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Express posted this 2006 picture of the volcano

UK newspapers endanger Montserrat, again

Express posted this 2006 picture of the volcano

by Bennette Roach

It wouldn’t be the first time that UK Newspapers have distorted and published information that turned out unfavourable and detrimental to the Island. We can point to the recent not so old publications regarding the development of fibre optic service to Montserrat, touted strongly and convincingly as a ‘game changer’ for economy starved British Overseas Territory.

Publication of articles like this with this kind of information is reminiscent of 1997-8 when the UK Government authorities broadcasted and said that there might be a ‘cataclysmic eruption’ that would cause Montserrat to completely evacuated. The result of that in spite of vehement denial of that situation from the Government and scientists on Montserrat, it was not until 2008 the UK relented on the misinformation.

Very cleverly written, if not with some dishonesty. If one doesn’t read carefully, you will miss that Professor Neuberg is not the one saying, ‘Sadly, Montserratians must continue to wait.’

 The only information attributed to Professor Neuberg is the following: “Except for the gas plume there is nothing visible on the surface, but the instruments show us clearly that the deformation is ongoing and the entire island is still inflating,”

With all the observations and opinions inserted, some of the information is far from up to date, even though they claimed they were reporting on very recent information. Like the population of Montserrat today.

Soufriere Hills mountain, March 5, 2018

As the Director Stewart observes the Express was even more damning in its reporting on this matter. Alarmist! This leads to an opinion that the article is planted with intention to deceive, and one that should be investigated at the highest level.

Ash and lava are visible inside the cone of the Soufrière Hills volcano, seen from Olveston, Montserrat, in January 2007. Photograph: Wayne Fenton/AP

The Guardian’s article: Montserrat Volcano remains a risk

The Express gives an update and asks – Montserrat’s volcano update: Is the terrifying volcano at risk of imminent  eruption

These newspapers have carried articles that when they are given these thoughts to report on, should cause them to worry about accuracy and honesty.

Here MVO director sets the record straight.

Statement on the Status of the Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat

Following the publication on 7 March 2018 of two articles in UK newspapers (The Guardian and The Express), members of the public have expressed concerns about the current status of the Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat (SHV), particularly with reference to ground deformation. Monitoring data recorded and interpreted by Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) shows no changes that suggest that new activity is imminent. The newspaper articles are misleading and, in the case of The Express, alarmist.

Since the end of the last phase of lava extrusion on 11 February 2010, MVO has observed a slow, steady movement of the ground surface across the whole of Montserrat using data recorded by our network of very precise Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. The news articles in question report on research being carried out by MVO in collaboration with Professor Jurgen Neuberg (University of Leeds, UK) that seeks to understand this trend. The research suggests that, since February 2010, the underground magma system that feeds the SHV has been slowly recharged by the influx of magma at depth. This causes the pressure inside the system to increase, which is then seen as upwards and outwards movement of the ground surface around the volcano.

The news articles suggest that the research has produced new information. In the Express article this, when combined with a very small swarm of small-magnitude earthquakes on 25 February 2018, indicates that a new eruption may be imminent. This is not the case. Brief swarms of such earthquakes have occurred on more than one hundred occasions since 2007.

All the data recorded by MVO since the last surface activity in February 2010 follows a consistent long-term trend which was also characteristic of four previous pauses in activity. The overall earthquake activity has been relatively low; the observed deformation pattern shows slow inflation, and the sulphur dioxide gas output is between 200 and 400 tons per day.

The restrictions on access to some areas of Montserrat have been in place for many years and all visits to these areas, including for economic activity, are closely controlled and very carefully managed.



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March Full Moons 2018: When to See the ‘Worm Moon’ and a (Blue) ‘Sap Moon’

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The month of March opens and closes with a full moon this year, making this the second “Blue Moon” month in 2018.The moon becomes full on Thursday, March 1, at 7:51 p.m. EST (0051 GMT) and again on Saturday, March 31, at 8:37 a.m. EDT (1237 GMT). The first Blue Moon of 2018 was the spectacular Super Blue Blood Moon of Jan. 31.

For observers in New York City, the moon rises at 5:33 p.m. local time on March 1, so the moon will be well above the horizon when the satellite reaches its fullest phase. It will set the following morning (March 2) at 7 a.m. local time. On March 31, the almost-full Blue Moon will set at 7:03 a.m. local time, or about 1.5 hours before it is full. It will rise again at 7:37 p.m., and while the moon will be past full, the difference from a full moon will not be visible to the naked eye. [The Moon: 10 Surprising Lunar Facts]

The Super Blue Blood Moon rises behind a perched bird in this photo taken on Jan. 31, 2018 in Konya, Turkey. The second Blue Moon of 2018, the Full Sap Moon, will rise on March 31, following the Full Worm Moon on March 1.
The Super Blue Blood Moon rises behind a perched bird in this photo taken on Jan. 31, 2018 in Konya, Turkey. The second Blue Moon of 2018, the Full Sap Moon, will rise on March 31, following the Full Worm Moon on March 1.

