Gas Tax Riots Break out All Over Jamaica

...burning and a looting tonight....
Jamaica seems to be in deep trouble. Protests against a new gasolene tax have turned violent and threaten to plunge the whole island into chaos,  anarchy, and financial ruin.

The Government established FINSAC in order to rescue the failed private sector banks and restore money to the unhappy depositors. This was accomplished but at great price as FINSAC ran up tremendous losses. The Government turned to taxation to make up these losses. So in the recent budget, a tax increase to raise US$104.8 million was set in place.. Motorists bear the brunt of this increase, estimated to bring in J$2.86 billion from gasolene, diesel and kerosene fuel and another J$174 million from 33% increase in motor vehicle licenses.

All hell breaks loose
Taxi men were the first to protest primarily the increase of US$1.55 to $2 per gallon for gas. They were quickly followed by both opposition parties, Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and National Democratic Movement (NDM). The protests rapidly gained support in parish after parish virtually over the whole island and from all ranks of the society. On Monday April 19, peaceful demonstrations took place island-wide, but many turned violent and riots broke out. They continued and by that Wednesday, protestors had traded gunfire with police, smashed store windows, and blocked streets with flaming debris, garbage, fallen trees etc..In many instances, the police fired shots in the air and tear gas but were overwhelmed. Often they themselves, their vehicles and police stations, became targets of the mobs and had to be assisted by the military. Police reported shootouts, looting and vandalism of businesses especially bad in Kingston and Montego Bay. Schools and businesses had to be closed, multiple barricaded roads manned by protesting crowds snarled traffic and cleared them off the streets. Taxis and buses stopped running. Some cars were even doused with gasolene and stoned as militant protestors accused the drivers of complicity by not joining the shut-down. In Montego Bay, the traffic shutdown caused tourists to miss flights and American Airlines reported one of its flights took off with 50% of its passengers missing.
By Wednesday the violence had subsided, but 7 persons had been killed. In Kingston a protest march by thousands of women from all classes led by the JLP took place without incident. Police guarded clean-up crews have cleared most streets. Some Government Ministers, such as Phillip Paulwell, Portia Simpson-Miller, Dr. Peter Phillips participated in person to clear roads in theor respective constituencies. Hopefully the violence is over, but a lot of damage has been done. Besides, the protests are not over and the JLP has called for a car caravan protet for Sunday (April 25).

The Government who had maintained that the taxes were inevitable has now responded by naming a non-partisan committee to propose methods of minimizing the effects of the tax or seeking alternate methods of raising the funds. Opposition parties and a cross-section of the society continue to call for rollback, but so far no alternate means of finding the money has emerged

It is obvious the ruling government party goofed politically. In 1978, gas price tax hike also resulted in widespread riots and left 9 people dead. This time it seems these gas protests were the fuse which has triggered a seething underlying dissatisfaction with the economic conditions. A general consumption tax or VAT distributes the burden more evenly, but would receive even more widespread public outcry. The more even the distribution of the burden, the more fair. However, the more even the distribution, the more people directly affected, so the more people to be pissed-off. Here in America with its aversion to taxes, tax increase is often disguised as users fees and taken out of government employees salary raises. .

Brink of anarchy
Jamaica seems to be on the brink of anarchy. Civil unrest has been occurring even before this with alarming frequency. Despite the high crime rate, the police, who are so badly needed to protect, are increasingly the target of not just criminals, but groups of ordinary citizens. For police to be effective in battling crime, they must get the cooperation and assistance of citizens. Police Commissioner Forbes has taken steps to eliminate police brutality, but these numerous incidents of police distrust and confrontations are bound to undermine these efforts and severely handicap their crime fighting ability.

