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BWU General Secretary Toni Moore

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jul 22 2017 – Trade union leaders as well as the private sector have called on Barbadians to participate in a national strike on Monday.

At a news conference on Friday the General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, Toni Moore and the President of the Barbados Private Sector Association, Charles Herbert said this protest is in an effort to pressure the government concerning the National Social Responsibility Levy.

The officials urged local businesses to allow workers to participate in the event.

They also sought to assure the nation that the joint action will not affect the main ports of entry or the state-run Queen Elizabeth hospital.

The unions have been protesting against the 400 percent hike in the levy and hundreds recently voiced their dissatisfaction by participating in a march organised by the Barbados Workers’ Union, National Union of Public Workers, Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union.

The unions gave the Government a two-week ultimatum to accede to their request and vowed to take industrial action if nothing was done.

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jul 22 2017 – The top U.N. official for Haiti is urging the Caribbean country’s new government to keep its promises to fight corruption, improve justice, and combat poverty especially in rural areas, saying peacekeepers have accomplished their mission of stabilizing the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation.

Sandra Honore said Haiti today “is far different” than it was in 2004, when the U.N. deployed peacekeeping troops following a rebellion that left the country on the brink of collapse. And she said she doesn’t believe the country is prone to the same forces.

Honore stressed in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that Haiti still faces many challenges, “but there is a degree of stability, a degree of relative calm all things considered today that was not there before.”

She said President Jovenel Moise, who was elected in February, has made very clear that he wants “to bring change and bring improved circumstances” throughout the country and especially in rural areas, and he is advancing his flagship development program, the “Caravan for Change,”

Honore said corruption has been a problem in Haiti and Moise has said this is a key area he will tackle.

“The United Nations encourages the government to do all that is in its power to deal with corruption, and to ensure that sanctions are applied to those who are involved in corrupt practices,” she said.

“The government has also repeatedly indicated that one of the goals that it has is to try to reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots — to ensure that access to opportunity, to education, to health care, is made available to populations in the far-flung rural areas which may not have had the benefit of access to these services in the past,” she said.

Honore urged the government to “keep to this goal” — and to keep Moise’s pledge to provide 24-hour electricity throughout the country within 24 months.

Honore also encouraged the government to make available the resources needed by local government to combat poverty and provide education, health and opportunities especially in rural areas.

The United Nations has been involved in Haiti on and off since 1990. The current peacekeeping mission known as MINUSTAH, which Honore heads, arrived in 2004 and is scheduled to end in October. In addition to helping normalize the country, the U.N. force played an important role after a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people and after Hurricane Matthew last October.

But U.N. troops from Nepal are widely blamed for inadvertently introducing cholera, which has afflicted over 800,000 people and killed more than 9,000 people since 2010. And some troops also have been implicated in sexual abuse, including of hungry young children.

Honore said the U.N. is committed to a two-track approach — treating victims and improving water and sanitation infrastructure in the country, and providing “material assistance” for communities that were most affected.

“There are people who have maintained that there should be individualized payments to the families of persons who have fallen victim to cholera,” she said, but “this has not impeded the mission’s or the U.N. system in Haiti’s ability to continue the work it has been doing in support of the Haitian people for a number of years and in a number of areas.”

MINUSTAH will be replaced by a much smaller U.N. mission that will focus on continuing the training of the national police force, as well as assisting the government in strengthening judicial and legal institutions, and monitoring human rights.

Honore urged the government, civil society and Haiti’s political parties “to work assiduously at improving those areas in the justice system that require improvement.”

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jul 21 2017 –  The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has approved a USD9.28 million loan to support the Government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in improving the quality, equity and effectiveness of the education system in the Islands.

The Education Sector Support Project is part of the first phase of a comprehensive reform of BVI’s education system. The project’s overall goals include: improving the teaching and learning environment; improving the quality and effectiveness of the education system; and strengthening the leadership capacity of the education sector.

The intervention also aims to provide more, gender-responsive psycho-social support to vulnerable and at-risk students.

Planned activities under the Project include the construction of a multi-purpose complex, classrooms, and other minor works at the Elmore Stoutt High School; and the upgrade of science and technical and vocational education and training labs/workshops at the School.

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jul 21 2017 – The police have launched an investigation into the murder of three Guyanese miners in Venezuela.

The police report that the miners were found shot to death in a mining camp in the town of Imataka, on the Guyana Venezuela border.

The miners have been identified as Samuel Moses,19, Cologne Solomon,23 and Vernon Eudoxie, 56.

According to the Guyana Police Commander for the area, Snr. Superintendent Ravindradat Budram, the bodies were brought across to Guyana and are at Port Kaituma from where they will be flown to the city for post mortem examination.

A fourth man who is believed to have survived the attack, was found with injuries.

He was scheduled to be flown to Georgetown for medical care on Thursday.

