Tuesday, January 31, 2006


CARICOM Single Market Ceremony Held in Jamaica

CARICOM member states Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago formally signed the document for implementation of the CARICOM Single Market (CSM) on Monday January 30, in a move towards greater regional unity. Although the CSM formally began on January 1 with the six member countries, it is expected to become the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) by 2008. The ceremony, which was held at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, did not see the ratification of CSM by the seven-member sub-group, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

While the OECS had originally planned to enter the single market by March 31, it was announced that they would now sign on by the end of June. Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and current Chair of the OECS, Ralph Gonsalves, said: "The OECS has taken the principled position that, while we are fully committed to the process of regional integration, and intend to be fully participants in the CSME, we must ensure that the provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which speaks to our own special needs are in effect."

The region is expected to finalize the single market and economy (CSME) by the year 2008. To this effect Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and current CARICOM Chair, Patrick Manning explained: "It is absolutely necessary to co-ordinate and harmonize, inter alia, our economic policies, interest rates, laws and tax regimes in order to create more even development across member states; enter more effectively and smoothly into trading arrangements and economic links with other countries and regional groupings; and ensure that our region improves its attractiveness for the increased inflows of new capital for the development of all our nations."

According to CARICOM data for most of the decade of the nineties, CARICOM intra-regional imports as a percentage of the region's total imports accounted only for between 8 and 10 per cent, while intra-regional exports accounted for between 12 and 23 per cent of the region's total exports.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006


Bolivia After The Election of Evo Morales

Given the dearth of background information on the situation in Bolivia, I have reproduced an insightful article here by Rico Blanc, a university student and activist who has spent several months in Bolivia. While I may not share the viewpoint of the author, the information contained therein is important enough to outweigh any reservations I have in its reproduction here.



On Dec. 18, 2005, Evo Morales, the indigenous peasant leader of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), won the Bolivian presidential elections by an unexpectedly large margin, receiving 54% of the votes. The runner up, right-winger "Tuto" Quiroga, received less than 25% of the votes.

This stunning victory for Morales -- in the 2002 elections he received only 20.9% of the votes -- is an expression of the massive revolutionary movement that has rocked the Bolivian nation during the last three years in its struggle for the nationalization of the oil and gas resources.

Hopes are high in Bolivia and around the world that Morales -- the country's first president of indigenous descent, who has self-proclaimed himself "America's worst nightmare" -- will break Bolivia, South America' poorest country, out of its dire situation of near-starvation and subordination.

"With this government, discrimination will come to an end, the xenophobia we have been living through will come to an end; we are going to work to bring an end to the neoliberal model," declared Morales upon receiving news of his electoral victory. "These are new times. This millennium will be for the peoples, not for the empire," proclaimed Morales, on Jan. 2, from Caracas.

The international media has presented the elections as a defeat for the U.S. government, highlighting Morales' friendship with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and the fact he is the leader of the Bolivian coca (cocaine's base plant) growers, an important traditional plant in Bolivian culture -- which the U.S. government would like to eradicate.

Morales' victory has created tremendous expectations in the new government. For many workers, peasants, and students, the new government is seen as "our government." Their vote for Morales was a vote against the corrupt bourgeois parties and the subordination of Bolivia to foreign interests. It was a vote for the nationalization of the oil and gas, a vote for fundamental change.

Caught Between Two Fires

But the new Morales government will be caught between two fires from the moment it takes office on Jan. 22, 2006.

On the one hand, it faces immense pressure from U.S. imperialism to protect the considerable foreign economic interests in Bolivia -- particularly the "inalienable right" of the multinational oil corporations to dominate and pillage the country.

The U.S. government is using the threat of a possible military intervention in Bolivia to ensure that Morales doesn't break with the status-quo. As the newspaper El Diario reported on Dec. 17, 2005: "At the beginning of 2006, when the new government of president-elect Evo Morales takes power, special U.S. troops will march to the border between Paraguay and Bolivia to begin a series of counter-insurgency exercises."

