Monday, January 26, 2015

Martelly steadfast in his denial of Haitian democracy

Originally posted by:
January 26, 2015

Since Michel Martelly came to power in an election which was deeply fraught with inconsistencies and irregularities in early 2011, he has demonstrated his contempt for the democratic process by consistently subverting elections for domestic posts within Haiti at every available opportunity.

After a string of delays, on October 26, 2014, the Haitian people were supposed to vote for 20 new Senators, the entire lower house of parliament and numerous local officials. It did not happen. As a result, this means that the Haitian Senate and lower house is no longer functional, and when it comes to mayoral elections, 130 have been politically appointed over several years by the President as “municipal agents”.

The fallout from the crisis eventually led to Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe stepping down on December 14, amid intense anti-government protest. Under Lamothe questions have also been raised about widespread fraud, as significant amounts of money have disappeared under his and Martelly’s watch.

Replacing Lamothe is the former mayor of Port au Prince, Evans Paul. According to the Haitian constitution, the Prime Minister must be approved by the Parliament – which has since dissolved as of January 12. For all intents and purposes it appeared that Martelly was going to begin a period of rule by decree.

On January 16, Martelly kept true to his unconstitutional pattern of behaviour and used his executive powers to appoint what he has termed a “consensus government”. Announcing the new government via Facebook, it is dominated by pro-Martelly appointments – leading many to question what consensus Martelly had in mind.

Among Martelly’s appointments are Carel Alexandre, as the new head of public security – who was removed from his post in 2012 due to pressure from human rights groups. The new planning minister, Yves Germain Joseph, was a senior official with the Duvalier regime. Simon Desras, the former Senate president stated that “There is not a real opening as promised… This isn’t solving the crisis and, worst, it’s bringing more problems.”

In an address to the nation Martelly tried his hand at political humour, stating that “The weakness of our institutions and in particular the failure of the … legislature, cannot and should not last. It is urgent to correct these deficiencies as soon as possible because the big loser in this crisis remains our Haitian nation.” The fact that he had been responsible for repeatedly delaying elections and undermining numerous government institutions seemed lost on Martelly.

On the same day that the “consensus government” was announced, US Vice President Joe Biden called Martelly. Given the increased investment in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, in which over US$10 billion was pledged, it would have been natural to expect greater scrutiny of the government’s action. This was not the case.

A press release from the White House stated that “The Vice President commended President Martelly for his efforts to reach a negotiated agreement with the Haitian parliament and political parties to allow Haiti to hold elections… The Vice President recognized that President Martelly made several important concessions in order to reach consensus, and expressed disappointment that Haiti’s Parliament did not pass an electoral law before lapsing on January 12.”

The message of support and sickening praise from Vice President Biden shouldn’t surprise many familiar with Haiti’s history, as the international community’s relationship with Haiti has been dominated by inconsistencies and hypocrisy.

The 2010 elections were the first to be held in post-earthquake Haiti, with many commentators considering them to be most important in Haiti’s history. Despite the fact that fourteen political parties were banned from participating in the election, the international community gave the process their stamp of approval – in addition to footing the bill. It was clear that whoever emerged out of this deeply flawed exercise, fraught with irregularities would have to submit to the demands of the numerous international investors and governments which were leading the neocolonial reconstruction process.

While the United States did warn Martelly that US$300 million in aid would be withheld if elections were not held back in April, Vice President Biden was much more conciliatory than his predecessors when it came to Haiti. While one should be wary of international pressure, sanction and intervention, the fact is that it is never implemented consistently.

Contrast this to the very vocal warnings given to the Preval and Aristide administrations after legislative and presidential elections in the year 2000 by both the United States and Canada. In January 2001, after the opposition boycotted the November 2000 presidential elections, the European Union cut off US$100 million in aid to Haiti.

During the May 2000 legislative elections – which the opposition had boycotted largely for economic and ideological reasons – there was a consolidation of Fanmi Lavalas’ control over local and national government, with clear majorities in the Chamber of Deputies (72 out of 83 seats) and nearly two thirds of 7,500 local positions. This led Orlando Marville, the chief of the Organization of American States mission in Haiti to remark that there were no grounds to challenge the validity of the vote, “Although deplorable, they were isolated incidents and cannot affect the results in any definitive manner”.

The United States quickly followed up by blocking US$500M of development loans to the country which played a major role in destabilizing the Aristide administration leading up to the 2004 coup (orchestrated and carried out by the United States, Canada and France). The International Community’s issue with Haiti was due to the methodology in which the votes were counted. Compare this to the soft reaction to Martelly’s outright refusal to hold elections for 3 years.

Without a doubt organizing legislative and senatorial elections will take time – and the date for the 2015 Presidential election has not been announced. It could very well be that Martelly is strategizing for an exit plan – as according to the Haitian constitution he cannot run for two consecutive terms. A major reason why elections have been repeatedly postponed is because a functioning democratic system in Haiti would allow for Martelly, his administration and his immediate family to be held accountable for the numerous accusations and allegations of fraud, financial mismanagement and political repression.

