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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The British media's anti-Jamaica campaign


THERE was yet another depressing story about Jamaica in the British media last week. It featured in the evening news bulletin of BBC Radio. The news item began by mentioning that next year is the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's Independence. But it went on to suggest that any Jamaicans foolish enough to return home for Independence in 2012 risked being murder victims.

The news reporter said that over a thousand people returned to Jamaica every year. The source of that exact figure is a mystery. He went on to say that in the past decade 350 returning residents had been murdered and the possibility of being killed was "casting a cloud" over people thinking of returning home in 2012.

The reporter did point out that tourists hardly ever got attacked in Jamaica. But this fact would not have been much consolation to tourists of a nervous disposition who happened to be listening to the programme.

The news report went on to say that most returning residents flew into Norman Manley Airport in Kingston and that there was a network of criminals at the airport who targeted people visiting Jamaica and followed them. The programme implied that these criminals were often working in collusion with policemen and soldiers.

The programme also interviewed victims of crime and Mark Shields, former Scotland Yard detective who was appointed deputy commissioner of police in Jamaica in 2005 on secondment. He left the Jamaica Constabulary Force after a few years and is currently managing director of Shields Crime Security Consultants Limited on the island.

Percival La Touche, a long-time champion of returnees was also interviewed, and claimed that there was no plan to protect returning residents.

Crime is a serious issue in Jamaica, and the death of any Jamaican, returning resident or not, is a tragedy. But I was disappointed that the programme mentioned, only in passing, that violent crime overall has dropped in Jamaica and there has been a 25 per cent drop in the murder rate this year.

It was a programme designed to frighten anyone who was thinking of visiting Jamaica. I have worked for years to try and improve the image of Jamaica in the media. And I was depressed that on the one hand it is such a struggle to get anything positive about Jamaica in the newspapers and on television, but on the other hand these kinds of negative items easily obtain prominence.

We do not know when the next general election will be and we certainly do not know which party will be the victor. But whoever leads Jamaica in the future, the fight against crime will have to be a top priority. Fear of crime does not just have the potential to frighten off returning residents. Crime is also frightening tourists and potential investors.

However, I deplore the tendency of the British media to present only the negative side of Jamaica. I sometimes think that it is a testimony to the loyalty of Jamaicans living overseas and the excellence of Jamaica's tourism product that anyone ever visits Jamaica at all.

Diane Abbott is the British Labour Party's shadow public health minister

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bahamas: These days, school children are contributing to a wave of criminality and brutality that has utterly disrupted our once quiet and tranquil existence

Gangsters in school

Nassau, The Bahamas

Nowadays, as crime spirals out of control and has led to nationwide trepidation as regards the criminal element, a microcosmic look at the issues of violence and miscreant behavior in our schools is representative of what we’re facing in wider society. Indeed, there are those students who are so disrespectful and fierce that they openly engage in frightful, mob-like brawls that leave teachers, students and administrators scrambling for cover and demanding the presence of a school gang unit/police, particularly in those school districts that are alleged to be a gangland.
Of late, I’ve been told—by friends who are police officers and educators alike—that bedlam is being wreaked upon certain educational institutions as unruly, poorly socialized students terrify their classmates and teachers.

            These days, school children are contributing to a wave of criminality and brutality that has utterly disrupted our once quiet and tranquil existence. By all accounts, students use objects—wood, metal poles/pipes, blocks, knives—which were either left behind by contractors or tossed over school walls before security checks or during the weekend/nights. I’ve even heard stories of home invasions involving youngsters who are young enough to be in primary school but small enough to slither through windows that have been pried open to open doors for their accomplices. Where are the truant officers to ensure that the whereabouts of these youngsters who duck school to break into people’s homes (e.g. the cash for gold racket)?
In recent years, there have been several reports of clashes between students when gang-affiliated pupils jump school walls and return with the support of outsiders. Frankly, the MOE should make a concerted effort to raise the parameter walls of certain public schools, perhaps using barbed wire atop the school’s fence as well.
In secondary schools—and some primary schools—on-campus gangs are problematic, with students becoming fiercely territorial and dabbling in drugs. Gangs, which are groups of allied and aberrant individuals, are infamous for their involvement in criminal activity.

            These groupings of errant individuals may loosely hang out together or form a strict organization, with a designated leader, ruling council, a name, identifiers and, with the most structured gangs, bank accounts.
A few years ago, I spoke with Corporal 2552 Darvey Pratt, an authority on local gangs, who was then posted in the Police Force’s Community Relations Unit.
According to him, there are about 46 known gangs in this country, with a combined membership of about 10,000-foot soldiers. He said that although there may be a few populous gangs.
At that time, he said that gangs are usually recognizable by hand signals, colors, caps and, in the case of many local gangs, sports paraphernalia (eg, football and basketball jerseys).
During the 1960s, neighborhood groups such as the Farmyard Boys or the Kemp Road Boys had squabbles but rarely engaged in serious criminal acts.

            By the 1980s, it is said that the era of political sleaze and drug dealing led to the formation of more violent, felonious gangs such as the Syndicate and the Rebellion, with the latter being the former gang of reformed gangster, pastor and motivational speaker Carlos Reid. During the last 20 years, the number of youth gangs has grown.
Gangs are an omnipresent part of inner-city life, where they petrify the community with patent dope-peddling and mafia-style violence, which is sometimes well planned but may result in the deaths of innocent bystanders.

             I was told that these local gangs are extremely sadistic, instigate deadly rivalries and usually carry out unlawful acts in specific zones that they claim as turf. Corporal Pratt told me that some gangsters cannot venture out of there immediate area into any part of Nassau, because they would be immediately killed.

             With approximately 10,000 young Bahamians engaging in anti-social behaviour, Corporal Pratt said that their thrust to become gangsters is brought on by “a search for identity, a lack of education, a want for protection when they travel to other areas of New Providence, poverty and absentee and neglectful parents.” At the time of our interview, he said that single parent homes or homes with uneducated, young parents who lack parental skills and “don’t have much of anything to teach their kids” are those that usually produce gang bangers.

             He said that the students in gangs are usually disruptive nuisances on school campuses, who usually have dismal grade point averages. According to the policeman, poverty-stricken teenagers have no money to purchase what they desire, so they turn to working for a gang leader who will pay them a stipend or buy material possessions for them.
Older, hardened criminals are known to recruit and exploit school age children. Frankly, it is those adolescents who lack self-esteem and are in pursuit of love who are the persons chosen to be hit men subjected to the orders of their leaders.
            Studies on gang violence reveal that new inductees must be beaten by a certain number of other members for at least 10 minutes, and the wannabe gangster cannot resort to any defensive postures during the thumping. Survival of such a cruel affair would prove that an aspirant member is tough and lead to him being accepted. Moreover, the gang leader may send a wannabe member to kill a perceived threat/enemy to earn ‘his stripes’.
Female gang members, who usually belong to spin-offs of male gangs, are initiated in the same way as males and may also be told to have sex with a member or every male in an affiliated gang.
In the 21st century, gangs have evolved into multidimensional consortiums that traffic drugs, deal in firearms/ammunition, threaten police officers, carry out drive-by shootings and contract killings, and engage in extortion, human smuggling, phone tampering, marriage fraud and identity theft.

            According to Pratt, the Raiders gang is ubiquitous throughout New Providence, with segments located in Fox Hill, Kemp Road, Bain Town, Carmichael Road, Pinewood, etc. Although there are a few major groups, he noted that there are numerous splinter gangs throughout the island that are either affiliated with a more established crew or are only associated with schools or a small grouping of hoodlums peddling dope on a street corner.

            Based upon information gleaned from Corporal Pratt and a focus group of students some time ago, I can identify certain New Providence based gangs and their neighborhoods.

