Friday, December 21, 2012

Selling Citizenship in the Caribbean

December 21, 2012
NACLA.org

Due to the decline of the traditional sugar and banana exporting industries, many cash strapped Caribbean islands have been resorting to an unusual and controversial method to raise revenue—selling citizenship.

While economic citizenship programs already exist in Austria, Bulgaria, Britain, and Canada, they often take several years for the applications to be processed—while in the Caribbean it only takes a couple of months. While no specifics on the nationalities involved have been released, it has been widely circulated that those most interested in the economic citizenship program are primarily the wealthy from China and the Arab World.

Armand Arton, of Arton Capital, a financial advisory business based in Montreal specializing in immigrant investment programs, remarked that his firm “had provided advice to more than 500 families in 2011 and that 75% of them had been from the Middle East.”

Since September 11, there has been a crackdown on granting visas to individuals from Arab/Muslim countries, and as such Caribbean citizenship provides a way to avoid the travel restrictions. Furthermore, the political instability in Iran, Syria, and Egypt has provided an incentive for individuals to secure a second passport in order to access a distant safe haven such as St. Kitts and Dominica.

The Government of St. Kitts states that its economic citizenship program is open to “Investors of good character and repute” and that the program “facilitates you and your family's ease of travel throughout the world to over 100 countries visa free. Holding St. Kitts & Nevis citizenship also gives expansion on your business opportunities without being taxed on worldwide income.”

In St. Kitts and Nevis, citizenship can be obtained through two different methods. The first involves a minimum “non-refundable donation” of US$250,000 by a single individual to the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (with an additional US$7,500 in government fees). The second way to obtain citizenship is through a minimum real estate investment of US$400,000, which is subject to associated taxes and fees.

However, this process is also evolving into more than just a straight forward cash for citizenship transaction and is now being folded into development projects. This summer, the Dubai based Range Developments announced plans to construct a luxury Park Hyatt hotel in St Kitts & Nevis. The developer has offered investors spending more than $400,000 to apply for citizenship of St. Kitts.

Munaf Ali, CEO of Range Developments, remarked that “Investing in the Park Hyatt hotel project will entitle you and your family to apply for citizenship of St Kitts & Nevis. This opportunity provides second citizenship to eligible individuals in 90 days and opens visa-free travel to more than 139 countries across the world.”
In Dominica, the fee for their program is $100,000—taking between five to nine months. Unlike St. Kitts, the process requires that applicants speak English and visit the island for an interview. It was estimated that in 2012 alone, approximately 1,500 people have applied for the citizenship investment program in St. Kitts and Nevis and 500 for Dominica. Dominica’s citizenship program has been less popular than St. Kitts due to the fact that there were travel restrictions concerning the countries of the European Union. However, that restriction is now in the process of being lifted, and Dominica should soon see an increase in the number of citizenship applicants.

Most recently, Antigua has joined St. Kitts and Dominica seeking to gain revenue off of granting citizenship to foreign nationals. That said, the country is also worried about the darker side of implementing an economic citizenship program—specifically in regards to whether the actions of the new citizens will jeopardize the freedom of movement for Antiguan born citizens. In the Jamaica Gleaner, David Jessop called for tight monitoring and regulation of the citizenship programs, as poorly enforced programs could lead to a rise in criminal activity or worse.

The lack of transparency of these programs has been noted domestically, as Dwyer Astaphan, St. Kitts former Minister of National Security, Justice, and Legal Affairs, remarked that that former sugar industry workers, intended to be the beneficiaries of the sugar fund, have no way of knowing where the money goes. Astaphan stated that “There's no transparency. Imagine making a contribution to a foundation to get citizenship of a country, but the inside information of the foundation is kept secret!”

Crispin Gregoire, Dominica's former ambassador to the United Nations has remarked that "I am not a fan of the economic citizenship program... As it stands, it encourages people with something to hide. I understand that it must be a big source of income for the state, but they're not doing a good job of regulating it."

Additionally, such programs highlight the inequality in resources between the new citizens of these Caribbean islands and the traditional population. It reveals the extent to which these economically vulnerable countries will go to gain much needed revenue sources. Due to their wealth, those with new citizenship have access to travel and investment opportunities which are out of the reach of the average Caribbean citizen. Without any transparency and regulation, the benefit to the populations of these Caribbean countries is outweighed by the possibility of losing their freedom of movement to countries which are home to large Caribbean diasaporas such as Britain, Canada and the United States.

The economic citizenship programs also provide a direct stream of income which could be captured by political parties if regulation and transparency is not adopted and made available to the public. While the popularity of these programs are still fairly new, there is no reason not to call upon the governments to immediately show where the money is being directed—as they now constitute important, albeit controversial, sources of revenue.

Monday, December 17, 2012

U.N.'s Cholera Initiative: Underfunded and Unapolagetic

December 17, 2012
NACLA.org

On December 11, the United Nations announced a long overdue initiative to end the cholera epidemic which has devastated Haiti for more than two years—taking over 7,750 lives and infecting 600,000 more. While the announcement by the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is a welcome and much needed step, the ten-year plan is not without controversy.

Perhaps most practically, the Initiative for the Elimination of Cholera in the Island of Hispaniola remains largely unfunded. Of the $2.2 billion price tag, only $238.5 million has been committed. The initiative seeks to implement clean water and sanitation infrastructure in addition to public education and capacity building programs throughout both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When pressed about the lack of funding, Nigel Fisher, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti could only state that “I'm confident that more resources will come”.

Given that the only half of the $12 billion in pledges for the 2010 earthquake reconstruction effort have materialized or that a $30 million emergency request made earlier in the year only raised one-third of the intended amount, Fisher’s words do not inspire a great deal of confidence that more money is on the way. Furthermore, of the funds that did make it to Haiti after the earthquake, only 10% was directed towards government programs and public infrastructure.

Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, stated that
“It is unclear where the money for this is going to come from, and whether the international community, which has chronically underfunded responses to disasters in Haiti, will treat this any differently, and actually put up the cash to stop needless deaths.”

In addition, Weisbrot put forward a practical solution in order to fund the initiative—by redirecting the money away from the highly controversial and unnecessary United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). While the Secretary General made no mention of this, negligent screening protocols and sanitation practices introduced the cholera outbreak into Haiti. This has been proven through various independent scientific studies, the Center for Disease Control, and numerous high level U.N. staff such as Bill Clinton, and Dr. Danielle Lantagne, top U.S. cholera expert hired by the U.N. In October, Dr. Lantagne stated that "We can now say that the most likely source of the introduction of cholera into Haiti was someone infected with the Nepal strain of cholera and associated with the United Nations Mirabalais camp."

