NOAA predicts ‘near- or above-normal’ Atlantic hurricane season

SAN JUAN – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center announced that it forecasts a 75 percent chance that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season “will be near- or above-normal.”

“Forecasters predict a 35 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 25 percent chance of a below-normal season for the upcoming hurricane season,” which extends from June 1 to Nov. 30, NOAA wrote Thursday.

“With the advances made in hardware and computing over the course of the last year, the ability of NOAA scientists to both predict the path of storms and warn Americans who may find themselves in harm’s way is unprecedented,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says in his agency’s media release. “The devastating hurricane season of 2017 demonstrated the necessity for prompt and accurate hurricane forecasts.”

NOAA’s forecasters predict a 70 percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 miles per hour [mph] or higher), of which five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to four major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). An average hurricane season, NOAA explained, produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

Hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms. (NOAA)

“The possibility of a weak El Niño developing, along with near-average sea surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, are two of the factors driving this outlook. These factors are set upon a backdrop of atmospheric and oceanic conditions that are conducive to hurricane development and have been producing stronger Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995,” the release reads.

“NOAA’s observational and modeling enhancements for the 2018 season put us on the path to deliver the world’s best regional and global weather models,” adds Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction. “These upgrades are key to improving hurricane track and intensity forecasts, allowing NOAA to deliver the best science and service to the nation.”

2018 Atlantic tropical cyclone names. (NOAA)

The agency’s release lists the following new NOAA tools “available this year to assist in hurricane forecasts and communications”:

  • NOAA’s fleet of earth-observing satellites is more robust than ever with the successful launch of the GOES-17 satellite in March. This satellite, along with the GOES-16 satellite – now GOES-East – contribute to a comprehensive picture of weather throughout the Western Hemisphere, allowing forecasters to observe storms as they develop.

  • The new polar-orbiting satellite, NOAA-20, will join the NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite and use a suite of sophisticated instruments to gather high-resolution data from around the globe to feed NOAA’s weather models, driving the 3-7 day weather forecast that is critical to preparedness and effective evacuations.

  • The National Weather Service will run a version of the Global Forecast System (called FV3 GFS) with a new dynamic core alongside the current GFS model – often referred to as the American model – during the 2018 season. This will mark the first dynamic core upgrade to NOAA’s flagship weather model in more than 35 years, representing the first step in re-engineering NOAA’s models to provide the best possible science-based predictions for the nation.

  • NOAA’s hurricane-specific model – the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast system – will be upgraded to offer greater resolution than ever before, increasing model resolution from 1.2 miles to 0.9 miles (2 km to 1.5 km) near the center of a storm. Additionally, the Hurricanes in a Multi-scale Ocean coupled Non-hydrostatic model was first implemented in 2017 and will undergo upgrades for the 2018 season to include greater resolution, new physics and coupling with ocean models.

  • NOAA’s National Hurricane Center will make the Arrival Time of Tropical-Storm-Force Winds graphics operational for this hurricane season. One graphic displays the “earliest reasonable” arrival time of tropical-storm-force winds, at which point further preparedness activities could be hindered. A second graphic displays the “most-likely” arrival time of tropical-storm-force winds.

“Preparing ahead of a disaster is the responsibility of all levels of government, the private sector and the public,” said acting FEMA Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski. “It only takes one storm to devastate a community so now is the time to prepare. Do you have adequate insurance, including flood insurance? Does your family have a communication and evacuation plan? Stay tuned to your local news and download the FEMA app to get alerts, and make sure you heed any warnings issued by local officials.”

In addition to the Atlantic hurricane season outlook, NOAA also issued seasonal hurricane outlooks for the eastern and central Pacific basins. “An 80 percent chance of a near- or above-normal season is predicted for both the eastern and central Pacific regions. The eastern Pacific outlook calls for a 70-percent probability of 14 to 20 named storms, of which 7 to 12 are expected to become hurricanes, including 3 to 7 major hurricanes. The central Pacific outlook calls for a 70-percent probability of 3 to 6 tropical cyclones, which includes tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.”

NOAA said it will update the 2018 Atlantic seasonal outlook in early August, before the peak of the season.

Quality Puerto Rico jobs in jeopardy amid proposed labor reform

Puerto Rico’s fiscal oversight board during its 10th public meeting in October 2017. (Juan José Rodríguez/CB)

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the May 3-9, 2018, issue of Caribbean Business.

Puerto Rico will not be more competitive under the proposed labor reform. This appears to be the consensus of two lawyers, who theorize the legislation has defects that will affect the future of workers and employers doing business on the island.

As a spearhead for the legislation, the island’s fiscal oversight board presented a letter to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez emphasizing so-called at-will employment, a contractual relationship between employee and employer that has been tested in other countries with questionable results.

The new model is intended to reduce or eliminate some of the protections contained in other legislation that benefits workers to promote job creation and increase the island’s labor-force participation rate—which is less than 40 percent, the lowest in the United States—to 55 percent. The latter rate is tied to the possibility of increasing the minimum wage for those age 25 and older who currently earn the federal minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.

Although the experts agree the measure—which they consider a copy of legislation from U.S. and European Union jurisdictions—has the potential to create new employment opportunities, both expressed serious concerns to Caribbean Business about whether sacrificing rights that took the working class a long time to obtain was the least onerous alternative to make Puerto Rico more competitive.

“I’m very concerned that dismissals without just cause are disguised and not [seen] as something discriminatory and used as a pretext that the law allows for firing whoever…, whenever…, for whatever reason, regardless of their status,” said labor law expert Jaime Sanabria, who added that, contrary to the general perception, repealing Act 80, Puerto Rico’s Unjustified Dismissal Act, will not dissuade employees from going to court under an ordinary civil lawsuit and asserting their rights. Moreover, the lawyer criticized the fact that with the disappearance of an advanced legal structure such as Act 80, it will be workers—the weakest party—who will have the greatest economic burden to demonstrate that their cases have merit.

–Read the rest of the story in CB’s epaper here.


Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico operations ‘in full swing’

SAN JUAN – Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico–an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) center in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico–announced it has three new customers for base maintenance and modifications.

The facility, which specializes in Airbus A320 family aircraft, has increased its airworthiness approvals to include Brazil and Chile. Four Latin American countries are currently reviewing its service-certification applications. It is already approved by U.S. and Canadian authorities.

The MRO’s three new airline customers are based in Latin America. Last month, it conducted an airworthiness inspection, specifically a C2 check, and carried out a Wi-Fi installation for Avianca Brazil. So-called C checks require a large majority of an aircraft’s components to be inspected in a process that can involve some 6,000 man-hours.

