A Stormy Start to the Year: Jamaica, January 18, 2017


First: I promise to bring lots of happy, hopeful news in my next post! It truly has been a tempestuous couple of weeks to start off 2017. Even the weather went a little strange; one night we had tropical storm force winds and many Jamaicans’ power went off. Half our apple tree ended up on the ground. Phew! So much has happened since Christmas that it already seems like a far-off dream. Here goes… (Now, I haven’t included anything on the economy, although there is lots of news here too – for example, Inflation for the 2016 calendar year was 1.7 per cent, the lowest in decades, according to the consumer price index data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. Yay!)

The Moravian Church in Jamaica is in deep trouble - but then, so are our young women and girls, and they have been in trouble for a very long time...
The Moravian Church in Jamaica is in deep trouble – but then, so are our young women and girls, and they have been in trouble for a very long time…

I mentioned the case of Rupert Clarke, the pastor in the Moravian Church, who was charged with the statutory rape of a fifteen year-old girl (not merely “having sex with her,” as Michael Abrahams observes in his excellent column) in my January 3 update. Little did we know then that the story would swell to vast proportions. It is not a “scandal,” but a wide-ranging, often painful and intense public debate (still raging in social media) on the sexual abuse/exploitation of young Jamaican women (and children) by older men in powerful positions. The focus has been on the Moravian Church in St. Elizabeth; but this is a widespread problem, right across Jamaica – and not only in churches but with men in powerful positions as perpetrators. Now churches island-wide are doing some introspection. Last Friday, the Acting President of the Moravian Church Rev. Phyllis Smith Seymour issued a dramatic statement. The Church is “battered and wounded,” she said, while asserting the rights of all children to be free from abuse. OK, so why is she Acting President? Because the President, Dr. Paul Gardner and Vice President Rev. Jermaine Gibson of the Moravian Church in Jamaica resigned last Thursday. The outburst of anger on social media really sparked this whole series of events.

he Nazareth Moravian Church in Manchester to which 64-year-old Rupert Clarke is assigned. Clarke is charged with having sex with a 15-year-old girl - (Photo: Damion Mitchell/Gleaner)
The Nazareth Moravian Church in Manchester to which 64-year-old Rupert Clarke is assigned. Clarke is charged with having sex with a 15-year-old girl – (Photo: Damion Mitchell/Gleaner)

But enough of the church. They’re busy soul-searching; and they are still having their National Prayer Breakfast, the point of which I never have comprehended. What about the girl in all of this – one of eleven children for their mother, living in poverty in rural Jamaica? What about so many other vulnerable girls in similar situations, right across Jamaica? I don’t want to hear any more reports about what the church men are saying, denying, upset about… I simply want to see justice for the girls. Now is the time not only for openness – accusations and allegations have been flying – but also for taking steps to start caring for and protecting our girls. And this includes neighbors, family and friends. Report child abuse! It is a CRIME to know of it and not report it.

Heather Murray, principal of Hampton School in Malvern, St. Elizabeth. (Photo: Adrian Frater/Gleaner) *** Local Caption *** File Murray
Heather Murray, principal of Hampton School in Malvern, St. Elizabeth. (Photo: Adrian Frater/Gleaner)

Meanwhile, the Principal of Hampton School – a highly-regarded boarding school for girls in the parish – decided to insert herself into the news. She appeared at the courthouse for the aforementioned pastor’s bail hearing, making her presence known and trying to prevent the media from recording the pastor as he left. I cannot imagine what entered Ms. Heather-Dawn Murray’s head (the LASCO/Ministry of Education Principal of the Year, 2014). This was very poor judgment, at the very least; but she defended herself by saying she was supporting her close friend, the pastor’s wife. While controversy raged over the pastor, many called for Ms. Murray’s resignation. Then, after issuing a proper apology to all and sundry, Ms. Murray (whom the Education Minister suggested was going to take two weeks’ compassionate leave) refused to go, informing the school board chair via a letter from her lawyer! I am of the opinion that she should have already resigned, as principal of a girls’ high school. This young woman could have been one of her students!

