Mercury in Retrograde, Mistakes of the Past, Modern-Day Slaves: Jamaica on Saturday, July 28, 2018


I learned this week that Mercury is in retrograde from July 26 to August 18. It’s a time when there will be a lot of disagreements and misunderstandings. We are cautioned also to keep a low profile and not make any big decisions, because they may backfire. Actually, this could explain a lot about happenings in Jamaica and around the world. Doesn’t everything seem a little off kilter, to you? Plus, it’s too hot, and the city is in upheaval with roadworks popping up everywhere and causing traffic mayhem. See links, and photos below!

Agriculture: Farmers in at least four parishes are struggling with the bitter drought conditions and the unusual heat. Crops are withering. The sector has been growing so far this year; this is a major setback. The government says it is putting rainwater harvesting arrangments in place, etc., but these measures always seem too little, too late. Drought is as much a “natural disaster” as hurricanes.

Caribbean: The Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association and Goddard Enterprises David Herbert and a Director, Christopher Glenn Rogers, were released on bail on drug trafficking charges, following the discovery of 276 pounds of ganja on a yacht owned by the Goddard Group. They will return to court on November 6.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt has announced that the “Nature Isle” will ban the importation and use of styrofoam containers and plastic implements (straws, knives, spoons etc) as of January 1, 2019. The Bahamas plans to do the same. And Jamaica?

On the topic of plastic, our neighbors in the Dominican Republic have been cleaning up thirty tons (!) of garbage after a huge wave of mostly plastic swept in. The footage was widely shared online. Santo Domingo residents say this happens whenever it rains heavily. This is exactly what happens in Kingston Harbour after heavy rain. The garbage simply washes down into the sea.

A new report by the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns of the major negative impacts of climate change on Caribbean fisheries.

Corruption and Transparency: See below, under “Politics”… In light of all the upheavals and revelations, we must look at the government’s method of background checks and vetting of those appointed to responsible positions in public sector agencies. Is it a question of “putting in a good word” for someone? If so, are the checks done, anyway? We need to know.

Crime: I get the impression that more arrests are being made in connection with major crimes. Two siblings have been arrested for last week’s murder of a young woman and her two young children (who died from smoke inhaled when the perpetrators set fire to their house in the hills of St. Andrew). It was reportedly all to do with jealousy. Twin sons set their mother’s house on fire after a dispute and burned it to the ground, in Ebenezer District, Manchester. Siblings are on the rampage; but then, Mercury is in retrograde…

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is making headway with gun seizures; eight guns and over 300 rounds of ammunition were seized in 48 hours, and several people arrested. This is very good going.

The Senate voted on Friday to extend the State of Emergency in St. James until November 1, 2018. There has been a drastic reduction in major crimes, but overall, as Opposition Senator Lambert Brown pointed out, the murder rate is still around 3.6 per day. Which is far too high.

Culture and Tradition: Reggae Sumfest took place in Montego Bay last week. Happy 40th birthday Damian Marley! Here’s one of my favorite songs of his in recent times.

Congratulations to the new Director of the Alliance Française de la Jamaïque, the Martinique-born Marie-Noelle Brunot, whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently. Welcome to Jamaica, and good luck!

Kingstonians – and in particular, perhaps, the community of Rae Town – will certainly miss Carmen Rives, who served as Chargé d’Affaires at the Spanish Embassy and then Deputy Chief of Mission. Her farewell was a big dance party. She is a warm, kind soul with a genuine love for Jamaican music, a passionate advocate for Alpha Boys’ School (she begged us all to support this amazing institution) – and also for her concern for human rights. Carmen is moving on to Maputo, Mozambique.

Economy: I agree with Finance Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke that we should not “politicize” the exchange rate, which is “slipping” again. The Opposition was on a roll this week and dragged us all into complex discussions about the rate – a floating rate – which is at a record high of J$134/US$1. We always get jitters over the value of our dollar. State Minister Fayval Williams explains that this is due to greater demand for the U.S. Dollar at this time. I look forward to hearing more about plans for new legislation to make the Bank of Jamaica more independent, announced by the Finance Minister.

Environment: The International Seabed Authority (ISA) met for its annual meeting this week at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston, its headquarters. Apparently, little progress was made on difficult issues that continue to plague it. Members want to “exploit” minerals in the deep seabed, while at the same time protecting the marine biodiversity and environment. The two goals cancel each other out, surely. Read more here. On their website, I would also point you to the Mining Code, which is set to be completed by 2020.

On a more positive note, this is a marvelous article about the Oracabessa Foundation by American freelance journalist Ross Urken, whom I have met here a few times during the annual visit of the Jewish Jamaican/American volunteer group recording Jamaican Jewish cemeteries. Ross has a good grasp of Jamaica and its environmental concerns, and for once Jamaicans have not complained about his feature article in Bloomberg, but have found it a positive, enjoyable – and most importantly, accurate account. Thanks so much, Ross!

