Now, where were we? Today is the last day of January, and somehow I feel we are “back to square one.” Not a happy feeling. By the way, I will be posting a bunch of environment and climate change stories shortly, so these are not included here.
Caribbean: There is a lot of activism at the moment surrounding the quite disturbing case of Yugge Farrell, a 22 year-old woman in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), who is currently in a psychiatric hospital. Ms. Farrell uttered two somewhat abusive words to Karen Duncan-Gonsalves, a senior crown counsel in the Attorney General’s office. Yugge alleges that she had a known relationship through 2016 with Camillo Gonsalves, the Minister of Finance, son of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, and husband of Duncan-Gonsalves. She was ordered by the court to the Mental Health Centre for a two-week inpatient confinement for mental health evaluation, as allowed under SVG’s Mental Health Act. When she appeared for the second time in court she seemed to be exhibiting symptoms resulting from the administration of psychotropic medicines (illegally), activists say. A crowd-funding effort has been organised by Leave out Violence in SVG.
Trinidad and Tobago is agonising, after experiencing the most murders in January in any year – at least 59. Bear in mind their population is 1.1 million. Last year’s murders were way up on the previous year. It seems we are not the only ones.
Children: The Walker’s Place of Safety, which was burned down recently, will be demolished and rebuilt. There has been an outpouring of support and around J$4 million has been donated so far. The Child Protection And Family Services Agency says it wants to build a modern facility in place of the old building.
While Andrew Holness was touring Montego Bay, there was a terrible fire in his constituency of Olympic Gardens, Kingston. Three small children died in a house, after being left there by a teenage relative, it’s reported. Juliet Holness (a woman I have a lot of time for) went down right away to help. Coming out of this, the Prime Minister has asked the Energy Ministry to fast-track a project to install solar lights in homes in low-income areas. No more candles and kerosene lamps!
Do not even think about sharing a video of child sex abuse circulating on social media. Instead, call police 119 or the National Children’s Registry: 1-888-PROTECT
Crime: So now, to our surprise, Police Commissioner George Quallo will be stepping down…as of tomorrow. This was announced last week. We expected him to retire in August. There are many, many questions – and endless discussions in the media on the role of the Police Service Commission, who should replace Mr. Quallo, etc., etc. I wrote about it all in my Gleaner blog here. Can we get away from the “Messiah” syndrome? And people, the sinister retired cop Reneto Adams, of Crime Management Unit notoriety, will not be “brought back” any time soon! Adams, who made a bizarre appearance on television this week, may be looking for a job. Is the head of the Community Safety and Security Unit, Assistant Commissioner Steve McGregor, angling for the position? It seems so.
Well, the State of Public Emergency in St. James (SOE) has been extended until May 2 under a Emergency Powers Continuation Resolution brought forward by the Prime Minister. The House of Representatives voted in favour of the extension. Prime Minister Holness said there is growing confidence among the security forces and citizens and that more time is needed “as the intelligence picture is being built…on the facilitators as well.” Could it be that the aim is to go beyond catching the “small fry”? We shall see. Meanwhile, ten illegal guns have been seized, and 51 people arrested and charged for various crimes. Pleas to the public to provide information continue… and the Prime Minister stressed the need for confidentiality. P.S. I am glad the security forces are pursuing the illegal petrol trade uncovered during the SOE.
Big deal news: The Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) Act, which will establish an independent body to combat organised crime, passed in Parliament this week. The very vocal and active Opposition Spokesman on Security Fitz Jackson said “some people who are walking around should be behind bars.” He referred to a mysterious murder in the home of a well-known attorney, about which we have heard nothing – where is this investigation? Since its inception in 2014, MOCA has conducted 904 operations, made 1054 arrests, charged 686 and obtained 146 convictions. Not bad at all.
