December 20, 2014

Granger to AFC: What exactly are you proposing?

Coalition negotiations…

As plans intensify for coalition talks between A Partnership for National Unity, Alliance For Change, and members of civil society, the Leader of APNU, David Granger, is once again questioning what exactly the AFC plans to bring to the table during their engagement.

Granger, at a press conference on Friday, said that while APNU remained open to dialogue between the two parties and civil society, it would like to know what exactly would be on the agenda when the parties do congregate for dialogue.

According to the Opposition Leader, APNU General Secretary Joseph Harmon has already taken steps to engage his AFC counterpart, David Patterson on the issue but is yet to receive a response from the party.

“At this point in time, we do not know what the proposal involves, we have asked the AFC to give us a proposal so that there is something to talk about. I would like to know what the AFC is actually calling for that has not been provided by the APNU over the last three and a half years” said Granger during Friday’s press briefing.

Granger was adamant that as it stands what is being proposed by the AFC is something that would have already been part of APNU’s charter. This charter was published since 2011 when the APNU coalition was formed with five political parties. The APNU Leader said: “There is something on the table already and we would like to know what else is the AFC coming up with…what we have asked the AFC for is what they want to speak about.”

Awaiting proposal

Granger posited that as the leader of the APNU partnership, he has a fundamental responsibility to inform the leaders of the other members of the coalition of any impending change that would affect the party. At present, the members of the APNU included the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR); Working People’s Alliance (WPA); the National Front Alliance (NFA); and the Guyana Action Party (GAP).

“I have an obligation as leader of the APNU to discuss with my other partners – WPA, NFA ,GAP any major proposal that will affect the character and integrity of APNU so we are waiting now, on hearing from the AFC about their proposal,” remarked the Opposition Leader.

Granger also said that the possibility of a grand coalition with the AFC was welcomed by the APNU partnership. He said he was especially pleased that the AFC came to the realisation that coalescing with APNU would not make the party political “dead meat”. “We have advocated for the start of partnerships for national unity … if we want to get rid of the ‘dictatorship’ that has prorogued our Parliament there should be unity,” maintained Granger.

When contacted on Friday, with respect to the proposal, the General Secretary of the AFC plainly said: “No comment”. Patterson on Thursday confirmed that invitations have been dispatched and talks between his party and APNU will commence soon.

At an AFC press conference, the General Secretary noted that among the invitees are members of civil society and trade unions. Patterson related too that six weeks have been set aside for talks on the pro-democracy alliance. Thereafter, a decision should be announced as to whether there will be such an alliance and of equal importance, the members of that alliance. Asked about possible outcomes, Patterson said: “I don’t want to speculate. There are ongoing discussions so we don’t want to speculate on the outcome.”

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Another mother dies during child birth at GPHC

A young Alberttown, Georgetown mother lost her life at the Georgetown Public Hospital on Wednesday shortly after giving birth at the institution.

According to a release from the hospital, Kiana Richmond was admitted on December 7, but died 10 days later after some complications.

“Upon discerning a severe condition, doctors immediately performed a lower segment caesarean section and bilateral tubal ligation,” the release said.

It was noted too that she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit on December 8. The release said that a Post-Mortem is to be performed to ascertain the cause of death. The baby is in good health and has been discharged from the hospital.

Meanwhile, Alliance For Change (AFC) Member of Parliament Cathy Hughes, at a press conference, belaboured the fact that 2014 has recorded a number of maternal deaths at local health institutions.

“We have been disappointed with the performance of the health sector, specifically with the high instance of maternal death,” said Hughes in response to a question. Hughes noted that better systems should be put in place to ensure that quality health services are delivered at hospitals and other health institutions across Guyana.

However, as Guyana continues to grapple with the rising incidence of maternal mortality, Government, through the Health Ministry and the agencies attached to the United Nations here, is valiantly working towards totally eradicating the bane, which is said to have the ability to crumble any economy. The improvement of maternal health is identified as Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Number Five, a declaration adopted by Guyana’s Government along with 188 other countries some 14 years ago.

The Health and Finance Ministries and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representatives recently launched the MDG Framework and Campaign on Maternal Health.

In evaluating its progress toward the MDGs, Guyana’s Government has identified MDG Five – the improvement of maternal health as a goal that needs prioritisation if its targets are to be achieved by 2015.

