U.S. Group Welcomes Caribbean Review Of Ganja Policy

July 8, 2014

Smoking-ganja-ChaliceNews Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Tues. July 8, 2014: A leading U.S. organization that promotes drug policies “grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights” is welcoming Caribbean leaders announcement that a commission to review marijuana policy in the region will soon be established in order to assess the need for reforms to marijuana laws.

At the semi-annual summit of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which concluded in Antigua this weekend, CARICOM leaders agreed to establish a Regional Commission on Marijuana “to conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Region and to advise whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for a range of users.”

“It’s great that governments in the Caribbean are finally pushing forward with this dialogue,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “With so much momentum for reform in both North and South America, it is crucially important that the Caribbean not be left on the sidelines.”

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines – who was instrumental in getting the issue on the agenda during his chairmanship of CARICOM – expects the commission to study reforms taking place around the world on marijuana policy, including Jamaica, the United States, Sweden and Uruguay.

“It seems to me counterproductive to ignore the potential of an industry in respect of medical marijuana and to continue to expend police, national security, court resources on persons who consume a minuscule amount of marijuana in the privacy of their homes,” Prime Minister Gonsalves said.

The news comes as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a medical marijuana bill into law on Monday, July 7th, making New York the twenty-third state to allow legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill patients.

In recent years, debate and political will for drug policy reform has gained unprecedented global momentum. In 2011, Kofi Annan, George Shultz, Paul Volcker and Richard Branson joined former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and other distinguished members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in saying the time had come to “break the taboo” on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs – and to “encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs,” especially marijuana.

Last year, Uruguay followed on the heels of Colorado and Washington State and became the first country to legally regulate marijuana for recreational purposes. In June, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, initiated by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasango,called for drug decriminalization and for treating drug use as a health issue.

This was followed by an announcement by the Jamaican Minister of Justice that the Jamaican Cabinet had approved a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the decriminalization of marijuana use for religious, scientific and medical purposes.


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Houston Police Seek Help In Finding Caribbean Festival Shooter

July 7, 2014

Houston Caribbean Festival 2013-BAND-OF-THE-YEAR

Houston Caribbean Festival 2013 Band of the Year.

News Americas, HOUSTON, Texas, Mon. July 7, 2014: The Houston Police Department is calling for people with information to come forward following a shooting in the early hours of July 5th at the Houston Caribbean Festival that left four people wounded.

An unidentified man opened fire at around 1:55 a.m. at the J’ouvert portion of the event Saturday morning, leaving four men wounded by gun fire and two women injured as they tried to flee the area, Houston Police spokesman Jodi Silva said.

Silva said the shooting victims were taken to two different hospitals, and one man was in critical condition and not expected to survive. She added that said about 30 off-duty policemen were at the festival to provide security but they were on the perimeter of the arena.

The organizer of the festival had medical care personnel at the arena that gave first aid to the victims, Silva said. They were assisted by people at the party who had medical training.

The Houston Caribbean Festival is an annual event that was set to run from July 1-6th.

“Everybody was having a good time, until someone shot a firearm,” Silva said.

Police is seeking information now on the shooter.

Organizers of the event, via their website, expressed “condolences” to all the families affected by the “tragedy” and said they “will work with the proper authorities to ensure that all measures are reviewed which will allow us to continue to celebrate our cultured diversity through a festive environment.”

“The mission of the Houston Caribbean Festival is to promote and preserve our diverse Caribbean culture to our fellow Houstonians and the world,” the statement added. “We would like the public to know that the Houston Caribbean Festival’s first priority in planning any event is the safety of our supporters.”


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U.S. Ambassador Responds To Guyana Minister’s Attack

July 3, 2014

United States Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt

United States Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt

News Americas, GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Fri. July 4, 2014: On his last day in office Thursday, United States Ambassador to Guyana, Brent Hardt, took time to address the recent verbal assault unleashed on him by Guyana’s Minister of Education Priya Manickchand and the country’s acting minister of foreign affairs, at a celebration to mark the independence anniversary of the United States on July 2nd in Georgetown.

