Saturday, 25 December 2010

Photo Blog

Spent some down time today updating my Photo Blog. Some of it recent. But I do include some shots from 2003 in Fiji.

Many things to write about as we look back at 2010 and forward to 2011. Let's see how things go.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Finding Neruda


Toes hurt. It is misleading to say Baquedano station takes you to this place. Lost in the translation are the long, summer streets of kissing school girls and boys with cold, oversized Escudo cervezas just right for the piss of mountain horses.

I have come here to Neruda’s blue wall along “Constitution” – what a name for the street on which he lived and wrote of rules to break under the heaving weight of love.

Mikhail on my mind as I pass the hippie murals. A “crapaud foot”, upper case tribute to the 35th year since the poet’s passing and a red stony climb to the blue wall.

I had realised two streets before, near the drunken guy with the credit card thingy in his loose hand, that the hapless, tag-along Nikon over my shoulder was as cardless as the endangered thingy.

Hearts do stop and start again … faster.

Shit.

Here I was at the shrine. It is important that you not only touch and feel and smell, but capture with both hearts and take with you a piece of this place. Hold like arms to a newborn.

So, back again I go. Tomorrow, if it ever comes.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Voices Hoarse From Empty Laughter

I live in a place where grandfathers and grandmothers relate stories told to them by their own grandfathers and grandmothers. In some cases, tales of torturous journeys across the deep dark waters of the Kala Pani are matched by memories of barrack yards cast with the sweat of slaves.

My own maternal grandfather would have, if we had asked him, reminisced about the parched, barefoot schoolyards of Guangzhou, his own engagement of the Kala Pani – and his midnight embrace, many years later, at Ramleela, with little Miss D’Hurieux whose parents told of masters past and present.

This is the place where stories are told. Houdini begat Atilla begat Kitchener begat Rudder and we know much more than we care to remember because they cared to sing and to make music for all time, through the haze of Sawdust Caesars scattered in the wind over time. As empire begat empire begat empire.

Today, it is a place where silence reigns while the fat go hungry and the thin grow angry. A place of plenty, but a place of little. A flag flies on the barren island in the din of empty, metal drums and voices hoarse from empty laughter.

This is the place I call my home. It used to be a place that was my home. Freedom has fled the frame and seeks the shade of the treacherous Manchioneel.

If today the silence grows and prospers and prevails, it would be because we have shut up and let it reign. We, grandparents, are not telling the story anymore. The scores are written for us and we whistle them to no one in particular in the wind.

This, again, is the time for poetry and poets and foolish old men and women with stories to tell. Men and women who have the right to remain silent but who dare not exercise it.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Outrage over Firing of Trinidad TV Show Host

On Saturday November 6, the co-host of one of Trinidad and Tobago's more popular morning television talk programmes, Fazeer Mohammed, received a telephone call from the state-owned media network. The caller advised Mr Mohammed that his services were no longer needed at the station because of a "cost-cutting" exercise.

Problem is that on Thursday November 4, Mr Mohammed had been engaged in a heated on-air exchange with Foreign Minister, Dr Suruj Rambachan. During the interview, Dr Rambachan interrupted to ask the host if he had a problem with the fact that the recently-elected Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, was a woman.

Mr Mohammed, a practising Muslim, said his faith did not condone women in leadership positions within the religion.

His sacking is linked to the ensuing exchange, which can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT4fRxhnLes

On November 10, the Trinidad Express published this editorial:


Political interference?

In keeping with its apparently helpless compulsion to shoot itself in the foot, the People's Partnership administration has now wrought an unholy and toxic mess at the State-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG). The firing of talk show host and sports commentator Fazeer Mohammed will not be received as the cost-cutting measure claimed by the company's interim chief executive officer, Ken Ali. Darkest fears will be entertained over what was in the mortar apart from the pestle.

Citizens calling talk shows yesterday, posting comments on the Express website, and discussing the issue elsewhere, have linked the performance of Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan, who was a guest on the First Up show last Thursday, with Mr Mohammed's precipitate dismissal two days later. Mr Rambachan, surprisingly assuming the role of the show host he once was, questioned Mr Mohammed on whether, as a Muslim, he had a problem with women leaders.

Displaying more diplomacy than the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Mohammed replied that he did not believe in having women in religious leadership, but that he had no problem with a woman as a national leader.

CEO Ali claims that the decision to terminate Mr Mohammed had been made long before that interview. He and the Government will find this line a hard sell. Even if it is true, Minister Rambachan, by his attitude and words, has undermined the Government's free speech bona fides, and the ensuing action can have only destabilising effects at CNMG.

Neither does Mr Ali's claim that Mr Mohammed's firing was a "cost-cutting measure" fly very well. The most effective cuts in cost would be ones which made the CNMG profitable.

Mr Ali may not be aware that, in its former incarnations as Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) and the National Broadcasting Network (NBN), the company's books actually went into the black. That success was short-lived, however, in part because political interference by the United National Congress administration undermined viewership. Bending to political pressure always harms media houses which, like banks, must be seen as trustworthy in order to survive. This is so even for privately owned media, as the Guardian newspaper discovered in 1996, when it appeared to be kowtowing to government power.

The Partnership's wielding of the rod of political correction, in its dual capacity of government and proprietor, will further undermine CNMG's professional standing, and potentially cost the station viewers and therefore advertisers. It appears that the new administration, like that under Basdeo Panday, needs to appreciate that the State-owned entity cannot viably subsist as a Government mouthpiece or pawn. Its reason for being remains to serve the interests of all the people, not just People's Partnership partisans.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Keith Smith

So many of us in the Caribbean media are holding our breaths and crossing our fingers as writer extraordinaire, editor-at-large and journalistic guru, Keith Smith of the Trinidad Express, lies in a hospital bed in Port of Spain fighting the biggest battle of/for his life. Hopefully, this struggle will also join his great journalistic repertoire sometime in the future.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Blindness of New Love

I remember the great Caribbean economist and thinker, Lloyd Best, expressing his political position by saying he could not describe himself as an unbiased commentator on most public issues because not only was he not a supporter of the political contestants at the time, he was against them all.

Best’s position soon became a part of my own statement of principle whenever prying acquaintances and even complete strangers attempted to wrangle a narrow partisan position out of me. For sure, this is not mere parroting of a teenage memory, but a view I have grown more and more to associate myself with over the years – especially given the level of contact with national and Caribbean politicians I have had as a journalist.