Credit: Abdullah Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Not every month gets two full moons. The time between full moons (known as a synodic month) averages 29.53 days, so we usually see one full moon per month. About every two to three years on average, we see a “Blue Moon” — a second full moon in one month.

Two Blue Moons in a year is relatively uncommon. According to, the next year when two calendar months will each have two full moons will be 2037, when January and March will have Blue Moons. The last time it happened was in 1999.

One effect of having a full moon on Jan. 31 and March 1 is that February has no full moon at all. February is the only month in which this can happen, because the month has only 28 days (while the phenomenon can happen in a leap year, it is rare). The next time a full moon will skip February will be in 2037, according to, a site run by amateur astronomers, and the phenomenon is sometimes referred to as a “Black Moon.” 

Moons of many names

Moons in various months have sometimes-evocative names. The March full moon, for instance, was dubbed the Full Worm Moon by some Native American tribes, because it happens when temperatures rise and the earthworms emerge, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Other tribes have called the full moon of March the Sap Moon “as it marks the time when maple sap begins to flow and the annual tapping of maple trees begins,” the Old Farmer’s Almanac states.  [Full Moon Names 2018: From Wolf Moons to Cold Moons

A full moon is defined as the moment when the side of the moon that faces the Earth is fully illuminated. How much of the moon’s face appears to be illuminated from our perspective on Earth depends on where the moon is in its orbit.

For about half of the world, the moon won’t be visible at the exact moment when it is officially full. That’s why the full moon is sometimes listed as happening during the day, when the moon is below the horizon, as it will be for observers in New York City on March 31. On the other hand, skywatchers in Los Angeles, where the moon reaches its fullest phase at 5:37 a.m. local time on March 31, can see it happen about an hour and a half before the moon sets at 7:04 a.m.

See the moon phases, and the difference between a waxing and waning crescent or gibbous moon, in this infographic about the lunar cycle each month. <a href=""/>See the full infographic. ” data-src=”” data-options-closecontrol=”true” data-options-fullsize=”true”></div><figcaption id=
See the moon phases, and the difference between a waxing and waning crescent or gibbous moon, in this infographic about the lunar cycle each month. See the full infographic.

Credit: Karl Tate,

The moon has phases because as it revolves around the Earth, we see it from different perspectives. Like planets, the moon appears to move against the background stars. Unlike the planets, however, it does so fast enough that one can see it happen over the course of a night. The moon moves approximately one lunar diameter (about half a degree) each hour, eastward relative to the stars even as it rises in the east and sets in the west. So, the moon can move some 6 degrees to the east of its position at moonrise over the course of a 12-hour night.

This is illustrated by where the March full moons will be in the sky: On March 1, the moon will be in the constellation Leo, the lion, and about 13 degrees above the eastern horizon when it is at maximum illumination. On March 31, the moon will be in Virgo when it hits full phase (and below the horizon in the eastern U.S.). It will still be in Virgo when it rises for New York City observers that evening, but as the moon sets the next morning at 7:34 a.m. local time, it will have moved several degrees east. By the next day, it will be in Libra. 

Moon Master: An Easy Quiz for Lunatics
For most of human history, the moon was largely a mystery. It spawned awe and fear and to this day is the source of myth and legend. But today we know a lot about our favorite natural satellite. Do you?
Full Moon over Long Beach, CA
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The full moon tends to wash out a lot of fainter objects in the sky, but one can still see some brighter planets when the moon is full. On March 1, for example, Jupiter will rise at 11:42 p.m. local time in New York and will be about 23 degrees above the southwestern horizon at moonset on the morning of March 2. You can find the giant planet in Libra — no telescopes or binoculars necessary. From city locations, in fact, Jupiter may be the only “star” visible in that portion of the sky, as most stars in Libra are not very bright.

Saturn will rise at about 3 a.m. local time (the wee hours of March 2) and by moonset will be about 26 degrees above the horizon in Sagittarius. Mars, which rises at 2 a.m., will be in Ophiuchus and appear nearly due south. Both planets should also be easily visible without telescopes or binoculars.

Venus and Mercury are both “evening stars” — on March 1, they will both set shortly after 6:30 p.m. local time in New York City. These two planets will be no more than 5 degrees above the horizon by the time the sky gets dark enough to make them visible, so they will be very difficult to see, especially from a city location.

By March 31, the situation for observing Venus will be markedly better. Venus will be a full 12 degrees above the western horizon at the end of civil twilight (which is at 7:47 p.m. in New York) and bright enough that it should be just visible. Mercury will have set by that time, but because it is only 3 degrees away from the sun, that planet will be difficult to observe under any circumstances (and dangerous to view, without proper protective equipment to block the light of the sun).

Other planets will join the Blue Moon in the sky later that evening. Jupiter will rise at 10:40 p.m. on March 31, followed by Mars at 2:21 a.m. on April 1. Saturn will rise just 3 minutes earlier and will appear quite close to Mars in the sky. The two planets will be only about 4 degrees apart in Sagittarius.

