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November 07 2011

Caribbean: the meaning of identity

Creative Commess hosts a blog symposium “about Caribbean people, about West Indian people, about our contemporary experiences … ranging through race & identity to culture, mental health to constructs of beauty and more,” with contributions from seven Caribbean bloggers.

March 04 2011

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December 24 2010

Caribbean: Defining Moments of 2010

By Janine Mendes-Franco

Many landmark events happened in the Caribbean this year, prompting reactions from the regional blogosphere - from student protests at the University of Puerto Rico to the release of Cuban political prisoners. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these was the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Many bloggers were still wrapped up in the novelty and fresh hopes for the New year when disaster struck on January 12, setting a sombre tone for the months ahead. Here are our picks for the stories that defined the Caribbean blogosphere in 2010…

The Haiti Earthquake
Sudden, unexpected, unforgiving: Measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, this earthquake was bound to do serious damage wherever it struck. In Haiti, a poor island nation with inadequate infrastructure and the majority of the population living in sub-standard conditions, the effects were disastrous. As the death toll continued to rise and the country remained immobilized, the region (and the world!) came to the country's aid. Bloggers were desperately hoping that the rescue efforts would prove successful, even in the face of massive aftershocks; citizen media rose to the challenge, sending out valuable first-hand information.

Tent city, Juvenat, by caribbeanfreephoto, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons License.

Global Voices Online sent a team to Haiti in the earthquake's aftermath, primarily to offer support for citizen media, since we believe that there is a real need to amplify Haitian voices when it comes to relief and reconstruction efforts. Our Managing Director, Georgia Popplewell, and former GV Lingua Team Leader, Alice Backer, “[made] contact with Haitians using citizen media tools, and [identified] others with the potential to participate in and enrich the online conversation, given the right resources”, with a view to increasing the amount of local citizen media activity. Visit our Special Coverage Page for various perspectives on the earthquake and subsequent relief efforts.

As if the devastating effects of the earthquake on the local food supply weren't enough, Haitian farmers also had to hurriedly mobilise against Monsanto, a company that produces genetically modified seed and wanted to get a foot in the door, via “a donation of conventional corn and vegetable seeds to farmers in Haiti, to help increase food production and aid long-term earthquake recovery.”

Towards the end of a trying year, the country faced a debilitating cholera crisis, braced for a hurricane and, when it appeared that the cholera epidemic was brought into the country by (largely unwelcome) UN peacekeepers, tried as best it could to function in the midst of violent protests.

Natural disasters and health challenges were not the only challenges the island nation faced. Its annus horriblis came to a climax with the staging of the country's controversial elections; bloggers are still questioning the transparency of the process, even as results continue to be verified.

These ripple effects of the January 12 earthquake have undoubtedly made 2010 a year Haiti would rather forget, but the reality is that other regional territories were also affected by the tremor. The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the same island, Hispaniola [ES: La Española]. Since borders are fluid and permeable, everything that affects one country affects the other in some way or another. Therefore, the Dominican Republic also felt the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit Haiti, leaving at least 300,000 dead and many thousands more homeless and living in extremely harsh conditions.

The Puerto Rico Student Protests
Puerto Rico battled a severe economic crisis during 2010. The despair and angst caused by conservative public social and economic policies provided the context for the student strike that paralyzed the main campus of the state-run University of Puerto Rico during two months starting in April 2010. Students of campuses from all over the island joined the protest against educational budget cuts, and their plight catalyzed a national social movement.

Students protest at the main campus of the UPR. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz of Diálogo. Republished under a CC License.

In December 2010, students of the main campus in Río Piedras, San Juan, declared a second strike, this time specifically against an annual $800 fee. The government ordered the Police to occupy the university’s campuses, which has led to violent confrontations with students. During both strikes, students have creatively used online platforms, blogs and social media networks, to express themselves.