This is not to say that I have not often agreed with the national politicians. I agreed just as much with the late Prime Minister George Chambers regarding the need for urgent caution on matters of the national economy in 1981 (I was a Tapia candidate for the election that December), as I did with ANR Robinson on the same question in 1986 and with Patrick Manning in 1991 and, thereafter, with Brian Kuei Tung and with Mariano Brown and, now, Winston Dookeran. No mention of Basdeo Panday, because he never appeared to believe in or to be committed to anything on such questions.

How therefore could I have been “a PNM” in 1981? How could I have been “an NAR” in 1986 when the administration was soon branded by my column in the Express during that period as a “bourgeois revolt”? How could I have been “a UNC” when I participated in one of the most sustained campaigns for a free press we have ever witnessed in Trinidad and Tobago (credit for which has erroneously been assigned to retired publisher, Ken Gordon, by the way)? How could I now be “a UNC” or “a COP” when the signs of real political change seem so distant?

I however believe my journalism during the tenure of the respective political parties was as independent and as fair as is possible under authoritarian conditions – such as those under which we continue to endure in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Many colleagues cringe when I use the term “authoritarian culture” to describe the way we work in the Caribbean, but I insist that there need not be open ostracism, injury or death for there to be conditions that foster an absence of independent thought in favour of silence.

The most urgent political question of these times in the Caribbean therefore seems to be how do we break from the grasp of authoritarian politics and culture and seek true freedom and independence.

The former Education Minister under Chambers, Marilyn Gordon, struck my siblings’ names off a Balisier House Carnival band lineup, post-1981, Robinson’s Information hit-man summoned the “foreign correspondents” (I was a stringer for Prensa Latina back then) to discuss the slandering of the country overseas with a view to silencing us, Keith Rowley thought I was an agent of “the opposition” during 1991-1995 and Panday (to my utter bewilderment) branded me a “political dinosaur” sometime between 1995 and 2001.

Some were amazed that I functioned as a freelance television presenter and producer for the Government Information Division during the Panday era, was retained as Communication Coordinator for the Fifth Summit of the Americas under Manning and, since then, functioned as a Communication Advisor to a state regulatory agency, yet find time to write freely and openly about public affairs and the economy for various journalistic principals.

All of this comes readily to mind as we contemplate the prospects for the “People’s Partnership” administration in Trinidad and Tobago. It is difficult terrain to navigate, if only because of the disastrous path blazed by the previous regime, but it is an exercise we do not engage at our peril.

In many respects, though, the opinion-leaders to whom so many pay close attention are simply not engaging the task of casting a sharp and critical eye. Instead, there is either open adoration or barely-disguised hatred and quick resort to partisan labelling and open condemnation as, among other things, being “a PNM” or “a UNC” or “a COP.”

The fact is, I am not unbiased on this question, I am against all of them and what they, in essence, represent. This, indeed, constitutes an open declaration of political position and intent.

Satisfied?

So, what now?

What now, is that I continue to openly declare myself opposed to authoritarianism and the sycophancy and kow-towing to authority that follow. The subtle corruption of keeping the bosses politically satisfied, at all costs. The bright-eyed blindness of new love and the penance that flows in its absence.

Already, the various shades of such corruption are apparent. There are shadows behind the trees that grow longer with each passing day. More to come.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Condemning Violence Against the Media in Mexico and Elsewhere

AUSTIN, Texas — Distinguished investigative journalists and members of media support organizations from 20 countries in the Americas and Europe strongly condemned the killings of journalists and attacks on media by organized crime, particularly in Mexico. They insisted that international organizations and governments in the Americas assume their responsibilities to guarantee the rights to life and information that are included in their constitutions.

The “Austin Declaration” was issued by participants of the 8th Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas, conducted Sept. 17–18, 2010, at the University of Texas at Austin. The annual gathering, which focused this year on coverage of drug trafficking and organized crime, was conducted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at UT Austin and the Open Society Foundations programs on media and Latin America.

The Austin Forum began Friday (Sept. 17) with the news of the shooting death of 21-year-old Mexican photography intern Luis Carlos Santiago, who worked for El Diario in Ciudad Juárez. His 18-year-old fellow intern, Carlos Manuel Sánchez, was injured in the attack.

"Since we started organizing this annual meeting in Austin of journalists and journalists organizations in 2003, this is the first time that the participants decided to issue a public declaration at the end of the meeting," said Professor Rosental Calmon Alves, director of the Knight Center. "And it is not surprising that something so extraordinary has happened, considering the gravity of the situation facing journalists in Mexico and other countries of the hemisphere, especially those who cover drug trafficking and organized crime, which were the themes of the Austin Forum this year."

"The declaration shows the international outrage at so many attacks on journalists and the news media of Mexico and other countries. It also shows the solidarity that all participants of the Austin Forum wanted to send to the journalists and their families, especially in the regions that are most affected, like Ciudad Juárez and other cities close to the border between Mexico and the United States," Alves said.

The Austin Declaration reads as follows :

“Renowned investigative journalists from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, who gathered at the University of Texas at Austin for the 8th Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas, organized by the Knight Center, declare their strongest condemnation of the killings of journalists, and attacks of any kind against the media, that are being unleashed by organized crime in Mexico, and that have been committed for years amid the negligence of the government.

“From Mexico to the Southern Cone, drug trafficking and organized crime have become the biggest threat against democratic society and life. In other countries, such as Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia, the media and journalists are under fire. Freedom of expression and the right of citizens to be informed are in grave danger throughout the region. Confirming this has been the point of all the participants’ presentations at the Forum.

“The participants of the Austin Forum, from various media, declare their decision to take action, denouncing the impunity with which the bands of organized crime are operating, and insisting that international organizations and governments of the region – particularly Mexico – recognize the urgency of the moment and assume their responsibility to guarantee a minimum of two rights included in their constitutions. The rights to life and to information must be restored.

From Austin, we send this demonstration of our solidarity with all our colleagues in danger.

