The Caribbean Year in Review


For the Caribbean, it was the Year of the Vote. By year’s end, five countries, Jamaica, Guyana, St Lucia and Haiti and the British Virgin Islands, will have chosen new leadership, with Jamaicans headed to the polls on Thursday. It was also the Year of Energy – with two countries, the Bahamas and Guyana, pursuing what could prove to be major offshore oil finds, and islands across the region making concerted efforts to look to alternative energy sources – from geothermal in Nevis and Dominica to wind farms like Jamaica’s, at Wigton to solar programmes like those in St Kitts and the Bahamas. It was also the Year of China (although other Asian countries, like South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, also made moves)– with the world’s second-biggest economy continuing its contribution and influence to the Caribbean – from a $30 million new national sport stadium in the Bahamas to a nationwide laptop initiative in Guyana. Ultimately, though, it was the Year of Moving Forward – from a new CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, to the launch of a new, low-cost regional air carrier. Continue reading as Caribbean Journal takes a look at how 2011 treated the countries of the Caribbean.


While Anguilla’s crucial tourism sector was hit hard like most of the region, this year saw concrete signs of growth, led by the success of the new Viceroy Anguilla, the island’s first major branded resort. Now, the government is working ot make sure that another major project, the Temenos, which stalled during the downturn, resumes again. The Temenos, a 280-acre project, was purchased by Lenadro Rizzuto, who owns the nearby CuisinArt Resort & Spa, for $15 million. But with the downturn’s particularly hard hit on Anguilla, the International Monteray Fund has recommended an overhaul of the country’s fiscal framework, although it did note that the country was slated to have managed an overall surplus this year, driven by the success of tourism.


Like several countries in the region, Antigua received a large boost from China, which constructed the country’s new 30-megawatt power plant and signed a series of agreements aimed at economic cooperation. Antigua also embarked upon the Caribbean’s first large-scale Sustainable Tourism Development Plan to determine tourism growth within the global context. But the twin-island state was really marked by a new effort to focus on Information and Communication technology – from making a “digital village” in October to a push by Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer to be “digitally competitive.”


2011 was a Year of Big Projects. The aforementioned national stadium came after the opening of the new $198.1 million International Departures Terminal at Lynden Pindling International Airport, part of a $409.5 million redevelopment at the airport. The country is also undergoing a massive reshaping of its road networks, set for completion in the first quarter of 2012. That comes along with several China-backed infrastructure projects on islands like Abaco and Exuma. And finally, as part of a Caribbean-wide push to promote agriculture, the Bahamas has in many ways been taking the lead – with an epicentre at the North Andros Agro-Industrial Park on the island of Andros. On the political side, the Bahamas was marked by the launch of a new political party, The Democratic National Alliance, by Branville McCartney, a former member of the ruling Free National Movement. But the biggest story this year might have been the report that billions of barrels of oil could be in the waters of the country’s shores, something that led Cuba (which has already begun an offshore drilling programme) and the Bahamas to finally agree on the two countries’ maritime borders, after a 18 years of talks.


The biggest stories in Barbados were mostly about other countries – and Barbados’ plan to tap those foreign markets – both Central American countries like Panama and China, the latter of which is envisioned as a potentially major source of foreign tourists. Accordingly, Barbadian Prime Minister made a high-profile visit to China in June. The year was not without controversy, however, particularly a row between Barbados and Jamaica over the allegedly improper treatment of a Jamaican national at Grantley Adams International Airport. Latin and Central America, too, are Barbadian targets. The country has been working to improve cooperation with Brazil, the region’s largest economy; June marked the inaugural flight by carrier GOL from Sao Paulo to Bridgetown. Panamanian air carrier COPA is itself broadening its reach in the Caribbean, making its inaugural flight into Jamaica’s Montego Bay this month and holding continued talks with Barbados on an airlift agreement. In a bigger bid to boost tourism, the country looked within – naming global star Rihanna to a multi-year deal to exclusively promote the country.


