Last Sunday of the Year: Sunday, December 29, 2013

It’s that period between Christmas and New Year when some of us get very reflective and philosophical. We look back over the past year, and look forward to the next; so there are endless “reviews” and “previews” in the media and elsewhere. As for me, I prefer to look forward, so no reviews for me. And I am really trying hard to live in the present. Like Arsenal Football Club manager Arsène Wenger, who likes to say that he takes it one game at a time.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

Finance Minister Peter Phillips.

More taxes looming? I noted in my last post that the government has hinted at the possibility of imposing General Consumption  Tax on gasoline. The mere mention of it made us shudder. Now the government has told the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that tax revenues have fallen short, so they think they must tax us some more (see the Letter of Intent dated December 3, 2013 on the IMF website). Well, of course tax revenues have fallen; the economy has been contracting over an extended period; imports have decreased; people are not spending. And how is adding more taxes going to help?

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Dennis Chung. (Gleaner file photo)

Now, there’s a very good article by financial analyst Dennis Chung on caribjournal.com (a website worth subscribing to) headlined “Jamaica in 2014.” Dennis is quite right. We can’t under-estimate the importance of confidence in almost any economic scenario (something I learned while working in the eurobond sector in London). The government must grasp this concept. Dennis also warns: The government cannot take the path of previous administrations and seek to tax our way out of the problem, as this will only lead to short-term fiscal gain and long-term loss. This has been the path chosen in the past and it has not worked.” But based on the Appendix to the Jamaican Government’s Letter of Intent to the IMF, this is pretty much what it plans to do.

Dennis talks about the two major hindrances to our economic growth: bureaucracy and crime. On the latter issue, former Contractor General Greg Christie has pointed out that the World Economic Forum identified government inefficiency, crime and corruption as major impediments to Jamaica’s economic growth. So let’s keep that in the equation, too.

No to debt swap: Minister of Finance Peter Phillips has ruled out the idea of a third debt swap. Well, of course that is a no-no, Minister Phillips. The private sector, led by Scotiabank Jamaica, made it abundantly clear after the last one that they would not countenance such a thing.

Save Goat Islands!

Save Goat Islands!

Eastern Caribbean floods: Our Prime Minister has sent her sympathies to the islands of St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines that suffered terribly from a Christmas storm and subsequent flooding. That’s nice, but could we perhaps have sent some assistance? Some Jamaica Defence Force soldiers or other manpower at least?

Relief supplies arrive in St. Lucia from Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, St. Lucia/Facebook)

Relief supplies arrive in St. Lucia from Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo: Press Secretary to the Prime Minister, St. Lucia/Facebook)

In my last post, I omitted to include a very disturbing story highlighted by Annie Paul on her blog, Active Voice“NOT dead on arrival! No Sir! I will not rest in peace!” tells the tale of a man whom the police thought they had killed in a “shootout.” On arriving at the hospital he sat up and declared himself not dead, meanwhile pointing out the policeman who had tried to kill him. He was then put under police guard in hospital. What has happened to him? Has INDECOM investigated? Read the story at anniepaul.net.

Deaths on the road: Despite the best efforts of the National Road Safety Council, fatalities on the road will end up higher than in 2012, which was 267 dead. What a terrible waste of lives – mainly through stupidity: overtaking, distracted driving, driving much too fast. Are we still considering legislation on cell phones and driving? I’ve noticed this is so common in Kingston – drivers cut corners, hardly even notice you on the road when they have a phone glued to their ear.

Macka Diamond (right) and Lady Saw in a heated battle onstage at Sting 2013. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood)

Macka Diamond (right) and Lady Saw in a heated battle onstage at Sting 2013. (Photo: Lionel Rookwood/Jamaica Observer)

Sting women: I believe Culture Minister Lisa Hanna told local press that the Boxing Day dancehall event called Sting (now celebrating thirty years) would be family-friendly. How terribly wrong she was. If people want to go to these shows, then it is their choice. But I think it is wrong for government to support any of these shows - whether the so-called Jazz Festival, Sting or whatever. The Jamaica Tourist Board sponsored this one for the first (and hopefully last) time. It’s a private sector thing. Moreover, I don’t want my hard-earned taxes to be spent on two women hurling obscenities at each other in the name of entertainment. I would rather it was spent on school furniture, or perhaps hospital equipment. (Did Minister Hanna attend this event, and if so what did she think about it? At the press conference, putting on her best Jamaican patois, she said: mi haffi deh deh”meaning: I have to be there)!

