Focus on Montego Bay, Shackelia’s Mission and Kemesha’s Inspiration: Jamaica Weekly Review: Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It has not been an easy week in Jamaica, I think it’s fair to say. Our island has had a bit of drama. On the plus side, the weather is gentle and warm… and I hear a pair of parrots chatting to each other in our back yard. Yes, we have urban parrots, woodpeckers, warblers and doves in our lovely green yard.

Agriculture: Now, what is really happening in the agriculture sector? Is anyone paying attention? I ask these questions because several stories (all of them negative, a couple very distressing) have broken recently highlighting the plight of our farmers. In the list below you will see that a farmer, Paul Morgan, was shot dead at Bernard Lodge in St. Catherine. He planted bananas and plantain, then decided to go into goat rearing – whereupon armed thieves stole some of his goats. He reported it to the police. The thieves came back for more, murdered Mr. Morgan and the community is now living in fear. Another story that alarmed and puzzled me was that of the destruction of a fairly large acreage of coffee, and the despair of small coffee farmers who have lost their crops. I hate to see farmers struggling and suffering almost every day on my TV screen. Meanwhile, the neglected cocoa industry is now suffering from disease. Does the Ministry know there is unprecedented demand for cocoa globally? Can we please stop making weather-related excuses for agriculture’s poor performance? P.S. I have learned that State Minister J.C. Hutchinson has a graduate degree from Cornell University and is a practising farmer – eminently qualified to handle the portfolio… and undaunted, Member of Parliament Juliet Holness has worked on the staging of a Blue Mountain Coffee Festival to take place at the Newcastle camp, from March 23 – 25. She has also been promoting strawberry farmers in constituency. She’s trying.

Caribbean: Barbados is suffering from a major problem that may be affecting its tourism, too. Not crime – sewage. A major sewage leak has caused people to move from the south coast. No one seems to be owning up to taking responsibility.

The Second Ministerial Meeting of the Forum of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and China took place this week in Santiago, Chile. The meeting explored “new forms of cooperation.” Our Foreign Affairs Minister issued a statement, which I have shared here (along with some other items you might like to take note of).

Corruption and Transparency: The police car procurement fiasco has taken a lot of twists and turns. The Government has not covered itself in glory on this one, and it still seems to be playing itself out (since last year…) More to follow on this.

Meanwhile, in his statement in Parliament yesterday National Security Minister Robert Montague said he is working with Commissioner Quallo to implement a policy to “hasten the transition of members of the force at all levels who are tainted by corruption and otherwise ineffective.” Well, as they say “time come.”

Crime: Last Thursday morning (and quite early) many Jamaicans already knew that the Prime Minister would be announcing a State of Public Emergency for St. James that day. A major security operation had already been reported from as early as 6:00 a.m. I was at the Prayer Breakfast at the time. Prime Minister Holness made the official announcement until midday at a press briefing (live streamed on social media). I wrote about it here for Global Voices. There are lots of links in the article to follow.

What results can the security forces point to, so far? Several gang members have been arrested, and an illegal gas racket has been busted (allegedly operating a stone’s throw from Montego Freeport Police Station, and allegedly involving said police). A second AK-47, a handgun and ammunition were seized in Flanker in a place named “Rifle Lane,” and a large quantity of ammunition in Granville. A large sum of money in US$ and J$ (J$2.5 million) was seized. Another positive spin-off has been the large number of calls to the tip hotline (873-8888) – could it be because it is operated by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) who are more trusted? There’s an email address, too: There’s a Twitter account @takebackstjames and a Facebook page.

Funeral: Two days into the State of Emergency, one of those “bling” funerals took place in Quarrie, St. James – with disastrous results. A man pulled a gun and fired, injuring three people and killing Michael Bernard. The police reportedly seized a gun. Senior policeman Elan Powell admitted later that the police made an error. At the funeral of an alleged gang leader they should have been out in force, but something went wrong. This was an embarrassing “blip.”

As has been noted in the past, juveniles are playing an increasing role in crime, these days. No less than 58 were arrested and charged for murder last year, and many others were arrested on shooting, firearm and robbery charges. Sadly, nothing new.

100 murders in 20 days: No kidding. That is an average of five per day. Meanwhile, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) is “expressing outrage” again. The PSOJ says it will organise a summit on February 15 and 16, bringing together stakeholders, which will “set a plan going forward,” and will establish a Crime Monitoring Group.

Jamaicans love “crime plans” and they have all been so effective in the past (forgive the sarcasm, please!) But the People’s National Party (PNP) – which has a slick new website, by the way – has come out with a ten-point crime plan. Great stuff! Point #7 is “Deal with corruption.” Well, duh…

Here are some links you may find useful on the State of Emergency: Minister Montague’s Statement in Parliament, January 23; Minister Chuck’s Statement in Parliament, January 23; and the Emergency Powers Regulations 2018.