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Expect a significant earthquake at anytime – UWI

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jan. 28, CMC – The Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus, says the twin island republic could experience a significant magnitude earthquake at anytime.
earthquakeeAccording to the centre, on Friday there was a burst of earthquakes including moderate magnitude events at 10:40 am, 10:47 am, 4:30 pm and 6:05 pm (local time), occurring west and south-west off Trinidad.
The UWI Seismic Research Centre in a press release said in all, there were nine events.
“The events were located between 10.5°N to 9.6°N and 61.7°W to 62.2°W. The magnitudes ranged from 3.4 to 5.2 and depths were generally shallow, less than 35 km. The earthquakes were reported as lightly felt across western Trinidad. No damage was reported.”
The Centre noted that a significant earthquake might occur in the general area of these events or elsewhere in the vicinity of Trinidad and Tobago, which lies in an area where significant magnitude earthquakes do occur.

“For example, in the general area of today’s events, there were two earthquakes both of magnitude 6.5 in 1935 and 1945. We should, therefore, always be prepared,” the centre said.

All the way north, Montserrat and other islands are alerting residents to Tsunami warnings.

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Harmon press

Guyana beefing up surveillance along its borders

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jan 26, CMC – The Guyana government Friday announced plans to beef up surveillance along its borders after an illegal road that links Guyana to Venezuela in one of the border communities had been discovered.

“It is a large border and sometimes things happen before you can do something, but I want to give the nation the assurance that at the level of government and the security forces, we are taking some decisive steps,” Minister of State Joe Harmon told reporters.

Harmon press
Minister of State Joe Harmon (File Photo)

Guyana has in the past expressed concerns about the number of Venezuelans entering the country illegally, mainly in the gold mining areas close to the border.

Harmon said that the National Security Committee, which is chaired by the President, has been paying attention to the issues and more active surveillance of border communities will be conducted.

He told reporters that the borders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country are large and expansive and that people may have been able to construct the illegal roads because of the large land areas without being noticed.

Harmon reiterated that only the crossings that are identified as immigration points ought to be used.

Guyana and Venezuela have a long running border dispute with Georgetown indicating earlier this week that it is still awaiting word from the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres regarding a settlement of the matter.

In November last year, the two countries concluded another round of discussions in the presence of the presence of Guterres’s personal representative, Norwegian diplomat Dag Nylander, who was expected to submit a report to the Secretary general at the end of last year.

Guyana is seeking a final resolution to the decades-old controversy in which Venezuela contends the 1899 Arbitral Award, which delineated the border between the two countries is null and void.

On Thursday President David Granger told the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) that the Air Corps and Coast Guard would be upgraded to allow for continuous surveillance over our airspace, maritime space and land-space and to support search-and-rescue services to persons in distress.

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Floyd Green

Government provides counseling,relief following fire at children’s home


KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jan. 16, CMC – The Government is providing counselling and relief supplies for children and staff of the Walker’s Place of Safety following a massive fire here late Monday that claimed the lives of two children.

Floyd Green
Floyd Green

“The Walker’s Place of Safety was completely destroyed by fire late last night. The loss is quite devastating as two children died in the fire. Steps are being taken to contact the parents and to start counselling for them,” said Floyd Green, the junior minister in the Education Ministry.

He told the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) that counselling is being provided for the displaced children and staff because, “as you can imagine, they are completely devastated”.

He noted that “the priority now is to guide them through this difficult time and ensure that we get the essential items that they need. We have already started to get critical supplies, such as medication for those children who are ill. We are moving now to find a suitable location, so that we can move the children and ensure that they are more comfortable”.

Green said investigations have been launched to determine the cause of the blaze, which destroyed the privately owned facility located on Lyndhurst Road in the Corporate Area.

The place of safety serves as a transitional residence for children, generally up to 12 years old, who have been abandoned or removed from their homes because of unstable conditions.

“The fire service has also commenced their investigation. We are awaiting their report. The Child Protection and Family Services Agency will also do their own investigation to see what transpired,” Green said.

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Mudslides being monitored in Martinique

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, Jan. 11, CMC – The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) has sought to clarify reports circulating on social media, of volcanic activity taking place on the island.

SLIDE5In a statement on Thursday, NEMO said  images being circulated  are not pyroclastic flows, but rather rapid flowing volcanic mudslide of rock debris and water known as “lahar” which occurred in the river Prêcheur  – in the northern end of the island earlier this week.

According to NEMO, the mud flows are due to recent heavy rains on the island.

The river Prêcheur is located between Mount Pelée and the extinct Mont Conil volcanoes.

“The island has experienced occurrences of lahar in previous years; and a more recent occurrence was on June 19, 2010 where twenty houses near the Prêcheur river had been impacted without causing loss of life,” NEMO said.

Pyroclastic flows are fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter made up of high-density mix of hot lava blocks, pumice, ash and volcanic gas. They move at very high speed down volcanic slopes, typically following valleys.

