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( BW)(NY-FITCH-RATINGS/ARUBA) Fitch Assigns Negative Rating Outlook to Aruba

BW5359 JUN 12,2003 8:54 PACIFIC 11:54 EASTERN
Business Editors
NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 12, 2003--Fitch Ratings, the international rating agency, has changed the Rating Outlook for Aruba to Negative from Stable, in light of rising challenges to the sovereign's fiscal sustainability. These are reflected in a steady rise in public debt from 28% in 2000 to 37% of GDP at end-2002, limited progress in curbing public expenditures, and widening arrears to suppliers in the first three months of 2003. Aruba has a 'BBB' rating for both its foreign and local currency ratings.
Aruba, which has status aparte within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, has recently seen demanding challenges to its tourism-dependent economy and public finances. This has arisen from the detrimental effects on tourism of the 9/11/01 U.S. terrorist attacks, slowing global and U.S. economies, the 2003 Iraq war and recent volatility in Venezuela.
Yet the inability to cut public expenditures is the primary reason for Aruba's stubborn fiscal deficit. Universal health care runs significant operating deficits, and attempts to curb supplier costs have recently been successfully challenged. Public sector personnel costs remain high in spite of the government's freeze on wage indexation and hiring. Arrears to the civil servant pension system have also risen and represent a less favorable source of public financing. The government could see a budget deficit of 3.5%-4% of GDP in 2003, potentially undermining the government's target of budget balance by 2007.
The government also faces somewhat greater constraints on income in 2003, as well as sharply higher public sector financing needs due to the realization of contingent liabilities amounting to 6.1% of GDP. The authorities exhibited good resourcefulness and self-reliance in obtaining financing for these liabilities without relying on the Dutch government. Nevertheless, government debt has also recently risen from 28% in 2000 to 37% of GDP in 2002. Government's indebtedness is still within the 'BBB' median of 40% of GDP, yet a lower debt burden in Aruba is desirable given that the economy is small, open and undiversified, and hence more vulnerable to external shocks than its rating peers.
Fitch finds that delayed action on the part of the government is also significantly contributing to fiscal deterioration. While outstanding problems are well understood, a slow pace of policy implementation reflects difficulties in executive coordination, political and legal miscalculations, and management capacity constraints. Fitch believes the government has an opportune window to act 2-1/2 years ahead of elections while it has a legislative majority. However, the agency is concerned that only limited progress will be made in reducing the budget deficit in 2003 by securing partial cost controls for the health care scheme and public sector rationalization, which could imply a further increase in debt to 40% of GDP in 2004.
Fitch will closely monitor government's near-term progress in fiscal consolidation. The agency would positively view measures to reduce supplier arrears; and a substantial effort to rein in health care costs. Meeting a clear timetable for policy implementation to achieve a trend reduction in expenditures is critical. The agency would also look for passage of health care premium increases and implementation of co-payment or deductible payment incentives; conversion of the civil servant pension fund into an independent public enterprise; and progress in heightening government efficiency and reducing personnel outlays.

--30--AM/sf*  

CONTACT: Fitch Ratings, New York  
         Therese Feng, 212/908-0230   
         Shelly Shetty, 212/908-0324  
         Matt Burkhard, 212/908-0540 (Media Relations)  

KEYWORD: NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL LATIN AMERICA  
INDUSTRY KEYWORD: BANKING BOND/STOCK RATINGS  
SOURCE: Fitch Ratings

CARIBBEAN ROUND-UP

The Jamaica Observer
Rickey Singh
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Most wanted among three killed by Guyana police

GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- Three more armed men, among them a prison escapee on the police 'most wanted' list, have been killed in Guyana in a shoot-out with cops in a house in Georgetown.

Police identified the three as Shawn Browne, who was wanted for murder and armed robberies; Dillon George, Browne's brother-in-law; and Wendell Robin, also known as Tony Singh.

Two cops and a 19 year-old girl were also injured during the shoot-out, as reported by the police, and a woman and two teenaged girls are being questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department.

The Thursday night shooting followed the killings of eight men 36 hours earlier in the Buxton-Friendship area on the East Coast in a joint anti-crime police/army operation.

Just two days earlier, a United States District Court judge had issued an arrest warrant for Browne in connection with the kidnapping in April of US embassy official Stephen Lesniak, who was released unharmed following a controversial private ransom payment.

The police confirmed that they have located two more bodies in Buxton after the early morning shoot-out.

