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Marijuana in Parliament.

Dear Editor,

Thank you for allowing me space in your publication. On April 28, 2020, I read an article on the website StMaartenNews.com with the headline "MP Emmanuel: Legalize marijuana now" While I am pleased to see this discussion taking place in Parliament, I have some concern with the manner in which this subject is being handled. There seems to be a misconception that simply legalizing this industry is a foolproof way for the government to quickly make money. Yes, there is tremendous economic potential, but if its not done responsibly there can be detrimental consequences. If the only focus of the government is to make money from this industry, this golden opportunity will be sold out to the highest bidder, and there will be few economic benefits (if any) for the local community.

MP Emmanuel is quoted as saying "Ten thousand people in St. Maarten are smoking marijuana and they spend $20 to $30 a day on it." I'm not sure where MP Emmanuel has gathered this data, but I think it's very irresponsible to arbitrarily throw numbers around when trying to understand the potential of this industry. For reference it is estimated in the United States that the average Cannabis consumer spends US$650 annually (source: September 2018 - Centennial Spotlight: Marijuana Goes Mainstream), that's not even 10% of what the honorable MP was estimating. According to the article MP Emmanuel has also made predictions of possible tax revenue for the island, but it seems like all his calculations are based on the incorrect assumption that the entire black market will disappear as soon as legislation is introduced.

I am not trying to be overly critical of the MP, on the contrary, I applaud him (and others) for raising this issue in Parliament, but I think it's important to highlight the need for government to make sure they have a proper understanding of this industry before creating policies on how to regulate it. This is just one example of several inaccurate statements I have heard from some of our political leaders as it relates to this topic.

By means of this letter, I would like to publicly offer the consulting services of Herbal Awareness SXM to any member of parliament who is genuinely interested in drafting legislation to start regulating the Cannabis industry for Medicinal and Adult-use in St. Maarten.

* Herbal Awareness SXM has hosted several community town hall meetings on this topic dating back to 2015. We also made a presentation to Parliament in 2016 and have championed this issue within the local media on various talk shows and publications for several years now.

Sincerely
Arun Jagtiani
Herbal Awareness SXM


Earth Day in the Age of Pandemic; the Dutch Caribbean Perspective.

earthday21042020Letter to the Editor,

The ochre-colored African wind wafts through the Tanzanian veldt, ruffling the low acacia trees that grow scrubily between august Baobabs. The sun is setting and the malarial mosquitoes start their evening hymn. In between the metropolitan mounds of termite nests an animal is waddling. Some would call it an ugly animal; it looks like an anteater: same oblong, awkward body and pointed snout. But unlike an anteater, this animal is covered in reptilian scales, somewhat like a large, land-locked and ambling four-legged fish. The animal is called a pangolin and it is being hunted.

Hiding behind one of the termite mounds is Andwele, from the Bantu-speaking Nyamwezi ethnic group, and he is poor. He hasn’t been able to provide for his family in some time and his children are hungry: there has been a persistent drought in this part of Africa and Andwele has been unable to make ends meet. Never before has it taken so long for the rains to come. It is as if the climate itself has changed.

As Andwele was returning from his meager farming plot in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro he stumbled upon the pangolin as the animal was breaking open a termite mound foraging for food. Andwele loves and respects animals but he hasn't eaten and has a cousin that can get almost a month’s salary for a live pangolin. He catches the ugly animal but while he does so his heart breaks as it looks at him with pleading puppy-dog eyes. But Andwele is hungry and so are his children so he stuffs the pangolin in his rucksack and the next day travels to Arusha to sell it.

Three weeks later the pangolin has traveled 9300 kilometers and finds itself in a small metal cage in a market in a medium-sized Chinese City. Although the city is considered medium by Chinese standards it is home to eleven million people. The animal is emaciated and covered in sores from being transported across the ocean in unhygienic conditions. It shares its cage with a bat, similarly covered in festering sores and lying listlessly at the bottom of its cage; resigned to its pending demise. Soon the owner of the stall removes the bat, the pangolin’s companion for the past four days. The two animals have been sleeping together, breathing together, shitting together. But now the bat is gone; it is being skinned after its head has been chopped off; the owner preparing it according to the traditional Chinese method.

