The “remnants” of a storm named Isaac descended on us, and now we have the remnants of Kirk. The rain is welcome! At the same time, we had an earthquake, widely felt in Kingston. And I am very, very late with this post – again! Forgive me but I have been intensely busy. Is tomorrow really October? Meanwhile, I sense a resistance to change in some quarters across the island…
Agriculture: Coffee farmers locked the gate to the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory (900 farmers). They are irate about the low prices of their crops, claiming that the big boys there are fixing the price (which the owners say is simply due to market forces). There are 7,000 coffee farmers in Jamaica. Their costs are high and now there are other coffees that are speciality coffees on the market – there is competition.
Caribbean: The Antigua & Barbuda Government seems to have declared a court victory after an injunction against the continued building of an international airport on Barbuda was lifted. Two Barbudans obtained the injunction claiming major environmental damage. Work on the airport began (unannounced) immediately after Hurricane Irma’s devastation, with many acres of wetland, turtle and bird habitats destroyed.
Also on Antigua, the former head of the Financial Services Regulatory Commission, Leroy King has once again delayed his extradition to the U.S. in connection with the $7 billion Ponzi scheme operated by Allen Stanford (who has been behind bars over there for some years now).
Climate Change: Dr Leith Dunn, senior lecturer and head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), has contributed to an interesting publication, Masculinities and Disaster. Dr Dunn includes the vulnerabilities of gay men also in the discussion. And speaking of gender, head of the Climate Change Division, the redoubtable Una May Gordon, has been conducting workshops with UN Women on gender and climate change; and Jacqueline Spence, Jamaica’s climate change focal point for the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – and other Jamaicans – continue to fight the good fight, with the Caribbean still pursuing its position of “One Point Five to Stay Alive” at critical international meetings.
I have enquired about the status of the Portmore Climate Change Park (funded by the German Government, I believe), which seems to be a sham, several years later. What on earth is happening here? Anyone?
Crime: Last Sunday morning, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a new State of Public Emergency in several sections of Kingston – rather to people’s surprise. But there’s no increase in murders! declared the Opposition. Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson noted the area’s high (and growing prevalence) of gangs and potential for violence at a parliamentary committee session. Jamaica Defence Force head Major General Rocky Meade stressed that great progress has been made. The Police Commissioner added just under 500 killings have been prevented by the JCF this year through enhanced investigative and intelligence capabilities – a “new protocol.” Plus…“Violence builds on itself,” he noted. While residents and the private sector appear happy with the new State of Emergency (and the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica seems keen on downtown Kingston’s renewal), the Peace Management Initiative has its doubts. “Social interventions” are needed! Meanwhile, Parliament voted unanimously for an extension of the State of Emergency in St. Catherine North recently until January 2019.
Meanwhile, the JCF has seized 24 firearms and over 300 rounds of ammunition this week. Not too shabby!
The focus was on schools as the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Safety and Security Unit of the Ministry of Education marked Anti-Gang Week. I really hope the students listened carefully; lecturing them in classrooms doesn’t always work. I would like to see reformed gang members (even from overseas) talk directly to our boys. There is nothing like hearing some harsh truths from someone who has the experience.
The police have a habit of dividing homicides into “gang-related” and “domestic.” There has been a recent spate in the latter category, with women very often the victims. See my sad (and yes, I know, downright depressing) list below. There is a phrase “toxic masculinity.” This has been an undercurrent in these domestic killings. “Social intervention” (again!), reporting and prevention efforts are needed – but it’s not easy. The latest victim is a policewoman. And in the U.S. state of Georgia this week, another Jamaican woman was killed by her Jamaican husband.
The whole Jamaican “Twitterverse,” of which I am a member, reeled in shock recently at the murder of a young pastor, James Johnson – well-known to many of us, on and offline. By all accounts, James was a dedicated young community activist, who was gunned down in his church in what people call “execution style.” To add to the pain, there are nasty rumours circulating about his sexuality. For heaven’s sake, stop it! This Letter of the Day says it all…
I must say I chuckled – and agreed with National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, who called the JCF a “glorified security guard system” at a forum on police reform in Kingston a few days ago. The Police Federation is demanding a retraction. The soft-spoken Minister can be startlingly frank. But listen – we know how the JCF was set up under colonial rule, and Minister Chang says he wants to change all that. Many Jamaicans seem to agree – sometimes “the truth hurts.” Time for a change!
