Friday, June 12, 2009

Stir It Up

Author's note: I had planned to post this on the 9th but the internet did not cooperate.

Here we are, almost 10 days into the hurricane season and people are actually not looking at the sky. Oh, sure, even before June started, they were scrutinizing the mearest cloud, all worried frowns and pinched mouths. May was unusually rainy. But now, they seem to have almost forgotten the seasonal threat for a more immediat if familiar one.

Students are rioting, you see. What had started months ago as a low grumble has now spread through four different colleges. Discontented voices have become angry and confrontational protesters.

At first, it was to denounce the disconcerting changes in one school's program has become a rally around the recent law to raise the minimum wage.

You know how things happen in this country. We're one year into the Hope law and nothing seems to be moving forward. And now that the law is voted, increasing the daily minimum wage from 72 to 200 gourdes ($1.85 to $4.97 USD), everybody is upset. Industrials say they will have to fire half their personnel (a meager 25,000 factory workers). The more vocal senators and representatives are talking about " social injustices being righted". Economists are reiterating their calls to caution, competitivity with our neighbors and a progressive increase rather than a one-time boom.

The government, on the other hand, is silent. But that's how Rinse Repeat rolls. Mum's the word as a communication policy. You should try it. Really.

Of course, this whole wage debate isn't recent. Back on May 1st, while at the annual Agricultural Fair on the main square, protesters in favor of a 500gdes minimum had invested the plaza. A bit scary but this nice avocado grower explained to me, sotto voce, that she agreed with them. Things were too hard, these days, she said, and people need the money.

But now, the difference is that the alleged students are throwing rocks and burning cars. I'm on my fourth day of tear gas fumes. Yes, I live close enough to one faculty to enjoy the benefits of democracy in action.There's nothing like home, indeed.

The simple truth is we are not happy. There's the fact that the patch-up school year is closing with an upcoming gas rise (on top of the last one). And that several neighborhoods in the metropolitan area are without any electricity after suspicious fires at two major plants.

And before that, there were the elections, played out to an almost empty theatre. In the capital, anyway. The rest of the country seems to have been motivated enough. If you can call more or less 10% of voter turn-out a "success". I didn't vote but I do wonder *where* the government found the 5 MILLION dollars they contributed to the 16 MILLION DOLLAR budget. Act two, scene 1 is at the end of the month. (as if we care)

And even before that, there was the gas crisis of the New Year, and before that, the 2008 hurricane victims who are still waiting for help, and bridges, around the country.

Rumor has it that the next step is to as Rinse Repeat to step down.

Nope, we're not happy. Not happy at all.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

One Good Thing

While the usual turmoil is happening, I have found one good thing to look forward to this year:

BUT (isn't there always a but?) since the plantain tree is growing right at the edge of the vegetable garden, we had to be creative:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Horse Speaks!

So, the government finally decided to address the gas issues we've all been struggling with. What did they say?

" Don't worry, there's not crisis. There is plenty of gas for everyone"

Okaaaay. Too late for me to believe them but the problem isn't there.

You see, the government is still not EXPLAINING why we started the year without gasoline. Oh, wait, that's not exactly true!

They also said it was all the Gas Distributor's fault.

What else is new?

And then they said it was because DEMAND had risen, particularly with the great number of motorcycles using up the gas lately.

Am I forgetting something?


Nope, I think that's it. Of course, nobody in this country, least of all the government, believes in Public Relations so I'm not surprised it took them all this time to even acknowledge that there was, not a crisis (see above), but at least public concern about energy and fuel in the first place!

But, back to the PR denial issue. The other reason I don't believe them is that a different, and, frankly, likely version of what is going on already out.

Last Saturday, an anonymous caller, claiming to work in the fuel industry, outlined for popular radio host/economist Kesner Pharel, what was going on backstage. Listen to him here. It starts at 58:50 of the recording.

(I have a copy saved in Real Player. Need to figure out how to podcast it)

For those who can't click through or in case the podcast is no longer available by the time you read this, here's what he said.