Two weeks later a mysterious, pneumonia-like disease is spreading rapidly in the densely populated city. But it is the Chinese New Year and people are traveling all over the world to be with their loved ones. One of those people is Xi-Li who has traveled to Bergamo in Italy to be with her family. To celebrate the Lunar New Year they decide to eat a traditional Italian meal at a trattoria on the Piazza Vecchia. Xi-Li hasn’t been feeling well; she has a slight temperature and a dry cough but she’s traveled all this way and decided to enjoy the special occasion. In three weeks she’ll be dead.

Also at the restaurant is Massimo. Massimo lives in New York but travels to his home town often. A week after his meal he travels back to New Rochelle and kisses his wife hello. She notices he has a slight temperature but he insists he is fine. It is the eve of their anniversary and tomorrow they travel to Ft. Lauderdale to embark on a ten-day Caribbean Cruise; first Port of Call the tiny half Dutch half-French Caribbean Island of Sint Maarten.

A month after his cruise Massimo lies in an emergency hospital tent. He has been intubated with a respirator because he is too ill to breathe on his own. He might not make it. Ten thousand of his fellow New Yorkers haven’t. His wife didn’t. All across the globe life has drastically changed. Normal will never be the same again. The world cowers in fear of a new pandemic. Economies are collapsing. Oil prices have collapsed. Governments are struggling. Three billion people are forced to stay inside. And there is only one thing on everyone’s mind: COVID-19.

The above is just one of the scenarios for the origin of a virus that has been dictating the human experience for the past three months, but it is the most plausible (5G towers and lab-grown conspiracies aside). The renowned scientific journal Nature mentions that “researchers have noted that coronaviruses are a possible cause of death in pangolins (and) are a good candidate as a source for intermediate spread…pangolins are protected but illegal trafficking is widespread. It is almost certain that they are the source…likely having infected a bat with the bat infecting a human in turn…”

The global spread of the pandemic and our ability, or inability, to manage the infection has highlighted the role environmental degradation and social inequalities have played in these unusual times. It has highlighted the global nature of the human experience and that an act of wildlife crime (exacerbated by a just as urgent but not as highly publicized climate crisis) has resulted in communities, economies, and societies now being on the brink of collapse.

It is no accident that my native Sint Maarten has per capita one of the highest per capita COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Caribbean region. The prioritizing of the bottom line over the welfare of citizens has been the focus for the economic development of the island since the tourism boom in the 1960s, with a reliance on a model dictated by fast economic growth to the detriment of environmental and societal safeguards. Island communities must now place focus on economic, social and environmental sustainability as our guiding principle should we want to survive.

One of the clearest and most obvious mistakes many of the islands in the Caribbean have made is an over-reliance on the Cruise Tourism industry. The Cruise Ship model for development, even before this crisis, has proven to not adequately account for the welfare of island societies and the natural resources critical to our ability to develop sustainably. We should learn from this lesson and not have multinational tour companies dictate the governmental and economic policies of the Caribbean. Mass tourism on the islands, coupled with an unrestrained and ill-planned thrust to develop just for development’s sake, has resulted in significant discrepancies between various social strata, discrepancies further highlighted by the virus.

In order to emerge from this successfully, the Caribbean has to alter the way we do business. Island’s such as Bonaire should learn from what is happening around them, and islands such as Sint Maarten and Aruba should learn from their own experience and move away from an economic model almost solely dependent on mass, lower-income tourism. Islands such as Bonaire and Saba are better positioned to emerge from this crisis scarred but not broken. Islands such as Sint Maarten and Aruba, who have invested significant infrastructure into courting mass cruise tourism and budget-minded travelers, often to the detriment of the population and the environment, will be broken for some time and will struggle to emerge successfully from this crisis.

