The last two weeks have been busy (I skipped last week) and the weather is bright and breezy. However, as COVID-19 numbers have begun to really take off this month (an extended “spike”) the mood of cautious optimism in January seems to have evaporated – although we have had some lighter moments in the past week or two. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday – a national holiday (although Jamaica is not primarily a Roman Catholic country) so perhaps people can stop rushing around and stay home, quietly. How much longer can we go on like this?
Agriculture: Member of Parliament Pearnel Charles Jr. held an important meeting with fisherfolk in Rocky Point, Clarendon recently. The aim was to make them aware of their roles and responsibilities and to get them registered and licensed with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; this will allow them to benefit from grants and the purchase of duty-free fishing equipment. Meanwhile, he is having to deal with a horrible outbreak of crime in Lionel Town, where houses have been set on fire.
Talking of fisheries, Minister of Agriculture & Fisheries Floyd Green has announced a health and insurance package for fishers and farmers, which has been greatly welcomed. Under the Sagicor AgriCare Programme, farmers who are registered with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and fishers who are registered with the National Fisheries Authority will be eligible.
When I start this report with “A for Agriculture” I always feel I am starting off with a “bang” as Minister Green is always coming up with new plans and projects. Now Jamaica has signed an agreement with the International Labor Organization (ILO) for 100 farmers and fisherfolk, registered with The Rural Agricultural Development Authority or the National Fisheries Authority, to formalise their operations. This is a good start, but our informal economy is huge. The highly capable and long-standing head of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) Valerie Viera says her agency will implement the project. Thumbs up!
Caribbean: Yes, we know – Guyana has oil. However, quite a few issues have emerged since the first crude oil was extracted back in December, 2019. One is continuous “flaring” of natural gas by Exxon Mobil, which many Guyanese are concerned about. The Government seems unable to prevent these emissions from happening. One letter writer says: “Flaring poses clear and present danger to Sustainable Development and a Green Economy, which Guyana committed to by being a signatory to the 2015 United Nations Climate Agreement.”
The situation in Haiti has become increasingly bitter, as President Jouvenel Moïse hangs on to power and claims he foiled an attempted coup. Thousands have protested, journalists have been attacked and rubber bullets fired. There are fears of a dictatorship in the making.
Two Jamaicans are missing, believed drowned, after a boat capsized off the Florida coast. A Jamaican who was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard said there were Bahamians, Jamaicans, and Guyanese in the vessel.
The Cayman Islands Government has set its election date a month earlier than expected, for April 14.
A disturbing report suggests that sex trafficking rings are operating between Venezuela and Trinidad, via illegal immigration. The website Insight Crime, which focuses on organized crime in the Americas, shared this map (below).
Crime: Work on a section of the South Coast Highway from Georgia to Cedar Valley in St. Thomas, which is ploughing its way across the southern parishes, was closed – not by protesting residents this time, but by extortionists. A threatening hand-written letter was delivered to the contractors. Member of Parliament for the area James Robertson, in a radio interview, asserted that the culprits will soon be caught.
There was more drama (and a lot of humorous comment) when it was reported that the Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton, no less, had “detained” two Nicaraguans, who turned up on a Westmoreland beach at 1:00 a.m. last Saturday morning. A third man made off in a boat, which was later found. They were reportedly detained by residents and handed over to the police, who suspect they were involved in the drug trade (and had, perhaps, arrived at the wrong beach). What really tickled us was that Minister Tufton, the following morning, tweeted a video of himself swimming the length of a pool and feeling proud that he had improved his swimming abilities during the pandemic. This prompted numerous tweets about the “Minister as superhero” – crime-fighting at night, breaking barriers in the morning, then on to work at the Ministry! I love Jamaican humor.
And the crime machine rattles on and on, with a total of 168 murders recorded islandwide between January 1 and February 11 – a 9 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the latest figures from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Four murders a day reminds me of the regular number of COVID-19 cases per day. What a grim couple they are: Crime and COVID.
I read that the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has ordered six Bell 505 helicopters “to be used for public safety missions and pilot training.”
