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cover River Woman by Donna Hemans ... $16.10
  The Rio Minho in Jamaica provides much more than a setting for this potent, accomplished debut by Jamaican-born Donna Hemans.


cover  For the Life of Laetitia by Trinidad -born Merle Hodge  Price: $10.54
a wonderful book about a young girl in the Carribean, the first of her family to go to secondary school.



October 2003

 WTO talks in Cancun collapse

At Cancun, Kyong Hae Lee led a contingent of 200 poor Korean farmers among the international protestors. Around his neck he wore a sign saying “WTO kills farmers”. “Dismantle the WTO” he joined the chant and then in the ultimate protest he plunged a knife into his heart and died. His supreme sacrifice got little media coverage, but let us not forget Kyong Hae Lee.

Poor countries stood their ground and did not capitulate to the rich and powerful US and the EU forcing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Cancun  to collapse. An increasingly powerful alliance of poor but populous farming nations – known as the G21-plus - emerged as the major opposition to the U.S. and European positions. The group represents most of the world's population and includes China, India, Indonesia and Brazil. Many poor countries accused the United States and Europe of trying to bully poor nations into accepting trade rules they didn’t want.

Developing country members refused to accept the EU's demand to expand the WTO by including negotiations on new issues including investment, government procurement, trade facilitation, and competition, before addressing trade issues which resulted in the collapse of the talks.

The WTO has been dominated by the US and the EU in the past. However protests like those dramatic ones at WTO meeting in Seattle a few years ago has turned the spotlights on these powers and no more will they be allowed to make secret backdoor deals without listening to the rest of the world.

The US was angered by the collapse and the failure to prevail as usual. They threatened retaliation by moving towards showing preference to organizations like the FTAA. In other words since they failed to dominate the WTO they will concentrate on the FTAA which will put the Caribbean in the spotlight. Lets hope these leaders maintain their WTO stance and do not capitulate here.

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Guyana caves in to US extortion

It is extortion, nothing less. US President George Bush is demanding that the US should be immune from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Let us be absolutely clear about this demand. This means that every country in the world could be tried for war crimes except the USA. Except the USA, which has:

  • invaded more countries than any other country

  • overthrown more heads of government than any other country

  • currently invaded Iraq based on lies about weapons of mass destruction, dropping 2000-pound bunker-busting bombs in residential neighborhoods, and killing thousands

Once again CARICOM solidarity has fizzled. The US reprisals against CARICOM countries which did not support its demand that the US be immune to the ICC has worked. Now Guyana has bolted the CARICOM position to announce that they will sign a bilateral agreement not to surrender Americans for trial to the ICC. The country receives U.S. military training and equipment, which it uses to combat drug trafficking. President Jagdeo has said he would sign the agreement in order to continue receiving military training and equipment from Washington. Other CARICOM countries are expected to follow.

"I need the military cooperation with the U.S. to continue, it's as clear as that," Mr. Jagdeo has said.

Editors Comment: The ICC is a farce and every other international organization from the UN down in which the US is a member. If the US can bully and extort votes quite openly, what integrity can these organizations possibly have?

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Caribbean leaders to breakfast with Bush

Caribbean leaders will be given their orders personally by President-select George Bush as he has "invited" (summoned) them to breakfast with him. Mr. Bush is slated to meet with Guyana's President, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo; St Lucia's Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony; The Bahamas' Prime Minister, Mr. Pierre Christie, and Grenada's Prime Minister, Mr. Keith Mitchell. Jamaica's Prime Minister, Mr. P. J. Patterson, will miss the meeting. Surprisingly, Mr. Patterson did not drop everything and rush to accept the White House summons, for which it would not surprise me that he will suffer some severe US reprisal.

The CARICOM participants are under the impression that the meeting will focus on combating drug-trafficking, the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the waiver of prosecutions against Americans before the International Criminal Court. Guess again. The timing of the meeting just after the collapse of the Cancun WTO talks is no coincidence. It is US arm-twisting time again. The undermining of the proud stand taken by poor countries against the US and the EU in Cancun will be the real agenda. And, just as Guyana has caved in to US on the ICC, the CARICOM leaders at that meeting will probably cave in on the FTAA. The US will impose its rules on the FTAA, CARICOM leaders will submit and any advantage or solidarity poor countries gained at the WTO Cancun talks, will begin to unravel. It would be nice if CARICOM could maintain their integrity and sovereignty, but their poverty and dependence on the US makes them easy prey. I wish it were a prayer breakfast, because against the US might and intimidation, CARICOM doesn’t have a prayer!

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Jamaica can’t give away teachers' scholarships

Jamaica’s teaching problems are not getting any easier. As overseas recruiters descend on the island to spirit away their teachers with the promise of big bucks, which teachers do you think are the prime targets? Yes, science and mathematics teachers. So, these are lost in the greatest numbers and in turn creates the greatest local need. Even before the recruitment, shortages in this field existed.