NEMO  says the Volcanic and Seismological Observatory of Martinique has established an active intelligence unit that will continue to monitor the development of the phenomenon .

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Massive earthquake jolts Caribbean

TEGUCIGALPA, Jan. 10, CMC –  A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean region between the coast of Honduras and the Cayman Islands late Tuesday – one of the strongest quakes to hit the region in recent times.

earthquakeHonduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said the Central American nation had activated its emergency system and asked people to remain calm.

The earthquake  was also felt across northern Central America,  this prompted the US Tsunami Warning Centre to issue a statement that hazardous tsunami waves were possible within 621 miles of  the quake’s epicentre.

These included the coastal areas of Jamaica, Mexico, Cuba, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Cayman Islands, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

According to  the US Geological Survey, the quake was very shallow and this would have amplified the effect of a tsunami

The US Tsunami Center later cancelled the alert, but warned some parts of  Honduras and Belize were still at risk from waves of  up to a metre.

In Honduras, firefighters said some residents in southern neighborhoods fled their homes after feeling the tremors.

There were no reports of  damage.

The magnitude 7.6 earthquake was one of the strongest ever measured in the region, occurred almost eight years after a 7.0 magnitude quake devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that ninety-two earthquakes were recorded in Jamaica last year.

Scientific Officer at the Earthquake Unit at The University of  the West Indies Mona Campus, Karleen Black, says felt earthquake reports were received for eight events with magnitudes ranging from 3.1 to 3.6.

Speaking at the launch of Earthqukae Awareness Week on Monday, Black said while Jamaica has experienced several tremors, the last major event was the great Kingston earthquake of 1907, which caused more than 1,000 deaths, damaged numerous buildings and started several fires.

The 1692 Port Royal quake was perhaps the largest and most damaging, with about 5,000 deaths from the quake itself and the subsequent outbreak of yellow fever. A section of the town sank into the sea.

Earthquake Awareness Week is being observed from January 7-13 under the theme ‘Preparing for the Quake Helps Reduce Damage After the Shakes’. n

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Caribbean countries jolted by minor earthquake

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Dec 30, CMC – An earthquake , measuring 4.7 jolted two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries on Friday night, but there were no reports of injuries or damage.

earthquakeThe Trinidad-based Seismic Research centre (SRC) of the University of the West Indies (UWI) said the quake, which occurred at 11.14 pm (local time) was felt 39 kilometres (km) north west of St. John’s in Antigua and Barbuda and 68 km east of Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts-Nevis.

It was also felt 137 km north-west of the capital of the French island of Guadeloupe.

The SRC said that the quake had a depth of 81 km and was located Latitude: 17.34N, Longitude: 62.12W

On Thursday, the SRC reported that Trinidad and Tobago was jolted by a quake measuring 4.7 and at a depth of 10 km, was also felt in Venezuela.

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President Jovenel Moïse

CARICOM moving to create the world’s first climate resilient region

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti, Dec. 31, CMC – Incoming chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse says the regional grouping is moving towards crating the world’s first climate resilient region in the year ahead.

“2018 dawns for the Caribbean Community, with the prospect of seizing an opportunity out of a crisis,” said Moïse in his New Year’s message.

President Jovenel Moïse
President Jovenel Moïse

“As we begin the rebuilding process after the devastating hurricanes of last September, as well Hurricane Matthew, which pounded the region on October 3-4, 2016, we do so with the aim of creating the first climate resilient region in the world.

“The absolute necessity to create a climate smart region is clear given the effects of climate change, which have brought us droughts, mega hurricanes, heavy floods and unusual weather patterns, all of which adversely affect our development,” he added.

“The social and economic gains that we have made individually and collectively must be protected against the onslaught of nature. The CARICOM Member States’, as well as the region’s non-member States’ production of greenhouse gases, is practically nil, even though they bear a disproportionate share of the consequences.”

Moïse said the goodwill and pledges, “which have been forthcoming from the international community at two major global conferences in New York and Paris give us hope that the necessary support to achieve our objective will be forthcoming.”

He said the region’s efforts are against the backdrop of the Caribbean Community’s Strategic Plan for the period 2015-19, “which is our guide towards the economic, social, environmental and technological resilience that is needed to produce sustained growth and development for our community.”

The incoming CARICOM chairman said efforts will be made in 2018 in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) in “providing the basis for our economic growth.”

Moïse said since many of the major legislative and administrative measures for the operations of the Single Market are in effect, it is, therefore, now up to all of the stakeholders in the public and private sectors to ensure they derive maximum benefits from the CSME’s provisions.

“This would enable us to increase our intra-regional trade, share our best human resources, and encourage our entrepreneurs to expand their interests and provide us with a platform to move from market access to market presence in those countries with which we have trade agreements,” he said. “The CSME undoubtedly remains our best vehicle for creating the economic resilience we need.”

The Haitian president also said the reform process underway in the Community will allow the region to conduct its affairs “more efficiently and effectively and will also benefit the operations of the CSME.”

