Well, the past week has been pretty intense, with politics, crime and COVID-19 vying for the headlines (and sometimes getting mixed up together). Click on the highlights for links to the stories. Your feedback is always welcome!
Agriculture: Here’s a good piece in Forbes magazine about the challenges for Jamaica’s small farmers in the face of climate change (and of course, COVID-19). The government investment agency JAMPRO appears to be taking an interest in agriculture, which can only be a good thing in my view. “Investment is needed in climate resistant agricultural practices, which can allow the industry to produce at the potential of 1.4 million tonnes given climatic conditions versus 678,449 tonnes produced in 2018,” says JAMPRO.
Books! I am looking forward to writing reviews of two books I have read – one is written by a politician, and one by an environmentalist. Stay tuned…
Caribbean: Barbados’ “travel bubble” is shrinking, and does not include Jamaica; Jamaican visitors are now considered “medium risk.” We have been removed from St. Lucia’s bubble too.Understandably, our Tourism Minister is not particularly happy – but who can be happy with what is happening in the travel sector?
Trinidad & Tobago’s elections take place tomorrow. The Opposition United National Congress (UNC) subjected itself to some ridicule when it proposed an anti-COVID “dome” to keep infections out. COVID-19 has been a major campaign issue and their numbers are rising, too. There will be no international observers (not even CARICOM), allegedly because of quarantine restrictions imposed by the current administration. In their last 2015 general elections, there was a fairly healthy turnout of 66.8%. I wonder if we can do better when our turn comes.
In the Bahamas, the number of new cases of COVID-19 has risen alarmingly in the past week, with a total of 898 cases to date. I hope to do an overview of the Caribbean and COVID in the next couple of days.
Corruption/Transparency: In its latest report tabled in Parliament, the Integrity Commission has noted that two current politicians and three former ones were referred for prosecution in the past fiscal year. Will they be taken to court? And what are their names? What next? We wait, with bated breath.
And the People’s National Party signed its own pledge today at a special delegates’ meeting. I would prefer not to comment on anything any political party has to say on corruption, accountability and the like.
Crime: The big news was the signing of the bipartisan National Consensus on Crime bright and early on Monday morning at the Jamaica Conference Centre. It is seven pages long and I have a copy, which perhaps I will post here in a day or two – since I cannot find a link to it.
And something is happening with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). They have had some extraordinary successes recently, with a steady string of arrests and charges laid not only for murder (including this recent, tragic case), but also “lesser” crimes that often slip past. In just over a week, police seized ten firearms in the hotspot of St. James. So, I am rather impressed and hope that the apparent improved use of technology and investigative techniques will continue to have some impact. They caught “Westmoreland’s Most Wanted” (nickname “Cat”) and others in Western Jamaica. Are they “dismantling gangs” or will new gangs, new gangsters spring up in their place?
The JCF has also been on a bit of a PR binge recently, touting the success of its Special Operations Branch (just a year old), which is basically a SWAT team. Their use of technology (an investment of J$500 million) is cited as a factor in their success so far.
Prosecuting COVID transgressors: After all the tough talk at the Prime Minister’s press briefing on Thursday, it seems that there are greater efforts to enforce the COVID-19 orders, especially on quarantine and social events. A U.S.-based entertainer was seen out and about and not in quarantine and also used “bad words” at the police. Partygoers and the promoter (over 40 of them) were all arrested at a dance in St. John’s Road, Spanish Town in contravention of the orders.
Culture and Tradition: Contrary to rumor, Bunny Wailer has not passed away; he is in hospital and not doing badly. He has been ailing since 2018, when he suffered a stroke. Get well soon!
After the Emancipation Day uproar on social media over a Supreme Court ruling regarding Kensington Primary School’s ban on a student for wearing “locs,” Jamaicans pored over the written judgment, posted on Monday. Some found more grounds for outrage. The brouhaha continues in the legal community (where everyone always has a view) and Chief Justice Bryan Sykes in a statement decried the abuse of the judges on social media (including, apparently, death threats) following the event. State Minister in the Ministry of Education and Youth Alando Terrelonge wrote a heartfelt piece on the topic for the Gleaner here.
I had the honor of meeting with Dr. Frank Lawrence in St. Ann a few years ago and I wrote about it here. It was a fascinating conversation, and I wished I could have had many more. We talked about agroforestry, and coping with climate change in Sturge Town. Dr. Lawrence, now 87 years old, talked to the Gleaner about local history and Emancipation, including its establishment as the second free village in Jamaica, after Sligoville. Thank you, Carl Gilchrist, for this wonderful article.
