Egypt sends Mursi to trial for international conspiracy

 

CAIRO- Egypt’s public prosecutor charged former President Mohamed Mursi and 35 other top Islamists on Wednesday with conspiring with foreign groups to commit terrorist acts in Egypt, in a case that could result in their execution. Declaring it “the biggest case of conspiracy in the history of Egypt”, a statement detailed a “terrorist plan” dating back to 2005 and implicating the Palestinian group Hamas, the Shi’ite Islamist government of Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, dismissed it as “fabrications and lies”. There was no immediate comment from Iran, Hezbollah or Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, most of whose leaders are in prison. It marks a further escalation in the suppression of an Islamist movement that propelled Mursi to victory in last year’s presidential election but which has been driven underground since the army deposed him in July after mass protests. The state has cracked down hard on the group since then, killing hundreds of its supporters. Thousands more have been arrested as the army-backed government proceeds with a transition plan designed to lead to elections next year. The next step is a referendum on a new constitution set for mid-January. In a statement on Wednesday, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party called for a boycott of the vote. The previous constitution was written by an Islamist-dominated assembly and signed into law by Mursi a year ago after it was approved in a referendum. The new constitution contains an article that would ban all religious parties. Although the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies oppose it, the ultraorthodox Islamist Nour Party is calling on Egyptians to vote for the constitution. DIVULGING MILITARY SECRETS Besides Mursi, the prosecutor charged Brotherhood leaders Mohamed Badie, Khairat El-Shater, Mahmoud Ezzat and others with crimes including committing acts of terrorism in Egypt and divulging military secrets to a foreign state. “The idea that the president of the republic is guilty of espionage is a very strange one,” said Nathan Brown, a George Washington University professor and expert on Egypt. “As long as the treatment of the Brotherhood leadership is treated as a security matter rather than a political matter Egypt’s political future will remain shaky,” he said. The Brotherhood has said it is committed to peaceful resistance. Its supporters are holding almost daily protests on university campuses against what they see as a bloody military coup against Egypt’s first democratically-elected leader. The prosecutor’s statement said the Brotherhood had hatched a plan dating back to 2005 that would send “elements” to the Gaza Strip for military training by Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Upon their return to Egypt, they would join forces with extremist groups in the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian-controlled territory that borders Israel to the east, it said. After the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the group exploited the chaos to carry out attacks on security forces in North Sinai and elsewhere, it said. The statement said they aimed to establish an “Islamic emirate” in North Sinai were Mursi not declared president. It added that Mursi’s presidential aides including Essam El-Haddad, his national security adviser, had leaked secret reports to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah as a reward for their cooperation. The charges also accused the Brotherhood of carrying out attacks on security forces in North Sinai after his removal, a reference to an insurgency by hardline Islamists that has escalated since July, killing 200 policemen and soldiers. Hamas, an ideological cousin of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been demonized by Mursi’s opponents in Egypt. Sami Abu Zuhri, the group’s spokesman, said the accusations were “empty and meaningless”. The prosecutor was accusing Hamas of “intervening in the internal affairs of Egypt in order to settle purely internal conflicts in Egypt”, he said. Appearing on trial earlier this month, Brotherhood General Guide Badie denied the group had committed any acts of violence. Mursi is already standing trial for inciting violence during protests outside the presidential palace a year ago when he was still in office.

Iran, six powers to resume nuclear talks after snag

DUBAI/VIENNA- Iran and six world powers will resume talks in Geneva on Thursday about how to implement a landmark nuclear agreement, a week after Tehran broke off the discussions in anger at an expanding U.S. sanctions blacklist.

Under the November 24 interim accord, Iran will curb its disputed nuclear program in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions that are damaging its oil-dependent economy.

The technical talks – expected to involve nuclear as well as sanctions experts – are meant to translate the political deal into a detailed plan on how to put it into practice.

Diplomats said the task was complicated but that progress had been made during the December 9-12 meeting in Vienna, even though differences remained. They said there was a real political will on both sides to carry out the agreement.

“It’s in the interests of the Iranians to go quickly because there won’t be an easing of sanctions until the agreement is implemented,” a senior Western diplomat said.

In a sign of this, deputy Iranian chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi said the expert talks were set for an initial two days but may continue into Saturday and Sunday if required, Iran’s Fars news agency said.

A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates contacts with Iran on behalf of the powers, confirmed the resumption of the discussions.

Last Thursday, Iranian negotiators interrupted the talks in Vienna in protest against the U.S. blacklisting of an additional 19 Iranian companies and individuals under existing sanctions, saying the move was against the spirit of the deal.

U.S. officials said the move did not violate the Geneva agreement and that they gave Iran advance warning.

The development has highlighted the sensitivities involved in implementing the agreement. Some U.S. lawmakers are pushing for further sanctions against Iran, a move which hardliners in Iran see as proof the United States cannot be trusted.

The six powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – are seeking to scale back Iran’s atomic program to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies any such intention, saying it needs nuclear power in order to generate electricity.

(Source: http://www.antiguaobserver.com/iran-six-powers-to-resume-nuclear-talks-after-snag/)

Bahamas outlook clouds for Haitians

Thousands of Haitians see the Bahamas as a land of promise

Row after row of taxis are lined up along the street, their drivers milling about as tourists stream off the latest cruise ship to have docked in Nassau, capital of the Bahamas.
A tour guide approaches a group of American visitors asking if they want a ride in his horse and carriage – they decline.
“Things are slow, people just walk around the shops and are not even buying anything,” the guide says, shrugging his shoulders.
The effects of the global financial crisis have hit the tourism industry hard and no more so than here in the Bahamas, where the economic slowdown has also made immigration a big issue.

Disparity of wealth

The Bahamas are a collection of some 700 islands that lie only 80 km (50 miles) away from the US mainland, with Florida to the north, stretching all the way south to just off the coast of Haiti.

It is one of the wealthiest of Caribbean nations but its neighbour – Haiti – is the complete opposite. More than half of the nine million people who live there have to survive on less than half a dollar a day.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and poverty drives many people to pack their bags and head for new shores.
Passage on an overcrowded wooden boat out of Haiti can cost upwards of $500 (£300). A better life in the US is what most are after but landing in the Bahamas is, for many, just as good an option.
The Bahamas have a population of around 350,000 people, covering 23 inhabited islands, It is estimated that up to 80,000 Haitians now live here.
National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest says the country has benefited greatly from Haitian workers in the past, but is now feeling the strain.
“Haitian nationals have contributed greatly to the development of the Bahamas over the years, but the numbers here now are overwhelming and when we talk about healthcare, education and social services… the strain on our resources… has become extreme,” Mr Turnquest said.

