31 December 2012

Uphill Struggle for Caribbean Financial Services Sector

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua,(IPS) - In the 1980′s, Caribbean countries wanted to shore up their prospects of social and economic development in the coming decades, so they looked to the financial services sector to spur employment and development. They managed to develop a robust industry, particularly in the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.

Today, however, the region has been struggling to keep up with evolving international regulations. These challenges come at a high cost, even as proponents of the regulations argue that they are critical in dealing with the global financial and economic crisis.

For at least two years, the international community has pressured the Caribbean, where several countries are well known as tax havens, to shut down its financial centres and implement a number of measures in order to qualify for bilateral aid. Since then, little has changed, delegates at the second meeting of the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) Conference on the International Financial Services Sector in the Caribbean Region, held Oct. 30-31 in Antigua, learned.

Baldwin Spencer, the Antiguan prime minister, said the international community continues to issue “repeated demands that the region should be treated on a level playing field with financial centres in the industrialised economies using the principles of natural justice”.

He said that while the Caribbean has been committed to developing financial services in a “responsible manner and investing in their good supervision and regulation”, developed countries are the ones that have dropped the “regulatory ball”, to devastating effect on the rest of the world.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has pushed for restricting, and in some cases, outlawing financial services in the Caribbean, threatening on occasions to blacklist countries that have failed to comply with some of its policies.

Regulations with a purpose

Those who support such regulations say that they are necessary given the current financial climate. The newly appointed head of the delegation of the European Union to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Mikael Barfod, has defended the OECD position, insisting that it is aimed at tackling tax fraud and harmful tax practises.

“In today’s environment with the international financial crisis, the international taxation cooperation between governments and between tax administrations has gained in importance,” he said, noting that since 2009, there has been “major progress” in these areas.

He acknowledged that while Caribbean countries have made an effort to sign a “sufficient amount” of Tax Information Exchange Agreements in order to be fully accepted by the OECD, “there is more to be done in many states and the governance standards defined internationally by G20 and OECD are changing”.

Avinash Persaud, an international expert on the financial services sector and chairman of the London Business School, told IPS that the financial sector “is really quite significant” in Caribbean economies, accounting for as much as 50 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for islands like Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda.

“They represent a major part of tax revenues. Over the past 10 years they have come under tremendous pressure by the larger economies” such as those of London, Zurich, and New York, which are under fiscal pressure themselves with little or no tax revenues and which now want to compete with Caribbean financial centres.

“They are trying to establish a set of global rules which they decide themselves and then impose on us,” said Persaud. “Then they judge whether we are fitting with those rules or not. Judge and jury. It is really ad hoc and it is really designed to close down the international financial centres coming from the Caribbean. It is certainly not a level playing field.”

New standards to follow

Ivan Ogando Lora, the director general of CARIFORUM, which is comprised of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) bloc and the Dominican Republic, said recent recommendations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) regarding international standards for combating money laundering and financing of terrorism, will also now pose new problems for the region.

“Compliance to international standards now seems to be the order of the day and Caribbean jurisdictions have been making strides in this regard,” he said, noting however, despite the efforts, that Caribbean countries “continue to attract negative attention”.

CARICOM countries have already developed a final draft of a Financial Services Agreement that if approved by mid-2013 would create a single financial space with common legislation, regulations, administrative procedures and practices and will also provide for cross border supervision and harmonisation of standards.

The United States, which has complained in the past of its wealthy citizens using the Caribbean to escape paying taxes, has itself introduced a range of changes to its financial regulatory environment that regional stakeholders fear could also undermine the financial services sector within CARIFORUM.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), for example, would require U.S. tax authorities to levy a 30 percent withholding tax on both foreign and non-financial foreign institutions where new reporting requirements have not been met.

The requirements would affect traditional financial institutions such as retail and commercial banks as well as investment banks, securities and brokerage firms, private banks and wealth management firms that do business in the United States. Any institution doing business with U.S. individuals and entities would have to immediately adopt procedures, processes and systems necessary for FATCA compliance.

Persaud said that this latest strategy underscores the struggle facing the Caribbean in recent years.

“They have essentially moved land and water to try and comply with the new rules and when they do so, the rules then change again and the costs are extremely burdensome. The cost for the Caribbean financial centre complying with international rules is ten times as the per cent of GDP as the cost of the larger rich countries complying with the rules they have set.

“The problem is we can’t abandon the sector because it is an important sector,” he said, urging the Caribbean “to fight a better fight”.

