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Gonsalves condemns ‘bullying’ tactics of EU towards citizenship by investment

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) – St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has condemned the “bullying” tactics adopted by the European Union with regards to the controversial Citizenship by Investment programme (CBI), used by several Caribbean countriesto spur their economic development.

Gonsalves has in the past distanced his island from the CBI, through which foreign investors are given citizenship of a particular Caribbean country in return for making a significant contribution to the socio-economic development of the island.

Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis and St Lucia are among Caribbean countries with CBIs and Gonsalves, speaking in Parliament said the European Union’s approach to the region’s initiative is tantamount to “bullying”.

He said: “Mr Speaker, you have heard me say that although I do not support, on the grounds of principle and practicality, the matter of citizenship by investment — selling of passports and citizenship, and I am not making a partisan political point here — I have made the point publicly that the manner in which the European Union is going about addressing countries with that question is also one of bullying.”

He was making his contribution to the debate on the International Business Companies (Amendment and Consolidated) (Amendment) Bill, 2018, in which he accused the European Union of bullying small states into enforcing its tax policy.

“…We can have our argument internally but I am raising the larger question on which we must all be united in this honourable house and in this nation and in the Caribbean,” said the prime minister.

Gonsalves expressed his “controlled anger” at the EU’s action and called for a Caribbean Community (Caricom) response, saying that while member states had acted individually, it was not too late for a regional response.

“I am very calm and controlled but that does not mean that I am not deeply annoyed and offended. In fact, the members of staff here will tell you I had a telephone conversation with the European Union ambassador. It was robust conversation. Well, robustly largely from my end because every issue she raised, it was of no merit practically or in international law or on a question of principle,” he said.

Opposition lawmaker St Clair Leacock said that while St Kitts and Nevis was standing up to the EU on the tax question, the language coming out of Basseterre was less robust.

“Because they have stood up for near 40 years with the Citizenship by Investment Programme,” said Leacock, a member of the main opposition New Democratic Party, which has said it will re-introduce a CBI programme if elected to office.

He said the 40-year duration of Basseterre’s CBI programme is about as long as the banana industry here, adding this goes to demonstrate “that the Citizenship by Investment Programme is sustainable because 40 years is as long as any agricultural monocrop in this country has survived, bananas being our best experience.

“And look at the difference and the quality of life that the people of St. Kitts are experiencing today: extra salaries, bonus salaries. We speak about seven flights here per week in St Vincent; they are speaking about 10 per day in St Kitts, half the size of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

He said that St Kitts and Nevis enjoys these benefit “because they have stood up and fought back on a principle that there was significant financial and economic benefit to be gained from a legally constructed industry: the Citizenship by Investment Programme that we have scoffed at.

“And we can’t have it both ways. We can’t say that here in St Vincent we are taking issue with the OECD and the European Union with the same legislative industry, finance industry and then turn around on the other side and say the one in St. Kitts or throughout the region, the citizenship by investment is not good.

“We can’t probate and reprobate. So we have to get our own act together. In fact, I think it is the closest the Honourable Prime Minister has ever come to agree and accept that even on that programme there is bullying,” he added.

During her contribution, another Opposition legislator, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, said that the offshore finance sector was not very different from CBI.

“It is a way that small islands have to use to carve out revenue and at the time the offshore business was the way to go and I remember when much money was made from it and it is the same thing they are going to do with the CBI — citizenship by investment. We have to protect our industry and we have to find a way to deal with it.”

Bacchus-Baptiste said that when she says she sees no difference, she meant to say “that on the one hand, I support the international business but I don’t support the CBI, I think it is hypocritical” – an apparently reference to the approach of the prime minister.

“For example, a lot of these persons who had offshore businesses here, like Baron, got Vincentian passports. Say, for instance, even Ames. His was not offshore but I am saying it is hypocritical on one hand to criticise it and then give out passports to non-Vincentians investing and doing business here.”

Adrian Baron, naturalised-Vincentian, in September became the first person to be convicted for failing to comply with Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of the United States. Baron is a former chief business officer and former chief executive officer of Loyal Bank Ltd, an off-shore bank with offices in Budapest, Hungary and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

But Prime Minister Gonsalves said there were “different regimes for granting citizenship”, noting that one of them is to be resident in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for at least seven years and have a connection of some kind.

“It would be business, it could be just living,” said Gonsalves, noting ‘and that is the manner in which, as I recalled it, that Mr Baron obtained his citizenship.