Puerto Rico Aeronautical Institute and Lufthansa Technik sign training agreement

In the coming months, C1- and C2-checks will be performed on two A319 aircraft used by Chile’s Sky Airline. An A320 belonging to one of the facility’s new customers, U.S.-based Allegiant Air, had exterior and cabin interior work performed recently as well.

“Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico is delighted with the recent additions to our customer base. Located strategically in Puerto Rico where we aim to serve customers from both North and South America, we are encouraged by the recent customer acquisitions,” Pat Foley, CEO of Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico, said in the announcing release.

The 215,000-square-foot Aguadilla repair station was inaugurated in 2015 with Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency approval. It has about 300 specialized employees working at the facility, which has five aircraft overhaul lines.

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the MRO redelivered it one-hundredth heavy-maintenance check for Spirit airlines, its oldest customer. The facility also services Jetblue aircraft.

Lufthansa Technik organized relief flights to Aguadilla shortly after the hurricane hit to supply employees and nearby communities with tons of food, water, generators and other emergency and basic equipment. It used one of its maintenance lines as a “humanitarian bay” to facilitate the delivery of goods and supplies.


Hurricanes expose governments’ decades of negligence in Caribbean climate change preparedness

Rincón, Puerto Rico (Photo by Leandro Fabrizi Ríos | Centro de Periodismo Investigativo)

Dinelle Henley fears for her native Cane Garden Bay, one of the most iconic and pristine beaches of the Caribbean.

Like much of the British Virgin Islands, the popular seaside village was devastated by winds, waves and flooding when the center of Hurricane Irma passed directly over the territory on Sept. 6.Eighty nautical miles to the west, Alexis Correa feels the same way. Although they do not know each other, they speak different languages and their governments are unrelated, he has also seen firsthand what the fury of a Category 4 hurricane is capable of doing to a small, vulnerable island. When hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico with its 155-mile-per-hour winds on Sept. 20 it swept away roofs, structures, bridges and roads all over the island.

But Correa has been watching a prelude to this destruction in his community for more than a decade. The ocean first claimed the social and cultural center of his Parcelas Suárez neighborhood in the municipality of Loíza. Then Hurricane Maria swept away the basketball court and the park. The places were an integral part of this community, one stricken by poverty, criminality, discrimination and limited social mobility, and its destruction has left residents with practically no options.

“Here the community board and residents used to meet, but we also used to celebrate weddings and ‘quinceañeros’,” Correa said as he looked at the ruins of the building, which also served as a childcare center before it was closed in 2002 because of the damage caused by erosion. “We moved to the court and the park, but Maria destroyed them. Now we don’t have a place to meet.”

In St. Croix, organic farmer Luca Gasperi is similarly distraught, but not surprised: He believes the back-to-back September storms that hit his native United States Virgin Islands (USVI) were consistent with other weather patterns that he had been noticing for years.

“Everything is more intense,” he said as his wife Christina sold produce on a Saturday afternoon at the 40-acre farm they operate on his parents’ land.

Then he ticked off a list of evidence: A lengthy drought struck in 2015, rainstorms have been heavier, and for the first time in more than a decade of farming he suddenly is unable to grow broccoli. Another hurricane, he added, could be the last straw.

“For us, if it happens again…,” he said, his voice trailing off. “That’s the thing: The way these storms this year got so strong so quick — that’s nerve-racking.”

Henley, Correa and Gasperi blame rapid climate change due to global warming and government inaction for greatly exacerbating their islands’ losses, and they worry that the ocean and extreme weather events like Irma and Maria will continue to expose the fragility of their islands’ infrastructure and flawed construction practices.

Their stories are a snapshot of how climate change is not only eroding the coasts of these territories and other Caribbean islands, but actively destroying community life and economic activity in plain sight with little to no governmental action to protect citizens, according to a regional investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism and half a dozen Caribbean media outlets.

Experts agree. Ramón Bueno, coauthor of one of the few existing studies on climate change in the Caribbean, said the scientific community agrees that the hotter air in the atmosphere caused by global warming carries more humidity that elevates the sea level and provokes stronger storms, with more rain and higher surges. These were among the conclusions of the most recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), published in November 2014. The IPCC, where more than 2,000 scientists from 195 member countries collaborate, is the world’s primary source of scientific information on climate change and its effects.

“While the number of hurricanes may not change much, or may even decrease somewhat, what is most probable with global warming is that we will see a greater amount of high category hurricanes,” Bueno said. The scientist worked at Tufts University Global Development and Environmental Institute (GDEI) and was a staff scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, and since 2013 he has been an independent consultant specializing in climate change.

“The problem is that, like 2017 made quite clear, that only a few Category 4 or 5 hurricanes represent a very high threat to the sustainability of communities in the islands of the Caribbean. It is worse when a same place is hit by more that one [hurricane]. After María, even a mere tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane would be devastating,” he added.

Dr. Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is currently working on two studies about the impact of hurricanes in the Caribbean, said that there is consensus on two issues about the effects of climate change: the sea-level is rising and the amount of rainfall is increasing. And both are set to cause serious hurricane flood damage in the Caribbean.

In the coastal town of Rincon, in the north Puerto Rico, Julián Rodríguez knew that in ten years many things could happen, but he didn’t see that the two family beach apartments — an investment of over $400,000 — could be destroyed overnight. During Hurricane Maria the sea undermined the foundations of Rincon Ocean Club II, a three-story condominium next to the beach, and his dream became salt and water, literally.

“If I am honest, I imagined that this would happen. I had seen that this had happened three times already, with tropical storms that passed through the south of Puerto Rico — even if they did not hit the island. And even if Rincon didn’t get a drop of rain, the waves came and the fence of the condominium was washed to sea. When they told me that a Category 4 hurricane was coming, I knew that was it. The shock of seeing it is different. But I knew it was coming,” he recalled.

When his family bought the two apartments, Julián remembers seeing — and playing on — a sandy beach of about 30 feet wide. It never occurred to him that the ocean would end up swallowing the building, which is just under 15 years old. “And many of those who have, or had, an apartment here, they still owe a mortgage. You buy this thinking that 30 or 40 years from now you will still have it,” he said.

Ten years ago Ramón Bueno and his colleagues at Tufts GDEI — Cornelia Herzfeld, Elizabeth A. Stanton and Frank Ackerman — saw this coming. In their 2008 study The Caribbean and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction, they warned that the two dozen island nations and territories of the Caribbean with their 40 million inhabitants were especially vulnerable to the effects of global warming though they have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse gases that drive the phenomenon.

