The Naughties are over. The decade of the Tens – or whatever people end up calling it – has begun.
The decade encompassed 10 years of significant change and big news in the Cayman Islands.
The stories that follow reflect the top 10 news stories between 1 January, 2000 and 31 December 2009 based on their overall impact on the people of these islands.
The stories aren’t ranked; but rather listed in chronological order from a date of a critical moment when something happened to make the story big.
1) Politricks take centre stage
– 5 November, 2001
When it comes to politics, the Naughties will be known as decade of bitter acrimony between opposing political sides and when political parties became a recognised institution.
On Monday 5 November, Executive Council Member McKeeva Bush announced the formation of the United Democratic Party, naming 10 of the 15 members of the Legislative Assembly as founding members. Bush also announced that the new party intended to change the make up of the Executive Council and that he was to assume the position of Leader of Government Business.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and Executive Council Member Edna Moyle were given the choice of either resigning from their positions or facing a vote of no-confidence in the House. The two chose the latter.
Governor Peter Smith recognised the new political party and acknowledged that its members represented a clear majority of the Legislative Assembly.
Three days later, backbench MLA Rolston Anglin brought the motion that sent Tibbetts and Moyle to the opposition and elevated Gilbert McLean and Frank McField to the Executive Council.
In 2002, the People’s Progressive Movement formed, giving the Cayman Islands two ongoing political parties. In the two elections that took place after that during the decade, only two candidates not associated with one Cayman’s political parties were victorious in their races. Political parties were here to stay.
The animosities arising from what became known as “the coup” were evident in the Legislative Assembly for the rest of the decade. Nine Members of the Legislative Assembly from 2001 remain members today, ensuring the bitterness continues.
The decade featured five different governments, starting with one led by Truman Bodden. Tibbetts and Bush then both held the title leader of government business twice before Bush became the Cayman Islands’ first premier.
2) Euro Bank strains relationships
– 14 January 2003
A long ordeal for four Cayman Islands residents ended on 14 January 2003 when the foreman of the jury in the Euro Bank trial announced “not guilty” with respect to all charges for defendants Donald Stewart, Brian Cunha, Ivan Burges and Judi Donegan.
The four former bank employees had been charged with money laundering in 2000. In 1999, Euro Bank was ordered closed following the arrest of an American charged with a $45 million credit card fraud scheme, which allegedly used the Cayman bank to launder the money.
The seven-month trial collapsed when Cayman Islands Attorney General David Ballantyne decided to abandon the prosecution’s case.
The stunning conclusion to the case came after the discovery of details in the case that read like a spy novel.
It turned out that the chief investigator of the case for the Cayman Financial Reporting Unit, a former Metropolitan Police detective named Brian Gibbs, was also an agent for the British Secret Intelligence Service known as MI6. Gibbs used a mole in Euro Bank named Edward Warwick, who was given the code name ‘Warlock’ by MI6, to gather intelligence on Euro Bank in an operation code-named Operation Victory.
The case began to unravel when the court learned the link between Gibbs and Warwick had not been disclosed to the defence. In addition, it was discovered that Gibbs had been ordered by MI6 to destroy evidence pertinent to the case because it linked the secret agency to Gibbs. When MI6 attempted to reconstruct the destroyed evidence, with its connection to case redacted, it contradicted testimony given earlier by Gibbs. Chief Justice Anthony Smellie eventually found that the prosecution was complicit in the effort to hide the MI6 link to the case, and tconcealed some evidence relevant to the trial.
Given the circumstances, Ballantyne told the court he had “no choice but to discontinue these proceedings in order to maintain the integrity of the Crown”.
Gibbs was whisked away by the UK government because of “potential risk to his personal safety” and Ballantyne resigned – with a severance package worth £230,000 – after Cayman’s top elected officials refused to sit with him in Executive Council.
The trial made many in Cayman’s government and judiciary suspicious of the UK, undermining the relationship between Britain and the territory.
3) Can you hear me now? Telecom monopoly ends
– 10 July 2003
Drive through central George Town these days and you’ll likely count dozens of people walking, driving, sitting or standing while talking on their mobile telephones. This was something you wouldn’t have seen at the beginning of the decade, for the simple reason that talking on the cell phone was too expensive.
