St. John, Virgin Islands, Caribbean & Global Articles of Interest

St. John Article

The Island of St. John, Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean Ocean and consist of the Islands of St.John, St Croix and St.Thomas. The islands are part of an archipelago that also includes a number of smaller and predominantly uninhabited islands. St. John enjoys sunshine throughout the year and an average temperature that rarely dips below 20°C.

St. John is particularly popular in the winter as it provides a warm refuge from the bitter winter weather in the northern hemisphere. Much of the island is a National Park; protecting most of its stunning natural beauty from development. Hiking activities are extremely popular as the island can be traversed in a single day.

The undeveloped nature of St. John allows for a number of walkways and footpaths through the centre of the island. Visitors can book expert guides to lead the way and point out natural features of special interest. Hiking trails are graded in accordance with their difficulty so that people can select one that suits their fitness level.

Most visitors will stay in Cruz Bay which is the island’s main town. There are a number of excellent hotels in the area as well as some fantastic restaurants serving locally-caught fresh fish.

Diving is a particularly popular pastime on St. John and Cruz Bay is home to several diving schools and stores. Visitors can take a few lessons before exploring the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. The Coral Reef at Hawksnest Bay is perhaps the biggest diving attraction in the whole of the Virgin Islands and is home to hundreds of species of tropical fish.

The town is also the base for most of the Island’s tour companies. Safari tours take people on a journey around the National Park and visit areas of natural beauty as well as some ancient man-made ruins.

Staying on the island is cheaper than many people think. The large campsite at Cinnamon Bay allows people to legally pitch a tent for a very reasonable nightly fee. Hotels on St.John are quite expensive; however, most offer luxurious accommodation and the very best of service. The island has no airport meaning visitors have to fly into the airport in St. Thomas and catch one of the regular ferry services to St.John.

A holiday on the Isle of St. John is perfect for large groups and families. The island’s many beaches are perfect for people who want to relax in the sun. The hiking and cycling trails are perfect for people who enjoy staying active while on on holiday. The abundance of bars and restaurants in Cruz Bar will keep the party-lovers happy for the duration of a stay. There really is something for everyone on the Isle of St.John

Exploding the Expolsives in Vieques

Exploding the Explosives in Vieques

The US Navy is cleaning up the unexploded bombs and other
ordnance left behind after decades of using the island as a target and weapons testing area. It is believed that the bombings and the presence of heavy metals and toxic materials including depleted uranium has caused Vieques to have a much higher cancer rate than anywhere else in Puerto Rico, despite Vieques’s lack of traffic congestion and heavy industry.

The way the Navy is effecting the cleanup, however flies in the face of common sense. They are piling up the bombs and explosive devices and then exploding them in the open air, while the population centers of Isabel Segunda and Esperanza lie just several miles downwind.

In the following communiqué Robert Rabin speaking for the Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques (CDRDV) reports:

“In spite of consistent denunciations against the open air detonation of bombs in the military practice zones of Vieques, the US Navy continues tons of bombs and explosive devices, thereby further spreading toxic materials and contaminating the environment on Vieques.

The CDRDV demands the use closed detonations for the cleanup process, as they are doing on several closed military bases within the United States.”

Brief Notes for Tourists Coming to Vieques

Brief Notes for Tourists Coming
to Vieques

Below we include an article about Vieques from the NY Times.
Among the many “tourism” articles, this one at least
mentions the damages caused by the US Navy and the consequences
of decades of bombing and other military practices on our environment.
(“…The Navy left behind toxic asbestos, lead, mercury,
nitrates and depleted uranium — not to mention toxic
feelings among some locals…”)

The CRDV is not opposed to tourism nor to articles on the
topic. In fact, we recognize tourism as a crucial element in
the future social-economic development of the island. What
is unacceptable, however, is that the majority of the articles
principally support hotels and other tourist businesses in
foreign hands here. Also, most of the texts that promote Vieques
tourism describe our island as a ‘paradise’, a great ‘reserve’
or protected zone’, under the care of agencies like the Federal
Fish and Wildlife Service. Actually, just like under military
control, the major part of the lands now in the hands of FWS
are restricted due to dangers from unexploded ordnance. And
another part of Vieques historic reality is that the FWS and
the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, both charged with
conserving and decontamination Vieques, were accomplices in
its destruction: neither the FWS nor the EPA took any action
whatsoever during the decades the US Navy, arms manufacturers
and foreign militaries invited by the US Navy, launched millions
of pounds of explosives from jets, ships, tanks, helicopters,
bazookas, mortars and used every type of conventional weapon,
practiced for chemical warfare and fired radioactive rounds
on Vieques (depleted uranium).

