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Thousands die from flood rains in Hispaniola
A colossal natural disaster has struck. Days of rains unleashed torrents of water and mudslides on the border area of Hispaniola in mid May. About two weeks later as relief workers continued to discover bodies in the more remote areas, the toll of dead and missing from floods that ravaged both Haiti and the Dominican Republic was set at more than 3,300. In Haiti, the official death toll was at 1,191 and the number of missing at 1,484. The figures on the Dominican side of the border were 395 dead and 274 missing. Aid workers said hundreds of victims washed away in floodwaters or buried in mudslides will probably never be found.
Officials said the floods damaged or destroyed thousands of homes on both sides of the border. Crops were washed away along with numerous livestock. Among the living, thousands remain in desperate need. Haiti's Civil Protection Agency estimated 31,000 Haitians were affected by one of the worst natural disasters to strike the Caribbean. The Red Cross said more than 6,000 families need food and shelter between the hardest-hit Haitians towns of Mapou and Fond Verrettes, about 13 miles apart.
Kidnappings menace Trinidad and Tobago
Recently, the son Ashmeed of Opposition Member of Parliament, Nizam Baksh, was kidnapped. The family was asked to pay $5 million for his safe return. The return never happened. The 30-year-old son of the Naparima MP was eventually found dead, brutally murdered. Police believe he was shot to the back of the head, chopped about the body, tied up with wire and then burnt at the side of a muddy track. He was a civil engineer and had been lured out to a jobsite in Platanite Trace. Seven men including former employees of his company have been arrested for the crime. They range in age from 17 Ė 22 and include three brothers.
Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) may be described as the kidnapping capital of the Caribbean. This menace has ensnared that country for some time. In 1997 an Anti-Kidnapping Unit was formed to deal with the rising problem. According to the head of that unit, Superintendent Adam Joseph of the Trinidad and Tobago Constabulary Force, kidnappings have declined. But the unit did not have immediate success at first. Statistics from the Central Statistical Office at the Ministry of Planning and Development in Trinidad and Tobago, show that there were 100 reported kidnappings in Trinidad and Tobago in 1998; that figure rose to 136 in 1999. There was a significant dip in 2002 with only 29 cases but last year there were 48 kidnappings including that of Ronald John, a respected psychologist and brother of Appeal Court judge, Stanley John.
So concerned was the Trinidad and Tobago Government with the spate of kidnappings that it set up a committee headed by publisher Ken Gordon to look into the matter. In May, the Ken Gordon Committee Report was released and recommended that the Government impose a State of Emergency to stem the kidnappings.
In late breaking news - a 4-year-old girl was abducted from her school by a woman and the parents have received death threats against the little girl. The outrage against kidnappings is boiling. How can criminals in the Caribbean be so brutal, vicious and coldblooded?
Kidnappings spring up in Jamaica too
Three kidnappings in 5 days in Jamaica! Jamaicans had cause for alarm that a new deadly crime was breaking out to add even more fear. But, police felt that this was unlikely to spread although they provided no real good reason for this optimism.
On May 7, 2004, 36-year-old Lollette Salmon of Burnt Savannah, Westmoreland, was kidnapped by a group of men shortly after returning from the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. Her burnt body was found the next day in neighbouring Hanover parish.
Christine English, 55, a leading figure in the counselling treatment of HIV/ AIDS in this country, was abducted by a group of men on the evening of May 10 as she and her husband were entering their home in Craig Hill, St. Andrew. Initially, they demanded a $6 million ransom but later cut that figure to $2 million.
The following day, Colin Largie was kidnapped by three men at his business place in Portmore. Like English, Largie was released un-harmed on Wednesday. Police have made no arrests in any of the cases.
The Russians are coming
The Russians are coming and taking over too. They are taking over the operations of the Alpart mining plant in Nain, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, after submitting the top bid of US$295 million for Kaiser's 65 per cent stake in the bauxite company. Russian Aluminium Company (RussAl) is the second largest aluminum producer in the world.
Swiss-based Glencore International was originally tipped to buy Kaiser's shares in Alpart. However, this changed when the United States Bankruptcy Court terminated an agreement it had signed with Kaiser to purchase its shares for US$165 million. The court had ordered that the shares be put to tender at a minimum bid price of US$215 million.
Soaring chicken prices threaten tariff removal
Jamaicaís soaring chicken prices has forced the Government to consider removing the tariff on imported chicken. Such a move would clobber local chicken producers, but would bring great relief to consumers. The US ambassador to Jamaica, Sue Cobb, in an unusual interfering role for an ambassador, has urged the removal of the tariff which is a huge 296%.
The tariff was implemented with the assurance from local chicken producers that not only could they adequately supply the market but were confident there would not be much if any increase to the price of chicken. That promise would, however, be short-lived, considering the more than four times the price of chicken has gone up over the past 15 months. There has also been a reported shortage of supplies in recent times.
The chicken producers blame the high prices on the mounting soybean and corn prices.
