Saturday, September 7, 2013

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe - Who's Next?

Originally posted: August 25, 2013 at 12:18pm

The US Airways flight made a wide descending left hand turn onto its final approach to Hewanorra International Airport

USAir: St. Lucia approach, US Airways now turning left base onto 6 mile final
Tower: US Airways cleared to land. Wind 090 at 15
USAir: 090 at 15. Cleared to land
Moments later a plume of white smoke rose off the runway as the undercarriage touched down on the tarmac. The engines roared as the pilot engaged full reverse thrust bringing the lumbering giant to manageable speed as it rolled along the center line.

Tower: US Airways on at 46, cleared to the ramp
USAir: On at 46, cleared to the ramp

 And so another flight ended without much fanfare or excitement except for that one passenger who was sweating bullets after flying for the first time.

Inside the terminal waiting to check in was St. Lucia Police Commissioner, Vernon Francois, who had little clue what lay ahead during the next few minutes. He had arrived earlier for his flight to Philadelphia and onward to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he would attend a conference of NOBLE - The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. According to the Prime Minister, Francois was the St. Lucia representative of regional police commanders of the ACCP - The Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police which is headquartered in Barbados and comprises twenty four island states. What an embarrassment!

ACCP member countries

For purported reasons which have since come to light, Commissioner Francois was denied boarding, and his flight sailed away with one less passenger and one less bag. US Airways saved a few dollars on Jet A1 fuel that day.

There has been much speculation since then as to the real reason for Francois' boarding denial. It is true that a press release from the Prime minister's office placed the reason squarely in the lap of the US government's application of the Leahy Law which states in part:

"No assistance shall be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights."

"...None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to support any training program involving a unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of Defense has received credible information from the Department of State that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, unless all necessary corrective steps have been taken."
 Leahy Law

An Overview of the Leahy Vetting Process

 Leahy Vetting: Law, Policy, Process (pdf)

What has me befuddled is not the application of this law by the United States (as they can do whatever they want with their money) but why the application to St. Lucia at this time. By any measure of consideration St. Lucia does not even factor into the realm of countries which have alarming violations of human rights to be questioned. Jumping junipers! Jamaica which is a stone's throw away from us has one of the most alarming human rights records in the region, and yet no similar action has been taken against them. So far this year the security forces in Jamaica have killed 147 persons. Last year 219; in 2011 some 211 were killed; in 2010 there were 382 killed! Yet no Leahy law. 

Daily Mail article: Life and death in the police state of Jamaica

Only a few days ago The New York Times ran an article: Official: Jamaica Must Curb Police Killings 
Still no US action against Jamaica. St. Lucia now has the dubious distinction of joining Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan. Really!!

With so many other rogue nations more deserving of a Leahy whipping it leaves one to wonder whether there is some other motivation for this drastic action. Could this be a smoke screen to cover up some deeper concerns of the US administration?

But before we even get to these other concerns of the U.S. one wonders whether the St. Lucia government had been directly informed to take more aggressive action by the US authorities. This supposedly sudden, surprising, and embarrassing action just does not make sense. Firstly we can be considered an ally and a friend of the United States; and friends try to remain friends without undue conflict and embarrassment. According to sources it is highly unusual for actions such as this to be taken without warning. Was such a warning given, and if not,  why? Nagging questions persist which have not been addressed by the press in St. Lucia.

Questions which spring to mind which should be asked:

1.) Did the government of St. Lucia have any indication that the US government intended to apply the Leahy Law and cut off funding and travel to the US by our police?
2.) Did the US convey any formal communication regarding alleged human rights violations by the police?
3.) During the prime minister's telephone conversation with the US ambassador Larry Leon Palmer were there any other concerns expressed regarding this current US action?
4.) Since Francois was denied boarding, and therefore attendance to the conference in Pennsylvania, was a substitute sent from the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police?
5.) Was any statement made by the ACCP regarding this action?
6.) Does the US action have any repercussions for St. Lucia within the ACCP?
7.) In light of the withdrawal of US funds to the RSLPF how does the government propose to finance these operations and functionality which have now been negatively affected?