Culture: Mark your calendars, please! As Heritage Week approaches, the Institute of Jamaica is this year celebrating the wonderful breadfruit for its Heritage Fest.
Economy: Yes, the traffic again. And China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to the rescue! The Government signed an agreement, in record time, with CHEC to build a bypass road around the Three Miles intersection, which the contractors had abruptly closed until next year with virtually no warning. Jamaicans are worried about having to drive through “ghetto” areas, though.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a little more guarded than Jamaican politicians about the country’s short-term growth prospects. Prime Minister Andrew Holness is insisting, however, that we are “on the right path…We are seeing emerging an enabling business environment, with interest rates at record low levels,” the PM notes. Why is the private sector not seizing the moment and taking a few risks, he asks (so do I)? “Now is the time to get on board,” says PM Holness.
Education: A highly misleading headline in the Gleaner asserted that the University of the West Indies (UWI) is one of the top five universities in the world, according to the UK Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Good Lord! It was subsequently “updated” to read that UWI is among the top 5 per cent. The newspaper really must try to get its headlines right – its reputation for inaccurate headlines that don’t match the story beneath is growing. This is basic journalism, isn’t it? Get it right the first time, please! For further clarification, and more information, check the Times link. UWI is ranked 37th in the Latin American rankings.
Environment: The Monday after International Coastal Cleanup Day, Minister Without Portfolio with responsibility for the environment Daryl Vaz made a big announcement at a press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister. A ban on single-use plastic bags, styrofoam and plastic straws will come into effect on January 1, 2019. William Mahfood of Wisynco Group called it a “kneejerk” reaction, suggesting that the decision was “rushed” and that the country is unprepared. He is especially upset at the styrofoam ban (his company manufactures these single-use containers). However, I know that extensive consultations did take place before the announcement was made. The Government signalled this move from long ago, said Daryl Vaz, stoutly defending the measures. It seems to me that Mr Mahfood’s reaction is the “kneejerk” one. I am surprised and rather disappointed. I would have hoped that he (and other businesses) would have been thinking about retooling, new eco-friendly products…from long ago. Mr Mahfood also said 100 jobs would be lost. Please think about creating green jobs, Sir! More to follow…
On the Opposition side, Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns wants more information and has raised valid questions regarding exemptions, etc. There are questions too from environmentalist Peter Edwards. Indeed, the devil is in the details. Small businesses are concerned about alternatives and the cost of adjusting to different containers. However, adjust we must! We can create new industries with environmentally friendly products. Use your imagination! There is no doubt, too that the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) needs to get its act together in terms of collection. And public education is critical! Despite all this…Kudos to Minister Vaz and to Senator Matthew Samuda, who filed a private member’s motion in Parliament on this matter in 2016. Time for action!
A “PR charade”? Phillip Paulwell thus described the announcement that there would be no more mining in the Cockpit Country. He asserted incorrectly that the petition on the Office of the Prime Minister’s website was “government-sponsored.” He added that there has been no order banning bauxite mining in specific areas. “To date, we don’t know where is this Cockpit Country,” added Paulwell. “We are giving away much more to earn less,” he said, referring to the new bauxite agreement with New Day (see below), claiming that more of the Cockpit Country would be opened up to mining. I feel nervous about all of this, and not just because of Paulwell’s words. I fear that, while the “ground-truthing” of Cockpit Country continues (the measuring, step by step, of the boundaries) there will be a great deal of nibbling around the edges. In fact, it’s already happening.
A fisherman was allegedly “killed in a shark attack” in rural St. Mary, according to people who did not witness the alleged attack. Nor has the shark been seen? However, the poor man, who was spear-fishing for barracuda, had his clothes ripped. The media report was unconvincing. But, if you are swimming underwater with the fish you have caught, a hungry shark might see it as dinner.
The two men filmed on video capturing and killing a protected Hawksbill Turtle in Bull Bay, St. Andrew were fined J$50,000 each. A third man is still being sought.
The Caribbean Water and Wastewater Conference is coming up in Montego Bay (October 8 – 12). I am sorry I will miss it. This year’s theme is Climate Resilience, Innovation and Partnership for Sustainable Water and Waste Development.
Foreign Affairs: Mexico’s Ambassador to Jamaica, Juan José González Mijares, has announced a Mexico Chair to be established at the University of the West Indies (UWI). The first will be a lecturer and researcher at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, Dr Rubén Olachea. He will deliver classes in the Department of History from October 1 to November 9.