Justice Dept. and Puerto Rico Agree to Overhaul the Island’s Troubled Police Force

New York Times

Police officers detained student protesters
 at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan in 2011

       photo by Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the government of Puerto Rico agreed Friday to sweeping changes to the commonwealth’s large and troubled Police Department intended to help overcome a history of discrimination, violence and corruption.

In a 102-page consent decree filed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit, Justice Department officials and the departing governor of Puerto Rico, Luis G. Fortuño, agreed to far-reaching changes in the way the 17,000-member force recruits, trains, promotes and oversees its officers. This includes strict new policies on the use of force, police interactions with gay and transgender Puerto Ricans, the department’s approach to domestic violence and its handling of civilian complaints. The agreement also reins in the department’s special tactical units, which have drawn much criticism over the years.

Both sides agreed to delay putting the changes in place for several months to give the administration of the incoming governor, Alejandro García Padilla, an opportunity to review and adopt it — or propose changes. The subject is also subject to judicial approval.

“The successful implementation of the reforms contained in this agreement will help to reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution and restore public confidence” in the Puerto Rico Police Department, said Thomas E. Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights.

The agreement follows a 116-page report the Civil Rights Division issued last year accusing the Police Department of systematically “using force, including deadly force, when no force or lesser force was called for,” unnecessarily injuring hundreds of people and killing “numerous others.”

Critics of the Police Department have long complained that the force is largely corrupt, often inefficient and sometimes ruthless. This year, the American Civil Liberties Unionwrote its own report on the department, highlighting widespread abuses and violations of civil rights, especially against poor people, black Puerto Ricans and Dominican immigrants.

“These abuses do not represent isolated incidents or aberrant behavior by a few rogue officers,” the report stated. “Such police brutality is pervasive and systemic, island-wide and ongoing.”

At the same time, murder is rampant on the island. Residents largely blame the police for failing to stem the killings. In 2011, Puerto Rico broke its own record, with 1,135 homicides, a rate of 30 killings per 100,000 residents.

The Justice Department report last year portrayed a police department riddled with problems. Officers routinely conducted illegal searches and seizures without warrants, attacked nonviolent protesters and journalists and discriminated against Dominicans, gays and transgender people. The department also failed to adequately handle sex assault and domestic violence cases, including spousal abuse by fellow officers.

Governor Fortuño said Friday that nothing was more important than the safety and quality of life of Puerto Ricans. The agreement, he said, establishes a clear path toward strengthening the Police Department.

“There remains a lot of ground to cover, but we have initiated a broad reform of the police that has been necessary for decades,” said Mr. Fortuño, who lost his re-election bid in November.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, under Mr. Perez, has threatened lawsuits and pushed through a series of consent decrees to overhaul troubled police departments, including a broad one with the City of New Orleans this year. The Puerto Rico agreement appears to go further.

Among other things, Puerto Rico has agreed to expel officers from heavily armed “special tactical units” who have a pattern of misbehavior and to end the practice of using them to perform ordinary police work and routine patrols, a practice linked to complaints of police brutality.

The earlier report said the units frequently relied on “intimidation, fear and extreme use of force.”

One example it cited was the killing of Cáceres Cruz in August 2007 by a tactical unit officer. Mr. Cruz was directing traffic when three officers, driving by, thought he had insulted them. They told Mr. Cruz he was under arrest and wrestled him to the ground. An officer accidentally shot himself in the leg. He then repeatedly shot Mr. Cruz, who was lying on the ground, in the head and body before leaving the scene.

An internal investigation cleared the officers of misconduct. But after a video of the confrontation surfaced in the news media, one officer was convicted of murder. It emerged that seven complaints had been filed against him, but had been largely ignored.

The agreement also called for new controls on stops, searches, and arrests, including a requirement that the department record the reason for the stop and the subject’s ethnicity.

Because of a stream of complaints involving prisoner abuse, supervisors at precincts and stations will have to “visually inspect each detainee or arrestee for injury” and interview them about any complaints of pain. A specific policy will be instituted for how the police should interact with gay and transgender people.

And to avoid the clashes seen in recent years between demonstrators and the police, crowd control rules must be improved and closely followed.

The report also tackles the longstanding problem of domestic violence and sexual assault on the island. The police will have to conduct more thorough investigations of these crimes, set up a 24-hour hot line and track the disposition of sexual assault cases.

