ICYMI in Jamaica, January 12, 2021: The “Heartware” Edition

It’s 2021, and everything seems to be happening at once. It’s hard to keep up. Education, health, crime (crime!!), travel and tourism – and more – all seem to be “hot button” issues. The new year is already shaping up to be quite crowded; we need to wrap our heads around some fundamental issues, and come up with solutions. Jamaica seems to be dusting itself off a little after last year’s struggles, and I believe we are up to the task. We shall overcome!

It was Agriculture Minister Floyd Green’s birthday last Sunday. Here he is looking very cool in a countrified kind of way – a photo he tweeted on the day.

Agriculture: January 9 was Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Day, heavily promoted on social media by the Government’s investment arm JAMPRO and of course, Agriculture Minister Floyd Green. Even the Prime Minister talked about it on Bloomberg TV, pointing out that Japan (which imports around 70 to 80 percent of our crop) also celebrates the day. The Japanese have good taste.

I love Bank of Jamaica’s “Croc O’Doyle” character used to explain tricky economic issues (there’s a crocodile on their logo). Here he sips his morning coffee on Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Day.

Caribbean: Extractive industries are a curse on the landscape in the Caribbean. So is the weak enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. One example is in Guyana, where despite an order from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission to restore a riverbank at Micobie (a small Amerindian settlement on the Potaro River), which had been illegally excavated for gold mining, the dredging company thumbed its nose and departed in December, leaving the damage unrepaired. This reminds me: Tune in to the Jamaica Environment Trust’s review of the bauxite industry in Jamaica next Thursday, January 14 at 1:00 p.m. EST on their Facebook and YouTube pages!

Environmental destruction on the Potaro River in Guyana, caused by dredging for gold mining. (Photo: Amerindian Peoples’ Association)

Having said he would finally hang up his hat and step down from politics (after nearly four decades) Prime Minister of Grenada Dr Keith Mitchell has changed his mind and announced that he will run in the next elections after all (2023). He will be 75 this year. I know, it’s hard to let go, isn’t it…

Also in Guyana, things are getting a little sticky in the border dispute with Venezuela. Guyanese President Irfaan Ali called in the Venezuelan Ambassador after the latter’s boss, President Nicolás Maduro, issued a decree that his country had sovereignty over the Essequibo region. Hopefully a resolution will be found… Meanwhile, in a statement today the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) said it was “deeply disappointed and concerned” by the decree and the Venezuelan President’s subsequent utterances.

Crime:“Mi tyaad a it” said one resident of Mountain View Avenue’s Burger Gully in Kingston, where there has been a feud between the “Top Gully” and the “Bottom Gully.” Efforts by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and social workers such as Orlando Hamilton have made a difference in seeking to calm the tension. Years ago, Mountain View was a difficult place, with politically-inspired rivalries.

Just a few of the murderous weapons seized in Montego Bay. (Photo: Gleaner)

Then we woke up to the news this morning of a huge gun and ammunition seizure at the Freeport in Montego Bay, St. James. 19 firearms, including six high powered rifles, and just over 470 assorted rounds of ammunition were seized, but unfortunately no arrests made. Last year the St James police recorded the highest number of illegal gun seizures with 116 firearms and 1,378 assorted round of ammunition. The police have had great success already this year, however, seizing 20 illegal guns in various locations. Keep up the good work!

A 35-year-old lotto scammer from Cambridge, St. James, was ordered to pay J$13 million and forfeited property and cash and received a suspended prison sentence. He pleaded guilty to offenses under the Proceeds of Crime Act and the Law Reform Act. Although he allegedly obtained many more millions from U.S. citizens (mostly senior citizens) it appears that not all his ill-gotten gains are to be forfeited.

Three young British women were jailed in the UK for smuggling cocaine from Jamaica, arriving on a direct flight from Kingston. I feel sad for them – why turn their lives in this direction?

And the “COVID-idiots” continue partying. When the police tried to break up a crowd of some 150 in Portland over the weekend, the idiots damaged a police car. Stupidity, ignorance, and selfishness seem to be almost as prevalent as COVID itself…

Prime Minister Andrew Holness addresses the annual ‘Heal the Family, Heal the Nation’ National Day of Prayer service, at the Power of Faith Ministries in Portmore, St Catherine, on Wednesday. (Photo: JIS)

The discussion on crime goes round and round in circles, endlessly and year after year. I think we are fully aware of the ongoing social factors involved, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness sought to address these in a passionate speech during the National Day of Prayer at a church in Portmore, St. Catherine. He referred to the Government as providing the “hardware” (more motorbikes, technology etc) to fight crime, urging the church community to offer the “heartware.” It’s hard to believe that J$40 billion has been spent on the hardware in the past four years, to so little effect. However, if Jamaicans do not have a solid education, hope and economic opportunity, all is lost. All of that is long term stuff, of course. Heartware should go along with the hardware.