This was Sting 2013 on Boxing Day, sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board.

This was Sting 2013 on Boxing Day, sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board and endorsed by Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, who said she would have to be there. Was she? Did she watch this “performance” I wonder?

This question was asked on Facebook recently: “After decades and decades of violent crime in Jamaica, what do you do to protect yourself? I’m not talking about the grills and the burglar alarms and the gated communities and the not walking on the road at night. What do you do to protect your spirit and soul from the news every day of murders and rapes and assaults of men, women and children? When you or those you know have been personally affected, or when it is news reports about people you do not know?” I believe that I wrestle with this question week in, week out. 

Protest signs in August Town after police killed Dennis Levy. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Protest signs in August Town after police killed Dennis Levy. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner)

Revenge? Residents of August Town say that the police killed Dennis Levy on December 20 as an act of revenge for the murder of a District Constable and the injuring of a policewoman a short time earlier that day. August Town is  a small community tucked into the high green hills of St. Andrew near the University of the West Indies campus. It has suffered from gang warfare and political strife in the past; however the crime rate there has decreased this year. “They decided that someone had to die for the police,” said one resident, according to a report in today’s Sunday Gleaner.  

Tiefs continue to flourish: Here’s an interesting photo (from our Prime Minister’s constituency) showing a light post festooned with “throw-ups” – that is, illegal electricity connections. I will not comment except to say that the Jamaica Public Service Company has its work cut out…

Illegal electricity connections in Kingston.

Illegal electricity connections in Kingston.

Kudos to…

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Yohan Blakeour lovely sprinter, whose YB Afraid Foundation has partnered with the private sector and individuals to help young people. In particular, the Foundation supports the Mt. Olivet Children’s Home in Manchester. It held some special events and a motivating workshop over Christmas. Big ups to the young man and wishing you great success in 2014!

Principal of the Lethe Primary and Infant School in St James, Anthony Murray (right), accepts the Jamaica Teaching Council/Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Leadership in Education Award, from Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, at a recent ceremony at the school. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Principal of the Lethe Primary and Infant School in St James, Anthony Murray (right), accepts the Jamaica Teaching Council/Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Leadership in Education Award, from Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites, at a recent ceremony at the school. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A young principal, Anthony Murray, who has guided his school (Lethe Primary and Infant School in St. James) to some great results. He recently received an award for his efforts from the government and UNESCO. We do know that there are many dedicated teachers out there! And yes, Minister Thwaites, the Effective Principals’ Training Programme is a worthwhile effort. It is a pity that 49 principals have refused to participate. In fact, it is very unimpressive.

Journalist and producer of the excellent “Live at Seven” show on CVM Television Yolande Gyles Levy, who produced an excellent feature on the fight to save the Portland Bight Protected Area/Goat Islands earlier this year. She gave an update from her perspective on the program on Friday night, as follows: Nothing much has changed. The government, she said is still waiting on a written proposal from China Harbour Engineering Company. Based on that, the government will conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment, which will be paid for by the Chinese firm. Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies spoke on “Live at Seven” about a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the logistics hub. When host Simon Crosskill asked if he could see a copy he said he could – but “Live at Seven” has not seen it yet.

The St. Mary Chapter of G2K (the young professionals arm of the Jamaica Labour Party), who held a Christmas treat for over 100 children from the Annotto Bay community over the holidays. And “big ups” to all those many organizations, both domestic and overseas-based, that brought joy to under-privileged Jamaicans during the period. I hope we will remember all our vulnerable and marginalized groups throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

The murders of two cousins in Clarendon over Christmas has caused much concern and anger, and has been reported widely abroad, since one of the young women, Franciena Johnson was a Brooklyn resident. The police are now suggesting that a jealous boyfriend may have been the cause. Just this weekend in St. James, a young woman and her infant son were murdered; the father of the child is being questioned. There have been so many tragedies involving young women, their infant children and jealous, vengeful partners. I have also noticed that women OF ALL AGES are murder victims, week in, week out – including, this week, a woman farmer in her sixties, in Sherwood Content, Trelawny (Usain Bolt’s home). So much pain. My condolences to all the families…

