Oh, a lot has been happening on this modest-sized island of ours. It’s not been an easy week, and it’s National Heroes Week. Please read my thoughts on heroes, at home and abroad, on my weekly Gleaner blog page, Social Impact. Comments on the page are more than welcome! http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2278A
In fact, a very bloody week: The police announced that there has been a 17 per cent drop in murders up to October 22: 799, compared to 966 in the same period in 2013. That is good news, but no sooner were the words out of their mouth than an avalanche of multiple killings descended on us. It started on National Heroes Day and has not let up since. You can see the list below. By my count, there have been eighteen murders since Sunday. That is an average of more than four per day.
Targeting CHEC: This wave of murders included a series of alarming killings and armed robberies targeting employees of China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). The police need to get a handle on this, and quickly. After four men were killed and robbed of J$2 million in cash they were transporting on a Sunday afternoon to pay CHEC workers (a pretty strange arrangement, seems to me) three more were shot dead yesterday in Bog Walk, St. Catherine and two others shot later in the day in the same area (one reportedly a CHEC employee). CHEC reports there have been numerous robberies in and around its worksites – three on Monday, alone.
Crime and terrorism are two different things, but comparisons are being made, in light of the above-mentioned mayhem. We have our own terrorists, people say. Some Jamaicans seem a little casual about the threat of terrorism; but then, they have never experienced it on their doorstep. Once you have, your attitude changes overnight, as the Canadians have sadly discovered. Having worked in the City of London during the 1980s, when there were repeated attacks by the IRA (and yes, people were blown up) I am acutely aware of the threat. It can happen anywhere. So, some think Mr. Bakr seems like a cool guy; he was just here to visit his daughter who is a doctor here (although he originally said he was also a guest of Louis Farrakhan, who coincidentally was in Kingston). Is he really such a bad guy that the Jamaican Government was in a hurry to send him straight back to Trinidad? We will never know all the details, but I am prepared to give Minister of National Security Peter Bunting the benefit of the doubt in making the decision to return him.
I’m not impressed, though, by Minister Bunting’s explanation of the whole affair in Parliament on Tuesday. He went about it all the wrong way, and tried to be a little too clever. And accusing the Opposition of “politicizing” the matter is a lame response. I am so tired of that word “politicizing,” aren’t you? This has been rumbling on for a week or so now. If you are interested in more background information, a browse through Trinidadian news sites is quite instructive.
But the four million dollars? That could have bought some anti-Ebola equipment or much-needed hospital supplies – or cleaned at least a couple of mosquito-infested gullies. Could we not have kept the man in custody for a day or two until the next commercial flight was available? There are still discontented rumblings. But at least his son had a nice stay in Jamaica, and one of his wives came too I believe. It’s a pity that one of the son’s friends has posted an ISIS meme on his Facebook page, however. I hope he does not endorse those sentiments.
Masked men: I would like to ask our Commissioner of Police why policemen were wearing masks when they descended on a house in Greenwich Town, Kingston earlier this week, turned the place upside down and eventually arrested a man. They said they seized a gun or guns, but the television reporters did not see them. They also told one TV reporter that they were wearing masks because they were on an “intelligence” mission. Really now.
Miraculous Jamaica: The International Monetary Fund’s Deputy Managing Director was in Jamaica today, at a special conference on “Unlocking Growth in the Caribbean” in Montego Bay. He called Jamaica’s performance nothing short of a miracle. Jamaica seems to be the IMF’s little pet, these days. Blue-eyed boys and girls – especially, of course, Minister Phillips, who is of course doing a herculean task. He has achieved a lot. But is it in Jamaica’s best interests to be #1 in the IMF’s Top Ten? Or should bask in the praise, sit back and wait for the benefits to trickle down to us regular Jamaicans? As for unlocking growth, has Jamaica found the key yet?
I would really, really, really, really like a full update on the state of Jamaica’s Ebola preparedness. The Health Minister needs to call a press conference and answer all the questions (without getting defensive). Just so we know where we are, now. When will we be getting more of the temperature scanners for both our international airports? Have all medical staff across the island now been trained? Are all the isolation locations set up (we understand they will not be in all public hospitals)? How many are there? Have all staff at the airports got the training they need, including immigration? As I write, I believe Health Minister Fenton Ferguson is in Cuba, asking them for help with training. As we know, Cuba has sent a large number of doctors to West Africa (they always have a surplus) – but are they really the experts? Be that as it may, it’s not a bad idea to get help but isn’t it a bit late anyway? Can’t we conduct our own training (and get on with it) based on WHO or CDC protocols?
Meanwhile the Nigerian man (with the awesome name Dr. Bob Banjo) who lives in Jamaica has been talking about how badly he was treated at Mandeville Hospital last week (it turned out he had food poisoning, but he caused an “ebola panic” among staff). He had to wait nine hours before someone attended to him. From this terrible experience, he has inevitably concluded that Jamaica is not prepared for the possible arrival of Ebola on its shores. I would add that being ignored by medical staff is apparently par for the course in some public hospitals these days.
