The big news has been not only the COVID-19 vaccine, but the fact that the very first person to receive it was a Jamaican American. A cold front arrived, bringing strong winds and lower temperatures for a day; our moringa tree took a beating, and has not recovered yet. And behind everything else the crime rate rampages on, while we continue to see just the tip of the COVID-19 iceberg. Roll on, Christmas!
Agriculture: Southern Plains Agricultural Development (SPAD) Project, funded by the UK Government, was launched by the Prime Minister on Thursday, with 795 hectares of government-owned lands to be leased to farmers, also providing irrigation and drainage infrastructure. The UK also funded the Essex Valley Agricultural Project in St Elizabeth recently.
Fishermen from four fishing beaches in St. Catherine and St. Andrew are to receive some financial relief as a result of COVID-19, Minister Floyd Green has announced. The Government is also to provide some $24 million to procure cold storage containers for fisherfolk.
Caribbean: Several countries have placed a temporary ban on the importation of chicken products from the UK, European Union – including Barbados, the Cayman Islands and Grenada. This is due to an outbreak of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in Europe.
A French woman was killed in a shark attack in Orient Bay, St. Martin. Unprovoked shark attacks are extremely rare in the Caribbean however (most are apparently in the Bahamas) – 34 since the year 2000, and only four were fatal.
I don’t know why Caribbean leaders always refer to Haitians, rather patronisingly, as “our Haitian brothers and sisters.” Anyway, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says their work visas will be renewed, after some controversy over illegal immigrants. Mr. Skerrit has some major construction projects coming up, so they can probably provide cheap labor, too. Or am I being too cynical?
There’s a bit of a furore in the Cayman Islands, where there is much pressure on the Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush to resign. Mr. Bush pleaded guilty in court to disorderly conduct and common assault in connection with an incident at a bar, where he “threw bus tubs” (?) at a woman. One angry demonstrator said: “You will find a long history trail of people who get elected to lead us and they commit abhorrent crimes. They get DUIs, they lose their driver’s licences, they assault people in our community, they have cultural misunderstandings, they feel as if they have the right to own a woman…”
Immigration issues continue to crop up in the Caribbean. Fourteen bodies were found, according to the Venezuelan Government, of men and women trying to migrate to Trinidad in a boat – that was actually sent back from Trinidad? This is terribly sad.
Grenada has reported a cluster of 26 cases, originating at a Sandals resort. Not good news, as they only recently opened their borders.
Corruption: A parish judge will make a ruling in the fraud case against former Education Minister Ruel Reid, his wife and daughter, Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) President Fritz Pinnock and Brown’s Town Division Councillor Kim Brown Lawrence – on February 4, 2021. Will the case continue after that? Stay tuned.
Three Jamaicans are among those charged with corruption and fraud in the Cayman Islands. They will appear in court on December 15.
Crime: As of Saturday, December 5, according to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), our murder rate is a little lower than last year. There were 1227 murders, 22 fewer than in 2019. Four of the 19 police divisions have recorded more than 100 murders so far this year: St. Andrew South (136) is the highest in the country. St. Catherine North (121), St. James (114) and St. Catherine South (102) are the other three.]
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is tweeting its readiness and what it calls its “surge” on the streets of Jamaica, for the holiday season. The Police Commissioner already said the JCF would be “relentless” in enforcing the Disaster Risk Management Act – and is indeed raiding a few illegal parties here and there. NO permits for parties have been issued by the Kingston & St. Andrew Municipal Corporation, by the way. So ALL parties are illegal! The police say they have been getting plenty of tips from the public.
It amazes me that people are still carrying drugs through airports. The police have recently arrested 13 people on charges of smuggling cocaine and ganja. Then there was a huge bust on Thursday at Norman Manley International Airport: over 600 pounds of cocaine worth J$2 billion on the street were found in a car belonging to an airport employee – apparently U.S.-bound. Congratulations to the police.
Tommy Lee Sparta is a dancehall artiste who always seems to be getting into trouble. This week he was arrested in his car in New Kingston and an illegal firearm was found. Mr. Lee (actual name Leroy Russell) is a former associate of Adijah Palmer (Vybz Kartel), who was convicted of murder. In August this year he was detained in Montego Bay under the State of Emergency – I believe the case was something to do with lottery scamming. He was released by a judge.
