29 April 2010

Montserrat Elected Vice Chair of OCTA

Press Release
Government of Montserrat

Montserrat to play greater role in keeping the OCTA on task

BRADES – Montserrat intends to play a greater role in keeping the members of the overseas territories and the EU partners to task so that the milestones established will be met, says Mrs. Angela Greenaway, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Economic Development & Trade.

The permanent secretary was a part of the delegation led by Chief Minister Reuben Meade to the Forum on the European Commission and Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) held in Brussels last Thursday and Friday. Montserrat now holds the Vice Chairmanship of the OCTA and will chair the 2011 sitting of the forum in Brussels.

“The focus of the discussions were the future relations between the OCT’s with the European Commission. The Commission has issued an outline of the possible new elements of the new partnership arrangement. This outline sets out three pillars for possible future development – Enhancing competitiveness, strengthening resilience and promoting cooperation.

It is up to the OCT’s now along with the Commission to discuss in detail, how these pillars will be developed into a new OCT Decision which must be agreed and signed off by the end of 2013. The overall responses from the forum were positive but it is necessary that we stay on top of each member to ensure that the targets are met,” explained the permanent secretary.

“We plan to play a greater role in maintaining the dialogue between the overseas territories and the EU partners. There is a tendency for the momentum to be lost over time as the European Commission become distracted with other issues. Time is important as the current Overseas Association Decision expires on December 31, 2013,” Mrs. Greenaway added.

In his remarks, Chief Minister Meade said Montserrat was “sincerely grateful for the generous contributions from the European Union and the UK government in particular, to our recovery efforts. We are particularly thankful for the indicative budget of 15.7m Euros under EDF 10 which we have allocated to replace our Port that was destroyed in Plymouth, and we hope to receive further assistance, to complete the project now estimated at 30 million Euros.”

The chief minister said the strategic goals in the island’s sustainable development plan 2008 – 2020 “cannot be achieved without both technical and financial support.” He added that “sustainability cannot be achieved by simply focusing on poverty reduction” and there was a need to “redefine our relationship with the EU and ensure we sculpture the development objectives to meet our needs based on our rights to aspire to EU standards.”

The official UK statement said “the successor to the OAD must be flexible enough to meet the needs of both the larger, more prosperous Territories, and those which are more vulnerable and likely to be in need of development assistance for years to come.”

The Green Paper which was launched at the November 2008 forum “recognises that the EU – OCT relationship should be built on one of partnership. This is the basis of the UK’s relationship with our OTs. Partnerships, with their shared responsibilities and obligations, have their ups and downs. There has to be some give and take for a successful partnership to work. Compromise is sometimes necessary. As the re-negotiation moves forward, discussions should be open and transparent. The Commission must have no hidden agenda or pre-conceived ideas and must listen to its’ Territories.”

“The UK agrees that the OCTs should be seen as assets rather than burdens on the EU tax payer. Their links to Europe are long standing and important, but each has its’ own distinct culture, character and diversity. OCTs should however adhere to European values on good governance. Those with a financial services industry must reach internationally agreed standards. And the EU should recognise the progress that has been made in this area.”

“Any proposed changes to legislation have to be relevant, and must take into account the capacity limitations of the Territories. OCTs cannot be tied into legislation that they do not have the resources to implement effectively. Where they cannot meet these requirements, or do not have the expertise to become a centre of excellence there should be no discrimination against them. We cannot have a first and second tier of OCT,” the statement said.

The OCT-EU Forum is a tripartite meeting that includes the associated and dependent territories of the EU (Anguilla; Aruba; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Falkland Islands; French Polynesia; Greenland; Mayotte; Montserrat; Netherlands Antilles; New Caledonia; Pitcairn; St. Helena and dependencies; St. Pierre and Miquelon; French Southern and Antarctic Territories; Turks and Caicos Islands; Wallis; and Futuna); the European Commission; and the four EU Member States that have such territories (UK, France, Denmark, and The Netherlands).

This annual meeting is chaired by the European Commission with the aim of outlining the visions for cooperation between the parties, enabling the OCTs to take a full part in the implementation of the OCT-EC association, and to allow a broad-based dialogue to enable the EU, all the OCTs and the Member States to which they are linked to consult each other on the principles, detailed procedures and results of the association.

New Caledonia is the 2010 chair of the OCTA and will host the next meeting later this year or early 2011 in that territory.

28 April 2010

US House Fails to Vote on Washington DC Voting Rights

Dems ditch D.C. voting rights bill
By: Jake Sherman

Democrats have ditched plans to bring a District of Columbia voting rights bill to the House floor, a major setback in the long-running effort to give the nation's capital full representation in Congress.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested that unrelated issues — such as gun rights provisions – sidelined D.C. voting bill. Hoyer had originally hoped to bring the bill to the floor this week, but now believes the legislation may be dead for the year.

Hoyer made the decision with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the non-voting representative of the District, who was uncomfortable with the gun legislation that was being attached to the bill, a Democratic aide said.

Norton said the bill would not have made it through the Senate anyway because the gun-related amendment would have allowed wide open gun ownership in D.C.

Norton said gun provisions – which she said were drafted by the National Rifle Association – would “surely bring down the support we have had of anti-gun Democratic Senators.”

It is a personal defeat for Hoyer, who has long championed the legislation, and for D.C., whose 600,000 citizens do not have a full voting representative in Congress. Hoyer, on several occasions, said he is “profoundly disappointed” that the legislation will not be brought up and added that he personally wrote the statement he delivered to reporters Tuesday morning.

The legislation should be focused “solely on the central premise of American democracy,” not local D.C. crime issues or the addition of a House seat for Utah. Both of these issues have haunted the legislation in the past.

“I believe that the bill that should be adopted would extend that right to the residents of the capital city of the world’s greatest democracy,” Hoyer said. “It is a blight on that democracy that we have not done so. That bill should be unfettered by any other provisions.”

Past versions of the D.C. voting rights bill have been bogged down when Republicans successfully attached amendments that would force much more open gun laws in the city, which has the strictest gun laws in the country.

When asked what sidelined the legislation this time – opposition by liberal Democrats to the gun provisions, or the threat of a filibuster by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) because of the at-large seat – Hoyer said simply “the price was too high.”

27 April 2010

Analysis of 1998 US House Vote on Puerto Rico Status Legislation

As the U.S. House of Representatives proceeds to take up H.R. 2499 to facilitate a referendum process on political status alternatives for Puerto Rico, the issues under intense discussion in 2010 are strikingly similar to those discussed during the last time the U.S. House voted on similar legislation, in 1998. An analysis on the earlier Congressional vote was published in the March 1998 edition of the journal Associate (the predecessor publication to Overseas Territories Review. The 1998 Associate article provided significant insight into many of the same issues which are being debated in relation to the present legislation, and is reprinted below, for comparison purposes.

Puerto Rico Political Referendum Legislation Narrowly Endorsed by US House of Representatives

Associate (Vol. 1 No. 4)
March 1998
Washington, D.C.

Supporters of full integration for Puerto Rico into the United States (U.S.) as the 51st state of the union were given a boost on 4th March (1998) as the U.S. House of Representatives approved by the narrowest of margins legislation that would provide for a U.S. Congressionally-recognized referendum election by the end of 1998 on three political status options. This major development is occurring 100 years following the U.S. takeover of the island from Spanish rule - some say, from the Puerto Ricans themselves who had declared unilateral independence from Spain prior to the arrival of American troops.

According to a 1997 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) Report on U.S. Insular Areas, the bill "would establish a three stage process for enhancing self-government in Puerto Rico" with the first stage being a (non-binding) referendum to be held no later than 31st December 1998 on the political options of commonwealth (status quo), separate sovereignty (independence or free association), and statehood (integration).

If the referendum choice is either integration or separate sovereignty, the legislation calls for the development by the U.S. President of a ten-year transition plan to be submitted to the Puerto Rico electorate for approval in another referendum. "Assuming the plan was approved, the final stage would begin with the President's submission to the (U.S.) Congress of proposed legislation to implement the form of self-government consistent with Puerto Rico's choice including a proposed date for implementation," according to the report, and "if this is enacted by the Congress, it would be presented to Puerto Rican voters for approval by (another) referendum."

If the commonwealth option is chosen, the status quo continues and another referendum would be held within the subsequent ten year period.

On a vote of 209 to 208 following a marathon session that went well into the night, the full House of Representatives endorsed the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act authorizing the people of the commonwealth/territory of 3.8 million people to choose between the three options. The legislation was introduced in response to a local referendum held in Puerto Rico in 1993 in which the commonwealth option garnered a plurality of some 48.4 per cent.

This marked the first time that the political status under which Puerto Rico was being governed was not favoured by the majority of the population. But as it was noted in the debate by Representative George Miller of California, the political parties in the territory had written the definitions of the individual status options presented in the 1993 plebescite, and the Congress had not responded because it felt that the definitions "were not accurate and would not be supported by the Congress... and did not reflect the laws and the Constitution (of the United States)."

Subsequently a series of Congressional hearings were held in Washington and in Puerto Rico in 1995, resulting in 1996 legislation authorizing a Congressionally sanctioned referendum, rather than a local process.

This legislation was approved in the House Resources Committee, but not taken up by the full House. The present legislation had been introduced in February, 1997 with the definitions of the options ultimately written by the U.S. Congress, following proposals sent by the Puerto Rico political parties.

