Actually, the Ides of March were on Friday, March 15, just two days ago. We often hear the phrase “Beware the Ides of March,” without even understanding the sense of it. Blame Shakespeare. As a former student of Latin language and literature, I can assure you that the Romans were a highly superstitious lot, and very fond of omens. Reading animals’ entrails, birds, the weather, and all that. This period was not short of prophets of doom – and we have a few of those around ourselves, here in Jamaica.
It’s true that things are not looking rosy, in general. We were overwhelmed this week (and we knew it was coming) by the broadcast of a documentary on AXS TV on the “lotto scam,” narrated by Dan Rather, who visited Jamaica earlier this year. Segments were aired on CBS News and NBC News, and it was heavily publicized through Mr. Rather’s (and others’) social media outlets. Segments were, of course, aired on local television – including an interview with a young scammer in Montego Bay, who ran away when the journalist revealed that they were U.S. media. His face was clearly shown. I am not sure if you can download the full program somewhere – I’m not finding it online.
I understand that Mr. Rather is planning further investigations, so this may not be the end of this negative publicity. National Security Minister Peter Bunting had a sense of foreboding about this one, and rightly so. Since the testimony, and the documentary, there has been much discussion about the impact on so-called “Brand Jamaica.” Now, to me, Brand Jamaica is a fabrication of the politicians and tourism officials. How attractive is Brand Jamaica to ordinary Jamaicans, one of my friends asked on Twitter this week – “that is the real measure.” Indeed, but that is for another discussion. The government has naturally been scrambling to do “damage control,” according to local media. No reported “fallout” – yet.
But, why do the Americans have to clean up our mess again, other Jamaicans are asking? There are odd echoes of the “Dudus” affair… The same level of discomfort and a kind of humiliation. We are the bad guys, again. We are a very small nation, and we feel it. Yes, we take it to heart, even if we pretend not to.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, headed by Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida, sat on Wednesday to consider the matter, at the urging of advocacy groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Minister Bunting had submitted written testimony. The recorded conversations between the criminals in Jamaica (what else can you call them?) and their sad, distressed elderly victims in Maine and other U.S. states; and the television interviews with them and their families – all made me cringe. It was very, very uncomfortable to watch and hear. A feeling of collective guilt infused many of the discussions on the matter – on radio talk shows, many expressed shame and at the very least, embarrassment. “Jamaica, the Nigeria of the Caribbean” was one online comment. We wondered how these old people could be so lonely, happy to hear the sound of a human voice even if it was that of a stranger with evil intent (I actually do consider the scammers evil, not a word I use lightly). Some called them “gullible” and “suckers” which I find unkind. Elderly people are vulnerable, almost like children.
My questions are: Why was the lotto scam allowed to continue for five or six years without any effective action being taken by the Jamaican government? Was the legislation – which the Senate will debate next week – only put together at the behest of the U.S. government? Who was/is benefiting from the lotto scam? Local politicians, businessmen, who exactly? Will they be brought to book? We all knew that Montego Bay has been booming for the last few years…How long will it take to extradite even one Jamaican – and how many are actually involved? Was someone “higher up” orchestrating the whole thing? Will the IT/call center business ever recover? Why was the local media, with some exceptions, unwilling to investigate over these past few years – were they under pressure?
According to at least one Opposition member, tourism is already in decline, even without all this unpleasantness. This is not good for our foreign exchange inflows, and I had heard that stopover visitors are seriously lagging behind cruise ship arrivals, even in the current winter tourist season. Suggestions are that cultural issues and environmental degradation are having a negative impact on visitors. Brand Jamaica is a tarnished mirror, in which we can hardly see ourselves any more, no matter how hard we try to wipe it clean. Let’s forget it.
And we should forget this one – quickly. Jamaica Tourist Board, what were you thinking? Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9KSiitCnXg (Mr. Nicolaisen, I don’t blame you – you are an actor and you are making a living, but...)
There is no doubt that the lotto scam comes under the heading “organized crime” and must be dealt with accordingly. Extradition to the United States is fine in my book, so long as they are given a fair trial and brought to justice. And talking of organized crime, what is going on in west Kingston, the former domain of the aforementioned extraditee Christopher “Dudus” Coke? I hear rumblings that a new power structure is in place. If you visit Coronation Market regularly, you may have seen the signs.
Meanwhile, the police have taken a Kingston businessman into custody and he could face numerous charges, including murder and money laundering. But he doesn’t have a name – so he must be a “big man.” I am sure if he was from Arnett Gardens or Denham Town, we would all know his name, address and aliases right away.
Talking of foreign exchange: some local manufacturers are among those complaining about a shortage of foreign exchange. Former head of the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association Omar Azan says the banks have waiting lists, and he was not able to get all the U.S. Dollars he needed to import raw materials. If this is a growing trend and it continues, there will be layoffs as production is cut. Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw already notes a “thriving black market” - he has been banging on about this for some time. More doom and gloom (if possibly exaggerated…in Audley Shaw’s somber tone…)
Do we need to be reminded of the “Cuban light bulb scandal”? It occurred during the previous People’s National Party administration, resulting in a corruption trial that is still not concluded. But hey! The program to provide free energy-saving bulbs from Cuba to poor households through Minister Phillip Paulwell’s energy ministry is back! That’s all we needed. Former junior minister Kern Spencer (who cried in Parliament when his Opposition counterpart accused him) has had his trial successfully postponed a number of times; he was first arrested over five years ago.