Culture: I understand that Brian Lumley is a terrific chef. Now he is at a restaurant renamed “District 5” on the top floor of the boutique “R” Hotel in New Kingston. This was formerly named after Red Bones Blues Café – once a much-praised restaurant and watering hole in an old-fashioned house with a cozy garden. It was a live music venue and had a certain “vibe.” Then, the house was sold. Then it was torn down (like almost all the old houses in the neighborhood, sadly). It moved down the road and tried to hold on to its original ambiance there. Then that place was sold and the bulldozers moved in, once again. Not even a hint of the original Red Bones Blues Café remains; it is now replaced with a monstrous apartment block (some ten floors, towering over the few old residences remaining, most of which are being dismantled). So, why the name District 5 ? It is reminiscent of a horror movie I saw not long ago. Oh, dear!
Economy: Labour Minister Karl Samuda has put together a task force, chaired by the expert Professor Neville Ying, to address issues relating to the labour market as a result of COVID-19. Among a number of other considerations, the members will look at the future of labour, post-COVID.
An oil company named Gaffney Cline & Associates (Gaffney Cline) says there is potential for more than 2.4 billion barrels of oil across 11 “prospects and leads” covering the Walton Morant license off the south coast of Jamaica. This license is now held 100% by United Oil & Gas, a U.K. based oil and gas company. Gaffney Cline says it is “actively seeking partners,” with a view to exploration.
Standard & Poors (S&P) Global Ratings affirmed the Government of Jamaica’s Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency Issuer Default Rating at ‘B+’ with the outlook remaining negative.The ranking accounted for the economic and financial realities faced by the country arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, S&P said.
Montego Bay’s Mayor Leeroy Williams is determined that there will be no Christmas “Gran’ Market” in the city this year. He is worried about large crowds and a COVID-19 strike. It’s very hard for the vendors though, who have been protesting. The usual manoeuvrings over vendors and markets for the Christmas season have been complicated this year by COVID-19 of course. It’s the biggest money-earning time of year but this year there is quite a bit more desperation.
There are only 160 paying customers of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) out of 1,000 households in Riverton City, a very poor neighborhood close to the city dump. The remainder are stealing electricity, JPS reports. Moreover, they are consuming huge amounts of electricity! My only question is, what are you doing about it, JPS?
Meanwhile another utilities entity, the National Water Commission (NWC), is on an intense collection drive – pay up, or you will be disconnected, they say. Earlier this year they had some special offers and amnesties on bill payments, which not enough Jamaicans took advantage of, it seems. Now they are cracking down on delinquent customers.
Education: Another nine schools will open this term, after being inspected, Minister Fayval Williams announced in Parliament. This will be a mix of physical attendance and remote learning. Over 100 schools were inspected and passed the test recently, so can now open as they are COVID-compliant. 22 schools opened on Monday, December 7. A total of 39 are now participating in face-to-face classes.
Meanwhile, some 15,000 parents have been approved for $20,000 grants under the Ministry’s ‘Own Your Own Device’ incentive programme – towards the purchase of laptops or tablets for their children.
Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College in Montego Bay has partnered with the University of the West Indies to offer a Master’s degree in Special Education.
Environment: Cabinet has approved the National Programme for the Environmentally Sound Management of End-of-life Pneumatic Tyres and now some two million tyres will be removed from disposal sites and “repurposed” over ten years at a cost of J$43 million annually. The 2015 fire at Riverton Dump cost J$293 million, not including the public health cost, noted Environment and Climate Change Minister Pearnel Charles, Jr.
As the new South Coast Highway ploughs its way through the parish of Manchester (“south coast”?) it is not only the trees that are suffering. Residents are very upset at the incredible noise (children studying at home cannot concentrate), but also dust and dirt pouring into their homes. Moreover, some homes in Redberry (Porus) now have cracks in the walls from the continuous vibrations. Ah, progress!
The Prime Minister announced this week that he would no longer be eating parrot fish: “We have to be far more enlightened in how we manage our fisheries,” he said. As we know, parrot fish are essential to the health of our coral reefs. Inilek Wilmot of Oracabessa Foundation says it’s hard to tell fisherfolk not to catch parrot fish. “We can’t take a single species approach to marine conservation,” he added.
Speaking of recycling, Minister Charles also participated in the opening of the Supermarket Plastic Recycling Scheme at Lee’s Food Fair in Kingston. The scheme will use drop off points for plastic recyclables at high traffic supermarkets and wholesales across the country.