The House bill will now be considered by the U.S. Senate where similar legislation has been introduced in 1997, but where no action has yet been taken. The measure was fully supported by the island's pro-integrationist New Progressive Party which controls the governorship, the non-voting resident commissionership to the U.S. House, and both houses of the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly. The measure also has the support of President Bill Clinton who commented that the vote "was a victory for democracy and against exclusion."

In a February address to the Democratic Governors Association dinner in Washington, Clinton said that "...it is time that we respond to the aspirations of the 4 million (Puerto Ricans)...and allow them to determine their ultimate political status."[Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossello had previously been elected as Chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association, of the Council of State Governments, and of the Southern Governors' Association in a well planned strategy to position Puerto Rico as a de facto state. This had a significant impact on the favourable vote by Democratic Party representatives on the measure on the House floor].

While not endorsing a particular political option, Clinton disagreed with "some people who question the alternative of statehood (integration) because of the Hispanic culture of Puerto Rico," and emphasized that the "ethnic, racial or religious heritage" of the people should not be used as an impediment to their political aspirations.

The Ethnic Question
President Clinton's reference to ethnicity was made undoubtedly in response to strong support for an amendment offered by Representative Gerald Soloman, Republican from New York. That amendment would have mandated English as the official language in government business and in schools in any U.S. state, including Puerto Rico, if it was successful in changing to that status. Some like Cuauhtemoc Figueora, Director of Policy and Communications for the (U.S.) League of Latin American Citizens felt that it was unfair to use the Puerto Rico issue as the vehicle for the English only movement, since such a requirement does not presently exist for other U.S. states (although some 23 of the 50 have voluntarily adopted English as their official language). Conversely, Chairman of the Board of U.S. English, Mauro E. Mujica, noted that his organization was in favour of the Soloman "English only" amendment and expressed the "concern about creating our own Quebec." He went on to note that "after 100 years of association with (the United States), 75 per cent of Puerto Ricans do not speak English and 70 per cent think of themselves as Puerto Ricans and not Americans." He indicated that he was "concerned about creating a state...where only a slight majority (supported that option) and the minority begins to create trouble." He went on to emphasize that "we don't want a secessionist group created in Puerto Rico." The legislation calls for a simple majority of the Puerto Rican voters for the winning option.
In the end, the "Soloman amendment" was rejected by a vote of 370 to 41 , and a "softer"substitute amendment on the language issue was introduced by Republican Dan Burton, and subsequently adopted by the House by a margin of 238 to 182. The new language would provide, in the event of Puerto Rican statehood, that the official language requirements of the U.S. government would apply to the new state "in the same manner and to the same extent as throughout the United States," and called for the promotion of English proficiency in the public schools by the age of 10. A second amendment that would have permitted Puerto Ricans living outside the island to vote in the referendum was also rejected overwhelmingly, bringing into question whether the vote would be considered a true "act of self-determination" consistent with internationally recognized referenda held or planned in other territories, such as Namibia or Western Sahara.
As in the case of the local referendum held in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1993, and its excessive number of political status choices (based on perceived U.S. Congressional considerations), it was clear that consistency with international principles on self-determination does not always figure significantly in resolving the constitutional dilemmas in U.S. territories. Another such example is the refusal to accommodate the rights of the indigenous people in the self-determination process of that U.S. Pacific territory of Guam serving as a reminder of the constraints that emerge when provisions of the U.S. Constitution are unilaterally applied to non-integrated, or un-incorporated, territories in a manner as if they were integrated states. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands which developed from the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands was the only U.S. territory that seemed to have negotiated a sufficiently autonomous arrangement, but as it turns out, the U.S. Congress and executive branch are re-interpreting important provisions of the U.S. - Marianas pact leading to more "federal" control.

Unlikely Political Alliances
The legislation is considered one of the most controversial measures debated by the full House of Representatives in recent years. Representative Soloman in remarks in the general debate commented that both the American and Puerto Rican people are at odds over the matter, and that "members of the House (of Representatives) are divided on this issue, and not necessarily by party." The Puerto Rican politicians themselves were not unified - consistent with the differing views on the island - with supporters of the bill being led on the House floor, in part, by Puerto Rico's non-voting Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo, while opponents of the measure were led by (Democrat) Chicago-based Puerto Rican Congressman Luis Gutierrez.
Much of the Republican leadership including the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich endorsed the bill, and it was reported that Republicans were asked to support it as one of a number of actions they should take to gain Hispanic votes in the coming U.S. Congressional elections, consistent with an analysis produced by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Many Republicans as well as Democrats seemed convinced, however, that the bill was drafted in such a way as to favour the political integration option in a referendum, and many simply were not ready for that now, if ever. This conclusion was reached since the bill defined the status quo option as a territory that should be decolonized pursuant to the United Nations International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, according to the House Committee Report accompanying the bill.
Such a portrayal of the political status under which Puerto Rico had been governed since 1952 was strongly opposed by the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PDP) who perceived the commonwealth arrangement as a de facto associated state, governed not by the territorial clause of the U.S. constitution, but rather, by a bilateral pact. PDP President Acevedo Vila had earlier contended in March, 1997 hearings before the House Resources Committee that "the assumption made in the bill that it is not possible to have a non-colonial bilateral relationship, based on mutual consent with American citizenship as a bond between Puerto Rico and the United States is against history (and) legal precedents," and noted that previous legislation introduced in the House on Puerto Rico had recognized the bi-lateral nature of the U.S. - Puerto Rico relationship. Acevedo Vila has termed the present bill "unacceptable," and argued that it "reneges on the word of the United States given to the people of Puerto Rico and to the world in 1953," in reference to statements to the United Nations by the United States delegation that the attainment of commonwealth by Puerto Rico was a form of association with sufficient autonomy that it no longer required oversight by the U.N.
The General Assembly later that year agreed to remove Puerto Rico from the U.N. list of non-self-governing territories (via Resolution 748), although the current arrangement does not meet the standard of a "full measure of self-government" approved by the U.N. in 1960. In what many describe as a classic political contradiction, subsequent efforts to have Puerto Rico re-inscribed on the U.N. list for more than three and one-half decades have been met by steadfast resistance on the part of the U.S. State Department which does not hide its disdain for the U.N. committee that oversees the self-determination process of the remaining non-self-governing territories, mostly in the Caribbean and Pacific.[ The U.S. delegation to the U.N. has been quite successful in recent years in convincing other member countries to approve reductions in the resources appropriated to the U.N. committee from the U.N. budget, and actively seeks the committee's abolishment on the premise that the remaining non-self-governing territories are, in fact, self-governing after all, regardless of whether any changes have been made to upgrade their political status arrangement. This proposition, of course, is diametrically opposed to the position just approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in the Puerto Rico legislation that defines the island as a colony. This 'two Puerto Rico,' as in 'two China' policy, finds Puerto Rico to be a colony in the U.S. Congress, but self-governing at the U.N. ]

The Popular Democratic Party itself had been divided over whether the commonwealth status is an associated territory, as insisted upon by the party leadership, or a colony, as seen by a growing segment of the party. Advocates within the party for a true form of free association argued for their option to replace the "colonial commonwealth " definition. They did not succeed within the party, but independent groups like the Puerto Rico Organization for Free Association (PROELA), the Puerto Rican Autonomist Commission and the Puerto Rico Democratic Action Foundation worked in favour of the inclusion of the free association option, both on the island and in Washington.

The Cost of Statehood

The issue of the projected cost of statehood was another factor in the debate. It was argued by opponents of the bill that if statehood was ultimately granted, it would cost the U.S. treasury over US3 billion in increased welfare benefits as well as the expansion of other social programmes and "corporate welfare." This view of increased U.S. assistance to Puerto Rico under statehood was supported by a 1990 Report of the Congressional Budget Office and by other more recent studies including a 1996 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) Analysis of Certain Potential Effects of Extending (U.S.) Federal Income Taxation to Puerto Rico, and a 1997 GAO study on Tax Policy-Puerto Rico Economic Trends. A number of private studies, many commissioned by pro-statehood organizations on and off the island, have countered the findings of these federal analyses.

Supporters of the referendum measure, in particular Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo, argued in the debate on the House floor that under statehood, individual Puerto Ricans and corporations based there would contribute over US 4.5 billion in income taxes to the U.S. treasury. But concerns persist that Puerto Rico would be the poorest of the integrated states, would receive more U.S. economic assistance than other states, and would pay the least in taxes to the U.S. treasury. Perhaps the mass defection of Republicans away from their leadership and against the legislation was due in large measure to this potential economic impact. What is also emerging is the concern that the present commonwealth status also comes with its own financial price tag, and an indefinite continuation of the status quo could also come under increased Congressional scrutiny for financial reasons. One outcome of the debate is the increased realization that under the present status, Puerto Rico pays no income taxes to the U.S. treasury.

A rather unlikely alliance in support of the bill was the position taken by the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP). In a classic case of the "unity of opposites," both the pro-integration and pro-independence parties argue the same point - that the present commonwealth status is colonial and unsustainable. The two parties only differ with respect to the solution. The PIP which has heightened its level of visibility with the U.S. Congress believes that independence will ultimately win out because, as its President Ruben Berrios told the Washington Times newspaper in March, "If we don't obtain a victory now we will obtain it tomorrow because statehood will never be granted." His argument, which is gaining support among U.S. Congressmen, is that "statehood is totally unacceptable to the United States," and if commonwealth is now properly defined as a colonial problem in need of a solution, the only answer is that of independence.