Arguably without the backing of the United States and the occupying forces of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Martelly’s administration would not have lasted this long. The international community was quick to rush in to Haiti after the earthquake, only to leave in place a political disaster which has created more scandals than schools, more pillaging than progress.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Black men face police violence north of the border too

Originally Posted on:
December 30, 2014

No doubt the names Michael Brown and Eric Garner ring a bell for people who follow current events. Both men were murdered by police in the United States, with grand juries declining to indict the officers responsible.

These displays of police impunity led to widespread protest throughout North America. Indeed, outrage north of the border led several thousand Torontonians to loudly demonstrate outside the U.S. consulate to denounce the Michael Brown verdict.

But what about Jermaine Carby?

Likely most Canadians have not heard of this young man’s untimely death, though his murder by Peel Regional Police parallels the better known case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The response to the deaths of local, unarmed black men such as Carby has not been comparable to the outrage and mobilization triggered by incidents south of the border. This needs to change now.

The death of Jermaine Carby

On the night of Sep. 24, Jermaine Carby was shot and killed by Peel police during a traffic stop in Brampton, Ontario. Carby was riding in a black Jetta that was pulled over near Queen and Kennedy. Within moments the officer had activated an emergency switch, calling for backup.

Eyewitnesses reported that Carby exited the car with his hands up, in what can only be assumed to be an attempt to show the police officers that he was unarmed and not a threat. As one eyewitness stated to CP24, “He had his hands up… saying ‘What?’ to the cops and he started walking towards them.” She added, “As I drove by, I didn’t get to look back but I just heard gunshots, like five gun shots.” It has also been reported that Carby’s lifeless body was handcuffed by police.

Richard Applebee, another eyewitness who spoke to CP24, heard police tell Carby to drop a knife but did not see a weapon in Carby’s hands. “He walked slowly towards them with both arms stretched,” Applebee remarked. “I was too far to see a knife. It might have been small.”

To date, the officer involved in the shooting has not been named, and information on the shooting has been scarce. Carby’s family and their legal counsel have asked for any evidence revealing that Carby was armed at the time of his death, as well as the identity of the driver of the vehicle and the driver’s current whereabouts, but these requests for information have been repeatedly denied.

In another parallel to the case of Michael Brown, instead of focusing on releasing information pertaining to the case, the media have released Jermaine Carby was posthumously subjected to a slew of negative information about Carby’s his past in an attempt to justify the actions of the officers.
But at the time of Carby’s interaction with the police, his identity was unknown; he died as a “John Doe” at the hospital. He was a young black man who was murdered by the Peel police.

Civilian oversight requires civilians

In Ontario, the Special Investigations Unit becomes active in incidents where the police are involved in the death of a civilian. Led by Paul Dempsey, the SIU was immediately called to the scene of Carby’s death.

Established in 1990 as an arm’s-length criminal investigative agency tasked with investigating alleged police misconduct in Ontario, the SIU is intended to be a civilian agency on paper, but in reality is staffed largely by former police officers and judges, who have proven to be incredibly reluctant to press charges in cases related to deaths, assaults and sexual assaults carried out by police. In 2010, the Toronto Star wrote that “Ontario's criminal justice system heavily favours police and gives officers breaks at every turn — from the SIU, which hardly ever charges officers, to prosecutors, juries and judges.”

André Marin, the Ontario ombudsman, released a report in 2011 titled Oversight Undermined, in which he called for reforms to the SIU. Marin noted “a number of serious problems affecting the SIU, including endemic delays and a lack of rigour in SIU investigations, a reluctance to insist on police co-operation, and an internal culture overly influenced by a preponderance of ex-police officers among its staff.” Further, “the SIU’s mandate still lacked clarity” and “transparency was also missing in action, as SIU reports and significant policy issues remained hidden from public view.”

“I am left with the impression that the Ministry does not want to consider any reforms that would prove too distasteful to the policing community,” stated Marin. “It is content to adopt partial solutions and ride out the media storms. The citizens of Ontario are the losers in all this. The Ministry’s stance frustrates the promise of strong and independent civilian police oversight, thereby undermining public trust in policing.”

Marin’s critique highlights the need for a truly civilian organization to oversee the police in order for justice to be served, as police will not indict themselves. Community organizations and members of impacted communities should all be able to serve on police oversight bodies, and decide whether an officer should be charged with criminal offences when they are involved in the killing, assault or sexual assault of civilians.

It’s happening here too

While Canadian outrage over recent incidents where U.S. police officers have executed unarmed black men is an important act of solidarity, we are ignoring what is happening right under our noses.
Perhaps this different response to police violence in our country is rooted in the misguided idea that multicultural Canada does not have a history of visceral racial tension and oppression like its neighbour does.

Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya, an organizer with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence, explains that “police violence in Canada is a fundamental feature of society wherein social oppression is present. Colonialism is a very violent process, and its continued manifestation as settler-colonialism is based on the need to use force and the prison industrial complex to maintain economic, social and political order.”

“It should not come as a surprise that the Indigenous peoples and Afrikans are the two groups in Canada who experience the highest levels of police violence and are the most imprisoned,” says Nangwaya.

