ICYMI in Jamaica, December 29: The Sam Sharpe Day Edition

Well, Christmas is over. We tried to make the best of it. Apart from a young man who insisted on riding his noisy motorbike up and down our street, Christmas was also quiet – perhaps because of the 7:00 p.m. curfew on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. However, in some places the illegal parties continued unabated.

Agriculture: Congratulations to Agriculture Minister Floyd Green and all others involved in a protracted dispute between 150 farmers and Everglades Farms Ltd. at the Long Pond sugar estate in Trelawny, which has finally been settled. Everglades Farms is left with 200 acres, with 60 acres available for women farmers and youth to lease.

Minister Green seems to be especially concerned about the neglect of our fisherfolk. He is working on an insurance scheme for them, and also said he would try to get something done on the high cost of fibreglass, a material that they make and repair boats with. Customs duties are prohibitive and as a result fishermen have not been able to fix their boats.

Caribbean: In Guyana, 65 prisoners were released early over the COVID-19 pandemic, having served one third of their sentences. And in that same country, indigenous groups have called on the quite new Government to keep their promise to review the Amerindian Act of 2006, which they had called a priority before the elections.

Embarrassingly, Sandals in Barbados will be de-listed as a “quarantine hotel” from Jan 5th 2021 – due to “several verified complaints of breaches” of COVID-19 protocols. At least three tourists were held for questioning for COVID-19 infractions.

The La Soufrière volcano on the island of St. Vincent is rumbling, and the island is on alert. The map to the left is from the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Centre, which warned in a tweet: “Eruptions can go from quiet to explosive with short notice. Knowing what to pack beforehand and having a plan is critical to reducing your risk during any volcanic unrest. Don’t wait, have things in place.”

Grenada‘s Ministry of Education has got cold feet over the planned reopening of schools on January 4, which is not going to happen for now. The island has had a spike in COVID-19 numbers since mid-December.

Children: On November 17, the Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Act 2020 was passed in Parliament. Now as five-year-old Mickele Allen recovers from a terrible dog attack in New York, another little boy was recently mauled by a dog in rural St. Andrew, and is in hospital with pretty bad injuries.

Crime: Constables Christobel Smith and Gareth Davis, who were convicted and sent to jail on January 7, 2020, for the killing of Kingston resident Omar Marshall, are now out on $1 million bail each, pending appeal.

Four police officers (Corporals Howard Richards, Andrew Tinker, Headley Gray, and Orlando Webster) were charged by the Jamaica Constabulary Force Inspectorate and Professional Standards Oversight Bureau (is that a new name? Certainly a mouthful!) for offences ranging from assault to bribery and corruption.

And two disturbingly young men (aged 18 and 19) have been charged with the murders of four family members in Planters Hall, St. Catherine on December 11. The police are looking for others, apparently.

A curfew was imposed in Norwood, St. James – where gangs are reportedly fighting over the proceeds of lotto scamming activities – a phenomenon that has been going on for a number of years and is still a huge headache for law enforcement. It makes one wonder…why not?

A highly controversial case came up in a Florida court just before Christmas, related to an incident with the U.S. Coast Guard in October; the USCG alleged that four fishermen had cocaine on board; none was found. They were released without charge, but are still in U.S. immigration custody awaiting their return to Jamaica. Attorneys representing the men are angry at the delay and at the fact that their boat was destroyed. One asked: “Were our nationals in the circumstances kidnapped under the veil of the Shiprider Agreement?”

A checkpoint in South St. Catherine. (Photo: Jamaica Constabulary Force/Twitter)

The JCF has gone on another “surge” – they love this word. They are doing spot checks in various parts of the island, and they tweeted this evening: “Joint military patrols have been deployed with a focus on violence producers, seizure of illegal weapons and ammunition and interruption of criminal movements.” Violence producers – another odd piece of JCF jargon!

Courtney Williams.

Courtney Williams, who is Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security, has been named as the new chairman of Jamaica’s National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons, taking over from Carol Palmer, a great advocate on this issue who is now PS at the Ministry of Science, Energy & Technology. He seems to be someone with a great deal of experience in finance…but let’s see how he gets on. This issue must be kept on the front burner.

Culture and Tradition: We learned from the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport that December 27, the anniversary of the Christmas Rebellion of 1831-2, is now designated Sam Sharpe Day. The National Hero was the leader of the major rebellion on the Kensington Estate near Montego Bay, involving around 60,000 slaves. Hundreds of slaves were killed and hundreds more executed, including “Daddy” Sharpe himself. The Governor General made the proclamation on December 22, so there wasn’t much time to actually do much for the day (and of course, COVID). I hope that a meaningful recognition of the day will take place next year.

