ICYMI in Jamaica, November 3, 2020: The Illegal Party Edition

We could also call this the “U.S. Election Edition,” since many Jamaicans have been nervously following that particular emotional rollercoaster. Why are Jamaicans so engaged? Well, as people say, “When the U.S. sneezes, we catch cold.” We are geographically so close and many of us have family there. South Florida is nicknamed “Kingston 21” – but to the chagrin of many, that state has apparently turned red. So last night was a stressful and sleepless one, while the rains continue unabated, and Jamaicans were up tweeting all night.

Agriculture: I am glad that Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Floyd Green has not forgotten our beleaguered fisherfolk. He plans to unveil a $120 million assistance package for fishers.

Dear Floyd, please – please can something be done about “praedial larceny”? In other words, people stealing crops and animals that hard-working farmers have spent their hard work and money raising – just to have it stolen from under their noses? Yet another distressing story relates to a young woman farmer, 25-year-old Sherka Braham of Woodland, St. Elizabeth, said: “The second time around they harvest all the sweet pepper.” Yes, it seems the thieves visit regularly.

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. (Photo: REUTERS/Jeanty Junior Augustin)

Caribbean: Other countries are always telling the Haitian Government what to do, when to hold elections, etc., but now President Jovenel Moïse has announced that there will be a couple of months’ debate on a new constitution, before a referendum in February or March, 2021 – following which, general elections will be held.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines will assume the chairmanship of the UN Security Council for just one month, as a non-permanent member.

CARICOM countries that are highly dependent on tourism are understandably nervous about the COVID-19 pandemic. They are watching it very carefully, I guess. The Bahamas still has a state of emergency but is tweaking/loosening some of its restrictions. St. Vincent and Barbados have tightened up entry requirements. Trinidad’s numbers are looking better, but Saint Lucia seems to have community spread and Dominica is getting anxious, closing a high school where cases were found and holding a muted celebration of their 42nd year of Independence on November 3. The CARICOM “Travel Bubble” has pretty much collapsed.

A flooded road near Morant Bay in St. Thomas. (Twitter)

Climate Change: We have just endured days of seemingly endless rain – caused this time by Hurricane Eta, which is now making the lives of Central Americans a misery. Will Eta really turn back round and head off to Cuba, coming closer to us again? The National Hurricane Center is predicting this. We will know in the next few days. Meanwhile the eastern parishes of St. Thomas and Portland are suffering tremendous floods and privations. The ground is already saturated. There was even a mini-tornado (and a dramatic waterspout) in the small town of St. Margaret’s Bay in Portland, which caused considerable damage. I am happy that no lives were lost.

Corruption and Transparency: The fraud trial of former Education Minister Ruel Reid and former Caribbean Maritime University President Professor Fritz Pinnock, and several others is to continue on December 11.

Crime: The two Jamaica Defense Force soldiers who were caught in a drug bust in Gutters, St. Elizabeth, having engaged in a shoot out with the police (!) on October 13, have been charged with drug trafficking and shooting with intent and appeared in court. They are pleading not guilty but are remanded in custody.

Large parcels of what the police said is ganja, valued at approx. J$5.2 million, in the back of a taxi yesterday in Buff Bay, Portland. Police arrested the driver of the car, which was involved in a two-vehicle crash when the drugs were found. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

There has been a spate of robberies and attempted robberies by men on motorbikes in uptown Kingston. Two motorbike riders who fired at the police when they tried to stop them are now in custody and charged with Robbery with Aggravation, Shooting with Intent, Illegal Possession of Firearm and Illegal Possession of Ammunition. Well done to the police.

Two men who were arrested five years ago in Manchester in connection with the seizure of over 2000 rounds of ammunition were found guilty this week and are awaiting sentencing.