Renaldo Walton, 25, Parade Gardens (Tel Aviv), Kingston

Marva Henry, 56, Ebony Vale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Ebony Vale/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Ramon Perkins, 20, Santa Cruz, St. Elizabeth

Eulalee McIntosh, 64, Shaw Park/Ocho Rios, St. Ann

Norman Comrie, 30, Runaway Bay, St. Ann

Melessha Evans, 20, Irwin, St. James

Jeliana Evans, four months, Irwin, St. James

Unidentified man, Springfield, Westmoreland

Fernando Woolery, 26, Red Ground/Negril, Westmoreland

Geraldine Powell, 65, Sherwood Content, Trelawny

Killed by the police:

Dennis “Evian” Levy, 35, August Town, St. Andrew (previously reported as “Heavy Hand”)

Arlene Robinson, mother of Nordia Fearon, holds a picture of her slain daughter, who went missing with Franciena Johnson on the way to May Pen in Clarendon. Her body was found in Salt River. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Arlene Robinson, mother of Nordia Fearon, holds a picture of her slain daughter, who went missing with Franciena Johnson on the way to May Pen in Clarendon. Her body was found in Salt River. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Franciena Johnson kisses her boyfriend, who has since been arrested in connection with her murder. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Franciena Johnson kisses her boyfriend, who has since been arrested in connection with her murder. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

 

Sticks and Stones

“Glad to hear Cliff Hughes describe the UTech episode as ‘homophobic‘. There’s far too much denial. ‘Oh no, We’re not homophobic! Not us!’ 

So noted a fellow-blogger from Jamaica, Annie Paul (check out her lively blog on Jamaican matters large and small at http://anniepaul.net). Yes, just as I was about to write another short, chirpy post-Sandy blog post, the “episode” or “incident” occurred. It popped up on Twitter around eight o’clock last night, in fact.

Let me backtrack a little first: Cliff Hughes is a local broadcast journalist, whom I have praised before for his strong focus on democracy and human rights – and for his probing, tough interview techniques. And UTech is the University of Technology in Kingston, Jamaica, where this all took place. All what, you may ask? Well, a video appeared on YouTube and almost immediately went “viral,” as the saying goes. The video was entitled “Beat di Fish 2!” - using the latest hate-word for gays in Jamaica. The video appears to show security guards beating up a young man in an enclosed area (the guard house of the aforementioned University) while a mob of mostly young men outside jeered, laughed and encouraged the guards to give the young man a good beating. Some of these young men begged the guards to turn him over to them so they could deal with him.

Why was he being beaten? The student was accused of having sex with another young man (who escaped – I hope he is very safe, somewhere).

UTech beating

Two security guards were fired. In this photo (or still from the video?) a third security guard seems to be watching quite happily.

The video was withdrawn from YouTube today as it violated their code. It was very hard to watch, and to listen to the baying of the crowd, like hounds when they have cornered a fox in a hunt. That eager yelping sound, that cry for blood. And many of the supporters of the video added their virulent, sickening comments (although thankfully there were more “dislikes” than “likes”). But another shorter, different version was posted on CNN‘s iReport today.

UTech beating

“They were all dressed in uniforms of brutality..” From Bob Marley’s song “Burnin’ and Lootin’ “…

There were many expressions of genuine shock and despair, locally. “I am ashamed to be Jamaican” was a common refrain among those with compassion for their fellow Jamaicans. Civil society groups, notably Jamaicans for Justice and the Civil Society Coalition, have issued statements condemning the incident. Some comments in the social media were more ambivalent, saying the two young men should have been more careful, and “this is how gays are dealt with in Jamaica, right or wrong.”  Other comments were more vicious. I will not repeat them.

Another Jamaican broadcaster noted the following on her Facebook timeline: “I am sad and sickened tonight. Security guards at one of our universities beating up a young man because he was allegedly found engaging in homosexual acts. I also continue to wonder at my friends with their heads deep in the sand insisting that we are not a homophobic society. Really? This young man is hit and kicked by a “security “guard” while excited crowds gather outside. And for those who will wilfully twist my words – you are adept at that – this has nothing to do with approval of or belief in a lifestyle. This is about a society that winks at barbarism and turns its head away insisting it is not happening, apparently all the reports of abuse are made up!!! And you wonder why we are seen as homophobic?”