The researchers looked at optimistic and pessimistic scenarios based on a study developed by IPCC, analyzing average hurricane damages, tourism losses and infrastructure damages due to sea-level rises from hurricanes, and projected $22 billion in losses to the Caribbean’s economy by year 2050 or 10% of the region’s Gross Domestic Product. Nonetheless, individual projections of losses vary much from island to island, with some in the range of 40% and Haiti at the top with 61%.

“As ocean levels rise, the smallest, low-lying islands may disappear under the waves. As temperatures rise and storms become more severe, tourism — the life-blood of many Caribbean economies — will shrink and with it both private incomes and the public tax revenues that support education, social services, and infrastructure,” the scientists said.

Now, concrete impact of rising sea levels and temperatures and extreme weather events is not a future projection, but a tough reality. In places like Puerto Rico, BVI, USVI, Dominica, Panama, Dominican Republic, and Haiti, CPI’s regional investigation documented ongoing floods, population displacement, significant loss of the shoreline, and impacts on tourism businesses that are already happening.

Palominito island, a popular tourism spot for boaters off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, has almost disappeared.

Recent hurricanes have dramatically exacerbated coastal erosion and exposed the fragility of infrastructure and the potentially deadly impact on populations of the worst hit islands: Puerto Rico, BVI, USVI, Dominica, Barbuda and Saint Martin.

“We as a region now have to look particularly at the events of last year and the projections of the future that this is the new reality for the Caribbean, and we have to protect ourselves,” said Dr. Ulric Trotz, the deputy director and science advisor for the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize.

Amid the catastrophic devastation that Irma wrought in the BVI, it is easy to forget that another natural disaster struck the territory about three weeks earlier.

As residents prepared for the annual August Emancipation Festival parade, the sky darkened and rain began to fall. Soon the parade was called off, although a handful of troupes performed anyway, dancing through the capital city of Road Town as thunder crashed and water poured down in sheets.

Over the next 24 hours, some 16 inches fell in parts of the territory, and the capital city and other areas flooded to a level that was unprecedented in recent memory.

Leaders have since dubbed the disaster a “100-year flood,” but the director of the BVI’s Department of Disaster Management, Sharleen Dabreo, pointed out that catastrophic floods have struck the territory on a seven-year cycle since 2003.

“It’s not just Irma and Maria: It’s that you have these flooding events triggered by these [weather] troughs, which is something that you didn’t have in the past,” Ms. DaBreo said, adding, “There needs to be a better relationship between the scientific community and the development planning elements of government.”

University of Puerto Rico geology professor and geographer Maritza Barreto Orta, who has conducted numerous studies on beach erosion in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, agrees. In Puerto Rico, she found that between 1970 and 2010 the worst measured point had a net loss of 70 meters of shoreline, in the municipality of Loíza. Since 2011 the average annual loss rate of two meters has gone up to more than four meters in some areas.

A week after María, Barreto and her team visited 75% of Puerto Rico’s 1,225 beaches and visually documented significant erosion and flattening. The most striking case found was in La Boca sector in the municipality of Barceloneta, where the beach was reduced from its 60 meters (180 feet) to only four (12 feet). She is currently looking for state and federal funding to update the full study.

“I feel there is a lack of trust towards academia, and that is a serious problem because the government has to trust the data experts and scientists generate,” she said. “At the same time, academia should go to public hearings and make itself heard, because the knowledge we generate is important to public policy.”

St. Croix (Photo by Freeman Rogers)

The Political and Colonial Dilemma

According to Trotz, Bueno, Barreto and other scientists, the recent weather events clearly illustrate the effects of global warming in the region, which is highly dependent on tourism and suffers from a low level of agricultural activity and food sustainability.

Nonetheless, many of the countries and territories in the Caribbean are being overlooked by their governments and international organizations. CPI’s investigation found that only three – BVI, Cuba and Mexico — out of 13 countries and territories surveyed have climate change legislation in place and even in these places, building codes, environmental rules, and other regulations often are not followed.

It also found that there is not even reliable, standardized and up-to-date data on what is happening in about a dozen islands in the region in the databases of international organizations dedicated to studying climate change impact, such as the IPCC and the University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative, among others.

These islands — some of the most vulnerable in the world — have a crucial thing in common: they are so-called territories or colonies in the 21st century. They have no individual participation in the IPCC and other international organizations devoted to monitoring the impact of climate change around the world and proposing solutions.

They are forgotten islands like about a dozen more in the Caribbean, and many of them belong to but are not part of the United States, England, Holland and France.

There is little to no information about their indicators in IPCC, UN, and ND-Gain Index databases. In some cases there is not even a slot with their names. That is the case with the ND-Gain Index, which uses UN data and shows US information in the case of Puerto Rico — misleadingly portraying that the island is doing great — and no information at all in the case of BVI, USVI and the rest of the Caribbean territories.

Currently 86 experts from 39 countries are working on IPCC’s next world climate change assessment report (AR6), which will be published in September 2018. Only two of these experts are from the Caribbean, both from Cuba.

“It’s just terrible. The neglect of that whole part of the world is shocking,” Dr. Emanuel from MIT said.

Puerto Rico, the USVI and the BVI all offer striking examples of the problems associated with climate change and the dangerous consequences for their people and their economies. The islands’ policymakers, legislators and governors, and their imperial owners, have known for decades about the vulnerability of their infrastructure and the increased dangers that climate change pose to these islands and populations. And for decades they have debated, legislated and talked about it. But words have not translated into action.

For instance, the Puerto Rican Legislature has seen more than 45 measures between 2005 and 2018 directed at putting into place mitigation and adaptation measures and dealing with the urgency of coastal erosion. Only one has passed: Climate Change Law 246, which was signed by Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá in 2008. It did not last eight months. It was officially repealed less than two years later by his opposing party successor Luis Fortuño Burset, and its provisions were never enacted before that.

In 2007 the Puerto Rico House of Representatives discussed PC 3414, the first bill related to climate change that was presented in that body. It was not approved in the Special Commission on Global Warming and Security, but just the possibility of the proposal being considered at a legislative level was enough for gasoline distributors in Puerto Rico — the Gasoline Retailers Association (ADG), Peerless Oil & Chemicals and Caribbean Petroleum Refining — to oppose the government preparation of a Plan for the Reduction of Gas Emissions and Control of Global Warming and to question Puerto Rico’s adherence to the Kyoto Agreement of 1997.

In the USVI, similar stalled measures include a climate change strategy that was required by a 2015 executive order but never materialized.