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith. (My photo)
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith. (My photo)

Well, what drama. Now, remember the offer from then Prime Minister David Cameron to kindly build a prison for Jamaican convicts in the UK to complete their sentences? The British PM made the offer during a visit here in 2015, and ruffled Jamaican feathers; in fact, the visit was not a roaring success. Well, the Holness administration has turned it down. Why? Simply because, said Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith, it would not have benefited Jamaica on the whole. The previous People’s National Party (PNP) administration had signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with the UK Government, whereby Jamaica would have to pay 60 per cent of the cost of the prison – approximately 32 million UK Pounds. The cost was a major consideration – plus the fact that, according to National Security Minister Robert Montague, Jamaica would have to take some 600 prisoners from the UK – not all Jamaican citizens but of Jamaican descent. I didn’t realize this! Of course, the question remains: what are we going to do about our crumbling and overcrowded prisons, some over 200 years old?  Here are some great insights on the matter from retired Fulbright Professor and criminologist Bernard Headley.

trafigura

Ah, Trafigura is back! High-powered lawyer and former politician K.D. Knight has managed to keep the wolves from the door for the past five years. Mr. Knight, a clever lawyer, is determined to prevent former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and four other PNP officials from having to testify in open court regarding an alleged illegal payment of J$31 million by the Dutch company Trafigura Beheer to the PNP. Knight contends the judge ruled in error and that Simpson Miller & Co. have committed no crime, therefore should not have to face Dutch prosecutors. A luta continua…

Murders “cleared up”: Acting Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant told the press recently that 57 per cent of the 1,350 murders committed last year were solved. This is not very impressive percentage, although Ms. Grant notes it is higher than in 2015 (53 per cent). I believe “cleared up” means someone was charged and his/her case is going to court. Are police killings also included in “cleared up”? Additionally, 689 guns and 9,376 rounds of ammunition were seized last year under the relatively short “Get the Guns” campaign – which I do find impressive.

Six members of the Ski Mask gang were killed by the police in Goodwill, St. James over the weekend, and everyone seems quite happy about it. The police say the notorious gang has been “destroyed.” Don’t they know that more will spring up in their place? Anyway, I am sure Mr. Ian Boyne (who called for drastic action on crime in his weekly exercise in pomposity in the Sunday Gleaner) must have been very happy. Perhaps he could have been drafted in to remove bodies and clean the street of blood. 

20 Arrested for Scamming: There’s a very earnest (and handsome) young man who is the Media Liaison Officer for the Lottery Scam Taskforce, Sergeant Kevin Watson. I’m always happy to see him on my TV screen. He tells us that a series of raids in western Jamaica in the past few days resulted in the arrest of 20 people and the seizure of documentation, money etc. One Jamaican man with a Haitian wife apparently had a “voodoo shrine” – they were helping things along spiritually, I guess.

The Clifton Boys' Home in Darliston, Westmoreland, established in 1961 and owned and operated by the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, was badly damaged by fire on Sunday. Thankfully no one was injured. Donors are being invited to make contributions through the National Commercial Bank at account number 611098561. Board Chairman, the Rev Canon and Hartley Perrin, explained that a foreign currency account (number 614525185) has also been established to facilitate donors across the Diaspora. Do help if you can.
The Clifton Boys’ Home in Darliston, Westmoreland, established in 1961 and owned and operated by the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, was badly damaged by fire on Sunday. Thankfully no one was injured. Donors are being invited to make contributions through the National Commercial Bank at account number 611098561. Board Chairman, the Rev Canon and Hartley Perrin, explained that a foreign currency account (number 614525185) has also been established to facilitate donors across the Diaspora. Do help if you can.

One “probable” Zika-related case of microcephaly: There has been one case of microcephaly in a baby born to a woman in December who had a rash and fever from Zika during her pregnancy. 77 pregnant mothers were confirmed with Zika at the end of last year.

Rationalizing the public sector: This issue has been lingering for some years now, off and on. It’s not an issue politicians like to address. “Rationalizing” means job cuts. Opposition Finance Spokesman Peter Phillips is questioning the Holness administration’s “philosophy of governance” and is demanding transparency, noting that his administration always believed in such things. Oh yes? Mr. Phillips is worried also about politicization of the redundancies. “Be careful,” he added, not to make people redundant. It’s posts that should be cut. Well, a very good point. But non-performers…?

The news that eight passengers on a speeding Jamaican tour bus have sued the cruise line, Royal Caribbean, sparked a blog post from me this week. We are furiously building huge hotels, but it seems to me that those Jamaicans who are seeking income from our visitors are becoming increasingly frustrated (and downright annoying). I’m talking about harassment and the ridiculous, wild behavior, which is apparently to impress the tourists. Hence the crash a year ago, in which one tourist died and several were injured. Ugh!