Now should be the time for a renewed focus on building the resilience of our communities; counteracting deforestation, reigning in unsustainable coastal development, ensuring proper solid waste management, preventing pollution from entering our air and water, are all issues which exacerbate the negative health and economic effects faced by Caribbean Residents in a post-pandemic reality. As Caribbean people we cannot afford to lose focus; the region must get rid of the usual economic model that focuses on profit over people, further exacerbating income inequality. When we emerge from our houses we need to place emphasis on a more inclusive, sustainable future. After this crisis there has to, finally, be greater emphasis on the critical role the three pillars of Sustainable Development must play in terms of resiliency, especially considering the potential new crises in what is predicted to be an above-average Hurricane Season.

There also has to be closer regional cooperation, cooperation that does not adhere to the usual model defined by former colonial powers who apparently consider a billion euro grant to southern European countries more important than providing relief to former colonies whose natural and human capital have fostered their own economic development. There has been no time in history that calls for a greater Caribbean unity than now as we emerge from one of humanity’s most existential crises. The old ways won’t work, and despite what we are going through we cannot function in isolation nor can we depend on former colonial countries and western or eastern superpowers to support our development; that much is clear.

But there are encouraging signs. The encouragement provided by seeing our Caribbean environment healing should push us to foster and encourage further healing. Being isolated whilst being unified as a human race, unified by our common human experience of being shut indoors, physically isolated from friends and family, should unify us as global citizens while putting emphasis on local solutions for our societal ills.

We cannot go back to business as usual; let us use the healing of nature to enter into a new phase of economic development, of finally being sustainable. Let us perpetuate that healing. Let us allow it to guide us into a more sustainable future. Let us ensure that wild areas and the animals that inhabit them are conserved. Let us manage our natural resources so that the goods and services they provide will be enhanced and secured. Let us make sure that the climate crisis is sufficiently addressed so that we can end poverty and global hunger so that people like Andwele are no longer forced to hunt wild animals to feed their families. Let us ensure, as we emerge from our cocoons, that we are on the right side of History. That we rise from our confinement to a renewed, holistic and reinvigorated Caribbean society. Happy World Environment Day!

Tadzio Bervoets
Interim Director
Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance
Sur Salinja 30
Kralendijk, Bonaire

A viral threat to democracy … as leaders leverage COVID-19 for power.

