerful countries in the world, listen to the Caribbean or take our issues seriously?

The fact that so much is at stake, yet we continue to fight ever so often, over narrow terrain of resources and interests, knowing full well, that such infighting has dire consequences for our collective future, suggests that our moral compass is not set in the direction of self-empowerment.

We have our internal work cut out for us, and maybe feelings of being flatly ignored, is a clarion call to explore possibilities for sustainable unity, which is essential for regional advancement.

Perhaps the time to shift strategy and begin to rethink, how to fashion our destiny, from the inside out, while not dismissing the supreme value of finding relevant global partners, to harness mutually beneficial interests, has come.

Sanders’ highly ambitious enterprise, and remarkably, in these difficult economic and social times, places the cart before the horse. Therefore, we read his unique advocacy, more as an investment in encouragement, than as a signature of regional readiness and achievement.

The sentiments in his articles imply that our self-promoting agendas, (we can’t even get the China/Taiwan issue straight) that foster regional hierarchies and that work counter to the need to be critically conscious about the way forward, must be first clarified.

Invisibly and thence consciously, until we nurture a strong sense of ‘regionhood,’ which is indissolubly tied to the power of representation, we will be left out of important decision making processes.

Essentially, the Caribbean must find productive methods of listening to each other. We must speak with one voice by packaging indigenous issues in convincing frameworks to the G20, the World Bank and the IMF. This will increase our clout.

There is plenty of merit for the Caribbean wanting to have its own representation in international gatherings. We can no longer simply react to policies. We must provide intelligent input to shape and implement them. But to have our concerns addressed realistically, depends on our perceived and real weight.

For example, what are we bringing to the international table and how are we communicating added value? Do we have the leadership to build a sustainable regional economy to earn a place at the G20? Do we invite our most competent people to represent our views at the World Bank and the IMF?

No one will listen to us, if we continue to be disunited and needy. In short, we have a lot of growing to do, before we develop the capital to get the deference and high regard needed to wield influence on the global landscape. We wonder, what will quicken in our souls, given how far from the G20 mark we are, for us to realize that seven requests, of wanting to be included, do not an invitation make?

Ultimately, the Caribbean needs to cultivate a robust self-confidence to excel at prosperity-generating ideas. We must also learn to model a quest for excellence through virtues of mutual affirmation, cultural creativity, justice and fairness, critique and rejuvenation.

In essence, the Caribbean must find strategies to ensure that its place in the global-mix is not compromised. Preserving our best cultural features, should involve arresting the attention of global players, in our pursuit of ambitious exploits.

While some amongst us are worrying about the big questions—like, ‘How to develop the Caribbean as a major world force?’ Caribbean leaders have smaller concerns to tackle—‘How to harness and unify the Caribbean’s best energies (human and natural) for its own survival?

Perhaps we must earn inclusion, before we demand it. We need to unite, define our regional interests, build our economies to attain G20 status, and carve out a strategy that advances our needs/wants effectively, to rightly gain the possibility of a place at the table.

Dr Isaac Newton, an international leadership and management consultant, is a graduate of Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, and Debbie Douglas, a legal analyst and government relations consultant, is a graduate of McGill University, Stockholm University and University of London.


CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) is working says Barbados' Prime Minister, David Thompson

By Gillian Applewhaite:

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) is not working perfectly and is also not above suspicion, but it is working.

Prime Minister David Thompson (right), Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Baldwin Spencer (left) and the Opposition Leader of St Lucia, Kenny AnthonyThis view was expressed Friday by Barbados' Prime Minister, David Thompson, as he delivered the feature address at the opening ceremony of the Convocation on the CSME in Barbados.

Referring to a report of an appraisal conducted on the progress achieved by the 12 CSME Member States, Thompson said it indicated that the regimes for trade, capital and movement of persons were functioning under the Treaty.

He stressed that countries within CARICOM had differing capacities, unique governance structures and there was no "one size fits all formula".

"To be brutally frank, varying levels of commitment and emphasis on specific initiatives bedevil implementation in a consistent and timely manner. Ultimately, we are dealing with individuals, individual states and also cultural and social nuances," the Prime Minister stated.

He revealed that one of the findings of the Secretariat concerned the difference between the expressed commitment and full access to the rights expressed in the Revised Treaty.

Thompson said that this, along with other findings, suggested a capacity and communication deficit which regional governments needed to address, as a matter of priority, to ensure that obligations under the CSME were met.

"I raise these matters here because I believe this capacity constraint, and not disinterest in the CSME, is responsible for any examples of irregular application of the provisions across the Community.

"This is not to suggest that we are not to be held accountable for the failings, real or perceived, but rather to point us all to this key area for immediate attention," he noted.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the CSME was the region's main tool of regional development and had to be refined to ensure it delivered on CARICOM's goals.

He lamented the fact that the capacity constraints had been compounded by the sudden financial crisis, which engulfed the major economies of the world some 18 months ago.