Human trafficking
One of the oldest boats in the fleet of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force is the Inagua. Purchased from the British after the demise of colonial rule, the vessel is now part of a patrol that covers 25,900 sq km of territorial waters looking for illegal immigrants.
Commodore Clifford Scavella, head of the Bahamas armed forces, says those seeking to come here illegally have many options.

“On the water there are so many corridors that smugglers can use.
“We are finding more and more that they are using alternative [routes] so we need to spread our assets as wide as we can, we are seeking government help as we continue the fight,” he says.

The government repatriates hundreds of migrants, with local newspapers reporting regularly on how much this is costing the Bahamas.

Authorities also try to intercept people arriving by sea, but not every one makes it that far.
The Queen of Peace is the main Roman Catholic church for the Haitian community in Nassau.
On Saturday nights the sound of the choir singing in French Creole, practising ahead of the morning’s Sunday service, can be heard far and wide.

Religion is a key part of Haitian life and Father Roland Gilfort has heard countless stories about the hundreds of illegal migrants who go missing every year.

“In the last three months we have had more than 100 people die at sea, we try to protect them, tell them not to come, but you know what?
“All they see when they are in Haiti is the profits. They are risking their lives because they see a neighbour getting a house after two years and they want to be like their neighbour,” says Father Roland.

Growing underclass
The history of immigration from Haiti to the Bahamas stretches back to the late 1950s, with Haitians taking jobs that many in the Bahamas simply did not want.

Labouring, gardening and construction work saw large numbers given work permits.

Many Haitians have spent most of their lives in the Bahamas, yet they now fear losing their resident status and of possibly being deported.
An estimated 300 Haitian illegal migrants run aground at Flamingo Cay, Bahamas (Archive)
While many make it to shore, hundreds of Haitians disappear at sea each year

Tony is typical of the Haitian mentality here. He is grateful for the opportunities but says he feels many of his countrymen are seen as an underclass.

“I say 50% [of Bahamians] are good… they accept us, I will not take that from them and without the Bahamas [many] Haitians would be dead.
“They help us to survive but they should treat us as human,” Tony said.
Amnesty International has reported cases of human rights abuses against Haitians on the island.
The government says such violations are rare and are not tolerated.
However, many in the Bahamas feel their culture is being eroded and want stricter controls on immigration.
“They [the Haitians] have got to recognise that they are in a country that has given them a future and not to strip it like they did in Haiti,” a local taxi driver said.

Another Bahaman woman put it more bluntly: “We need our country back, if they came here to get a better life why not go back home and make a better life [there].”

Despite such feelings, the Bahamas Minister of Immigration, Branville McCartney, says his country would not be the success it is today without the help of the local Haitian population.

He admits the government has had to get tough on illegal immigrants and it has led to resentment on both sides.

“People who are here illegally are working… for less pay and we have Bahamians who have no jobs, that breeds animosity.

“When it comes down to healthcare, many people in the hospitals are not from the Bahamas, that too can cause problems,” Mr McCartney said.
However, there is also a generation living in the Bahamas, young people born of Haitian parents, who due to current laws have not got an automatic right to citizenship.

Immigration rules say they have to apply between the ages of 18 to 19, and it is a process that can be drawn out over a number of years, making it difficult for many to gain employment, travel or even open a bank account.

Essentially, these people become virtually stateless in their own country of birth.

Judge appoints public defender for Stanford

Jailed Texas financier R. Allen Stanford wanted former White House political adviser Karl Rove’s attorney to represent him against charges he bilked investors out of $7 billion.

Instead he’s getting a public defender.

During a brief court hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge David Hittner appointed the federal public defender office in Houston to represent Stanford after his previous attorney, Dick DeGuerin, indicated he no longer wanted to be on the case.

DeGuerin told Hittner he still wanted to withdraw, in part because he has no assurances he’ll be paid. But Washington-based attorney Robert Luskin, who Stanford wants to hire, also wants these same assurances.

Hittner asked Stanford if he had any money to hire an attorney.

Stanford, who sat in the jury box, unshaven and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, at first replied yes, saying there are funds from an insurance policy that would pay for his legal fees.

But a court-appointed receiver in a civil lawsuit against Stanford filed in Dallas by the Securities and Exchange Commission has seized all of his assets, including proceeds from the insurance policy. DeGuerin says Stanford, who was considered one of the richest men in the U.S. with an estimated net worth of more than $2 billion, is now penniless.

“Do you have sufficient funds to retain an attorney to represent you?” Hittner asked Stanford.

“I don’t know the answer to that your honor,” Stanford replied.

Hittner then made the attorney change.

“The case has to get ready for trial. This is the business before the court,” Hittner said. “The man needs an attorney.”

Stanford and other executives of the now defunct Houston-based Stanford Financial Group are accused of orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme by advising clients to invest more than $7 billion in certificates of deposit from the Stanford International Bank in the Caribbean island of Antigua.

Investors were promised their investments were safe and were scrutinized by Antigua’s bank regulator and an independent auditor.

But authorities say Stanford and the indicted executives fabricated the bank’s balance sheets, bribed Antiguan regulators and misused investors’ money to pay for his lavish lifestyle.

Marjorie Meyers, head of the public defender office, said another lawyer in her office, Michael Sokolow, would be the lead attorney in the case. Sokolow met with Stanford after the hearing.

Meyers said Patton Boggs, Luskin’s law firm, still wants to represent Stanford.

Samuel Rosenthal, an attorney with Patton Boggs, was at the hearing but wasn’t asked by Hittner to take part.

Afterward, Rosenthal would only say his firm still has a motion pending before Hittner.

In the motion filed last month, Rosenthal and Luskin say their firm would be willing to represent Stanford as long as Hittner issues an order allowing it to be paid for its work and that any funds used to pay for legal fees will not be frozen.

After the hearing, DeGuerin wished Stanford luck.

“He’s got a long, hard road in front of him,” he told reporters. “I wish him the best.”

DeGuerin said money wasn’t the only reason he wanted out of the case. He said his good relationship with Stanford was ruined by “intolerable interference” from some individuals, but he would not say who these people were.

Tuesday’s hearing had been set for last month, but was postponed after Stanford was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat and high pulse.

Medical tests detected a non-life-threatening aneurysm in his leg. The 59-year-old financier is being held at a private jail in Conroe, just north of Houston, that houses federal detainees.

DeGuerin said Stanford has received medical treatment but that he needs more care and that his health is “not good.”

Stanford, along with three former company executives, have pleaded not guilty to various charges, including wire and mail fraud, in a 21-count indictment issued June 18. Stanford has been jailed without bond since then, considered a flight risk by Hittner.

