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February 2000

Gleaner Poll Scapegoats Politicians

It is incredible. The Gleaner headlines blare out the results of its telephone poll on the efficiency of Government Ministers. Some ministers receive acceptable ratings, but in general it turns out to be a clear condemnation of most Government Ministers. How can they base these harsh condemnations on the basis of a mere 30 respondents, sometimes less. The fact is this poll is nothing but a cheap shot and has absolutely no statistical validity. To be sure Ministers should be evaluated, but in a responsible manner. Not surprisingly the Ministers that deal with crime and poverty were marked for the axe. Crime and poverty are very severe and complex problems. For example, crime is aggravated by poverty, deportees from the US, illegal drugs, un- and under- employment, etc. Economic conditions are aggravated by imposed outside solutions like IMF strategic adjustment, privatisation, globalisation, private and public sector downsizing, third world debt, etc.. Progress in these areas is frustratingly slow. Not only here but all over the world. Even in the US in the midst of prosperity, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.

Both ministers are not sitting on their hands, but have mounted a wide array of innovative and comprehensive programs. But, these days it has become acceptable if not fashionable to stereotype and scapegoat politicians. This scapegoating of politicians is destructive and has made the important valuable job of representing the people an undesirable one. According to the "poll" the public is clamoring for "good efficient" politicians, especially from the vaunted private sector. With a hatchet job like this, alarmingly typical of the press and so many others, why on earth would these "good efficient" deliverers from the private sector want to put their heads on this chopping block of Jamaican politics? Nope this narrow-minded journalism will not bring in better politicians, but keep them the hell out in the nice comfy moneymaking private sector.

All over the Caribbean, the press is fighting with governments. That is nothing but a distraction as Caribbean countries are in real crisis. In these times, there has to be a new and more responsible journalism. It should inform rather than inflame. Selling newspapers is just not enough, but it has to be a positive force in the healing, unifying and rebuilding of the nation.


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Poverty Amongst the Rich and Famous Countries

Despite unprecedented wealth in the global economy, more than 600 million children struggle to survive on less than $1 per day, the vast majority of them in developing countries. But poverty is a problem in industrialized countries, although on a different scale. A report by UNICEF found that 1 in 10 children in some of the richest nations is raised in a family living below the established poverty line. This report compiled the percentage of children living in households with incomes of less than half the country’s overall median income for 20 industrialized nations. Surprisingly the countries which did best was the Czech Republic (1.8%) and Finland (3.4%). The worst three were Russia (26.6%), the US (26.3%) and Britain (21.3%).


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Flash: "Kitch" seriously ill

It is reported that Lord Kitchener, the Grandmaster and perennial road march king of Trinidad carnival, is critically ill.


T&T PM vs President Cause Political Crisis

The political impasse between Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday and President Arthur Robinson has reached crisis stage forcing the premature closing of Parliament.

Government senators are appointed by the Prime Minister. Recently, two government Senators, Nathaniel Moore and Agnes Williams, failed to support the government on a vote in the House. For this disloyalty and consistent with Parliamentary system of government, PM Panday fired both of them and named two replacements.

The constitution requires that for these changes to be official, they must be signed by the President of the country. However, President Robinson has steadfastly refused to do so. To make matters worse, the President leaked a letter to the press which he had he wrote to PM Panday on a number of disturbing issues. It breached confidence to reveal private correspondences between the PM and the President. In the opinion of legal experts, the President has clearly exceeded his constitutional responsibility. The President justifies his action by accusing the PM of not consulting with him.

PM Panday has also lost another government official, his Minister of Local Government, Dhanraj Singh. Calls for Mr. Singh’s resignation arose from his implication in the murder of a government official, Hansraj Sumairsingh. PM Panday demanded and received his resignation. This along with the refusal of the President to authorize the replacement senators has pretty much crippled the government as it now must try to rule with a minority.


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US Returns 1,108 Cuban Boat People in 1999

With the recent interception and return to Cuba of a boatload of 5 Cubans, the total Cuban boat people sent back to Cuba for 1999 reached 1,108. Havana and Washington signed accords in September 1994 and May 1995 to stem the flood of people trying to get to the US. Many others have died by drowning trying to make the crossing by private boat including the mother and stepfather of the now famous 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

The Elian Gonzalez Lesson for West Indians in US

The Cuban-Americans have power. They are organised and America heeds their wishes. They want to keep Elian Gonzalez here in the US despite the fact that:

  • it violates immigration policy
  • it violates the fundamental rights of the father to his son vs that of some distant relatives
  • these relatives have never even seen the boy before
  • these relatives have shady criminal tinged background

Despite all this, every presidential candidate sides with the Cuban-Americans. Special congressional acts are underway to make this kidnapping permanent. But commiting shameful acts in order to appease the vociferous Cuban American community is not new. In order to appease them, the US has been facing worldwide condemnation. In the UN General Assembly there is almost unanimous condemnation of the US embargo of Cuba. Because of them the, Helms-Burton law was passed which threatened the sovereignty of many nations, even including European allies, and it was almost universally condemned also. The architect of that bill and their staunch ally of Cuban-Americans is racist Senator Jesse Helms, an established opponent of civil rights for blacks. The really sad fact is that the Cuban-American influence has tarnished America’s image and leadership in the world by forcing America to commit these illegal and cruel acts.