The BVI, on the other hand, now appears on paper to be a poster child for preparedness, thanks mostly to steps taken in the past decade. In 2012, the territory’s Cabinet adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Policy, setting dozens of specific deadlines for mitigation measures that in many cases had been promised for decades. Then in 2015, the BVI became the first in the region to adopt a legal framework for a trust fund designed to raise money to prepare for global warming.

However, at least two thirds of the deadlines listed in the 2012 policy have already been missed, and the trust fund is not yet operational, the CPI found. And although BVI leaders say that the promised reforms are in the works, scientists and policymakers who recall the repeated failure of such efforts over the past quarter century worry that the territory’s elected officials — who are responsible for passing laws and managing the territory’s internal affairs — will be unable to muster the political will to see them through.

Such concerns are echoed throughout the region, even though experts say that comprehensive measures are essential for protecting islands from climate change and for helping them access badly needed international funding.

“We only start to talk about resilience when we have a big event,” Dr. Trotz said. “Post-disaster, there’s a lot of rhetoric, a lot of activity and whatnot, and then it fades. So there’s a big challenge: We can’t move ahead significantly without the political direction, without the political will.”

The experience of the BVI, the USVI and Puerto Rico shows why failure to take decisive action could be catastrophic. Policymakers and scientists say that the 2017 hurricanes and other recent weather events have exposed decades-old shortcomings in the territories’ development frameworks, building rules, environmental laws, energy practices and other areas that have left them increasingly vulnerable to global warming.

In Puerto Rico, Maria put at risk the lives of the territory’s 3.5 million citizens, caused a death toll than could exceed 1,000 deaths, caused the displacement of 183,000 citizens who left the island, and directly impacted the tourism industry, one of the government’s few bets to relaunch the badly damaged economy. The whole electrical grid of the island collapsed, more than 472,000 houses were severely damaged, and more than 90,000 families were left without a roof. Most of the population was left in the dark and without communications for four months and was exposed to serious health hazards like contaminated water and deficient hospital services. More than six months after the storm there are still 50,000 households and businesses without electricity, and power outages and water problems are common all over the island.

The USVI got a one-two punch. Irma devastated much of St. Thomas and St. John, and about two weeks later Maria hit the southernmost island of St. Croix. Both of the territory’s main hospitals were mostly destroyed, and more than 400 patients were evacuated to the mainland US. Thirteen schools were closed, more than 100,000 of the territory’s 103,000 residents lost power, and most major resorts were severely damaged.

St. Croix (Photo by Freeman Rogers)

Irma wrought similar havoc in the BVI, where about 22 percent of the 28,000 population was displaced and an estimated 70 percent of buildings suffered damage, with many of those — including some that housed government offices — totally destroyed.

Since the storm, no major resort has fully reopened — a serious blow in a territory where tourism generates more than 30 percent of the gross domestic product and directly employs one in three people. As of March 1, the total number of hotel rooms available in BVI was 336, compared to 2,700 before Irma. The yacht charter industry was hit hard too: Available berths at sea as of March 1 were 1,584, compared to 3,800 before the storm.

Other islands in the storms’ path suffered similar losses, including Dominica, St. Martin and Barbuda, which was hit so hard that all of its approximately 1,800 residents evacuated.

All these islands are far from recovering from Irma and Maria, and the new hurricane season is already about to begin in less than two months.

“Our natural resource infrastructure — things like mangroves, wetlands, natural drainageway; the key things that are really there to help storm protection, flooding — we’ve basically destroyed it all before this happened,” said Dr. Shannon Gore, a BVI biologist who serves on the board of the territory’s recently appointed Climate Change Trust Fund. “And this basically exposed the fact that we shouldn’t have done that. And if this isn’t a wakeup call, nothing else is really.”

Cane Garden Bay, for instance, still appeared pristine before the storm, but for decades it had faced mounting pressures that weren’t obvious to the tens of thousands of tourists who annually flocked to its sandy, palm-tree-lined shore. Mangroves and other wetlands around the village have been damaged or destroyed by patchwork development, exacerbating flooding and runoff from poorly protected road and construction sites, Dr. Gore explained. That runoff, in turn, has damaged reefs that might have better protected the shoreline from the waves during Irma.

In the same way, iconic beach bars — many of which were built in contravention of a planning guideline that prohibits construction within 50 feet of the high water mark — have contributed to erosion, and the village’s sewage system has been overworked and under-functioning for years.

Irma served as a stark reminder of the dangerous exposure exacerbated by such issues. All the beach bars there were severely damaged — if not totally obliterated —  and the government had to temporarily ban swimming because of high levels of bacteria in the water caused in part by the faulty sewage system. Although some bars have since reopened and others are rebuilding, the shoreline often remains empty and tourists are typically taken instead to an undeveloped beach that is not lined with damaged buildings and other debris.

Puerto Rico faced a similar situation. Many beaches were closed because of the high levels of bacteria, and cement structures on the shoreline crumbled in some areas.

There’s a lesson to be learned from Cane Garden Bay’s plight, according to BVI ecologist Clive Petrovic.

“If people want to protect what they build there now, then clean the water so that the corals can grow and rebuild the coral reef outside,” Mr. Petrovic said, adding that coral is a primary source for the sand on many BVI beaches. “You look at nature and you look at how does nature solve a problem. And the way nature protects shorelines is with reefs.”

In spite of its challenges, the BVI has recently committed to comprehensive reform in the midst of a much broader global push.

In 2009, the world’s richest nations met in Copenhagen, Denmark, and pledged to provide $100 billion in funding to help developing countries prepare for global warming by 2020. That commitment was reaffirmed under the Paris Agreement in 2015.

But donor countries want to ensure that those funds are well spent.

“The donors are really looking for the countries to get their house in order,” said George de Berdt Romilly, a Canada-based environmental lawyer who has consulted extensively on climate change initiatives throughout the Caribbean and South Pacific. “This is not a blank cheque: They want to see … national strategies and policies approved at a very high level which really articulate the vision or the roadmap for going forward.”

The BVI has stayed ahead of the curve. A 2010 green paper was followed in 2011 by a tourism impact assessment. And in 2012, the territory’s Cabinet adopted a comprehensive Climate Change Adaptation Policy, which included deadlines in four years for about 140 goals ranging from environmental legislation to development guidelines to energy policy to agricultural and fishing reforms.

But by 2018, no more than a third of the goals has been met, found the CPI.

Leaders argue that such measures take time and point to a variety of resilience projects being implemented by the government and other stakeholders, including a recent shoreline revetment in Cane Garden Bay, efforts to make schools and health facilities more eco-friendly and resilient, and flood mapping studies. But conservationists and technocrats say that history shows a tendency for BVI legislators to brush aside the difficult comprehensive reforms that are necessary to fundamentally change the way the territory does business on a day-to-day level.