Manning warns of illegal guns from Venezuela

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Prime Minister Patrick Manning has expressed deep concern over the increasing number of illegal guns in Trinidad and Tobago which, he said, are coming from Venezuela.

Manning said that the illegal guns were appearing in the country following unsuccessful attempts to overthrow the government of President Hugo Chavez when a lot of weapons found their way onto the streets in that neighbouring state.

Drug lords operating out of Colombia, he said, with business connections in Venezuela and the drug trafficking trade in Trinidad and Tobago, were among those involved in the movement of illegal arms and ammunition.

The prime minister was commenting on Wednesday night's drive-by shooting death of a woman in the Movie Town compound at Invaders Bay in an ambush that left two others wounded, including a member of the controversial Jamaat-al-Muslimeen.

Police identified the dead woman as Julian Bowen, 31, a mother of two. Those wounded and in hospital are her common-law husband, Addell Ghani, known as Clive Louis, and former Muslimeen disciple, Salim Rasheed, 32, known as "Small Slim", who was expelled from the Jamaat just three weeks ago.

Rasheed was shot at two weeks ago following his expulsion from the Jamaat, whose leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, has denied any involvement of his organisation in Wednesday night's shooting.

Rasheed, who received multiple gunshot wounds, was yesterday in critical condition in hospital under police guard.

The trio had just taken their exit from the Movie Town building and were seated on a nearby bench when a heavily-tinted white B14 Sentra car pulled alongside them and one of the occupants emerged, dressed in Muslim garb, and opened fire at close range.

Educating Haitians on CCJ

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti -- The Caribbean Community Secretariat, in co-operation with the Organisation of American States has completed the initial phase of an educational programme for Haitians on the proposed Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which is scheduled to become operational during the final quarter of this year.

The recently completed two-day programme for Haiti, which was aimed primarily at the judiciary, is to be extended to expose other segments of the Haitian society on the functioning and powers of the CCJ.

It is part of a region-wide educational thrust by the Caribbean Community Secretariat and constituted the first round for Haitian judges.

Involved in the educational exercise was a seven-member team of legal specialists, consultants and community officials dealing with the Caribbean Single Market and Economy and media communication.

The team collaborated with officials of the OAS, Haiti's Ministry of Justice, Supreme Court judges and magistrates and the Haitian Bar Association.

CARIBBEAN ROUND-UP: Caricom foreign ministers in critical political, economic review

The Jamaica ObserverRickey Singh
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

BRIDGETOWN -- Caribbean Community foreign ministers will undertake a general overview of critical international political and economic developments of importance to the region during a two-day meeting scheduled for this week in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Issues for consideration and action would include international challenges such as the post-war situation in Iraq and its consequences for the Caribbean; emerging global security and social threats, as well as "threats to multilateralism" and what really constitutes "humanitarian intervention".

According to the draft agenda, a copy of which was obtained by the Observer, other matters for general review by the foreign ministers meeting which gets under way this Thursday, will also include:

"Democracy and governance; global trade negotiations that will embrace the state of preparedness by the region's governments and the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery RNM), and problems and challenges peculiar to small states with disadvantaged economies.

The meeting, being hosted by the government of prime minister Ralph Gonsalves, comes at a time when there continues to be international controversy over concepts of "pre-emptive war" without endorsement of the United Nations and the shift away from multilateralism to a unilateralist approach in international affairs as demonstrated in the war against Iraq.

Implementation of the "revised strategy" on the coordination of the foreign policies of the 14 independent member states of Caricom is high on the agenda for the meeting at which all of the community countries are expected to be represented.

Trade, economic and other relations with states and regions, including Canada, Japan, the European Union, Central America and the Association of Caribbean States will be addressed based on information and analyses submitted by regional technocrats and the Community's Secretariat.

Human rights and democracy issues as well as the ongoing political impasse in Haiti over arrangements for new general election, and the political situation in Venezuela, based on presentations by the Caricom Ambassadors Group to the Organisation of American States (OAS) have also been placed on the agenda for this Sixth Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR).

Hemispheric bilateral relations between Caricom and selected states, to be addressed by the foreign ministers will include preparations for the inaugural meeting of the Caricom-Chile Joint Commission and recommendations on Cuba's proposed agreement for closer cooperation with the Community.

A summary of overnight briefs from the Caribbean

News Channel 8 WTNH

GUANTANAMO: State Department pressures Pentagon to move on long-detained terror prisoners
WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a strongly worded letter, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged Pentagon officials to move faster in determining which prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay can be released, defense officials said.

