at the top
Moment of Glory: Ten years after his record 375 against England, Brian Lara returned to Antigua. The circumstances were different this time: West Indies had been walloped 3-0, and Lara himself, by now 34 and captain, was under intense pressure to avert an unthinkable whitewash by England. On April 12, 2004 at the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG), with barely a false stroke the master run-getter salvaged some West Indian pride by becoming the first cricketer to regain the top spot, hitting 43 fours and four sixes in his tally of 400 runs, to reclaim the record taken from him last October by Australian Matthew Hayden. No other batsman, save Sir Donald Bradman has passed 300 runs twice in Test cricket. Lara's quadruple century has set the new batting record in Test.
In picture, at the ARG, Lara takes the final run that raised the bar once and for all.
Inset, the runs machine, Brian Lara, celebrates.
Multi-million $$ gas strike ends
By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo Caribbean World
Port-of-Spain - It took the resignation of Larry Achong as labour minister, the loss of (Can) $48 million and the threat of hundreds of job losses for the 10-week strike at the multi-billion dollar liquid natural gas plant in Point Fortin to come to an end.
More than 1,400 non-unionised workers employed by sub-contractors at Train Four of Atlantic LNG's plant in Point Fortin, about an hour's drive south west of San Fernando, downed tools in early March in protest of higher wages and better working conditions.
The strike officially ended on April 16 after the main contractor Bechtel International, ALNG officials and union leaders met with Dr Lenny Saith, Minister of Public Administration and Information. Workers were back on their jobs on Monday.
Non-unionised workers will get increases in allowances and base wages of up to 22 percent as well as share in a (Can) $3.1 million on time/early completion bonus. A four percent increase in the base wage, due in July, was also brought forward for immediate payment on the resumption of work.
The workers were demanding an increase in their hourly wages from (Can) $4.50-$6 to $7.50-$8.75.
In early April the workers rejected Bechtel's proposal of what striking leaders said represented an increase of 72 cents and 50 cents.
Earnest Thompson, spokesman for the protesting workers, said on April 1 that workers had interpreted Bechtel's early offer as only a (Can) $.50 cent increase across the board when they were demanding 36 percent.
The ruling PNM made a promise during the 2001 election campaign to increase the wages of construction workers in the heavy energy sector.
Atlantic LNG ships about 9.6 million tones of LNG annually, three-quarters of which go to the US. The fourth train will add 5.2 million tonnes of capacity.
"That's an insult to us," said Ancil Roget, Trinmar branch president, on April 5.
The strike ended a day after sub-contractors complained they were hurting financially, had lost more than (Can) $48 million and workers stood to lose their jobs if the protest continued. ALNG says the Incremental labour costs arising out of the enhancements will amount to some (Can) $22 million
In the first week of April, Bechtel sent home more than 100 administration staff, engineers and others because it was unable to continue paying them.
Two weeks before the strike began workers were told by Achong, Member of Parliament for Point Fortin, that he had their support for a sectoral wage increase, which raised eyebrows among political observers about a major break in rank within Cabinet.
Achong told them he had taken to Cabinet months before a note seeking a sectoral wage, but no decision was made on it.
Six weeks into the strike, Achong resigned and officially joined ranks with the workers and their union leaders.
Attempts were made by Prime Minister Patrick Manning, People's National Movement general council executives John Donaldson and Joan Yuille-Williams to negotiate with Achong to return to office, but to no avail. Achong, a former mayor of Point Fortin and Industrial Court judge, declared that he was going fishing in Tobago and he was going to set himself up as a labour consultant in two months' time.
Achong accused the government of using the army and police to intimidate striking workers after they turned up at the plant last month. National Security Minister Martin Joseph and senior police officers responded that soldiers and police were only sent to the strike camp at the request of Atlantic LNG officials.
It was widely perceived that Achong's public parting with the government, though not the ruling PNM, was instigated by legal action his common-law wife, Marlene Coudray, filed against Manning in her protest against being moved as chief executive officer at the San Fernando City Corporation to the Point Fortin Regional Corporation. The acrimony between Manning and Coudray was said to have been caused by Coudray's refusal to do favours for friends of the PNM.