The police believe the men were working along with the Brazilian owner of the mining camp when the camp came under attack on Wednesday by a suspected Venezuelan gang.

It is believed that the same gang has been raiding other mining camps on both the Guyana and Venezuelan sides.

The local police say as they probe the tragedy, they will contact their counterparts in Venezuela.

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Jul 20 2017 – Sandals Resorts International (SRI) has announced the temporary closure of Sandals Grande Antigua beginning September 20.

SRI said the closure is to facilitate important maintenance projects.

A letter of intention to close was shared with government officials late last week.  Original estimates suggested that the work would take five months to complete, but after a full and detailed assessment and a new project plan that condenses work flow, SRI officials confirm that the resort will reopen December 17.

This is the first time Sandals Grande Antigua, the only flagged Sandals Resort in this destination, has closed since opening in 1992.

“There is no convenient time to inconvenience people, and while many hotels in Antigua have traditionally closed on an annual basis, we have not and recognize the dramatic consequences this action has on our staff, industry and destination partners, vendors and of course, guests.  We humbly and sincerely apologize and promise, Sandals will take care of you,” said SRI chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart.  “Our team is committed to handling this period in the most professional and practical way possible.”

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MIAMI, Jul 20 2017 – Speaker of the House in the Cayman Islands and former Premier, McKeeva Bush was arrested in the United States this week following an incident at a casino.

According to Broward County court records in the state of Florida, Bush, 62, was arrested by the Seminole police late Monday.

The public records state that he was arrested on a misdemeanor offence.

“William McKeeva Bush was arrested by Seminole Police on Monday at 11:02 p.m. (local time) at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek and charged with simple battery or misdemeanor battery,” said Gary Bitner, a spokesman for Seminole Police department in statement to the Cayman Compass.

The police records indicate that Bush was offered bail with a cash bond of US$1,000.

The arrest followed an interview with and sworn statement by the female employee victim and a review of surveillance video.

According to the arresting officer, the surveillance video showed Bush allegedly wrapped his arm around the victim’s lower back and forcefully pulled the victim towards his direction.

“According to the arresting officer, the victim alleged (Bush) grabbed her buttocks while pulling her with his right arm.”

Bush, was overwhelmingly re-elected in the May general election in the Cayman Islands.

According to the Cayman Compass, when contacted he declined to comment but said he would be making a statement later.

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Caribbean farmers have been battling extreme droughts in recent years. A FAO official says drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages in developing countries, making it a key issue for Caribbean food security. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jul 20 2017 (IPS) – The Caribbean accounts for seven of the world’s top 36 water-stressed countries and Barbados is in the top ten. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines countries like Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis as water-scarce with less than 1000 m3 freshwater resources per capita.

With droughts becoming more seasonal in nature in the Caribbean, experts say agriculture is the most likely sector to be impacted, with serious economic and social consequences.

This is particularly important since the majority of Caribbean agriculture is rain fed. With irrigation use becoming more widespread in the Caribbean, countries’ fresh-water supply will become increasingly important.

In light of the dilemma faced by the region, the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) is spearheading a climate smart agriculture project in which 90 farmers from three Caribbean countries, including Barbados, will participate over the next 18 months.

Executive director of the CPDC Gordon Bispham said the aim of the project, in which farmers from Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines are also involved, is to support sustainable livelihoods and reinforce that farming is serious business.

“Farming is not a hobby. It is a business where we can apply specific technology and methodologies, not only to be sustainable, but to be profitable. That is going to be very central to our programme,” Bispham said at the project’s launch last week.

“If we are going to be successful, it means that we are going to have to build partnerships and networks so that we can share the information that we learn from the project. We must not only upscale agriculture in the three countries identified, but bring more countries of the region into the fold,” he said.

According to the FAO, drought can affect the agriculture sector in several ways, by reducing crop yields and productivity, and causing premature death of livestock and poultry. Even a dry spell of 7-10 days can result in a reduction of yields, influencing the livelihoods of farmers.

Farmers, particularly small farmers, are vulnerable to drought as their livelihoods are threatened by low rainfall where crops are rain fed and by low water levels and increased production costs due to increased irrigation, the FAO said.

It notes that livestock grazing areas change in nutritional value, as more low quality, drought tolerant species dominate during extensive droughts, causing the vulnerability of livestock to increase. The potential for livestock diseases also increases.

“Drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages in developing countries, so this is a key issue for Caribbean food security,” said Deep Ford, Regional Coordinator for FAO in the Caribbean.

He adds that the poor are vulnerable as food price increases are often associated with drought. Expensive, desalinated water resources are also becoming more important in the Caribbean, accounting for as much as 70 percent in Antigua and Barbuda, and this can impact the poor significantly.