Sept. 18, 2010, Austin

• Juan Javier Zeballos, Asociación Nacional de la Prensa (Bolivia)

• Mauri König, Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo

• Mónica González, CIPER Chile

• Ginna Morelo Martínez, Consejo de Redacción y El Meridiano de Cordoba (Colombia)

• Álvaro Sierra, University for Peace, Costa Rica

• Giannina Segnini, La Nación, Costa Rica

• Mónica Almeida, El Universo, Ecuador

• Carlos Dada, El Faro, El Salvador

• Benoît Hervieu, Reporters Sans Frontiers Bureau Amériques, Francia

• Claudia Méndez Arriaza, El Periódico, Guatemala

• Gotson Pierre, AlterPresse, Haiti

• Byron Buckley, Association of Caribbean Media Workers y Press Association of Jamaica

• Marcela Turati, revista Proceso y red Periodistas de a Pie (México)

• Marco Lara Khlar, Insyde (México)

• María Teresa Ronderos, Verdad Abierta, Colombia

• Mike O’Connor, Committee to Protect Journalists

• Óscar Martínez, El Faro, El Salvador

• Samuel González, criminal justice consultant, México

• Carlos Chamorro, El Confidencial, Nicaragua

• Dilmar Rosas Garcia, Centro Latinoamericano de Periodismo, Panamá

• Osmar Gómez, Foro de Periodistas Paraguayos (FOPEP)

• Gustavo Gorriti, IDL Reporteros, Peru

• Luz María Helguero, Red de Periodistas de Provincias del Perú

• Ricardo Uceda, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), Peru

• Tyler Bridges, journalist

• Paul Radu, Romanian Center for Investigative Journalism

• Ana Arana, Fundación MEPI, México

• Bruce Bagley, University of Miami

• Bruce Shapiro, Dart Center for Trauma & Journalism, United States

• Cecilia Alvear, National Association of Hispanic Journalists /Unity -Journalists of Color (U.S.)

• Judith Torrea, blog Ciudad Juárez : en la sombra del narcotráfico

• Luis Botello, International Center for Journalists

• Ricardo Trotti, Inter-American Press Association

• Steven Dudley, InSight / Organized Crime in the Americas

• Javier Mayorca, El Nacional, Venezuela

• Algirdas Lipstas, Open Society Foundations, Media Program

• David Holiday Open Society Foundations, Latin America Program

• David Sasaki, Open Society Foundations, Latin America Program

• Gordana Jankovic, Open Society Foundations, Media Program

• Miguel Castro, Open Society Foundations, Media Program

• Sandra Dunsmore, Open Society Foundations, Latin America Program

• Lise Olsen, Investigative Reporters & Editors and Houston Chronicle, United States

• Donna de Cesare, University of Texas at Austin

• Rosental Calmon Alves, University of Texas at Austin

Kristel Mucino, Washington Office on Latin America y Transnational Institute

• Ricardo Sandoval Palos, International Consortium of Investigative Journalism/Center for Public Integrity (U.S.)

• Gabriel Michi, Forum del Periodismo Argentino (FOPEA)

• Dean Graber, University of Texas at Austin

• Summer Harlow, University of Texas at Austin

• Ingrid Bachmann, University of Texas at Austin

• Mónica Medel, University of Texas at Austin

• James Ian Tennant, University of Texas at Austin

• Joseph Vavrus, University of Texas at Austin

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Independence, Diversity and Self-Confidence - Trinidad and Tobago

We have been around long enough as an independent state to understand that the raising of our own flag on August 31, 1962 had value and potential in excess of political self-determination and a notion of economic choice.

For one, the ability to determine constitutional and legislative values and to command indigenous human and natural resources unfolded as both opportunity and as intrinsic challenge. Small states finding their way in the world, under crippling pre and post-colonial circumstances, have consistently been found to be haplessly subject to such conditions.

The offshore orientation of the economy is now widely acknowledged and accepted, and undoubted vulnerabilities on account of geography, limited capacity and a lack of self-confidence have taken intractable root. There is now little doubt that political independence has neither brought us true freedom nor has it led to a trough of sustainable prospects for a future as a sovereign state.

It is not that we have been hopeless at political negotiation or that we have been unable to prosper, in relative terms, through economic decision-making. In many respects, we have conducted our affairs at a high level of civility and we have covered much developmental ground. Our score card on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is impressive.

Up to this point, Eric Williams, CLR James, William Demas and Lloyd Best are absolutely indispensable if we were to understand some key paradoxes. There is an established pathway that leads us to an understanding of how and why we have failed to advance the gains of political independence yet thrived in important ways. Economic determinism, political under-achievement and cultural insufficiency feature prominently and are irresistible subjects to ponder even in the face of the statistical high-points.

The fact that cultural, political and economic institutions have under-performed is however difficult to deny. There is yet no grasp of the changing “peoplescape” and certainly no sense of an economic destiny over which we have an adequate measure of decisive control in the final analysis. The political parties and their vital organs, in the absence of official life-support, are moribund and particularly useless in pursuit of the broader, civic self-determination that separates free people from those who are not.

The resort to authoritarianism and paternalistic dependence and control remains impulsive and few are to be found who consistently patrol the boundaries of rights and freedoms. As a consequence, important questions of state-sanctioned killing, free expression and independent jurisprudence are subject to official “vaps” and sycophantic advocacy capable of 180 degree shifts. In this respect, political complexion has made no difference.

To move us forward, new levels of understanding are needed which concede that the Trinidad and Tobago of 2010 is not the same country we came up with in 1962. The challenge of managed diversity, to cite one important example, is certainly not the same.

In many respects, it makes sense that a Ministry of Multiculturalism exists. But there is yet no evidence that the relevant political and administrative managers and functionaries understand the true nature of the challenge. This government ministry, perhaps above all others, has the greatest potential to move the development of the country forward.

This has nothing to do with financial support for entertainers or official dicta that seek to regulate taste or repairs to the National Academy for the Performing Arts. It has to do with acquiring a proper understanding of the changing nature of our society and the value of the global interface to which we are now - and have always been - inextricably attached.

There are few greater manifestations of under-development than our failure to recognise this important point. Cultural policy cannot be founded on xenophobia nor can it be built on static notions of what comes together to constitute what some would wish to describe as a “national culture”. The current nonsense of proposed regulated media content, ostensibly to “protect” national cultural products, falls far short of a proper understanding of this.

The fact is the channels of so-called cultural imperialism have the potential to offer net gains if we choose to be more confident and more independent.