Weisbrot added that “There is no conflict there. The Mission’s $676 million budget should be spent instead on eliminating cholera.” This view has also been widely echoed in Haiti. MINUSTAH is widely considered to be a destabilizing occupying force, and given their consistent human rights violations, they are not popular with either the Haitian people or the politicians. A February Security Council Report argued that Haitian “Parliamentarians shared frank and mostly critical views on MINUSTAH. They called for the mission to compensate cholera victims and to swiftly punish those within MINUSTAH responsible for incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse of Haitians.” A January survey revealed that a large per­cent­age of respon­dents believed that MINUSTAH troops are or have been engaged in crim­i­nal activ­i­ties such as vio­lence, theft, and rape.

At his last address to the United Nations Security Council in April 2011, former President Rene Preval stated that the dangers of violent confrontation in Haiti were over and that “peacekeeping operations did not quickly enough adapt to the new situation”—and as such, tanks should be replaced by bulldozers. While the critique was conveniently made on his way out, Preval still managed to highlight the real source of Haiti’s instability, stating that  "I would suggest some thinking on the effectiveness of (the council's) interventions which have effectively led to 11 years military presence in a country that has no war... Instability in Haiti is basically due to underdevelopment—in other words, unsatisfied elementary socioeconomic rights."

Since the cholera outbreak in October 2010, approximately $2.3 billion has been spent on MINUSTAH (MINUSTAH’s budget for July 2012-June 2013 is $676,707,100. Previously, MINUSTAH’s budget for 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 were $865,313,200 and $810,305,000 respectively).

MINUSTAH has been in Haiti since June 2004, when it took over from the Multinational Interim Force (MIF). The MIF consisted of troops from the United States, Canada, and France, which had been instrumental in orchestrating the coup d’etat which overthrew the democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. As such, MINUSTAH entered Haiti with the permission of an unconstitutional, unelected government and have been destabilizing the country and redirecting resources away from development towards tanks and automatic weapons.

The continued denial by the U.N. in regards to their role in bringing cholera to Haiti is highly problematic because without taking responsibility, there is no way to ensure that procedures are implemented to make sure that it never happens again elsewhere. By denying their role in the outbreak, the U.N. can attempt to avoid any legal responsibility for the damages and death due to their negligence. At the moment, the U.N. is facing a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti on behalf of the cholera victims which seeks compensation, the implementation of clean water and sanitation infrastructure, and a public apology. Lastly, the denial slowed down the implementation of the initiative, and the U.N. can now skew history to claim that they solved a massive health crisis which was not of their making.

Perhaps admitting responsibility for cholera would open the door to the many other problems attributed to MINUSTAH, such as its very controversial origins in a foreign sponsored coup or its mandate to suppress Haiti’s democratic movement.  Ban Ki Moon concluded his announcement with an interesting comment, remarking that “The United Nations has a long history in Haiti—many years of partnership in difficult times.” Not surprisingly, the Secretary General forgot to mention their role in creating and compounding the difficult times Haiti now faces.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Caribbean’s Agricultural Crisis

November 23, 2012
NACLA.org

“Make no mistake about it. Our region is in the throes of the greatest crisis since independence. The specter of evolving into failed societies is no longer a subject of imagination. How our societies crawl out of this vicious vortex of persistent low growth, crippling debt, huge fiscal deficits, and high unemployment is the single most important question facing us at this time. Indeed, if CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) wishes to be relevant to the lives of the people of the region, then that issue should dominate its deliberations at the next summit. CARICOM cannot be seen to be impotent when societies and economies are at risk, on the brink of collapse.” These were the words of Dr. Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of St. Lucia to a meeting of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry on October 31.

While fighting an uphill battle in an unfriendly global economic environment, a key part of the Caribbean’s socio-economic descent has to with the collective failure to take the necessary steps to integrate the region and find alternatives to support agricultural production. Due to the dictates of World Trade Organization (WTO) which dismantled protected trade agreements with Europe, a great deal of the Caribbean agricultural industry was left for dead. It was assumed that due to economies of scale the Caribbean was producing agricultural goods in an inefficient manner and that they should free up their human resources to focus on areas in which they held a “comparative advantage” (i.e. tourism or offshore financial services—which catered to powerful interests).

This feeling was so pervasive that in the late 1980s U.S. Secretary for Agriculture John Block argued that “The idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on U.S. agricultural products, which are available, in most cases, at much lower cost.”

Much to the surprise of the expert economists, the comparative advantage to replace agriculture never showed up. The small farmers of the Caribbean were forced into redundancy and the results are telling. During the start of the U.S. led “Banana War” at the WTO twenty years ago the countries which form CARICOM produced a net agricultural surplus of roughly $3 billion; today CARICOM’s food import bill stands at $3.5 billion per year. The loss of agricultural jobs contributed significantly to the sharp rise in unemployment, poverty, and hunger, with it also contributing to a sharp decline in government revenues. Furthermore, according to Ryerson University’s Center for Studies in Food Security much of the newly imported food is harmful, as “nutrition-related, chronic non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension are the main causes of disability, illness, and death in the region”.

Given that the Caribbean is one of the most fertile regions on the planet and that it was colonized primarily for agricultural reasons, the fact that most of the Caribbean countries are now designated as Net Food Importing Developing Countries—meaning that they cannot grow their own food—is highly problematic. While this is predominately due to the actions of the WTO, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and bi-lateral loan conditions, the Caribbean leaders must take responsibility as well for not moving fast enough to build new links in the agricultural sector and reduce vulnerability due to high levels of food insecurity.
However, the delay on diversification should not be considered as a very recent phenomenon, as many Caribbean dependency theorists and progressive politicians also warned about the ongoing overreliance of the region on outward oriented protected trade agreements. Expressing the demand for greater economic self determination, diversification, and shift away from unequal trading, during the short lived St. Lucia Labour Party government of Allan Louisy, Winston Cenac and George Odlum remarked that:

“We (St. Lucia) have inherited our export economy in which the very operation of the economy was geared to external and not domestic demands and needs. The best resources in our country were utilized for producing the export staple .... Whatever resources remained, which were both few in both quantity and quality, could not satisfy our domestic requirements. The result was a large import bill and a disincentive to local production fostered by an attitude which maintained that foreign goods or anything with a foreign label was superior to our local products. The basic problem associated with the import/export economy lay also with the nature of our exports and imports. Our exports are primary products like bananas which suffer from the vagaries of the weather and sensitivity of their prices to factors outside our control .... Our imports, on the other hand, are high valued goods, covering every category from food to capital goods.”

The new service oriented direction that the Caribbean was forced into was not much different from the unequal trading terms which existed under agriculture. Looking at the nature of the tourism industry for example, in all inclusive resorts, all guests pre-pay for their visits, and such a great deal of the money does not come into circulation in the local economy. In addition, a great deal of the food is imported, as seen by the 2006 Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association study titled The Caribbean Accommodation Sector as a Consumer of Locally Produced Goods and Contributor to Government Revenue, which revealed that less than 20% of fresh fruit, fish, and eggs were acquired locally. Furthermore, a 2008 World Bank study titled OECS Increasing Linkages of Tourism with Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Service Sectors which showed that food imports for the tourism sector were estimated at a value of US$366 million, representing 20-25% of total agricultural imports.