That all changed, or at least began to change, on 10 July 2003, when the government signed a new licence agreement with Cable & Wireless that ended a 37-year-old monopoly for the provision of telecommunications service in the Cayman Islands.
Almost immediately Digicel became a significant competitor to Cable and Wireless in the mobile telephone market, and TeleCayman would gain a strong foothold as the years went by. Prices dropped, product offerings widened, and service became better.
At the beginning of the decade, mobile telephones were used mostly by well-paid adults, but now they are used by everyone, including children.
Mobile telephones went from a means of short communications to one with major implications for business and social interaction.
While the early years of liberalisation were marked with lots of marketing gimmicks, the service providers cut back on the practice, especially when the economy turned bad late in the decade.
The economies of competition forced Cable & Wireless to make difficult changes, including several reductions of staff. In 2008, the company changed its name to LIME as part of a regional re-branding to get away from its old image.
4) Status grants divide community
– 2 January 2004
In 2001, Grand Court Judge Henry Graham put an end to the 11-year moratorium on grants of Caymanian Status and put in motion a course of action by the United Democratic Party that would rock the Cayman Islands.
At the core of the issue was the decision – or more accurately, the indecision – of successive Cayman governments to deal with the issue of allowing foreign nationals to remain in the Cayman Islands indefinitely without any security of tenure.
According to statistics quoted in the Legislative Assembly in September 2003, there were at the time 6,620 foreign nationals living in the Cayman Islands for more than 10 years on work permits.
Citing pressures from the UK to deal with the situation, the UDP Cabinet made 2,850 irrevocable grants of Caymanian Status to foreign nationals by special dispensation between June 2003 and December 2003. In addition, the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board granted Status to 900 other people between 2003 and 2004, meaning that 3,750 foreign nationals became Cayman Islands citizens in a little more than a year.
Although the various Status grants occurred over a 14-month period, 2 January 2004 is when the realisation of what had happened hit many Caymanians; that was the day that Cayman’s newspapers printed the names of the 2,850 recipients of Status through the Cabinet, plus the names of 302 other people who had received Status through the Board up until that time.
It came to light that some of the people who received grants of Status through the Cabinet hadn’t asked for it and that others had only been in the Cayman Islands for a short time. The grants upset many Caymanians, as well as foreigners who had lived here for more than ten years and who were not given Status.
The mass Status grants divided Cayman. The UDP government supported the Status grants while the People’s Progressive Movement did not, eventually using them as one of their major campaign platforms leading up to the May 2005 general elections.
The Caymanian Bar Association also spoke out about the Cabinet Status grants and eventually filed a legal challenge against them. A rift in the Bar Association occurred as a result, leading to the resignation of many members.
With the Status grants a major campaigning issue, it began affected relations between Caymanians and expatriates. After the elections, then-Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin called the Status grants, the “tipping point for Caymanians.” Anti-expatriate rhetoric was heard regularly on radio talk shows and on Internet forums.
Caymanian resentment only grew when many of those granted Status left the companies they worked for to start their own business, often in direct competition with their former employers.
In addition, some of the Status recipients had dependents living off island that were given the right to come to the Cayman Islands as well. As population grew quickly, Cayman’s infrastructure and social harmony became strained.
5) Ivan the Terrible
– 11/12 September 2004
Never in a decade – at least since the turn of the 20th century – did the weather have such a significant effect on the lives of Cayman Islands residents as it did during the 2000s.
Three hurricanes caused significant damage and several other close calls caused minor damage.
In early November 2001, Hurricane Michelle passed about 150 west of Grand Cayman, but still managed to cause an estimated US$2.8 million of damage from wave surge.
In 2008, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman had to contend with Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Paloma, the latter causing US$15 million of damage with a direct hit of 140mph winds.
But it was Hurricane Ivan, which brought a near direct hit to Grand Cayman on 11 and 12 September 2004 that will be remembered most.
Ivan was a large and slow-moving storm. As late as 10 September, Ivan was forecast to curve northward, toward Cayman’s Sister Islands, rather than coming close to Grand Cayman.
It wasn’t until the morning of 11 September that Grand Cayman residents realised it wasn’t going to curve northward before it passed.
Tropical storm force winds started on Grand Cayman around 3pm on Saturday the 11th and they did not subside until early Monday morning, 37 hours later.