Head of the Maternal and Child Health Department (MCH) of the Health Ministry, Dr Janice Woolford said that the action plan undertaken has benefited from the input of stakeholders here in Guyana.

According to Dr Woolford, the MCH Department has also been actively involved in ascertaining the challenges and providing support where necessary to ensure effective service.

Woolford said her department has also been working with midwives to strengthen their capacities and has been providing information and education in this area. “That is why we are launching this campaign with all these materials,” she said.

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More drug addicts in society – Salvation Army

…Govt plugs $5M into rehab programme

The Salvation Army on Friday said that there has been a rapid increase in the number of drug addicts in the country even as it works to strengthen its rehabilitation programme for male abusers.

Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh handing over Government’s annual contribution to the Drug Rehabilitation Programme to the Salvation Army’s Divisional Commander Major Emmerson Cumberbatch as Chairman Edward Boyer and Major Urick Thibaud look on

Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh handing over Government’s annual contribution to the Drug Rehabilitation Programme to the Salvation Army’s Divisional Commander Major Emmerson Cumberbatch as Chairman Edward Boyer and Major Urick Thibaud look on

Speaking to the Guyana Times, Chairman of the organisation, Eddie Boyer, said that they have been playing their part in helping to reform addicts. However, he noted that more persons have been coming into the centre for care, which is an indication that there has been an increase in the abuse of all forms of drugs.

Boyer told the Guyana Times on the sidelines of a ceremony to commission the organisation’s new building on Water Street. The occasion also saw the Government of Guyana donating $5 million to the work of the organisation’s drug rehabilitation programme.

Speaking at the event, Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh opined that the Salvation Army has proven to be a proactive and dynamic partner in confronting some of the most serious social challenges facing society, particularly drug/substance abuse. The Minister noted that the reality is that today’s world is beset with serious social challenges and institutions like the Salvation Army that have a vast reach play an important role in crossing the bridge from religious ministry to tackling and overcoming social challenges.

Dr Singh highlighted that the Drug Rehabilitation Programme was an area in which the Salvation Army is specialised, and for which it won the Medal of Service National Award back in 2011. The Minister lauded the success of the programme, stating that he was able to bear firsthand witness to the transformation made in the lives of substance abusers. He stressed that persons make mistakes and should not be chastised or condemned without being given a second chance to start over.

Collective responsibility
“Society as a whole has a collective responsibility to ensure that we create the conditions and establish the institutions that can facilitate the saving of lives, that can facilitate the granting of this second chance and this programme does just that. It catches those who, for whatever reason, might have been visited with the misfortune or error of substance abuse and gives them a second chance,” he remarked. The Finance Minister outlined that substance abuse is not something to be taken casually, as it does not only affect a particular section or group in society. Instead, he added, that it is a global scourge that some may say we import through television, music and other means, but, nonetheless, it is a reality that we must deal with.

Successes
Dr Singh noted that the Salvation Army’s Drug Rehabilitation Programme has seen many successful clients, including well-known public figures in Guyana. “The stories of transformations of individual lives that have been told in this compound every year are truly awe-inspiring and highly motivating stories of lives being transformed,” he said.

The Finance Minister concluded that it was for these reasons that Government has committed to continue supporting the work of Salvation Army to help transform the lives of its thousand of clients. As such, Government has donated $5 million, in additional to another $5 million donated earlier this year, to support the Drug Rehabilitation programme.

Government has also plugged some $16.5 million into the rehabilitation project of the Army’s Social Centre located at Water Street, Kingston. The facility will also serve as the residential facility and a halfway house.

In the meantime, Administrator of the organisation, Major Urick Thibaud, disclosed that when he arrived in Guyana back in 2011 and saw the condition of the facility, he committed to building a new facility so that clients can have a better living environment to recuperate. The Major pointed out that this vision was made possible with assistance of the Government.

Major Thibaud noted that the eight months’ project catered for new and improved facilities and expanded space. He added that the most important feature is the fencing of the property which provides a more secure facility for clients.

The Chairman of the Advisory Board pointed out that the project was not an easy task, since they had difficulty finding a contractor to do the job. “Every time we looked at the estimate, the cost of the work goes up and it became kind of a nightmare because you can’t find the funding and the project cost keeps going up,” he highlighted.

Boyer disclosed that based upon an agreement made with former President Bharrat Jagdeo, a proposal was made in 2012; however, the project has to be reconstructed for it to get the financing. The project was funded with the contributions made by Government, and donations given to the institution.