Spanish Town curfew: There has been an upsurge in crime in the St. Catherine South police division, and quite a few arrests have been made.

5 metric tonnes of brass bearings were stolen recently from the mill at the Worthy Park Sugar Factory in St. Catherine. Now Industry Minister Karl Samuda says brass will now need an export license. Two people have been arrested but it seems the brass has already gone out of the country.

Culture and the Arts: Veerle Poupeye recently resigned as Executive Director of the National Gallery of Jamaica. I wish her all the very best as she starts off in new directions! I interviewed Veerle on her career, life and vision for Jamaican art back in 2014.

A dancehall anniversary: And a sad one, actually – the death of Gerald “Bogle” Levy, thirteen years ago. He was shot dead at a gas station. No one was arrested for his murder, despite DJ Beenie Man offering a substantial reward at the time. Bogle was an inner city pioneer in dance and fashion, who became famous in the 1990s for his Bogle dance on the Black Roses corner in Lincoln Avenue, Kingston 13. He is not forgotten; his mural is still on the wall and dance classes are still held on the corner.

Economy: Things are looking a little more hopeful on the public sector wages front. “Offers have been placed on the table,” says head of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) Helene Davis Whyte; they are under consideration by union members.

“We will be probably just under one per cent,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness conceded at his quarterly press briefing today. It seems the Government’s goals for growth are aspirational. The PM used the weather excuse, too, to explain agriculture’s decline. The Agriculture Minister promised that the sector will contribute “at least 2 to 3 per cent” to the much-touted “5 in 4” goal.

Finance Minister Audley Shaw is bullish on the prospect of BPO jobs. He also aired his vocal chords recently, singing the Lord’s Prayer in church in a vibrant baritone. All is not gloom and doom, Minister Shaw suggests.

Environment: Are we monitoring the huge hotels on the north coast, and their environmental practices? I hear complaints of a sewage stench in Runaway Bay, allegedly emanating from the Gran Bahia Principe, which has around 2,000 rooms at the last count.

Days of heavy rain have resulted in a pileup of garbage on beaches around Ocho Rios – washed down in rivers and gullies. Several feet of mud, garbage and “unsuitable for swimming” human waste ended up in Old Fort Bay, according to a TV report.

Health: I am rather worried about the mosquitoes, after so much rain across the island. So far, only five cases of dengue have been reported (but I am aware of one death) – but those who did not get the awful Zika and the not-at-all-pleasant Chikungunya (“chik v”) viruses should beware. No, I am not being paranoid; these things are no joke. Make sure you are not harbouring any larvae anywhere around your house! PS I have had all three of these things (I hardly notice when mosquitoes bite me) so I know what I’m talking about.

Human Rights: Shackelia Jackson is a determined young woman who believes in justice. She is eloquent as she speaks about her quest for justice for her brother – and her family. January 20 was the fourth anniversary of the death of her brother Nakeia at his cook shop in Orange Villa, Kingston; he was shot dead by the police. I feel a special personal connection with this case, and wrote about it here. Now, Shackelia is campaigning for justice across the region, supported by Amnesty International. In case you are wondering, the case against the policeman was dismissed last year, when a witness failed to show up.

While National Security Minister Robert Montague asserted that there have been “no reports of human rights abuse” during the State of Emergency, there have been murmurings in the media that food and water has been inadequate and detained people have to sleep on concrete floors. There are potential human rights concerns, here. The Government reports that 19 legal aid lawyers were made available for those detained, and an Emergency Review Tribunal will consider any abuses and any concerns those affected by the state of emergency might have. Meanwhile, some are concerned about teenagers detained by the police. The Children’s Advocate is obtaining legal representation for them.

I asked representatives of the security forces via Nationwide News Network’s Facebook Live broadcast exactly how many people were in custody as of yesterday; where they were being held; and how many had been charged. They could not give a definitive answer on the numbers. By the way, no one can take legal action against members of the security forces during the State of Emergency unless they can prove that the security forces’ actions were not taken “in good faith,” said the Minister in Parliament yesterday. I did not realise that before.

Politics: Former JLP Member of Parliament Enid Bennett was laid to rest on January 20 in Linstead, St. Catherine. She served as an MP for 21 years, and also as State Minister in the Ministry of Social Security in the 1980s.