Peter Abrahams and his wife Daphne in happier days at Coyaba. (Photo: Caribbean Beat)
Peter Abrahams and his wife Daphne in happier days at Coyaba. (Photo: Caribbean Beat)

The death of Peter Abrahams: South African-born radio broadcaster, writer and political commentator Peter Abrahams was found dead today in his home in the hills. Police are still investigating his death, which could have been from a fall from his wheelchair. Mr. Abrahams was 97. I remember his slightly wavering voice on radio (RJR) when we first arrived in Jamaica. I think he broadcast every evening after the news. A TVJ report on Mr. Abrahams, including a recent interview with journalist Earl Moxam, made me rather sad, though. The widowed Mr. Abrahams lived alone in his beloved home Coyaba – which looked in a bad state of repair. I hope he was happy in his latter years.

Down at the Herb Curb at "Rebel Salute." (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Down at the Herb Curb at “Rebel Salute.” (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Ganja + Reggae = … well, we “used our discretion,” say the police at the annual Rebel Salute reggae festival in St. Ann. They had issued warnings that the weed should not be “transported” and people should not have more than two ounces in their possession. Well…some patrons might have had three or four, but… Also I read that “ganja exemption was obtained for persons handling ganja at the herb curb booths.” What’s a herb curb booth? It’s a booth extolling the many wonders of ganja. Sorry I missed the opportunity to get myself an Ital Vapor Steam Chalice, though. I hear the mangoberry ganja “gwaan good” too! (?) Meanwhile, only one in six Jamaicans admit to driving under the influence. Health Minister Christopher Tufton mentioned, in this regard, “the recreational use (of ganja) and abuse based on the impressions that it is a free-for-all, and based on the blurred lines between consumption for medicinal versus recreational use.” It’s blurred, all right.

Natalie Smith at the house in Buckfield, St. Ann. A huge cotton tree fell on the house, killing her daughter and ex-boyfriend. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
Natalie Smith at the house in Buckfield, St. Ann, where a huge cotton tree fell, killing her daughter and ex-boyfriend. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Never cut down a cotton tree: Many superstitions and tales surround the beautiful cotton tree, and many country people are wary of cutting them down. But one of these trees, whose roots had been burned, fell on a house in Capture Land, New Buckfield, near Ocho Rios in St Ann, killing a father and daughter and seriously injuring his son. It was a humble dwelling made of board. Some of the residents thought the noise was “God coming.”

The list of names is very long, and it appears that murders over the first eleven days of the year are showing a considerable increase over the same period in 2016, which was bad enough. There is a sad irony in the killing of Jamaicans in places with lovely names like “Mount Peace” and “Goodwill.” I extend my condolences to the grieving families of all those who have died.

Damian Lewis, 25, August Town, St. Andrew

Orlando East, 32, Mount Ogle District, St Andrew

Cavel Henry, 32, White Water Meadows/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Algi Ellis, 28, White Water Meadows/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Trevor Cole, 55, Sydenham Avenue/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Eltham Park/Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Neville Scott, 50, Longwood District, Clarendon

Lisa Thompson, 41, Clarendon

Bendilou McKay, 17, Bucks Common, Clarendon

Winsome Thompson, 40, Palmers Cross, Clarendon

Carl Roberts, 50, Brandon Hill/Kellits, Clarendon

Owen Oxford, 46, May Pen, Clarendon

Kevin Smith, 38, Lucea, Hanover

Marvin McIntosh, 36, Prospect District, Hanover

Patrick Robinson, 55, Mount Peace, Hanover 

Vernon Hall, 63, Mount Peace, Hanover 

Royan Gowan, 18, Claremont, Hanover

Oswyn Jarret o/c ‘Ski-Mask,” Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)

Deno Pryce, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)

Marlon Samuels, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)

‘Shenky’, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)

‘Fargo’, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)

Unidentified man, Goodwill, St. James (killed by police)

Andary Burrell, 28, Glendevon, St. James

Richard Davis, 25, West End/Negril, Westmoreland

Romaine Miller, 24, West End/Negril, Westmoreland

David Bennett, 22, West End/Negril, Westmoreland

Christopher Durrant, 44, West End/Negril, Westmoreland

Theresa McDonald, 68, Berkshire, Westmoreland

Charmain Mahbair, 44, Toll District/Frome, Westmoreland

Ashton Skyers, 60, Falmouth, Trelawny

Winston Howell, Logwood Valley/Wakefield, Trelawny

Alfred Whorms, 66, Runaway Bay, St. Ann

Gavel Bailey, 22, Steer Town, St. Ann

Christopher Fairweather, Wain Road, Port Antonio, Portland (killed by police)

