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Caribbean news briefs
Associated Press
2009-05-20 10:06 AM
HAITI: Haitians welcome new UN envoy Bill Clinton; former US president to focus on social development

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Former President Bill Clinton became the U.N.'s first special envoy to Haiti on Tuesday, bringing an unmatched combination of local popularity and global star power to help a country devastated by political turmoil, poverty and natural disasters.

Haitians _ at least those old enough to have heard of Clinton _ welcomed the international attention they said he will bring to their desperate nation and some expressed optimism that he can help alleviate poverty.

"If he can make the U.N. work better with Haiti and gets us more money, that would be good," said John-Peter Lacoure, a 24-year-old college graduate who cannot find a job despite his economics degree.

But many Haitians said their problems are too great for any one person to fix.

"Where we are now, the only one who can help us is God," said Patrick Pierre, 47, hawking cell phone cards on the dusty street where the U.N. is based.

Clinton _ who will be paid $1 a year and travel to Haiti several times annually _ said he is honored.

"I believe Haiti is better positioned to make progress for all its people than at any time since I first visited in 1978," he said in a statement. "Last year's natural disasters took a great toll, but Haiti's government and people have the determination and ability to ... lay the foundations for the long-term sustainable development that has eluded them for so long."

Clinton is well-regarded in Haiti for using the threat of U.S. military force to oust a dictatorship in 1994, then sending Army troops and Marines to pave the way for the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been deposed in a coup. Aristide was again ousted in a 2004 rebellion and flown into exile on a U.S. plane.

GUANTANAMO: Senators reject closing Gitmo prison without plan

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama's promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison suffered a blow Tuesday when his allies in the Senate said they would refuse to finance the move until the administration delivers a satisfactory plan for what to do with the detainees there.

As the Senate took up Obama's request for money for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Democrats reversed course and said they would deny the request for $80 million for the Justice and Defense departments to relocate the 240 detainees at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They would also indefinitely bar the government from transferring of any of the facility's prisoners into the United States, though the ban could be relaxed in subsequent legislation.

A vote is expected Wednesday on an amendment by Sens. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and James Inhofe, R-Okla., that would put the restrictions in the war-funding measure.

While allies such as No. 2 Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois cast the development as a delay of only a few months, other Democrats have made it plain they don't want any of Guantanamo's detainees sent to the United States to stand trial or serve prison sentences.

"We don't want them around," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The Senate move matches steps taken by the House and threatens to paralyze the Obama administration's entire plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by January. In recent weeks, Attorney General Eric Holder had sought to reassure skeptical lawmakers, but Congress appears unconvinced and may force the detention facility to remain in operation.

It's also evidence that a weeks-long GOP effort against Obama's order to close the Guantanamo facility is paying off.

PUERTO RICO: Man pleads guilty to raping and killing pregnant Georgia tourist

FAJARDO, Puerto Rico (AP) _ A Puerto Rican man pleaded guilty Tuesday to kidnapping, raping and killing a pregnant Georgia tourist who made a frantic phone call to her fiance from the trunk of her assailant's car.

Eliezer Marquez Navedo pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping and two sexual assault charges in the Feb. 4 slaying of Sara Kuszak.

Marquez stood expressionless, head up, as his attorney Hector Jimenez read the plea in a nearly empty courtroom in the eastern coastal city of Fajardo.

Marquez faces up to life in prison at a June 1 sentencing hearing. He will not face the death penalty because capital punishment can only be imposed on the U.S. island for federal crimes.

Jimenez said Marquez told him he wished to plead guilty just hours before Tuesday's hearing was to begin. "It was a little bit surprising," the lawyer said, adding that his client rarely spoke to him in recent months.

Kuszak was about five months pregnant when she was abducted while jogging along a remote road in eastern Puerto Rico.

She had been living in Savannah, Georgia, and was visiting the U.S. Caribbean island with her fiance and friends. The couple had planned to marry in the Caribbean in March.

From the trunk of her kidnapper's car, Kuszak made a desperate phone call to her fiance and told him she was going to die, her mother said. She was found dead with her throat slashed about an hour later.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Gov't monitors health of 312 people as precaution against swine flu

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Dominican authorities are monitoring the health of 300 students and 12 teachers who traveled with three Chilean women later diagnosed with swine flu.

Health Secretary Bautista Rojas says no cases of the virus have been confirmed in the Caribbean nation, and the students and faculty are not ill.

But epidemiologists are taking precautions after the women were diagnosed with swine flu soon after returning to Chile from the Dominican resort of Punta Cana.

Rojas said Tuesday they rode in a bus with the students and teachers.

The H1N1 has sickened thousands and killed more than 80 worldwide.

JAMAICA: Violence-wracked Caribbean country to launch alert system for missing children

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) _ Jamaica is launching an island-wide alert system for missing children, named after a schoolgirl whose beheaded body was found last year.

Minister of State Robert Montague says the system is based on the U.S. "Amber Alert."

It will align communication networks to improve searches from the minute a child is reported missing. Mobile phone companies, the media and parish councils will be rapidly notified.

The system has been dubbed "Ananda Alert" in memory of 11-year-old Ananda Dean. The girl's mutilated body was found dumped along a rural road last year after she had been missing for two weeks.

The announcement came Tuesday amid rising violence in Jamaica, including other gruesome attacks on children.

US VIRGIN ISLANDS: Fire destroys tavern billed as the origin of the fruity cocktail

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) _ U.S. Virgin Islands authorities say a blaze has gutted a popular tourist attraction touted as the home of the banana daiquiri.

Fire Chief Glen Francis says the 60-year-old Mountain Top souvenir shop and tavern was reduced to rubble early Tuesday on the island of St. Thomas.

Francis says the Mountain Top was already engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived and it took crews four hours to douse the wind-whipped blaze.

The tavern 1,547 feet (471 meters) above sea level is recommended in Caribbean guide books as a place to buy knicknacks and down banana cocktails while taking in views of outlying islands.

Investigators would not speculate on what caused the fire.

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