Indeed, the unfulfilled goals listed in the climate change policy include dozens of measures that have been promised for more than a decade, such as a national development plan that has been in the works since the 1990s; environmental legislation and planning regulations that politicians have pledged to pass nearly every year since the mid 2000s; and long overdue updates to the 18-year-old building ordinance, among others.

BVI’s primary elected officials, Premier Dr. Orlando Smith and Deputy Premier Dr. Kedrick Pickering, who is the minister of natural resources and labor, did not respond to interview requests, but the BVI’s United Kingdom-appointed governor, Gus Jaspert, said that he and the UK are pushing for the elected leaders of the territory to act quickly.

“It needs to be the government here making those changes,” Mr. Jaspert said. “To be honest, I find it disappointing that a territory that is so naturally blessed in terms of its environment doesn’t have much in the way of alternative energy; … doesn’t have good recycling or energy efficiency, so I 100-percent support the government’s drive to do more on that.”

But Mr. Romilly said that the UK isn’t necessarily putting its money where its mouth is.

“When they introduced this announcement that the international community is going to finance climate change programming with this $100 billion commitment, the British government put in place a carbon levy on airline travel,” he said, adding that half of that tax initially was promised for destination countries, including ones in the Caribbean. “The money has been collected for some years, but [the British government] have not made good on that commitment to make the 50 percent available directly to the countries where the travelers are going.”

But even when international funding is available, he added, donor countries and other contributors also want in place a mechanism to effectively administer it, such as the BVI’s trust fund, which is to be operated by an independent board.

Thanks in large part to a regional push by the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Climate Change Center, 10 of 15 of its full members — and the five British overseas territories that are associate members — have drafted a climate change policy or strategy. But they have seen varying levels of success officially adopting them at the Cabinet level of government, and so far only the BVI and Antigua and Barbuda have passed legislation to establish the sort of independent fund that donors want, Mr. Romilly said.

When there has been progress, it often has been patchy. Dominica, for instance, first adopted a climate change adaptation strategy in 2002, but many of its goals weren’t met, according to Mr. Romilly.

“The government had very limited resources, so where there was action it was because there was funding provided, … but there was slippage where funding could not be mobilised,” he said.

And although the country’s government adopted a Low-Carbon Climate-Resilient Development Strategy in 2012, he said, it still hasn’t passed a bill drafted in 2014 to establish a trust fund — in spite of Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s repeated promises to take decisive action after Hurricane Maria devastated the country.

“Even though the Prime Minister has committed himself to being the first climate resilient country in the region, and it has been made clear to the government of Dominica that they need to have this legislation passed to do this, they have not got round to passing this legislation,” said Mr. Romilly, who helped draft the strategies and the bill.

(Photo by Freeman Rogers)

St. Thomas solar farm near Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the United States Virgin Islands, was largely destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

He added that governments often don’t pass such measures until they are required to do so in order to obtain international funding.

“Unless there’s funding there’s invariably very little action,” he said, adding that Dominica likely will pass the bill soon in order to access funding for a resilience project that is in the works.

In spite of such hitches, however, the Caribbean Community member countries in general are ahead of many of their neighbours, thanks in part to their collaborative efforts, Mr. Romilly said.

“The rest of the region is really trying to play catch-up, and of course that was fairly successful [on US territories] under the Obama administration because there was a recognition of climate change as an issue,” he said. “However, in the current administration there’s been obviously a complete turnaround on that one.”

In the case of Puerto Rico, there is not even a climate change plan in place and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló appears completely aloof. He did not accept multiple requests for interview for this story and since Hurricane Maria’s devastation has only devoted two public sentences to the issue, during his yearly State of the Commonwealth Address to Puerto Rico’s Legislature March 5.

“The time has come to work on a holistic vision of the environment and the impact climate change has in Puerto Rico. I will support the measures you produce in this body to address this problem,” he said.

At the same he promoted new housing construction through economic incentives in an island that is bedridden by debt, abandoned properties and migration.

–Founded in 2007, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPIPR by its Spanish initials) is a nonprofit organization that trains young journalists and has a legal program to help it in its objective of “working for freedom of information in Puerto Rico.”

–The views expressed in this piece are the writers’ own and not necessarily the view of Caribbean Business.

For poor Venezuelans, a box of food may sway vote for Maduro

CARACAS — A bag of rice on a hungry family’s kitchen table could be the key to Nicolas Maduro retaining the support of poor Venezuelans in May’s presidential election.

For millions of Venezuelans suffering an unprecedented economic crisis, a monthly handout of a box of heavily-subsidized basic food supplies by Maduro’s unpopular government has offered a tenuous lifeline in their once-prosperous OPEC nation.

The 55-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez introduced the so-called CLAP boxes in 2016 in a signature policy of his rule, continuing the socialist government’s strategy of seeking public support with cash bonuses and other giveaways.

Now, running for re-election on May 20, Maduro says the CLAPs are his “most powerful weapon” to combat an “economic war” being waged by Washington, which brands him a “dictator” and has imposed sanctions.

Osiris (L), daughter of Viviana Colmenares (C), feeds her sister Ornella in a community diner at the slum of Petare in Caracas, Venezuela February 22, 2018. Picture taken February 22, 2018. (REUTERS/Marco Bello)

Mariana, a single mother who lives in the poor hillside neighborhood of Petare in the capital Caracas, says the handouts will decide her vote.

“I and other women I know are going to vote for Maduro because he’s promising to keep giving CLAPs, which at least help fix some problems,” said the 30-year-old cook, who asked not to give her surname for fear of losing the benefit.

“When you earn minimum wage, which doesn’t cover exorbitant prices, the box helps.”

Maduro’s rule since 2013 has coincided with a deep recession caused by a plunge in global oil prices and failed state-led economic policies.

Yet the worse the economy gets, the more dependent some poor Venezuelans become on the state.

Life in the South American country’s poor ‘barrios’ revolves around the CLAP boxes. According to the government, six million families receive the benefit, from a population of around 30 million people.

Venezuelans, many of whom are undernourished, anxiously wait for their monthly delivery, and a thriving black market has sprung up to sell CLAP products.

The government sources almost all the CLAP goods from abroad, especially from Mexico, since Venezuela’s food production has shriveled and currency controls restrict private imports.

Critics, including Maduro’s main challenger for the May 20 vote, Henri Falcon, say the CLAPs are a cynical form of political patronage and are rife with corruption.

Erratic supply and control of distribution by government-affiliated groups have sown resentment among others.

“I can’t count on it. Sometimes it comes, sometimes not,” said Viviana Colmenares, 24, an unemployed mother of six struggling to get by in Petare.