Alanzo Kerr, 25, East Palm Avenue, Port Antonio, Portland

 

25-year-old Dwight Henry, otherwise called ‘Dougie’ of Wentworth, Port Maria in St Mary, is still on the run after escaping custody at the Port Maria Hospital on January 3. Henry was in custody since June 24, 2016, awaiting trial on charges of murder and illegal possession of firearm related to the killing of the missionaries, 48-year-old Randy Hentzel, and 53-year-old Harold Nichols at the end of April last year. He was charged along with 25-year-old Andre Thomas of Port Maria for the murders. Contact Crime Stop at 311, Police emergency at 119 or the nearest police station if you have any information.
25-year-old Dwight Henry, otherwise called ‘Dougie’ of Wentworth, Port Maria in St Mary, is still on the run after escaping custody at the Port Maria Hospital on January 3. Henry was in custody since June 24, 2016, awaiting trial on charges of murder and illegal possession of firearm related to the killing of U.S. missionaries, 48-year-old Randy Hentzel, and 53-year-old Harold Nichols at the end of April last year. He was charged along with 25-year-old Andre Thomas of Port Maria for the murders. Contact Crime Stop at 311, Police emergency at 119 or the nearest police station if you have any information.

 

Acting Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant (center) gave a press conference on January 11.
Acting Commissioner of Police Novelette Grant (center) gave a press conference on January 11.
Soon after a wonderful, happy celebration of a whole year in August Town without any murders, a man was shot dead. I'm asking the community to PLEASE hang in there, and don't despair. They have worked so hard, alongside the police, to maintain the peace in a community that was once torn apart by gang violence. Here Member of Parliament Fayval Williams celebrates with dancehall performer Sizzla, who lives in August Town.
Soon after a wonderful, happy celebration of a whole year in August Town without any murders, a man was shot dead. I’m asking the community to PLEASE hang in there, and don’t despair. Residents have worked so hard, alongside the police, to maintain the peace in a community that was once torn apart by gang violence. Here Member of Parliament Fayval Williams celebrates the violence-free year with dancehall performer Sizzla, who lives in August Town. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
(From left) Murder victims Richard Davis, Romaine Miller and David Bennett, whose bodies were found in Negril this week. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
(From left) Murder victims Richard Davis, Romaine Miller and David Bennett, whose bodies were found in Negril this week after a long search. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

 


7 thoughts on “A Stormy Start to the Year: Jamaica, January 18, 2017

  1. Wow, you covered a lot… the murder stats are always so discouraging – a flag of things wrong with our world.

    The cotton tree is most likely a ceiba? What an interesting trivia, though sad if innocents were the ones who suffered. Mother Nature, however, tries to assert her voice but sometimes she has to scream a bit louder…..

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    1. Yes – it is especially discouraging as in general our economy is improving and things have been “looking up” in the past year or so. Crime is like a huge blot on the landscape. Yes, the cotton tree is Ceiba Pentandra and one of our native trees. There are many superstitions surrounding it – mainly that “duppies” (ghosts) live in them. I should write something about this very special tree… Country people generally will leave them alone…

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      1. It seems to be a sacred tree in many countries.. There’s a distinct first cousin here they call a ‘Ceibo’ and its torso-looking trunk gives it a humanesque appearance. I llove the ‘ghost’ connection — if people thought that ghosts lived in them here, perhaps some locals wouldn’t cut down the tree just to retrieve the honey from the hollow trunk… yes, they actually do that to magestic trees, and it breaks my heart to see one that’s been smoked and felled.

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      2. Yes, it does look somehow human…perhaps where the stories started. Our indigenous Taino people also believed cotton trees held spirits. Oh no! We don’t have honey in the trunk of our trees, at least I don’t think so. But apparently they had burned the roots of this one, planning to cut it down, so it was weak. Like you, I cannot bear the sight of a large tree being cut down!

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    1. It’s truly depressing. Much of it is gang warfare, and the repercussions that affect families, even women and children. And much of it is in just 2 or 3 parts of the island – so if they could just deal with it in those areas it would make a huge difference.

      Liked by 1 person

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