Hardt told the media yesterday that Manickchand’s public embarrassment of him at his residence on July 2nd was a personal attack intended to divert attention from issues that are paramount to the development of Guyana.

“I think you probably notice in the course of the attack, there was no substantive response to the issues that I raised,” Hardt said when approached for a comment on Thursday, July 3rd.

Minister Manickchand, representing the Guyana government at the reception, called the ambassador’s conduct ‘unprofessional and undiplomatic.’

Hardt has been pressuring the government of Guyana and President Donald Ramotar to set a date for the long overdue local government elections.


In his farewell remarks on July 2nd, Hardt again reiterated this push, noting that he is hopeful Guyana can “move forward right now to reestablish its long-neglected elected local government system.”

“As I have drawn closer to the end of my tenure, some have asked why I have persisted in advocating for local government elections. The answer, simply, is that the United States genuinely believes that such elections will be a transformative issue for Guyana. Local communities in Guyana are seeking the freedom, autonomy, and ability to explore ways to develop and prosper. People face all kinds of local challenges and they want workable solutions. Guyanese are innovative and creative, but they need the opportunity to cultivate their talents at the local level,” he stated.

“This lack of local outlets for the energies, talents, and creativity of the people has in turn led to a disconnect between people and governance – a problem exacerbated by the parliamentary list system. People don’t know where or to whom to turn to resolve their day-to-day problems. Citizens want to be able to play their part, to call upon a local leader and get action. Elected local government will give them that ability.”


Manickchand, speaking as a representative of the government, accused the ambassador of contributing “to a tension-filled relationship with the Government of Guyana.”

“These areas of tense relationships have attracted considerable efforts on our part to address oftentimes without much success. Ambassador Hardt’s most recent assault on the President and Government of Guyana in his remarks to the recently created NGO, the Blue Caps, has in our judgment, gone beyond the boundaries of professionalism and diplomacy. For a professional Foreign Service Office, with the appointment of an Ambassador, to make such declarations, accusations, allegations and innuendos about the Executive President of Guyana, or of any country for that matter, is to our mind, totally unacceptable,” she continued.

“Like his President, Barack Obama, there exists a red line. This Ambassador has crossed that line. Unlike his President, we are resolved, we have resolved and we so advise our partners, with whom we share conventions and symbiotic relations, this is our red line. Behaviour such as this would not be tolerated within the boundaries of mutual respect, diplomatic relations and inter-government collaboration,” the minister added.


Still despite the attack, Hardt the United States government is fully aware that it can make a real contribution and has been doing so over the years and intends to continue this trend.

“Our interest is to build a partnership with Guyana that is democratic, healthy, secure, safe and strong and we’re gonna continue doing that and we have a great embassy, I know I leave the country in very good hands and they will carry forward all the great works and partnership that we are engaged in,” the Ambassador said.


In Antigua for the 35th summit of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Summit, Guyana President Ramotar dismissed Ambassador, Brent Hardt’s comments. He told the CMC that the ambassador was acting “as if he is the governor in the country and not as an ambassador.”

“I think he would have properly done much better in doing his business as an ambassador,” Ramotar was quoted as saying. “However if he was so concerned about democracy, I think he should probably think about the fact that the United States has been passing laws in their Congress where Guyana nor the rest if the Caribbean doesn’t have a say but we are forced to implement those laws like the financial laws that they recently passed where banks must report American citizens who have their deposits here.”


Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Leader of the Opposition, A Partnership for National Unity,  Brigadier David Granger expressed distress at  Manickchand’s remarks, calling them “vulgar and worst than useless.”

APNU also called on President Donald Ramotar to disassociate his Administration “from these worthless remarks and issue an unconditional apology to H.E. Ambassador D. Brent Hardt and the people of the United States of America.”

“APNU is astonished that such remarks could be used by a Government Official in light of the cordial relationship existing between the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the United States of America,” the statement added.

The Alliance For Change, another opposition party, also denounced the minister’s attack and called her behavior worst than “socially challenged.”

“Not only was the Republic embarrassed by the tone and sentiments expressed by the Minister but also the occasion and circumstances in which they were delivered were unforgivable,” the AFC added.