Charlie Savage reported from Washington, and Lizette Alvarez from Miami


28 December 2012

Associated State signs Niue Treaty on cooperation in fisheries

Palau signs Niue Treaty

Palau has become the first nation to sign a treaty amongst all Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency members, aimed at strengthening cooperative surveillance and enforcement activities.

Palau has become the first nation to sign a treaty amongst all Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency members, aimed at strengthening cooperative surveillance and enforcement activities.

Palau’s Director Bureau of Oceanic Fishery Management, Nannette Malsol, signed the Agreement on Strengthening Implementation of the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the Pacific Region (the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement) at the FFA Headquarters in Honiara today.

“This is a landmark achievement for our region and furthers our efforts to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries as a source of income and food for our people now and into the future,” Ms Malsol said.
“As such I would like to thank the FFA and members for concluding this important Agreement within the timeframe established by our Leaders.”

The Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement is aimed at enhancing active participation in cooperative surveillance and enforcement activities by providing a framework for the Parties to share resources and exchange information, including fisheries data and intelligence.

The Agreement is a direct response to the recognition by the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders on the significance of fisheries resource as a major source of food and income for the Pacific people and the Leaders’ call in the 2007 Vava’u Declaration on Pacific Fisheries: Our Fish, Our Future of the need to strengthen the current surveillance and enforcement mechanisms to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU fishing) to protect the region’s fisheries.

The final text of the Subsidiary Agreement was adopted and opened for signature on Friday November 2nd and Palau becomes the first full signatory.

FFA Director-General Designate, James Movick, congratulated Palau for taking the lead in being the first FFA member to sign the Agreement and looked forward to working closely with Palau on its implementation.
“This Agreement further enhances our goal of providing an effective monitoring, control and surveillance which is the foundation from which we will be able to support robust fisheries management measures that will enable the maximisation of returns from our fisheries resource.

“Palau’s signing of the Treaty signifies their strong commitment not only to its people but to the region as a whole in our collective effort to protect our fisheries.” he said.

In 1992, the members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) adopted the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific (Niue Treaty). The objective of the Niue Treaty is to enhance regional coordination and cooperation in fisheries surveillance and law enforcement, and increase the ability of Pacific Island countries to effectively enforce their fisheries laws. The Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement strengthens the implementation of the Niue Treaty by providing for flexible cooperation in a broad range of activities and the sharing of fisheries data and intelligence for fisheries purposes as well as broader law enforcement purposes.

All members of the FFA are Parties to the Niue Treaty being Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement shall enter into force after 4 members have ratified this Agreement.

25 December 2012

Governor inks funding law for Puerto Rico Olympic Committee

By CB Online Staff

The Puerto Rico Olympic Committee (Copur by its Spanish acronym) will get a guaranteed $3.8 million per year in public funding under legislation signed by Gov. Luis Fortuño on Monday.

Fortuño also signed a measure extending $4 million in annual funding to the Olympic Park training facility in the south coast town of Salinas. Although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, the island sends its own national team delegations to international competitions including the Olympics, Pan-American Games and the Central American & Caribbean Games.

The outgoing governor inked the law at La Fortaleza with new Copur President Sara Rosario, Sports & Recreation Secretary Henry Neumann and David Bernier, the former Copur chief who has been tapped to head the State Department under the incoming administration of Gov.-elect Alejandro García Padilla.

Also on hand at the signing ceremony were the co-authors of the legislation, New Progressive Party Sen. Larry Seilhamer and Popular Democratic Party Sen. Antonio Fas Alzamora.
The legislation was passed during a special legislative session this month after not being taken up during the final regular session of the four-year term.

The $3.8 million in guaranteed public funding of Copur will extend through 2020 and represents a $500,000 hike over the current allotment. Copur is expected to seek support in the incoming PDP-controlled Legislature for another $4 million it says it needs to close a gap with other Caribbean nations in terms of support and training for national team athletes.

23 December 2012

Shots for the film 'Tula the Revolt' film completed in Curacao

WILLEMSTAD — The 33 days of the shooting script for the firm ‘Tula the Revolt’ are over. In the coming months producers Jeroen Leinders and Dolph van Stapele will work on the post-production of the film.Expectations are that the film with Danny Glover, Henriëtte Tol, Jeroen Willems, Derek de Lint and Obi Abili as Tula in the leading roles can be seen in the theaters next year.

In the past six weeks more than 100 people from various nationalities on Curaçao worked on the film regarding the story based on facts of Tula, the leader of the large slave revolt on Curaçao in 1795. 

