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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Disparities in US immigration policy toward Haiti and Cuba: A legacy to be continued?

by Alice Barrett & Kelsey Cary, COHA Research Associates:

Many points of comparison exist between Haiti and Cuba, as Ruth Ellen Wasem contends in a Congressional Research Report: “Both nations have a history of repressive governments with documented human rights violations. Both countries have a history of sending asylum seekers to the United States by boats.” In spite of these similarities, several political and economic factors have spurred divergent U.S. directives in these two island nations.

The United States and Cuba have maintained a tenuous relationship since Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959. The Kennedy administration implemented a two-tier policy consisting of an economic embargo paired with diplomatic isolation, both of which continue to dictate U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba today. Although the U.S. has not sought to diplomatically and economically isolate Haiti in the same manner, relations between the former French colony and the U.S. have been shaped by the protection of national interests and subsequent military intervention. Haiti has been unable to achieve stability, becoming a headache in the backyard of the U.S. and, consequently, ties between the two states have been tumultuous. These contrasting histories and foreign policy approaches surpass domestic boundaries, as reflected in current U.S. immigration legislation. Ironically, the U.S. holds refugees escaping from communist Cuba to more lenient standards than any other foreign nationals. Migrants facing at least equally urgent circumstances, such as Haitians, suffer the ramifications of our broken policies. The January 12, 2010 earthquake provides an example of a pressing and devastating event calling for the Obama administration to address the needs of the increasing numbers of refugees fleeing Haiti.

First Steps toward Favorable Status: The Cuban Adjustment Act

Cuba ranks as the fifth largest immigrant-sending country to the United States. In 2008 alone, 49,500 Cubans became Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs). The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) is arguably the single most important piece of legislation that initiated a longstanding pattern of preferential treatment of Cuban migrants. The CAA guarantees that Cubans living in the U.S. after January 1, 1959 for a least one year may adjust to permanent residence status.

Following a 1996 amendment to this statute, the “wet foot/dry foot” practice evolved. This practice implies that the U.S. Coast Guard interdict Cubans found at sea and return them to Cuba unless they profess fears of persecution. However, Cubans who effectively reach the shore are inspected for entry by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and are by and large permitted to remain in the U.S. for the year following. Moreover, if a confirmed Cuban national attempts to enter the U.S. by land, usually through Mexico, Customs and Border Protections (CBP) personnel can inspect the would-be intruder and frequently deem them exempt from deportation. Illegal Haitian migrants do not benefit from any comparable advantages. If they cannot provide a reason for an asylum hearing upon arrival in the U.S., they are immediately repatriated or detained.

The Cuba-US Migration Agreement

In 1994, the number of Cuban refugees seeking asylum or immigrant visas to the United States became so great that the Clinton administration was persuaded to establish a policy to effectively decrease the amount of money being spent on refugee services and impose a fixed limit. Consequently, the U.S. and Cuba willingly reached a migration accord in which the U.S. agreed to allow at least twenty thousand immigrants each year to enter the United States, excluding in this count the relatives of U.S. citizens, who would also be eligible to enter. However, hardly any Cubans met the eligibility standards determined by the INS, meaning only a few qualified for visas as family-sponsored immigrants or as employment-based immigrants. Additionally, a stronger U.S. interdiction policy forced migrating Cubans found in U.S. waters to be repatriated back to Cuba. Such attempts, which seemed to hinder Cuban migrants trying to enter via the shores of Florida, ironically resulted in the Special Cuban Migration Lottery, or more simply a “visa lottery.” According to a 2009 Congressional Research Report, 541,000 Cubans qualified for the drawing in 1998 alone. The Castro government found this number frighteningly high and subsequently put an end to these lotteries. However, the United States continues to parole Cuban registrants from 1998. The number of Cubans who qualified for potential U.S. entry in a single year exceeds the figure of Haitians living in the U.S. today, estimated at 532,000.

Haitian Immigration Policy: An Unaddressed History

Although Haiti has seen some democratic progress since the election of René Preval in 2005, it remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The wide-reaching foreign policy arm of the White House has largely contributed to Haiti’s plight. A nineteen-year U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 only exacerbated the dire economic and political situation in the country. Throughout this period, in which U.S. occupying forces continued to abuse their power, between 15,000 and 30,000 Haitian lives were taken. During its tenure, the U.S. failed to establish democratic traditions, but did find success in strengthening an already powerful institution: the Haitian military. Authoritarian regimes since then have predictably dominated the nation as only two leaders have voluntarily handed over power. An estimated 40,000 people were jailed, tortured or killed during the twenty-nine years (1957-1986) spanning the rule of Francois Duvalier (“Papa Doc) and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”).

U.S. immigration policy towards Haitians originated during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier with an aim of reducing the number of Haitian migrants seeking asylum or immigrant visas to the United States in the aftermath of the 1981 Mariel Boatlift. The boatlift was a seven-month time period when an influx of 125,000 Cubans and 25,000 Haitians seeking asylum in the United States arrived by boat to the shores of South Florida. As a result, Ronald Reagan negotiated with then Haitian Dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier to develop the policy of interdiction, a practice whereby the Coast Guard stops and searches boats on the high seas suspected of transporting undocumented immigrants. For instance, from 1981 to 1990, 22,940 Haitians were interdicted, yet only 11 of them were even considered qualified to apply for asylum in the United States. Washington claimed that Haitians seeking asylum in the U.S. during this time period could only be considered economic migrants and were therefore unqualified to remain in the country. However, this specious conclusion was stood on its head following the Presidential coup in 1991, which overthrew the constitutional Aristide government.

The Aftermath of the 1991 Coup

Jean-Bertrand Aristide had served as an embodiment of hope and prosperity for the poor, but the left-leaning policies he wanted to implement were deeply disturbing to both the Haitian army and elite. This frustration resulted in a coup that marked a continuation of Haitian military tyranny: Aristide had been the state’s first democratically elected leader and his ousting led to yet another oppressive military regime. The U.S. and the international community responded to the crisis by imposing an international trade embargo against Haiti, nominally calling for the reinstatement of Aristide. Additionally, nearly 40,000 Haitians boarded boats and departed for Florida’s shores, forcing the U.S. to re-evaluate the migrant status of Haitians.

The coup in 1991 challenged Washington’s assumption that Haitians were fleeing their country solely for economic reasons and were not eligible for asylum. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) stipulates that a refugee can only stay in the U.S. if they “demonstrate a well-founded fear that if returned home, they will be persecuted based upon one of the five characteristics: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Although Haiti’s poverty suggests its citizens might only be seeking U.S. immigrant visas for economic purposes, a 1992 Amnesty International report contradicts this claim. It revealed that since the beginning of the coup, a minimum of 1,500 people had been killed and thousands more had been imprisoned and tortured for merely having a picture of Aristide hanging on the wall. Yet this created no changes in refugee policy, signaling that in reality, Washington was no more favorably oriented to Aristide than to the Haitian military.

The Bush administration ignored a basic tenant of a treaty on refugees to which Haiti and the U.S. had been parties since 1968. International refugee law forbids the return of refugees to their country of origin unless adequate assurances have been made that they will not be persecuted. Nevertheless, in November 1991, the Coast Guard sent home 538 Haitian escapees. This repatriation occurred in spite of an arrangement made between the U.S., the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) and other countries in the region to provide a safe-haven for these interdicted Haitian migrants. According to a 2005 Congressional Report, Washington returned these Haitians without interviewing them to determine whether they were at risk of persecution. In order for the interdicted Haitians to even be considered eligible for asylum, they would have had to attest to being in danger if repatriated. They were never granted the opportunity to do this, unlike their Cuban counterparts.

The Haiti Earthquake: an Amplification of Inconsistent Policy

The January 12, 2010 earthquake thrust Haitians into devastation: 230,000 died and 1.5 million are still left homeless. The immediate need for relocation remains evident: the temporary camps constructed for those dislocated on the island are rapidly turning into slums and are extremely vulnerable to approaching hurricanes. Although the United States’ capacity to accept immigrants has its limits, the continued disproportionate acceptance of Cubans over Haitians in light of Haiti’s latest crisis is unwarranted.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has focused on two short-term immigration solutions for Haitians in need of respite: the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for those residing in the U.S. illegally prior to the earthquake and the limited acceptance of Humanitarian Parole applications. According to USCIS, Humanitarian Parole visas are to be “used sparingly to bring someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency.”

Immigrants from Haiti: Visas and Detentions

By the end of last February, 31,000 people, including 7,200 foreign nationals, had been evacuated from Haiti to the United States. However, as of May, only approximately 1,700 Haitian citizens had received Humanitarian Parole. A series of restrictive practices stand in contrast to the open arms extended to Cubans, who continue to benefit under the CAA and from a high number of family connections. The U.S. government set the 2010 admissions ceiling for refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean at 5,000. So far, 3,351 out of 3,429 resettled have been Cuban refugees. Considering the deplorable conditions Haitians currently face, their comparatively low acceptance is disconcerting. Furthermore, it creates a looming gap between evacuation and immigrant reception that tends to be filled through existing loop holes and illegal smuggling networks. Instead of Humanitarian Parole, the remaining official number of Haitian evacuees have received tourist visas. The drawback of tourist visas is that they prohibit legal employment in the U.S., likely leading to extended illegal residence and labor. These prospects put tourist visa holders at higher risk of detention.