Earlier this year, I wrote about a possible shift in regional politics, considering the number of general elections that were due to be held this year. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the crippling economic and social effects that followed, as many nations took drastic measures to protect their citizens and “flatten the curve” of infections and COVID-19 related deaths.
Indeed, people in more than 190 countries have allowed their civil liberties to be significantly curtailed for the sake of the greater good. As governments scampered to control the rapid and inevitable spread of a once-in-a-century infection, citizens acquiesced, and stopped gathering in groups – indeed, in some countries, once can only venture out alone. Shopping, pharmaceuticals and life-essential goods and services are being rationed by surname and times to reduce panic-buying and mob-shopping, but incurring the hours-long wait to gather a precious few items to be paid for with increasingly scarce currency. The enjoyment of life and liberty is now largely limited to 6:00 pm, and in some places, only to the boundary of your private property.
Shrewd advisors know that one can’t simply implement a full State of Emergency on carefree and liberal Caribbean populations, so leaders across CARICOM (and the wider world) have chipped away at civil liberties to arrive at a de facto State of Emergency. Don’t get me wrong… I understand and appreciate the global measures being taken in response to the Novel Coronavirus threat, but it is now emerging that as authorities gain a greater understanding of pandemic control measures, they are also unwittingly gaining knowledge of political advantage.
You see, the measures to control the viral pandemic is also providing a brand new avenue for political leaders and power-brokers to extend and expand their grip on power, while subduing the organization and influence of dissent.
Many leaders – most notably our own Dr Timothy Harris – have declared the health crisis as a “war”, to justify many of the measures taken. This can only be interpreted as a political lifeline to prevent a sitting government from asking a Parliament for extraordinary Legislative actions to mitigate the situation. Also, it is a historical fact that governments that implement States of Emergency and similar population-control measures tend to lose at the polls, as populations respond to having their liberties curtailed.
The definition of “war” is a last-gasp straw for rogue leaders to extend their reign in office. Professor of Politics at Cambridge University, David Runciman, writes in The Guardian, “It is the stripping away of one layer of political life to reveal something more raw underneath. In a democracy, we tend to think of politics as a contest between different parties for our support. We focus on the who and the what of political life: who is after our votes, what they are offering us, who stands to benefit. We see elections as the way to settle these arguments. But the bigger questions in any democracy are always about how: how will governments exercise the extraordinary powers we give them? And how will we respond when they do?”
These questions about coercive power are being answered as we speak:
- In Hungary, a recent bill allows Prime Minister Viktor Orban the power to rule by decree - indefinitely. It gives him the authority to punish journalists for inaccurate accurate; and hit citizens with heavy penalties for violating lockdown rules. The bill also prevents any elections or referendums from taking place while the measures are in effect.
- In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte - a man who arrests his critics and has boasted about personally killing suspected criminals during his time as mayor of Davao City - has secured emergency powers, giving him greater control of public services.
- Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the electronic tracking of patients, using technology that had previously only been used in the fight against terrorism.
- In Russia, Vladimir Putin has the police and military using facial recognition technology and over 170,000 cameras to crack down on hundreds of people violating quarantine and self-isolation. It’s being called the ‘cyber-gulag’.
In the region, the obfuscation of the Guyana general election continues to fester amid the crisis, with the Granger government seemingly quite content to power through each extra day of power, in the knowledge that any adverse word coming out of the PPP camp can be easily seen as politically disruptive, uncaring and unpatriotic. No one aspiring for the top job wants to be branded as such, so Opposition parties the world over are being cleverly muzzled.
Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham, Nic Cheeseman, is wary of strongman leaders creating a “new normal” for their respective societies. "The worrying thing during a crisis is that leaders with authoritarian instincts can claim to only be doing what some established democracies are doing," says Cheeseman. But while robust democracies are expected to eventually roll back such measures, citizens in weak democracies might get saddled with them at the behest of the leader.
The mighty United States isn't immune to this paradigm, postures Professor Brian Klaas of the University College, London. "If a 'rally round the flag' mentality kicks in around the world, leaders could find ways to exploit it," says Klaas. "If you accept 9/11 made people happy to give up certain liberties, consider this: The Imperial study says there will be 2.2 million deaths in the US if there's no extreme and sustained government intervention. That's the equivalent of 9/11 happening nearly every day for over two years."
US President Donald Trump repeatedly back peddles on his own pronouncements on the pandemic issue, but his apparent fumbling and bumbling seem to have had a rather fortuitous consequence – throwing the Democratic Presidential machinery into disarray and confusion. At this writing, 15 states have delayed their presidential primaries, with a lot of discussion as to what happens on November 10, the constitutionally-set date this year for the US Presidential election. It’s tough for Trump to even think about toying with the sanctity of the constitution, especially without the support of Democrats. So, no matter what he does, unless he wins an election, by midday on January 20 next year, he will simply no longer be President.
The clinical nature of US law does not readily translate the same way for Commonwealth nations. Prime Minister Harris predictably proclaimed an extension of restrictions for our nation for another five months. This is after the Team Unity government ostensibly, publicly leaked a document seeking lockdown measures for another year. There was no riot… but wait… rioting would be a breach of the restrictions. So damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. The opposition’s got to keep their mouths shut and their tails inside their house.
The situation is an uncanny reminder of a society under Nazi rule – pogroms et al – where free speech and community meetings were effectively outlawed; where views opposing the State were branded as “rebel” and “traitorous”; and where fear and cultist policies were the main ingredients of government and authority.
What has actually happened in St Kitts and Nevis, is that Harris, a man who was thrust into power by quite a spectacular accident, now simply does not seem to know how to run a country. A synopsis of the past five years has shown scant few positives, such as roadworks and minor infrastructure projects; but most people – regardless of party colour – will remember this administration as one that paid killers to keep quiet, ignored the education system, and then cut vocational programme funding for the increased number of high-school dropouts.
But most poignantly, it the obvious absence of the Minister of Health and the skittishness and insecurity of his Junior Minister that has really deflated Kittitians and Nevisians alike.
It certainly looks like just another yellow or orange herring that’s being tossed our way; let the people focus on grocery days and wonder where Eugene Hamilton and Wendy Phipps are, while the Harris family extends and cements their reign on power and the public purse.