Another former executive, James M. Davis, has pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with prosecutors.

Homophobia theory over Jamaican consul’s murder

John Terry, a British honorary consul in Jamaica, at a function in April

John Terry, a British honorary consul in Jamaica, at a function in April

A British honorary consul in Jamaica who was strangled inside his home in a possible homophobic attack was likely to have known his killer, police on the Caribbean island said yesterday.

The body of John Terry, 65, was discovered by his gardener wrapped in a sheet in a bedroom at his home near St James, on the north-west coast of the island and near Montego Bay, Jamaica’s second biggest city and a major tourist destination. The New Zealand-born father of two had lived in Jamaica for more than 40 years.

Results of a postmortem examination showed that Mr Terry had been strangled with a ligature and also suffered head injuries, the Jamaica constabulary force said. Reports at the time Mr Terry’s body was found, on Wednesday afternoon, said he was throttled with a piece of cloth and that he had been beaten with a blunt object, possibly a table lamp.

While police have yet to name a suspect or publicly identify a motive, some reports said a note found near Mr Terry’s body referred to him as a “batty man”, homophobic slang for a homosexual man. Homophobia is rife on the island and attacks on gay men and lesbians are common, according to human rights groups. Police confirmed the existence of a note but declined to discuss its content.

Mr Terry, who reportedly separated from his wife three years ago, had spent decades working in Jamaica’s tourism industry and was made an MBE in 1992. At the time of his death he was the maintenance manager for a tourist hotel in Montego Bay.

He had been the British honorary consul for the west of Jamaica for 13 years, a voluntary post assisting Britons in difficulty and acting as a link with local communities.

Detectives believe Mr Terry was likely to have known his killer as there were no signs of a break-in at his house. Some items, among them a mobile phone, had been taken, but it is thought this could have been an attempt to make the incident look like a robbery gone wrong.

“There are no new developments up to this time but we believe, however, that the person who murdered Mr Terry was close to him,” Detective Superintendent Michael Garrick told the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.

Neighbours said a young man seen leaving Mr Terry’s house late on Tuesday had asked how he could get transport to the centre of Montego Bay.

Karl Angell, a spokesman for the police, said he could not comment on this or the possible homophobic motive. “The investigators are still doing their work. For now we have nothing more to say,” he said.

The Foreign Office said it was not aware of a reason for the attack. “Our sympathy is with the family at this difficult time,” a statement said. “Jamaican police are investigating the circumstances of his death and we’re in close touch with them.”

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, said Mr Terry would “greatly missed”. He said: “Honorary consuls like John play a valuable role in our work overseas and this was especially true of John, who helped many, many British visitors to Jamaica over the years.”

Several voluntary groups paid tribute to Mr Terry for his charitable work.

Jamaica’s murder rate is one of the world’s highest. Gay people on the island, where male homosexual acts remain a criminal offence, say they are regularly targeted for abuse or violence, and tourists can sometimes be targeted. In 2006, two US television producers were beaten with tyre irons by a homophobic mob.

SIMMONS: Cuban spies exploit ‘Sister City’ program

Cuba’s primary foreign intelligence service, the world-class Directorate of Intelligence (DI), exploits the “Sister City” program, a concept conceived by President Eisenhower to enhance international understanding through the use of people-to-people exchanges.

The DI views this program as a lucrative tool to meet with sympathizers and agents, spread disinformation and identify candidates for the next generation of spies. So important is the program that DI officers helped establish or sustain programs in six of the first eight U.S. cities to create such relationships.
The six cities exploited were Mobile, Ala.; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Richmond, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; and Tacoma, Wash.

Orchestrated from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, the Sister City effort gives the DI a plausible reason for travel throughout the U.S. It views this as an necessity, given the 25-mile travel limit Havana and Washington impose on each other’s diplomatic missions. Historically, half of the Interests Section’s 26 assigned diplomats are spies. With this, the DI sustains its efforts as a long-term intelligence operation against “target-rich” sites across the U.S.
From 1993 to 2003, the DI’s noticeable role evolved with the legitimate growth of the Sister Cities program. Operationally, its visibility and the success of the program are inversely proportional. In short, the DI proved able to significantly reduce the public appearances of its officers as its U.S.-based efforts thrived.

As the DI effort matured, it capitalized on the travel to and from Cuba by the respective Sister City committees. In Cuba, these visits are coordinated by the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples, known by its Spanish acronym ICAP. Former DI Officer Juan Reyes-Alonso said a large staff of collaborators aids ICAP’s small cadre of DI officers. Mr. Reyes-Alonso noted that, as a result, roughly 90 percent of ICAP personnel are thought to be DI-affiliated.
The timing of the DI’s inclusion of Cuba-based intelligence officers proved fortuitous. In May 2003, the U.S. expelled 14 diplomat-spies in retaliation for Cuba’s provision of U.S. secrets to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unprecedented expulsion crippled most DI operations into early 2005.

However, the DI’s targeting of the Sister City program is thought to have survived intact. Most likely, it temporarily redirected the entire effort to Cuba-based officers with little adverse effect. By 2006, the Interests Section undoubtedly had retaken the reins, albeit much more discreetly than its overt style of 1993-2003.
Consider, for example, the heavy-handedness of Afro-Cuban DI officer Felix Wilson Hernandez. A specialist in targeting blacks, he served in Washington from 1996 to 2000.

Mr. Wilson featured prominently at the national formation meeting of the U.S.-Cuba Sister City Association in Pittsburgh in March 1999. That same month, he went to Cambridge, Mass. – an emerging sister city – and lectured at Harvard University about blacks in Cuba. One month later, Mr. Wilson was in Richmond, Calif., interacting with its significant black andHispanic populations. He also repeatedly visited Seattle community leaders in preparation for the World Trade Organization conference in the winter of 1999. At the time, Seattle’s Friendship Committee was active in its sister city initiative.

In the late 1990s, Intelligence Officer Josefina Vidal handled all “exchange programs,” including Sister Cities. She traveled to Cambridge in July 1999 for an event commemorating the Cuban Revolution and was back in October 2002 for a discussion on the Cuban Missile Crisis. In May 2003, she found herself among the previously cited 14 diplomat-spies expelled.
In March 2000, Intelligence Officer Fernando Garcia Bielsa arrived to replace expelled spy Jose Imperatori. In February 2002, he gave the keynote address at a “Cuban Five” event in Cambridge. All five of the convicted spies Mr. Garcia spoke of were directly or indirectly involved in the February 1996 murder of four Americans. That same month he traveled extensively throughout Southern California, giving numerous speeches on the “Cuban Five” and the Cuban Revolution. In May 2003, he, too, was among those expelled for espionage.