Furthermore, many Haitians have once again resorted to illegal means of immigration, boarding boats to reach U.S. shores. Some U.S. officials seem to negate the link between such unlawful processes and the government’s limited immigration response. In January 2010, immediately following the Haiti earthquake, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed, “Our ordinary and regular immigration laws will apply going forward, which means that we are not going to be accepting into the United States Haitians who are attempting to make it to our shores. They will be interdicted. They will be repatriated.” This approach seems simple, but there is one caveat: deportations to Haiti have been at a stand-still ever since the earthquake, and the U.S. government has yet to name a date for their reinstatement. To make matters worse, U.S. immigration law contains no restrictions on the amount of time that suspected illegal immigrants and asylum seekers may be held in detention.

Though U.S. detention policies have always been in place, they were strengthened following the September 11th terrorist attacks. On April 17, 2003, the Attorney General ruled that the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) judges should take national security into account when deciding on bonds for detained immigrants demanding release. The Bush Administration justified this claim on the basis that terrorists could pose as Haitians seeking asylum. Cuban migrants have not been singled out in the same manner and many critics believe the term “national security” is employed too arbitrarily as justification for this practice. Such ambiguity results in the unnecessary detention of many Haitian migrants without proof of their being a danger to this country. Moreover, prison-like conditions, such as physical restraint, lack of medical attention, and occasional physical and verbal abuse in these centers are not in line with ICE regulations or international human rights standards.

Several Haitian migrants were placed in detention centers following the earthquake. An April 1, 2010 New York Times article discusses a specific case where thirty Haitians had remained in detention for over two months at the Broward County Transitional Center, an immigration jail in Florida. Marines directed these detainees onto military planes amid the chaos that erupted following the earthquake. Advocates who fought for their release contended, “There is no reason to spend taxpayer dollars detaining traumatized earthquake survivors who cannot be deported and who have demonstrated that they are neither a flight risk nor danger to the community.”

TPS: Complications and Concerns

Detention is not a fear limited to would-be emigrating Haitians. The crackdown of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been felt throughout the country’s immigrant community, preventing many eligible Haitians in the U.S. from applying for TPS. The U.S. government has granted TPS to Haitians in the U.S. until July 22, 2011. Technically, this option is open to all Haitian nationals who were already in the U.S. prior to the earthquake, regardless of their current immigration status. As of June 3, 2010, Alejandro Mayorkas, head of USCIS, received 52,000 Haitian TPS applications, lower than the expected number. Representatives of both University of Miami Law School and the law firm of Hunton and Williams requested that the agency issue a statement assuring Haitians they would not be referred to ICE or asked to appear in court due to their status. USCIS responded that laws of motions to appear in court (MTA) vary by state, making the issuance of such a statement impractical.

Lawyers also continue to face a number of hurdles in trying to help Haitians file TPS applications. For example, fees ranging from a total of $50 to $390 are difficult for many eligible applicants to provide. Birth certificates of applicants’ parents have also been required to verify Haitian nationality. These documents are often nearly impossible to obtain after the earthquake’s vast destruction. The current deadline for filing TPS applications is July 20, 2010. Due to complaints concerning the application process, the U.S. government is considering an extension of this deadline.

Why Preferential Treatment? Politics and Race

Arguably, Haitians receive a much colder welcome in the United States than Cubans. Cubans who are fleeing their island and breaking with a communist regime are in much better shape and generally considered deserving of asylum. If they reach U.S. territory successfully (either by boat or crossing the Mexican border) they receive refugee status and subsequently become LPRs. Critics argue that Washington rationalizes this immigration policy as serving a long-standing national political interest in accordance with the goals of the Cuban-American Lobby. Some suggest that Cubans’ special status serves as a purported blow against the Castro government.

Another explanation for this discriminatory treatment comes from Haiti’s lower average level of education. This initial disadvantage creates apprehension amongst Americans about Haitians’ ability to support themselves and contribute to U.S. society. Although Cuban immigrants still face some discrimination, they come from a nation with a 99.8% literacy rate and are thus perceived as less of a potential burden. Some critics even contend that preferential treatment bestowed upon Cuban refugees is an example of a double standard on the basis of race. TransAfrica, NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus released an amicus curiae brief designating U.S. interdiction policy as discriminatory and further arguing that Haitians were subject to “separate and unequal” treatment.

The United States cannot continue to justify differences in immigration practices developed toward Haitians and Cubans. While the Cold War clearly ended twenty years ago, the Haiti earthquake has put the country in a state of emergency. Current U.S. policy, however, promotes dangerous travel attempts to enter the U.S. and continues to fuel an unproductive Cold War mentality that is the product of the Cuban-American lobby attempting to garner special treatment for its cause.

Looking Ahead: Environmental Reasons for Concern

Although the USCIS is considering an extension of the July 20th TPS deadline for Haitians, such small modifications emphasize the need for large-scale adjustments. Both TPS and Humanitarian Parole provided for Haitians are temporary emergency measures, while Cubans benefit from a standardized, annual quota set for refugees fearing persecution. Not only does the limited scope of these visas continue the U.S.’s long standing bias against Haitian immigrants; it also serves as an example of insufficient responses to natural disasters on a global scale. Tragic and unfair situations resembling the Haiti earthquake’s aftermath are becoming increasingly common in light of environmental dangers. In 2005, A United Nations group warned of the increasing number of “environmental refugees” that would soon need relocation around the world due to climate change. A 2009 article of the World Resources Institute points to the Carteret Islands as the first case of land deemed uninhabitable due to continuous flooding. Its residents are now relocating to nearby Papua New Guinea. Factual and scientific evidence points to rising sea levels and increased hurricanes. These are both migration drivers that transcend political and economic boundaries that have influenced Washington’s biased treatment of Haitians and Cubans. Further large-scale relocations due to natural disasters must be permanently accounted for in future immigration policy, both in the U.S. and around the world.

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

June 29, 2010


Monday, June 28, 2010

Diaspora bonds - a compelling development opportunity for CARICOM nations

By Jerry Edwin:

The idea that Grenada may become the first CARICOM nation to follow the lead of Africa and Asia and issue a government guaranteed Diaspora Bond presents a compelling contract between the current government and the tens of thousands of its immigrants. Such an initiative could lead the way for Caribbean nations to find vast new sources of development funds.

While Grenada contemplates a Diaspora Bond, two other CARICOM nations, Jamaica and Guyana, appear better placed to issue these bonds, potentially receiving two billion dollars and two hundred and fifty million dollars respectively from their overseas nationals. Without question, the financial impact of a Diaspora Bond to these three economies will radically alter the trajectory of their national development plans.

Indeed, Grenada has progressed further in this regard than any other CARICOM member.

This past March, members of a research organization visited Grenada at the invitation of Prime Minister Tillman J. Thomas to address the Cabinet on their findings of the viability of using a Diaspora Bond to fund revenue-generating projects on the island. It is the first time that a CARICOM government has held a Cabinet-level discussion regarding the potential issuing of a Diaspora bond.

At a World Bank-sponsored conference on development finance held at New York University in December 2009, both Jamaica and Grenada were cited as viable candidates for Diaspora Bonds. Recently, the Bank also suggested that Haiti reach out to its vast Diaspora to issue a bond that can potentially raise up to two billion dollars.

According to the New York-based research organization, the Caribbean Development Policy Group, Inc. (formerly the Grenada Diaspora Organization), Grenada receives more than a third of its GDP from overseas remittances and has one of the largest annual out-migration rates globally. In its latest country report on Grenada, the International Monetary Fund further notes that remittances are the leading source of foreign exchange for the Spice Island as its construction and tourism sectors continue to lag.

So persuasive was the data compiled in support of the proposed Grenada Diaspora Bond by the New York research organization that the island’s leading newspaper, The New Today, said in an editorial that it fully supported the use of Diaspora Bonds as a leading alternative in the government’s toolbox of development options.

The organization also held high-level meetings with Opposition Leader, Dr Keith Mitchell, and opposition Members of Parliament, as well as stakeholders in the private sector and non-government organizations.

Bipartisanship and political cooperation are key elements to the success of a Diaspora Bond from any CARICOM nation including its governance, marketing and distribution. This approach is been fully embraced by both the Thomas Administration and Opposition Leader Mitchell and his MPs.

Moreover, Grenadian nationals have expressed their desire for separation of bond revenue from the government’s general budget. They also requested an oversight role for the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank or the Eastern Caribbean Securities Commission.

