Grasping for CARICOM flavour

Much has been written about Jamaican immigrant lawyer, Ronald Mason’s articles in which he railed against his country remaining as a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Mr. Mason pushed the focus onto the merits and demerits of the CARICOM especially its Single Market and Economy but while I will return to those substantive matters in coming posts, I feel compel to look at a matter, brought up by Mr. Mason which has attracted passing comment but not given significance given the weight of the others he’d exposed.

That matter is name-calling, stereotyping and labelling.  As black people, we protest public stereotyping and labelling such as Anne Coulter’s comments: “Aw come on people, a black woman flying a plane? You know she got that job through affirmative action.  … Oh come on don’t be coy. I know you’re all thinking it! I just have the courage to say what everyone on this plane is thinking. Am I right?”

As I read that with Mr. Mason’s comments lurking in the background, I couldn’t help but ask is Mr. Mason courageous and right?

In the relevant segment of his “Kick CARICOM to the Kerb” part one, Mason reminded me of a “good ole-fashioned cuss-out” among

Caricom-Flag

Caricom-Flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

neighbours so I sensed his despair and frustration with Jamaica’s remaining ‘tight’ with its CARICOM neighbours … “the peoples who populate those islands 1,000 miles away,” and were not playing fair in the relationship.

Mason’s fumed about what he termed Trinidadians’ over-bearing, suffocating attitude and Bajans’ bombastic self-importance; but are those attitudes well-established and broad-based among those nationals that we can hail them deep-seated cultural traits? Do we ( I am a Bajan) as a matter of course extended such behaviour to our CARICOM brothers and sisters?

Unlike Mason, who said he had a “period of enforced residence with some of them at a particular North American university and … in Jamaica”, I have been educated at the University of the West Indies and as such experienced two rewarding and challenging periods immersed in a potpourri of Caribbean culture. We mixed, mingled, argued and shared during formal class, study groups and national weeks (where national organisations celebrated and showed-off their culture – food, dance, music national dress etc.).

Obviously, people also grouped in familiar bunches, based on alma mater, parishes and country of origin but we had our regional mixing and at times we shared with a national from another country that which we did not share with our hometown friends. We took them to our houses on special occasions when they were away from their homes and families. We kick off our shoes at their apartments near campus. It was personal thing not a country-related one.

As mixed nationality groups, we enjoyed our friendships and yes, we sometimes fell out when bombastic, pompous, over-bearing and selfish attitudes got in the way. Those de-friended were Bajans, ‘Lucians’, Grenadians, Vincies, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, and so on. We also forgave each other and were tighter than before or were merely civil but we learned to respect and appreciate each other. It was and is a human thing not a national thing.

We argued over country differences related to all aspects of our culture (food, sports, dance-moves) as well as matters, including immigration and trade that is be-devilling our road to unity. We didn’t solve those issues but we recognised that we were making a difference through our interaction with each other; we continue to show and spread the benefits of our togetherness.

Many of us still ‘shout out” each other on Facebook, Skype or the traditional telephone; we follow each other progress and call one another with an urgent ‘must-do-now” favour knowing that years have passed but the kindness and love live on and will guarantee a positive response.

We’d teased Trinis about carrying the label of insatiable ‘party-lovers’ but we knew many who said ‘no’ to a good fete and instead opt to burn the midnight oil beating some books. We’d laughed with Jamaicans about being stereotyped as aggressive but argued passionately and in consonance that this label was fitted by white man’s history that painted the Maroons and the Caribs with an in-appropriate brush.  Instead we admired the Jamaicans’ creativity, their sense of adventure and will-power to overcome obstacles.

My lists could’ve be longer, but I think the picture has emerged that we learnt that people were individuals not items boxed and labelled by stereotypes. But I could’ve sharpen the focus of the picture by telling you of the many inter-Caribbean national couplings and marriages that resulted and then I could’ve  framed it by revealing that the accents of many among us very so influenced and transformed by our interaction that we teased each other about who had a “CARICOM accent”. Such was the experience at UWI.

Let me take it from the UWI plane, less it be seen as merely a student thing. Take my challenge and visit Barbados’ Fairchild Street Bus Terminal where the state-owned buses make their final passenger stop. I’ve nicknamed that meeting place the CSME; accents of all CARICOM flavours abound; CARICOM nationalities, perhaps with the exception of Haitians and Bahamians, eat, drink, argue, watch cricket and ply their wares, there. I’ve never heard any major discord based on nationality, there. Yes, they argue about who should make the West Indies cricket team and cite island biases for some decisions but they cheer and egg-on everyone dressed in the maroon.  Understanding and appreciating each other’s differences while embracing similarities grow unity in these environments.

We need to get our people from standing underneath their individual national flags and stereotyping and name calling others in the region? (Mason isn’t the only one with his type of mantra.) Part of the answer is getting CARICOM nationals to know more about each other; and to experience more of each others’ physical company as we did at UWI and as others are doing there now and at other meeting places.

Mason indirectly noted the “importance of geographic, cultural, interpersonal relationship among people” in building regional unity as he referred to the Eastern Caribbean. “Schooners and ferries bridge the islands in the east. They have a basis for this creature called CARICOM,” he said, a point which was well made and should be taken.

His articles, therefore, heavily underlined the need for greater communication within CARICOM, a point relevant even in this decade of speedy multi-faceted communication tools. In this communication mix, I believe that reasonably-price intra-CARICOM travel and communication is necessary, not only to increase trade amongst us in goods and services but also to improve our inter-personal relationships, which will engender trust, mutual respect and understanding.

Of course, that communication exercise will call into play the stony, thorny issues of immigrant and border officials’ stances as well as the role of LIAT, but we should never fear problems that are our own making. I will return to those matters in posts dedicated solely to them.

Passport_of_Suriname

Passport_of_Suriname (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe non-verbal communication is also important and therefore just as I uphold the need for national symbols I long for regional ones.

I crave seeing our CARICOM flag fluttering at many strategic places throughout Barbados and the region. So you will understand why my heart is swelling after reading a recent CARICOM Secretariat advertisement of a CARICOM song competition that will give birth to an official CARICOM song to be played at CARICOM ceremonial occasions, nationally, regionally and internationallyI look forward to singing it was as much vibrancy, ownership and meaning as I do my national anthem or our cricket “Rally around the West Indies.”

Stimulate us with frankness

English: Central Bank of Barbados Building, Br...

