Caribbean News Round – up

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Bolivian President apologises for lesbian jibe

Bolivian President Evo Morales
Bolivian President Evo Morales

[BBC] – Bolivian President Evo Morales has apologised for joking about the possibility of Health Minister Ariana Campero being a lesbian. He said he had no intention of offending anyone and respected sexual diversity.

Ms Campero, a 29-year-old doctor, has been the subject of similar comments by other senior Bolivian politicians. Mr Morales made the comments during an official ceremony in the northern province of Beni.

He noticed Ms Campero was talking to another woman and was not paying attention to his speech. Mr Morales interrupted his speech and said: “I don’t want to think that you’re a lesbian. Listen to me.”

His comments prompted reactions from gay and lesbian organisations in the Andean nation. “And if the minister was a lesbian? What would be the problem?” questioned Bolivia’s Network of Lesbian Women pressure group.

Mr Morales issued a statement saying he apologised “humbly and sincerely” if he had offended anyone, adding: “We respect diversity and that is clear in our constitution.”

Bolivia has a gender equality law and many women occupy high-profile political posts. But they have on several occasions had to deal with sexist comments.

Ms Campero was told by Vice-President Alvaro Garcia during a recent event to “get married”. In March, the mayor of a small town said during a rally that she should move in as a maid.

She responded by tweeting a picture of bisexual Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and a message: “I won’t be silenced, I won’t be submissive. It’s a pity that there are still sexists in our ranks.”

Venezuela accuses US of kidnapping first lady’s nephews

Maduro[BBC] – The leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, on Monday accused the United States of kidnapping two nephews of first lady Cilia Flores.

The two were arrested in Haiti last week and taken by the US Drug Enforcement Administration to New York and charged with drug trafficking. Mr Cabello said the arrests were “irregular” and had been carried out to damage the governing party ahead of legislative elections on 6 December.

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2012 and Venezuela regularly accuses the US of trying to destabilise the Latin American country.

Mr Cabello, a powerful figure in the governing United Socialist Party (PSUV), was the first official to speak out about the arrest of the two men last Tuesday.

In an interview with Venezuelan TV, he said that he did not consider it an arrest.

“A plane went to Haiti with six people and they kidnapped two,” he said referring to the fact that the four other people on board had not been charged. “It’s the DEA’s normal procedure to kidnap lots of people,” he alleged.

The aim of the arrests, he added, was “to hurt the Bolivarian revolution” in the midst of an election. Some polls suggest that the governing coalition could lose its majority in the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years on 6 December.

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, and Franqui Flores de Freitas, 30, were charged with one count of drug trafficking on Thursday. The two are nephews of first lady Cilia Flores and travelled on diplomatic passports.

Mr Cabello said they had acted independently: “These are grown men who can do what they want in life.” Their indictment accuses the men of conspiring to import “five kilograms [11 lb] and more of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of cocaine” to the US.

But Reuters said a US law enforcement source had told the news agency that the two men had allegedly planned to smuggle a much larger amount, 800kg, to the US.

Lawyers for the two men said they would plead not guilty at their next court appearance.

 

Trinidad and Tobago steps up security in light of possible ISIS threat

National Security Minister retired major General Edmund Dillon
National Security Minister retired major General Edmund Dillon

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – Trinidad and Tobago is tightening security and is continuing to liaise with the United States as it responds to possible acts of terrorism by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), National Security Minister retired major General Edmund Dillon has said.

Speaking in the Senate on Tuesday, Dillion, who has already acknowledged that Trinidad and Tobago nationals are fighting alongside the ISIS terrorist group, said that the authorities were also beefing up immigration controls and deepening surveillance measures in light of the attack in Paris last weekend that killed more than 129 people.

“This Government wants to make it abundantly clear that it recognises the global terrorist threat posed by ISIS and the horrific atrocities recently committed on the French people by the ISIS phenomenon,” Dillon told the Senate.

He said in addition to tightening customs inspections at airports and sea ports, re-enforcing aerial and maritime surveillance patrols, Port of Spain would continue to liaise with international partners with respect to intelligence and information, especially in relation to Trinidadian citizens who are participating in the ISIS phenomenon.

Dillon said that Trinidad and Tobago would continue to work with institutions such as the Joint Regional Communications Centre and the Regional Intelligence Fusion Centre (RIFC) – the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) intelligence structure that involves Aruba, Canada and the United States – to provide the necessary intelligence that will allow the country to be proactive in dealing with the situation.

“Internationally, we continue to liaise with our international partners with respect to intelligence that can be provided based on their presence; based on their intelligence agencies in the area of operations,” Dillon said.

He told legislators that he is holding talks with Attorney General Faris Al Rawi over measures to deal with the matter of Trinidadians returning home after participating in activities with ISIS.

“Madam President, a discussion, a conversation is taking place with the Attorney General of which I cannot provide any more details than that,” Dillon said, adding he was also unable to “give an accurate figure” regarding the number of nationals fighting with ISIS.

“We are still awaiting confirmation from our intelligence partners as to the amount of Trinidadian citizens involved in the ISIS phenomenon at this point in time. I don’t want to average. You cannot average people.

“You have to be exact. So Madam President I prefer to wait until we have confirmation to get the exact figure based on intelligence,” he said.

Meanwhile, former national security minister Gary Griffith has warned against “burying our heads in the sand” as it relates to possible terrorist activities here.

“When I was minister, terrorism was one of the front burner issues because I anticipated that it would have reached a situation where it would be a worldwide concern,” Griffith said, adding “terrorism is a global concern at this time and Trinidad and Tobago is part of the globe so obviously there will be a threat for Trinidad and Tobago and what we need to do is not just bury our heads in the sand and to say that there is no threat and there is no concern.

“We need to put specific measures in place to provide a deterrent as quickly as possible and that can only be done through specific agencies being implemented, which we do not have,” he said, suggesting the establishment of a counter-terrorist intelligence unit.

“Our intelligence agencies do not have a specific unit primarily targeting and monitoring terrorists within our country, international terrorists who might be moving around the Caribbean and trying to get into Trinidad and Tobago, or even persons who are financially aiding and abetting persons who want to become terrorists or moving from here to get to Syria.

“It is critical that we have an intelligence unit to monitor these individuals, so we need to have an intelligence unit, an operational unit to deal with the tactical strike force and the re-energising of the National Operations Centre,” Griffith said.

 

Jamaica Parliament passes law to force suspects to give DNA samples

Minister of National Security Peter Bunting
Minister of National Security Peter Bunting

[Caribbean 360] – The House of Representatives yesterday passed legislation that will allow authorities to take DNA samples from suspects and convicted people, with or without their consent.

Minister of National Security Peter Bunting said the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Evidence Act 2015 is a critical weapon in the fight against crime.

Attorney General Patrick Atkinson added the Bill was “a watershed and critical piece of legislation”.

“It takes away from persons who have committed serious crimes the opportunity to hide from justice,” he said in his contribution to the debate.

The Bill outlines and establishes procedures for collection, retention and preservation of DNA samples, provides for the destruction or the retention of DNA profiles, and also establishes offences and penalties for breaches of the Act.

These include falsifying any profile, swapping DNA samples or DNA profile with intent to deceive, and tampering with a container or package containing DNA samples of profiles.

The legislation also provides for the keeping, maintaining, and operating of a consolidated forensic DNA databank, to be known as the National DNA Register, for the purposes of forensic investigation and human identification.

The Bill, which received the support of both the government and Opposition, will now go to the Senate for approval.

 

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