Culture: Kingston Creative continues to do great things and form partnerships. The monthly Art Walks downtown are a thing of the past (for now) but free virtual arts events still happen. The next one is on February 28 – register here.
Diplomacy: Jamaica is paring down its budget, thanks to COVID-19. Now Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Kamina Johnson Smith has announced that Jamaica’s Embassy in Brazil will close, effective March 1. Some representation will continue to serve Jamaicans living there and in neighboring countries.
Education: I am puzzling over the Education Ministry’s insistence that, on the advice of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, face-to-face classes will continue at all the schools it has approved for opening. This is happening despite the soaring numbers of cases (around 300 new ones daily, and likely far more) and daily deaths. Yes, it’s a dilemma, and there’s no doubt that children’s education is suffering – especially those without proper Internet access or tablets. However, the health risks seem overwhelming at this time. Nevertheless, UNICEF Jamaica has come out fully in support of the Ministry on this. The Jamaica Teachers’ Association is growing increasingly concerned about the 25 or so schools that are open for face-to-face classes but have reported positive COVID-19 cases. The Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools also says it needs more guidance.
Meanwhile, the esteemed Munro College, a boarding school in St. Elizabeth reported 21 cases of COVID-19 (including two teachers) over the weekend and closed until after half term. York Castle High School in St. Ann has also closed.
Meanwhile, generous donations of tablets continue, including from the Jamaican diaspora. Some 300 students from various Jamaican schools benefitted from a donation of laptops and tablets valued at J$11 million, donated by the Union of Jamaican Alumni Associations in New York.
“Immaculate Deception” said one witty tweeter! The famous Kingston girls’ school, Immaculate Conception High School, is now reportedly the subject of a major J$30 million fraud investigation.
Health: Digicel Foundation has been donating hand-washing stations to various institutions – including, recently, to the Golden Age Home in Kingston, where there were major concerns over COVID-19 last year. A total of 100 stations will be donated to homes across the city. This is such a great move. We must keep washing our hands!
A COVID-19 cluster has also emerged – in just three days, I am told – at the South Camp Correctional Centre in Kingston – 28 inmates and eight staff members. Inmates who have been isolated are distraught, saying that they are not being given adequate food and water. Oh Lord!
And in Kingston, Minister Tufton has reported, seven workplace clusters have emerged in the past week or so. I have long believed that some offices, shops and supermarkets have got lazy about adhering to COVID-19 protocols. This is true of our local supermarket, which no longer seems to sanitize trolleys, etc. One example of a workplace cluster is now at Television Jamaica. So, why not work from home, where you can? Well, I am tired of asking about this, because obviously #WFH orders are not forthcoming.
Housing: The sight of destroyed homes and belongings torn and smashed to the ground in Innswood, St. Catherine, gave me the same deeply uncomfortable feeling I have when I see policemen breaking up vendors’ stalls and throwing their wares on the ground. It’s not right. It has echoes of Jamaica’s colonial past, when those in power oppressed the poor. Sometimes I wonder what has changed. Fifteen families who had lived there for generations were evicted by SCJ Holdings (the sugar company) in the early hours of the morning. Meanwhile, SCJ Holdings has put out a strong statement refuting reports that the residents were unceremoniously evicted and noting that arrangements have been made for housing at Ebony Park. SCJ also dismissed reports that their possessions had been damaged.
Human Rights: The Public Defender was scathing in her criticism of the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) often employed as a way of dampening down crime in volatile areas; they have not been in the least effective, quite apart from the human rights concerns, she noted. She was speaking at a Parliamentary Committee last week. Between September, 2017 and October, 2018, out of 582 people detained in Mount Salem, St. James (almost half of them aged 18 to 25 years) only one was charged with an offence. The ZOSO in Denham Town also had negligible results.
It is so long ago, but the three Jamaica Defence Force soldiers charged with the murder of Keith Clarke are still fighting it out in the Court of Appeal (forgive the pun) in the Court of Appeal. The three soldiers allegedly shot Mr. Clarke on May 27, 2010 – during the time of the Tivoli Gardens incursion, while searching for Christopher “Dudus” Coke. Now the judge is expected to hand down a ruling soon. What hell for the family of Mr. Clarke. I cannot imagine.