Health: I posted recently a press release from Jamaicans for Justice on the controversial case of the family with the sick infant at University Hospital of the West Indies. Health Minister Chris Tufton is seeking legal advice on the critical issue of patients’ access to their health records, which was at the heart of this case. Last week the hospital received the approval to treat the child using prescribed procedures and drugs, including chemotherapy.
Human Rights: Constable Michael Lawrence was recently charged with the murder of two men in St. Catherine, seven years ago. (Why did this case take so long?) He was offered bail and will be back in court on November 29. He has a “high-profile,” expensive lawyer. This should be an interesting case.
The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is reporting a small but significant decrease in police killings, compared to last year. However, INDECOM noted that 40 per cent of those killed were not armed with a gun.
Justice: There have been four bomb scares (hoaxes) in as many weeks at courts in Kingston, Trelawny and St. Catherine, causing great disruption. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck really needs to hurry up with the CCTV installations.
The Ministry of National Security celebrated the educational success of inmates at the Fort Augusta Correctional Centre (sixteen women) recently. They did really well in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. Also celebrating was the passionate human rights activist Maria Carla Gullotta of Stand Up for Jamaica, who is working with local firms to try to help with obtaining employment for former inmates. There is a huge amount of stigma attached.
Money: Is the Innovation Agreement (meaning the substitution of an old contract for a new one) signed on September 6 with New Day Jamaica Bauxite “an absolutely bad deal,” as Opposition Spokesman on Mining Phillip Paulwell declared in Parliament this week? This is a profit sharing arrangement that will earn the country more in US$ than the previous bauxite levy situation, according to Transport and Mining Minister Robert Montague (who asked why the Letter of Credit from the former Noranda was allowed to expire by the previous administration?). Paulwell believes the bauxite levy is a much better deal for Jamaica (and worth J$3 billion) and is very concerned, asking for the contract to be probed by a parliamentary committee. I am uneasy.
Lots of foreigners (unsurprisingly) attended the CanEx Business Conference and Expo on cannabis in Montego Bay last week – mainly Canadians and Mexicans. Why am I so hazy and confused still about all the legal implications? I also know little about the Conference organizer, Douglas Gordon. I must get myself better informed! Meanwhile, the JCF continues to make a stream of large seizures of ganja. Very large, in fact! Including one at a manufacturing plant, disguised as fruit juice.
Politics: The People’s National Party (PNP) Conference (on its 80th anniversary) dominated last weekend’s news. On a wave of wailing vuvuzelas, Opposition Leader Peter Phillips railed against corruption and mismanagement of agencies such as Petrojam and NeSol; the chaos on the roads; and the sliding of the Jamaican Dollar. And of course, there were promises. I and a new Ministry (oh no! Please no!) to focus on social transformation and youth. Some educational promises too, including a “first in the family” scholarship program.
My deepest condolences to Mr Phillips and his son Mikael on the death of his former partner and Mikael’s mother Minnie Phillips, a very well known woman back in Phillips’ Rastafarian days. I never met her, but hear she was pretty amazing, and much loved. Her funeral took place at the University of the West Indies Chapel last Friday.
The election of four Vice Presidents on Saturday was a subject of great fascination: primarily, that the garrulous former head of the PNP Youth Organization Damion Crawford came away with the most votes from party delegates. Now Crawford is seen as the New Hope for the PNP. Two years ago, he lost the nomination for the seat where he had previously served one term; now he is being seen as “one of the most powerful politicians in the country,” according to a tweeting radio talk show host. Yes, Damion is a very nice young man – a little carried away with his own popularity, perhaps. He needs to settle down and put forward some coherent policy ideas. He also needs to win a seat. And no, he is not a “revolutionary” as some PNP officials have tweeted. The other three VPs were Phillip Paulwell, Dr Wykeham McNeill and Mikael Phillips (son of the party leader). Congratulations to all! P.S. I am disappointed at the lack of female leadership in the party. Are the women holding back?
Tourism: A strange story surfaced a few days ago, of an alleged rape of two women tourists by an armed man, apparently a trainee entertainment worker at the Riu Hotel in Montego Bay. It’s all not quite clear – but strange things do happen at all-inclusive hotels, away from the public eye. Just read Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun.
Women’s Issues: Why are top leadership roles in both the People’s National Party (PNP) – aged 80 this year – and at UWI – currently celebrating its 70 anniversary – exclusively occupied by men, asks Dr Leith Dunn, head of UWI’s Institute of Gender and Development Studies? A vexed question. Over those many decades, it seems little has changed.
