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bulletPortia new PNP Leader
bulletPreval wins in Haiti
bulletCARICOM calls for international support for Haiti
bulletJamaica trade and fiscal deficit balloons
bulletClose down Guantanamo Bay demands UN Report
bulletSecurity Council extend UN force in Haiti for another 6 months
bulletTrack star Ato Boldon appointed T&T opposition senator
bulletJamaica installs new Governor-General
bulletIMF says Caribbean suffers from major brain drain
bulletJamaican students protest their high school conditions
bulletCell phones banned in St. Kitts-Nevis schools
bulletKilling of gang leader causes riots in Spanish Town, Jamaica
bulletMore controls on cruise ships on ballot in Alaska
bulletTwo more Brits join Jamaican police force
bulletCaribbean-American Heritage Month bill approved in US Senate
bulletFrench Highway 2000 builders pulling out of Jamaica
bulletFormer Jamaican bobsledder wins silver medal for Canada
bulletDamian Marley takes Grammy double



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March 2006

Portia new PNP Leader

Portia Simpson-Miller has made history by becoming the first female leader of the Peoples National Party, the current ruling party in Jamaica. Since Prime Minister P J Patterson announced that he was stepping down as PM and head of the party, a spirited campaign to succeed him ensued. The very popular Mrs. Simpson-Miller was always the frontrunner and on Saturday February 25, 2006, 1,775 delegates voted for her. Her closest rival was Dr. Peter Phillips with 1,538, followed by Dr. Omar Davies with 283, and Dr. Karl Blythe with 204.

Early next month, when PM Patterson steps down, she will become the 7th Prime Minister of Jamaica. She will continue until general elections next year.

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Preval wins in Haiti

Rene Preval has been officially declared the winner of the stormy elections in Haiti and becomes the new president on March 29. He jumped out to a big lead of almost 70% of the vote and when it was obvious that he was bound to win, attempts were made to derail the inevitable by tampering with the ballots. Thousands of ballots were discarded in garbage dumps. Over 80,000 blank ballots turned up mysteriously and were counted in order to reduce the per cent votes for Preval to less than 50%, which would have forced a run-off election. However, after fierce negotiations, the blank ballots were thrown out and Preval emerged with a winning 51 per cent. His nearest rival had less than 11%.

Every attempt to deny Prevalís victory because of his close ties to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted by US forces, was made. Preval, who was president of Haiti from 1996 to 2001, is the only leader of this country in modern history to complete a full five-year term. Others, including his mentor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have been toppled by a succession of coups.

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CARICOM calls for international support for Haiti

The 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) called for international backing for Haiti immediately after Rene Preval was declared the winner of the impoverished nation's presidential election.

"We are counting on all possible support to Haiti from the community, both governmental and societal, because they need it and the people of Haiti deserve it," Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington told reporters.

Haiti needs help to become part of Caricom's single market and economy, Carrington said. Political turmoil blocked Haiti's preparations to join the single market, which took effect January 1. The Haitian government will be allowed to attend the next summit of regional leaders in St Kitts in July.

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Jamaica trade and fiscal deficit balloons

New data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, (Statin), have revealed that Jamaica's trade deficit has ballooned to two-point-five billion US dollars. The latest external bulletin shows that between January and October last year Jamaicans imported goods valued at three-point-seven billion US dollars. This was three times the one-point-two billion US dollars earned from exports. Mineral fuels and lubricants were the major contributors to the increase in the import bill.

To make matters worse, the fiscal deficit has increased too. For the month of December 2005, the fiscal deficit was $4196 million, or a massive $5771 million deviation from the surplus budgeted for December of $1575 million. This is by far the largest deviation from budget for the fiscal year to date. In fact, the December deficit is $1,633 million more than November's deficit of $2,563 million, making December the third month so far this fiscal year that a surplus was projected, but was not actually achieved.