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Man kills Guyanese wife, rival

The stabbing to death of a man whose naked body was found outside a Brooklyn apartment building came after his lover’s husband allegedly found them having sexual intercourse in a car on Wednesday last.

Steve Whittingham

Steve Whittingham

Jerome Barrett, 35, of East New York and Jonelle Barker, 36, of Brooklyn, New York were stabbed several times to their chests by the spurned husband, Steve Whittingham, 48, who was later arrested. Barrett, who also was married, was mortally wounded but managed to flee, clutching his clothing and wallet, the sources said. He made his way to the entrance of an apartment building on Louisiana Avenue near Seaview Avenue in Spring Creek Towers shortly after 01:00h on Wednesday.

He was ringing the buzzer at the main entrance, trying to summon help, when he was overpowered by the suspect. According to reports, his clothes and wallet were found a few feet from his body, just outside the building’s entrance. In addition, one day later, about 03:30h, Barrett’s car, a Kia, was found parked on New Lots Avenue in Brownsville.

Stunned
Inside the trunk was Jonelle Barker’s body. She, too, was naked, reports stated. Investigators believe Barrett and Barker, who were baggage handlers at JFK Airport, were having an affair and that Whittingham killed them in a rage after learning about the infidelity and catching them red handed.

Jerome Barrett’s brother, Benjamin Barrett Jr, who lives in Virginia, was stunned when he heard his sibling had been slain. “No! … You’re kidding, man!” he said, adding that their father had died of cancer just a week ago. “He was just coming back down here this weekend for the funeral.” Whittingham and Barker shared a home in Flatlands, Police reports stated. Outside their Avenue K home on Thursday night, an elderly woman wept as neighbours tried to console her. Neighbours said the woman was Whittingham’s mother but she declined to comment on the tragic incident.

A cousin said the entire family was stunned. “This is a shock to all of us,” the cousin said. “He loved her so much.”
Neighbours had only good things to say about the dreadlocked Whittingham. They said he works in a garage, is a family man and was just seen buying doughnuts for his children. Barker on Tuesday twice updated her Facebook cover photo, first with a picture lauding God as the best listener who hears our prayers, then with a picture of Betty Boop.

Jonelle Barker

Jonelle Barker

Jerome Barrett

Jerome Barrett

Barrett lived four miles from the Spring Creek Towers building where his body was found. Whittingham drove Barrett’s Kia from the scene after Barrett fled, the Police added. They did not reveal where the car had initially been parked, but they said investigators have recovered surveillance video of the killings.

Barrett’s sister-in-law said neither she nor her husband knew Barrett was having an affair. “He always seemed to be family-oriented,” Michelle Wilson-Barrett said. “He had a heart made of gold.

“It’s shocking to me,” she added. “I didn’t know that side of him.” She also raged at Whittingham. “He could have hit him in the head with a bat or just beat him up,” she said. “I’m a firm believer of you reap what you sow. I think he should pay for this.”
The murder suspect was charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder, which could get him life without parole if convicted.

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9-year-old girl killed saving mom

Eon Inniss, the neighbour at whose home the perpetrator’s reputed wife hid, speaking to the media

Eon Inniss, the neighbour at whose home the perpetrator’s reputed wife hid, speaking to the media

Tuschen triple murder:

 

– two others murdered as man goes berserk

Three persons are now dead after they were hacked to death on Thursday morning at Tuschen, East Bank Essequibo. Another person is critical following the chopping incident.

Villagers are in a state of shock following the gruesome murder of Bibi Zalima Khan, 55; Ashley Boodhoo, 9; and Floyd Drakes, 30, all of Phase Two, Tuschen New Housing Scheme, and the attempted murder of Geeta Boodhoo.

According to information gathered, the suspect, Joshua Franklyn, also of Tuschen, broke several louver panes to gain access to the home and started to chop the occupants indiscriminately. The now hospitalised Boodhoo, Khan and Drakes were reportedly having a few drinks when the incident occurred.

Nine-year-old Ashley was in the bedroom with her five siblings when she heard the commotion and went to the rescue of her mother but not before instructing her brothers and sisters to hide under a bed. As she went into the living room area, she was chopped several times by the suspect. In a bid to escape, she ran towards the kitchen area where she collapsed and later died.