To complete their production team on Curaçao for the film the producers also had a camera crew from America, a production team from England and stuntmen from Bulgaria come to the island. Van Stapele was especially surprised by the successful cooperation and the local talent. “Also the quality and flexibility of both the local and international actors were phenomenally good. Thanks to the input and support from all actors, crew, figurants, sponsors, investors and volunteers, I believe we have all ingredients to produce a strong story. It is now proven that Curaçao is simply capable of making a film”, said the producer. 

In the coming four to five months the producers will work on the post-production of the film. Expectations are that this process will take place in England and will include many phases, among which the editing, the music composition, audio correction, special effects and color corrections. 

See Also:

Opening of Tula Museum in Amsterdam; commemoration of 1795 rebellion in Curacao

Film on Curacao's freedom fighter Tula to begin production


Press Release

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
On 21 November, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon nominated Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, as the Secretary-General for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States.

The Conference, which will be held in Apia, Samoa, in 2014 (date to be decided), will seek a renewed political commitment to address the special needs and vulnerabilities of the small island developing States by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions.  Building on assessments of the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation, the Conference will aim to identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for sustainable development of those States, particularly through the strengthening of partnerships between small islands and the international community.

In additions, the Conference will provide an opportunity for the elaboration of sustainable development issues of concern to small island developing States in the process of charting the post-2015 development agenda, including the sustainable development goals.

Building on the success and lessons learned from the recent Rio+20 process, Mr. Wu has offered the full support of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  That Department will work closely with Gyan Chandra Acharya, the United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.  In supporting the Conference, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs will work with other United Nations departments, the regional commissions and the United Nations system as a whole, while mobilizing relevant intergovernmental organizations and major groups, to ensure that the Conference makes a concrete and meaningful contribution to the sustainable development of small island developing States.

* *** *

20 December 2012

Puerto Rico leaders disagree with downgrade

By Caribbean Business Online Staff

Moody’s downgrades PR; one notch above ‘junk’

Puerto Rico officials are voicing disagreement with Moody’s Investors Service over its downgrade of the commonwealth government’s general obligation (GO) bonds to just one notch above “junk” grade.

The cut from Baa1 to Baa3 on Thursday kept the GOs above the non-investment level. Falling into that category would block Puerto Rico’s access to the bond markets and send the costs of borrowing skyrocketing. The outlook remains negative, Moody’s said.

Moody’s acknowledged progress on Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic fronts but said it wasn’t enough. The rating agency cited concerns over the government’s ability to control spending and fix the ailing pension system in the near future.

Incoming Gov-elect Alejandro García Padilla said “Puerto Rico is an 'A' place,” referring to the top grade given to debt issuers by the credit rating agencies.

“I want Puerto Rico to know that Puerto Rico is an A place regardless of what grade the credit raters give us,” he said

The Popular Democratic Party leader pledged to present his fiscal and economic plan to credit raters at the “right time.” He said the “serious measures” would include spending controls, strategies to jumpstart the economy and some “unexpected” initiatives.

The $3.7 trillion U.S. municipal bond market has been keeping a wary eye on Puerto Rico’s fiscal course after last month’s election ushered in García Padilla and ousted the incumbent Gov. Luis Fortuño, who had earned credit on Wall Street for tough decisions.

“We don’t agree with Moody’s did, but they have the right to do it,” Fortuño said.

The New Progressive Party governor noted that Moody’s had raised Puerto Rico’s rating in 2010, before dropping it back down to a level not seen since 2008.

Moody’s, through an institutionwide recalibration in April 2010, increased its ratings to A3, a full three notches above junk territory, but had since downgraded the rating on Puerto Rico’s GO bonds to Baa1 before lowering it another two notches on Thursday.

“Two of three credit rating agencies haven’t changed their classifications, which are higher than they were when we took over four years ago,” Fortuño said.

S&P increased its rating on Puerto Rico to BBB, two notches above junk-bond status, from BBB-minus in 2011. It now says there is a one-in-three chance it will downgrade the rating by early mid-2013 if action isn’t taken on the pension problem. That would leave the rating at BBB-minus, a single notch above junk-bond status and exactly what the credit was rated when the current administration took office.

Fitch Ratings, a unit of Fimalac SA of Paris, whose system tracks closely with S&P’s, first began to rate Puerto Rico this term, giving GOs a BBB-plus ranking. That is currently the island’s best ranking, a full three notches above noninvestment grade.

Outgoing Government Development Bank President Juan Carlos Batlle ripped the Moody’s downgrade.

