Well, this is a “double whammy” edition in fact, as I did not write a news update last week. And meanwhile, all hell has broken loose as climate change (waiting in the wings) decided to assert itself. What is now Hurricane Zeta brushed past us as a depression, leaving chaos in its wake. In the aftermath, there is a lot of finger-pointing going on. It’s somebody’s/everybody’s fault! The good people of Harbour Drive in Harbour View are distressed that their nice houses are now perched perilously on the edge of a ruined gully. What about planning? What about building resilience to climate change? What about preparedness? Did our leaders not know that we have a hurricane season every year? One senior citizen and resident of Nine Miles, Bull Bay, pointed out that for years now houses have been built in the riverbed.
Last week was, indeed, a week of drama. A man was removed from a Jet Blue flight for shouting racist slurs (repeatedly) at passengers at the Norman Manley International Airport. He was taken away by the police and put on another plane, but I think he should have been charged. There was also the minor drama of poor Beenie Man fainting at his mother’s graveside; what was very noticeable in the video was the absence of masks being worn by the crowd of mourners – including the deejay himself.
And speaking of masks and deejays, there was also Buju Banton’s video rant in which he urged us to be “Free!” of masks, which I wrote about for Global Voices here. The Minister of Health and Wellness’ response was, by contrast, quite restrained, when he was asked about it.
There have been some tragedies in the past few days. My condolences to the family of Romeo Leachman, 41, a landscaper, who perished with his 15-year-old daughter Sanique in Shooter’s Hill, St. Andrew, when their house was hit by a landslide.
I am also very saddened by the passing of André Burnett, 35, an entrepreneur, who was swept away by a wave at Treasure Beach in St. Elizabeth on Saturday. There is a very dangerous undertow at that beach.
Caribbean: We must keep an eye on what’s happening with dengue fever. Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and other islands are very worried about it and there have been a number of deaths and hundreds of cases.
In Barbados, a much discussed and debated statue of Captain Horatio Nelson will be removed from its location in National Heroes’ Square in the capital Bridgetown on November 16 (International Day of Tolerance). It will be moved to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. The island has announced its intention to amend its constitution to remove the Queen as Head of State on November 30, 2021.
COVID-19: Well, this is also to a large extent a human rights issue, and I can’t help feeling that the Ministry of National Security has let this one get away from them, despite repeated concerns from activists: COVID-19 numbers are rising in the island’s prisons – including 27 confirmed cases at the South Camp Juvenile Centre in Kingston (19 correctional officers and eight inmates). This brings the total in all our prisons to at least 51.
Kudos however to Stand Up for Jamaica for their non-stop advocacy on behalf of the prisoners. The non-governmental organization has just donated 17,000 masks and nine thermal scanners to the Department of Correctional Services.
And kudos to Police Commissioner Anderson, who stepped up to the plate last week and donated blood plasma, to help those with COVID-19. The Commissioner has recovered from the virus, and the University Hospital of the West Indies is appealing to those who have recovered to donate.
The police had a field day on the holiday weekend Sunday after working their way through a long line of cars filled with Hellshire day trippers (all breaking the 3 p.m. curfew by that time). They gave out tickets for various offenses, having set up road blocks between 3 and 7 p.m. on several main thoroughfares in St. Catherine.
Jamaica has finally received its promised 80,000 high-speed antigen test kits, through a partnership between the
Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton did a good job with youth leaders in a town hall meeting at the Jamaica Conference Centre. I was a little disappointed that rural (and inner city) youth were not well represented; most of the participants were from the University of the West Indies (UWI). It is, however, extremely important to get young people on board. There have been some 2,320 cases of COVID-19 in the 10 to 30 years age group. The impact on young people’s mental health and education were among the issues discussed.
Crime: Two Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) soldiers were arrested in rural Gutters, St. Elizabeth – in a drug bust. They were transporting 2,000 pounds of ganja in a JDF vehicle when they were stopped by the police – and fired at them!
The JDF has had some issues recently. There was a fight at the Up Park Camp in Kingston, with four soldiers involved. One ended up getting stabbed and off to hospital.
As if that wasn’t enough, a soldier fired shots at his wife (fortunately missing her) during an argument. Are soldiers under extreme pressure?