Back to our painful plastic problem (excuse the alliteration). The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) has been diligently pursuing a solution, and have now suggested reverse vending machines and deposit refunds. One big question here is, should the private sector or government take the lead? We have not heard a peep out of the government on any ban on plastic or styrofoam, as proposed by Senator Matthew Samuda. One senses there is resistance from the local producers. Do they want us to continue drowning in an ocean of plastic? NB: CaPRI’s useful research is supported by EU funding.

There was an acrimonious Town Hall Meeting, organized by the RJR/Gleaner Group this week, on the proposed plans to build the new Parliament building in the middle of National Heroes Park. I did not attend the meeting at Wolmer’s Boys’ School, which borders the park, but it seems that no one was the wiser after the “consultations” with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC). There were apparently a lot of misperceptions on the part of residents of surrounding areas, and the UDC representative sounded out of his depth (Mercury again – miscommunications…) Personally, I have no problem with the building being in the middle of a beautifully landscaped green space (the Park is currently a treeless dustbowl/parking lot). Perhaps the main problem was a lack of communication earlier on, fueling rumors and speculation.

Foreign Affairs: Prime Minister and CARICOM Chair Andrew Holness has done a lot of traveling in the past couple of months. He had a splendid reception in Namibia, where he helped name a Marcus Garvey Street; and Jamaicans will now not require a visa to travel to Namibia. The Prime Minister attended the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Meeting in neighboring South Africa, where he was asked a question about how Jamaica is handling the influx of Chinese money and workers. The Prime Minister gave a carefully worded, diplomatic answer that Jamaica is keeping a balance between Chinese and Jamaican workers and giving work to local contractors, too (I’m not convinced about the latter). Here’s an interesting article about the way forward for BRICS.

Pay up! United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is urging Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to pay their mandatory dues (in full). Only five of the 14 CARICOM members have in fact done so: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and Saint Lucia. Ugh! I’m not impressed.

Health: Minister Christopher Tufton will probably get some blow-back after comments he made this week about medicinal ganja. He said that public health concerns are at the forefront of his mind, ahead of the economic benefits. Well, Dr. Henry Lowe is pressing ahead with his Medicanja range of products, which was launched on Thursday. The Minister’s words may not go down well with those Jamaicans who are chomping at the bit to make money out of ganja, whether medicinal or recreational.

Human Rights: This week’s focus has been on human trafficking. There are reportedly approximately 7,000 “modern-day slaves” in Jamaica. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice Carol Palmer has been dedicated to this issue for as long as I can remember, advocating and informing. Kudos to her! Dr. Margaret Fowler of Hope United Church in Kingston shook things up a bit at this week’s international conference in Trelawny, admonishing church people for their inaction, for not speaking out – and for being involved in the exploitation of boys and girls themselves. To loud and sarcastic laughter, she revealed that while conducting research in a Negril nightclub, she spotted a church deacon.

Politics: The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has had a good week, ending with a flourish at a press briefing today. The PNP declared that if Minister of Science, (no longer Energy) and Technology Dr. Andrew Wheatley stands up to speak in Parliament as a Minister, they will walk out because they refuse to recognize him in that role. The “Comrades” concede that he is an elected Member of Parliament, however. I do still feel that, especially in light of further developments, the Minister should step down in the interests of good governance. Not as MP, as Minister. Not for “political” reasons (and whatever the reaction may be), but simply because it’s the “right” thing to do.

The PNP is now calling for Trevor Forrest, Chair of the Spectrum Management Authority (SMA), another government agency under Dr. Wheatley’s ministry, to be removed from this position and all others he holds, due to his allegedly improper (and ultimately unsuccessful) efforts to have Ms. Carolyn Warren hired at the SMA. Emails were leaked. Ms. Warren herself resigned as Managing Director of National Energy Solutions (NESol) – yes, she got an MD position at another agency in the same Ministry – on Thursday. Opposition Energy Spokesman Phillip Paulwell had “outed” Ms. Warren for a drug conviction 25 years ago. Subsequently, she conceded that actually, there was more than one conviction. She is willing to testify before a parliamentary committee – which the squeaky-clean Mr. Paulwell wants her to do. At first, I felt considerable empathy for Ms. Warren, who was trying to overcome the mistakes of the past and make a new life. She did not fully “come clean” at the right moment, which is a pity. There are probably many things we do not know about this case, but it is sad. I agree with journalist Cliff Hughes that we should give people a second chance (but not try to bend the rules in so doing!)

