ICYMI in Jamaica, November 14, 2020: The Breakaway Edition

Well, the past week has been, to say the least, pretty intense. The ever-evolving Eta, as expected, turned around after wreaking havoc in Central America, and passed along to the west of us this time. Our already battered and bruised island had suffered enough. So now, roads have split in two, there is a major breakaway in Gordon Town, houses were buried in silt and mud, and roads were blocked by huge landslides and floodwaters. Then there was the extreme stress (and eventual relief) of the U.S. presidential elections, which I wrote about for Global Voices here (an account of Jamaicans’ reactions and pride in Kamala Harris’ Jamaican heritage, with musical inserts of course!) Phew!

And meanwhile, more bad weather is heading our way – in the form of Tropical Storm Iota. However, he/she/it seems to be moving further to the south of us, so this weekend may be just a bit rainy. I am distressed at discovering two dead migratory warblers in the garden.

Caribbean: Dr. Ralph Gonsalves was sworn in for a fifth consecutive term (is this a Caribbean record?) after winning the general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The 74-year-old says he would like to have a Ministry of National Reconciliation. I did not realize the small nation with a population of just over 110,000 was so divided.

Meanwhile, Antigua & Barbuda has taken umbrage at Barbados’ placing it in the “medium risk” category for COVID-19; “It is really vexing,” says their Health Minister. Elsewhere, Saint Lucia has recorded its second COVID death and as numbers appear to be rising a little, the Prime Minister has warned citizens to “stop the socializing,” or lockdowns may follow.

Dominica is mourning the passing of a cultural icon, Felix Henderson, who was their equivalent of “Miss Lou” perhaps, promoting the Creole language on the island and keeping it alive on radio.

John Briceño, the new

Belize has a new Prime Minister, John Briceño, after his People’s United Party emphatically defeated the incumbent United Democratic Party in the general elections on Wednesday.

Climate Change: And Eta hasn’t gone away, but after “meandering” (the National Hurricane Center’s word) around in the Gulf of Mexico, as if trying to figure out “Now, where shall I inflict myself next?” it moved on to Florida. Of course, all of this is quite unprecedented, as we head for mid-November (the hurricane season “officially” ends on December 1, but in the past we have never worried about storms even in October. Ah, but didn’t Professor Michael Taylor of our Climate Studies Group describe climate change as “unpredictable” and “unprecedented”? Times have changed. Can we survive another storm? Barely, I would say. The cost is as catastrophic as the human suffering and disruption. Yes, we now have climate refugees; some people will never return to their homes.

The National Works Agency has warned citizens that the Gordon Town road should not be used by any form of transport at all. (Photo: Kenyon Hemans)

As I write, some roads are still closed after the tremendous downpours and mayhem of the weekend – including the main road in Gordon Town in St. Andrew. Some residents have had enough: in the neglected and run-down community of New Haven (which I described here a few years ago after visiting) on the outskirts of Kingston, residents protested on the main road. Angry residents of Nine Miles also blocked the main road at Bull Bay – a long-suffering community that not so long ago was under quarantine and has already suffered one long bout of floods.

Crime: It was an evening of horror : a policeman, Constable Kirkland Plummer of the Spaulding Police station in Manchester, went to an illegal party in Harwood District, Clarendon. A man was firing a “gun salute” there, also. When the Constable (who had called for reinforcements) arrested the man and seized his gun, the partygoers stoned him. He was then shot dead. During the tussle, the “saluter” was injured and later died in hospital. Five people have since been arrested.

Two teens (aged 19 and 15) were charged with the murder of 28-year-old Trevaughn Wilson in Rum Lane, Kingston on November 1, illegal firearms and participating in a criminal organization.

A 17-year-old girl was seriously injured and another 29-year-old woman was beaten by a group of women in a fight at another illegal party in Barbican, Kingston. The police have arrested five people.

There is no doubt that there is a level of anger in some communities. In Green Acres, Spanish Town, a man who had allegedly attacked and robbed a woman was beaten by a mob and is now in serious condition in hospital.

And Christmas is coming! The various entertainment sector organizations are discussing how they can revive the party/dance scene over the holiday. God help us! One representative says the violence at illegal parties is coming out of frustration. Entertainment industry representatives want to talk to the Government, and soon. However, Minister of National Security Horace Chang is understandably “iffy” on the matter.

Culture and Tradition: Minister of Culture Olivia “Babsy” Grange mentioned again at the Institute of Jamaica’s Heritagefest recently that the Jamaican and British Governments are working together for the return of some very special Taino wooden figures. I wrote about this move in some detail for Global Voices in August 2019. I am looking forward to their return, which seems to be taking quite a while.

Herman Davis (Bongo Herman) places a 45 inch vinyl record in the casket of Frederick “Toots Hibbert at a public viewing in Kingston. Edward ‘Bunny Striker’ Lee was also on view – another stalwart of reggae music who passed away recently. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

Our “King of Comedy” Oliver Samuels received accolades, was serenaded with lovely music and chatted with MC Joan McDonald during the Caribbean Community of Retired Person’s (CCRP) Living Legacy Award ceremony broadcast live by the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ). It was a happy and intimate occasion.