Over to the press in St. Lucia.

Moving right along....

Since the enforcement of the Leahy Law upon St. Lucia, and how it seems disproportionate compared to the gross violations which exists with other countries, particularly Jamaica, much speculation has surfaced regarding the real motives behind the current action. One speculation which has risen to the top and is of loudest concern is whether the US action has anything to do with St. Lucia's recent approval for full membership to ALBA - Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America)

 Xll ALBA Summit in Ecuador - Declaration of ALBA from the Pacific
 Announcing St. Lucia's full membership in Alba

Many questions remain regarding our membership and involvement in ALBA. Although we are now full fledged members the terms and conditions of this membership remain vague at best. Nevertheless we are left to speculate and join bits and pieces of information in an attempt to solve the jigsaw puzzle which is ALBA. How many pieces there are remains to be seen.

Many of the members in ALBA have some of the worst human rights violations on record. Do we stand to be painted by that same brush with our full membership? Many of these countries are devoutly "anti-imperialist" with a deep down anti American sentiment. How does that position 
St. Lucia in our very strong ties with the United States? Venezuela, which has been at the forefront of the ALBA movement, is at loggerheads with the US, as well as Cuba and many of the other South American members; how does that affect expectations of our involvement in ALBA?

 Expressing great concern in ALBA a hearing in the U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND MANAGEMENT EFFICIENCY was held on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. The focus of this hearing was THREAT TO THE HOMELAND: IRAN’S EXTENDING  INFLUENCE IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE. Excerpt from page 17 of this hearing:
"Lastly, U.S. Homeland Security should work with Canadian counterparts to identify, screen and perform enhanced-due diligence on Visa applications coming from ALBA countries. In instances where an improperly documented case is discovered, Visa’s should be denied and the applicant should be placed on a watch list for further monitoring."

Seriously! I wonder if this doesn't also have something to do with the recently implemented requirement of visas for St. Lucians traveling to Canada. Connect the dots. Why do you think every St. Lucia was required to obtain a new birth certificate? The number of foreigners who were coming to St. Lucia  with fake documents and applying for our cherished citizenship to then springboard into Canada and the United States. We all know about it. Guyanese galore with fake birth certificates and other documents caused the US to put the squeeze on us. That is why St Lucians are catching hell at the registry. Jamaicans and other non traditional immigrants moving to St. Lucia to marry and obtain citizenship so they can go to Canada as bearers of our passport did not require a visa then. All dat stop! You see them flowing to St. Lucia now? Connect the dots my people! What about the islands in the Caribbean which offered economic citizenship, like Dominica. A quarter million dollars and you get a Dominican passport.

And what about our economic standing. A long standing goal of ALBA is for a unified currency, the Sucre. But wait, what will that do to our EC dollar? As members of ALBA would we be required to ditch our currency which has been tied to the greenback at $2.71, from time immemorial? How will that affect our quality of life? Every currency of ALBA members, except those of the Caribbean, is lower than the EC$. Ecuador which currently uses the US dollar as it's official currency since March 13, 2000 had their official currency as the Sucre valued then at 25,000 to one US dollar! Holy macaroni! Venezuelan bolívar 6.3 to one US dollar; Bolivia Boliviano 6.1 to one US dollar; don't even mention the Cuban currency 26.5 pesos to one US dollar. This all begs for us to question how deeply are we involved with ALBA. With currencies trading at those levels we can hardly believe that adopting the Sucre as our currency would be of any benefit to us. Recently the suggestion that our EC dollar be devalued was met with much ridicule and jeering for it's proponent. Recently the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) rejected suggestions from Moody’s Investor Services, that the Eastern Caribbean dollar should be devalued within the next five years. Wouldn't the adoption of the Sucre basically do the same? There are some really serious issues which need to be discussed and analyzed which have not been done at all. And this has to be done in the public domain.