In April 2000, DI Officer Oscar Redondo Toledo arrived to run the Sister City program with Mobile, Ala. In June 2002, he was the keynote speaker at an event in Philadelphia. Five months later, he was expelled for espionage.
A little known DI officer supporting Sister Cities at that time was Alejandro Pila Alonso, who worked with the Havana-D.C. Sister City Committee. Co-sponsored by the Howard University Students Association, Mr. Pila’s experience against academic targets certainly played a role in his coverage of the Havana-D.C. initiative.

For at least 16 years, the DI has methodically exploited the Sister City program while U.S. counterintelligence services did little or nothing to stop it. The U.S. can no longer be an accessory in espionage conducted against it.

Visionary and bold counterintelligence and security activities are needed to cripple or destroy this DI endeavor. Havana will only end its covert role when the U.S. makes it too costly to continue. The question is, when do we start?

A four-time war veteran and recently retired spy-catcher, Chris Simmons is an internationally known expert on Cuban intelligence.

 

Jamaica Budget 2009-10: Difficult decisions in challenging times

Audley Shaw, minister of finance and the public service, delivered the much-anticipated 2009-10 Budget-presentation in Parliament on Thursday.
Jamaica had been bracing itself for significant tax measures in light of recent Government pronouncements against the background that the nation faces significant fiscal and other economic challenges at this time.

These have been exacerbated by the global recession, recent devaluations of the Jamaican dollar as well as interest-rate increases.

The country’s anaemic economic performance is reflected in the 0.6 per cent contraction in output in fiscal year 2008, a 12.4 per cent inflation rate and a US$105 million decline in net international reserves in calendar year 2008.

Expenditure estimates

The Government had previously tabled its 2009-10 Estimates of Expenditure totalling $547.75 billion – now increased to $556.7 billion according to the minister in his presentation in Parliament on April 7. The following represents the allocation of the recurrent expenditure budget over major heads of expenditure.

Of particular note, the country’s public-debt obligations (principal and interest) amount to nearly 56 per cent of the total Budget while interest obligations amount to nearly 45 per cent of the 2009-10 recurrent Expenditure Budget.

Overview of 2008-09 revenue performance

Revenues for the fiscal year 2008-09 were 9.8 per cent below budget.

Tax revenues of $246.2 billion fell short of budget by 7.1 per cent, with GCT being 19.6 per cent less than budgeted. This reflects reduced consumption due to the economic downturn.

Fiscal deficit

The country’s fiscal deficit as a percentage of gross domestic Product (GDP) is regarded as an important indicator of Jamaica’s ability to control and manage its national finances. Balancing the budget is, therefore, a critical milestone that must be achieved in order to improve the country’s financial health.

A fiscal deficit of 4.5 per cent of GDP was programmed for 2008-09 but the country performed much worse, achieving an actual outturn of 6.8 per cent of GDP.

The Government announced Thursday that it is programming a fiscal deficit for 2009-10 of 5.5 per cent of GDP.

Specific tax measures

The following represents a preliminary review by the Pricewater-houseCoopers (PwC) specialist tax team of the specific tax initiatives which were announced by Shaw.

SCT on petrol

The minister indicated that the special-consumption tax (SCT) on petrol shall be increased by $8.75 per litre with effect from April 27, 2009. The ad valorem component of the SCT will remain unaffected at levels that have prevailed since 1999.

It would appear that this increase will only apply to automotive fuels but clarification on this point would be welcomed, particularly whether the increase shall apply only to gasolene (unleaded 87, unleaded 90 and E10) or whether automotive diesel oil (ADO) is also included.

It is estimated that this measure – along with the increased customs user fees – will yield additional revenues of $13.328 billion in the current fiscal year.

The minister indicated that 20 per cent of these revenues shall be placed in the Road Maintenance Fund and devoted exclusively to the repairs of all classes of roads.

Set against the background that Jamaica does not produce oil, gasolene has historically been taxed in Jamaica at low levels, by international standards.

The need to modify this tax regime, to permit rebalancing of our tax system, has been long recognised, including by the Matalon Report on Tax Reform (2004), which recommended that general-consumption tax (GCT) be imposed on auto-motive fuels.

Attempts were made to reform the regime in 1999 by the then People’s National Party administration but were abandoned after the announcement sparked widespread riots and public disorder.

The imposition of the tax as SCT, as opposed to GCT, means the tax will be levied at importation or manufacture and avoids imposing the responsibility on retailers to collect the tax.

Furthermore, unlike GCT, the SCT will not be claimable as an input tax credit by registered taxpayers, eliminating the uncertainty of how much tax revenue would be lost to credits claimed by businesses.

Increased Customs user fees

The minister also announced that customs user fees (CUF) applicable to the importation of finished petroleum products – excluding products imported under the PetroCaribe Agreement – shall increase from 2.0 per cent to 5.0 per cent of the customs value of applicable imports, effective April 27.

Removal of GCT exemptions

GCT is currently imposed at the standard rate of 16.5 per cent on the supply within Jamaica by registered taxpayers, or importation of most goods or services.

The Third Schedule to the GCT Act sets out a list of goods and services which are exempt from GCT. Shaw announced that with effect from April 27, the following goods will now be subject to GCT at the standard rate:

Automatic data-processing machines (e.g. computers) under tariff heading 84.71 as well as parts and accessories under tariff heading 8473.30.
Books, printed matter (not including newspapers), articles and materials classified under tariff headings 49.01 to 49.05.
Fish, cock and noodle soup in aluminum sachets.
Syrup (ex. Tariff heading 21.06).
Motor spirit, lubricating oil for commercial fishing.
Live birds, fish, etc, for food.
Rolled oats.
Salt.
The minister confirmed that a wide range of goods will retain their GCT-exempt classification, including raw foodstuffs, basic foodstuffs (other than specified above), prescription drugs, certain medical goods, and certain educational or agricultural inputs.

It is estimated that this measure shall yield revenues of J$7.5 billion in the current fiscal year.

From a tax-reform perspective, the reduction of the number of GCT exemptions is an important step in seeking to tackle some of the complexities, imbalances and administrative challenges that exist in the current tax regime.

This was recognised by the Matalon Report, which recommended that the number of GCT exemptions be significantly reduced. The minister has, however, still chosen to retain many of the GCT exemptions on the statute books.

The ‘Summary of Measures’ makes reference to the reform of GCT on goods and services, but no reference is made elsewhere to the imposition of GCT on services that are currently exempt.

Clarification is needed on this point, particularly with regard to electricity and water, the former rumoured to have been in the minister’s cross-hairs for inclusion within the tax base.