Khan, her grandmother, reportedly died in the living room while Drakes was found next to a toilet in the yard. Boodhoo, Franklyn’s reputed wife, escaped and hid at a neighbour’s home.

At the scene, there were shattered glass, beer bottles and blood everywhere.

Eon Inniss, the neighbour at whom Boodhoo took refuge, was washing the blood from his veranda when the Guyana Times visited, and related that about 00:15h on Thursday morning, he was awakened by a woman’s voice calling for help.

This promoted him to look through the window and upon enquiring, the now injured woman told him that her mother was dead. This bombshell was followed by total silence. Soon after, he heard the woman’s other daughter screaming that her grandmother was dead and as such, instructed her to keep running since the suspect was chasing after her.

Inniss immediately contacted a friend at Parika Police Station and related what the woman had said. While doing so, he said he heard a loud banging on the door followed by the suspect’s voice saying “Samantha, I know meh wife deh in deh… send she out let me deal with she #$#$^#$%&$^^&%#”.

He said he collected a chopper and told Franklyn that his reputed wife was not there and that he must leave his yard. As he looked through the window, he saw the suspect leaving on his pedal cycle.

“Because it was dark, de woman hide behind the car that de park under the house… so when he come in through the gate instead he walk around the car, he walk around the step so he couldn’t see the woman.”

As Inniss closed the windows, he heard Boodhoo’s frail voice coming from his platform, and opened the door – she was lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

By this time, one Police rank had arrived at the scene and subsequently called for assistance. As they went into the home where the chopping incident occurred, he saw Khan lying in the sitting area with her hand severed and a gash to her neck and when he looked closer, he saw the young girl in the kitchen.

She, too, had a huge gash to her head. At that time, Drakes was not seen, but he was found some two hours after in the backyard. He received the brunt of the attack, since there were chop wounds all over his back, head, abdomen and feet.

The bodies were removed from the house about 03:00h after the Police completed their initial investigation.

Inniss stated that the suspect was always a quiet person, but the Guyana Times understands that he was charged for assaulting his reputed wife earlier in the year. When this publication visited a sister of the injured woman, her surviving children were there. The sister, Sharda, however, was at the Leonora Police Station, but refused to speak with the media.

Boodhoo had taken out a restraining order against Franklyn and wanted to end their relationship. She had decided to commence a new relationship with Drakes and the accused became annoyed. She is now in critical condition at the Georgetown Public Hospital following the dastardly attack, while the perpetrator has gone into hiding.

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What gets SWAT out of bed?

Acting Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud

Acting Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud

If not Sterling invasion…

The Guyana Police Force’s decision not to deploy its Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Unit in the current fragile state of its Christmas security plan has raised eyebrows and criticisms from both citizens and the business community.

Many citizens are of the view that the unit should have been deployed at the recent invasion of the Sterling Products Limited complex at Providence, East Bank Demerara by a gang of about 10 gunmen, but the hierarchy of the Force says that the specially-trained men are to confront major crimes.

According to acting Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud, the fact that the SWAT Unit has not been deployed since its establishment earlier this year augurs well for the security sector.

This is so, he explained, since it means that there has not been a serious or high profile situation that warranted the presence of the highly-trained team.

“So far, the unit has never been deployed and I’ll be happy if I can come here next year and report that it has never deployed. It means that serious security situation has no arisen in Guyana,” the acting Police Commission pointed out.

Persaud disclosed that while the highly-skilled team has completed the overseas-based training, the local training will be ongoing in order to keep the unit “alive” and active.

Additionally, he stated that tactical and weapons training will be done with all the ranks within the Guyana Police Force.

The Commissioner outlined that the deployment of the SWAT Unit is controlled by conditions set out in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and will have to be authorised by the Police Commissioner based on assessment of the situation. He stressed that the unit will be deployed only in high profile situations and for the arrest of high profile suspects. However, the acting Commissioner pointed out that in most cases, the regular patrols have been successful in apprehending such criminals without the help of the unit.

“Most of the high profile suspects since the unit has been in place were arrested by patrols even before we know about their whereabouts. They know, they move, they arrest,” he told Guyana Times.

The acting Commissioner made reference to the recent robbery of a Montrose, East Coast Demerara supermarket earlier this week, where Police shot and killed two bandits during an armed confrontation.

Persaud pointed out that he will not allow the SWAT Unit to work along with the Police. He posited that the team was highly-trained for special and high profile matters and will remain intact until such situations arise.

