I get the feeling that Jamaicans are anxious to get to the Christmas holidays, so that we can clear our heads and try to get over this horrible year. The past week has been filled with dramas, sadness, and some sweetness and light. The weather continues to be quite deliciously soothing. I am looking forward to more peace and quiet – and things like a reunion with birding friends for a socially distanced, not-more-than-15-people trip to the very top of Jacks Hill, St. Andrew. Kingston looks so pretty in the early morning light – from a distance, way up high. Meanwhile, Happy Holidays to all!
Agriculture: There is so much potential in agriculture, in so many ways. Red Stripe has reaffirmed its commitment to use local cassava in its beer production – its “Project Grow” programme. It already has over 200 acres in production and plans to grow more. I do hope it will continue, despite some doubts that had been expressed.
Caribbean: Environmental justice and land rights is certainly a topic that needs to be addressed in the region. In Belize, five years after Mayans won an unprecedented victory in the Caribbean Court of Justice, recognizing indigenous land rights, the lands of the Qʼeqchiʼ and Mopan Maya communities are reportedly being encroached on in an attempted land grab, which the Government of Belize is apparently ignoring.
A group of creatives calling themselves the the 27N movement is calling for political freedom for all Cubans and the end of state repression of artists and journalists. The group staged a protest recently and then had a long meeting at the Ministry of Culture. However, although the Cuban Government verbally promised to stop harassing members of the San Isidro Movement of artists, they continue to do so. Time will tell…
BirdsCaribbean has been incredibly busy. Its December newsletter is packed with information on a number of community-focused projects, including seabird projects in Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines; helping to preserve the Black-capped Petrel in a remote Haitian village; and building community resilience and awareness of the Ridgway’s Hawk in the Dominican Republic. Check out the newsletter here and sign up if you would like to subscribe by email!
On December 18, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague reported that it has jurisdiction to entertain an application by the Guyanese Government on an award made back in 1899 and the related question of a land boundary dispute between Guyana and Venezuela.
Zee Edgell, the Belizean author of “Beka Lamb,” a book I really enjoyed, passed away at her home in the U.S. aged 80 years.
Children: The discovery of a beautiful little abandoned baby in Coronation Market (all babies are beautiful!) has prompted a discussion about adoption and foster care. I recall years ago being quite shocked and deeply saddened by rows of baby cots in a place of safety in Kingston, which I visited with the U.S. Ambassador Brenda Johnson – who went from one baby to another, wanting to cuddle them all. Now Robert Morgan, who has responsibility for Youth and Information in the Ministry headed by Fayval Williams, says abandoned children should be placed in foster care “without delay.” This would be ideal. At present, the adoption system is notoriously slow, with approved adopters waiting in line for years.
We know of the various social impacts of COVID-19 – including domestic abuse. Now here is another great article by Kate Chappell for IPS on the problem of child abuse in Jamaica during the pandemic.
One of the most touching videos I have seen on social media this week was tweeted by one of the doctors who have been treating little Mickele Allen, who was seriously mauled by dogs on November 15. One month later, he celebrated his sixth birthday at the Montefiore Medical Centre in New York City, where he has had several surgeries. The video showed the doctors wheeling him just outside the entrance, well wrapped in a blanket, to get his first “taste” of snow – putting a small snowball in his hand. His smiles are adorable.
Corruption and Transparency: The business processes of the Auditor General’s Department, both technical and non-technical, have been certified to the ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System (QMS) Standard by the National Certification Body of Jamaica (NCBJ).
Crime: Meanwhile another dancehall deejay with the unpromising name of “Laden” (real name: Okeefe Aarons) was sentenced to four years in prison for possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition. However, he will be eligible for parole in just one year. One hopes he won’t return to his gun-toting ways.
It’s hard to know where to start on crime. Minister of National Security Horace Chang announced a “short and sharp” 48-hour curfew in central Clarendon, including Effortville, a volatile community on the outskirts of May Pen, where five people were murdered in 24 hours – and two in the previous 24 hours.
The praedial larceny wave seems to have gone into overdrive, too. The police did well to seize over 2,000 pounds of animal carcasses, crammed into the back of a car in Bluefields, Westmoreland. A man was arrested.
The JCF reports that murders have decreased in 11 of the 19 police divisions islandwide between January 1 & December 19 this year. Five divisions saw an increase while three were on par with the same period last year. Trelawny saw the largest decrease (30%). Kingston West had the biggest increase (53%) and St. Catherine North has increased by 38%. There were 1,271 murders up to December 19, less than 2 percent lower than 2019. The “most murderous” police divisions are: St Andrew South (139); St Catherine North (123) and South (110); St James (119); and Clarendon (101). In other words, crime has not declined due to the “COVID effect.”