GCT on telephone instruments

The rate of tax applicable to the importation or supply of telephone instruments will be increased from 16.5 per cent to 20 per cent, effective April 27.

The minister indicated that this will harmonise the rate of GCT on instruments with the existing 20 per cent on telephone services and sale of phone cards.

This measure represents a departure from the stated policy of simplifying the tax system and eliminating discrimination.

The 2004 Matalon Report also recommended the elimination of non-standard GCT rates.

An opportunity was also missed to address uncertainties and inequities in the GCT regime applicable to telecommunications.

This regime currently imposes GCT at different rates on the same services depending on whether they are procured on a pre-paid or post-paid basis.

Instead, the Government appears anxious to capitalise on the seemingly insatiable appetite of Jamaicans to spend unlimited time on their telephone and upgrade their handsets as new models are launched.

It is estimated that this measure shall yield revenues of J$736 million in the current fiscal year.

,b>Tax on dividends to non-residents

“Dividends paid by companies that are listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange currently benefit from a zero rate of taxation.

In December 2008, Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced that this relief would be extended to all dividends paid by “Jamaican-owned companies”.

Although the legislation to give effect to this change has not yet been promulgated, we understand that the intention is to allow for tax at the rate of zero per cent to be applied to dividends paid to Jamaican tax residents.

In referring to this announcement, Shaw has indicated that dividends paid to “non-resident shareholders of listed companies” shall be subject to withholding tax at the rate of 33 per cent with effect from July 1.

Clarification is needed on whether it is intended to tax only corporate non-resident shareholders at this rate since individuals are normally taxed at 25 per cent.

On this basis, such non-resident shareholders would no longer be able to rely on the tax exemption currently afforded to companies quoted on the Jamaica Stock Exchange.

However, to the extent that a non-resident shareholder is resident in a jurisdiction which has concluded a tax treaty with Jamaica, then the shareholder may qualify for treaty protection to reduce or eliminate his/her Jamaican tax exposure.

It is estimated that this measure will yield revenue of J$1.341 billion in 2009-10.

Removal of preferences on emoluments

Certain employee perquisites were targeted by the minister for removal of the favourable-tax treatment that they enjoyed for many years. This amendment takes effect July 1 and is expected to yield revenue inflows of $1.2 billion in the current fiscal year. Preferences which will be targeted include:
Living accommodation:
Employees who were provided with living accommodation as part of their emoluments hitherto paid tax on this benefit up to a maximum of 15 per cent on the remaining elements of their emoluments, instead of the full value of the accommodation.
Tourism gratuities:
At present, hotel workers are entitled, subject to certain conditions, to receive tax-free gratuities from an approved gratuity scheme of up to $250,000 per annum.

This enables such workers to earn tax-free income up to $470,272 per annum, inclusive of the current general tax-free threshold.

The ministry paper indicates that hotel workers will continue to enjoy this enhanced tax-free limit until the general tax-free threshold reaches this level – that is, $470,272 or above – whereupon the general threshold shall apply to all persons, that is, the tax-exemption afforded to gratuities shall be abolished.

Laundry and uniform allowances:
These allowances shall no longer be payable on a tax-free basis. On this basis, employers should review current contractual commitments to employees as well as any agreements with unions which govern the payment of such allowances to assess how these may be affected by the abolition of their tax-free status.

Tax threshold

With effect from July 1, the tax-free threshold for income tax purposes will be significantly increased from $220,272 to $320,736, with a further increase to $441,168 on January 1, 2010.

Income earned in excess of this revised threshold remains subject to income tax at 25 per cent.

It is estimated that this measure will cost $5.202 billion for the current fiscal year.

It is a critical part of the overall tax package presented by the minister. In particular, the increase in the threshold will provide much-needed relief from income tax for heavily burdened PAYE taxpayers.

It is estimated that the increases in the threshold will take 85,000 PAYE workers out of the income-tax net by January 1, 2010.

Notwithstanding the doubling of the income tax threshold to $441,168 by January 1, 2010, the threshold will remain significantly below the amount recommended by the Matalon Report, of $275,184, which was to have taken effect January 1, 2004, and indexed thereafter to inflation.

In today’s terms, at February 2009, this threshold would be approximately $505,000, based on the movement of the Consumer Price Index.

This disparity will continue to grow over time in light of inflation.

Pensioners and the elderly

Under current income-tax rules, the first $45,000 of pension income derived annually from an approved pension or retirement scheme is exempt from income tax with a further $45,000 exemption, in respect of any income, if the recipient is 55 years or over.

Minister Shaw announced that with effect from July 1, each of the above allowances shall be increased to $80,000.

On this basis, pensioners and the elderly may earn tax-free income – inclusive of the general tax-free threshold – of the following amounts:

(J$B) Jul 1, 2009 Jan 1, 2010

Pensioner 65 and over – $480,736, $601,168
Individual 65 and over – $400,736, $521,168
Pensioner 55-64 – $400,736, $521,168
It is estimated that this measure will cost $128 million in 2009-10 and will remove an additional 4,500 pensioners from the income-tax net.

Consolidation of payroll taxes

The minister indicated that payroll taxes would be consolidated with effect from July 1 but neither his presentation nor the ministry paper outlined any further details as to how this would be achieved.

Issues which need to be clarified include:

1. What consolidated rates shall apply?

2. Will the J$500,000 NIS income cap be increased or abolished?

3. How will the separate rules and bases for each payroll tax be harmonised to facilitate consolidation?

4. How will employed persons be treated versus the self-employed?

Transfer tax, stamp duty rates

In pursuit of a general programme to reduce rates and with the express aim of stimulating the real-estate market, Shaw said the rate of transfer tax shall be reduced from 5.0 per cent to 4.0 per cent, and stamp duty on conveyances from 4.5 per cent to 3.0 per cent, with effect from January 1.

For real-estate transactions, this will normally mean that vendors shall be liable to an aggregate of 5.5 per cent of the consideration payable – transfer tax and stamp duty combined – while the purchaser shall be liable for stamp duty of 1.5 per cent.

It is estimated that this measure will cost J$644 million for the current fiscal year.

Administrative enhancements

The minister spoke of several administrative measures which are expected to enhance the revenue collection process and assist in the management of the various ministries.

These include the establishment of a Large Taxpayer Office ( LTO) and the forensic data-mining intelligence unit (FDIU)

The LTO, which commenced operation in January, deals with the 3.0 per cent of taxpayers who contribute over 80 per cent of taxes paid.

The FDIU will focus on identifying self-employed persons that are not compliant.