In the Greater Toronto Area alone, the list of predominantly black and brown people who have been killed by police runs far too long.
Willful ignorance can no longer be an excuse for the systemic issues of police brutality, impunity and racial profiling in Canada. In the Greater Toronto Area alone, the list of predominantly black and brown people who have been killed by police runs far too long.

Junior Manon, Alwy al-Nadir, Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas, Eric Osawe, Michael Eligon, Sammy Yatim and Frank Anthony Berry are among those who have lost their lives in recent years due to police violence. A fact sheet on police violence, compiled by Nangwaya, can be accessed here.

Nangwaya argues that Canadians are losing trust in the police, and there is a need to keep educating the public about the systemic nature of police violence and “the police's principal function being that of serving and protecting the economic, social and political interests of the socially dominant groups or the ruling class in Canada.”

Christmas Eve vigil

Christmas Eve marked three months since Jermaine Carby was gunned down by the Peel Regional Police. At the corner where he was shot, a candlelight vigil was held by Carby’s family, the Justice for Jermaine Carby Committee and community members.

Despite the holiday and bad weather, roughly 60 people showed up in solidarity with Carby’s family and the other individuals who have been killed at the hands of the police in the Greater Toronto Area. After a moment of silence the group managed to shut down the major intersection of Queen and Kennedy in the heart of Brampton for nearly an hour. During this time a public education action took place. Carby’s cousin La Tanya Grant and Kabir Joshi-Vijayan addressed the public via a sound system, and flyers were handed out to pedestrians and those sitting in cars.

Several annoyed and impatient individuals were vocal in their opposition, while others asked for flyers in order to learn more about the case. Community members passing by joined in the blockade, expressing frustration about how they have been treated at the hands of the police.

While the action drew the attention of the Peel Regional Police and Toronto’s CP24, the demands of the family and committee were not given airtime. The media have tried to spin the issue into a tragic, isolated incident, instead of the most recent episode of systemic racial profiling and police brutality.
The media have tried to spin the issue into a tragic, isolated incident, instead of the most recent episode of systemic racial profiling and police brutality.
Until honest discussions about police brutality and race in Canada are held, change in the status quo of injustice on the streets, within the SIU and within the courts is unlikely.

Racism and police brutality exist. History has demonstrated that institutions like the SIU have undermined progress to bring justice for victims of police brutality, whether it is Jermaine Carby or the thousands who were detained during the G20. Community organizations such as the Justice for Jermaine Committee need your support.

Please consider supporting the Justice for Jermaine Carby Committee online or in person.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ganja and Globalization in St. Vincent

Originally posted on:
December 15, 2014

20130930diasporaJanuary 2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its one size fits all prescription for global trade. Despite its steadfast refusal to do otherwise, dominant economic theory must take into account the diverse realities of the countries which make up the global community. Due to matters of geography and history, no two countries are alike – and any effort to universalize a set of best economic practices is fundamentally and dangerously incorrect.

In the Caribbean context, what we have seen is that economic globalization has unfolded to the benefit of the most powerful nations and their respective multinational corporations. The resulting economic marginalization of small countries like the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent are seen as collateral damage of the liberalized global trade regime.

The statistics of economic growth reveal that contrary to the assumptions made by proponents of free trade, trade liberalization has not increased economic growth in St. Lucia and St. Vincent. Indeed in recent years one can see a trend of stagnation – if not outright decline. As Vincentian farmer Ras Jacob laments, “the IMF/WTO put them in poverty, they mash down all the EC [Eastern Caribbean] livelihood”.

At the behest of the WTO and spearheaded by the banana multinational corporations (with no less than former US President Bill Clinton as their dedicated advocate), a gradual elimination of the protected banana trade with the United Kingdom began, as it contradicted the assumptions of neoliberal economic theory. These reforms would lead to numerous negative and widespread impacts on rural communities – such as an increase in unemployment, poverty, crime and a dramatic cutback in government programs and services. Given that there were no readily apparent jobs to replace those lost in the banana industry, a great deal of the farmers took their skills, knowledge and cutlasses into the hills.

Twenty years after this economic shock, based on its size, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one of the largest, if not the largest per capita cultivator and exporter of ganja in the world. During my research on the island studying the ganja trade, I have been fortunate enough to have learned from farmers, activists, smugglers and dealers – providing incredible insight into St. Vincent’s real, albeit illicit economic engine.

Presently in the Caribbean, marijuana is not legally recognized for its medicinal purposes. In March 2014, the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) established a regional commission concerning marijuana use, with the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, acting as the Chair. The two primary focuses of the regional commission are concerned with the medical use of marijuana and the decriminalization of small quantities involved in recreational use.