“Not by selling a passport or selling it upfront,” said Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibilities for the granting of non-automatic citizenship.

“In the case of Mr Ames, under the citizenship act, if you…have invested substantially in the country, you understand the English language and all the rest and so on and so forth and you are here for five years minimum, you can get citizenship that way.

“That’s an entirely different matter than citizenship by investment. I just want to point out the legal difference, apart from other differences,” Gonsalves said.

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Besieged Puerto Rico governor goes quiet amid protests

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — In the Spanish colonial fortress that serves as his official residence, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossell is under siege.

Motorcyclists, celebrities, horse enthusiasts, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Puerto Ricans swarmed outside La Fortaleza (The Fort) in Old San Juan this week, demanding Rossell resign over a series of leaked online chats insulting women, political opponents, and even victims of Hurricane Maria.

Rossell, the telegenic 40-year-old son of a former governor, has dropped his normally intense rhythm of public appearances and gone into relatively long periods of near-media silence, intensifying questions about his future.

For much of his 2 1/2 years in office, Rossell has given three or four lengthy news conferences a week, comfortably fielding question after question in Spanish and English from the local and international press. And that’s on top of public appearances, one-on-one interviews and televised meetings with visiting politicians and members of his administration.

But since July 11, when Rossell cut short a family vacation in France and returned home to face the first signs of what has become an islandwide movement to oust him, the governor has made four appearances, all but one in highly controlled situations.

New protests began Friday afternoon, with unionised workers organising a march to La Fortaleza from the nearby waterfront. Horseback riders joined them with a self-declared cavalry march, while hundreds of other people came from around the city and surrounding areas. A string of smaller events was on the agenda across the island over the weekend, followed by what many expected to be a massive protest on Monday.

The chorus calling for Rossell’s resignation was joined Friday by Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez; US Senator Rick Scott of Florida; and New York congresswomen Nydia Velzquez and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

The crisis has even cut back Rossell’s affable online presence. The governor normally started every day by tweeting “Good morning!” to his followers around 5:00 am. The last such bright-and-early message came on July 8. The tweets from his account have dwindled to a trickle since then, and each one is met by a flood of often-abusive responses from Puerto Ricans demanding he resign.

Rossell’s secretary of public affairs, Anthony Maceira, told reporters Friday that the governor was in La Fortaleza working on signing laws and filling posts emptied by the resignations of fellow members of the leaked chat group.

The head of Rossell’s pro-statehood political party said a meeting of its directors had been convened for coming days, although the agenda was not disclosed beyond “addressing every one of the complaints of our colleagues”.

Rossell offered a press conference on July 11 to address the arrest of two of his former department heads on federal corruption charges. He also asked the people of Puerto Rico to forgive him for a profanity-laced and at times misogynistic online chat with nine other male members of his administration, short selections of which had leaked to local media. Two days later, at least 889 pages of the chat were published by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, and things got much, much worse for Rossell.

In the chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Rossell calls one New York female politician of Puerto Rican background a “whore”, describes another as a “daughter of a bitch” and makes fun of an obese man he posed with in a photo. The chat also contains vulgar references to Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin’s homosexuality and a series of emojis of a raised middle finger directed at a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances.

The next day, Sunday, Rossell appeared in a San Juan church and asked the congregation for forgiveness, without informing the press. The church broadcasts its services online, however, and his remarks became public. On Monday, July 15, Rossell gave a notably non-confrontational interview to a salsa music radio station. The governor’s spokesman said the questions had been “negotiated” between Rossell’s press team and the station. That night, thousands swarmed Old San Juan to demand his resignation.

On July 16, Rossell held a press conference and faced aggressive questioning about the chat scandal and the corruption arrests. Later that day, an ally tweeted a photo of Rossell embracing Wilfredo Santiago, the obese man whom the governor had mocked in one of the most infamous sections of the chat.

Since then, it’s been silence. There has been a handful of tweets, press releases, and statements, some saying he won’t resign but mostly about purportedly routine meetings of administration officials.

His official spokespeople aren’t answering many questions, and even his whereabouts are mostly unknown.

The governor’s press secretary, Dennise Prez, announced Friday night that she was resigning because she could no longer stand the insults and personal abuse directed at her this week by fellow Puerto Ricans.

Rossell was raised in the public eye, as the youngest son of Pedro Rossell, who served as governor from 1993 to 2001. One of Puerto Rico’s most charismatic and controversial governors, the elder Rossell launched a string of large-scale infrastructure projects that swelled the public debt and ensuing bankruptcy that his son has inherited.