As an indication of this integration - independence dialectic, Romero-Barcelo argued in the House debate that "the unvarnished truth is that Puerto Rico's colonial status remains unchanged," and that "the intent (in creating the commonwealth status) was to create a provisional government until the issue of status was resolved." As Berrios wrote in the bi-monthly U.S. Foreign Affairs journal last November/December, "Congress has acknowledged that commonwealth is territorial under U.S. law which in turn is colonial under international law,(and a) colonial anachronism."
As the Debate Intensified...
Even the influential words of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan were used to support the bill when Representative Joe Moakley of Massachusetts quoted Reagan's 1982 statement that, "in statehood, the language and culture of (Puerto Rico), rich in history, would be respected," and that "statehood would benefit both the people of the United States" and the people of Puerto Rico. The Ronald Reagan Foundation quickly distanced the former president from the process, however, in a letter to the Congress stating that Reagan "is not now nor will he ever be taking any position on (the current Puerto Rico legislation), the issue of statehood for Puerto Rico, or self-determination for the Puerto Rican people." There was no indication as to why the longstanding Reagan endorsement for statehood was being withdrawn.
In any event, Representative Don Young had later made reference to the support expressed in the 1989 State of the Union Address by Reagan's successor, President George Bush, who "long believed that the people of Puerto Rico should have their right to determine their own political future," and who expressed his personal support for integration. So far, no retraction from former President Bush - but the process is far from complete.
In the end, it was the Democrats who rescued the bill. Only 17 of the 27 Republicans on the House Resources Committee, from which the bill originated, voted in favour of the legislation in the full House. All but one of the same Republicans had voted for the measure at the committee level. The final tally showed some 177 Republicans abandoning their leadership by opposing the bill with only 43 in favour. On the other hand, the Democrats who had earlier in the process balked at the definition of commonwealth, overwhelmingly supported the measure with 165 votes to only 31 against.
The Road Ahead
The narrowness of the vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, the lack of consensus among the members of the majority party in the House, and the often contentious debate over culture, language, dignity, finance, Olympic teams and the like under the statehood option all point to a less than certain future for the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status bill. The legislation now shifts to the U.S. Senate where Majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi has offered little support for bringing the measure to the Senate floor this year [Of course, Lott has changed his mind before, most recently, in his widely reported reversal of his original call for the expedited completion of the U.S. Special prosecutor Ken Starr's investigation on alleged sexual misconduct of President Clinton ].
In effect, It would be a simple procedure not to take up the politically explosive issue in the Senate this year, simply on the grounds of the crowded Senate calendar and the fewer than normal days of formal session because of elections in November. But Republican Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with jurisdiction of the Puerto Rico legislation, supports bringing the bill to the Senate floor this year, and several Senate Democrats have also called for debate on the measure. Members of both parties, however, have made it clear that approval will not be easy, in view of the close vote in the House. As the PIP 's Berrios wrote "the traditional policy of Congressional immobility on Puerto Rico seems to be losing ground, though it is still a tempting option for a Congress with a propensity for crisis management."
Puerto Rican politicians are also gearing up for the shift in focus to the Senate. It appeared that the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party had abandoned its lobbying efforts in the House, in the face of a well documented multi-million dollar campaign for approval of the bill by the pro-integrationist forces, and had concentrated their approach on the Senate. The pro-statehood New Progressive Party was, of course, elated with their victory and have stepped up their efforts to press for a Senate vote based on the "momentum." The Puerto Rican Independence Party, meanwhile, views the narrow victory as consistent with their plan to press the issue, in effect, forcing the U.S. Congress to reject statehood for Puerto Rico - something that Congress has been particularly adept at avoiding over the years.
As the debate accelerates, some experts are betting on the "independentista" strategy. If the Senate does approve a companion measure with a compromise House-Senate version signed by President Clinton, enough momentum might be generated in Puerto Rico for a positive vote in the referendum for statehood (especially with the threatened boycott by the commonwealth forces). But will the U.S. Congress support a state with less than a "supermajority" of the voters, in view of the very real concern among many Congressmen over the "Quebec" syndrome? Or as Berrios asks, "Is the U.S. willing to risk a Caribbean Quebec or a tropical Northern Ireland ?" He noted that "it is one thing to accept individual Jamaicans or Dominicans as immigrants(but) it is quite another to annex entire nations like Jamaica or the Dominican Republic as states." Thus, with statehood rejected and commonwealth discredited, the independence advocates argue, some form of separate sovereignty - either independence or free association - would win by default. This is not an implausible outcome.
Of course, should the Senate takes the safe way out and not address the bill at all - there is a tendency not to take up controversial legislation during an election year - the measure will have to be re-introduced in 1999, possibly with new Congressional members and their own ideas on the subject. The process would then begin anew. In view of what has occurred over many years of debate on this issue, it is difficult to bet against this eventuality either. The Congress may be still dealing with this issue decades into the future.
And so it has...

25 April 2010

US Congressional Republicans Consider Implications of Potential Puerto Rico Statehood

April 23, 2010
House to Consider “Puerto Rico Democracy Act” Next Week
Bill would Set up Vote on Potential 51st State

US House of Representatives
Natural Resources Committee Republican Press Office

Next week (26-30 April) , the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act. This bill would authorize a federally sanctioned plebiscite (vote) of the Puerto Rican people regarding their political future.

The bill mandates a two-step voting process. The first vote would allow the people of Puerto Rico to choose between selecting a “different political status” or maintaining their “present political status.” If the majority of the people vote in favor of a “different political status,” then a second vote would be held allowing people to choose between three options: independence, statehood, or a freely associated state. Puerto Rico is currently a territory of the United States and has “Commonwealth” status.

“There are some important factors that should be made clear and be carefully considered before Congress votes on this bill. While it is said that the outcome of the plebiscites are non-binding, the results could set the stage for future action as soon as next year – including a Congressional vote on statehood for Puerto Rico,” said House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Doc Hastings.

“Action towards potentially creating a 51st state is not a decision that Congress should make casually and has very serious implications for both the 50 existing states and the people of Puerto Rico. Congress needs to have an honest and forthright discussion of these issues. For example, under this bill, a majority vote is not required for statehood or independence to be declared the winner. There is also the question of a common language and Puerto Rico’s recognition of Spanish as an official language. In addition, if Puerto Rico were ever to became a state it could get six new members of the House of Representatives and cost billions of dollars per year in federal spending.

The people of Puerto Rico would also have to pay federal income tax on income earned on the island, which they currently don’t pay. As we approach this vote, I will be encouraging Members of Congress and the people of 50 states and Puerto Rico to educate themselves on the details of this bill and its potential implications.”

# # #

Three months ago, the National Journal (Washington, D.C. USA) reported on the adoption of the H.R. 2499 by the House Natural Resources Committee in July 2009. The article, written by Erin McPike, provided significant insight on the efforts underway by Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood government and Resident Commissioner to move the legislation forward, and on the perspectives of key Congressional Representatives on the implications of the legislation.

29th January 2010
Puerto Rico May Face Statehood Choice
National Journal

Even some insiders are surprised to hear that Congress is about to take up the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status

By Erin McPike

The issue of Puerto Rico’s political status has been simmering for nearly 50 years. Now, at a time when Congress has plenty of other pressing items on its agenda, lawmakers may soon be voting on a measure to allow the residents of the largest U.S. territory to determine their own fate.

Last July, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, which would establish at least one plebiscite in the Caribbean territory to survey the populace about what status they want for their island. According to the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the bill will come up for a floor vote this year. “It remains a priority,” spokeswoman Katie Grant said.

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, a Democrat who represents Puerto Rico in Congress, together with Gov. Luis Fortuno, an energetic and rising Republican star, have marshaled 182 House co-sponsors for the legislation, including 58 Republicans. The two say they have commitments from more than 264 House members — 180 Democrats and 84 Republicans — to vote for the bill.

Puerto Rico’s quest for self-determination has, in fact, long had supporters on both sides of the political aisle, and in an election year, both parties are interested in courting Hispanics. “Every Republican president in the last 50 years has supported this process,” Fortuno said in an interview. “President Reagan was a strong supporter of this process, and actually of statehood as well.”

President Obama has also signaled support. “We… pledged during my campaign to work with Congress and all groups in Puerto Rico to enable the question of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved during the next four years,” Obama wrote in a letter to Fortuno last January, shortly before his inauguration. “I am fully aware of the difficulties that Puerto Rico has faced in the past when dealing with this issue, but self-determination is a basic right to be addressed no matter how difficult.”

Although the House approved a Puerto Rico self-determination bill by a single vote in 1998, the Senate never took up the matter. Back then, it was a pet project for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who hoped to attract Hispanic votes, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who saw echoes of his home state’s long fight for statehood.

In a recent interview, another Alaska Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said she also is sympathetic. Murkowski is vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference and has taken the lead in reaching out to Hispanics and women. She noted that she has met with Puerto Ricans in Washington and has visited the island to discuss the statehood issue.