The FAO official adds that rural communities are vulnerable since potable water networks are less dense and therefore more heavily impacted during drought, while children are at highest risk from inadequate water supplies during drought.

Bispham said the youth and women would be a focus of the climate smart agriculture project, adding that with their inclusion in the sector, countries can depend on agriculture to make a sizable contribution to their gross domestic product (GDP).

While throwing her support behind the agriculture project, head of the political section and chargé d’affaires of the European Union Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Silvia Kofler, highlighted the threat presented by global warning.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impact of climate change. It is an all-encompassing threat, and the nature and scale of this global challenge that we are facing demands a concerted action of us all,” she said.

She gave policymakers in Barbados the assurance that the European Union was willing to assist the region in transforming their societies and sectors into smart and sustainable ones, whether in farming or otherwise. 

FAO said climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of droughts in the Caribbean, so countries must enhance their capabilities to deal with this and other climate related challenges to ensure food security and hunger eradication.

A new FAO study says the Caribbean faces significant challenges in terms of drought. The region already experiences drought-like events every year, often with low water availability impacting agriculture and water resources, and a significant number of bush fires.

The Caribbean also experiences intense dry seasons, particularly in years with El Niño events. The impacts are usually offset by the next wet season, but wet seasons often end early and dry seasons last longer with the result that annual rainfall is less than expected.

Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society James Paul said 2016 was an extremely tough year for farmers, as the limited rainfall affected the harvesting and planting of crops.

But he is encouraged by the fact that unlike last year there is no prediction of a prolonged drought for Barbados.

“Rain if still falling on some areas off and on, so that is a good sign. But the good thing is that we haven’t had any warning of a possible drought and we are hoping that it remains that way,” he said.

“With the little rainfall we got last year, farmers had some serious problems so we are definitely hoping for more rain this time around.”

Deputy Director of the Barbados Meteorological Services Sonia Nurse explained that 2016 started with below-normal rainfall levels in the first half of the year. However, by the end of the year, a total of 1,422 mm (55.62 inches), recorded at the Grantley Adams station, was in excess of the 30-year average of 1,270 mm (50.05 inches), while the 2015 total of 789 mm (31.07 inches) fell way below the 30-year average.

“Figures showed that approximately 78 per cent or 1,099.1 mm (43.27 inches) of the total rainfall measured last year was experienced during the wet season (June-November) as opposed to 461 mm (18.15 inches) recorded during the same period of the 2015 wet season.

“However, rainfall data showed that 2015 started out significantly wetter than 2016, with accumulations of over nine inches recorded between January and April as opposed to a mere five inches, which was recorded January to April 2016. A similar rainfall pattern was reported from some of the other stations around the island.”

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HAMILTON, Bermuda, Jul 19 2017 – At 38, David Burt says he is not daunted by the prospect of becoming Bermuda’s youngest premier after his opposition Progressive Labour Party (PLP) stormed to victory over the ruling One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) in Tuesday’s general election, winning two-thirds of the seats.

The PLP won 24 of the 36 seats in the House of Assembly, the OBA taking the other 12 after losing seven seats on the night in a stunning reversal of a weekend opinion poll which gave the OBA a double-digit lead.

Turnout was 72.98 per cent with the PLP winning 58.89 per cent of the vote to the the OBA’s 40.61 per cent. The five independents won just 0.50 per cent of the vote, garnering just 169 votes between them, including 41 for Paula Cox, a former PLP premier.

Just before 11.20 p.m. local time, Burt, a father of two, got word of his own win in Pembroke West Central over the OBA’s Nick Kempe and shouted “Hallelujah!”

“We have a strong team … and we will wait to go forward but right now we celebrate tonight and we get to work tomorrow,” added Burt, who is expected to be sworn in at Government House on Wednesday.

Burt, who increased his majority almost fourfold from 2012, when the PLP’s previous 14-year reign ended in a 19-17 defeat to the OBA, embraced his wife Kristin, before declaring that he felt “fine” about the result.

Striking a solemn tone, he said: “Service is something I have committed my life to and, the fact is, I have served my community to the best of my ability and my constituency.”

Burt, who has a Bermudian father and Jamaican mother, said of the overall result across the country: “I’m certainly happy for the results …but, the fact of the matter is, this is about work. We cannot pretend that we can celebrate a victory today when there is still a huge challenge to Bermuda.

“We have unemployment, we have debt, we have a structural budget deficit, we have an economy that is unfair. We have lots of things which we have to do so there’s excitement, yes, but there’s also a measure of reality for the job ahead.”

The OBA’s biggest casualty was Bob Richards, the former Finance Minister and Deputy Premier, who lost by 513 votes to 419 in Devonshire East to union activist Christopher Famous, who is also a newspaper columnist.

Afterwards, Richards, the son of Sir Edward Richards, a former United Bermuda Party (UBP) premier who was born in British Guiana (now Guyana), announced his retirement from politics.