Known widely as “Ricky”, the younger Rossell started his political career in his father’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party. Trained in biomechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and Duke, he launched his campaign for governor in 2015 with little previous history of public service.

Deflecting questions about whether he owed his success to his connections, Rossell portrayed himself as an affable technocrat with solutions to Puerto Rico’s debt and crumbling infrastructure, who, by less than 3% of the total votes cast, defeated David Bernier of the Popular Democratic Party, which advocates greater Puerto Rican autonomy from the mainland United States.

Until now, Rossell’s greatest challenge was Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, destroying the island’s power and communications systems. Rossell came under heavy criticism for mismanaging the crisis, particularly for understating the deaths from the storm. While some of his deputies were vilified, Rossell seemed to emerge relatively unscathed, perhaps due to his friendly and non-confrontational manner with critics, opponents, and journalists alike.

The father of two young children, he often posts their photos online, along with images of his wife and their two rescue dogs, a Siberian Husky and a Yorkshire Terrier. Rossell once halted a press conference to help local journalists move their equipment out of the rain.

Among the greatest shocks of the leaked chats for many Puerto Ricans was the puncturing of that image of low-key charm by the misogyny of online conversations.

“He was making an effort, carrying out his governor’s role,” said Jessica Castro, a 38-year-old San Juan resident attending a Friday evening protest with her family. “He was mocking everyone behind their backs, the people who believed in him. People are really disillusioned. He’s got to go.”

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Trump offers to guarantee A$AP Rocky’s bail in Sweden

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BERLIN (AP) — US President Donald Trump said he spoke with Sweden’s prime minister Saturday about jailed rapper A$AP Rocky, and “offered to personally vouch for his bail.”

Trump tweeted that during “a very good call” with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, he also “assured him that A$AP was not a flight risk”. The platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated artiste has been in custody since early this month over an alleged fight.

Urged on by the first lady and celebrities including Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, the president had said in a Friday tweet that he would intervene to try to free Rocky, whose real name is Rakim May.

“Our teams will be talking further, and we agreed to speak again in the next 48 hours!” Trump wrote Saturday after speaking with Lofven.

The prime minister’s press secretary, Toni Eriksson, confirmed hours later that Lofven and Trump had a conversation that “was friendly and respectful and lasted about 20 minutes”.

Lofven “made certain to emphasise the complete independence of the Swedish judicial system, prosecutors and courts”, Eriksson said in a statement. “He underlined that in Sweden everyone is equal before the law and that the Government cannot and will not attempt to influence the legal proceedings.”

The two leaders may have a follow-up call, “but nothing has been booked or planned”, she said.

Lofven had issued a statement earlier Saturday saying he would be glad to speak with Trump about A$AP Rocky’s detention, but giving the same warning about his government’s unwillingness to interfere.

“I understand that President Trump has a personal interest in the case,” the prime minister said before they spoke. “He has expressed the desire for a conversation with me, which is certainly positive.”

Rocky has been behind bars while Swedish police investigate the fight in Stockholm he allegedly was in before appearing at a music festival. Videos published on social media appear to show a person being violently thrown onto the ground by Rocky. A defence lawyer has said it was self-defence.

Other recording artistes have spoken on his behalf, including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Nicki Minaj and Post Malone.

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Caribbean District of Optimist grabs all three top global awards

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What has been described as a “rare occurrence” in the Optimist movement across the globe took place recently when the Optimist International Caribbean District won the three top international awards for 2018 from among 51 Districts, for the second consecutive year.

The district governor for the Caribbean in 2017-2018 was Jamaican Calvin A Hunter, who had responsibilities for over 60 clubs in Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica.

The awards won by the Optimist International Caribbean District were: Highest Percentage of Membership Growth Award; Highest Number of New Clubs Built in a District Award and the Highest Percentage of Honour Clubs Award. That performance also saw the 2017 – 2018 district governor, consultant Calvin A Hunter, receiving a Distinguished and Outstanding Governor Award and the Caribbean District being named the Number One District in all of optimist International. District Governor for 2016-2017, banker Dave Wilson, received similar accolades and the Distinguished and Outstanding Governor Award for that year.

In making the declaration at the recent 101st Optimist International Annual Convention held in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, the organisation’s international president for 2017 – 2018, H Nick Prillaman Jr, said: “It is a rare occurrence that one governor is able to motivate his or her District to this high level of achievement.”