Summing up.
These protest have been very costly. Nine lives have been lost. Estimates of between US$269 million to US$375 million. Now the Government will need even more money to pay for it. Another tax for this purpose is unlikely. Respect for police has been eroded. The tourist industry has taken a big hit, with cancellation of cruise ships, airlines and large numbers of hotel rooms. USA and the UK had issued travel advisory, warning their citizens to stay away until order was restored. Repairing that damage will take years as numbers of tourists will now avoid Jamaica. Saddest of all is the fact that political opponents have come up with no viable alternatives to the economic crisis. Furthermore, instead of helping to restore law and order, they seem to be milking the unrest for political gain not only at Government expense but also at the good and well-being of Jamaica.

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Civil Servants' Strikes Cripple Guyana

Here we go again. One again civil disorder and unrest has put the Guyana government under siege. This time it is generated by a strike of civil servants. The union is demanding a 40% wage increase and the Government is offering 3.4%. Over 11,000 civil servants have stayed of their jobs for more than 3 weeks. Services have deteriorated. Union-led demonstrations have turned violent and on one occasion, police used tear gas and pellet guns to quell violence. Seventeen people were injured by these pellets.

General strike
The Trade Union Congress (TUC), an alliance of unions, retaliated to this police action by calling for a 3-day general strike. City council workers of the capital Georgetown joined the strike the following day. The Georgetown main hospital, water supply, garbage collection and other essential services were disrupted. The Government was forced to transfer their hospital patients in intensive care to private hospitals at government expense. About 10,000 people took part in demonstrations in the capital. The general strike lasted 3 days, but the civil servants' strike continued.

Even before independence, unrest, crippling strikes, and violence have been used to topple or destabilize the elected PPP government by its opponents. Is this any different? Not likely.


Unrest in Suriname Too

Another former Guiana is seething with unrest, former Dutch Guiana, now Suriname. On Wednesday May 19, shopkeepers closed their shops as angry gangs roamed the streets of the capital, Paramaribo, demanding that the government resign. Demonstrators blocked entrance to the Parliament. Teachers union had slosed schools in protest. They are demanding the resignation of President Jules Wijdenbosch, whom they blame for the economic crisis.

Like Jamaica, problems began when the Government imposed a 45% gas tax at the begining of the year. Three years ago when the government party won elections, the currency, the Guilder, was trading at 400 to the US dollar. Since then it has plummeted to 2000 to 1. A relative prosperity derived from aid from the Netherlands was cut in 1992 because Suriname refused to turn over its former military dictator , Desi Bouterse. Not only did they not turn him over to the Dutch, but also they made him a prominent advisor to the Government. Protestors blame President Wijdenbosch for this cessation of Dutch aid too. There have been sporadic strike and protests before, but nothing nearly as severe as this


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Trade Agreements, the WTO, and CARICOM

Before free trade, a country would decide: your machinery is a bit more expensive, but you are buying my citrus, so we'll continue to buy your machinery. However, next year you might stop buying my citrus, so we need to sign a long-term agreement to establish some continuity. In other words we need to sign a trade agreement.

Banana trade agreement
Years of colonial exploitation have left the Caribbean poor. Often plantations of these colonies, owned by citizens or corporations of the colonial rulers, exported their agricultural products to the mother country. The banana industry is a case in point and it became the backbone of the economy of several of these Caribbean countries, especially in the eastern Caribbean. It employs large numbers and provides vital foreign capital. This relationship has been embodied in a special regimen or trade agreement over many years between the Caribbean and essentially former colonial powers. European countries, devastated by World War II received special trade benefits under the US devised Marshall Plan. Caribbean countries, devastated by years of colonial exploitation, receive special trade agreements from former colonial masters. Now, this special unique relationship, this Marshall Plan for the West Indies, has been challenged by non-banana-growing USA, on the behalf of Chiquita banana and other American-owned giant corporations. The WTO has capitulated to the US. Under this US attack, even before their final verdict, in the West Indies, banana prices have fallen, foreign banana companies have bolted, and economic devastation face many of these Caribbean countries.

WTO Hands US Banana Victory over WI
America won again. The WTO has ruled that this special historical agreement does not matter. The fact that Caribbean countries may be economically decimated does not matter. So, the West Indies and the European Union have tasted the bitter taste of defeat. This defeat might remove the taste of b ananas from European mouths because of the recent World Trade Organisation ruling. Now this ruling imposes sanctions on the EU in the form of tariffs on certain exports to the US totalling US$192 million.