- First, we buy fuel exclusively from Hurricane Hugo's company. Meaning we are completely at his mercy. For the next 25 years, to boot. He apparently fired a lot of workers so if he can't sell us gas, we don't get gas.

- Second, the big tanker that usually brings the different fuels allegedly damaged the physical port and the owners are asking Texaco for one million USD. So Texaco doesn't have a contract with the government anymore and has stopped delivering. Shell took over but, not only do they not have a signed contract, they are using a smaller tanker to bring all the different fuels.

Bottom line: we're getting too little gas at irregular intervals.

Needless to say that neither the government nor the Gas Distributors has confirmed or denied these allegations (Boy, do I sound like a reporter/lawyer or what???)

This man didn't give his name so no way to know if this is true or not. But I like that he ended his call by saying that he spoke "words of truth". The above is soo simple, it might just be true!

The government would rather we believe that the gas distributors are delinquent and don't order gas regularly enough. Worse still, I heard on the news today that Hurricane Hugo wants us to pay cash whenever the barrel of crude falls under $50 US on the world market.

So while the big guys are [still] playing the blame game, people keep getting nasty surprises at the gas stations. Some aren't selling anything at all. My ride home from work stopped at two, one near the office, one near my house and they were both officially closed. Others have either regular or super but not both. Rumor has it that Diesel is about to dip into the red any day now.

According to the caller on the radio show, the tanker should come next Monday or Tuesday, instead of yesterday, the 27th. Meaning we're going to have another slooow week-end.

You know what pisses me off? That this same government has found FIVE MILLION DOLLARS US to contribute to the [half-way mythical] partial legislatives we're suppose to have mid-april. The international community will put up the other TWELVE MILLION needed to organize the vote.

Can't you tell how in synch we are? A real meeting of the minds.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Vox Populi : Eat, Drink and...Be Wary?

UPDATE : POLL RESULTS. Well, nobody voted but I'm giving the answer anyway. It's $80 US.

Here's a good one for you:

How much does it cost for three friends to eat 3 thin-crust 8" pizzas, 3 glasses of fruit juice and 3 triple-scoop ice creams*?

a) $20 US*
b) $50 US
c) $80 US

Please vote in the comments (Will update the blog and have more modern polling when internet access improves)

Results will be posted on Sunday (I hope). Four whole days for you, dear readers, to figure out if x=0, LOL!

* We don't believe in dieting, either!
** The prices are in US not only for convenience but because the US price was printed on the bill.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's the thought that counts

This morning's paper had a dozen pages out of 32 dedicated to the Inauguration of Mr Hope. Impressive if only you consider that a 32-page edition is somewhat of a big publication for that paper.

This is just a reflection of the obssession we too have developped with #44. In fact, yesterday, I barely worked at all. My boss brought in his 13" mini tv (purchased just for the occasion, mind you) and we spent several hours captivated by the grainy transmission by a local, free tv station.

Truth be told, there was a tinge of bitterness for all of us, at my office. Here you have this man, talking about getting back to work and putting aside differences to dig a country out of financial (and social) trouble.

But we don't have that.

Instead we have a president who announced in his New Year's speech that, I quote, "2009 will be hard". That's it. No hope for tomorrow, no common goal, nothing.

I did learn the first lesson of 2009, though. Rinse Repeat is a goat. Not the hairy, horned beast, no! Rather the prophetic, divining mythical creature people are always talking about here.

See, he said things would be hard and practically the next day, we fell head first into a gas "crisis". Don't ask me what happened, I don't know. The fact is, gas stations were not selling gasoline at all for several days. No explanation, nothing, but clients were being turned away.

The government simply announced the new gas prices and transportation fares. Oh, don't bother looking for them on the ministry's website. Hasn't been updated since 2005. (Efficient, aren't they?)

Aside : The only pertinent information is that the price of diesel is the same now as it was four years ago.

