Curacao oil refinery units down after power outage

September 8, 2008 by admin · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business and Economy, Oil Industry, Press Releases 

WILLEMSTAD, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Several units at a 320,000 barrel-per-day oil refinery operated by Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA on the island of Curacao were offline on Monday due to a power outage, a refinery spokesman said.

The dollar still reigns in Caracas

CARACAS (MarketWatch) — While the dollar’s reputation has taken a beating in many of the world’s financial capitals, here in Venezuela the fallen-from-fashion greenback reigns supreme.
Middle-class Venezuelans routinely hop the borders to neighboring countries to get their hands on illicit dollars, spawning a thriving and lucrative black market in local currency exchange. Some gamble on nearby islands, while others make fake shopping excursions to Panama or Colombia.
Middlemen, taking a hefty cut, deliver the dollars and manufacture an elaborate trail of fake receipts in case the Venezuelans are later audited by the currency control board at home.
Locals do all of this in a bid to protect themselves from the region’s highest rate of inflation and to circumvent stiff exchange controls President Hugo Chavez imposed in 2003 to halt the flow of capital out of the country.

“People outside Venezuela don’t understand how uncomfortable this situation is … and the things we have to do to avoid the law,” said one young woman who works as an administrative assistant for an international company. She declined to be identified.
Playing the black market

The government sets the official exchange rate at 2.15 bolivars to the dollar, but on the black market $1 is currently trading for around 3.40 bolivars, or 58% higher than the official peg.

The spread between the two rates opens a world of opportunity for profit-loving capitalists happy to exploit the quirks of Chavez’s experiment in “21st century socialism.”

Here’s how the simplest and most common scheme works: In an effort to control access to dollars, Venezuela limits its citizens to $5,000 in credit-card purchases abroad. A government currency-control authority, known locally by the acronym Cadivi, makes that sum available at the official exchange rate, or 10,750 bolivars.

With those cheaply bought dollars loaded onto a credit card issued by a Venezuelan bank, a traveler can head to Panama, Aruba or Curacao; get a cash advance in dollars; and, finally, convert the hard cash back into bolivars, which at the current black-market rate would net 16,000 bolivars.

For those unable to make a trip abroad, smaller amounts can be exchanged by using credit-card quotas for Internet purchases to play online casino games. People play the required hand or two and then cash their chips, which are payable in dollars.

It isn’t avarice alone that drives people to play the credit-card game or devise similar ruses to secure dollars. For many Venezuelans, holding on to dollars is their only hedge against soaring inflation.

In a recent report, Morgan Stanley said it expects inflation in the country to reach 30% this year, up from 22.5% in 2007. The investment bank’s expectations are in line with many other forecasters.

“It doesn’t make sense to save bolivars,” said the unidentified young woman.

Fly-way robbery

In the uncertain days leading up to the referendum last December on President Chavez’s constitutional reform, the parallel — or black — market sank to nearly 7 bolivars to the dollar. Virtually all airline seats to Panama and Curacao were booked weeks in advance, and international charter flights popped up around the country as Venezuelans made a run at booking their profits.

As the rate hovered near 6 bolivars to the dollar, I called all my friends and family in the States to see if anyone wanted to come to Venezuela. In those days, Continental, which flies direct from Houston to Caracas, allowed customers to choose whether they wanted to buy a ticket in bolivars or dollars — even for flights originating in the U.S.

The airline converted a ticket’s cost using the official exchange rate. Therefore, if one had purchased bolivars on the black market, a $1,000 ticket on the airline’s Web site actually cost less than $400 when purchased locally — literally, a steal.

Source: MarketWatch

Scientology luxury cruise ship remains locked down; Cult put thousands at high cancer risk

More than five weeks after public health authorities on the Caribbean island of Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles) impounded the Scientology cult’s 440-foot luxury liner “Freewinds,” the ship remains locked down. Experts advise that decontaminating the ship would cost millions of dollars and may not even be possible. Meanwhile, the cult continues to solicit funds for cruises that will not happen.

After the ship was quarantined on April 26, the Curaçao Drydock Company was contracted to carry out refurbishment and repairs. The contamination was so extensive that the company decided that the risk to its workers was too great, and ceased operations. At that point Scientology sent a team of its “Sea Org” paramilitary force to clean the ship themselves. They are bringing the blue asbestos by the truckload to dump at the island’s landfill site at Malpais. The Sea Org is Scientology’s internal paramilitary force.