I had forgotten we still have Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) in Mount Salem, Denham Town, Greenwich Farm and August Town. They were extended for another 60 days in Parliament recently. I have to say I have never been exactly clear what ZOSOs entail, but think of them perhaps as “States of Emergency Lite.” Mount Salem’s ZOSO has been in effect for the past three years and the Minister of National Security says it has seen a 95 percent reduction in crime there over that period.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) held a press conference last Friday (by the way Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson reported that 280 cops are currently in quarantine, and a small number have tested positive for COVID-19. The JCF is focusing on gangs, who are responsible for so much of our crime.
Culture: As you will no doubt recall, we lost a true music icon to COVID-19 not long ago – Toots Hibbert. He passed away on September 11, but has not yet been buried, as his family had some problems with red tape. I was wondering why this struggle to bury Toots! It didn’t seem right, but now Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, has announced he will be buried at National Heroes Park, the resting place of several famous cultural figures, just outside the monuments area. I am very happy about this! Toots and his family deserve it.
Of course last week was Heritage Week. The church service on Sunday celebrated the 250th anniversary of the parish of Trelawny; and was also an observation of International Day of Rural Women (which was October 15). This year was pretty low key compared to the usual celebrations.
Economy: The new President of the Small Business Association of Jamaica Michael Leckie believes that small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) need to get on board with technology to improve productivity.
I mentioned “double whammy” above, and COVID-19 remains a drain on the public purse. Now, Prime Minister Andrew Holness just told Parliament this afternoon (October 27) that the Zeta system would cost at least J$2 billion – at the very least. Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon and Manchester were the most affected parishes. J$1.5 million will go to each constituency to help with housing repairs.
Education: As Jamaica (and many other developing countries, it seems) continues to struggle with the widening digital divide created by the necessity of online learning, it is good to know that the special needs students are not forgotten; 4,000 of them will receive electronic devices, according to Education Minister Fayval Williams. Meanwhile, communities like Rose Town in Kingston are doing their best to provide connectivity to at-risk students who are struggling not only with a lack of such devices, but also with a lack of support from parents who are just unable to provide it. The Rose Town Foundation for the Built Environment is partnering with a local church and seeking donations to try to assist. Please help if you can!
If you recall, there was a bit of a fuss when the results of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) came out. Now an Independent Review Team has sent in a draft report and the findings were disclosed at a press conference which you can watch here. CXC Chairman Sir Hilary Beckles referred to “a measure of misunderstanding” among stakeholders, suggesting that those complaining were in the minority.
Environment: Mid-week, roads in Kingston started collapsing, for various reasons, after enormous quantities of rain for the past two weeks or so. After a sudden explosion of water from a burst pipe at an intersection, we then had a road surface that had simply shifted itself somewhere else. On Washington Boulevard, a truck tilted pathetically in a fissure that had opened up and an entire stretch of road was a picture of ruin – again, this appeared to be a water pipe issue.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in Parliament today that the “mashed-up” roads did not include the newly-built ones that in pre-election days his colleagues and supporters called “cyaapet” (carpet). The first burst pipe is at least fifty years old, according to the National Water Commission, but they cannot afford to replace many of their old pipes; they have to just patch them up). The National Works Agency spokesman has also hinted, more than once, that funds to properly rectify our aging infrastructure are very short. All they can do is clear the roads, clean more drains (belatedly), and do a little patching.
Human Rights: The number of police killings has increased considerably in the past few months. I am never sure why an “off duty cop” is always armed, but my Twitter friends told me it is a necessity, as they are often targeted by criminals. Anyway, a would-be robber, 21-year-old Marvan Bowman, was killed by a policeman who was riding in a taxi in Sun Valley, St. James. Another man was injured during an alleged shoot out with police in Waltham Park, Kingston. And the police shot dead two men in St. Catherine this week (see below). Most people on Twitter expressed happiness at their deaths. Nevertheless, they did not get their day in Court. The police have shot 89 people dead to date, this year (five this month).
Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson, discussed the issues faced by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) when confronting mentally ill people in a 20-minute “Force for Good” podcast here. The issue was raised in the last quarterly report of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).