Although the Grenada government has yet to make a final decision on proceeding with a Diaspora Bond, several leading ministers have expressed full support and believe that this option could not have come at a better time for the island as it continues to experience a decline in tourism receipts and its export sectors.

From all accounts, stakeholder interest in and outside Grenada for a Diaspora Bond is highly animated. Grenada, renowned for the bold resolve of its past leaders like the Home Rule patron T.A. Marryshow and the revolutionary nationalist Maurice Bishop, appears ready for a government decision to issue a Diaspora bond that could dramatically alter the direction of its current and future economic and social development.

Some in Grenada’s Diaspora caution that, prior to issuing a Diaspora Bond, there must be careful planning, fiscal integrity and a transparent governance structure to secure the confidence of overseas investors.

“The Diaspora bond holds tremendous promise for CARICOM countries but its success requires leadership from experienced financial experts not from people with political alliances of one kind or another,” said Earle Brathwaite, a successful Silicon Valley financier and technologist, who is also the son of a former prime minister of Grenada.

Bernard Bourne, the research group’s Director of Community Relations, agrees with Brathwaite, adding that it is time Grenada changes its paradigm for seeking financing to develop the country. He stresses that with prominent nationals like race car superstar Lewis Hamilton, calypso icon Mighty Sparrow, former Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada, Julius Isaac, and scores of leaders in law, medicine, engineering and other professions, Grenada is more than capable of obtaining development finance from its own nationals once adequate protections are established.

Jerry Edwin, Executive Director of the Caribbean Development Policy Group, was a featured speaker on June 12, 2010, at the Annual Caribbean Private Sector Conference attended by CARICOM Ministers of Finance and Ministers of Trade. His topic was Diaspora Bonds: A Developmental Tool for Growth and Investment.

June 28, 2010


Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Politics of Leadership: Guyana and its Presidency (Part 3)

Sir Ronald Sanders

Guyana's system of government and its electoral system are very different from the systems in place in the other 14 Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) countries. For a start, it has an Executive President whose powers under the Constitution are considerable. Understanding the system is important to appreciating the politics of winning the Government and the Presidency.

In 11 of the Caricom countries which, like Guyana, are former British colonies and Montserrat, which is a still a British colony, the electoral system divides the country into many constituencies. Each party wishing to contest a constituency puts forward one candidate to stand. Each voter in the constituency then casts one vote for the candidate of their choice. The candidate with the largest number of votes is elected as the Member of Parliament for that constituency, and the party whose elected members represent an overall majority then forms the Government.

The exception is where no party's elected members constitute an overall majority. In such a case, political parties then bargain with each other to form a coalition Government as happened recently in Britain where neither of the two largest political parties -- Labour and Conservative -- secured an overall majority of elected members. The Conservative Party and the smaller Liberal Democratic Party then struck a deal to form a coalition Government.

Among the Caricom countries that have a system similar to Britain's is Trinidad and Tobago where, at recent general elections, a number of political parties agreed to form an alliance to contest constituencies against the incumbent governing party but not against each other. At the end of the elections, having together secured an overall majority, they formed a coalition Government.

Guyana's system is different. Its system of elections is based on proportional representation. Each elector has one vote which is cast for a political party. The elector's vote is applied to the election of 65 members of parliament by proportional representation in two ways. First, the country is divided into 10 administrative regions (geographical constituencies) which elect 25 seats. Some of these regions are allocated more seats than others dependent on the size of their population. Second, the remaining 40 seats, called "top up" seats, are then apportioned to parties based on the proportion they received of the total valid votes cast nationally. A vote for a party in the geographical constituency is simultaneously a vote for that party's national "top up" seats.

Importantly, however, while the same single vote of an elector goes toward electing the President, the Constitution of Guyana states that a Presidential candidate shall be deemed to be elected President "if more votes are cast in favour of the list in which he is designated as Presidential candidate than in favour of any other list". In other words, the successful Presidential candidate requires only a plurality of the votes, not an overall majority.

So, given this electoral system, it is possible for a political party that secures the most votes (a plurality) to gain the Presidency outright.

What is not possible is for a coalition of parties after the election to gain the Presidency. Any coalition that wishes both to form the Government and get the Presidency must contest the election as a single entity with a single Presidential candidate whose name has to appear on its list as the Presidential candidate.

It is an interesting debate for lawyers versed in the intricacies of the Guyana Constitution as to whether a President, elected by a plurality of the vote, is obliged to call on a coalition of parties (that may together outnumber the votes cast for his party) to form a Government or could he simply call on his own minority party to form the Government.

The Guyana Constitution states that it is the President who "shall appoint an elected member of the National Assembly to be Prime Minister of Guyana", and the President who shall appoint "Vice Presidents and other Ministers from among persons who are elected members of the National Assembly". There is no stipulation that such appointments should or must be made from elected members of a party or coalition parties that have an overall majority in Parliament.

Therefore, it appears that a President who is elected by a plurality of votes can choose Vice Presidents, the Prime Minister and Ministers from his own party whether it has an overall majority or not.

While it is possible for the majority of elected members in Parliament to vote against legislation and budgets, creating havoc for a minority Government, it would not necessarily stop the Government from functioning. The classic case in point is Canada where the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been operating a minority Government since 2008.

This all serves to underscore two things if Guyana is to remain politically stable, build on its recent economic successes and take advantage of the enormous economic possibilities of successful oil exploration and minerals development.

First, it would be best if next year's general election is decisive in terms of a clear winner of both the Presidency and the overall majority in Parliament for one party. To this end, the ruling People's Progressive Party should ensure that both its Presidential candidate and its policies are broad enough to appeal to a wider cross section of the electorate than its core supporters. Similarly, the now disparate opposition parties (disunited internally and fragmented) should try to forge an alliance that also has a Presidential candidate and policies that are attractive across a wide swath of the Guyanese population.

Second, whoever wins the election, the problems of race, equal opportunity, bridging the increasing gap between rich and poor, and crime require tackling in an open, transparent and institutionalised way, or Guyana will always be a divided and weak society failing to be the cohesive and strong nation that it could be in its own interest, and the interest of its Caricom neighbours.

-- Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and former Caribbean diplomat
Responses and previous commentaries at:

June 27, 2010

Politics of Leadership - Guyana and its presidency (Part-1)

The Politics of Leadership: Part 2 of Guyana and its Presidency


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Haiti, a transition from squalor to squalor; or from squalor to splendor

By Jean H Charles:

The story of Haiti is tragically the story of a wrong turn at each transition. Strangely this wrong turn has been micromanaged by a long hand with foreign gloves with good or bad intentions for the people of Haiti.

It all started in 1800 when Toussaint Louverture was at his apogee as the founding father of a possible nation that could be a model for a world where slavery was the order of the day.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comAccording to J Michael Dash in Culture and Customs of Haiti, Toussaint emerged in 1799 as “the absolute authority of the whole island of Espanola, where the violence and anarchy of earlier years ended and prosperity was restored.”

CLR James in the Black Jacobins completed the picture of Haiti at the beginning of the nineteenth century: “Personal industry, social morality, public education, religious toleration, free trade, civic pride, racial equality was the corner stone of the emerging nation. Success crowned his labors. Cultivation prospered and the new Santo/Domingo/ aka Haiti began to shape itself with astonishing quickness.”

One would have thought that this Haiti could have been left alone to grow into a flourishing nation for the benefit of the entire world. The long hand of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Emperor, with the support of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, had other plans. A fleet of the best European soldiers was dispatched to Haiti to stop the nation building process.

Toussaint was captured and send to jail in France, where he died of pneumonia, but the roots of liberty were already too strong to wither. Still quoting Dash, “By the end of 1803, Napoleon had abandoned his now catastrophic New World adventure, his general, Rochambeau, gave up this futile struggle, retreating to the Mole St Nicholas, the same point at which Columbus had landed 300 years earlier, inaugurating European domination of Hispaniola.”

The transition of Haiti into a free, independent and prosperous nation was to last only the span of a blooming rose. Charles X, king of France, exacted a massive indemnity of 150 million francs, the equivalent 23 billion in today’s money, to compensate the French planters after 300 years of free labor. It took Haiti more than a century to complete the payment, forestalling crucial investment in education, agriculture and infrastructure.

In addition, France’s intervention in Haiti’s national politics facilitated the division of the country into two governments, the kingdom of Henry Christophe in the north, well organized and prosperous, and the republic of the west, disorganized, dysfunctional and bankrupt, run by Alexander Petion. Haiti has adopted the Petion model of governance.

His successor, Jean Pierre Boyer, continued the culture of ill governance throughout the island. At the death of Henry Christophe, the massive treasure of the kingdom was put into a kitty outside of the national budget, starting the process of corruption in place now with the Preval government -- the Petro-Caribe account is outside of the purview of the Finance Minister.

According to Dash, “The seeds of national disaster were planted in this period as politics increasingly became a game of rivalry among urban elites and marked by insurrection, economic failures and parasitism.”