While many Caribbean economies were overdependent on protected banana exports, the banana industry was highly regarded for the levels of economic growth due to what economists refer to as the “multiplier effect.” Bananas affectionately became known as “Green Gold” amongst the small farmers, as the steady prices enabled them to raise their humble standard of living. Due to the nature of the banana industry, the farmers spent their income in the local economy, creating spinoff jobs, which leads to more spending and the cycle continued.

While the United Nations has announced that the Caribbean is geographically unable to provide 100% food security, Belize Guyana and Suriname, with comparatively larger land masses, can do a great deal to reduce the region’s vulnerability. There are some small slivers of hope, as last month, Guyana and Trinidad announced the creation of a food-security facility with hopes of increasing agricultural and livestock production, reducing dependence on foreign food imports, and at the same time encouraging the regional goal to reduce food insecurity in CARICOM by 25% by the year 2015. Jamaica has recently announced in April that it would be launching a $150 million, 2,000 acre rice cultivation project. These are all promising steps in the right direction.

While refocusing on agriculture will not be a salvation in and of itself, it provides the opportunity for some stability for the region’s most vulnerable people. The resources, markets, and technical knowhow and experience of the Caribbean population already exists, it is just being underutilized. Additionally, governments must be stronger when dealing with the tourist industry and mandate that they must buy local first, then secure imports after. By supporting the agricultural sector, it will free up a great deal of revenue for health and education projects which are currently used up on food imports.

Furthermore, regional and national banks must offer credit to expand production and improve technology for small scale farmers. If the leaders simply continue to talk and do nothing to deepen regional integration, then Dr. Anthony’s warning of becoming a failed society will become reality. The real test will be to see which government takes the lead to make sure that this doesn’t happen—and whether others will do their part to implement the much needed reforms.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Despite Global Opposition, United States Votes to Continue Cuban Embargo

Nov. 15, 2012
NACLA.org

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In a near unanimous vote at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, the vast majority of the world voted to put an end the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. Aside from the moral argument, the driving principles behind the vote to end the embargo were those regarding the sovereign equality of states, non-intervention in internal affairs, and the freedom of international trade and navigation. In total, 188 countries voted in favor of the resolution, with the U.S., Israel, and Palau voting against it, and the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia abstaining. It was the twenty first consecutive year that the resolution passed by an overwhelming majority in the U.N. The last time the United States had normal relations with Cuba, the Andy Griffith Show was the most popular show on TV, African Americans couldn’t vote, McDonalds only had 228 locations, and Barack Obama would not be born for another year. It was indeed a different world.

It was thought that President Obama knew this as well when he made headlines in 2009 by stating that he sought “a new beginning” with Cuba, as the outdated and damaging policy was more ideological than practical, Tuesday’s vote showed that when it came to the embargo, nothing has changed.

The embargo began in 1960 when the United States sought to punish revolutionary Cuba for nationalizing properties which previously belonged to U.S. corporations and citizens. To put things in perspective, after Cuba gained “formal” independence in 1902, it was still governed largely by the neo-colonial Platt Amendment. This imposition stipulated that the Cuban government could not make alliances or sign treaties with any foreign government without the permission of the United States. Article III of the Amendment stated that the government of Cuba must consent to the right of the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs for “the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.” Thus the Platt Amendment set the stage for repeated U.S. intervention in Cuba in 1906, 1912, 1917, and 1920.

While the Platt Amendment was scrapped in 1934 under President Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy, U.S. companies already dominated the Cuban economy, which owned 60% of rural properties, 90% of Cuban mines and mineral exports, and 80% of the utilities and railroads. The United States also backed business-friendly strongmen which ensured that the neo-colonial status quo would continue. Students of American history would be right to recognize that a similar pattern of foreign economic control sparked their very own revolution in 1776.

In many ways, the ongoing Cuban embargo is one of the most symbolic policies of U.S. imperial control in the Americas. That said, the impact is much more than merely symbolic for the Cuban people, as according to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the embargo is “an act of aggression and a permanent danger to the stability of the nation.”

While the Cuban embargo was ultimately created to isolate Cuba economically and politically, the routine imposition of harsher conditions has failed to bring down the Castro government. In 1992, President George H. Bush signed the Cuban Democracy Act (also known as the Torricelli Act) into law, which forbids subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba, U.S. nationals from traveling to Cuba and remittances being sent to the country. The Cuban Democracy Act also attempts to limit the amount of interaction the international community has with Cuba by “imposing sanctions on any country that provides assistance to Cuba, including ending U.S. assistance for those countries and by disqualifying them from benefiting from any programme of reduction or forgiveness of debt owed to the USA.” It was widely assumed that after the fall of the Soviet Union it would only be a matter of time before Castro fell as well.

When that prediction didn’t materialize, President Bill Clinton signed the internationally condemned Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act in law (more commonly known as the Helms-Burton Act) in March 1996. This act further deepened the sanctions against Cuba as it sought to “strengthen international sanctions against the Castro government,” and to “plan for support of a transition government leading to a democratically elected government in Cuba.” The Helms-Burton Act allowed for any non-U.S. company that dealt with Cuba to be subjected to legal action and that the respective company's leadership could be barred from entry into the United States. This essentially meant that many international businesses were blackmailed to choose between operating in Cuba or the United States—which financially speaking isn’t much of a choice in regards to market size.

Like any embargo—whether in Iran, Gaza, or Cuba—it is the regular people who suffer the most. While there is a wide disagreement on the exact amount of harm the embargo has done to the Cuban economy, the estimates range between one and three trillion $US. In 2008, the Indian Delegation to the United Nations stated that “The negative impact of the embargo is pervasive in the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of human development in Cuba, severely affecting the most vulnerable socioeconomic groups of the Cuban population.”

President Jimmy Carter highlighted the failure of the embargo in September, when he stated that "We should all continue to press the Cuban government to respect individual rights and more political openness, but the embargo undermines any credibility that [the United States] has in calling for improvements in Cuba."
Cuba’s Foreign Minister went on to question the logic of the embargo, remarking that “Keeping this policy in force is not in the national interest of the United States. Quite on the contrary, it harms the interests of its citizens and companies—especially in times of economic crisis and high unemployment—which, according to every poll, are demanding a change of policy .... What's the point of encroaching on the constitutional and civil rights and the freedom of travel of Americans by preventing them from visiting the Island when they can visit any other place in the planet, including those where their country is waging wars?”

While the world has called on the United States to “act on the right side of history” by lifting the crushing and unnecessary economic embargo on Cuba, it must also remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s list of Sponsors of State Terrorism. This position is highly problematic, as the United States has actively engaged in over 50 years of economic and covert destabilization in Cuba, going so far as blindly protecting wanted terrorists such as Luis Posada Carilles and Orlando Bosch, both former CIA agents accused of dozens of terrorist attacks in Cuba and the United States.