On the other hand, the West Indies is not requesting the US to commit any illegal act, nor even requesting any special treatment, just fairness. But, no one pays any attention to us when we complain about US assault on our banana trade with Europe, the callous deportee policy, and other anti-Caribbean US policies. They pay no attention because we draw no attention. We are silent, disorganised and virtually invisible, while US policy drives our homelands to economic and social catastrophe Let us learn from the Cuban- Americans. Let’s get organised. Join and be active in a Caribbean organisation now. Register to vote and become a Caribbean activist. Caribbean organisations also need to map out a strategy to be be more active and visible in US politics.


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Caribbean Travel Agents Boycott AA

American Airlines (AA) announced that it was reducing commissions on airplane tickets sold in the Caribbean from 9% to 6%. The Caribbean Travel Agents Association, representing Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Eastern Caribbean, in all 13 English-speaking Caribbean countries, decided to launch a boycott. American Airlines is the largest carrier in the Caribbean with more than 70% of the flights. Before even the boycott was launched, a domino effect began.

First Air Jamaica followed suit announcing a similar cut in order to offer competitive prices to customers. However, the commission payable on tickets to London and Havana will remain 9%.

About 2 weeks after the AA announcement, British Airways also joined stating: "The risk of remaining at our current commission rate, while our competitors operate at a lower cost of distribution, is simply too great."

This unexpected 33% drop in income of travel agents has got to be a bitter blow, made even worse as they face increasing competition from internet ticket sales. Of course, if AA can get away with a unilateral 33% cut, what is to prevent them from further reduction?

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Air Jamaica Owes Govt. Millions in stamp Duties

Jamaica’s Auditor General’s report has revealed that Air Jamaica owes a whopping J$460 million in stamp duties for the fiscal year ending March 1999. This unpaid debt comes from the duties the airline collects from passengers on tickets sold. The Government is reportedly trying to resolve this issue in view of the airlines importance to tourism.

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Should Jamaica Adopt the US Dollar?

Guess what? Equador is adopting the US dollar as its national currency. Sounds familiar? It should. In 1995, a visiting economics professor, Steve Hanke, from the prestigious university of Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, MD, USA, advocated the unthinkable. Dump the fickle-valued Jamaican dollar and use American currency instead. He cited advantages which included:

  • controlling inflation
  • eliminating black market
  • eliminating Jamaica’s need to print their own money
  • doing away with most of the functions of the Bank of Jamaica.

This revolutionary idea did not get much support then. There was no precedent of a sovereign country abandoning their own country’s currency for the yankee dollar. But, now there is. Equador has announced that it will gradually replace its currency with the US dollar to stabilize the Andean’s economy and prevent hyperinflation. Government officials said the present currency, sucres, which are in circulation would be bought back over the next year and only small denomination sucre coins would be used.

This idea was dismissed in 1995, but now the Equador experiment should be closely watched and evaluated. On the surface adopting the American currency might seem unpatriotic, going to the heart of Jamaica’s sovereignty as a nation. But, does it? After all the purpose of money is to trade for goods and services. If coconuts were the currency and everything was valued in coconuts, that would be very patriotic and nationalistic. But, it would not be convenient, as coconuts would make a considerable heavy bulge in one’s pocket or handbag. They would be inconvenient. The fact is that there is nothing intrinsically patriotic about currency. It’s just a convenient means of exchange. If it suits us to switch to the US dollar, we should do it.

Does it suit us?
Now this should be the debate. In Jamaica, US dollar loans for many a year has been at 11 to 18%. Loans in Jamaican currency has run as high as 50%. What type of profit must a business make to pay back a loan at such loan-shark rates of 50%?
Besides, these rates discriminate against the average Jamaican resident who is unable to get his hands on US or other hard currency. It is they who are stuck with these exorbitant rates. Is that fair? Where is the level playing field here?
Besides, there is talk of a common CARICOM currency. Why seek some new currency, when already they all trade in a common currency, the ‘yankee’ dollar?
On the other hand, does Jamaica posses enough US dollars for all financial transactions for every business, man, woman, and child in Jamaica? When the government runs out of money, they will no longer be able to just print more.

Let the debate resume
These are just a few points on a very complex issue. This change might not even be feasible. But, soon we will have the Equador model. Now, there is even stronger justification to study this revolutionary idea. So, Hot Calaloo is a strong advocate of free, open, unemotional and intensive debate on this issue. Let new ideas liberate us from our economic crisis.