But a military intervention is only "Plan B" for the U.S. government. From its perspective, the ideal situation would be for Morales to act as a "Bolivian Lula" who uses his left-wing prestige -- as Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva has done -- to contain and demobilize the mass movement and implement all the reactionary austerity measures that the traditional bourgeois parties could not push through.

On the other hand, Morales will face a powerful and radicalized popular movement which has overthrown four presidents in less than three years -- a movement, moreover, which Morales does not control and which has not at all given the new government a blank check.

The burning question is thus: Will Morales respond to the demands of the U.S. government or those of the Bolivian people?

Nationalization or Renegotiation of the Contracts?

The principal demand of the mass insurrections of October 2003 (which toppled President Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada, who wanted to export Bolivia's gas to the U.S. via Chile) and of May-June 2005 (in which a workers' and popular insurrection toppled President Carlos Mesa, but was demobilized when a deal was made to convene early elections in December) was "Nationalization, without Compensation, of the Oil and Gas!"

This is a demand for Bolivia's sovereignty over its abundant natural resources. Bolivia has more than 53 trillion cubic feet in natural gas reserves -- resources that were sold off through privatizations in the 1990s.

The demand for nationalization is so incredibly popular that all the presidential candidates, from the left to the right, in this electoral campaign were obliged to say they were in favor of "nationalization" -- though each of them gave a different content to this word.

Morales has made it clear that his "nationalization" plans will not infringe on the assets of the corporations.

In early December 2005, the Center for the Study of Labor and Agricultural Development (CEDLA), a respected independent political think-tank in La Paz, published its analysis of the different candidates' proposals concerning the hydrocarbons (the oil and gas). The Bolivian newspaper El Diario comments on this study:

"The positions taken by the main political parties participating in the elections in relation to the hydrocarbons [including the MAS- Ed. Note] is criticized by CEDLA, an institution which, moreover, blames them with 'trying to conceal their interests to preserve the multinational corporations' monopolistic control over the country's oil and gas resources with a few scant alterations.' ... CEDLA believes that the only way for the State to appropriate the surplus income generated from exploiting oil and gas resources is to radically alter the policy in this sector by having the State assume a 'monopolistic control' over all the activities involved in the oil and gas production." (Dec. 11, 2005)

The day after his election, Evo Morales announced: "We will respect property rights; our government will be dedicated to respecting the law" (El Diario, Dec. 20). One week later, Morales declared: "I don't want to harm anybody. I don't want to expropriate or confiscate anything." (Econotocias.com, Dec. 28)

Evo Morales was elected primarily on his promises to nationalize the oil and gas. Now the new government has reduced this pledge to a call to renegotiate the economic contracts with the energy corporations.

But how can the Bolivian people benefit from their natural resources if the real control of the gas and oil remains in private foreign hands?

Didn't President Carlos Mesa also say he was "nationalizing" the gas and oil by raising the percentage of taxes on foreign investments? And didn't the workers and people of Bolivia respond with the mass uprisings of May-June 2005 that declared Mesa a "traitor" and kicked him out of office?

For their part, the Bolivian employers have applauded Morales' declarations. After meeting with Morales on Dec. 27, the leader of the Chamber of Commerce of the Santa Cruz region expressed his relief that the new president "spoke of creating jobs, respecting the law, and attracting investments." Rosendo Babery, president of the Eastern Exporters of Bolivia, added, "I consider positive and conciliatory the position of the president-elect of Bolivia; moreover, he asked for help governingŠ Now let's see if these words will be translated into deeds." (Econoticias, Dec. 28)

Response from Workers' Movement

The workers' movement, not surprisingly, has responded differently to Morales' statements on the hydrocarbons.

The National Summit of Workers and Peoples, a representative gathering of labor and social movement activists, gave the new president 90 days to nationalize the hydrocarbons without indemnities. The Summit met on Dec. 8-10, 2005 in the city of El Alto at the initiative of the country's main labor organizations: the Bolivian Workers Federation (COB), the Miners' Federation (FSTMB) and the Regional Workers Federation of El Alto (COR-El Alto).

