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Caribbean news briefs

CARIBBEAN: Scientists say region's seas spared widespread coral bleaching damage this year
/ Source: The Associated Press

CARIBBEAN: Scientists say region's seas spared widespread coral bleaching damage this year

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Lower-than-feared sea temperatures this summer gave a break to fragile coral reefs across the Caribbean and the central Gulf of Mexico that were damaged in recent years, scientists said Thursday.

Unusually warm water in recent years has caused the animals that make up coral to expel the colorful algae they live with, creating a bleached color. If the problem persists, the coral itself dies — killing the environment where many fish and other marine organisms live.

"We dodged a bullet this year. The good news is that temperatures didn't get quite warm enough for there to be a large-scale bleaching problem," said C. Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch network. He was among scientists gathered in Puerto Rico's capital for a meeting of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.

The worst coral bleaching in the region's recorded history occurred in 2005, when hot seas caused bleaching of as much as 90 percent of corals in the eastern Caribbean, with more than half of that dying.

In July, the Coral Reef Watch network warned that high temperatures this year might lead to severe coral problems because sea surface temperatures in parts of the Caribbean were unusually hot.

Eakin said the threat had passed for 2009, since temperatures are now cooling, but the problem could return.

"We're seeing little signs of coral recovery in the Caribbean, where the damage has been like a ratchet wrench clicking down and staying there," Eakin said. "Temperatures could be severe enough next year."

Some coral bleaching was recorded this year in the Cayman Islands, according to Eakin and scientists in the British Caribbean dependency.

PUERTO RICO: Singer caught at bar during shootout dies, death toll at least 8

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A shootout at a Puerto Rico bar has claimed another victim: the singer who was about to perform before gunmen burst in.

Toa Baja Mayor Anibal Vega Borges tells radio station WKAQ that singer Tina Marie Rodriguez Otero had two heart attacks before she died on Wednesday.

She had been in critical condition since the Oct. 17 shooting. At least eight people have now died and a woman who was pregnant also lost her 8-month-old fetus. The 17 injured include a 9-year-old girl.

Police have said a dispute over drug trafficking prompted the shootout during a party to celebrate the reopening of La Tombola bar and grocery store.

Federal authorities recently arrested owner Wilfredo Semprit Santana on drug trafficking charges.

US VIRGIN ISLANDS: Governor signs into law 30-year deal with owners of Cruzan Rum

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) — The governor of the Virgin Islands has signed into a law a 30-year revenue deal with the owners of locally produced Cruzan Rum, which has a heritage on St. Croix dating to the 18th century.

Gov. John DeJongh signed the economic development pact into law on Thursday. The partnership with Cruzan was approved by the legislature on Oct. 27.

Under the 30-year deal, the islands' government will share the cost of molasses, a critical ingredient in rum production, as it has for the past several decades.

It will also continue to invest a portion of tax revenues generated from rum to promote local brands and will provide financing for construction of a wastewater plant to boost capacity of Cruzan's St. Croix distillery.

CUBA: EU commissioner says gov't should offer gestures to show it's serious about human rights

HAVANA (AP) — The European Union's development commissioner wants Cuba to show signs it's serious about protecting fundamental human rights.

Karel De Gucht met with Raul Castro while wrapping up a three-day visit to Cuba and says he held "open, frank and constructive" talks with several top Cuban officials.

He said Wednesday night that the "position of the EU is not regime change," but that "on Cuba's part, dialogue implies gestures be made on universal human rights."

The island's communist government wants the EU to scrap its "common position" calling for a transition to democracy and better human rights guarantees in Cuba.

Relations between the island and the EU are improving after five years of tension over Cuba's human rights record.

JAMAICA: Islanders find ice slippery on way to Vancouver

By The Associated Press

More than two decades later, the story hasn't changed for the fabled Jamaican bobsled team.

A handful of young men from the Caribbean island nation, all physically blessed with speed and power, embark on an Olympic odyssey. Unable to quickly fulfill their quest in athletics, they put their disdain for ice and snow aside and become intrigued by bobsledding, where a lack of funding and access to the right equipment impede their progress and threaten to derail their hopes.

You've heard this before, right?

Only this isn't the Disney movie that offered a somewhat-fictionalized version of the 1988 Jamaican team and its path to the Calgary Games. This is very real for a new generation of Jamaican sledders, a group that cringes at any "Cool Runnings" parallels and insist that not only are they serious about their sport — but that maybe, just maybe, they're good enough to surprise at the Vancouver Olympics.

"People do not understand: This is my passion. This is our passion," said Hannukkah Wallace, the team's driver. "I really want to get an Olympic medal. It's all I've ever wanted. I really, really, really need it."

"I think a lot of people might believe that it's sort of an amusement park ride to the Olympics," said Stephen Samuels, who represents the Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation. "I don't know how to describe it to you, other than this. This is their life. They are serious athletes."

Indeed, these guys run in some serious circles.

For starters, at a recent commercial shoot for Puma, Wallace and pushman Marvin Dixon tried to get a certain old athletics friend of theirs into the bobsled.

No chance — Olympic hero Usain Bolt turned them down flat.

"We asked him," said Dixon, who was a 400- and 800-meter runner in Jamaica before becoming a sledder. "He just said, 'Cold. No.'"