27 Dec 1831: “The first fire, at Kensington Estate…was soon accompanied by flames roaring to life at the nearby plantations Argyle, Lapland, Montpelier, Retrieve, accompanied by noises of riotous celebration” ‘Island on Fire’(2020) by Tom Zoellner. Sam Sharpe’s war for freedom. [Shamelessly copying and pasting from Wayne Chen’s tweet @wcchen – who offers historical and cultural nuggets daily]

The Ministry was also involved in a webinar (which I had wanted to attend but had no time) on the Zong Massacre of 1781, when, during the journey from the western coast of Africa to Black River on the Zong slave ship, 132 of the 440 African slaves were thrown overboard to lighten the vessel. There is a monument commemorating the massacre in Black River.

Education: Twelve primary schools failed inspections for COVID-19 protocols earlier this month. Schools are set to reopen in January. It seems that while some parents are quite desperate for their children to go back to school, others are quite nervous about face-to-face classes again.

Health: Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Jacqueline Bisasor McKenzie in a radio interview disclosed that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has some concerns over COVID-19 testing in private labs. I am still not sure why we are apparently testing so few – not more than 1,000 tests per day, often less. In another radio interview on December 23, when asked about the levels of testing being done, the CMO said that “hot spots” are targeted for testing. Five children under twelve years old on Monday’s flight from the UK were not tested at the request of their parents, which she conceded was a risk. The CMO said she is seeing a steady increase in cases – not a steep rise, so far, from mid-November, with a positivity rate of around 9. She is mostly concerned now about crowded daytime activities, especially in parishes like Westmoreland (where there is still the highest COVID rate and where there is currently a tighter curfew beginning at 7:00 p.m.)

Nevertheless, the extremely low levels of testing are perplexing. I am not sure what is going on, and there has been no meaningful explanation. I hope one is forthcoming shortly. Today, there were 20 new cases – from only 277 samples. 298 people have died to date. 78 are hospitalized, with eight in critical condition.

Meanwhile, a passenger from the flight walked out of quarantine in St. Ann, leaving her COVID-positive child behind. She was found and returned to quarantine (why not charge and fine her?)

Yachts at Maiden Cay, which is just a scrap of sand with no vegetation. (My photo)

The JCF has been determinedly enforcing the curfew and COVID-19 regulations, arresting over 100 people over the holiday weekend. On Sunday 27th, the Marine Police went off to Maiden Cay – a scrap of sand that is a favorite partying spot for uptown Kingston dwellers – and “raided” the yachts parked there. A video of the bright young things making merry (i.e. drinking and taking selfies) had been circulating on social media. I believe these activities have been taking place quite regularly throughout the COVID-19 period, and I have seen one company advertising private parties on yachts. Well, the following day an order was issued for both Lime Cay and Maiden Cay to be closed (of course, there are other islands, but these are the most popular for these parties). Why this took so long to enforce, one doesn’t know; public beaches and river venues have been closed on and off since COVID-19 (currently off, again).

Human Rights: Fitzroy Coore, 26,who was listed as wanted by the Clarendon Police earlier this month, was killed during a security forces operation in May Day, Manchester this evening. A firearm has been seized.

Following a September Supreme Court ruling that the detention of five men who had been held without charge for inordinately long periods was unlawful, the Government filed an appeal on October 29. Was this a delaying tactic as the Jamaica Observer suggests? Certainly, the men, who were detained under the State of Emergency for very long periods and released just before the September 3 general elections, will have to wait a while longer for compensation.

Infrastructure: The National Works Agency is struggling to complete the alternative route to the Gordon Town Road, which was basically destroyed during the heavy rains in October. But it is still raining quite a bit, and there have been huge logistical challenges. Currently, the only safe route is extremely long (three hours) and high up in the hills, not an easy drive at all. What if there is an emergency? How are senior citizens managing? The Health Centre has reportedly been closed for two months now.

People: Merrick Needham, the suave and incredibly knowledgeable consultant on protocol matters, celebrated his 87th birthday on Christmas Eve. Two years ago he received an honorary commission by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) granting him the rank of Honorary Colonel. In 2012 he received a Living Legacy Award from the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP).

Congratulations to the 2021 Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Fellows from Jamaica – all nine of them, but especially Adrian Watson, a truly focused individual, of Honai Beez Apiary in Kingston. These are all young business and social entrepreneurs with great promise. The YLAI was launched by President Barack Obama in Kingston in 2015, to an enthusiastic reception by young Jamaicans. Congratulations, Adrian!