Health: The big news of the week, of course, was the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. Of course this raises hopes for a recovery over here in Jamaica, particularly in the tourism industry. AND there was the excitement after it was discovered that the very first person to receive the Pfizer vaccine today was a Jamaican-born nurse, Sandra Lindsay. Well, I never. She did a lovely interview with Joy Reid of MSNBC (herself married to a Jamaican) and put out some good strong COVID-19 messages about staying safe this holiday season. Lindsay said: “As a nurse, my practice is guided by the science. I believe in science … I hope that me taking the vaccine today is an inspiration to you.”
Patsy Edwards Henry, who heads the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ), has another take on things. “We are a little bit concerned about the safety of the immunization,” she says. She suggests “a cross section of the society” including politicians should get vaccinated first. So she doesn’t want her frontline workers to be protected against COVID-19, or…? I suggest she does her research before speaking in this way. It will just help to reinforce the doubts (and conspiracy theories!) that are already circulating and which many healthcare workers are reportedly buying into. President of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA), Dr Mindi Fitz Henley, said the comments almost sound like the nurses are buying into those conspiracy theories.
What happened to the report on the situation at the Blood Bank, demanded by Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton recently? Well, the Permanent Secretary is waiting but thinks it will be ready soon.
The little five-year-old, Mickele Allen, who was terribly mauled by dogs last month, is still in New York City and for his birthday (tomorrow) and Christmas he would simply like “cake,” he told journalists on the radio. He has just had his third round of surgery.
Leptospirosis is a scary and horrible disease caused by bacteria – often spread by rats. I have heard it may be on the rise and there have been some deaths, since we have had so many floods. People should keep out of flood water – you don’t know what’s in it!
The Nathan Ebanks Foundation, a non-profit founded by the mother of Nathan, Christine Staple-Ebanks partnered with Raising Special Needs Network, the Jamaica Diaspora Northeast U.S.A. and Full Circle Systems Inc. to host a four-day “Special Child. Special Needs. Virtual Parenting Summit.” Take a look on YouTube here.
Speaking of Jamaicans with special needs, the Portmore Self-Help Disability Organisation, founded and headed by the indomitable Bridgette Johnson, opened its Mobility Resource Centre last week. This awesome social enterprise received funding from the European Union and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF).
There have been several welcome donations towards the fight against COVID-19. The Spanish-Jamaican Foundation donated a purification system to the National Public Health Laboratory, which should speed up testing. It “significantly reduces the time for the processing of samples from five hours to 25 minutes,” says the Director of National Laboratory Services, Dr. Michelle Hamilton. The U.S. Southern Command also donated medical equipment and supplies valued at approximately J$43 million to the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Thousands of apparently counterfeit masks heading for – guess where? Jamaica – were seized by the U.S. Customs in Cincinatti on December 6. They had been shipped from Hong Kong.
Human Rights: 36-year-old Rushane Thomas was killed by the police near Slipe Pen Road in Kingston.
I am not quite sure about this story, but another man was shot dead by a police officer in Portmore on Saturday night. His “spouse,” who tried to hide the dead man’s gun by throwing it on a roof, was arrested. As usual, despite being allegedly fired at first, the policeman was not injured.
A third police shooting was reported in rural St. Dacre, Alexandria, St. Ann on Sunday morning. Residents protested the shooting death of 43-year-old Glester Whyte by a plain clothes policeman, reportedly setting fire to his girlfriend’s house and his car.
Maria Carla Gullotta, founder of Stand Up for Jamaica, is concerned that juveniles in correctional centers will not have any visits over Christmas because of the ongoing pandemic. Prisons have not been receiving visitors. The young ones (aged 12 to 18) will find it especially hard, says Gullotta. SUFJ will be collecting food, cake, toiletries etc. to give them, with the approval of the Department of Correctional Services. Please let me know if you would like to contribute items to SUFJ.
If you recall the tragic case of Noel Chambers, another prisoner deemed “unfit to plea” in 2001 and subsequently “lost in the system” was freed in court on Monday after spending many years in the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre’s psychiatric wing.