Let us not deny this any more. Jamaica IS a homophobic society. It has been said by many outside and some inside Jamaica. And it is true. It is staring us in the face. 

So, what are we to do about it? Allow the mob to take over? After all, there have been several instances of mob attacks recently, under various circumstances. This is not only yet another example of human rights abuses against gays in Jamaica. It fits into a pattern of intolerance, violence and blind ignorance that keeps repeating itself over and over. It is like a tide washing over us, threatening to sweep us all away.

Have you ever stared into the eyes of a hate-filled mob? We once knew someone who did – a young Jamaican. It was the last thing he saw, as he did not survive the attack. None of us could save him. We read his name in the papers the next day.

Where is this leading us? Are we prepared to slip and slide down this slope? Or are we prepared to dig our heels in, right now? Are our leaders going to speak up, or remain silent? I remember not long ago, our elected representatives were sniggering and making jokes about “fish” in Parliament (the derogatory word for gays currently in fashion). Can we expect real, responsible leadership from them? What about our Prime Minister, who during an election debate last year signaled a softer approach to the issue? She has certainly avoided the topic ever since she was elected. And what about the churches? After all, the homophobic bigots frequently use a certain passage in the Bible to justify their hatred. What a lovely thing religion is! How it unites us!

I will end with a quote from someone who did know a great deal about bigotry and discrimination. He faced it fair and square. (Somehow, the deniers of our homophobia hate comparisons between gay rights and the American civil rights struggle; but I see quite a few parallels, myself). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Jamaica’s burden grows heavier each day.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A man not afraid of uncomfortable truths, and not afraid to express them.

Related articles

One Laptop per Child Reaches Jamaica

petchary:

By coincidence, my fellow-blogger Annie Paul just posted this article about One Laptop Per Child, which I mentioned in my blog just yesterday. I am so happy to hear that it has just arrived in Jamaica. And happy that it is being employed in August Town – a community with a tempestuous history and an uneasy present, which the University of the West Indies has “adopted” as a University Township. And it is good to see that this is coming from that vibrant and beautiful city by the sea, San Francisco… Read and enjoy and thanks for letting us know, Annie!

Originally posted on Active Voice:

 

 

Recently I had a conversation with Sameer Verma of San Francisco State University about an innovative venture he’s involved with — the One Laptop per Child project. Verma, an open source software (OSS) activist, was invited by Professor Evan Duggan, Executive Director of the Mona School of Business and new Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, whom he went to school with, to spearhead the OLPC project in Jamaica. According to the OLPC Jamaica website:

OLPC Jamaica is a general interest group for the One Laptop per Child initiatives in Jamaica. The group started at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, Jamaica on 5th September, 2008. Compelled by the belief that the OLPC has considerable potential for enhancing the efficient delivery, and improved Pedagogy in early childhood education in Jamaica, OLPC Jamaica intends to foster interest, generate ideas…

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Is He Still the World’s Fastest Runner? “Nothing but speed for the fastest,” says Mr. Bolt

petchary:

Here’s a great article on Jamaica’s athletics superhero Usain Bolt, by my illustrious fellow-blogger Annie Paul. Published recently in Newsweek International. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Active Voice:

Presenting my article on Usain Bolt which appears in Newsweek International this week…

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt: Is He Still the World’s Fastest Runner?
Jul 16, 2012 1:00 AM EDT
Will lightning strike again in London? Or have the years of fast living finally caught up with the speediest man alive? A close look at the Jamaican record breaker.

The Twitter messages seemed calculated to drive Jamaica frantic. “Driving the black speed today,” Usain Bolt informed his followers as he posted an Instagram image of his chosen vehicle for the day, a 2009 Nissan GT-R. “Nothing but speed for the fastest,” he added. Still, the world-record sprinter could scarcely ignore the fact that the last thing they want is for him to risk yet another smashup in the final days before the 2012 London Games. “I will take it easy lol,” he promised.

For more please visit the Daily Beast website

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