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For The Betterment of the Caribbean

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October 2000

Unsinkable Ottey, Jamaica’s true hero of Olympics 2000

Merlene Ottey is the Jamaica’s true hero of Olympics 2000 . Her performance under such adversity is nothing short of phenomenal.
She had to overcome

  • an age bias. At 40 many thought she was too old to compete.
  • The humiliation of being banned for alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. For almost a year she had to endure the ban, sustained only by her confidence in her innocence. So while other athletes were honing their skills in competition, thrilling to the cheers of enthusiastic cheering crowds, our Merlene was left to the arduos lonely monotony of empty training sites for almost a year, and a year so crucial because of its closeness to the olympics, without any competitions at all.

She deserved to run the 100
By the time the Olympics began, Merlene Ottey proved she deserved to run the 100 m even though she came 4th in the trials. Let me make it clear. This was not because she:

  • then had 6 Olympic medals
  • is one of the most successful sprinters of all time
  • has won 35 major international medals including a record 14 at the World Championships.
  • was ranked in the world's top-10 for 18 consecutive years from 1980 to 1998
  • has been Jamaica's Sportswoman-of-the-year 15 times
  • is 40 years old and on the threshold of retirement

No, but because she:

  • was the fastest at that time, only one to break 11 secs since the trials, (10.91 in Brisbane Australia on Sept 10)
  • had been victimized by the IAAF allegation which did not give her enough time to attain top condition for the trials
  • had beaten all the others in every race except 1, the final of the Olympic trials
  • to keep her out would be contributing and abetting her unfair victimization by the IAAF.

JAA picks Ottey , Dowdie out
On Sept. 18, the JAA picked Merlene Ottey for the 100m. The trials winner Peta Gaye-Dowdie was out. Since winning the trials, Dowdie had not competed and JAA considered her condition doubtful

Send home protestors
About 20 Jamaican athletes led protest demonstrations in the Olympic village against the decision. The IOC threatened to disqualify the whole Jamaican team unless the protest stopped. Rumor had it that MacDonald and Dowdie would refuse to run the relay. My immediate reaction was, "Send home the protestors. They have undermined morale, embarrassed Jamaica, and probably will not even make it to the final, much less medal. I do not see how they can be of value to the team anymore and could undermine future teams. Send them home." This action was similar to the WI test players' strike, and WI cricket has disintegrated since!

Jamaica Protestors Apologise?
A day later, the Jamaican athletes who protested the choices for the women’s 100m sent a letter of apology. Further they promised to participate fully and try to make Jamaica proud. Wow! I was impressed at the apology because apologies do not come easy to Jamaicans. But, now I realise the apology was not genuine. No one apologised to the victim of the protests, Merlene Ottey, who they had held up to international humiliation by their protest. The apology was bogus and obviously a face-saving attempt to cover-up the fact that "Peta-Gay, no relay" was in fact not fit enough to compete after all. Days later she withdrew from the relay team because of it, but stayed around - to help with team morale!
The Gleaner newspaper reported that the apology healed the rift and all was hunky-dory in the Jamaican camp. Impossible! The apology must have been for public consumption only since no athlete apologised to Ottey. So, she had to compete with the burden and hostility of teammates fresh in her mind. Not only her teammates, but Tony Becca - the sports editor of the Gleaner, and other letters to the Editor against her, were prominently featured in that newspaper. Under such pressure, her achievement is even more remarkable. I strongly believe that if our Merlene had received the enthusiastic support of her teammates, the Jamaican press and people, she would have silvered in the 100m and aLSO led home the women’s 4x100 m relay to gold over the Bahamas. Is it any surprise that the final baton exchange between protest ringleader McDonald and Merlene was botched, dooming any chance for gold? They hardly practiced beforehand.

Bahamas taught Ja a lesson
But, Bahamas did. Hats off to the Bahamas, the deserving Bahamas. They could also teach Jamaica teamwork. Ironically, Debbie Fergueson had qualified to run the 100m in the Bahamas trials. She gave up her position to allow the 4th place finisher to compete in her place (Chandra StUrrup I think). The result, all three Bahamians made it to the final of the 100m, Debbie Fergueson took gold in the 200m, and all four earned gold for the 4x100 relay.

A real apology
Jamaica is elated at the record haul of seven medals. But, I feel no euphoria as the treatment of Merlene Ottey has left a bitter taste in my mouth that not even the seven medals can wash out. Merlene Ottey deserves a real apology from those athletes, the Gleaner editor and all those ganged up on her. I am not optimistic about that likeliehood as apology does not come easy to Jamaicans. Instead, I am pessimistic enough to expect them to do nothing or even worse try to discredit Merlene further in order to justify their actions.