On International Human Rights Day the U.S. State Department announced sanctions against six former members of the notorious Crime Management Unit (CMU) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (led by Senior Superintendent Reneto Adams) “for their involvement in gross violations in human rights in Jamaica”, citing the extrajudicial killings of four people on May 7, 2003” in Craal, Clarendon. The six were charged with murder, but acquitted in 2005. The Police Federation is not happy about the U.S. sanctions. Yes, it may seem hypocritical coming from the U.S., but that doesn’t mean such violations were not carried out by the CMU. Adams was (and still is) a sinister character, to me (although to some Jamaicans he was a hero). Meanwhile the Police Federation is getting very hot under the collar about the U.S. sanctions, although I am not sure what they can do about it.
Shanica Blair tweeted on December 11 after an argument with police officers at Grants Pen Police Station in Kingston, which she alleges resulted in her being pepper sprayed, called “mad” (is that how you treat “mad” people?) I hope the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) will investigate.
Here crying because all I wanted to do was draw my money and go bout my business.
I went for a mask TWICE even though none of the police officers were not wearing any. https://t.co/Ix3GMt8xtR— Shanica Blair (@ShanicaBlair) December 11, 2020
Journalism: I understand there is now a post-Cabinet press briefing, led by Education, Youth and Information Minister Fayval Williams. This is very good, if it can be kept up. The “Information” part of the portfolio has dropped off in recent years, with Minister Williams’ predecessor dropping the ball on that one.
People: Marcus Garvey’s eldest son, Marcus Garvey Jr. has died in Wellington, Florida, at the age of 90. He had been battling with dementia for some years.
Many congratulations to the awesome Mr. Kenute Hare, former head of the Road Safety Unit at the Ministry of Transport and Mining, who is now Director of the Island Traffic Authority (ITA). The ITA is undergoing something of an overhaul and is being transformed into an independent statutory authority – follow them on Twitter @islandtrafficJA.
Politics: You may be tired of all this (I certainly am) but Norman Horne has been playing guessing games with the People’s National Party (PNP) and the media. This prolonged situation has been deeply embarrassing to the PNP. One radio station excitedly broke the news on Wednesday that Mr. Horne is in fact a U.S. citizen (he renewed his passport in August, reportedly). In response, Mr. Horne said “no comment.” What nonsense is this! Radio talk show host Emily Shields reportedly excoriated Mr. Horne in an interview on Friday, which social media found very exciting and entertaining. Eventually, after visiting the Governor General, he announced that he would not take up his seat in the Upper House, leaving the way open for Opposition Leader Mark Golding to appoint his friend Peter Bunting. The official appointment may be delayed due to the Christmas holiday, however. Mr. Horne’s behavior has been most unethical. Now his ego trip is over and he is gathering up what’s left of his reputation and going off into obscurity, perhaps. The whole episode has not cast his party in a favorable light.
Opposition Member of Parliament Mikael Phillips filed a motion in Parliament on Tuesday to have Jamaica become a republic and the Queen removed as Head of State, ahead of Jamaica’s 60th anniversary of Independence. He also recommended that a referendum be held on the same date as the next Local Government Election, now scheduled to be held by February 2022. The full resolution is here. Columnist Gordon Robinson (“The Terrible Tout” as he is called because of his horse racing predictions) tore a strip off Mr. Phillips in his blog in a post headlined “Getting Rid of Queenie – A Mus’!” – which had a most amusing detour into the world of the rock band Queen.
Transportation/Road Safety: Two little ones were killed in a crash in Goshen, St. Elizabeth – they were thrown from the car, when the driver lost control while driving through some water. The children were aged two years and just two months. The Road Safety Unit reports that up to November 20, 37 children were killed in road crashes. Child seats and/or safety belts must be used to protect our children!
I am glad Senators Matthew Samuda and Kamina Johnson Smith made a plea on Friday to motorists to “tek time” on the roads during the holiday season. I hope someone listens.
The Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) webinar on Thursday, headlined “Road Safety in the Caribbean: A Safe System Approach to Saving Lives” provided much food for thought – and action. IDB Jamaica representative Therese Turner Jones believes we need to get tougher on motorists who are on the road without the proper documentation – in other words, safer vehicles.
More shocking news – a young police constable was killed when his motorbike collided with a car at the Jamaica Defence Force camp gates on Thursday morning (just as I was participating in an excellent webinar on road safety organized by the Inter-American Development Bank). Constable Fabian Morrison, who had joined the force two years ago, was a member of the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB). This is the second time a police motorcyclist has been killed on the roads this year.