So, the Government provides for 30 scholarships to be offered each year to persons wanting to pursue degrees in Mathematics and Science at the University of the West Indies (Mona). A single scholarship includes full payment of tuition, maintenance and a book grant, amounting to more than $170,000 per year. At the end of study the students will be bonded for three years to teach in a public school. However, on several occasions only half the number is actually taken up. So they are not getting in enough and they are losing the best veterans in the profession.

The inevitable shortage in these fields is reflected in the poor school-leaving Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exam results. Over the last five years passes in mathematics and sciences (Biology, Physics and Chemistry) averaged between 29 and 45 per cent. Of course since recruitment takes the best teachers not only in science and mathematics, the last CXC results show decline in English Language, Geography and other key subjects too. Educators are becoming more alarmed at this disturbing trend which saw declines in pass-rate of 15.5% in geography, and 11% in English.

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St. Lucia's PM in hospital in New York

Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony was detained in a New York hospital after complaining of severe headaches and high fever. A statement from Kings County Hospital Center subsequently said the Prime Minister was in stable condition and barring no complications, was due to be released soon. Dr. Anthony, who had travelled to New York last week for a breakfast meeting with United States President George Bush and to address the United Nations General Assembly, had remained in New York for a series of meetings.

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Caribbean Court delayed to early next year

Chairman of the Preparatory Committee of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Mia Mottley says Caribbean countries will have to look at early next year as a possible date for the establishment of the CCJ. Miss Motley, who is the Attorney General of Barbados, says the aim is to avoid a large hiatus between the court's inauguration and its operation by ensuring that all arrangements related to its establishment were finalised.

The CCJ, which will be headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago, will replace the London-based Privy Council as the region's final court of appeal.

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Debt collection and theft crippling utility companies in Jamaica

Thieves and deadbeats are killing the water and power companies of Jamaica by running up unpaid bills in the millions of dollars. These deadbeats range from poor homeowner, police stations, Government schools and libraries, entire communities and rich powerful housing scheme developers and owners of major apartment complexes.

Water - Jamaica National Commission (NWC)
Chaka Demus and Pliers exclaim in their big hit "Murder She wrote, "Gal, yuh nuh pay me water rate!". Well it seems lots of Jamaicans "nuh pay dem water rate".

The NWC has begun fighting back to collect the massive arrears in water bills. Three months ago, the company reported that 8 companies owed more than J$3 million which has grown to a lot more by now. The NWC recently petitioned the courts to seize and sell the property of several customers to settle the massive debts owed to it. The courts have already ordered the valuation of two properties and some 30 others are being petitioned.

As if bad debts are not bad enough, but in addition the water is being stolen by illegal hook-ups. And not just by the little man, but the NWC reports that certain major developers of housing schemes have been suspected of stealing water big time and are on the list for prosecution. Besides NWC has also got to work hard to protect its workers who have been shot at, assaulted and locked into premises.

Penalties have increased. Formerly, persons found guilty of illegally connecting to NWC mains were fined up to $10,000 or jailed for a term not exceeding 12 months or subjected to both fine and imprisonment. Fines have now been increased to between $250,000 and $500,000.

Of course the NWC has instituted lock-off of many delinquent users. Caught in the snares of lock-offs was it seems the entire community of the colorful name, Gimme-Me-Bit. This included the local high and primary schools which forced closing one of the schools one day because of no water for students use. These schools have made do by using water from old concrete water storage tanks but students suffer hardships including flushing toilets with buckets of water. After 10 days of the lock-off, the Gimme-Me-Bit residents protested angrily demanding "Gimme-me-water", with many including the school claiming that they had paid their bills and that conditions were getting desperate.

Electricity - Jamaica Public Service Company
Jamaica’s electric power company, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo), estimates it is losing almost 20 per cent of its revenue to electricity thieves both residential and commercial. The company which lost some US$20 million within a 12-month period last year alone, has renewed its crackdown on electricity thieves island-wide. Ironically the recently privatized company is owned by the big powerful multinational company Mirant which filed for Capter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US recently. (See Hot Calaloo August 2003 update Privatised JPSCO hits a big bump.) JSPCO’s response:

  • it will be removing illegal connections of both commercial and residential customers

  • it would turn to the police for help in volatile communities

  • It is stepping up its awareness programs through the media and its community representatives to impress upon citizens the importance of being legal customers.

Some problem communities include Flankers and Norwood in St. James, and Majesty Gardens and Allman Town in Kingston. In March, the JPSCo disconnected more than 150 illegal connections in Allman Town in Kingston.