The Jamaica State of Emergency
The eyes of the world were focused on Jamaica from late May, as the Prime Minister finally stopped trying to escape the inevitable and allowed the US extradition request for alleged drug don Christopher “Dudus” Coke to be signed, setting in motion a series of events that practically held the country in a vice grip for over a month. As @anniepaul put it:

The pact between the criminals and the state has been broken, we are being shown the consequences of that rupture…

Citizen media did a stellar job as a reliable source of information throughout the unrest. Our Special Coverage Page has all the details.

The Release of Cuban Political Prisoners
Over the course of the last few months, the Cuban government, as part of a deal brokered by the Spanish government and the Catholic Church, has released several prisoners of conscience, albeit to exile in Spain. The move followed the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapato Tamayo, after which the situation on the island became even more tense, with Cuban authorities clamping down on bloggers and activists around the time of Tamayo's funeral. Thirteen prisoners are still due to be released under the agreement; although the deadline has already passed, bloggers are still watching the situation closely.

This was not the only important story to come out of Cuba this year: soon after Fidel Castro admitted to a reporter (and subsequently retracted his statement) that the Cuban economic model no longer works, the government began the process of cutting 500,000 state jobs, in an effort resuscitate the island's struggling economy.

Interestingly, the government also announced that a submarine fiber optic cable linking Venezuela, Cuba, and Jamaica, will be operating by January of 2011. Although this will greatly enhance the quality of Internet connectivity, it will not necessarily lead to more access.

Plane crash in Central Cuba. Courtesy of Escambray.

On November 4, sixty-eight people died in the crash of an Aerocaribbean plane in central Cuba. Social media networks immediately became one of the main channels of communication.

Sad Farewells
Several regional territories had to say goodbye to national icons this year: Barbados lost its relatively new and certainly youngest-ever Prime Minister, Jamaica - and indeed the world - lost reggae icon Gregory “Cool Ruler” Isaacs to cancer and Monserrat (and calypso fans everywhere) said their final farewell to Arrow, the man who brought us the mega-hit “Hot, Hot, Hot”.

In other music news, reggae star Buju Banton was a regular topic of discussion in the regional blogosphere, as he went to court in the United State to defend himself against drug trafficking charges. After the judge presiding over his case declared a mistrial in September, the singer is scheduled to go through the process again, with a new trial beginning early in the New Year.

Hurricane Season
The 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season started early, with Hurricane Earl, which was closely followed by Igor and finally, Tomas, the storm which appeared to have done the greatest damage. When neighbouring nations pledged their relief support in the hurricane's aftermath, Trinidad and Tobago's newly-elected (and first female) Prime Minister came under fire for her statement that that any release of the twin island republic's aid dollars hinged on reciprocal economic benefits. Her words was interpreted as insensitive and prompted an online boycott of Trinidad and Tobago products across the region.

From natural disasters to political wrangling, 2010 was a busy year - and as 2011 approaches, the Global Voices Caribbean Team will continue to monitor the regional blogosphere in an ongoing effort to facilitate meaningful conversation and understanding throughout the Caribbean archipelago.

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle contributed to this post.

September 16 2010

Caribbean: Farewell, Arrow

By Janine Mendes-Franco

Caribbean bloggers are mourning the loss of one of the region's soca music pioneers - Alphonsus Cassell, better known as “Arrow” - whose mega-hit, Hot, Hot, Hot is largely credited with taking soca to a global audience.

News reports confirm that the singer had been ailing from cancer for some time; bloggers' tributes have been both touching and personal.

One Tribe, Many Voices recognises that his music was a soundtrack to the lives of many Caribbean people, even posting a link for readers to take a listen:

For many people who are not familiar with Calypso, Arrow may not be a recognizable name but for those of us who have danced and partied from Brooklyn to Port of Spain that is not the case.

Arrow brought a distinct flavor to Kaiso, it was the flavor of Montserrat. Arrow put Montserrat and himself on the musical map in 1982 with his gigantic hit: ‘Hot, Hot, Hot'.