Infrastructure: It is disgusting that stagnant water has been standing alongside the Stony Hill Police Station (and near a pre-school) for quite a long time now. The threat of dengue is real. Hopefully it will be fixed soon! This is one example of many issues on our roads and in our communities, large and small.
People: Detective Sergeant Adrian Wellington recently completed his Master of Science in Forensic Accounting with Distinction from Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK. He is one of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s top polygraphists. Well done!
And many congratulations to the seasoned educator and administrator Karlene Joy Segree, who is the new Director of Educational Services in Region Three at the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information.
Manager of Digital Innovation at the VM Group Bianca Welds has been accepted to speak at the International Women’s Day event on March 8 presented by Women in Tech, Tech(K)now Day. Her topic will be “Don’t Box Yourself In.” You can register for free at this event here.
Politics: The cause is not yet clear, but fire destroyed the People’s National Party (PNP) office in St. Ann’s Bay, in the constituency of North East St. Ann represented by the Jamaica Labour Party’s Marsha Smith.
Former Jamaica Labour Party MP for St Elizabeth South Eastern and prominent attorney Cecil July died age 76 on February 15. As this article recounts, Mr. July was badly injured in a notorious incident in Top Hill in the parish during the violent 1980 general elections.
Road Safety and Transportation: January wasn’t a bad month on the roads, but February has been pretty rough, so far in terms of crashes and fatalities. Motorbikes (and their riders) are in trouble again. Since the start of the year motorcyclists have been the leading category of road users who have lost their lives on the road. 29-year-old farmer Richie Eulette died when he crashed into a motor vehicle in Point, St. James. In Westmoreland, two motorcyclists crashed into each other in Bog Square: one died and the other is in critical condition. 22-year-old Ashamae Vernon crashed his motorbike into a minibus in Amity Hall, St. James.
Cab drivers have to overtake other vehicles, no matter what. A woman traveling in a taxi was killed in Mandeville, Manchester, when the driver tried to overtake a truck and lost control of the vehicle, then crashed into a median.
60-year-old Dexton Brown, a security guard, was killed when he crashed into a parked car in Croft Hill, Clarendon.
A little toddler, 2-year-old Tayshawn McDonald, was hit and killed by a Suzuki Swift motor car in Spanish Town, St. Catherine last Saturday. Three men turned themselves in to the police the following day.
Another pedestrian, Kenrick Hendricks, was hit by a motor car in Cambridge, St. James while crossing the road.
In Westmoreland, a man who was standing at a rest stop in Bluefields when he was hit and killed by a speeding driver.
Indeed pedestrians remain so vulnerable on our roads. The case of 59-year-old Ernesto Montgomery, who was allegedly killed in a hit-and-run accident while exercising on the Hellshire main road in St. Catherine on December 21, 2020, has ground to a halt. The police are appealing for information.
Sashane Berry was killed in a car accident when her car ran off the road in Shady Grove, St. Catherine.
In Westmoreland, 48-year-old Christopher McDaniel, a former policeman of Whitehouse, Westmoreland, crashed his truck into a sugar cane truck on the Barham main road and was killed. The cane truck driver was allegedly under the influence of alcohol.
Social media: There was a “fake news incident” over the weekend that caused a social media storm. A stewardess with JetBlue airlines named Kalina Collier claimed on her Instagram account that she had been kidnapped and held against her will in Jamaica. I am still really not clear on her motive, but she had tested positive for COVID-19 and spent 14 days in quarantine. The police went to see her and confirmed that she was not in any danger. Jamaicans are, however, upset that she apparently lied and put the island in a very negative light. Many believe she should have been charged with public mischief. She has left the island now – after making a scene at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay with her mother – and JetBlue has apologized and after investigation, have now fired Ms. Collier. I feel really sorry for the tourism officials, desperately doing damage control (and mostly in vain, although they did what they could).
