Bahamas Blog International
In The Bahamas, autism awareness efforts should be a priority... as the needs of our children from an educational and legal standpoint are presently at the bottom of the list
Related to country: Bahamas
'Great need' for autism awareness in The Bahamas
By ALESHA CADET
Tribune Features Reporter:
A LOCAL doctor is encouraging people to unite and work together in an effort to raise awareness about autism in The Bahamas.
Dr Michelle Major, who began her career in the field of autism as an inclusion teacher and a verbal behaviour therapist for children with autism, said awareness of the neurological disorder in The Bahamas, and indeed the Caribbean, is limited.
The Bahamas, she said, is in need of early intervention, early identification and adult training programmes, just to name a few initiatives.
With her experience of speaking on autism at international forums, Dr Major said in her view government support is essential in helping children with disabilities.
"There are countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia that are more advanced in their awareness and acceptance. Autism awareness efforts are a priority and the needs of our children from an educational and legal standpoint are at the bottom of the list.
"We have more laws here in The Bahamas that protect animals than we have our children," she said.
Just last year, Dr Major was one of the experts speakers invited by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh and the advocacy group Autism Speaks to give a presentation at the international conference "Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and Southeast Asia."
Dr Major told Tribune Health about her experience in Bangladesh.
"It was an honour to be invited to participate in a monumental event where the first time ever in history a group of countries got together to sign a declaration to make a difference in the lives of children," she said.
Inspired to continue advocating for children with disabilities, Dr Major and the members of the Caribbean Centre For Child Development recently held an Autism Speaks conference in The Bahamas; the event captured the attention of over 150 people, including educators, physicians and families affected by autism and other disabilities.
"As a community, we need to work together, like parents and organisations like ours who are trying to make a difference," she said.
Audience members at the most recent Autism Speaks event got the chance to hear presentations from a number of speakers from around the United States.
The presenters included the director of the autism programme at Miami Children's Hospital, Dr Roberto Tuchman; chief executive officer Gary Goldstein and senior director Linda Brandenburg of the Kennedy Krieger Institute; director of development at the YAI Network, Matthew Aubry, and occupational therapist Gilda Gallaro.
Dr Major said presenters spoke about adults living with disabilities, education programming for disabled children, neuro-development of children with autism and medical treatment. She chose to speak on the topic of sensory processing,
"Everything for the event donated was free, it was in an effort to give back to the community, bring awareness and educate our parents and professionals by these people who are considered the best," she said.
Dr Tuchman, she said for example, has had the opportunity to lecture globally on the neurology of autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy and other disorders of neuro-development; and Mr Goldstein serves as vice-chair of the scientific advisory committee for the Autism Speaks foundation.
This was the first conference of its kind here in The Bahamas, Dr Major said.
"This was also the first time all these professionals were united to speak together. The audience reception was great, they were very pleased because they never really had that calibre of people come to The Bahamas to address autism, and to top it off, it was free," she said.
With hopes of hosting the conference annually, Dr Major said she is looking forward to getting support from the Bahamian community.
Dr Major currently serves as the clinical director of the Caribbean Centre for Child Development in The Bahamas, having over 12 years of experience working with children with disabilities in both the private and public sectors.
She also has extensive experience in the administration of developmental and neuro-psychological assessments.
Dr Major specialises in the assessment and diagnosis of autism and low-incidence disabilities in children. She has given talks at local, regional and international conferences on topics such as the effectiveness of interventions for children with autism, applied behavioural analysis, parental stress related to having a child with a disability, and attribution theory.
February 28, 2012
Caribbean Blog International
|February 29, 2012 | 3:52 PM
Jamaica: The Price Of Poverty - - - Lessons From Jeremy Lin and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Related to country: Jamaica
By Claude Clarke, Jamaica-Gleaner Contributor:
Gray's 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard' says it best: "Many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air."
Jeremy Lin, having been dropped by his first two major league clubs, sat inconspicuously warming the bench of yet another, unnoticed and unseen. The hapless New York Knicks, finding themselves without any visible options to end their miserable run of eight losses from 15 games, turned to Lin to stand in for their injured star.