Because these points are not understood, the potential of some features of our economic diversity is not correspondingly recognised. How, for example, have some of our newest arrivals sustained what appears to be a glut of food establishments throughout the length and breadth of the country? How have others, from not so far away, been able to preserve artisanal skills which they deliver at lower cost and at a higher level of productivity?

There is, as well, the lost potential of our Caribbean engagement at the hands of our own parochialism and xenophobia. To what extent, for example, is the Caribbean paradigm envisaged when we define “national culture” and our wealth as a people? We do not understand the value of such a stock of assets at our peril.

Instead, we are finding it hard to accept the fact of our changing collective face. The durability of our political independence needs to be matched by a much higher level of self-confidence and a willingness to negotiate much wider spaces. Some individuals, manufacturers and banks understand this much better than players in other sectors.

In the end, our independence has to be pursued and achieved with a much higher understanding of who we really are and what we desire for ourselves.

(First published in the Trinidad Guardian - Tuesday August 31, 2010)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Word to New T&T Journalism Interns

These remarks were made at the launch of a newspaper internship programme in Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday August 11, 2010. Students between the ages of 16 and 19 were selected on the basis of their performance in a writing competition. They are being interned at the Trinidad Guardian:


I am very honoured to have been selected to say these few words to you as you accept the challenge of being introduced to one of the most important professions anyone can consider entering. Like other similarly old and enduring professions it has faced more than its fair share of infamy. But, at its core, its basic tenets strike at the most noble aspirations of human beings – the need to know and to understand changing realities, and in so doing claim and secure our future.

As a consequence of this important mandate, free societies vest in media enterprises and the journalists who operate within them, a variety of freedoms and rights derived from the broader, more universal freedom to express oneself. In Trinidad and Tobago, this manifests itself in the constitutional guarantee of a free press. We are the only Commonwealth Caribbean country with such a feature in its national constitution and some of us have had, over the years, to defend its continued presence there.

In return, there is the implicit agreement that we provide our society with the journalism it not only deserves but which it requires as we move from one stage of development to the next and as we confront some of the most difficult challenges we have ever had to face. It is a journalism that insists on the basis principles of fairness, balance, accuracy and a commitment to truthfulness.

Our people deserve the best journalism and we need to deliver it. I am not sure we are currently doing so.

But none of this is possible in an environment in which direct and indirect forms of censorship are officially applied, neither is it possible under conditions in which self-censorship is allowed to take root. Meeting the requirements of such a journalism is also impossible if the people assigned such responsibilities are not equipped with the basic intellectual and material tools to perform such a function.

This programme is an important start. We have with us today, some of the brightest and the best who have come forward. The panel of judges marveled at the high standards, as if we ever fell for the view that the current generation ought to be written off. Instead, we found there are scores of you who care, who seek to understand and who believe you can help convert this country into a different kind of place.

It was evident that some considerable reading is taking place, that some high level of interpretation of events is occurring and, most importantly, there is pursuit of an understanding of the realities. Through this, and through you, this entire exercise can and will benefit from the special perspectives you as young people bring. They are perspectives that bring the irreverence, skepticism and candour of youth and a way of looking at the problems of our society that cuts through the fluff and fog age and experience (as valuable as they are) sometimes bring.

There is another quality you can also bring to the profession that is, unfortunately, not in abundant supply nowadays. This is the attribute of humility. Because it is sometimes absent, the stupid, simple question is often omitted. Because it’s not there, opinion is sometimes more highly valued than information. Because there is so little humility, hubris and conflict predominate. The news, someone once said, is always more interesting, and certainly more important, than the journalists that cover it. That’s lesson number one.

So, we are here, ready and willing to make our first embrace of this noble profession. The time we have is short, so we get down to some work in a little while. Our sessions will be deep and intense. We will find time for some wholesome fun and, at the end of it all, I am hoping it would be as much a learning experience for me as it would be for you.


Saturday, 31 July 2010

Facing our New Caribbean


The CARICOM Single Market project runs a very serious risk of running terminally aground if both officialdom and the people of our Community continue to ignore a number of marked shortcomings in the manner in which we have engaged our development.

The first and most important phenomenon is associated with a chronic lack of self-confidence and the concomitant failure to be responsible for ourselves and our own future. This manifests itself in the ease with which we attribute to external factors some rather stark internal deficiencies.

The serious rise in violence and crime is not the fault of foreign television programming, neither is it an exclusive function of the influx of deportees driven out of the United States by an increasingly oppressive immigration regime. There is also no empirical support for the view that the rise in crime, in some of our previously peaceful communities, is the product of a situation in which CARICOM immigrants are becoming more visible – they have always been present.

We are, by and large, producing our own generations of criminals – thugs, deviants and misfits with no rightful place among law-abiding citizens. But because political survival so often relies on blaming someone else for one’s own shortcomings, Caribbean politicians are too easily relying on playing the card of xenophobia and outright bigotry.

The result has been an atmosphere of intolerance, fear and discrimination against those groups in our regional community that have found it fit to seek opportunities in countries within which there are vast similarities and with whom they share similar historical antecedents.

The politicians are not the only ones to blame. When a CARICOM immigration officer exercises an official prerogative to grant a CARICOM visitor a stay of three days when the region’s leaders have agreed to automatic granting of six-month stays – whatever the administrative injunction, that immigration officer is reflecting a pre-disposition that has to be more widely-shared within his or her own national community. By the way, similar attitudes do not, as a matter of course, apply to non-CARICOM visitors in many of our countries.

Another not unrelated factor is the fact that we, as a regional community, have not been managing our greatest strength, our diversity, very well.

This is reflected in both official and unofficial actions designed ostensibly to “protect” what we consider to be social and cultural mores, values and products. Language is one such element. The CARICOM Secretariat has come face-to-face with this through the advent of Suriname and Haiti membership of the Community. But our societies are experiencing grave cognitive dissonance in accepting the fact that not only does our regional community now speak English (as an official language), Bhojpuri, Hindi, Dutch, Sran Tongo, Kweole, Papiamento, Mandarin, Cantonese, Q’eqchi and French, but we need to add Spanish and Portuguese in the cases of previously-unlikely countries such as Guyana, Belize (not as unlikely) and Antigua & Barbuda.