Revenues are down too. For the April-December period, central government revenues are $17,604 million below the year-to-date budget of $145,089 million, a gap of over 12 per cent. This shortfall is mainly due to the underperformance of tax revenue by $14,859 million compared with budget. This shortfall was largely attributable to the underperformance of local GCT and GCT on imports, with December revenues of $2,666 million and $1,807 compared with a budgeted $3,415 million and $2,375 million respectively.

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Close down Guantanamo Bay demands UN Report

In a recent report by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission, ask sthe United States to close down Guantanamo Bay naval base. According to the UN report obtained by British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, the Washington administration is asked to bring 520 detainees currently being held at Guantanamo to trial or release them.

The report calls on the US to:

bullethalt practices such as the force-feeding of detainees who go on a hunger strike
bulletensure that all torture allegations are investigated by the US criminal courts,
bulletensure that "all perpetrators up to the highest level of military and political command are brought to justice."

the Bush administration refuted that "force-feeding" was torture and challenged the responsibility of the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate Guantanamo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross visits Guantanamo on a monthly basis. However, officials are not allowed to talk with the detainees. Susan Lee, the director of Amnesty International's Americas Program, in a report released last week, criticized the Americans for not bringing Guantanamo detainees to trial.

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Security Council extend UN force in Haiti for another 6 months

The UN Security Council unanimously voted to renew the mandate of the UN force in Haiti (Minustah) for for at least another six months, as the impoverished Caribbean nation awaited presidential poll results. The 15-member council adopted a resolution crafted by Argentina that extended the mandate of the force until August 15, "with the intention to renew for further periods".

Minustah, which was established in 2004 and is under Brazilian command, is made up of 7,500 military troops, including more than 1,200 Brazilians, and 2,000 international police. Last year, the council extended the force's mandate until February 15 amid expectations that elections would be held before that date.

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Track star Ato Boldon appointed T&T opposition senator

Ato Boldon, who won silver and bronze medals for Trinidad and Tobago at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, was sworn in as an Opposition Senator in the Upper House. He will replace Roy Augustus, who resigned from the United National Congress (UNC). Joining the former-sportsmen-turned-politicians club, Boldon will be included among well known personalities such as Learie Constantine, Wendell Mottley, Eddie Hart, and Ian Atherly.

The 32-year old four-time Olympic medallist, and former world champion retired from track and field in August 2004. During his career, Boldon was chosen to open many programs, in addition to addressing world-renowned speakers such as Les Brown and retired US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

However, this appointment did not quell the unrest in the opposition UNC.  Boldon took the oath of office in Parliament in the presence of UNC Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday and deputy Jack Warner, but, UNC political leader Winston Dookeran said Boldon was chosen without his knowledge. Boldonís predecessor, Augustus, resigned the day before, saying he was "repulsed by the viciousness" from some UNC executive members in the last few days. Montano was dismissed by Panday  for breaching an executive order against discussing internal party business in the media.

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Jamaica installs new Governor-General

Professor Kenneth Hall, former pro-vice chancellor and principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI), has been be sworn in as the fifth Governor-General of Jamaica. Professor Hall will succeed Sir Howard Cooke, who has served as Governor-General for 14 years. The Governor-General represents the Queen of England, is nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the monarch. Both the Queen and the Governor-General serve largely ceremonial roles.

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IMF says Caribbean suffers from major brain drain

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper has suggested that there is evidence of high emigration and brain drain from the Caribbean. The paper says:

bulletCaribbean countries have lost 10-40 per cent of their labour force to emigration to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member-countries. ( basically developed countries)
bulletThe migration rate is particularly high for the high-skilled.
bulletMany countries have lost more than 70 per cent of their labour force, with more than 12 years of completed schooling - among the highest emigration rates in the world.
bulletThe region is the world's largest recipient of remittances as a per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), constituting about 13 per cent of the region's GDP in 2002.
bulletThe losses due to high-skill migration outweigh the official remittances to the Caribbean region
bulletThe majority of Caribbean countries have lost more than 50 per cent of the labour force in the tertiary education segment and more than 30 per cent in the secondary education segment (nine to 12 years of schooling).
bulletThe tertiary educated labour force in Jamaica and Guyana has been reduced by 85 per cent and 89 per cent, respectively, due to emigration to OECD-member countries.
bulletThough Haiti has the lowest aggregate emigration rate - about 10 per cent - in the region, its tertiary-educated labour force has been reduced by 84 per cent due to emigration to OECD-member countries.
bulletAlmost all Caribbean nations are among the top 20 countries in the world with the highest tertiary-educated migration rates.
bullet"The magnitude of these migration rates suggests that, potentially, emigration can have large impacts on the local labour markets and on the welfare of those who stay behind in the Caribbean countries," it says.

The total losses due to skilled migration - which includes the "emigration loss," externality effects, and government expenditure on educating the migrants - outweigh the recorded remittances for the Caribbean region on average, and for almost all the individual Caribbean countries.

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Jamaican students protest their high school conditions

These students refused to take matters lying down. Bearing placards, chanting and shouting, students at Manchester High School in Mandeville, Jamaica, staged a major demonstration at the school yesterday.

The students said they were protesting to draw attention to the school's failed administrative policies, unfair treatment of students and a lack of responsible management. They claimed they were paying a J$300 development fee, yet they had only three computers for 45 students per class. They claimed the administration was spending money to build a wall, which serves no useful purpose, while some classrooms are without furniture and other facilities.

Another major concern is a man known only as 'Pepsi', who is believed to be homeless. He and his dog have taken up residence on the school compound. They are said to be leaving garbage and dog droppings in the classrooms. The students asserted that there was a threat to their health. A number of female students said they were physically and verbally assaulted by Pepsi.

This and other issues were brought to the administration's attention, according to them, but nothing had been done to address their concerns. The principal of the school, refused to comment on the situation.

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Cell phones banned in St. Kitts-Nevis schools

Monday education authorities in St. Kitts-Nevis banned the use of cellular phones in schools by both students and teachers. The move follows several weeks of intense public debate on the issue. The Ministry of Education said while the policy permits students to carry cellular phones to school with the permission of their parents:

bullet all cell phones should be turned off when the student enters the school premises.
bulletcell phones must be concealed and will be confiscated if seen or heard while any learning or school activity is underway.
bullet cell phones would not be permitted on school compounds in the possession of persons sitting exams, during the conduct of major examinations, such as school promotional examinations and Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examinations.
bulletadvised parents that school principals have been instructed to enforce this policy and that confiscated cell phones would not be returned to students before the end of the term.
bulletteachers have been instructed to turn off their cellular phones while conducting classes, supervising students in any school activity, or attending school functions.

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Killing of gang leader causes riots in Spanish Town, Jamaica

The fatal shooting of alleged leader of the One Order Gang, Andrew "Bun Man" Hope plunged Spanish Town , Jamaica into two days of rioting and unrest. The police reported that they received reports that Mr. Hope was killed by a group of men on Young Street but the demonstrators claimed the police were involved and have promised further protests. As the security forces took steps to restore order to Spanish Town a curfew was imposed on some of the trouble spots. Angry protesters forced business places to close early and proceeded to mount several roadblocks.

The day following the killing:

bulletPolice and soldiers patrolled the streets of the old capital.
bulletSome protestors continued their efforts to block some roads.
bulletMost business operators in Spanish Town kept their doors shut.
bulletAt least one fatality was confirmed arising from the unrest. A man was burnt to death after protesters set the Old Spanish Town Court House on fire.
bulletThe administrators of Spanish Town High School and the St. Jago Preparatory School suspended classes until normality returned.