Well, I was on television myself last week. I appeared on CVM Television’s “Live at Seven.” I hope some of you were able to watch the program, which focused on whether pregnant teens should be “excluded” (in other words, kicked out) of high school or allowed to continue their education before and after giving birth. As Chair of Eve for Life Jamaica, I am firmly of the latter view. Education is empowerment, and many of these girls have suffered from rape, abuse, incest and are being punished for it. My co-panelist, the President-elect of the Jamaica Teachers Association, suggested that everything was fine and the girls can, at principals’ discretion, return to school (or a different school) afterwards. He also said that the state-funded Women’s Centre of Jamaica was most effective in supporting these vulnerable girls. In other words (as is often the case in these discussions on the media) one would be led to believe that all is hunky dory, and the system works perfectly… Unless one knew better, of course. In columnist Barbara Gloudon’s words, “It is the girl who must pay the price.” See her take on the issue, below…
More on this in another blog. Suffice it to say I was nervous as hell, this being my first television appearance; but I was impressed by Mr. Simon Crosskill, host of the program, and his great young production team. An excellent program. You can find the latest edition online here: http://www.cvmtv.com/videos_1.php?id=921§ion=live7 - updated daily.
A young lady I know and think highly of was also a guest on Power 106 FM’s youth program yesterday. Ms. Kemesha Kelly, who comes from a humble family in rural St. Ann, is a former Miss Jamaica Festival Queen. She is highly intelligent, enthusiastic and a terrific role model for girls. As usual, Ms. Kelly was overflowing with energy during her interview, discussing the “SWAG” (Something Worthwhile a Gwaan) initiative that she spearheads at the Marcus Garvey Youth Information Centre in St. Ann’s Bay. (A common refrain among youth is “Nutten Naah Gwaan” (nothing is going on). The project needs more funding support; if you are a local business or individual who would like to help, get in touch with Kemesha (or me).
When asked about the main challenges for Jamaican youth, Kemesha noted employment opportunities (lacking); crime and violence – youth are so often the victims and the perpetrators; and access to higher education, which she considers crucial. She is an aspiring human rights lawyer. I wish her all the very best…
More young people doing great (amazing) things: Over the last few days, the hotly-contested 103rd ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships has taken the National Stadium by storm. Records broke left right and center, to the deafening sound of vuvuzelas (yes, they are still in use over here, unfortunately – we could hear them from our house!) Many congratulations to Calabar High School, who again came out on top, with two other Kingston boys’ schools, Jamaica College and Kingston College hot on their heels. The girls of Holmwood Technical High School overtook Edwin Allen High School, with St. Jago High School girls in third place – all, interestingly “out of town” schools in Manchester, Clarendon and St. Catherine respectively. Many, many congratulations to all! As someone observed, our successful athletes always rise above the divisiveness of Jamaican society. Do we care what political party they support, or which area of Kingston they come from? Of course not! They have transcended that political tribalism that breeds nothing but mediocrity.
And congratulations to all the winners of the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards. Special congratulations are due to Kimroy Bailey, a young engineer and fellow (award-winning) blogger who is highly focused on alternative energy. Let’s encourage those young people, in the sciences and other fields, who are doing the hands-on stuff and trying to raise awareness! We need those ideas. And action.
P.S. Just a word to journalists, especially the younger ones who are sometimes a little hurt when they are criticized. “Everyone tells us how to do our job,” one complained last week. Well, I for one will continue to criticize. As purveyors of the media product, you should also listen to what we – your consumers – have to say! I still maintain that there are far too many errors of spelling, grammar and pronunciation (some of them really embarrassing). And I also feel that browsing through the social media, commenting on what so-and-so is saying about such-and-such and reading it out, doth not good journalism make. It’s different if you are organizing feedback on a specific issue; fine. Otherwise, it looks like you are wasting time, and it’s irritating. It’s also not news – unless you suspect that the social media is more newsworthy than what your own radio/television station or newspaper produces?
