2002 - another challenging year for the Caribbean
by Peter Richards
Guyana Chronicle
January 5, 2003

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REVIVAL of ailing regional economies, particularly in the smaller Eastern Caribbean states, was the major challenge faced by the Caribbean in 2002 - the year after the devastating terrorist attacks on the United States accentuated problems for countries highly dependent on tourism and trade with North America.

Crime was another major concern - especially for Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad - while politics was at the center of problems in Haiti and Venezuela.

As the year drew to a close, Caribbean nations joined in expressions of solidarity with the embattled governments of Jean Bertrand Aristide and Hugo Chavez, amid ongoing anti-government protests against the two separate administrations.

Oil-rich Trinidad, which fared better than most other islands economically, went a step further in assisting Caracas in dealing with a crippling nationwide strike, by agreeing to send a shipment of 300 000 barrels of gasoline to its South American neighbour.

Port of Spain is itself only now emerging out of a year long political stalemate that came about as a result of an historic 18-18 tie in the

December 2001 poll that forced President Arthur NR Robinson to choose between incumbent Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning to lead the country.

The President would eventually choose Manning but after that the main opposition United National Congress would do all in its power to make the

country ungovernable. It referred to the Manning-led administration as a “select government”, forcing him to call fresh elections on October 7, in

which Manning’s People’s National Movement was given a decisive mandate.

By yearend, Manning was seeking to stamp his leadership mark on the country and to woo Caribbean neighbours with a special initiative to help them benefit from LNG products.

But former Prime Minister Panday was appearing before a magistrate’s court for the non-disclosure of some of his assets during his term in office. The case will be held early in 2003.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister P.J. Patterson wrote himself into that country’s political history by becoming the first leader to win three consecutive

terms in office. His People’s National Party (PNP) won 35 of the 60 seats at stake in the October 16 election while its main rival, the Jamaica Labour

Party (JLP), improved upon its 1997 showing by winning 13 more seats than it had in the previous Parliament.

"I believe that being the first prime minister to win a third consecutive term is not only a historical privilege, but also imposes on me a historical

responsibility and that responsibility has to be discharged by leading the charge for unity, for harmony, for peace, for progress -- for making sure

that our motto is fulfilled: Out of many, one people,” Patterson said as he extended an olive branch to the JLP.

In Antigua and Barbuda, where preparations are underway for a general election, the re-registration of voters has come under heavy criticism from

the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) as well as from a senior member of the Electoral Commission.

However the Commission’s chairman McLin Matthias has denied allegations that the Lester Bird administration was blocking the process of voter re-registration.

But that was not the only problem confronting Prime Minister Bird in 2002.Accused of being involved in an alleged sex and drugs ring, he took legal action against his detractors that included a 13-year-old girl, whose video confessions were used by the opposition in calling for the resignation of key personnel within the Bird administration.

Further, allegations of impropriety rocked the Bird cabinet, with a commission inquiry into the state administered Medical Benefits Scheme

implicating at least two former ministers in wrongdoing. By yearend, former trade minister Hilroy Humpreys, had filed for judicial review of the

commissions findings.

The Antigua and Barbuda Government was also seeking to come to terms with an alleged passport racket, involving United States sniper suspect John Allen Mohammed, who was resident in the country between 2000-2001.

Allegations of human rights violations, street demonstrations, the detention and murder of prominent journalists and political figures also continued to affect Haiti, the Caribbean Community’s newest member. As well, Haiti’s bleak economic situation did little to endear Port Au Prince to the region during 2002.

By yearend, the CARICOM Secretariat had postponed a high level visit to the country.

The virtual collapse of the Dominica economy forced CARICOM countries and regional financial institutions to mount a rescue mission resulting in the formation of a Regional Stabilisation Fund. Officials said that the fund would also help other regional states that had been dealt a significant blow by the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

“There have been attempts in the past at putting together various balance of payment facilities to support economies in difficulties, but never a

comprehensive stabilisation and transformation programme, “ said CARICOM Chairman and Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, who chaired the meeting.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Pierre Charles said that “prudential economic management in our country” had now become an “ unavoidable imperative”, adding that a similar message was also being sent to the international financial community”.

As part of the agreed economic stabilisation programme the Roseau government has significantly reduced its direct participation in enterprises such as financial institutions and freed up the market for increased private sector participation by a broad spectrum of society.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also provided Dominica with a US4.3 million dollar Stand-by Credit to help in its economic recovery. The Bank said, in a statement, that the decision by the Government to introduce a controversial stabilisation levy, broadening of the sales tax base, and the reduction in exemptions from import duties and the consumption tax would raise revenues, while containment of the central government wage bill and strict monitoring of investment outlays would lower expenditures.

Dominica’s economy problems may have acted as the catalyst that spurred other countries that make up the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) into accepting a proposal that outlined new initiatives for developing the economies of the sub-region.

Entitled `The OECS Development Charter’ it was discussed and accepted at a special OECS Summit on the Economy held in St. Kitts. The OECS Secretariat and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) developed the Charter over several years. It maps out a vision for the long-term development of the region, with strategies at the national and regional levels.

It also puts the OECS in a position to address concerns about the absence of a development framework for the region. The Charter also provides the OECS with a guide to how it deals with international trade negotiations. It is also an instrument with which the OECS can now engage international

financial institutions to discuss financial assistance, officials say.