English: Central Bank of Barbados Building, Bridgetown, St. Michael, Barbados. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barbados is the one of the few countries in the world where the population will barely murmur when a political party implements a policy that it condemned a few weeks earlier. Perhaps this speaks to our docile nature but I believe it is either an indication of the very low premium we put on trust and accountability from our politicians or it relates to our hunger for material benefits dispensed by politicians. We’re afraid to offend.
I’ve reached that conclusion following the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) introduction of a Bds. $355 million stimulus package in its March 18 Estimates of Government Expenditure and Revenue for 2013-14 fiscal year. Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler said government anticipates that this new stimulus package and the Bds. $300 million from traditional estimates will provide an injection of Bds.$600 million in capital works spending that will improve the local economy and create at least 1,000 new jobs.
I like that, jobs and economic improvement but that does not close my mind to the wider issue or calm my worrying concerns!!! FOUR short weeks ago earlier, during the general elections campaign the DLP cautioned us, voters, against supporting the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) pointing out that their proposed $45 million stimulus spelt destruction to our small import-dependent economy.
In fact on February 7th Minister of Agriculture Dr. David Estwick speaking at the height of the General Elections campaign said if BLP’s stimulus policies were “ever adopted, it could lead to a devaluation of the Barbados dollar.”
“If you allow Owen Arthur (the then opposition leader) to practice the policies of stimulus we will have a balance of payments crisis. The IMF’s first prescription is devaluation, and its second is sending home people,” Dr. Estwick warned.
In addition, I’d read where Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr DeLisle Worrell said ‘unequivocally’ that government stimulus could not create sustainable growth in the economy. That was in January when the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) were promoting the need for a stimulus to increase consumer demand.
Dr. Worrell said there was no quick fix to Barbados’ sluggish economic performance adding that growth must be private sector led with the focus on improving competitiveness. He is not a politician but rather an objective voice and an experienced economist. I  trust his views on this plus Professor Michael Howard, who is well-known for his work in public finance called it ‘economic madness’. Therefore their views strengthen the weight of what the DLP was saying for many people not schooled in economics.
It is therefore reasonable and nationalistic to demand an explanation for the DLP’s ‘switch-mout” action and to get a comment from the Governor about the $600 million or at least the $355 million portion. Professor Howard has already spoken on the matter and has not wavered on his opinion but the Governor has so far steered clear of the issue.
The parliamentary opposition should be happy over a stimulus at least from the perspective that it gives them boasting rights for tabling the prescription.  They are unlikely to say much of the  DLP’s change-of-tune since jobs were mentioned and the sitting BLPites  will be wary of any comments that their opponents can twist to suggest they are against job creation.
But as citizens, Barbadians have to ask the DLP for a reasoned clarification about their policy switch; an explanation not tightly woven in a web of jargon. At least the administration should reconciled their reasons for vehemently decrying the opposition Barbados Labour Party’s small stimulus package yet introducing a package, at least eight times bigger. Is this bigger one less likely to trigger devaluation?
The dividing issues, I believe are the difference in the size, the BLP’s proposed Bds. $45 against the DLP’s $355 million; and the direction of this spending with the DLP targeting capital works against the BLP’s aim at diversification of the country’s health and education systems.  Perhaps, another question which could be asked is whether DLP post-election stance was influenced by some development in the world or country’s economy and financial position, though I doubt any significant shifts took place in that short time frame.
The situation, however, demands answers and when governments fail in this respect, people generally look to the fourth estate (the media) to present vigorous and focused interrogation of the topic. Our state-owned television station had a little morning chit-chat on the subject and I waited for some facts that would speak to a reconciliation of government’s before and after general elections’ position.
No direction came from that source except to say that we need to involved thinkers to come up with creative ideas. Cheese-on-bread!!! We have been engaging thinkers for decades. The country has files of suggestions and plans that if converted to digital would burst cyber-space. Moreover, government has already earmarked capital works and the DLP-proclaimed get-it-done minister, Michael Lashley is gearing up to start his Bds. $80 million road building programme in July. CBC promises to go a little deeper in another segment, so I have hope.
The Nation newspaper in its editorial  pointed at the divide by noting that “given the slow growth of the economy; a stimulus package seems desirable, though there will be contrary opinions as to the efficacy of the kind of stimulus proposed by the Government as opposed to the stimulus aimed more directly at putting money into the pockets of consumers, which more accords with the Opposition’s proposals.”
My DLP friends, who debate the subject using a hit and run mode, speak in similar vein by noting that BLP’s programme would encourage consumer spending and as we all know given the openness of our economy, this means imports and a drain on our foreign reserves. My follow-up question to them is whether Bds. $45 million will put a greater strain on the country’s scare foreign reserves than Bds. $600 directed at capital works. That is a question, not an opinion.
“More jobs, strong multiplier effect and increase capacity,” they answer and run.
But I am unease about the situation. At his swearing-in ceremony, (yes, that early) Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said: “We have to take some initiatives here which do not imperil our foreign exchange position but, at the same time, give a little life to what is going on locally at the business level and put consumers in a position where, by their spending, they can stimulate business activity and so on.”
“So these are priorities and of course fortuitously and fortunately we have the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure to be debated in two or three weeks time and during that debate the Minister of Finance and myself will be talking through some of those issues so that the country will be clear where it is we intend to go over the next few months.”
To me that was a broad hint of a stimulus package and suggests the DLP perhaps held the idea during the general elections campaign, so why wasn’t it revealed to the public? Why ridicule the opposition’s smaller packer when you could’ve hyped yours as of superior quality and quantity? In the reverse, if it is an afterthought, then are we to assume that the government’s package was or wasn’t rigourously analysed?  How many more similar change of plans can we expect?
Generally though, people are saying they are not concern neither are they surprised by things politicians do because everyone knows that general elections are about getting elected or re-elected depending on where you are sitting. They say campaigning has little or nothing to do with honestly-held beliefs and more to do with saying what the people what to hear in a believable way.
Therefore many like Pontius Pilate say they’ve washed their hands of this ‘switch-mout’ behaviour in a bid to keep their jobs or place in the winner’s crowd even if they have lingering concerns that this route could kill Barbados’ economy. For me, I have listened to recent Senate debates and if I’ve learnt only one thing from the government benches it is that the DLP administration is practicing the politics of explanation, so I am holding my breath waiting for a reasoned clarification on this stimulus package.
Let me emphasis, my point is not whether the stimulus is beneficial or not but I am looking at the wider issue. Were you upfront with Barbadians regarding this matter of stimulus? Has the devaluation threat disappeared?
Barbadians have seen and felt the effect of devaluation through the experiences of their friends and relatives in Jamaica and Guyana and as they do business in those countries which are large compared to Barbados and superior given their natural resources. These countries were into socio-economic despair as they fought to drag themselves out of what seems to be the sinking sands of currency devaluations under the International Monetary Fund’s thumb. Barbados, a tiny dot that slipperily depends mainly on tourism, cannot bear currency devaluation; it is so heavily dependent on imports, therefore the DLP general elections’ warning about devaluation was scary then and it remains scary.
If we are taking that risk in a ditch to make things better, tell us. What policies are you imposing to ensure that the country achieves the delicate balance or manageable imbalance between foreign exchange earnings and spending? That perhaps, is the true price tag of this stimulus package which may help us ‘buy jobs and economic growth’.

