Caribbean and Diaspora News Round-up
Michael Misick's Brazilian high life
UK Airline tax to rise again
The Caribbean on an index of global corruption
Lester Bird resigns
Belize debt talks drag on
Dramatic end to John McAfee Belize hunt
USVI port marks 100 years
Misick’s high life in Brazil
Fugitive former Turks and Caicos Premier Michael Misick had spent a year living the high life in Rio de Janeiro when he was arrested on Friday 7 December, according to Brazilian media reports.
Caribbean Intelligence© understands that Michael Misick was held at Rio’s Santos Dumont airport, where he was about to board a plane to Sao Paulo to consult lawyers.
He had been enjoying a luxury lifestyle in Rio’s beachside Ipanema district, having entered Brazil requesting political asylum.
His asylum application was turned down in November and Caribbean Intelligence© has learned that Mr Misick had been planning another legal bid to remain in Brazil.
The local Interpol representative in Rio, Orlando Nunes, said Mr Misick’s arrest showed that the city was not a safe haven for international criminals.
“This is an important arrest, because it shows that Rio de Janeiro is no shambles,” Mr Nunes told O Globo newspaper.
“If you come here to hide, it can turn out badly for you,” he added.
Mr Misick faces corruption charges after being accused of amassing a fortune of $180m by the time he left office in 2009.
Britain suspended the autonomous rule of the TCI, a British Overseas Territory, and conducted an investigation into high-level corruption.
Direct rule was restored in the TCI in November after a three-year revamp of the country’s corruption regulations, culminating in fresh elections.
Like the planes, the taxes keep going up
Despite the lobbying from Caribbean countries, MPs and the UK travel industry, Britain’s Chancellor (Finance Minister) George Osborne announced the fifth annual increase in the airline departure tax (APD) in the fifth successive year.
The 5 December Autumn statement, also known as the mini-Budget, announced a 2.5% increase in the APD – the equivalent of an extra £2-£3 per person for long haul flights from April 2013.
The increase means that a family of four flying economy to the Caribbean will pay £332 in APD from next year. This tax goes up in premium-economy, business and first class.
The Board of Airline Representatives (BAR) described the hike as “self-destructive”.
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) called the hikes “concerning”, saying that they would drive potential visitors away from the UK and force airlines to cut their UK routes.
I’m more transparent than you
This week’s publication of the annual Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index has unleashed national pride and gnashing of teeth, as well as the usual island rivalries.
TI found that Barbados was the Caribbean nation ranked highest in terms of transparency in doing business, while Haiti was seen as the most corrupt.
“Corruption translates into human suffering, with poor families being extorted for bribes to see doctors or to get access to clean drinking water,” TI said in its report.
The index ranks countries on the basis of how corrupt their public sectors appear to be on a scale of zero to 100, with 100 indicating the most transparent place in which to do business.
Barbados was the highest rated Caribbean country at number 15, in between Hong Kong and Belgium – with a transparency ranking of 76, putting it higher in the league table than the UK (17th) and the US (19th).
The achievement was proudly hailed by the Barbadian media.
Next in the league came the Bahamas and St Lucia (both in 22nd place), Puerto Rico (33rd), St Vincent and the Grenadines (36th), Dominica (41st), Cuba (58th), Trinidad and Tobago (80th), Jamaica (83rd), Suriname (88th), Dominican Republic (118th) and Guyana (133rd).
Near the bottom of the global list – beating only eight countries, including the likes of Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan – were Haiti and Venezuela, which registered the lowest rankings in the Caribbean Basin region at a ranking of 165th.
Reaction in the region has been swift.
A transparency lobby group in Guyana said it planned to lobby government to reduce the country’s corruption rating.
Guyana’s Stabroek News said in a 6 December editorial: “As dispiriting as this score is, it will have come as no surprise to most citizens.”
The paper pointed out that, for all countries in the region scoring low on the global table, “the CPI ought to be something of a wake-up call.
“For where corruption is perceived to be a serious problem, it is an inhibitor of development and society pays a high cost.”
End of an era
For the first time in the independent history of Antigua and Barbuda, there is no longer a member of the Bird family at or near the helm of government.
Lester Bird, prime minister between 1994 and 2004, has decided to quit front-line politics.
He was preceded in the post by his father, Vere Bird Sr, the nation’s first prime minister from 1981 to 1994.
Having served as opposition leader since losing the March 2004 elections, he finally bowed out of that role in a 1 December letter to the Governor-General after being ousted in a battle for leadership of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), which his father had founded.
Mr Bird lost the contest to St John's City West MP Gaston Browne, who won by 213 to 180 votes.
This is the first time in the history of the ALP that it has not been led by a member of the Bird family.
“In time, perhaps I may say more,” Lester Bird said in a statement.
“But for now, I want all of us to understand that my priority and the priority of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party must be to win the general election. None of us deserves another five years of the [governing] UPP.
“This is now no longer about me. I have played my part. We must win the next general election and we must do so as a united Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party.”
Calling for unity, the former prime minister said: “Let us put aside personal differences and views.”
Vere Bird Sr led Antigua and Barbuda to independence and his sons, Lester and Vere Bird Jr, followed him into public life.
Lester Bird’s election defeat was seen at the time as the end of an era.
Belize talks drag on
The group of investors holding more than half of Belize's $548.3m of outstanding bonds has turned down the government’s latest debt restructuring proposal.
The negotiations have become something of a focal point in the global financial world, as some European and American financial writers have suggested that Belize could become the Greece of the Caribbean.
Belize and its creditors have been negotiating a restructuring package since it missed a debt coupon deadline in September.
The country paid some money upfront in good faith, giving it 60 days to negotiate with holders of what is known as the “superbond”.
But when the time for the next debt coupon came and went in late November, new proposals and counter proposals for restructuring the debt package began to be issued.
Now the latest offer from creditors has been described by Belize as “short-term” and not taking into account its overall debt levels.
Britain's Financial Times said that the creditors were “clearly not happy” with the country's dismissal of their terms and its own counter-offer.
The co-chair of the bond negotiating committee, Greylock Capital Management, said it would continue to negotiate in “good faith”, but it has hired law firm Arnold & Porter LLC as legal counsel.
They seek him here, they seek him next door
Even up to the end of his bizarre time on the run over a murder investigation in Belize, software pioneer John McAfee continued to blog from his migration detention centre in Guatemala.
There was a certain irony, not lost on the world’s technology press, that the founder of the well-known anti-virus software which bears his name should be located by modern technology.
Blogging and conducting interviews from next-door nation Guatemala while wanted for questioning in Belize about the death of his neighbour, it was Mr McAfee’s smartphone which gave away his location.
Even his proposed deportation back to Belize included high drama.
Mr McAfee was whisked to hospital in front of the awaiting media after suffering a suspected heart attack on 6 December.
After this false alarm, he was released back to the migration centre as his lawyer announced plans to block deportation to Belize.
Sailing on in the US Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands are celebrating 100 years of their main cruise ship port, which started life as a Danish-American deal in the run-up to World War I.
The West Indian Company Limited (WICO) had been founded by a consortium of Danish businessmen in December 1912.
Seeking to help the Danish West Indies economy at the time, sales to the US had been pushed just before America became involved in the Great War.
It then received major backing with the prospect of becoming a refuelling point as the Panama Canal was being developed.
A century later, as ports in the northern Caribbean once again gear up for Panama Canal expansion, the WICO cruise ship port hosts millions of cruise ship visitors and plays a large role in the economy of the US Virgin Islands.