The double standard of dealing with noted human rights abusers such as China, Saudi Arabia and Colombia, while isolating Cuba, does not make sense. Obama’s re-election has meant that he is no longer captive to a potentially extreme anti-Cuba voting bloc in Florida. In fact, calls for normalization of relations with Cuba have been on the increase. Given that Obama has stated that “I am not interested in talking for the sake of talking, but I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction”—it is time for meaningful, progressive engagement with Cuba to occur. Tuesday’s vote showed how out of touch America is on this issue. Given the other foreign relations nightmares Obama has both inherited and created, normalizing relations with Cuba would be a realistically achievable and just goal for his second term.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Obama's Election and the Caribbean: What Does it Mean?

Nov. 8, 2012
NACLA.org

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Early Wednesday morning the Caribbean breathed a sigh of relief with the re-election of Barack Obama. A Romney victory would have ushered in a period of uncertainty, as it was expected that he would pursue a more aggressive stance towards Cuba and other left leaning governments in the region. During the debates however, it became apparent that Latin America and the Caribbean was not an area of deep concern for either candidate as the foreign policy discussion was intensely focused on matters relating to the potential conflict with Iran, security in post-Gaddafi Libya, Israel/Palestine, Syria and the trade imbalance with China.

While Caribbean Prime Ministers immediately extended their congratulations to Obama, their expressions of cautious optimism also came with calls for more meaningful engagement with the region. For example, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent his congratulations to Obama, remarking that “The relationship between the United States and Dominica continues to be strong, based on mutual respect...we work very diligently on matters relating to regional security and we look forward to advancing those efforts. Clearly, the U.S. focus is on anti-terrorism matters and they moved away from issues relating to development in the region. But I am hoping that the new term of President Obama there would be some kind of re-direction towards developmental issues.”

During his first term, Obama’s most significant interaction with the region came in the form of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative to combat the growing influence of the drug trade. While sounding familiar, this should not be confused with the Caribbean Basin Initiative. In 1984, the Reagan administration implemented the first Caribbean Basin Initiative to stem the tide of leftism in the region—characterized by the Grenadian Revolution of 1979—by offering financial aid and development assistance. A key pillar of the initiative was export diversification in the region, but this consisted primarily of relocating export processing plants for textiles and apparel industries to the Caribbean.

Obama formed the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative during the Fifth Summit of the Americas in April 2009, when he announced an investment and partnership with the Caribbean toward strengthening regional security. In the first two years of the initiative, the Obama administration invested $139 million which went towards training scouting aircraft and boats, police polygraphers, improving prisons, and training police. Despite the initiative claiming to work on “increasing educational opportunities and providing workforce development and entrepreneurship training for at-risk youth,” very little has been done of this aspect of the program.

During Obama’s first term there were no clear signs that the antagonistic relationship between Washington and Havana was going to change. Evidence of this could be seen by the U.S. State Department keeping Cuba on their list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” Despite this irresponsible categorization, Obama introduced small changes—specifically easing the restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island and increasing the amount of remittances they can send back home. The increased flows of remittances have been pointed to as a key source of financing for the small businesses that are now sprouting up in Cuba under Raul Castro’s economic reforms. Next week at the United Nations General Assembly, Cuba will submit a draft resolution titled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United states of America against Cuba.” It is universally expected that the United States will veto the resolution for the 21st consecutive year.

In regards to Haiti, U.S. policy has maintained the status quo of empowering international capital at the expense of the Haitian people’s livelihood and self determination. At the opening of a controversial $300 million industrial park (sweatshop) in an ecologically sensitive zone far outside of the area damaged by the earthquake, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that “When I became Secretary of State, I looked at the billions of dollars of foreign assistance that the United States spends around the world and I asked myself why the results didn’t always create meaningful and sustainable change in the lives of people .… So we redirected our efforts to work with Haiti, not just in Haiti.”

A sign of the sustainable priorities envisioned by the United States and the Bill Clinton-led Haiti Recovery Commission is their focusing on constructing low wage assembly plants and totally ignoring Haiti’s education system. After the earthquake the State University of Haiti was severely damaged, but two years later classes are still taking place in sheds and under tarps. Haiti Grassroots Watch revealed the troubling priorities of the commission, which noted that the State University submitted a reconstruction contract to the Clinton-led commission in early 2011 which was ignored, while the Clinton commission offered $914,000 to the private Quisqueya University to open a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

While the Caribbean has fallen off of Obama’s radar, it has allowed non-traditional political forces such as China and Venezuela to exert their influence in the region. Over the past ten years, China has gradually made inroads into the region and has now become one of the Caribbean’s largest sources of development projects, trade, and preferential lending. The Chinese Government’s first-ever policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean, written in 2008, stated that “As the largest developing country in the world, China is committed to the path of peaceful development and the win-win strategy of opening-up. It is ready to carry out friendly cooperation with all countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and build a harmonious world of durable peace and common prosperity.”

Furthermore, the countries of the Eastern Caribbean are seeking out alternative alliances with the Venezuelan and Cuban influenced Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). ALBA is an international co-operation organization based on the idea of social, political, and economic integration between the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. It is associated with socialist and social democratic governments and is an attempt at South-South regional economic integration based on a vision of social welfare, solidarity, and mutual economic aid. Immediate benefits from ALBA include reduced oil via the PetroCaribe program, infrastructure grants, and investments in social services.

While the Bush-era will be remembered for backing violent intervention in Venezuela in 2002 and Haiti in 2004, it must be remembered that the coup which ousted the democratically elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya occured on Obama's watch. Despite initially calling the coup which brought Porfiro Lobo to power illegal, Obama quickly moved on to recognize the regime, praising Lobo for his "strong commitment to democracy" in 2011. Additionally, Obama has been silent on the parliamentary coup which removed Paraguay's democratically elected President Fernando Lugo from power in June.

It remains to be seen whether or not Obama will shift to a more development focused approach in the Caribbean, but based on his past actions it remains doubtful that meaningful change will occur. However, the shift to a less antangonistic, more hands off approach comes with both new problems and possibilities for change through new alliances and spaces for policy development in the Caribbean. Given the troubling history of intervention, destabilization, and the steadfast implementation of neoliberal economic policies, perhaps giving the Caribbean its own space to decide their future and chart their own political and development priorities is what exactly what they need.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Climate Change and the Caribbean

Nov. 3, 2012
NACLA.org

With Hurricane Sandy still vividly imprinted on everyone’s mind, it is important to remember that the storm’s destruction did not begin once the storm came ashore off the coast of New Jersey. Before the storm made landfall, it took the lives of 70 people, the majority occurring in Haiti (54) and Cuba (11), but also in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. While many regard the Caribbean as being blessed with warm tropical waters and white sandy beaches, it has also been cursed by geography, as it sits in what can best be understood as “Hurricane Alley.” The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Climate Change Center has stated that “The two dozen island nations of the Caribbean, and the 40 million people who live there, are in a state of increased vulnerability to climate change. Higher temperatures, rises in sea level, and increased hurricane intensity threaten lives, property and livelihoods throughout the region.”