The Ministry of National Security says it will be buying more motorcycles for the police this year. That’s the hardware part.

Culture: A rumor started spreading on social media that Bob Marley’s widow Rita had passed away. It seemed to be mostly circulating among African posters, for some reason. However, Cedella Marley posted a video of her mother alive and well (she had a stroke some time ago, but is quite OK).

Economy: Prime Minister Andrew Holness seems to be coming round to the need to diversify the economy, and not putting all Jamaica’s eggs in the tourism basket. At least, so he said during the Bloomberg TV interview on Friday. Seeing the light!

Darien Henry, Principal of Cumberland High School.

Education: In case you’re wondering, things have not really settled down in the sector, in terms of schools reopening for face-to-face classes. Buff Bay High School in western Portland has decided not to reopen on January 11 after all, citing a spike in COVID-19 cases in the area, among other concerns. Other high schools, such as Hampton School for girls, are open for certain grades only. Another major concern is that many students are missing in action. Some high school students are even working – for example, on the South Coast Highway in eastern Jamaica. And there will have to be some way to make amends for all the lost learning time, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness is well aware of. Principal of Cumberland High School Darien Henry (whom I knew as an excellent journalist for years!) says it may take years to make up, by which time many students will be lost.

An intrepid health worker crossing a stream in rural St. Thomas. (Photo: South East Regional Health Authority/Twitter)

Health: A puzzling story emerged about “underground,” unauthorized COVID-19 testing taking place in parking lots, etc. The Jamaica Medical Doctors Association is very much against this happening and concerned that they may not be reporting cases to the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which has just published a list of seven authorized labs.

The private sector continues to do what it can in terms of donations in support of the fight against COVID-19. The Seprod Foundation (a local manufacturer) donated sanitizers and cleaning materials to the Maxfield Park Children’s Home. Thank you!

The Seprod Foundation donated cleaning stuff to Maxfield Children’s Home.

Human Rights: An unidentified man was shot dead in a house that he was allegedly robbing in Barrett Town, St. James last week. It’s a long story, but this was after the man had allegedly attacked a policeman who was after him.

So now, unbelievably (or perhaps predictably), the abortion issue has raised its head. It will soon be hammered down by “evangelicals,” who were of course the first to start shouting (and they do shout). I won’t hold my breath that any progress will be made on this. It just pops up at regular intervals. However, huge kudos to Member of Parliament and Junior Minister for Health and Wellness Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, who is not wavering. After Argentina’s remarkable victory for pro-choice activists at the end of the year, Ms. Cuthbert had said she would like to see the issue discussed in Parliament. One church man, a so-called Bishop (we have a lot of those), is calling on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to “rein in” Ms. Cuthbert Flynn. Ah, the patriarchy continues to flourish!

Enter the patriarchy…who know what’s best for women. Major Richard Cooke (left) and Bishop Alvin Bailey making their way to Gordon House for an anti-abortion protest in January 2019. (Photo: Gleaner)

Infrastructure: Mi need a boat inna mi house fi float!” said one resident of Annotto Bay, St. Mary, a low-lying coastal town, after heavy rains flooded his home. The outskirts of Montego Bay were also heavily flooded on Friday evening. There were the usual comments about the cause – inadequate drainage, too much garbage, etc. How about adding deforestation in the hills above, and poor development practices to the list?

Another television report noted that people are building haphazardly in wetlands. Local Councilor Anthony Murray in St. James appears very concerned, saying that no approval was given for some of the developments by the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA).

Justice: Jury trials, which were suspended in March with the onset of COVID-19, are set to resume on a phased basis in February. However, they will only take place in courts where social distancing is possible. It’s a little complicated, but they are working it out.

Kristen Clarke, nominated as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, is born of Jamaican parents.

People: President-Elect Joe Biden has nominated a New York-born daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Kristen Clarke, as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. A Harvard and Columbia graduate, she has worked hard for African American communities on issues such as racial profiling, housing discrimination, and more. Congratulations to her!

Diana Thorburn has taken over the Chair of Bellevue Hospital. She describes this as “the biggest challenge of my life so far” – but I am sure this brilliant and focused woman is up to it! She posted this great photo in front of the Hospital’s mural, which I loved when I visited there.

Diana Thorburn is the new Chair of Bellevue Hospital.