A July 2014 communiqué from the CARICOM conference in Antigua put forward that the “Heads of Government agreed to establish a Regional Commission on Marijuana to conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Region and to advise whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for a range of users.” Since then, not much else has been released to the public, as a search of CARICOM internet archives and requests for updated information have not produced any new information on the progress of the initiative.
(Photo: Courtesy Kevin Edmonds)
(Photo: Courtesy Kevin Edmonds)

Despite this, Prime Minster Gonsalves has tried to deflect criticism that the Commission would be an asset to his election drive, stating that regardless of the politicization of the situation, “I am hoping that we take more than baby steps in addressing the issues”

Seeking to avoid the politicization of the issue, Conley “Chivango” Rose, the Coordinator of The National Marijuana Industry Association (NMIA) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is working to get a medical marijuana institute built in St. Vincent, due to its position as the leading cultivator in the Eastern Caribbean. Rose told me that roughly “40 percent of the population are connected to the industry either directly or by accommodating it” and that an estimate that ganja contributes 30 percent to the GDP is quite conservative. Rose argues that the Caribbean must abandon current laws which are based on inherited colonial legislation, and calls for a major reform of the region’s ganja laws, arguing that they be based on “science, compassion and reason”.

The National Marijuana Industry Association (NMIA) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines states in its charter that “Medicinal and Recreational Marijuana Sales in St. Vincent and the Grenadines could generate extra revenues and taxes for the government in licenses, fees, sales taxes, VAT, excise taxes and so on, government and the people would benefit tremendously from this lucrative industry… According to Vincentian economists, financial analysts, tax collectors, bankers and professional accountants, marijuana, if regulated and taxed in the same fashion as alcohol, can bring in over $500 million dollars for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines economy between 2014-2016 ! Much needed revenue to assist in stimulating growth, creating wealth and helping to transform the economic landscape of the island”.

While the legalization of ganja would bring immediate economic benefits, it would also have widespread social consequences. Ras Andre believes that the legalization of ganja will lead to a greater transformation in the class structure of St. Vincent and the wider Caribbean, stating that “It will be a class change, you have poor citizens getting into a multi-billion industry, who is poor is now becoming rich, while people which have become comfortable in their wealthy lifestyles will get shifted… This is important for people like Rasta, who are marginalized – but with this change they will be able to handle their affairs, to many it is frightening”.

In addition to the legalization of ganja changing the island’s entrenched class structure, it would also free up a huge sector of economic activity from the criminal element.

One farmer, “Power”, highlighted that it is the criminalized status and classification of ganja as a dangerous drug which leads to crime, arguing that “In the heights we always exposed to the thief man, our investment is at risk. Very often there are rip-offs where people saying the crop bust when they made a shot [got intercepted by the police during smuggling abroad], when they really keeping it themselves. This is what gets people killed. If it was legal we could have real sales and not have to worry and hide”. Additionally, he argues that it is the hustle and profit of ganja which has led to the “baldheads going up in the hills, brining guns, cocaine, crime and robbery”.

As another planter, and a very skilled, self-taught horticulturalist, “Bongo” stated, “We need to separate ganja from the drug trade… It is unfairly attacked because of what has been colonial and cultured in the mind. Ganja has helped so many people, sent thousands of children to school and bought plane tickets for being to go foreign and better themselves. We are losing a golden opportunity, if we don’t move on this we won’t have anything. It will be turmoil”.

To Empress Modupe Olufenmi Jacob, it must also involve the “creation of provisions to compensate those who have been charged and jailed before it was legal” and “ensure that the farmers who have sacrificed for so long are the immediate beneficiaries of a regulated system to plant legal ganja”.

Indeed there was also a sharp criticism of the political leadership, with many arguing that independent governments and the CARICOM Commission were moving far too slow. While the legalization of ganja is often portrayed or presented as a panacea for much of the region’s economic woes, it would certainly go a long way in increasing respective governmental revenues, providing legal employment and sparing vast numbers of people from the prison system. For these reasons alone the individual and regional leadership must push forward with their efforts to at the very least, decriminalize marijuana and allow medicinal marijuana for compassionate and research purposes. If they continue to take a “wait and see” attitude on this issue, they will indeed see that regional competitors will have taken the lead, scrambling to justify their position to a population in a society which has no real opposition to ganja. As Conley Rose said, “Ganja is not a fad, it done been here for a long time”.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Censorship and the Need for a Freedom of Information Act in St. Lucia

December 5, 2014

It has been stated time and again that an informed citizenry is an essential prerequisite to the functioning of a democratic society. Indeed the Caribbean region is often hailed as being a bastion of democracy and stability by many academics in comparison to their Central and Southern American neighbours, where a historical cycle of coups, rebellion and dictatorships prevailed throughout the Cold War years.

In the present era, the intensification of globalization has been welcomed by the economic and political powers that be as a stabilizing force, one which brings financial, technological and information flows to all corners of the globe. Yet, despite these promises, globalization also has a much darker side, one of which outside of the threat of terrorism is very rarely discussed.

Despite the World Trade Organization promoting tourism and financial services as the saviour of St. Lucia after the enforced decimation of the banana trade, these industries have in many ways entangled themselves in a manner which threatens both meaningful development and democracy on the island. While it has been repeated ad nauseam that the forces of globalization seek to free up the restrictions former placed upon the mobility of capital, it in no way seeks to make the necessary information about these processes more accessible to the people that they purport to be serving.

A very real way in which this has manifested itself is the growing number of failed tourist mega-projects on the island and the related threats against bloggers, journalists and writers who seek to expose the realities of these deals.