“It needs to be that decision of the people,” Murkowski said. “I know that it has been an issue that has provoked a great deal of stress on both sides, but I think if the people of Puerto Rico believe strongly that they need to become a state, we need to respect that.”

Puerto Rico’s commonwealth form of government — in Spanish, Estado Libre Asociado (ELA), or Free Associated State — was approved in a public referendum in 1952 under the leadership of then-Gov. Luis Munoz Marin, according to The Almanac of American Politics. Under ELA, Puerto Rico is part of the United States for purposes of international trade, foreign policy, and war, but has its own laws, taxes, and representative government. Ever since Munoz retired in 1964, the central issue in Puerto Rico’s politics has been status: Should the island continue or modify ELA, should it seek statehood, or should it seek independence?

For many years, public sentiment moved gradually toward statehood. In a 1967 referendum, Puerto Ricans voted for ELA over statehood 60 percent to 39 percent. But in a 1993 referendum, the vote was 48 percent for ELA and 46 percent for statehood, according to The Almanac. In a November survey of 787 Puerto Rican voters, pollster Pablo Ramos found that 58 percent favored statehood, results almost identical to a 2008 survey.

The pending legislation is not self-executing: It simply provides for Congress to authorize an official survey in Puerto Rico that would inform the U.S. government about what the territory’s citizens want. Congress could then move forward as it sees fit. If a majority of Puerto Ricans voted to change the territory’s status, a second plebiscite would take place three to six months later that would ask residents whether they would like to become a state, gain independence, or become a sovereign nation with U.S. ties. If a majority voted for the status quo in the first plebiscite, the proposal allows for another plebiscite eight years later.

Fortuno, a telegenic 49-year-old who has begun turning heads in national political circles, served as resident commissioner in Congress for the four years preceding Pierluisi. The two are close friends who grew up together and share support for statehood. But they emphasize that the legislation they are pushing merely calls for self-determination, not statehood.

“The Founding Fathers never intended for 4 million American citizens to be left in any territory forever,” Fortuno contended. Pierluisi put it this way: “Until and unless you settle this issue, you have to continuously deal with it, because you need to make sure that the people consent to this, because it is clearly not a permanent-type arrangement; it cannot be. You have to check on the people.”

Pierluisi noted that Puerto Rico is not treated like a state under federal health care or housing programs, for instance, and he says that the duo’s goal is “parity.” Hospitals in the territory receive lower Medicare reimbursements than all other U.S. hospitals.

Opponents contend, however, that the legislation is a statehood bill. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., a native Puerto Rican who is close to the territory’s Commonwealth Party that supports the status quo, is among the naysayers. She has said she does not support the bill because it would not allow the people of Puerto Rico to establish the process by which the island’s status would be determined. Velazquez introduced legislation in the previous Congress authorizing a constitutional convention, whose proposal would be ratified through a referendum and then submitted to Congress.

Other opponents include Republicans who believe that Puerto Rican statehood would be a boon to Democrats in electoral politics — even though House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Should Puerto Rico become a state, its four million residents would likely equate to six congressional districts and eight electoral votes. But for Republicans worried about the boon for Democrats, Pierluisi has this message: “The last two territories that became states were Alaska and Hawaii. And the members of Congress thought… that Alaska would be Democrat and Hawaii would be Republican, and they read it all wrong.”

Puerto Rico’s population is heavily Catholic and socially conservative, he pointed out. Members of Congress “shouldn’t be trying to predict where Puerto Rico would go,” Pierluisi said. “We have a Republican governor and a Democrat resident commissioner. We have a majority of Republican mayors and members of the Legislature right now.”

Back home, Fortuno has to make massive cuts in the bureaucracy and budget because of the recession. Phil Musser, a GOP strategist and former executive director of the Republican Governors Association, noted that passage of the pending legislation “would just be the feather in his cap.”

“Fortuno is one of the unnoticed assets of the Republican Party,” Musser said, adding that the governor “is making big, tough choices in his first year in office and has the ability to become a larger and more important voice in the Republican Party nationally because he’s a good communicator, well liked by his peers, and is a leading Hispanic in a party that’s bereft of Hispanic voices.”

Even though the House is expected to pass the legislation easily, most leadership aides questioned about it were unaware of the bill’s status and contents. Some called Puerto Rican issues messy. The issue would head next to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he, too, did not know that the House is all but certain to pass the legislation.

“We’re going to see what the House does,” Bingaman said. “We haven’t discussed it yet in my committee.”

Fortuno and Pierluisi hope that a House victory will provide momentum for them to start lobbying the Senate. Pierluisi aims to find 10 veteran senators — six Democrats and four Republicans, particularly those with large Puerto Rican constituencies — to co-sponsor the bill.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, both said they were familiar with Fortuno from his four years in the House. But even though the two senators have been actively involved in GOP outreach to Hispanics, they stopped short of saying where they would come down on the Puerto Rico Democracy Act and were even unsure about how to talk about it.

Fortuno, however, is quick to point out the upside for his party. “It would present an opportunity, for example, for senators who may have a tougher position on immigration, to show that they may have that position on immigration but they are not anti-Hispanic,” he said.

23 April 2010

Easter Islands (Rapa Nui) Oppose Loaning Moai Statue to France

Easter Islanders set to refuse Moai statue loan to France
By Graciela Almendras in Santiago
From: AFP

THE Rapa Nui people on Easter Island are mobilising to preserve their heritage and, in the latest twist, have refused to loan one of their renowned Moai statues for an exhibition in Paris.

During a referendum in early March, 89 per cent of the islanders, most ethnic Polynesians, opposed transporting the ancient monolithic human rock figure 13,000km from the South Pacific to the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, where they were set to be put on display between April 26 and May 9. Chile's National Monuments Council, which had initially backed loaning the Moai, said it would make its final decision on April 14. But the "most likely" and "foreseeable" outcome is that it would abide by the islanders' choice, a source close to the institution said.

The mysterious basalt sculptures with outsized heads were made some 500 to 750 years ago and have become a symbol of Easter Island, a territory annexed to Chile in the late 19th century. Italy's Mare Nostrum and France's Louis Vuitton launched the project to haul the Moai across oceans for public view in Paris two years ago. They aimed to introduce the island's culture to Europe in exchange for helping preserve its heritage with a fund that initially included half a million dollars.

Archaeologists and logistics coordinators had scoped out the site and preselected a statue 5m tall that weighed 13 tonnes. They had planned to insure it for $2.14 million. The island's 4000 inhabitants were informed about the project during public meetings before a referendum was held under the auspices of the International Labour Organization's convention on indigenous people.

Out of 900 people who responded, 789 islanders said they opposed sending the Moai to France, while 94 said they supported the move. The islanders' clear refusal is an example of how inhabitants of this isolated piece of paradise are increasingly defending a heritage and ecosystem they say is under threat.

They have expressed worry at the 50,000 tourists who flood the tiny island each year and a growing number of immigrants from continental Chile some 3500km away. Authorities are also concerned about the large number of visitors expected for the solar eclipse set for July 11.Last year, islanders symbolically closed their island - which is just 24km by 12km - for 48 hours, blocking the Mataveri airport and urging increased awareness of their migration problem.

In October, they managed to obtain guarantees that the Chilean constitution would be revised to reflect those concerns. Now, they have focused their efforts on preserving the Moai. "You can understand their reaction," said Luis Carlos Parentini, a historian specialising in indigenous communities.

"Throughout their history, they saw much of their heritage disappear. They could be suspecting that what leaves the island won't come back. "And they don't have much to gain out of this, as the island is already immensely popular."

The islanders may have good reason to be sceptical. A smaller Moai standing 1.2m tall and weighing two tonnes that was offered to a head of state in 1927 travelled from Argentina to Europe for 80 years before it was finally returned in 2006.

22 April 2010

UK Rewriting Turks & Caicos' Constitution

by Chris Burke

It's official. The United Kingdom is rewriting the constitution of Turks and Caicos, which the UK invaded in August 2009. Since there is no democracy in Turks and Caicos now that the UK took over, the people have no official say in any changes.

The UK allows itself access to all facets of the islands as the ultimate moral authority. The UK decided there was corruption, not enough voters, and poor governance, quite suddenly actually. Since the take over in August, the people have been excluded from any government decisions. The UK makes no qualms about its plan to rewrite Turks and Caicos' formerly autonomous constitution. It plans to do so without the input or vote from the people.

The first meeting, held by the UK in front of a "consultative forum" (they can give only opinions) was April 13. The UK admits that it will be redrafting the electoral status, and local's government input. Furthermore, the UK admits that election in 2011, as promised, is "unlikely". Also on the list of amendments is UK's strengthening of its rights to Crown land as well as other rights to resources in the islands.

Why have the people been excluded from all decisions by the UK? The UK asserts that the people are corrupted because of the divided political loyalties between the two previous political parties in Turks and Caicos. As a result of the UK's corruption assertion, it also took the people's right to judiciary and trials by jury. This was done not to afford the accused an unbias verdict, it is due to UK's assertion that a jury panel of incorruptible jurors could not be assembled in Turks and Caicos.