Trump appointee Donald Tapia, U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, said goodbye after giving a few interviews in local media, which I decided to skip. His relatively short stay was not without controversy, of course. He tweeted below (and he is right, Jamaica’s greatest strength is its people!)

I seem to be congratulating lots of women leaders this week, as now Chorvelle Johnson Cunningham, CEO of Sagicor Bank, has taken over the Chairwomanship of United Way of Jamaica. Congratulations to her!

Going home: The body of tourism mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who died in Florida, returned home on January 6. His son Adam posted this rather beautiful and poignant photo of family members outside the Sandals plane that flew him home.

Road Safety: My road safety guru Kenute Hare says penalties are not the only answer that is going to fix our issues on the road.  Last year, vulnerable road users (pedestrians, pillion, motor cyclists and pedal cyclists) represented 65 per cent of those killed in crashes. In Clarendon, the JCF is concerned at the number of motorcyclists on the road, driving recklessly and without helmets (or without the correct fitting ones); two motorcyclists have already been killed in the parish this year.

The main road going into Montego Bay seems to me like a race track – a perfect nightmare. 16-year-old Dwayne Gosling was trying to cross the road when he was knocked down and killed by a car. Another “vulnerable road user,” a motorcyclist, was also killed in Adelphi, St. James when he crashed into a car on his motorbike.

Tourism: Royal Caribbean says it is canceling all of its cruises in March and April. No surprise at all. This means there will have been no cruises from the United States for exactly one year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced today that all passengers entering the United States will now have to produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before they travel. How will this affect Jamaica’s testing capacity, which already seems quite strained?

Whether it’s 2020 or 2021, the crime and violence continues unabated. No “pause” at all, really. The community of Trench Town – where efforts have been ongoing for a long time now to build its cultural and entrepreneurial spirit – is suffering at the moment and a curfew has been imposed and now extended to Wednesday evening. My sympathies go out to the families of all those who have passed away. They are not “the latest statistics” – they are people, whose loss is being mourned. I am concerned also that so many are injured, and I wish them all a speedy recovery from the trauma.

Trace Newland, 44, was shot dead on First Street in Trench Town, and three others injured. He was Jamaica’s ninth murder victim for 2021.

Also in Trench Town, Cynthia Robinson was shot dead and her nephew injured the following day.

Christopher Johnson, 35, was shot dead at the busy public Comprehensive Health Clinic on Slipe Pen Road in Kingston – at lunch time.

Kemar Cover was walking along Lincoln Avenue in Kingston this afternoon, when a car pulled up beside him and its occupants shot him dead.

A screen grab from the CCTV footage of the shootout on Old Hope Road.

And there was another shooting in broad daylight, on Old Hope Road in Kingston. 53-year-old Karl Davidson was killed in a shootout which also involved a most-wanted man, Kevin ‘Richie Poo’ Tyndale, on Wednesday afternoon. Tyndale, who was convicted on gun charges in 2005, was released on parole in 2018. He is now seriously injured in hospital.

In Haughton District, St. Elizabeth, Brandon West was shot dead at his home.

Also in St. Elizabeth, Jamaican American businessman Chevaughn Buchanan, 34, was shot dead at his home in Burnt Savannah.

In rural areas, as noted before, domestic disputes seem to be on the rise, and often result in violence. This time, a sweet little girl named Chloe Brown, aged four, was shot dead in her bed and her father was injured, when gunmen broke into their home late Sunday night. There had reportedly been an argument between the father and his brother at a birthday party earlier in the evening, when threats were made.

Chloe Brown was murdered because of a family feud.

On New Year’s Day, 39-year-old Hussein (Oshane?) Fletcher was shot dead in Steer Town, St. Ann. An 18-year-old has been charged with the murder. Another 18-year-old was charged with the murder of Romaine Atkinson in Kingston on Christmas Day. So young…

Construction worker 23-year-old Delroy Trowers was shot dead by a taxi driver, who had a licensed firearm, in Orange Hill, St. Ann during an argument.

In the market at Lucea, Hanover, a vendor stabbed to death another vendor, 45-year-old Everette Ennis. His attacker was caught by the police as he tried to get away. This was Hanover’s first murder for 2021 (33 persons were murdered in the parish last year).

Another unidentified man was stabbed to death in Flankers, near Montego Bay on Friday night.

Also in Montego Bay, a vendor/farmer, 48-year-old Vincent Ball, was shot dead while sheltering from the rain outside the Charles Gordon Market in the town.  

Ending with a happy photograph: three Jamaican children planting trees during the live-streamed launch of the Caribbean Tree Planting Project’s Youth Ambassadors program. Around twelve Caribbean countries participated. More details later!

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