Belize, which has the Caribbean’s fastest growing population, saw growth of an estimated 2.5 percent in 2011, according to an ECLAC report, with a projected GDP growth of 3 percent in 2012. That was driven in part by a series of improving sectors, including services, tourism and agriculture. Belize also swore in a new Chief Justice, Guyanese native Kenneth Benjamin, in September. In the legal arena, Belize finally broke ties with the Privy Council, which heard its last appeal from the country in July. The Caribbean Court of Justice heard its first case from Belize in June, a case involving allegedly improper transfers of state-owned land.


BVI was one of four regional countries to hold elections, with Dr Orlando Smith’s National Democratic Party returning to power in the November election, winning an overall majority, following four years of rule by the Virgin Islands Party. The year in BVI was marked by increased development, including the high-profile Scrub Island project, part of Marriott’s new Autograph Collection, which completed its first phase in August. In a high point for the country, BVI was named as having the Caribbean’s best quality of life in a report by the Financial Times’ fDi Intelligence division.


Cayman was marked by high-profile legislation, most notably the new Gender Equality bill, which was signed by Governor Duncan Taylor in October, after a series of revisions when the initiail legislation encountered opposition from businesses. Cayman also signed a series of tax information agreements, with countries like China and Argentina. It was also no stranger to the Chinese economic wave, which saw a deal for a Chinese developer to build a new port in Georgetown. And looking to capitalize on the growing movement of ICT development in the Caribbean, Cayman signed a deal on Cayman Enterprise City, a planned large-scale technology park that should break ground in 2012. On the lighter side, Cayman’s culinary development continued, with the continued success of high-profile foreign chefs like Michael Schwartz and Eric Ripert in their Caymanian outposts.


From a regional perspective, the biggest story in Dominica was the potential of its geothermal sector, which saw exploration officially begin earlier this month, in a joint project between the governments of Dominica and Iceland. On the world stage, Dominica urged the international community to pay more attention to natural disasters, and the particular vulnerability to them of small island states like Dominica, which was hit hard by flooding in July that caused $6.6 million in damages, including the destruction of a Chinese farming project.


Much of the talk in Grenada was about the astounding success of 19-year-old sprinter Kirani James, who continued his success this summer in the Diamond League. But on a global stage, it was Grenada’s continued leadership in the climate issue. Grenada signed agreements with a series of countries aimed at combating and adapting to the effects of climate change. Grenada signed climate deals with China and Germany, along with a plan for coastal management assistance from South Korea. Next year, it will be host a UN Climate Workshop that is the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. On a sad note, the country mourned legendary storyteller and national icon Aunty Tek, who died this month at the age of 85. Along with China’s climate project, it also announced that it could build a new Track and Field Stadium in Grenada – perhaps the scene of future successes from James.


After 12 years as President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo stepped down (due to term limits) and opened the door for his successor Donald Ramotar, who won the presidency in last month’s general elections. But the elections proved to be a mixed bag for Ramotar’s PPP/C, which won only a plurality of votes and is ruling with a minority government. Guyana was the scene of major work by China, from funding the distribution of a national laptop programme to beginning the construction of a new $51 million Marriott hotel in Georgetown, part of an increased focus on tourism in the country. Cheddi Jagan, which was the scene of the dramatic plane crash that saw a Caribbean Airlines flight split in half without any reported casualties , will be expanded, again thanks to China, as part of a $138 million deal. The mineral-rich country also continued expansion of its gold mining sector and courting would-be investors in its offshore oil sector.


In Haiti, the story was largely politics, with the electoral victory of former musician Michel Martelly, and the inability of the government to agree on a new Prime Minister until Garry Conille was approved in October. On the economic side, Haiti saw renewed strength, with estimated GDP growth of 4.5 percent that is projected to become 8 percent, the highest in the region, next year. That was buoyed in part by reconstruction and focus on investment, but also from help in the growing tourism sector – where Haiti led the Caribbean in hotel development in November. It’s part of a shift from aid to recovery, according to IDB Country Manager for Haiti Jose Agustin Aguerrre. Haiti even became Digicel’s fastest-growing market. But questions remained over several bigger issues, from forming a new Haitian army, to the alleged misuse of aid funds in the country to the presence of the UN – and the cholera allegedy brought to the country by some of the world body’s peacekeepers from Nepal, and which led to a high-profile lawsuit.