What was revealed was a flower, more brilliant than anyone imagined. After all, being small-bodied (by US professional basketball height and weight averages), Chinese and a Harvard graduate are not the attributes we have come to associate with NBA stardom. But since Lin was finally given a run on the court, the Knicks have won nine of their last 11 contests, their games are sold out and their television ratings are through the roof.
The story of Jeremy Lin demonstrates the lesson that value sometimes resides in the most unexpected places.
Jamaican leadership, however, seems unwilling to look beyond the ranks of the entrenched experts, with whom they have become familiar, despite the absence of successful outcomes from their presence.
The simple logic that intractable problems cannot be solved by repeating doses of the same old prescription does not impress them. And so failure stalks them like a clinging lover. It is little wonder that after decades of reliance on the same old experts, the only evidence of the new administration's professed love for the poor is a catchy acronym, as yet without a plan.
Across the globe, economic success has been marked by the willingness to let go of past failed strategies and the experts that promoted them and turning to fresh minds with new solutions. The miracle in progress that is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's Brazil is an apt example.
Lula realised that Brazil's earlier approaches to economic governance had not worked, that there was no point in persisting with them or those who had managed them, and that he needed fresh thinking and new strategies if he was going to solve the problems that had plagued his country.
At the very outset of his administration, the fresh minds around him recognised the success for the country would not be possible without removing the scar of poverty. With a quartet of revolutionary programmes, he transformed Brazil's vast poverty landscape, including the crime-ridden favelas (slums) that hovered over Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro like great palls of misery, into areas of hope and cooperation.
The poor and destitute that once represented a threat to safety have now become a productive force on which the thriving Brazilian economy is able to draw. So successful has been Lula's anti-poverty initiative that Brazil has been entrusted with the responsibility of hosting the 2014 World Cup, a tournament that puts at the top of its priorities the safety and economic vibrancy of the host environment.
First, he introduced the Bolsa Família, a monthly cash transfer to mothers in the lowest income strata. It is paid to the mothers only on proof that they are sending their children to school and getting their health checked. And so while it might appear to be a handout, because it sees to the education of children who might otherwise become illiterate and unproductive burdens on society, it is really an investment in the country's human and social capital, breaking the self-perpetuating chain of poverty.
Second, recognising the stimulative effect it would have on Brazil's productive engine, because consumption by the poor is directed almost entirely at domestic goods and services, Lula gradually increased the real value of the minimum wage by 50 per cent over a five-year period.
Growth Acceleration Programme
Third, a Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC) was directed at improving the infrastructure within the favelas to lift the living conditions of their downtrodden residents to acceptable levels. The construction involved had the added economic benefit of creating jobs in these communities, increasing the consumption and demand for Brazilian production.
Fourth, Lula cemented the beneficial effects of the other initiatives with a revolutionary credit system called crédito consignado: affordable bank loans for household purchases, to people who hitherto would not have received the banks' attention.
This four-pronged stimulus at the socio-economic bottom - conditional cash transfers, higher minimum wage, improved living conditions, and access to affordable credit - triggered a rise in popular consumption, leading to an expansion of demand for domestic production that, after decades of decline, created a job boom in Brazil. Although poverty is still far from eradicated in Brazil, the number of the poor declined by 40 per cent in the space of six years, and the number of destitute people has been halved.
But the attention to the economic needs of the poor was not at the expense of prudent economic management. Lula managed the Brazilian economy to achieve average growth of more than five per cent per annum under his leadership, while "balancing the books and the people's lives". The jobs he created were both sustainable and expandable, and the horizon of people's economic and social hopes was lifted and was real.
In Jamaica, the tendency has been to address poverty through a multitude of social programmes with little, if any, economic content or outcome. But Lula saw poverty eradication as essential to the success of his economic development objectives and weaved it into economic policy to achieve the desired outcomes.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should learn from his example and transition her expressed love for the poor to an economic strategy that will provide them with a ladder of opportunity that will take them into the economic mainstream. This will move the poor from being a hindrance to development and transform them into the potential productive assets that they really are.