“I am certainly going to retire from politics. This is the end of the line for me. My public service is done,” said Richards after his defeat.

Nandi Outerbridge, the former Minister of Social Development and Sport, was another high-profile OBA casualty during a night of high drama as she was soundly defeated in St George’s West by Kim Swan, a former leader of the now defunct UBP, which ran the country for 30 years until losing to the PLP in 1998.

On a disastrous night for the OBA, defeated former premier Michael Dunkley acknowledged that his party had suffered some “crushing defeats” on a “tough day”.

“Congratulations to Mr Burt and the PLP,” he said. “My colleagues and I wish them all the best as they try and move Bermuda forward.”

Wayne Caines won back the Devonshire North West seat for the PLP, defeating OBA incumbent Glen Smith and independent Cox. The former premier, who many in the PLP had thought would take votes from her former party, trailed in a distant third as Caines picked up 568 votes to Smith’s 385.

Before Tuesday, the OBA, after four and a half years in power, had high hopes of holding on to most of their seats and even pinching one or two from the PLP in the so-called marginals.

But Ray Charlton, who lost by just eight votes to Michael Scott in Sandys North in 2012, was defeated 577 to 297. Andrew Simons, who lost by just six votes to Walton Brown in Pembroke Central five years ago, lost by 540 votes to 283.

The PLP’s Dennis Lister III defeated Jeff Sousa in what was considered a reasonably safe OBA seat in Warwick West. In Warwick North Central, a seat won narrowly by the OBA in 2012, David Burch defeated Sheila Gomez by 661 to 338.

For Burch, a former senator and cabinet minister in the previous PLP administration, it was his first success in winning a seat in the House. He lost by just 10 votes to Wayne Scott in 2012.

Sousa lost by 12 votes to Lister, a shock defeat for a politician so certain of victory that he said before the count: “I am not going to lose. That would be a miracle. I know my people. I know my constituents.”

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GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands, Jul 18 2017 – A Jamaican doctor succumbed to her injuries here on Tuesday after being mowed down by a taxi shortly after landing at the Owen Roberts International Airport on Monday.

The police report that Dr. Vary Jones Leslie, 62, an obstetrician and gynecologist, arrived in the territory early Monday on a flight from Jamaica when the incident occurred.

The police say Jones-Leslie was hit by the taxi as she left the airport.

She was rushed to hospital with what was described as serious injuries.

In a news release on Tuesday the police confirmed her death.

Jones-Leslie who practiced at the Andrews Memorial Hospital in Kingston and the Spanish Town Hospital in the central Jamaican parish of St. Catherine had arrived here to take up a temporary job at the Health Service Authority

Meanwhile, the driver of the taxi whose name has not been released was treated at hospital and released.

The police are investigating the incident.

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Aircraft landing on runway

TORTOLA, British Virgin Islands, Jul 18 2017 – The privately owned BVI Airways says it has laid off all pilots and flight attendants due to cash constraints.

In an open letter to the public on Tuesday, the cash-strapped airline, that was scheduled to begin service between the Terrence B Lettsome International Airport and Miami International in the United States, said it is unable to do so due to the lack of funds.

“The pre-operating carry costs alone have cost us millions of dollars over the past year, and have depleted most of our cash reserves. The irony is, now that we are ready to start flying, we need to raise more money in order to do so…”

“We have been in discussions with the government for months, and are doing our best to raise the additional funds required, and will start flying once the necessary improvements are completed and the additional funds are secured,” the letter stated.

The airline has suffered several delays despite securing US$7-million from the government.

There were also setbacks as the carrier sought approval from Air Safety Support International in the United Kingdom, the US Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security.

“The regulatory process took much longer than all parties expected, and has put a significant strain on the company’s finances,” BVI Airways declared. “There are also significant costs involved such as hiring and training flight crew; acquiring aircraft, maintenance personnel, parts, facilities, ground handling, station personnel, ticketing, and reservations – to name just a few…”

According to the airline, some people may be underestimating the gravity of the pre-operating works an airline has to undergo.

Meanwhile, the airline said it hopes the staff lay-off will be temporary.

“BVI Airways regretfully announces that it is immediately laying off its entire flight crew – pilots and flight attendants – as a result of ongoing delays. Hopefully, this will be a very short-term situation, as we continue to work through the remaining issues with the government, and will be able to commence flights shortly.”

The airline also voiced concern about the impending extension of the runway at Terrence B Lettsome International Airport saying that it may pose a ‘serious threat’ to its viability, as the project would facilitate competition from large airlines that are based in the United States.

BVI Airways is currently the only carrier scheduled to operate directly to Miami.

The airline says this could change once the runway project is completed and any competition into the US market would be bad for the ‘combined investment’ it is making with the BVI government.

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