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Tillerson’s Jamaica visit will divide CARICOM, Unless…

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Tillerson’s Jamaica visit will divide CARICOM, Unless…

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

While Secretary Rex Tillerson’s scheduled visit to Jamaica has been received with some level of scepticism, any visit by a U.S. Secretary of State to Jamaica should be welcome news. Ordinarily, such visits are expressions of good working relationships, and often used to strengthen ties even further.  On the other hand, there are also visits by U.S. Secretaries of State which are triggered by disagreements on bilateral, regional, and global issues, and such visits are used to heal wounds or to issue threats.  While we support the positive reasons given ahead of this visit, we cannot be oblivious to the possible negative implications inherent in a Tillerson visit to the region at this stage of Trump administration’s hemispheric relations and policies.

Those of us who have been around long enough and have keenly followed geopolitical issues will remember the December 1975 visit by then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Jamaica. His primary mission was not bearing gifts, but to coerce then Prime Minister Michael Manley to reject Cuban President Fidel Castro and Cuba’s response to South Africa’s Apartheid regime’s invasion of Angola. Failure of Manley to succumb to U.S. pressure meant the U.S. would not support any trade concessions, and would oppose any loan or lines of credit from the international financial institutions, as well as American financial institutions which Jamaica desperately needed at that time. Manley’s rejection of Kissinger’s vulgar blackmail resulted in what many believed to be a destabilization of Jamaica by the U.S. Government. However, Jamaicans, some quietly, were proud of their country.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Tillerson’s visit to Jamaica cannot be divorced from Trump administration’s regional immigration policies, and policies and actions advancing U.S. geopolitical interests having regional and global implications. Importantly, Prime Minister Holness’ responses, or lack thereof, to issues significant to U.S. geopolitical agenda have not been explained clearly by the Jamaican government in order to engender broad support from Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora. Jamaica’s positions, oftentimes at variance with other CARICOM members, constrain Jamaica from assuming a leadership role in the region. Divisions in CARICOM’s responses to the United States have laid bare the lack of leadership and cohesion in the region which Jamaica offered and facilitated in the past. Tillerson’s visit will divide CARICOM further, unless Prime Minister Holness proactively pushes for a regional agenda which focuses on issues of concerns to the region as a whole, while simultaneously addressing bilateral U.S.-Jamaica issues.

There are several issues of bilateral and regional concerns.  These include: U.S. budget cuts which will curtail or end valuable USAID programs in the region; current and future threats to security and law enforcement assistance programs and security cooperation under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative; cuts in programs to build resilience to climate change; energy security, including alternative energy development in the region, as well as guaranteed natural gas supplies; ending Temporary Protected Status to some 60,000 Haitians which will put pressure not only on Haiti but on the entire region; proposed changes in U.S. immigration laws to end family-sponsored immigration disguised by reference as “chain migration” and replacing it with a merit-based system that would not only prevent family unification, but would contribute significantly to the regions’ brain drain.

In addition to the issues I just identified, there are extremely troubling hemispheric issues. In particular, the Trump administration’s approaches to Cuba and Venezuela have created jitters throughout the hemisphere generally, and in the Caribbean region in particular. President Barack Obama made significant strides in reducing tensions in the region through policies pursued to regularize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Actions taken against Cuba so far by the Trump administration have sought to reverse President Obama’s initiatives. The entire region welcomed U.S.-Cuba rapprochement and applauded President Obama for reducing a significant irritant to U.S. relations in the hemisphere.

CARICOM member states and the countries of the hemisphere are divided on U.S. policies towards Venezuela.  This became quite evident when the Trump administration failed to persuade OAS members in June 2017 to support U.S. policy towards Venezuela.  While most governments in the hemisphere are deeply troubled by ongoing events in Venezuela, most rejected the heavy-handed approach of the Trump administration.  Jamaica’s vote in support of the U.S.-backed resolution at the time was interpreted by many as support for the U.S.  Since the OAS debacle, the Trump administration has ratcheted up its sanctions regime against Venezuela and the governments of the region have been muted. A number of CARICOM countries remain dependent on Venezuela for concessionary oil supplies under Petro-Caribe and are treading softly. Will  Tillerson seek to further isolate Venezuela by enlisting Jamaica’s support to sever Caribbean ties to Venezuela?

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Honess

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Prime Minister Holness must impress upon Secretary Tillerson the negative implications for Jamaica and the region should the Trump administration continue to pursue these stated policies.  Should Prime Minister Holness fail to address these issues in bilateral discussions with Secretary Tillerson, it will be taken by the U.S. as acquiescence by the Jamaican government with Trump administration’s policies and actions, and will be interpreted by other CARICOM states as Jamaica’s ambivalence on matters of significant regional concerns. Should Mr. Holness fail to put these items on the agenda, his non-proactive approach will be interpreted by some as weakness.

We know that to ingratiate oneself to President Trump is the way to show support. A series of actions by the Holness-led government has signaled to the Trump administration that it is in Trump’s corner. In January 2017, Prime Minister Holness visited Israel and made common cause it seems with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the Palestinians. In October 2016, Jamaica was conveniently absent when UNESCO voted on a resolution vehemently opposed by Israel and the United States. On December 21, 2017 Jamaica abstained on a UN General Assembly vote overwhelmingly rejecting Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. At the time of that vote the Trump administration warned that those who did not support the U.S. decision would be marked for some form of retaliation. The Trump administration has left no doubt as to its intention to punish non-supporters.