Ivan passed closest to Grand Cayman around 7am Sunday morning, packing 155 mph winds – one mph short of Category 5 status. Ivan inundated much of the western part of Grand Cayman with two to three feet of storm surge flooding and battered the southern shore with waves in excess of 20 feet.
When it was over, Ivan had caused US$3.5 billion of damage to the Cayman Islands. Approximately 90 per cent of all structures on Grand Cayman received some sort of damage and the storm destroyed an estimated 10,000 vehicles.
Miraculously, only two people died during the storm and two others died afterwards from carbon monoxide poisoning when they used a generator indoors.
Much of Grand Cayman was left without power for weeks and even months. The water supply was also interrupted for more than a week for most homes.
There were long lines for water, long lines for groceries and long lines to leave the island. Residents had to live under a curfew that was not completely lifted until early December.
Despite the hardships, residents banded together to help each other in the early days after Ivan.
The reconstruction effort started almost immediately and the central George Town financial district was up and running by the Friday after Ivan had passed.
Some buildings were beyond repair. Ivan brought an end to several businesses including the Crow’s Nest Restaurant; the Palm Beach Restaurant in Bodden Town; the Reef Restaurant in Breakers; the Tree House Restaurant; and the Hurley’s supermarkets in East End and on Walkers Road.
Ivan also completely destroyed two condominium complexes; Mariner’s Cove and Dolphin Point.
The Hyatt Regency Hotel closed after the storm because of severe damage. With the exception of what was known as the Hyatt Beach Suites, it didn’t reopen by the end of the decade, causing the Hyatt brand to leave Cayman.
The recovery process took its toll. Some residents fought bouts of depression after the storm and many elderly people – and some not so elderly – died of various causes, likely aided by stress, in the year after the storm.
Most people living in Cayman at the time of Ivan saw the storm as a watershed event not only for themselves, but for Grand Cayman as well. At the end of the decade, many people still saw their life in terms of pre-Ivan and post-Ivan.
6) Roll me over and out
– 24 February 2006
Term limits for work permit holders came into effect on 1 January 2004 as a result of amendments to the Immigration Law. The ruling United Democratic Party put forward the changes as a way of controlling the number of people who could remain in the Cayman Islands indefinitely.
When the law was passed, those that had been in the Cayman Islands at least five years were given special provisions to automatically qualify to apply for permanent residency after they had been here at least eight years. As a result, no work permit holders faced the rollover policy for the first two years after the law was in place.
In between the implementation of the amended law and time the first people became subject to rollover, Hurricane Ivan occurred, causing many business owners and residents to forget about it. However, in early 2006, when more foreign workers started getting letters saying they had received their last work permit, businesses and industry associations started lobbying for a delay in the implementation of the rollover policy.
However, in a press conference on 24 February 2006, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts announced there would be no suspension of the rollover policy. Term limits for expatriate workers were here to stay.
7) Puttin’ on the Ritz
15 December 2005
The Naughties also represented a period of rapid construction growth in the Cayman Islands.
The housing shortage created by Hurricane Ivan caused a boom in inland residential apartment complexes.
New office buildings went up in central George Town and along the Seven Mile Beach Corridor.
The government also built a number of major projects during the decade, including the Boatswain’s Beach tourist attraction; the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal; a new Government Accommodation Project; and three schools, including two high schools.
However, two projects overshadowed all others during the decade: The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and Camana Bay.
After fighting a difficult battle to get the project off the ground and then completed, Ritz-Carlton developer Mike Ryan opened Cayman’s largest hotel on 15 December 2005.
The Ritz would quickly become critical to Cayman’s tourism product, attracting well known personalities, conferences and a high-income clientele.
It would also win multiple awards for being the best resort hotel in the Caribbean.
In 2009 Ryan announced the acquisition of additional property for the development and the re-branding of the entire project as Dragon Bay.
Also along West Bay Road, the Dart family’s master-planned community called Camana Bay broke ground in April 2005. The first shops and a six-plex cinema opened in late 2007, with two large office buildings and a school also coming on line before the end of the decade.
Although the main part of its residential element was put on hold because of the poor economy in the late 2000s, Camana Bay had already lived up to its billing as a place to work, live, shop and play.
8) Pricey Tempura
– 27 March 2008
In March 2008, then-Governor Stuart Jack announced that detectives for the UK’s Metropolitan Police had been in the Cayman Islands since the previous September, investigating allegations of police corruption.