Kind people: You might not have heard of Cypress Hall in Red Hills, but Glenford Burke, 41, has taken the rural community under his wing. The New York-based Burke brings gifts, clothing, and food packages every year and usually holds a Christmas treat. Such public events have not been happening this year, sadly, but Mr. Burke is still distributing assistance through his Hype Cares Foundation, raising funds in New York. Last year’s treat drew hundreds of residents and he has extended his help to Parks Road, St. Catherine, where his father comes from. Thank you for caring, Mr. Burke.

Champion sprinter Usain Bolt did house-to-house deliveries of goodies in rural Sherwood Content, Trelawny, where he grew up – instead of the usual Christmas treat at Waldensia Primary, his old school. He was accompanied by representatives of Digicel Foundation, who usually support the activity.

Road Safety: 32-year-old Kioma Williams, a music producer and 39-year-old  Alecia Woods from Kingston both died when their car crashed into another vehicle that was reportedly swerving to avoid a pothole in Iter Boreale, St. Mary.

54-year-old labourer, Neville Watson, died when he crashed his motorbike into an oncoming car on Christmas Eve.

The new Director of the Island Traffic Authority, the amazing Mr. Kenute Hare, predicts that the number of deaths on Jamaica’s roads will be about 430 by year-end. To date, 134 motorcyclists and 84 pedestrians have died.

Minister Bartlett smiles down on Times Square from the Nasdaq Tower.

Tourism: Our Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett has dismissed claims on social media that a Happy Birthday message which popped up in New York’s Times Square was paid for by Jamaican taxpayers. He said it was a surprise birthday gift from a friend, who owns hundreds of billboards across the U.S.

Housing for tourism workers will soon be available in the Rhyne Park area of St. James under the Ministry of Tourism’s $1-billion Resort Squatter Settlements Upgrade Programme. Kudos to Minister Bartlett for focusing on better conditions for the workers, including housing, training and pensions.

Travel: Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, his wife and others arrived on Monday night via a direct flight from his country for a 12-hour stay, and were met by Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith. The flight from Lagos to Montego Bay was called “historic.” They discussed the possibility of regular direct flights, more cultural ties, etc. I wonder how long the flight takes.

Urban Planning: Or lack of it, I should say. Recently a high-rise development in Kingston has come under scrutiny, and now the St. Mary Municipal Corporation has cracked down on a four-storey building in the rural town of Highgate. The Parish Court has told developer Haman Huang that he must make significant demolition changes if he wants approval to continue building.

A motorist navigates a still-flooded section of Riverside Drive in New Haven, St Andrew, two months after heavy rains caused the Duhaney River to overflow its banks and flood homes in the area. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

The community of New Haven in St. Andrew has been a picture of neglect for many years. Despite the protestations of their long-serving Member of Parliament, it seems to have actually got worse for the long-suffering residents since I wrote about it several years ago in this blog.

Women’s Issues: The European Union/United Nations (UN) Spotlight Initiative launched a series of online discussions on Jamaica’s laws related to violence against women. There is a great deal to examine in relation to the Sexual Offences Act; Offences Against the Persons Act; Domestic Violence Act and Child Care and Protection Act.

Hasn’t this been a cruel year, in so many ways. My deepest sympathies are with all those who are mourning the passing of loved ones. The Christmas holiday was hardly enough to slow down the murders. Six people were murdered on Sunday, across the island. As of December 29, 1,301 people have been murdered this year.

Perhaps one of the cruelest is the murder of Shelly-Ann Williams, 17, who had Down Syndrome, in Sandy Bay, Clarendon. She was stabbed to death at her home, while her mother slept next door. The Combined Disabilities Association is urging a full investigation of this terrible crime.

Two men – 24-year-old Jermaine Mowatt and 20-year-old Romaine Atkinson – were shot dead in Rose Town, Kingston, on Christmas Day. The police “engaged” the alleged gunmen, who ran away, leaving two guns behind.

A sound system selector, 23-year-old Mikhail Francis, was shot dead at a shop in Hayesfield, Clarendon, on Christmas Day.

33-year-old Robert Louis Martin was chased and fatally shot near the toll booth along the Portmore leg of Highway 2000 on Sunday.

In St. James, Denzil Mullings, a 42-year-old farmer, was shot dead allegedly by his cousin in Arcadia District, during an argument.

48-year-old Roderick Queensborough was stabbed to death, allegedly by his son, in Faiths District in Brown’s Hall, St. Catherine on Sunday. The son apparently suffers from a mental illness.

An unidentified man was found dead with gunshot wounds on Cassia Park Road in Kingston.

The inscription on the monument to Sam Sharpe, at National Heroes Park in Kingston. (My photo)

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