United States may strong hold Antigua

The probability is high that the United States will stop companies in the hi-tech industries that have US connections from investing in Antigua & Barbuda or use some other tool of economic aggression against Antigua. This is my fear but fear should not cause a country to buckle, it is only through courage and sacrifice that battles are won.

I have no proof of what will be the US’s action but I believe economic aggression is possible after analysing the tone of the Washington’s recent comment about Antigua within the analogous framework of the US’ dealing with Cuba when that Caribbean nation refused to behave according to the US dictates, that is accept western-style democracy.

Washington enacted the economically aggressive Helms-Burton Act which had the potential to derail the then President Fidel Castro’s efforts to attract foreign investors to help revive his country’s faltering economy. Whether you like Cuba’s ideology or not, the lesson to all is that Cuba did not buckle under the Helms-Burton weight but remained resolute in its conviction that its style of governing was the right one.

The Helms-Burton Act was signed in 1999 under Democratic President Bill Clinton. Now in 2013 with another Democratic President Barack Obama at the helm, Antigua & Barbuda, a smaller Caribbean country is ignoring the US wishes and is ready to impose sanctions against US intellectual property (IP) to recoup $21 million annually in losses that resulting from the US’ closure of its online-gambling market. Antigua & Barbuda was granted approval last week by the World trade Organisation (WTO) to suspend US intellectual property claims, allowing Antigua to sell movies, music, games and software while ignoring US copyright and trademark claims. But this has riled up US trade officials and sections of its entertainment industry are suggesting that the US use economic mechanisms as leverage to get Antigua to reverse its plan.

But Antigua isn’t doing anything wrong. It is doing what the United States does all over the world and sometimes for stated national reasons which only a microscope can reveal.

Antigua is only defending its national interest and like any other country would do, it is using the weapons most capable of achieving success. High Commissioner to London Carl Roberts said “(Antigua has) followed the rules and procedures of the WTO to the letter. Our little country is doing precisely what it has earned the right to do under international agreements.”

From the outset, the small Caribbean island was doing just that. First it used an opportunity under the WTO-administered General Agreement in Trade of Services (GATS) to host internet gambling casinos that targeted US consumers. In 2003, after the US closed them down, Antigua took the case to the WTO, which obligated Washington to reopen that market. The US refused, arguing that it had unintentionally committed to opening that market to cross-border trade but that internet gambling ran counter to its domestic policies on public morals and public order.

The WTO judged that St. John’s suffered US$21 million annually in losses from the closure and could use trade barriers to collect the sum. Finding an appropriate method for a small open economy to use against an economic giant, such as the United States, that does not comply with a WTO ruling is problematic.

In fact, large industrialised WTO members are unlikely to be negatively affected by the suspension of the trade concessions in goods and services implemented against them by smaller less developed countries. It is more likely the said retaliatory measures will backfire and significantly harm the economy of the developing country. Therefore, such suspensions were not seen as effective in getting developed countries to comply with rulings made against them that favoured developing countries.

This thinking is applicable in the case of Antigua versus the US. The US is the main source of imports into that small economy (33 per cent in 2011) as well as the leading destination for its exports (39.8 per cent in 2011). On the other hand, Antigua is not ranked among the top ten of US import sources or export destinations, its contribution to the US’ exports and imports is minuscule. Therefore if St. John’s places trade barriers to imports of goods and services from the US, the availability of essentials could become uncertain or non-existent to the detriment of Antigua and prices are likely to rise significantly.

“For many developing countries, suspension of concessions in (Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) TRIPS or (General Agreement on Trade in Services) GATS may represent a valuable alternative option when it is not practical or effective for them to rely on standard retaliation. This is often the case due to the unbalanced nature of trading relations and the asymmetry in economic power.”

As in the case with Ecuador versus the EU, the WTO therefore allowed TRIPS cross-retaliation in the Antigua/US case. Those are the rules and Antigua followed them.

Yet Washington’s spokeswoman Nkenge Harmon issues a warning.

If Antigua does proceed with the unprecedented plan for its government to authorize the theft of intellectual property; it would only serve to hurt Antigua’s own interests,” she said.

Government-authorised piracy would undermine chances for a settlement.  It also would serve as a major impediment to foreign investment in the Antiguan economy, particularly in high-tech industries.”

A frightening statement when one considers US hegemony -its political, economic and military resources compared with puny Antigua & Barbuda.  Already, as is  expected, the big voices in Intellectual Property (IP) industries are using their might to advise their government how to coerce Antigua in watering down its defence. .

Michael Schlesinger, a lawyer for the International Intellectual Property Alliance said “if Antigua moves forward, we will work to ensure that its eligibility to participate in any U.S. trade assistance or benefit is withdrawn.”

In similar vein, executive director for international intellectual property at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Gina Vetere, said that Antigua’s action will sour the business environment and reduce government revenues in the long term.

“Any action that endorses IP theft would not only undermine any chance at resolving the dispute, but also come at great expense to Antigua and Barbuda.”

IP theft? Piracy? These are questionable descriptions. Why then is imposition of tariff on goods as a trade sanction not theft of trading rights?”

Cross retaliation using IP is special and is perhaps the only way out for tiny country in battle with large countries. The strategy rests on reasons upheld by experts who’ve advised that the sector within an offending country that is best suited for the imposition of sanctions, is one that is either vulnerable or has enough political clout to pressure decision makers to be compliant with the law. St. John’s plan seems to parallel this notion and therefore may be intended at getting filmmakers and recording artists to pressure the US Congress to re-open the US market to Antigua’s on-line gambling operators.

Comments from Antigua’s officials seem in agreement with this view. For example, the country’s Minister of Finance, Harold Lovell, said that they were still prepared to talk with the US regarding an agreement that would respect the WTO decision. Though not explicitly stated, Lovell was referring to the initial WTO rule that the US re-open its on-line gambling  market, which Antigua estimated was worth over US$3.4 billion annually to its economy and was the country’s second largest employer.

Rather than allowing the restart of the remote gaming industry, the United States seems ready to drag this David & Goliath battle significantly longer than the ten years and will fight against Antigua’s imposition of sanctions. It has the financial, media and political resources to wage a bruising battle longer than having a remote gaming industry will be practical for Antigua.