It did not take long for the Americans to intervene, as Haiti was descending into chronic disorder. It was occupied from 1915 to 1934 by the American government. In the end, using Dash’s language, “The United States simply exacerbated a phenomenon that had plagued the Haitian economy since 1843, the extraction of surplus from the peasantry by a non productive state. Perhaps the greatest single lasting effect of the occupation was the centralizing of state power in Port au Prince.”

Dash put it best: “The occupation left Haiti with very much the same destructive socioeconomic problems that it inherited from its colonial past. Beneath the veneer of political stability lay the same old problems of a militarized society; the ostracism of the peasantry and an elite divided by class and color rivalry.”

The decade of the 70s ushered in a wrong turn for Haiti after the rather peaceful governance of Paul Eugene Magloire. On his return from an adulated visit to the United States, where he was received by both branches of Congress, hubris or unfortunate advice settled in. He tried to remain in power beyond the constitutional mandate, throwing the country into a social, economic and political crisis that has now lasted fifty years.

The transition from Duvalier pere to Duvalier fils, causing thirty-five years of failed growth under the dictatorial regimes, was orchestrated by the very American Ambassador in Haiti. It took all the courage and the bravura of the Haitian people to root out the Duvalier government from the grip of power.

The populism concept of governance in place since the 90s has completed the final descent of Haiti into the abyss. Jean Bertrand Aristide was returned to power from exile under the principle of constitutional stability by a 20,000 American army troops under the leadership of Bill Clinton as commander in chief.

Rene Preval, who succeeded Aristide, was returned for a second term into power by the strategic maneuvers of Edmund Mulet, the United Nations chief representative in Haiti. After five years of poor, ineffective leadership, the same Mulet is orchestrating the concept of Preval after Preval. He has perfected, after the earthquake, the concept of disaster profiteering. Vast pieces of land that belong to the State of Haiti are being now subleased to well-connected affiliates of the government, to be resold at inflated price to the Reconstruction authority.

Will the people of Haiti succeed in stopping the political, economic, social and environmental abyss through this transition? Or will a sector of the international community continue to have the upper hand in preserving and incubating the status quo?

“Have no fear!” should be the mantra for those who forecast doom for Haiti without Preval!

The Haitian Constitution foresees that the Chief of the Supreme Court shall take command in case of presidential vacancy. To help him govern, Haiti has a range of qualified experts to facilitate the international community to come to the rescue of the refugees and rekindle the recovery.

They range from veterans in rural development expertise as Pierre D Sam, formerly a FAO expert with stints in Burundi, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Togo, Senegal, Lesotho, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Haiti. Or Haiti has young lions such as Dore Guichard or Jean Erich Rene, economists and agronomists, who drafted, with the support of luminaries from the Diaspora and the mainland, a twenty-five-year plan for Haiti’s recovery.

A select committee of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the United States Senate has recently made a finding that “Haiti has made little progress in rebuilding in the five months since its earthquake because of an absence of leadership, disagreements among donors and general disorganization… the rebuilding has stalled since the January 12, disaster. President Rene Preval and his Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive have not done an effective job of communicating to Haiti that it is in charge and ready to lead the rebuilding effort.”

Vent viré! The wind is turning in the right direction!

Marc Bazin, a Haitian political leader who has tried for the last thirty years, to change the culture of nihilism from inside, is an indication that the assault against the status quo from outside must regain strength until the dismantling of the squalor politics to usher in the politics of splendor.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should have been in the Preval camp. His newlywed wife is like my little niece. Our family is entangled with strong bond spanning more than a century of close relationships. Her great-grandmother was the companion of my grandmother in business, social and family links, her late grandmother and my mother of ninety years old have continued these bonds, her mother is like an elder sister. Hopefully, the children will continue the tradition of friendship and support. as such this is not a personal vendetta.

Yet the cries and the anguish of 9 million people, including 1.5 refugees under tents at the eve of a pregnant hurricane season, demand a break from the past to usher in a government hospitable to the majority.

June 26, 2010


Friday, June 25, 2010

HIV/AIDS fight needs closer collaboration among public and private sectors and civil society

HIV/AIDS fight needs closer collaboration:

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Friday June 25, 2010 - Guyana's Prime Minister Samuel Hinds has called for closer collaboration among public and private sectors and civil society in the fight against HIV/AIDS which continues to be a major public health challenge globally and in the Caribbean.

He made the call in his address at the 5th Pan Caribbean Business Coalition Forum on HIV/AIDS.

“We meet at a time when the determination to stop HIV/AIDS must be reinforced and not wane. Globally and in the world, more people living with HIV are receiving treatment,” Hinds said.

He noted that the region has been making progress, pointing out that 90 percent of persons living with HIV in the region are now receiving treatment; and there is also a dramatic reduction in HIV infection among pregnant women in many countries.

But Hinds cautioned that "encouraging signs like these ought not to be used as evidence for the region to ease their determination to fight HIV."

"The battle has not been won. We have earned the right to be optimistic, but we have still a deadly, dangerous scourge before us,” the Prime Minister said.

He said that the partnership of business is of critical importance and, as such, his country has created a strong workplace programme coordinated by the Ministry of Labour through technical support from the International Labour Organisation and funding from the United States Department of Labour.

To date, he said, that initiative has resulted in a mapping of workplaces with HIV/AIDS programmes, the formation of a national workplace policy document through the National Programme Committee, and labour officers being trained as peer educators.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bahamas: The Health of Andros Coral Reef Systems

Andros reef health is 'good'
Tribune Staff Reporter

CORAL reefs along the eastern coast of Andros are in good condition, according to American scientists from the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC), a United States Navy site located in Andros.

Researchers presented 2007 and 2008 findings on the health of Andros reef systems to a delegation of Bahamian and United States government officials, including acting Prime Minister, Brent Symonette and US Ambassador Nicole Avant.

"Live coral cover has remained stable over the past three years with a slight increase each year. Commercially significant fish biomass is three to four times higher than (in the wider) Caribbean," said Marc Ciminello, AUTEC scientist.

Mr Ciminello said they observed high levels of lion fish in their latest survey on the 34 monitoring locations; however, they found no changes in species diversity because of the presence of the lionfish.

These findings depart significantly from research previously reviewed by Bahamian authorities on lionfish. Neil McKinney, Board president for the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) referred to research conducted by Dr Mark Hixon, marine biologist and professor at Oregon State University. Dr Hixon's research indicates small reef fish populations can be slashed by up to 80 per cent within a short period of the introduction of lionfish.

Mr Ciminello could not account for the discrepancies. He said he was not aware of the study and would be interested in reviewing the data mentioned by Mr McKinney. The data and analysis from AUTEC's annual reef surveys are submitted to Bahamian authorities annually for use in setting management protocols.

Although the scientists said the reefs could be harmed by dropped anchors, debris, plastic and fishing line, Thomas Szlyk, one of the researchers, said the human impact to the Andros reef systems was minimal due to the low population density. He said so responding to questions about how the research has impacted resource management decisions in the past.

Earl Deveaux, Minister of Environment, said he did not completely agree. He pointed to the bridge in Fresh Creek, Andros, which is the only land-based crossing point between Red Bay and Behring Point. One of the AUTEC research sites is located near Fresh Creek. "The bridge at Fresh Creek is the only opportunity to cross in the part of Andros. So the 7,000 people who might want to take that drive pass that one bridge. I think that is a huge cumulative impact. And they have to pass London Creek, which is one of these roads built over creek systems without a culvert, so whatever gas, oil or pollution that would likely fall and whatever impact that road had must be more significant in that environment than it would ordinarily be," said Mr Deveaux.

In order to provide additional information that would be relevant to authorities, Mr Deveaux recommended the scientists include in their survey design next year indicators to determine the relationship between the coastal environment on land and the health of the reef systems.

"Is there a relationship between the volume of blue holes, the type of vegetation, the flow of the current in the terrestrial environment and what they find on the reef in terms of biomass, fish species and the variety of fish on the reef? If they could do that it would help influence our decisions. If they could put that in their research and document it then we would know over time how to influence our road building activities and our farming activities," said Minister Deveaux.

Preliminary data seems to indicate a correlation, according to the researchers. Mr Ciminello said they found that the "healthier sites" were in the vicinity of blue holes.

June 24, 2010


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Operation Peter Pan - Cuba

Peter Pan and child trafficking
By Gabriel Molina:

• IT is particularly difficult for Cuba’s enemies to justify the reason for U.S. citizens being prohibited to travel freely to Cuba.

Approximately 10 years ago, almost at the end of his second term, President William Clinton attempted to restore that right to his compatriots. At that time he affirmed that allowing citizens to travel to Cuba would be in the interest of the United States, as the best means of influencing the island.

But the rights and interests of U.S. citizens are not being respected. Mafia groups from Florida demanded of Clinton’s successor, the hated Bush, that he revoke that policy given that, incredibly, the ones who were influenced were the visitors and not the visited.