At the recent Davos conference President Trump again raised the spectre of punishing those countries that voted against his Jerusalem decision. He was clear in the future use of U.S. aid and other assistance to countries that are not lock-step with his policies. Tillerson’s scheduled visit to Jamaica and other countries in the hemisphere emerges from these set of preconditions. Tillerson will use this visit to Jamaica and other countries to enforce its position, in particular on measures to further isolate Venezuela.  Tillerson will offer guarantees of energy supplies – natural gas and oil to Jamaica. Tillerson will offer increased security and law enforcement support – Jamaica is desperate for the latter. There is room for optimism that Jamaica’s response to Tillerson’s offers will not be driven by coercion, and it is hoped that Holness will uphold the country’s integrity while acting in the best interest of the people of Jamaica.

© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

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Trump’s security assistance cuts and Pompeo’s Jamaica promises diverge

Trump’s security assistance cuts and Pompeo’s Jamaica promises diverge

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Amb. Curtis A. Ward

(25 February 2020) — On the 10th anniversary of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), former president Barack Obama’s signature security assistance partnership with the Caribbean, president Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget cut proposal undermines the bold promises made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his recent visit to Jamaica. Even as Pompeo was in Jamaica speaking of the increasing security threats to the region and promoting the effectiveness of the CBSI program, his State Department was complicit in proposing significant cuts to the CBSI budget. The budget proposals sent to Congress on February 10th cut US $28 million from the US$60 million approved by the Congress for FY 2020. The proposed $32 million for FY21 is in keeping with similar cuts in CBSI funding and the USAID budget cuts sought in FY 2020 but was rejected by the US Congress. Trump’s proposed funding for the CBSI is half the level of annual funding during the Obama administration.

Cutting CBSI funding runs contrary to the increasing security threats to the region. Just before visiting Jamaica, Secretary Pompeo had attended the hemisphere’s third counterterrorism summit where terrorism threats to Latin America and the Caribbean were discussed. In a speech in Kingston, Jamaica, Pompeo highlighted one of the major threats to the Caribbean. He said, “Nations all across the region are waking up to the same shared threats, and there’s no shortage of them. ISIS fighters … have come from Trinidad and Tobago.” And, to the region they return.

The US has in the past warned about the threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) following the defeat of the ISIS caliphate. I have written about this threat to the region on a number of occasions, and there is little doubt the threat is real. CBSI beneficiary countries rely heavily on the CBSI funding to increase their security and law enforcement capacities to guard against this and other transnational threats. In other words, Caribbean countries have put a great deal of trust in the security partnership commitments made by the US government to grow their security and crime enforcement capacities. The US has a vested national security interest in Caribbean security. It is in the mutual national security interests of the US and the region to maintain the CBSI and to fund the program at the appropriate level.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

As if the terrorist threat was not a sufficient reason for the CBSI, Pompeo also recognized other transnational threats to the region which justify the CBSI security partnerships. He said, “… there are the drug cartels that we deal with, and the human trafficking, and arms trafficking, and the cybercrime that come alongside of them.” He went on to say, “The bad guys are more sophisticated, and more ruthless. And our nations have an obligation, therefore, for our very people, to work in the interest of our shared security much more closely.” Even as Pompeo identified the threats to the region, the Trump administration was about to submit its budget to Congress. At the time of speaking, Pompeo would or should have been aware that the CBSI budget was about to be cut in half.

Yet, Pompeo seemed to view the CBSI as the program through which the US is partnering with the Caribbean to deal with these threats. “That’s what we’re already doing in the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, now its 10th year, a decade on.” He said. According to Pompeo, the US and Caribbean governments are “… having incredible success seizing drug shipments. We’re helping kids stay away from crime. And we stand ready, America stands ready to keep doing those good things in partnership with countries in the region.” Left to the Trump administration these programs, ‘these good things,’ will lose a significant amount of funding and which we know, rather than being reduced, should be increased to meet the threats.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness

As I have written before, the Trump administration’s intent is to shift the burden of US national security and related regional security to the countries of the region. These include interdiction of drugs from South American producers to North American consumers. It includes shifting the burden of security of American assets in the region that are likely targets of terrorists, including the threat from FTFs.

Prime Minister  Holness and  Secretary Pompeo

A ‘fact sheet’ issued by the State Department a day before Pompeo’s arrival in Jamaica, noted that “Jamaica is a strong partner in advancing shared values and strategic interests in security.” Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness believes that. Not knowing about the impending CBSI budget cut, the prime minister told the Jamaican public following his meeting with Pompeo that he was pleased to say he and Pompeo “found common understanding on the urgent need to scale up our security cooperation.” He said, “The main focus will be on bolstering Jamaica’s capacity to counter transnational organized crime, secure our borders and ports, and interrupt the flow of illicit weapons into our country.” Holness said he could not “overstate the urgency with which we need to address these security matters.” I agree.

So what will be the respective roles of the US and Jamaica, as well as the roles of other CBSI beneficiary countries. Knowing that CBSI funding was on the chopping block, Pompeo noted the importance of CBSI funding since its inception to support Caribbean countries “in much-needed funding for this fight over this past decade. Our expectation is those funds will augment homegrown efforts to protect all Caribbean peoples.” Interpretation of ‘augment homegrown efforts’ – the countries of the region will have to assume the greater share of the burden.