This has been another week of terrible grief. The killing of three family members (including a fireman) in Westmoreland has traumatized the community where they live – and where they were setting up a small business, a cook shop. Residents of the lovely town of Lucea were horrified by a terrible murder/suicide (the suicide taking place in a busy public shopping plaza) which seems to have been the result of a woman trying to end an abusive relationship. My deepest condolences to the families, friends and neighbors. Whole communities in shock. We will all need group counseling, soon…
Omario Bryan, 17, Havannah Heights, Clarendon
Winston “Charlie” Dawkins, 63, Osbourne Store, Clarendon
Sean Powell, 31, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Shane Stanley, 37, Green Acres, St. Catherine
Unidentified, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine
Unidentified, Dyke Road/Portmore, St. Catherine
Cameka Duhaney, 23, Lucea, Hanover
Sydney Smith, 43, Lucea, Hanover
Killed by police
Andrew Brydson, 28, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland
Tristan Brydson, 24, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland
Kingsley Green, 38, Shrewsbury, Westmoreland
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http://www.cvmtv.com/videos_1.php?id=900§ion=live7 Live at Seven on teen pregnancy/March 12, 2013: CVM Television
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RznaKL7n1Ss Javed Jaghai talks about human rights in Jamaica: youtube.com
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=43373 Police Federation awaits word from Cabinet: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Cops-kill-fireman–brother-and-cousin_13873042 Cops kill fireman, brother and cousin: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Murderous-rampage-in-Lucea_13877726 Murderous rampage in Lucea: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130311/lead/lead5.html Defense attorney troubled by lottery scam law: Gleaner
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-112/33244 Government pushes public awareness on lottery scam impact: Jamaica Information Service
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/govt-dismisses-claims-of-being-slow-in-addressing-lottery-scam?utm_source=rjr&utm_medium=news Government dismisses claims of being slow in addressing lottery scam: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=43472 Opposition supports extradition of scammers: Gleaner
http://www.aging.senate.gov/hearing_detail.cfm?id=340977& United States Senate Special Committee on Aging – Hearing on Lotto Scam: http://www.aging.senate.gov/ – Video and audio here: http://www.aging.senate.gov/hearing_detail.cfm?id=339898&
http://anniepaul.net/2013/03/15/doubletake-first-mattathias-schwartz-now-dan-rather-what-ails-jamaican-media/ Doubletake: First Mattathias Schwartz, now Dan Rather – what ails Jamaican media? anniepaul.net
http://chatychaty.com/2013/03/dan-rather-talks-about-investigating-the-jamaican-lottery-scam/ Dan Rather talks about investigating the Jamaican lottery scam: chatychaty.com
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130315/letters/letters2.html Americans continue to clean our house: Letter to Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Make-the-scammers–lives-hell_13860009 Make the scammers’ lives hell: Observer editorial
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-122/33255 Debate on lottery scam bill to continue on March 21: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Lottery-scammers-are-not-operating-alone_13865327 Lottery scammers are not operating alone: Mark Wignall column/Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Eradicate-the-culture-of-impunity-around-the-lottery-scam_13872254 Eradicate the culture of impunity around the lottery scam: Claude Robinson column/Sunday Observer
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http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/dpp-advises-police-to-charge-world-wise-operators DPP advises police to charge World Wise operators: RJR News
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/03/15/jamaica-waives-visa-requirements-for-eastern-european-tourists/ Jamaica waives visa requirements for Eastern European tourists: caribjournal.com
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http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130317/lead/lead2.html Businessman held in money laundering, murder probe: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130317/lead/lead5.html Help needed: West Kingston’s plea: Sunday Gleaner
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http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/03/12/an-open-letter-to-caribbean-men-from-caribbean-women/?goback=%2Egde_118853_member_223341878#sthash%2EIhg06iZI%2Edpuf An open letter to Caribbean men from Caribbean women: rhrealitycheck.org
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130316/lead/lead6.html Nicola Hamilton on a mission to empower women: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130314/cleisure/cleisure3.html Do homosexuals have a place in Jamaica? Jaevion Nelson column/Gleaner
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130316/news/news1.html Men beaten for “funny behavior”: Jamaica Star
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http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130311/lead/lead2.html New China road deal: Gleaner
http://delanoseiv.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/tourism-in-major-decline-concerns-about-crisis/ Tourism in major decline: Concerns about crisis: delanoseiv.wordpress.com
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/rural-st-andrew-water-sources-fall-short-of-who-guidelines Rural St. Andrew water sources fall short of WHO guidelines: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130313/lead/lead4.html Residents say bills too high: Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/controversial-cuban-light-bulb-project-to-be-reintroduced Controversial Cuban light bulb project to be reintroduced: RJR News
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-103/33221 Growth in export earnings: Jamaica Information Service
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Only-25–of-NHT-contributors-have-benefitted-in-37-years_13863877 Only 25% of NHT contributors have benefitted in 37 years: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/letters/Too-many-hypocrites-in-Jamaica_13800895 Too many hypocrites in Jamaica: Letter to the Editor/Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130313/news/news1.html 68-year-old killed in shark attack: Jamaica Star
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130316/business/business3.html Turning trash into treasure: Biochar oven: Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/trip-to-chavez-funeral-no-cost-to-government Trip to Chavez funeral no cost to government: RJR News
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Politicians-must-sacrifice-too_13626549 Politicians must sacrifice too: Francis J Mafar op-ed/Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Manley-Duncan–Shift-to–a-sacred-place-_13805888 Manley-Duncan: Shift to a “sacred place”: Jean Lowrie-Chin column/Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/allwoman/Change-is-possible—change-is-happening_13805613 Change is possible and change is happening: All Woman/Jamaica Observer
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