There is no venue in which to challenge UK's actions toward Turks and Caicos. The official and ultimate authority is with the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England. Queen Elizabeth has the final say to make any amendments to the rights of the territories at her discretion. And the Queen used her authority to allow a take over of the islands without so much as a vote from the parliament, the people of Turks and Caicos, or any other checks and balances.

The former Permier, Michael Misick, had called for a judicial review of the UK's force and dissolution of the constitution, citing the "right of peoples to self-determination". However, ultimately the Queen has authority over Turks and Caicos law, said the high court.

Many believe that all of UK's corruption assertions were hasty and made without balancing information. Indeed, not only have the people's right to self determination been taken, but a corruption hunt has been looming over the people causing a climate of fear and intimidation.

No word yet on when the UK plans to finalize or publicize any drafts of its rewritten constitution.

21 April 2010

Two Former Turks & Caicos Premiers Alarmed at Bank Closing

Statement of Hon. Galmo Williams
Leader of Progressive National Party, (Deposed Premier)
Turks and Caicos Islands
in Closing of TCI Bank

My Fellow Turks & Caicos Islanders:

I am today very disheartened in having to address you on the closing of TCI Bank Ltd. The TCI Bank over a very short period of time had become a beacon of hope for the people of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Its primary establishment as an indigenous bank was founded on the principle of providing ownership for our people in a financial institution that would be profitable and could one day anchor the banking services in our country.

As far as the Progressive National Party was aware, the bank was well on its way to achieving that objective. Many Turks & Caicos Islanders had invested their hard earned money in the capital of the bank and scores of our citizens as well as those who have relocated to our shores had taken out savings accounts, current accounts, fixed deposit accounts and loans at the bank. The name, TCI Bank, had become a household name, a symbol of pride, and indeed a vital financial institution in the development of these islands.

Whilst it is still early days yet, and being very careful not to apportion blame at this stage, I am nevertheless concerned that it appears on the surface that sufficient effort was not made to save the bank. What further concerns me is that every effort seems to be made in certain quarters to roll back all the strides that we, as a people, have made in recent years. It is evident that on a daily basis the quality of life that our citizens once enjoyed is being increasingly eroded. This has become clearly evident since the British Interim Government under Governor Wetherell and Mark Capes have taken over the administrative affairs of our country. No one can deny the blatant disregard for the plight of our people and the pungent atmosphere of fear which now permeates over our country. As one person has said to me recently, “it is now only left for the Governor and his British cohorts to peel back the tar off the road in inflicting their damage to this country”.

I am a firm believer that unjust works never prosper and that the troubles we are experiencing today too will pass. But as a people we need to become more aware of what is happening around us; we have to realize that those who preside over us do not care if your money in the bank is safe or not; they do not care if you have a morsel of food on the table for your children to eat tomorrow or not; nor whether or not you are able to send your child to school to get a decent education. If they did, they would not continue to talk down the economy of our country; they would not be promoting higher taxation thereby causing a mass flight of capital from our shores.

If Governor Wetherell and his team meant the people of this country well, they would allow for inward investment to flourish thereby helping investors rather than being a hindrance; they would promote confidence in our country by letting the international community know that the Turks & Caicos Islands is open for business rather than weaving a web of red tape around any idea put forward for investment. Had they been more cognizant and respectful of investors and the fragile business environment that exists, the confidence in our economy would have been maintained even while the legal and political processes ran their course. A more positive attitude towards investors and our people on the part of our British occupiers would have engendered confidence and would have perhaps helped to save the TCI Bank.

My best wishes go out to the hard working citizens, guests, investors, staff, regional institutions and anyone who may have supported or have a stake in the TCI Bank. I can now only trust that the provisional liquidators and the powers that be work expeditiously in the best interest of all stakeholders. It is critical that this most disturbing matter be settled in a timely and efficient manner to minimize any losses that might accrue to the bank’s creditors and shareholders.

May God continue to bless you and the entire Turks & Caicos Islands.


Statement of Hon. Michael Misick

Former Premier
Turks & Caicos Islands
on closing of TCI Bank

I feel a debt of deep personal sadness to learn of the forced closure of the first indigenous Bank by the FSC and the Dictator Gordon Wetherall administration.

My heart and solidarity goes out to the thousands of working men and women that now have in some cases their life savings at risk.

Is it a coincidence that some persons like Clive Stanbrook were notified in advance of the bank's closure which enabled him to move millions of dollars out of the bank thereby helping its demise while average men and women are left to suffer?

It has come to my attention that the chairman of the bank and lawyers of a proposed purchaser of the majority shares were in a meeting and hours away from concluding a deal to save the bank, when they got the news of its closure. The pending sale was known both to the FSC and Gordon Wetherall.

The forced closure of TCI Bank by Gordon Wetherall is just another attempt by the British Government and their installed dictator Gordon Wetherall to dismantle all the institutions that were created to advance our country towards nationhood. It's also a further attempt by Gordon Wetherall and his supporters to ensure control of the economy of the islands in the hands of a few white elite British expats.

It is ironic that the same week ‘The People's Bank' closed, permission was granted to a Cayman based bank that is associated with Clive Stanbrook and the Grace Bay Boys to operate a new bank.

It has also come to my attention that less than $3 million dollars could have saved the bank from collapse. National Insurance, which is one of the major shareholders of the bank, have over one hundred million dollars in British and Canadian banks both in the islands and outside.

A decision should have been made in the interest of the thousands of customers and the good name of the country for National Insurance to place deposits with TCI bank to prevent its collapse.

Let me be clear under my leadership or a PNP administration we would never have allowed TCI Bank to fail and have thousands of working people lose their life savings.

Just as President Obama did in the USA and Gordon Brown did in the UK and other leaders did around the world when they spent Billions of dollars to bail out banks to avoid working people losing their savings, I call on Gordon Wetherall to stop making excuses and step up to the plate, rescue and bail out TCI bank to protect the reputation of the Turks and Caicos and prevent thousands of people from losing there life savings.

If the British care one ounce about the Turks and Caicos people this is the least they can do.

If this is not done this will confirm my suspicion that this too is part of a wider British conspiracy to stop at nothing in their efforts to stop the progress of our beautiful Islands and implement their colonial agenda of keeping us poor while making sure the few British elite reap the benefits of our country.

19 April 2010

Challenges to Further Militarization in Guahan (Guam)

Living at the 'Tip of the Spear'
April 15, 2010
by Koohan Paik

Koohan Paik is an Hawaii filmmaker and co-author, with Jerry Mander, of The Superferry Chronicles: Hawaii's Uprising Against Militarism, Commercialism and the Desecration of the Earth (Koa).

I was born in Pasadena in 1961 but raised in South Korea and other Pacific Rim locales, finally settling in Hawaii. During my coming-of-age years, between 1971 and 1982, my family lived on a beautiful small island in the western Pacific: lush jungles, remote waterfalls and mysterious freshwater caves. I remember riding horses through abandoned coconut groves and balmy nighttime spearfishing in some of the most abundant reefs in the world.

That place was Guam, at the southern tip of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US colony. Many people think of Guam only as a giant military base, the nexus of US forward operations in the Pacific islands--"the tip of the spear," as the Pentagon calls it. That has certainly become its primary fate. The base occupies fully a third of the island and is off-limits to civilians, including the indigenous Chamorro people, who claim the oldest civilization in the Pacific. Even during my childhood, though I barely noticed it at the time, there was the constant background drone of B-52s roaring overhead to and from Vietnam, and submarines cruising the coasts. Such is the island's current trauma, after an agonized history that has included repeated invasions and four occupations of varying degrees of brutality over four centuries--by Spain, Japan and twice by the United States.

Despite these serial humiliations, the Chamorros--a unique mélange of Micronesian, Spanish and Asian bloodlines--have always maintained optimism, courage and a resilient sense of humor. So far, they have successfully navigated their delicate existence as traditional peoples on a Pacific island, while also trying to play supportive roles--as nonvoting "citizens" in a US colony, even patriotic active soldiers--for their current master. But now they're going to need all the resiliency they can muster to deal with the next blow the United States has in store.

* * *
I returned to Guam for a monthlong visit with old friends this past November. I was stunned to find the forests of my childhood being replaced by tarmac at an alarming rate; the remaining wild beaches and valleys being surveyed as potential live-fire shooting ranges; and an enormous, magnificently rich coral reef slated for dredging in order to build a port for the Navy's largest aircraft carrier. I witnessed the rage and hurt, exploding suddenly--and so unexpectedly--from the Chamorro people and other island residents, who have had no say in the planning of cataclysmic changes that will turn their homeland into an overcrowded waste dump for the creation of the hemisphere's pre-eminent military fortress. My friends told me it's all part of what's called the Guam Buildup.

Though technically Americans, people born in Guam have few American rights if they choose to live in their homeland. They can't vote for president; they have only one, nonvoting representative in Congress, and Congress can overturn any law passed by Guam's legislature. The island remains one of only sixteen UN-designated "non-self-governing territories"--in other words, colonies. As such, its people have no legal route to appeal any decisions made in Washington. A burgeoning resistance movement is under way, which the military is well aware of. They have hopes that a visit by President Obama, twice postponed and now set for June, will help ease the growing agitation. Given the mood of the people, I doubt Obama can calm anything.