Religion: The National Leadership Prayer Breakfast took place last Thursday. As usual, the focus was on crime. As usual, the invitees were predominantly middle-aged (and upwards) male Christian leaders. As usual, a preacher swayed the audience with a powerful sermon. Don’t we need a little more diversity – a more challenging approach? Or is this merely a networking opportunity for the Christian Old Boys’ Club? These are the questions I ask in my piece for the Gleaner blogs, this week. Meanwhile, I note that the U.S. Embassy (which held interfaith services commemorating the 9/11 terrorist attacks for several years afterwards) is commending Jamaica for its religious diversity when it hosted an interfaith dialogue recently. OK, then.

Congratulations! To these awesome people…

  • Juleus Ghunta, a Jamaican Chevening Scholar currently working in the field of Peace Studies, has just won Interviewing the Caribbean’s Catherine James Poetry Prize 2018 for his poems Wounds and Leaving. 
  • Two awesome Jamaicans, champion swimmer Alia Atkinson and Olympic/World Champion hurdler Omar McLeod, won RJR’s Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year, respectively. These are two great role models – hard work, persistence and a positive attitude go a long way!
  • Kemesha Kelly, another Chevening Scholar, on her graduation from York University in the UK. Kemesha made an inspirational speech at the graduation ceremony. “We didn’t just get a degree from the University of York, but we’ve been sent to change the world,” she said.
  • Three Jamaican artists, who were warmly received at The Outsider Art Fair in New York: Eddie Harris, Kemel Rankine, and Sane Mae Dunkley, presented by the New York-based gallery Antillean. Special congrats to Jacqueline Bishop!
  • Miss Jamaica Festival Queen Dainalyn Swaby has just launched a new non-profit, LearnEarnReturn in her home parish of St. Elizabeth. It’s all about youth empowerment through entrepreneurship and community development. Stay tuned for more!
  • Another new – or rather, revived – blogger (Kingston Too), whom I know personally. Please tune in to her blog – I shared her first post a few days ago on this page.
  • Damien Williams, development practitioner, community activist, religious leader, singer, motivational speaker – and now, author! He has written a book called Grab You Some Lemons, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. “The universality of the memoir is enshrined in the deep lessons it reveals about life, resilience and suffering,” one review notes. “Yours Truly” wrote the Foreword – it was a pleasure and honour to be invited to do so.
  • Usain Bolt, who has donated J$1 million towards the Walker’s Place of Safety in Kingston, which burned down recently. He urged Jamaicans to help, however they are able.

It is not easy to compile this list every week (and it’s not necessarily exhaustive), but I am determined to do it. It’s more important than ever. My deepest condolences to the families of all these victims, in their grief.

Kingston/St. Andrew: Lamar Thompson, 31, unemployed was shot dead while standing on Mulgrave Lane.

Unidentified man, shot dead in a car that crashed on Henderson Avenue in Olympic Gardens, St Andrew. The alleged gunman was caught and his gun seized.

Clarendon: Javaughn Livingston, 21, was shot dead outside his home in Mineral Heights.

Manchester: 49-year-old St Claire Wayne Jordine and 52-year-old Marcia McKenzie were shot dead when gunmen entered a bar in Porus. A 50 year-old man was injured.

St. Ann: 42-year-old Pete Germaine McKoy, a taxi driver, was found dead with gunshot wounds in his car in St. Ann’s Bay.

54-year-old attorney Lois Ferguson, otherwise known as Neo Makeba, was found dead at her home in Shaw Park, Ocho Rios.

St. Catherine: Paul Morgan, farmer, was shot dead at Bernard Lodge Farm. See the story above, in “Agriculture.”

Fitzroy Pearson, 41, a phone technician and liaison officer for the Peace Management Initiative, was shot dead on Monk Street, Spanish Town.

Old Harbour Square.

26-year- old Kevin Williams, a conductor, was shot dead in the Old Harbour bus park. The police killed the (unidentified) man who fired at a group of people, injuring two.

St. James: Michael Bernard was shot dead and several others injured in Quarrie, Salt Spring at the funeral of alleged gang leader Oshane ‘Ganda’ Duhaney. Duhaney was murdered recently in St. Ann.

A juvenile has been arrested and charged for the murder of 33-year- old Koyodian Grant, craft vendor, who was shot and killed in Ironshore in the parish on Sunday, January 14.

A 20 year-old has been arrested and charged for the murder of 41-year-old Cleopatra Fletcher and 52-year-old Dawnette Shettleworth on Saturday, January 13.

St. Thomas: Three members of a family were found with their throats cut at their home in Georgia/Trinityville, St. Thomas: Farmer, David Anderson, 45, his common law wife Maurine Smith, 45 and their daughter, 6 year-old Odette Anderson.

Trelawny: The unidentified body of a man found in Duanvale with gunshot wounds last week is that of Omar Edwards, also called Ratty, who was reportedly wanted for several murders.

Westmoreland: Orlando Smith, 26, a gas station attendant, was shot dead while boarding a taxi to work in Amity.

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