“Instrument of the Revolution”

Stamped with the faces of Maduro and Chavez, the CLAP boxes usually contain rice, pasta, grains, cooking oil, powdered milk, canned tuna and other basic goods. Recipients pay 25,000 bolivars per box, or about $0.12 at the black market rate.

That is a godsend in a country where the minimum monthly wage is less than $2 at that rate – and would be swallowed up by two boxes of eggs or a small tin of powdered milk.

Inflation, at more than 4,000 percent annually according to opposition data, is pulverizing household income.

The administration of the CLAP – the Local Supply and Production Committees – does not hide its political motivation.

“The CLAPs are here to stay. They are an instrument of the revolution,” said Freddy Bernal, CLAP chief administrator.

“It has helped us stop a social explosion and enabled us to win elections and to keep winning them,” he told Reuters, referring to government victories in 2017 local polls.

Sometimes, though, the tactic backfires, as it did when promised free pork failed to arrive over Christmas, prompting street protests.

Maduro’s inability to halt rising hunger has jarred with the experience of many under Chavez, who won the presidency in 1998 and improved Venezuela’s social indicators with oil-fueled welfare policies.

Even though Maduro’s approval rating is only around 26 percent, according to one recent poll, his re-election looks likely as Venezuela’s opposition coalition is boycotting the vote on accusations it is rigged.

His most popular rivals are banned from standing and the election board favors the government.

Former state governor Falcon has broken with the coalition to stand. One survey by pollster Datanalisis in February showed that in a two-way race, he would defeat Maduro by 45.8 percent to 32.2 percent of likely voters.

Falcon’s critics counter that those numbers mean nothing in the face of electoral irregularities that could arbitrarily tip the balance in favor of Maduro.

Several other minor figures have registered for the single-round election, but have little chance of making an impact.

‘Can’t Depend on the Box’

Juan Luis Hernandez, a food specialist at the Central University of Venezuela, estimates the country generates just 44 percent of the basic food supplies it produced in 2008.

Meanwhile, food imports fell 67 percent between the start of 2016 and the end of 2017 as the crisis bit, he said.

Almost two-thirds of Venezuelans surveyed in a university study published in February said they had lost on average 11 kilograms (24 lbs) in body weight last year. Eighty-seven percent were assessed to live in poverty.

The same study found that seven out of 10 Venezuelans had received CLAPs.

“They (the government) don’t care about the food issue, just about getting people something to eat while they get through the elections,” said Susana Raffalli, a consultant with charity Caritas.

Some Venezuelans fear they would be found out should they vote against Maduro and be punished by no longer receiving food bags.

Already handouts are far from guaranteed.

A dozen recipients told Reuters that often they arrived half-full and would only come every few months. Outside of the capital Caracas, delivery was even more sporadic.

“I can’t depend on the box, otherwise I would die from hunger,” said Yuni Perez, a 48-year-old rubbish collector and mother of three.

Perez, who lives in a ramshackle house made from breeze blocks and corrugated steel at the top of Petare, said a CLAP box provided her family with food for a week. Often they would receive one every two months.

When her family is short of food, she hunts for leftovers dumped on the side of Petare’s winding streets. She said she had found several newborn babies discarded in the gutter, which she attributed to mothers unable to face providing food for another child.

Another Petare resident, mother-of-three Yaneidy Guzman said she dropped from 68kg to 48kg last year, despite receiving the CLAP.

“At least for 10 days you don’t have to think about finding food,” the 32-year-old said of the handouts, her cheekbones protruding from her face.

Trump ratchets up pressure on Canada, Mexico over trade

WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY – U.S. President Donald Trump increased pressure on Canada and Mexico over trade on Monday, saying the two could avoid being caught in his planned hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports if they ceded ground to Washington in talks on a new NAFTA trade deal.

Trump also said, after a weekend of tweets in which he threatened to hit German automakers with tariffs, that Mexico needed to do more to stem the flow illegal drugs to the United States, something not encompassed by the talks over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump’s determination to push ahead with a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent duty on aluminum, which he announced on Thursday, has prompted threats of retaliation from the European Union, Canada, China and Brazil among others.

His plan has roiled world stock markets as it raises the prospect of an ever-escalating trade war that would derail global economic growth. Trump has been criticized by a swath of senior lawmakers from his own Republican Party, but has won support from some Democratic legislators.

“We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for U.S.A. Massive relocation of companies & jobs. Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed,” Trump tweeted on Monday.

U.S. President Donald Trump announces that the United States will impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on imported aluminum during a meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 1, 2018. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. stocks fell for the fifth straight trading day in response to Trump’s comments, although falls were small compared with previous sessions. Treasuries rallied as investors sought out safe-haven securities.

In Europe, German car giants Volkswagen AG and BMW fell around one percent. German car companies urged policymakers on Monday to avoid a trade war with the United States “at all costs.”

“In such a trade war there are only losers on all sides,” Bernhard Mattes, president of Germany’s VDA automotive industry association, said in a statement.

Trump was expected to finalize the planned tariffs later in the week, posing a tough challenge for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo. They were meeting in Mexico City on Monday to wrap up the latest round of discussions on revamping the 1994 NAFTA deal.

A White House representative did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s statement.

Trump has touted the tariffs as a way to revive the U.S. steel and aluminum industries. White House Director of Trade and Industrial Policy Peter Navarro repeated this point on Monday, telling Fox News, “As the president said, we can’t have a country without an aluminum and steel industry.”

Trump has long bucked the Republican Party’s broad support for free trade, promising both on the campaign trail and in the White House that he will seek deals that better favor American workers.

That has included the threat that Washington will withdraw from NAFTA if it is not satisfactorily renegotiated. He withdrew from a proposed Pacific trade pact on his first day in office.


In another comment on the NAFTA talks on Monday, Trump reprised two running criticisms of Canada and Mexico. Last year Trump came close to withdrawing from NAFTA after he visited American dairy farmers in Wisconsin who say they have been hit by Canadian rules that discriminate against U.S. milk exports.

“Also, Canada must treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S. They have not done what needs to be done. Millions of people addicted and dying,” Trump tweeted.

The Mexican and Canadian ministers were likely to press Trump’s trade envoy for more details on how their countries could be excluded from the blanket tariffs.

Officials have so far been evasive when asked how the three nations can continue trying to update NAFTA at a time when the U.S. president is about to take a highly protectionist measure.