General Counsel for the office of United States Trade Representative (USTR) Timothy Reif who said “… the US government, obliviously cannot allow any WTO decision to be distorted into a license for piracy,” is still talking about getting negotiations back on the right track but there seems to be a big divide between the two countries that augurs against a speedy settlement.

Reif described his government’s offer to Antigua as “a fairly wide ranging package of other kinds of steps that would allow Antigua to create as many as or more than jobs that they expected to lose as a result of the internet gaming decision.”

But the Antiguans don’t believe that the US made any important strides towards settlement. Its high commissioner to London Mr. Carl Roberts explained that “if you make offers and the offers are not accepted that means you have not touched the core of the problem.”

But the US will fight tough because more is at stake that is dangling from Antigua’s end. Antigua’s lead attorney Mark Mendel, warned that Antigua’s cross-retaliation plan could have broader repercussions.

“If we do something inventive that could pose a lot of problems for intellectual property holders. If we create that precedent, the consequences could be enormous.

“With Antigua, it’s $21 million. Maybe with China it’s going to be U.S. $21 billion. One of the messages we want to get across is that the WTO was sold to smaller countries as a level playing field and a way for them to expand the reach of commerce, subject to a set of rules that apply to everybody.”

The US will not be swayed by the desire for a level playing. It is accustomed to flexing hegemonic muscles and getting its way especially with small states. It will fight hard and is likely to use its power to Antigua in line even if it means following the advice of people in its entertainment industry who are suggesting the cutting off any trade assistance, aid or grant programme now extended to Antigua. This is a case for all CARICOM to watch and give Antigua its support. The Caribbean community/rum battle is heating up and lessons here will be instructive.

If the US is allowed to win this one because of its power and our ‘small-island’ fear of losing grants and assistance, the US will run us over on rum. If the US is allowed to use its power to crush Antigua & Barbuda on this one, we are lost in the WTO.

PONDER THIS

“The main obstacle developing countries will face to cross-retaliation in TRIPS is political. Industries reliant on IPRs are willing to invest heavily in government lobbying and media propaganda campaigns. Although IP is a creature of industrial policy, as are tariffs and services regulation, the IP-dependent industries have historically been able to persuade governments and media outlets that any interference with IPRs is equivalent to “theft”, implying criminal intent. Raising tariffs may equally interfere with the business interests of private operators by restricting market access, but private operators have not been able to equate increased tariffs with a “theft of trading rights”.  

Words of wisdom from Frederick M. Abbott, Florida State University College of Law (April 2009)

Related articles

The Long Arm of U.S. Law: The Helms-Burton Act (Anthony M. Solis – Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review)

Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act (House of Commons Library -Research Paper 98/114  14 December 1998)

EU claims US Gambling Laws are illegal

Cross-Retaliation in TRIPS and GATS: Options for Developing Countries by Frederick M. Abbott, Florida State University College of Law (International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development)

Antigua may ditch financial services sector (Antigua Observer) http://www.antiguaobserver.com/?p=87302

DISPUTE SETTLEMENT: DISPUTE DS285  United States — Measures Affecting the Cross-Border Supply of Gambling and Betting Services  (World Trade Organisation)

US judge orders piracy test case  (BBC)

Vote for whom … Vote for what?

Voters in Barbados will choose a government on Thursday, February 21 but I don’t intent to vote.   I said so months ago and my friends behaved as if I was committing treason.

To vote or not to vote is a right I have to exercise, but when I made my declaration, my friend instantly shifted their heated debate about the performance and potential of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) – to the value of an ‘X’.  Six or seven of them against one, me! Unity was achieved as they tried to sell me the importance of vote.

They eloquently painted the road to enfranchisement taken by working class Barbadians; verbally re-enacting the 1940s struggle with as much drama as if they were present. They were delighted that I matched them with equal passion on the historical issues as well as the significance of having the right to vote. But they were disappointed that I was (and I am) resolute about my position not to vote.

I was accused of selling out those Barbadians of yesteryear who fought to gain that right to vote for themselves and future generations; I was chided for wasting the money tax payers spent on my 20 plus years of education; some of their ‘friendly’ criticisms are too harsh for public ears.

I am unmoved. What difference will my voting make? That is the question, I’ve asked myself countless times and I’ve searched my soul for an honest opinion. I’ve examined the parties and see no philosophical divide; no major difference in programmes; no vigour, all status quo.

My friends point to philosophical differences that I believe are so microscopic my naked eye is blind to them. I see two groups, of mostly men, who were shaped and influenced by the same economic and social circumstances, naturally giving them similar philosophical underpinnings. In fact, one political party was plucked from the other; the Democratic Labour Party, a breakaway faction from the Barbados Labour Party.

Their social programmes are similar with small variations on approaches but aims and intent are common. For example, one party is hailed as the architect of universal free education while the other note that the road to universal free education was paved by their approach to building schools to facilitate that development. Today, they both support free education up to university level, or did until recently, and neither has removed the social programmes implemented by the other. In fact, they have competed to see who can make programmes more socially appealing. For example, the summer school programme; one side charged a nominal fee for attendance, the other one removed the fees and added free lunches. Up the ante! So close are they in outlook that at times, they’ve wrangled over who had a promise in their campaign manifesto first.

But outside of their similarities, I wonder how much they can do to improve my country’s fortune within the framework of a globalised world. Globalisation and its supporting institutions dictate so many of our national actions that decision makers often speak about the lack of policy space. Where is the team with the courage and ability to formulate and carry out creative policies that will help us to manoeuvre within that tiny space?

If my decision revolves around voting merely to honour my foreparents’ efforts in a scenario of indiscernible choices, I will not vote.  If for me, the exercise is like pulling a name out of a hat to decide where to place my X, then my action is a mockery to those who fought for my enfranchisement and the taxpayers who foot my school bill.

Given my post, Britain’s attempt at a la carte European menu overtones the Caribbean , I believe the perspectives in this reblogged post will be helpful to my readers. It is well-written, thought-provoking and has some interesting lessons for us within CARICOM as we struggle which similar issues.

I especially note the discussion about immigrant. It gives a view on integration and immigration which we in CARICOM should consider; secondly it helps us to look at our people’s role in Britain as immigrants. I will consider some of the views and make a post soon.

Benjamin Studebaker

British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold an in-out referendum on British membership of the European Union by 2017. This is a very bad idea. Here’s why.

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Rum Ready to Rumble or Run

“Today I brew,

tomorrow I bake,

financial stimulant is a national mistake.”

National Pledge of Small Isle.

Once upon a time a chief ruled a remote island called Small Isle.  He supported his country’s rum industry in thought, word and deed but those who wanted his throne thought his support was a great sin. They said it was a disgrace to see a leader hit a local grog, so his ‘pitching up’ became part of the daily gossip.  He didn’t care what they say. He was strong-willed and felt he was well liked.