“Run the Planet from Guam”

The upcoming changes are all aimed at fulfilling a Pentagon vision set forth in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. The "Guam Buildup [will] transform Guam," says the report, "the westernmost sovereign [sic] territory of the United States, into a hub for security activities in the region," intended to "deter and defeat" regional aggressors. Guam will be ground zero for mega-militarization in the Pacific and beyond. John Pike of Globalsecurity.org, a Washington-based think tank, hypothesizes that the military's goal is to be able "to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia [an Indian Ocean atoll owned by Britain] by 2015," "even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked" the United States from every other base on their territory.

The swell of US military activity in the Pacific is not confined to Guam. All across the hemisphere, island communities are inflamed over a quiet, swift rearrangement and expansion of US bases throughout the Pacific--on Okinawa (Japan); on Jeju (a joint US-South Korea effort); on Tinian (in the same archipelago as Guam, but part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands); on Kwajalein and the rest of Micronesia; and on the Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Big Island and Kauai. The US Pacific Command calls it an Integrated Global Presence and Basing Strategy. These imperial intentions have barely registered in the American media, despite gargantuan expenditures and plans. Nonetheless, this projection of American colonial assumptions and aggression is taking its toll throughout the Pacific Rim.

The centerpiece of the Guam Buildup is the transfer of about 8,600 marines from Okinawa. When you add their families and construction teams, including entire low-wage crews from the Philippines and Micronesia--there goes the "jobs bonanza" locals were promised--the expected influx will be 80,000 more people on Guam. The island, about half the size of Cape Cod, has a population of about 178,000. The people of Guam, whose largest ethnic group are Chamorro (37 percent of the population), followed by Filipino (25 percent) and then statesiders (10 percent), doubt their island has the carrying capacity to absorb a 50 percent population surge.

In November the Defense Department released a mandatory Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) assessing the buildup's effects. It elicited the most blistering responses ever to come from the Environmental Protection Agency, newly resuscitated after the Bush years. The EPA gave the DEIS its lowest possible ranking for proposing entirely ineffective mitigation actions. The agency further enumerated a litany of ecological catastrophes. Hundreds of acres of jungle and wetlands habitat will be covered with concrete and tract developments in order to house tens of thousands of newcomers. There will be massive raw-sewage spills and a shortage of drinking water. The Navy's plans include the destruction of seventy-one acres of an exquisitely healthy coral reef, home to at least 110 unique coral species, in order to build a berth for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which transports eighty-five fighter jets and 5,600 people.

Meanwhile, the Army wants to turn a pristine limestone forest that stretches from the hills to the sea--site of a prehistoric village that is listed with the National Registry of Historic Places--into a shooting range. In addition, it wants to build ammunition storage bunkers in wetlands areas. The Air Force hopes to build a missile defense shield, as well as hangars, airstrips and helicopter pads, turning Guam into the planet's premier parking lot for billion-dollar fighter jets, helicopters and drones.

The DEIS provided no adequate alternative actions to any of these problems. Nor did it mention that dredging the reef will dislodge radioactive sediment that accumulated during the 1960s and '70s when ships traveling from atomic test sites in the Marshall Islands came to Guam to be washed down at Apra Harbor.

The DEIS was written as if Guam's people, land and culture counted for nothing. The vice speaker of the Guam legislature, Benjamin Cruz, charged that the "problem you had with the original DEIS is that it was done virtually." Cruz pointed out that the report, prepared at a staggering cost of $87 million, was written by consultants who had never been to Guam and who had simply cobbled together the 11,000-page document based on Internet research and phone calls to Guam government agencies.

The EPA's excoriating response to the DEIS has prompted lawmakers to question not only the cost of the buildup but also the costs of mitigating the project's environmental, social and cultural impacts. The governor of Guam estimates that $3 billion will be needed to upgrade infrastructure before any military construction begins. Military construction is already priced at more than $10 billion, assuming that Japan fulfills its promise to kick in $6 billion to help remove US troops from Okinawa. If Japan begs off, the price tag for US taxpayers will soar to more than $13 billion. Surprisingly, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas sharply criticized Pentagon officials at a Senate appropriations hearing in March about the unexpected exorbitant costs of current Asia-Pacific basing strategies. She suggested that the best solution might be permanent bases on the US mainland, "where you don't have training constraints and you don't have urban buildup, and it is a more stable environment for our families."

By contrast, Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, who has advocated for an increased military presence in the Marianas since the 1970s, is intent on seeing the buildup through. He supports two solutions: pouring billions into massive infrastructure development (highways, waste facilities, power plants, etc.) and moving all the live-fire training to the gemlike island of nearby Tinian. However, many Guam residents feel that infrastructure spending misses the true cultural and environmental dangers of the population spike; and on Tinian, local farmers, who would be forced off their land (a la Bikini Atoll, circa 1946), are aghast that live-fire training would mark the end of agrarian culture there.

The Okinawa Connection

The incident that set these plans for the Guam Buildup in motion was the 1995 gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl by US marines stationed at the Futenma Air Base in Okinawa, one of several shocking incidents involving assaults on local girls by marines. Outraged residents pressured the conservative government to reduce or eliminate the American military presence in Japan. Protests culminated in a 2006 realignment agreement between Japan and the Bush administration to close the air base and send half of its troops to a new air base on Henoko Bay, on Okinawa's east coast, with the other half going to Guam by 2014.

But fierce resistance in Okinawa has derailed the move. Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, who was swept into power in September on his promise to reduce the number of US troops, caught military planners off guard by refusing to allow base construction at Henoko. In October, Hatoyama incensed Defense Secretary Robert Gates by putting the Marines' move on hold until he determines an alternative to the Henoko site. The relocation of Futenma remains stalemated.

The people of Guam have never before opposed military plans for their island. In fact, the Chamorros and Filipinos from Guam are arguably the most patriotic people in the nation; more soldiers from the Marianas have fought and died in American wars since 1950, per capita, than those from any other region in the country. However, the sheer magnitude of destruction proposed by the Guam Buildup is unprecedented and has pushed these patriots to their limit. For the first time in the island's history, they are uncharacteristically speaking out against the military. At a recent public hearing, Chamorro veteran soldier Janet Aguon, who fought in two wars, said, "I'm truly sick and tired of the United States of America and the Department of Defense treating the people of Guam as if they were trash. So my message to President Obama, the DoD, the secretary of the Navy: take the military and put them in your own country and not on our tiny little island."

Military planners are worried. The Hawaii-based commander of Marine forces in the Pacific, Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder, told the Washington Post in March, "I see a rising level of concern about how we are going to manage this."

Meanwhile, demilitarization activists have begun networking. The goal: a Pacific for the people. Those from Guam are allying themselves not only with those from Tinian and other Mariana Islands but also with all their Pacific Rim cousins, particularly on Okinawa, in Hawaii and on Jeju Island. These three locations, with Guam, will be sites for the nation's most advanced missile technology--the ultimate geopolitical "Kick Me" sign. As an example of this pan-Pacific concordance, retired Col. Ann Wright recently joined Pacific Islanders outside the gates of Pacific Command Headquarters on Oahu to protest the Guam Buildup.

"We want Admiral Willard [head of the Pacific Command] to hear this: No means No!" said Wright. "When you force yourself on someone against their will, it's called rape--rape of the people, the culture and the land. We Americans must stop our government's military expansion in the Pacific."

Serial Colonizations

The Guam Buildup is just the latest in a long series of colonial indignities in the island’s history. Only on this last trip did I learn the real, “people’s history” of the island; it was a far cry from the Chamorro songs celebrating liberation by the American saviors. Several months before the Japanese simultaneously attacked Pearl Harbor and Guam, both U.S. territories at the time, the U.S. made a strategic decision to evacuate all military personnel and their white dependants from Guam. They reassured the Chamorros, who then comprised the entire population, that everything would be fine. The subsequent Japanese occupation was a lawless hell for two and a half years, with forced labor, rape and beheadings as daily events. When the U.S. returned, a strategy was implemented to “soften” Guam before invading; that is, to continually and indiscriminately bomb the island from both sea and air for thirteen straight days and nights. Unknown numbers of Chamorros were killed. When the strafing ended, the U.S. took over the land and the government, promising to one day return both. Neither promise has been kept.

At the end of the war, the United Nations mandated the U.S. with the responsibility of shepherding its territories to sovereignty. The U.S. has released all the other Micronesian islands from its authority but Guam remains firmly in its grip, with the specter of the Buildup foreclosing any possibility for self-determination.

“We hate being possessions to the federal government,” said Carmen Artero Kasperbauer, 74, whose family’s land is now part of an air base. “That’s why people are angry.” But Kasperbauer, like most Chamorros, doesn’t direct her anger at the troops. “I’m not talking about the uniformed military. We love the uniformed military. Our son helped liberate the Kuwaitis. But he can’t help liberate me.”

Increasingly, Guam residents are discussing the urgency of political self-determination. "We're being moved back and forth across a chessboard by two countries: one that once occupied us [Japan] and one that currently does," pointed out university instructor Desiree Ventura, author of the popular blog The Drowning Mermaid. Clearly, the need for sovereignty is more dire than ever, exposing the real question at hand: is President Obama ready to release Guam's people from their colonized status?