Poverty is expensive. The 1960s PNP leadership contender, Vivian Blake, is reported to have illustrated the corrosive nature of poverty with the double entendre, "Poverty breeds." And it does. Poverty breeds frustration, it breeds ignorance, it breeds crime, it breeds more poverty. Poverty is poison to an economy. Like a cancer, it can destroy the viability of all organs of a society. And a society, to protect itself and advance its health, must reverse and excise it.
Mrs Simpson Miller's sentiments are sound: the problems of the poor must be addressed. But does the prime minister really believe that embracing the same old expertise and the same old make-work programmes and handout strategies will lead to anything but greater poverty? Like Lula, she must find the means to integrate strategies for poverty amelioration with policies for economic expansion.
manifestations of poverty
To be sure, there are many who recognise the destructive effects of poverty. The problem is that they view it only as a result of our non-performing economy and not as a significant cause of its non-performance. Yet the culture of criminality and disorder that has developed among people without economic options is substantially blamed for the failure of the economy to attract investments and generate growth. This is illogical. If the manifestations of poverty can retard economic expansion, it follows that the eradication of poverty is a necessary companion to economic improvement. Lula's success owes much to his recognition of this truth and his success in marrying his efforts to eradicate poverty in his country with his plans to transform the economy.
By contrast, our experts were content to espouse that poverty was reduced by more than 50 per cent during the 15 years after 1991, even while the real per capita income of the country declined by almost four per cent. They either were not aware or did not want to tell us that hidden in that contradiction were money laundering, pyramid rackets and extortion that financed consumption while creating an environment of crime.
The euphemistically described informal economy which crime fostered helped rip up the productive foundations of the economy, leaving it unable to defend itself from the international economic crisis from which most of our neighbours have substantially recovered while we are yet to seriously respond.
It is incomprehensible that any government with the objective of reversing years of stagnation, spiralling debt and increasing poverty would employ the very persons that helped create them.
If the new administration is to be successful in meaningfully addressing the problem of poverty, it must, like the Lula administration, ensure that there are economic returns for the cost of its poverty-reduction programmes and that the strategies employed lead to economic expansion.
Addressing poverty is essential for the economy to grow, but the use of unproductive strategies will only prolong and increase it, and make it worse. Old, failed approaches must not be repeated, and new strategies that lessen poverty while increasing the capacity of the economy to produce so that the increased demand generated by the newly empowered poor can be met with domestic production. In this way, poverty reduction can become an important stimulus for the economy to develop and grow.
However, even if we have been blessed with a Lula to lead us, we must bring new talent and fresh ideas to the task if Lula's results are to be achieved.
Claude Clarke is a businessman and former minister of trade. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 26, 2012
Caribbean Blog International
|February 26, 2012 | 9:46 AM
Dominica: Tales of a sunken ship!
Related to country: Dominica
By Rebecca Theodore:
That evening the ocean spoke and the waves moaned. The seagulls screeched like mourning of orphaned children and the moon sobbed distant tears. The ship propelled forward and the captain and his first mate sat at ease. As the breeze blew, I recognized the valleys, the hills and the mountains. I recognized the lighthouse and the flowing rivers and, as they neared the bay, I recognized my homeland Dominica.
But although I’m being carried on a timeless flight through the intensity of human emotion, brushing on perennial subjects of crime, national security and economic livelihood, I am forced to stop and think, breathe deep, step back, and try to smile at the situation through clenched teeth, as oil drips like whirlpools into the deep waters below.
And laments drift in the wind.
“Has Dominica moved from democracy to communism?” the passengers ask in burning ignorance.
They are terrified, for they are now represented by a socialist ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America) logo. Chinese relics are everywhere. Their captain is openly engaged in the selling of diplomatic passports and they fear ill representation on foreign soil.
The captain has become reckless. His first mate is asleep by his side. His breath fills the silence. A vagrant says that it thrills his heart to look at this beautiful picture -- captain and first mate embroiled in criminal activity. Not even the priests are allowed on board to bless the ship in a customary manner. Criminals are guided by their leadership.
“No law, including the constitution, will prevent me from taking action as I please,” the captain says in an uninformed stupor.
This persistence to his deceitful attitude in the face of inexorable truth gives proportion to a colossal enigma -- of a manifestation grand and incomprehensible that at times inspires a wondering reverence among his crew. They are even boycotting summits and threatening air strikes from the planes that fly overhead.