Jamaican party people (legal ones). (Photo: jamaicans.com)

The police are busy cracking down on illegal gatherings too – arresting people not only for breaching COVID-19 protocols but also various other charges. In St. Catherine, they even reportedly happened upon a “gang party” (if you could call it that) in Old Braeton, during which a man was shot dead (see below for details). In that parish, over 1,500 individuals were warned in October, more than 310 business establishments ordered closed, and more than 100 noise breaches turned off by the police, in accordance with the Disaster Risk Management Act regulations.

I continually see tweets and other comments online about loud music after curfew hours. Who are these people? Well, they are law-breakers. The police are trying hard, but apparently the party organizers are choosing off-the-beaten-track venues to avoid them – such as the district of Gordon, near Whitehouse in Westmoreland. Another party promoter has been charged for an illegal party in Hellshire, St. Catherine on October 31. Halloween… A nightclub proprietor and 17 others were charged for various breaches in Boscobel, St. Mary. A candlelight vigil for a community member who had passed was taking place well after curfew hours in Cambridge, St. James (which continues to experience the most COVID-19 cases, despite a downturn in numbers) when four people were injured in a shooting.

A dancehall entertainer called “Laden” (Okeefe Aarons) was arrested and charged with illegal possession of a firearm, illegal possession of ammunition, breaching the Disaster Risk Management Act, and failing to stop on the request of the police.

A scene in Naggo Head, St. Catherine. (My photo)

Now the community of Naggo Head in St. Catherine, which I visited a couple of years ago with my friend Damien, is suffering from gang activity – some kind of feud in surrounding areas that is affecting them. This is really sad – I know the community has been working hard to improve their living conditions.

Culture: Congratulations to all the Caribbean individuals and organizations who won small grants from Kingston Creative in the Caribbean Artists Showcase, with co-sponsorship from American Friends of Jamaica and Fresh Milk Barbados. This is the Catapult Arts Grant.

The unveiling of the statue of Usain Bolt in December 2017.

I truly am not keen on the statue of sprint champion Usain Bolt. But he was born in Trelawny, and Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange is determined to put his statue in the historic Water Square in Falmouth. However, will the 1805-vintage (but also not very beautiful) fountain have to be removed? The Jamaica National Heritage Trust will have the last word, it seems. Hmm.

Education: Minister Fayval Williams is taking brave but tentative steps towards face-to-face education, with a pilot program scheduled to come on stream from November 9 to 20 in seventeen selected schools – none in Kingston & St. Andrew. Some of the selected schools seem rather confused about the situation – is there poor communication here? Now, three schools have withdrawn from the programme. Meanwhile the Prime Minister has acknowledged the “terrible impact” that non-attendance at school has had on our children’s education.

Energy: Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Daryl Vaz, says there are plans to obtain 268 megawatts of energy from renewables by 2025. I wonder if the Government can reach its stated renewable goals. 33 per cent of electricity generation by 2030? Let’s see.

This should be an excellent discussion on Friday lunchtime regarding the vexed question of planning for resilience in urban areas. Climate change is with us, and the organizers, including Young People for Action on Climate Change (YPACC), don’t believe we can just do “band-aid” solutions any more.

Environment and Housing: Since Zeta passed by, the chorus of blame and point-scoring has been growing louder. “Informal settlements” (a euphemism for squatter settlements) have been a huge issue – and it’s a political one – for decades. No one, however, wishes to bell that rather large cat. We know why people are allowed to build in dry river beds, on steep hillsides, or on the edge of gullies. These are poor people who don’t “choose” to live there; they are, in the eyes of the politicians, voters. So, while the Prime Minister “talks tough” about “no-build zones,” I am afraid a certain amount of cynicism kicks in.

There is more water, water, everywhere in Bull Bay. Member of Parliament Juliet Holness had to pay another visit there yesterday, as the Chalky River had again burst its banks. (Photo: Twitter)

By the way, whatever happened to the so-called “Climate Change Park” in Portmore, St. Catherine (which is truly devoid of trees – and invariably hot and dry)? Residents call the Park “the dust bowl” or “the desert.” According to the latest report I can find from last year, “The construction of the climate change park commenced in 2016 and was expected to be completed in March 2019,” with support from the German Government (City of Hagen). Now it is solely the responsibility of the Municipality of Portmore to complete it. Did something go wrong here?