Early indications are that, for now, the CBSI funding level will be saved by the US Congress despite the Trump administration’s disregard for the program’s importance to US national security. However, the budget process has just began and resolution is a long way off. Caribbean governments must assume some responsibility to ensure the importance of CBSI to the region and to US national security are communicated to Democratic and Republican legislators in the US Congress. There are friends in Congress that are being ignored, as most Caribbean governments have been putting their fate in the hands of the Trump administration.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Chairman Foreign Affairs Committee

On February 10th when Trump’s budget arrived on Capitol Hill, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, rejected it as “a waste of the paper it is written on.” Rep. Engel said, “Proposing such reckless cuts to our critical foreign policy tools isn’t a serious proposal.” His statement described Trump’s budget as ‘draconian’ and, that if it was enacted, it would weaken US security and leadership around the world. Rep. Engel, through whose committee the foreign affairs budget must pass, said there would be bipartisan rejection of Trump’s budget, as the Congress had done of Trump’s FY2020 budget.

In a veiled reference, perhaps to China’s global ascendancy, Rep. Engel said “… foreign governments look at (Trump) administration’s priorities and see an America shrinking away from the world stage, willing to cede ground to rivals who are happy to fill the void.” The promises made by Secretary Pompeo in Jamaica are unsustainable. Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts diverge from those promises. Cutting CBSI funding and USAID budget further opens the economic and geopolitical space to the Chinese. The warnings against China’s so-called ‘predatory economic practices’ and China’s engagement in the hemisphere ring hollow. Governments of the region ought to take note.

© 2020 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

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Questions I would have asked Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Questions I would have asked Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

(29 Nov. 2018) — As a Host of CaribNation TV, I requested an interview with Jamaican Prime Minister the Most Hon. Andrew Holness to take place during his visit to Washington DC from November 25-29, 2018. With the expectation that I would have the opportunity to sit down with the Prime Minister, I was asked to submit the subject areas for the interview which I provided in great detail. I was later informed that the Prime Minister’s schedule would not permit time for an interview.  There seemed to have been a change and, subsequently, I was advised that the interview would take place on Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 28th). We waited for the call but the interview never happened!

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Honess

Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness

According to the Prime Minister’s Facebook page, his schedule included a number of important meetings and events. He referenced, in his own words, meetings with “senior lawmakers in the U.S. Capital” – Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. He also met with Members of the Congressional Black Caucus; and met with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson; as well as having “an exchange” with Vice President Mike Pence and Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner. In light of the Prime Minister’s several engagements, Jamaica and the Caribbean, as well as the Jamaican Diaspora anticipate details of these meetings, and the benefits thereof, will be forthcoming from the Prime Minister.

Since my interview with the Prime Minister did not take place, and CaribNation TV viewership was deprived of hearing directly from Prime Minister Holness on important issues, I have decided to present my questions here and give the Prime Minister an opportunity to respond to them. The questions I had prepared for Prime Minister Holness took into consideration areas of concerns to the broad Jamaican and Caribbean diaspora communities as well as listenership across the Caribbean region. Bearing in mind Prime Minister Holness’ chairmanship of CARICOM, the answers to these questions would also inform U.S. policy makers, in the Congress and the Trump Administration on areas in U.S. policies presumably of concerns to Jamaica and the Caribbean.

My questions fell into three major categories: Jamaican and Caribbean Economic issues; Jamaican and Caribbean regional Crime and Security relationships with the United States; and issues of concerns in the relationship between Jamaica and the Jamaican Diaspora. I reproduce below the contexts and questions I would have asked Prime Minister Holness.

Economic issues:

One of the major economic issues which defined your – Prime Minister Holness’ – government when you took office in 2016 was your pledge to grow the economy – your 5 in 4 program was highly publicized and promoted as achieving 5% economic growth in 4 years.  After two-and-a-half years in office, and growth in the Jamaican economy not on track to achieve the stated goals, I had two questions for the Prime Minister:

How would you – Prime Minster Holness – describe your government’s success so far in achieving the goals of the “5 in 4”in the time-frame you had established?

If those goals are no longer achievable, why not, and what are your government’s plans going forward?

There has been impressive infrastructure development taking place in Jamaica for the past several years which the current government has continued at an impressive pace. Most of the financing for these infrastructure projects have come from the Chinese.  As you (Prime Minister) are no doubt aware, the Trump Administration has expressed very strong opposition to China’s engagement in the hemisphere and has warned countries in the region, thus characterizing China’s engagement as predatory economic practices.

How does your government respond to these charges, and do you expect to push back on the U.S. on China’s engagement in Jamaica?

Is there an available alternative to Chinese investments in Jamaica? If so, what are the alternatives?

Do you have any suggestions for the Trump Administration with regard to China’s role in the region?

The Trump Administration’s trade disputes which some have characterized as a trade war could have serious impact on Jamaica and other countries in the Caribbean region.

Do you see such impact of U.S.-China trade war as negative, or creating new opportunities for Jamaica and the Caribbean region?

If the latter, what might be some of the opportunities?

The Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI) launched in 2015 by President Barack Obama’s Administration aimed to boost energy security and economic growth as part of the Obama Administration’s support for alternative energy resources and Climate Change resilience.  Jamaica has benefited significantly from CESI, especially with regard to conversion to natural gas for power generation across a broad spectrum of energy consumption in Jamaica. The Trump Administration, denying the effects of Climate Change, is on record as promoting fossil fuels and has shown disdain for alternative energy sources.

Do you have a message for the Trump Administration on the threat of Climate Change on Jamaica and the Caribbean?