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Jamaican Faces Fifteen To Life On Sex Trafficking

July 3, 2014

Damion St. Patrick Baston

Damion St. Patrick Baston

News Americas, MIAMI, FL, Thurs. July 3, 2014: A 37-year-old Jamaican man is facing fifteen years to life in prison after being found guilty for his role in a sex trafficking operation.

Damion St. Patrick Baston, of New York, was convicted on July 1 on three counts of sex trafficking – both in the United States and Australia – five counts of transporting multiple individuals for prostitution, one count of importation of an alien for prostitution, one count of using a passport secured by false statement, one count of aggravated identity theft and nine counts of money laundering.

Baston was also found guilty of illegally re-entering the United States after being previously removed.

According to court documents Baston victimized seven women in the Middle East, Australia and the United States. Six victims bravely testified at trial that they had been trafficked for sex beginning in 2011 in various cities including Miami. Baston had been ordered removed from the United States in the late 1990s but stole the identity of an American citizen, which he used to obtain a Florida ID card and U.S. passport in that person’s name. Baston used this false identity for international travel as he continued to recruit and victimize women.

The verdict was the result of an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offices in Miami, Orlando, New York and Singapore, as well as the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the Australian Federal Police and the Dubai Police Department.

Baston is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 5th before U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, who presided over the trial.

“This case brought us halfway around the world to ensure justice for the victims,” said Alysa D. Erichs, special agent in charge of HSI Miami. “HSI, along with our federal and international law enforcement partners, will continue to work diligently to ensure international boundaries do not hinder the enforcement of justice.”

“The bravery of the victims in this case is commendable. Their testimony demonstrated that despite the terrible abuse that they suffered from this defendant they are truly survivors,” added U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer. “We can never forget that human trafficking is a heinous crime that exploits people; it simply cannot be tolerated.”



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Southwest Airlines begins flights to the Caribbean

July 1, 2014


News Americas Now, New York, NY, Wednesday July 2, 2014: Southwest Airlines, a domestic discount airline, began its first international flights yesterday and its first flights were to the Caribbean.

The airline’s inaugural flight took place from Baltimore headed to Aruba with flights to Jamaica and the Bahamas also expected. The international expansion follows Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran three years ago. AirTran has operated Southwest’s international service till now.

Southwest Airlines’ first international departure, Flight 1804 from Baltimore/Washington to Oranjestad, Aruba, departed ontime at 8:30am EDT, closely followed by Southwest Flight 906 to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where its first-ever scheduled international arrival was planned for just after 11am EST. A midday flight from Baltimore/Washington to Nassau/Paradise Island also brings Southwest Airlines’ legendary Customer Service to The Bahamas.

The routes Southwest expect to also fly will be aBaltimore-Montego Bay, Jamaica; Atlanta-Aruba; Atlanta-Montego Bay; Baltimore-Nassau, Bahamas; and Orlando-Montego Bay.

To commemorate the beginning of a historic chapter for the carrier, Southwest Vacations is offering up to $200 off select travel packages booked now through July 14, 2014, for travel July 4, 2014, through Jan. 4, 2015 at southwestvacations.com.

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Alleged Jamaican “death squad” officer arrested in Canada

June 30, 2014


News Americas Now, Toronto, Canada, Tuesday, July 1, 2014: A former Jamaican police officer, Witney Hutchinson, 28, was recently arrested in Canada by the Toronto Police Service Fugitive Squad with assistance from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Durham Regional Police.

Hutchinson was arrested in Ajax, a town in Ontario, Canada located 16 miles east of Toronto.

It is alleged that Hutchison was part of a death squad in Jamaica which was responsible for as many as 40 murders in Jamaica. The alleged death squad included eight or nine Kingston, Jamaica based police officers.

Hutchinson entered Canada legally in 2011 to visit family. It is alleged that shortly before entering Canada, Hutchinson was involved in the murder in Jamaica of Sylvester Gallimore.

Hutchison is in custody pending his removal to Jamaica to face the charges.

The Independent Commission of Investigations in Jamaica has been investigating deaths first thought to have been the result of civilian violence, but later discovered to have been the work of police officers.