Unwarranted attacks on visitors and tourism investors and rumours of sedition abound but the opposition stands aloof, appearing only to scorn the significant events and appealing for a special and dedicated court to deal speedily with crime, for ALBA is the new voice that speaks in unrecognizable breaths.
In the windless dusk, an owlet’s cry twice pierces the silence. The thin blue flame of the engine fire burns without flickering and a heavy atmosphere of oppressive quietude pervades the ship. The calm is so total that the silence becomes distracting, and all the world of rivers, valleys, hills and mountains in this impoverished nation becomes imperceptible as in dreams.
But I continue to write.
I am hoping this state of affairs will go viral in the morning, for two more German tourists were raped. Extension cords connected to the power that lead to the main deck are helping passengers to commit suicide. I am alternating between plugging the electrical cord into the computer so CNN can pick up the tale that my country is now anti- American but the water keeps washing in and I’m afraid of electrical shocks.
Yes! In the twilight of time, the captain awkwardly disembarks, leaving his passengers to struggle on their own. Whether he will be slain in the battle by the trees, imprisoned for treason or whether he will kick his heels upon this isle of silent voices in the next election who shall say?
Under crashing waves, in the cold deep, the ghostly soul of Dame Eugenia Charles scowls out into the daunting dark, but there is not a single life jacket on board. Not even a broken oar to steer the passengers to safety.
And impressions of trust turn to dust as the ship plunges to the bottom and all is lost in the murky depths.
I sit alone, self-contained, and stare into the night. I dream about my birthplace and things that lured me to sleep in my childhood -- the feast of Saint Peter, when ships were blessed and tales were told of sunken ships. My eyes go blind and my tears evaporate for my beloved Dominica.
February 25, 2012
Caribbean Blog International
|February 25, 2012 | 12:32 PM
Profit-led economic strategy has failed Jamaica
Related to country: Jamaica
By Danny Roberts
In the build-up to the 2011 general election, the People's National Party (PNP) pledged to shape a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), "taking into account the present realities of the Jamaican society and the need to facilitate growth in our economy, if we are to make social and economic progress as a people".
In the midst of Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips' feverish attempt to live up to his party's election promises, the minister with responsibility for the public service, Horace Dalley, is busy engaging public sector trade union leaders in discussions about a sign-off on the 2010-2012 wage negotiations, and how best to construct agreeable terms to a 2012-2014 wage agreement which public servants and their unions hope will preserve jobs while offering increases in wages, salaries and fringe benefits.
The truth is that Minister Dalley's attempt can advance very little unless Dr Phillips accomplishes his task -- one which can best be accomplished with the help of the trade union movement, fully mobilised to collectively provide the sine qua non for the finance minister's success. For unless the trade union movement sets about to develop a new conceptual framework for the discussions, on the present trajectory there is very little the Government can do to steer the Fund away from its mainstream policy prescription of a general contraction in public sector spending, with the resultant effects of wage freeze or cuts, layoffs and reduction in pension and other social benefits.
This is where the real meaning of 'people power' is to be played out, where the Government should be fully aware that the fiscal policies it pursues must recognise the workers as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the Jamaican economy. Success can therefore only be measured by the indices of human development which point upwards to reflect the benefits of economic growth and development. This, of course, is not now the case, and certainly not evident in the IMF medium-term plans for Jamaica where the key architects for sustainable growth are an emphasis on labour market regulation and wage repression.
The failures of a profit-led growth strategy
Granted, Jamaica's present crisis was never the result of wage developments and labour market regulations, but they have become the focus of our solution simply because the economic model being pursued is decidedly neo-liberal. It is a model based on pro-capital distributional policies where the tools of labour market regulations have been used to distribute income from workers to the owners of the means of production because, intuitively, they invest rather than consume their wealth.
The propensity to save and invest among the capitalist class is the basis on which the income distribution is encouraged to induce greater investments, more jobs and eventually higher rates of growth. The emphasis on higher profits instead of higher wages, it is argued, would eventually redound to the benefit of the workers through the trickle-down effect of this neo-liberal theory.