One day he heard that a rum shop, Seaside Rum Hole, was in distress. He was told that the shop’s imminent downfall was linked to having too many owing customers on its frequent visitors’ list.

With hands in his pockets, he paced up and down the patio outside his office, analysing the critical factors. It was a peaceful evening but his mind was in turmoil as he weighed the options; rescue this shop and face ridicule from his detractors who would say preservation of rum was his motivation or let the shop go.

He exhaled for a moment, savouring the beauty that emerged as the departing sun generously painted a golden glow on the aquamarine waters glistening in the bay that partially framed the outer perimeter of his office. Nature was hinting a brighter tomorrow, it spoke of hope. In that fleeting moment he made his decision. The shop must be saved. I’ll ignore the nay-sayers, he told himself. But he had to convinced Small Islanders of its worth. He would describe the shop as an icon, part of the island’s culture heritage, he thought.

Seaside Rum Hole was a meeting place where politics, religion, love affairs and other people’s business were discussed with vigour and often colour by spirited multi-subject experts of all classes, colours, creeds and gender. Tourist ticked it as a ‘must-visit’ so the chief stressed its importance to the island’s number one foreign exchange earner.  According to folklore, this action influenced his opposers to nickname him Rumpelstiltskin.

Repelsteeltje (Rumpelstiltskin) in de Efteling.

Repelsteeltje (Rumpelstiltskin) in de Efteling. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It is an appellation befitted a man of his stature and goes well with his penchant to throw an expletive-filled tantrum,” one of their head honchos said.  Surprisingly, Rumpelstiltskin became fond of the name; even the shortened version, Rumpel, after all it was a stark reminder of one of his great loves.Despite his detractors’ efforts, Rumpel was happy, believing firmly that his status was growing positively in Small Isle as well as in neighbouring lands where he was officially regarded as first among chiefs.Many said his mind was as sharp as his tongue and they praised him for rescuing Small Isle. He’d come to the isle’s aid after those entrusted with its welfare were unable to deliver on their promises to its people and a powerful group of  faraway citizens had stepped in with a to-do-list and ‘or-else’ consequences that spelt destruction.Small Islanders had shivered.  They knew that it was serious business. Decades ago, a neighbouring island, richer and with more potential than theirs was helped by the same foreigners. Instead of getting better, economic and social conditions in that country worsened and the island still owed the foreigners and desperately needed their help.

So Small Islanders had banded together and walked up and down the streets fretting about their situation and their future. “We would like someone from among us to help get our country back on track,” they’d said.

Rumpelstiltskin had come forward saying, “I can do it” and he was given three tries. To this day, he swears that he produced the goal on each occasion, perhaps he did because Small Islanders rewarded him three of the times he sought their approval.

When the fourth time dawned, his eyes were on the ultimate prize. It had eluded others before him.

Illustration of Rumpelstiltskin from Household...

“I am insuperable, I am invincible,” he boasted, “I have the formula; I saved this economy, which the world called a straw economy. I spun that straw into gold; the world now ranks it top among others in its weight class. It is even stronger than some bigger. This baby is mine. The prize is mine.”

He and his followers bragged excessively and arrogantly. What should have been kept private came out in the open. Their detractors revealed all the information they had gathered to Small Islanders, who were deciding on the right person to  sit on throne.

Rumpelstiltskin was punished for his mouth.  He lost the ultimate prize and Small Islanders forced him to change seats with his opponents. Even in his household, another head was emerging.  The islanders laughed and they wuk-kup to a new calypso by Snatch-a-rat with the chorus:

” He throw way de baby, bath water too.

Nipple and spoon left fuh he to use.”

rumbaby

 Everytime he heard it, Rumpel raged, “these changes are not right for my family or Small Isle.  I still have the formula.” He fumed and stomped so much that those around him felt the boiling point of his fury. Everyone rushed out of his way but as usual Sally’s dominant personality superseded her common sense. She stood in his path and a burst of his furious flames hit her at full force.

As family doctors were summons to treat her third degree burns, Small Islanders said: “Rumpel’s house is burning to the ground, he will self-destruct.”  His applauding opponents fanned the flames crying, “He has gone further than his namesake. He will not only tear himself in two,  he will tear his house down.”

Their predictions would have become reality, were it not for the elders. They counselled among themselves and developed an adhesive fix that was skillfully applied to cement Rumpel’s house until the cracks were invisible and the household was no longer considered a motley crew.

From that day everyone in Rumpel’s household, even Sally who was permanently scarred, wore red the colour of love when they went out in public and each time they spoke they begun by saying: “we are a united family, we share one common goal.”

Suspicious Small Islanders were wary of the quick fix and questioned if the house was properly repaired or botched by hurricane-season carpenters. They are still waiting for an answer.

Meanwhile, with a new chief  at the helm, Small Islanders were strongly entrenched in their view that local rum wasn’t good enough for their palates. How could it be, when they lived in country with a large and growing educated middle class? To match their ‘high’ status, many Small Islanders accentuated their champagne taste financing it with dwindling mauby pockets.

Everything looked prosperous on the surface; school children ate freely in the summer and rode buses even more freely all year round; adults danced and celebrated wantonly; the good, those gone bad and the always ugly were ambassadors for that land whose national pledge was changed to “today I brew, tomorrow I bake, financial stimulant is a national mistake.” The pledge was a parody directed at Rumpelstiltskin whose new mantra was ‘stimulate, stimulate.’

Sitting in their new seats, the rein-holders were happily rising; their fat, shiny cheeks and growing stomachs bore the evidence.  Nobody in Small Isle wanted to be involved with rum. They rid themselves of the sugar lands, planting plenty houses instead and beating their chests as they forgot the connection between sugar, molasses, rum and earning greenbacks.

Soon they began to feel the strain of living above their means. In private, they called their country’s problem a fiscal deficit and a balance of payments worry but they ridiculed any doctor who gave a gloomy prognosis.

“Fret not thyself because of doomsday economists … for their theories shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither. Trust in us, whom you have chosen to reign in this fair land and you shall be fed,”  said the leader.

Flare Maddox, a puffy reinsman, who sat next to the leader rose in support. In his usual gossipy tone, Maddox began: “I have a document here,  if I reveal its contents a lot of talkers on the other side will become sleepers but this is not the time or place.”

His stomach pushed against the microphone on the desk muffling his voice, so he stepped a few feet back and continued in gladiatorial style: “What I can tell you, though, is that our economic malady resulted from a virus we caught from communicating with foreign lands. I don’t have the antidote, the self-acclaimed guru over there don’t have it either; the change in economic  health must come from overseas.”