Tainted Victory
The EU had another bitter pill to swallow, a growth-hormone chocked beef pill. The EU had banned beef from cattle treated with the controversial beef growth hormone used widely in the US. The US challenged the ban and the WTO struck it down forcing this growth-hormone-fed cattle down the throats of the EU. The US continues to win these trade battle despite:

The WTO was formed in 1955 and is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT, which lasted from the end of the second World War to 1995. WTO decisions can only be reversed by a unanimous vote, just as they can only be made that way.

There are 134 members with China and 29 other countries expected to seek entry this year. It serves as the policeman for global trade and its decisions are absolute and every member must abide by its rulings.

To be sure, the WTO is established on the most noble and well-intended principles. The principles include:

The details of how much countries are prepared to cut tariffs and trade barriers, are hammered out at large sessions of talks, so-called trade rounds, of which there have been eight since 1947. Given the large number of members, these are never straight forward affairs with considerable brinkmanship involved.

Of course the WTO advocates free trade big time. However, critics contend that this has encouraged the exploitation of workers in poorer countries. They say that the rich countries have maintained protectionist policies, and that poor countries do not have the type of manufacturing infrastructure to enjoy the benefits of free trade. Regardless, poor countries must go along as the WTO is the only game in town and they cannot risk exclusion or sanctions from this powerful one and only international trade organisation. The US wields superpower influence in every international organisation and I am sure the WTO is no exception.

The WTO has been locked in an impasse on deciding on a President since the term of the last one expired. So much for unanimous. The contenders are Mike Moore, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, land and Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi an economist from Thailand. The US and most European countries back Moore, with Asia backing the Thai. You would think the CARICOM, with similar if not identical trade interests would vote as a block. But no, CARICOM seldom if ever votes as a block and not this time either. Jamaica is bucking the US to back the Thai and Hot Calaloo does not know the position of other CARICOM members at this time. This CARICOM disunity is very disappointing. Just as CARICOM failed to confront "shiprider" as a united block, which made each country susceptible to pressure and even threats, this is probably the case here again. Besides, how can CARICOM be taken seriously or have any influence in the world community if it splinters every time push comes to shove?





Workers Go Without Pay

US Virgin Isles Civil Servants

Serious money woes are not limited to independent Caribbean nations. The US Virgin Islands government recently had to admit that they did not have money to pay its 10,000 workers. The previous Republican government had run up a debt of US$1 billion and in March there was only 2 million in the bank. They had to resort to seeking short-term borrowing to obtain finance to pay checks.

T&T Sugar Estate Too

Trinidad and Tobago's lone sugar estate was unable to pay their temporary and permanent workers for the second time in recent weeks. The 15,000 cane farmers, contractors, and workers threatened strike action, but the company says it did not have the US$3.6 million to pay the workers.

LIAT Can't Pay Too

In Antigua, the acting chairman of LIAT Airlines, the eastern Caribbean company, advised the employees that their month's salaries would be deferred for at least two weeks. In the meantime the airlines sought a EC$10 million loan with the backing of the Antigua and Barbuda Government.


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MacDonalds Answers Critics

Fast food giant, MacDonalds, has come under fire in Jamaica recently for spurning local Jamaican beef for the imported. Although it admitted using imported beef, it claims that it buys the local chicken, which amounts to more than 60% of its sales. There are 11 MacDonalds in Jamaica, which use 27,000 Kg of chicken compared to 7,000 Kg of beef. It claims that its Ironshore, Montego Bay, outlet has the MacDonalds world record for chicken sales. Its chicken supplier, Caribbean Broilers, sells to MacDonalds at 25% less than the competition. Furthermore, in a joint operation with Caribbean Broilers, they export chicken to Suriname, with plans to extend to Aruba, Curacao, and the Dominican Republic. According to their figures, MacDonalds is a 500 employee, billion dollar operation ranked in the top three in the Caribbean. Its spokesman also pointed out that MacDonalds:


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Blue Mountain Coffee in the Red

It is world famous. Some like it black. It is grown in the Blue Mountains. But, it is in the red. Although, Jamaica's world famous Blue Mountain Coffee commands the highest price in the world, and despite a Government overdraft of US$5 million, it is headed for a US$13 million loss this year. It already has a US$26 million liability. Gone are the glory days when it used to bring in US$30 million per year. Once again the Government is expected to come to the rescue of yet another private enterprise, this time the Coffee Industry board. Let us hope the Government has as much success as it has with its intervention in the sugar industry. The Government took back the bankrupt sugar estates from privatisation. They have flourished this year, although sugar price on the world market is at record lows.


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Bermuda gov't buckles

A hotel manager in Bermuda is holding a renewed work permit after a threat by the inn's owner Friday to close it forced government to sign the documentation. The Gazette newspaper reported that a representative of Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid Bin Sultan flew into the island. He threatened to close his Elbow Beach Hotel after learning that the manager's papers were being stalled owing to dissatisfaction with his administrative style. It is believed that government buckled at the prospect of losing another major hotel after the Marriott Castle Harbour Resort last week announced closure for refurbishment in November.


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Microsoft/Jamaica Partnership

Jamaica's Minister of Commerce and Technology, Phillip Paulwell, has revealed a bold innovative plan to establish Jamaica firmly on the electronic superhighway. The plan seeks to train some 50,000 programmers. The medium term plan is for 5,000.

Jamaica is seeking private sector and overseas partners to finance this J$40 billion plan over 10 years to develop information technology (IT) as a main sector of the economy. A quarter of the funds will go into setting up 10 informatics parks islandwide, starting with Portmore ($800m), as well as call centres and technology institutes in major towns to train programmers. The long-term plan seeks to train some 50,000 programmers, with 5,000 in the short term.

The plan also includes a partnership between Jamaica and computer giant, Microsoft. A stumbling block for the training by Microsoft has been removed, as the Jamaica Parliament has recently amended and strengthened its copyright and intellectual property rights laws.

Programmers are in short supply world-wide, with the United States alone having a 300,000 to 400,000 need. Malaysia, which is developing a $20 billion information technology revealed during the G-15 Trade Exhibition in February that it had an immediate need for 20,000.

Jamaica is now selling itself as a training centre for software programmers, having successfully established its first Caribbean Institute of Technology (CIT) under partnership with INDUSA Global Services and the universities of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and Furman in the US.

The first CIT began operating in Montego Bay on February 8, 1999, with 56 students. These students will qualify after 10 months to work in the US, UK and Jamaica. It costs US$6,000 to train each programmer, but the course is heavily subsidised with students paying only one-third of the cost.

INDUSA president, James Ram, said the CIT has complementary plans to develop a new concept called "near shore programming". CIT graduates are ensured jobs by INDUSA.

The next institute opens in Kingston in August. It took US$500,000 to set up the MoBay CIT and its first year of operation will cost its partners US$1 million, said chairman Allister Cooke. Cooke is also chairman of HEART/NTA which along with the University of the West Indies, Mona, and the Montego Bay Free Zone, are the Jamaican partners in the CIT.

The MoBay Institute will remain the central point for the program, but the Kingston facility will be bigger and take a larger investment.


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Murder/Suicide at Trinidad PM's Residence

Corporal Anthony Caesar, a member of the regiment assigned to guard T&T?s Prime Minister Basdeo Panday's official residence, shot to death Comptroller of the prime minister's household, Commander Noel Penco. Caesar also shot and wounded assistant Secretary Heather Hiltshire who had to be hospitalised, before killing himself. Prime Minister Panday cut short his state visit to Costa Rica to return home because of the murder/suicide.


