2004-12-16 / Caribbean Corner

caribbean roundup

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) – The trial of former television journalist Mark Benschop, charged with treason, continues today, after the trial judge rejected a no-case submission filed by defense lawyers.

Benschop, 33, is charged with treason for allegedly encouraging opposition supporters to storm the office com-pound of President Bharrat Jagdeo during demonstrations in July 2002.

Two people where shot and killed and more than a dozen injured during the fracas. Benschop has pleaded not guilty to the charges and he has been held in maximum-security prison in the capital since surrendering to police two years ago.

Justice Winston Moore last Thurs-day overruled a defense submission to dismiss the case against Benschop, say-ing the accused would now have to defend himself when the trial resumes today.

“I rule that the prosecution has sufficient evidence for Mark Benschop to be called upon to lead a defense,” the judge said.

Benschop’s wife, Maria, called the trial “a travesty of justice” as she left the courtroom.

The prosecution has alleged that Benschop shouted anti-government slogans over a loudspeaker, inciting de-monstrators to storm the presidential compound. At least three of the 13 state witnesses had placed Benschop near the compound.

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada (AP) – Grenada’s prime minister, a longtime supporter of Taiwan in its rivalry with China, began talks Monday with high-ranking Chinese officials.

Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, who is seeking funds for hurricane relief and economic development, met with China’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Af-fairs Zhou Wenzhong and will meet with the foreign minister, said Selwin Noel, a government spokesman.

Although the talks were aimed at “establishing a common understanding on matters,’’ Noel stopped short of say-ing diplomatic ties would be established.

Grenada has been one of Taiwan’s 27 allies, most of them small or im-poverished countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa that support U.N. resolutions to recognize it.

It was unclear how Mitchell’s talks in China would affect relations with Taiwan.

China has recently had close ties with Grenada’s opposition, and in 2002, Mitchell condemned an opposition leader for visiting the Chinese mainland. The previous year, his government expelled a Chinese diplomat who came to Grenada to visit the opposition leader.

China insists self-ruled, democratic Taiwan is part of China, although the former Chinese government fled there and split from the mainland when the Communist Party seized power in 1949.

Taiwan and China accuse each other of “dollar diplomacy,’’ pouring money into developing countries to win re-cognition.

In the Caribbean, Antigua and Bar-buda, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Tri-nidad and Tobago have relations with China.

In Monday talks, Mitchell pointed out how small developing nations like Grenada are vulnerable to natural disasters, Noel said.

In September, Hurricane Ivan damaged or destroyed 90 percent of Gre-nada’s buildings, wiped out much of the country’s critical nutmeg crop and killed 39 people. The catastrophe caused an estimated US$900 million in damage, reversing expectations for econo-mic growth this year.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry has said it was looking at developments and would try to convince Grenada that maintaining relations with Taiwan was the best choice.

Taiwan has pledged US$40 million to build Grenada’s national stadium complex and offered millions more in relief for the devastation done by Hurricane Ivan.

But other Caribbean countries have been shifting their alliances. Dominica severed ties with Taiwan in March, and China immediately pledged US$112 million in aid.

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) – Jam-aica police were recently interrogating a member of the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF), who shot and injured five members of one family in the corporate area of Allman Town on Sunday.

The Constabulary Communication Network (CCN), the communications arm of the Jamaica Police Service, said it was still unclear whether charges would be laid against the unidentified solider, who is a member of the JDF Close Protection Section.

Among the victims being treated at hospital is a three-year-old girl.

Police are investigating reports that the soldier, a corporal in the army, went to visit his common-law wife on Sun-day and when she refused to speak with him, he left and returned with two guns and fired several shots injuring the five people. His common-law wife escaped unhurt.

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) – The campaign for the 17 Jan., elections in Tobago gained momentum over the weekend, with the ruling People’s Na-tional Movement (PNM) presenting its slate of candidates and the leader of a party joining forces with another op-position grouping, although insisting that he had not left his original organization.

Leader of the Tobago-arm of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), Cecil Caruth has joined the recently revived Democratic Action Congress (DAC) following a breakdown of talks between the two parties to contest the polls.

“I have not resigned from the NAR, I have not as it were left the NAR, like I said before the two parties share the same philosophy,” he said.

He said during the discussions both sides were “looking at either going (in-to the elections) under a new name with a new symbol, but that was thought to be too late.”

He said the other options including contesting the polls under a combined NAR-DAC alliance failed to materialize “because we thought that was not going to sell.”

The DAC is headed by former NAR Tobago leader Hochoy Charles, who also served as Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).

NAR Tobago chairman, Christo Gift said he does not believe that Caruth’s action has handed the ruling party any significant advantage, even though he admitted that NAR would have to “redouble our efforts.”

Gift confirmed that Caruth was still a member of the party and had not resigned in order to contest the elections on a DAC platform.

Meanwhile, the PNM recently presented its slate of 12 candidates, with only three incumbents seeking re-election.

They include outgoing THA Chief Secretary Orville London, his Deputy Cynthia Alfred and the Assistant-Secretary for Social Services, Arling-ton Spencer.

In his address to the launch, Hous-ing Minister Dr. Keith Rowley urged members to ensure that the party is victorious at the 17 Jan., polls.

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