Incredibly, top leaders of the Scientology cult were informed of the pervasive contamination back in 1987, but chose to do nothing. Until the 1960s, when the Freewinds was built, blue asbestos was often used in shipbuilding (it was not known at the time to be so carcinogenic). Former Scientologist Lawrence Woodcraft, a licensed architect by profession, supervised interior remodeling work on the ship in 1987 when the cult first purchased it. According to a legal affidavit made after Woodcraft left the cult in 2001, Woodcraft had notified Scientology officials immediately about the widespread blue asbestos and the dangers it posed. The response he received was that he should carry on with the work, and leave the asbestos where it was. Since Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had never mentioned that asbestos was dangerous, they were not going to worry about it. Scientologists believe that disease is caused not by microbes or toxic substances, but by the presence of “suppressive persons” (SPs), or people who disagree with Scientology and its goals. Moreover, Scientologists believe that high-level Sea Org members cannot get cancer or any other disease.

Meanwhile, Scientology continues to promote cruises on the Freewinds, receiving large cash advances from Scientologist prospective passengers, who have been informed only that the ship is going through an ordinary refurbishment. Already, the cult has missed several planned sailing dates, but it continues to seek funds for voyages in the near future. According to Radar Online, the cult has scheduled conventions starting in July and running through November.

On May 1, the cult’s spokesperson lied to Radar Online with the following “spin”:

“The next cruise is scheduled for Thursday, May 8. Inspections done on April 15, 2008 and April 28, 2008 again confirmed that the air quality is safe, in accordance with the standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Clean Air Act.” None of this, of course, was true.

The cult’s promotional materials give further information about Scientology’s advance-booking scheme:

“The new conventions calendar aboard the brand new Freewinds is out and we are looking forward to seeing you aboard! Look over the different conventions and let me know which convention(s) you plan to attend.”

Yet all the extremely hazardous “cleaning” of the blue asbestos may be in vain. According to officials in the Netherlands’ Ministry of Environment, which dealt with an asbestos-laden ship in 2006 that was eventually demolished, the cost to make Freewinds safe for passengers, if it is even possible, may run into many millions of Euros/dollars, probably more than the ship itself is worth.

The ship is used by Scientology for advanced training in “Operating Thetan” levels, for members who have paid fees of between USD$100,000 and $400,000, as well as for tax-deductible Caribbean cruises for its members and their families. Curaçao has been the ship’s homeport since it was purchased by Scientology, as it is not permitted to dock in any US port.

Many Scientologist celebrities have spent time aboard the Freewinds, including Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Suri Cruise, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Chick Corea, Lisa Marie Presley, Catherine Bell, Kate Ceberano, and Juliette Lewis. “Now” magazine reported that Tom Cruise has been urged to seek medical attention regarding potential asbestos exposure, however a representative for Cruise stated he has “absolutely no knowledge” of the recent asbestos controversy. Cruise, Holmes, Travolta and Preston have celebrated birthdays and other events on the Freewinds. Scientology has official “religion” status in the USA, which means that it is exempt from paying taxes, and that its members can declare any Scientology-related expense as tax-deductible.

Raw blue asbestos is the most hazardous form of asbestos, and has been banned in the United Kingdom since 1970. Blue asbestos fibers are very narrow and thus easily inhaled, and are a major cause of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer which can develop in the lining of the lungs and chest cavity, the lining of the abdominal cavity, or the pericardium sac surrounding the heart. The cancer is incurable, and can manifest over 40 years after the initial exposure to asbestos.

“This is the most dangerous type of asbestos because the fibres are smaller than the white asbestos and can penetrate the lung more easily,” said toxicologist Dr. Chris Coggins in a statement published in “OK! Magazine.” Dr. Coggins went on to note that “Once diagnosed with mesothelioma, the victim has six months to a year to live. It gradually reduces lung function until the victim is no longer able to breathe and dies.”

The Scientology cult was founded in 1950 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Its primary goal is to “clear the planet” by “obliterating psychiatry.” Scientology’s many front groups include the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), Criminon, Narconon, and Applied Scholastics. Scientology claims to be the “world’s fastest growing religion,” with some 8 million members, but mainstream demographic surveys have shown that the number of members is closer to 55,000 worldwide, and declining. Scientology is currently under investigation in several countries for a variety of human rights abuses, including child abuse, violation of child labor laws, kidnapping and running secret internal prison camps, as well as for a number of financial crimes.

