It has been quite a week. The debate over the threatened mining operation in Puerto Bueno Mountain (Dry Harbour Mountain) dominated much of the local media (including social media), with many radio interviews, discussions, letters to the editor and columns, such as this piece by environmentalist Peter Espeut (who does not mince his words). Besides that, and rumbling along almost in tandem, was bad news on the economy and anxiety over a “Christmas spike” of COVID-19, about which I plan to write more. Meanwhile, our curfew remains at 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., until December 1.
The #Youth4PuertoBueno are amazing! They are pulling out all the stops on social media, with videos, dub poetry and an Instagram Live chat this evening at 7:00 p.m. Jamaica time. Do join and support them and follow their hashtag.
Agriculture: According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), agriculture was one of only two sectors showing growth (2 percent) in the July – September period this year. Minister Floyd Green has been making great efforts in ensuring markets are open and productivity up. Unfortunately, since then the sector has been hit very badly by the heavy rains and flooding of the past several weeks.
Please also read this report by Kate Chappell about Jamaican women farmers who are suffering from theft of their crops. As if they don’t have enough to contend with. The Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) says the theft of livestock, crops and agricultural equipment costs Jamaica up to J$7 billion annually.
Caribbean: Guyana is an extremely flood-prone country. The coastal plain, where most people live, is actually below sea level, and there is an old sea wall and many dykes and drains to try to control the flooding. The World Bank has allocated additional financing for flood risk management.
The Bahamas has postponed its 2020/21 Junkonoo Parades over the Christmas/New Year season until it is safe to do so. Another major event that has been postponed is Trinidad & Tobago’s Carnival 2021. Sad!
Antigua & Barbuda has won Lonely Planet’s “Emerging Sustainable Destination of the Year” Award. It now has a “green corridor” of environmentally friendly businesses and a ban on single-use plastics, among other things.
Crime: Five women have been charged with the wounding of a 17-year-old girl during a fight at an illegal party in Barbican, Kingston, on November 7. They are to appear in court on December 2. The teen remains in quite serious condition in hospital.
Gang warfare in the Spanish Town area has persisted over decades. Now the police say they are making progress in dealing with the Clansman Gang, making arrests and firearms seizures. Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Crime, Fitz Bailey, makes a telling point: “Criminal gangs thrive because legitimate businesses and law-abiding citizens support them.”
Culture: Shaggy has partnered with Wisynco in an initiative to support windscreen wipers through the proceeds of his Christmas in the Islands holiday album. They will be sold by the wipers and all the proceeds will go to them to assist them in entrepreneurial projects. It’s a bold move and I hope that it works.
Actress, playwright and broadcaster Dahlia Harris has received lots of applause for her series Love and Dancehall – currently airing on Television Jamaica. The three-part series premiered on November 6. Dahlia works very hard at her craft, and loves it. Congratulations, and on to the next success!
Economy: The news from the PIOJ this week was quite depressing, if not unexpected: The economy declined by some 11.3 per cent from last year in the July – September, according to its estimates. It said that economic downturns were expected to continue for the remainder of the year. There are some good infographics here which explain in detail (a lot of “minus” signs!) Again, no surprises to learn that hotels and restaurants were the biggest losers by far (down over 63 percent); on the plus side, construction did quite well, improving by five percent.
Meanwhile, the word “breakaway” continues to be commonly used, as the incredibly costly road damage is assessed. The National Works Agency (whose spokesman loves to use the word “corridor” instead of “road”) was looking a touch more cheerful this week. With heavy rains in St. Ann over the past few days, there are floods and more gloom, however.
Education: There has been halting progress on getting students connected. The plan to provide grants to parents seeking tablets for their children had a technical hitch with the online application forms. This has now been fixed and parents may apply at https://oyod.educate.gov.jm/OYOD
The U.S. Fulbright Scholarship program is just brilliant. Now five Jamaicans have obtained scholarships to pursue doctoral studies in the United States (with a good focus on STEM subjects, I notice). Their names are: Lavare Henry, L. Nathan Henderson, Ralisa Dawkins, Jodi Sutherland – and special congratulations to chemist and environmental scientist Mario Christie!
Health: Apart from COVID-19, some alarming revelations about malpractice at the National Blood Transfusion Service (the Blood Bank) have been reported by one media house. This is especially disturbing during the pandemic; huge efforts have been made recently to encourage people to give blood, with several good citizens holding birthday blood drives, etc. Blood is desperately needed; this is not positive news.
People: Congratulations to Senator Don Wehby, CEO of GraceKennedy, who received the 2020 Caribbean American Heritage Award for Outstanding Corporate Citizenship in a virtual ceremony on November 20 – it’s the first of its kind to be presented by the Institute of Caribbean Studies.
Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham, a past student of York Castle High School in St. Ann and currently an Undergraduate Research Assistant in Neuroscience and Head Resident at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA, has been selected as Jamaica’s Rhodes Scholar for 2021. Congratulations to him!
Politics: Past President of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) Peter Phillips is considering returning to academia in some way, now that the party has a new leader. The Fulbright Scholar is a former lecturer in the Department of Government and at the Consortium Graduate School at The University of the West Indies (UWI). Maybe write a book or two?
At the end of the month the PNP will be embroiled in another election, for their Chairman and General Secretary. According to the media, there is still dissension in the party ranks. It seems that Raymond Pryce is interested in the General Secretary position (a bit dull though, Raymond?) and Phillip Paulwell has an eye on the Chairmanship. We shall see.
Meanwhile the PNP’s Deputy General Secretary Basil Waite left hospital Friday after suffering complications from COVID-19 and ending up in the ICU unit. He was full of praise for the doctors at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), observing: “I saw Jamaica operating at a world class standard.”
Road Safety: The focus remains on our motorcyclists – making up almost one third of those who have died on our roads (120) – that is 32% of total road deaths to date this year (378). The National Road Safety Council is still focused on training, but still needs to get them to slow down! Helmets save lives! Meanwhile, 75 pedestrians (20% of the total of 378) have died on the nation’s roads.
Tourism: Minister Ed Bartlett’s demeanor was much less cheerful than usual, as he talked about prospects for the upcoming tourist season. He is particularly distressed at the demise (in March) of the cruise shipping industry, on which so much depends. Will the Caribbean cruise shipping sector ever flourish in the way it once did, one wonders? Minister Bartlett opened a Health and Wellness Tourism Conference in Montego Bay this week. Perhaps this should have been a focus earlier. Some countries (Costa Rica and others) are doing quite well with this sector.
Transport: Amendments to the Shipping Act, currently under consideration in Parliament, are expected to benefit maritime workers, including those employed on cruise ships. If you recall, many such workers were stranded and in dire straits during the early weeks of the COVID-19 crisis.
Talking of infrastructure, how has the Norman Manley International Airport become so run down?
Youth: A five-year-old boy was badly mauled by a pack of dogs in Alexandria, St. Ann, after he was “sent to a shop” (alone?) by his grandmother. He is in serious condition, but funds have been raised for him to obtain emergency surgery in the United States. The photograph on the front page of the Jamaica Gleaner smacks of sensationalism and was quite unnecessary. The good news is, however, that the little boy will be going to the U.S. for treatment on Sunday. US$120,000 has been raised (a tidy sum) by a group of concerned Jamaicans for badly-needed surgery.
Meanwhile, the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) has been swamped with calls about stray dogs – and from dog owners who want to give up their pets. “Inevitably, it’s the animals in general that are going to suffer,” said a JSPCA representative. The legislation passed this week does not address cruelty to animals and animal rights at all, she said. She also noted that “stray dogs” often do have owners…
Meanwhile, the Lower House of Parliament actually passed the Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Act 2020, with 17 amendments on Tuesday – it will now go to the Senate. The issue of dangerous dogs is a serious one in Jamaica, as some dog owners (including criminals) do not only keep “bad dogs” to protect themselves but also use their dogs as tools of aggression, threatening communities and intimidating the most vulnerable. It’s not the dogs’ fault; it’s the humans.
Another young boy in a rural area, six-year-old Oshane Banton, was tragically found dead in a sewage plant in Lionel Town, Clarendon. Did he run away, and no one noticed he had gone? His mother is, of course, distraught. What a tragedy.
Now we come to the very sad ending of this post (as always). I send my condolences to the families and friends who are mourning the deaths of those who have died violently.
39-year-old Gawayne White was stabbed to death while walking on the street in Brown’s Town, St. Ann. A suspect is in custody.
Kevin Ferguson, 34, a shopkeeper, was found dead by his young son in the back of his shop in Christiana, Manchester after he was shot dead early on Sunday morning.
Farmer Vivian Hill was shot dead in Bull Bay, St. Andrew, following which the police scooped up eleven “persons of interest” for various crimes.
It’s not clear whether the death of 28-year-old Daniel Porter in Chantilly, Westmoreland was suicide, although the police believe he took his own life after shooting and injuring his girlfriend and a man who tried to intervene in the dispute. Porter’s family seem to think he was murdered.
Murders continue in St. James. An unidentified man was shot dead in Salt Spring, apparently in retaliation for a murder in Ironshore two days earlier. The gang activities continue unabated.