            The active gangs and splinter groups terrorizing this island are: the Raiders, Nike Boys (Coconut Grove, Yellow Elder, CC Sweeting), Dukes (Englerston) Corner Boys, 187, the Irish, Gun Hawks, Sharks (Key West Street/Ida Street/CH Reeves), Gun Doggs (Bain Town, Kemp Road), Monster Doggs (Carmichael, Carlton Francis), Pond Boys (Big Pond), War Kings (Englerston), MOB (Bamboo Town/Sunset Park), Deathrow (Carmichael), Gun A** (Sunshine Park), Dirty South (South Beach/St Vincent Road), Cash Money Boys, Cowboys, 242, 362 (Bacardi Road), Wet Money Gangsters (Winton), Swamper Dogs (Pinewood), Raider Boy Killers, Original Boy Gangsters, Hoyas, etc.

               There are also female gangs such as the Trip Out Daughters, Mad A** Daughters, Head Gone B******, Looney Tunes, Shebellion (part of Raiders), and so on.

               Behind the bushes of Carmichael and Cowpen roads are Haitian gangs such as the Bush Boys and an offshoot of one of the world’s most dangerous and notorious black gangs—ZoPound. These gangs are all prevalent in our schools.

                ZoPound is a gang started in the ghettos of Miami, by destitute Haitian immigrants or persons of Haitian descent.

                Since its launch, ZoPound has been exported to the Bahamas via the large influx of illegal Haitian immigrants and the deportation of Haitian-Bahamians to the Bahamas after they have served sentences in US prisons. Reportedly, ZoPound is also comprised of ex-militants and ex-cops and generates hundreds of millions per annum from the sale of drugs, gambling and prostitution.

               ZoPound’s initiation rituals are slightly different from many Bahamian gangs, because to qualify for membership, you must have Haitian parentage.

              The policeman said that ZoPound is a worldwide gang involved in “drug racketeering.” He claimed that gangs, particularly ZoPound, are known to “hire fellas to stand on various street corners and serve as sentries to protect the dope sellers.”

             He claimed that several of these drug peddling lookouts work shifts like a regular job and earn $1,000-$1,500 per week.

             In various schools, particularly in bathrooms or desks, gangland graffiti is a common sight. In a BIS report in 2005, Seanalee Lewis, then head of the Behavioural Modification Programme at Woodcock Primary and a veteran social worker with the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development, asserted that primary school students are using marijuana, forming gangs and marking out turf. What a travesty!
Indeed, students must be taught to be independent and individualistic in their outlook as membership in menacing gangs can do nothing but result in social anarchy and in a collective lack of productivity. 
Character development and family values must become a focal point in Bahamian homes and in our classrooms!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Political leadership in The Islands: Bahamian prime minister - - Hubert Ingraham’s vision of a modern Bahamas

Hubert Ingraham’s Bahamian vision

Front Porch

By Simon

Nassau, The Bahamas

Those who want to understand the full scope of Hubert Ingraham’s vision of a modern Bahamas, must look not only at what is happening in New Providence but also beyond.  A good place to start is Abaco, the present-day, and circa 1947 to approximately 1964, the early years of the future Bahamian prime minister.

During his nearly 35 years as an MP, the member for North Abaco has had a singular vision for the development of all of Abaco.  It is a uniquely Bahamian vision moulded by the geography of the largest archipelago in the Caribbean, with territory stretching approximately the same distance as from Puerto Rico to Trinidad and Tobago.

Among Mr. Ingraham’s signature accomplishments is his transformation of the historic challenge of developing the far-flung Bahamas archipelago with its complex of developmental challenges, into a strategic strength.  In so doing, he is making The Bahamas a model for small-island state development.

To do so, he realized that he had to act on multiple fronts, with limited resources, prioritizing initiatives and capital projects while leveraging the strategic assets of our history, geography and fiscal capacity to diversify the economy and provide greater long-term sustainability and social protections in a modern liberal state.

In this ambition, Abaco has been a grand experiment in small-island development.  It has been a work in progress for many years, now reaching critical mass.


The prime minister’s vision has its roots in his Abaco boyhood, which he has helped to transform from the Abaco of his youth.  What he has done in the third largest island in the archipelago is a part of his long-term strategic plan for developing all of the major islands in our chain.

He has sought to ensure that each major island group, inclusive of various cays, has the critical infrastructure to become platforms for sustained development and a diversity of industries.  Added to this vision was the introduction of local government so that Family Island residents have more say in running their own affairs and increased participation in decision-making on various local matters.

Mr. Ingraham’s model of integral development includes public investment in power generation, water, roads, docks, ports, hospitals and clinics, schools et al., which will help to sustain population growth by attracting domestic as well as foreign direct investment and enticing new residents including Bahamian and non-Bahamian second home owners.

Those in Nassau who have enjoyed cable television and internet service since the inception of Cable Bahamas do not truly appreciate what cable service, which Mr. Ingraham’s government introduced, means to Family Islanders.

Today, the owners of a bone-fishing lodge or charter boat service in Acklins or Andros may now advertise and have guests book online enabling them to better sustain their small businesses.  They understand Mr. Ingraham’s vision better than the critic pontificating on the prime minister’s supposed “lack of vision” from the ease of both an arm chair and ready access to the internet.

The observation of former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur after visiting Abaco is instructive.  Mr. Arthur, who knows well the challenge of developing a single island state, was impressed by the scale of development in Abaco alone.

Within two years of Mr. Ingraham becoming Prime Minister, Cooper’s Town had a major clinic.  The pace of development in Abaco has accelerated ever since, continuing to gather pace with an impressive array of public investments similar to the infrastructural works in New Providence.

Mr. Ingraham’s delight in the Family Islands, and his enthusiasm for fishing, have made him an ardent environmentalist.  In just 10 years he doubled the size of the national park system.  He appreciates the need to balance development and conservation, one of several reasons he was appalled by the Great Mayaguana Land Giveaway by the former government.

Hubert Ingraham is a pragmatist, technocratic, not given to rhetorical flights of fancy.  This has been a strength, as he has been typically careful to ensure that his rhetoric does not outstrip his ability to deliver on his promises.

U.S. President Richard Nixon famously observed that politicians campaign in poetry, but must govern in prose.  The problem with one former Prime Minister is that he campaigns and governs in rhetorical flourishes rarely getting down to the prose and hard business of government.  The difference between prose and poetry eludes another wannabe prime minister.


The downside for Mr. Ingraham is that more technocratic prose often lacks poetic flourish.  This is why some suggest that he lacks vision as they prefer the frenzied rhetoric of a church revival.  But those who mistake performance art for substantive vision in both religion and politics typically fail to appreciate the breadth of the Prime Minister’s vision.

It is not only those who desire fanciful and syrupy rhetoric who fail to appreciate the scope of the Prime Minister’s ambition to modernize The Bahamas.

There are also the inveterate Ingraham-haters with personal grudges who cannot separate their personal feelings from the Prime Minister’s public performance, and political opponents who have a reason for their denials of his accomplishments. Then there are the intellectually slothful who revel in a “pox on both houses” mentality with regards to political analysis.

As the College of The Bahamas moves to university status, it may bolster its research efforts with more in-depth political analysis.  One project may be an analysis of the Ingraham legacy.  As Mr. Ingraham will leave a wide body of documents, public statements and accomplishments, he will prove a fascinating study in political leadership in The Bahamas in the closing decades of the 20th century and the early decades of the 21st.

One may disagree with Mr. Ingraham’s style of governance and/or his positions on various issues.  But to deny that he has a vision is akin to those conspiracy theorists and loons who still believe that Barack Obama is not an American citizen.  Some will never be convinced despite the overwhelming evidence staring them in the face.

Nov 22, 2011


Monday, November 21, 2011

Young Bahamians and, HIV and AIDS education in The Bahamas



Nassau, The Bahamas

THE Bahamas Red Cross has found that young Bahamians are not interested in assisting with HIV and AIDS education, one of its representatives said yesterday.

Amanda Lewis, Red Cross Project Coordinator, was a presenter at the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference, where she spoke on the difficulties in raising HIV-AIDS awareness among young people.

She explained how factors such as low interest from young people in HIV-AIDS education and a "lack of association" between HIV-AIDS work and the Bahamas Red Cross hindered the Red Cross' efforts in organising education programmes.