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Just as Hurricane Sandy was described as a “Frankenstorm” because it was a combination of the worst possible scenarios, the Caribbean has been dealing with increasingly intense storms—the result of which has torn at the economic, social, and political fabric of the region. Norman Girvan, of the University of the West Indies reflected that “30 years ago, one expected to deal with major disasters of this kind, say, once every ten years. Nowadays, most islands expect at least one, and possibly two or three, every year. In other words this now has to be seen as a permanent, recurring phenomenon or integral feature of Caribbean development.”

According to Princeton University Geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer, "Climate change will probably increase storm intensity and size simultaneously, resulting in a significant intensification of storm surges.” David Enfield, a senior scientist at the University of Miami and former physical oceanographer at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated that "The severe hurricanes might actually become worse. We may have to invent a category 6."

Perhaps out of necessity, CARICOM has avoided politicizing the issue of climate change, choosing instead to develop ways how to both minimize and cope with its undesirable and unpredictable effects. As far back as 1994, Barbados hosted the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. This resulted in the emergence of the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change (CPACC) project. The plan sought to integrate the impacts of climate change into the planning strategies of the region and strengthening technical capacity. Despite these moves, Mother Nature has been insistent on not giving the region a break from the intense storms.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan leveled Grenada, damaging 90% of the homes on the island and killing 12. The island literally looked like it had been hit by an atomic bomb. The Prime Minister’s own home was flattened, and he had to relocate his office and residence to a British Naval ship. Not surprisingly, the storm decimated the island’s agriculture industry as well. At the time it was the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean in a decade.

Hurricane Wilma later surpassed Ivan's power in 2005, claiming the lives of 12 in Haiti, four in Cuba, and one in the Bahamas and Jamaica. In 2007, while not as powerful as Wilma, Hurricane Dean took 28 lives in the Caribbean. In 2010, Hurricane Tomas smashed into St. Lucia, causing an estimated $500 million in damages. The hurricane destroyed the island’s banana crop, severely damaged the John Compton dam, washed out crucial roads, and took the lives of 14 people. To put things in perspective, the United States is over 1800 times the size of St. Lucia in regards to population; on this basis it would be equivalent to the United States dealing with $916,000,000,000 in damages.

Given that much of the Caribbean is already in a dire economic situation, their ability to rebuild is severely hampered. Each super storm chips away at already scarce infrastructure, increasing the debt burden of these nations and placing them in a more precarious situation. Unfortunately, the impact of climate change in the Caribbean is not confined to hurricanes however—the Caribbean also has to deal with the rising water levels and rising temperatures.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2007 that the global average sea level would rise between seven and 23 inches by the end of this century. This would have a significant impact on the low-lying islands of the Bahamas and Anguilla. It would also submerge many of the region’s beaches and deal the tourism industry a critical blow. Because the Caribbean is highly dependent on tourism, a decline in tourism would rob many governments of their most important tax base—resulting in declining support for healthcare, education, and infrastructure.

Furthermore, 2010 saw a sharp spike in ocean temperatures in the Caribbean. The increased temperatures lead to widespread coral deaths. In 2005, 80% of corals were bleached and as many as 40% died in areas on the eastern side of the Caribbean. Scientists studying corals in the Caribbean reported that the damage to corals in 2010 were more devastating than in 2005. It is estimated that 80% of marine life is found in coral reefs and that these reefs are found in only 1% of the ocean territory.

Thus the impact on reefs has social and economic consequences. In the Caribbean, fisheries employ nearly 200,000 people, noted Dr. Leonard Nurse of the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the University of the West Indies. Furthermore, the industry earns USD $5 billion to $6 billion per year in foreign exchange and providing about 10% of the region's protein intake. As another example of the Caribbean’s near total dependency on tourism, dive tourism and recreational fishing are also important revenue sources. In 2000, one study estimated dive tourism and fisheries in the Caribbean provided an economic value between $3.1 billion and $4.6 billion. In a compounding manner, the rising sea levels would create higher storm surges during hurricanes, and the warming ocean waters would fuel stronger storms.

When it comes to discussing climate change in the Caribbean, the sharp inequalities in power and resources come to light. Despite climate change posing a major threat to their survival—and their playing an insignificant impact on carbon emissions—the small countries of the Caribbean have extremely limited influence on the decisions being made (or not made). Extend this inequality to matters of trade and finance and the region is not only at a major disadvantage in preparing for and coping with disasters, both economic and environmental, but it is also being assaulted on many fronts by issues they cannot control.

Dr. Givan best articulated the seriousness of the situation when he remarked that “When you combine acute climate change-related stress of this kind with (a) the acute economic stress arising out of erosion of trade preferences and the failure to develop a new 'insertion' into the global economy, (b) fiscal stress due to unsustainable debt burdens and the impact of the global economic crisis; and (c) the seeming incapacity of governments to control the impact of transnational crime; one must wonder if we are not in fact experiencing an overlapping and interconnected series of challenges which in their totality, challenge the assumptions underlying the ‘national statehood’ dispensation of the region.”

Knowing that it is hard to see any bright spots coming out of such a devastating event like Hurricane Sandy, perhaps it will force the issue of climate change onto the political agenda in such a way that it will be impossible to ignore. The Caribbean has not had the luxury to ignore climate change because they were affected in more acute ways via hurricanes, rising sea levels, and warming currents. Hurricane Sandy has shown that this is now changing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Bitter Anniversary: Remembering the Invasion of Grenada

1339 October 22, 2012
NACLA.org

The second half of October is always a time of reflection amongst progressive forces in Caribbean, but especially so in Grenada. This is because October 19 marked the 29th anniversary of the death of Maurice Bishop, the Prime Minister of the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada. In addition, October 25 will mark the 29th anniversary of the invasion of Grenada—where the United States attacked the island’s population of 110,000 with 7,000 troops via land, sea, and air.

The right wing Heritage Foundation described the 1983 invasion as “The Reagan Administration's bold action to restore democracy and a free market economy to Grenada.” Ronald Reagan himself stated that it was “no invasion; it was a rescue mission.” Guyana’s Stabroek News was more precise, calling it “one of the most egregious examples of asymmetrical warfare in modern times, the United States of America, the world’s most powerful state, invaded Grenada, one of the world’s weakest mini-states.”

Given the context of the Cold War, the United States under Reagan had been busy undermining the revolutionary government in Nicaragua, aiding the right wing paramilitaries in El Salvador, and destabilizing the progressive government of Michael Manley in Jamaica. Reagan was also eager to score a military victory and restore the confidence that had been lost after the Vietnam War and the overthrowing of the Shah in Iran. This victory was to come at the expense of the Grenadian people, and the wider hopes of the Caribbean, in constructing a model of society based on social justice.

The Grenadian Revolution began on March 13, 1979, when the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare Education and Liberation, or the New Jewel Movement, overthrew the corrupt and increasingly oppressive government of Eric Gairy. Bishop described life under Gairy as one of “a total dependence on imperialism, a reality that meant extreme poverty, characterized by massive unemployment, with more than half of the work force out of work, high malnutrition, illiteracy, backwardness, superstition, poor housing and health conditions combined with overall economic stagnation and massive migration.”

