November, 2016


Cuba returning Castro’s ashes to birthplace of the Revolution

HAVANA (Reuters) –  A procession carrying Fidel Castro’s ashes prepared to set out from Havana on Wednesday on a long trek to a final resting place in Santiago de Cuba, where the first shots in the Cuban Revolution were fired and where Castro claimed victory in 1959.

Castro, who ruled Cuba for half a century until 2008 and built a Communist state on the doorstep of the United States, died on Friday aged 90, plunging the Caribbean nation into nine days of mourning.

He was cremated on Saturday. It will take the cortege carrying his ashes three days to make the 550-mile (900-km) journey eastward across the eyebrow-shaped island to Santiago de Cuba, going back along the route taken by his bearded revolutionaries in their victory march to Havana in 1959.

The interment will take place on Sunday morning.

On Tuesday night, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Cubans, as well as leaders of Cuba’s leftist allies and other developing countries, gathered in Havana’s Revolution Square for a service commemorating “El Comandante” (The Commander).

“He more than fulfilled his mission on this earth,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose government supports Cuba’s ailing economy with oil sold on favorable terms, told the massive crowd.

“Few lives have been so complete, so bright. He has left unconquered.”

Castro was admired by many around the world, especially in Latin America and Africa, for standing up to the United States, instituting free education and health care, and sending doctors around the world on missions of mercy.

But others vilified him as a dictator who ruined the economy with his brand of socialism and denied Cubans basic human rights such as freedom of speech. Some two million Cuban-Americans live in the United States, the result of a steady stream of people quitting the country for political and economic reasons.

With the average state salary at $25 per month, many young Cubans look for ways to leave, seeing little future in their homeland.

A pall of silence has settled over Havana’s usually buzzing streets since the mourning period began. Officials have banned live music, and suspended the professional baseball season and sales of alcohol.

Nationwide, Cubans have lined up to sign condolence books and pledges to honor Castro’s socialist ideology. State media continue to play tributes on a loop.

Tens of thousands of Cubans are expected to line the route of the caravan carrying Castro’s ashes toward Santiago, where he first launched his revolutionary movement in 1953 with an assault on the Moncada barracks.

Later, after his bearded guerrillas deposed U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, they swept down from the Sierra Maestra mountains into Santiago, before making their victory march westward towards the capital.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Romney, potential U.S. secretary of state, hails Trump after dinner

NEW YORK (Reuters) –  Republican Mitt Romney made an impassioned statement in support of President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday to try to erase doubts about him among Trump’s supporters and remain in contention for U.S. secretary of state.

Romney, a fierce critic of Trump during the Republican presidential primary battle, stopped short of an outright apology but his intention to wipe the slate clean was clear.

The former Massachusetts governor, who was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and lost, praised Trump for a “message of inclusion and bringing people together” since his Nov. 8 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Noting the appointments Trump has made to fill key cabinet positions for his administration and his desire for greater unity among Americans, Romney said that “all of those things combined give me increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us” to a better future.

Romney made his remarks after a lengthy meal with Trump and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at a French restaurant at a Trump hotel in Manhattan. They dined on garlic soup with frog legs, scallops, steak and lamb chop.

Since Trump began to seriously consider Romney as a potential secretary of state, some on Trump’s team have voiced doubts about bringing in a former critic and rallied around their preferred candidate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a long-time Trump friend and loyalist.

Brazilian soccer clubs offer players, assistance to Chapecoense

(Reuters) – Brazil’s top flight football teams offered to loan players to Chapecoense for next season after the small southern club lost almost all its players in a plane crash in Colombia.

The teams on Tuesday also asked the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to give Chapecoense a three-year exemption from relegation – the process through which teams are assigned to a lower classification if they do not perform well.

The Brazilian team was on its way to Medellin to play Colombian side Atletico Nacional in the final of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s equivalent of the Europa League, when its plane crashed into a hillside on Monday night.

“It is the minimum gesture of solidarity that is within our reach at this point in time but it is borne of the sincerest desire to reconstruct this institution and that part of Brazilian football that was lost today,” the statement said.