Traveling to Vieques implies something of a responsibility:
at the least, visitors should know something about these historic
realities of our island.

We do not at all wish to create an environment of fear that
could have a negative impact on tourism. We want tourists to
come to Vieques. We also want tourists to know about the destruction
caused by the military practices and the horrid effects this
has had on the environment and the health of our families.
When we talk about high levels of cancer and other illnesses
related to military toxics, this is not to scare the tourists.
Our concerns
have to do with long term exposure, over years, by our people,
to heavy metals and other dangerous elements left from military

No tourists are gonna get sick from this contamination during
a vacation of days or weeks… unless they inhale some uranium
oxide or step on an unexploded bomb walking around the east
end or while diving, etc. Generally, tourists have nothing
to fear in terms of health.. as long as they control intake
of Medalla (beer) and Piña Coladas.

But it is very important that tourists who visit us have the
opportunity to know the horrors of half century of military
presence and activity on Vieques; the socio-economic crisis
produced by Navy expropriations in the 1940’s; violence against
women from sailors on leave during the Korean and Vietnam was,
and more recently; the death of Mapepe Christian, Vieques shop
owner kicked to death by drunken marines in Destino en 1952,
is a historic point visitors to Vieques should know to understand
a bit more the collective mentality of our community and to
have the opportunity to arrive here with humility before delighting
in our beautiful beaches.

In addition to the glamorous articles in tourism magazines
and adds from hotels and travel agencies, Vieques has a long
history of struggle and resistance that could add a very interesting
element in the preparations for a visit to our ‘paradise’.


Long Time Clean up for Vieques

Long Time Clean up for Vieques

Diario la Prensa: 25 Noember 2007
(English translation by CRDV; article Asoc. Press 25 Nov.)

The clean up of contamiantion caused on Vieques soil by nearly
60 years of military practices could take more than a decade,
according to the director of the EPA in Puerto Rico and the
Caribbean, Carl Axel Soderberg.

Although he warned it is still unknown how long it will take
and how much it will cost to do the work on the island municipality,
the official remembered the case of the Hawaiian island of
Kaholawe – smaller than Vieques – where authorities needed
more than ten years at a cost of over 900 million dollars to
remove military contamination there.

“We will not know the cost of cleanup because it happens
in stages. It’s going to take a very long time to clean the
East end of Vieques”,
Soderberg said in a radio interview (WPUC). Soderberg indicated,
also, that clean up
cannot begin until all the unexploded ordnance still being
found in the area used as a bombing range by the US Navy have
been detonated.

“The detonation continues of all the live munitions found
and, until this is finished, we cannot begin the clean up phase,
as is done traditionally at Superfund Sites,” sustained

“Until now, the detonation of explosives and studies
begun when the Navy left in May of 2003 have a cost of 70 million
dollars, and we still don’t know when this phase will end,
since more live munitions and bombs than expected continue
to appear,” admitted Soderberg. He assured
that as part of the elimination of munitions, aire monitors
were installed and that no abnormal contamination levels have
been registered to date. It is expected that in March details
of the clean up phase for the bombing range will be

“In September an public announcement called for comments
on the protocol to follow for Vieques decontamination. The
comment period ended last week, EPA, Interior Department, PR
Environmental Quality Board have to evaluate the comments and
decide on modifications to the plan”,
he said. On Friday, the Committee for the Rescue and Development
of Vieques asked for more time to react to the agreement between
Puerto Rican and federal government agencies about the clean
up and decontamination process on Vieques.

Robert Rabin, spokesperson for the Committee, described as
‘very incorrect, innapropriate’ that this agreement has been
prepared without Vieques community participation.

The project manager for the decontamination of Vieques for
the EPA, Daniel Rodríguez, did not reject possibilities
for extending the period that closed on November 13.

The Navy left Vieques in 2003 after a campaign of protests
provoked by the death of a Viequense civilian security guard
killed by two errant bombs in 1999.

The Navy began its Vieques training in 1948 after expropriating
lands for which it paid 53 dollars an acre to begin war exercises
that exposed residents to the horrendous explosions.