Powell's April 14 letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld questioned the continued detention of some 660 prisoners from 42 countries who were captured during the war against al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.

A Pentagon official, speaking Saturday on condition of anonymity, said the "strongly worded" letter made it clear that the secretary of state wanted the Defense Department to quickly determine which prisoners could be released.

Since the prison was opened in January 2002, only 22 people are known to have been released. They were all men, including one who was mentally ill and another reported to be in his 70s.

JAMAICA: Angered by police killing of 14-year-old, residents set fire to four buildings

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (AP) _ Enraged at the killing of a 14-year-old boy by police, residents set fire to four buildings Saturday as they took to the streets of a town in western Jamaica, police said.

The boy, Omari Wedderburn, was shot by police Friday night in Negril, which is fringed with some of the Caribbean country's premiere tourist resorts. The next day, more than 300 people gathered to protest, police said.

Some broke the windows of two banks and hurled firebombs into them, while others set afire two convenience stores, police said.

One bank and one store had major damage, while the other two had minor damage, police said. Firefighters were kept away for a time by the angry crowd. No one was arrested.

The circumstances of the 14-year-old's killing were in dispute.

CUBA: Venezuelan oil shipments back to normal after strike

HAVANA (AP) _ Venezuela's oil exports to Cuba have returned to normal after disruptions during a two-month strike in Venezuela, the Venezuelan ambassador here said.

"Exports of oil and derived products have been normal for two weeks," Julio Montes told reporters on Friday.

A general strike that collapsed in February paralyzed Venezuela's oil industry and brought exports to a near halt. Venezuela's government says output is now back to normal at more than 3 million barrels a day.

Venezuela has a pact to sell Cuba 53,000 barrels a day under preferential financial terms _ providing one-third of the island's oil imports. Montes said Cuba was making payments on its US$144 million debt in the deal. He added the debt was being refinanced but did not elaborate.

During his four years in office, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has forged strong ties with Fidel Castro's government. Under another cooperation deal, more than 3,600 Venezuelans have traveled to Cuba for free medical treatment since 2000, Montes said. He said Cuba has spent at least US$120 million treating the Venezuelans.

BARBADOS: Pepsi bottling plant announces relocation to Trinidad

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) _ The maker of Pepsi-Cola drink is closing its Barbados plant this month to relocate operations to Trinidad, the company announced.

Pepsi-Cola Barbados, which has operated at a loss since it opened 17 months ago, informed its 33 employees it would cease operations May 26, general manager Pierre Evans said Friday.

"The Barbados market did not expand as quickly as we anticipated, and we were sustaining severe losses," general manager Pierre Evans said, but would not give details.

The new plant in Trencity, Trinidad, will bottle drinks in both glass and plastic like the Barbados operation, Evans said. No further information was immediately available.

Pepsi-Cola Barbados is a subsidiary of PepsiAmericas, based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

PepsiAmericas, with $3.2 billion in revenue, runs several other bottling plants in the Caribbean, including in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Jamaica.

It is one of several bottlers and distributors of Pepsi soft drinks under PepsiCo Inc., which holds a 36.7 equity interest in PepsiAmericas.

CUBA: Government crackdown may not decrease U.S. farm trade

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. companies sold food worth $138.6 million to Cuba in 2002 and are on track for a 19 percent increase in sales this year despite Fidel Castro's recent crackdown on dissidents.

The Castro government's behavior during the past month makes it unlikely that Congress will further relax the 42-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. It is equally unlikely that lawmakers will restrict sales of farm commodities to a nation that quickly has become a big customer of American wheat, corn, chicken, soybeans and rice.

Congress in 2000 allowed sales of U.S. farm commodities to Cuba but limited them to cash-only deals. That restriction actually has proved to be good for U.S. companies, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

"Cuba is one of the safest export markets in the world for U.S. companies today, because the law requires cash-only transactions," Kavulich said. "So there is no risk to exporting products to Cuba. No other country in the world that trades to Cuba can say that."

SURINAME: Police shut down Ecstasy laboratory, detain six suspects

PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) _ Police raided a laboratory allegedly set up to make the Ecstasy and detained six suspects, police said.

The lab in Paramaribo, the capital, was the first found in Suriname for making the synthetic party drug. It had yet to begin production, but was capable of turning out 500,000 pills a day, police said Saturday in a statement.

Police dismantled and seized the lab equipment, along with several firearms, ammunition and hand grenades found at the scene.