Libraries owe for electricity and phone too
The Jamaica Postmaster has admitted that many post offices had lost either electricity or phone services due to non-payment of bills. Only four post offices have been affected by the electricity cuts due to what the Postmaster describes as the 'generosity' of the JPSCO. However many post offices have been inconvenienced by cut in phone services, including the Central Sorting Office where workers cannot make outgoing calls although they can receive calls.

The post offices were unable to pay these bills due to a shortage of funds. The shortage resulted from the inadequacy in the $751 million allocation from the national budget compared with the approximately $1 billion, the Post Master General said, is needed for the service to operate efficiently.

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CTO wants governments to stand firm on cruise ship tax

The battle is on again for Caribbean regions to impose a head tax on cruise ship passengers in Caribbean ports. The cruise ships are balking once again. Hopefully, this time will be different. It depends on something very elusive in CARICOM, a united stand.

The Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Jean Holder, has called on regional governments to stand firm to their position on the introduction of a US20-dollar levy on the cruise sector.  Mr. Holder also sharply criticised the cruise sector for its operations, labeling it as 'a foreign private sector oligopoly' which has been allowed to make great use of the Caribbean's natural resources for considerable profit without making a fair contribution to the development of the region. The cruise ships are floating hotels which are driving regular hotels into the ground. These hotels contribute much more to the respective countries even though they make substantially less profits than the cruise ships.

Caribbean governments are yet to approve the decision arrived at by regional tourism ministers for the introduction of a US$20 head tax as part of measures to create a sustainable development fund for the region. The cruise lines claim this tax will make the region uncompetitive. However, Mr. Holder counters that United States government has imposed a US$42 charge for every ticket sold for air travel out of the country, while taxes on tickets from Europe represent about 30 per cent of the cost.

Without a united stand this head tax has no chance as the cruise ship industry will do as it did the last time. They will strike deals with individual countries for less, take their business there and the whole unified $20 head tax issue will collapse.

Unfortunately, Caribbean countries talk a good game of unity, but put a little stress on them and it is "every man for himself".

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Jamaica sugar problems are not sweet

"Carrying coals to Newcastle", but obviously Newcastle ain’t what it used to be….

Do you know that the largest sugar producer in the CARICOM is Jamaica? Do you know that the largest agricultural industry in Jamaica is sugar? Do you know that for the last two years Jamaica has had to import sugar? As much as 16,336 tons were imported to make up for the shortfall in production in 2002, while in 2001, 14,826 tons were imported. By the end of August this year (2003), 24,000 tons of sugar have been imported with an additional 10,000 tons expected before the end of the year to meet current demand.

The sugar shortage to meet the immediate needs in Jamaica became so severe that it created a crisis in the baking industry. An emergency shipment was needed. Such a shipment came from Columbia, but bakers and retailers had to wait over two weeks as it remained on the Kingston docks awaiting special clearance papers from CARICOM. Any commodity imported from a non-CARICOM country which is produced by CARICOM is subject to a 40% duty or Common External Tariff (CET). Apparently no other CARICOM country had sugar to sell (primarily Guyana) so a waiver by CARICOM of the 40% CET was sought, and that was the paperwork which held up the shipment in customs.

Besides that problem, the local industry was able to meet its European Union quota of 126,000 tons, but failed, for the first time, to fulfill its US obligation of 11,580 tons. The overall sugar production fell by 12.7 per cent over last year's dismal figures of 174,840, to a new low of 152,568, the lowest in 60 years.

Industry analysts have cited poor farming practices and the flood rains which adversely affected the agriculture industry in the latter months of last year as reasons for the dismal production results. In some cases, the fields were under water for over a week, the cane couldn't be reaped, and they eventually died.

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"Legalize it" under consideration in Antigua

Antigua's Prime Minister Lester Bird today announced that his government is seriously considering legislation to legalize ganja for religious purposes. According to Mr. Bird some provision should be made where religious practices conflict with the law, such as the use by Rastafarians of ganja in their religious rites. He said there was good medical evidence that the use of ganja might be one of the better medications for certain medical conditions. However, the Prime Minister said that the Courts must deal firmly with those who engage in the business of drug trafficking.

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Two more Jamaican industries dying

The grim parade of Jamaican industries marching towards their death continues. The new two are the garment industry and the cement industry.

Garment industry
SEVERAL LOCAL garment manufacturers have lost lucrative contracts valued at millions of dollars as more corporate firms ask overseas companies to make and supply uniforms for their employees. Not only have a number of banks and business corporations disdain local manufacturers to import uniforms but so also does the Bank of Jamaica and Government agencies. Tales of woe abound. Everywhere the complaint of local manufacturers is the same. "There is no business. The business is dead and about to be buried."