MC Joan McDonald and Oliver Samuels at the Living Legacy Awards ceremony last Wednesday. (Photo: CCRP/Facebook)

Education: The long-awaited reopening of 17 schools under a pilot program for face-to-face learning was delayed, due to the appalling weather, but has finally got under way this week. Kudos to the staff and administrators of these schools, who have really worked so hard to comply with COVID-19 protocols. I hope all goes well. They have been disappointed at the low turnout of students (parents are nervous) – but hopefully if all goes well, confidence will slowly return. Meanwhile, more schools are being assessed for face-to-face opening; it’s a complicated business as not only the schools, but the communities they are located in would have to be reviewed.

And there is good news: an average 75 percent of inmates in three prisons have passed at least one subject in the CXC exams. The non-governmental organization Stand Up for Jamaica has received European Union funding for this very worthwhile, ongoing initiative.

Minister of Education Fayval Williams announced in Parliament a programme for 36,000 needy students, providing them with assistance to obtain learning devices. Each Member of Parliament will receive some 250 application forms for parents (but why do these things have to be distributed through MPs? This just encourages the “dependency syndrome” of constituents towards their representatives and raises the possibility of favoritism and even corruption). But they love to hand out largesse.

Yes, it’s that famous Usain Bolt gesture by Chair of the Early Childhood Commission Trisha Williams-Sing and the principals of three basic schools at the ECC’s office last week. Photo via JIS

Usain Bolt’s charitable foundation has donated some J$2.2 million worth of equipment to 21 early childhood institutions, including the all-important hand-washing stations.

Environment: The Opposition People’s National Party is now making noise over the limestone quarrying permit for the very beautiful and precious Puerto Bueno Mountain. The PNP’s Spokesperson on Land and Housing, Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns, is calling for the ministerial decision to grant the permit to Bengal Development Limited/Jamaica World LLC. By the way, who are the principals of this company? Just enquiring. Much more to follow on this matter.

Meanwhile, during a visit to the parish on Thursday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a vehement and lengthy defense of his decision on the Puerto Bueno quarrying. Surprisingly aggressive. You can watch here (starting about one third of the way through) and judge for yourself.

“Out of Many One People” is the name of the design.

On Thursday night also, there was a Public Consultation on the new Parliament Building design in National Heroes Park. I will have to get myself up to speed on this one, but here is the recording, just over two hours long. Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie assured residents at the meeting that the surrounding low-income communities surrounding the Park will not be negatively affected by the building, but rather positively.

Health: There is a glimmer of hope on COVID-19. After the scary spike of some two or three weeks ago, the number of new cases has been settling down at a much lower level (two digits instead of three) most days. However, most days there are also deaths – a total of 229 to date. The parish of St. James is having a rather high spike in numbers, and more community health aides (who are amazing!) have been assigned there. As of last Wednesday, St. James had some 985 COVID-19 cases, 122 active cases, and 37 deaths.

Assistant director of Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Jarbas Barbosa was special guest at last week’s press briefing by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which focused on the possibility of COVID-19 vaccines some time next year. Dr. Barbosa seemed rather optimistic that PAHO could procure some 10,000 doses – for front line health workers and those most at risk – by March, 2021. A recording of the press briefing of November 12 is here.

Woodworker Welton Thomas died after jumping out of a hospital window.

I was extremely saddened to read the story of a mentally ill man, 41-year-old Welton Thomas, who jumped out of the window at the Princess Margaret Hospital in St. Thomas last week and died. What went wrong? How could this happen? My deepest condolences to his family, and I would suggest they get a lawyer.

Human Rights: The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group examined Jamaica’s human rights record on Wednesday in a live webcast on UN TV from 2:30 to 6:00 p.m. Geneva time (thanks to Susan Goffe for this link). Two previous reviews took place in 2010 and 2015. Jamaica did not come out of it with flying colors.

120 dairy workers at UC Rusal went on strike last week due to delays in their wage negotiations. They are paid “slightly above the minimum wage,” according to President of the Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) Vincent Morrison.  

Amendments are coming to the legislation governing the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). The Commission will not have its own prosecutorial powers, announced Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, but it will be given some more autonomy (it will have “corporate status” although I am not sure what that entails) and the Director of Public Prosecutions office will be strengthened.

Politics: Well, I put my money on Mark Golding (not literally, I am not a betting person!) and I was right – he won the race for the leadership of the Opposition People’s National Party on Saturday. The voting took place without acrimony. He won with 1740 votes to Lisa Hanna’s 1444. Over 3,300 delegates were eligible to vote in today’s election. Robinson said that the voter turnout was 96%.

Road Safety: There was a horrific crash on the main road near Discovery Bay in St. Ann on Sunday morning, in which four family members from Moneague died. Two of the victims were thrown out of the car; two others burned to death as their car caught fire. The road was wet and slippery.

Did you know road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death globally among young people aged 5 to 29 years? Read the UN Secretary General’s message for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims here.

Tourism: Now, the first cruise ship, the Sea Dream to travel in the Caribbean docked in Barbados last Friday, with several people who had tested positive for COVID-19 on board. Seems more of a nightmare to me. The ship (not a large one) has canceled its

My heart goes out to the family and friends of all those who have died violently in the past week. In 24 hours this week, eight people were murdered. This is far, far too many. Why this frenzy of hatred? What are we doing to ourselves?

Constable Kirkland Plummer and Dwayne Schloss, 27, were both killed during a horrific incident in Harwood District, Clarendon (see above in Crime).

A correctional officer at the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre in Spanish Town, Jimel Westley, was stabbed to death by an inmate.

42-year-old Oral Burey was shot dead in Hazelwood, St. Catherine during an argument over land. A man has been charged with his murder.

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