Source www.indybay.org
by Dr. Lilly von Marcab

Dollars in Curacao attract Venezuelans

WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao — Stroll down Columbusstraat. Enter the smoke-filled lobby of the San Marco Hotel and Casino. Proceed up a flight of stairs to the front desk. Dial Room 106. Bring a credit card issued in Venezuela.

In a quest to get their hands on American dollars, Venezuelans are flocking to this island in the Netherlands Antilles to take part in this elaborate back-room scheme and others like it to get around currency controls imposed by the government of President Hugo Chávez.

“These Venezuelans come here to get their dollars, and we’re happy to help them out,” said Ronald Veenstra, 36, owner of the Supreme and Real, a bar opposite the San Marco Hotel, while mixing a mojito. “I’ve never poured more drinks for any one group in my entire life.”

For Venezuelans, the Curaçao option for obtaining dollars emerged last year when the value of Venezuela’s currency, the bolívar, fell sharply against the dollar as fears intensified over Mr. Chávez’s economic policies, including the nationalization of oil and telephone companies.

Faced with the highest inflation rate in Latin America, about 23 percent, and the dwindling value of the bolívar, Venezuela became an economic oddity in an age of ascendant currencies as varied as the Brazilian real and the Peruvian sol: a place where the dollar is still sought after.

That’s where Curaçao comes in. “Venezuela has always been a natural market for Curaçao,” said Johannes Henriques, 63, a manager at the St. Michiel Bay Inn, reminiscing about past oil booms, when flush Venezuelans filled Willemstad’s boutiques and hotels. “Now the Venezuelans come to do their card thing, and it’s an opportunity for them to get to know us again.”

The “card thing” is an intricate scheme involving merchants, Socialist bureaucrats, Venezuelan travelers and middlemen.

Trying to slow capital flight, Venezuela limits its citizens to $5,000 in annual credit card purchases abroad. That is 10,750 bolívars, at the official exchange rate of 2.15 to the dollar. But at the prevailing black market rate of 4.50 to the dollar, the amount more than doubles to 22,500 bolívars.

Seizing on that gap, some Venezuelans began coming to Curaçao’s casinos last year and using their credit cards to buy chips. They played a few hands and cashed in the chips for dollars, which circulate here along with guilders, the Dutch currency. But the casinos soon prohibited them from buying chips with their cards because few actually used the chips to gamble.

Middlemen then moved in, organizing trips for Venezuelans and charging a 20 percent commission for cash advances at the office of a merchant, like the travel agency in Room 106 of the San Marco Hotel. The middleman and merchant divide the $1,000 commission, leaving the Venezuelan with $4,000 in cash.

The middlemen say they doctor receipts, with a wink and a nod from local banks that process the transactions. These intermediaries say the receipts, often for electronic items, offer the travelers alibis in case they are audited in Venezuela by bureaucrats ideologically loyal to Mr. Chávez. If problems arise, the middlemen say, a small so-called commission to some of the bureaucrats can smooth things over.

Some Venezuelans hold the dollars as a hedge against economic uncertainty, while others exchange them back in Venezuela for bolívars at the black-market rate, for a profit. The merchants get hefty commissions for swiping credit cards.

And in an illustration of where some of Venezuela’s oil wealth is going, some middlemen have accumulated fortunes. “I made $300,000 in December alone,” said Roberto, 31, a middleman who would not give his full name out of concern of being identified as a profiteer.

Rosann Jansen, a researcher at the Curaçao Tourist Board, said Venezuelan visitors roughly tripled in 2007 to 60,000 from a year earlier as airlines added flights from Caracas and smaller Venezuelan cities like Maracaibo, Valencia and Las Piedras. With flights booked months in advance, that number could rise to 100,000 this year.

“I’m doing this to have some savings when I’m older,” said Yesenia Castro, 53, a Venezuelan office worker who came here for dollars twice in less than a year.

Once the flights arrive, the middlemen’s employees swarm the airport lobby trying to steer the Venezuelans to their bosses. As competition increases, commissions on these deals have dropped recently to around 15 percent, travelers say.

Officials in Caracas have been trying to end the practice after Venezuelan credit card purchases abroad surged 312 percent in 2007 to $5.1 billion. They made it illegal to publish the black market currency rate and renamed the currency the bolívar fuerte, or strong bolívar.

They have audited thousands of travelers while requiring others to stay abroad seven days to tap their quota of credit card dollars. But the new rules have simply bred more creative ways to bypass them.