16 April 2010

Former Caribbean Diplomat Publishes Second Book


Former Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador to the United Nations and the OAS, Lionel Hurst, has just published his second book entitled LUTHER GEORGE: The Barack Obama of Antigua and Barbuda. The three-hundred page volume tells the story of a forgotten hero of Antigua and Barbuda who changed his country's history. It is very easy to read and flows remarkably well through seven chapters of facts and recollections. The publication marks yet another milestone in the literary history of Antigua and Barbuda, and of Hurst himself.

Hurst published his Democracy by Diplomacy almost three years ago in 2007, which was very well-received. The former Ambassador is of the view that this second publication will be even better received. "The theme is far more universal," he said, "and the story of a life well-spent always generates great interest."

Lionel Hurst studied political science at Brooklyn College (CUNY), earned an MBA from Long Island University, and his Juris Doctor degree from the New York Law School. He is enormously talented and driven, and is intent on recording the history of his state through differing lenses. He is a kidney transplant recipient who measures his days and knows that only "a few useful years" remain.

The publication will be available shortly after Easter in the bookstores of Antigua, and on the shelves of the major distributors in the USA. Ambassador Hurst is planning a book-signing in mid-May 2010 in New York City, and a launch in Antigua before Labour Day (Monday May 3, 2010) in Antigua. He is to travel around the USA to several cities where communities of Caribbean people live, promoting his publication. The book costs US$20.00 and is available only in soft cover.

10 April 2010




La consultation populaire devrait être l’aboutissement d’un long processus qui prend ses sources dans les résolutions issues des Etats Généraux. Lesquels Etats Généraux avaient été initiés en 1997 par les socioprofessionnels qui s’effacent à la faveur des personnes de la société civile qui investissent les différentes commissions en permettant l’émergence de nombreuses contributions qui constituent de nombreux pistes pour le développement de la Guyane.

L’adoption de documents de synthèses des différentes commissions conduit à passer le relai aux deux institutions de la Guyane (Conseil Général & Conseil Régional) qui vont se réunir en Congrès en 2001 en vue d’adopter un document intitulé Pacte de Développement de la Guyane devant servir de base de travail avec l’Etat français en vue d’aboutir à la consultation populaire pour l’évolution institutionnelle de la Guyane.

Le processus a été interrompu par l’état français au prétexte qu’il n’y avait pas une adhésion unanime, de la part des élus des Conseil Général et Conseil Régional, à l’idée de l’évolution institutionnelle de la Guyane. Seuls le peuple guadeloupéen et le peuple martiniquais ont été consultés en décembre 2005 sur l’évolution institutionnelle.

Malgré ce camouflé, les élus des Conseil Général et Conseil Régional ont pris l’initiative de relancer le processus d’évolution constitutionnelle qui a aboutit à un calendrier de dates de consultation populaire des 10 et 24 janvier 2010 fixé arbitrairement par l’état français.

Un certain nombre d’observations s’imposent. Les unes relatives au protocole électoral qui est resté à la discrétion exclusive de l’état français, les autres relatives aux résultats de ces consultations. En dernier lieu, il convient de dégager des perspectives.

1. Le protocole électoral a été défini par l’Etat français

Le corps électoral n’a pas été figé car une place était faite aux fonctionnaires fraîchement mutés qui avaient droit de vote pour peser sur la destinée de la Guyane, alors qu’ils quitteraient le pays dans quelques mois voir quelques jours, pour d’autres cieux. Les élus ont essuyé une fin de non-recevoir à leur demande de négociation portant sur la composition du corps électoral.

D’autre part, la consultation s’est déroulée en violation des règles du droit international. En effet, celle-ci aurait dû se dérouler sous l’égide de l’Organisation des Nations Unies, à travers des observations internationales

Enfin, la campagne qui s’est déroulée dans le laps de temps très court a été faite sur la base des divisions ethniques et avec la complicité de medias officiels à la solde de l’Etat français qui ont largement contribué au succès du oui à l’article 73.

2.  Les résultats de la consultation du 10 janvier 2010-04-04

Le nombre de Oui à l’article 73 de la Constitution française révisée le 28 mars 2003 est pratiquement égal au nombre de voix Oui a l’article 74 de ladite constitution avec un différentiel d’environ 400 voix en plus pour l’article 73
Le taux d’abstention est de l’ordre de 71% et dénote un rejet de la consultation par la majorité des inscrits.

Si l’on se réfère plus globalement par rapport à la participation générale, le taux d’inscrits est bien sûr très bas (moins de 50%) par rapport au nombre de personnes en âge et en droit de s’inscrire sur les listes électorales (qui est supérieur à 100.000 personnes - tenant compte de la jeunesse de la population – moins de 20ans – qui représente 50%) et par rapport à une population estimée à 220.000 habitants (dont le nombre réel serait de plus de 300.000).

A l’analyse de tous ces chiffres, nous pouvons dire que le nombre résiduel des personnes qui se sont prononcées pour l’article 73 constitue moins de 10% des personnes inscrites sur les listes électorales.

Enfin, plus globalement, le nombre de personnes en âge et en droit de voter n’ont pas jugé opportun de s’inscrire sur les listes électorales parce qu’elles ne se reconnaissant pas dans le système colonial français et par voie de conséquence elles n’accordent aucune légitimité au système électoral français.

3.  Les perspectives

Le peuple guyanais au plus profond de sa campagne n’a pas fait le choix de l’article 73 ni de l’article 74 de la Constitution française. Parce qu’ils aspirent à une politique responsable qui redonne sa dignité de femmes et d’hommes libres dans une Guyane souveraine.

Nous persistons à travailler pour que le peuple guyanais soit à nouveau consulté sur son évolution institutionnelle sous les hospices de l’ONU et non plus sous la seule direction du droit interne français sachant que la France n’a pas eu une attitude neutre lors de ces dernières consultations populaires des 10 et 24 janvier 2010.

Cayenne le 4 avril 2010

06 April 2010

Human Rights Are Not Skin Rashes

Julian Aguon
Attorney, Human Rights Scholar-Advocate

On why the DEIS’ (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) suggestion that new U.S. arrivals to Guam can participate in a self-determination referendum is Just Plain Illegal.

The DEIS (Vol. II, Chapter 16) suggests that the thousands of new arrivals coming to Guam from the continental United because of the military buildup can, and will, participate in a self-determination referendum to determine the political status of the island, should one be had. This suggestion is illegal under any principled construction of international law. But because the United States, through its military mouthpiece, seems to be suffering from amnesia—the following is a brief recounting of the relevant international law applicable to Guam as a non-self-governing territory.

After the founding of the United Nations at the end of World War II, the international community recognized that colonized peoples and territories around the world deserved to be freed from colonialism. The U.N. Charter, ratified by the United States in 1945, recognizes in Article 1(2) and Article 55 the “principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.” Article 73 of the Charter explicitly governed non-self-governing territories, like Guam, from 1946 to 1960, when it was supplemented by the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Article 73 states that “Members of the United Nations who administer territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government” have a “sacred trust obligation . . . to promote . . . the well-being of the inhabitants of these territories, and . . . to develop self-government,” taking into consideration “the political aspirations of the peoples.” Since 1946, Guam has remained on the U.N. list of non-self-governing territories; her people eligible under international law for self-government from 1946 to 1960, and thereafter for full independence.

In 1960, the U.N. General Assembly adopted two resolutions to give greater form and substance to the principles articulated in Article 73 of the Charter. The first, Resolution 1514 (XV), also known as the “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples”, declares: “[A]ll peoples have the right to self-determination” and that “immediate steps shall be taken . . . to transfer all powers to the peoples of [non-self-governing] territories . . . in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire.” The second, Resolution 1541 (XV), also known as the “Principles Which Should Guide Members in Determining Whether or not an Obligation Exists to Transmit the Information Called for in Article 73e of the Charter of the United Nations”, sets out three political status options that the United Nation recognizes as a full measure of self-government for the non-self-governing territories: independence, free association, or integration with an independent State.

Resolution 1514 proclaimed self-determination to be more than a principle, and declared it a right. It states: “All peoples have the right to self-determination.” Although the General Assembly in Resolution 1514 failed to define “peoples,” its adoption on the following day of Resolution 1541 acted to “fill in some of what Resolution 1514 left unsaid.” Resolution 1541 was intended to clarify the reporting duty of the colonial rulers of the non-self-governing territories required to report to the Secretary-General on the status of the peoples of those territories until such time as self-governance was realized. The resolution’s ninth principle states that a prima facie duty to submit said information exists “in respect of any territory which is geographically separate and is distinct ethnically and/or culturally from the country administering it.” From this language emerged a legal thesis known as the “blue-water” or “salt-water” thesis, which holds that only those peoples “separated by a sea . . . from their subjugators are entitled to self-determination. In contrast, the other major decolonization thesis takes its cue from language in the earlier resolution, 1514, which identified the holders of the right to self-determination in the decolonization context as those under “alien domination.” This second theory, known as the “Belgian thesis,” holds that all peoples, including those in independent states, are entitled to the remedy of decolonization. While in theory the latter thesis reflects the more principled approach, in the case of Guam, one need not entertain the distinction, as Guam would meet the test of either thesis.