The role of the Grenadian Revolution, its importance to the wider Caribbean, and the threat it posed for the United States was best summed up by Bishop who remarked in 1980 that “We are obviously no threat to America, nor is Cuba for that matter. I think Washington fears that we could set an example for the rest of the region if our Revolution succeeds. In the Caribbean region you’re talking about small countries with small populations and limited resources, countries that over the years have been classic examples of neo-capitalist depend­encies. Now you have these new governments like Nicaragua and Grenada that are attempting a different experiment. They are no longer looking at development as how many hotels you have on the beach but in terms of what benefits people get. How many have jobs? How many are being fed, housed, and clothed? How many of the children receive education? We certainly believe in Grenada that the people of the English-speaking Caribbean want to see an experiment like that succeed. They want to see what we are trying to build come about. America understands that and obviously if we are able to succeed where previous governments following different models failed, that would be very, very subversive.”

According to Jorge Heine, the Grenadian Revolution “stands as the single most advanced effort to bring socialism to the English speaking Caribbean, regionally the Grenadian Revolution stands only after the Haitian Revolution of 1804, and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 in the scope and degree of change brought to political institutions.” As such, the Reagan administration had to figure out a way to portray Grenada as an immediate threat to the world’s preeminent superpower.

This was done by portraying the construction of the Port Salines International Airport as the latest Soviet attempt to launch an attack on the United States. Despite the airport being a project planned by the British and Canadian government, assisted by Cuban construction workers and a Miami-based dredging firm, Reagan spun the project as something much more sinister, calling Grenada “a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a major military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy.”

In 1982, Bishop invited Congressman Ron Dellums to Grenada on a fact-finding mission. Upon his return, he told Congress that "Based on my personal observations, discussion, and analysis of the new international airport under construction in Grenada, it is my conclusion that this project is specifically now and has always been for the purpose of economic development and is not for military use.... It is my thought that it is absurd, patronizing, and totally unwarranted for the United States Government to charge that this airport poses a military threat to the United States’ national security."

October 19, 1983 marks the date when a personal and factional rivalry began between Bishop and Bernard Coard. Bishop was regarded as being more pragmatic, while Coard on the other hand was seen by many as being much more “Stalinist” and doctrinaire in character. Coard’s ultra-left counter-revolution was extremely bloody, killing Bishop, his pregnant girlfriend, and many of his supporters in the Revolutionary cabinet. With the killing of such a charismatic and visionary leader, this was the date when the Grenadian Revolution was dealt its hardest blow; the invasion simply finished things off.

Before this could happen, one of the most vital elements which helped Reagan build his case for invasion came in the form of a request by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to invade Grenada to restore democratic institutions. The OECS leader and Prime Minister of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, made the request. William Blum argued about the controversial nature of this request for intervention, remarking that “Even if the fears were valid, it would constitute a principle heretofore unknown under international law, namely that state A could ask state B to invade state C in the absence of any aggressive act toward state A by state C.” Declassified records have since shown that the CIA had given Charles $100,000 for making the request to intervene in Grenada.

One year after the U.S. invasion and the deaths of hundreds of Grenadian people, the World Bank hypocritically argued that the lack of an international airport “was the most limiting single factor in achieving the island’s growth possibilities.”

The Grenadian Revolution was notable in the English speaking Caribbean for its firm declaration of anti- imperialist politics and the advancement of grass roots democracy, economic self-reliance, and agricultural cooperatives. Fidel Castro referred to it as both “a successful Moncada” and “a big revolution in a small country.”

In many ways, the Grenadian revolution was also traumatic blow to the wider Caribbean left, revealing sharp warnings about ideological factionalism and ever-present U.S. destabilization campaigns and military intervention. It was a violent reminder that broad societal change would not occur easily or without repercussions. That said, we can see signs of hope. As a sign of the transition towards recognizing the good of the Revolution, in 2009, the Point Salines International Airport—the target of so much U.S. propaganda efforts—was renamed the Maurice Bishop International Airport. The move was significant after so much time and money had been spent to demonize Bishop and the revolution since the invasion.

With the deterioration of living conditions and limited opportunities for so many people in the Caribbean, the words of Bishop and the positive lessons from the Grenadian Revolution are now more important than ever. While August 2012 marked the 50th Anniversary of independence for Jamaica and Trinidad, the current levels of poverty, inequality, violence, and lack of opportunity across the wider Caribbean, reveal that political independence is often a hollow prize if not reinforced by efforts to remake society along the lines of greater equality and justice.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

MINUSTAH’s Upcoming Renewal: A Setback for Democracy in Haiti

1287
Originally posted: October 11, 2012
NACLA.org

Despite widespread opposition from the Haitian people and many of their political representatives in parliament, the renewal of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)’s  mandate is set to occur on October 15.

Supporters of MINUSTAH, such as the International Crisis Group’s Mark Schneider, argue that “when I recently met with government and business leaders and their adversaries, everyone acknowledged one simple fact: Haiti’s limited police force—in numbers and capacity—cannot protect its citizens without UN backing. Until Haiti builds a stronger, more capable law-enforcement structure—and one hopefully is in the making—the resulting vacuum would almost inevitably lead to spoilers seeking to secure their goals through gun barrels rather than ballot boxes.”

Standing in contradiction to this, a January 2012 study by Mark Schuller showed little popular support for MINUSTAH, stating that “the sur­vey of over 800 house­holds through­out Port-au-Prince shows that less than a quar­ter of respon­dents con­sid­ered that the pres­ence of the U.N. Sta­bi­liza­tion Mis­sion in Haiti (or MINUSTAH) is a “good thing” while a major­ity feel that the troops aren’t pro­vid­ing ade­quate secu­rity. A large per­cent­age (43.9%) of respon­dents believed that MINUSTAH agents are or have been engaged in crim­i­nal activ­i­ties such as vio­lence, theft, and rape.” Additionally, the study revealed that “More than a fifth of sur­vey respon­dents (21.2%) said they wanted MINUSTAH to leave Haiti 'now,' while an addi­tional 22.2% would like to see the troops leave within a year. Only 5.9% of respon­dents said they do not think MINUSTAH should leave Haiti.”

Furthermore, a February Security Council Report argued that Haitian “Parliamentarians shared frank and mostly critical views on MINUSTAH. They called for the mission to compensate cholera victims and to swiftly punish those within MINUSTAH responsible for incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse of Haitians.”

While strengthening the rule of law and establishing a civilian police force are certainly necessary steps for Haiti, MINUSTAH is supporting the establishment of a system in opposition to the popular demands of democracy and inclusion.

At his last address to the United Nations Security Council in April 2011, former President Rene Preval stated that the dangers of violent confrontation in Haiti were over and that "peacekeeping operations did not quickly enough adapt to the new situation" and questioned the need for an additional renewal of a military mission in a country that has had no war. He went on to argue that "Tanks, armed vehicles, and soldiers should have given way to bulldozers, engineers, more police instructors, and experts on reforming the judicial and prison systems.”