The Summit's Final Declaration stated that if the government failed to take action on nationalizations in the allotted time, mass mobilizations would begin again in April 2006.

Jaime Solares, the current general secretary of the Bolivian Workers Federation (COB), declared in the immediate aftermath of the elections: "Nationalization, without compensation, is a political act that does not require consultation with Brazil or the United States of America. We don't want them [Evo Morales and the MAS - Ed. Note] to tell us they need two or three years to implement this demand. During this time, the multinationals are going to continue making millions of dollars while the majority of our people continue to starve. We are not going to allow this." (El Diario, Dec. 20)

"Autonomies" or Unity of the Nation?

With the ascent of the mass movement for the nationalization of the hydrocarbons, the semi-fascist oligarchy of Santa Cruz -- a resource-rich region in eastern Bolivia that sits on most of the newly discovered natural gas reserves -- has raised, with full U.S. support and funds, the demand for its political, social, and economic "autonomy" from the rest of Bolivia.

The Bolivian Miners' Federation exposed the reactionary character of this "autonomy" demand in a document titled, "The Struggle for the Nationalization of the Hydrocarbons." The authors explain that the goal of the oligarchies of Santa Cruz and Tarija is to "create autonomous governments that in addition to dismembering the country permit the corporations to keep the control over the natural resources on a departmental level. Š Nationalization, in this way, could not be effective because the departmental government would forbid it. Š There is a very real danger that our country could be dismembered." (FSTMB, June 30, 2005)

But what is the position of Morales? In his meeting with the business and political leaders of Santa Cruz on Dec. 27, he was unequivocal: "We are going to guarantee your autonomy," he said. "It is necessary to recognize that Santa Cruz has been the vanguard spreading consciousness about this theme." (Bolpress, Dec. 28)

This autonomy/secession demand stems from U.S. imperialism's strategy to divide and dismantle nations throughout the world (e.g., Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq) in its drive to ensure super-profits. Thus, the National Summit of Workers and Peoples, in its Final Declaration, called for "the intransigent defense of the unity of the nation and the struggle against the divisive maneuvers of the oligarchy of Santa Cruz and Tarija, under the pretext of autonomy."

The Constituent Assembly of June 2006

During the insurrections of October 2003 and May-June 2005, the second most important popular demand (after nationalizations) was the call for the immediate convening of a Constituent Assembly that would write a new constitution and create a new State in the interest of the majority.

In June 2005, a deal was made for President Carlos Mesa to step down, for elections to be held in December 2005, and for a Constituent Assembly to be convened in June 2006. The Miners' Federation called it "an agreement between the multinationals, Mesa, the Parliament, and Evo Morales -- against Evo's own base. The objective was the preservation of the dominant political and economic system, with its corrupt parliamentarians." (FSTMB document, June 30)

Evo Morales has made the convening of the Constituent Assembly in June 2006 one of his main campaign promises. But what kind of Constituent Assembly can this be if the real power will remain in the hands of the very same corrupt institutions that are kept in place with the December 2005 election?

According to Limber Surco, a leader of the influential Regional Workers Federation of El Alto (COR-El Alto), this June 2006 Constituent Assembly "will be organized the way the bourgeoisie wants, with the goal of implementing its objectives." This is exactly true.

In an article titled, "Autonomies will be axis of the Constituent Assembly," La Razón newspaper explained that "six of the eight political parties participating in the election [the MAS being one of these six parties - Ed. Note] agree that the Constituent Assembly should be the framework through which the country shifts from a centralised State to a State based on autonomous regions." (Dec. 5, 2005)

La Razón reported that "the European Union authorized one million Euros to finance the Constituent Assembly and the Autonomy Referendum within the framework of an emergency program to permit the survival of Bolivian democracy." (Ibid.)