In April, the commission cited cases in which nine civilians were killed in Clarendon in shootings initially believed to have been carried out by civilian gunmen. One man was shot dead in hospital, where he was recovering from an initial attempt on his life.

In all, 11 officers from the Clarendon police division, including Hutchinson, were charged with murder earlier this year. The commission has refused to confirm the existence of police death squads, but has instead referred to officers under investigation for “unlawful killings” between 2009 and 2013. It has also been looking into whether superiors ordered subordinate officers to carry out the killings.

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The Caribbean Voice Tackles Suicide In Guyana

June 28, 2014

News Americas, New York, NY, June 28, 2014: Suicide seems to be fast becoming the ultimate answer for every kind of interpersonal problem in Guyana, usually catalyzed by alcoholism, domestic abuse and other forms of violence, dysfunctional and triangular relationships and teenage pregnancy.

In fact, Guyana has the second highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the Caribbean; the average Guyanese drinker consumes 13.7 liters of pure alcohol each year with 6.1% of the population considered heavy drinkers and of the more than 60 percent of women who were involved in a relationship or union, 27.7 percent reported physical abuse, 26.3 percent had experienced verbal abuse and 12.7 percent experienced sexual violence.

Additionally, for a nation with about three quarters of a million people, Guyana has the highest suicide rate in the world, with about 25 suicides per 100,000 people (2006 figures so it could be higher today). Two of every three persons who commit suicide in Guyana are young persons below the age of 35; and young adults 15 to 24 years are over represented among those who commit suicide. Worse yet is that empirical evidence reveals that some suicides do not make the limelight and therefore do not end up in the official stats, so the actual rate could possibly be higher. Furthermore research has revealed that for every person who commits suicide there are 30 attempted suicides, which would mean that out of 100,000 persons in Guyana 700 plus (again this is an old stat so this too could be higher) attempt suicide each year.

It is against this background that The Caribbean Voice (TCV), a New York-based newspaper, has decided to make suicide prevention the focus of its social activism in the next few years. To this end TCV has started a letter writing campaign that has brought suicide to the front burner and catalyzed editorials by two of the major Guyanese newspapers, a press release from the political opposition and rallies by students in Black Bush Polder, New Amsterdam and the Essequibo Coast, as well as letters to the media by others.  TCV’s letter writing campaign is also aimed at encouraging provision of nationwide training for and establishing a network of first responders, catalyzing ongoing information dissemination and sensitizing and initiating outreach by various organizations and entities as well putting on the agenda the building of a national network to facilitate referrals and counseling.

Currently TCV is also giving consideration to a number of other initiatives to include:

  • A national schools essay contest in two categories – primary and secondary schools – towards which TCV will be offering prizes to tune of US$4,500.00. This will be followed by other contests – art and posters, debates, poetry and so on;
  • Erecting billboard throughout the nation, possibly in every district. This will be followed by placement of banners and posters at high trafficking areas nationwide;
  • Initiating walks culminating in rallies in every region;
  • Convening training programs, workshops, seminars and focus groups on identifying signs and signals indicating suicidal behavior, empathetic communication, building of self-acceptance and self worth and recognizing that suicide not the answer.
  • Setting up a phone number and email accounts so calls and emails can be received from those seeking assistance and making the necessary referrals;
  •  Organizing a national stakeholders’ conference to be followed by focus groups, seminars, workshops and outreaches nationally.
  • Ongoing media focus via notices, ads, articles and interviews.

In the context of Guyana, suicide seems to be just another option imbued to with a sort of fatal attraction. In fact, there may also be a predisposition to suicide in certain areas and homes. In this context, The Caribbean Voice strongly believes that dealing with suicide and related issues must be everybody’s business. Thus TCV is committed to reaching out to all and sundry, both in Guyana and the Diaspora, to undertake collaborative work, to ensure optimization of interventions and resource allocation and to avoid duplication. Towards this end TCV is seeking to establish a strategic alliance of Diaspora and Guyanese entities.  Organizations interested in such an alliance are urged to contact Annan Boodram or Norkah Carter.

A California study, done some time ago concluded that the vast majority of those who attempted suicide were quite relieved that their attempts failed. This clearly indicates that, reached in time, those with suicidal tendencies could be dissuaded from taking that fatal step. In effect suicide is preventable.

