Caribbean: 2008 in Review

From natural disasters to lightning bolts of the athletic kind, 2008 was a busy one for the Caribbean blogosphere. Here are some of the highlights…

On the heels of a year that seemed to be defined by politics, 2008 also began on a political high note, thanks to Barack Obama's amazing win in the Iowa caucus. From that point on, the majority of regional bloggers caught Obamamania and supported “their” candidate all the way to the White House. While the Caribbean was captivated by Obama's promise of change, Barbadians were orchestrating a political change of their own – some believe that outspoken political blogs may have helped turn the tide of the election by discussing key issues such as alleged corruption and the need for integrity legislation.

Further north along the archipelago, Jamaica‘s top politician was riling up bloggers, thanks to his “No gays in my government” comment during a BBC interview – but certainly one of the most significant political scenarios coming out of the region this year was the retirement of Cuban leader Fidel Castro after nearly 50 years at the helm of the socialist republic. Despite the change in leadership, however, most bloggers felt that it was business as usual. According to Uncommon Sense:

An unfortunate consequence of that hand-over, reinforced by Fidel's “retirement,” is that the dictatorship survives. A face, presumably Raúl's — I haven't seen the script — will be placed at the top of the flow chart, come Sunday. But the dictatorship survives.

Fidel's “retirement” is not a moment to celebrate. Unfortunately, his legacy will survive his life's work, and his life. It is a historical moment to note but nothing more.

Freedom of Speech
The issue of freedom of speech seemed to plague the region this year; both mainstream media and the blogosphere fought against attempts to silence them. Although there still appears to be some distrust between MSM and the newly active blogosphere in some Caribbean territories, it was interesting to see the two sides come together and make their voices heard. In Guyana, for instance, one blogger – MediaCritic at the Living Guyana blog – made it his business to cover the banning of a journalist by the country's President. His commitment to the cause was so fierce that it prompted GV Caribbean author Nicholas Laughlin to comment:

Living Guyana's sustained coverage of the Moseley ban story — largely ignored by other Guyanese blogs — has rivalled the coverage of Guyana's mainstream media.

Over in Barbados, bloggers were wondering if their means of online expression was in danger, while in Cuba, it appeared that certain blogs may have been blocked. Trinidad and Tobago had to contend with its Prime Minister actually paying a visit to a radio station to complain about two announcers who had made disparaging comments about him, a move that made bloggers even more vocal than usual. Barbadian bloggers also joined ranks with their mainstream media counterparts following the arrest of two journalists – a move that Barbados Free Press says was prompted by the fact that the reporters were covering the case of “a police officer…charged with dealing drugs.”

Human Rights
Closely linked with freedom of speech is the question of human rights. Some of the most memorable stories in the Caribbean blogosphere this year dealt with human rights abuses – from the arrest of Las Damas de Blanco in Havana as they staged a peaceful demonstration for the release of their husbands, to the reinstatement of the death penalty in Jamaica. Cuban bloggers were by far the most conscious of human rights issues, blogging at length about the significance of International Human Rights Day and their island's history of stifling human rights.

Puerto Rico was worried about “the government's latest deed, the application of the Real ID Act to the island's drivers”, which they thought was way too intrusive and bordered on a breach of privacy. Barbadian bloggers cried “foul” after the suspicious and untimely death of I'Akobi Tacuma Maloney, while the issue of the Rights of the Child was linked with concern about Jamaica's escalating crime rate in this post about violence against minors.

Crime & Health
The big crime story in the region this year was undoubtedly “the killing by joint army and police services of Guyana's most wanted man, Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins, and his ‘Lieutenant’ Jermaine ‘Skinny’ Charles”. Bloggers breathed a communal sign of relief that the two men met as bloody a fate as they inflicted on so many innocent people, even as an editorial in the Stabroek News warned that the killing of Rawlins doesn't mean the end of violence – but Jamaica certainly tried to curb its own rising crime rate via a March for Peace, inspired by the increasing number of violent crimes against women and children. The region's own experience with violence – not to mention the fact that several West Indian territories have substantial populations of Indian origin – made it that much easier for Caribbean to empathize with India after the horrific Mumbai terror attacks. And in another kind of war – the war on HIV/AIDS – the Caribbean joined the rest of the world in recognizing World AIDS Day and joining the discussion on everything from education to HIV/AIDS workplace policy.

This was the Year of the Hurricane. Monster storms wreaked havoc across the Caribbean archipelago, from Grenada to the Cayman Islands. Gustav, Hanna, Ike, Omar and Paloma are not names the Caribbean is likely to forget.

Cuba and Haiti were hit particularly hard by the multiple storms, which caused loss of homes and of life – and on the heels of these tragedies, Haiti faced yet another in the form of a disastrous school collapse. In the words of Haiti Innovation:

Some emergencies can be predicted. Every hurricane season, we can anticipate that Haiti will likely be hit with tropical storms. Others such as the collapse of a school in Petionville yesterday are unexpected tragedies.

Meanwhile, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana were battling floods on a regular basis during the region's rainier-than-usual wet season.

The Economy
Perhaps the first sign of the effects of the looming global financial crisis was rising food prices and scarcity of produce. Caribbean bloggers were concerned – and finally the penny dropped with regional politicians – Trinidad and Tobgo's Prime Minister called for “belt-tightening” a few months later.

Cuban bloggers were quite vocal about the US/Cuba embargo, debating whether or not any change to the status quo would actually be felt in the Cuban economy. Guyanese bloggers, on the other hand, suggested that if their government did not sign the new European Union EPA, the local economy would be the loser.

Meanwhile, the French-speaking Caribbean was rife with protests over the skyrocketing price of gas and its effect on the pockets of the man in the street.

If there was a bright spot in the Caribbean blogosphere this year, it came in the form of regional athletes’ performance in the Beijing Olympics. Jamaican Track and Field athletes dominated; the Caribbean celebrated. Usain Bolt was not only a hero – he was a phenomenon.

A few months later came another sporting moment to be proud of – the Caribbean team defeated England in the Stanford 20/20 Cricket Tournament, winning the match by an astounding ten wickets, becoming overnight millionaires in the process and – even for a moment – restoring some pride to beleaguered West Indies cricket fans.

Fond Farewells
Several Caribbean icons passed away this year and bloggers respectfully paid them homage…

Jamaican musicians Alton Ellis and Byron Lee and Guyanese newspaper editor David de Caires, who Nicholas Laughlin describes as “the founder and editor-in-chief of the independent Guyanese newspaper the Stabroek News, and one of the Caribbean's strongest advocates for press freedom.”

The Caribbean celebrated astounding highs and coped with debilitating lows this year – but the most convincing sign that we can deal with whatever comes our way is the fact that we continue to talk about issues and through discussion, better understand our own experiences and challenges in the context of an ever-shrinking world.

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