In response, the National Summit of Workers and Peoples held in early December in El Alto adopted the following motion: "We have been informed of the interference by the European Union into the electoral process scheduled next June for the so-called 'Constituent Assembly.' The sole purpose of this 'Assembly' is to promote the regional 'autonomies' and thereby dismantle the Bolivian nation.. Š We condemn this drive to finance the destruction of our nation."

In opposition to the fraudulent June 2006 Constituent Assembly, important sectors of the Bolivian mass movement have put forward the call for a Sovereign Constituent Assembly, with full powers to enact laws in the interest of the workers' and peasants' majority -- beginning with the nationalization of oil and gas.

As Surco of the COR-El Alto explained, "The Sovereign Constituent Assembly should be organized by the people themselves. Once such an Assembly is convened, all other branches of the State must submit to it. This would require the dissolution of the Congress and all other intermediate bodies, and the creation of new institutions to serve the people. ... This is the change the people were demanding in the streets."

Morales and the Workers' Movement

For the workers, the unemployed, the youth, and the peasants -- all of whom catapulted Evo Morales into office -- the presidential results are perceived as a great victory. But now the workers' and popular movements are faced with new and formidable challenges.

The workers and their organizations will face immense pressures to give up their class independence. The pressure will be most intense upon the COB, the Miners' Federation, and the COR -- all organizations that have been in the forefront of the mass mobilizations over the past three years.

Evo Morales' vice presidential running mate, Alvaro García Linera, argues that "Andean capitalism" is the solution for Bolivia. He and Morales are shining stars of the "alter-globalization" movement and the World Social Forums in their capacity as spokespersons for the "indigenista" cause.

The Bolivian Miners Federation has explained that such "indigenista" rhetoric does not serve the interests of the Quechua and Aymara majority of the Bolivian population. They write:

"Substituting this reality [the class struggle] with the valorization of ethnic, or 'indigenista,' concepts to the point of converting them into principles is part of the imperialist strategy to preserve and consolidate capitalism. Its effect, in practice, is to minimize the role of the trade unions and the organizations that base their action on the class confrontation between workers and capitalists. Thus the objective is the humanization of exploitation, not the conquest of political power and the overthrow of the oppressive system."

Evo Morales and García Linera already have begun an ideological offensive against the concept of class struggle and, thus, the necessity for the existence of independent workers' organizations.

In a post-election interview with the BBC, García Linera was asked, "Are you scared that you won't be able to fulfil the expectations of the most radical left in Bolivia?" He answered with a controversial provocation against the Bolivian workers' organizations, stating:

"There is a dying pseudo-Marxist left from the 1950s and 1970s which is already a ghost. They have never participated, or been decisive sectors, in the recent mobilizations. There is a new indigenous left -- which is something new -- that doesn't share the principles, political recipe-books, or conservative pseudo-radicalism of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Š Thus, I would speak of confrontation between the last vestiges of an old pseudo-Marxist left and an emerging and vigorous indigenous left." (El Diario, Dec. 22)

What Way Forward?

In addition to this ideological offensive meant to divide the movement and discredit the workers' organizations, Evo Morales is seeking to co-opt the workers' and popular organizations into the new government by offering them cabinet posts.

Offers to participate in the new administration already have been made to the peasant federations, the COB, the Miners' Federation, the COR-El Alto, and the Federation of Neighborhood Councils (FEJUVE) of El Alto. So far only the Miners' Federation has categorically rejected the offer.

A heated debate is now in full swing within these organizations, with many leaders and rank-and-file members stating vehemently that it's not possible to defend the specific interests of the workers and peasants if their organizations participate in the new government, thereby assuming responsibility for its policies -- including its stated refusal to nationalize the oil and gas resources.

Clearly, a crucial task today is to guarantee the independence of the workers' movement by insisting that the workers' and popular organizations should refuse to be co-opted into joining the new government. Central to this task, as well, is the need for the workers' organizations to launch, as soon as possible, the much-talked about "Political Instrument of the Workers."

The proposal to form an independent workers' party was raised by the COB and has been championed by various sectors, particularly the mineworkers. The need for such a workers' party also was highlighted in the Final Declaration adopted by the National Workers and Popular Summit in El Alto.

