ICYMI in Jamaica, October 13, 2020: The Kindness Edition

Well, Hurricane Delta went away (taking most of Bluefields Beach in Westmoreland away with it) and we are left to reflect, once more, on our own human fragility in the face of climate change and COVID-19. Some of us would rather pretend, however, and sip on Bacardi or whatever their favorite drink is, without a care in the world. I first called this the “COVID Idiots Edition” but decided to soften it to the Kindness Edition, because I hear of so many acts of kindness from individuals, who are doing what they can. We need compassion to prevail in this harsh world. Let’s make it happen. P.S. We have registered for the Digicel Foundation Virtual 5K Walk/Run for Special Needs. Have you? It’s only $1,500 and the deadline is Friday, October 16. Register at https://www.runningeventsja.com/ Some wonderful people and organizations are depending on your support.

Paralympian Alphanso Cunningham (pictured) is going to do his Digicel Virtual 5K on his training wheelchair in his home gym. You can do it anywhere, any time, and win a medal!

Agriculture: I was delighted and at the same time sad to see our Twitter friend Jermaine Black on television last night. He loves farming (loves his pigs!) and works so hard but has often fallen prey to thieves. It is really hurtful to see. I wish him all the best and would really like to see something done about praedial larceny, as it is called. That makes it sound harmless, but it is just as bad as stealing valuable goods from someone’s house. It’s his livelihood and his life’s work, and it makes me angry.

Caribbean: In Guyana, the post-election aftermath drags on and on. Now the Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Roxanne Myers, has been arrested for obstruction of justice. A reminder that the elections were back in March!

Belize general elections have been set for November 11, after Prime Minister Dean Barrow is stepping down. The citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will also go to the polls on November 5. Could this be term #5 for Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves?

Legislation extending the United States-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act through 2030,  passed the U.S. Senate recently by unanimous consent, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) reports.  Also, the UK Government has appointed a new trade representative to the Commonwealth Caribbean (among fifteen appointed recently, in preparation for post-Brexit trade). His name is Darren Henry and he is a Conservative Member of Parliament and a former Royal Air Force Squadron Leader.

Trinidad is mourning the loss of a popular comedian and storyteller, Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall, who passed away on October 2 aged 71 years.

Haitian refugees crowded into a 45 foot boat were intercepted at sea near the Turks and Caicos. (Photo: Jacqueline Charles/Twitter)

In the Turks and Caicos, over 200 Haitians were intercepted at sea in a 45 boat on October 10. Some jumped out, but they were caught and will be sent straight back to Haiti.

Corruption and Transparency: The Integrity Commission’s investigators visited the Hanover Municipal Corporation and removed documents and cell phones. Mayor Sheridan Samuels is adamant that there is no corruption or nepotism taking place there and is upset by a video circulating on social media that suggests otherwise.

COVID-19: 27 Jamaican farm workers at an orchard in Vermont, U.S., have tested positive for COVID-19. The state has one of the lowest infection rates in the country, but the Jamaican workers have pushed their numbers up.

Known as a warm and caring professional, Dr. Lenworth Jackson passed away from COVID-19 a few days ago, and is being mourned deeply by colleagues and patients.

Remember the huge problems with a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) facility in St. Catherine, in the earlier stages of COVID-19? Well, a call centre in St. James that closed because of health concerns reopened the next day recently, after health officials were assured that it had followed the relevant protocols. The centre employs 3,500 people and had 18 positive cases.

Party time in Seven Sisters Cave. (Photo: Jamaica Gleaner)

Meanwhile, reports in the media and elsewhere anecdotally pour in of constant flouting of COVID-19 rules. Another example is the trespassing in Seven Sisters Cave in St. Catherine, an Urban Development Corporation (UDC) property that has been invaded by partygoers. This despite Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie’s repeated warnings in recent weeks… I felt sorry for the health official in Clarendon who sounded very frustrated when she asked: Why aren’t people wearing masks?

Care packages, gratefully received from the Jamaican diaspora in Atlanta, U.S.

On a more positive note, 500 families in St. James received care packages, thanks to a donation from the Atlanta-Montego Bay Sister Cities committee, working with the Peace Management Initiative.

Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton was busy in western Jamaica last week. A new COVID-19 ward was opened in Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay.

Crime: A 25-hour curfew was imposed on Parade Gardens in downtown Kingston over the weekend. Coincidentally, I noted on a recent map from the Ministry of Health and Wellness that the community has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the city.