During the webinar, Michael Saunderson, operations manager at the National Works Agency’s Traffic Management Unit said that 42 percent of motorists had been recorded as breaking the speed limit in Ocho Rios. In Negril it was 30 percent and Montego Bay 25 percent. There were 400 road deaths as of December 8, 130 of them motorcyclists.
Talking of motorcyclists, the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) concluded its training workshops with motorcyclists but will continue monthly sessions next year.
Stretches of the North Coast Highway are pretty scary places to drive. The National Works Agency (NWA) and the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) have launched a road safety project from Oracabessa in St. Mary to Spot Valley in Montego Bay – funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). There will be proper road markings and cats’ eyes. I would also like to see regular “speed traps” posted along the road, which is truly like a race track. It is a classic example of a road designed for cars only – certainly not bicycles or pedestrians.
A Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus driver crashed into a parked vehicle in Temple Hall, St. Andrew and was injured while the bus ended up in a gully.
A new Shipping Law was passed in the Senate on Friday, providing protection for Jamaicans when they are aboard a foreign-flagged vessel in Jamaican waters. It will also provide coverage for Jamaican seafarers aboard Jamaican ships wherever they are in the world.
Technology: More wifi hot spots are being unveiled by Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz, including in Ocho Rios and Chapelton, Clarendon recently – with funding from the Universal Service Fund.
Travel/Tourism: Copa Airlines flew into Montego Bay on December 7 for the first time in nine months, since COVID-19. It will operate once-a-week flights this month.
Youth: Police Youth Clubs are an untapped resource in many communities, especially those in rural towns such as Lionel Town, Clarendon. Read this nice article in the Jamaica Star about the young people’s activities – helping teen mothers, and more.
Too much tragedy, and too many lives lost. My condolences to all the families and loved ones of those who are victims of crime and violence. Whether “good guys” or “bad guys,” it doesn’t matter. My heart goes out to all.
36-year-old Rushane Thomas was killed by the police near Slipe Pen Road in Kingston in an alleged shootout. Two others reportedly escaped.
34-year-old Cedane Galloway was chopped to death with a machete by a farmer whom he held up with a gun, in Mayfield District, Granville, Trelawny. The alleged gunman’s accomplice escaped.
Last week, Nickoy Humphrey, 28, was shot dead on Wellington Street in Denham Town, Kingston. This is a very sad account from his mother, who heard the gunfire a few doors away and realised it was her son.
Also in Kingston, labourer Jermaine Johnson, 38, was shot dead in Seaview Gardens.
An unidentified man was found shot dead on the road in Caymanas Gardens, Portmore, St. Catherine on Wednesday night.
Three people were murdered in mid-week in the parish of Clarendon. A 34-year-old cosmetologist, Ashlatha Coleman and her partner, Delroy Bailey, 55, were shot dead in front of their young children at home in Hayes. Also a 45-year-old porter at May Pen Hospital, Marlon McKenzie, was shot dead in Denbigh. As mockingbirds sang sweetly in the background, the police officer in charge of the parish talked about “tit for tat” gang wars in Hayes. What a sad world.
Here is some more background on the life of commercial sex worker Shandeka Campbell (“Diamond”), who was murdered at a guest house on December 4 – I reported on this in last week’s news post. A group that provides assistance for commercial sex workers in Jamaica now deeply regrets the lack of contact with them as a result of COVID-19. Now, Diamond is dead.
A 27 year old man, Jerome Ford, was shot dead and another was injured in Cane River, Bull Bay, St. Andrew while a party was going on.
16-year-old Matthew Chisholm was shot dead by a friend, as they were playing with an illegal gun in South St. Andrew.
52-year-old Dwight Knibbs and 21-year-old Omar Dennis, a chef, were shot dead and another man injured at a restaurant in Discovery Bay, St. Ann on Monday evening.
Four people were killed in Planters Hall, Old Harbour, St. Catherine. Three farmers (31-year-old Richard Wright, 27-year-old Omar Wright and 49-year-old Lester Harvey of Rhule Town district, Old Harbour) and 18-year-old Nordia Thomas (who was pregnant) from Chapelton, Clarendon were all found shot dead. No motive has been established.
Glester Whyte, Rushane Thomas and another unidentified men were all killed by the police in alleged confrontations over the past few days (see details under: Human Rights).