Due to the efforts of the anonymous “Piton blogger”, we now know much more about the 3 failed and another stalled mega development in St. Lucia. The “Piton blogger” repeatedly pointed out that St. Lucia was witnessing the privatization of public lands with dire consequences for the local communities and environment.

Just to give an idea of the scale of the problem, a quick summary of the failed projects is as follows. The total cost to St. Lucian taxpayers to reacquire the Crown lands from the failed Ritz-Carlton development due to the 2008 economic crisis amounted to $EC 57 million. The Marquis Estate development was a multi-island development, which failed – dragging 3,000 British investors to fall victim to the $250 million USD scheme. The investigation has since been taken up by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office. Thirdly, the La Paradis resort, located in Praslin fell victim to the CLICO insurance scheme which rocked the rest of the Caribbean. As a result, the massive development appears as an open wound on the Windward side of the island, a reminder of the excesses of the international financial sector – and the resulting burden placed on the general public.

Central to this point, the “Piton blogger” also sought to bring about transparency and educate the public on the new Freedom Bay Resort development, which is being built literally at the foot of the Petit Piton, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with government approval. The “Piton blogger” had frequently wrote articles outlining that the resort development threatened the status of the Pitons as a World Heritage Site due to environmental and cultural destruction (ie. Amerindian archeological items). Additionally, local residents were being forced to sell their property to the developer. The “Piton blogger’s” desire to follow the money and openly challenge to the developers resulted in the Friends of UNESCO site getting shut down in May 2013, after four masked men, wielding automatic weapons broke into the bloggers home stealing computers, modems and phones. US Federal Agents later confirmed that there was indeed a hit out on the “Piton blogger”, but the story has not surfaced in the St. Lucian mainstream media due to the fact that it may very well lead to dangerous territory.

In the midst of this situation, enter long-time journalist Jason Sifflet, who had previously wrote for many of the island’s established media houses. Sifflet began the Flogg Blog as an independent platform to ridicule the St. Lucian political system – leaving no party or politician behind. Given this journalistic independence, Sifflet wrote that the situation “… got real in ways I could not imagine. Unshackled from advertisers, media managers and the most vile laws stifling free speech in St Lucia, I was suddenly imbued with all my natural powers. As a trained journalist, a kind of heretical activist and a consumer of history, I couldn't help but make the FLOGG grow from a joke into an investigative journalism machine that reinvents the language, ethics and methodology of journalism in the image of Negmarron.”

Behind the veil of humor and the occasional curse words, Jason countered with pointed attacks on many of the issues which people discussed privately, but rarely, if ever publicly. One such issue was his controversial (albeit accurate) comparison of the island’s tourism industry and how it increasingly resembled an apartheid system.

Not long after the launch of his blog, Sifflet wrote that “I got my first death threat and law suit threat around this time [October] in 2013” – but it would not be his last. Several months later in August 2014, after criticizing and insulting the United Workers Party opposition leader and hotelier Alan Chastanet, his blog was mysteriously shut down, with Google stating that it supposedly breached their standards of acceptable speech, thus engaging in a form of “hate speech”. While the timing of the blogs shut down was suspicious enough, Sifflet’s estranged wife would then lose her job at the St. James Morgan Bay hotel, with pundits claiming everything must have been a simple coincidence and the public should not jump hastily to conclusions. While the Flogg Blog would eventually be reinstated, the death threats continued to follow. One can read Sifflet’s investigation and account of the death threats here.

While there are indeed a myriad of issues related to these situations, a major problem with all of this is that there is no St. Lucian version of the Freedom of Information Act to back up what the journalists, bloggers and writers are putting forward. While the St. Lucia Freedom of Information Act was drafted as a bill in 2009, it has yet to see the light of day in regards to its implementation. While the draft of the Freedom of Information Act stated that it would bar dissemination of information pertaining to commercial issues if it “i) contained a trade secret or (ii) to communicate it would or would likely to, seriously prejudice the commercial or financial interests of that third party”, the importance of this is that it would set a legal precedence or benchmark from which the public could inquire about the interaction between government and investors.

At a Regional Conference on Freedom of Information in March 2013, The Saint Lucia National Trust, Communications and Advocacy Officer, Karetta Crooks Charles remarked that, “it was inspiring to see how ordinary citizens, civil society and the media from fellow Caribbean countries were utilizing the FOI Access to Information laws to hold public authorities more accountable. Furthermore, it is hoped that Saint Lucia will follow suit and ratify its draft FOI Act of 2009,as well as sign on to the LAC Declaration on Principle 10 which promotes sustainable development through access to information, public participation and access to justice.”

Yet until this curtain is pulled back, to reveal those at work behind the scenes, brave individuals working in the public interest are called conspiracy theorists, straight out liars and increasingly threatened physically, economically and electronically censored. This is not the foundation of a democratic society, but rather that of something more sinister.

Whether or not St. Lucians agree with the writings of Sifflet or those of the “Piton blogger”, the reality is that they have both literally put their lives at risk in order to inform the general public about the inconsistencies and problematic issues related to some of the island’s major tourism developments. While scandal is often the engine of St. Lucian politics as is elsewhere, the fact that both political parties have stalled in regards to implementing a St. Lucian Freedom of Information Act is highly problematic considering their supposed commitment to the democratic process.