Sports: It seemed quite inexplicable to me that the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport was finalizing protocols for the “safe re-opening of sports,” as of February 1 – just as COVID-19 numbers rose to unprecedented highs. Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange announced the resumption of sports without spectators on a case-by-case basis, during the month of February, under the Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No. 2) Order, 202. No spectators – is that possible? Once a football match is on, in any community, people will gather. Meanwhile, the Ministry has not given permission for any sporting events yet – including a planned Jamaica Football Federation camp.
Technology: Last week’s Safer Internet Day raised a number of issues.
The HEART/NSTA Trust has partnered with the Amber Group Limited on a “Coding Academy” that will be offering twelve-month training opportunities for young people. Minister of Education Fayval Williams proudly launched the initiative recently.
Tourism: It must have taken a terrible blow from the Instagram ramblings of the JetBlue air stewardess (see “Social Media” above). Good Lord! It was the last thing our beleaguered tourism industry needed at the time.
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett is chairing a small Organization of American States (OAS) Working Group on tourism recovery post-pandemic. They have met three times so far. In his usual style (sprinkled with marketing jargon!) Minister Bartlett commented: “There are opportunities, notwithstanding the difference in operations and destinations, for synergies in effective science-based protocols that restore the safety, security and seamlessness in travel and stays for tourists.” Plus, he is engaged in a big marketing push for weddings and honeymoons in Jamaica. Is this the right time? But I am sure they know better than me!
Discover Jamaica by Bike is a cool new project, spearheaded by avid cyclist and businessman Dennis Chung. “This is certainly fulfilling the mission we have in conjunction with the Jamaica Tourist Board to show visitors and locals a better way to explore Jamaica while having fun and being healthy,” says Chung. I would just be rather nervous about the insane drivers, who don’t have much respect for cyclists.
It is always very painful to record the names of those who have lost their lives under violent circumstances. How could these killings be prevented? It is not about “catching the bad guys,” but the myriad underlying social issues are really hard to contemplate and untangle. Many of these deaths seem to have resulted from disputes, at bars, at parties, at home. My deepest condolences to the families of these men and women. Like the 19 people who have died from COVID-19 in the past seven days in Jamaica – these are people, not numbers. So many murders have taken place in Western Jamaica – especially the parishes of St. James and Hanover. Let us remember their humanity!
Sharon Cole, 61, was chopped to death, allegedly by her estranged partner, at a grocery store in Crooked River, Clarendon yesterday evening. Her alleged murderer is now in custody.
Keneisha Reid, a bartender in her 30s, was stabbed to death during a domestic dispute, allegedly by her boyfriend, in Cascade, St. Ann. And another woman’s body was found in bushes in Cambridge, Portland.
23-year-old Andrew Thomas was killed and a small child injured in a shootout in Featherbed Lane, near Spanish Town, on Sunday night. The police engaged in a shootout with the gunmen.
The bodies of Assistant Track Coach at Calabar High School Nicholas Neufville and Raheima Edwards, 19, were found on an open lot in Portmore, St. Catherine. The loss of Neufville has left the sporting sector in shock and he will be deeply missed.
An unidentified man was shot dead on William Street in Spanish Town, St. Catherine.
The police shot dead 24 year old Kaschief Douglas, when he “exited his vehicle with an illegal gun,” in Woodside, Clarendon during a spot check.
27-year-old Oroy Hines, otherwise called ‘Chubby’, a farmer of Lambs River district in Hanover, was shot and killed by armed men in his community last Friday evening.
Also in Hanover, 22-year-old Kishaun Treleven was shot dead while riding his motorcycle in Elgin Town, Lucea.
There was another murder in Hopewell, Hanover. A man known as “Chiney” was shot and killed at a bar party in the town.
In St. James, a 52-year-old mason, Audley Haughton, died in hospital after he was robbed and shot in Norwood.
In the same community, 37-year-old Kenroy Cox was stabbed to death and his cousin has been arrested and charged.
Marvin Holness, 35, was shot dead during an argument at a bar in Niagara, St. James.
28-year-old laborer Dwayne Galloway was shot and killed by men while working on a construction site in Grange Hill, Westmoreland.
In the same parish, a man has been arrested for the murder of 47-year-old Royston Waisome, who was stabbed to death on Valentine’s Day in Whitehouse.