The title of this blog post is influenced by the fact that I am have become locked into the Euro 2012 tournament for the past three days. I am just watching the passionate Croatians getting the better of the dogged Irish. It has been (and will remain) a complete distraction for me, as I am a hopelessly addicted football (soccer) fan. If I was to give a score for this past week, however, I would say that it might be something along the lines of Jamaican Politicians 3, Jamaican People 1, although the people’s goal was really an “own goal.” And in the case of our home-grown don Christopher “Dudus” Coke – well, the U.S. Government kept a clean sheet, 1-0.
Mr. Coke received a 23-year sentence in a New York court this week, for racketeering and assault. This prompted local journalists to rush down to the tired and dusty Tivoli Gardens neighborhood in West Kingston, where large bullet holes still pock-mark some of the buildings after the security forces’ May 2010 assault on the area. This is where, in the “good/bad old days,” Mr. Coke and his “Presidential Click” held sway. And yet, Mr. Coke’s criminal career, his flight, pursuit, capture, extradition and now incarceration will linger on in Jamaica, like the sickening smell of a dead cat in our garbage bin even after it had been removed. (Yes, our dogs killed a cat one night last week. They have a penchant for hunting. I am sorry, cat-lovers…) The residents’ responses to Mr. Coke’s sentence ranged from angry tears to shrugged shoulders.
Coincidentally, I think, Mr. Mattathias Schwartz of the New Yorker magazine produced another piece on the Tivoli Gardens “incursion” (this is the euphemism used by the Jamaican media for a military attack on Tivoli Gardens, when security forces pursued Mr. Coke and over seventy people were killed). See the link to Mr. Schwartz’s article below. His first article on the Tivoli Gardens attack, published in December 2011, “revealed” information that everyone in Kingston already knew – that a surveillance plane of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security circled over Kingston; embarrassingly, then National Security Minister Dwight Nelson flatly denied what we had all seen with our own eyes. The second Schwartz article alleges that, according to the U.S. Government, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) “fired mortars” at Tivoli Gardens; and the JDF conceded that indeed they did. “Bombs on Tivoli” shouted the Gleaner’s headline on Friday; and they got another confirmation from the JDF, who noted that the so-called “bombs” did not target people or buildings. Now, the U.S. Government plan to search for Mr. Coke’s assets, amounting to a possible US$1.5 million to be forfeited. It’s all about the Benjamins, as a hip hop artist once said…
The Budget Debate dragged on to its inevitable conclusion: some more tinkering with the taxes, resulting in the Budget, Mark Two. Remember, Politicians vs People and, as always, the Politicians won. The local media dutifully broadcast and reported on two lengthy speeches, firstly by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and then by Finance Minister Peter Phillips – redux. In the background, government Members of Parliament twiddled their writing implements, adjusted the collars of their fashionable outfits, browsed their blackberries, and even stuffed food in their mouths. They kept their right hands at the ready though, so that they could thump their desks in thunderous approval of every announcement or political point scored by the speakers. Journalists remained at their posts, putting all other news on hold, tweeting and reporting small chunks of the changes and announcements – all of which could have been neatly wrapped up in a half hour presentation by Dr. Phillips. But, the public and media endured a hesitant, labored (almost tired) presentation, punctuated frequently by witty remarks, muttered insults and loud guffaws from both sides of the house. The Prime Minister, whose speech took place the day before Dr. Phillips’ revisions, consisted of 25% accusing the former administration of creating Jamaica’s economic woes; 35% ranting about child abuse and how “disgraceful” and “shameful” it is; another 25% of interruptions, etc; and about 15% actual substance. As broadcaster Dionne Jackson-Miller complained in her blog, why are these speeches so long?
Some of the “softening” measures adopted in Budget Version Two were the lifting of General Consumption Tax on school books “approved by the Ministry of Education.” Having worked for eight years in the book business, I know full well that we are already approaching the dreaded “school book season,” when anxious parents descend on the bookstores with book lists in hand for the upcoming academic year starting September. Of course, I agree with Mr. Steadman Fuller of Kingston Bookshop, who said on radio last week that the idea of producing an approved book list out of the hundreds of titles that appear on school lists each year by the middle of this month is completely impossible. And is the Bible, which appears on almost every school list, an approved text book? By the way, tax remains on beef patties.
And as for the child abuse issue, as columnist and common-sense businessman James Moss-Solomon observed in the Sunday Observer today, “The poor of this country are no more intentionally depraved than the animals on television that must find ways to survive even as their natural habitat is shrinking.” It’s all a part of the general desperation that afflicts large proportions of the country’s population – including the Prime Minister’s own constituency: Majesty Gardens, for example, which was prominently featured in recent television reports. One could not find a less appropriate name for that place.
Meanwhile, in the Land of Bling it seems anything goes (see link below). Everywhere one looks there are models strutting and posing for Caribbean Fashion Week. Last week I asked where the actual economic value was in this “fashion industry.” How much is it worth – how many jobs in Jamaica does it create? I would love to know…
And last night, our very own sprint champion crashed his car again – just around daybreak in Kingston’s Half Way Tree – just a little fender bender, returning from a “popular party.” He is “at home sleeping” now, his publicist says. The inexorable build-up to the London Olympics seems to go on for ever; surely the athletes’ jewelry boxes must be full of diamonds by now?