There are several reasons why I feel uncomfortable. While arguments have mostly followed partisan lines, it appears that there has been dishonesty and unethical behavior. Meanwhile, a non-stop background noise of rumor, gossip and accusations continues, fueled by virulent and politically partisan WhatsApp groups, making matters worse. My favorite radio station is getting a thorough and very unfair bashing in some quarters for its alleged political bias. But Mercury is in retrograde…

Tourism: The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) is busy “upgrading” a number of public beaches – the latest being the Marking Stone Beach in Annotto Bay, St. Mary at a cost of J$38 million, which now has great facilities. TEF has spent J$104 million on three other beaches: Lyssons Beach in St. Thomas to be opened next (J$49 million); Boston in Portland (J$27.8 million); and Burwood in Trelawny, (J$28 million). We need more nice public beaches, so this is most welcome (a heck of a lot of money though). My concern is that once these beaches are fixed up nicely, they will be heavily used – nothing wrong with that – but will start to become run down again. Like everything in Jamaica, places are beautifully fixed up – but are not maintained. I hope a plan (and funds) are in place for that.

KUDOS

Do you know about the Best Care Foundation? Its Special Education School is increasing its student base and broadening its curriculum this year, says Chairman Orville Johnson. The students are aged six to 20 with mild to severe intellectual and physical disabilities. Like many such institutions, it is in need of greater financial support.

With funding from the New York-based Duncan Tree Foundation, U.S. surgeons have visited Jamaica 20 times to operate on adolescent sufferers from scoliosis at the Kingston Public Hospital. It is an awful condition where your spine is bent (I have a touch of it myself). During their visits, they have also donated equipment for future surgeries. They have so far helped over 130 Jamaicans. I think this is wonderful!

Four Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) public buses in the Kingston area now have free wi-fi. According to JUTC, passengers are pleased!

Mayor Delroy Williams continues to keep his focus. He is #stillbelieving as his Twitter hashtag says! He posted some photos of beautification along the Spanish Town Road in Kingston. Very nice, and this “greening” should also be climate-smart.

Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited (KFTL) took Plastic Free July seriously and collected 30,000 plastic bottles over a six-week period, partnering with Recycling Partners of Jamaica. Its Go Blue: Recycling Begins With You project launched on World Environment Day includes waste separation and the reduction of single-use plastics. I hope more companies will follow suit! (Diana McCaulay tweeted that companies could act as collection points for plastics, with employees actively collecting and bringing them from home. Why not?)

Another foundation, the Kingston-based Sanmerna Foundation donated J$1.2 million in bursaries to students at three inner-city primary schools, who had done well in the recent Grade Six Achievement Tests. This is quite a new private sector foundation, formed by two brothers. Awesome!

The Jamaica Intensive Reading Clinic‘s third annual Regional Summer Camp is ongoing in several parishes. Congratulations to Santana Morris and the team for their efforts!

The Jamaica Network of Seropositives (JN Plus) recently attended Mpact Global for Gay Men’s Health and Rights pre-meetings in Amsterdam ahead of the biennial 22nd International AIDS Conference 2018. Special “big up” to Tevin, a great activist for Jamaicans living with HIV!

I am very sad to see this list of names. My sincere condolences to all the families and friends of those who were murdered in the past week. This list is way too long.

Clarendon: Marco Dane Thompson, 35, was stabbed to death at a bar in Nineteen Miles, May Pen.

Hanover: A senior citizen and her grandson (Laurel Fray, 91 and Jesse Spence, 15) were shot dead in Malcolm Heights, Lucea, as a result of what is reportedly an ongoing gang feud. Two men were arrested and three more are being sought by the police.

An unidentified man was hacked to death during a dispute on Cascade Road.

Kingston: André McLymont, 70, was shot dead at a bar at McKinley Crescent in Waterhouse.

Robert Suthol was also shot dead at a bar in Riverton City.

Andre Meade’s body was taken from the sea near Industrial Terrace, Kingston.

A man known as “Akeem” was shot dead during a street robbery on Harwood Drive, Washington Gardens.

40-year-old Delgado Hislop was shot dead by a policeman on a bus in downtown Kingston when robbing passengers at knifepoint.

Rushell Anglin, 29, a businesswoman, was shot dead near the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in Mona.

An unidentified woman’s remains were found at Whalley Close, Kingston 6. Two men have been arrested.

St. Catherine: 39-year-old Xiang Qui, a wholesale operator on Featherbed Lane in St. Catherine, was found dead at his workplace.

David Pitt, 28, was shot dead on Hellshire Beach, St. Catherine.

The bodies of two unidentified men were found shot dead along the Barry main Road.

St. Mary: Damion Gardner, a cab driver, was shot dead in his car in Bailey’s Vale. An off-duty policeman chased the fleeing suspects; three were later arrested.

St. James: An unidentified alleged robber was disarmed and shot dead when he entered a house in Moore Park, Adelphi.

 


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