Narco Links Suspected as Cattle Ranching Threatens Belize Rainforests

The Guatemalan cattle were back. Dozens of them grazed in the clearing around Valentin Camp, a Belize Defence Force observation post located deep in the protected Chiquibul Forest near Belize’s disputed western border with Guatemala. The presence of the cattle meant that the Guatemalan villagers who raise them were not far away. Rafael Manzanero, who was leading a day-long visit to the area, was not pleased. 

As executive director of the non-profit organisation Friends for Conservation and Development, his work includes managing a small team that monitors and protects much of the 176,000-hectare forest in Belize. “We basically have noted and outlined cattle ranching as being the primary challenge that we face in the Chiquibul today,” Manzanero told the Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network.

The Venezuelans of Chaguanas

The town of Chaguanas in Central Trinidad has long been a bustling centre for the conduct of business, commerce, sport and leisure. Since achievement of borough status in 1990, It has grown in stature for its contributions to national life and is home to over 84,000 burgesses.

In recent years, Chaguanas has also become home to a high number of Venezuelan migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers who now contribute to the key activities that set Chaguanas apart as a unique place to live, work, and play.

In this series of articles, with support from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, CIJN journalists explore the contributions of this relatively new group of residents in the areas of business and commerce and music and sport. We also examine some of the initial and lingering settlement challenges.

Back to Front: Exploitative International JVs, limited access to financing and gaps in a well-intentioned local content law hinder Guyana’s SME growth potential

To front or not to front? That’s the billion-dollar question facing Guyanese businesses. Eager to tap into the South American country’s booming oil and gas industry, cash-strapped local enterprises  unable to access financing from the banking sector have instead turned to joint ventures partnerships with international companies who use the arrangement as a handy way to conform to the country’s local content laws. Their company had been operating – and successful – for over a decade before Exxon-Mobil discovered Guyana’s first economically viable crude oil deposit in 2015, kicking off the country’s multi-billion-dollar economic boom. The discovery was transformative.

Sport and Music Bring Hope to Refugees and Migrants in Trinidad

The small, quiet Maha Sabha Street in Felicity, Chaguanas, wakes up every Sunday morning to a chorus of children playing at Invaders Recreation Ground. The small circular field used predominantly for people playing cricket or football and has a steady flow of exercisers walking its perimeter, is hidden behind narrow roads and congested villages. It’s a maze to get there to the outsider, but Google Maps helps. On any given Sunday, more than a hundred boys and girls attend the recreation ground to learn the sport of cricket. The camp is organised and run by Central Sports Club, a popular cricket club from the Chaguanas borough that plays at the highest level of domestic cricket competition.

Secrecy of Undeclared Gifts a Heavy Burden

December 2022 exposed a practice that questioned the effectiveness of one of the anti-corruption measures instituted in accordance with the Public Life Act. That act guides the actions of public servants in Grenada while the “gift registry” is one of the accountability mediums for people who hold public office. 

It was in December 2022 that Richard Duncan, Chairman of the Grenada Citizenship by Investment Committee returned a “Christmas gift” to Bo Xu, Chief Executive Officer, Mt Hartman Development Ltd. In the return to sender letter, Duncan explained that “The value of the above-mentioned items is incongruent with the Grenada Citizenship by Investment code of business conduct and ethics policy.”  There is no evidence that such a policy was ever published in gazette as part of the Public Life regulation but Section 45, Sub-section one of the Integrity in 2013 Public Life Act says, “A person in public life shall not accept any gift or reward from any person.” 

Lawyer Gillian Bristol who was appointed as the third chairperson of the Integrity Commission said the Public Life law  provides guidance, but the onus is on the person in public life to conduct themselves “so they will not breach what is in the Act.”