In addition, efforts are being made to improve the customer service at the collectorates. The Revenue Protection Division is to be re-established and work will continue in ensuring that customs collections are more effective.

The ministries are also to benefit from a central treasury management system to manage public funds which, it is expected, should reap financial benefits from the reduction in wasteful spending; and a public accountability inspectorate (PAI) responsible for reviewing reports tabled in Parliament and ensuring that the recommendations are followed and implemented. The PAI will also assist ministers in the investigation of issues as necessary, in order to promote accountability and transparency.

Tax amnesty

The recently concluded amnesty programme is to be extended to taxpayers who previously avoided declaring taxes – estimated to number more than 200,000 persons. Such persons are being invited to come forward and declare for 2008-09 forward.

Submissions will be accepted on a ‘no questions asked’ basis up to October 2009. Thereafter, persons will be assessed when audited and this could cover several years.

The ‘PricewaterhouseCoopers’ referred to as writer of this article is the PricewaterhouseCoopers partner-ship registered in Jamaica.

 

Demostrations in Curaçao to protest political reform agreement

curacao_tcm354-1096791Around one thousand people participated in a demonstration in Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, in the Netherlands Antilles, in opposition to a political reform agreement just concluded with the Netherlands. Curaçao still forms part of the Netherlands Antilles (and is therefore part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands), but negotiations have been ongoing since the early part of the decade to give the island greater autonomy. In an April 2005 referendum, Curaçao, together with Sint Maarten, voted to become a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (as Aruba and the Netherland Antilles are now). The change of status has been postponed to an indefinite date while negotiations continue.

The protesters today objected to some of the terms of the agreement between the island and the Netherlands, which they believe gives the Netherlands too much control over the island’s financial affairs in exchange for debt restructuring. They carried banners bearing slogans such as “Curaçao is not for sale!” A referendum on the agreement is scheduled for  May 15. If approved, the Netherlands will restructure most of Curaçao’s debts, which would amount to approximately 1.7 billion euros. If the deal is rejected, some fear that the Netherlands will withdraw its offer to restructure Curaçao’s debts, which may leave the island in financial crisis. It is not clear what will happen if the deal is rejected. Netherlands Antilles Prime Minister Emily de Jongh-Elhage has threatened to resign if the voters reject the agreement.

Ghana Businessman Wins Case in Bahamas

After being charged with failing to declare more than $10,000 they allegedly had with them prior to boarding a flight to the United States back in 2007, 40-year-old Ghana native Francis Kantanka and 34-year-old Bahamian-born Brian Ambrose were both recently freed of those charges. Court documents show that back in September 2007, Kantanka, a Blue Hill Road resident and Ambrose, a resident of Lynden Pindling Estates went to the Lynden Pindling International Airport with the intention to travel to the United States on a pre-clearance flight.

It was further alleged that the two handed over declaration documents to a United States officer stating that they were not carrying currency or monetary instruments valued over $10,000 in U.S. currency or a foreign equivalent, knowing that they were carrying more.

While the men were subsequently charged on two counts – making a false declaration to an officer of the United States and failing to declare – on March 11th, both charges were later dropped.

After fighting for more than a year, Kantanka, who was represented by attorney Wellington E. Olander, recently told The Bahama Journal that even though he has won his case, the charges continue to haunt him.

Kantanka, who has been in the Bahamas since 1999, claimed that while the charges have been dropped, back in his home town Ghana, he is constantly harassed about the charges he believes should no longer stand.

Kanatanka further alleges that traveling outside The Bahamas, particularly to the United States and Canada, has become increasingly difficult.

He recalled a recent trip to Cuba, where he claimed authorities held him for three hours without any explanation. Kantanka said he strongly believes it had something to do with the previous case.

The Ghana native said while family and friends back in his hometown may look at him as a disgrace, he is hoping to have his named fully cleared with a view towards mending things.

The Secret Summit

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega arrives for the opening ceremony of the Fifth Summit of the Americas - April 17, 2009

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega arrives for the opening
ceremony of the Fifth Summit of the Americas – April 17, 2009

Neither represented nor excommunicated, only today could I learn what was discussed at the Summit of Port of Spain. They led us all to entertain hopes that the meeting would not be secret, but those running the show deprived us of such an interesting intellectual exercise. We shall get to know the substance but not the tone of voice, the look in the eyes or the facial look that can be a reflection of a person’s ideas, ethic and character.

A Secret Summit is worse than a silent movie. For a few minutes the television showed some images. There was a gentleman on Obama’s left whom I could not identify clearly as he laid his hand on Obama’s shoulder, like an eight-year-old boy on a classmate in the front row. Then, another member of his entourage standing beside him interrupted the president of the United States for a dialogue; those coming up to address him had the appearance of an oligarchy that never knew what hunger is and who expect to find in Obama’s powerful nation the shield that will protect the system from the fearsome social changes.

Up to that moment, a bizarre atmosphere prevailed at the Summit.

The artistic function arranged by the host was really spectacular. I have seldom seen something like it; perhaps never. A good announcer, apparently a Trinidadian, had proudly said that it was unique.

It was a feast of culture and luxury. I meditated about it. I calculated the cost of all that and suddenly I realized that no other country in the Caribbean could afford such a display, that the venue of the summit is very wealthy, a sort of United States surrounded by small poor countries. Could Haiti with its exuberant culture or Jamaica, Granada, Dominica, Guyana, Belize or any other have hosted such a luxurious summit? Their beaches may be wonderful but they are not surrounded by the towers that distinguish the Trinidadian landscape and accumulate with that non-renewable raw material the enormous resources that sustain today the riches of that country. Almost every other island in the Caribbean community located to the north of this is directly battered by the hurricanes of increasing intensity that hit our sister islands of the Caribbean region every year.

Did anyone in that meeting remember that Obama promised to invest as much money as necessary to make the United States self-reliant in fuel? Such a policy would directly affect many of the States taking part in the meeting since they will not have access to the technologies and the huge investments required to work on that area or any other.

Something really impressed me as the summit unfolded until today, Saturday, April 18, at 11:47 a.m. when I am writing these lines: Daniel Ortega’s remarks. I had promised myself not to publish anything until next Monday, April 20, but rather to observe the developments in the celebrated summit.

It was not the economist, the scientist, the intellectual or the poet speaking; Daniel did not choose an elaborate language to impress his audience. He spoke as the president of one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, as a revolutionary combatant, on behalf of a group of Central American nations and the Dominican Republic which is a partner of SICA (Central American Integration System).

It would suffice to be one of the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans who learned how to read and write in the first stage of the Sandinista Revolution, when the illiteracy rate was reduced from 60 to 12 percent, or again when Daniel received power in 2008 as the illiteracy rate had increased to 35 percent.