Many of the companies that are now importing claim that local manufacturers have not been able to meet the expectations of the multimillion-dollar uniform deals because the imports were better quality, cheaper and were delivered on time.

Local manufacturers:

  • disputed the quality difference. I for one have long been aware that Jamaican products, like prophets, are without honour in their own country.

  • complained of the tremendous handicap to keep up technologically because of the high cost to borrow money from the ridiculously-high-rates lending institutions in Jamaica.

  • Complained about the lack of help from the government.

  • Complained of the high cost to import raw material and the high inventory of unsold uniforms.

Editor’s Comments: It is inexcusable for the Government of Jamaica to be importing uniforms from overseas and contributing to the bankruptcy of local manufacturers. Right here in the mighty USA, in most states, on highway projects by law only US manufactured steel may be used on construction and maintenance projects. It is obvious that Jamaica cannot allow imports to cripple local industries one by one. The Government and the highly visible Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) had better get their heads together to come up with a solution. Once again I think Hot Calaloo’s Partnership With People (PWP) is the way to go on this too.

Cement Industry
CARIBBEAN CEMENT Company (CCC), the only local producer of cement and the dominant domestic market supplier, has officially asked the Government for protection from growing foreign competition. The cement producer is asking that the Government shield the domestic industry for three years by erecting barriers to imports. The company has been fighting to stave off imports over the past four years.

Carib Cement wants to use the time to modernise its Rockfort, east Kingston plant under a US$80 million-$100 million plan. Without the safeguards, the company says that size investment will not take place. With the safeguards, on the other hand, Jamaica will be guaranteed cheaper cement after three years.

Last year, Carib Cement produced 614,000 tons of cement, imported an added 12,000 and sold a total 620,000 tons earning $3.7 billion from sales and making $374.8 million in net profits in the process, $80 million more than the year prior. It also produced 532,000 tons of clinker and imported over 53,000 tons.

But the price of local cement has come in for strong criticism, most recently from Kingsley Thomas, chairman of the National Housing Trust, who charged that Carib Cement's prices were 300 per cent higher than prices outside the region. Carib Cement have filed 2 anti-dumping cases against cement from Thailand and Indonesia. At present, imports are through 2 companies which obtain hundreds of thousands of tons of cement mainly from Egypt.

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T&T chicken producers charged with exploiting tariff

This is a switch. The Trinidad and Tobago government had established a tariff to protect chicken producers from imports. But when local chicken prices rose over 100% in less than 8 months for no apparent reason, T&T’s Cabinet ordered the producers to reduce their prices. They followed up that order by voting to remove the tariffs and import duties until poultry farmers roll back their prices.

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Johnny Cash leaves money for Jamaica children’s home

The ‘Man in Black’, legendary country and western singer, Johnny Cash, died on September 12, 2003 of respiratory failure. He was 71. His family announced he left behind money to be donated to the SOS Children’s Village near his home in Jamaica. He is reported to have not only contributed to the children’s home before but took a keen interest in it even performing for the children there.

About 70 children live at the village by Cash's Jamaican home, and another village near Kingston has 120 children there. Johnny and his wife, June Carter Cash, last visited the village in the winter. June Carter Cash died in May, and the Rollins family made a donation to the village in her memory. Cash had bought his home from the Rollins, a Delaware family , that had introduced him to Jamaica.

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Damani Ralph burning up MSL

The obvious choice for the US Major League Soccer (MLS) Rookie-of-the year is Jamaican Damani Ralph. He plays along with Reggae Boy Andy Williams for the league leading Chicago Fire. His 11 goals make him a contender for leading scorer. But, he is not satisfied and neither am I. Jamaica has failed to invite him to join the Reggae Boyz roster and they are hurting for goal-scoring forwards. What are they possibly waiting for? Let us hope Jamaica comes to its senses and puts Ralph in the starting line-up for the match with a star-studded Brazil team in England on October 10.

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Hurricane Fabian pounds Bermuda

Hurricane Fabian pounded Bermuda with 120 mph winds for more than 5 hours. It was the worst hurricane to hit the island in 50 years and left 4 persons dead and millions of dollars in damages. Two ships from Britain's Royal Navy Atlantic Patrol Task Force were travelling to the tiny island, to offer their assistance, but Premier Alex Scott surprisingly says the offer was politely declined. According to Reuters, the ships turned back, as the wealthy British dependency indicated that the help was not necessary. Wow!

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Jamaica’s first toll road opens

MORE THAN 11,000 Jamaican motorists traveled on newly opened section of Phase 1(a) of Highway 2000 between Bushy Park, St. Catherine, and Sandy Bay, Clarendon, on the toll road's first day of operation. Highway 2000 officials seemed pleased with the response but some motorists avoiding the toll road have created traffic jams on alternate routes not able to handle that volume of traffic.

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