As a result of the investigations, Mr. Jack announced that Commissioner of Police Stuart Kernohan, Deputy Commissioner Rudolph Dixon and Police Chief Superintendent John Jones were put on required leave. He also announced that the investigation, called Operation Tempura, would continue.
Over the next year and a half, Operation Tempura would lead to the acquittal of the only two people charged as a result of the investigation – Dixon and former MLA Lyndon Martin – the false arrest of a Grand Court Judge Alex Henderson, and no charges being brought against Kernohan, Jones and another Royal Cayman Islands Police Officer Burmon Scott.
Henderson sued the government and was award $1.275 million for his false arrest. Scott and Kernohan also filed lawsuits against the government arising out of the investigation.
The total costs of the operation, including the settlement of the Henderson lawsuit, was about $10 million by the end of the decade, with other lawsuits still pending. In addition, a second UK Met investigation called Operation Cealt was still ongoing as 2009 ended.
Retired UK High Court Judge Sir Peter Cresswell conducted a judicial review on the Henderson arrest and found, among other things, “the gravest abuse of process”.
UK Met Senior Investigation Officer Martin Bridger was eventually booted off the case and then retired from the Met. A legal advisor for the Met, Martin Polaine, was disbarred in the UK for his actions in the matter.
9) Crime hits home
11 October 2008
As Cayman’s population grew over the decade, the incidents of crime increased.
In early 2004, there were two high-profile killings, one a daylight execution-style murder, in the Scranton area of George Town.
There was also a bold daylight attempt to kill Sheldon Brown in the hospital, an attack that left one man dead.
Hurricane Ivan in 2004 brought looting during and immediately after the storm. Crime rates – especially relating to thefts – skyrocketed after the storm.
Eventually, the police turned back the tide of increasing crime, to the point that in November 2006, crime ranked last in a caycompass.com online poll that asked readers what they thought was the biggest issue facing the Cayman Islands.
However, on 11 October 2008, something happened that seemed to fundamentally change the Cayman Islands. On that morning, the charred remains of Estella Scott-Roberts, the former director of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, were found in a burned-out vehicle along a dike road in West Bay.
The brutal rape and murder shocked the community. Until then, most murders that had taken place in the Cayman Islands were among criminal elements or resulting from domestic incidents. Estella’s case was different. Eventually, two Jamaican nationals were arrested and charged with Estella’s murder, but they hadn’t gone to trial by the end of the decade.
Less than six months later, another young woman was the victim of a hideous crime.
On 12 March, 21-year-old Sabrina Schirn was reported missing. Five days later, her partially decomposed, mutilated body was found near a prison work farm in East End. Randy Martin was charged with her murder, and the trial was still going on as December 2009 wound down.
In 2009, the shootings escalated to unprecedented levels, the most outrageous being a triple shooting that killed one man and wounded two others in West Bay and a brazen double shooting in a crowded night club that left one man dead.
Armed robberies of various businesses also became almost a weekly occurrence in 2009. More so than ever before, residents became scared.
10) The economy turns sour
– 27 August 2009
Cayman, like the rest of the world, was hit by the late decade financial crisis.
The first effect of the global recession felt in Cayman was a drop in tourism arrivals. Later, Cayman’s finance industry felt a severe impact, with hedge fund and company registration falling significantly.
Some companies in the financial industry left Cayman; others trimmed staff or shut down entire departments.
Construction slowed down considerably, in spite of three major government infrastructure projects.
Restaurants and shops closed. People lost their jobs. Expatriates were sent away. Charities suffered.
The government budget also suffered. The final government operating budget of the PPM administration for 2008/09 ended up with a deficit of CI$81 million.
On 27 August 2009, Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush – who would become Cayman’s first premier less than two months later when a new constitution took effect – announced that the UK was pushing Cayman to implement direct taxation, including land and/or income tax.
The government resisted imposing direct taxes, but when it needed to borrow money beyond its approved borrowing limits, it had to get the permission of the UK government. The UK allowed some of the borrowing, but only on certain conditions, including a review of Cayman’s public service and on the feasibility of new taxes.
In the meantime, the government raised a number of fees, including import duty, work permits fees and many financial industry licence fees. However, at the end of the decade, the possibility of direct taxation still loomed large.