His remarks extended for nearly 50 minutes. He spoke slowly and calm, but the reproduction of the full text would make this Reflection too extensive.

I shall summarize his statement using his own words for each of the basic ideas he expressed. I will avoid the use of suspension points and use inverted commas only when Daniel quotes other people or institutions.
Nicaragua appealed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. It filed a lawsuit against the war policy, the terrorist policy implemented by President Ronald Reagan on behalf of the United States.

Our crime: we had freed ourselves from Anastasio Somoza’s tyranny imposed through the intervention of the Yankee troops in Nicaragua.

From the past century, Central America has been shaken by the expansionist policies, the war policies that brought the Central Americans together to defeat them.

These were followed by interventions extending from the year 1912 to 1932, which resulted in the imposition of the Somozas’ tyranny equipped, funded and defended by American leaders.

I had the opportunity of meeting President Reagan during the war; we shook hands and I asked him to stop the war against Nicaragua.

I had the opportunity of meeting President Carter and when he told me that “now that the Nicaraguan people had got rid of the Somoza tyranny it was time for Nicaragua to change” I said to him: No, Nicaragua does not have to change, you have to change. Nicaragua has never invaded the United States; Nicaragua has not planted mines in the U.S. harbors; Nicaragua has not thrown a stone against the American nation; Nicaragua has not imposed governments on the United States; you are the ones who should change and not the Nicaraguans.

As the war was still going on, I had the chance to meet the then recently inaugurated President of the United States George Bush, senior. In the year 1989, at a gathering in Costa Rica, we sat facing each other, President Bush and me, and he said: “The press has come here because they want to see a fight between the president of the United States and the president of Nicaragua, and we have made an effort not to oblige them.”

Nicaragua was still fighting the war imposed by the United States. The International Court of Justice in The Hague decided on the lawsuit filed by Nicaragua and passed sentence. It clearly stated that “the United States should cease every military action, the mining of the harbors and the funding of the war; that it should indicate where the mines had been planted since it refused to provide that information;” it also ordered the U.S. government to compensate Nicaragua for the trade and economic blockade imposed on that nation.

We are waging a struggle in Nicaragua, Central America and Latin America to eradicate illiteracy with the generous and unconditional solidarity of the fraternal Cuban people, of Fidel who promoted such literacy campaigns in solidarity with our peoples, and of President Raul Castro who has continued these programs for the benefit of all of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples.

Later, the Bolivarian people of Venezuela and its President Hugo Chavez Frias joined in this effort with a generous spirit.

Most of the presidents and heads of government of Latin America and the Caribbean are here today; also the President of the United States and the Primer Minister of Canada. But there are two notable absentees: one is Cuba, whose only crime has been to fight for the peoples’ sovereignty and independence; to give solidarity, unconditionally, to our peoples. That’s why it is sanctioned, that’s why it is punished; that’s why it is excluded. That’s why I do not feel comfortable today in this Summit; I cannot feel comfortable in this Summit. I am embarrassed to be attending this summit in the absence of Cuba.

Another country is not present here because unlike Cuba, which is an independent and supportive nation, that other people is still submitted to colonialist policies: I mean the fraternal people of Puerto Rico.

We are working to build a great alliance, a great unity of Latin American and Caribbean peoples. The day will come when the Puerto Rican people is also a part of that great alliance.

In the 1950s racial discrimination was institutionalized, it was part of the American way of life, part of the American democracy: black people could not walk into white people’s restaurants or white people’s bars. The children of black families could not attend the white children schools. In order to turn down the wall of racial discrimination it was necessary –and this President Obama knows better than we do—Martin Luther King, jr, said: “I have a dream.” The dream became a reality and the wall of racial discrimination collapsed in the United States of America, thanks to the struggle of that people.

This meeting, this gathering is opening exactly the same day that the invasion of Cuba started in 1961. Talking with the President of Cuba Raul Castro, he gave me some data: “Daniel, President Obama was born on August 4, 1961; he was three and a half months when we attained victory in Playa Giron on April that year. Obviously he is not accountable for that historic event. The bombings on April 15; the proclamation of socialism by Fidel during the funeral of the victims on the 16th; the invasion on the 17th; on the 18th, the battle goes on and victory is attained on the 19th, before 72 hours had passed. Raul.” (On his return from Cumana, Raul related to me that in a note he wrote for Daniel he made a quick calculation and was wrong to assert that Obama was three and a half months at the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion, when he should have said that Obama was born three and a half months later; that it was his [Raul's] mistake.)

That is history. In the year 2002, also in the month of April, on the 11th, a coup d’etat was dealt to murder an elected president in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez was seized; the order to murder him had been issued. When the puppet regime took over, the U.S. government through its spokesman recognized the putschers and offered them support. We are right to say that that is not history; such violent events against the institutions of a people, of a progressive, supportive and revolutionary nation took place hardly seven years ago.

I think that the time I’m taking is shorter than the three hours I had to wait at the airport inside the plane.

The freedom of expression must apply to the big ones and the little ones: Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic as an associate. The territorial area is 355,617.5 square miles. The population is a little more than 41.7 million.

We are asking that all immigrants in the United States receive the TPS, but the causes of migration are the underdevelopment and poverty of our Central American peoples.

The only way to stop that flow of emigrants to the United States is not building a fence or reinforcing military surveillance along the border.

The United States needs the Central American labor force, as it needs the Mexican labor force. Then, when the supply of that labor force is higher than the demand of the U.S. economy, repressive policies come into play, while funds should be contributed without political strings attached, without the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

We have the ungrateful task of protecting the U.S. borders due to drug abuse.

Just in Nicaragua, the national police impounded over 360 tons of cocaine last year. That, at a market price in the United States, would certainly amount to more than 1 billion dollars.

How much does the United States provide Nicaragua for guarding its borders? It provides 1,200,000 dollars.

It’s not fair, it’s not equitable, it’s not ethical. It is not moral that the G-20 continues to make the great decisions; the time has come for the G-192, that is, for all countries in the United Nations to make them.

Those who have had dealings with the IMF are perfectly aware of what the Fund has meant, of the social, agricultural and productive programs that have been cut off to obtain resources to pay back the debt, a debt imposed by the rules established by global capitalism. It has only been an instrument setting forth and developing colonialist, neocolonialist and imperialist policies from the metropolises.

Mahatma Gandhi, who waged a heroic struggle against England for the independence of India, said that England had used one-fourth of the resources of the planet to reach its current state of development. So, what resources would India need to attain a similar condition? Now, in this 21st century, and since the end of the 20th century, it was not only England but every developed capitalist country that established their hegemony at the expense of the destruction of the planet and the human species, imposing the consumerist patterns of their model.