Will you impress on the Trump Administration the importance of guaranteed LNG supplies and support for alternative energy development in Jamaica and the Caribbean?

Crime & Security issues:

As you – Prime Minster Holness – are very well aware, the Trump Administration had proposed a 30% budget cut for the State Department and USAID FY2018 budgets.  There was almost a 50% proposed cut in the Budget for the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI).  The CBSI has provided significant capacity building for the security and law enforcement sectors in Jamaica and the Caribbean since it was introduced in 2010 by President Barack Obama.  As a result of extensive lobbying by friendly members of Congress and members of the Jamaican/Caribbean Diaspora, as well as by the Caribbean diplomatic corps, the U.S. Congress overrode Trump’s budget cuts and reinstated the funding. The CBSI programmes have served the mutual security interests of the region and of the United States.

As there may be an effort to cut the next U.S. Budget to compensate for the huge deficits resulting from the Trump Administration tax cuts, do you have a message for the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress on maintaining the level of funding for the CBSI?

With a Democratic Party controlled U.S. House of Representatives where Jamaica and the Caribbean have many friends, including the incoming new Democratic Party Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, will your Government be reaching out to the new House leadership to protect Jamaican and Caribbean interests?

As you – Prime Minister Holness – are well aware, the high crime and murder rates in Jamaica have been quite troubling. Members of the Diaspora are very concerned about their safety when visiting Jamaica and of the safety of the Jamaican public generally. Recent reports about attacks on some tourists create special problems for the tourism sector and possible negative effect on the Jamaican economy.

Please tell us what steps are being taken in the near- to long-term to protect the Jamaican public and visitors from criminal elements in Jamaican society.

According to the Government’s data, the states of emergency and the zones of special operations (ZOSO) have had an impact on the murder rate in Jamaica – the numbers of homicides have decreased.

Are states of emergencies and ZOSO considered long-term solutions to crime and security in Jamaica?

How long does your Government plan to keep these measures in place?

What long-term measures are you contemplating, or are being implemented?

Jamaican Diaspora issues:

Members of the Jamaican Diaspora are disappointed that neither your government nor preceding governments have found effective ways to engage the Diaspora in a meaningful way. Many in the Diaspora believe the Jamaican Government is mostly interested in the $2 billion per year remittances and the many Diaspora social intervention programmes, in particular assistance in the health and education sectors.

Can the Diaspora expect a Government Diaspora policy that has broad input from Diaspora leaders and communities across the United States?

Jamaican and Caribbean Diaspora members – professionals and others – have extensive experiences engaging with U.S. policy makers, in particular with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Congress. Diaspora professionals have provided these services because of their patriotic fervour for their original homeland, and they will continue to do so. At the same time they have watched as governments from the region engage the services of others to help influence policy and decision makers while ignoring the value of Diaspora expertise.

Does your Government have, or is your Government developing a policy which includes engaging Diaspora expertise and professionals to provide their services in influencing U.S. policy and decision makers?

Members of the Diaspora are concerned that the Diaspora is denied any role in the governance and policy-making of respective Jamaican Governments.

Do you have any plans to increase Jamaican Diaspora input in governance in Jamaica?

If you do, could you elaborate?

If you have no plans to do so, why not?

Prime Minister Holness, I should be grateful if you would answer these questions.

 

© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

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Trinidad & Tobago Faces Terrorist Threat

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Trinidad & Tobago Faces Terrorist Threat

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

It came as no surprise when news broke that U.S. intelligence services had warned the Government of Trinidad & Tobago (Trinidad) of plots to carry out terrorist attacks during Trinidad’s Carnival 2018 celebrations. Trinidad has been vulnerable for years and successive governments have failed to undertake necessary and timely action to ensure that the country has in place appropriate laws, and administrative and operational capacities to deal with the terrorist phenomenon.

According to recent media reports, the U.S. Southern Command and the FBI had shared intelligence with, and advised the Trinidad and Tobago Police Services (TTPS) on the capture of four Islamic extremists – “high value targets” – on Thursday (08 February). TTPS spokesman Michael Jackman said no U.S. military personnel participated in the actual operation. Jackman said the TTPS had “unearthed credible information of a threat to disrupt Carnival activities.” It appears from available reports that the intelligence suggested the suspects were targeting foreigners, Carnival revelers, and diplomatic posts. The reports also said the information was gathered from intercepted communications of Islamic State sympathizers and individuals being closely monitored and flagged by other countries.

The TTPS announced that the plot has been thwarted but that investigations are continuing and other arrests are possible. The U.S. and the U.K. governments seemed to have joined in that conclusion. The U.S. embassy in Port of Spain issued a security alert (Thursday 08) warning U.S. Government personnel “to exercise additional caution and increased situational awareness if they participate in Carnival events.”  The U.K. Foreign Office (UKFO) also warned British citizens that an attack is still possible. The UKFO had warned that “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Trinidad and Tobago. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in crowded spaces and places visited by foreigners.”

th-4There have been concerns that successive Trinidad governments’ inaction had contributed to the problems now facing the country.  While there is no guaranteed fix to the terrorist phenomenon, and no country has in place a security framework that ensures a hundred percent protection from terrorist attacks, most countries around the world have taken significant steps to increase their capacities to suppress and prevent acts of terrorism within their borders.