In total contrast to what is happening in relation to other underdeveloped countries, the interest of those groups, mostly located in Miami, is to provoke Cubans into leaving the island and taking refuge in the United States. Its neighbors cannot understand why, while walls have been constructed to keep them out, all kinds of obstacles are being put in their way, while they are hunted, maltreated, expelled and even killed, Cubans reaching U.S. territory illegally are given refugee status and all kinds of privileges – in the name of democracy and freedom.

That arbitrary regulation has been the cause of an incessant human trafficking that has turned into a lucrative and deadly business.

It all began 50 years ago, when in 1960 the CIA came up with a false law widely reproduced and distributed by its agents. In that way, Cubans were led to believe that the revolutionary government had decided to remove parental custody of children and abrogate it to the state.

An unheard of mass of confused children preparing to travel alone to the United States began to crowd into Havana’s José Martí airport. That was because approximately 14,000 families failed to think or act sensibly and let themselves be deceived by the criminal plot organized by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), under the codename Operation Peter Pan.

Researchers José Wajasán and Ramón Torreira describe it as "a sinister manipulation on the part of Washington of the major fears of Cuban parents."

In their book Operation Peter Pan, the authors quote documents from the Kennedy Library declassified from National Security Files, which, via a letter from General Maxwell Taylor, inform of a covert action program to defeat the Cuban government.

For the first time on October 26, 1960, the CIA-created Radio Swan referred to a supposed law to take children aged 5 to 18 from their parents, in order to convert them into "monsters of [Marxist] materialism."

The custody conspiracy had gone into operation by word of mouth months earlier. Initially the CIA gave the task to the conspiracy group headed by the ex-prime minister of the Carlos Prío government, known as Pony Varona, a derivative of his name Tony, in honor of his lack of personal refinement.

Later, other groups became involved, because Varona left the country, leaving the mission in the hands of his closest partners, Leopoldina and Ramón Grau Alsina, niece and nephew of ex-president Ramón Grau San Martín, who confessed their guilt after their arrest. They printed out the false law, saying that they had stolen it from President Dorticós’ office and circulated it clandestinely. The apocryphal document stated in its Article 3: "When this law comes into effect, the custody of persons under 20 years of age will be exercised by the state via persons or organizations to which this faculty has been delegated."

Panic virtually spread among thousands of Cuban families. Having structured the plot at national and continental level, the U.S. government stated that it could take in all Cuban minors who wished to travel there, without visas or papers. In that violation of its own immigration laws, Washington gave large sums of money to the airline companies to transport the minors to Miami.

Father Bryan O. Walsh, whom the authorities placed at the head of the program, declared years later that he received approximately 15,000 children. It was a tremendous paradox: parents abandoned their children to an unknown fate, with the ingenuous intention of protecting them.

The majority of those children suffered from major traumas that culminated in a total sense of non-belonging. Some of them learned alone to insert themselves in society, while there were extreme cases like that of Robert Rodríguez who, at the age of 55, brought a lawsuit before a Miami court, claiming that during the five years that he was under a "protection program in the archdiocese of the city, he was the victim, along with other children, of continuous sexual and emotional abuse." He affirmed that "he was mistreated and sexually abused in the various camps where he was placed, as were other children taken there."

During the last 50 years, a number of variations of Operation Peter Pan have emerged from Miami and Washington. The most recent one, essayed since 2003, did not surprise anyone. It was very much part of the excesses of the Bush administration, looked down on by the rest of the world on account of its unscrupulous form of government. But, by maintaining Cuba on the list of countries trafficking minors – as it announced on June 14 – the government of President Barack Obama, which it was thought had a minimum amount of decency, is destroying the few hopes of change that some people might still be holding onto. •

June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rednecks in Chavezland

By John Little -

One of the most bizarre features of my time here in Venezuela is the incredibly hypocritical way the redneck Americans who are here with me react to their foreign surroundings. They can’t stop praising almost everything about Venezuela, yet they also condemn almost everything about Venezuela.

Huh? “Splain, Lucy!”

It’s a given that all the rednecks consider Chavez to be a dictator. They can spout verbatim the entire Fox News storyline on Chavez and his horrible government. They have absolutely nothing good to say about him, about Socialism in general, and about how he is the epitome of all things evil.

But when they get sick and go to the free clinic just across the street from the main office, they are delighted that they are attended to immediately and at no charge. They grin from ear to ear when they go to the local pharmacy store and walk right up to the counter, order their medicine, and pay pennies on the dollar for it. They sing praises to the high heavens that they don’t need to schedule an appointment to see a doctor, and pay for it, then get the prescription, then go to the pharmacy and wait up to a day or two to get their medicine.

But Chavez is never, ever mentioned in all this glee. No one bothers to state that it’s because of socialized medicine that they are so well taken care of in such a “backward” country. It would be unconscionable for any redneck to actually equate their great medical attention to the current government of the country. That’s forbidden.

The rednecks are quick to complain about the violence. “It’s all Chavez’s fault,” they readily say.

“I always take my knife with me, wherever I go,” Cajun states. “They ain’t taking my money from me without a fight. Unless there’s more than three of them. Then I have to accept I’m gonna get the crap beat out of me.”

Cajun’s a good ol’ boy from Louisiana. He knows all about being taken hostage, having been one twice in Nigeria. He didn't have a problem with it since the Nigerians allowed him to drink and eat as he pleased. The oil company he was working for always promptly paid the ransom demand to free him and the others and he readily admits that the perks there are so great that he’d love to do another oil rig there.

But this is Venezuela, not Nigeria. And the inordinate amount of violence is preached everywhere here, especially on the American channels that are so popular here, like Fox and CNN. Yep, guess what, all Venezuelans get to watch as much American propaganda TV as they want, thanks to Chavez’s supposed “lack of free speech.” Just one more thing the rednecks quickly discuss until they mention what they saw the night before on CNN or Fox. Then, it’s as if they were in another country watching the show and magically returned to Venezuela once the show was over.

Cajun’s never been attacked. Nor has any of the other rednecks. In fact, when you ask them individually, they admit that the level of violence appears to be less than their home town of Tulsa, or Houston, or Atlanta, or elsewhere. But of course, that’s got to be because of all the minorities back home, not Chavez in Venezuela.

Now don’t get me wrong, the city here has its share of violence. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, I read the newspaper daily. There seems to be some malfeasance going on in surrounding communities everyday. That’s not a good sign. That’s also one of the reasons I’d like to see a few more cop cars on the streets. I guess old habits die hard.

But compared to the US, things are extremely calm. I never hear police, fire or ambulance sirens during the evening. In fact, I haven’t a clue what they sound like. Well, I did hear a police siren the other day and it sounded extraterrestrial to be honest. Apparently, the police were hungry for a Big Mac and didn’t want to wait their turn to park.

Another area that cracks me up to no end is in the language arena. Apparently, all the rednecks think that some language program called Rosetta Stone will instantly transform them into bilinguals. They seem to be both amazed and depressed at the fact that Venezuelans speak a language other than English and that not every single Venezuelan is fluent in American Southern English.

Rednecks are funny. They have never heard of the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” They think they’re in the US, only with great Socialist perks that they can take advantage of. They praise the country they’re in, yet condemn the government that gives it to them. Hypocrisy 2010, it’s all the rage in Venezuela.

June 17th 2010


Monday, June 21, 2010

Crime and unemployment could result in changes in government in Belize and the Caribbean

By Wellington C. Ramos:

I have always listened to many world leaders speaking about what they would like to accomplish for the citizens of their respective countries during their tenures in office and have very seldom heard any of them committing themselves to provide full time employment to all their citizens.

Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and HistoryYet, if the citizens of a country are unemployed they will not be in the position to provide for themselves and their families, which will leave the burden on the government. A caring government should always make full employment its top priority. Any government that does not have this issue on the top of there list is embarking on an impossible journey.

Maybe, if the government of Belize had this issue at the top of their agenda when they first came into office, crime would not be escalating in Belize at the rate it is today. I have looked at several studies over the years and it is documented that there is a direct relationship between crime and employment. When a government has failed to provide meaningful employment to its citizens, a majority of the criminals will use that reason as a justification to commit crimes.

Knowing my Belizean people, a majority of them will say but how come when we were growing up we grew up hard and did not have to commit crimes. Well, we grew up in different times and this new generation is a lot different from the people who grew up during our time.

A majority of these young people are exposed to different things that we were not exposed to when we were growing up and the things that they are currently exposed to are what shape their thoughts and influence their actions. Some of the things as parents and guardians we have control of but a majority of them we lack control over.

The common cry in Belize is that this young generation is lazy and they do not want to do anything but beg, sell drugs and steal. There might be some truth to this but time and things have changed in our country, in all the other countries in the Caribbean and the rest of the world.

It is not the responsibility of the private sector to provide full employment to the citizens of a country. That burden lies on the government through a long term plan that gives incentives to private businesses to invest their funds in the economy where they can make profits for themselves and expand their businesses.