According to Prillaman Jr: “Accomplishing such a feat was a testament to Governor Calvin’s outstanding leadership and his ability to convey his vision and strategy of Growth, empowerment, marketing communication and Saving children (GEMS) through the clubs and members of the Optimist International movement.”

In detailing the criteria by which the 51 districts were judged, the optimist past international president said to achieve the status of ‘a Distinguished District’, that territory would be expected to build a minimum of three new clubs during the optimist year; achieve a net growth of over 25 new members and have at least 25 per cent of the clubs in the district achieve Honour Club status.

“Under the guidance of District Governor Calvin, the district built eight new free-standing clubs and six clubs-within-a-club, resulting in a total of 14 new club credits,” said Prillaman Jr. Membership growth in the Caribbean for 2017 – 2018 reached an astounding 125.07 per cent by enrolling an additional 440 new members, with approximately 60 per cent of the clubs in the region achieving the status of Honour Clubs.

“In fact, the outstanding level of service and growth made the Caribbean the top district in every award category,” Prillaman Jr noted. He said on average, each new Optimist member reaches at least 33 children in a year, which means that in excess of 14,000 more Caribbean children are now being served.

Under District Governor Calvin’s leadership, the Optimist International Caribbean District exemplified Optimist International’s motto, which is “friend of the youth” and the district was portrayed as being the “premier youth service organisation” in the region.

“Governor Calvin has certainly raised the bar of achievement through his hard work, passion, enthusiasm and commitment. He has shown what is possible when one plans well, sets goals and works to achieve those goals. I would describe him as Optimist Strong!” said Prillaman Jr.

According to the Optimist past international president, the quality of leadership which Governor Calvin displayed during his tenure will be a stepping stone for other leadership opportunities within the international movement.

“He has already been appointed to an international committee and I think an international vice-presidency is on the horizon…and I have no doubt he will serve as President of Optimist International one day,” Prillaman Jr noted.

Jamaican Theodore Golding is the only person of colour to have served as international president (2007 – 2008) since the movement started in 1919. Barbadian Adrian Elcock has been elected to be the second international president (2019 – 2020) from outside Canada and the USA.

In his response, Governor Calvin said he was pleased that the hard work by his team had been recognised at the highest level of the movement, which has over 2,300 Optimist Clubs worldwide.

“I could not have achieved all we did without the outstanding support of Distinguished Secretary Carlene A Hunter, Distinguished Treasurer Heather Reeves Ambersley, my family, friends and all the Wonderful Optimist Working (WOW) members throughout the Caribbean. I was fortunate to have had a motivated and goal-oriented executive committee, inspirational past governors, coupled with a passionate membership who were eager to make a difference in the lives of the youth of the region,” he said.

“The growth team, led by Governor’s Assistant Louise Jackson worked tirelessly in an effort to get more members to serve more children,” District Governor Calvin said.

Under the theme ‘Optimist Clubs … Saving Children’, the Optimist International Caribbean District launched a regional anti-bullying campaign, ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ under the guidance of Dr Maureen Samms-Vaughn, Samantha Chantrelle and in partnership with Cedella Marley, the Bob Marley Foundation, POW Social, G & A Communications Inc and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency in Jamaica (CPFSA).

The Governor General of Jamaica Sir Patrick Allen and Governor General of Antigua Sir Rodney Williams declared that period, ‘The Year of Optimists in Service to Children’, while other Caribbean leaders also endorsed the ‘Adopt an Angel’ programme launched on October 1, 2017.

With an endorsement by the second runner up in the Miss Universe 2017, Davina Bennett, the District raised awareness of the deaf community through its Communication Contest for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing (CCDHH) and hosted the District Oratorical Contest, which was historically televised and rebroadcast by Television Jamaica (TVJ) for the very first time. TVJ partnered with regional telecoms giant FLOW for World Safer Internet Day, and executed many other service projects throughout the region.

The stellar service to youth and the success of these programmes attracted new members and propelled the Caribbean District to the number #1 spot among all districts in the optimist movement worldwide in 2017-2018.

The 2018 – 2019 District Governor Marcia P Streete Hendricks, who continues the exemplary service and growth, was among ten Governors who collected the mid-year ‘Pacesetter Award’ at the recent international convention.

Under her leadership, this year’s flagship programme for the Caribbean will be road safety under the theme ‘Keep Our Children Safe: Make Our Future Bright”.

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