So, what constitutes this “Caribbean culture” we need to “protect”? When short-sighted artistes and cultural entrepreneurs clamour for forced broadcast exposure for a narrow band of largely “traditional” Anglo/African entertainment products created within the small borders of individual territories there appears to a general misunderstanding of who “we” are. “We” are the multitudes of children of modern Chinese and Indian “indentures” (and sometimes slaves) all over the region, Guatemalan and Honduran economic refugees in Belize, Brazilian miners and traders in Guyana and Suriname, Cubans in Jamaica, and Dominicanos demanding ancestral space in Antigua and Barbuda.

Is our Single Market literature reflecting this diversity? When we speak of “we” are we speaking about all of us? Of course not!

Instead, we are practising the same official and unofficial bigotry as our North American neighbours when we continue to deny the existence of our new Caribbean. The Caribbean has to aim at becoming a net beneficiary of “cultural imperialism” by exploiting the wide open markets on North and South America. In the free market of expression, there is space for everyone, but our vision is not extending beyond our tiny, limited markets. This holds true not only for cultural industries and you will see evidence of this in many areas of manufacturing and services.

There is no new aboriginal population about to be decimated in this space, only an expanding universe of experience and opportunity. The Single Market process misunderstands this at its peril.


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Remembering Dennis Pantin

Growing up and confronting anew the challenges of our lives we generally meet two primary groups of influential people – those who guide our behaviour and the things we do, and those who provide us with the perspectives and wisdom we require to interpret the world around us.

The latter are not often readily recognised in the absence of focused contemplation. For example, the influence of my late grandfather, Samuel Gibbings, was not really fully appreciated until many years after his death when I started paying attention to the principle of “fairness” required of the proper practice of journalism. It was then I recalled his many, usually unscheduled, lectures from the head-master’s stage at Caroni Presbyterian School in Trinidad.

My father, Arthur ‘Cips’ Gibbings, brought clear, uncluttered perspectives on human behaviour and how well-developed inter-personal skills contribute toward the shaping of the bigger social picture.

Then came the teenage years and Lloyd Best – one of the leading Caribbean economists and thinkers of our time. I am used to saying that my father and Lloyd Best contributed more than half of what I know and understand about the world. The other half came in smaller but not insignificant doses. Some people account for more than a small slice of wisdom and understanding. Dennis Pantin was one of them. On Tuesday July 13, 2010, Dennis left us almost as suddenly as the news that he had been diagnosed earlier this year with intestinal cancer.

Dennis was not only the brother of renowned Caribbean journalist, Raoul Pantin, but was himself once a radio reporter and, latterly, an author and newspaper columnist on economic and political affairs. But many will remember him as Professor of Economics at the University of the West Indies and founding Coordinator of the Sustainable Economic Development Unit (SEDU) of the UWI. From there, Dennis brought the perspective of sustainable development to the public policy debate particularly from the standpoint of Caribbean economic development.

As a young reporter, I often consulted with Dennis (in lieu of similar consultations with an increasingly irascible and impatient but magnificent Lloyd Best) on economic issues I felt I did not have a proper grasp of. He, together with the deceased Frank Rampersad and Frank Barsotti and (very much alive) people such as Anthony Gonzales and Karl Theodore were among the most generous contributors to my development as a journalist who had an interest in economics and finance.

Dennis was also special because he was always plain-talking, well researched and always ready with anecdotal support for his many views on so many issues. Like me, he too dabbled in the politics of the Tapia House Movement of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1976, he was the Diego Martin East candidate for Tapia. In 1981, I ran in Arouca. I think these backgrounds also helped strengthen a longstanding professional relationship that often ventured freely into discussions on politics, politicians and leading public personalities and events.

As his time approached earlier this year, I believe he must have experienced the creative tension that existed between the need to speak frankly and openly about the Trinidad and Tobago reality and the urge to explore, through his column, the memories he had accumulated throughout a rich and abundant life.

On February 28, 2010 – not long after initially learning of his illness – Dennis wrote the following column in the Trinidad Guardian:

Reflections of a February 26, 1970 Cub Reporter

Published: 28 Feb 2010

On the morning of February 26, 1970 (40 years ago last Friday) I was given my first “outside” assignment as a cub reporter at 610 Radio to cover a UWI student demonstration. “Dem university students playing the ass this morning, Pantin. Go out and cover it for us,” were the instructions—or close enough, anyway—from old school, hard-boiled chief News Editor, Jerome Rampersad (deceased). Not that he necessarily meant that literally –although you never knew with “Ram,” as he was affectionately known to all. In fact, his very covering of the story was an indication that he felt it was important. Moreover, as far as I am aware, no other reporter, cub or otherwise, was present at the demonstration’s start. I immediately grabbed my notebook and virtually ran from Abercromby Street to South Quay, where the first set of university students and other demonstrators were gathering at the Canadian High Commission offices.

The reason was to protest the Sir George William incident in Canada, where scores of students, including T&T and other West Indians, were arrested. (In last month’s T&T Review, Bukkha Rennie provides an insider view of what happened there and then). There were not that many demonstrators, as I recall, and the march proceeded to Independence Square, where they got to the steps of the Royal Bank of Canada. Then an incident occurred which, in my opinion, was the trigger for 1970, although it was a blaze simply awaiting a light to ignite, anyway. This occurred when the demonstrators were stopped at the steps and Dave Darbeau (as he was then: Khafra Kambon now) went up to an officer in khaki.

Absolutely radical thing


I did not hear the exchange, but the officer then shoved Khafra in his chest, and he fell back unto the other demonstrators, who then ran into the bank and did the absolutely radical thing of discarding savings and other deposit slips on the ground. By then, the temperature had, however, increased, with more police arriving and a curious lunchtime crowd gathering to observe what was happening. Soon, the march moved on to the Roman Catholic Cathedral, where some demonstrators entered and began to place placards on many statues of saints, etc adorning the church, but already in Lenten vestments, as it were. Shortly afterwards, Geddes Granger (Makandal Daaga) arrived, and the atmosphere got even more charged.

However, the march eventually dissipated that afternoon. It was the next day that the real action began, when some of the so-called leaders were arrested overnight and brought to court to face charges. Suddenly, the hundreds of demonstrators had turned into thousands. And the rest, they say, is history (captured in my brother Raoul’s own eyewitness account of 1970: “Black Power Day: a Reporter’s Account of 1970), although I am not sure this history is being taught in our police academies, given the recent treatment of the People’s Democracy march around the Red House.