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Monday the country was negotiating on NAFTA with a partner that has “changed the terms of the discussion.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Adriana Barrrera; Additional reporting by Eric Walsh, Sharay Angulo, Lesley Wroughton, David Ljunggren, Sujata Rao, Ilona Wissenbach, Michael Nienaber, Fergal Smith; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Frances Kerry)


Lawmakers question Trump ties to Panama project linked to laundering, trafficking

SAO PAULO – Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee have asked the Trump Organization if it was aware of allegations that real estate agents and investors involved in the Trump Ocean Club in Panama had ties to money laundering and drug trafficking.

Democratic Representatives Norma Torres and Eliot Engel sent the letter, seen by Reuters, to the Trump Organization’s general counsel, Alan Garten, on Wednesday evening.

They asked what due diligence was done on investors and agents involved in the project, which earned President Donald Trump between $30 million and $50 million for lending his name to it, according to court records.

Garten wrote in an email on Thursday that he had not received the letter from Torres and Engel.

The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower Panama is seen between apartment buildings in Panama City, Panama February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Lemos

Torres and Engel largely based the questions in their letter on the findings of a Reuters investigation into the Trump Ocean Club published in November, in conjunction with U.S. broadcaster NBC News.

“Given widely reported allegations of money laundering and drug trafficking in connection with Trump Ocean Club Panama, we believe it is imperative to understand the Trump Organization’s knowledge of and role in sales at this property,” the representatives wrote.

They asked if the Trump Organization at any time became aware that “any agents or investors involved in Trump Ocean Club were involved in money laundering or illegal narcotics trafficking,” and, if so, had they reported it to U.S. or Panamanian authorities and terminated business arrangements with any suspected individuals.

The Reuters investigation found that a Brazilian man, Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the Trump Panama project, which was completed in 2011.

Nogueira is under investigation in Brazil for international money laundering. The inquiry started in 2013 after the Finance Ministry’s financial crimes unit noticed several transfers of more than 1 million reais ($308,500) from accounts in Panama to his accounts in Brazil.

In a November interview with Reuters, Nogueira denied any wrongdoing in Brazil.

He said that he only learned after the Trump Ocean Club project was almost complete that some of his partners and investors in the project were criminals, including some with what he described as connections to the “Russian mafia.”

Nogueira, whose whereabouts are unknown, said he had not knowingly laundered any illicit money through the Trump project, although he said he had laundered cash later in other schemes for corrupt Panamanian officials.

Garten said in November: “No one at the Trump Organization, including the Trump family, has any recollection of ever meeting or speaking with this individual.”

Torres and Engel wrote in their letter that obtaining answers from the Trump Organization on the Panama project was “essential as we carry out oversight of U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean.”

They said they wanted to ensure that Trump was “fully committed to the goal of dismantling the transnational criminal organizations that are responsible for smuggling drugs into the United States.”

“If the President, in a previous role, failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the laundering of drug money, it would be of grave concern to us,” the letter read.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Venezuelans scramble to survive as merchants demand dollars

CARACAS/CIUDAD GUAYANA, Venezuela – There was no way Jose Ramon Garcia, a food transporter in Venezuela, could afford new tires for his van at $350 each.

Whether he opted to pay in U.S. currency or in the devalued local bolivar currency at the equivalent black market price, Garcia would have had to save up for years.

Though used to expensive repairs, this one was too much and put him out of business. “Repairs cost an arm and a leg in Venezuela,” said the now-unemployed 42-year-old Garcia, who has a wife and two children to support in the southern city of Guayana.

“There’s no point keeping bolivars.”

For a decade and a half, strict exchange controls have severely limited access to dollars. A black market in hard currency has spread in response, and as once-sky-high oil revenue runs dry, Venezuela’s economy is in free-fall.

The practice adopted by gourmet and design stores in Caracas over the last couple of years to charge in dollars to a select group of expatriates or Venezuelans with access to greenbacks is fast spreading.

Food sellers, dental and medical clinics, and others are starting to charge in dollars or their black market equivalent – putting many basic goods and services out of reach for a large number of Venezuelans.

According to the opposition-led National Assembly, November’s rise in prices topped academics’ traditional benchmark for hyperinflation of more than 50 percent a month – and could end the year at 2,000 percent. The government has not published inflation data for more than a year.

“I can’t think in bolivars anymore, because you have to give a different price every hour,” said Yoselin Aguirre, 27, who makes and sells jewelry in the Paraguana peninsula and has recently pegged prices to the dollar. “To survive, you have to dollarize.”

The socialist government of the late president Hugo Chavez in 2003 brought in the strict controls in order to curb capital flight, as the wealthy sought to move money out of Venezuela after a coup attempt and major oil strike the previous year.

Oil revenue was initially able to bolster artificial exchange rates, though the black market grew and now is becoming unmanageable for the government.


President Nicolas Maduro has maintained his predecessor’s policies on capital controls. Yet, the spread between the strongest official rate, of some 10 bolivars per dollar, and the black market rate, of around 110,000 per dollar, is now huge.

While sellers see a shift to hard currency as necessary, buyers sometimes blame them for speculating.

Rafael Vetencourt, 55, a steel worker in Ciudad Guayana, needed a prostate operation priced at $250.

“We don’t earn in dollars. It’s abusive to charge in dollars!” said Vetencourt, who had to decimate his savings to pay for the surgery.

In just one year, Venezuela’s currency has weakened 97.5 per cent against the greenback, meaning $1,000 of local currency purchased then would be worth just $25 now.

Maduro blames black market rate-publishing websites such as DolarToday for inflating the numbers, part of an “economic war” he says is designed by the opposition and Washington to topple him.

On Venezuela’s borders with Brazil and Colombia, the prices of imported oil, eggs and wheat flour vary daily in line with the black market price for bolivars.

In an upscale Caracas market, cheese-filled arepas, the traditional breakfast made with corn flour, increased 65 percent in price in just two weeks, according to tracking by Reuters reporters. In the same period, a kilogram of ham jumped a whopping 171 percent.

The runaway prices have dampened Christmas celebrations, which this season were characterized by shortages of pine trees and toys, as well as meat, chicken and cornmeal for the preparation of typical dishes.

A man sees at Bolivar notes hanging in a tree at a street in Maracaibo, Venezuela November 11, 2017. REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia

In one grim festive joke, a Christmas tree in Maracaibo, the country’s oil capital and second city, was decorated with virtually worthless low-denomination bolivar bills.

Most Venezuelans, earning just $5 a month at the black market rate, are nowhere near being able to save hard currency.

“How do I do it? I earn in bolivars and have no way to buy foreign currency,” said Cristina Centeno, a 31-year-old teacher who, like many, was seeking remote work online before Christmas in order to bring in some hard currency.

(Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte and Leon Wietfeld in Caracas, Mircely Guanipa in Maracay, Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal, Lenin Danieri in Maracaibo; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Admirers honor ‘Che’ Guevara 50 years after his death

People wave pictures at an event paying tribute to Cuban Revolution hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara marking the 50th anniversary of his death in Santa Clara, Cuba. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

LA PAZ, Bolivia — A little band of guerrillas had been on the run through rugged, mountainous terrain, struggling unsuccessfully to build support among the indigenous people of rural Bolivia as a step toward a global socialist revolution.

Finally, on Oct. 8, 1967, the army ran them down. A day afterward — apparently at the behest of the CIA — an army sergeant shot to death their leader: Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Fifty years later, the mountain village where he was killed and the nearby town where he was buried have become shrines to a sort of socialist saint, a man whose death helped cement his image as an enduring symbol of revolt. Some there even pray to him — an outcome that likely would have outraged the iconoclastic atheist.

Thousands of activists and sympathizers from many countries poured into La Higuera and Vallegrande this week for ceremonies to commemorate Guevara led by the country’s leftist president, Evo Morales, who laid flowers at a bust of the fallen guerrilla in the village on Sunday.

In Cuba, President Raul Castro — one of Guevara’s old comrades-in-arms — oversaw a memorial ceremony at the large mausoleum constructed to hold the revolutionary’s remains, though the main speaker was the man many believe may replace him, Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

“The colossal example of Che endures and multiplies day by day,” said Diaz-Canel, who added warnings that the United States, Guevara’s chief foe, had demonstrated “a marked interest in a political and economic reconquest” of Cuba.

Guevara was the very personification of the communist dream of spreading revolution around the world.

The Argentine-born physician was radicalized by a youthful trip through South America, witnessed the CIA-backed overthrow of a leftist president in Guatemala and ran across exiled Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro while working as a photographer in Mexico.

Despite an often-debilitating asthma, he turned himself into one of the most important fighters of Castro’s Cuban revolution, winning the climactic battlefield victory in the city of Santa Clara that prompted dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee the country.

In the aftermath of that triumph, Guevara commanded the Havana military fortress of La Cabana, where hundreds of men accused of crimes under the Batista regime were put to death.

Castro then made Guevara into an unlikely financial bureaucrat, naming him to head Cuba’s Central Bank and later the Ministry of Industry. He was famous for working long hours, and then turning up for volunteer work in the sugar fields.

But he felt the call to spread socialism to other nations. He left Cuba in 1964 to help rebels in the Congo, renouncing his Cuban citizenship but relying on Cuban aid. The mission was a flop and he had to pull out a year later.

Back in Cuba, Guevara secretly organized another revolution, this time in Bolivia. But his band there, which included several Cubans, failed to find the sort of popular support that Castro had won in Cuba during his revolution. Bolivia’s army tracked Che down and killed him.

An oddly Christ-like photo of the slain Guevara emerged and helped build the image of him as a martyr. An even more famous photo of the living Che, seeming to gaze into the future, has become an icon of rebellion on t-shirts, tattoos and key rings — sometimes to the consternation of Guevara’s socialist allies, who disapprove of the way it has become commercialized.

One of Guevara’s younger brothers, Juan Martin Guevara, said the causes he fought for remain important.

“The inequality today is greater than when he fought, the economic concentration is much greater. What he fought for is still present,” the brother said in Buenos Aires. “He would be in the same place that he always was, confronting it.”


Puerto Rico Auto Industry Back on Track

“We were dealt a devastating blow, but we will go forward, we will rise and become stronger.” With those words, Ricardo García, president of the United Group of Automobile Importers of Puerto Rico (GUIA by its Spanish acronym) summarized the actual and future situation for auto deals in the aftermath of Hurricane María.

As soon as two days after the hurricane hit on Sept. 20, García went through sectors of San Juan in the northern and northeastern parts of the island, visually inspecting dealerships along the route. In a telephone interview with Caribbean Business, he said he saw everything from recently built or remodeled brand-only dealerships that held up well structurally, but with damaged glass and signage, to traditional, independent lots with high degrees of destruction.

On an industry level, the executive estimated that damages in structure and inventory, including parts and vehicles, could reach “tens and tens of millions of dollars and perhaps hundreds.”

García, who also is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) general manager for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, said that soon after the storm, the local auto industry was on its feet to restart business. In fact, by Monday, Oct. 2, two FCA dealerships were already back in service. By now, four of the 11 dealers that FCA has on the island, are back at work.

Likewise, other brands have several or all of their dealerships back in either full or partial operation. Such is the case of Mitsubishi, whose 18 lots across the island are all working, offering sales and/or services.

All of Ford’s nine dealerships are operational. Public Affairs & Communications Manager Vivian Dávila added that the only local dealer for Ford’s luxury marque, Lincoln, San Juan Lincoln, is also open.

Puerto Rico auto group optimistic about storm recovery

Another brand with a high percentage of working dealerships is Kia. Lynnette Veguilla, Kia’s marketing manager in Puerto Rico, said 12 of the brand’s local dealerships are open and 11  are offering both sales and service. “There’s a strong attitude to pick themselves up among dealer owners and their teams,” she said. Likewise, Nissan has 12 of 18 dealerships running.

Mazda’s Priscila Vélez, mentioned that six of the Japanese brand’s stores are back in business. The sales and marketing director also offered information on parent company Bella Group’s other brands and said Honda has three lots open in San Juan, Caguas and Bayamón, as well as Acura on Kennedy Avenue and Flagship Volkswagen and Chrysler in Bayamón.

Hyundai de Puerto Rico Marketing Manager Juan Rivera said 13 of its 19 stores are open. “We are hard at work to have the whole network operational,” he said. To reach that goal, Rivera mentioned that the brand is working closely with each dealership by providing temporary facilities. “We have rented air-conditioned trailers that are being used as dealership offices and will provide others with large tents.”

Subaru’s sole store in Puerto Rico, on San Juan’s Kennedy Avenue, is open as well. Sales Director Lilliam Portalatín explained that the dealership, Trébol Motors, is open for sales and service from Monday to Saturday.

Also on Kennedy Avenue is Gómez Hermanos, which carries luxury brands such as Porsche, Jaguar, Audi, Land Rover, Maserati and Ferrari, as well as Hyundai de San Juan. Marketing and public relations Manager Andrea López de Victoria indicated that all brands are open daily for parts, service and inspection of damages for insurance claims from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Other luxury brands that are also open are Mercedes-Benz (Garage Isla Verde), Infiniti (Ambar Infiniti), Volvo (Volvo Puerto Rico), and BMW (Autogermana).