Economy: On the business side, GraceKennedy has reported increased profits and revenues for the first half of 2020. Another large Jamaican company, Seprod, has made some positions redundant, but is trying to build its agricultural subsidiaries.
Education: The Ministry of Education says 569 schools will resume full operations when the 2020/21 academic year begins in September. Schools have been closed since March with COVID-19. P.S. Don’t ask me exactly what “blended learning” means, but I think that depending on the school, it could mean part online and part classroom teaching. The Ministry has limited the average class size to 15 students based on a physical distancing requirement of 3 feet (minimum) for reopening. Most of our schools are over-crowded. I am not particularly optimistic, although I know the teachers are trying their hardest to prepare. It’s a challenge.
The National Health Fund is offering grants to those enrolled in a health care degree programme. Details are here.
Energy: New Fortress Energy doubled its revenues in the June quarter; it is the sole supplier of LNG to Jamaica and is pleased with its performance after four years here.
The 2020 Game Bird Shooting Season will open on Saturday, August 15, 2020 and close on Sunday, September 20, 2020. Under the Wild Life Protection (Game Birds) (Declaration of Shooting Season) Order, 2020, the season hunting sessions are from sunrise to 9 am and 2.30 pm to sunset on Saturdays and from sunrise to 9am on Sundays. The beautiful White-crowned Pigeon (“Baldpate”) is among four species that the hunters are allowed to shoot. It is listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as Near Threatened, with “numbers decreasing.”
The problem of open burning may seem trivial to some, but it is not just a terrible nuisance. It is also extremely harmful to our health, the environment, and to climate change emissions too. In these COVID times and with the number of asthmatics steadily rising, it seems even more unkind and selfish to randomly burn a pile of garbage, as people still do. Educator Helen Williams brought up the topic, not for the first time, recently.
Health: The Ministry of Health and Wellness clarified the deaths of two people from COVID-19, a 64-year-old male from Clarendon and a 73-year-old female from St. Thomas (two parishes where we now have quarantined communities). They apparently left it too late to come to the hospital and died soon after arrival. They may have been trying to treat themselves at home, the Ministry suggested. An 88-year-old woman from Clarendon has since died, bringing total deaths to 13.
The Prime Minister lectured a congregation in Lucea over the weekend, telling them: “Those who breach the rules will be actively prosecuted. There will be no special favour or special preference because it was a church person [who] breached the rules” (my question is: why would this ever be considered?) By the way, positive cases in both quarantined communities were linked to church congregations – with one such case being prayed over in St. Thomas.
Human Rights: After the killings of six men in Clarendon by security forces last weekend, I have not yet learned all their names.
I was moved by the comments by Mercia Fraser, mother of Mario Deane, as she awkwardly held up a poster outside the Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay on Monday. It seemed that the only other demonstrator on the sixth anniversary of Deane’s beating in the police station was his aunt. Ms. Fraser said she would be there every year, no matter what, even if she was all alone. Three police officers are to stand trial on manslaughter and other charges on September 21. After two of Deane’s fellow inmates were released last Friday, Ms. Fraser said she was happy for the families.
Are you concerned about human trafficking in Jamaica, and is our public education on the issue working? Read my thoughts in my Gleaner blog post here. Now just this week a man was given a ten-year sentence for “tricking teen girl into prostitution” as the Gleaner would describe it.
Journalism: The Data Protection Act, which passed in Parliament in May this year, is still bothering the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) – supported by the Media Association of Jamaica, which represents the media bosses. The PAJ expressed concern over the possible “chilling effect” of the Information Commissioner’s decisions, suggesting he/she would have “overly broad powers.” I wrote about the PAJ’s concerns for Global Voices in June, 2018 here. But is it too late now – what can they do?
Politics: Yes, it’s all politics. Prime Minister Andrew Holness hit the road this week, in campaign mode. One sign that he might be going to call the election date was that…he was wearing Clarks Desert Boots (I am afraid I don’t have a photo of said boots). If you don’t know Caribbean political campaigns then this would seem ridiculous to you. But, it is what it is… and it is possible that the PM will announce the election date next week. All the “political analysts” seem to think he will – or should – announce it very soon.
You might ask, why on earth are we starting a political campaign, while COVID-19 cases are rising? We all know what campaigning means in Jamaica: people crammed into buses, partying in the streets, all squeezed up together, maximum crowds. But he can’t wait for COVID to be over and done with. We are supposed to “live with it,” aren’t we?