“Obviously we aren’t pleased by Moody’s move. The incoming administration should have been given time present its fiscal team and plan to address these issues,” he said.

The GDB chief noted that the downgrade came just two days after García Padilla designated his whole fiscal-economic team.

“I know them and they are very competent,” Batlle said.

The GDB also disagreed with Moody’s interpretation on “many aspects” of the government’s current fiscal situation.

“The way this came down doesn’t sit well with me and I told them so,” Batlle said.

“But the report essentially validates what we have been saying for months,” he said. “First, that we have made considerable progress over the past several years. Second, that more needs to be done. And third, that there is no time to lose.”

Fortuño had assured credit-ratings agencies last week that García Padilla has a “good understanding” of the fiscal challenges facing Puerto Rico, and urged them to give him time to put together a full economic team and present a financial improvement plan.

The governor talked to Standard & Poor’s (S&P), Moody’s and Fitch Ratings, the three credit-rating agencies that rate Puerto Rico bonds.

The governor sat down with García Padilla about a week after the election for an “open and frank” discussion of Puerto Rico’s fiscal challenges, and he discussed the meeting with the Wall Street bond analysts.

“My feeling is that García Padilla and his advisers have a good understanding of what the real challenges are,” the governor said.

García Padilla had already written to credit-ratings agencies pledging his commitment to address the island’s fiscal challenges.

Wall Street wants the Puerto Rico government to return to complete structurally balanced budgets in fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1, 2013, and to take additional steps to strengthen the finances of Puerto Rico’s public-worker pension funds, bond investors and credit-rating analysts have told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS.

19 December 2012

Former Governor again requests OAS to consider case of Puerto Rico

By CB Online Staff

Former Gov. Pedro Rosselló is renewing his push for the Organization of American States (OAS) to act on his claim that the U.S. government is violating the rights of Puerto Rico residents.
The statehood stalwart first went the OAS more than a decade ago arguing that the residents of Puerto Rico do not have the right to vote for U.S. president or have a full-fledged representation in Congress, and that the federal government violates the human and civil rights to the 3.7 million residents of the island.

The former two-term New Progressive Party governor wrote this week Emilio Alvarez Icazca, executive secretary of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, urging action, noting that it has been six years since he lodged a formal petition with the international body.

“Time doesn’t stand still and the rights of the petitioners continue to be violated,” Rosselló wrote.

The letter cites the results of last month’s status plebiscite in Puerto Rico, noting it was held on the same day that islanders were again shut out from voting for president.

“The U.S. cannot continue to ignore the fundamental right to vote,” he said.

Also see: 

Rosselló: Plebiscite results were clear

18 December 2012

U.N. General Assembly Adopts 2012 resolutions on decolonisation

18 December 2012
General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
59th Meeting (AM)



In other Action, adds South Sudan to Least Developed Countries List,
Reaffirms Support for Kimberley Process, Welcomes Cooperation with la Francophonie

The General Assembly today, acting on the recommendation of its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), drew divided support among its resolutions and decisions on decolonization and issues concerning Israeli practices and the United Nations Agency tasked with mitigating the plight of the region’s refugees, but attracted broad backing for drafts on the effects of atomic radiation, peacekeeping, outer space, information and University for Peace.

Against the backdrop of the grim escalation of Gaza violence in November, the Fourth Committee forwarded nine texts to the General Assembly on the Arab-Israeli conflict, similar to those on the topics submitted last year.  Among them were five resolutions contained in the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian Peoples and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

By the terms of a text on the work of the Special Committee, the Assembly stressed the urgency of bringing a complete end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and deplored those Israeli policies and practices that violated the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories.  It was adopted by a recorded vote of 98 in favour to 8 against (Australia, Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, Panama, United States), with 72 abstentions.  (For details of the vote, see Annex V.)

Among its other provisions, the Assembly commended the Special Committee for its impartiality, but expressed grave concern about the critical situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the Gaza Strip, as a result of unlawful Israeli practices and measures.  It called for the immediate cessation of all illegal Israeli settlement activities and the construction of the wall, as well as the excessive and indiscriminate use of force against the civilian population.

Other resolutions concerning Israeli practices obtained wider support, such as the text on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as a text on the applicability of the Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war, both of which required recorded votes.  (Respectively, Annexes VII and VI.)