Will be happy

Asked what will happen if there is no “high profile” or “serious situation” that would require the presence of the SWAT Unit, the acting Commissioner said that he will be happy if that is the case, noting that it would mean that the country’s security has not been threatened to such a dire extent.

The acting Police Commissioner dismissed any consideration of allowing the elite unit to work along with the Police to conduct regular policing operations just to keep the members active.

“That (SWAT Unit) is a tool to be used for specific action, for a specific deployment…. You know if you have a tool, you only use it in a situation, it’s always good that you have it so if the situation arises again then you have it on hand to use,” he said.

Commissioner Persaud remarked that Australia never had a hostage situation before, but they had one recently, noting that the Force will be keeping the SWAT Unit on hold until needed, especially during his tenure as top cop.

Earlier this year, the country’s first batch of SWAT officers was introduced to Guyana when the training programme was launched at the Police Training Centre. The establishment of the SWAT Unit was done through collaboration between the Government of Guyana and US-based security and justice reform consultancy firm, The Emergency Group (TEG).

In October 2013, the US$796,987 contract was signed between the Home Affairs Ministry and US based-high level team to train the 27- member elite unit. The members of the local SWAT Unit were chosen based on their age, health, mindset, years of service, experience and their overall conduct.

The objective behind establishing a SWAT team was to create additional crime-fighting strategies to deal with serious crimes beyond the capacity of the Police Force.

The SWAT team will also be tackling small pockets of crime in Guyana.

Of recent, persons have been commenting on the inaction of the high-profile unit that many thought was much needed for the country, given the fluctuating crime situation.

Only recently, following the robbery/murder carried out at Sterling Products, Providence, East Bank Demerara, there were concerns raised about the absence of the team at the scene.

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6 charged, 4 found guilty of drunk driving

Romell Mc Donald

Romell Mc Donald

As the Guyana Police Force continues to intensify efforts to curb road fatalities, six more men have been charged and four of them found guilty by the courts for driving under the influence ((DUI) of alcohol, Police said on Thursday.

Only on Wednesday, acting Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud pointed out that this new initiative adopted by the Force to publish DUI offenders would be effective since the public would know them and cause pressure to build on offenders hence they would not repeat this illegal act.

“We need to get into the culture (of publishing offenders). We need to put pressure on our society, on ourselves (because) not only are you reckless with yourself but with the lives of other road users,” he stated.

Persaud acknowledged that traffic was one of the areas that the Force was unable to manage this year hence resulting in the deaths of 133 persons, a 27 per cent increase from figures recorded during the same period last year. He noted that they have found that more needs to done with regard to the education and enforcement aspects.

Parmanand Paramchane

Parmanand Paramchane

The acting Commissioner explained that Police have limited resources such as speed guns and breathalysers, but they will have to find means of reversing this situation, since speeding and drunk driving have been identified as the two main causes of fatal accidents.

“We plan to do some high-impact operations: bring all those equipment into one area and target heavy drivers,” Persaud outlined. He stressed that this would be done at various times and locations where drivers tend to be driving under the influence of alcohol or speeding.

Charges

Derick Latchman

Derick Latchman

The six persons who were charged by the Police include: Parmanand Paramchane, 41, of Number 71 Village, Corentyne, Berbice, who was stopped and tested with a breathalyser on December 6, while driving motor car GKK 6710 on Dukestown Public Road, Corentyne. He was found to be above the legal limit in terms of the consumption of alcohol. He was charged and appeared at the Springlands Magistrate’s Court on December 11, where he pleaded guilty and was fined $7500.

Ron Derick

Ron Derick

Additionally, Romell Mc Donald, 58, of Number 77 Housing Scheme, Corentyne, was stopped and tested with a breathalyser on December 2, while driving motor car GPP 4090 on the Skeldon Public Road, Corentyne, Berbice. He was found to be above the legal limit in terms of the consumption of alcohol. He was charged and appeared at the Springlands Magistrate’s Court on December 4, where he pleaded guilty and was fined $7500.

Eon Bentinck, of 41 La Grange, West Bank Demerara, was also stopped and tested with a breathalyser on December 6, while driving motor car PGG 9168 on the Ruimveldt Public Road, Georgetown. He was found to be above the legal limit in terms of the consumption of alcohol. He was charged and appeared at the Providence Magistrate’s Court on December 10, where he pleaded guilty and was fined $7500.