Editorís Note: Once again the Jamaica private sector has failed. They are so inept that they are unable to compete with imports despite the protection of a 296% tariff. Why should they be dependent on imported soyabean and corn, both of which are suited for growing in Jamaica? Grow their own! I was in Jamaica in March and enjoyed many a delicious jerk chicken bought alongside the road in Negril. The price I paid did not seem expensive.
Jamaican companies buy uniforms overseas
In Jamaica not only police and school children wear uniforms. Uniforms are not just for trades-people either. In fact, trades people, to the best of my memory, seldom wear uniforms. Probably the most noticeable wearers of uniforms in Jamaica are bank employees. The ladies look very stylish in their typically colorful blouse and skirt. Yes, uniforms are popular in Jamaica, but alas most uniforms are not made in Jamaica. Jamaicans are not employed in this industry as, unbelievably, they are generally made overseas.
It was reported earlier this year that Jamaican uniform manufacturers were losing millions of dollars in contracts to overseas companies, because of what was being described as 'sub-standard quality'. Another blackeye for Jamaican manufacturers!
Doreen Frankson, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association contended that if the local uniform manufacturers are given the chance, they could produce high-quality products. She said the JMA had been meeting with banks to encourage them to source uniforms locally for their employees. On Wednesday, a local manufacturer secured a contract with National Commercial Bank Ltd., to supply 22,700 garments.
"We can build this industry, but we need to have a common goal. We must support each other, we must buy Jamaican and build Jamaica," Miss Frankson said.
US company will get no J$11 million more
In 2003, the US firm Von Hoffman Corporation became the first foreign firm to receive the contract to provide books for the annual Jamaica 2003/2004 Primary School Textbook Program. They beat out the local firms, including The Gleaner Co. Ltd., with a $51.6 million bid. But the U.S. company later requested an additional $11 million, citing the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar. The Government, through the Attorney-General's Department, pointed that the contract was "fixed" in Jamaican dollars and, therefore, "the fee could not be subject to fluctuations in currency value."
Congresswoman Barbara Lee has launched a bill in the US Congress to recognize June as Caribbean Heritage month. So far, at least 35 congress persons have added their support to the bill.
The Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ) predicted it would turn around its losses by 2003/2004. It was wrong. It has revised its projection for that period to a loss of J$47 million. Nevertheless, this is a very significant improvement as the previous year it lost J$676 million. SCJ blamed the losses on weather conditions, a shortfall in cane supply and poor juice quality. Improvements expected include:
The SCJ was formed in 1993 by a consortium made up of Wray & Nephew Limited, Manufacturers Investments Limited and Booker Tate Limited to purchase the assets of Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge sugar estates and factories which represent approximately 65 per cent of the sugar industry's installed capacity. The three companies each held 17 per cent equity in SCJ, with the remaining 49 per cent being held by the Government. In 1998, the Government came to the rescue of the near bankrupt consortium by becoming the sole shareholder by acquiring the interests of the consortium.
Rex Nettleford blast US media and foreign policy
PROFESSOR REX Nettleford, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), blasted the US media and the Bush invasion of Iraq at the launch of activities for 'World Press Freedom Week' in Trinidad and Tobago recently. He warned:
"The 'CNNisation' of consciousness is a media phenomenon as we well know, and despite the tenacious hold of BBC broadcasts on pockets of Commonwealth elites, the electronic media, with the opening up of galactic spheres and the communications technology revolution, have long captured many minds on the planet which are yet to escape the saga of Iraq and the missionary zeal of George Bush that is arguably the world's most dangerous weapon of mass distraction".
He received thunderous applause from the audience, but not from the US ambassador to T&T who reacted angrily.
Kingston communities rocked with gang violence
The Easter weekend ushered in another flare-up of violence in Kingston communities in Jamaica. Gunmen from rival gangs rampaged through Arnett Gardens and Whitfield Town. Four were brutally killed in Arnett Gardens and two in Whitfield Town. Police patrols were kept busy trying to restore calm and order.
Schools in the areas were forced to close for three days as terrified pupils stayed home. Even the annual school leaving Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams were disrupted. Heavily armed members of the security forces were on duty outside the gates and on the compound of some of the schools. Mobile units patrolled the streets in and around the schools.
1 of Every 75 U.S. Men in Prison
America's inmate population grew by 2.9 percent last year, to almost 2.1 million people, with one of every 75 men living in prison or jail. There were 715 inmates for every 100,000 U.S. residents at midyear in 2003, up from 703 a year earlier, the report found.
The nation's incarceration rate tops the world, according to The Sentencing Project, another group that promotes alternatives to prison. That compares with a rate of 169 per 100,000 residents in Mexico, 116 in Canada and 143 for England and Wales. Russia's prison population, which once rivaled the United States', has dropped to 584 per 100,000.
Gasoline smuggling in Jamaica
Jamaican thieves get even more creative. This time they were caught smuggling gasoline from a ship on the Montego Bay docks. Three men were arrested in a joint police operation at the Montego Bay Shipping Terminal in what police described as a "dent in a multimillion dollar stolen petroleum racket." A 60,000-gallon capacity tanker, which has an estimated value of $1.2 million when filled with fuel, was also seized in the incident.