 

--
Joel B. Liburd
Communications Consultant
Basseterre/Quebec

We need real relief.

I started writing this article on Thursday, March 27 but did not send it for publication because I was waiting on the response from the Dutch government on St. Maarten’s request for legal aid. Article 36 of the Charter. I want to again congratulate our government and all relevant stakeholders, especially those on the front line such as our healthcare workers, law enforcement, firefighters, civil servants, garbage collectors, the cleaning companies and everyone who is making a combined and concerted effort to combat this dangerous outbreak that has already taken the lives of many and unfortunately is on track to take more lives. How can I forget the security guards, cashiers at Supermarkets and countless other persons who we don’t know, we cannot thank them enough for the courage being displayed at this difficult time. Why did I entitle this article we need real relief? I read where Central Bank of Curacao and St Maarten said and I quote; “Curacao and St. Maarten do not have the tools and resources to mitigate such a crisis”. It continues to say “It is precisely in times like these that the Dutch Government should be pointed to” end of quote. The real relief for St. Maarten, in my opinion, should entail the cancellation of all debt guaranteed by or owed to the Netherlands. I am pleased that the CFT agreed with my article entitled “This is no time for balanced Budgets. But I guess their decision had to do with the European commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s announcement and I quote; “national governments can spend their way out of the economic fallout from the coronavirus without fear of reproach” end of quote. And not forgetting the criticism by the Prime Minister of Portugal of Minister of finance of the Netherlands Wopke Hoekstra who called for an investigation into Spain’s request for assistance to deal with the covid19 outbreak. I have a serious issue with the Committee for Financial Supervision’s advice to provide liquidity support in the form of loans and coming to an early agreement for repaying these loans. Again it should be grants and not loans. Imagine my surprise when yesterday I heard that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte prefers a gift to Spain and Italy in attempt to restore diplomatic ties with these countries, but he sees it fit to extend loans to Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten, with conditions, which according to Minister Knops means increasing taxes to get revenues and having a lean government which for sure will include salary reductions and laying off of civil servants. This is no time for them to issue us any loans. No one will dispute the fact that they are also facing covid19 challenges but they are in a more advantageous position than we are. According to the IMF and World Bank, the Netherlands is the 17th largest economy in the world. They are the 6th richest in Europe. Our grand and great-grandchildren are already saddled with an accumulation of debt. I am asking a Kingdom partner out of necessity not desire and based on the charter in which the preamble speaks about support to think about the people first and not their political agenda. Can they afford to cancel our debts and issue grants? The GDP of the Netherlands in 2019 stood at $907.583 billion. Its GD per capita was estimated at some $48,860 in fiscal year 2017/2018 which makes it the highest-earning nation in the world. Does St. Maarten owe the Netherlands $1 billion? I would think not. And even if we include Aruba and Curacao in the equation, the finances of the Netherlands can carry it. It is about political will. I am cautiously optimistic about the discussions but actions speak louder than words. Let me quote Minister Rutte who said in his speech to the EU members “Listen you guys have been hit hard but together with some wealthier countries we are prepared to bear the direct costs of the coronavirus crises” end of quote. Those words speak volumes. We are still to receive the agreed Naf. 50 million liquidity funds support for 2018 and 2019. Are they still asking for austerity measures to be taken in this time of crisis? And while they are contemplating such, I suggest they cancel the 2015 instruction. Conclusion, writing off St. Maarten’s debt will be just a drop in the bucket for them and will give the people of St. Maarten some real relief.

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