Sensational gripping element


By the time the Cathedral entry occurred, however, the place began to swarm with more senior journalists, from both print and broadcast media. Later, I was to notice the long, lanky frame of a senior to me in Fatima, Lennox Grant, then an Express reporter, whose particular long-legged stride had been noticeable from those days.


By October of that year, we were both, together with Keith Smith, enrolled as first- year university students. When I did return quickly to 610 to report for the 12 noon newscast, Alfred Aguiton, another Fatima graduate in Raoul’s time, grabbed my story and taught me the most basic rule in journalism: start with the most sensational gripping element, and let every thing else follow. (I had begun with the South Quay start and slowly got to the Cathedral: which, of course, was the central sensational news.)

Unfinished ‘Revo’


The 1970 “Revolution” was, to be brutally honest, put down by the forces of reaction, although its own internal contradictions meant that, by itself, it was unlikely to be able to deliver without other support. What remains relevant are two of 1970’s key slogans: “Power to the people’ and “Indians and Africans unite.”

“Power to the people”


As I have argued previously in this column, I think the Constitution Reform Forum has updated and more structurally integrated these two slogans with maxims of its own, the first being: “From maximum leaders to maximum participation.” This breathes life into “power to the people” beyond punching fists in the air in Woodford Square after a speech by, well, a maximum leader. The second is from “Winner takes all to all Take Win,” which accepts that for a long time, racial securities will remain and can be best assuaged by giving people some degree of control over their own communities.


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

ACM Message on World Press Freedom Day

The Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) observes World Press Freedom Day 2010 confident that our message of freedom of the press as the preserve of all citizens and not of a single privileged group or sector, including the media industry, is a position on which we find common universal cause.

Indeed, this right derives from the broader concept of free expression out of which virtually all other rights and freedoms flow or are maintained. If people cannot generate, seek and receive expression, human development in all its manifestations is jeopardised. Everywhere in the Caribbean there is the call for people to become responsible for themselves, to seek our own social and economic independence but how can this be achieved if we are not at first truly free to think and to speak and to express ourselves?

As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has reminded us on this occasion; around the world, there are governments and those wielding other forms of power who find many ways to obstruct free expression. We know this story very well. There are governments, special economic interests and misguided individuals and groups, firm in the belief that the case for freedom of the press should begin from a position of barriers ostensibly erected to somehow protect our societies from others and from ourselves.

The freedom perspective is the position the ACM has brought to the table of ideas and positions on this question of media and the work of journalists. Our leading role in the Global Forum for Media Development on which we serve as a representative of the Latin America and Caribbean region, our position on the Coordinating Committee of the Latin American and Caribbean Alliance of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange and our working relationship with the International Press Institute, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters with Borders all point to deep entrenchment of the view that professional development among media operatives and the networking of journalists find roots and strength in the need to operate in an environment in which freedom prevails.

Secretary General Ban also notes in his World Press Freedom Day message that even as countries move to introduce laws that recognise the universal right to publicly-held information, very often they don’t translate into action. This, he attributes to what he calls a “culture of secrecy and a lack of accountability.”

This, indeed, is a persistent Caribbean reality. While we continue to advocate for the introduction of access to information laws in all our territories, we urge those jurisdictions in which they already exist to honour both the spirit and the letter of such an undertaking. There is also a corresponding injunction to encourage more pervasive use of such a facility and we encourage journalists to learn more about this important legislation and to make better use of it.

All of this however appears rather fanciful when we consider that in some of our countries in the Caribbean, the penalty for asking too many questions and challenging the status quo is physical, judicial or commercial death. I mention here the plight of our former Assistant General Secretary, Guy Delva of Haiti who, even in the face of great destruction, death and despair in his native land, faces the threat of assassination at the hands of persons he played a role in convicting for the killing of journalist, Jacques Roche in 2005.

We are also paying attention to a situation in the Cayman Islands that emerged only a few days ago. There, an edict from the judiciary pronounces on the question of identifying criminal defendants when no clear statute on the matter appears to exist as is the case of legislation on matters involving minors or those related to sexual offences in some Caribbean jurisdictions.

It is also suspected that rapidly declining state advertising contracts with the Kaieteur News in Guyana result from what has been a recurring charge of political bias on the part of the newspaper. In this regard, we recall the protracted advertising boycott of the Stabroek News between 2006 and 2007 that was later withdrawn. The head of our affiliate there, Mr Gordon Moseley, also remains banned from attending any event at the country’s State House and Office of the President.

Punishing those who attempt to freely express themselves or report the news also remains the norm rather than the exception in Cuba and on this occasion, we remember Orlando Zapata a prisoner of conscience who passed away in February following a hunger strike. We also keep in our minds those Cubans who continue to defy the tentacles of direct and indirect censorship and who continue to risk their own safety and liberty to keep the world informed. We make special mention of the bloggers who continue their work despite official controls and threats.

There is a lot of work to be done to bring our countries more in line with the basic objectives of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and a growing number of judicial precedents within the global and Inter-American systems. Now in our ninth year, the ACM remains committed to upholding such an aspiration. We join with our counterpart organisations throughout this hemisphere and elsewhere in recognizing the urgent importance of this event.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Owing Our People Better Journalism

This dispatch is extracted from comments I made on Saturday April 17, 2010 as one of the judges of the IICA/CARDI Excellence in Agriculture Awards ceremony in Port of Spain, Trinidad:

Those who keep a close eye on these matters, and they ought to include some journalists, are acutely aware of the distinction between the concept of food security and general agricultural development. In too many instances, the link between story content and the notion of food security in coverage of such issues in the local press is remote at best. This betrays a basic misunderstanding of the conditions under which food security for a nation is pursued and achieved.

It is however true that some of the experts themselves quibble over some key details, and it is perfectly acceptable to explore, through journalistic means, the main points of departure. The arguments are worthy of coverage, but they aren't. It makes no sense to parrot the current orthodoxy without a level of skepticism.

As has been the case with so many other journalistic awards, not only here but throughout the Caribbean, there existed wide gaps in the quality of print versus broadcast submissions. Stories in the print media category, save for one highly impressive television entry, far exceeded submissions received in the radio and television categories.