The Assembly condemned all acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and expressed grave concernat the firing of rockets against Israeli civilian areas resulting in loss of life and injury, in a resolution it adopted by a recorded vote of 164 in favour to 8 against (Australia, Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, Panama, United States), with 6 abstentions (Cameroon, El Salvador, Honduras, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Vanuatu).  (Annex VIII)

Further to that text, the Assembly demanded that Israel, the occupying Power, cease all practices and actions that violated the human rights of the Palestinian people, including the killing and injuring of civilians, the arbitrary detention and imprisonment of civilians and the destruction and confiscation of civilian property.  It called on Israel, the occupying Power, to cease its imposition of prolonged closures and economic and movement restrictions, including those amounting to a blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Also requiring recorded votes were the four texts on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), concerning:  UNRWA’s operations (Annex III); persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (Annex II); entitlement of the Palestine refugees to their property and income (Annex IV); and assistance to Palestine refugees (Annex I).

By the terms of the latter text, the Assembly affirmed the imperative of resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees for the achievement of lasting peace in the region.  It meanwhile noted with regret that the situation remained a matter of grave concern and that the refugees continued to require assistance to meet basic health, education and living needs.  It thus reaffirmed the need for the Agency’s continued work.  That resolution was adopted by a recorded vote of 170 in favour to 1 against ( Israel), with 8 abstentions ( Cameroon, Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, United States).

Taking up the 11 texts on decolonization, the Assembly adopted six by consensus, including the omnibus draft resolution on Questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands.

By its terms, the Assembly stressed the importance of the decolonization process by expediting the application of the work programme for the decolonization of each of the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories on its list, on a case-by-case basis.  It reaffirmed that in the process of decolonization, there was no alternative to the principle of self-determination, which was a fundamental human right.

Also adopted without a vote were resolutions on measures by the administering Powers to ensure the widespread dissemination in their Territories of information relating to study and training offers; the search of a mutually acceptable political solution to the Western Sahara dispute; on question of New Caledonia; Tokelau; and a draft decision on Gibraltar.

A recorded vote was required for the adoption of the draft resolution on economic and other activities that affect Non-Self-Governing Territories, by which the Assembly affirmed the value of foreign economic investment undertaken in collaboration with the peoples of the Territories and urged the administering Powers to safeguard and guarantee the right of those to their natural resources and to ensure that no discriminatory working conditions prevailed in the Territories.

Also by recorded votes, the Assembly adopted resolutions concerning information from Non-Self-Governing Territories; implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples; implementation of the Declaration by United Nations specialized agencies; and the dissemination of information on decolonization. 

Moving on to outer space, the Assembly, acting without a vote, adopted a resolution on international cooperation in that field, and a decision to increase the membership of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, with the addition of Armenia, Costa Rica and Jordan.

Also acting without a vote, the Assembly adopted its annual resolution on peacekeeping, by which it, among other things, acknowledged the increase in the number and the complexity of special political missions and requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on all policy matters pertaining to those operations, including their evolution, trends and nature, as well as their role in activities of the Organization. 

The Assembly also adopted, without a vote, two resolutions and one decision on information.  By the terms of the annual wide-ranging text, it emphasized that public information and communications should be placed at the heart of the strategic management of the United Nations and that a culture of communications and transparency should permeate all levels of the Organization.  It stressed the importance of ensuring that the texts of all new public United Nations documents in all six official languages, information materials and all older United Nations documents are made available through the United Nations website and are accessible to Member States without delay.  The Assembly decided to appoint Oman as a member of that Committee, bringing its membership up from 113 to 114.

Adopting without a vote was a resolution on atomic radiation, by which it requested the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation to continue its work and to increase knowledge of the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation.  The resolution on the University for Peace, also adopted without a vote, requested that the Secretary-General expand the scope for using the University as part of his conflict-resolution and peacebuilding efforts.

Finally, the Assembly adopted, without a vote, a decision on the Fourth Committee’s programme of work for its sixty-eighth session.  It took note of the report on programme planning.

Finishing up its consideration of the reports of the Fourth Committee, the Assembly then took up a number of outstanding plenary matters, holding its annual review of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and the role of diamonds in fuelling conflict, and taking action on a number of draft resolutions.

On the Kimberley Process, the Assembly adopted a wide-ranging consensus resolution on conflict diamonds, introduced by the representative of the United States, which holds the Chairmanship of the Certification Scheme this year.

Also taking the floor during the brief debate on that topic were the representatives of Israel, Russian Federation, South Africa and Panama.  A representative of the Delegation of the European Union also spoke.