As “chik v” (the chikungunya virus) drags its weary way across the island, I have to ask: Did the national cleanup happen already? I paid some entrepreneurs, who stopped by with a truck, to take our overflowing garbage bin the other day. I could not stand to wait for the National Solid Waste Management Agency to collect it after more than two weeks (this is the tropics, where things fester and breed…) But that’s only half the problem. People continue to trash the place. Almost every day I pick up garbage that has been thrown by passers-by under some pretty trees that our neighbors planted over the road. I suspect the government’s publicized “cleanups” have been just plain PR/photo-ops. We need something thorough and comprehensive, town and country.
Also, can we get a handle on the number of chik v-related deaths? There have apparently been several, although most of the victims had already existing health conditions. But there is some obfuscation, it seems.
Major kudos going out to…
- Cliff Hughes, who is doing a terrific job on his morning talk show on Power 106 FM, raising all the issues that need to be raised in a thoughtful and balanced way. I especially appreciated Cliff’s little tribute to Jamaican World War II veterans, including Keith Bardowell, who passed away recently (many condolences to his widow, Merline). These Jamaicans – whom I think are not always sufficiently recognized for the sacrifices they made – helped to save the world from the horrors of fascism (what would the world have been like if they had won?). Like my own father, who joined the Army at age 19. Please let us acknowledge and honor them more!
- One great Jamaican, Ms. Patricia Cuff, who received a National Honor on Monday. Ms. Cuff has spent her entire working life with the Jamaica Library Service, starting in 1965. She has not only dedicated her life to books and reading, but also to many aspects of Jamaican culture. I remember her performing at an event as a great storyteller in the true Jamaican tradition; I have never forgotten it. Congrats to Ms. Cuff, who received the Badge of Honour for Long and Faithful Service.
- Another Jamaican woman whom I admire greatly received a National Honor. Judith Wedderburn is a stalwart (and I don’t mean that in a boring way!) – a defender of women’s rights and democracy and a tireless campaigner for Jamaica’s development. Judith is also a board member of WMW Jamaica among others, and founding member of the 51% Coalition (Women in Partnership for Development and Empowerment) – check out their Facebook page. Judith is a powerhouse!
- Big ups also to the intrepid group of civil society representatives who attended Parliament last week. I quote from activist Taitu Heron’s Facebook page: “Civil Society representatives presented to the Joint Select Committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act on Wednesday October 15, 2014. Present were reps from: Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, Woman Inc, WMW Jamaica, JFLAG, Caribbean Development Activists & Women’s Network – Caribbean DAWN, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, Institute for Caribbean Children and Families, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, UN Women, UNDP, and child advocate, Rose Robinson Hall; all recommending progressive amendments – expansion of the definition of rape and sexual intercourse, close in age defence, removal of marital rape exemptions, removal of criminalising sex between minors, wider protection for the elderly, persons with disabilities and children from sexual violence; among others. Other presentations came from Sistren Theatre Collective, recommending progressive amendments; and the church groups, primarily Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society and the Love March Movement supporting the retention of marital rape, current definition of rape and sexual intercourse, criminalisation of sex between minors among others.” WMW Jamaica’s Tenesha Myrie also sat on a panel with Minister of Justice Mark Golding and Senator Williams to discuss the submissions for changes to the Sexual Offences Act, with Dionne Jackson Miller on television last night. I haven’t watched it yet but it should be on Television Jamaica’s website very soon.
- To three Jamaican artists who received Musgrave Medals this week: Petrona Morrison (Gold), Jasmine Thomas-Girvan (Silver) and Phillip Thomas (Bronze).
As mentioned above, this week’s toll of murder victims has been frightening and depressing. I cannot imagine the waves of grief in all these different communities. My heart goes out to all the families and loved ones who are mourning the passing of…
Loxley Brown, 32, Rockfort, East Kingston
Terrence Dixon, 31, Rockfort, East Kingston
Aboyonei Strachan, 23, Rockfort, East Kingston
Eric Brown, 44, Barbican Road, Kingston 8/St. Andrew
Unidentified man, Barbican Road, Kingston 8/St. Andrew
Steven Reid, Leas Flat/Red Hills, St. Andrew
Tanya Simpson, Leas Flat/Red Hills, St. Andrew
Matty Taylor, 70, Pineapple Lane/Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Patrick Cummings, 51, Pineapple Lane/Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Alva McKenzie, Pineapple Lane/Bog Walk, St. Catherine
Kaydon (Prince) Smith, 29, Portmore Mall, St. Catherine
Sheldon Robinson, 24, Edgewater/Portmore, St. Catherine
Karl Fletcher, Tower Hill, St. James
Rohan Wilson, 30,Windsor Lodge/Somerton, St. James
Samantha Gillings, 24, Windsor Lodge/Somerton, St. James
Nesline Young, 67, Upper King Street, Canterbury, St. James
Everald Leslie, 24, Upper King Street, Canterbury, St. James
Heron Foster, 38, Upper King Street, Canterbury, St. James