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T&T Economy Grows

The Trinidad and Tobago economy continues to grow despite falling oil prices. In 1998 it grew by 5% compared to 3.2% in 1997. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) says the increase in gross domestic product for the 5th consecutive year is due mainly to strong performance in the petroleum, construction, manufacturing and tourism industries. This growth pattern is expected to continue this year.

3rd World Debt

The World Bank has classified 41 countries as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs). These countries owe about US$220 billion in foreign debt. Some countries pay up to US$2 million per day in repayments. As you can imagine very little remains to provide essential services, necessary maintenance and the other responsibilities of Government.



World Cup Cricket

The World Cup cricket competition is underway in England. The West Indies and teams representing 11 countries are competing in this auspicious event. The teams are divided into Group A and Group B.


Group A World Cup favorites, South Africa topped Group A, followed by next round qualifiers, India and Zimbabwe. Notables eliminated are defending champs Sri Lanka and hosts England.
The West Indies are hanging on to 3rd place in Group B. The only undefeated team in the competition, Pakistan , has won the Group. Australia and the WI have equal points, but Australia is ahead on account of faster run rate. New Zealand has a chance for the same points if they win their remaining game, and with a victory and a faster run rate they could edge the WI out of the last qualifying position.

Results of WI games so far are as follows:

May 16 - Pakistan 229/8; WI 202
May 21 - Bangladesh 182; WI 183/3
May 24 - New Zealand 156; WI 158/3
May 27 - Scotland 68; WI 70/2
May 30 - WI 110; Australia 111/4

Flash - West Indies were eliminated in the last match as New Zeland edged them by clobbering Scotland at a faster run rate than the WI.

Mixed Fortunes for Reggae Boys

Norway was very inhospitable to the reggae boys, the Jamaica national soccer team, on their opening game of their 3 game European tour. They trounced them 6-0, In the second game the Reggae Boys beat English First Division team West Bromwich 1-0. They lost the final game to Sweden by 2-1.


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US Bombings Enrages Puerto Rico  even more

No, not in Kosovo, but in Puerto Rico. The US Navy has been using Vieques island just east of the main island of Puerto Rico for live bombing exercises. In 1940 the Navy took over two-thirds of the 22-mile-long island for these live ammunition military exercises, and displaced more than 3,000 people, about half of the population then. Today the population of 9,300 is sandwiched in a 6-mile strip which the Navy does not occupy. Recently the population was reduced by 1. This one was killed by one of two 500 pound bombs which strayed one and a half miles off course.

The bombings have enraged Puerto Ricans for years and this anger has risen to a boiling point now. A 9-person delegation representing all three Puerto Rican political parties toured the site by helicopter. Although, they represented the full spectrum of pro-statehood to anti-statehood parties, they were unanimous in their condemnation of the live bombing.

"Never have I seen such a deficiency of land use as has been perpetrated for decades in Vieques" in the words of the pro-statehood Secretary of State. This was the reaction to seeing the battered observation post where the death occurred, the beaches littered with unexploded bombs and an almost dried up lagoon.

Despite the revulsion of the Puerto Ricans, the bombings will probably continue as the US Navy contends it needs the range because it is the only Atlantic training ground where the US military forces can simultaneously bomb, shell, and stage amphibious landings. Vieques has been the training ground for every military engagement since World War II, and yes, including the present Kosovo bombings.


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Caribbean Apathy and Priorities

Caribbean organisations still struggle to increase membership. So many people just love to criticize Caribbean politicians and even officials of Caribbean organisations, but cast the cold shoulder on Caribbean issues, issues so vital to the Caribbean.

Occasionally, I host a Caribbean radio talk show. When the subject is music, sports, or some personal interest, etc., I get lots of call-ins. On serious subjects like "shiprider", the banana trade war, so few calls come in that I have to ask "Where are they?

On June 5, the Jamaica Association of Maryland (JAM) is staging an all-day forum on "Jamaica's Social and Economic Development for the Next Millennium" in Baltimore, Md. Numbers of people should be enthusiastically looking forward to participate. I hope I don't have to ask "Where are they?"  