Health: The situation at the Golden Age Home has sparked a number of actions by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, supported by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Meanwhile, the shocking number of positive cases at Missionaries of the Poor is truly a cause for concern. They are appealing for protective gear and disposables. The Health and Wellness Minister reported some 358 samples from 7 facilities – including one monastery were collected, with 88 said to be positive. Regarding care homes, 36 have been inspected (203 nursing homes, 13 infirmaries, 14 children’s homes, and 6 rehabilitation institutions) but only just under half were found to be complying with COVID protocols. The homes have until November 30 to get their act together, Minister Tufton reported in Parliament today; if not, they will be prosecuted and fined. I am so glad to see that the Government is getting tough on these private homes – many of them are simply money-making operations.

Deaths from COVID-19 for the week of October 25 – 31 – a total of 20 deaths, bringing the total number of reported deaths to 209 (or 208?) as of Oct 31. At that point there were 29 deaths under investigation.

As I noted before, the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) has been advocating for the tighter monitoring and inspection of private nursing homes (the vast majority of which are not registered) for quite a while now. It is long overdue. CCRP (who had urged island-wide testing in infirmaries and care homes back in May) is now suggesting that the National Council for Senior Citizens (which has offices in every parish) could be trained to support public sector inspectors in these efforts; it is clear that human resources are somewhat stretched in this area. As a result of recent inspections, two nursing homes have been ordered closed as they were not adhering to COVID-19 protocols; and less than half of the 236 inspected island-wide were compliant (what about other protocols, one wonders?) and have 30 days to clean up their act. At last, they are getting tough on these institutions, many of which charge high rates to residents.

Meanwhile, the promised 36-bed field hospital in Falmouth should be completed by the end of the month, Minister Tufton reports.

Dengue is very much in the forefront of the Minister of Health and Wellness’ efforts. This morning some people came to check our yard for mosquito breeding sites. Then this evening the fogging machine came around. Full marks for effort!

The Jamaican diaspora continues to be so generous. Here Director of the Good Samaritan Inn and GSI Foundation, Gavin Lowe and Regional Director, South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Maureen Golding, look at a maternity bassinet during the handover of medical equipment to SERHA on Tuesday. This was a private donation from Jamaica-born doctor and philanthropist based in the United States, Dr. Pete Williams. Thank you!

The National Water Commission (NWC) gets a bad rap constantly, but I do think President Mark Barnett tries hard. (Of course I realize I am privileged and lucky to have a good, regular water supply, which many don’t). But the NWC’s challenges are many. Now they say they have lost so much money due to the economic downturn that they have to abandon the COVID-19 assistance program offering discounts to customers. There is no money in the kitty. The economic fallout from COVID-19 is multi-faceted.

Human Rights: Canada-based gay rights activist Maurice Tomlinson lost his court appeal against Television Jamaica (TVJ), in a case where the TV station had refused to air an ad calling for greater tolerance for LGBT people. The Appeal Court ruled they had a right to refuse.

Despite the Police Commissioner’s outreach last week to discuss the Jamaica Constabulary’s approach to the mentally ill, a man with mental health problems was shot by the police in Brown’s Town, St. Ann and is hospitalized. He had refused to put down the knife in his hand.

Even Jamaica Labour Party supporters on Twitter are falling for this family photo of People’s National Party leadership candidate Mark Golding. Bare feet and all!

Politics: As the contest for Leader of the Opposition “heats up” (although many of us are thinking about other things) one of the two competitors, Mark Golding posted some lovely family pictures on Twitter. OK, they were very posed, but I liked them a lot! I still think he has the edge over Lisa Hanna. It’s more of a gut feeling as I confess I am not following every detail of the race. I just am sensing more empathy, and I am a sucker for empathy. Nevertheless, a recent poll finds that Ms. Hanna is “more popular with the electorate,” so she may be the one. Of course, only People’s National Party delegates (not even members) will be voting for their leader.