The nine month-long Uchence Wilson gang trial has finally resulted in convictions – and the acquittal of Mr. Wilson’s girlfriend. On Tuesday, he and eight co-accused were found guilty of being members of a criminal organization, which netted around J$400 million from 2015 -17. They will be sentenced on November 30 – nine out of the 24 originally charged.

It’s hard to disentangle the data, but it seems that COVID-related curfews have had very little impact on Jamaica’s murder rate – especially in the parish of St. Catherine, which has been having high numbers in both areas since March 10 (the date of our first COVID case). “Clear, hold and build” is the mantra for anti under the States of Emergency (there are currently none). At this point we have had around 700 murders to date this year. I wonder if the consensus on crime signed by both political parties in August will bear any fruit.

Meanwhile, one of our white-collar criminals, once darling of the Jamaican cocktail circuit, has been released from jail in the Turks and Caicos. David Smith served a ten-year sentence for money laundering, and the U.S. now wants him extradited on charges of wire fraud. It is in the courts. And Jamaica? Well apparently we are “hands off,” although Jamaican citizens also lost money to this fraudster through his “failed investment scheme” Olint. Could he still be prosecuted here? I remember also Mr. Carlos Hill…

Culture and Tradition: If you have not already done so, please do read my interview with environmental activist and award-winning writer Diana McCaulay, about her novel “Daylight Come.” It is a powerful read – imagining a future where an island is steadily crumbling under the impact of climate change. The sun is too hot to bear! Available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.

A short film called Sweet Rind, directed by Andre Wynter and starring Sherando Ferril and Kadeem Wilson, won Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress Awards at the LA Sun Film Festival in California recently. Kudos!

No Musgrave Awards will be presented this year by the Institute of Jamaica, as is normal ahead of National Heroes Day in October. This is because there is no Governing Council at the Institute; it was dissolved by the Ministry of Gender, Culture, Entertainment and Sport ahead of the September 3 general election and has not been reconstituted yet.

Edward O’Sullivan Lee OD (Bunny Lee). Photo: Rex Features

Another stalwart of the Jamaican music industry has passed away – producer Bunny Lee died at the University Hospital of the West Indies, aged 79. Here’s a lovely remembrance of him in the UK Guardian.

Education: It appears that some independent schools have been approved by the Ministry of Education to conduct in-person teaching, although all public schools are teaching online. This is a little surprising, to me. Meanwhile, tablets are in great demand (and in short supply) and connectivity remains a major worry in rural schools. In a television report, it was noted that several St. Mary high schools have poor, if any connectivity. One principal said she would like the “service provider” (Flow Jamaica) to treat them like human beings. There were some cables that had been vandalized and never repaired; but why were they cut? Another headache is the non-payment of school fees (many parents are already cash-strapped). Meanwhile, the RJR Gleaner Group is helping out with two new television learning channels.

Mr. Mattrasingh recently presented a scholarship for $300,000 to Ruddayne Peters. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

Kindness Corner: Clarendon businessman Andrew Mattrasingh has been supporting a bright young student with school expenses ($100,000 annually). Ruddayne Peters is now in her first year at the University of the West Indies, studying microbiology.

Roan Walters (right) presents a resident of Galina, St Mary with food items. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

In St. Mary, 41-year-old chef and businessman Roan Walters has got together with friends at home and abroad and formed Uncle Val’s Charity Programme in March of this year. He has been donating food, clothing and other necessities to local community members affected by COVID-19.

Portmore resident Kacey-Ann Campbell is 26 years old and is offering neighboring children free WiFi, so that they can do their classes online. “When I was growing up, my mother couldn’t afford Internet much less electronics. So, from I was younger, I just always want to be that person who helps children,” she says.

Environment: Red Stripe has decided to get back into the bottle return business – I remember this years ago. Consumers can return empty Red Stripe, Heineken, Guinness, Dragon Stout, Smirnoff Ice and Malta bottles for recycling. Each bottle is valued at $20 and a full crate fetches $600.