This profit-led demand and supply regime has been the practice of both Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and PNP administrations over many years, and the economic effects of the declining wage share have only been worse for the Jamaican workers. In fact, it is instructive to note that one of the salient causes of the global recession which was triggered by the United States' subprime mortgage crisis had to do with changes in functional income distribution.
Similar profit-led strategies pursued by the bastion of neo-liberalism, the US, led to a decline in real wages and a consequential decline in aggregate demand which could only have been satisfied through credit and loans. Workers found it increasingly difficult to service these loan payments because of the stagnation in real wages and the contradictions between distribution and growth.
Similarly in Jamaica, the effect on the demand side of this profit-led growth strategy has been a fall in consumption, with the obvious decline in profit margins, suppression of wage rates and laying off of workers. The use of pro-capital policies, including the hundreds of waivers and concessions granted to the business sector, was to encourage more investments with the expected outcomes of job creation and economic growth. This has failed to materialise.
On the supply side, improvements in labour productivity have eluded us, despite technological changes and liberalisation of the economy. Mainstream economic thinking, which portends that a competitive market is most conducive to growth, has certainly not been Jamaica's experience. In fact, labour market institutions, such as the trade unions, are generally seen as rigidities in the labour market which fetters investment opportunities. The irony is that the direction of causality points to everything except wage rates as the source of Jamaica's economic stagnation, but the solution seems always to place the burden on the backs of the workers, when in fact the structural deficiencies and bad policy prescriptions worsen the problem.
But when we examine the data on Jamaica and analyse the studies done in other countries, the structure of our economy and the social and labour market policies and institutions bear out the remarkable contradiction where income distribution has become unholy unequal in the face of marginal or negative economic growth. In Jamaica's case the growing income inequality would be evident in the movement in the Gini coefficient in the last decade, based on United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) statistics, which up to 2005 showed that the top 10 per cent of income earners in Jamaica earned 30.3 per cent of the wealth, while the bottom 10 per cent earned a mere 2.7 per cent of income.
Some comparison with Greece
The IMF has marked down its global growth forecast, reflecting the continued deterioration in the external environment, as well as the slowdown in domestic demand in key emerging economies. Take Greece, which has a Standby Agreement with the IMF since May 2010 and represents the worst aspect of the crisis in Europe. With the help of the Fund Greece has instituted a number of growth-enhancing structural reform measures "designed to improve competitiveness and enhance employment".
But none of these addresses the issue of spurring aggregate demand to stimulate growth and labour productivity. During last year, the Greek Government implemented a number of measures with the intention to further reduce the budget deficit by about three per cent of GDP. These measures included a reduction in public sector salaries by 20 per cent; an overall average cut in pension by four per cent as part of their pension reform; the creation of a labour reserve to which 30,000 public sector employees would move by the end of last year; expenditure cuts amounting to 0.6 per cent of GDP implemented retroactively from January 2011; and the introduction of a property tax.
The growth-induced strategy has nearly resulted in a doubling of the negative GDP growth from -3.5 per cent in 2010 to -6.0 per cent in 2011, and unemployment still remains stubbornly high despite measures to increase employment. In order to boost productivity, competitiveness, capital formation and growth in Greece, the need to pursue "a comprehensive structural reform agenda aimed at creating a well-functioning labour market" and to remove barriers to investment and exports as well as liberalise the service markets have been advocated.
The prescriptions are well rehearsed: labour market flexibility, wage flexibility, profit-led growth. Furthermore, the objective of creating and preserving jobs and improving competitiveness resulted in measures which suspended the extension of occupational and sectoral agreements until 2014.
A recent Reuters report revealed that despite the growth-enhancing measures, "the Greek economy shrank 6.8 per cent in 2011, leaving the level of output an estimated 16 per cent below its pre-crisis peak. Unemployment has soared to more than 20 per cent from 7.7 per cent in 2008...", and for ordinary Greeks the outlook is dire. "Some civil servants have seen their salaries cut by half. Retirement before the age of 65 is a fading dream for those still in work. Some drugs are now in short supply. Couples with children are being forced to move back in with their parents to save money. And across Greece, businesses are closing every day."