Protest and opinion
What did Merlene do to desrve this humiliating treatment? Some say because she stated she would refuse to run the relay if she was not allowed to run the 100m. Under the circumstances, is that not a pretty standard human reaction for her to make? Is that deserving international humiliation and the undermining of the Jamaican team? To be sure, we are all entitled to our opinions. But, there is a time for making them public, a time for keeping them private, a time for protest. Yes, my fellow protest-happy Jamaicans, other West Indians, especially Guyanese with their border problems, there are many times ahead, where we will have to shut the hell up, swallow our internal disagreements and maintain a united front against an outside world often hostile or indifferent to us, but ready to take advantage of our divisions.
Finally, run Merlene run. Don’t retire yet. You are the stuff of legends and a true, gracious  and dignified hero.

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Prime Minister of Dominica Dies

Prime Minister Roosevelt Douglas of Dominica died unexpectedly at his home Sunday morning Oct 1, a day after he returned from a summit of Caribbean leaders in Jamaica. He was 58. His sudden death has left Dominicans and the government and people of CARICOM in a state of shock.

The 58-year-old political scientist, who became Prime Minister of Dominica in February this year after labouring in the wilderness of opposition politics for the past two decades, is reported to have died from a massive heart attack. Dominica Labour Party's Deputy Leader, Pierre Charles has been sworn in as acting prime minister.

The flamboyant and often controversial Douglas was a former militant "Black Power" advocate during the turbulent politics of the 1970s, "Rosie", as he was popularly known in and out of his native Dominica, was among students jailed in Canada for some three years in connection with disturbances at Sir George Williams University.

He was the 5th prime minister since Dominica gained independence in 1978. He first entered Parliament in 1985.


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A-maze-ing corn, why not cane?

Frustrated by the economic hardships of farming, Glen Fritzler took a machete to his rows of corn and built his own personal "Field of Dreams." Unlike the Hollywood movie, there was little doubt that Fritzler's cornfield attraction -10 acres of towering stalks shaped like a bronco's head - would draw visitors. "It's mysterious," said Fritzler, whose corn maze drew nearly 700 people on its opening day last week. "It's a phenomenal feeling when the stars are out." Hundreds of farmers have carved their fields into mazes across the US - from a school house clock in Huntersville, N.C., to a sundial in Macedon, N.Y. - in hopes of making more money from the land than by simply farming it.

Editors Note: Well, we do not have cornfields in the Caribbean. But, we have canefields. So why not carving canefields into mazes? I am sure tourists would eat it up.

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U.S. dollars replace Equador currency

Jamaica has rejected the revolutionary idea of adopting the American dollar as its national currency. Equador has and last month the American greenback began to rule supreme in that small Andean nation. That first day of business since it replaced the sucre as Ecuador's national currency came at last. This Equador experience deserves watching.

So how are they doing? Dollar bills and bills of larger denominations were abundant. But Ecuadoreans griped about the lack of coins for change and complained that merchants were rounding off prices at the dollar level - a sore point in a poor country where more than two-thirds of workers earn less than $30 a month. Newspaper vendors raised the price of papers from 20 cents to a quarter on Monday but often did not have change if the buyer tried to pay with a dollar bill. Shoeshine boys, who charged 4,000 sucres, the equivalent of 16 cents before the sucre went out of circulation at midnight Saturday, were having problems attracting customers because they couldn't make change.

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Coffee cos. agree on 'fair trade'

Starbucks, Equal Exchange, Green Mountain Coffee, Peet's Coffee and Tea, Dean's Beans, and 78 other gourmet coffee sellers have agreed to start selling a new line of coffee purchased from farmers under "fair trade" regulations. Those regulations include paying farmers at least $1.26 per pound, regardless of how low coffee prices drop on the world market, and paying them 60% of the cost prior to shipment. Americans spend $18 billion a year on coffee, more than any other country, making it the nation's second most heavily traded commodity after oil.
But thanks to sagging prices, farmers from Third World countries often make only $3 a day selling their beans to companies that can make almost that much on one cup in the United States.
``It's not enough to live on,'' said Rob Everts of wholesale coffee seller Equal Exchange, the first company to sign on to the agreement.
Starbucks plans to start selling a line of fair trade coffee in 2,300 stores on Oct. 4. The coffee will sell for $11.45 a bag. Peet's has already started selling its own line of fair trade coffee for $10.95. Equal Exchange, the only company at which 100 percent of the coffee meets fair trade standards, sells its coffee for $8.99.
Sue Mecklenburg, the director of environmental and community affairs at Starbucks, said her company will sell the fair trade coffee for one year, then evaluate whether selling more than one kind is feasible.

"Fair" tade initiative
The "fair" trade initiative is led by Oxfam America, which fights poverty worldwide, and Transfair America,, which promotes fair trade on food imports. The two largest coffee importers, Maxwell House and Folgers, have not signed on to this fair trade initiative.