A person that has money to invest will not spend his or her money until they have evaluated a government’s incentive package. If they come to the conclusion that there is nothing there for them, then they will just sit on the side and hold on to their money until the government comes out with a package that is favorable to them.

Most businesses are attracted to tax incentives, inducements and business loans. In Belize, there were several of these given to political parties cronies who were not legitimate business people over the years and the taxpayers’ money went to waste, causing DFC to go bankrupt. Some of these individuals still owe the Belizean taxpayers and they are not being pursued for the outstanding debts.

That same money could have been given to a legitimate business owner who would have provided jobs to many citizens. Giving businesses reasonable tax incentives for hiring people is a wise thing to do. The incentive should be measured and monitored because it will take away from the government’s revenue.

The government of Belize came out with a comprehensive plan to combat crime and it was impressive. If this is backed up by a similar plan to deal with unemployment, land reform and lot acquisition, it will be difficult for them to lose re-election.

Belizeans are tired of seeing foreigners come into their country to be given lots and lands, while they are asked to fill out applications wait for years and never hear back anything from the Lands Department. Plus, when they go to Belmopan there is no record that they ever applied for any lot or land while watching the foreigners living in their new homes and forcefully taking lands to do their farming.

There is enough land in Belize to give every Belizean citizen living in Belize, the United States and abroad a lot and farm land so that they can own a part of their country and be proud citizens, so what is causing this big delay?

The Ministers of Trade, Industry, Labour, Agriculture, Commerce and Foreign Investment must now get together and formulate a comprehensive package to tackle unemployment in Belize. I have not seen any statistics on what is Belize’s unemployment rate but my guess is that it is over 25%. When they brought out the poverty rate recently, it was alarming and this is because of the unemployment situation, which has a major impact on most or the citizens’ social and economic conditions.

If the government of Belize can get a commitment to establish about three large industrial factories in each district and offer lots and farm lands to a majority of the unemployed residents of Belize City to build a home and do farming elsewhere, the country of Belize would become a more prosperous nation.

Belize City is too old and is suffering from serious urban decay and decline. I used to live in Belize City many years ago and it is a different city today. To live in a city just to say you live in a city, where you feel unsafe and insecure is not worth it. In real estate, a person who has a home is always looking for a peaceful, quiet and enjoyable environment to live.

I still believe that our country of Belize can be a better place than what it is today but, for that to happen, we need to get the Belizeans who are nationalistic, committed, qualified and possess the human resources to be at the helm of our future developmental planning to make it happen. Most of Belize’s resources live in the United States and the sooner they tap them, the faster they will have their problems resolved.

Before America became a powerful nation in the world, the founding fathers sat down and planned out America’s path to world dominance. Who are going to be the Belizeans in the group to sit down and plan out Belize’s path?

June 21, 2010


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gulf of Mexico Oil spill, failure of laissez-faire governance

Oil spill, failure of laissez-faire governance

By Dennis Morrison, Contributor:

AMERICANS ARE feeling helpless as there appears to be no end in sight to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the round-the-clock cable coverage with images of coastal wetlands being overrun and beaches tarred in a large section of the region. It is a catastrophe not just for the Gulf region but for North America, as these wetlands comprise nearly a half of the total wetlands of the continent and support a substantial part of the United States (US) seafood industry. The Obama administration is taking a shellacking for the inevitable chaos that has resulted as confusing layers of federal, state and local bureau-cracies scramble to mount clean-up operations.

I suspect, however, that the frustration Americans are feeling arises from the sense that their society, which prides itself on technological mastery in all human activities, is powerless to plug the leak. This sense of powerlessness does not fit at all well with the psyche of the all-conquering America that has dominated the race to outer space and outdone its rivals in military technology for the last century. Shouldn't the US military with its smart technology and super-efficient command and control systems be able to sort out the mess? Surely, this ought not to happen to Americans, of all people.

What the Deepwater Horizon disaster has laid bare is not so much American technological inadequacies, but the failure of its oil industry regulatory system at all levels. It comes 30 years after laissez-faire ideology gained ascendency in the Reagan-Thatcher era and the crusade to roll back government involvement in regulating markets. We now know, too, that in the new milieu, relations between public officials and the oil industry were marked by rampant corruption. This is how BP came to have been permitted to drill for oil at record depths below the ocean floor with scant consideration for disaster mitigation, as their plans were simply rubber-stamped.

Painful fallout

The calamitous failure of government regulation has not been limited to the oil industry or, for that matter, to the United States. The near collapse of the US and British financial systems in 2008 can be traced directly to the liberalisation of Western financial markets that was at the centre of the resurgence of laissez-faire capitalism in the 1980s. Regulatory systems put in place after the banking system meltdown in the 1930s were upended on the altar of ideology. Only after massive bailouts were major economies able to avert disaster, but now the painful fallout is being felt and the recovery appears tepid.

In the porous regulatory systems that existed since the 1980s, yuppies on Wall Street and in the City of London turned financial markets into casinos, gambling with the savings of the economies. With financial institutions collapsing like ninepins, credit markets froze, sending the world economy into decline for the first time in 70 years, and simultaneously with world trade for the first time ever. The US, and more so Europe, are struggling to emerge from recession, which is being made harder by the huge fiscal and debt burdens arising from the financial crisis, and the Americans are plagued by record levels of long-term unemployment.

Jamaica did not escape the liberalisation fever, freeing up its financial system in the 1980s and 1990s. Leaky regulations allowed reckless lending between connected parties, backed by inadequate collateral. Banks, especially indigenously owned ones, operated without regard for prudent risk management. After what was an enormous govern-ment bailout in the late 1990s, among the highest as a percentage of the size of the economy, new financial regulations to tighten the system had to be promulgated, which is partly why Jamaica's financial system was unaffected by the recent crisis.

Where Jamaica perhaps suffered the greatest damage from economic liberalisation was the premature abolition of exchange controls in September 1991. That action, taken at the behest of Washington-based international financial institutions and the leadership of the local private sector, came ahead of the necessary fiscal and monetary measures to ensure a less-turbulent transition to a stable foreign-exchange market. What transpired was a protracted period of high inflation which was only put down by repressive monetary policy [high interest rates] that contributed to the financial sector meltdown of the late 1990s.

Costly failures

The business failures arising from escalating debt due to the hike in interest rates hurt several sectors of the local economy. Moreover, the high interest paid on 'safe' government instruments distorted the risk appetite of investors, even as it sent government debt payments skyrocketing. Borrowing had to be increased to service existing debts, and with interest payments eating up a greater share of revenues, less was available for investment in education, health, and national security.

The failure of markets globally has been costly and, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the rationale for regulation of markets has regained legitimacy. Reflecting this, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other institutions that shape the Washington Consensus have adopted a more pragmatic view of the role of the State in regulating economies. The resurgence of the political right in the US, notwithstanding, the ideological centre has shifted to the left globally, hence we have in Britain a Conservative-Liberal-Democratic coalition, which is projecting a softer face for British capitalism.

Financial markets, though, are exerting pressures to rein in government economic stimulus that could set back the recovery. It would be a mistake to put the state back into a laissez-faire mode, bearing in mind the consequential damage to the economy as is being witnessed even now in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dennis Morrison is an economist. Send feedback to columns @gleaner

June 20, 2010


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Will Jamaica soon abolish appeals to the Privy Council?

by Oscar Ramjeet:

It seems as if the Bruce Golding administration in Jamaica has had a change of heart and is now contemplating abolishing appeals to the Privy Council so that the country could join the Appellate Division of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Oscar Ramjeet is an attorney at law who practices extensively throughout the wider CaribbeanThe reason for my opinion is that the country's Governor General Sir Patrick Allen earlier this week administered the oath of office to Jamaican born Professor Winston Anderson as a judge of the CCJ in Kingston and that Prime Minister Bruce Golding spoke in appreciative, though measured, terms of the court’s performance in its five years.

The move to administer the oath to a CCJ judge outside Port of Spain is unprecedented, but it has been reported that the request came from Professor Anderson in order to facilitate his mother and other relatives to witness the ceremony.

An editorial in the Jamaican Gleaner states, "It seems likely that Mr Golding will at next month's summit of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders indicate that his government has completed its re-evaluation of Jamaica's absence from the court and is now ready to begin to plan its accession. This is the difficult bit."

The governing JLP two decades ago was in the forefront, along with Trinidad and Tobago, of the establishment of the CCJ.

I recall while I was solicitor general of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the late 1980s, the attorney general of Edward Seaga 's JLP administration, Oswald Harding, was travelling around the region, along with the late Selwyn Richardson, who was the attorney general of the twin island republic, trying to lobby CARICOM leaders to join the court, but the party changed its stand and vehemently opposed the regional court in its role as the court of last resort in criminal and civil matters.

Their concern was mainly the question of the independence of the CCJ, which the JLP continued to advance even after it was clear that the court was insulated against political interference.