Eon Bentinck

Eon Bentinck

Additionally, Ron Derrick, of 13 Somerset Court, Herstelling, East Bank Demerara (EBD), was stopped and tested with a breathalyser on December 6, while driving motor car PKK 9160 on the Providence Public Road, EBD. He was found to be above the legal limit in terms of the consumption of alcohol. He was charged and appeared on December 8, at the Providence Magistrate Court where he pleaded not guilty. The matter is continuing before the court.

Leroy Richards, of 10 Covent Garden, EBD, was also stopped and tested with a breathalyser on December 6, while driving motor car PPP 6505 on the Grove Public Road, EBD. He was found to be above the legal limit in terms of consumption of alcohol. He was charged and appeared at the Providence Magistrate’s Court where he pleaded not guilty on December 10. The matter is continuing before the court.

Leroy Richards

Leroy Richards

And finally, Derick Latchman, of Parika Backdam, East Bank Essequibo, was stopped and tested with a breathalyser on December 3, while driving motor car PSS 5611 on the Leonora Public Road, West Coast Demerara. He was found to be above the legal limit in terms of the consumption of alcohol. He was charged and appeared at the Leonora Magistrate’s Court where he pleaded guilty on December 9, and was fined $7500.

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Opposition wooed by cash rich Thomas

Civil society conclave: 

At least three Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) on Thursday attended the widely maligned civil society encounter being hosted by the cash-rich Dr Phillip Thomas.

Opposition Leader David Granger

Opposition Leader David Granger

Alliance For Change (AFC) Members of Parliament Cathy Hughes and Trevor Williams and A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Dr Karen Cummings were the Opposition parliamentarians who showed up on the second day of the Guyana National Council on Public Policy (GNCPP) summit at its High Street, Kingstown, Georgetown office.

The second day of the three-day summit of discussions on public policy hosted by the GNCPP also found the entity buckling under pressure; shifting its meeting from the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown to its office here in Georgetown.

The three parliamentarians were a poor representation of the 65-seat legislature, who were all slated to be present, along with President Donald Ramotar at Wednesday’s session.

With a much smaller audience at the secretariat’s building, stakeholders gathered to continue discussions on the way forward as the Council under the chairmanship of Dr Thomas sought to realise its objectives through discussions which seek a transition into a new dispensation of peace within society.

Force to cancel
Dr Thomas, speaking with Guyana Times just before the second session on Thursday afternoon, said the Council was forced to cancel the segment which would have included Members of Parliament, because of their lack of interest in participating.

He said he had hoped for the full participation of all Members of Parliament at the event.

“What we have done we have cancelled this session, it is not practical that we do not want to speak to one side. We must be speaking to all on the political spectrum, that’s how we must engage,” the Chairman said.

He maintained that his organisation, unlike popular belief, is not aligned to any political body.

“That’s not who we are, that’s not what we do, that’s not what we will be doing,” he stressed, continuing that the organisation will be maximising its current position on the “demand side”.

Apart from the warning issued by Government through the Office of the President, critics say that the summit, which was expected to rein in a wide cross-section of participants, including an elite group of presenters, has been a farce.

AFC Leader  Khemraj Ramjattan

AFC Leader
Khemraj Ramjattan

Critics say too that the conference has been reduced to a one-man show, where Dr Thomas remains the only presenter at the sessions which began at the conference centre on Wednesday.

Concerns began mounting over the legitimacy of the conference after all of the presenters listed on the programme to participate did not show up. Novelist Ian McDonald and renowned businessman Dr Yesu Persaud were slated to participate at the opening session, but neither showed up.

At Thursday’s session, President Donald Ramotar and Opposition Leaders David Granger and Khemraj Ramjattan were expected to speak; however, none of them appeared at the forum.

Both the President and Granger have distanced themselves from the organisation and Dr Thomas. Ramotar had told Guyana Times on Wednesday that he did not give Dr Thomas or any one from the organisation permission to publish his name on the programme. He said too that he would not be attending the forum. APNU’s leader David Granger had also publicly removed himself from any association with the GNCPP.

Meanwhile, Dr Thomas said that the organisation made the decision to move the summit for various reasons.

“We made the decision to move the summit to the secretariat. It was the prudent thing to do to absorb ourselves from the liability that was created by the reckless and vicious comments that were made by the Office of the President.