At the conference, Ms Lewis unveiled a new project, The Caribbean HIV-AIDS Project (CHAP), where young people can become peer educators, and teach their peers about safe sex, HIV, and AIDS.
Ms Lewis said that recruiting young people to be Peer Educators was the "main challenge" of CHAP.

"It's very difficult to get young people involved in something that they might not see the value in, right away," she said.

Despite this, according to the Bahamas Red Cross, CHAP was able to educate more than 5,000 young Bahamians on HIV prevention, this year alone.

"It's a two-year programme sponsored by the American Red Cross and being implemented by the Bahamas Red Cross," Ms Lewis said.

"I train peer educators with knowledge about HIV prevention and safer sex, and they in turn go into their communities and educate their friends, family members, and peers."

She continued: "The research shows that young people are more receptive to hearing information from somebody in their age group. It's seen more as sharing information rather than being lectured to."

Ms Lewis said she "had to do a lot of work" to recruit young Bahamians to participate in the project, stating that she found "low levels of interest" from youth in becoming peer educators and "feelings of fatigue" from youth in becoming involved in an organisation, in general.

Ms Lewis also described how many Bahamians did not realize the role the Bahamas Red Cross played in HIV-AIDS education.

"Community members did not associate the Bahamas Red Cross Society with HIV-AIDS work so it was very difficult for us to establish ourselves and get the programme started," Ms Lewis said. "This lack of association had a big impact on the difficulties we faced when we were recruiting."

However, the Bahamas Red Cross was able to recruit 42 young Bahamians to become peer educators, with 36 remaining active in their communities.

"We've had great success. One of our targets for the project was that there would be 4,000 young people reached by our peer educators in their communities by the end of the second year, and by the end of the first year, we've met just under 6,000," Ms Lewis said.

Colin Scavella Jr, the Lead Male of CHAP's peer educators said he got involved with CHAP because he "found that there was a need in the different communities throughout Nassau" for HIV-AIDS education.

"In the beginning, the response was kind of reluctant, but once you start, people start talking to people. I speak to a group today, and tomorrow they bring their friends. By the time you realize it, in the space of a week's time you've already spoken to 30 or 40 people," Mr Scavella said.

"It's like a domino effect - you speak to one or two people, and it trickles down from there."

November 21, 2011


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jamaica: Lessons From A Bankrupt US City

jamaica-gleaner editorial

In recent days, potential buyers have been rummaging through boxes of Wild West artefacts in a large, old building in the city of Harrisburg in the American state of Pennsylvania.

The pieces were collected for the establishment of a museum, but they are to be auctioned off to help pay the city's debt. Last month, Harrisburg, the Pennsylvanian capital, filed for bankruptcy, the legitimacy of which a court will rule on this week.

In the meantime, the state government has sent in a receiver to organise a workout plan for the city and to put its finances in order.

Harrisburg is not the only insolvent municipality that has filed for bankruptcy. Last week, Jefferson County, in Alabama, did so, saying it was unable to service a US$4-billion debt. In August, Central Falls in Rhode Island also sought protection from creditors.

Cities can, and do, go bankrupt. And if it happens to cities, it can happen to the nation states of which they are part.

Indeed, that is what Greece and Italy barely escaped and are still fighting to stave off, causing the collapse of their governments, in favour of interim administrations in whose ability to take on tough reforms creditors have greater confidence. If the numbers behind the debt and fiscal crisis of Europe's PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) are difficult to digest in Jamaica, perhaps the developments in the United States (US) cities will help bring clarity to the danger with which Jamaica flirts by the failure to vigorously confront its own debt crisis.

genesis of the problem

The genesis of the problem in Europe, the US municipalities and Jamaica are, essentially, the same. They borrowed heavily to fund services or projects which have not, for a variety of reasons, returned enough to service their debts. In the case of Harrisburg, the overall debt is around $500 million, but the bulk of it is owed on a trash-to-energy facility that has not performed to expectation.

But the city, under its former long-serving mayor Stephen Reed, had a history of going to the market to finance projects. "He (Reed) never met a bond he didn't like," quipped Harrisburg's controller, Dan Miller.

That sounds like a Jamaican affliction. Our cane, the debt, not counting yet-unaccounted-for off-book obligations, is $1.6 trillion, or 130 per cent of GDP. Servicing the debt, including amortisation, takes up three-quarters of income from taxes and grants. What is left over is sufficient to pay only a third of public-sector wages. So, the country finds itself on a treadmill of debt.

In Jefferson County, roughly analogous to a Jamaican parish, municipal officials, in the face of the fiscal crisis, have laid off workers, cut hours and raised sewerage charges, the debt for which is a major source of the problem. Pensions may not escape.

The options faced by Jamaica are essentially the same, as the International Monetary Fund has been telling our Government. The public sector has to be reformed, including cutting jobs and overhauling its largely non-contributory, and unaffordable, pension scheme. The tax system has to be restructured to make it more efficient and to bring more people in its purview.

Political leaders talk about these things, but move on them with little energy, making a threatened debt downgrade more likely, which would increase the cost of borrowing. Which might we prefer: Greece, or Harrisburg?

November 20, 2011

jamaica-gleaner editorial

Saturday, November 19, 2011

It is well past time for Jamaica to become a republic

Time to get on with the task of becoming a republic

By Keeble McFarlane

In his usual forceful manner, fellow columnist Franklin Johnston recently tackled the argument that it is well past time for this country to become a republic. We have heard the promise many times over the past 20 years or so, particularly from former prime minister PJ Patterson. But so far no one has even come close to actually doing anything about it. This is a subject which should have properly been addressed a half-century ago as the leaders of the day prepared to move forwards after the convincing vote of the Jamaican people to withdraw from the West Indies Federation.

As one after the other of Britain's colonies declared independence in the 1950s and 60s, they were faced with what system of governance to adopt. When the predominantly white and fairly developed countries - Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand secured vastly increased powers of self-government early in the 20th century, they adopted the dominion system and became known as the "White Dominions". Ireland and South Africa later went for republicanism, with a president, rather than the British monarch, as head of state.

That was the template India and Pakistan chose when their turn arrived right after World War II, and the African colonies followed suit as they shed the colonial shackles. But when the smaller colonies such as ourselves decided to fly the nest, most adopted the familiar system under which they had been governed - clones of the Westminster parliamentary system. It was a manifestation of timidity, unwillingness to venture into the unknown and - perhaps uncharitably - having been successfully brainwashed by the colonial masters who, let's face it, were essentially the creators of these new national entities.

Trinidad and Tobago made the adjustment a few years into independence and Guyana chose right off the bat to be a republic. But they didn't stray very far from the Westminster system, opting for a figurehead president whose position and powers closely track those of a governor general as did India and Pakistan as well as many other republics far removed from British influence, like Germany, Austria, Italy, Israel and South Korea.

There are essentially two kinds of republics - those with a titular head of state and those with a president with real executive powers who is also head of state. The most prominent example of a country with a powerful executive president is the United States, but even there, the president is not all-powerful. Those far-sighted men who created the United States in the 18th century devised a tripod system in which powers are distributed among the executive (president and Cabinet), the Legislature (Senate and House of Representatives) and the judiciary. Thus, no one part of the triumvirate can accumulate too much power and thus dictate how things happen.

Time for a comprehensive constitutional review

It seems to me that it is indeed time to take a serious look at the structure of the government. It is obvious that the mechanism is creaking and clanging like the engine room of a Victorian steamship or industrial plant. Instead of computer-controlled robots, laser probes and plasma cutters, we are stuck in the age of coal-fed boilers, belching steam engines driving ceiling-mounted shafts and canvas belts.

The structure lifted directly from the British playbook no longer fills the needs of a small, predominantly black, Western Hemisphere country in the 21st century. The creaky old edifice headed by a figurehead taken directly out of the colonial mould is no longer relevant. It is true that modern governors general tend to avoid the plumed helmets and ornate uniforms with sashes and gold braid, but that is about the only thing they have shed. They are still titled with knighthoods which have their roots in ancient British tradition and very little to do with grass-roots Jamaican traditions. The fact that many Jamaicans still love the titles, the ceremony and the bowing and scraping means nothing in the real operation of government.