I can recall being drenched in sweat in Trinidad Carnival as Arrow sang ‘Bills', ‘Soca Rhumba' and ‘Rub Up'. His was a different take on soca, it had the feel of merengue and it seemed to crossover into a more Pan-Caribbean vibe. The beat was hard and it reminded me of the French Caribbean and the Spanish Caribbean all at once. The horns were very prominent, in your face.

The Caribbean Camera lists Arrow's musical achievements, but also offers a peek into another side of the man:

Arrow began to fuse calypso with other genres such as R&B, Zouk and salsa and in 1982 he worked with arranger Leston Paul and with his Multi National Force band to record the album `Hot Hot Hot.`

The title track became his first pan-Caribbean hit and the biggest selling soca hit of all time. It was adopted as the theme song of the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, and was later covered by David Johansen (in his Buster Poindexter alter ego), Menudo, and Babla & Kanchan.

Arrow also established himself as a businessman in Montserrat, owning the Arrow`s Manshop store in Plymouth. When it was destroyed by the Soufriere Hills volcanic eruption, he relocated to Salem. He organized a fundraising calypso festival on the island in 1996, in response to the devastation caused by the volcano.

Arrow continued to be much in demand in the Caribbean and most recently performed at the Cricket World Cup 2007 opening ceremonies with Shaggy, Byron Lee and Kevin Lyttle.

Finally, from St. Vincent and the grenadines, Abeni says:

Born on the tiny island of Montserrat Alphonsus ‘Arrow' Cassell's talent was anything but tiny. He gave us hits such as ‘Pirates', ‘Long Time' and the monster hit ‘Hot, Hot, Hot'. It was to enjoy more success following Buster Poindexter's remake in 1987. Years later, St Vincent's Kevin Lyttle was to enjoy unprecedented success with his hit ‘Turn me on'. So, it is I think fair to say that Arrow paved the way for other soca artistes to realize that soca could be marketed to non traditional markets.

I think it was on the weekend I read that he was airlifted to Antigua for medical attention. Today (September 15th) I learnt he had succumbed to brain cancer. My condolences go out to his family and the people of Montserrat who are mourning his loss. If it's any consolation he will always be ‘hot, hot, hot'.

August 27 2010

Anguilla: One Step Back

By Janine Mendes-Franco

Corruption-free Anguilla thinks that Montserrat's new draft constitution “does not advance government…rather, it sets Montserratians back decades, particularly in the area of human rights.”

January 14 2010

Caribbean: Helping Haiti

Within hours of the catastrophic earthquake on 12 January which devastated Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti, bloggers elsewhere in the Caribbean began to respond and comment. By the following day, as the extent of the disaster became clearer — one estimate suggests a third of the country's population of 10 million may have been affected, with casualties in the tens of thousands — Caribbean bloggers were busy posting updates and appealing to their readers to support relief efforts.

In many Caribbean territories, NGOs, civil society groups, and private citizens quickly launched efforts to raise relief assistance. In Jamaica, Silicon Caribe posted a list of international agencies accepting cash donations, as well as information on collection points for other donations in Kingston. The MEP Caribbean Publishers blog posted similar information for Trinidadian readers. Jamaican blogger Long Bench suggested six things “Jamaicans can do besides praying”. Miami-based Jamaican writer Geoffrey Philp, nothing that “Some things are bigger than literature,” also suggested ways that concerned readers could help. And in Barbados, Cheese-on-bread posted news of a fundraising radiothon, along with the text of Prime Minister David Thompson's statement on Haiti. Live in Guyana posted a similar statement by Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo. Repeating Islands gave a roundup of relief measures announced by other Caribbean nations.