He said member states, regional institutions and the CARICOM Secretariat have been streamlining their interactions to produce the best possible results from the decisions taken by the Heads of Government and the Ministerial Councils.

“We are entering the final two years of the Strategic Plan and the results of the three partners’ efforts at implementing it are beginning to bear fruit.”

But Moïse warned that the solidity and efficiency of that partnership will be “tested as never before given the magnitude of the rebuilding task ahead of us.We have to rebuild with resilience now to forestall damage in the future; in other words, to build back better,” he said. “I am confident that the creativity and determination of our people will allow us to achieve that goal.”

Moïse thanked his predecessor, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. Keith Mitchell, for his “outstanding performance in leading the Community during one of the most difficult periods in our history.

“I look forward to building on his achievements,” he said. “With assistance from all, we shall maintain our Community on a path to sustainable development and a safe, secure, viable and prosperous society.”

Moïse said among issues he intends to advance during his tenure will be those related to natural disasters and climate change.

He said Haiti looks forward to welcoming the Community to its shores in February for the 29th Intersessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government.

“The warmth and hospitality of the Haitian people await you,” he said, while wishing all CARICOM citizens “a very happy and productive New Year, as we work together to continue building a resilient Community that advances the interests of all its citizens.”

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Dominica devastation

YEARENDER-Caribbean wobbles under the impact of climate change

By Peter Richards

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Dec 28, CMC – In 2017, the Caribbean felt the full brunt of climate change with a warning that current trends indicate that there will be no respite.

Within a two-week period, Hurricanes Irma and Maria brought home the reality of the impact of climate change as they churned their way across the Lesser Antilles destroying everything in their paths. Hurricane Harvey had in August set the stage for what was to come; with devastation in Houston, Texas, amounting to nearly US$200billion.

Dominica devastation
Hurricane damage in Dominica (File Photo)

“The unprecedented nature of this climatic event highlights the unusual nature of weather patterns that continue to affect nations across the globe,” the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said in a message to United States President Donald Trump, as Harvey made landfall in the United States after whipping up strong winds and heavy rains in the Caribbean.

It took less than a month for his statement to bear fruit. Hurricanes Irma and Maria, two Category 5 storms left so many Caribbean islands devastated in September that the CARICOM Chairman and Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell said “there can be no question that for us in the Caribbean, climate change is an existential threat”.

The islands dealt the hardest blow were Barbuda where the entire population had to be evacuated to the larger island of Antigua, Dominica where at least 30 people were killed, Anguilla, The Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, The British Virgin Islands and St. Kitts-Nevis.

“The task of rebuilding is beyond us,” LaRocque noted as Caribbean countries put the cost of the damage at billions of dollars.

“With physical and emotional difficulty, I have left my bleeding nation to be with you here today, because these are the moments for which the United Nations exists,” Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as he pleaded for international assistance to rebuild his battered country.

“We dug graves today in Dominica! We buried loved ones yesterday; and, I am sure that as I return home tomorrow, we shall discover additional fatalities, as a consequence of this encounter. Our homes are flattened, our buildings roofless, our water pipes smashed, and road infrastructure destroyed.

Barbuda Hurricane
Hurricane damage in Barbuda

“Our hospital is without power, and schools have disappeared beneath the rubble. Our crops are uprooted. Where there was green, there is now only dust and dirt. The desolation is beyond imagination,” an emotional Skerrit said, noting that Caribbean countries do not produce greenhouse gases or sulphate aerosols, nor do they pollute or overfish the oceans.

“We have made no contribution to global warming that can move the needle. But yet, we are among the main victims – on the frontline,” he added.

But even as the international community pledged more than two billions US dollars in aid, loans and debt relief, for regional countries there’s a great deal more to be done.

For years, Caribbean countries have complained about the conditions for accessing concessionary loans on the international market and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres urged the international community to re-think the policy.

Guterras, who paid a visit to hurricane battered Caribbean countries, said most of the islands impacted by the storms were middle-income countries and because of that, they are deprived of the form of assistance or concessional loans that low-income countries can have access to.

“The fact is that even though these countries have graduated as middle-income countries, they have a number of vulnerabilities that need to be taken into account if we want them to be sustainable as middle-income countries,” he added.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne argued that it was unfair for small, vulnerable states to be denied access to concessionary rates because of their per capita income.

He told the UNGA there was no justice in large, wealthy countries borrowing at a favourable three per cent per annum while “so called ‘high income’ small island states are forced to borrow commercially at 12 per cent per annum, to repeatedly rebuild.

“I want to make the call again for the issue of per capita income, that nonsensical criterion, to be scrapped. It is an impediment to the growth and development of small island states,” said Browne, a former senior banker.

Dominica PM at UN
Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit

Dominica has made it known it wants to become the world’s first climate resilient country, with Skerrit emphasizing “it’s an existential matter for us. It’s the only way forward”.