It is true that "man shall not live by bread alone", and that a little bit of ceremony and ritual helps lubricate the difficulties of daily operations. But by opting for an executive presidency, a country can combine the practical business of running a country with ceremony and protocol. We see this every day with the presidents of Brazil, Mexico, the US, France and South Africa. By electing a president, the people of the country can see themselves and their wishes, hopes and aspirations reflected in the person occupying the nation's highest office, no longer representing a foreign monarch who obtains the office by reason of birth and who is of a different race and nationality from the majority of the people, and who lives in another country half a world away.

In the process of transforming Jamaica from a dominion to a republic, it is necessary to look at all aspects of the governmental structure. The framers of the present constitution retained the nominated Legislative Council as the Senate alongside the house of elected representatives. I would convert the appointed Senate into an elected one and let the senators run at large, campaigning across the entire country and gaining some increased powers.

The founders also hung on to the flexible Westminster system of five-year terms unless the government falls on a vote of confidence, and continued with the old scheme of parochial boards under the new title of parish councils. In a country as geographically small as Jamaica, with its limited financial means, there is a considerable amount of overlap between the powers and duties of the parish councils and the central government. There is a strong case for getting rid of those councils altogether and retaining only the bodies responsible for the big population centres. Parish roads and such can just as easily be built and maintained by the central government and properly integrated in a national transport system.

The reviewers should take a serious look at fixed election dates, studying carefully the benefits and drawbacks as demonstrated in places with such a system. At the moment everything grinds to a halt when Parliament is dissolved. Under the first-past-the-post system, it is possible for a party to gain more votes and yet lose the election to the other party whose fewer votes were distributed more advantageously across the constituencies. One way to prevent this inadvertent thwarting of the wishes of the population is to stagger the votes for the presidency and Parliament. A desirable change would be to impose term limits - two terms of six years each would be enough to prevent politicians becoming entrenched in their posts. In some countries they would then be ineligible to run again for life. I would allow them to run again, but they would have to stay away for one term.

So, under this scheme, the president and senators - who both would be seeking the votes of the entire nation - would run together, while the election for the House would be held three years later, providing enough of an overlap to allow voters to adjust the representation according to how well or badly their representatives are performing.

Any review of the constitution would also have to address this business of a final court of appeal. We still cling to the outmoded use of the British Privy Council as the court of last resort, with increasingly unpleasant results. This country has an excellent legal history and tradition, and needs no further tribunal of last resort than the Appeals Court, which would need only a few constitutional and administrative tweaks along with an infusion of resources to work effectively as the court of last resort.

The new prime minister, who wasn't even born when the country became independent, faces many monumental challenges as he settles into office. Jamaica turns 50 in little more than half a year, and so it's not feasible to become a republic by then. So, let's celebrate the first half-century as a dominion, then get on with the task of reforming the nation's state machinery to face the challenges and possibilities of a new century.

November 19, 2011


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Marriage is not a "bed of roses" as often heard in the popular quip: "Marriage is a three ring circus... First comes the engagement ring, followed by the wedding ring, and then comes the suffering"!

The vanishing institution of Christian marriage

By Anthony Gomes

The unravelling of society's moral fibre continues with the vanishing institution of Christian marriage. With some 200 new divorces before the courts each month, the death knell of Christian matrimony can be clearly heard accompanied by the renewed fatuous call for term-limited marriage licences! In 2009 there were 1853 divorces in Jamaica, that is 8.65 divorces for every 100 marriages, accompanied by advertisements in the press offering "Quick divorces"!

The exceptional divorce rate is an indictment of the numerous imperfect choices made by aspiring partners. In one parish church, the number of divorces exceeds the number of marriages solemnised. That does not augur well for future matrimonial unions between a man and a woman. This symptom of societal decadence makes one wonder why so many marriages are ending in dissolution. A number of adverse reasons come to mind, and taken singularly many of them do not amount to substantial reasons for creating a fatal rupture in the relationship. This could indicate a lack of determination to make the marriage work, and reflect the ease with which divorce can be obtained in civil unions, that in many cases are not recognised by the Christian churches who can still grant nullity in selected cases.

Marriage is not a "bed of roses" as often heard in the popular quip: "Marriage is a three ring circus. First comes the engagement ring, followed by the wedding ring, and then comes the suffering"! The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges the vagaries of how stresses and strains can affect a relationship thus: "Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome, according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character" (Art1606-Catechism). "According to faith, the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations; their mutual attraction, the Creator's own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust; and the beautiful vocation of man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth was burdened by the pain of childbirth and the toil of work" (1606-Catechism).

On the wider horizon, the situation is more troubling and summarised as follows: "Once the very cradle of civilisation, Europe has embraced a secular future, and the residual memory of the Christian tradition is fading fast," according to Dr R Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He continues: "Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands, once the cradles of the Reformation, are now prime examples of Europe's secular shape. Throughout the European continent, Islam is the only religion growing in the number of adherents. Others looking at the same pattern of secularisation point to the impact of theological liberalism, the rise of a technological society, and the cultural shift towards autonomous individualism, as the main factors behind Christianity's decline. The decline of Christian belief in Europe has also brought a change in attitudes and laws on issues such as divorce, abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research. As Christian conviction declines, Christian morality gives way to the ethos of moral individualism, sexual libertinism, and eroding commitment to marriage, children, and family". The foregoing encapsulates the torrent of sinister forces which are infiltrating Christian societies, leading to their diminution.

In Jamaica's case, enlightened parenting is the first step towards restoring Christian principles in the family unit. However, when children are giving birth to babies fathered by children, the remedial process becomes very complicated without outside assistance from the churches and schools. Children born to children are usually left with grandparents for their upbringing. It is this formative stage which will influence the behaviour of the young adult, which must be able to decipher the difference between right and wrong.

The permissive society in which we live has corrupted Christian moral values to such an extent that all aspects of aberrant social behaviour can be justified. Defections from formal religious practice have intensified with the advent of "generic Christians", who choose to worship the Creator in their own way. "Condemn the sin, not the sinner" is a popular oxymoron, as the existence of the sin is dependent on its commission by the sinner. A universal panacea in the remedial process is longer terms of engagement, to allow the aspirants to improve their knowledge of each other, before taking matrimonial vows that are binding "until death do us part".

"In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning: permission given by Moses to divorce one's wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts. The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it: "what therefore God as joined together, let no man put asunder".

Apostle Paul makes clear when he says: "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her." As the popular song says: "Look back before you leave my life."

November 16, 2011


Monday, November 14, 2011

What’s happening in Haiti?

What's happening in Haiti, six months into the Martelly government?

By Jean H Charles

The priest of my parish, St Louis King of France of Port au Prince, after a month-long travel to the United States, France, Italy and Belgium, on his return home told his parishioners he has been asked constantly abroad the same question: “Father! What’s happening in Haiti?” His answer: “I don’t know” was not comforting. I have been musing and perusing the proper answer. Six months into the Martelly government, it is proper and fit to look into what is happening in Haiti from one regime to another.

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.comThe short answer is there has not been enough fundamental change to make a difference. In its defence, the Martelly-Conille government took shape only fifteen days ago. After two failed starts, President Martelly finally obtained the sanction of the Parliament to form a new government. For the last six months he was using the caretaker ministers left by the Preval regime. His master plan of five Es: etat de droit, meaning rule of law; education; environment; employment and emergency (relocating the refugees of the earthquake from the fetid camps in the parks and the public spaces) was still in incubation, not able to take shape.

The concept of the rule of law took a hit with the Parliament just one week after the confirmation of the new Prime Minister Garry Conille. One of the legislators, with a long criminal rap sheet, including murder and prison escape, entered into an altercation with the president at the National Palace. There were dirty words uttered by both parties.

The president threatened to use the full force of law to deal with individuals who show no respect for the Office of the Presidency. How could the legislator Arnel Belizaire have obtained his legal document to run and become a representative of one of the most sophisticated counties of Haiti, Delmas-Tabarre? These are issues of the rule of law that the president promised to deal with.