Culture and Tradition: The Accompong Maroons will not be holding their traditional honoring of the ancestors and New Year celebrations as usual, for the first time in 238 years. Their leader, Colonel Ferron Williams says it will be greatly scaled down and some of the celebrations on January 6 will be virtual.
I wonder if you have heard of the Buru tradition, which takes place every Christmas in Old Harbour Bay, St. Catherine. I actually heard about it when visiting that community a few years ago. Drummers move through the community singing about local people who may have not behaved too well during the year – rebuking and “dissing” them to some extent! The National Museum of Jamaica will have a display on this little-known tradition. As in many such traditions, quite a lot of white rum is splashed around (on the ground).
Economy: How about canned ackee and saltfish for export? Not a huge fan of our National Dish myself, I am not quite convinced; but this was the suggestion of Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Audley Shaw at a virtual Food Security and Agribusiness Council meeting on Tuesday. We already export canned ackee (lobbying for the opening of the U.S. market to Jamaican ackee was a major achievement of former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Stan McLelland, who passed away recently).
Despite the economic downturn, the streets over the last two or three days have been jammed with traffic and one particular supermarket has been swamped, causing traffic to back up along Red Hills Road. Where is all the money coming from? Or are Kingston dwellers hitting their credit cards even harder than usual? While, as I noted here a few days ago, many Jamaicans at the lower end of society – market vendors, tourism workers, small shopkeepers – suffer in anxiety, uncertainty, unemployment, and deepening poverty. Ah, inequality!
Environment: Well, the news is out. Eight claimants filed a claim in the Supreme Court on Thursday against the Attorney General, the Natural Resources and Conservation Authority (NRCA), and Bengal Development Limited, the owners of the 569-acre property in St Ann at Puerto Bueno Mountain where limestone mining has been approved. The Court is about to go on holiday but of course, you will be hearing more soon.
Health: After today’s announcement of a ban on travel from the UK, the Government confirmed later in the day that two flights expected in tomorrow have now been canceled. The initial plan was to close borders at midnight on Tuesday.
I do like the Opposition Spokesman on Health, Dr. Morais Guy. He usually makes a lot of sense. However, to lambast Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton on the delays to the reconstruction of Cornwall Regional Hospital is quite unfair, I believe. This huge lump of concrete was badly designed in the first place. A whole litany of woes ensued, growing worse and worse as the years passed – and nothing was done about it by successive administrations.
Sometimes there is no reward for “taking the bull by the horns.” Minister Tufton took on the admittedly enormous task of fixing this malfunctioning edifice. Then there was COVID-19, which as Dr. Guy surely knows, overwhelmed everything else (and that is not an excuse – bearing in mind the very limited resources at the Ministry, it’s a reality). Of course Minister Tufton is quite right to change the contractors because of slow progress on the project – whether they are overseas or not. Hopefully all will soon be back on track.
The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) has announced that it is getting some major support from donors, including the Government of Canada, for the production and equitable access to tests and vaccines in developing countries such as ours. At the same time, PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne said: “While we hope 2021 will usher a new chapter in our fight against this virus, protecting the millions of people in our region with COVID-19 vaccines will be a huge undertaking. So, we must be patient and remain realistic that COVID-19 will be among us for some time – so our work to control it cannot and must not stop.” The vaccine is a huge topic of discussion in local media, even though it is not likely to be with us any time soon.
Human Rights: Maurine Douglas describes her son Ricardo “Richie” Douglas as her “best friend.” She lives in the U.S. and he was due to migrate there himself. He was killed in some kind of confrontation with a policeman in Portmore, St. Catherine. It seems we need to hear more from the police on what exactly happened here. I hope we find out the truth, whichever way the chips may fall.
Meanwhile the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is probing the alleged killing of a man by the police in a dispute over a water tank in rural St. Ann, reported in last week’s blog post.
26 year old Andre Whyte was stabbed to death by a mob after being accused of stealing on Orange Street in downtown Kingston.
There was another mob killing in Rock River, Clarendon, when one of three alleged goat thieves was attacked by residents on Monday morning.
I am happy to see that the Kingston & St. Andrew Municipal Corporation has upgraded its soup kitchen and temporary shelter for the homeless downtown. Over the Christmas period it will provide two meals on four days each week. Thank you, Minister Desmond McKenzie (even though your Manchester United swag is starting to annoy me!) and Mayor Delroy Williams.