But as the months rolled by, the financial troubles weighed heavier on Small Isle’s businesses and people; employment was becoming scare;  the people were becoming restless and the rulers were becoming perplexed.

The helms men and women convened an urgent special meeting to flesh out the critical issues. As they sat wriggling uncomfortably in their seats, Maddox spied their once well matured rum industry sliding into the distance.  Call all wise men in the country, he begged.

Everyone with foresight was summoned to the big house and asked to present findings about rum’s likely desertion.  “Rum is being wooed away by a large united land,” the head expert said tapping into his laptop.

“See here! A large land is ‘bigging up rum’ in THOUGHT (conceiving tax policies to improve rum’s growth and good name), WORD (making those policies law), and DEED (giving rum producers subsidies, building rum factories, advertising their rum as the greatest and, yes, drinking it),” he said skipping from one internet tab to another.

As is their culture, Small Islanders – governors and subjects – then recognised their product’s worth. “We are on the rum side, it was ours first and we will fight for it,” the leading Small Islander declared. He stood tall and waxing classically in a tongue unused by the common man, he delivered a half an hour address before turning over the proceedings to his interpreter, Eager. In his trademark clipped manner, Eager then told Small Islanders that the leader had given rum the service medal of approval and he’d encouraged all to take a drink.

Boysie was sitting in Rusty Roy’s shop watching the speech on television. He was there alone. The other regulars were now unemployed and hiding from the big debts they had racked up at Rusty Roy. Roy wasn’t watching TV either; like many other Small Islanders, he was permanently turned off by Channel 642’s diet of political speeches and governing party talk shows disguised as education and entertainment.

Boysie was happy to be alone, especially at moment when rum was approved. He got up and peeped around the corner making sure no one was coming. Then he called out to Roy, ” hand me a bottle of black over-proof rum.”

He poured out a glass full, leaned back his head and threw the rum into his mouth, swallowing all in one big noisy gulp. “Aaahhh, down de hatch”, he said smacking his lips afterwards. “The man ready to ring the bell, so he let loose de rum to go wid de corn beef and biscuits.”

The End.

(P.S. This is Chapter One from my bestseller, Ready to Rum. My Hollywood contract does not allow for the rest of the book to be published here. Watch for the full movie opening soon at an outdoor mobile cinema near you. I’m running …)

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Britain’s attempt at an à la carte European menu over tones the Caribbean

On several occasions in recent months, I’ve had to convince myself and others that regional integration is beneficial to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. In those instances, the European Union’s (EU) model of integration served well as an example of countries with differences in language, culture, levels of development and economic strengths admirably navigating the rewarding but sometimes stormy waters of regional integration.

eu_logo_szines

Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Commun...

Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The EU member-states have met challenges similar to those facing our regional movement – such as thorny issues related to free movement of people, capital, goods and services as well as single currency – and the 27-nation EU is still intact. So, many Caribbean experts argued that with the political will to adopt some of the measures the EU employs especially regarding ceding of a degree of national sovereignty to a supranational institution, we could make our regional integration movement, more effective.

Alas, Euro-sceptics are growing in numbers in Britain – judging from the opinion polls – in the aftermath of an economic recession that showed up defects in the currency zone. As a result, some countries including France and Germany wants to see a new federal Europe with more fiscal oversight so that the Euro can have a better chance of survival. Britain’s Prime Minister sees this as “changing the nature of the organisation” and believes his country is “perfectly entitled, and not just entitled but actually enabled … to ask for changes.”

In fact, his Conservative Party which includes a healthy bunch of sceptics, is advocating a “repatriation of powers” from Brussels (EU headquarters) to Britain. I foresee a psychological blow for CARICOM, even if it does not affect the thinking of the political directorate; it is likely to add vibrancy to the voices of voters who oppose the movement. Once this negatively affects their ‘political capital’, politicians will be dragged along.

So my ears and eyes are strained towards the Netherlands  where Cameron is expected to deliver a keynote speech on the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU, on Friday. He has already said that he will give British “voters the prospect of ‘real change’ .

We also know that he will touch on the freedoms, which he acknowledges represent a key reason to be a European Union member, particularly the movement of people. Note that he said:  “Should we look at the arguments about should it be harder for people to come and live in Britain and claim benefits… frankly we should.”

Cross reference that comment and sentiment to the remarks and goings-on within CARICOM where government officials and citizens continue to lock horns on immigration issues. Barbados has had verbal battles over who should have access to its free health care and other aspect of its social services.

Generally, that country along with Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago have been heavily criticised for their handling of CARICOM nationals especially Guyanese and Jamaicans entering their territories. In fact Barbados has been taken before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on an immigration issue.

As a Caricom national, who supports integration, the news out of Britain is disheartening. First, the EU was our model, therefore Britain’s serious consideration of a departure, even if it is not realised, does not represent a good example for a fragile CARICOM movement.

I recognise Britain has to do what is good for Britain. But against that background, I recall that only a few months ago Barbados and Jamaica’s business people separately were furiously calling for action accusing Trinidad and Tobago of using non- tariff barriers to keep out their goods, while oil-rich – by Caribbean standards- Trinidad & Tobago were heaping its comparatively cheaper goods on the shelves of its neighbours. Jamaicans were making an arguable though not winnable case regarding the benefits vis-à-vis the costs of integration and there was renewed agitation among Jamaicans that they should leave CARICOM.

In addition, decisions made at the CARICOM level have met opposition or some other stumbling blocks to their implementation in individual territories. Sometimes  ‘agreed-to’ policies and regulations are rallied back and forth with changes of governing political parties in countries.  A Caricom with a supranational body like the EU’s therefore looked attractive but this rumbling within structure is unsettling.

One positive note though is that PM Cameron wants to stay in the single market describing it as in ‘the UK’s economic interest to remain a full member of the EU to enable the country to influence the direction of the single market.’

Will Britain be able to renegotiate terms? On Friday, the world is expected to get a clearer understanding of Britain’s conditions for participating in the EU. We already know the opinion of the France’s Socialist President of  France François Hollande regarding Britain repatriation of powers. Hollande who considers that Europe is for life said: “I believe that treaties are meant to be complied with. This discussion could take place, but Europe is not a Europe in which you can take back competences. It is not Europe à la carte.”

If Britain does not get to ‘pick and mix’ from the European integration menu, how long will it wait for a referendum to tell if it will leave the EU? We’ll see. Already some commentators gives Britain the upper hand. According to her aides Chancellor Angela Merkel see the UK as taking “advantage of other European states as they struggle to save the euro and keep the most debt-laden nations, like Greece, Portugal and Spain, from dropping out of the European Union.”