Help make suicide prevention the choice. Email caribvoice@aol.com or gtposse72@hotmail, call 718-542-4454, check out the facebook group, ‘The Suicide Epidemic’  at www.facebook.com/groups/suicideepidemic/ and inbox Annan Boodram or Norkah Carter with pledges and suggestions.  Also view and share the videos on youtube at www.youtube.com/user/ab10460/feed?view_as=public.



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Haitian President Reiterates October Election Date At OAS

June 25, 2014

Haitian President Michel Martelly and Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza.

Haitian President Michel Martelly and Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza during their June 25, 2014 meeting at the OAS. (OAS IMAGE)

News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Thurs. June 26, 2014: Haitian President Michel Martelly has confirmed his country’s commitment to holding elections on October 26, 2014, three years behind schedule amid a slow earthquake recovery process and gargantuan logistical woes.

Martelly reiterated the date during a meeting Wednesday with Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza.

During the meeting, President Martelly explained that he has taken the necessary steps to make certain that these elections are held and requested the support of the OAS to ensure that the electoral process complies with all due guarantees.

In addition, he asked the Secretary General to send an Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) to the elections, in which Haitians will choose 20 Senators, 112 Deputies, and local authorities.

Without the election, Parliament could be dissolved in January, throwing the country into political chaos.

Two-thirds of the 30-member Senate, all 99 seats in the lower chamber and hundreds of municipal offices would be at stake.

 For his part, Secretary General Insulza committed the support of the Organization and the timely deployment of a preliminary mission, in accordance with Article 25 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to back the holding of free and fair elections, in a process planned for October. The Secretary General also offered to organize an Electoral Observation Mission in a timely manner.

On a separate issue, the OAS leader delivered to President Martelly an action plan to support the Government of Haiti in providing identification for Haitians residing in the Dominican Republic without documentation. The action plan was prepared at the request of the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, and the Prime Minister of Haiti, Laurent Lamothe.

The “Diagnostic for the Identification of Haitian Migrants Residing in the Dominican Republic,” drafted by the Universal Civil Identity Program in the Americas (PUICA) of the OAS, proposes concrete steps to provide birth certificates and National Identification Cards to an estimated 200,000 undocumented Haitian migrants living and working in the Dominican Republic. The project, which is expected to least for a year and a half, will include 23 offices and a mobile unit to reach faraway communities.

Providing legal documentation to Haitian migrants represents the first step in the regularization of their residency status in the Dominican Republic.



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New US Embassy For The Dominican Republic

June 25, 2014


News Americas Now, New York, New York, June 26, 2014: A new embassy opened this week in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, The embassy is situated on 16 acres of land in the Altos de Arroyo Hondo section of Santo Domingo.

The $193 million project incorporates numerous sustainable features to conserve resources and reduce operating costs, including a 345 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic array, light-emitting diode (LED) site lighting, and water reuse from an on-site wastewater treatment plant to irrigate site plantings.

The building was dedicated by Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James Brewster, and Principal Deputy Director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Heather Townsend alongside local officials on Tuesday June, 24.

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Congressman Rangel Wins Primary Election Bid

June 25, 2014

Charlie Rangel wins Rematch

Charlie Rangel wins Rematch. (Photo: Hayden Roger Celestin)

News Americas, HARLEM, NY, Tues. June 24, 2014: Eighty-four-year-old Congressman Rep. Charles Rangel of Harlem on Tuesday night, beat back a fierce challenge from state Sen. Adriano Espaillat to claim a 23rd and final term in Congress.

With 100% of the precincts reporting, Rangel had 47.4% of the vote to 43.6% for Espaillat, a margin of about 1,800 ballots in the 13th District Democratic Primary, unofficial returns showed. Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, raised Rangel’s, hand in victory, after declaring him winner in the rematch of the Democratic Primary election, against Espaillat, Tuesday  at Taino Towers, in Harlem, New York City.

“This was our victory. This is your congressman. And you can rest assured all I will be doing is thinking about you and bringing these resources home,” Rangel said.

With no Republican on the ballot in November, Rangel is almost guaranteed to return to Washington in January.

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