A new situation is opening up for the Bolivian workers' and popular movements. Expectations -- and illusions -- are high in Morales and the new government. Large sectors of the Bolivian population hope the new government will implement profound and positive changes in their living situation.

Meanwhile, Evo Morales is redoubling his pledges to the employers and foreign investors, telling them they have nothing to fear from a MAS government. Prior to the election, Morales went so far as to tell the leaders of the Bolivian Private Business Association (CETB) that "the MAS is the only party capable of guaranteeing social peace in Bolivia." (El Diario, Oct. 6, 2005)

If the revolutionary mobilizations of the Bolivian masses are not to be taken back into safe channels for imperialism, it is imperative that the working class organizations that spearheaded the mass uprisings of October 2003 and May-June 2005 not relent in the struggle to win the central demands around which the workers and people have mobilized these past three years. This, of course, is bound up with the need to maintain the independence of the mass workers' and popular organizations in
relation to the government of Evo Morales.

To this end, sectors of the Bolivian labor movement, including La Chispa -- the sympathizing group of the Fourth International in Bolivia -- are calling on the main workers' organizations -- the COB, the Miners' Federation (FSTMB) and the COR -- to launch an Open Letter to Evo Morales that would essentially state the following:

"Compañero Evo: On Dec. 18, the people gave you their votes and a clear mandate: Immediate nationalization, without compensation, of the oil and gas! Unity of the nation, against all the reactionary secessionist attempts organized under the pretext of autonomies!

"We -- workers, unemployed, peasants, youth and shanty-town dwellers -- cannot wait any longer. You have the power to implement these demands. As Compañero Jaime Solares of the COB stated, nationalization without compensation is a political act that does not require consultation with, or authorization from, anyone else. He went on to note there is no reason to delay carrying out the demands of the people.

"Compañero Solares is right: We are hungry, we are unemployed, and we want the nationalization of the oil and gas now. If you were to take such action, you can be assured of the overwhelming support of the Bolivian people!"

Last December, just prior to the national election, the National Workers and Popular Summit, issued a call to organize Local and Regional Popular Assemblies and a National Originary Popular Assembly in April 2006. (1) It is necessary for the main workers' organization to reaffirm their pledge to organize these Assemblies. There, working people, organized in their own name, can take stock of the new political situation and discuss how best -- in these new conditions -- to wage the struggle to win their demands.

It cannot be ruled out in advance that the workers' and popular movements could succeed in pushing Evo Morales and the MAS to move further on the road to a break with imperialism than what's proposed in their program. But for that to happen, it will require the sustained independent mobilization and self-organization of the workers, peasants, and students.

It will require that the workers' and popular movement seize hold of the Local and Regional Popular Assemblies and the National Originary Popular Assembly, slated for April 10, to continue and deepen the struggle for the nationalization of the oil and gas, as well as the unity and sovereignty of Bolivia.

Roger Pardo Maurer, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, spoke of the danger of the "revolution going on in Bolivia, a revolution that potentially could have consequences as far-reaching as the Cuban revolution of 1959. ... The things going on in Bolivia could have repercussions in Latin America and elsewhere that you could be dealing with for the rest of your lives."

This is not an over-statement. The stakes are high in Bolivia.


Rico Blanc is currently touring the United States to speak about the new
political developments and challenges in Bolivia. To contact him to speak at your
campus or to the members of your organization, please write to ryi_irj@yahoo.com
The opinions contained in the article above are strictly those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Caliban.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Jihad in the Americas?