The National Coalition of Caribbean Associations (NCOCA) and the National Association of Jamaican Supportive Organisations (NAJASO )are able to get numbers of people to their conventions for the grand balls, but crucial forums on vital Caribbean issues are almost embarassingly sparsely attended. "Where are they? Whe dem deh? "

Overseas Caribbean people number almost as much as those at home. They are financially better off, better educated, many loaded with expertise, experience, and are highly respected professionals in their fields, with a professed love for the land of their birth. But, at these forums, "Whe dem deh, rasta? Ah whe dem deh? Whe ?"


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Cuba sends Jamaica water buffaloes

Fidel Castro, a true fan of water buffalo milk, has sent Jamaica's Governor General seven of the animals. The buffaloes - one male and six females - were flown from Cuba last week and are now in quarantine at the Ministry of Agriculture's Veterinary Services Division in Kingston. Gov. General Howard Cooke said he and Castro discussed milk during Castro's visit last year. "President Castro told me that he drank buffalo milk and it was better than cow's milk, and he wanted me to taste the difference," Cooke said. He said two Cuban experts are in Jamaica to help veterinarians with the buffaloes while they are quarantined for two weeks, a standard procedure for imported cattle.


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Hot Calaloo Newsletter Days Are Numbered

The end is near. After the December 1999 edition, the Hot Calaloo newsletter will join so many other Caribbean publications in extinction. The subscriber base just has not expanded to justify continuation of the publication. But, it will not completely die. It will continue to live on the Internet World Wide Web as an e-zine (electronic magazine)
I hate to see it go. It was very gratifying to receive many glowing comments on the newsletter. However, the greatest disappoitment is the failure to really connect with Caribbean organisations, in which I offered to incorporate their organisation news and announcements with Hot Calaloo's in a custom newsletter for the respective organisations. Even though the price would be less than the organisation producing their own newaletter, not even one accepted the offer. Instead most organisations continue with no regular newsletter, or an infrequent and poor quality product, or none at all. So remember to check us out on the web at


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Whales Beached in Trinidad

Within the last month, as many as 5 whales beached in Trinidad. Marine officiby this strange phenomenon. In the latest incident, a 10-foot pilot whale was found stuck in mud in an inlet of Galeota Point, about 400 meters from open water. The whales migrate annually through waters just off the Trinidad coast and investigators speculate that these five must have been disoriented somehow.

Miss Universe Crowned in T&T

All eyes were on T&T as it hosted the Miss Universe beauty pagent, T&T took advantage of the world spotlight too make an impressive display of the country and iots culture.The 1998 Miss Universe , T&T's Wendy Fitzwilliams performed here final duty as queen by crowning the 1999 champion. Although, Nicole Dwyer, the 1999 Miss T&T won the best national costume competition, the judges awaded the Miss Universe tittle to Mis Botswana.
As probably the premier beauty contest in the world, it drew tremendous international press and TV coverage. Conspicuosly absent from any coverage was the Baltimore Sun newspaper. Many T&T and other Caribbean subscribers were angered by this apparent slight and even threaten to cancel subscriptions to the paper.

Air Jamaica Baby

A pregnant woman became pregnant no more as she gave birth to a baby boy on an Air Jamaica flight from Jamaica to the Bahamas. No doctors were on board, so delivery was done by a flight attendant and other women. The plane turned around and returned to Jamaica with its new passenger, Phillip Andrew, named after the pilot and the chief flight attendant, Andrea

Barbados Turtles Dwindling

Barbados sea turtle population is dwindling, The actual numbers is unknown but the decrease is evident. One of the main culprits for the decline is the the destruction of their nesting sites by development. Curious tourists and locals also inadvertently disturb the nesting process.


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More Reparations

This time 15 German companies have pledged to set up a reparations program for tens of thousands of workers subjected to forced labor in Nazi German World War II prison camps. In these camps they provided labor for many German companies. The US has played a big role in setting up this program.

But none for the kidnapping and enslavement of black people for years and bringing prosperity to nations!.


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