ECCB rejects Moody's suggestion to devalue eastern Caribbean dollar

Good or bad, we do not know enough about ALBA. Why the secrecy? Why the vagueness? As St. Lucians we must know what we have been signed away to. Enough of this failed revolutionary nonsense. Comrade this and comrade that, just ain't getting us anywhere. Feel good rhetoric of a gone by era will not help us into the future. Fuzzy math with the benefits of Petro-Caribe will not help us. In the end any bad moves will seriously affect every single one of us, for many years to come!

So in the absence of any concrete information of the terms and conditions, obligations, requirements, and expectations, in ALBA, we are left to examine peripheral activities from disparate sources to connect the dots in order to formulate a picture of our involvement. If erroneous conclusions are drawn then that is the result of secrecy and not malice.
We should not forget the demise of Saddam Hussein who switched the trading currency of oil from the US dollar to the Euro. What happened to our own CSME, did that fall by the wayside? Recently at
Recently, 2nd. April 2013, the United Nations General Assembly approved a global arms trade treaty. Abstaining from that vote were the ALBA countries of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua which were among the 23 countries which abstained from voting. How did St. Lucia vote? If at loggerheads with the ideals of ALBA, what repercussions will there be for St. Lucia?  

What are ALBA's policies or conditons when it comes to human rights, democracy, freedom of the press? What are ALBA's objectives as far as defense? What obligations will there be on member states? What is the big secret of ALBA, well at least in St. Lucia? We keep hearing so much about ALBA yet know so very little of it.

Could the US action against RSLPF and by extension the government and people of St Lucia actually be a shot across the bow of ALBA?

It is time to ask the tough questions. As a people we must know where we stand! 

Let us now look at traditional ties. Throughout our history in the Caribbean we have been under one flag or other, British or French. This is why we speak English, French, and French Creole. We do not speak Spanish except in Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Cuba, and Haiti. So for a very long time we have been separated by language and sovereignty. South and Central America had the fortune of the Spanish conquerors and the Caribbean islands duked it out between the English and the French. Trade, tourism, defense, and familial connections followed these lines. Occasionally there were cross links, but these were very few and far between. The British and French influence stretched from Guyana and Cayenne in the south, all the way up the island chain, to the Bahamas in the north, excluding the territories mentioned above.

A serious concern which needs to be dealt with is along the lines of defense. What are St. Lucia's obligations as far as participation in any conflict or military event. We consider Guyana, to our south, and on the mainland of South America to be a sister country. It is also across the Esequibo river from Venezuela. There has been a long standing dispute for that region between these two countries for over one hundred years. In fact, Venezuela has been poised on more than one occasion to invade Guyana because of this dispute over that resource rich region. What will be our position if ALBA nations decide to back Venezuela if such a situation breaks out. 

Then we have Argentina which is being courted for membership in ALBA. Of course you would remember the war between Argentina and the UK over the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas) in 1982. This has been another long standing dispute and if Argentina were to join ALBA what would be St. Lucia's role if ALBA decides to support the Argentinians. Only a few months ago in June, Argentina resident Cristina De Kirchner renewed her country’s claim for sovereignty over the Falkland Islands at a Security Council meeting at the United Nations. Again, what implications does this have for St. Lucia as a member of ALBA? 

And only three weeks ago:

Should the people of St. Lucia not be consulted on these very pertinent issues?

Is Petro-Caribe the honeypot used to entice us into an ALBA membership blinding us to the real gravity of our extended involvement?

St. Lucia has enjoyed very cordial relations with Venezuela since the late 70s-early 80s. In fact Venezuela even established the Centro Venezolano de Cooperación (the Venezuelan Cooperation Center) upstairs the Adjodha in the William Peter Boulevard. Then president of Venezuela was Luis Herrera Campins, and the first Venezuelan ambassador to St. Lucia was Rodolfo Molina Duarte. My first photography class was sponsored by the Venezuelans at that center.  