Money: Scotiabank Jamaica will shortly have a new President and CEO, Audrey Tugwell Henry. I wish her luck and would suggest she does a complete overhaul of the bank’s “customer service.” We have just closed our accounts with Scotiabank after many years…
Our bright Belizean journalist Kalilah Reynolds has left morning radio and just launched her website live on October 26. Take a look! It’s all about money, money, money… She has a great following, and deservedly so.
Politics: In case you missed it, the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) produced a lovely remembrance of the life of former Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson, who passed away on May 29, this year. It is very well done. I would recommend subscribing to their YouTube channel; apart from some good features like this, PBCJ broadcasts official events and all the sittings of Parliament (Upper and Lower House) live.
It’s important that we cut through red tape! And the Authentication (Foreign Public Documents) Bill 2020 should help with that. It has just been passed in the Senate. “It is about global connectivity and effectiveness,” says Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Kamina Johnson Smith.
Road Safety: Driving on the Junction Road in St. Mary at night is no joke. It is narrow and winding and care is needed. It is very sad that truck driver Lancelot Wilson and 13-year-old Jordon Bowen were both killed when their truck hit a wall in Devon Pen and ended up on the rocky bed of the Wag Water River. I can’t help wondering why they were out way after curfew hours, at 11:00 p.m., however..
Another tricky spot for drivers is the long drive on Spur Tree Hill. One man who may have been going too fast downhill lost control of his car and was injured and hospitalized.
Head of the Road Safety Unit, the outspoken Mr. Kenute Hare, was absolutely furious at a video circulating on social media of a group of motorcyclists driving at 80 kilometers per hour on the North-South highway in the pouring rain. None of the pillion riders were wearing helmets. One actually skidded and crashed, but there were no serious injuries, amazingly. If you want to watch Mr. Hare’s videos on defensive driving go to the Unit’s YouTube channel.
Tourism: The Riu Reggae Hotel in Montego Bay was flooded (and the road outside was a raging torrent) during heavy rains on National Heroes Day. Apparently this is not the first time. While the National Works Agency suggested in a tweet that plastic (bottles) were the main problem, it appears that Montego Bay does not respond very well to heavy rains. But, with climate change, it can expect more of the same.
Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett is doing his best as the industry remains pretty moribund. He has been working on an insurance scheme for tourists (at a cost of US$40) which will cover COVID-19 and other health expenses. The Jamaica Cares Insurance Programme will be launched in two weeks’ time.
My deepest condolences to all those who lost family and friends violently in the past week. In one 24 hour period six people were murdered, which is very disturbing. I may not have all the names here.
27-year-old Monique Curtis was stabbed to death during an argument in Central Village, St. Catherine. A man has been arrested for her murder.
A horrific double murder was uncovered on Friday evening at Plum Lane, off Whitehall Avenue in Kingston. Two decapitated bodies were found after gunfire was heard. The police had to search for the heads, and found one but not the other. Sometimes I think they must have a terrible job. The two men were identified as Mark Wellington and Leonardo Hendricks.
Also in Kingston’s Mountain View Avenue, an 18-year-old was charged with the shooting death of 26-year-old Shavon Hall.
38-year-old Patrick Spence was found with stab wounds on a dirt track in Runaway Bay, St. Ann. A man has been charged with his murder.
In Dallas Castle, St. Andrew, a Retired District Constable, Leonard Bennett, aged 82, was shot dead near the Primary School.
A businessman and member of the music fraternity, Osbourn Campbell, (Jah Lee), was shot dead at his grocery store on Fustic Road, Montego Bay, near the market.
A lifeguard named Calvin Donaldson, 29, was shot dead by men who drove up alongside him on the main road in Rio Bueno, Trelawny.
Two men (unidentified) were shot dead by a licensed firearm holder in White River, Ocho Rios, St. Ann in the early hours of the morning, when they broke into his bar.
Two men (one of whom, Ashado McFarlane, the police say was a suspected contract killer) were shot dead by the police in a confrontation in Duncan’s Pen, St. Catherine on Monday night. The other man was Jahmeele Omar Smith. The police officers were in the area investigating the kidnapping and suspected murder of 29-year-old restaurant supervisor, Kenroy McPherson.