The Caribbean has since launched a new public-private coalition to create the world’s first “Climate-Smart Zone” aimed at finding a way to break through the systemic obstacles that stop finance flowing to climate-smart investments.

The ambitious eight billion US dollar investment plan is intended to bring greater energy and infrastructure resilience to 3.2 million Caribbean households.

“The Caribbean is in the ‘eye of the storm’ and we need coordinated international support to rebuild and better plan for the future. At the World Bank Group, we welcome the Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition and plan to support it so countries get back on their feet and are better able to deal with the growing frequency and intensity of storms and hurricane,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group president.

The project has brought together a coalition of global organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), as well as businesses and supporters from the Caribbean and the international community.

“This is a great first step. Now, we need to turn this possibility into a set of realities that benefit all our people. We all need to work together to change the rules of the game to accelerate climate-smart financial flows for the Caribbean,” said Mitchell.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, said the Washington-based financial institution is prepared to support the Caribbean with recovery funding and is cognizant of the impact of natural disasters on economic development and stability in the Caribbean.

Browne at UN
Prime Minister Gaston Browne

Addressing the sixth IMF High level Caribbean forum in Jamaica in November, she said that the IMF is ready to provide leadership with sourcing special funding and expertise to assist the region in developing mitigation and resilience strategies over the short and long term.

Lagarde said the hurricanes “have again highlighted the special vulnerabilities of the Caribbean, and the need to strengthen its resilience.

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season served as a major distraction for Caribbean countries still battling with serious socio-economic problems such as crime, unemployment, poverty, shortage of foreign exchange and significant revenue losses due to the decline in commodity prices on the global market.

Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago during the year reiterated their positions of not going to the IMF for assistance to reverse their ailing economies, while Belize said it had rejected an offer from the Washington-based financial institution.

“Barbados cannot turn its back on having its debt restructured under a Fund programme. It cannot run its back on having many of these other things…done under a Fund programme,” warned former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, an economist.

Port of Spain, which is also suffering from a foreign exchange shortage due mainly to the drastic decline in the price for its energy products on the global market, has instead implemented belt-tightening measures that include a reduction in state-funded education.

“In this period of significant decline in foreign exchange inflows, it will be unreasonable and dangerous to use up our foreign exchange as we were accustomed to,” Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has said, noting, “this would be paving our way into the arms of the IMF, and that is something that Government is not prepared to do”.

Dr. Keith Mitchelle
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell

He said there had been a 90 per cent decline in revenue between 2014 and 2017 from the energy sector.

“And since government revenues have declined so precipitously, it is to be expected that public sector employment would be in serious jeopardy. The Government has been at pains to keep the level of employment stable, even as we wind down the expenditure highs,” he warned.

Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who has already signalled his intention to quit active politics, during the year implemented a number of belt tightening measures and froze expenditure on non-essential goods and services.

He said that his administration, had prior to the presentation of the national budget, held discussions with the IMF whose recipe was to increase taxation, eliminate those items “mostly basic food and medical supplies, that are zero rated, cancel exemptions for the productive sector and raise the tax take from the personal and business income.

“And so we reject those options as regressive and punitive to both citizens and enterprise. Instead, we have come up with our own formula. And it does involve measured consolidation,” he added.

Guyana has said it will be working with the US based oil giant, ExxonMobil, to develop a long-term relationship founded on transparency, accountability, openness and aligned interests for the good of the country following its newfound wealth.

ExxonMobil said it would be investing five billion US dollars as it prepares to explore oil production in Guyana by 2020 and President David Granger said Guyanese must be able to view the development of a petroleum industry as one that is beneficial to the nation’s interest.

“We are at the start of an oil and gas industry….we take decisions at the Cabinet level and then those decisions are taken to the National Assembly and we do not see that process changing. All Guyanese must feel involved in the process,” Granger said. However, by yearend there was controversy over the payment of an estimated US$18 million signing bonus.

“Let me say that signing bonuses are customary and normal in many petroleum agreements, not all, but in many around the world as part of the total financial agreement”, said ExxonMobil country manager, Rod Henson, as the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) pressed the government to come clean on the issue.

The CDB is predicting that economic recovery in the Caribbean will be at 1.7 per cent this year based on a return to positive growth in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Notwithstanding, the risks to the outlook are tilted on the downside. Domestic headwinds to growth reside with the legacy effects of the (mosquito borne) Zika virus although no longer an international epidemic in redirecting tourist arrivals away from the region; and the loss of CBRs, (correspondent banking relationships) which could affect financial stability,” it added.

The St. Kitts-Based Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) unveiled a five-year strategic plan which it said focuses on the goals that are needed to improve the financial institution’s relevance and address more strategically, the expectations of stakeholders in relation to socio-economic transformation.

“At this point in the region’s history when it is facing unprecedented challenges related to high unemployment and devastating natural disasters, the plan takes cognizance of these and other challenges and is aptly themed: ‘Transforming the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union Together,’ said the ECCB, which acts as a central bank for Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.

