2014 year in review: Caribbean rocked by Chikungunya
Three general elections and continued socio-economic problems may have made the headlines in the Caribbean in 2014 but it was the Chikungunya virus, the mosquito-borne disease, that really caught the attention of the region over the last 12 months.
In addition, while no regional cases had been recorded, Caribbean countries were putting in place various measures to deal with the deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 7,000 people in West Africa.
A crippling mosquitoborne virus with a tongue twisting name, Chikungunya first appeared in the Caribbean towards the end of 2013. But by the end of 2014, every Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country had recorded cases of the virus caused by the aedes aegypti mosquito that causes a dengue-like sickness.
The situation forced regional leaders to hold a special summit in Trinidad and Tobago in November and at the end of the three hour deliberation they outlined a series of measures to deal with both the Chikungunya and Ebola viruses.
Regarding the Ebola virus, for which there is no cure, some Caribbean countries took the unprecedented step of imposing a travel ban on nationals from three West African countries, namely Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.
In Antigua and Barbuda, after 10 years in the political wilderness, Gaston Browne led the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) to victory in the general election in June.
In neighbouring Montserrat, the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) led by Donaldson Romeo denied Premier Reuben T. Meade another five year term in office. Romeo called for a united Montserrat as the new government promised to face the task of rebuilding the island battered by a volcano.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit made it three in a row when he led his Dominica La- bour Party (DLP) to a 15-6 victory in the December 8 general election.
The St. Kitts-Nevis government, for yet another year, was able to deny the opposition legislators an opportunity to debate a motion of no confidence filed against Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas in 2012.
In the French-speaking Caribbean country of Haiti, President Michel Martelly ended 2014 hoping that his nominee for the post of prime minister would be accepted. Late November, Martelly announced the establishment of an 11-member Presidential Commission to help him deal with Haiti’s worsening political crisis as opposition demonstrators took to the streets to force him out of office.
In April, the ruling MegaCombination coalition government in Suriname booted out one of its members after accusing it of playing “blackmail politics”.
The coalition People’s Partnership government in Trinidad and Tobago successfully piloted a controversial amendment to the Constitution even as hundreds of citizens protested outside the parliament building. The legislation allows for two consecutive terms for the prime minister, the right to recall legislators and, perhaps the most contentious, the need for a run-off vote in the event that a candidate fails to acquire the necessary 50 per cent of the votes cast in a general election.
Politics aside, the Caribbean continued to struggle economically with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicating that economic activity in the Caribbean was expected to stay in low gear in 2014. It said growth remained tepid in most of the Caribbean and while the recovery in the United States and other advanced economies was expected to bolster export growth, lower world commodity prices and rising global funding costs were likely to weigh on activity across the region.
The IMF in its Regional Economic Outlook for the Western Hemisphere projected regional growth of 2.5 per cent in 2014.
The Chile-based Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) also indicated that that Caribbean economies would grow to two per cent “which implies a recovery from the 1.2 per cent registered in 2013”.
Despite the gloomy economic forecast, the Barbados government, which instituted an austerity programme resulting in several thousand public servants being axed, said it would remain firmly committed to the strategy for growth and development on which it had embarked.
For its part, the Grenada government which signed a three-year US$21.7 million Extended Credit Facility (ECF) programme with the IMF, called on trade unions to accept a three-year wage freeze.
In St. Lucia, Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony enjoyed a bit more breathing space after the Trade Union Federation (TUF) accepted a three year wage freeze as his administration deals with a fiscal deficit of EC$76 million.
The Portia Simpson-Miller administration in Jamaica continued its relationship with the IMF that said the island’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) was on track and all programme targets were being met.
For its part, St. Kitts-Nevis became the first Caribbean country to repay, ahead of schedule, US$17.1 million in obligations to the IMF.
The drastic decline in global oil prices, while welcomed by Caribbean oil importing countries, meant, however, financial problems for Port of Spain with the Finance Minister Larry Howai indicating that Cabinet would soon decide on measures to deal with a declining revenue stream brought about by the rapid decline in the price for oil on the global market.
As the Caribbean continued to deal with the impact of the global economic crisis, several foreign-owned banks, such as CIBC First Caribbean International, Scotia Bank and Royal Bank of Canada announced the closure of several branches in the region resulting in several layoffs.
The economic situation in the Caribbean was not being helped by the illegal immigration of people and in the case of the Bahamas, Nassau strongly defended its immigration policy that critics claim is “unconstitutional” and dehumanising.
The policy came into effect on November 1 and calls on foreigners to show evidence that they have permission to live or work in the country. By year end, the government was forced to defend allegations that it was herding illegal migrants in a cage like “cattle”.
But the Bahamas was not the only Caribbean country complaining about illegal immigrants. Trinidad and Tobago’s National Security Minister Gary Griffith said that the oil-rich twin island republic was now home for an estimated 110,000 illegal immigrants of which an estimated 19,000 were Jamaicans. In December, the government spent TT$2.6 million in chartering an aircraft to fly home 12 illegal Ghanaian nationals.
Former president Jean Bertrand Aristide has been prohibited from leaving Haiti as law enforcement authorities probe allegations of corruption, misappropriation of public funds and drug trafficking during his 2001-4 presidency, immigration officials have confirmed.
The Jamaican Dance Hall artiste, Vybz Kartel was jailed for life after he was found guilty on March 13 for the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams. Kartel, whose real name is Adjidja Palmer, was charged along with Shawn Campbell, Kahira Jones
and Andre St John.
In 2014, the region bade farewell to several prominent people such as former Trinidad President ANR Robinson, former Haitian president Leslie Manigat, Caribbean academic, Professor Norman Girvan, Jamaica’s fourth head of state, Sir Howard Cooke, the assassinated Trinidad and Tobago attorney Dana Seetahal, Jamaica’s Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke and the Barbadian religious minister Dr. Holmes Williams.
In addition, former Bermuda premier, Sir David Gibbons, former St. Lucia Education ministers Louis Bertrand George and Hunter J. Francois, the former member of the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission Dr Joseph Archibald QC, former St. Lucia High Court judge, Suzie d’Auvergne, former president of the OECS Bar Association, Hilford Deterville and veteran Grenadian journalist Leslie Pierre, all passed away in 2014.
The music world also bade farewell to William Clarke, the lead singer of the worldrenowned Jamaican reggae group, Third World and Reggae icon John Holt. (Full report on Caribbean 360. com)
Chikungunya caused by the aedes aegypti mosquito (left) and the legalization of
marijuana dominated regional news in 2014.