For many years, successive Trinidadian parliaments have struggled to enact and operationalize anti-terrorism legislation and to implement international anti-terrorism instruments. And, inasmuch as Trinidad has been warned about the threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) to the country from Syria, including by The Ward Post, the government has been slow to act. Successive governments have failed to enact laws mandated by UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) that make recruitment to violent extremism and support for terrorism criminal act, and impose penalties commensurate with the crimes. Trinidad does not have appropriate laws to prosecute returning FTFs even where there is proof such individuals were part of the Islamic State forces.

Most countries have acted to implement the anti-terrorism measures mandated by UNSCRs since 9/11.  Most countries now have the requisite capacities to cooperate with other countries in the sharing of intelligence and on other counter-terrorism measures. Most countries have long adopted comprehensive counter-terrorism strategies. The Trinidad Government is now trying to catch up.

Recent actions by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago suggest a more realistic and comprehensive approach.  On November 01, 2017, the Government announced that it had approved a national counter-terrorism strategy.  It also announced that it had drafted an action plan to address violent extremism. Acts of terrorism or terrorist threats are not a new phenomenon for Trinidad. Thus the lack of action by successive governments to enact and operationalize anti-terrorism laws is difficult to rationalize. Trinidad has lagged behind most countries in the Caribbean despite its history with terrorism dating as far back as 1990 with the invasion of the country’s Parliament by Islamic radicals. The ensuing hostage taking resulted in the death of four people and many more injured, as well as significant property damage in Port of Spain.

The amnesty granted to the perpetrators of the 1990 hostage taking, an international crime under UN convention, is forerunner of the current situation with radicalization and recruitment to terrorism now finding fertile ground in Trinidad. The acts of terrorism of the violent extremist Islamist group Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, which began on 27 July 1990; the ensuing deaths; the taking of hostages, including then Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson who was also beaten; and the destruction of property, went basically unpunished. These acts were carried out with impunity because of deals made with the perpetrators to release the hostages.

Now, Trinidad is trying to control the spread of radicalization and violent extremism which resulted in over 100 Trinidadians traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight as part of the Islamic State – Daesh (ISIS) terrorist forces. Despite warnings ignored by successive governments in the past, measures finally being pursued now will ameliorate the problem but will not have an immediate effect on the current situation. The processes of de-radicalization and preventing violent extremism will take some time, and programs now in the development stage will take years to have any appreciable effect.

There is now demand for greater efforts, including law enforcement and intelligence capacity building, and significant government and civil society interventions to prevent and counter violent extremism. Perhaps now, with the threat to Trinidad’s most revered annual event – Carnival – the Government and political opposition will join forces to ensure the law enforcement services and security force have the necessary legal and operational capacities to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism.

© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post

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The State of National Security in Jamaica with Sen. Pearnel Charles, Jr

The State of National Security in Jamaica with Sen. Pearnel Charles, Jr

CaribNation Inteview – Hosted by Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis Ward & Sen. Hon. Pearnel Charles, Jr.

Ambassador Curtis Ward & Sen. Hon. Pearnel Charles, Jr.

(15 Sept. 2017) — I had the opportunity to sit down with the Hon. Senator Pearnel Charles, Jr., Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security of Jamaica to explore the state of national security in Jamaica, in particular his areas of responsibilities.  Sen. Charles has some very interesting ideas in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration of incarcerated individuals.  Of major importance are the programs he is implementing with regard to offenders, in particular incarcerated juveniles.  The programs elucidated by Minister Charles focus on providing them with life skills to reduce the rate of recidivism. He also brings together other ministries and agencies of government, as well as the private sector to create an all-in approach to rehabilitation and reintegration. The Minister calls on the Jamaican diaspora to assist in his programs. Any one with an interest in crime and security in Jamaica and what is being done, or should be done to remedy this problem will find this conversation with Minister Charles to be quite interesting and encouraging.

© 2017 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post; CaribNation TV reserves all rights in video.

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Trinidad and Tobago’s Economic Shocks

adam-raffoul

Adam Raffoul

Trinidad and Tobago’s Economic Shocks

by

Adam Raffoul

(Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago)

Word from Guyana, is that the Bank of Guyana has instructed local cambios to stop buying Trinidad and Tobago Dollars (TTD) and Barbadian Dollars (BBD). The claim from authorities in Guyana is that Trinis and Bajans were flying into Georgetown with their respective local currencies, offloading it there, and purchasing US Dollars. This caused a situation where Guyanese business people were complaining about a shortage of US currency to pay for imports.

This may sound peculiar to those not familiar with the economic situation here in Port of Spain. Trinidad and Tobago has had a rough economic year. Our economy has contracted 4.5% in 2016. (Trinidad & Tobago Guardian on Line, 12/18/2016). The murder rate is trending upward and store owners and vendors alike, are complaining that Christmas sales are not what they used to be.

As most will know, Trinidad and Tobago is highly dependent on our energy sector. The reason for our economic misfortune is due to a major decline in energy prices on the world market and supply constraints at our petrochemical plants locally. This is caused by natural gas curtailments of up to 30% at some of our industrial plants, such as Atlantic LNG. (Guardian, 12/20/16). Our industrial plants have not been running at full capacity for the last couple years. It is not necessarily that Trinidad and Tobago is running out of natural gas and oil, but due to a pause of investment until recently.

Trinidad and Tobago is an old energy producer with many mature fields. New fields are in deep water, which tends to be costly and riskier to produce. With lower energy prices, energy companies were not willing to make large investments in new, costlier and riskier fields. The previous Kamla Persad Bissessar Administration seeing this, increased tax incentives to energy companies, to encourage more investment in these offshore fields. BPTT has taken advantage of these incentives, and finally it will bear fruit, with BP’s Juniper platform coming on stream in 2017. This will help alleviate our gas shortfall.