This is the general condition of the roads in the community of New Haven. My photo

New Haven again: I have written about the barely livable community of New Haven (not the residents’ fault – it has simply been neglected) in a constituency represented by Member of Parliament Anthony Hylton for quite a few years now (certainly throughout People’s National Party administrations). I made a “humph” sound when I read that the MP is now calling for action on the flooding which the community has endured on and off and in varying degrees for many years…

Health: Senator Dr. Sapphire Longmore, a cancer survivor, is urging women 40 years and over to get checked for breast cancer. This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I have to call for an appointment, myself. Because of COVID-19 many of us have been neglecting our regular medical appointments. Meanwhile, Member of Parliament for Eastern Portland Ann-Marie Vaz is providing free mammograms (and transportation) for 100 women over 40 through her Action Ann Foundation. She did this last year and I totally applaud her for this! Thank you.

Charles Edward James (Maas Tata) died recently aged 115 years. The number of his descendants is much too large for a burial event, in these times of COVID. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

The oldest person in Jamaica, Charles Edward James (“Maas Tata”) of Holly Hill, Darliston, Westmoreland, died last Sunday age 115, but his family is worried about funeral arrangements with the COVID-19 restrictions. Maas Tata leaves behind eight children, approximately 70 grandchildren, 140 great-grandchildren and 25 great, great-grandchildren. Quite a crowd!

Mental Health: There has been a lot of discussion and some helpful insights (even lists of recommended counselors on Twitter) surrounding mental health in the Time of COVID. Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton talked about efforts to boost the mental health response at last week’s press briefing in Montego Bay, with some wise words from Dr. Earl Wright. He also made a statement in Parliament. There is a toll-free helpline: 888 639-5433 (888 NEW LIFE) and the launch of a new strategy that is community-based. There is also a call for civil society to become mental health “ambassadors” through a joint initiative with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). There are concerns over the wellbeing of senior citizens – and also children are under great stress. Our lives have been turned upside down. We must support each other. The awesome young journalist and beauty queen Brithney Clarke is really onto something with her business – B’Mindful Candles and More – which uses aromatherapy scents to soothe mind and soul. There’s also a website, befrienders.org, which can help “no matter where you live in the world.”

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right) offering condolences to Omari Stephens, the son of Susan Bogle, during a visit to August Town in June following his mother’s death. (Photo: Karl McLarty/Jamaica Observer)

Human Rights: During a virtual press briefing on, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) reported a 25 per cent increase in killings of civilians by members of the security forces. To date there have been 86 fatal shootings – two this month. Very disappointingly, INDECOM has not (yet) been able to determine whether Susan Bogle, a woman with disabilities in August Town, was shot dead by soldiers or by gunmen on May 27, 2020. Their investigations are not quite complete. What is even more troubling is that security forces shot fifteen mentally ill people dead this year – sometimes they are doing nothing more than throwing stones. There must be a better way.

Demonstrators protest against the proposed deportation of Osime Brown. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

A young Jamaican autistic man, Osime Brown, is facing deportation from the UK back to Jamaica, after serving a three-year sentence for a crime under a “joint enterprise” law – which he insists he is not guilty of. There is a growing campaign and a petition for him to be allowed to stay. The UK’s immigration rules have become considerably harsher under the Johnson regime. Brown is 21 years old and left Jamaican when he was four. I am hoping that kindness and good sense will prevail – although those qualities seem in short supply in right-wing Britain, these days.

Saturday was World Day Against the Death Penalty and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) would like to see the death penalty abolished in the region. According to this report, the last execution carried out in the Caribbean was in 2008 in St. Kitts. Other Caribbean countries (including Jamaica) have not carried out the death penalty for at least 20 years.

Money, and More: I would like to recommend a really well-laid out and focused Jamaican blog called Goody on a Budget. It’s sub-titled A Guide to Being a Young Adult on the Cheap. It also has some great features on young women entrepreneurs.

Politics: Are local government elections going to take place, as they are constitutionally due – next month? In light of the ongoing high numbers of COVID-19 cases (and deaths) would it be wise? The fact is (although the Government may not have fully acknowledged it publicly) the September 3 general elections spurred a steadily rising number of new cases throughout last month. In light of the Prime Minister’s recent comments about the Christmas holiday, we don’t want to get into another huge spike as we approach the season.

Norman Horne has not been appointed as an Opposition Senator.

The PNP’s Norman Horne says he is not accepting an appointment as Opposition Senator from outgoing President Peter Phillips. He has not been sworn in. He wants to wait until the new leader is selected. The remaining seven senators on the Opposition side will not have to resign on November 6, when the new man or woman comes in.