She won her fight in court. Achong was by her side as they walked out of the Hall of Justice hand-in-hand.
Coudray, who denied her husband's decision to resign from the government had anything to do with her legal action, has retained her job at the San Fernando City Corporation.
For much of two weeks, Manning underplayed Achong's resignation saying until he accepted Achong's resignation, Achong remained as Labour Minister. When it was clear that the burly Point Fortin MP was not to be swayed, Manning, in a Cabinet reshuffle, replaced Achong with Anthony Roberts, formerly a junior minister in the Ministry of National Security.
Manning made personal appeals to striking workers to return to work. He visited the camp site on April 14 and addressed the workers, but Manning and Achong's successor, Roberts, were booed.
Their pleas were deafened by workers shouting, "We want we money" and "Let ALNG leave the country."
Workers loudly threw their support behind Achong in Roberts' presence, leading to speculation of a reconciliation between himself (Achong) and Manning.
An April 15 Newsday front page photograph showed Manning and Achong greeting one another with a vigorous handshake and ear-to-ear grins.
Manning told workers: "This strike has gone on long enough. Ten weeks is enough. National interest dictates that this matter be brought to an end expeditiously and a situation of normalcy return to the construction site at Point Fortin."
Manning said the government had leaned on the company Bechtel in a number of indirect and direct ways because it felt workers had a point.
According to an April 15 Reuters article on Forbes.com's Website, Manning said the strike could have hurt a major marketing campaign for Trinidad and Tobago, an energy-rich southern Caribbean nation that is lobbying for the headquarters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Trinidad and Tobago is competing against other major cities, among them Miami, Houston and Panama City.
"The strike has not put the (best) face on Trinidad and Tobago at a time when we are embarking on a major marketing effort, marketing Trinidad and Tobago as a stable democracy in the western hemisphere with a strategic location," Manning said.
Among those who resisted a sectoral minimum wage for workers of Train Four of Atlantic LNG was Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams. Williams, in expressing a personal view, said if the workers deserved a salary increase then it should be done through the collective bargaining process rather than a sectoral minimum wage.
Williams, an economist, said on April 2 that in the previous oil boom, there was pressure for wages to get out of line with productivity. He said that wages then moved from six, seven and eight percent to 15 and 20 percent of average wages in the country.
There has also been a fear of inflation. Williams said that food prices rose by 13.8 percent in 2003 compared to 4.2 per cent in 2002.
Whereabouts of missing Iranian still unknown
Georgetown ó Police are yet to come up with any leads to the mysterious kidnapping on April 2nd of the Director of the International Islamic College for Advanced Studies (IICAS), Mohamed Hussein Ibrahim.
Ibrahim was dragged from his car in a violent bullet ridden, well-organized kidnapping that has the police baffled. The recently trained anti-kidnapping squad, headed by Assistant Superintendent Watts, has been deployed to track down Ibrahim and has conducted several raids in search of the Muslim scholar.
Raymond Halley, another IICAS official was shot in his right instep during the kidnapping but managed to flee the scene. He was the one who broke the news to Ibrahim's eight-month pregnant wife, Shanaz.
No ransom demands have been made. Ibrahimís wife who still occupies their Anira Street home has said that the police has offered her little information and she is worried sick over her husband's disappearance.
Shanaz says her husband was mugged about a year ago near Stabroek Market but apart from that incident had not been troubled. She could not understand why the men would take him since he had nothing against anybody.
Meanwhile Iran's Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, has expressed concern about the abduction of the Iranian cleric. In a release by the Agence France Presse the Iranian Minister told his Guyanese counterpart "We are worried about the kidnapping of an Iranian religious scholar and researcher in Guyana. We want the necessary action to be taken to release him as soon as possible and for the abductors to be prosecuted."
The anti-kidnappinf squad raided and interrogated staff members of the ISA Islamic School in East Street, Georgetown, in what proved to be a futile search for the abducted Iranian, this action was condemned by the Guyana Islamic Trust (GIT), officials denied a rift in the Sunni/Shite populations and condemned both the police raid and the kidnappers of Ibrahim.