Today marks the 171st anniversary of the famous Muslim uprising in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. The slave revolt took place around the time of the Lavegem do Bonfim (Washing of Bonfim), which involves the washing of the steps of the Igreja (Church) de Bonfim by Candomblé priestesses who lead the procession from the Mercado Modelo to the church (my photo above depicts the area where the old Mercado Modelo used to be). Today the procession following the Candomblé priestesses is actually a huge festivity, with drumming, dancing, eating and drinking taking place in the area around the Mercado Modelo and spreading to the area around Bonfim (in the lower part of the city of Salvador). The faithful go to a room in the Church called Sala dos Milagres (Room of Miracles) to leave votive offerings. But I digress…

Back in 1835, the Lavegem do Bonfim (Washing of Bonfim) was just one in a cycle of religious celebrations held at this time of year, and it was during the early morning hours of January 25th, during the festival of Nossa Senhora da Guia (Our Lady of the Guide), that the Malês (as the Muslims were called) planned to attack. For a blow by blow account of this, see the seminal work by Joao Reis (some of which is referenced here)… Some authors believe that this rebellion was a jihad. According to Paul E. Lovejoy, “The wave of Muslim unrest (in Bahia) began a decade after the uprising in St. Domingue, and while the French Revolution may have had an influence, the unrest in Bahia can be better understood within the tradition of jihad in West Africa than with revolutionary events in Europe.”

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Saturday, January 21, 2006


Good Fences Make ...

Though not one to prophesize, I nevertheless believe that the United States is going to confront a major domestic crisis this century. This particular crisis will overshadow most other domestic crises as well as all “foreign affairs” and overseas imperialist “adventures” (including the current crusade in the oil-rich Middle East) thus forcing the US to look inward and (hopefully) leaving the rest of the world alone (for a change). I am referring to the influx of Mexicans (so called “illegal aliens”) to the US. Prior to forming part of the Homeland Security apparatus the INS estimated that the “illegal alien” population from Mexico grew by nearly 2.8 million in the final decade of the last century, accounting for 80 percent of the total increase in the “illegal” population within the US. As we all know, this issue is not new and has been around ever since the US notoriously appropriated Mexican lands following the Mexican American War. There are signs, however, that the situation is reaching a boiling point (some argue it has been boiling over for some time already!). I am not necessarily referring to President Bush's recently announced temporary worker or bracero proposal, that - by the way - included a multi-billion dollar authorization aimed at further militarizing the border through hiring additional border patrol agents and creating more jails for immigrants, among other measures. Instead I am talking about H.R. 4313 which was unveiled by Congressmen Hunter (R-CA) and Goode (R-VA) as "the border fence bill." There is in my opinion a definite analogy between this "fence" and the wall in Israel purporting to protect that country against "terrorists".

The otherwise pro-US Mexican gov't has called the border fence bill “shameful” and has pledged to block the plan and organize an international campaign against it. There seems to be a groundswell of support among the US public for such a barrier. Just last month, a federal judge removed the final legal barrier to completing a border fence meant to stymie illegal immigrants in the southwestern corner of the US. Evidently this will be an issue to be watched closely in the years to come.


Thursday, January 19, 2006


Brazil maintains command of U.N. force in Haiti ahead of elections

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has named Brazilian General Jose Elito Carvalho Siqueira to head the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). This occurred following the apparent suicide of his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Urano Bacellar, who was found dead of a gunshot wound in his hotel room in Port-au-Prince on January 7. Siqueira heads the 6th Military Region, based in Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahia.

Despite the rise in violence and kidnappings, Haiti plans to go ahead with the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections as scheduled on Tuesday February 7. A runoff is scheduled for March 19, while the president-elect is due to take office on March 29. Although scheduled initially for mid-November of last year the vote has been postponed several times since reportedly due to technical reasons.

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Monday, January 16, 2006


Of Tobacco and Sugar

"From the time the Arabs with their alchemy brought 'alçucar,' as it was still called in the royal decrees having to do with America, into our Western civilization, it has been used in syrups, frosting, icings, cakes, candy, always with other flavors added to it. Tobacco is proud; it is taken straight, for its own sake, without company or disguise. Its ambition is to be pure, or to be so considered. Sugar by itself surfeits and cloys, and for this reason it needs company and uses a disguise or a chaperon. It must have some other substance to lend it a seductive flavor. And it, in turn, repays the favor by covering up the flatness, insipidness or bitterness of other ingredients with its own sweetness. A miscegenation of flavors. This basic contrast between sugar and tobacco is emphasized even more throughout the whole process of their agricultural, industrial and commercial development by the amorphism of the one and the polymorphism of the other." Extract from Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar by Fernando Ortiz; English translation made by Harriet de Onís from a text specially prepared in Spanish by the author. The book from which this was extracted has an introduction by Bronislaw Malinowski and a prologue by noted Cuban historian and sociologist Herminio Portell Vilá. It was published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1947.