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More controls on cruise ships on ballot in Alaska

Caribbean states please note: A State Superior Court judge in Alaska has upheld the legality of a cruise ship ballot initiative that aims to impose new taxes, environmental permits and other measures on the giant foreign-flagged vessels that bring nearly one million visitors to Alaska annually. If approved by voters, the initiative would 

bulletimpose a US$50 per passenger tax 
bulletimpose a 33 per cent tax on gross income from onboard gambling
bulletmake ships get environmental permits 
bulletmake ships disclose how much the cruise companies make off shore excursions
bulletallow citizen lawsuits against ships that violated any of the measure's provisions.

Supporters were elated that the citizens get to win one against a multibillion-dollar industry located in British Columbia and outside. The cruise ship industry was very unhappy and fought the initiative bitterly.

The vast fleets of cruise ships that ply the Caribbean are huge floating hotels capable of severe environmental damage with the disposal of its voluminous garbage. Even though there are existing laws against this, enforcement and proper monitoring is quite a challenge for the Caribbean.

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Two more Brits join Jamaican police force

TWO MORE British policemen have signed contracts to join the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) at the rank of assistant commissioner of police (ACP). However, a third, who would have been appointed to tackle corruption, declined the offer.

Metropolitan Police (New Scotland Yard) detective Paul Robinson will start on April 18 and Scottish officer John McLean on May 29. They will be responsible for firearms standards and community policing, respectively.

The two new ACPs will join recently-appointed Scottish detective ACP Les Green, one of four officers from the United Kingdom to be appointed to that rank within the JCF. Responsible for homicide and serious crime investigation, ACP Green was one of several British officers working in an advisory capacity under Operation Kingfish.

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Caribbean-American Heritage Month bill approved in US Senate

The US Senate has unanimously approved a bill authored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee to designate a national Caribbean-American Heritage month. The bill acknowledges and celebrates the contributions of Caribbean-Americans to the United States since the inception of the country.

"Establishing a Caribbean-American heritage month will help pay tribute to the tremendous contributions Caribbean-Americans have made throughout the history of this country," said Lee.

"They have influenced every aspect of American culture, society and government. Their history is interwoven with ours and should be recognized and celebrated."

"I appreciate the bipartisan support of my colleagues in both the House and the Senate, especially Senator Schumer (NY), in passing this measure, and I hope that President Bush will act quickly to designate June as national Caribbean-American month," said Lee.

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French Highway 2000 builder pulling out of Jamaica

Last December, The Gleaner reported that Bouygues Travaux Publics Construction Company, contractor for Highway 2000,said it would 'lock shop' at the end of July this year, if TransJamaican Highway (TJH) does not provide the requisite funds for the completion of the May Pen to Williamsfield, Mandeville leg of the highway by that time, when the Portmore leg is slated for completion.

Since then, the France-based company has started to follow through on its pledge by selling equipment and laying-off workers in preparation for the exodus. Fifteen expatriates have returned home and scores of hourly and monthly-paid workers have already been laid off as departure becomes more imminent.

A furor erupted last year when it was revealed that the contractors may leave the country. If the required funds were secured, the company said they would abort the planned departure.

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Former Jamaican bobsledder wins silver medal for Canada

The spirit of "Cool Runnings", the Jamaican bobsled team, was alive in the winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. The team did not make it there, but Lascelles Brown, who pushed sleds for Jamaica from 1999 until 2004, helped Canada win a silver medal in two-man bobsledding. Brown did not get the green light by Canadian immigration officials to compete for his adopted homeland until January 27, two weeks before the Winter Games. Up until 2004, Brown was still competing for Jamaica, which did not qualify for the Torino Games. Brown is the second black bobsled medalist in Winter Olympic history.

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Damian Marley takes Grammy double

Damian  'Junior Gong' Marley  won this yearís Grammy for the Best Reggae Album Award and best Urban/Alternative Performance at the Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Marley is the first reggae artist to be nominated outside the reggae category let alone win. His "Half-Way Tree" album is the second for the youngster, who won ahead of his elder sibling Kymani, Luciano, Beres Hammond as well as a compilation album from Hawaii entitled 'Island Warriors'.

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