In other business, the Assembly, endorsing the recommendation of the Economic and Social Council, adopted a resolution by which it decided to add South Sudan to the list of United Nations-identified “least developed countries”.  That text was introduced by the representative of Kenya.

Finally today, the Assembly adopted a consensus resolution on strengthening cooperation with the International Organization of la Francophonie, which was introduced by the representative of Kenya.  The Observer of the organization made a statement following the Assembly’s action.

The Rapporteur of the Fourth Committee introduced that body’s reports.

The representatives of the United States and Azerbaijan spoke in explanation of positions on those texts.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply in that segment were the representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The General Assembly is expected to reconvene at 10 a.m., 20 December, to take up the reports of its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).

Read full report here 

New Puerto Rico Wind Farm Project Begins Operations

Facility located in  Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico

New Puerto Rico Wind Farm Project Begins Operations in Santa Isabel

Puerto Rico’s new Finca de Viento Santa Isabel wind project has begun operations and is now producing clean energy.

The Pattern Energy project, which was officially launched by Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno this week, will produce up to 95 megawatts of renewable energy — 20 megawatts more than it was initially slated to produce.

The project will be producing enough energy to power the equivalent of 30,000 homes, according to the governor, “contributing to the production of cleaner, safer and cheaper energy for everyone in Puerto Rico.”

Fortuno’s administration has set forth a plan of generating 12 percent of Puerto Rico’s energy from green sources by 2015, 15 percent by 2020 and 20 percent by 2035.

“This is a major milestone for renewable energy production in Puerto Rico, an outstanding achievement five years in the making and one that we are very proud to have accomplished in close collaboration with our local partners, with the help of the good people of Santa Isabel and the full support of Governor Luis Fortuno,” said Hunter Armistead, executive director of Pattern Energy.

It is the latest green energy project on the island, following a solar project recently inaugurated in Guayama. Another wind farm, by Gestamp, is also slated to open in Punta Lima, Naguabo.

Fortuno said the Finca de Viento project had brought $250 million in private investment into the island’s economy, along with providing jobs for 350 Puerto Ricans.

The project includes 44 Siemens turbines. Pattern has entered into a 20-year power purchase and operating agreement with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

See also:

Biodiesel plant slated to open in PR

17 December 2012

Budget Address of British Virgin Islands Premier D. Orlando Smith




1. Madam Speaker, I move that the bill entitled, Appropriation Act 2013, be read a second time and that in so doing invite this Honorable House to extend its customary indulgence, in permitting me to read the Budget Address.

2. Madam Speaker I would like to first thank God for the good fortune of these islands during the past eight months and more as we have been spared the wrath of natural disasters that affected many of our neighbors in the Caribbean and the North Eastern United States. Allow me to also express my sincerest appreciation to the people of the BVI for being patient through this period of significant challenge.

3. I am today happy to say that in keeping with our strong maritime traditions, we have weathered the storm of the global economic down turn, and righted the ship; it is now time to adjust our course onwards on “the path towards economic growth”. Madam Speaker on this course we will need all hands on deck.

4. Just over a week ago the US reelected President Barack Obama. Many of us experienced a great sense of euphoria at this outcome, but we noted that the very next day the stock market plunged, driven by concerns about a slowing economy in Germany and other parts of Europe; and of course the debate relating to averting the 'fiscal cliff' began in earnest. It is no secret that our economy is hitched to that of the United States. We use their currency as our only tender, the greater part of our tourism comes to us from or through that country, we import most of our goods and services from there, and many of the investors among us hail from that nation as well. We therefore know and must bear in mind, that a
sneeze in the US economy inevitably results in our catching the flu, and so we must maintain focus on the outcome of developments in the US over the next several weeks.


St. Maarten tops world average for growth in passenger traffic

~ Records 7% increase during first half ~

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten continues to prove itself as a preferred destination for travellers with a seven per cent increase in passenger traffic during the first seven months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011, exceeding the world average of six per cent.

Map by Wikipedia
The figures revealed during the Strategy Summit held at the World Routes conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, show that St. Maarten has held its own despite the economic and financial challenges faced by nations around the globe.

Compared to 485,936 total enplanements from January 1, 2011, to June 30, 2011, Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) saw an increase to 520,018 total enplanements during the first half of 2012.

Various airlines servicing the island also revealed that they were showing healthy load factors for the country, with some indicating that performance of their St. Maarten routes exceeded company expectations.