While MINUSTAH justifies itself by claiming to protect the Haitian people from violent criminal gangs, they often confuse them with student groups. WikiLeaked cables from 2006 revealed that “MINUSTAH had focused over the past several weeks on attempting to identify elements among [a student] group that posed a threat to its mandate.”

On May 25, 2010, after MINUSTAH troops used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up anti-MINUSTAH protests by university students, they quickly entered the university to arrest student leader Frantz Mathieu Junior. The student hid in a washroom, but the soldiers chased him and kicked down the door. According to investigative journalist Ansel Herz, “Junior said he was forced to the ground and kicked repeatedly, then taken away. He says he was force-fed while in detention.” The rubber bullets and tear gas were also fired into camps of the internally displaced peoples, resulting in injuries of several women and children.

On September 14, 2011, MINUSTAH tear gassed another student demonstration in Champs de Mars. The students were calling for an end to MINUSTAH’s occupation and also for an end to the mission’s impunity in regards to ongoing charges of sexual abuse and for introducing cholera to the country.

Most recently, on June 15, 2012, MINUSTAH soldiers tried three times to enter the School of Humanities (FASCH) of Haiti’s State University, which left several people wounded by gunfire and many other students assaulted with teargas grenades.

In addition to attacking and suppressing student protests, we are seeing President Michel Martelly follow a slippery slope towards dictatorship with MINUSTAH standing right beside him. In October 2011, Martelly ordered the illegal arrest and imprisonment of Deputy Arnel Bélizaire, an outspoken critic of the President, after he returned to the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport. At hand to help with the illegal arrest were members of the Haitian National Police (PNH) and MINUSTAH soldiers.

MINUSTAH's strong support for Martelly goes back to the earliest moments of the presidency. While MINUSTAH’s mandate outlined in Resolution 1542 states that one of its primary goals is “to support the constitutional and political processes; to assist in organizing, monitoring, and carrying out free and fair municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections,” it raised no objections to the well-documented electoral irregularities during Martelly's election in November 2010. Despite the UN’s wish for “transparent and credible elections,” MINUSTAH’s blind eye towards the exclusion of political parties, voter fraud, and counting irregularities provided political legitimacy in what amounted to the systematic exclusion of a majority of the electorate.

On September 28, 2012, the Chief Prosecutor of Port-au-Prince, Jean Renel Sénatus, publicly discussed his dismissal by the Ministry of Justice because he refused to implement an order to arrest 36 political opponents, including the lawyers Mario Joseph, Newton St-Juste, and André Michel. Mario Joseph is one of Haiti’s most prominent human rights lawyers who is currently involved in a lawsuit against the UN for their alleged involvement in introducing the cholera epidemic to the country. He is also a leading prosecutor in the case against former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier. Newton St. Juste and Andre Michel have respectively brought up corruption complaints aimed at the President, his family, and members of his administration. When questioned about the threats and political intimidation aimed at Joseph, the United Nations remained silent on the issue, only stating that "we're certainly aware of the report... if I have anything further on that, I'll let you know."

It is troubling that while MINUSTAH calls for the rule of law to be implemented in Haiti, they are silent when one of the legal system's strongest advocates—Mario Joseph—is threatened. Furthermore, instead of encouraging democratic expression by students—the future leaders of Haiti—they allow MINUSTAH to silence them with tear gas and bullets. The reality is that if Haiti did have a strong judicial and democratic system, MINUSTAH would not be able to get away with the routine human rights abuses they commit. MINUSTAH has had over 8 years to strengthen the judicial system in Haiti and reform the Haitian National Police, but instead it has spent the majority of its money on bullets, not books and education.

We should not be surprised with this hypocrisy however, because MINUSTAH has been exposed as being opposed to the establishment of genuine democracy in Haiti. As Mark Schneider candidly admitted in an earlier quote, Haitian business leaders (and not the people) are strong supporters of MINUSTAH. In October 2008, WikiLeaks cables revealed that former U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson saw 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,”  and that MINUSTAH “is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [US government] policy interests in Haiti.”

While indispensable for the U.S. government and local business interests, it remains diametrically opposed to any effort on behalf of the popular democratic movement. Thus the renewal of MINUSTAH's mandate on October 15 should not be regarded as a step towards increased security and stability in Haiti but rather an investment in the suppression of popular pro democracy forces.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Welcome Back? Martelly Returns to Widespread Protests

1280 October 4, 2012
NACLA.org

Given the waves of anti-government protests which have recently engulfed Haiti, one would have thought that Haitian President Michel Martelly would have found refuge from controversy while visiting the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Yet this was not the case. While the past several weeks have seen protests spread throughout Haiti, from Port au Prince to Cap Haitien, Gonaives and La Cayes, they have even followed Martelly to Brooklyn, New York.


The protest, consisting of several hundred Haitians marching to Brooklyn College, where they demonstrated across the street from the Walt Whitman auditorium, the site of Martelly’s speaking engagement. The primary reason for the protest had to do with allegations of corruption due to mismanagement of funds raised by a controversial tax on money transfers and phone calls. Marlène Jean-Noel explained that “One month after he came to power, Martelly put a $1.50 tax on every money transfer Haitians send back to their families in Haiti. He also put a 5 cent per minute tax on phone calls. You can’t call Haiti anymore. When you do, your calling card finishes almost immediately. And what does he do with the money? He gives it to his wife and his son to do baloney projects. Meanwhile, the Haitian masses are dying of hunger.”

The purpose of the new tax—which was implemented in June 2011 but not presented to the Haitian parliament for ratification—was to raise funds for an accessible national education program which would waive all of the registration fees for primary students. At the time it was hailed as an innovative way for cash strapped Haiti to raise funds for much needed public services and by September 2011 it was announced that the fund had raised roughly $28 million. However, the promise of the program was short lived, as Martelly came under fire from Digicel Director Dennis O’Brien, who requested an audit of the National Education Fund in January after hearing that Governor of the National Bank of Haiti, Charles Castel, announced that only $2 million remained in the fund. The man responsible for administering the failed National Education Fund was then Foreign Minister, and current Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe.

Inside the venue at Brooklyn College, Martelly wasn’t shaken by the allegations of corruption related to the failed National Education Fund but revealed his impressive level of denial by stating that “Rebuilding Haiti is not just about the physical buildings, it’s about having the people who can lead and manage the projects… It’s about the freedom of the people. How can someone be free if he can’t eat… if he doesn’t have access to health care, to a good education?”

In an effort which would only prove his critics right and fuel more allegations about the mismanagement of funds, Martelly flew to the General Assembly in New York with an enormous entourage consisting of 78 people.

Back in Haiti, there is no single identifiable cause of the widespread protests. A variety of groups are taking to the street to voice their frustration with the previously mentioned ineffectiveness and corruption of the Martelly administration and as well as to voice outrage stemming from an emerging judicial crisis and rising food prices.