At a UWI forum on the media and violence against women, hosted by WMW Jamaica (formerly Women’s Media Watch), Gender Minister Olivia Grange said the Cabinet has pretty much signed off on the draft Prevention of Harassment Bill. It’s slow, but…
Look out for the new column on issues surrounding community development, gender, corruption, women’s health and much more, starting up in the Jamaica Observer! The weekly column is hosted by the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC).
I love women supporting women. The newly-presented Jamaica Labour Party candidate for Eastern Portland Ann-Marie Vaz has been promoting the creations of local fashion designer Shenna Carby for quite a long time, now. It’s time for Shenna to spread her wings, and expand her business overseas.
Warmest congratulations to the four awardees under the Caribbean Community for Retired Persons’ (CCRP) Living Legacy Awards. They are so wonderful, and the ceremony on Friday was a treat! Felicitations to Dr Jean Small, Dr Owen James, Dr the Hon. Glen Christian and Nurse Joy Crooks of the Community for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI).
Congratulations to “Jamerican” academic and Fulbright Scholar Dr Anne C. Bailey (whose blog posts I often share on this page), who has just been promoted to Professor of History and Africana Studies at State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton. The Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council has selected her book, The Weeping Time; Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History, to receive the 2018 Award for Excellence in Advocacy.
Huge congratulations to the 2018 Caribbean Tales Film Festival big winners! I reviewed some of these films in this blog, and am delighted that two Jamaican films, The Incursion and Kinto won Best Documentary and Best Short Film, respectively. The big award for Best Feature went to Unfinished Sentences, – a very personal story of family – directed by Trinidadian Mariel Brown.
Congratulations too to Chevel Powell, a 19-year-old from Westmoreland, who has been selected for the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities as a 2018 HBCU Scholar. A graduate of Montego Bay and Mannings High Schools!
I really want to congratulate the Guardsman Group on the official opening of the new Puerto Seco Beach recently. There have been very mixed reactions to the sophisticated, visitor-friendly facility – the run-down beach that it had become has been transformed and the investment has been many millions. The fact is that the place currently employs over 80 local Jamaicans, and likely more once the tourist season begins. I would really like to see a special low price for Jamaicans, though – although I understand that they are targeting the cruise ship passenger market from MoBay to Ocho Rios.
I don’t intend to cast my readers into gloom by listing the names of citizens who have died violently. However, I feel we should know their names, and not forget them – whether good guys, bad guys or in between. They are humans. I send my deepest condolences to their families and friends:
Kingston/St. Andrew: Athlete Kavon Nelson, 25, was shot dead at his home on MacVille Terrace in Kingston.
District Constable Mellissa Edwards-Whyte, who was assigned to Crime Stop, was chopped to death during a domestic dispute at her home in Duhaney Park.
Truck driver 32-year-old Anthony Francis was shot and killed in Riverton City.
St. Catherine: Pastor James Johnson, 29, was shot dead in a church on Old Harbour Road while teaching a class.
St. James: Cynthia James, 19, was stabbed to death at her home in Norwood Gardens. 17-year-old Akeem Watson was later found dead in bushes in a suspected reprisal killing for Ms James’ murder.
45-year-old petrol service station supervisor, Diane Smith and her daughter Jayshenel Gordon, 16, were stabbed to death by Fabian Lucan in Rosemount. Lucan then drove his car into the Rio Cobre river and drowned.
51-year-old Courtney Clarke was shot dead in Flanker, near Montego Bay.
St. Mary: Rayon Walker, otherwise called ‘Evil’ – an alleged gang member – and André Black were shot dead in Frazerwood, Highgate.
Businesswoman Lynsay Silvera, 33, was shot dead in Wellington, while walking home from her shop.
Trelawny: Commercial sex worker 31-year-old Candice London Edwards was allegedly beaten to death with a golf club during a dispute in Falmouth town centre. A businessman has been charged with her murder.
Oshane Perrier was allegedly shot dead by an off-duty policeman in Martha Brae.
Westmoreland: Shamar Tomlinson, 16, a student of Manning’s High School, was shot dead at home in Grange Hill.
20-year-old Davian Malcolm was shot dead at his home in Savanna-la-Mar.
32-year-old Renaldo Reid was shot and killed in Fort Williams.