While many would argue that every investment involves a certain level of risk, it really downplays the reality of the situation in St. Lucia. While wealthy investors can literally walk away from failed projects with bankruptcy protection, yet given that the country is so small the government does not have that option. Indeed those left behind in their wake are subjected to a stream of debt, corruption and even death.

St. Lucia’s Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott remarked that he was “ashamed of my country”, referred to the ongoing development at the foot of the Pitons as “whoredom” but conceding “… what can you do when a country approves of its own disfigurement?” Indeed Walcott’s statement is in reference the current physical damage done to the natural environment, but it can also apply to the country’s political system which seeks to maintain this troubling status quo instead of taking measures to change it for the better.

While it might seem as a naïve goal, the only way to get rid of this block in the political system is to empower and protect the individual citizens who decide to become Whistleblowers with the ultimate goal of fostering an engaged citizenry. Let the argument be settled by facts and not threats. As such, these figures and the ones who will inevitably follow them must be protected from the grudges held by the private sector and their friends and potential business partners in both political parties, as acting on behalf of the public good should not be a death sentence.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The United Nations Will Fail Haiti Once Again

October 14, 2014

Originally Published in Counterpunch

On October 15, the United Nations Security Council will meet to “debate” the extension of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) which has acted as an occupying force in the country since the summer of 2004. MINUSTAH was created to put an end to the Multinational Interim Force (primarily made up of U.S., French, Canadian and Chilean troops) which occupied Haiti after an internationally backed coup d’état ousted the democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas party from power on February 29, 2004.

During these ten years, MINUSTAH has compiled a horrific record of human rights abuses, including but not limited to extrajudicial murder, an epidemic of sexual assault against Haitian men, women and children, the repression of peaceful political protests, in addition to unleashing cholera through criminal negligence which has caused the death of over 9,000 people and infecting nearly a million more. Despite these well documented abuses, the historical record has shown that the Security Council will mostly likely renew MINUSTAH for another year without any thought to damage being done to Haiti. As evidence of how little resistance there is to the renewal of MINUSTAH’s mandate in the United Nations, on August 21, MINUSTAH’s budget was extended to June 2015 – clearly signalling that the occupation is certain to continue.

When one examines the level of instability in Haiti which is used as the justification for MINUSTAH’s continued presence in the country, the United Nations’ argument of protecting the Haitian people from themselves falls flat. Despite the mainstream media portrayal of Haiti as a lawless and dangerous country, in 2012, it had a homicide rate of 10.2 per 100,000 people, ranking it as one of the least violent countries in Latin America and the Caribbean – in contrast to Washington DC which sat at 13.71 per 100,000. Furthermore, to argue that it is the presence MINUSTAH which has acted as a stabilizing force which has kept violence down, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that between 2007 and 2012, Haiti’s homicide rate doubled from 5.1 to 10.2 per 100,000.

For the fiscal year running from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, $609.18 million was allocated to MINUSTAH. In the ten years in which MINUSTAH has been operational, their total budget is over $5.5 billion. If this same amount had been applied towards human development in the form of investments in clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education – Haiti would have the potential reclaim its sovereignty and self-determination.

We must be clear, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti is not based on any principles of humanitarianism, but rather those of an imperialist occupation which seeks to make sure that the island’s government can implement and maintain repressive policies favourable to international investors. Thus the reasons for MINUSTAH’s continued presence in Haiti were confirmed thanks to revelations by WikiLeaks. In one of the most up-front classified cables, from US Ambassador Janet Sanderson on October 1, 2008, stated that, “A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government…vulnerable to…resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces—reversing gains of the last two years.”

The corrupt and repressive regime of President Michel Martelly has proudly boasted that “Haiti is open for business”. Indeed, this is true – however it is the people and the land that are being sold. Canadian mining companies like St. Genevive and Eurasian Minerals have taken advantage of weak laws to prospect new sites covering enormous swaths of territory (an estimated 1/3 of Northern Haiti has been granted to companies via permit), setting up the potential for substantial displacement through forced evictions and environmental destruction. Montreal based Gildan Activewear (the world’s largest manufacturer of blank T-shirts) has routinely pressured the Haitian government to block an increase in Haiti’s abysmally low daily minimum wage and have undermined unionization efforts in their plants.

MINUSTAH has carried out a series of human rights violations resulting in a loss of Haitian sovereignty, stability, dignity and life. Its record of engaging in acts of extrajudicial murder, sexual assault, suppressing peaceful political protests, undermining democracy and introducing cholera into Haiti are more than enough grounds to revoke its mandate. Yet for geopolitical and economic reasons, this does not happen.

As people of good conscience and principled internationalists, we collectively have the capacity and the resources to force an end to the military occupation of Haiti. However, we will not be able to fulfill this potential and stand in solidarity with the laboring classes in Haiti, if we don’t organize campaigns in Canada and across the world that pressure contributing states to end their provision of military and police personnel to MINUSTAH’s occupation force.