The Haitian Constitution, on the other hand, provides that a sitting legislator enjoys prosecutorial immunity unless a waiver has been sought and obtained from Parliament beforehand. The district attorney arrested the legislator Arnel Belizaire on coming off the plane from an official trip from France. Did the executive branch break the rule of law in proceeding to the arrest of the legislator without awaiting the order from Parliament?

The young Haitian democracy is being put to the test. Parliament threatens to derail the government, which is not one month old, for affront and indignity to one of its own, even when the member has been on the list of fugitives subject to arrest by any good citizen.

I am reminded of the dictum of Chief Justice John Marshall Harlan of the United States, in a situation where there was a conflict of law between two branches of the government, said: “It is emphatically the province and duty of [the courts] to say what the law is.” Will Haiti use the court of law to settle that issue or will grandiose self promotion have the last word?

On another issue of the rule of law, the president promised to reestablish the Haitian army on November 18, the day commemorating the last battle of Vertieres against colonial France in Haiti two centuries ago. There were cold shoulders by the opposition, the United States and other western powers, major international press and the MINUSTHA. They are all opposed to the idea.

My position, as well as the position of the Haitian government, is stated in another essay: why Haiti needs its own army is clear and to the point. A nation is not yet one if it does not have its own army to protect its citizens, its resources and its territory. The army is the link that binds a country together in the glory of the past and the sense of appurtenance and self determination to continue to create together a common future.

As on January 1, 1804, in defying the world order of slavery, Haiti on November 18, 2011, will defy the world powers to rebuild its own army, a new army that will protect the nation against the natural calamities and the infringements against its sovereignty as a free and independent nation.

The second E stands for the issue of education for all; it took shape even before the installation of the new government. The president in a decree ordered the money transfer agencies to exact $1.50 from all the transfers to and from Haiti. In addition he has requested a tax of 10 cents on each international call to and from Haiti, hoping to raise $300 million to feed an education fund that would send all the boys and girls of Haiti to school free of charge to their parents.

The Diaspora that took the hit in shouldering the construction of the fund balked. The opposition that failed to take the leadership in making education a priority in the past is crying foul. The fine points of the program need more retooling to make it really effective, yet the Martelly-Conille government should be credited for fulfilling the vision of the founding fathers that those Haitians who do not have a lineage from France should also enjoy the full opportunities offered by the State.

In terms of the environment, Haiti represents in some parts the physical landscape of the moon, with only 2% of its land covered with trees. The capital city of Port au Prince is a nightmare for its inhabitants in general and the refugees from the earthquake in particular, each time major rains occur. Water pours out of the mountains into sewer systems that have not been cleaned for decades. The proper management of detritus, a staple for revenue and energy for the major metropolises of the world has been neglected by the previous regime.

In one week, Port au Prince has become lately a clean city; plans are under way to treat the detritus to exact energy, gas and organic manure. I take delight in involving myself into guerilla gardening, planting cutting of flowers from my home into the giant pot made of discarded tires set up by the government to replace the garbage bins, sites of squalor before.

I have approached the director of the service about distributing bags in the homes to produce seedlings from the seeds of fruits eaten in the homes so we could replenish the flora of Haiti on volunteer days of the year.

Talking about employment; I was recently at the Ministry of Works and Social Affairs; there was a raucous demonstration in front of the Ministry. There were people chanting: we just want work, we need our dignity. Will it be more of the same with no one paying attention to them until it is night time and they go home to an uncertain tomorrow?

The prime minister in a tete a tete that I have attended with some legislators has revealed the previous government, hoping that its candidate would be the winner of the election, has saved a piggy bank of US$700 million in the treasury. In addition, $600 million in the pipeline from international institutions dedicated to Haiti has not been released because of the poor absorption capacity of the previous regime. More than 300 projects will be soon on the scaffold, producing jobs by the thousand.

The last E was for emergency. The government, in a well-elaborated project nicknamed 16/6, shouldered by OIM (Organization for Migration); the CIRH and the MINUSTHA, organized the relocation of the refugees of the earthquake. The dynamic woman mayor of the bucolic village of Petionville, Lydie Parent, took advantage of the program to pioneer the relocation project in her town. The magnificent city park taken over by the refugees for the last two years has been finally recovered for the delight of the lovers who can now romance on the cleared benches and the soccer players who can practice their favourite sport.

It would be even better, in planning the cleaning of the other refugee camps, if the $100 million dedicated for the project would go into renovating the small rural villages, thereby furthering the reconstruction of the country, while the relocation of the refugees would take place in the renovated hamlets.

In conclusion, Haiti is at a crossroads. It can go back to its status quo of sixty years of illiberal regimes, sometimes predatory even criminal ones, which under the Duvalier era released millions of people from the rural sectors into the capital and in the cities without proper education and formation. They were told by the Aristide and the Preval regimes to look at the well off citizens as their enemies, breaking the social order to the bone, disrupting the process of creating the sense of appurtenance for nation building.

The Martelly-Conille government, surrounded by young lions that could be transformed into sea lions, can continue to be the predatory government of the past or it can transmute into the progressive government of the founding father Jean Jacques Dessalines that sees each Haitian citizen and each person living in the territory as potential value to be polished, cherished revered, and enriched for his own benefit and for the benefit of the nation.

I hope my good parish priest, Reverend Kennel, will read this essay and as such, provide a better answer to those who ask: “Father! What’s happening in Haiti?”

November 14, 2011


Sunday, November 13, 2011

HIV/AIDS prevalence is 14 percent among men who have sex with men (MSM) in The Bahamas... which is nearly double the eight percent documented in 2008 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), according to director of The Bahamas National HIV/AIDS Programme, Dr. Perry Gomez

HIV prevalence 14 percent among men who have sex with men

By Royston Jones Jr
Guardian Staff Reporter

Nassau, The Bahamas

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in The Bahamas among men who have sex with men (MSM) is near 14 percent, which is nearly double the eight percent documented in 2008 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), according to director of the National HIV/AIDS Programme, Dr. Perry Gomez.

However, Gomez pointed out yesterday that that percentage increase is a result of better reporting, data collection methods and better access to the MSM community, which has been regionally identified as one of the most vulnerable groups.

“It was not until the last United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) report where we did report that figure of almost eight percent,” noted Gomez, during a press conference at the Ministry of Health on Augusta Street.

“A lot of focus is being placed on MSMs as one of the drivers of the epidemic in nearly all countries [but] that was really based on a very small sample.  Over the last three years we have been really making many more inroads into that community.”

The UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS was held in New York in June 2011 to review progress and renew commitments to halt and reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Gomez pointed out that there was very limited information on the MSM community resulting in many reports in The Bahamas being left blank in previous years.

He noted that workshops have been held on how to approach and how to better access the MSM community, which is part of a multilateral approach to target MSMs.  The most recent workshop was held on Thursday, noted Gomez.

“It is being done through PEPFAR who brought in an expert in that particular field,” he said.

“These are very private people and so it is not easy to access [that community].  Through getting to know some of them, there has been a number of testing parties sponsored by the group in conjunction with us.”

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the largest component of the U.S. President’s Global Health Initiative.

PEPFAR aims to save the greatest number of lives by increasing and building upon what works and, then, supporting countries as they work to improve the health of their own people, according to the U.S. Government interagency website.

Gomez said that Jamaica, which had a 31.8 percent prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among MSMs in 2008, has in comparison been ahead of The Bahamas because the country has been more organized with the MSM community.

“We knew the focus of our epidemic in the beginning in The Bahamas was amongst cocaine addicts and it spread from them to us,” Gomez said.

“Why they were vulnerable was because of the drug and the high number of sexual partners with both sexes.  They remain a vulnerable group in our community.  In the next two years we hope to have better data on it.”

The government of The Bahamas is co-sponsoring the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference at Atlantis Resort November 18 - November 21.

The conference is expected to attract approximately 2,000 people from over 40 countries and territories, including prime ministers and ministers of health from the region.