But while the sub-region was moving to consolidate its socio-economic position within a changing global environment, the wider Caribbean was

moving slowly towards establishing its own Single Market and Economy (CSME) in the face of criticism it was doing so quite slowly.

Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, who holds responsibility for the CSME within CARICOM, said the region was now at the same point as Europe in 1985 when it agreed to create a single economic space. He has defended the slow movement towards the creation of the CSME.

"Again the success of Europe's integration has been greatly facilitated by the ethics of specially created social cohesion and regional development

funds that have assisted countries such as Ireland, Spain and Portugal that started on the level round of the ladder to catch up with their neighbours."

Arthur said.

But even as the region moved to strengthen its integration movement, Jamaica was sending signals that it was not contemplating being involved in any regional political union at this time.

Prime Minister Patterson made his position known even as steps were being taken on the diplomatic front, to consolidate the Caribbean’s relationship with Cuba, the region’s only Communist state.

"The commitment of this Administration to regional economic integration is well known, we will remain active and continue to play a leading role within a deepened and expanded CARICOM and remain committed to its deepening and expansion," said Patterson.

However," I which to make it clear that Jamaica does not contemplate being engaged in any meeting convened with the aim of establishing a West Indian Federation in any shape or form, " he said.

During the year, agreement was also reached on the border conflict between Belize and Guatemala.

The Caribbean also sought to position itself within various fora discussing a wide range of global issues that would affect their primary commodities.

The Director General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM) Dr. Richard Bernal said it was vital for the Caribbean to adjust quickly to the new realities.

“As the process of globalisation proceeds it is eroding or eliminating national barriers and therefore we are getting a single dominant global

market, and therefore you can run but you can’t hide from globalisation,” he warned.

His predecessor and former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Shridath Ramphal said that Caribbean states, while putting their house in order, would do better to negotiate with the European Union ahead of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) due to be established in 2005.

Sir Shridath said it would be in the best interest of the region to finalise an accord with Europe since negotiations with Europe would have significance in the World Trade Organisation and in turn, the FTAA.

“We have to attack FTAA seriously. We must have countervailing arguments…small economies are not expected to have the same playing fields as the US, Argentina or Mexico,” he said.

The region’s airline industry took a battering in 2002 with the Trinidad-based national airline BWIA dismissing workers including pilots.

In November, the Trinidad and Tobago Government announced it was providing a US13.75 million dollar loan to assist the airline in overcoming its financial problems that management said had been compounded by the terrorist attacks on the United States last year.

The airline says it is expects to lose an estimated TT80.7 million dollars (US13.4 million dollars) in 2002. Air Jamaica was also facing similar

financial problems.

But it was the survival of the regional island hopper LIAT that was the major talking point at a meeting in St. Vincent in late October.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves accused one of LIAT’s competitor’s, “Caribbean Star”, of introducing fares “at a level that could put LIAT out of the skies”.

The financial problems of the regional airline was providing yet another reminder to the Caribbean for the establishment of a single regional entity.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Communication and Works Minister Franklin Khan made it clear that regional governments would not support individual airlines unless they become a single entity.

“Airlines in the region have discussed deepening relations for quite a number of years, but competitive rivalry has usually stalled hopes of real cooperation,” Khan said.

Guyana, with its economy recovering from years of stagnation, was plagued by an unprecedented wave which has also been described as one of the bloodiest chapters in the country’s post-independence history, with figures showing that since February 23 over 150 people have been murdered - four times the number for last year.

By yearend, representatives of Guyana’s parliamentary political parties and the Social Partners were continuing discussions on alleviating the crime situation. Crime is one of the issues identified by the Social Partners in their paper on “Shared Governance”.

Criminal activities in the Caribbean were a major talking point at this year’s annual Caribbean leaders meeting in Guyana in July. Some blamed the upsurge on the influx of so called “deportees” from the United States, under Washington’s initiative to stem criminal activities in that country.

Barbados, like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, that have found difficulty in implementing the death penalty, announced plans to counter efforts by convicted criminals to delay or even prevent state executions.

The Arthur government has tabled a series of constitutional amendments that would essentially counter a number of decisions by London's Privy Council (the highest Court of Appeal for the Commonwealth Caribbean) over the last nine years.

The new legislation not only addresses the mitigating effects of the 1993 Pratt and Morgan ruling by the Judicial Committee of Privy Council in London but also is designed to forestall the Privy Council’s March 12, 2002 decision outlawing mandatory death sentences in seven Eastern Caribbean countries from being applied to Barbados.

On a sad note, the Caribbean bade farewell to former Guyana President and leader of the main opposition Peoples National Congress/Reform (PNCR) Desmond Hoyte, who died after an apparent heart attack in late December.

Hoyte served as President from 1985 to 1992 and was credited for initiating far-reaching electoral and economic reforms which strengthened the bases of the democratic culture of Guyana, promoted market-oriented policies and stimulated economic growth.

The deaths of former Trinidad and Tobago’s Sports Minister and netball icon, Jean Pierre, from colon cancer and historian, cricket commentator and outspoken politician Tim Hector of Antigua and Barbuda were also recorded in 2002.

Prominent Caribbean journalist Hugh Crosskill was shot and killed in Jamaica and that country also mourned the death of cultural personality Eric Coverly, the husband of Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett, herself a Caribbean cultural icon.

On December 31, former Jamaica Labour Party Chairman and Gleaner editor-in-chief, Hector Wynter also died in hospital, after succumbing to injuries he received in a motor vehicle accident. He was 76.

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