The JLP went further when it successfully challenged the constitution at the Privy Council against Jamaica's participation in the CCJ as was then contemplated.

If the JLP is now in favour for Jamaica to join the CCJ as the final appellate court instead of the Privy Council, there should be no problem because the opposition People's National Party is a strong supporter of the CCJ.

The Jamaican government is contributing 27% of the costs to run and administer the CCJ and has not been getting any benefit whatsoever, since it has not yet abolished appeals to the Privy Council.

Belize is the third country to join Guyana and Barbados, and now that Trinidad and Tobago has a new government, legal circles in the twin island republic feel that the new Prime Minister, Kamla Persad Bissessar, a West Indian-trained attorney might be in favour of the CCJ.

She has already indicated that she will fully embrace CARICOM and its members. She is known to be close to CARICOM colleagues and, as a matter of fact, she invited five of them from Barbados and St Kitts to attend Friday's opening of Parliament in Port of Spain.

She recently commented on the poor state of West Indies cricket, and said that every effort should be made to solve the problems between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA), since she said that cricket is one of the pillars of Caribbean unity.

St Lucia, Dominica and Grenada are also considering going on board. The Ralph Gonsalves administration in St Vincent and the Grenadines wanted to join also, but it failed in its referendum to amend the constitution on November 25 last.

However, in my view, it is not that Vincentians do not want to remove the Privy Council as the final court, but the referendum was loaded with a series of constitutional amendments, including more powers to the prime minister, and a president to replace the governor general.

It is unfortunate that CARICOM countries take so long or are somewhat reluctant to be a part of the regional system since the CCJ was inaugurated on April 12, 2005.

I was privileged to visit the court while in Port of Spain for the Fifth Summit of the Americans and was impressed with what I have seen -- besides the well equipped libraries, spacious conference room, robing room, etc, I was elated with the courtroom’s appearance, with the most modern telephonic and other fascinating equipment, which is said to be some of the best in the world.

The facilities include a document reader/visual presenter; ability to use laptop computers, DVF/VCR; audio/video digital recording (microphones situated throughout the courtroom); wireless internet access, and audio/video transcripts.

June 19, 2010


Friday, June 18, 2010

The Politics of Leadership: Part 2 of Guyana and its Presidency

By Sir Ronald Sanders:

Every present indicator strongly suggests that, at the end of next year’s general elections in Guyana, the presidency of the country will remain with the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) which seems certain to win more votes than any other party.

The Constitution of Guyana states that a presidential candidate shall be deemed to be elected president “if more votes are cast in favour of the list in which he is designated as presidential candidate than in favour of any other list”. In other words, the successful presidential candidate requires only a plurality of the votes, not an overall majority.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat who publishes widely on small states in the global community. Reponses to: www.sirronaldsanders.comHowever, to form the government on its own a political party does require an overall majority. So, even though the PPP could secure the presidency by winning the most votes, it needs an overall majority to form the government by itself.

Should the PPP fail to get more than 50% of the votes cast, it would be forced to seek support from among other parties to form a coalition government.

The main opposition party, the Peoples National Congress (PNC), which is expected to secure the second largest bloc of votes, would also be compelled to talk with other parties if the possibility exists that, together, their votes comprise more than 50% of the total votes cast.

At the 2006 general elections, the PPP secured 53.39 per cent of the vote, the PNC got 33.4 percent and the Alliance for Change (AFC) won 8 per cent. The remaining 7 parties managed to get only 5.21 per cent between them.

The PPP’s General Secretary, Donald Ramotar, who is among those expected to be the PPP’s candidate for the presidency, is confident that the PPP will win an overall majority. As the basis for this, he points to the PPP’s increased backing in the last two general elections in administrative regions that were traditionally supportive of the PNC. He attributes these increases to the PPP’s performance which, he says, demonstrates that it delivers services to communities regardless of race. He also states that the PPP is engaged in an active recruitment campaign of new members of all races.

Interestingly, Ramotar regards the AFC’s participation in the next election as a threat to the PNC and, as a consequence, a help to the PPP. He appears convinced that the AFC’s vote comes from disgruntled and disaffected PNC supporters, not from the PPP.

For his part, the leader of the PNC, Robert Corbin, is firmly of the view that “a fragmented PNC and a disunited opposition cannot displace the PPP”. He favours a “broad coalition” of the opposition parties to contest the 2011 election, and he regards a cohesive PNC as important to such a process. In this connection, he laments the present division within the PNC and says: “I consider it an insult after my life-long service in the PNC to have my name besmirched in a baseless rumour that I placed my personal ambition over the party” by doing a deal with Guyana’s current President Bharrat Jagdeo to permit him a constitutionally-barred third term in office. He also repeated to me that “Jagdeo never once raised a third term with me”, and that at all of their meetings note-takers were present.

The notion of a “broad coalition” of opposition parties is shared by Rupert Roopnarine, one of the leaders of the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) founded by the legendary Walter Rodney. Roopnarine regards the PPP as “defeatable” but only by such a “grand coalition”.

And, there have been informal discussions between representatives of the PNC, the WPA and the AFC about the possibility of such a coalition. Indeed, Corbin states that one of the reasons he has said that he will not be a presidential candidate for the PNC is that if the coalition is created it will name its own agreed candidate and that person may not come from the PNC.

Within the AFC, however, there is, as yet, no agreement on participation in a coalition of opposition parties. Some in the leadership of the AFC find an alliance with the PNC as hard to swallow as one with the PPP. Certainly Sheila Holder and Kemraj Ramjattan appear keen to maintain the AFC’s individual identity. A meeting of its National Executive Committee, to which I referred in my last commentary, did not agree to rotate its leadership from Raphael Trotman to Ramjattan as expected. Instead, the meeting “reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of rotation of its top two candidates for the 2011 election bid” and deferred the matter to its national convention later this year.

Among the disaffected leadership of the PNC, there are those who appear convinced that the PNC can win the election on its own. The only problem they see is Corbin’s continued leadership of the Party. As they view it, if Corbin would step aside and allow the party to be reenergised and refocused under its former Chairman, Winston Murray, the party would be a viable contestant for both the glittering prize of the Presidency and the government, both of which have eluded them since 1992.

Against this background it is understandable why some of the leaders of the opposition parties consider it desirable to form a grand coalition in advance of the elections to jointly fight the PPP. For, if the PPP does not win an overall majority, it would need a much smaller number of votes to take it over 50 per cent than would the PNC, and doing that deal would be considerably easier than trying to cobble together a coalition of 10 parties (9 opposition parties that contested the last elections plus the WPA that didn’t).

Putting together such a grand coalition is by no means easy. Agreeing on a presidential candidate may be the least of the problems which will include settling the distribution of parliamentary seats, ministerial portfolios and a set of agreed priority policies and programmes to move the country forward.

While the manoeuvrings within political parties are going on, policies have not risen to the top of debates within the country, but the issues are becoming obvious, among them: a huge gap between “haves” and “have nots”; the need for racial balance in public appointments and crime.

Guyana’s recent economic advancement under Jagdeo has to be developed to provide tangible benefits for all the people. And, the people – particularly the young - will want to hear how and when this will be achieved.

June 18, 2010

Politics of Leadership - Guyana and its presidency (Part-1)

The Politics of Leadership: Guyana and its Presidency (Part 3)


Weather conditions will keep Gulf oil spill from The Bahamas for now

Weather 'will keep oil spill from the Bahamas for now'
Tribune Staff Reporter

EVEN as the southern border of the surface slick emanating from the Gulf oil spill reaches south of Tampa on the western coast of Florida, weather experts say conditions will keep the oil from beginning to head in the direction of the Bahamas for "at least another four or five days" at the earliest.

"Fortunately it seems as though the God of nature has been smiling on us for some time. The wind patterns do not lend support to anything moving towards our area, so from a weather perspective we've been really fortunate. For the next four or five days we don't see anything of concern, but we've still got to be vigilant," said Mike Stubbs, chief climatological officer at the Bahamas Meteorological Department.

However, this bit of good news has not stopped the government and environmental organisations and agencies in the Bahamas preparing for the worst. Calls for volunteers made by the government and groups like the Bahamas National Trust, the Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Earth in Abaco have resulted in hundreds of people throughout the archipelago expressing their willingness to get involved in clean-up efforts should the oil begin to impact Bahamian shores, according to Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux.

"From what I've seen personally, there are 500 people who have offered to help (in New Providence alone)," said Mr Deveaux, after personally putting out a call for volunteers just over a week ago.

Plans are in place to run training programmes on safe oil clean-up practices for the volunteers at the Royal Bahamas Defence Force base. When this training will commence depends on evidence being in place to provide a "higher degree of certainty" that the oil is set to enter Bahamian waters imminently, so as not to waste resources, said Mr Deveaux.

Bahamian officials are receiving daily briefings on the position of the oil slick emanating from the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent massive oil spill. At present, the oil remains within the Gulf of Mexico, although the Bahamas is not alone within the Caribbean in fearing that the oil will hit the "loop current" and head towards its shores.

