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Historic Verdict: Vybz Kartel Freed from Murder Charges

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In a groundbreaking verdict, Vybz Kartel, the Jamaican dancehall icon whose real name is Adidja Palmer, has seen his 2014 murder conviction nullified. The decision, emanating from the prestigious Privy Council in London, has sent ripples through the music and legal worlds alike. Kartel, aged 48, renowned for his musical ventures with global stars such as Jay-Z and Rihanna, had been serving a life sentence for the alleged murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams.

The crux of the Privy Council’s decision lay in addressing the reported misconduct among jurors during Kartel’s trial. Specifically, the court identified a critical lapse in judgment—the failure to exclude a juror accused of attempting to bribe his peers. This oversight was pinpointed as a grave infringement on Kartel’s entitlement to a fair trial, significantly compromising the convictions’ legitimacy.

Vybz Kartel’s legal journey, marked by a trial spanning 64 days, is among the most extended in the annals of Jamaican jurisprudence. Initially sentenced to serve a minimum of 35 years before being considered for parole, this term was later slightly reduced to 32-and-a-half years. The case’s narrative revolved around the claim that two individuals, Clive Williams and Lamar Chow, were assaulted for not returning unlicensed firearms to Kartel. According to Chow, a violent altercation at Kartel’s home in August 2011 led to Williams’ presumed death, despite the absence of his body, following the incineration of the premises.

Kartel, together with his co-defendants Shawn Campbell, Kahira Jones, and Andre St. John, consistently declared their innocence. They anchored their final appeal to the Privy Council—Jamaica’s apex appellate authority—on the alleged compromise of jury integrity and the mishandling of key evidence.

The appeal also raised concerns about the jurors’ “undue pressure” stemming from prolonged deliberations and contested the legitimacy of crucial text message evidence procured from Kartel’s phone. The Privy Council, focusing on the jury misconduct, found it a sufficient basis to overturn the convictions without delving into these additional issues.

With the convictions reversed, it now falls to the Jamaican authorities to decide on the possibility of a retrial. Vybz Kartel, a pivotal figure in the dancehall music scene with hits such as “Fever,” “Summer Time,” and “Ramping Shop,” continues to leave an indelible mark on the genre.

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Caribbean

OECS Nations Reform Citizenship by Investment Programs Amid EU Scrutiny

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Responding to significant pressure from the European Union, four nations within the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)—Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Kitts & Nevis—have taken a decisive step to reform their Citizenship by Investment Programs (CIPs). This move aims to address EU concerns over security and maintain visa-free access to the Schengen area for their citizens. A landmark agreement signed on March 20 introduces a unified approach to enhancing the integrity and appeal of their CIPs.

During a press briefing in Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit highlighted the collaborative effort to confront EU critiques, emphasizing the critical role of visa-free European travel for Caribbean nationals. The EU’s apprehensions have grown over the potential misuse of CIPs by individuals seeking to bypass legal scrutiny, sparked by incidents of abuse highlighted in reports by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). These investigations uncovered cases where individuals involved in criminal activities exploited the programs to evade justice, underscoring the urgent need for reform.

A European Commission report shed further light on the situation, identifying a significant proportion of CIP applicants from countries traditionally requiring visas for EU entry. The possibility for identity alteration post-citizenship acquisition through these programs raised alarms about the security implications for EU member states. In response to these concerns, EU officials and representatives from the OECS convened to devise a strategy to mitigate the security risks associated with visa-free access provided through CIPs.

The reforms, set to be implemented by June 30, include a notable increase in the minimum investment for citizenship, setting it at $200,000—twice the amount previously required. This adjustment is part of a broader initiative that will also see the establishment of a regional authority to standardize CIP criteria, enhanced regulation of CBI agents, improved information sharing among member states, and the implementation of joint training and due diligence efforts. These measures are intended to fortify the programs against misuse while preserving the benefits of visa-free travel to Europe for citizens of the participating countries.

Saint Lucia, however, remains an outlier, having not joined the agreement. Consequently, it will be the sole OECS nation continuing to offer citizenship at the lower price point of $100,000 plus fees beyond the June 30 deadline. This collective move by four OECS members marks a significant shift towards addressing international concerns and ensuring the long-term viability of their citizenship by investment offerings.

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Crisis in Haiti: Transitional Council’s Struggles and Escalating Food Insecurity Amid Violence

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The newly formed presidential transitional council of Haiti is facing significant hurdles before it can effectively tackle the severe crisis engulfing the nation. Concerns over safety and profound disagreements about the council’s composition have led to the withdrawal of key members, undermining its efforts to elect a chairperson and move forward.

Dominique Dupuy, Haiti’s Ambassador to UNESCO, publicly announced her resignation from the council in a video statement on Sunday, citing a barrage of political attacks and threats to her life. Although Dupuy was promptly replaced, additional members exited just hours before a crucial meeting set for Monday evening, intended for the election of the council’s chair.

Leslie Voltaire, a representative of Famni Lavalas, expressed in a letter the need for a political agreement among the various sectors prior to electing a president. Concurrently, Jean Jumeau, serving as a non-voting council member, declared his exit, stating the urgent need for action over passive observation.

This turmoil within the transitional council, emerging only two weeks post its announcement, has led to calls for increased international involvement, a notion met with resistance from both the capital’s armed factions and a segment of the populace.

Gedeon Jean, head of the Center for Human Rights Analysis and Research, advocated for the deployment of regional military forces to help stabilize the dire security conditions. Despite a temporary lull in violence in Port-au-Prince, recent days witnessed the arson and looting of businesses and health care centers by armed gangs, exacerbating the instability.

The ongoing violence has further intensified Haiti’s food insecurity crisis. UNICEF and the World Food Program (WFP) highlight the critical situation, with Jean-Martin Bauer, WFP’s Country Director for Haiti, emphasizing the urgent need for action as rising hunger fuels the security crisis. The WFP reports a 22% hike in food basket costs from August 2023 to February 2024, pushing millions into deeper poverty, with nearly 5 million individuals facing severe food insecurity levels. The Artibonite valley, vital for the nation’s food supply, remains under the grip of armed groups disrupting agriculture and hindering humanitarian aid.

Amid these challenges, the transitional council convened with regional and international leaders on Monday, seeking viable solutions to the chaos. Haiti, under the interim leadership of Acting Prime Minister Michel Boisvert, continues its quest for a transitional authority to navigate through these tumultuous times.

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Governor Albert Bryan Jr. Embarks on Diplomatic Mission to Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines

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Governor Albert Bryan Jr. is scheduled to depart the U.S. Virgin Islands for a diplomatic mission to Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines from March 25 through April 1, as announced by Government House. This visit underscores Bryan’s commitment to enhancing international relations and identifying collaborative ventures that promise mutual benefits for the U.S. Virgin Islands and the respective Caribbean nations.

During his visit, the governor will engage in discussions aimed at deepening connections and fostering cooperation with these Caribbean counterparts. Following his engagement in Barbados, Governor Bryan is slated to meet with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, highlighting the mission’s goal of bolstering ties.

To ensure the smooth operation of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ governance in his absence, Lt. Governor Tregenza Roach will assume the role of acting governor until Bryan’s return on April 1.

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