Dr Thomas said the pressure was felt from Government, particularly from the warning coming out from OP. That has impacted the support base of the organisation, Dr Thomas said.

Many of the support have “dried up” because of what was done, the Chairman related, nothing that they have communicated their fear of being victimised.

“So when folks call you and tell you that we cannot do this, because, I have to be watchful of myself, you have to make prudent decisions.”
On Tuesday evening, the Office of the President warned Guyanese against becoming involved with the organisation and its Chairman, Dr Thomas, who it had said has a shady past.

Billed as a forum to formalise the over 4000 registered civil society organisations here, the GNCPP engagement is being seen in many circles as an attempt to create another group similar to that of the defunct “reform” group, which joined up with the Desmond Hoyte-led PNC in 2001.

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Cuba frees American Alan Gross, held for 5 years

In a historic thaw of a relationship chilled since the early days of the Cold War, the United States announced plans Wednesday to restore diplomatic and economic ties with the communist island of Cuba.

Alan Gross

Alan Gross

The changes came with the abrupt release of an American Government contractor, Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years. He stood when his plane cleared Cuban airspace and stepped off in the United States to hugs on the tarmac.

At the same time, the United States released three Cubans jailed for 15 years on spying charges, and Cuba released a US spy held there for two decades.

Cuba agreed to release Gross, 65, on humanitarian grounds, a senior Obama administration official said. Gross went on a hunger strike earlier this year, and his wife said this month that he was “literally wasting away” in confinement.

In a dramatic flight to freedom, he was escorted by his wife, Judy; three members of Congress and the Secret Service. Gross stepped off the plane late Wednesday morning at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

He thanked Obama for helping secure his freedom, and he voiced support for the re-opening of diplomatic ties.
“To me, Cubanos, or at least most of them, are incredibly kind, generous and talented. It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two Governments’ mutually belligerent policies.”

From the plane, Gross called his sister and daughters and told them he was free. On the plane were bowls of popcorn, a snack he had missed during his captivity, and a corned beef sandwich with mustard on rye, plus latkes and applesauce.

“Today is the first day of Hanukkah,” Gross said, “and I guess so far it’s the best Hanukkah that I’ll be celebrating for a long time.”
Judy Gross said earlier this month that her husband had lost more than 100 pounds and gone mostly blind in one eye. She has been critical of the Obama administration’s handling of the ordeal. Gross has refused most visitors, although he did meet with two US senators in November.

Gross was working as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which works to promote democracy in Cuba, when he was detained in 2009. His family has said he was working to expand Internet access for Cuba’s small Jewish community.
Gross was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years in prison for undermining Cuba. Castro called him a spy.

Senior US officials took pains to say that Gross was not being released as part of a direct swap. Separately, senior U. officials said that the three Cubans were being released in exchange for what U.S. officials described as an “intelligence asset.”

Instrumental
The spy’s name and other details remained classified, but Obama and intelligence officials described his work as instrumental, including in the arrest and conviction of the three Cubans who were released on Wednesday.

“In light of his sacrifice on behalf of the United States, securing his release from prison after 20 years – in a swap for three of the Cuban spies he helped put behind bars – is fitting closure to this Cold World chapter of US-Cuban relations,” the office of James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said in a statement.

Bureau of Prisons records showed that the three Cubans – Ramón Labanino, Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernandez – were released on Wednesday.

A lawyer for the three, Richard Klugh, said he had not spoken to his clients before they boarded a plane to Cuba. He told NBC News that he was certain they were relieved to have “an arduous experience” behind them.

“After 16 years of imprisonment, two years of solitary confinement and so much time spent in dangerous prisons, this is not a slap on the wrist,” he said.

Labanino and Guerrero have received visits from family while they were jailed, but Hernandez has only seen his wife once in 17 years because she was deported after his arrest, Klugh said.

“There is no words to express how he must feel,” the lawyer said.
They were part of a group known as the Cuban Five. The two other members, Rene and Fernando Gonzalez, were released in 2012. The five were arrested in 1998 and accused of belonging to a spy cabal called the Wasp Network that had infiltrated anti-Castro exile groups in Florida.
As it announced the policy changes, the White House called on Cuba to relax the political, social and economic restrictions on its own 11 million people.

There have been signs in recent months of a warming between the two countries. Obama and Castro will attend a summit in Panama in April, the first to include both leaders, and Secretary of State John Kerry has praised Cuba’s efforts to fight Ebola.