In fact, some of the key macroeconomic indicators were better in Greece than they are in Jamaica. Table 1 provides comparative data, which raises the question: why would the IMF want to impose different strictures on Jamaica than it did on Greece or elsewhere? This is precisely the direction in which the IMF wants Jamaica to be heading, and a comparison of the conditionalities with the two countries bears striking similarity in many respects.
Many economists and commentators have argued that there is a wider frame within which the crisis has to be understood, and certainly in Jamaica's case we have to avoid the pitfalls of the very same financial policy mistakes which have resulted in our present predicament. In an International Labour Organisation-sponsored workshop on 'Wages, Crisis and Economic Recovery', the conclusion was drawn that rising income inequality was at the root of the crisis. Academics from Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands postulated the view that "low wages and increased inequality depressed aggregate demand and prompted monetary policy to react by maintaining low interest rates -- cheap credit in turn allowed private household and corporate debt to increase far beyond sustainable levels".
But now Jamaica joins Europe in a global chain of policy errors which blames the rigid labour markets and advocates wage cuts in the name of increased cost competitiveness. And so, like Greece, the Government of Jamaica is told to, or has to decide on public spending cuts, tough reform of the labour market, and far-reaching reform of pension provisions. The sad truth is that this is where the IMF is going, which leaves very little wiggle room for Finance Minister Phillips to secure and protect the main planks of the PNP manifesto.
The canonical neo-liberal approach to the crisis will become the albatross around the necks of the Jamaican workers if the trade unions try to argue wage adjustments and social security protection in a profit-led growth strategy. The unions must resist any attempt at further stagnation of real wages as this will not create the conditions for a viable, sustained economic recovery, but will result in prolonged stagnation.
Wage stagnation presents a direct and immediate obstacle to economic recovery for Jamaica, and it serves to further entrench the structural problems that caused the crisis in the first place. We have seen where the country's growth model was predicated on demand accelerated through debt and asset price inflation rather than wage increases. The resulting effect was a severing of the link between wages and productivity growth, downward pressure on real wages, decline in aggregate demand, weakening of the labour market, reduction in social benefits and rights for workers, and flexibility in employment, wages and the production process to give management greater sway over the control of labour.
The approach to stabilise the economy by regulating the financial sector is certainly a good thing, but the further measures to suppress the demand and income-generation process will not help the recovery process whatsoever. A logic line of construct for our reasoning would not suggest that we continue on the path dictated by the IMF. The policy propositions are much at variance with the prescriptions of the Fund, and it is the trade unions to which we must turn to create an alternative response to the policies being pursued.
The minister of finance should not surrender to the orthodox argument that wage growth inhibits economic growth, a doctrinaire approach fully embedded in the policies, agendas and strategies of the multilateral institutions, like the IMF and World Bank.
The Planning Institute of Jamaica should do a study to advise the Government on the policy decisions it must make, based on a sound understanding of the impact of wages on aggregate demand and labour productivity. Wage-led growth economic strategies would improve the growth rate. This is clearly the struggle trade unions need to engage in at the bargaining table to mobilise collective action around a new set of paradigms that a wage-led economic strategy, supported by pro-labour policies, will result in real and sustained growth for the economy.
An increase in the wage share means higher income activity in the short term, faster accumulation of capital in the long term and higher investment expenditures. The pro-labour policies would result in a strengthening of social protection measures and labour market institutions, and include strengthening collective bargaining, trade unions, increased unemployment benefits and reducing wage and salary income inequalities.
There is a proximate link between wage growth and productivity growth since companies may react by investing in productivity-enhancing areas to maintain competitiveness, or through improved motivation of workers as well as improvements in health and nutrition. Studies in a number of OECD countries have proved this to be so.
In May 2009, Christi van der Westhuizen, in an Inter Press Service (IPS) article, warned developing countries about the IMF using the global financial crisis "to promote policies that exacerbate the recession rather than growing economies". The re-casting of the IMF agreement is therefore an opportunity which must be seized by the trade union movement to set the country on a wage-led economic growth strategy to give credence to 'people power'.
Danny Roberts is the head of the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, UWI Open Campus, Mona.