The CBF did not immediately respond to the offer.

Wednesday’s final was canceled and all games scheduled for the upcoming week in Brazil were postponed.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Bill Trott)

Syrian state news agency says eight people killed by rebel shelling in government-held Aleppo

(Reuters) – Syrian state news agency SANA said on Wednesday that eight people, including two children, were killed by rebel shelling of government-held districts of western Aleppo.

The shells hit the Aadhamiyeh, New Aleppo, and Furqan areas, wounding seven people, SANA reported, quoting a source in the Aleppo police.

Aleppo has for years been divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Merkel does not see EU expanding membership talks with Turkey: source

(Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told lawmakers in her conservative bloc that she does not expect the European Union to open negotiations on new policy areas with Turkey in its talks to join the bloc, a source told Reuters.

Turkish accession talks began in 2005 but have made slow progress. Merkel has repeatedly said the EU, which needs Ankara to help tackle the migrant crisis, must continue to engage with Turkey.

Bild newspaper ran a story under a headline that said Merkel opposed further EU talks with the fellow NATO member and reported that this meant discussions were effectively over.

However, one conservative parliamentary source said the chancellor had rather re-stated her position in response to a question at a meeting of lawmakers.

“She said that at the moment no further negotiating chapters would be opened in any case and in addition, from her point of view, there was no need for action,” said the source.

“It was a statement rather than an initiative. She was responding to a question from a lawmaker about what they should say about Turkey in constituencies,” said the source.

Neither Ankara nor the EU expect Turkey to be in a position to join the EU for many years to come. Only one of 35 “chapters”, or policy areas where Turkey must adopt EU rules, have so far been concluded. Fifteen chapters are open.

The European Parliament passed a non-binding motion last week urging the Commission and national governments to call a temporary halt to membership talks with Turkey due to Ankara’s “disproportionate” reaction to July’s failed coup.

However, EU governments are unlikely to take heed. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said his country has not yet “closed the book” on the EU but said Ankara had other options with other partners.

EU leaders are due to discuss Turkey again when they meet in Brussels at a summit on Dec. 15-16. Germany and other EU states have expressed concern about Erdogan’s crackdown since a failed coup in July and critics say it is an attempt to crush dissent.

Authorities have detained or dismissed more than 125,000 people – including soldiers, academics, judges, journalists and Kurdish leaders – over alleged backing for the coup attempt.

Turkey still hopes to win visa-free travel for its citizens to the EU as part of an EU deal, in return for help in keeping migrants away from Europe, although the chances of it winning that right by the end of this year seem distant. As part of the EU migrant pact, Brussels agreed to reinvigorate accession talks. Erdogan has suggested he might scrap that deal.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Andrea Shalal and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Ralph Boulton)

Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 11/29

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

Economics Professor Michael Howard says Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler made an error of judgement by not going to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) three years ago.  The retired senior lecturer at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) said he endorsed former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s recent suggestion that the Barbados government should negotiate a formal agreement with the IMF as a source of financial accommodation, rather than continue “on this money printing, so-called home-grown fiscal programmne.”

There appears to be no immediate end in sight to the industrial action over a pay rise at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) with the Unity Workers Union (UWU) joining the protest spearheaded by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).  The UWU was at the forefront of protest action Monday, leading another stoppage of work by some 100 employees – mainly engineers and custodians – who downed tools and picked up placards keeping the pressure on government to meet their pay demand.

Archbishop of the West Indies and Anglican Bishop, Dr. John Holder has lamented that even though Barbados has made significant progress in the last half a century, many Barbadians have still been left behind.  And he has pointed to the unemployed, as well as citizens without running water in their homes as among those to whom priority must be given as Barbados goes past its 50th Anniversary of Independence.

Dateline Port of Spain, TRINIDAD:

The ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) won 83 of the 137 seats in the Local Government Elections yesterday, against the United National Congress’ (UNC) 54.  In terms of control of the 14 corporations, the PNM won seven, the UNC six, with a four-four tie in the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation.