Nov 12, 2011


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pro-Gay Bully David Cameron is Ignoring Grave Health Impact: ...homosexual practitioners have a significantly higher incidence of anal cancer, chlamydia trachomatis, cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, herpes simplex virus, HIV, HPV, Isospora belli, microsporidia, gonorrhoea, viral hepatitis types B & C, syphilis... according to research published by the Medical Clinics of North America and even the LGBTHealthChannel...

Pro-Gay Bully Ignoring Grave Health Impact

Marc Ramsay, Guest Columnist


British Prime Minister David Cameron's comments threatening to withhold aid from developing Commonwealth countries which do not repeal laws criminalising homosexuality caught the attention of many.

Regardless of your moral position on homosexuality, withholding aid from a developing country to force them to change their legislation because of external contrary moral positions has the potential to be harmful.

My choice of words is very deliberate - the PM has put forward a moral position on homosexuality, which he is seeking to impose on certain Commonwealth states. He cannot say that no country has the right to impose its morals on others through legislation to defend that position. He is using aid, of all options, to impose his moral position - unequivocally his moral position is that homosexual acts should not be illegal, criminalised, or subjected to legislative sanction.

So firmly does he hold to this position that he is willing to impose sanctions on developing countries. As we debate this issue, let us bear in mind that moral neutrality is a myth, and thus weigh each side on its merits.

Ordinarily such comments would give rise to arguments as to whether morality should be legislated. However, since PM Cameron has made it clear that certain moral positions can be the subject of sanctions in international policy, the question is, rather, whether his threat is right on a balance of outcomes. I use the word 'right' in the secular sense of the word, questioning whether the urgency and moral duty expressed by the British prime minister are well founded based on an assessment of the consequences.

Certainly, foreign governments have not been as outspoken about garrison politics; the virtual dictatorship between the JLPNP in Jamaica; the imbalance between rich and poor; the lack of disclosure on campaign financing, and so on. Is this threat worth it?

Rights can be restricted

The first question is what is the negative outcome of withholding legal homosexual sex from citizens in countries such as Jamaica. The right to choose one's lifestyle is as applicable to homosexuality as it is to the use of narcotics such as marijuana, or tobacco or alcohol. All three are restricted in the United Kingdom to varying degrees. While the basis is the negative outcomes, based on medical, psychological and sociological study, authorities in the UK have been more open to data on the effects of marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol than they have been on data on the negative outcomes of the homosexual lifestyle.

They have also considered the sociological implications, which do not necessarily harm the person in a conclusive medical sense, but could have harmful effects on the fabric of society. Thus, they banned smoking indoors in England in 2007, restricted alcohol intoxication levels in certain spheres, and banned marijuana despite the human right to choose one's lifestyle. They will raid a private dwelling home in London to seize marijuana on those same grounds, violating various human rights on grounds they will argue are legitimate. So there is no blanket ban on restricting the right to choose, provided there are legitimate grounds.

Only one consequence of not repealing

Thus the only negative outcome of maintaining the anti-homosexual laws is restricting the individual's right to choose, a right which is not without legal restriction on legitimate grounds such as medical, psychological or sociological harm to the individual or society. Several studies, including those conducted by Professors Jones and Yarhouse, research published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in 2011, and Dr N. Whitehead in the Journal of Human Sexuality in 2011, show that like the choice to possess or smoke marijuana, an individual can not only choose whether or not to have homosexual sex, but also change their homosexual orientation without psychological distress.

Thus the right to choose homosexual sex is not a sacred genetic right, but is open to restriction, provided there are legitimate grounds.

Negative consequences

On the other hand, there are scientific arguments which show conclusive medical, psychological and sociological grounds for negative outcomes of homosexual sex. The negative outcomes of homosexual sex and the homosexual lifestyle are not myths of religious fanatics or ignorant homophobes.

An article by Dr John R. Diggs titled 'The Health Risks of Gay Sex' provides a good starting point, referencing several studies conducted by the scientific community. Diggs concluded: "Sexual relationships between members of the same sex expose gays, lesbians and bisexuals to extreme risks of sexually transmitted infections, physical injuries, mental disorders and even a shortened lifespan."

The article cites 129 scientific studies, not conducted by Christians, or homophobes, or narrow-minded developing countries. But there is more. In 2004, WebMD reported a CDC study that showed homosexual sex forms a bridge for HIV to pass to women. This is due to the high levels of promiscuity, high levels of HIV infection, and the high percentage of homosexual males who also have sex with women.

In fact, homosexual practitioners have a significantly higher incidence of anal cancer, chlamydia trachomatis, cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, herpes simplex virus, HIV, HPV, Isospora belli, microsporidia, gonorrhoea, viral hepatitis types B & C, syphilis, according to research published by the Medical Clinics of North America and even the LGBTHealthChannel.

Other studies show that homosexual practitioners also have a higher incidence of haemorrhoids, anal fissures, anorectal trauma, hepatitis A, Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica, Epstein-Barr virus, Neisseria meningitides, shigellosis, salmonellosis, pediculosis, scabies and campylobacter, retained foreign bodies, and exclusive diseases such as herpes Type 8.

There are also serious mental health consequences. There are other alarming facts. A New York Times article by Erica Goode in 2001 revealed that the practice of anal sex increased in the homosexual community, while condom use has declined 20 per cent and multi-partner sex over seven years, despite billions of US dollars spent on HIV-prevention campaigns.

Furthermore, social and legal approval will lead to more sexual activity. This not only has the medical consequences already discussed, but also economic consequences. As a 2002 study by Michael Hamrick for the Corporate Resource Council shows, the health-care costs resulting from homosexual promiscuity are substantial.

In the Jamaican context, already burdened by free health care, the costs borne by the Jamaican taxpayer will be significantly higher.

In light of the brief summary I have provided, a balanced look at Prime Minister Cameron's threat reveals that there may be a lot more to lose if Jamaica is forced to repeal those 'anti-homosexual' laws. Not only could the country face sanctions from the United Kingdom prior to repealing the laws, but there are other consequences to the homosexual individual, women who may come in contact with them, and the wider society that may outweigh the restriction of homosexuals' right to choose their lifestyle.

These negative consequences may even lead one to conclude that it is necessary and fair to restrict any right to homosexual activity, as necessary and fair as restricting marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco use.

Nevertheless, if PM Cameron has his way, sovereign nations will have no right to choose.

November 12, 2011


Friday, November 11, 2011

...the laws criminalising homosexuality are depriving the Caribbean of the use of remarkably talented people in all fields of life who could be contributing to the development and prosperity of every Caribbean country

Gays have rights too: The Caribbean dilemma

By Sir Ronald Sanders

A statement by the prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, that his government will not provide budgetary aid to governments that violate human rights, including by discriminating against homosexuals and lesbians, has angered sections of Caribbean society.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group appointed to recommend ways to reform the Commonwealth. Reponses to: 
www.sirronaldsanders.comThe angry response may have arisen over a misunderstanding of Cameron’s remarks made in a BBC interview at the end of the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia from 28 to 30 October. The remarks were not made at CHOGM itself.

While Cameron did say that his government would not provide general budget support to governments that do not uphold human rights, including the rights of homosexuals, lesbians and vulnerable communities such as young girls, his remarks were not specifically about homosexuals and he did not say that all aid would be withheld. In any event, no independent Caribbean country is a recipient of General Budget Aid from Britain, and, therefore, not one of them would be affected. In this regard, the response to Cameron’s remarks could have benefitted from more careful study.

Cameron did not state a new position. What he said has been the British government’s published policy since earlier this year when the Department for International Development (DFID) conducted a study, involving a wide range of organisations and countries, from which it was decided that General Budget Aid to governments should be linked to good governance, accountability and respect for human rights. British budgetary support is only 16% of the UK’s annual aid budget of £7.46 billion (US$12.1billion).

Nevertheless, the policies, laws and practices applicable to homosexuals and lesbians are real and growing issues in the Caribbean, not only from a human rights stand point but as a public health one too.

At the CHOGM in Perth, an Eminent Persons Group (EPG), of which I am a member, delivered a report to Heads of Government, who commissioned it at their meeting in Trinidad two years ago, on ways to reform the Commonwealth to make it relevant to its times and its people.