The only way to save the planet, and the sustainable development of mankind with it, will be to lay the foundations of a new international economic order, a new socio-economic and political model which is truly fair, supportive and democratic.

There is the project known as PETROCARIBE and there is ALBA –most of the Caribbean nations are members of PETROCARIBE, but there are also members of SICA which belong to PETROCARIBE: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Panama.

“The heads of Sate and Government of Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela, members of ALBA, consider that the draft Declaration of the Fifth Summit of the Americas is insufficient and unacceptable for the following reasons:

(He goes on to read the ALBA Declaration on the document proposed for the Summit of the Americas.)

“It does not respond to the issue of the Global Economic Crisis, even though that is the greatest challenge faced by mankind in decades.

“It unjustifiably excludes Cuba without mentioning the general consensus in the region to condemn the blockade and the attempts to constantly isolate its people and government in a criminal fashion.

“What we are experiencing is a structural and systemic global economic crisis and not just another cyclic crisis.

“The environmental crisis has been caused by capitalism which had subordinated the necessary conditions for life on the planet to the predominance of markets and profits.

To avoid this outcome it is necessary to develop an alternative model to the capitalist system. A system in harmony with our Mother Earth and not one that plunders its natural resources; a system of cultural diversity and not of crushing cultures and imposing cultural values and life styles that have nothing to do with the realities of our countries; a system of peace based on social justice and not on imperialist wars and policies; a system that does not reduce them to simple consumers or merchandise.

Regarding the U.S. blockade on Cuba and the exclusion of this country from the Summit of the Americas, the member countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) reiterate the Declaration adopted last December 16, 2008, by all of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on the necessity to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States of America, including the implementation of the so-called Helms-Burton Act, widely known to all.

In my country, Nicaragua, the governments that preceded me strictly enforced the neoliberal policies, that is, from 1990, when the Sandinista Front left the government, until January 10, 2007, when the Sandinista Front returned to government; they enforced them for 16 years.

As the Nicaraguan Revolution triumphed in 1979, it found that the tyrannies and governments that had been imposed and sustained in Nicaragua by the U.S. administrations, the self-defined democratic governments, had left Nicaragua with 60 percent illiteracy.

Our first big battle was to eradicate illiteracy. We undertook that battle and reduced illiteracy to 11.5 or 12 percent. We couldn’t go further because we were imposed a war policy by the Reagan administration.

We left the government in 1990 with 12.5 percent illiteracy in the country and on January 2007 we received back the country with 35 percent illiteracy.

This data have not been made up by the government; they have been released by agencies specialized in education and culture.

That is the result of the neoliberalism applied in Nicaragua; the result of privatizations in Nicaragua where healthcare and education were privatized and the poor were left out. For others it was a good change because they amassed fortunes; the model has proven successful to concentrate riches and extend poverty. It is a great concentrator of riches and a great multiplier of poverty and destitution.

It is an ethical problem, a moral problem, and the future lies on it; not only the future of the most impoverished countries –as the five countries of Latin America and the Caribbean I have mentioned—that have little else to lose other than our shackles, if there is not a change of ethics, a change of moral, a change of values that will enable us to be really sustainable.

It is no longer a matter of ideology, it’s not a political issue; it’s a matter of survival. And this applies to all, from the G-20 to the G-5 who are the most impoverished in Latin America and the Caribbean.

I think that this crisis that is affecting the world today and that is leading to discussions, debates, and to a search for solutions we should approach it bearing in mind that the current development model is no longer possible, no longer sustainable.

The only way to save us all is to change the model.

Thank you, very much.
Daniel’s phrases at the opening session of the Summit were like a bell tolling for a centuries-old policy that until a few months ago was applied to the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

It is 19:58 hours. I have just listened to the words of President Hugo Chavez. Apparently, Venezolana de Television introduced a camera in the “Secret Summit” and carried some of his words. Yesterday we saw him graciously return Obama’s gesture as he walked up to greet him, unquestionably a clever gesture of the United States president.

This time Chavez stood up from his chair, walked to Obama’s seat at the head of a rectangular hall near Michelle Bachelet, and presented him with the well known book by Galeano, Las venas abiertas de America Latina, systematically updated by the author. I simply mentioned the time it was when I listened to him.

It is announced that the Summit will be closed tomorrow at noon.

The United States president has been very active. According to press reports he has not only taken part in the plenary session of the Summit but also met with every regional subgroup.

His predecessor went to bed early and slept for many hours. Seemingly, Obama works hard and sleeps little.

Today, the 19th , at 11:57 hours, I don’t see anything new. The CNN news channel has no fresh news. The clock struck 12 when the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago stood on the rostrum. I prepare to listen to him, and then I perceive some strange signals. Manning’s face looks tense. Later, Obama speaks and takes some questions from the press; I find him gruff although calm. I was surprised that a press conference was organized with several leaders without the participation of any of those who disagreed with the document.

Manning had said before that the document had been elaborated two years back when there was not a deep economic crisis; therefore, the current issues had not been properly examined. Of course, I thought, McCain was not there; surely the OAS, Leonel and the Dominican Republic remembered the name of the military commander of the invaders in 1965 and the 50 thousand troops that occupied the country to prevent the return of Juan Bosch who was not a Marxist-Leninist.

The leaders in the press conference were the Prime Minister of Canada, certainly a rightist and the only one who had been rude to Cuba; Mexican President Felipe Calderon; Martin Torrijos from Panama and, naturally, Patrick Manning. The Caribbean and the two Latin American leaders were respectful to Cuba; none of them attacked it, and they had expressed their opposition to the blockade.

Obama spoke of the United States military power, which could be of assistance in the fight on organized crime, and of the significance of the U.S. market. He also admitted that the programs carried forward by the government of Cuba, such as sending groups of doctors to countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, could be more effective than Washington’s military power to gain influence in the region.

We, the Cubans do not do it to gain influence; it’s a tradition that was born in Algeria in 1963, when that country was fighting French colonialism, and we have later done likewise in scores of Third World countries.

He was gruff and elusive with regards to the blockade in his interview with the press; but he is already born and he will be 48 years next August 4.

Nine days later, that same month, I will be 83, almost twice his age, but now I have much more time to think. I wish to remind him of a basic ethical principle with respect to Cuba: there is no excuse for any injustice, any crime to last, regardless of time; the cruel blockade on the Cuban people takes lives and causes suffering; it also affects the economy of the nation and limits its possibilities to cooperate with healthcare, education and sports services, with energy saving and with the protection of the environment in many poor countries of the world.