Meanwhile in Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won yesterday’s Local Government Elections, taking eight of the country’s thirteen (13) parish councils, including the prized Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation, in a poll marked by extremely low voter turnout, signaling widespread disinterest in a governance system hobbled by poor credibility.

Dateline London, ENGLAND:

The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, through the Regional Integration and Diaspora Unit (RIDU) is conducting a Diaspora mapping exercise, funded by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) through the IOM Development Fund.  The objective of the project is to map the skill sets of Vincentians living abroad over the age of 18, in a simple confidential questionnaire that takes two minutes to complete with disclosure of personal information purely optional at the website portal

Plane carrying Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team crashes in Colombia, 76 dead

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense, heading for the biggest game in their history, were on board a plane carrying 81 people that crashed in Colombia killing 76 people, police said on Tuesday.

Chapecoense, from Brazil’s top league, had been flying to face Atletico Nacional of Medellin in the first leg of Wednesday’s Sudamericana final, South America’s equivalent of the Europa League.

It was the first time the small club from Chapeco had reached the final of a major South American club competition. Three players were among the survivors, Colombian disaster authoritieas said.

“Six people were rescued alive, but unfortunately one died. The rest of the occupants unfortunately died. The tragic toll is 76 victims,” Jose Gerardo Acevedo, regional police commander, told journalists.

The plane crashed in a mountainous rural area outside of the city of Medellin and heavy rains at one point halted rescue operations. News showed photos of twisted wreckage and hospital staff awaiting patients.

The club said in a statement that it would not be making any official comments until it had more information from Colombian authorities about Monday night’s crash.

Flight tracking service Flightradar24 said on Twitter the last tracking signal from flight 2933 had been received when it was at 15,500 feet, about 30 km from its destination, which sits at an altitude of 7,000 feet.

The Avro RJ85 was produced by a company that is now part of UK’s BAE Systems

The charter flight was carrying 72 passengers and nine crew, when it crashed around 10:15 p.m. on Monday. Heavy rain first hampered and then halted rescue operations. Officials told local media that bodies would be removed at first light.

Brazilian news organizations reported 21 journalists had been on board to cover the match.


The crash evoked memories of Munich air disaster in 1958, which killed 23 people including eight Manchester United players, journalists and traveling officials.

Players Alan Luciano Ruschel, Marcos Danilo Padilha and Jacson Ragnar Follmann were listed as survivors in a statement from the disaster management agency.

Chapecoense qualified for the biggest game in their history after overcoming Argentine club San Lorenzo in the semi-final on away goals following a 1-1 draw in Buenos Aires and a 0-0 draw at home.

They were very much the underdogs for the match against a club going for a rare double after winning the Copa Libertadores in July.

Chapecoense were the 21st biggest club in Brazil in terms of revenue, bringing in 46 million reais ($13.5 million) in 2015, according to an annual rich list compiled by Brazilian bank Itau BBA.

The club has built its success on a frugal spending policy that eschewed big money signings and instead concentrated on blending young talent and experienced journeymen.

Their best-known player was Cleber Santana, a midfielder who best years were spent in Spain with Athletico Madrid and Mallorca. Coach Caio Junior was also experienced, having managed at some of Brazil’s biggest clubs, Botafogo, Flamengo and Palmeiras among them

The crash prompted an outpouring of solidarity and grief on social media from the footballing community, with Brazilian top flight teams Flamengo and Santo tweeting messages of support.

Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas tweeted: “My condolences for the plane accident that carried @ChapecoenseReal. Tough moment for football. Good luck and stay strong!”

The South American football federation suspended all games and other activities following the crash.

(Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Additional reporting by Andrew Downie and Dan Flynn in Brazil and Tim Hepher in Geneva; Editing by Alison Williams)

Trump looks to Obamacare critic, Indiana expert to overhaul health care

NEW YORK (Reuters) –  President-elect Donald Trump will announce on Tuesday he has chosen a vociferous Obamacare critic and an Indiana policy expert to help him overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, a transition official told Reuters.