Other Caribbean bloggers scrutinised the reactions of their respective governments to the ongoing tragedy. The Trinidad and Tobago government in particular came in for angry words from bloggers who noted how long it was before Prime Minister Patrick Manning made any comment about the situation — almost a full day — and suggested that the initial US$1 million (TT$6.3 million) committed to Haiti was an inadequate response, considering the magnitude of the disaster and Trinidad and Tobago's relative wealth. “All we've heard is that Trinidad and Tobago, a country whose Gross National Income per capita exceeds TT$25,000.00, could only donate TT$4.67 per capita to help,” wrote kid5rivers. He added:

In T&T, we consume at least TT$1m per day in carbonated “sweet drinks”; TT$5.5m per day on subsidising vehicle fuel; and, TT$1m per day on unnecessary cellular phone text messaging and calls.

For the time being, then, could we not set aside some of the money we gladly expend on such superfluous luxuries to divert same, instead, to our devastated neighbours?

“How can we dance when their beds are burning?” asked Guanaguanare. He also posted a video and the lyrics of calypsonian David Rudder's 1988 song “Haiti”, which has been a rallying cry for many in the Caribbean in the past two days:

Haiti, I'm sorry
We misunderstood you
One day we'll turn our heads
And look inside you

Some Trinidadian Twitter users also express frustration with their government's response. @basantam wrote:

Every int'l news report says that Haiti needs Search & rescue, heavy machinery & helicopters NOW. PM Manning says “We will see what happens”

@blahblohblog responded:

Please remember, it's the quality of the relief assistance, not the quantity or speed that will matter.

Meanwhile, journalist and blogger Andre Bagoo posted a scan of a media release issued by the Office of the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister on the afternoon of 13 January, with information about a party to be hosted that night at the Prime Minister's residence. “No official release was issued on that day by the Government in relation to the Haitian disaster,” Bagoo sardonically noted. He suggested that his readers contribute to a YMCA relief drive.

In the Bahamas, Nicolette Bethel expressed outrage at the way the tragedy in Haiti was reported by Bahamian newspapers:

the headlines of our foremost newspapers … rather than forcing us Bahamians to shake our deep, deep prejudices against our closest neighbours, against our cousins and brothers and sisters to the south, instead reinforce our prejudices and our fears. “PANIC, LOOTING AND TRIAGE AFTER MAJOR HAITI QUAKE”, screams the Tribune; the Guardian warns, “GOVT BRACES FOR HAITIAN INFLUX”.

…the messages being given to our public are messages that reinforce our ideas that the citizens of Haiti are degenerate and lawless, helpless people who come and tief the wealth of others (=Bahamians), and messages that we need to brace for an influx of more of these people that we don’t want or need. And these messages are having their effect. The natural responses of ordinary Bahamians grow mixed. Some of us express sorrow for the tragedy while worrying about our safety, concerned that we will have to house more refugees.

Living in Barbados expressed a sense of helplessness in the face of catastrophe:

But what to do? In discussing this briefly last night, it seemed clear that besides offering financial aid, most of us could do little. I have an urge to go and help claw away rubble and maybe help find bodies. But, I know too that my willingness is not enough in such situations.

US-based Guyanese blogger Charmaine Valere reflected on parallels between events in Haiti and the disastrous volcanic activity in nearby Montserrat over the past 15 years, prompted by her recent reading of the late Montseratian writer E.A. Markham.

For others, the Haiti earthquake was a wake-up call for the whole Caribbean region. Trinidadian Taran Rampersad wrote:

While everyone is up in arms about getting relief to Haiti — as well they should — they should be taking a few moments to look around their own country. Since the limelight is on, all the Caribbean nations should be looking into building standards and enforcement of those building standards…. Shouldn't the Caribbean as a whole be better prepared?

December 15 2009

Montserrat: Level 4

Repeating Islands reports that Montserrat's volcanic activity has been raised to Level 4.

December 01 2009

Montserrat: Soufriere Activity

Repeating Islands has an update on the activity of Montserrat's Soufriere volcano.

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