It is quite apparent that more has not been merrier in the area of broadcast media in Trinidad and Tobago. This is particularly so in the field of radio broadcasting. I am no old-timer mourning any golden age, but merely a consumer of radio content who now has a far wider range of choices than ever before. I must say there is absolutely nothing here that remotely resembles the most humble offerings of respectable radio broadcasters even in some other Caribbean territories.

There is a lot of work to be done in every single area. In researching, interviewing, scripting, editing and presenting. Sadly, television is not much better. To touch on just one point, people need to remember that one of the most indispensable assets of a journalist is his or her sense of humility.

I am pulling no punches on these issues, because the organisation I lead – the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers – not only has a commitment to ensure journalistic standards improve, but that we operate in an environment in which the mass media are free. The connection, in our view, is a very direct one.


Poor journalistic practices very often invite oppressive official behaviour, almost as much as excellent journalism does – the difference being that it is much easier to defend a journalist under fire for good work than it is to defend a journalist guilty of sloppy or unprofessional behaviour. In that sense, we as journalists, are very often our own worst enemies.

It is virtually axiomatic that the greater commitment to professional excellence in journalism the greater the chance that countries in social and political peril escape the worst consequences. On the question of food security, our societies in the Caribbean are in mortal danger.

In this respect alone, we owe our people better journalism. We derive our rights and freedoms only on the basis of this compact with our societies – not that we pursue some fuzzy notion of development support journalism - but that we empower our people through information and knowledge to make the correct decisions about what is necessary to resolve the challenges of the day.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Free Expression in Latin America and the Caribbean


A very important alignment of Latin American and Caribbean free expression voices has begun to unfold under the banner of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) which brings together organisations from all over the world committed to free speech, a free press and general freedom of expression.

It can be said that representative organisations of Latin America and the Caribbean have for long remained estranged cousins with little inclination to join hands in pursuit of goals such as the maintenance of human rights and our freedoms. The ambivalence has been exacerbated by the presence of states such as Cuba and Venezuela that have openly expressed and applied sanctions against free expression.

Mixed feelings on this aspect of the discussion occur because there have always been relatively close relations between these two countries and the English-speaking Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were among the first countries of the world to officially recognise Cuba as a legitimate state run by a government which has as its supreme ambition the betterment of its people. Cuba has also been a generous benefactor in the form of educational scholarships and the ready availability of health care professionals in situations where other countries of the region have fallen dramatically short.

But, this does not reduce Cuba’s responsibility to honour commitment to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which specifically defines the parameters of this important freedom. People cannot and should not be imprisoned or harassed for expressing their views on matters of public affairs.

Persons on the so-called “left” of Caribbean public affairs are committing a grave error in not unequivocally condemning such an approach by Cuban officials, even as we all recognise the country’s contribution in the areas I have described.

Good feelings about programmes of direct and indirect financial aid from Venezuela to Caribbean countries under severe financial strain need also to be balanced against the designs of the authoritarian leader in Caracas. Too many in the Caribbean are prepared to provide blind cheerleader support for an anti-Americanism that has as its basis circumstances that have little to do with us.

For reasons such as these, Caribbean people need to spend more time attempting to understand what makes the countries of Latin America tick while we engage a similar exercise to come to terms with neighbours about whom we understand too little.

The participation of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) at the Annual Meeting of the IFEX Latin American and Caribbean Alliance in Lima, Peru on March 23-25, 2010 was one attempt to achieve the latter objective.

The ACM’s contribution to the meeting focused on defining New and Emerging Challenges to Freedom of Expression and Improving Collaboration on Free Expression Issues between Latin American and Caribbean groups.

The Association also contributed to and endorsed a conference statement which defined ten key challenges to freedom of expression in Latin America and the Caribbean. These included:

1. Illegitimate mechanisms of governmental control over the media that allow undue political interference. Political control is exercised via the discretionary granting of licenses or the regulation of broadcasting; through abuse in the distribution of State advertising to influence editorial lines; through the ownership or significant control of the media by political leaders or parties; as well as through procedures against independent media based on political motivations, including the defense of obsolete regulations - such as sedition laws or the requirement of "truthfulness" in the news – such policies are destined to criminalise the criticism of governments and public officials.

2. Criminal laws against defamation, such as contempt of court laws or those that criminalise libel and slander are often used to restrict freedom of expression. The abuse of such laws and the existence of excessively severe sanctions, such as imprisonment or suspended sentences, result in the loss of civil rights.

3. Violence against journalists remains a very serious threat to the freedom of expression; particularly against those journalists who cover social problems, including organised crime or drug trafficking; who criticise the authorities or others in positions of power; who cover violations of human rights or corruption; or who work in conflict zones. An increasing number of violent attacks on journalists remain unpunished and not enough resources are allocated to prevent them or to investigate them and seek justice when they do take place. This phenomenon often leads to journalists' self-censorship and therefore diminishes citizen access to information on matters of public interest.

4. Limits to the right to access information, despite having been widely acknowledged as a basic human right. Most of the region's States have not approved legislation to ensure full compliance.

5. Discrimination in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, against historically disadvantaged groups (women, indigenous people, among other vulnerable groups and other minorities) who are still struggling for their views to be taken into account and to be able to access information that is relevant to them. Among the principal violations are obstacles to the creation of media outlets for these populations, and the minimal representation of their members in the newsrooms of the major media, including public outlets.

6. Economic pressures that threaten the media's capacity to cover matters of public interest, due to the increasing concentration of media ownership, with serious consequences for the diversity of sources and content. The strains on the advertising market and other commercial pressures have led the media to take cost-cutting measures that are detrimental to the coverage of local issues and to investigative journalism, and instead promote low-level intellectual entertainment. These factors increase the risk of only existing media outlets reaping the benefits of the transition to digital frequencies, thus preventing greater diversity and access to public interest media.

7. Lack of support for public and community-based stations, which can play an important social role, face increasingly frequent obstacles to public financing access and suffer the lack of specific legal recognition with appropriate criteria in fair and democratic conditions that guarantee their development and prevent discriminatory measures based on technical or sustainability based issues.

8. Using national security as a guise to restrict the freedom of expression, which has historically been used to impose unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression through overly broad definitions of what constitutes "apology" or "promotion" of terrorism or violence.