But even as the Caribbean was putting its economic house in order, it has yet again been stung by policies in Europe likely to affect economic growth. The European Union named several regional countries as tax havens with Prime Minister Skerrit jokingly advocating for CARICOM countries to reciprocate.

“I think CARICOM should start coming up with its own list too and start blacklisting countries likewise. Is that a practice we should take or route we should take,” he asked, telling reporters “I think I should end there, I think I should end here on this” as he laughed out loudly.

But it was no laughing matter for the 15-member grouping that strongly objected to the listing. LaRocque said the decision by Europe had been based on new and unilaterally-determined criteria that go beyond the generally accepted international tax transparency and accountability standards.

“CARICOM strongly objects to this listing of our member states and calls on the EU to remove our member states from this pernicious list,” he said.

The University of the West Indies (UWI) also chimed in on the issue with the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles, noting the unilateral EU blacklisting “undermine the entire process of accountability and fairness in financial matters carefully constructed by the world community.

“Further, whether intentional or accidental, this action is tantamount to creating a competitive advantage for offshore financial centers operating within the national jurisdiction of European Union member states.”

New governments came to office in 2017 even as there was widespread speculation that voters in several other Caribbean countries would be going to the polls in snap elections.

In the Bahamas, medical practitioner, Dr. Hubert Minnis led his Free National Movement (FNM) to a convincing victory in the May 10 general election almost wiping out the then ruling Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) that won four of the 39 seats at stake. Among the causalities was Prime Minister Perry Christie, who subsequently resigned as party leader with immediate effect.

In an unprecedented move, long-time political rivals Alden McLaughlin, the incumbent premier and leader of the Peoples Progressive Movement (PPM) and McKeeva Bush who heads the opposition Cayman Democratic Party (CDP), signed an agreement to form a coalition government in the Cayman Islands after the general election provided a mixed bag for the major political parties as the independent candidates claimed victory in most of the seats in what was described as a “historic poll”.

The poll was significant in that Caymanians voted for the first time for a government under the equitable system of ‘one man, one vote’ in single member consistencies.

In another British Overseas Territory, David Burt, 38, emerged as the youngest ever head of government in Bermuda after he led his Progressive Labour Party (PLP) to a 24-12 victory in reversing the defeat the party had suffered at the hands of the One Bermuda Alliance in 2012.

In the Dutch island of Curacao, the  Partido Alternativa Real (PAR) led by its new political leader, Eugene Rhuggenaath won six of the 21 seats in Parliament with the PARTIDO (MAN) party and the MFK, the former coalition partner in the last government, winning five seats each,.

The Korsou di Nos Tur (KdNT) won two seats, and the PIN, PS and Movementu Progresivo (MP) winning one seat each.

But elections were not the only way in which parliamentarians left or indicated a willingness to leave office.

Prime Minister Browne removed his tourism and investment minister, Asot Michael, from the cabinet following his detention at the Gatwick Airport by British law enforcement authorities.

“…prior to his arrest (I) knew there was an issue in which there was an investigation involving him and by the way what I was told it involves him soliciting contracts for a UK national,” Browne would later inform the nation, while Michael in a statement said that he was “sorry” that the prime minister had not contacted him prior to making public his removal from the cabinet.

Michael has since said that he has been advised by his lawyers not to make any further comment on the situation regarding his detention in the United Kingdom.

Montserrat Premier Donaldson Romeo fired his agriculture and environment minister, Claude Hogan, with immediate effect less than 48 hours after Hogan took to the airwaves saying there was need for a new paradigm in dealing with the socio-economic development of the volcano ravaged British Overseas Territory while downplaying persistent rumours of plans to oust Romeo as head of the government.

St. Lucia’s agriculture minister Jimmy Henry resigned following reports that he was recently stopped and searched at the George Charles Airport.

” I have decided to tender my resignation with immediate effect from the senate and as a Minister. Due to these personal matters at this time, I am unable to give the attention necessary to my ministerial duties,” Henry said.

Portia Simpson Miller

Jamaica’s first woman Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller as well as her ministerial colleague, Dr. Omar Davies, quit active politics in 2017 and the sudden death of Dr. Winston Green, resulted in three-by-elections. The main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) suffered a setback after it lost one of the three seats it previously held in the Parliament to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Sir Lester Bryant Bird, who served as the second Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda announced his retirement from active politics. Sir Lester, who was born on February 21, 1938 served as prime minister from 1994-2004, replacing his father, Sir Vere Bird.

“I know that, in as much as my brain has much to contribute, age has taken its toll on my physical capacity. It would be unfair to impose upon the readiness of the people of Rural East to maintain me as their representative,” Sir Lester told the Parliament.

Attorney Joshua Francis, the former deputy leader of the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP), announced his resignation from active politics in Dominca, describing his “political journey” as being “very turbulent”.

In Grenada, where there has been much speculation that Prime Minister Mitchell will call an early poll, the deputy leader of the ruling New National Party (NNP) Elvin Nimrod, announced his resignation from politics.