"Fair" trade not "free" trade is the answer
Caribbean countries, like the rest of the world are looking to trade as their salvation from poverty. But, that trade is "free" trade as espoused by the World Trade Organisation. That "free" trade is "unfair" trade, which is why worldwide protests have dogged WTO policies. Not " free" trade, but "fair" trade is the answer. John Cavanagh, co-director of the Institute for Policy Studies, states that "fair trade brings the benefits of trade into the hands of communities that need it most. It sets new social and environmental standards for international companies and demonstrates that trade can indeed be a vehicle for sustainable development. Today, a growing movement of workers, environmentalists, consumers, farmers and social movements worldwide is calling for a different framework for trade. They want a global trading system that promotes workers' rights, protects the environment and sustains the ability of local producers to meet community needs. Together, as consumers, they can make a huge difference by demanding significant changes in the ways goods are produced, and vote with their dollars for a more just and environmentally sound trading system."

Editor’s comment: Coffee is just the beginning. Let us support this "fair" trade endeavor as it’s definitely in the Caribbean’s interest.

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Jamaica growing genetically modified food

A heated debate is raging in Europe and North America about the safety of genetically modified foods. Recently, Dr. Wayne McLaughlin, head of the Biotechnology Centre at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, revealed that genetic modification techniques have been used on Jamaican food crops.

He told participants at a recent Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) forum in Kingston, that Jamaica had been using genetic modification to make the local tomato crop resistant to the 'jherri curl' disease and to protect papaya and scotch bonnet pepper from the harmful effects of certain viruses. He also argued that there was no evidence that genetically modified foods caused harmful effects in humans or animals.

He said the genetic modification of plants involved inserting genes resistant to particular diseases. He also listed the potential benefits of genetic modification as increased crop yields, a reduced need for pesticide, increased resistance to viruses, smaller losses due to spoilage and the improved nutritional quality of crops.

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A side effect of Bermuda’s prosperity?

Bermuda is a major tourist destination that has developed an offshore financial sector that makes it one of the richest places in the world, with an average annual income of $36,000.

But, Ed Ball of the Bermuda Public Service Association told the Royal Gazette that a sloppy work ethic is threatening Bermuda's economic prospects. The leader of the territory's second-largest labor union says. ``People are too comfortable; they feel the money will always come here,'' ``The attitude is `You can fire me because there is full employment,' but this is shortsighted,'' said Ball, whose union represents government workers in the British territory.


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Suriname govt. can’t pay gasolene bills

Suriname can aggravate Guyana over border dispute but it cannot pay its gasolene bills and appears headed for crisis. Petroleum giant Texaco said it has stopped selling gasoline in Suriname because of $4 million in unpaid government bills. The government, which subsidizes gasoline for motorists, has not paid its share for the last three months, the company said. It stopped shipping gasoline to the Dutch-speaking South American country last Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of shortages, since most gasoline stations have supplies to last a few days. The government owes another $4 million to Texaco's competitors, Shell and Esso. Together, the three companies import about 4.7 million gallons of fuel monthly.

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Commonwealth backs Guyana/Belize on border disputes

The 54-member Commonwealth has thrown its full support behind Guyana and Belize in the ongoing territorial disputes with their respective neighbouring states - Venezuela and Guatemala. The support has come from the first meeting of the special Commonwealth Ministerial Group which was held in New York last Thursday, officials said. In urging peaceful resolutions to the disputes, the Commonwealth secretary general said that "this is essentially the Commonwealth showing support for two of its members involved in boundary disputes in their own region".

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Major cruise line to pull out of Jamaica

The Gleaner newspaper has reported that Princess Cruise, the third largest cruise line in the world, plans to stop visiting Jamaica. The Gleaner cited "reports reaching the Gleaner" as saying the cruise line will instead "head for a Mexican port". The newspaper said reports suggested that the decision was based on "persistent problems" such as visitor harassment and poor infrastructure at Jamaican destinations.


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Marion Jones' message cheers hurricane-hit Belize

Hurricane Keith pounded Belize with winds of up to 115 mph and battered shore dwellings. The chief port and largest city, Belize City, was flooded and without power. People were cheered by a special message of support from US Olympic champion, Marion Jones, whose mother is from Belize and whose Prime Minister Musa has named her special Ambassador at Large for Sports and has awarded her the Order of Belize medal In a tribute to her Belizean roots. Marion paraded not only the US flag but the Belizean flag also on her victory laps at the Olympics.

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Carnival Report from Charlotte, NC

"Well we had an outstanding result in our first Caribbean Festival and Gala. Over 6000+ folk attended the Festival. Food vendors ran out of food, and we were doing extra beer runs to accommodate the numbers!!!!
Folk will be back next year. People are talking it up, including City Council and County Commissioners who witnessed first hand the Festival's overwhelming success."


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