Our opposition to the military occupation of Haiti ought to take the form of grassroots-oriented campaigns that educate, mobilize, and organize membership-based organizations to add the end to the occupation to their organizational programme. It is critically necessary to reach out to the people in the spaces in which they are present, and offer specific actions that they may carry out to force the withdrawal of the occupation troops.

We have a moral and political obligation to support the struggle for self-determination by the popular classes in Haiti. The successful Haitian Revolution eliminated the enslavement of Afrikans in Haiti, and lit the fire of freedom in slaveholding states in the Americas.

The people of Haiti demonstrated their solidarity with the colonized peoples in South America by providing a place of refuge, guns, ammunition, personnel, and a printing press to Simon Bolivar’s campaign to liberate the region from Spanish colonialism. The French Revolution and the American Revolution cannot lay claim to being beacons and agents of emancipation in the Americas.

As we work to rid Haiti of MINUSTAH’s occupation forces, we ought to be motivated by the fact that we are continuing a long and proud tradition of people-to-people solidarity in support of emancipation in the Americas. Haiti is the architect and pioneer of this principled political tradition. We should remember this legacy as we call for the Security Council to pull out the occupation troops from Haiti.

Kevin Edmonds is a PhD student and member of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee and the Campaign to End the Occupation of Haiti.

Ajamu Nangwaya Ph.D., is an educator. He is an organizer with the Campaign to End the Occupation of Haiti, and the Organization of Afrikan Struggles and International Solidarity.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

In St. Lucia, Freedom of Speech is not All-Inclsuive

September 4, 2014

This was supposed to be an article about tourism using the island of St. Lucia as an example.  It was supposed to highlight the many valid criticisms which arose in opposition to what many consider to be the dominance of a sweatshop model of tourism, what can best be described as being neocolonial in nature. However, it has just turned into something much more troubling. It has revealed that the critique of neocolonialism on the island, particularly regarding tourism are well placed because in fact those who benefit from it in one way or another are seeking to silence one of the island’s most accomplished and outspoken journalists.

Jason Sifflet, and established journalist and the author of the Flogg Blog, which has arguably become St. Lucia’s most popular political blogs, has found himself on the wrong side of Google’s censors. Citing a breach of their terms and conditions due to what they referred to as “hate speech” his blog was taken down on August 30th.

To put things into context, Sifflet’s blog was widely popular precisely because it refused to spare any politician or industry figure from harsh criticism. While the dust is still settling on the matter, it appears that this was the very same reason why it was taken down.

A series of recent posts on the Flogg Blog sharply critiqued the St. Lucian tourism industry, discussing such topics as high level corruption, crime, money laundering and bluntly stating that it is creating an apartheid like system on the island. Heavy stuff, no doubt – but it was excellent, much needed stuff.  You do not find this kind of pointed critique in The Star, The Voice or the Mirror. This is because one would be a fool to think that the mainstream media in St. Lucia or anywhere else is divorced from power. It acts as little more than public relations for the power – allowing critique to fall within a very narrow, previously agreed upon spectrum. Go outside of that and you are in trouble. See Jason Sifflet as Exhibit A.

For example, why should the people of St. Lucia champion a political party or “leader” who seeks to grant 40 year tax incentives to the multimillion dollar corporations who dominate the tourism industry? Why is this the only option for the island? Is it based on reality or faulty ideology?  As I recall, it was not so long ago that the government of Bangladesh and its industry leaders used to boast that they had the cheapest wages in the world. The boasting lasted until the buildings started to collapse and the people started to riot, form unions and attack management. A race to the bottom is a competition St. Lucia should stay well away from.

So why is the Flogg Blog considered to be hate speech? Let’s look at the definition of hate speech to help us out. A quick search reveals that “In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group.

Normally hate speech rules have been in place to protect minorities (be it based upon race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc) within a society from attacks from the state, the powerful and extremist groups. It is obvious that the definition of hate speech covers a lot of ground. But we should be clear that criticism is not the same as hate speech. Rarely is the invoking of hate speech used as grounds to protect the wealthy and powerful – as the economic and political systems in place are already setup to take care of that.

It is common knowledge that the Flogg Blog does not go out and roast the malewe – because frankly they deal with enough shit everyday – so in many ways the Flogg Blog worked to amplify their voice and the voice of the disillusioned. What we are seeing with the case of the Flogg Blog is that the interpretation of what constitutes hate speech is actually violating freedom of speech on the island and the wider internet in general. Whether or not you agree with the Flogg Blog – that is not the point – it is that his right to say it is under attack.

An important part of the definition of hate speech is that it “intimidates a protected individual or group”. Protected individual or group? Who is being protected from who? The powerful are being protected from the people? You don’t say!
I guess it also comes down to the fact that when people Google “St. Lucia + tourism” they shouldn’t have to be confronted with the uncomfortable truths about the industry – or the perspectives of the people who reside there. Heaven forbid people connect the dots and see the historical continuation between the “subservience with a smile” of those who must work in all inclusive tourism, the hoteliers who do their best to strip the workers of their dignity and the island’s colonial past rooted in racial and class hierarchies. Aside from the brain freeze, it makes drinking a daiquiri by the pool a little more uncomfortable.