There had been widespread speculation also in Barbados of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart seeking a fresh mandate from the electorate with the main opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) urging him to do so accusing his administration of bringing the island into ruin.

“I want to exhort members of the Democratic Labour Party not to grow wary … you have nothing to be ashamed of, don’t get distracted by a lot of the incoherent noises you hear from time to time. Those issues are going to be settled on a date that I will determine,” Prime Minister Stuart said, adding “we will rout our adversaries and put them to flight”.

While there has been speculation about early polls in other Caribbean countries, the main opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is continuing a legal challenge to the results of the 2015 general election that led to in the Unity Labour Party (ULP) of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves securing a fourth consecutive term in office.

The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) says it has a duty and obligation to pursue to the end, the two election petitions that are still before the court and a High Court judge is expected to hand down a ruling early in 2018 on moves by the opposition involving the ballots used in the election.

“Just remember how it was in December of 2015. After the election, the people felt that something was wrong. I was out on the streets of Kingstown and people were angry and we told them, yes, come out, express yourself, do it peacefully, because that is the way that we do things in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” said NDP leader Dr. Godwin Friday.

In Dominica, legal moves are underway to declare Opposition Leader Lennox Linton, bankrupt, which could result in his removal from the Dominica parliament.

Chartered accountant, Kieron Pinard-Byrne, said he has instructed his lawyers to proceed with the move after Linton failed to pay a significant sum of money awarded to the accountant by the London-based Privy Council, which at the time served as Dominica’s final and highest court.

According to the bankruptcy petition filed in the High Court here on December 6, Pinard-Byrne said that on September 15, this year, Linton paid £1,200.00 towards the judgment debt and £24,792.12 with five per cent interest per annum remains unpaid.

Dominica also grabbed the regional headlines in 2017 when police used teargas to o disperse supporters of the UWP after they set fires across the capital and looted several business places.

The protestors had earlier marched to the Financial Center, where the office of the Prime Minister Skerrit is located, demanding his resignation as well as his entire Cabinet. Government would later view the unrest as an attempt to seize power by force.

In Haiti, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) is yet to decide on the political future of former rebel leader turned politician, Guy Philippe, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to a drug money-laundering charge in the United States.

The deal between US law enforcement authorities and Philippe resulted in the former police officer avoiding a potential sentence of life in prison for cocaine trafficking.

President Jovenel Moise was sworn into office in February after he convincingly won the November 20th presidential election last year, becoming the French country’s 58th head of state.

The 48-year-old businessman succeeded Michel Martelly, who left office one year ago in an environment of political uncertainty after efforts to stage presidential and legislative elections before his departure were unsuccessful.

As the year drew to an end, CARICOM countries were divided on whether or not to support the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

More than 100 members of the United Nations backed a non-binding resolution that called on President Trump to reverse his decision to recognize Jerusalem even as Washington threatened it would not forget countries that support the resolution that read in part “any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the [UN] Security Council”.

No CARICOM was in support of the US move with Washington. However, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were among the 35 countries that abstained during the vote.

Among the CARICOM states that voted with the 128 countries in favour of the resolution were Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname.

St. Lucia was among the 21 countries that stayed away from the UN General Assembly on the day of the vote and the island’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sarah Flood-Beaubrun would later say that St. Lucia was of the opinion that the matter of the location of a foreign mission is solely a decision for a sovereign country to make.

“In any event, on the Israeli-Palestinian question, both sides are claiming exclusivity and the matter is primarily for the parties themselves to decide,” she added.

crimmeeGun related murders were becoming a daily occurrence in countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas and Belize during 2017.

The death toll in Jamaica had increased by 21 per cent over the 2016 figure with the authorities reporting 1,581 murders, one week before the end of 2017. The authorities said 53 children were among those killed.

Trinidad and Tobago was nearing the 500 mark by yearend as compared to 463 the previous year, while in Belize, the police blamed gang rivalry for contributing to the 138 murders, two weeks before the end of the year.

Sadly, the region bade farewell to several people, including  the region’s second Nobel Laureate, Sir Derek Walcott of St. Lucia,  the St. Vincent and the Grenadines social and political activist, Oscar Allen, whom Prime Minister Gonsalves described as “one of our outstanding sons” and the Jamaican football administrator , Horace Burrell.

The Bahamas gave an official funeral to former National Security Minister, Dr. Bernard J. Nottage, who died in a United States hospital. Haiti also gave a state funeral to former President Rene Preval.

Several members of the media fraternity also passed, including Jamaicans Lester Spaulding and Ian Boyne, Grenadians Trevor Thwaites, Wayne Modeste and Rollin Williams,  St. Lucian Lawrence James, while Trinidad and Tobago said farewell to Devon Mathew, a radio announcer and soca star as well as Deborah John, the daughter of the late journalist George John.

Dominican Kurt Mathew, the 48-year-old engineer, who was lauded for his efforts in keeping the state-owned DBS radio on the air during the passage of Hurricane Maria, was killed in a vehicular accident.

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