Some middlemen simply foot the bill for modest two-day trips, then keep the exchange profits for themselves, effectively duping Venezuelans out of their quotas while plying them with liquor at beaches here, usually occupied by Dutch tourists focusing on their paperbacks.

Little soul-searching about exploiting Venezuela’s idiosyncrasies seems to have emerged in Curaçao, which has long been finding ways to grow prosperous off its neighbor to the south.

So many shops in downtown Willemstad have signs saying “We welcome Venezuelan cards” that it is a surprise to find one that does not. The explanation, when it comes, is simple. “We don’t do it,” said Manish Chandhani, 25, a salesman in Baba’s, an electronics store. “My boss does not like to earn easy money.”

Sandra La Fuente P. contributed reporting.

Source: Willemstad Journal

UTS is a government-owned company

Like their Curacao colleagues, United Telecommunication Services (UTS) workers in the Windward Islands received an advance on the profit share of five per cent for employees as laid down in the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) signed by the union Sitkom. While one undoubtedly has to be happy for them as fellow residents, the whole issue raises some questions.

How does a company that has been losing millions and millions for years already even sign such a CLA? If management’s reasoning at the time was that the company would never make a profit anyway, the Supervisory Board of Directors and shareholders should have stepped in.

Moreover, how is it that a company that has incurred such great losses that the managing director was held responsible and made to leave can suddenly turn around and come up with a profit of 25 million? There was talk that the former management used so-called creative bookkeeping to keep the profit down so that dividends would not have to paid, but the reported financial result for 2006 still seems questionable at best. While the profit sharing is in the CLA, the bylaws of the company reportedly also state that profits made after losses incurred should be used to offset those losses. Why was that not done in this case?

The answer is simple: UTS is a government-owned company and it was a political rather than business decision. Commissioner of Finance Mike Willem and Minister of Transport and Communication Maurice Adriaens initially had their objections, but they were overruled by the majority in the PAR/PNP/FOL coalition of Curacao parties governing at both the island and Antillean level.

It’s once more proof that the so-called ‘privatisation’ of utility services by making them government-owned companies instead of government services did not solve the problem of political influence. Who knows how much more affordable and reliable the service provided by these companies could have been had they really been privatised?

In any case the UTS employees have something to celebrate about. They should remember that this is an advance that hinges on the approval of the annual account confirming the profit. Considering all that’s happened at UTS in the past few years, they would probably do well not to spend it before that approval is granted, because in the event it is not, they may have to pay it back.

Source: The Daily Herald St. Maarten

TelEm Group unaware of MIO’s plans, intention

November 3, 2007 by admin · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business and Economy, Internet and Technology 

The TelEm Group has stated it has not been contacted by Telecommunications Company MIO regarding a possible purchase of TelEm, but a MIO representative in Curacao has said, “I know we are interested.”

Christopher Engels of CuraNet, which is believed to be a MIO subsidiary, said he was very excited about the possibility of coming to St. Maarten to work for MIO, as he had worked in St. Maarten for Xerox in the past and loved the island.

Regarding allegations that Telecommunications Minister Maurice Adriaens was in bed with MIO, Engels said, “99 per cent of what we read in the Curacao newspapers is incorrect. I mean, these people even said I went on an MIO private jet to Suriname with the Minister.”

St. Maarten Telecommunication Holding Company TelEm Group Supervisory Board Chairman Rudy Hoeve said Wednesday he was unaware of any negotiations between MIO and TelEm Group for the purchase of the St. Maarten government-owned telephone company.

He said the board had scheduled a meeting with the shareholder for next week Wednesday during which several important matters would be discussed. He also said that there had been no decision yet regarding Curtis Haynes’ replacement as Managing Director of international phone company Smitcoms.

MIO boasts of being the largest provider of third generation (3G) mobile communications service in the Netherlands Antilles and the Cayman Islands. It also boasts via its Website of having licences to operate in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Maarten and the Cayman Islands, providing 3G services with strategic partners Qualcomm, Lucent, Sprint and Verizon.

3G is a wireless industry term for a collection of international standards and technologies aimed at increasing efficiency and improving the performance of mobile wireless networks.

MIO is part of EOCG E-Oliver Capital Group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. EOCG has focused its activities on developing countries worldwide, concentrating on telecom and related media opportunities and a broad array of next generation technologies.