Referring specifically to Section 45 subsection 2(b) of the legislation, Bristol says out that the one exception that accepting a gift from a “dignitary” to ensure that a foreign officer is not offended. Bristol said that the law provides for that gift such gift must “to be registered with the Commission”. Despite the limitation, the act says that a public officer can accept gifts from:

(a) a community organisation on a social occasion which represents the creativity of that organisation; and

(b) a foreign dignitary, where the person in public life has reasonable grounds to believe that the refusal to accept the gift may offend the foreign dignitary”

The Public Life Act also instructs, that a person in public life who accepts a “gift or a reward” “shall make a report to the Commission of that fact in the prescribed manner within seven days of the receipt of the gift.” There is much uncertainty about the number of gifts given to, received or refused by public officials since the gift registry became operational in 2019.

Challenges Aplenty

When sailing on the inter-island ferry between Trinidad and Tobago, bending the northwestern peninsula of Trinidad, passengers feel the strength of the sea’s power. In that swathe of salt water and currents, where the Güiria and Western Peninsula almost kiss, seacraft, large and small, are tossed around Las Bocas del Dragón (Mouths of the Dragon – De Bocas in T&T English Creole). 

The sea crossing between Trinidad’s north western peninsula and the Peninsula de Paria known popularly in T&T as “ de Bocas”

It is a middle passage that was crossed skilfully, in the face of danger, by indigenous people. Spanish colonisers exited Venezuela through the Bocas del Serpiente, into the Bocas del Dragon, and into open waters, then to Trinidad and Margarita (Spanish Trinidad – Morales Padrón). 

Members of Simón Bolívar’s revolutionary army executing attacks on the “realistas” from Trinidad’s islet Chacachacare (source). Trinidad historian Michael Anthony writes that Christopher Columbus was hesitant to sail through the Bocas on his third voyage to the “Índias”. For the last ten years, it has been crossed daily by Venezuelans seeking asylum, refuge, and better economic opportunities in Trinidad and Tobago. 

The crossing and what it implies have not become any less treacherous.

Building From The Ground Up

It was a hot and sunny Tuesday afternoon six years ago when Roy landed at the Piarco International Airport, uncertain about what would happen next. What he knew was that he had to get away. When he left Venezuela on board a chartered Venezolana aircraft on November 14 that year, he had US$450 in his pocket and a dream worth millions in his heart.  

After openly criticising his government and what he considered to be corrupt practices at his workplace, the young Venezuelan student was sure the only choice he had was either to stand and face political persecution or flee. 

When he arrived in Trinidad, Roy enrolled as an English student at the Comprehensive English Centre near Arouca to assist with his communication skills. He was lucky enough to get financial help from his Trinidadian family, whom he barely knew but whom he’d met once before when he was six. Maybe it was luck or fate, but the day Roy arrived in Trinidad & Tobago, he met another Venezuelan, Marlys, who had been in the immigration line.

Climate and Health – Caribbean Perspectives

As the world monitors the global thermometer, 1.5 to stay alive is more crucial than ever. There is a direct correlation between climate and health which is escalating. Extreme weather events, vector-borne diseases, respiratory illnesses and concerns around food and water security are issues which are looming over us as we witness a transforming environment. There is a need for a close examination of climate and its impact on health as there is need for mitigation and adaptation.

This series explores some of the experiences across the Caribbean and illustrates the need for cross border collaboration and cooperation towards solutions

Climate-Proofing Education: How Antigua & Barbuda is Tackling Rising Temperatures

Thousands of students who have headed back to school in Antigua and Barbuda since September, are being impacted by severe heat as global temperatures continue to rise. The heat is putting young learners in an environment that is not only uncomfortable but it affects the quality of education they receive. If they cannot stay focused, they’re not getting that information that is communicated. It affects their ability to perhaps even recall or even do the exams sufficiently because the body is already under pressure to get rid of that heat.Climatologist, Orvin Paige

Our research found that the heat is not uniformed all across Antigua and Barbuda. Orange Valley and Five Islands tend to record the highest temperatures, creating additional challenges for students in these areas, while Freetown experiences comparatively milder conditions.

The Impact of Climate Change on Health, Lives, and Livelihood

Climate disasters are taking a heavy toll across St Vincent and the Grenadines. But Indigenous communities in St. Vincent’s northeast have suffered some of the most serious damage from recent hurricanes and floods. Experts now say these communities are in danger of being wiped out unless urgent action is taken to save them.