"It is expected that each state will be preoccupied with national crisis management. That is why an even greater effort will be required to keep our CSME project on course.

"The integration of our 12 states has presented tensions and we must not ignore them. Not only do we have domestic priorities, which arise from the confluence of national and global developments, but the harmonisation of policies. Also, across key sectors of our economies, the Single Market has challenged the national economic systems," Thompson said.

With respect to the movement of people, the Prime Minister observed that it had "elicited vigorous responses from the length and breadth of our Community". He added: "And, it should excite debate as an effective Single Economy can only exist with the movement of its people. We must, however, be careful not to allow the excitement associated with a declaration of free movement of people - a principle to which we all ultimately agree - to eclipse the matter of balanced regional development."

October 12, 2009


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mr Obama's Nobel Prize

There is much global debate, as the Nobel Peace Committee would have expected, over its award of this year's Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama, a mere nine months into office and with the nominations having closed only weeks of Mr Obama formally taking up the job.

Beyond the uncharitable nastiness of the responses of some of Mr Obama's virulent critics on the American right, who allow political partisanship to trump decency and goodwill, there are those, even among the president's supporters, who argue, with cogency and legitimacy, that the prize may be premature. Mr Obama, it is felt, does not as yet have concrete achievements in any of his initiatives towards a sustainable global peace.

This newspaper is not hostile to those who hold such a position, but appreciates the decision by the Nobel Peace Committee on two fronts: first, as a repudiation of the Bush doctrine of America's iron-fisted, unilateralist exertion of its power and second, and more important, an investment in the promise of Barack Obama. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the Nobel Committee to use the prestige of the Peace Prize to bring attention and impetus to important issues, as was the case with its award to the former US vice president for his efforts in combating global warming.

In fact, the Nobel Committee signalled as much in its citation. Not only did it note the US president's "extraordinary effort to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples", but his place as an inspirational figure.

"Very rarely has a person, to the same extent as Obama, captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the committee said.

rekindling hope

And therein lies the substance of the award: the rekindling of hope, and for a world beyond a single polity.

Perhaps the most critical factor so far in the debate is Mr Obama's apparent appreciation of the intent of the Nobel Prize: as the world's downpayment on his leadership of an America reintegrated into a world of multilateralism, where its might is best displayed by its power of persuasion and the correctness of its values rather than swagger of its gait or the show of its "iron".

"I do not view it (the Nobel Peace Prize) as a recognition of my own accomplishments," Mr Obama said, "but rather, an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

This is where Mr Obama's job becomes difficult - the need to balance global responsibilities against the contending arguments of domestic political constituents, including a substantial minority, who views as effete and weak the administration's emerging foreign policy of broader international engagement.

In this regard, Mr Obama may find in the Nobel Prize, and the legitimacy it affords, a fillip for the initiatives that he has promoted, not least being a just peace in the Middle East, including a viable Palestinian state.

He may find it easier to pursue nuclear non-proliferation, without undermining the rights of perceived enemies to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, while at the same time finding a credible formula for ending America's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan without weakening US security.

And as he does these things, he has to set right America's wobbling economy. For around the corner will be the critics who will claim that Mr Obama's response is to the wrong constituency.

October 11, 2009


Saturday, October 10, 2009

UN human rights experts raise concern over growing use of foreign mercenaries in Honduras

H.E . Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales President of the Republic of HondurasA group of independent United Nations experts voiced concern today over the influx of foreign mercenaries in Honduras since the Central American nation’s President was deposed in a military coup in June.

The experts have received reports of the recruitment of former Colombian paramilitaries to protect properties and individuals in Honduras from violence between supporters of the ousted President José Manuel Zelaya and the de facto Government.

Land owners in Honduras have hired some 40 ex-fighters from the former armed group, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), since Mr. Zelaya was removed from power on 28 June, according to the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries.

In addition, the Working Group said that other sources report an armed group of 120 mercenaries originating from several countries in the region was formed to support the coup in Honduras.

“There are also allegations of indiscriminate use of ‘Long Range Acoustic Devices’ by the police and mercenaries against President Zelaya and his supporters who have taken refuge at the Embassy of Brazil,” the experts said in a news release.

“We urge the Honduran authorities to take all practical measures to prevent the use of mercenaries within its territory and to fully investigate allegations concerning their presence and activities,” they added.

The experts noted that the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries is prohibited under the International Convention on the issue, which Honduras has signed, stressing the right of Hondurans to decide how they want to be governed without the influence of any other entity.

The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination was established in 2005 by the Commission on Human Right, which has since been succeeded by the Human Rights Council.

It comprises five experts serving in their personal capacities. They are: Shaista Shameem of Fiji, Najat al-Hajjaji of Libya, Amada Benavides de Pérez of Colombia, José Luis Gómez del Prado of Spain and Alexander Nikitin of Russia.

9 October 2009

UN News