The judicial crisis began on September 27 when former Chief Prosecutor for Port-au-Prince, Jean Renel Senatus, stated that Haiti's Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon fired him for his refusal to execute an order to arrest 36 government opponents. Among the government opponents were Newton St. Juste and Andre Michel, who have respectively brought up corruption complaints aimed at the President, his family, and members of his administration. Human rights attorney Mario Joseph was also amongst those targeted for illegal arrest and detention. In response to this, the Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­a­tion of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), an inter­na­tional alliance of pro­gres­sive human rights lawyers, jurists, law stu­dents and legal work­ers, issued a statement which denounced the move and expressed deep concern for the safety of Joseph—known for his tireless representation of political dissidents and the poor.

La Cayes and Cap Haitien have both been the site of popularly supported strikes in September and again this week. In Gonaives, protests erupted due to the poor conditions of the local university on September 24. On October 1, thousands of supporters of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide marched through Port au Prince. For more information and analysis on these and many more protests please read this article by Dady Chery.

In regards to the rising food prices, AlterPresse reported that “Since August the price of a 25-kilogram sack of rice has risen from 900 to 1,150 gourdes ($21.35 to $27.28), the residents said; a sack of flour went from 1,100 to 1,300 gourdes ($26.10 to $30.84); and a gallon of cooking oil rose from 300 to 450 gourdes ($7.12 to $8.07).” Rising food prices toppled the Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis in 2008, and unless meaningful steps are taken to secure the local food supply and lower prices, given all the additional controversies, it is not an unrealistic prediction that something similar could happen again.

Former Presidential candidate and head of the Assembly of Progressive National Democrats (RNDP by its French acronym), Mirlande Manigat, highlighted the importance of the protests, stating that “These developments show that now the people are no longer just talking; they are acting.” As such, it is a very real possibility that the Haiti that President Martelly returned to on Sunday is different from the one he left. Perhaps he will take the protests as a wake up call. It remains to be seen if Martelly will actually seek to address the issues or suppress them along with the protestors. But from all appearances, whether Martelly chooses to solve the problems the people are demanding or not, the people are wide awake.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

An Unexpected Ally: St. Lucia to Maintain Recognition of Taiwan

Sept. 27, 2012
NACLA.org

Earlier this month, the government of St. Lucia announced that it will be maintaining ties with Taiwan. This came as a surprise to many, as it was Dr. Kenny Anthony’s Labour Party (SLP) administration that broke off relations with Taiwan in 1997, shifting diplomatic relations to the People’s Republic of China. While in opposition, Anthony promised that he would review the island’s foreign relations policy, and it was widely assumed that the election of Anthony in December 2011 would result in the SLP favoring ties with China once again.

The many well publicized incidents of corruption and political meddling associated with the relationship between former Taiwanese ambassador Tom Chou and the former United Workers Party (UWP) government widely fueled the assumption that these ties would be broken. Yet this was not the case, and instead Anthony argued that it was best for St. Lucia to stay the course with Taiwan and not behave “like a Jack-in-the-Box, jumping from one country to another every few years.”

In his address to the nation explaining the decision, Anthony clarified, stating that “I repeatedly emphasized that we would not vulgarize our handling of diplomatic issues with Taiwan and would approach the issue of our future relations in a civilized way. Saint Lucia cannot look as if it is just prepared to jump from one side to another, after every general election, just for more largesse. We cannot behave as if our sovereignty is for sale to the highest bidder.”

This was an apparent shot at the former UWP government, which abruptly broke off ties with China with their election victory in 2007. This reversal deeply angered China, regarding the move as Taiwan conducting “brutal interference in China's internal affairs.” Former UWP Foreign Minister Rufus Bousquet justified the decision, candidly stating that the best policy was to “Support those who give you the most.” This was widely considered to be a statement of personal benefit, as even WikiLeaks noted the corruption of Bousquet.

The diplomatic break was widely considered a slap in the face to the Chinese, who had donated many significant infrastructure projects to the island, including newly built schools, stadiums, tunnels, roads in addition to an export processing zone in the southern town of Vieux Fort. This political about face resulted in the Chinese abandoning their almost completed psychiatric hospital just south of the national capital of Castries. (The hospital was completed with Taiwanese assistance in 2009).

In order to maintain public support, like the Chinesethe Taiwanese also began investing in projects, mostly related to agriculture, tourism, and recreational facilities. To date, the Taiwanese have funded the construction of a National Tennis Center, a meat processing plan, aqua culture facilities, the development of orchid farms, and the refurbishment of the badly damaged St. Jude hospital. At the moment, over 50 St. Lucian students are studying in Taiwan.

Perhaps one of the key statements of Anthony’s address was that “I have often said in opposition and repeated since my party returned to office, that this is a new era when we have to summon our courage and our common will to think and act differently. This view must also apply in the sphere of external relations. Our foreign policy has to be conducted in accordance with our growing needs in a quickly changing world. This is as much so for us, as it is for Taiwan.”

Anthony went on to remark that “Any decision to maintain recognition of Taiwan will be perceived in the arenas of international diplomacy, and pre-eminently at the United Nations, as inevitably temporary, the result of specific contingent circumstances and objectives of the Saint Lucian state, and therefore subject to change and lacking final certainty.”

In regards to thinking and acting differently, St. Lucia seems like it is embarking on a risky strategy that few others have undertaken. At the same time Prime Minister Anthony publicized the island’s ties with TaiwanSt. Lucian Foreign Minister Alva Baptiste was visiting China at the request of the Communist Party, with a delegation of SLP officials to China to “discuss issues of mutual interest to both parties.” It remains to be seen how the mixed signals will be viewed in Taipei, considering that the relationship between Taiwan and St. Lucia at the moment is largely one directionaland such unconventional protocol could be taken as an insult. Both China and Taiwan have historically avoided matters of shared diplomatic recognition, and if successful, this would be a first.

Despite the potential repercussions, Anthony remained hopefully, stating that “It would be both historic and helpfulindeed it would be perfectif Saint Lucia could find a way to benefit from ties with both China and Taiwan, however defined. This is a dream many countries share and there has been no better time than now to engage China and Taiwan on this issue, as it relates to Saint Lucia, in the context of their increasing 'cross straits' mutual cooperation and understanding.”

However, with the growing economic and political influence of China in CARICOM countries, it begs to be asked what leverage does St. Lucia really have? Given the current economic climate facing small Caribbean countries such as St. Lucia and China’s aggressive financial plans for the region (China announced it will offer up to US$1 billion in preferential loans to Caribbean nations to support local and economic development), it appears that China is shifting from a policy of handing out gifts to a more strategic one of handing out loans. In such a scenario, who is really benefitting?

As pointed out by Stan Bishop in the St. Lucia Voice, “If both China and Taiwan see no problem with the current posture being taken by Saint Lucia as regards our foreign policy with the two nations, so be it. But if they do, who’s to say that either will not use us as a pawn for their own purposes? Only time will tell.”