Now how does energy production relate back to a shortage of foreign exchange in Trinidad and Tobago? Besides providing tax revenue, our petrochemical plants, natural gas and oil exports generate precious foreign exchange for our non-energy sector. Despite having a vibrant manufacturing sector, our energy sector contributes to over 80% of our exports. (CIA, World Factbook) With reduced prices for our major exports, as well as supplymoney-tree curtailments of natural gas to our petrochemical plants, we have found ourselves in a situation with reduced receipts of foreign exchange. This has put pressure on our non-energy services sector, which is dependent on imports for the majority of the products that they sell. Businesses around the country have been complaining about foreign exchange shortages, and many have resorted to buying US currency on the black market to supplement their needs.

The Trinidad and Tobago government has responded in multiple ways, devaluing the currency, borrowing US currency on the international market and running down our foreign reserves. In the last year, the Central Bank has devalued our currency from TT$6.36=US$1 to TT$6.75=US$1. The IMF in their May 2016 Article IV consultation suggested that this is not enough.  They stated that from their calculations, the currency is overvalued between 23%-50%, depending on the model used. (IMF Country Report, 6/2016) A devaluation of this scale will have devastating effects on the standard of living of Trinbagonians.

The Rowley administration mindful of this, has sought to ease this burden. The country went to the international market in July and listed a US$1 billion bond, which was oversubscribed. (Guardian 12/20/16).  The government has tapped into our US$ denominated Heritage and Stabilization Fund and have run down our foreign reserves. At the end of November, our foreign reserves still remain a healthy US$9.55 billion, a decline of US$527 million from the end of August.

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has promised the nation that we will not go to the IMF like our Caribbean neighbours. Instead we will self-medicate. The Rowley Administration has cut the national budget from a high of TT$64.6 Billion in Fiscal 2015 to TT$53.4 Billion in Fiscal 2017. (Budget Statement 2017, T&T Ministry of Finance) This remains TT$16 billion above core revenue due to a drastic fall in tax revenues from energy companies. Projected revenue in this sub-sector has fallen from TT$21.223 Billion in Fiscal 2015 to TT$2.575 billion in Fiscal 2017. This is caused by lower energy prices and new tax incentives to energy companies enacted by the Persad Bissessar Administration.

While the government has sought to ease budgetary cuts through selling assets and running up our debt, which still remains manageable at 62% of GDP up from 50.9% in 2015, Trinis are feeling the pinch with austerity policies being implemented. (Budget Statement 2017; CTV TT News Online) The population is paying more for fuel as the fuel subsidy is being phased out. University education once free will soon be subject to a means test, with students from high and middle income families being asked to pay a percentage of their tuition from September 2017. Social programmes are being trimmed. Property Taxes discontinued under the last Persad Bissessar Administration will be reintroduced in 2017. High income individuals and companies will be asked from January to pay a higher tax rate of 30%. Even online shoppers are now subject to a 7% tax on online purchases they ship through courier service.

As Trinis flood churches across the country for Christmas, chief on our minds will be the economic situation here. The Rowley administration recently signed an Agreement in Caracas which will allow us to purchase gas from Venezuela to meet the shortfall of gas to our petrochemical plants. (Oil & Gas Journal, 12/01/16; Guardian, 12/07/16). This should come on stream by 2020. Representatives of the Trinidad and Tobago International Financial Centre will be flying to Guyana in early 2017 to see how we can get involved in Guyana’s new oil find. On the tourism front, negotiations continue with Jamaica’s Sandals Resorts on opening a resort in Tobago. Oil and natural gas prices are finally trending upwards due to a recently agreed supply cut by energy producers.

Rumour here is that God is a Trini. Perhaps He will help us dodge the bullet after all!

Adam Raffoul holds a B.A. in International Relations from American University, Washington D.C. He is a young businessman and volunteers for a local (T&T) think tank. (He was last seen looking for the latest Christmas fete!)

The Ward Post welcomes Adam Raffoul, a young business leader in Trinidad & Tobago, who will be sharing his perspectives as a Guest Blogger on TWP.

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Eric Leopold Edwards (Leo) – Tribute to the Life and Legacy of a Caribbean American (1922-2020)

Eric Leopold Edwards (Leo) – Tribute to the Life and Legacy of a Caribbean American (1922-2020)

This production of video Tributes, hosted by Ambassador Curtis Ward and Special Guest former Maryland State Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, to a Jamaican who dedicated his life to the advancement of the Jamaican-Caribbean diaspora and to the interests of Caribbean countries, speaks volumes to Leo’s works and successes over a span of more than 70 years. Leo’s legacy lives on in the works and memories of the thousands whose lives he has touched and the hundreds he has mentored. As these video tributes attest, Leo was the quintessential Caribbean man whose example is emulated by many in the Caribbean community in the United States. His willingness to advise and provide wise counsel to Caribbean ambassadors in Washington DC is legendary. He exemplified service of the highest order, often at great sacrifice to himself. This tribute also recognizes Carmen Edwards, his spouse, who accompanied and provided invaluable support to Leo’s work for several decades during this journey.

Tributes included in this collection are from former Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson, present and former Caribbean ambassadors to the USA, leaders of diaspora organizations, and others whose lives were touched by Leo’s work, grace and caring. These videos were collected by Ambassador Curtis Ward and compiled and produced in this video presentation by Loriston ‘Larry’ Sindass, Executive Producer of CaribNation TV. 