9. Governmental control of Internet use, to control or limit this outlet of free speech through the blocking of websites. Also, certain corporations that provide search, access, messaging and publishing services, among others, do not make enough efforts to respect the privacy rights of users to access the Internet without interference.

10. Restricted access to new information and communication technologies. Although most of the population still has limited or no access to the Internet, States in the region continue to maintain pricing structures that prevent the use of the Internet by the least privileged sectors and fail to extend connectivity to all their countries' territories, leaving rural users, in particular, with less information and diminished spaces for free expression.

The Caribbean context on the question of free expression was framed by a presentation on defining the Caribbean and exploring its socio-political antecedents. It was expressed that in the English-speaking Caribbean, defined as those countries that are member states of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), threats to free expression are often not readily evident, did not always include violence or the threat of violence, but are very much a feature of modern life in the region.

It was explained that, unlike many areas of Latin America, there is a long tradition of democracy and Caribbean societies are known to be open, with a free press that pre-dates the region’s achievement of political independence, beginning with some states in the 1960s.

State monopolies in the Caribbean broadcast sector started coming to an end in the 1980s but, in 2010, not all countries are currently at the same level. However, by and large, the state no longer dominates broadcast media in most countries.

In the Caricom countries there remains direct censorship in the form of official censorship of movies and some broadcasting content – mainly on grounds of decency, security and protection of the public interest. There was also censorship that came in the form of judicial edicts and the rulings of presiding officers in parliament. There also existed widespread self-censorship often influenced by commercial and political factors.

The ACM pointed out that criminal defamation and criminal speech are on the books of all English-speaking Caribbean countries and there have been recent examples of the use of these provisions in countries such as Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda. Civil defamation awards are often heavy and in Grenada, recently, one newspaper was forced to close its doors under the burden of a defamation award.

The challenges to free expression have come via the chilling effect not only of the presence of strong defamation laws, but the presence of social attitudes toward what constitutes “decency” and issues of good taste. There is also a sense that free expression should not harm children, offend religious practices or promote social discord.

In Jamaica, for example, the Broadcasting Commission has a no-play list of music. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Board of Film Censors has more than once banned movies and on more than one occasion, the police have stormed theatre stages for the use of obscene language. In many countries, broadcasters will not play music that appears to offend the ruling party.

State advertising and government fiscal prerogatives have been used in some countries to punish errant media, performers and other social groups.

Importantly, the ACM indicated, a vulnerability to natural disasters has led to temporary and permanent media closures and has created a level of vulnerability since state support can be selectively applied post-disaster.

The ACM also pointed to the fact that disparities in access to online media/mobile technologies continue to exist in some states. This meant that the freedom to seek and access expression was often not honoured. The Association also pointed to instances in which state officials have expressed a desire to impose restrictions on internet content and had, in at least one instance, been cited as a measure possible under telecommunications regulation.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Were we there, or did we arrive?

One headline in the February 9, 2010 edition of the Cuban newspaper, Granma, caught my attention as I continued to look at the situation in Haiti and the challenge it poses to the Caribbean Community; both as a formal institution for the achievement of integration and as a community of people living in the same space who believe they ought to share a common future.

Granma headlines a story on Cuban assistance to Haiti in the wake of the January 12 earthquake with: “Cuba is not arriving, Cuba is already here.”

It is a fitting slogan in the context not only of Cuba’s longstanding philanthropic diplomacy in the Caribbean, but as a starting point in considering the Caricom “response” to the post-earthquake crisis. The USA, for certain, was already there, so were Canada and France and the United Nations. China and Spain and others also found themselves there long before arrangements for a Caricom photo-op were being considered – an opportunity scuttled by ineptitude.

But, what is the truth? Were we (Caricom) already there, or did we have to “arrive”?

In a sense, Caricom has long been in Haiti and Haiti has long been in Caricom. I am not talking about the country’s formal accession to Caricom in 2002 following provisional membership in 1998, but about the things that have joined Haiti to Jamaica, Cuba, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and other neighbours over many generations.

But, the question stands: Was Caricom, the institution, there for Haiti on January 12? And this does not mean the office occupied by St Lucian diplomat, Earl Huntley – a facility that was closed in 2004 “following the interruption of democratic governance” (when former President Jean Bertrand Aristide was voluntarily/involuntarily whisked away in the face of violent political clashes) and only re-opened in 2007 through the largesse of the Canadian government.

It can be said that the assembling of Caricom aviation officials for a workshop in Haiti the very day of the earthquake constituted a “Caricom” presence in the country. But, was Caricom there?

We have to be truthful. The answer is NO.

As I have argued over the years Caricom, as an institution, was never prepared for Haiti’s membership. The Caricom Secretariat struggled with issues of language, bureaucratic culture, political dynamic and geography for years, since the initial move to bring Haiti into the fold in the mid 1990s.

The countries of Caricom have also never fully come to terms with Haitian membership. Many Haitian officials (not, now, including those with diplomatic passports), journalists, artistes and business persons have faced the embarrassment and inconvenience of restrictive visa regimes for travel by Haitians within Caricom. Even when the experiment of a “single domestic space” for the Cricket World Cup was initiated in 2007, Haitians continued to be discriminated against by Caricom member countries.

It is true that the first time and only time I went to Haiti was in 1994 and I remember having to apply for a Haitian visa in Miami then. That requirement was eventually dropped around the time provisional membership was accorded the country in 1998. But, to date, not even those Caricom states not immediately affected by the inflow of Haitian economic refugees have budged with this restriction.

Yet, during visits to Guyana and Jamaica in the days following the earthquake, I witnessed a caring and generousity on the part of Caricom nationals that I must say I have only witnessed before through the efforts to put Grenada back on its feet following the impact of Hurricane Ivan back in 2004.

Yes, Caricom arrived in Haiti through the aid sent, journalistic assignments and the generous monetary contributions of citizens which in some instances exceeded the financial contributions of their countries. And yes, Caricom arrived via the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency and official visits by diplomats and bureaucrats. But, they were not there, they had to arrive.

The failure and inability of the official institution to adopt a leadership posture in even one aspect of the process of rescuing, healing, counseling and protecting the people of Haiti rendered it an irrelevance in the scheme of things.

This is not to blame anyone for anything. It is simply to state a fact.

Haiti, for instance, is due to chair the meeting of Caricom Heads in July. Let’s see.