Happy World Wetlands Day! There have been several events on the day, although mostly virtual – including an Instagram chat organised by the #WetlandWarriors – yes, the #Youth4PuertoBueno strike again! Crime and violence continues to hit the headlines, COVID-19 churning away in the background, and social media is wringing its collective hands over it all. January is gone, and it was rather dreary in general. Perhaps February will bring better energy. At least we had rain in Kingston today! And today, at last, some good news on vaccines… See below. We fight onwards…and upwards.
Agriculture: Based on scientific evidence, one understands, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has decided to lift the two-year ban on the fishing of an endangered species, Queen Conch. They have made a remarkable recovery since the ban started, it’s reported (is that surprising?) There will be a total allowable catch of 250-300 metric tons between industrial and artisanal fishers. Who is going to monitor and enforce this? I won’t hold my breath.
Caribbean: Puerto Rican governor Pedro Pierluisi signed an executive order Sunday declaring a state of emergency that would allocate resources to deal with gender violence on the island. “For too long, vulnerable victims have suffered the consequences of systematic machismo, inequity, discrimination, lack of education, lack of guidance and above all, lack of action,” Pierluisi said.
There were more street protests in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, against President Jovenel Moïse. Can he hold on much longer?
The British Virgin Islands’ corruption scandal hasn’t quite gone away. The governor, on his retirement, blasted the islands’ government which is dealing with a veritable tangle of corruption, cronyism, interfering with the judiciary, organized crime and more. There is to be a Commission of Inquiry. Phew!
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reports that the region’s trade declined by 13 per cent last year – its worst performance since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 – largely due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Puerto Rico has been struggling and suffering ever since the terrible hurricanes of 2017, and more recently a series of earthquakes. Puerto Ricans were deprived of aid for the past three years under Trump, but now President Joe Biden has announced that US$1.3 billion will be released to assist them in reconstruction as well as disaster preparedness. At long last! I will never forget that insulting behavior of Trump towards Puerto Ricans, tossing packets of kitchen rolls.
Crime: The 18-year-old son of dancehall deejay Mavado, Dante Brooks, and another man were found guilty of the 2018 murder of Lorenzo Thomas in Cassava Piece, St. Andrew, on Wednesday. It was a horrible crime. An appeal will be lodged.
“We know when the planes are flying, we know who is coming into our waters … . You know what, let me not say too much,” said Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Parliament on Tuesday, when questioned about the Mystery Plane and the Missing Mexicans (and cargo). Meanwhile, residents of Rocky Point, Clarendon continued to scrap what’s left of the plane – without any security placed there from the outset. Meanwhile, local residents are unhappy about the arrest of a businessman. And the occupants of the plane are still “on the run.” What a strange business. Nevertheless, Police Commissioner Anderson noted that the plane was “not destined for Jamaica” and that Jamaica has been talking to international partners about it.
And talking of (possible/alleged) narcotics trafficking, an unnamed Montego Bay businessman was arrested when J$80 million worth of cocaine was found in his car during a traffic stop in Flankers. He is apparently not the first “businessman” living in upscale areas of town who have been arrested recently.
I think we knew this already, but Jamaica’s murder rate was the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean last year, according to Insight Crime. Almost neck and neck with Venezuela, we recorded 46.5 per 100,000. Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago were in third and fourth places. This report is well worth a read, as it gives some good background; Venezuela’s situation is very different to ours, although they are close to us in the number of murders.
And robberies continue, especially in towns like May Pen, where a major armed robbery took place at the Peoples Cooperative Bank. They took J$2.8 million from the safe.
I felt somewhat reassured by Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson’s virtual press briefing on Monday (the link is to their Facebook page and it is definitely worth watching). He seemed rather nervous at first since it was the day after the shocking murder of a woman in church, but quickly warmed up. He pointed out that the church murder was as a result of a family dispute, and they already had three people in custody, including the perpetrator.
The Commissioner referred to the “degenerate behavior” of people who should be taking care of their family members, but instead are engaging people to murder them. Such cases, he said, are often quickly resolved. To their credit, the JCF website is up to date with press releases. They are trying hard, although their response is more reactive than proactive. However, we all know how complex the crime issue is, and the JCF alone cannot “solve” the underlying social issues. They are doing quite a good job at catching murderers, including the killers of a young pastor in Chapelton, Clarendon. They have also charged a Portland businessman with the murders of his first and second wives – in 2009 and 2020; and several people were charged for a series of recent murders in Allman Town and Lincoln Avenue in Kingston.
Culture and Tradition: Palace Amusement Company, our local cinema company, has been struggling for survival since the pandemic began. No one wants to go to the cinema. However, they have opened their Drive-In in New Kingston (it was a drive-in some years ago). They have a great deal. A car full (4 adults or 2 adults & 3 kids) costs J$2,000 on Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays.
The United Congregation of Israelites (UCI) planted six trees in memory of the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust during World War II on the University of the West Indies campus. The Gibraltar Camp site (at the Old Library on Gibraltar Road) at UWI once housed 600 Jews.
Education: Minister Fayval Williams opened, with fanfare, a J$72 million STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) infusion project at Jamaica College. It is financed by a JC old boy, Dr Joseph Tait, and is the single largest investment in academics by a past student since the school was founded in 1789.