Trump is set to name Republican Representative Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, as his Health and Human Services secretary, and consultant Seema Verma to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a powerful agency that oversees government health programs and insurance standards.

He is expected to cast Price and Verma as a “dream team” to help him once he takes office on Jan. 20 with his campaign pledge to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health law, the Affordable Care Act that is better known as Obamacare.

The 2010 law triggered a long and bitter political battle between the Obama White House and Republicans in the U.S. Congress who said it created unwarranted government intervention in personal healthcare and private industry.

Trump has said he will replace Obamacare with a plan to give states more control over the Medicaid health plan for the poor and allow insurers to sell plans nationally.

Both positions require Senate confirmation and the Trump administration will need to have agreement from Congress to repeal and replace the health law.

Price, an early Trump supporter from the U.S. House of Representatives, is currently the chairman of the budget committee. He has long championed a plan of tax credits, expanded health savings accounts, and lawsuit reforms to replace Obamacare.

Verma worked with Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, on a compromise to expand Medicaid coverage for the state’s poor with federal funding.

The Indiana program requires beneficiaries to make monthly contributions to health savings accounts.

Price campaigned with Trump because he promised to overhaul Obamacare. However, Trump’s position on the health insurance program appeared to soften after he met Obama following the hard-fought Nov. 8 election.

Obama has acknowledged the law could use improvements but has credited Obamacare with cutting the number of uninsured Americans from 49 million in 2010 to 29 million in 2015. Much of that drop is due to the law’s provision allowing states to expand Medicaid.

Trump said he would consider keeping provisions in the law that let parents keep adult children up to age 26 on insurance policies and bar insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Price and Verma are two of about 70 people who Trump has met so far as he looks to shape his White House and Cabinet team.

Trump is expected to reveal an additional Cabinet pick on Tuesday, but is not expected to announce his choices for the three biggest positions – state, defense and treasury – as he continues to consider his options.

After seeing retired general David Petraeus on Monday – a potential candidate for the State Department or the Pentagon – Trump is expected to meet U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, and later have dinner with Mitt Romney.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, and Corker are in the running for secretary of state, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

(Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Paul Tait)

Greece needs to show commitment to rescue program: ECB’s Coeure

(Reuters) – Greek authorities need to stick to the terms of the country’s rescue program, including further structural and product market reforms and privatizations, to pass a bailout review, ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said on Monday.

“To bring the program to a successful conclusion and to restore market access for the sovereign on a lasting basis, it is above all essential that the Greek authorities continue to show a serious commitment to the goals and measures taken under the program,” he said at an event in Athens.

(Reporting by Francesco Canepa; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 11/28

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is urging government to abandon its “recent weak track record” for enforcing austerity measures and adopt “a more aggressive strategy” that includes a divestment of some state enterprises.  But the IMF, while noting that the Freundel Stuart administration has not implemented several of its recommendations, acknowledged that Barbadians were “showing growing signs of frustration following multiple tax increases, a ten per cent government workforce reduction and a wage freeze since 2009.”

Dateline Port of Spain, TRINIDAD:

Voting is taking place in local government elections in Trinidad and Tobago.  Some 1,060,863 citizens are eligible to go to the polls to elect 137 councillors to serve 14 local government corporations.  In total there are 314 candidates.  Seven political parties are participating in the election and four Independent candidates.  But only the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) is contesting all 137 seats.  In fact, the PNM, by default, has already won one seat because it was uncontested.  The United National Congress (UNC) is fielding 134 candidates.

Meanwhile, local government elections are also taking place in Jamaica today.  Voting is taking place in 7,050 polling stations in more than 2,200 locations across the country.

Dateline Georgetown, GUYANA:

President David Granger says that while the bauxite industry remains an important and viable part of the economic landscape of Upper Demerara-Berbice, Linden must move beyond being known as a mining town to a manufacturing hub in the country.    Speaking at the unveiling of the Centennial Arch to commemorate 100 years of bauxite mining in the town, Granger said that despite the challenges facing the industry, he remains optimistic that it could be turned around if the right approach is taken.