“We are all one family,” insisted one resident of August Town, St. Andrew in a TV report. August Town is a small community, separated into even smaller sections. Since last year tension has been rising in the area, with gunshots at night. Now four people were murdered and three wounded. The Peace Management Initiative, which does incredible work, is in the community, supporting the peace-builders (such as Kenneth Wilson and local churches). In days gone by (especially in the early 2000s) the area was torn apart by gang violence. There have been many peace-making efforts in the past, and I personally witnessed some of these. Is it going back to the bad old days again? I empathise with the good people of August Town. Hang in there! Spanish Town is also struggling with an increase in gang violence; some say because certain individuals have been released from prison recently.
Culture and the Arts: The death of Donna McFarlane, Director/Curator of Liberty Hall brought deep sadness to many in the cultural field, and everyone who knew her. There will be a tribute to her at Liberty Hall on Friday.
Then we had the Grammys. Although many Jamaicans were rooting for Chronixx, another Marley (Damian) got the Award for his album Stony Hill.
Another amazing woman was here over the weekend – the one and only Grace Jones. The Jamaica premiere of a documentary of her life, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami took place at Carib 5 in Kingston, and the next day in Ocho Rios.
Economy: Unemployment is at its lowest level for ten years, says the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. In October 2017 it was 10.4 %; the youth unemployment rate was 25.4 % (still a depressing percentage). Interestingly, the male labor force has shrunk considerably since October 2016, while female employees have increased slightly. Males employed increased by 5,300; females increased by 22,000.
Big ups to Kingston! Which is expected to be the Caribbean’s largest transshipment port, according to Dr. Horace Chang. Two pilot boats acquired by the Port Authority of Jamaica have been commissioned. This was one of the options (alternatives) to the shelved plans by China Harbour Engineering Company to build a port on Goat Islands.
Education: 9,100 students in 10 primary schools will benefit from the Digital Mobile Classroom project. It is a partnership with the Organization of American States/Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (OAS/CITEL). Sounds brilliant.
Health: Some Jamaicans seem adamant that they will not have any vaccines. I gather the response rate to the HPV vaccine has been slow, so far. Now the Ministry of Health is urging people – especially senior citizens, people with chronic illnesses, pregnant woman and healthcare workers – to get the flu vaccine. I get it every year and although it is not 100% effective, I would advise people (especially those around my age!) to get vaccinated. Flu is no joke, and there are some virulent strains around. By the way, the Health Ministry website does not seem to be providing any updates on vector-borne diseases such as Dengue, etc. I hope we don’t suddenly hear there’s an outbreak.
There is an Acting Chief Medical Officer in the Health Ministry now, as Dr. Winston De La Haye has now stepped down from the post. Her name is Dr. Jacquiline A. Bisasor-McKenzie.
Human Rights: What has INDECOM done wrong this time? Both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader seemed to be casting aspersions on the Independent Commission of Investigations in Parliament this week. The former said that “we will have to take some decisions to ensure that that very important institution operates with balance.” The latter said that “it unnecessarily demoralises” police when INDECOM disarms police officers under investigation in public (indignant mutterings from parliamentarians in the background). INDECOM put out a statement today denying that it has ever done such a thing, noting that they are always disarmed by another policeman in a police station; it says guidelines on this were agreed between INDECOM and the JCF in 2013. I’m not sure what’s going on here…
37-year old Quincy Frater was shot dead by the police at his home in Ocho Rios. The police account is that he “confronted” them; they “took evasive action and opened fire” on him. A revolver and ammunition was reportedly taken from him. Residents have a completely different story. This is the fourth fatal shooting by the police in St. Ann this year: on January 10 the police killed Cabrini Rose and Kirkland Rowe in Parry Town, in an alleged shootout; and a man the police say was wanted, 30-year-old Jermaine James, at a house in Windsor on January 11.
An unidentified man was also shot and killed by the police on Jones Avenue, Spanish Town, where there was gunfire in and around the compound of St. Jago High School last week.
Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry seems to be satisfied that the numbers of people detained so far during the SOE in St. James have been reduced considerably. She had earlier complained about people being crowded into what she called a “makeshift cage.” She said, however, that the police force has acted with “great professionalism,” but areas of concern remain: the large numbers of people arrested – “casting the nets very wide,” she notes – as well as the facilities in which they were kept.
Justice: 57 year-old Justice Bryan Sykes will be sworn in this week as Acting Chief Justice; Justice Zaila McCalla retires today, after serving for forty-odd years with great distinction and grace.
Politics: Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament Derrick Smith, who is stepping down, seems to be in a bad mood. Mr. Smith would like to see his son Duane, a councillor in the area, take his place as candidate; but it appears the JLP may select the very bright Senator Nigel Clarke.
Religion: Pastor Steven Anderson of Arizona (about whom I wrote here for Global Voices) was denied entry to Jamaica. He said in a YouTube video that he was told this when changing flights in Atlanta. This was a great victory for those who had campaigned against his proposed visit, ostensibly to quietly evangelise. The online change.org petition reached nearly 39,000 signatures. However, it transpired meanwhile that arrangements had been made (with an unknown church) to show his film on the University of the West Indies campus. And by the way, the reverend gentleman who said he was quite happy with the terrorist attack on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando also said in his video that some of his people were already in Jamaica, ahead of him. All on tourist visas?
Congratulations in order!
- Jamaica’s Gabrielle Pierre is one of two students from the University of Georgia who have won Schwarzman scholarships. She will spend the 2018 school year pursuing master’s programmes in China.
- James Ellsmoor of Solar Head of State organised a great webinar today on Energy Resilience in the Caribbean. There were some excellent panelists and great participation from across the Caribbean as well as elsewhere. I learned a great deal.
- UK-based Jamaican diver Yona Knight-Wisdom, who’s just 22, won his first major tournament gold medallion in the 1 meter springboard final at the British Diving Championship. In 2016, Yona became the first male Jamaican diver to qualify for the Olympic Games.
- Neville Charlton, young volunteer and founder of the Positive Organisation, who organised a very good and focused session on Advocacy 101 at the University of Technology this week. The dynamic Krystal Tomlinson and I made presentations. Neville is now hoping to have the opportunity to do something similar in Montego Bay on Advocacy for Peace. Do it, Neville!
- Special “big ups” to Kadeem Petgrave of Educatours, a social enterprise, who is doing Parish Histories. It’s a fantastic concept! Follow @educatoursja
- Stay tuned! Veteran educator Esther Tyson is about to bring out a new book! Launching soon!
We are all grieving. Sometimes these deaths come close to home. My deepest sympathies to all who are mourning…
Clarendon: A student at Clarendon College, 18 year-old Avinash Gordon, was found stabbed to death at her home in Bushy Park.
Kingston/St. Andrew: Richard “Jubby” Llewellyn, 64, and Nicholas Johnson, 18, were shot dead in a drive-by shooting at a shop on Rousseau Road. I wrote about the death of Jubby, who was caretaker at the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre, here.
Richard Clarke, a 28-year-old delivery man; Ricardo Manhertz, businessman, age 38; Hakeem Sanchez, 19 and an unidentified man were shot dead in Hermitage, August Town.
St. Ann: Quincy Frater, 37, Ocho Rios. Killed by the police (see above).
St. Catherine: 15 year-old John Reynolds, a student of Bog Walk High School, was shot dead along with his father Marlon and a woman named “Tippy” while walking in Victoria District, Linstead.
St. James: 33-year-old chef Mavado Jackson was shot dead at a shop in Tucker Irwin. This was the second murder in the parish since the State of Emergency began.
St. Thomas: Taxi driver Jerome Bogle and his young passenger Jevaughn Russell were shot dead by two other passengers in the car in Montpelier/Yallahs.
Westmoreland: Devon Paltie, 31, a car wash operator, was shot dead at his workplace in Three Miles River.