Vieques, A Photographically Illustrated Guide to the Island, Its History and Culture serves both as a coffee table book and guide to the beaches, towns and places to visit on the island including, of course, the not-to-missed Bioluminescent Bay…

 Described by Roberto Rabin, curator of the Vieques Museum, Conde de Mirasol, as “graphic, mysterious and beautiful,” Vieques
is also a guide to the beaches, towns and places of interest on the island including the famous Bioluminescent Bay.


Price $24.95 Usually ships next business day.


A Vieques Classic by Pedro Juan Soto…still we must single out one novel, without which no outsider can ever hope to have an inkling as to what makes Vieques tick, USMAÍL… Vieques Times

“Before Vieques became a cause celebre for Al Sharpton, Edward James Olmos, Bobby Kennedy Jr, et el, there was USMAÍL…Now for the first time USMAÍL is appearing in an English-language edition making what is considered a Puerto Rican literary classic available to a wider audience of English readers”…San Juan Star.

USMAILClick here for more information

Price $19.95 buy now Usually ships next business day

Military pollution and natural purity: seeing nature and knowing contamination in Vieques Puerto Rico

Pedro Juan Soto’s Classic Vieques Novel, an interview with the translators, Charlie Connelly and Myrna Pagán, by Katherine T McCaffrey

General Articles

The Banking Implosion

The Banking Implosion

I’m sure by now you all have noticed the ongoing meltdown
in the mortgage industry. The cause of this whole mess is a
little bit complicated, rooted in both the structure of the
mortgage industry, and human nature. I’ll try to explain
both factors here in layman’s terms.

How does the mortgage industry work? Most of you have seen
the ever present ads for mortgages, promising low payments,
and low interest rates and no income checks required. Seems
a little fishy and too good to be true, right? Well, for the
most part it is. Let’s go through the whole loan process,
from start to finish. In a perfect world, this is how it works.

a loan is originated. This is the part the consumer sees. You
deal with a loan officer and a bank or broker who takes your
application, and presents the loan programs available to you.
You pick the program you want, and then your file is submitted
to underwriting. The underwriter approves the loans subject
to a list of conditions and you will work with the processor
and the loan officer to get them. You need to get an appraisal,
document your income and credit history, and perhaps show some
assets. When all the conditions are met, you are allowed to
close, and you either get the house of your dreams, or are
able to refinance your previous mortgage.
This is as far as most people have ever seen, but it’s
only the beginning of the fun. Where did the bank get the money
to lend you? Most mortgage banks work with something called
a warehouse line of credit. They actually borrow the money
they lend you. Then, the bank will take your loan, lump it
together with a bunch of other loans and sell it to investors.
This is called securitization. Your mortgage has now become
part of someone’s investment portfolio somewhere. The
bank takes the money it got from selling your mortgage and
pays back the warehouse line of credit, and ideally has something
left over for profit. If a bank makes a $100,000 loan to you,
it would like to turn around and sell it to investors for $103,000
or more. This is why banks like to charge higher rates, because
an investor may decide that the $100,000 is worth $101,000
if it returns 6.5%, but is worth $105,000 if it returns 7%.
The higher the rate they charge you, the more the bank can
sell your loan for. There’s a lot more to it then this,
but this is a good enough understanding for now.

How do investors
decide how much to pay? They analyze the risk of the loans
and require higher returns for riskier loans. They know there
will be defaults, but they will make up the difference on the
loans that do perform at higher rates. If you have an 800 credit
score and make a ton of money and have half a million in the
bank, an investor will consider you very safe and not require
a high rate of return. If you have a 510 credit score, can’t
document your income and have a history of missing mortgage
payments, how will a bank get someone to by your mortgage?
Easy, they will charge you a rate so high that even though
it is risky, someone will be willing to take the risk. That
is called subprime lending. Most subprime loans started with
fixed rates for the first 2 or 3 years, and then adjust upwards
by 3 or more points. Payments can jump by hundreds of dollars.