But several bouquets are waiting to be handed out… Perhaps the Reggae Boyz would prefer something more macho, but congratulations to Theodore Whitmore and the Jamaican football team for their win in the first game of their qualifying campaign for the next World Cup. Pity you had to let in the Guatemalan goal in extra time, though. But 2-1 is, indeed, a respectable score.
Well now! Ms. Janet Silvera of the Gleaner, always the epitome of Jamaican warmth and hospitality, is the first Jamaican to win the Marcia Vickery-Wallace Memorial Award for excellence in travel tourism.
Talking of Montego Bay (Ms. Silvera’s neck of the woods) I was pleased to learn that its Free Zone is set for a a 50,000 square foot expansion - “bursting at the seams” as my favorite Government Minister Phillip Paulwell put it – and that LIME is to give up the telecoms monopoly in the Zone. LIME Chairman Chris Dehring noted, “This partnership with the Government for the development of the ICT and telecoms services signals our total embrace of competition in the sector.” That is good; and I hope for the sake of competition in Jamaica on the whole that LIME does not suffer further great losses as it competes with Digicel. Excellent work Minister Paulwell too, on moving forward with net billing and awarding licenses to those who wish to sell their excess electricity back to the grid. Woot woot!
A pat on the back for another Minister – Justice Minister Mark Golding – for taking a step in the right direction with the formation of the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA – a new acronym to remember) on Tuesday. This single anti-corruption body makes a lot of sense to me. Let’s hope the whole process does not take too long; a committee is to advise on this matter by the end of the month which is a good timeframe. After that, it will go to Cabinet. This is something that the Contractor General had recommended to the Government and Opposition more than two years ago.
I am also impressed by Jamaica’s first “all-green” residence, somewhere in St. Elizabeth I believe. It is quite a large house, and completely “off the grid” – swimming pool and all.
Another positive… The Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) that investigates police abuses appears to be gaining confidence, since the Supreme Court ruling in its favor.It has taken over the investigation into one of the more disturbing incidents (well, they are all disturbing) – the shooting death of sixteen-year-old Vanessa Kirkland in a car on March 20. Three policemen implicated in the shooting are to face identification parades next week. Meanwhile, the tireless and determined head of Jamaicans for Justice Dr. Carolyn Gomes joined the residents of Jarrett Lane in a peaceful demonstration on Friday evening in protest at the shooting death of Police Youth Club member Kavorn Schue a week ago. Head of the police Community Safety Branch Senior Superintendent James Forbes, a man whose sincerity I do not question, has a very hard job now as he seeks to mend fences in the community.
It’s tough being a talk show host. Ms. Barbara Gloudon patiently endured an onslaught of calls from irate rum-drinkers on Thursday. They were furious about the sudden increase in the price of white rum – which, like rice and peas, chicken and beef patties, is a Jamaican staple. Ms. Gloudon defended herself valiantly – the callers seemed to expect her to explain the many and various prices of large and small bottles. Let’s hope that things settle down and that “unscrupulous persons” (to use Government jargon) are not pricing their goods over the top (and often not handing over the Government tax – this does happen). Yes, you know who you are…
Time is getting on and there is more to talk about of course. Last but not least, however, may I send appreciation and thanks to Miss Jamaica Universe 2012, Ms. Chantal Zaky, who will be supporting the fund-raising efforts of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL). Ms. Zaky will hold a press conference tomorrow (Monday June 11) at JASL offices on Upper Musgrave Avenue, Kingston at 12:00 noon. Please come along and support. More on this anon, but suffice it to say, for now, that JASL are quietly doing incredible work with those Jamaicans who are most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and who are routinely marginalized by society. They need much more funds to be able to continue this heroic work. PLEASE support them in any way you can; financial donations will be most gratefully received. Visit their website at http://www.jasforlife.org/html/.
- Euro 2012: Why Can’t America Get Behind the World’s Most Popular Sport? (bleacherreport.com)
- It’s OK to like football and soccer. Really. (independentmail.com)
- Euro 2012: Embrace the Bar Life and Enjoy Games with Fellow Fans (bleacherreport.com)
- As Jamaican Drug Lord is Sentenced, U.S. Still Silent on Massacre (newyorker.com)
- http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz: A Massacre in Jamaica (mattatiasschwartz.com)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120610/lead/lead1.html: Dudus dollars wanted (Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120608/lead/lead1.html: Bombs on Tivoli (Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/memo-to-jamaican-politicians-long-speeches-bad-idea/: Dionne Jackson Miller’s blog
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Tax-package-softened_11634098: Tax package softened (Jamaica Observer)
- http://www.kingstonstyle.com/2012/06/lisa-hyper-never-the-less-at-cfw-2012/: Lisa Hyper at Caribbean Fashion Week
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Population–popularity–and-politics_11649986: James Moss-Solomon column
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120610/news/news4.html: Janet Silvera receives major tourism award
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/videos/video.php?id=466: Anger over Jarrett Lane police shooting lingers
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120605/lead/lead23.html: Deeply wounded (Jamaica Gleaner)
- The British officer who changed policing in Jamaica (guardian.co.uk)