Jamaica’s big stories, too, were about politics, and Jamaicans head today to the polls to elect a new government for the 16th time. From the announcement by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding that he would not seek reelection to the rise of new PM Andrew Holness (the youngest in the country’s history) to the resignation of Works Minister Mike Henry over the troubled JDIP programme to the Manatt-Dudus Commission of Enquiry. 2011 was also about the rise of women in politics, from the establishment of the 51 Percent Coalition to the 18 female candidates nominated for this year’s vote. It was also about China, which signed a military aid pact with Jamaica and invested $156 million in the country’s sugar industry. But the biggest story for Jamaica might have been the one that ended in New York, where Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher Coke, the key player in the Extradition Crisis in 2010, pled guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy. Coke was the root of the Commission of Enquiry that examined the role of a US law firm in lobbying against his requested extradition by the United States. That commission ultimately led to the removal of another Minister, Dorothy Lightbourne, from the Cabinet.


Montserrat, which still recovers from a devastating volcano in the 1990s, saw the landmark passage of its new constitution in October, a new chapter in the island’s history that made Ruben Meade the territory’s first-ever Premier. The new document moves powers involving regional affairs to the Premier or his nominee. For Montserrat, which is projected to grow 5 percent in 2012, it was a “modern constitution for a modern country.”


The biggest story in the twin-island federation was the rebirth of the Four Seasons Resort in Nevis, which is the single-biggest employer for that island and a major engine of economic growth in the federation. The $120 million reconstruction and renovation due to Hurricane Omar also featured the hotel’s – and the island’s – eco-tourism strengths. This year saw the federation continue its green drive, from the burgeoning geothermal project in Nevis (and an already-established wind farm) to a new Taiwan-funded solar project in St Kitts. In St Kitts, the biggest story was a group of new programmes aimed at fighting crime, including the formation of the Delta Squad crime-fighting agency – led by Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, who assumed the responsibility for the police and defence forces in September. The Four Seasons was part of a wider growth in tourism in the federation, including a planned new private jet terminal, the Kittitian Hill project and the Christophe Harbour development. And last week, Air Canada made its first nonstop flight into Basseterre from Toronto.


The stories in St Vincent were largely about CARICOM, and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’ initiative on the regional body – from urging the CARICOM “big four” to lead or calling for a permanent Secretary General at CARICOM to replace then-Acting SG Lolita Applewhaite. Indeed, the post was soon filled by Dominican native Irwin LaRocque.


St Lucia was one of the four countries that held elections, with former Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony’s St Lucia Labour Party retaking power , defeating the UWP party of Prime Minister Stephenson King. The biggest victory for the country might have been its ranking as the top country in the Caribbean for doing business, a story Caribbean Journal reported first.


For Trinidad, the story was crime, and the declaration of a State of Emergency in August that lasted for more than three months. Following the murders of 11 people on one Sunday in August, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar made the declaration, which imposed a nighttime curfew, along with a slew of emergency powers for the government. By a count at the end of November, there were more than 7,000 arrests and more than $230 million in drugs seized, along with over 13,000 rounds of ammunition. It culimated in an alleged assassination plot against the Prime Minister.


The Turks and Caicos swore in a new Governor, Damian Roderic Todd, amid the ongoing stabilization of the country by the British Government following alleged widespread corruption by the government of former Premier Michael Misick, whose assets were frozen in July. Earlier this month, TCI’s Attorney General obtained the first civil recovery order related to the investigation, which is being conducted by the government’s Special Investigation and Prosecution Team. Turks was also the operating base of Caribbean Ponzi schemer David Smith, who was finally sentenced in Florida court to 30 years in prison for his operations in Jamaica and TCI and the US.