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Monday, January 09, 2006


Random musings on globalization and rice

A great deal of the antagonism being generated towards globalization (defined broadly as the liberalization of markets) stems from the fact that there will inevitably be "winners" and "losers" arising from the process. Assuming that this liberalization of markets is carried out equitably across the whole spectrum of societies that compose this world of ours; that is, assuming that countries are allowed to specialize in those industries wherein they possess a comparative advantage while jettisoning those industries in which they don't -- then it would appear that the question of how one takes care of the "losers" ought ultimately to determine the success or failure of this entire enterprize. There are two important questions here. I would like to focus on the first (the "equitable" liberalization of markets)...

Although I don't even intend to scratch the surface here, the liberalization of the rice trade serves to highlight the complexities of this sticky unresolved problem of globalization. On the neighboring island of Hispaniola (as in various other locations throughout the Caribbean – during differing periods of our collective history), rice was a locally produced staple (I am old enough to remember the days when you could buy rice that was actually produced in Puerto Rico). Although it still remains so in some places, the panorama has changed dramatically from years past. In the late seventies and early eighties, Haiti was nearly self-sufficient in the production of rice. Eventually, its rice market was pried open under pressure from the international community and flooded with cheap subsidized imports from the US. The consequences were devastating for a country considered one of the poorest if not the poorest in the hemisphere. One could argue that the rich US farmer with a much wider range of economic alternatives benefited at the expense of the poor Haitian farmer with far less options at his disposal.

In 2002 the US Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (known as the "freedom to farm" bill, which had called for the eventual elimination of US government income support to farmers) was replaced by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act. This legislation put off many of the reforms contained with the "freedom to farm" bill and greatly expanded the level of government support to farmers. Contrary to US commitments during previous WTO trade negotiations to reduce its own agricultural subsidies, the new farm bill reportedly increased support for the agricultural sector by about 80 percent over the previous farm
legislation. (see * for a snap-shot of the rice industry in the US)

It is small wonder that some international agencies have characterized the
final text of the Declaration at the end of the WTO Hong Kong Conference
as a betrayal of development promises by rich countries. Here within our
own regional context, a similar sentiment was expressed recently by Caribbean farmers against what they claim will be an onslaught of imports of subsidized US rice and other commodities, consequence of the recently approved "Dominican Republic - Central America Free Trade Agreement". Complex issues indeed! Whither free trade? Is it not being applied equitably in all cases? Your feedback on the subject is welcome.


Sunday, January 08, 2006


Netherlands Antilles at a Crossroads

In the latter part of November, 2005, the Prime Minister of Holland and leaders of the federation of the Netherlands Antilles (made up of the five islands of Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius) agreed to modify the political relations of the federation with Holland. Since 1945, the Netherlands Antilles have enjoyed autonomy regarding their internal affairs while remaining within the Dutch Kingdom. Holland retains responsibilities for defense and foreign policy. Aruba was also a part of this federation until it obtained a “status aparte” on January 1, 1986. The Netherlands Antilles is governed by a unicameral parliament or "Staten" whose 22 members are popularly elected. The Staten chooses a "Minister President" and a Council of Ministers, while a Governor represents the monarch of the Netherlands. Each island has its own local government authority.