More happy news: the Barrett Town All Age School in St. James received a fully equipped computer lab from Sheila Johnson, CEO and founder of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, in honor of the late Guy Steuart, a former Board member and Chair of Half Moon Resorts.
Environment: CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) Peter Knight did not seem to know how or why Bengal Development Co. was granted an extension as the company seeks to come up with a $40 million bond so that it can start quarrying on Puerto Bueno Mountain. “I’m not denying that I know, what I’m saying [is] I don’t have in my head the reasons for the request,” said Knight. As they say, “no comment”! The matter is now in court, hence NEPA’s reticence, I suppose.
Residents of Redberry in Manchester say: “We will continue to block the roads until we get some justice” over the harmful effects of the building of the South Coast Highway through their neighborhood. The ploughing of bulldozers through the forest has slowed down over the past few days, due to the residents’ protests.
Health: I am delighted to hear that the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) is keeping its focus on supporting the fight against COVID-19, along with the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) through the Cooperation on the National COVID-19 Vaccination Programme, which met on Wednesday. They want to procure more than 1.5 million doses. Here is JMEA President Richard Pandohie’s perspective.
Also kudos to the Issa Trust Foundation, which donated J$40 million worth of personal protective equipment and medical equipment to the North East Regional Health Authority. The donation was provided with the assistance of Direct Relief, an international humanitarian aid organisation.
The big news today was Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton’s announcement in Parliament: “We have been advised by the COVAX facility that the country is set to receive between 146,400 and up to 249,600 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines by mid to late February 2021.” This is much sooner than we had thought (I think April was the possible arrival date). This will be a good start, with frontline workers at the top of the list for vaccination.
Nevertheless I am puzzled that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is talking about easing restrictions on church funerals, as COVID-19 numbers (including deaths) continue to increase daily. Yesterday (February 1) there were 195 new cases and we have well over 3,000 active cases.
Good people: As I have said many times before, the heart and generosity of the Jamaican diaspora knows no bounds. Now a Jamaican living in Seattle, Raymond Connell, visited Boys’ Town, which was just a stone’s throw away from where he was born on Oxford Street. He has now raised US$123,000 towards the rehabilitation of a well there, with the assistance of the Rotary Club and Friends of Jamaica of Seattle. Read more here!
Money: A business outsourcing company, ibex, is opening its fifth facility in Jamaica, in Portmore. It will provide some 3,000 jobs, bringing the total employees in Jamaica to 6,500. We need those jobs!
People: Pioneering financier and founder of Barita Investments, Rita Humphries-Lewin, has retired. She was the first woman to chair the Jamaica Stock Exchange and indeed the Caribbean!
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who is of Jamaican heritage, has been appointed as Chair of the Homeland Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation Subcommittee, under the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Tourism: Minister Ed Bartlett, always keen to put a positive spin on things, has been tested to the limit in the past year. Now, he must be in utter despair at the news that Canadian airlines have agreed not to fly to the Caribbean or Mexico until the end of April. Canada is our second highest source country for tourists after the United States.
Women’s Issues: The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has addressed the matter of a sexual relationship (not, apparently, amounting to sexual harassment) at the Camp in Kingston. Both officers involved were tried, punished and the male officer has since resigned.
It has been a shocking and disturbing situation regarding murders in Jamaica. My deepest condolences to the families of these victims – names, human beings, not just numbers.
The police shot and killed a man in Pepper, St. Elizabeth (a rural area) at 3:30 a.m., way past curfew, when he allegedly attacked a bartender.
In Kingston, 41-year-old Joseph Johnson was found dead on Tom Cringle Drive, Duhaney Park.
Harry McLeod, 51 (“Harry Dog”) an alleged “deputy” of West Kingston gang leader Christopher “Dudus” Coke, was shot dead on Spanish Town Road downtown on Sunday morning. There have been 15 murders and 16 shootings in the division this month, higher than in 2020.
18 year old Shavar Burt, a vendor, was shot dead in West Street, downtown. The atmosphere has been very tense in West Kingston since the death of “Harry Dog.”
Angelita McPherson, 49, was shot dead while walking on Wild Street in Kingston, in an area called “Dunkirk.”
The body of 38-year-old Junior Stewart was found on the Prospect main road in St. Thomas last Monday morning.
Five people were hospitalised after gunmen opened fire at a downtown bar on the corner of East Queen Street. Councilor for Rae Town Rosalie Hamilton said the police are “never ever proactive” regarding crime in the area, but just react to a crime, putting up yellow tape and picking up spent shells.
The body of an unidentified man was found on Eve Lane, near National Heroes Circle in Kingston.
55-year-old Careen Walters and a man known as Jermaine were found dead just after midnight in Race Track, near May Pen in Clarendon after residents heard gunfire.
Andrea Lowe Garwood, 50, was shot dead on Sunday morning while praying at her church, the Agape Christian Fellowship Church in Falmouth, Trelawny. The service was being live-streamed. The police took three people into custody later in the day, and seized the alleged getaway car.
31-year-old Chadwick Dryden was shot dead in Westgate Hills, St. James, on a school compound.
Ricardo Webster, 22, was shot dead at his home by men posing as police officers in Spring Mount, St. James. A family member was injured.