EOCG currently owns and operates networks in St. Maarten, Curacao, Bonaire and the British Virgin Islands. Its Website boasts its “strong network of domestic and international relationships with leading financial institutions, operating partners, senior business executives and government officials.”

“This strategic network,” it states, “has allowed EOCG to execute multiple acquisitions, contracts, agreements, joint ventures and organic growth opportunities.”

A CHANNEL ISLANDS executive director will be passing on her skills to KPMG counterparts in the Caribbean later this month.

October 25, 2007 by admin · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business and Economy 

Elaine Monkhouse will spend a week in Curacao delivering a change-management course that she developed and piloted in Brussels last year.
The course will provide them with a well developed set of tools but what will bring it to life is the hands-on practical experience and my experiences of change management in an island context, she said.
Dr Monkhouse added that change management covers an extensive range of areas, from IT to the complex ones involved with a merger or acquisition.
The costs of getting it wrong are enormous and we see it so often and so it is essential that KPMG staff have the skills to be able to help their clients minimise the effect of change.
She said that change has been identified as a core skill for all the companys consultants.
KPMG Advisory is investing in the professionalism of its consultants on a global level to ensure that the advice we give and the tools we use are consistent, of a high quality and can be clearly recognised as being a KPMG discipline.
I am delighted to be able to hand over my experiences to my Caribbean colleagues, said Dr Monkhouse.

Online Casino For Sale

London-based Leisure And Gaming has announced that it is to seel one of its long established online casinos, AcropolisCasino.com, for a price of $500,000.

The AIM-listed company is one of the world’s largest betting and gaming companies and owns the operation through its subsidiary, Grouse Entertainment.

The online casino has a database of some 24,000 non-US cash players and, despite no recent attempts at marketing the site and a decline in net wins since 2006 levels, AcropolisCasino.com still generates an average of $100,000 per month in net win and $16,000 per month in EBIT since the beginning of the year. This is through returning players who like the established and recognised brand that also features natural search engine optimisation.

The online venue has been listed at eGamingBrokerage.com who revealed that Leisure And gaming are exploring the possibility of selling Grouse Entertainment as it is the legal entity that owns and operates the AcropolisCasino.com. Grouse holds a Curacao gaming license and owns its own fully depreciated equipment and uses Playtech casino software while outsourcing payment processing and customer services.

SeaFreight Line moved up to the 32nd spot in the ranking of ocean carriers

October 9, 2007 by admin · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business and Economy 

Miami-operated SeaFreight Line moved up to the 32nd spot in the ranking of ocean carriers carrying United States exporters to the world for the first quarter of 2007.

The ranking, published by the Journal of Commerce in their July, 23 edition of the top 100 shipping lines, showed a 17 per cent growth in the carrier’s volume compared with the same period in 2006.

SeaFreight Line has been providing ocean transportation services for 15 years and currently operates 5 x 1,000 TEU and 3 x 500 TEU vessels between Florida, the Caribbean and North Coast South American Trades with its weekly fixed-day services between Jacksonville and Port Everglades and Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao, Grand Cayman, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Margarita, Montego Bay, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Suriname, Puerto Cabello and LaGuaira, Venezuela as well as twice weekly service to Kingston, Jamaica and Point Lisas, Trinidad and Tobago. The carrier offers various sizes of dry and refrigerated containers as well as accepts break bulk cargo such as voats, vehicles etc. on flat racks.

For more information contact the local SeaFreight representative at:

SeaFreight Jamaica

2 Seventh Avenue,

Newport West

Tel: 923-5541-4

Dominicans competing with foreigners for construction jobs

October 9, 2007 by admin · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business and Economy 

SANTO DOMINGO.- Foreigners are taking construction jobs away from Dominicans in violation of the Dominican Work Code, the National Federation of Construction Industry Workers, Wood and Construction Materials said Monday.

Organization president Pedro Julio Alcántara said foreign workers, mainly Haitians, currently occupy 45 percent of manual labor jobs in the construction industry. That violates the Work Code, which states that at least 80 percent of jobs must be held by nationals and mo more than 20 percent by foreigners.

Alcántara, speaking at a press conference to celebrate the anniversary of the federation, said in addition to Haitians, people from Colombia, Venezuela, and Curacao have a significant presence in the Dominican work force, particularly in technical fields and senior and mid-level management positions. However, he said Haitians are the biggest competitors for Dominican jobs because they’re willing to work for lower wages.

Author:
Alexandra Pope

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