© 2020 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post  & CaribNation TV

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Furor over AML/CFT Evaluations of Caribbean States – Who Makes the Next Move?

Ambassador Curtis Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Furor over AML/CFT Evaluations of Caribbean States – Who Makes the Next Move?

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

(16 May 2017) — A number of Caribbean governments have responded bitterly to the recent negative “evaluation” of their anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AFL/CFT) legal and administrative capacities. More specifically, the U.S. State Department 2016 INSCR named nine Caribbean countries, four of which are CARICOM Member States (Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, and Haiti) specifically as “major money laundering states”, or as “Jurisdictions of major concern.”  These are among a group of 67 countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the United States named as “major money laundering states.” All other CARICOM Member States, except for Dominica, are listed in the next category, “Jurisdictions of concern.” Dominica falls in the “Monitored” category.

To put this in perspective, all countries in the world have issues with money laundering. The amount of money laundered in CARICOM states and other small economies pales in comparison to money laundered in large economies. However, the impact or potential impact on small economies, such as CARICOM states, is far greater than on large economies.  That’s why Caribbean countries should pay attention, and why they should seek remedial action rather than merely crying foul. The latter has become a common practice, which does not serve the region well.  After all the noise, the problem remains, or becomes worse.

There are considerable weaknesses in the AML/CFT regimes of most Caribbean countries. While there are efforts to fix these problems, there can be no hiatus in building new anti-AML/CFT capacities.  Money launderers and transnational criminal networks do not take a break.  They are always devising new money laundering techniques in order to be ahead of anti- AML/CFT capabilities because, for them, the stakes are high. The stakes are also high for Caribbean governments.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “the estimated amount of money laundered globally in one year is 2% – 5% of global GDP, or $800 billion – $2 trillion in current US dollars.”  The bulk of money laundering takes place in the financial systems of developed countries where they are more easily absorbed without the possibility of detection. On the other hand, money laundering, even on a minor scale, can have far greater impacts on small economies.

The potential to do considerable harm, in particular on small vulnerable economies, is well documented. We know money-laundering fuels corruption and organized crime. We know money laundering facilitates corrupt public officials in hiding bribes and pilfering of public funds. All forms of transnational crimes, including drug trafficking, illicit arms trade, and human trafficking generate large amounts of cash which are laundered.  Effective anti-money laundering laws and regulations and the capacities to fully implement them are the bane of transnational criminals and corrupt officials.

Caribbean Central Banks and financial institutions in the region know that off-shore banking and shell corporations where the beneficiaries remain anonymous are known vehicles used for money laundering. They know the importance of effective Currency Transaction Reports (CTRs) and setting realistic cash transactions reporting requirements; they know the importance of vigorous enforcement of Customer Due Diligence/Know Your Customer (CDD/KYC) rules; they know the importance of adequately regulated and monitoring of Offshore Financial Centers; they know they must enact laws requiring identification of shell company beneficial ownerships; they are understanding of the value of Suspicious Transaction Reports/Suspicious Activity Reports (STRs/SARs) in investigating and prosecuting money laundering; and they understand the possible money laundering facilitation role of unregulated International Business Companies (IBCs):

The countries of the Caribbean also know what they are supposed to do and they know where to go for help. The 40 Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) explains what needs to be done.  The U.S. FATCA requirements places emphasis on some required standards. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Technical Assistance (OTA) has a program in place to help those countries who seek help. As noted on the Treasury Department’s website in October 2016, the OTA “was initiating new projects and proactively assessing requests for assistance from countries that have expressed concerns about a decline in access to correspondent banking relationships in their countries, coupled with a commitment to enhance their AML/CFT regime.”

Treasury cited an example of OTA preparing to help Belize “to develop the capacity of the financial intelligence unit as the central focus of that country’s AML/CFT regime.”  Treasury also cited “a recently completed OTA assessment of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, which supervises banks in eight Caribbean countries, concluded that there is potential for an effective AML/CFT technical assistance engagement there.” As the Treasury Department said, its AML/CFT technical assistance program is intended to help those countries who seek help. Rather than attack the messenger, Caribbean governments must proactively act upon the message.

Unfortunately, the answer being pushed by some CARICOM states is to hire Washington lobbyists to seek a political solution to what is a technical capacity deficiency fueled by lack of political will. This doesn’t play very well in Washington; not now, not ever. Instead of hiring lobbyists, Caribbean governments should hire technical expertise that can guide and help build AML/CFT capacity building. When will Caribbean governments understand that political solutions rather than technical solutions are ephemeral?

This brings me to a problem I have discussed very briefly in a prior TWP article, President Donald Trump’s prosed budget cuts which, if approved by the Congress, will take $800 million from the Treasury Department’s international programs. This will, undoubtedly, affect OTA’s future AML/CFT technical assistance programs. That’s another reason Caribbean governments need to get to the head of the line and get on OTA’s short list for AML/CFT capacity building programs.

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

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Western Union Takes on Jamaican Lottery Scammers!

Western Union Takes on Jamaican Lottery Scammers!

Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis Ward

Ambassador Curtis Ward

(11 Jan. 2017) — I went to Western Union (WU) yesterday (January 10, 2017) and sent some money to Jamaica. Upon handing me my receipt the agent gave me a number to call WU to answer a few questions before the money transfer would be completed. You can well imagine my consternation and immediate reaction.