Included in the 106 recommendations in the report was one that governments “should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and commit to programmes of education that would help a repeal of such laws”. Amongst these laws are those that criminalize homosexuality.

The recommendation proved to be difficult for many African and Caribbean governments. Of the current 53-nations of the Commonwealth, 41 of them retain laws that criminalise homosexuality in particular. Some of these laws dictate that homosexuals should be flogged and jailed. Of the 41 states with such laws, all 12 of the independent Commonwealth Caribbean countries are included.

Remarkably, these laws are relics of the colonial past. They were introduced in the Caribbean by the British Colonial government. But, while Britain, like the majority of countries in the world, has moved on to decriminalize homosexuality, the colonial laws remain in many parts of Africa and the Caribbean.

In Britain, Australia, Canada, the United States and the majority of European and Latin American nations, many homosexuals and lesbians, freed from the criminalization of their sexual preferences, have risen to the top of their careers. Many are captains of industries, government ministers, leading sports persons and even members of the armed forces doing duty in dangerous places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Caribbean, however, homosexuals are marginalised and the majority remain hidden, terrified of the consequences of “coming out”.

Caribbean governments face serious difficulties over this issue. There is a strong prejudice in societies based on both a lack of education and reluctance to engage the issue in public fora. The churches in the Caribbean are the most unyielding, constraining political parties from adopting a more enlightened and modern-day view of the matter.

The facts indicate that 60 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV and 33.3 million presently live with the virus. Over 60% of the people living with HIV reside in Commonwealth countries. The region with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS per capita is the Caribbean. In this sense, the problem for the Caribbean is one both of human rights and public health.

Homosexuals who live under the risk of flogging and jail are reluctant to reveal themselves if and when they become HIV infected. Consequently, they are left untreated and the disease spreads and eventually they die, although the real cause of death is usually hidden.

In any event, the laws criminalising homosexuality are depriving the Caribbean of the use of remarkably talented people in all fields of life who could be contributing to the development and prosperity of every Caribbean country. Some homosexuals have already emerged – despite the laws and the stigma – as outstanding Caribbean citizens, revered not only in the region but in other parts of the world, but they have been persons of great courage and unquestionable ability. Others have simply fallen by the wayside, or are living lives of lies.

On the eve of CHOGM in Perth, Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Programme wrote to Commonwealth leaders pointing out that “it is important and urgent” for them “to promote and secure the repeal of the discriminatory laws which impede effective national HIV responses”. She called for “legislative initiatives and programmes which will repeal discriminatory laws” that “can not only turn back the HIV epidemic, but also improve the health and development of their citizens”. She urged leaders “to seize this opportunity for the Commonwealth to turn a corner in preventing and controlling HIV by embracing the proposals to repeal laws which impede effective HIV responses”.

In part, it was to this urging that the British prime minister was responding when he spoke in the BBC interview of the need to repeal discriminatory laws.

The issue will not go away. Britain’s linking of General Budget Aid to respect for human rights is one response. Others will follow in different ways. As the international community sees it, homosexuals and lesbians are entitled to rights too, as long as they do not affect the rights and preferences of others.

The Caribbean will have to face up to that reality -- as most of the rest of the world has. The best way to start is by informed public discussion.

November 11, 2011


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson says: ...the entire Caribbean is well positioned to get involved in the energy industry ...whether in terms of pursuing renewable energy or developing traditional hydrocarbon products

Energy is 'incredible opportunity'

Tribune News Editor

Nassau, The Bahamas

THE Bahamas has an "incredible opportunity" to improve on energy security while also increasing the safety of its citizens, a top US official said.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson said the entire Caribbean is well positioned to get involved in the energy industry - whether in terms of pursuing renewable energy or developing traditional hydrocarbon products.

This potential can in turn be used to create economic opportunities that erode the underlying causes of crime and violence, she said.

Ms Jacobson, who is in Nassau to take part in the second Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) Dialogue, explained that while combating the trafficking of drugs, guns and people is a cornerstone of the initiative, true regional security can only be attained if citizens feel their everyday lives have been impacted.

She said: "One of the reasons we talk now about citizen security and considerably less about just counter-narcotics is because it's so obvious that the phenomenon is broader than just drugs.

"It is in fact about whether people feel personally safe, secure, and we all know that in many respects that's a government's first duty - to keep its citizens safe. But when you start to look at the problem and you disaggregate it, it isn't just about where drugs or gangs may come from and the supply, it isn't just about the demand - it's about the socio-economic causes that underlie crime and criminality.

"If you go about fixing it only by trying to attack the symptoms and not the underlying causes, you're never going to get more than half way there."

A lack of economic opportunities - particularly for young men - is often significant among these root factors, and this is where energy diversification can come in, Ms Jacobson said.

"It isn't just economic opportunity," she said, "there are other things that have to come with it, but certainly if people don't feel they have an opportunity to progress economically, to have a life that holds promise for them, it makes it easier for gangs, for drug cartels to recruit."

Once a country accepts that crime prevention starts with social and economic opportunity, Ms Jacobson said, the next step is to identify the emerging fields that Bahamians can be prepared for.

"Obviously, there's a lot that's going on in the Bahamas that speaks to some of the, perhaps, more traditional areas of economic growth - there are building projects for new hotels, there are lots of industries related to tourism - but the fact of the matter is, as you look ahead, the issue of energy production, energy self-sufficiency, is also one in which you can really significantly generate jobs.

"Now, the kinds of jobs you are going to generate are also going to be fairly well paying jobs, but they may also be jobs where fairly specialised training is necessary."

In recognition of the region's potential, Ms Jacobson said, President Obama launched the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) in the Caribbean - at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009.

The ECPA, a relatively small agency, helps create pilot projects in countries where either private or public sector entities are interested in breaking into the energy industry.

"Our focus," she said, "has been heavily on how we work with countries on energy security, on clean energy, on renewables."

At the moment, the ECPA is involved in around 40 projects throughout the hemisphere.

Asked how the Bahamas could qualify for an ECPA pilot project, Ms Jacobson said: "The way that you have to look at that is, how do we develop the market for renewable energies? Because until those are really economically viable and there is a structure in place for those industries, they're not going to be developed by the private sector.

"I think in the end, obviously, every government has to make its own decision on how they proceed on this, but I think the more you look towards diverse sources of energy, the more governments are going to realise that they need expertise from those in the private sector and, hopefully, will work in partnership with them."

November 10, 2011


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bahamas: ...the Bahamian democratic experience and the rationale underpinning parliamentary democracy in The Islands

Celebrating the Bahamian democratic experience

Front Porch

By Simon

Nassau, The Bahamas

Some of the frustrations with our political life are understandable, many of which are shared by those in frontline politics who daily manage the complex matters of state with which most of us would prefer not to contend.

Parliamentary debates are sometimes sterile and unimaginative.  The lack of preparation by some parliamentarians is an embarrassment for themselves and those they represent.

Yet, we need to place our frustrations within context, historically and geographically.  Familiarity often breeds contempt.  Yet, it is unfamiliarity with our parliamentary system that has bred contempt for the institutions and practices that provide for democratic stability.

Many in academia and journalism, and even in Parliament, are woefully ill-informed about the fundamentals of our parliamentary system.  There is a great deal of erroneous information transmitted by these opinion leaders.

The lack of knowledge by those who should know better by virtue of their profession helps to fuel the pining for certain elements of the American system of government despite the lack of in-depth familiarity with why that system was developed and how it functions.

This unfamiliarity has spawned wistfulness for a system that even some of its founders may have come to believe is in need of significant reform in light of a different America today than at its founding.


The accretion of powers within the United States Senate which allows a single senator to place lengthy holds on or filibuster certain legislation are profoundly undemocratic practices in what is often self-servingly called the world’s greatest deliberative body.

The American founders might also be horrified by the army of corporate lobbyists who have been adept at finagling gigantic tax loopholes, outsized subsidies, lax regulation and wink and nod legislation.  This system has cost America trillions at the expense of social protections such as an infant mortality rate of which the world’s greatest power should be embarrassed.