There have been a lot of unpleasant personal attacks on both competitors on social media. This has resulted in Hanna and Golding holding a press briefing, in which they emphasized unity and respect for all. The elections will be held on Saturday, November 7 and results will be made available by 5:00 p.m. that day.

The sprawling town of Portmore, in St. Catherine.

A parliamentary committee may be set up to examine turning the municipality of Portmore (population: 182,000) into a parish, according to Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie who tabled a motion in Parliament. Member of Parliament Andrew Wheatley will chair it.

Road Safety: There seem to be quite a number of road crashes in western Jamaica. Fifty-year-old Donald Gayle, a project engineer, died when he lost control of his car in Barham, Westmoreland, and crashed into a river.

Tourism: Our Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett has perked up quite a bit on news that the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. has lifted the “no-sail” order for cruise ships in U.S. ports. At least, the CDC says it is adopting a “careful” approach, with “phased resumption” of cruise ship sailings. Yes, they had better be careful! Meanwhile, cruise ship lines say they are continuing to stay off the seas until December 31, 2020.

Women’s Issues: I am ashamed to say I had almost forgotten about the Sexual Harassment Bill, which as the Jamaica Observer reports, is “inching along” in Parliament. A Joint Select Committee plans to have its report tabled not later than the end of this parliamentary year (that is, the end of March 2021). There are some new MPs on the Committee and I hope this includes some of the women we elected. They have received 11 submissions over six months, possibly more to come. Let’s get this one right!

This was the Clifton Boys’ Home under construction a few months ago.

Youth: Good news – the boys of Clifton Boys’ Home have a new place to call home in Darliston, Westmoreland. Their building was destroyed by fire back in 2017. The home was one of the beneficiaries of the proceeds from this year’s Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run.

They had lives, they had aspirations and hopes for the future. They had family, friends, colleagues. Now they have died violently on this island, and once again I extend my condolences to all those who are mourning their loss.

35-year-old Jason Thomas and 23-year-old Odene Jones were in a group playing dominoes when they were shot dead in Southboro, a section of Portmore in St. Catherine, on Tuesday night. A national footballer, Maalique Foster, was injured and underwent surgery. Four others were injured.

Rohan Hall Snr of Bedward Gardens, August Town was changing a tyre on his car on Thursday morning on Phoenix Avenue, Kingston, when he was shot dead. The three occupants of the car were injured and hospitalized.

33-year-old Leon Gordon was shot dead on Barbican Road, Kingston by two men on a motorcycle.

After five years as a wanted man, a St. Catherine man was arrested and charged with the murder of Teno Smith in Old Harbour.

In a really sad gun accident, it seems, a 16-year-old boy was shot dead when playing with his father’s gun, while hanging out with friends in Caribbean Estates, St. Catherine.

A sixteen-year-old boy, Jadon Morrison, was shot dead at a house in Caribbean Estates, Portmore, where he was with four other teens. The gun belonged to his father, reportedly.

Kemar Tummings, otherwise called ‘Night and Day’ was shot dead at an illegal party in Old Braeton, St. Catherine, on Friday night. The police say he was a member of the Clansmen Gang (“the Tesha Miller faction”) and they were called there because of the noise, but as they approached shooting broke out and several others were injured.

In St. Mary, 26-year-old Jaleel Abdullah was shot dead at his home in Port Maria.

In Somerset, St. Thomas, 53 year-old Peter Graham, a farmer, was shot dead over a game of cards.

Cayson Blair was one of two men shot dead at an illegal party in Westmoreland.

At another illegal party in Gordon, Westmoreland, gunfire broke out killing Cayson Blair, 30, and Mark Morgan, 31, who were having a “heated dispute.” Eleven other partygoers were injured.

I have almost finished reading Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” – a very long book which I first read as a very young woman. It means so much more now. Please follow me on GoodReads, if you are there. I keep notes on my Kindle. Here is one character musing on life, death – and war:

“If no one fought except on his own conviction, there would be no wars.”

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