"Each day we get report from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). There are two sources, NOAA and the Roff Report, which is a simulation of the eddy currents and the best model that we are advised is out there. It's used widely by mariners. They overlay that with the spill and that establishes where it is," said Mr Deveaux.

Meanwhile, the government, through the Meteorological Office, is liaising with scientists at the University of Miami who are also keeping a watch on the spreading oil. "They will tell us when it shows signs of having reached Key West, and at that stage they estimate it will be a week before Cay Sal gets it," said Mr Deveaux.

"That will be our indicator to mobilise in Cay Sal, and then we have so many days before we need to mobilise in Bimini and so many days from there to mobilise in Grand Bahama," said Mr Deveaux.

A study conducted earlier this month in the Bahamas by the International Maritime Organisation helped the government determine what equipment it will likely need to carry out the clean-up operation, including gloves and shovels for collecting the "tar balls" that are likely to reach Bahamian shores, and which areas are likely to be worst affected.

Mr Deveaux said that "through our contacts with BP", the British Company - which was leasing the oil rig at the time of the explosion - has indicated that it will provide funding for the clean-up equipment. However, given that this may be a slow process the government is willing to go ahead with purchasing the equipment and seeking later reimbursement if necessary.

"We have money in the NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) account to do that. We're not going to wait," he said.

Mr Deveaux added that the Bahamas will not ultimately be seeking compensation for the oil spill through the United States government or under any other international conventions, but from BP directly or "the British" since the company is of British origin.

He was responding to a report by the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, which described one of the "challenges" for the Caribbean countries that may be affected by the spill as the fact that none of the "main liability and compensatory regimes" available under international conventions address spills from underwater wells, but rather "from tankers and spills of heavy bunker fuels from non-tankers, shipping accidents involving hazardous and noxious substances or spills from ocean-going shipping."

BP has repeatedly said it would pay all legitimate claims for compensation, but has not defined "legitimate."

From the Caribbean's perspective, the major acknowledged threats to the region from the spill include damage from tar balls reaching the shorelines and the possibility of hydrocarbon poisoning of birds and fish that migrate between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

US President Barack Obama said Wednesday that BP will place $20 billion in a fund to compensate victims of the spill, with the money to be set aside to insure the oil giant meets its obligations.

It is not clear if this funding, which will not be administered by BP, will only be for US-based victims. Mr Obama said the fund would not supersede the rights of individuals or states to sue BP.

Anyone who wishes to volunteer for the local clean-up should contact the Bahamas National Trust, the Nature Conservancy or Friends of the Earth.

June 17, 2010


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cuba prepares to protect its coast as the BP oil spill continues to spread through the Gulf of Mexico

Cuba prepares for BP oil spill
By Nelson Acosta:

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Cuba is making preparations to protect its coast as the BP oil spill continues spreading through the Gulf of Mexico, Cuban officials said on Tuesday.

They offered few specifics about the preparations, but said Venezuela, Cuba's oil-rich ally, has sent a team of spill-fighting experts to help the communist-run island.

Millions of gallons of oil have gushed into the gulf in the 57-day-old spill and fouled 120 miles of US coastline.

Patches of oil reportedly have been seen as close as 100 miles northwest of Cuba and some forecasts have said gulf currents will inevitably carry the oil to Cuba, which is 90 miles south of Key West, Florida.

International scientists say Cuba's waters and coastline are relatively pristine because of the lack of development common in many other countries.

Its northwest coast is a feeding and breeding ground for many species, including migratory sea turtles, sharks and manatees in danger of extinction.

"We are preparing to do everything we can, and of course to receive the help of those who have experience in confronting (oil spills)," Vice Minister of Defence Gen. Ramon Espinosa told reporters at a conference on disaster preparedness.

He said Cuba has suffered small spills from oil tankers, but nothing of the magnitude of the BP spill.

Cuba does not have any offshore oil production, but Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF has contracted for a rig to drill exploration wells off of Cuba's coast later this year or early in 2011.

Cuba's Civil Defence director, Gen. Ramon Pardo Guerra, speaking at the same conference, said authorities were keeping a close eye on the spill and preparing the coastal population for its arrival.

He did not say what Venezuela had provided for Cuba, but said the South American country has long experience in dealing with oil.

"They are specialists who have produced oil for 100 years," Pardo said.

US officials say they met with Cuban authorities in May to discuss the spill and are providing them regular information about its direction.

But Cuba's Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez told a visiting delegation of Texas legislators recently that no talks had been held.

Despite 50 years of hostilities between Washington and Havana, he said Cuba was ready to cooperate with its longtime foe in the fight against the spill, said former US diplomat Wayne Smith, who led the delegation to the island.

June 16, 2010


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jamaica: The voice of the Roman Catholic Church has now been heard - it's no longer "a voice crying in the wilderness"

Church no longer 'a voice crying in the wilderness'
Anthony Gomes

The statement, "Genuine National Transformation", from the Roman Catholic National Justice and Peace Commission, carried as an advertisement in the Sunday Observer of June 6, 2010, and on the website, is a scholarly treatise of the tragic circumstances leading up to and surrounding the events of May 24 to restore law and order to the community of Tivoli Gardens, by neutralising the criminal elements responsible for the debacle.

The statement authored by the Archbishop of Kingston, the Bishop of Montego Bay and the Bishop of Mandeville, examines the sinister trends that for years have fostered the creation of garrison communities across Jamaica which have "threatened the moral and civil order of our nation".

The statement continues: "All loss of life in a situation of violence is contrary to a Christian ethic, but current events in Jamaica underscore the degree to which we have embraced and even cultivated a culture of death. We need to dismantle this culture of death and violence by intentionally creating a culture of LIFE and PEACE."

Embracing the "culture of death" had grown over the years as the society became numb - desensitised from watching the rising death toll, seemingly out of control, spread like a detestable plague across the country, culminating with a new record of 1680 murders last year. In addition, there were 241 police homicides, and 334 road fatalities, totalling 2255 persons who died violently in 2009! Citizens began to speculate that the country was out of control, either by malevolent design evidenced by absence of any aggressive, offensive response to the criminals, or by the inability of the government to deal with the disastrous situation, broadcast around the world via the internet.

"Like all Jamaicans who desire the good of our nation, we hope that recent events will be the occasion for deep reflection and for steadfast resolve through an agreed time bound programme of action to avoid similar national crises in the future." The steadfast resolve has to be inculcated upon both parties of the government that have to collectively, like it or not, work towards preventing a recurrence of these distressing events.

"Our neglect of this population, and their exclusion from participation in the ordinary benefits of the common good (education, employment, welfare), is a matter of serious social injustice. Worse still, their economic and social disadvantages have been manifested for political ends in a morally abhorrent and reprehensible manner. The present situation then is not a mere social aberration, but the product of an intentional social structure."

The manipulation of the underprivileged members of the society for political ends is truly "abhorrent and reprehensible", and cannot be allowed to continue in any shape or form. The private sector, trade unions and other members of civil society are adamant that the country cannot again be allowed to slip back into this sorry state of affairs. This has been made clear in the numerous press releases and statements appearing in the media.

However, not all opportunities in the press are available to associations responsible for expressing the views of their members, of which the Roman Catholic Church is one such complainant. Repeatedly, one reads about the silence of the collective "churches": Why doesn't the church speak out about the desperate and disastrous activities being perpetrated in our country? The Roman Catholic Church does speak out when it has something positive to contribute to the debate without meddling in politics, or misleading the faithful. One church bulletin stated, "Again, the Church speaks, but the press chooses to ignore our voice." Hence the church considers its voice as "a voice crying in the wilderness". The statement of the National Justice Commission is a cardinal case in point of the church speaking out in a manner not only to embrace its flock but the society as a whole.

"The old order - the way we conduct politics in Jamaica - must change." This demand has been echoed around the world, inspired by Barack Obama's call for universal change to the political architecture of countries. It seems that the recession has acted as a catalyst, which has ignited the attitude of people everywhere, that "enough is enough"! From now on it must be nation above party!

"These garrisons are all zones of exclusion, allowed to exist by a civil society tolerant of tribal politics. Private sector personnel, some of them good church-going businessmen, have made political contributions which have supported this evil system that is an affront to the dignity of the citizens in these areas. The culpability of these Christians who blindly support these political parties cannot be understated. It is imperative that our strategy for creating order - indeed a new one - goes well beyond the objectives of the present limited security operation. It will require the transformation of our social and political infrastructure. This present crisis is a window of opportunity to put in place a new relationship between politics and civil society."

The foregoing describes where Jamaica is coming from and where it must go, to redeem itself as a truly God-fearing Christian society dedicated to the betterment of all its citizens without fear or favour. The statement concludes: "The Roman Catholic Church places itself at the service of the nation to begin the process of our national transformation." The voice of the Roman Catholic Church has now been heard - it's no longer "a voice crying in the wilderness".

June 16, 2010