Under the recently negotiated arrangement, Curaçao and St. Maarten will adopt a “status aparte”, while Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba will become "Kingdom Islands". The latter is a newly created status that has yet to be defined, but nevertheless represents closer integration with Holland, possibly even signifying becoming a municipality. These changes are expected to take effect in July of 2007. A key issue in the November agreement was the federation's US$ 2.8 billion public debt which is seen as an obstacle to economic development. The Dutch government has committed itself to find a solution to this problem. A discussion of economic issues confronting the Netherlands Antilles can be gleaned from a recent International Monetary Fund Mission to the islands.


Saturday, January 07, 2006


IDB begins year with new administration

The world's oldest and largest regional development bank started off the year with a new administration and a new lending framework that purport to permit “greater flexibility and a sharpened country focus for loans and grants to support the economic and social development of Latin America and the Caribbean.” Former Colombian Ambassador to the United States, Luis Alberto Moreno assumed office succeeding Enrique V. Iglesias as head of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on October 1, 2005. Moreno's priorities reportedly include pushing forward the hemispheric trade agenda and competitiveness.

Bank lending grew 17% in 2005 over 2004, reaching US$ 7 billion. Over half of the IDB's lending in 2005 was destined to poverty reduction and social equity programs. The IDB, founded in 1959 to promote economic and social development as well as regional integration, currently has 47 member countries and offices in all borrowing countries plus the European Union and Japan. Its headquarters is in Washington D.C..

Friday, January 06, 2006


CARICOM launches Single Market

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) launched the the Single Market component of its Single Market and Economy (CSME) on January 1, 2006. Under CSM, the member states of Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago agreed to remove tariffs among participant states. All citizens of CARICOM will reportedly be able to operate businesses, offer services and circulate capital throughout the single market area unrestricted. Plans are also in the works for a regional passport to replace national travel documents in 2007.

An official ceremony for the CSM is scheduled to take place in Jamaica on January 23. Not included in the agreement, however, were Haiti and the Bahamas. Haiti was suspended from CARICOM deliberations following the removal of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power during a rebellion in February, 2004. Interim Haitian Prime Minister Gérard Latortue has expressed regret at CARICOM's decision to exclude Haiti but expressed confidence that his country will eventually resume active membership within the regional organization. Montserrat, a British dependency, is expected to join CSME by the end of the first quarter of 2006.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006


Jean-Bertrand Aristide: Man of the People?

Irrespective of which side you may be on regarding the issue of the removal of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in Haiti, it is becoming increasingly apparent that he was not all that “saintly” a leader as his supporters claim. According to two lawsuits filed recently in U.S. Courts, some US telecom firms struck secret deals with Aristide and his associates while he was Prime Minister to pay Haiti low-cost fees while providing the Haitian leader with hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006


EU Banana Regime Demise

On August 1, last year, a World Trade Organization (WTO) arbitrator ruled against the European Union's (EU) proposed most-favored nation (MFN) tariff rates for banana imports. The request had been made by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama under the Doha Ministerial Decision after the EU had proposed a new banana tariff of € 230 per ton. Following the ruling, the EU revised its tariff proposal to € 187 per ton. Further consultations followed, but the parties were still unable to reach a mutually-satisfactory agreement. Hence on September 26, the EU requested a second arbitration. Toward the end of October, the second arbitration report determined that the EU's new proposed MFN tariff of € 187 per ton failed to rectify the matter. So here we stand! In his statement before the recent WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, Charles Savarin - Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Labor of Dominica referred to the new banana regime scheduled to come into effect on January 1, 2006: “The fundamental responsibility of this Organization is to balance those rights so that its prescriptions are fair, reasonable and equitable. Damaging the right of Caribbean and ACP countries to trade in bananas or any other commodity cannot be fair, reasonable or equitable.”


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Trinidad and Tobago wrote Footballing history in November 2005 by defying the odds to qualify for the 2006 summer World Cup finals in Germany. The Soca Warriors' success is an impressive achievement for a nation with only 1.1 million citizens, making it the smallest in next summer's competition. Congratulations Soca Warriors!

Economically, Trinidad and Tobago is the leading Caribbean producer of oil and gas, in addition to producing tourism services, cement, cotton textiles, various beverages and food processing.


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