JetBlue announced that the performance of its San Juan-St. Maarten route during the slow period was better than the airline had anticipated, while United Airlines said its extended seasonal service had surpassed expectations. Delta, the third-largest airline in the world, reported that its load factor to the island was a very healthy average of 90 per cent.
Map by Capitol Air

"As a destination that focuses many efforts on tourism, we are thrilled with these figures," said St. Maarten Tourist Bureau interim director of tourism Augusto Priest. "We will continue to work diligently to promote St. Maarten as a destination of choice and that would enable us to increase passenger traffic."

Officials of the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications and of the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau, and management of PJIA (airport code SXM) participated in the St. Maarten delegation at the conference.

16 December 2012

Anguilla Tennis Academy develops future Caribbean athletes

British Virgin Islands delegation sees Anguilla's Tennis Academy as model

L-R: Mitch Lake, Jeremiah Frett and Steve August

The Anguilla Tennis Academy (ATA) is serving as a model for other Caribbean islands wishing to develop a facility for children in particular.

The latest interest shown in the ATA has come from the BVI Lawn Tennis Association. A two-man delegation, comprising Jeremiah Frett, the organisation’s Public Relations Officer, and Steve Augustine, an Architect, visited Anguilla several days ago and met with Mitch Lake, the ATA’s Founder and President.

“From our research, prior to coming to Anguilla, we felt the ATA was a model worth investigating and we came to see if we could adopt such a model or various aspects of it in the Virgin Islands,” the BVI Lawn Tennis PRO told The Anguillian.

“The information shared would advance the efforts of the BVI Lawn Tennis Association to build a tennis academy because it created a bench-mark for us to work from. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Mitch shared his experiences from humble beginnings to the world-class academy that you have in Anguilla.”

Mr Frett said his organisation was still in its infancy. “We are in discussion with a prospective land owner and Steve Augustine, from SA Architect, has agreed to design the facility,” he told the newspaper. “We found Mitch to be very passionate about developing the sport of tennis not just in Anguilla but throughout the Caribbean. His insightfulness, know-how and willingness to share such information deem him as an ambassador to the sport of tennis. The facility and programme of the ATA under his leadership is commendable.”

Mitch said that one of the things he could do would be “to foster a relationship whereby in my summer camp, either a week before, or after, I may look to share some of my international coaches with the BVI.” He explained that, in such a way, the Association there could “create a spark in tennis, in order to push the grassroots programme, which would encourage Government officials and other persons in the BVI to realise that there is a market for tennis.”

Mr. Lake was certain that “once we can show that the sport is growing, the facility will get the funding it needs. I can help them in that regard.”

In the meantime, Mitch Lake presented a supply of rackets from the Anguilla Tennis Academy to Mr.Frett for the use of the BVI Lawn Tennis Association. “We are truly grateful for the unexpected kind gesture of the rackets donation,” the Association’s PRO stated. “These rackets will be distributed to children in our junior programme.”

Mr. Frett was grateful for Mr. Lake’s assistance and generosity during the two-day visit of the BVI delegation.

14 December 2012

Threat to CARICOM Exports of Rum to the United States


Caribbean Community Secretariat, P.O. Box 10827, 
Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana;
Tel: 592-222-0001/0075 Fax:  592-222-0171; E-mail: <carisec3@caricom.org

NO: 321/2012                                                                     DATE:  11th December 2012
(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana)
Statement issued by the Thirty-Fifth Meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED)
on the

Threat to CARICOM Exports of Rum to the United States


The Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), meeting in Georgetown, Guyana, on 10-11 December 2012, underlined that rum production and export are critical to the social and economic well-being of the Region. In addition to being the largest agriculture-based export industry in CARICOM, the rum industry is a substantial employer and a major contributor to foreign exchange earnings and government revenues.

Therefore, CARICOM continues to have serious concerns about the threat to the competitiveness of Caribbean rum in the United States (US) market resulting from the massive subsidies provided by the Governments of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico to multinational rum producers in those territories. The nature and scale of these subsidies are such that they threaten to distort rum markets not only in the US but elsewhere.

Time is not on the side of the Caribbean rum industry. Given the likely deleterious effect of these subsidies on the long-term viability of an industry which is of such critical importance to the economic fabric of so many countries in the Region, the COTED supports strongly the deep commitment of CARICOM countries to pursuing all avenues available to secure a resolution of this matter that restores the competitive balance in the marketplace.  

The COTED calls on the United States to engage early with Caribbean rum-producing countries with a view to achieving an outcome that will support the continued competitive access for Caribbean rum to the US market.