Whale dies on T&T beach
Despite numerous attempts to rescue a 50 ft whale, the animal died on Guapo beach in Point Frontin in Trinidad and Tobago. Twice the whale had been stranded and was towed out to sea, only to end up back on shore where it finally died. The animal, identified as a Bryde's whale, was buried after several tissue samples were taken for testing in an attempt to determine what caused the mammal to die. Several agencies, including the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) and the Forestry Division, as well as fishermen and concerned individuals in the La Brea and Point Fortin area, were praised for the efforts they made in attempting to save the whale.
Real sunken treasure hunt underway
The Jamaica Government has entered into an agreement with the Admiralty Corporation, an American treasure-salvage company, to recover sunken treasure off Pedro Banks off the coast of Port Royal. Pedro Banks, roughly the size of Jamaica itself, was a busy but treacherous shipping passage for European vessels headed to the New World between the 16th and 18th centuries. Then the rich pirate hangout, Port Royal, was known as the wickedest city in the world. Archaeologists estimate some 300 ships may have fallen victim to the passage, known to the Spanish as La Vibora ó or The Viper ó for its fang-like reef.
One of those ships was the Genovesa, a Spanish galleon that sank in 1730 with several tons of gold and silver on board. Its cargo is worth an estimated $600 million today. In addition to half the precious bounty, Jamaica will also receive all non-precious artifacts, including ship fittings, china, and nautical equipment that it intends to display in a maritime museum.
Jamaica formally banned offshore treasure hunting in 1991, fearful of being pilfered by modern-day pirates and harming delicate marine habitats. The lifting of this ban was the result of a furious debate.
However, this decision has stirred controversy there. The leading critic is Ainsley Henriques, director of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, the state agency overseeing the project. He resigned to protest the government's decision. He insists that such an important aspect of Jamaican history should be handled by an accredited archaeological group, not a profit-seeking foreign company. Other Jamaicans worry the government might be violating a 2001 U.N. convention banning the commercial salvaging of historic shipwrecks. Admiralty Corporation has promised to conduct a proper archaeological recovery.
Guyana's low population growth said to be affecting the economy
An economist is contending that Guyana's low population growth is seriously affecting the economy. Professor Clive Thomas said he was alarmed by the country's meagre 3.5% population growth since the 1991 census. He said that for a country not involved in war, or experiencing civil conflict, the paltry growth is worrying. Professor Thomas also ascribed the small population gain to sizeable migration patterns calculated at some 130 thousand since 1992. Guyana's multi-racial population increased from 723 thousand in 1991 to just over 745 thousand according to 2002 census figures.
Jamaica gets new ambassador to the US
PROFESSOR GORDON Shirley, executive director of the Mona School of Business on the Mona, St. Andrew campus of the University of the West Indies, will be Jamaica's new ambassador to the United States, effective June 1, 2004.
Professor Shirley will be Jamaica's eighth ambassador to the United States. His tenure is expected to last for three years in the first instance. He will replace Seymour Mullings, a former deputy prime minister, who has also been the permanent representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS) since November 2001.
The UWI professor began his career at Alcan Jamaica Limited (now West Indies Alumina Company) as a senior mechanical engineer in 1977. Shortly after his resignation in 1982, he migrated to the United States where, from 1987 to 1991, he served as assistant professor of operations management at the University of California, Los Angeles. He returned to Jamaica to work at the UWI's Mona campus as head of the Department of Management Studies from 1992 to 1997.
Unpaid fees crippling Jamaica local govt too
The mayor of Kingston, Jamaica, Desmond McKenzie has bemoaned the fact that non-payment of fees and licenses to the local Kingston and St. Andrew Councvil (KSAC) has aggravated the financial crisis. He said, "With even 40 per cent of the almost $500 million of revenue that we are losing annually, we could deal with 90 per cent of the problems the municipality faces in terms of roads, gullies, giving people proper sidewalks and providing the kind of sanitary conveniences we need as a city".
Illegal billboards spring up everywhere. He estimates over over 3,500 hairdressers and barbers within the capital city of Kingston are not complying with the law in terms of paying the necessary fees. . People just completely disregard the fees. Ignorance is one of the main reasons so a publicity campaign will be launched to educate everyone about their fee-paying responsibilities. That will be followed by strict enforcement.
Lincoln Phillips runs T&T national soccer team
Our own Columbia, Maryland, USA resident Lincoln Phillips has returned home to T&T to become the technical director of the national soccer team. It marks the homecoming of probably T&Tís finest goalkeeper who left T&T for US to pioneer professional soccer there. He distinguished himself here in the US not only as a player but also as a coach producing national champions in both college at Howard University and in the professional leagues. He has also served as goalkeeper coach for the US national team.
Now he is teamed up with T&Tís head coach Bertille St Clair. It has been an uphill battle with loss recently to Egypt 2-1, a 2-0 victory over Iraq in England, and a 4-1 loss to Scotland also in England. On June 13 they start their World Cup quest in a qualifier against the Dominican Republic.
Similarly Jamaicaís reggae boyz opens against Haiti on June 12 in the US.
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