February 22, 2012
|February 24, 2012 | 8:39 AM
Honduras deadly prison fire: History repeats itself with tragic and fateful dividends
Related to country: Honduras
by Melissa Beale and Alex Gibson
COHA Research Associates:
When a horrific fire broke out in a Honduran prison on Tuesday night last week, the 350-plus inmates trapped in the blaze received what was tantamount to their de facto death sentences. While the blaze in this particular case seemed to be caused by a mattress purposely lit on fire, it was a catastrophe long in the waiting, and could have been just as well witnessed in scores of prisons throughout Honduras, or in the rest of Central America.
The facility that went up in flames was located in the town of Comayagua, just north of the capital city of Tegucigalpa. According to numerous eye witnesses, the gruesome scene was pierced by screams from dozens of inmates who were trapped behind bars while security guards fumbled in search of the keys. Local firefighters reported that about a hundred prisoners burned to death or suffocated in their cells.
History Repeats Itself
This prison fire has not been the first to occur in the Central American country. In 2004, more than a hundred incarcerated gang members were also killed in a jail blaze, while in 2003, a fire in a nearby facility killed another seventy gang members. Prison riots, fires, and other deadly episodes have plagued the country dating back to 1994 when one particularly ghastly fire broke out in an overcrowded prison and took the lives of 103 inmates.
This dilemma seemed to not only affect Honduras, but generated a good deal of outrage throughout Central America as well as elsewhere in much of the region. COHA Research Fellow W. Alex Sanchez was interviewed on the Honduran incendiary calamity by Telemundo in which he dealt with cases of prison riots and fires dating back to 2010. In that incident, a fire that broke out in a prison in El Salvador killed sixteen prisoners and left twenty-two injured.
Latin American prisons, like those in Honduras, are inevitably congested, grimy, and wretchedly equipped with a serious lack in security equipment, ammunition, uniforms and trained manpower to control and guard the facilities from troublemakers. For example, prisons in Honduras that were designed for approximately 6,000 inmates today hold more than double that (12,500). Also, according to a prison administrator’s figures, a Venezuelan prison known as “La Planta” was built for 350 prisoners, but now holds an alarming 2,436 people. It has been established that many incarcerated criminals throughout the region, particularly in Honduras, are habitually forced to sleep on the floor in filthy conditions.
Despite the financial boom that several countries like Brazil and Peru have enjoyed throughout the past decade, much of Latin America is still severely impoverished, where regional governments have to deal with extremely limited financial resources. Low priorities, as a result, are routinely awarded to social sector development projects such as infrastructure, and the grossly inadequate construction of schools and hospitals. Prisons are therefore pushed to the back of the list due to the penal system’s weak lobbying position.
Along with failing schools and hospitals, violence is increasing and living conditions found in such facilities are abysmal. With riots and fires occurring with grim regularity, hundreds of once incarcerated criminals now roam the streets, adding to the security threat affecting citizens. Such incidents have been occurring for decades, in which thousands of the incarcerated are losing their lives and where justice is rarely blind, but sadly predictable.
On the bright side, however, countries like Peru have decided to shift their focus to tackle the problem of unsafe prisons. For instance, the Peruvian government has decided to grant USD 12 million to Peru’s National Penitentiary Institute (INPE) in order to help improve the maintenance in five of the country’s most troubled jails, after the country experienced a particularly costly prison calamity.
A Symptom of a Larger Social Crisis
The inhumane conditions in many Honduran prisons can be seen as a symptom of a larger social crisis in a country that the United Nations in 2010 labeled as the murder capital of the world. The New York Times recently reported on a UN study where the Central American was nation was stated to be home to the world’s highest murder rate of “82.1 per 100,000 residents, far ahead of the worldwide rate of 6.9.” Rampant rates of violence and crime are inevitably the results of a broken political system. Government institutions are still trying to recover from a 2009 coup, where a largely corrupt police force has become a generous contributor to the murder rate and the sense of lawlessness throughout the country, and where organized crime dominates much of society.
Poorly maintained and over-crowded prisons are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the key issues plaguing Honduras, and the surrounding region. The only possible silver lining to last week’s hellish scene is that it may now add to the growing evidence of the unacceptable and perilous state of Honduran prisons today.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, visitwww.coha.org or email email@example.com
February 23, 2012
Caribbean Blog International
|February 23, 2012 | 8:08 AM
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