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Published:Sunday | June 22, 2014 | 6:00 AM
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BLAINE
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CVC rejects claims that ghost groups helped to oust Bain

The human-rights group Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) Coalition is scoffing at questions about the authenticity of some of the 35 groups whose combined pressure forced the University of the West Indies (UWI) to oust Professor Brendan Bain as head of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network.

"They are all real. They all exist and they are all operating," Dr Carolyn Gomes, executive director of CVC, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"If you check the media across the region, you will see a lot of these groups mentioned as having received government funds and participating in government programmes in their own particular regions," added Gomes, as she responded to questions from our news team, which was having difficulties finding some of the groups.

Gomes provided email and telephone contacts for all 35 groups, but even then, there was difficulty in reaching some of the less prominent ones.

BLAINE NOT SURPRISED

Children-rights activist Betty Ann Blaine is not surprised at the difficulty in finding some of the groups, as she declared that she was hearing of some of the groups for the first time.

"As a 32-year-plus member of the non-governmental organisation community, there are organisations listed that I have never heard about," declared Blaine.

"It appears as if one-third of the organisations don't really exist and are not registered or staffed. If the basis and premise for the dismissal of Professor Bain is faulty, then the conclusion must be faulty. It appears as if much of this was trumped up," added Blaine.

Other critics of the CVC indicated that they had identified only 28 of the groups, 16 of which, they claim, were primarily involved in defending the rights of the gay community.

But in countering these charges, Gomes said since being approached by The Sunday Gleaner, she has contacted every signatory of the letter demanding Bain's removal.

"I believe that you will understand that because of the virulent and ugly homophobia, stigma and discrimination that exist - which is often expressed not only in hateful and hurtful words, but as acts of violence - some groups prefer not to have public Facebook pages or websites," Gomes said, as she sought to explain why some of the groups could not readily be found.

Gomes and the CVC offered to assist our news team in making contact with the groups after links provided to our news team failed.

While groups such as the vocal Jamaicans for Justice and the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays were easily identifiable, others across the region appeared to have steered clear of the radar.

The given phone numbers for groups such as the Guyana Sex Workers Coalition (found online as Guyana Sex Work Coalition) appears to be disconnected, while calls to the Jamaica-based Women for Women were directed to voicemail.

However, an email address provided to The Sunday Gleaner by CVC for the Guyana-based group resulted in a response, which stated that it has been in existence since 2008, with 200 registered members of the more than 1,000 sex workers on its books.

Meeting Emotional and Social Needs Holistically is another of the 35 groups, and when contacted, its point man confirmed that it exists, but said he was not in a position to speak at the time.

Our news team ventured into the inner-city community of Hannah Town in west Kingston in search of the Hannah Town Parenting Group, but none of the residents in the populous community knew of the entity.

Calls to the St Lucia-based AIDS Action Foundation elicited a telephone recording that said "technical difficulties" were being experienced.

In Grenada, Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe, the contact person for Groundation Grenada, verified that her organisation, a multi-discipline group, existed. She listed four directors based in Grenada and the Caribbean diaspora, with a membership of 25 persons, and said it operates with a heavy reliance on volunteerism.

FOLLOWING DISCUSSIONS

Brooks-Smith-Lowe said the group focuses on political issues, health care and gender equality, among other burning issues. She said the group thought there was basis for Bain's dismissal and it was closely following the discussions in the island, describing it as "important".

There is no stated location for the Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities as the document listed the country as Caribbean. However, contact person Colin Robinson told The Sunday Gleaner that secretariat was located in Trinidad and Tobago, with offices in Jamaica; St Lucia; and the Dominican Republic.

Just under a third, or 11, of the 35 groups are said to be based in Jamaica. Six are reportedly in Guyana, and three based in Trinidad and Tobago and St Lucia.

"Those who work regionally on the HIV response, such as UWI and PANCAP (Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV & AIDS), don't doubt the existence of all the groups because they took on board their concerns and responded and acted," argued Gomes.

She pointed out that some groups are smaller than others, just as some islands are smaller than others.

"Some have Facebook blogs rather than websites, some are bigger coalitions with other groups," she added.

"The challenge of standing up for human rights and dignity for all in these homophobic and violent Caribbean nations is real, and leaders in every field must be mindful of the consequences of their words and deeds," said Gomes.

Bain is now before the courts challenging his dismissal from the CHART Network.