The PM did give a lecture while campaigning about prevention, handing out masks and stressing social distancing, with the usual chorus of women supporters echoing his words. However, contemplating the number of rallies that will take place across the island, I fear his words will soon be disregarded. This is what Minister Tufton would call “high risk.” Once again, it is up to his Ministry to “manage the risk.”
Meanwhile, the Political Ombudswoman wants to have a word with two candidates, Juliet Cuthbert Flynn and Krystal Tomlinson, about an apparent breach in the campaign rules. It probably won’t be the last.
So final arrangements are being made with the political parties quickly shuffling their candidates around. As noted in my last weekly post, there are some new women candidates. The Opposition People’s National Party is presenting a former Mayor, Marsha Francis, in western St. Thomas.
Road Safety: As the regulations for the Road Safety Act remain in a state of paralysis (not high priority?) the toll on our nation’s roads continue. I am happy that something is happening regarding the motorbikes in western Jamaica. See below!
- 53-year-old Jennifer Taylor, a caregiver living at Caribbean Terrace, Harbour View, was killed by a hit and run driver in the community on August 4.
- Davayne Barrett, a labourer of Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland, was killed when he crashed into a car traveling in the opposite direction.
- 23-year-old Johnoy Gosse of West End, Negril crashed his motorbike into a utility pole on Saturday.
- 21-year-old Oneil Johnson of Queens Drive, Montego Bay, was killed and another injured when he crashed his car into another on Saturday.
Tourism: There was a big deal made about an advisory from the U.S. Government regarding COVID-19, which was reported as somehow picking out Jamaica as being dangerous to travel to (what I would call a “non-story”). In fact, the U.S. had decided to “upgrade” its advisory from “do not travel” to “reconsider travel” to Jamaica and many other destinations. Jamaican Ambassador to the U.S. Audrey Marks sent out a notice pointing this out and describing the media stories as “half-baked.” Here is theupdated advisory for Jamaica, which focuses heavily on crime, actually…Jamaicans get very hot under the collar about advisories. However, it does seem ironic that the virus-ridden U.S. is putting them out, when many countries have banned their own visitors from entering.
The Prime Minister is adamant that Jamaica will not be closing its borders again, however. It would be “cutting off our nose to spite our face,” he declared this weekend. I’m not sure that’s the appropriate term, but so be it. In almost the same breath, he went on to say that the “second wave” of COVID-19 could be worse than the first. Is the first wave over already?
Meanwhile, Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton has asserted that more Jamaicans are seeking to return home than to go abroad. Yes, that’s part of the problem.
Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett remains gung-ho, despite everything. His usually cheerful demeanor faded for a while when Jamaica closed its borders, but he is still convinced that the “COVID-resilient Corridor” is working well. Planned tourism projects are still on track, he says: “Hotel rooms to 25,000 by 2023 is still on track, a 1,700-room facility will be constructed in St. James; 2,000 rooms are planned for Green Island in Hanover, and a tourism development programme for Kingston and Port Royal is still on.” Why do we need thousands more rooms? I have highlighted the 2,000 in Green Island, which are to be built at the sacrifice of healthy, pristine mangroves and swamp forests.
The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) has removed some 120 tonnes of plastic from Kingston communities, with the assistance of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). This is awesome work.
The National Road Safety Council has conducted an Outreach and Training Programme for motorcyclists in Petersfield, Westmoreland – where there is a particular issue with motorbike crashes. Another session is scheduled for next week. It’s much needed!
My condolences: It is hard to keep up with all those who have died violently in a week, but I will try to recognize them as names (not numbers) when I see the news. Meanwhile, my deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of the following, whether “good guys” or “bad guys.” They are all humans.
Killed by the police: I don’t have all the names of the six men “cut down” by the police in Buzz Rock/Effortville, Clarendon a week ago. The names I have are: Zemar André Nelson, 24; and Leon Rose, 25; the other four remain anonymous. Nelson and Rose have been linked to several murders and crimes, which are now “cleared up” as they are dead.
Dr. Gordon Lightbourne, 62, a lecturer at Northern Caribbean University, was found shot dead at his home in Sedburgh, Manchester on August 7.
45-year-old Paul George Simms was shot and crashed his car on the Mandela Highway in St. Catherine.
22-year-old Yashawn Isaacs of “Vietnam” in Bog Walk, St. Catherine was shot dead last Sunday.
Have a good week, all…