And in the U.S., as things heat up even further ahead of the presidential elections, Americans of Jamaican/Caribbean heritage are getting busy on the political front. Here is Vice Mayor of Miramar in Florida, Maxwell B. Chambers, who along with other state officials of Jamaican heritage welcomed Democratic candidate Joe Biden to the state today. Mayor Dale Holness of Broward County, also Jamaican American, was there, too, according to the Miami Herald‘s great Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles (@jacquiecharles).

Road Safety: The driver and a passenger were injured in a truck crash in Walderston, Manchester on Saturday afternoon. The driver “lost control” and caused an immense amount of destruction, crashing into a utility pole (the whole town of Christiana had no power) and a shop.

The driver of this vehicle (right) is thankful for his life

Another out of control driver escaped serious injury but destroyed his vehicle on Red Hills Road today. Meanwhile Phillepo Swaby died after he also lost control of his car, which crashed into a tree in Portmore.

A taxi driver has been warned for prosecution after his passenger Donnette Smith died when he crashed his car into another vehicle heading in the opposite direction near Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios, St. Ann.

And in St. Elizabeth, 52-year-old Bryan Scott was driving his flatbed truck in Black River (in heavy rain) when it hit a pothole. Scott died after being thrown out of the truck.

Also in St. Elizabeth, two motorcyclists collided and both died, in Malvern: They have been identified as 19 year old construction worker Mikael Ellis and 26 year old Rayon Smith. Good Lord! How did this happen?

Shockingly, over 100 motorcyclists have died on our roads to date this year.

Technology: A Jamaican company called Mahoe Gaming is seeking to break the monopoly of Supreme Ventures in the gaming industry and plans to use Chinese company Genlot for the technology. There was a bit of a tiff between the U.S. and Chinese Embassies over U.S. Ambassador Donald Tapia’s strongly expressed objection to the introduction of Genlot a couple of months ago. Now the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission says it expects to have the results of a due diligence on Genlot in two weeks or so. Somehow I feel there may be more on this, to come…

(From left) Final year engineering students at the University of Technology, Jamaica, Odain Brown, Juleen Gentles, Joshua Thompson, and Roshelle Pinnock. They were selected as finalists in the 2020 IBM Developer Call for Code Global Challenge, University Edition for their Plant-IT mobile app – Contributed photo/Jamaica Gleaner

Congratulations to the awesome team from the University of Technology (UTech), who have been chosen as finalists in the 2020 IBM Developer Call for Code Global Challenge, University Edition. And fingers crossed!

My deepest condolences to the families of all those who have died as a result of violence – and those who have been injured and mentally traumatized. These are names – not numbersand they had families and people who loved them.

The body of farmer Delroy James, 63, was found in the Thomas River in Pennants, Clarendon. While police seem to think he was washed away in recent rains, his family suspect foul play.

The body of a man was found with gunshot wounds in a canefield in Caymanas Estate in St. Catherine on August 22 – but has not yet been identified. The police are asking for help. The body of a man was found with gunshot wounds in a stream in Pear Tree Grove, Riversdale in the same parish on August 29. The police need help to identify him.

Gang feuds (even intra-gang) seem to have revived in Spanish Town recently. An unidentified man, was shot at the bus terminus on Tuesday morning and 28 year-old Kevon Lewis was shot dead in the town square.

Ainsworth Fairclough, 48, a taxi driver, was stabbed to death during a fight in Freeman’s Hall, Trelawny. A man has been charged with his murder.

Businessman Dexter Rhoden was shot dead in an attempted robbery in Prospect and two of his attackers were shot dead by the police in an alleged shootout in Lyssons, St. Thomas on Tuesday afternoon.

26-year-old Kenmar Martin was shot dead in Whitehall District, Negril, Westmoreland on Tuesday evening.

37-year-old Gregory Grant was stabbed to death in Cacoon Castle, Hanover during an argument. A teenager has been charged with his murder.

21-year-old Ackeem ‘Chino’ Barrett was shot dead and two women were injured in downtown Montego Bay on Wednesday night.

The body of an unidentified man was found early Saturday morning in downtown Kingston.

A 70 year-old man was shot dead in Patrick Drive, Kingston.

Tavia Richards McGregor in her modeling days. (Photo: McKoys News)

Tavia Richards McGregor, 37, a former fashion model with Saints International, was shot dead at her home in Seven Heights, May Pen, Clarendon early Tuesday morning. Her children, who were sleeping with her, were unharmed.

I hate to end on this very sad note. My quote for the week is:

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

― Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

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