While St. Lucia does not have an official political dictatorship, the curtain is starting to fall on the economic dictatorship behind this act. Criticism of the tourism industry and the figures who dominate it is not a hateful act. What Jason Sifflet and the Flogg Blog did was to educate the people about the reality of power and the economy on the island. If that is considered a hateful act or a form of intimidation, consider the values of the current society that we live in – and what we need to do to change it. #BBFB

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Creeping Decriminalization of Marijuana in the Caribbean

May 23, 2014

While the decriminalization of marijuana has been a topic of discussion for decades, those in attendance at this week’s Jamaica Cannabis Conference are doing more than just blowing smoke—they are discussing the upcoming stages of a long-overdue and vital transformation of the Caribbean’s regional economy. Jamaica has long been associated with potent, naturally grown marijuana, but also the unfortunate social ills that have accompanied its criminalization.

While marijuana, or ganja, arrived in the Caribbean with Indian indentured laborers in the mid-1800s, it was not criminalized until 1913, when the Ganja law came into effect at the behest of the church and colonial elites. The ban was largely based on ignorant, racist perceptions of the evil effects that ganja would have on the poor black majority, and thus dealt out fines and other oppressive penalties for consumption or cultivation. During the 1940s and the 1950s, despite the cultivation of ganja for spiritual and medical reasons, it became the routine justification for government raids upon the original, self-sufficient Rastafari community of Pinnacle.

Despite Jamaica's independence in 1962, the colonial origins of criminalizing ganja were not eroded, but strengthened. When Jamaica signed the United Nations Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1964, it became obligated to treat marijuana as a harmful drug, following the prevailing attitude of the United States. Under the banner of the War on Drugs, the Jamaican government diverted millions of dollars from social development to eradicate marijuana plantations through aerial spraying. If Jamaica refused, under the conditions of the U.S. Drug Certification Policy enacted in 1986, Jamaica would risk losing access to U.S. trade, aid, loans, and visas.

There are very serious human rights issues associated with the prohibition of marijuana. Across the Caribbean, courts are backlogged with simple possession charges for small quantities of marijuana. In one case in St. Lucia, fines for small quantities of marijuana reached $200, or up to 30 days in jail. These charges in turn limit employment and travel opportunities, creating intergenerational disadvantages for those who face jail time. As a result of the overloaded prison systems across the region, the economic and social costs of marijuana are tremendous, as much needed economic resources are taken away from social development and funneled towards and endless cycle of law and order policies.

In addition, the criminalization of marijuana has also led to the unfortunate and unnecessary marginalization of the Rastafari community, which regard the herb as a holy sacrament. Last August St. Lucian journalist Earl Bousquet commented on the negative portrayal of marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s:

Marijuana was...pinned to the Rastafarian movement that started spreading to the rest of the region from Jamaica at the same time. The then leaders erroneously hoped they could easily do away with ‘Rastas and marijuana’ through new laws and armed police forces. By legally twinning Rastafarianism with an illegal substance, growth of a positive and distinctively Caribbean social movement driven by the works of Marcus Garvey, rooted in Pan Caribbean-African nationalism and advocating closer communion with nature half-a-century ago was stifled, suppressed and forced to spend more time resisting and fighting ‘Babylon’ than refining the philosophical, spiritual, cultural and political base of the only indigenous Caribbean movement of its kind in the 20th century.

As a further result of these criminalization policies, Jamaica now has to play catch up in the newly emerging legal and medical marijuana market, according to Dr. Albert Lockhart, a leading ophthalmologist and noted speaker at the Cannabis Conference, who stated that “we are 40 years late.” Dr. Lockhart has helped to pioneer medicine derived from marijuana such as Canasol (which treats glaucoma) and Asmasol (which treats asthma), but due to lack of funding their discoveries are not widely known outside of the island. Dr. Lockhart further warned that if Jamaica does not act now it would be at risk of missing the boat, losing out to countries such as the United States, where the states of Colorado and Washington have fueled the push for legalization across the region—and Canada where medical marijuana has become big business.

Phillip Paulwell, Jamaican Minister of Science and Technology, has assured interested parties that marijuana will be decriminalized by the end of the year. Paulwell remarked that “I am of the firm opinion that scientific research into marijuana, both in the very many uses of the plant as hemp, and its medical properties, is an idea whose time has come,” adding that a marijuana-based medical industry could earn as much as $5.2 billion.

So the Cannabis Conference closed with hope that Jamaica and the wider Caribbean will be able to finally cash in and create a world leading, legal industry which not only acts as a cash crop and provides much needed agricultural jobs, but also as the building blocks for the development of wide ranging medical treatments. Additionally, the new CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana Use shows a regional investigative interest. Beyond just decriminalization, the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association has been advocating for a regulatory model that will benefit small growers instead of large corporations, stating: “For the first three years of a regulated industry, licenses should only be given to plots of one acre or less.” The taxable income from the industry has the power to transform stagnating Caribbean economies and will allow them to have the self determination to rightfully produce a quality product which the world has always demanded in great quantity, but has been criminalized for far too long.