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T&T Trade Deficit Leaps up

Trinidad and Tobago suffered a massive increase in its trade deficit in the first 7 months of 1999. During January to July 1999, the deficit grew to T&T$3.1 billion up from 0.5 billion the year before. The increase resulted from a 14% rise in imports and a 13% fall in exports. Imports of machinery, transport equipment, manufactured goods and fuels showed strong increases. In the meantime, exports of mineral fuels and chemicals plunged significantly.

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Bajans to Get Back-pay

In 1991 Barbadian civil servants had their salaries cut by 8%. Finally the Government has announced that the workers will be repaid the money in three payments over an 18-month period. They will receive the first payment by March. An estimated 24,000 civil servants and 6,000 workers at statutory corporations will benefit from the repayment. This repayment will be subject to National Insurance deductions and taxes.

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Montserrat’s Volcano Still bears Watching

The Soufriere Hills volcano in Montserrat has been quiet for several weeks. The volcano might not be ready to go back to bed yet as scientists of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory are monitoring the growth of a new dome on the volcano. This dome was first sighted in November last year and has grown to a volume of about 15 million cubic meters.

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Helicopters Fight Bush Fires in Jamaica

We have seen pictures of helicopters dropping water on bush fires here in the US. Now add Jamaica to that list. Bush fires raged in the residential wooded hills of St. Andrew. The terrain was inaccessible to fire trucks. So, new Jamaica Defense Force helicopters were drafted into action. They scooped up water in a large bucket from a pool at Hillel Academy and dumped it on the fire. The fires had raged for days in more than one area and threatened many multi-million dollar homes. The helicopters were very effective, for which the threatened homeowner and residents were very thankful. Ironically, the Stony Hill fire station, which is responsible for that area, played no role in the firefighting. It’s badly in need of repair and the Government had no money to fix it. Units from Trench Town, York Park, and Half-Way-Tree filled in for them.

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Goat Love or the Case of the Horny Goat

Only in Jamaica.... According to a Jamaica evening tabloid paper, the magistrate of the Half-Way-Tree court was faced with an unusual case. Enid Grant, a 50-year-old farmer had this amorous ram goat. She told the court that her ram really liked her neighbor’s female goat. On December 30 the neighbor, a Mr. Astley Cunningham, was walking his female goat. Seems the ram manifested this love by mounting the object of his affection. The course of true love never runs smooth. Mr. Cunningham did not approve of this courtship. So, he decided to break it up then and there by kicking the amorous ram all over its body. The ram, with an obvious broken heart, received also severe injuries. Ms Grant reported the matter to the police and Mr. Cunningham was charged.

Editor’s Note: That ram goat liver would make really good mannish waters and would really mek you daughter walk and talk!


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Woods Imported into Guyana - Coals to Newcastle?

Guyana which has foreign multinational corporations logging thousands of acres of timber faced a shortage of lumber during Christmas. Local furniture makers complained of the shortage and had to import from neighboring Suriname. One retailer indicated that he was forced to increase importation from 5 to 20%. The Guyana Forestry Service has promised to investigate.

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LIAT Still in Financial Woes

The eastern Caribbean airline, LIAT, continues to have serious financial problems. Flight attendants went on strike because of delinquent pay. This forced flight cancellations. Its pilots also called a strike because the company was unable to pay them on time too. However, the company promised to do better and the pilots did not go through with the strike. Now LIAT is still in the air, but so also may be the future of the company.

At the same time, millionaire Antigua newspaper owner, Allen Stanford, has announced plans to start a new airline company, Caribbean Star. This new airline would have headquarters in Antigua and would compete with the ailing LIAT.


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Bahamas Hangs Another

Capital punishment took another in the Bahamas recently. This makes the fourth since hanging was resumed in 1996. Actually two more were scheduled for the same fate, but one won a stay of execution and the other committed suicide a couple days before the scheduled hanging. With the rise of violent crime, hanging continues to receive public support all over the Caribbean.

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US, Cuba Trade Show Opens

The first American trade show in Cuba in four decades opened recently in Havana. Ninety-seven US companies took part in this US Healthcare Exhibition. With the embargo still in effect, real trade seems closer, but still very much in the future.

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He walked the hills
And their strength enveloped him
And in the rocky caves
Their silence whispered.
The thunder reverberated
In his heart
And the lightning struck a chord
In his soul
No Messiah of Virgin birth
No Saul turned to Paul
No doubting Peter
Astride the waves
No stunning wise Solomon
But a simple son of the hills
With the melodious voice
To Jah raised in song.
His victory over death
Is made manifest
As his voice survives
His song echoes in the dark
Places of the earth
Inspiring man to free himself
Praise be to Jah
God of free souls
Praise be to Jah
For the wisdom to conquer
And subdue the evil man
Praise be to Jah
For daily bread
Praise be to Jah
For Peace and Love
For harmony and song
Praise too for the voice of Marley
Insisting yet
Lest we forget!


Kay McGregor Phillips (1913 - 1990) from her book "Living in Constant Spring, Poems by a Rolling Stone"