The DEIS suggests that the massive wave of U.S. expatriates coming soon to Guam can participate in a self-determination plebiscite. This is erroneous because the international law governing the decolonization of non-self-governing territories indicates that decolonization is a remedy available only to the colonized. To be sure, Resolution 1514 instructs that the right to self-determination belongs to peoples who are subjected to “alien subjugation.” Resolution 1541 further instructs that the right to self-determination in the decolonization context is a right available to the people of those territories “geographically separate” and “distinct ethnically and/or culturally from the country administering it.” Moreover, in the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States, or Resolution 2625 (XXV), the U.N. General Assembly unequivocally instructs:

[T]he territory of a colony or other Non-Self-Governing Territory has, under the Charter, a status separate and distinct from the territory of the State administering it; and such separate and distinct status under the Charter shall exist until the people of the colony or Non-Self-Governing Territory have exercised their right to self-determination in accordance with the Charter, and particularly its purposes and principles.

These resolutions indicate that, as far as the right to self-determination is concerned, the United States cannot treat Guam as its domestic soil, nor exploit its control over immigration into Guam to flood the territory with its own non-Chamorro expatriates. By the time a Chamorro self-determination referendum would occur, if it does in fact occur, the enormous outside settler population would have increased exponentially. As the DEIS readily admits, the huge demographic change incident to the buildup will necessarily result in a “reduction of Chamorro voting power.”

Although declarations and resolutions of the General Assembly are generally not in themselves technically binding, they illuminate the position of the international community on any given subject matter, and are frequently invoked as evidence of customary international law. Indeed, where General Assembly resolutions concern general norms of international law, their acceptance by a majority vote both constitutes evidence of the opinions of governments on any given subject, and provides a “basis for the progressive development of the law and the speedy consolidation of customary rules.” The International Court of Justice, in an 1975 advisory opinion concerning the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, approved this conclusion when it relied heavily on General Assembly resolutions to establish basic legal principles concerning the right of peoples to self-determination.

Perhaps the strongest argument against the participation of U.S. expatriates in any future self-determination referendum is the most obvious one. A settled principle in both international and U.S. domestic law is that legal principles ought not be construed to lead to an absurd result. Indeed, this principle is so well settled that American jurists typically refer to it as the Golden Rule of statutory construction. Here, because decolonization is about curing a wrong (i.e., colonization), construing the right to self-determination in the decolonization context as belonging to those who were not harmed leads to a plainly absurd result. Arguably, to approve a conclusion to the contrary would be tantamount to a re-imposition of colonization by legal means.

To silence this position, the United States will no doubt proffer Puerto Rico as an example of how every U.S. citizen residing in a non-self-governing territory gets to vote in that territory’s self-determination referendum. There, such referendums enfranchised all in the territory—Puerto Ricans and U.S. expatriates alike. In 1953, after the United States had reported that its international obligations as Puerto Rico’s Administering Power had been in effect fulfilled by virtue of an increased measure of self-governance for Puerto Ricans, Puerto Rico was removed from the U.N. colonies list. The international community, however, has roundly rejected the U.S.’ argument: Puerto Rico was deemed wrongly removed from the colonies list and has, since 2007, enjoyed a sui generis legal status, being kept under “continuous review” by the General Assembly itself so as to guarantee the people of that territory their legitimate right to self-determination. Further still, the example of New Caledonia shows us that, when the fundamental right to self-determination is concerned, the international community does not let Administering Powers so easily off the hook. There, though France had unilaterally removed New Caledonia from the colonies list, the General Assembly re-inscribed the territory on the list because of a self-determination plebiscite that failed to conform to international standards for decolonization.

Finally, almost immediately after its curt analysis (if it can be called analysis) of this colossal issue (the U.S.’ taking for granted that all U.S. citizens residing in the territory of Guam when and if a self-determination referendum is had can lawfully participate in that referendum), the DEIS then flippantly dismisses this issue as belonging to a lower order. It states: “The negative interactions related to incoming new population discussed here do not rise to the level of major issues previously discussed under ‘Crime and Disorder,’ but are more likely to be irritants that may undermine a sense of mutual respect between groups.” (emphasis added). Adding insult to injury, the document goes on to state, absurdly: “Also, the arrival of new populations can bring positive benefits that infuse communities with opportunities for more meaningful interactions.”

Irritants? Sounds like a skin rash. Red ants, maybe?

Will someone please inform the United States (and all its agents) that the corpus of international human rights (to which self-determination not only belongs but enjoys a pre-eminent status) are principles which have crystallized into rights because as a world we have recognized that human beings are food to no one—no man, no state, no institution, no god? To be sure—to be crystal clear—self-determination is an inalienable, fundamental right of all peoples. And despite what they imagine, make up, want, desperately desire—it is not, can never be, a thing to go gently to its grave.

Statement of Cuban Foreign Minister at UN Donors Meeting on Haiti

Statement of H.E. Bruno Rodríguez Parilla,
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Republic of Cuba
at the Haiti Donors Meeting
United Nations Headquarters
New York, 31 March, 2010

Mr. President,

The international community has a tremendous debt with Haiti where, after three centuries of colonialism, the first social revolution on the American continent took place, an act of boldness that the colonial powers punished with close to 200 years of military dictatorships and plunder. Its noble and hardworking people are now the poorest in the Western hemisphere.

We all have the moral obligation to contribute additional financial resources and greater cooperation to Haiti, not only for its reconstruction but, in particular, for its development.

In order to have an idea of the magnitude of the human tragedy in Haiti, suffice it to note that the death of 230,000 people in its small and high-density population, is equivalent to the death of more than 30 million people in a country such as China, whose population reaches a total of 1.3 billion inhabitants; an unimaginable tragedy.

In the wake of this devastating earthquake that shook the conscience of humanity, we trust that the numerous promises heard will be converted into action, that Haiti’s independence and sovereignty will be respected and ennobled, that the government of President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive will be facilitated to exercise all its faculties, and that it will be able to benefit, not the whites and foreign companies, but the Haitian people, especially the poorest.

Generosity and political will is needed. Also needed is the unity of that country instead of its division into market plots and dubious charitable projects.

The program for the reconstruction and strengthening of the Haitian national healthcare system, drawn up by the Haitian government and Cuban governments, with the cooperation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and other countries and humanitarian organizations, will guarantee wide health coverage for the population, in particular the low-income sector.

That program is based on 101 primary healthcare centers which are being created, at which an estimated 2.8 million patients will be treated, 1.3 million emergency operations performed, 168,000 babies delivered, and 3 million vaccinations administered every year.

These health centers will be supported by the services of 30 community reference hospitals distributed throughout the country and equipped with cutting-edge technology for secondary attention, which can treat 2.154 million people per year, perform 54,000 operations – 1 million of these emergency surgery –, 276,000 electro-cardiograms, 144,000 diagnostic ultrasounds, 43,000 endoscopies, 181,000 X-Rays, 107,000 dental examinations, and 487,000 laboratory tests.

Given the extraordinary number of poly-traumatized patients, 30 rehabilitation rooms are likewise being equipped which, within 12 months, will provide services for 520,000 patients and 2.4 million therapeutic treatments.

There will also be three electromedicine centers, a prosthesis laboratory and an integral hygiene and epidemiology program.

Also planned is a Haitian National Specialties Hospital at tertiary level, involving cooperation from other countries, directed by 80 high-level Cuban specialists responsible for services and clinical departments, research and teaching, and Haitian professionals who will be trained at the institution and progressively replace the Cuban medical professors.

The cost of the already mentioned services will amount to $690.5 million over 10 years, a total that includes the medical services provided, calculated at 50% of international prices; the sustainability of these services and the personnel providing them; and the training of a further 312 Haitian doctors in Cuba.

As can be deduced, the approximate cost is $170 million per year for a country of approximately 9.33 million inhabitants.

It is possible to do this. Our practical experience confirms it. In fact, this program is already underway and, post-quake, 23 of these primary care health centers, 15 community reference hospitals and 21 rehabilitation rooms are up and running.

From almost immediately after the earthquake, Cuban specialists have been dedicating their attention to the population affected. To date they have seen 260,000 patients, performed more than 7,000 operations, delivered close to 1,400 babies, and administered close to 100,000 vaccinations. More than 50,000 patients have undergone rehabilitation therapy and more than 75,000 children have received psychosocial therapy, in the presence of some of Cuba’s most eminent professionals.

A total of 783 Cuban and 481 Haitian doctors, plus 278 health professionals from 28 countries – all of them graduated in Cuba – are working on this program.

Last Saturday [March 27], as part of the program outlined, a memorandum of understanding for the strengthening of the healthcare and public services system and epidemiological prevention was signed in Port-au-Prince, thanks to the will of the Haitian government and a significant contribution from President Lula and Brazil, which will be decisive for the planned healthcare program.

During the 11 years of work prior to the earthquake, the Cuban medical brigade, which has a presence in 127 of the 137 Haitian communes, saved 223,442 lives, treated 14 million people, performed 225,000 operations and delivered 109,000 babies. Via the Operation Miracle program, 46,000 Haitians have had their sight restored or improved. During the same period, 165,000 Haitians have become literate in Creole.

If we evaluate the medical services provided in these 11 years and the training of medical personnel in Cuba, it would represent $400 million throughout the period.

The medical program that we are proposing, in its entirety, will benefit 75% of the poorest population of the country at a minimum expense.

We invite all governments, without exception, to contribute to this noble effort. For that reason, we attribute particular importance to this conference, and aspire to its success.

Thank you very much.

Translated by Granma International