Six suspects, including some Dutch citizens, were detained in the Saturday morning raid, police said, but would not say how exactly many were Dutch. The suspects have yet to be charged.

The raid followed a yearlong investigation by Suriname's anti-narcotics police and Dutch police.

Police said the lab equipment had been shipped from the Netherlands to this former Dutch colony in South America.

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a mild hallucinogenic stimulant. Overdoses on the drug can cause hypothermia or excessive body heat and possibly death.

CUBA: Tourism industry bounces back in first four months of 2003

HAVANA (AP) _ Cuba's tourism industry bounced back this year from a deep slump, with the number of visitors up 19 percent during the first four months of this year, tourism ministry officials said.

Until the end of April, 770,000 people visited Cuba, 19 percent more than those who visited during the same four months in 2002 and 2 percent more than the same period in 2001, Tourism Vice Minister Marta Maiz Gomez said Saturday.

Maiz spoke at a news conference organized for an annual convention of international tourism operators opening Monday in the beach resort of Varadero, east of here. About 900 tour operators from 60 countries are expected to attend _ including 63 from the United States.

Tourism is this cash-starved island's most important source of hard currency, bringing in as much as US$2 billion annually. Cuba, like other Caribbean nations, suffered a serious slump in tourism last year after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism attacks on the United States.

CRICKET: 2007 World Cup in Caribbean presents logistical challenges, cricket chief says

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) _ The head of cricket's world governing body said holding the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean would be difficult, but that organizers were "on track" in planning the event.

Because the region contains more than 10 cricket-playing countries, events will require extra attention to logistics, International Cricket Council chief Malcolm Speed said Friday after meeting with officials from the West Indies Cricket Board.

The two sides discussed progress and future plans in organizing the event, which is being held for the first time ever in the region, Speed said.

"There has been a good deal of planning. A great deal of strategic thought has gone into the process to date, and we were very pleased to sit in the meeting and come away confident that West Indies is on track," Speed said after the meeting in Barbados.

Holding the event in the Caribbean "will enable people to see different cultures in countries where we play, and gives cricket an opportunity to say to the world that we are prepared to tackle difficult projects like running the World Cup in a region such as the Caribbean," he said.

CRICKET: Gillespie leads attack as disciplined Australians take control

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) _ Pacer Jason Gillespie grabbed three wickets as Australia's disciplined bowling attack kept the team in control of the third test against the West Indies on day three.

The home team, overnight 89 without loss, slumped to 291 for eight at the close on Saturday, still 314 behind Australia's mammoth first innings total of 605 for nine declared.

Chris Gayle topscored with 71, and fellow left-handed opener Devon Smith hit 59.

But once Gillespie removed both after their opening stand of 139, Australia was in command.

Gillespie took three for 31 off 21 overs. Leg-spinner Stuart MacGill supported well with two for 95 off 31.2 overs.

Andy Bichel claimed the prize of ill captain Brian Lara late in the day, while Brett Lee and Darren Lehmann also provided key breakthroughs.

(kd)

CARIBBEAN ROUND-UP: Guyana/Venezuela friendship bond

jamaicaobserver.comRickey Singh
Friday, May 02, 2003

GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- Guyana and Venezuela have decided to forge a friendship bond to mark a strengthening of relations between the two South American neighbours that are yet to resolve an age-old territorial dispute.

The foreign ministers of the two states, which share 800 miles of border, announced a joint 21-point communiqué following a two-day visit to the Guyanese capital of a delegation from Caracas, headed by Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton.

Guyana's foreign minister, Rudy Insanally, said his meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart was a most productive event and augurs well for the strengthening of relations.

One of the more immediate issues discussed was arrangements for a coming reciprocal state visit to Guyana by President Hugo Chavez, in response to that made last year by the Guyanese head of state, Bharrat Jagdeo.

The sale of fuel to Guyana on concessionary terms under the Caracas Energy Co-operation Agreement that the Chavez government has with a number of Caricom states, including Barbados and Jamaica, was among matters reflected in the communiqué at the end of the Insanally-Chaderton meeting Wednesday.

Broad areas of agreement on commercial, economic and technical co-operation, as well as efforts by Guyana and Venezuela to deepen the process of regional integration within the framework of the 25-nation Association of Caribbean States (ACS), are included in the communiqué.

Chaderton paid courtesy calls on President Jagdeo, speaker of the Parliament, Ralph Ramkarran, and secretary-general of the Caribbean Community, Edwin Carrington while in Georgetown.

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