Public opinion started saying that the gas distributors were trying to artificially raise the price of gasoline, in opposition to the government's decision. I heard this from everyone, from taxi drivers to coworkers.

The gas importers said that the government was taking too much tax on the gallon. I had a minor WTF moment because I just couldn't make the connection. What did high taxes have to do with closed pumps?

As one can imagine, the streets were empty. Empty, that is, except around the gas stations. I have the great misfortune of living within a few blocks of 2 gas stations, each placed near intersections. Do I need to draw you a picture? A friend of mine spent 4 hours just to buy a couple of gallons of regular.

Students were stuck in the country, having, as is customary, visited their families living outside of the capital. You could really tell that education was the number one business in this city. Whenever there is a holliday (or a gas problem), I can go from my bed to my desk under 15 minutes. Quite a feat, believe me!

But back to the goat. While we were still lost in the Land of Information BlackOut (our normal dwelling place around here), we go hit by another bomb.

Parliament was considering a bill to raise the taxes on cell phone calls from 4.70 gourdes to 8 gourdes. Not only that, but there would be additional taxes to be paid on local and international calls. And the cherry on the cake, incoming calls would revert to being paid, at the same rate.

Now, I'm still stuck on the fact that I've been paying my minutes 5 gourdes for the past, what, 3 years? Were did that 4.70 gdes come from, anyway? But to go back to paying incoming calls would just cancel the whole point of having a cell phone.

So, here's were the goat comes in. Sometime last year, Rinse Repeat commented a bit acidly that we could not legitimately complain of the cost of living when everyone on the streets here seemed to have a cell phone.

Let's stop here, shall we? Because I find it terribly disingenuous of him to make such a comment. Or is he forgetting that the government basically stoped giving people landlines 10 years ago? Even if you had the money, you got no phone line. And then, like a rabbit out of a hat, the first modern cell phone company opened and, like a Savior, offered cell those who could pay them.

Back then, yes, we paid for incoming and out-going calls. And it cost a LOT. The minimal prepaid card was 330 gourdes (about $8 US today). But did the government agency who oversees communications here care? No. Did the national phone company resume their services? Nope. Unless you were a business and could pay the proper...incentives, you got nothing.

Anyway, when the bill was made public, the outcry was such that Parliament had to scratch it. After all, the cell phone companies are the new, adjunct cash cows (with the national phone co) and the two major companies announced that they would have to lay-off a large number of employees, if not to shut down completely. That really scared somebody. Couldn't have been worry for our well-being, oh no.

So there are two morals to this story.

First, when Rinse Repeat speaks, one must learn to overcome one naturally disgust, if only to find out when to duck.

And second, the consummer is the loser, period. Put up or get out. It's lose-lose every time.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Bye, bye, bye

The biggest of the local newspapers published it's annual Year End Review front page caricature. While I have a difficult relationship with said publication (least of which being that they call themselves a "daily" when they only come out 4 times a week most of the year!!! Witness the fact that this issue was delivered TODAY), I have to admit, the "last page" drawings are always very appreciated.

They've changed artists, this is a younger guy who, from what I know, does mostly comic strips and albums. Now, for those who haven't been following the news (I know, I know, I didn't do much in 08), the references are, from left to right:

- April : The so-called hunger riots;
- Summer : Four hurricanes, one after the other;
- Too-Long to Care : Picking the next Prime Too...Minister, I mean MINISTER (FYI:the woman got the job);
- Two Years Too Long : The US elections
- Rinse Repeat's New Thing : Changing the Constitution. As if there's nothing more important to do. Like UPHOLD AND APPLY THE CURRENT LAWS!!!!
- The accidental death of a famous local HipHop group (though I doubt they went UP)
- Most of the year : Why Colombia is our BFF and How the Gvt shares the Lurve (or not);
- See above : Why were they here again? Do we really care anymore?

Note: I'll post the translations of the dialogue bubbles later, too much trouble with my dial-up connection today