Attempts were made at trade and tourism on a grander scale, but those were short lived. Viasa introduced flights from the Simon Bolivar International Airport at Maiquetia to Hewanorra. These did not last too long. Traditionally these have not been tourist markets and into the foreseeable future this does not seem to be the case.

Since ALBA has really been spearheaded by Venezuela, could it be they feel a debt of gratitude is owed St. Lucia since a son of our soil, Jean Baptiste Bideau, saved the life of their great liberator, Simon Bolivar? I wonder what their reaction would be if it is revealed to them that the saviour of their great liberator was ridiculed, mocked, and his bust in the park opposite the government printery in Castries was spat on. The mere mention of his name, Jean Baptiste Bideau, was met with jeers and ridicule and wails of "Jean Baptiste Bideauuuuuu." Oh what a tangled web we weave....

It is, at the very least, irresponsible for us to be signed to so much, yet know so little about it. 

Adelante, siempre adelante, mis amigos. Pero con cuidado!


 Originally posted: August 18, 2013 at 9:38am
Originally posted: August 18, 2013 at 9:38am
 Sometimes we see such blatant disregards for precaution and safety that we are left speechless and dumbfounded. This is what I was afflicted with on Friday past. In fact I had ventured on a late night escapade the previous night, Thursday, to get one last nighttime perspective of the government buildings on the Castries waterfront from a different angle.

Little did I realize, at that witching hour, the danger that lurked overhead on my way to that perfect spot near Pointe Seraphine for that magical nighttime shot. It was brought to my attention by a friend who accompanied me on that late night shoot. I was amazed at my lack of observation. I was equally disturbed at the lack of consideration for prevention of a disaster.

On Friday I returned to the same location to make sure that I had not been dreaming and to get a real daytime perspective on the situation.

Safety is based on suppose. Measures you put in place in the event that something goes wrong, terribly wrong. A buffer, if you will. Construction sites are supposed to be the most stringent as far as safety is concerned. After all, accidents occur there very frequently. There are very stringent standards for safety of construction workers onsite, as well as any visitors to such site or persons in close proximity to such sites. This is why construction sites have fences and controlled access. It is the reason why visitors and employees are required to wear hard hats at ALL times while on site.

I now draw your attention to the construction site on the Pointe Seraphine road in Castries. The tower crane there is used for lifting construction materials and other equipment as needed. There is a fence surrounding the site. Yet the crane extends beyond the confines of the fencing and actually overhangs the very public roadway leading to the Pointe Seraphine cruise ship facility nearby. The counter weight section of the crane, consisting of weighted concrete blocks to stabilize the crane while under load overhangs the roadway. WHAT!! What if there is a catastrophic failure of this section of the crane? Where will it fall? Should it not be within the confines of the construction site if there is such a failure? And the big question...what if that section of crane failed and fell on a Coaster carrying 40 passengers traveling from a cruise chip berthed at Pointe Seraphine?

As I was taking my pictures I observed two men exiting through a door in the surrounding fence. They did not seem to be the regular construction workers. The did have hard hats but were also better dressed and not grimy looking. Possibly visiting government engineers. Did I forget to mention that this is a government construction project?

Me:  "Are you engineers here at this construction site?"
First guy:  "Why?"
Me: "This crane looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Look at its location."
First guy: "Well nothing is wrong, it's over the building."
Me: "Well the counterweight section is over an active roadway."
First guy: "Well move it uh!"
Second guy: "Chooooops"

Damn idiots! Instead of seeing the danger and at least acknowledge it, they choose to dismiss me. But if the shit hits the proverbial fan they will all be pointing fingers and trying to save their own miserable skins.

With thousands of passengers and workers traversing this roadway when a cruise ship or cruise ships are in the harbour; are we as a tourist destination, willing to live with the fallout from a possible tragedy such as this?

Is it just me, or is this a disaster waiting to happen?

You be the judge.