For us here, the debate could point us to some of the challenges and solutions in adopting a single currency; however it could unfortunately make us very wary of that route and lead to inaction.

For now, it is one step at a time. The first is to listen to Cameron’s speech on Friday and gauge the reaction from government leaders and experts in Europe, in the region and around the world.

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Forget about the tourists; make the Caribbean a paradise for us first

I cheered with them at the Summer Olympics; I cried with them over the last weekend and my heart continues to burn with them today over the unfathomable killing of eight year old Imani Green.

The high command of Jamaica’s police force said Imani was “mercilessly slaughtered in front of family members in a hail of bullets as gangsters sought to exact revenge on their rivals”.

Imani Green

Who de hell would spray gun shots in a shop where an eight year old is sitting on a stool? Who the hell can live with their conscience after gunning down an innocent child? And who de hell would think about tourism before this child is buried?

Mind you I am saying this approach is restricted to any one Caribbean nationality. A dead body will be warm and Caribbean people will be shivering over the effect of that murder on tourism. I am not denying the importance of the industry to our economies nor that having a safe country where visitors know they can roam freely and safely isn’t excellent for marketing our countries, but it smacks of insensitivity when money comes before man.

Today, a young chef was gunned down outside an upscale restaurant in Barbados’ main tourism belt and check out Facebook chatters: “Not good for tourism. Tourists will go home and talk; tourists will read it one the internet.”

Let’s stop thinking about tourists, for a minute and think about ourselves. Let’s talk about making our country secure for ourselves. In our region, we have a high level of domestic violence, is it important because the crime statistics has an effect on tourism? Shouldn’t be!

Brothers, uncles, fathers, friends and strangers raped children, boys and girls; they become mothers at an early age; contract sexually transmitted diseases; are psychologically scarred for life and some transformed into anti-social human beings. We speak little of this; we don’t call emergency meetings and bombard the relevant government minister with questions about what he or he is doing. Nah, it isn’t about tourism.
It seems only the statistics matter. We get riled up about the total figure not the growing column under the domestic violence or sexual abuse columns. Why? Maybe because tourist importing countries are likely to use the aggregate as reason to issue travel advisories against us.
Get real people; we need not only to talk about sexual abuse and domestic violence, every community need to be engaged in a project that will affect change. Making our communities better for us will make us better citizens and better hosts.
We need to start talking about improving the quality of crime prevention and detective work, through the region. Let’s use Trinidad and Tobago, where the detection rate for murder has doubled to reach 12 per cent. This seems praiseworthy by the triniad Express newspaper says: “… this still means that only about one in nine murderers is ever arrested, with fewer than that being convicted. Nor can the police even claim that this improvement is due to better detective work, since it may well be that the “detection” is explained solely by an increase in domestic murders, which had gone up during the three months of the 2011 State of Emergency.”

We also need to start talking about gun use. The United States has been forced into serious action about access to guns after another mass murder. Most Caribbean countries have strict gun control laws that stipulates that licences are required by the public to buy weapons so our problem relates to illegal guns on the street. Therefore let’s talk about how guns are getting into the hands of every “Tom, Dick and Martha’ and why they are so attractive to people.

We like mimicking the United States. Choose a worthwhile mimic this time, for example, President Obama’s approach to research on gun violence. Note the following:

Obama hopes to be able to gather more information on gun violence and misuse of firearms, and use that data to inform the work of law enforcement. He also wants to restart research, which has been long blocked by the National Rifle Association, on how video games, the media, and violence affect violent gun crimes.

And may I add for us in the region, how these things affect sexual abuse and domestic violence. The Caribbean Community countries cooperate among themselves of crime prevention efforts. Let join each other in carrying out meaningful research projects and ensuring effective and prompt implementation of recommendations at the community level.
I want to cheer with Jamaicans, Antiguans, Trinidadians, Barbadians and all Caribbean Community nationals in applauding ourselves for making our countries better for us. Tourists are welcomed to enjoy it afterwards. Let’s put ourselves first.

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Let Me Play

Criminals Getting Away with Murder (Trinidad Express)

Is the United States bullying Caricom countries into the ground or is the US blind-sided by the desires of large corporations?

smooth barbados rum

Wow … Nothing beats a glass of Barbados rum!

My days of toasting the New Year with a glass of smooth belly-warming Barbados rum are under threat but that is inconsequential. The real issue is that the rum industries of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are hanging on the region’s ability to get the United States to support fair trade.

Given the US’ recent behaviour to the region, I am fearful. Who wouldn’t be when a big bully is carrying the whip? I shudder.

The United States gives its territories, the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico, a tax rebate which according to a 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service provided Puerto Rico with US$371 million and USVI with almost US$100 million in 2008. The worrisome issue for the Caribbean is that this money helps finance companies in the USVI and Puerto Rico that produce and promote rum for the US market and compete with Caricom rum producers globally.

muff rum

In other words, they get a subsidy. We are talking about big brands like Bacardi Limited in Puerto Rico and the USVI’s Cruzan Rum, which is owned by United States spirits owners such as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.

The subsidy has the potential of luring other rum producers to those territories, following the example of London-based Diageo PLC. That company is expected to start full production of the Captain Morgan brand on St. Croix this year “in exchange for a chunk of the excise-tax revenue estimated at US$2.7 billion” under a 30 year deal.

In fact, Diageo is getting “a new plant built at taxpayer expense, exemption from all property and gross receipt taxes for the length of the deal, a 90 per cent reduction in corporate taxes, plus marketing support and production”. The New York Times described these incentives as “so rich they are doubled the cost of actually producing the rum.”

So technically, you can say Diageo will be producing rum free of cost and with a bonus to the company. This is what Caricom producers will be competing with on the global market.

Our … distilleries need to export rum in order to survive. But bigger subsidies in the U.S. islands means we don’t get a level playing field for our exports, and it’s going to affect both small and large producers ….” That is what Anthony Bento, managing director of the 80-year-old Antigua company that makes English Harbour Rum told the Associated Press.

Flag of the Caribbean Common Market and Commun...From a CARICOM perspective, it is a lot of unfair money being pumped into these US territories’ rum industries; money that represents a subsidy; one actionable under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. It is not what trade liberalisation, in name or in spirit.

We have to fight this bad behaviour by the US, but we are severely hamstrung. Note that  as Caribbean governments were using diplomatic channels to effect a settlement, the United States’ fiscal-cliff bill, passed on New Year’s Day extended the offending tax break by two years.

Not surprising! Diageo spent US$2.25 million last year on lobby and has engaged the services of former Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott to push its case on Capitol Hill. These large corporations have the fire power to get themselves in the right positions.

jamaican_rum_appleton

Jamaica Rum… reigns supreme!