Both the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government refused despite warnings to provide oversight – including legislation – that would have regulated OTC derivatives and other fanciful financial instruments.  This historic failure helped to ignite a global economic meltdown, crippling the housing market, life savings and prospects for millions in the middle class in the U.S. alone.

Most of those who helped create this disaster escaped responsibility.  It is baffling when so-called progressives at home call for the adoption of a more America-styled system supposedly to check the abuses of power.  Politicians do not have a monopoly on such abuse.  Unchecked financial interests are also toxic to the political system.

If America is the prime model for those Bahamians who want a reformed political system based on that model, they have some explaining to do in light of the failures of that country’s political system.

Despite the common misperception, ours is really not a Westminster system of government.  We have a written constitution which Britain does not, and a number of the customs and traditions used in the much larger British parliamentary system are not germane to and are unworkable in our context.  With a 650-member House of Commons compared to our 41-member House of Assembly, our practice of parliamentary democracy is necessarily different.

However, our system is derived from the British parliamentary tradition which has enjoyed significant success including stability and resourcefulness over many centuries.  With not even a half a century of majority rule we are still familiarizing ourselves with our parliamentary system and democratic politics.

The Bahamian system

Still, we have done quite well as a democracy since 1967.  In rapid succession we produced a number of firsts having thrown the major parties out of office after 25 then 10 then five years.  We have done so including surviving two elections with questionable results – 1962 and 1987 – with little to no violence.

Our system is resilient, anchored in a constitutional framework and a rule of law stronger than the personalities and parties who may hold legislative and executive power for a period.   We often confuse the current occupants of high office with the actual nature and powers inherent in those offices.

Some of this confusion takes the form of asking whether the prime minister has too much power as granted by the constitution.  Interestingly, this school of thought gains currency when more powerful leaders are in office such as Sir Lynden Pindling and Hubert Ingraham.  This was much less a concern during the weaker prime ministership of Perry Christie.

Curiously, many of those who have advanced this line of thinking while in opposition did not act on their convictions during their time in government.

The question about the prime minister’s power is a part of a larger question about the scope and nature of the powers granted to officeholders, particularly in the executive and legislative spheres.  It is often discussed in the language of the balance of power and checks and balances.

Our constitution provides numerous checks such as the provision that executive authority is held by the cabinet of The Bahamas, not singularly by the prime minister, a fact that seems to escape many commentators.  It also provides for the removal of a prime minister by his parliamentary colleagues.

All democratic systems wrestle with how much power to afford elected leaders, balancing sufficient power to get things done with checks on those powers to limit potential abuse.  That singular democratic impulse borne from the experience of time and various places has given rise to varying systems such as those of Britain and the U.S.

Before being mesmerized by the supposed greater genius of the American political enterprise, more of us may well examine the Bahamian democratic experience and the rationale underpinning parliamentary democracy.  Then we may more fully appreciate the genius of our system, which, while always in need of reform, has gotten the essentials right and offers more flexibility and built-in resources of which many remain blissfully ignorant and blithely uninformed.

Nov 08, 2011


Monday, November 7, 2011

Haiti: Rebel daughter of Africa

By Jean H Charles

I was in Cape Haitian over the weekend, en route to Grand River for the gédé celebration on November 1. There, I was invited at the posh hotel of Cormier Beach to meet with a group of wholesale travel agents from Germany, Great Britain, Spain and the United States. They were lamenting to the fact that their own governments are putting obstacles in the way of their goal of selling Haiti as a tourist destination by placing the country on the list of the most dangerous places to visit, while the reasons for such a classification are spurious at best, discriminatory at worst.

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.comHaiti, as an emerging democracy, has no political prisoners; its people, with no clannish tradition, refuse to fight amongst themselves, while surviving with resilience in the most difficult economic situation. Compared to other nations in the Caribbean and in Latin America, its crime rate is low, it has none of the at risk indices that plague the nations that comprise the so called pestiferous countries. It includes Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, DR Congo, Syria, Libya (I am sure will be off the list soon) and Haiti.

Que vient faire Haïti dans cette galère? It is the French translation of the English language term that cannot be printed in this essay.

When you are included in that league, the insurance companies refuse to provide the umbrella of protection for damages, injury and medical coverage. The travel agents have both hands tied, unable to pour into Haiti the million travelers that cannot wait to visit the last vestiges of pre-industrialization, where the McDonalds and the K-Marts are not king and queen in a bland post modernization culture where Bergen Norway is undistinguished from Bergen New Jersey.

Haiti’s descent into hell started with a quarantine imposed on the young republic in 1806 by the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. In between there was gunboat diplomacy and plenty of ostracism from Europe and from the United States. Closer to us Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States in 1987, told the tourist industry to avoid that country because AIDS is rampant and maybe endemic to the country. Yet AIDS was brought into Haiti by Canadians and Americans who found a fertile niche in the country with young boys with parents too poor to provide them with education and sustenance.

As a plague when it is affixed on your back, the characterization is difficult to be removed, and the governments of the western countries blindly follow the lead of the United States. As a self prophecy Haiti has been sinking since, into the abyss of renegade and predatory governments that were too corrupt to lead the proper fight to facilitate the removal of the country from the list of the most dangerous nations on earth.

Worse, one of its own governments invited the United Nations peacekeeping force to set up shop in the country justifying the alibi that the nation is at war. Yet the only harm endured by any soldier of the United Nations in Haiti is the wearing of military fatigues that multiplies the centigrade temperature on the body by two from the year-round summer temperature.

In the chain of the Caribbean islands, Haiti occupies the pendant with pearls, gold and diamond that made that nation the reservoir of wealth for Europe in general, France in particular for three hundred years. Why was that reservoir tarnished and stopped in the last two hundred years, when nation building took hold under the command of the Haitians?

It is a story of self flagellation of course but it is also a story of discrimination against a nation that for the rest of humanity dared to stop the world order of slavery of man by man.

The last manifestation of that discrimination is in the placing without proper justification of the Republic of Haiti in the list of one of the most dangerous place on earth to visit. I have with the detached professional lens of a foreigner visited the four corners of the country. I have found a nation and a people at peace with itself, labouring every day with meager buying and selling to send the children to school, to eat every day, one day at a time with no protection from and no security in a police presence, yet they are living as though the police presence was everywhere.

While in Cape Haitian, I heard a big commotion in the middle of the night, it was a large crowd yelling, “Baré! Baré!” -- Take hold, take hold! They were in pursuit of a thief, the stronger ones holding the night intruder until the police arrived to take him to jail. Haiti’s cultural background that has its roots in the fear of authority, the Catholic Church and the voodoo syncretism offers a natural barrier against hooliganism, criminality and social disruption.

I am in awe every day at two manifestations that would fray the patience and endurance of any other population. In the midst of the extreme misery of the large part of the people, they do not take up arms against their successive predatory governments and they do not succumb to desperation leading to suicide or pathological behaviours.

Even the earthquake of January 12, 2010, that destroyed life and limb on a large scale did not produce a nation in constant mourning unable to recoup but one that keeps moving forward in the struggle for daily survival. The noblesse oblige attitude sort of national social security net that bonds the poor with the rich that was disrupted under the Lavalas regime is being replaced by an engaging president who believes hospitality for all must be the ultimate goal of its government.

Tourism is to the Caribbean what oil is to the Middle East. Haiti, well positioned in the Caribbean Sea, is unable to reap its share of the green gold bonanza because the Western nations have declared it should not do so!

Aside from good governance, Haiti needs no help or grants from the rest of the world, it needs the lifting of the embargo against tourism in the country. It has a large population (10 million people), a young population, resilient and very creative that needs to be educated and oiled with the rudiments of sophistication.

Bill Clinton, the nemesis of Ronald Reagan, albeit not from the same party, the Cardinal Richelieu of Haiti imposed by the United Nations, has bread on the ground; he must undo the harm done to Haiti by Ronald Reagan! He should start the worldwide campaign against the listing of Haiti as one of the most dangerous place on earth, starting with his own government, the United States of America!

November 7, 2011