Money: At this time of year there is always a much greater focus on good deeds, with people donating in cash and kind to various good causes. However, there’s no doubt that many charities are struggling, since the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. One of these is the faith-based organization Mustard Seed Communities, which has fourteen facilities that house the most vulnerable of our citizens – abandoned children, children and adults with disabilities, children with HIV/AIDS. They do have various ways of raising funds (they have a lovely range of pottery products for example) but still need more help. Read more about their work here.
People: Big ups to Kristeena Monteith, Creative Producer of Talk Up Radio, who is making waves as a member of the 12-person global Youth Power Panel In 2021, the YPP will launch a series of six hackathons to help push the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Kristeena was recognised as one of 17 UN Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals.
And founder of Young People for Action on Climate Change Ms. Ayesha Constable made a great online appearance in conversation with British Member of Parliament David Lammy during the Global Black Youth Festival. The climate activist/feminist told MP Lammy that: “While it was a big deal for me, I wasn’t representing myself, but the millions of youth across the developing world for whom activism was waking up each day and facing the devastation being wreaked by #climatechange #onbehalfofthepeople“ (Quote from Twitter). Well said.
Politics: Peter Bunting was sworn in as an Opposition Senator in Parliament and Leader of Opposition Business in the Upper House at last – on Friday, December 18. He credited investigative journalists for forcing the issue (including I would say, Radio Jamaica talk show host Emily Shields, and Nationwide News Network, among others). The former National Security Minister urged reform of the use of States of Emergency – and constitutional reform.
Road Safety: The parish of Westmoreland seems to be awash with motorbikes! Police stations are reportedly running out of space to store confiscated bikes. Meanwhile, as of December 21 there have 405 deaths on the road, with two reported deaths over the weekend in Clarendon.
Technology: Minister Daryl Vaz is a focused man, and now appears determined to turn his laser on his newish portfolio of Science, Energy & Technology (MSET). There is also a collaborative approach. With the always awesome Carol Palmer as Permanent Secretary, he can’t go wrong, in my view. The exciting news is that we can expect a third telecoms provider next year, according to Minister Vaz. But who would be willing or able to invest?
Meanwhile, MSET has announced the new Boards of all its related agencies. Of particular interest might be the chairpersons. Out of the twelve Boards, there is just one woman chairperson.
It is almost overwhelming, but the murder rate continues apace. I never really thought that the pandemic would make much difference, and it does not seem to have done so. In some ways, the crime wave seems to have accelerated in recent weeks. These are not numbers; these are human beings. My condolences, as always, to all those who mourn…
There have been three killings of citizens by the police in the past week, and two mob killings (see above).
Three men and two women were murdered in Effortville, Clarendon, on Wednesday. The police say the murders are in connection with a missing motorbike. Janet Mundle-Reeves, 48, a mother of three, was killed on her verandah. A few minutes earlier, 56-year-old Michael Henry, a taxi operator Evriel Mitchell were shot dead. The following evening, 54-year-old Sonia Miller Taylor and Leroy Taylor were walking along the road together and were shot dead.
The parish of St. Ann is also seeing an uptick in violent crime. Two people were shot dead at a cook shop on the main road in Discovery Bay.
It seems almost daily a road in Kingston is cordoned off due to a “crime scene.” On Wednesday, an employee of Azan Supercentre in Crossroads was trying to get an off-duty soldier (as it turned out) to move his car in the over-crowded parking lot when the soldier lost his cool, chased and shot Courtney Minto – a long-serving employee and good friend of the store’s owner – who sounded absolutely distraught. Minto later died. The soldier is apparently in custody but not yet charged. He has meanwhile hired a top-flight defence lawyer.
14-year-old Allan Roberts and his father were shot dead on their motorbike at the busy intersection of Mountain View Avenue and Stanton Terrace in Kingston on Thursday afternoon. The video and photos shared on social media were quite shocking. Why do people do this?
36-year-old Venneco Hines was shot dead by men in a car while walking along Woodpecker Avenue, Kingston 11. Just a few minutes later the car was spotted and the police shot and injured one of the armed occupants, who is now in hospital under guard.
25-year-old entertainer Damian Coleman and his cousin, 28-year-old Odel Sattoo were shot dead when gunmen attacked their car on the Rose Hall main road in St. James. They were returning from a video shoot.
Fabian Wilson, 26, was also shot dead in his car on Hart Boulevard in Montego Bay, St. James.
Rajay Payne was shot dead after gunmen fired on a group of people on Benbow Street, Jones Town in Kingston on Sunday night. Four others were injured. The police say the shooting was part of a gang feud.
Businessman Ricardo Williams, 39, who operated Smart Choice Courier in Mandeville, was shot dead outside his home in Clifton Heights, Mandeville.