It looks as if the Caricom governments will have to go the WTO route. Accessing the WTO dispute mechanism costs money though some help is provided for us, small fishes. But even if we win, the United States may simply ignore us or at least make it impossible for us to get a speedy settlement. Our rum industry could die in the meantime.

My views are based on how hegemonic US dealt with Antigua after the WTO 2004 and 2005 rulings in favour of that small country in an on-line gambling case against the US.  Reading what Antigua and Barbuda’s High Commissioner to London, Carl Roberts said eight years later (December 2012) to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body offers nothing but despair. He said:

Over the years since our last WTO proceeding in this matter, our government has not been sitting idly by. Nor have we been imposing unrealistic or unbending demands upon the United States. In point of fact, Antigua and Barbuda has been working hard to achieve a negotiated solution to this case.”

“We have tabled proposal after proposal to the US government, and attended session after session, in pretty much every case involving our delegation travelling to Washington, D.C., in hopes of finding some common ground.

“But to date, the United States has not presented one compromise offer of their own, and in particular the USTR (United States Trade Representative) has made, to our belief, no sincere effort to develop and prosecute a comprehensive solution that would end our dispute.”

Therefore, from where I sit in the Caribbean, it looks as if the US wants to run us off the economic map. It is not only rum in the mix; I think about the bananas and sugar, industries the Caribbean once had. Economists call us price takers. In effect, on a world scale we produced such small quantities that we had no effect on price. It we left the market no one, but ourselves, would’ve noticed.

In the 1990s, the US responding to the cries of their companies such as Chaquita Brands International, complained to the WTO about the banana regime operated by the European Union. The WTO upheld the US case and small insignificant Caricom producers were among those adversely affected. Our countries, struggling under dis-economies of scale could not produce at a price competitive with large countries given their wide expanse of fields and large multinational corporations. The banana and sugar industries in our countries heard the death knell. Thousands were thrown out of work and into poverty.

Some Caricom governments hoped that their off-shore financial sector would shore up their ailing economies; but that attempt at diversification was squeezed by the United States and other large countries citing tax havens to implement international rules and regulations that stifle the growth of such centres.

Even marijuana farming and exportation in the Caribbean is locked off by the United States. On moral reasons, I agree with that action, but what can I think when I see states within the US legalizing the drug as their country try to stamp out its growth in the Caribbean.

Guyana%20eldorado%2015%20rum

Guyana has the oldest rum producing distillery. It can be found on the Demerara River banks. Caribbean rich with rum making experience.

Are our small countries to produce only hungry beggars for that is what will happen if the US stamp us down at every turn? That will be left for us?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF)?  The IMF to dictate our lives in exchange for a few dollars worth of loans?

I know the United States is looking out for its capitalists’ interests but why not let the Caribbean do its fishing instead of grudgingly dropping us a fish? If we are price takers, can we at least be left with something to take that price? Is the position from which big countries operates one of unadulterated greed? I once believe not but today I am unsure!

Level the playing field in the rum industry and give our industry a chance!

Rum is Caricom’s biggest agro export. According to data from the US International Trade Commission (USITC), the Caribbean bloc’s share as a supplier of rum to the US market has fallen in recent years. In 2000, it accounted for around 70 per cent of the total, 50 per cent in 2008, and 42.3 per cent in 2011, equivalent to US$38.7 million.   Barbados and Jamaica are responsible for most of the deliveries (two thirds), followed by Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. In 2011, PR recorded US sales of US$148 billion, four times more than Caricom.

 

Needy and Anxious

Help! Information is needed. Action may be needed!

I shuddered as I read that Haiti is issuing permits for companies to mine gold and copper in their lands. I agree that Haitians need jobs, unemployment is 52 percent; their economy needs stimuli,  but my stomach fell to my toes as the relevant news item darted up at me from my computer screen.

Blame my desire to see Haiti achieve the best or blame the news media, research tools and my inquiring mind which have led me to conclude that in too many mines worldwide, even those of developed countries, security features and general working conditions have been the source of much concern.

Haiti is Third World, plagued with political instability. I use the categorisation, Third World, which I detest on purpose, because it carries all the negative connotations which added to this mining business flicked on my alarm switch.

Poor education and health standards along with the resulting high level of ignorance about critical matters in the mining business among a very hungry poor population offer no comfort to me as I watch from the outside.

My lessons from Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, springs painfully to mind as I try to analyse the unfolding events. I know nothing about the investors nor the decision makers at the mining companies and I am not saying that they are bad human beings but I fear. I need to know.

Manise Joseph, 16, looks for gold. People in the village of Lakwev in north-east Haiti have been digging for gold since the 1960s. Photograph: Ben Depp

Manise Joseph, 16, looks for gold. People in the village of Lakwev in north-east Haiti have been digging for gold since the 1960s. Photograph: Ben Depp

Who will be watching out for Haitians employed in the mines?  Who will monitor safety, health and pay conditions; are these people competent and enabled?  Wages are already low with 75 per cent of Haitians earning less than US$2 per day, will the pay fit the tasks?

Who will prevent the exploitation of the country’s resources, including its people? Who will walk away with the lion share of the profits? These are important questions!

The answers are critical considering the enormous issues about the marginal level of the Rule of Law in Haiti which was raised in a United Nation 2010 report .  This Rule of Law, as the report noted not only relates to “the police, corrections and the judiciary.”  (Read carefully and grasp the  direness.)

It (the Rule of law)  is also about land registry, civil registry, building codes and commercial laws; it is about the State’s capacity to collect taxes and to guarantee a certain level of judicial security that can promote investments and job creation, to, ultimately, encourage economic development.

According to the Guardian online newspaper, the companies applying for mining permits were working with little government oversight. We all know that companies are about profits not regulations.  This is a sorry situation ripe for exploitation of man, country, animal and anyone or anything else standing in the way of high profits.

Commenting on this worrisome poor state of monitoring, geologist Dieuseul Anglade, the former director of Haiti’s mining agency, was quoted as saying: “The government doesn’t give us the means to supervise the companies. Most of our budget goes to salaries. We don’t really have an operating budget.”

I added this to Eurasian Minerals president David Cole‘s boast that his company “controls over 1,100 square miles of real estate” and investor Mickey Fulp‘s note that “It is obvious there is substantial geopolitical risk in Haiti, but the geology is just so damn good”; and the result was that my alarm bells reached deafening decibels.  Protection of the environment; ensuring appropriate labour, safety and health standards; and preventing the exploitation of man, animal, and country must be ensured.

Join me in this quest for answers and let us find methods to agitate for the best conditions for Haitians.

Thanks for participating in the poll.