However, on calling WU the first question to me was whether my money transfer was in response to a lottery and the purpose of the transfer.  I was then asked about my relationship with the recipient.  My purpose certainly was not lottery scam-related.  As to my relationship with the recipient, I felt that it bordered on privacy rights encroachment.

Nevertheless, I understood the objective of the restrictive process implemented by WU and the questions asked. I was fully cooperative. My funds were sent without a hitch.

I couldn’t resist asking some questions of my own. I learnt that this newly introduced process by WU in 2017 was part of the company’s cooperation with law enforcement to prevent Americans from being scammed by Jamaicans. I fully support any effort to end this lottery scam scourge on our country.

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Lottery Scam is not a Money-tree

Jamaicans in the Diaspora send over US$2 billion annually for the past ten years to Jamaica. In 2015 Diaspora remittances were US$2.3 billion. Any constraint on Diaspora remittances could have a significant adverse effect on Jamaica’s economy. Remittances contribute approximately 16% to Jamaica’s GDP. It is extremely important that Remittances move smoothly in the international financial money transfer system

My recommendation to all Diaspora members is to cooperate fully with WU and other money transfer agents. Apart from not having many alternative choices to engage in money transfer without similar scrutiny, all of us should be contributing to help stamp out lottery scammers by Jamaicans and their collaborators.  Let’s support our law enforcement community.  That’s the least we can do.

 

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, B.A., J.D., LL.M., is an attorney and international consultant, and Adjunct Professor in the Homeland Security Graduate Program at the University of the District of Columbia. As former Ambassador of Jamaica to the United Nations he served two years on the U.N. Security Council. He was Expert Adviser to the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee for three years. He specializes in terrorism/counterterrorism legal and policy frameworks; anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); sanctions implementation; crime and security; human rights, rule of law and governance.

 

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Russia Warns U.S., Sanctions Will Affect Cooperation on Syria

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Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Russia Warns U.S., Sanctions Will Affect Cooperation on Syria

Curtis A. Ward

(26 Dec 2016) —The Russian Government, in response to new U.S. sanctions on members of Russia’s financial sector, imposed on December 23, 2016, warns the Obama Administration of the sanctions’ adverse effect on Russian cooperation on Syria.  A statement by the official representative of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Lukashevik warned specifically that, “If the Administration continues to follow such vicious way, it will affect adversely our cooperation on Syrian question, and on overall climate of Russian-American relations which are going through challenging times.” Lukashevik’s statement did not provide any details.

However, in making this statement so explicit in terms of future Russian-United States relations, Russian president Vladimir Putin is no doubt sending a message to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump to reverse the course taken by President Barack Obama.  It also raises further questions as to whether Trump will be able to deliver, even as Republican hawks in the Senate call for more robust action against the Syrian regime. In order to act against the Syrian government, short of military action, sanctions are the most viable tools available.  And, there are few options available to stop Syria’s Bashar al-Assad without imposing sanctions against his Russian supporters and enablers.

The headline of today’s article could well have been “Obama Administration Relentlessly Pursues Russian Financial Sector.”  The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced designation of 18 individuals and five entities pursuant to Executive Order (E.O) 13582 making them subject to U.S. sanctions.  Although these new sanctions designations are in response “to the continued acts of violence committed by the Government of Syria,” and the individuals and entities are designated for providing support or services to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, nine of the designated individuals comprise the top management of Tempbank, a Russian bank with operations in a number of countries around the world and a major financial transactions facilitator of the Syrian government.

These new designations expand the net of sanctions imposed on Russia’s financial sector. This group includes Tempbank’s three Executive Board Deputy Chairmen and its six Supervisory Board members.  They join Tempbank and its Executive Board Chairman Michail Gagloev designated by OFAC in May 2014 “for providing material support and services to the Government of Syria, including the Central Bank of Syria and SYTROL, Syria’s state oil marketing firm.” These most recent designees also included six Syrian top government officials and a number of Syrian government entities.

The effects of the sanctions on those designated are immediate. Any property or interests in property owned by these Individuals and entities in the possession or control of U.S. persons (individuals or entities) within the United States are blocked.  Transactions by U.S. individuals and entities and the designated persons are prohibited. Blocking of property includes freezing of all assets owned by designated persons that are within U.S. jurisdiction.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement described the new sanctions as, “the line of Washington’s extraterritorial application of its national law violating all commonly accepted norms of international law.”  When considering the gross violations of international law and norms by the Russian-supported al-Assad’s regime, such a line of criticism by the Russian Government rings hallow.  However, the warning about the adverse effect of the sanctions on future Russian cooperation with the United States must be taken seriously.  With president-elect Trump stating that he wants to work with Putin to solve the crisis in Syria, the response by the future Trump administration will be worth watching.

For further discussions of the issues regarding U.S. sanctions against Russian individuals and economic sectors, see Obama Sticks it to Trump’s Russian Partner”,  “Trump v. Congress on New Russian Sanctions” and Will Trump Fall on the Sanctions Sword” published in The Ward Post.

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, B.A., J.D., LL.M., is an attorney and international consultant, and Adjunct Professor in the Homeland Security Graduate Program at the University of the District of Columbia. As former Ambassador of Jamaica to the United Nations he served two years on the U.N. Security Council. He was Expert Adviser to the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee for three years. He specializes in terrorism/counterterrorism legal and policy frameworks; anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); sanctions implementation; crime and security; human rights, rule of law and governance.

 

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