Obama has eased travel restrictions in recent years, but he has left in place a decades-old economic embargo.

The announcement was certain to have repercussions throughout American politics and the emerging 2016 presidential campaign. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a potential candidate, said the policy change was “the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost”. (Excerpt from NBC)

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Who’s funding GNCPP?

GNCPP Chairman Phillip Thomas

GNCPP Chairman Phillip Thomas

… Chairman denies USAID, PNCR/APNU link

Chairman of the Guyana National Council on Public Policy (GNCPP), Phillip Thomas has denied that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was funding his attempts to bring together civil society leaders here and also dismissed claims of his association with the main Opposition, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) and intentions to hand his support to that party for the upcoming elections.

Unaware

Thomas has come under pressure from the Donald Ramotar Administration which said on Tuesday that it is unaware of the existence and of the locus standi of the organisation in Guyana.

The Administration said that Thomas “has been found to be of shady character”, adding that many persons and organisations whose names have appeared either as speakers and to whom invitations were sent are unaware of the reason their names were publicised, giving the impression that they are supportive of the event.

Further, the Office of the President (OP) said it has been informed that qualifications Thomas purports to possess are highly suspicious.

“Research has revealed that the institutions where Thomas purported to have received his qualifications are unknown institutions, and lack well established bona fides,” OP said in a statement.

In addition, Government said Thomas is known to have leanings in favour of the PNCR and the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). “He was one of the aspirants who had publicly declared an interest in replacing Robert Corbin as Leader of the PNC. As we all know, Mr David Granger managed to distance all the ‘wannabees’, including Mr Thomas.”

According to OP, Thomas is also known to have questionable international connections from whom funding is being given for the purpose of this specific event at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown.

“Based on the above, the public is urged to disassociate itself from this farcical event and not to participate,” OP said.

However, when quizzed as to who are his funding sources, Thomas replied that members and businesses within the society that are part of the organisation. He said talks of him having a “questionable relations with foreign entity are not true at all”, noting that “our money is local”.

Sources have said that Thomas could have tapped in to the $2.6 billion that was budgeted for the USAID governance project. The project, currently being rolled out here involves fortifying the National Assembly by encouraging consensus building; and working with civil society and the public to boost citizens’ engagement with the National Assembly and all parties to support the legislature’s role as an effective deliberative body.

On the issue of his connections with the PNCR, Thomas again maintained that his organisation has no interest in joining any coalition with any political party, including the APNU.

“Do you know how beautiful it is to stand on the demand side of the sovereign space? Why would you want to go to the supply side? It is venomous bitter animosity there; I don’t want to live like that,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, Thomas said that Government is trying to sully his reputation. He said however, that he will not respond to the claims as the Government is quite aware of his qualifications and connections.

“Many of the things in that statement do not represent who we are as civil society or what we do or will do as civil society. I think it was very reckless,” Thomas told reporters, noting that he has not had any of the associations as stated in the OP statement.

Connections

Thomas said Government is quite aware of his connections with former Ambassador to Kuwait, Dr Odeen Ishmael, serving as his Advisor while he (Ishmael) served as the OAS Ambassador.

“They know fully well that I was a senior fellow at the OAS and serving as an Adviser to Dr Ishmael, serving at the White House. They know of my qualification because they vetted me then. They also know that I am a qualified lawyer and that I have a PhD in Government Diplomacy and International Relations. So these people know very well,” the GNCPP Chairman declared.

Thomas said he could only surmise that the move might be a “vexatious spirit” evoking because he has chosen not to become involved in any political sphere.

He related that back in the 2000 electoral process; he was nominated as a successor to former leader of the People’s National Congress (PNC) Desmond Hoyte. He said however, that since 2001, he has moved away from the political scene.

“I am not going to be responding to the statements. I am not a politician, I enjoy my sovereign space on this demand side and I welcome them to make these remarks.”

OP on Tuesday evening urged citizens to shun a “sketchy” civil society encounter scheduled by the GNCPP, noting that the group has ties to the PNCR and Thomas is a man with a questionable past.

Billed as a forum to formalise the over 4000 registered civil society organisations here, the GNCPP engagement is being seen in many circles as an attempt to create another group similar to that of the defunct “reform” group, which joined up with the Desmond Hoyte-led PNC in 2001.

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