what broke down? Simply put, things went too far. Borrowers
wanted more cash out or bigger homes, so took out loans that
they would not be able to afford later. Banks kept writing
these loans because they are very profitable and they pushed
the risk off onto the investors who bought the loans. This
was an unsustainable cycle.
Here’s a typical story. A gentleman named Charlie I recently
talked to told me that he had been living in his home for about
20 years, but 2 years ago, he ran into some financial hardship
and decided to take out a mortgage to pay for all his unexpected
medical bills. His broker put him into a subprime mortgage,
explaining that since he needed to borrow 95% of the value
of his home, subprime would be best. I don’t know if
that was true or not, since I didn’t see his credit and
income 2 years ago, but it really doesn’t matter for
this story. In order to get the value he needed, the broker
pressured the appraiser to inflate the value. Instead of the
home being valued at $170,000, the value was inflated to $190,000.
This allowed Charlie to take out a mortgage for $180,500, or
95% Loan to Value (LTV). He knew he was borrowing more then
his home was worth, but he figured that in 2 years, his home
would be worth enough to refinance again. On top of that, he
took an interest only mortgage to keep his payment lower. The
initial interest rate was 7.5%, which gave him a monthly payment
of about $1,128. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. Housing prices
in Charlie’s area stagnated, so his home is not really
worth any more now then it was two years ago. On top of that,
the 2/28 adjustable rate mortgage he took out recently jumped
3 full points in rate, and the interest only period ended.
Now, Charlie is stuck in a mortgage where the payment jumped
from $1128, all the way up to almost $1,700. What can he do
now? He can’t refinance because he owes more then his
home is worth. He is quickly going through his saving because
he can’t afford the mortgage payments. How long before
he loses his home? This story is much more common then most
people realize.
Notice the jump in the foreclosure rate? That’s what
happens when people are in mortgages they can’t afford
that they should probably not have been offered in the first

Investors of course noticed this, and decided that the
subprime market was a bit too risky for them and won’t
buy those mortgages anymore. A lot of banks were stuck with
loans that they made, owing the warehouse money, and were unable
to sell the loans they made for even face value. That $100,000
loan from a few paragraphs ago is now only worth $85,000 to
the investor. The bank has now LOST $15,000 on the loan. Multiple
this by several hundred loans, and now we are short one bankrupt
mortgage bank. Now, the warehouse lender takes a hit, and gets
more conservative. They may refuse to lend to other subprime
lenders to avoid taking more losses. This is part of the liquidity
issue we are hearing about, and has caused a number of lenders
to shut down. If a subprime lender can’t borrower the
money from a warehouse line, they can’t lend it to you.
I’ve actually seen a couple of loans be declined in the
last 2 weeks because of this issue. Major lenders like New
Century, Fremont, BNC, American Home Mortgage and many others
have now stopped originating new loans.

What happens to the
investors that own the defaulting mortgages? We are already
starting to see an increase in hedge funds collapsing, and
a large percentage of subprime mortgages have been repackaged
and sold to investors, including American, Chinese and Europeans.
With some fancy financial footwork, B grade securities were
repackaged, bundled and sold as A grade paper. Someone will
be left holding the bag, but I’m not sure who quite yet.
There are billions yet to be lost, maybe hundreds of billions.

is the net effect of this? Investors are running away from
the risky loans and rushing to the safe ones. Subprime loans
are almost non-existent now, and rates have shot up on jumbo
and Alt-A loans, which are for good credit people who can’t
document their income. Meanwhile, rates on the least risky
loans, the so called prime or conventional loans, are dropping.
These are the loans made to people with good credit, who can
document their income to qualify, and are borrowing less the
80% of the value of their homes. Investors are rushing to safety.
The other sector of the mortgage industry that I know is doing
well is the FHA sector. These loans are insured by the Federal
Housing Authority (FHA) and are considered safer. FHA is replacing
subprime, since the loans are not dependant on credit score,
but on documentable income and payment history. I’ve
seen borrowers with credit scores well below 500 get mortgages
that are 30 year fixed rates and below 7% interest. And these
are the rule, not the exception.

I haven’t gone into specifics here and I’ve glossed
over a lot of details. There are many more loan programs that
are risky that I haven’t covered. There are intricacies
I felt would just bore most readers, and I wanted to keep this
short and readable.

If you are in an adjustable rate, I urge
you to look into getting into a fixed rate now. I really don’t
know where things will be a year from now, and if housing prices
continue to drop, next year may be too late to refinance. If
you have any questions, please email me at
I will gladly answer any questions you may have and point you
in the right direction to get yourself on a better financial
footing going forward. Be proactive. Don’t wait until
you are drowning to look for the shore.

If you want to keep up on what is going on inside the mortgage
industry, check out They post news articles
every day related to the ongoing mortgage industry trouble,
and they even have their implode-o-meter counting the number
of subprime lenders that have gone out of business. Dark humor,
sure, but very informative.

Aaron Parker

United States Invasion of Grenada

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