ICYMI in Jamaica, February 23, 2021: The Martian Wind Edition

I would like us to go back to quiet, low key life on our island, where nothing much happens. The past week has not been in the least quiet or low-key. Crime and COVID-19 are running along hand in hand and picking up speed; and the Prime Minister seems to be busy with something else. There was a drama (possibly a storm in a teacup) regarding the security of our personal information. And – there’s more. We had a day or two when rain fell. And that was possibly the best thing that happened.

And against the backdrop of all this, we heard a lonely wind blowing on Planet Mars. A suitable soundtrack for the week.

NASA/AFP via Getty Images
This NASA photo released, Feb. 22, 2021, shows a panorama, taken on Feb. 20, 2021, by the Navigation Cameras, or Navcams, aboard NASAs Perseverance Mars rover, stitched together from six individual images after they were sent back to Earth.

Caribbean: 26 couples have registered same-sex civil partnerships in the Cayman Islands since September 2020 – a legal framework that is functionally equivalent to marriage. And their Nomination Day for general elections is on March 1.

It seems there are still a lot of drugs out there in our waters. The U.S. Coast Guard, during an extended joint operation in collaboration with the Colombian Navy, reportedly seized large quantities of narcotics: 980 kilograms of cocaine and 1,600 pounds of marijuana, with an estimated street value of US$40 million, and made some arrests. The “shiprider agreement” between the U.S. and Jamaican governments has long sparked controversy, but is still in action in helping to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing (oh, and drug trafficking, too) in the South Atlantic, including the Caribbean in collaboration with the Guyanese military.  

Yellow tape all over town (and country).

Crime: Curfews notwithstanding, Jamaica has surpassed 200 murders in the first 52 days of this year – a 6 percent increase over the same period in 2020. Shootings are also up by 9 percent. I can’t think of anything to say at this point. However, fellow blogger Zaheer Clarke tweeted succinctly: #CrimeIsTheRealPandemic

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has been busy around Spanish Town, and has announced the arrests of three young men, allegedly members of the Bed Bugs Gang. Yes, I kid you not – that is the name of the gang. One of those arrested was only 16 years old.

Meanwhile, I was glad to see that someone was arrested and charged in the horrible mob killing of 45-year-old Jerome Hendricks, a former ship worker, who was killed in Silent Hill, Manchester on February 8. He died in hospital on February 16. Very often, these awful killings still happen from time to time, mainly in rural areas, go unpunished and no one is arrested.

Lotto scamming has been an ongoing plague. It has caused untold suffering and many deaths (if you count the associated murders and mayhem over here, not to mention the overseas residents who have been duped out of their hard-earned savings). I am puzzled that two scammers who pleaded guilty received non-custodial sentences and relatively light fines in a St. James court recently.

Maluma talks about his Jamaican project.

Culture: If you like something with a Latin flavor, look no further than cute Colombian singer Maluma’s recent Jamaican excursions in a series of videos. I am not a “music video fan” – but enjoyed the rhythms, the beautiful people, and the gorgeous backdrop of Jamaica. “7 Dias en Jamaica” is certainly an amazing showcase for its current culture and for the place itself. I enjoyed Ziggy Marley doing a bit of dancehall, and a smoochy love song with a model named Davina Bennett (lots of lovely Portland venues in that one).

Meanwhile, the flowering of brilliant murals in downtown Kingston continues to unfold, courtesy of Kingston Creative. I wrote about the project on Water Lane, now completed, for Global Voices here.

Jasmine Dean.

Where is Jasmine Dean? Nationwide News Network has produced a documentary to be launched on the first anniversary of the University student’s disappearance, on Saturday, February 27 at 6:00 p.m. on the station’s YouTube channel.

Education: Christel House School has opened in Jamaica, with Custos of Manchester Hon. Sally Porteous very much involved. It’s one of an international group of schools and is designed to help the most vulnerable children in underserved communities in St. Catherine (Jamaica) have a free, safe and healthy education. They are requesting donations; support them!

“Breaking the cycle of poverty is the only way to unleash human potential and to build better societies.  We are thrilled to bring a Christel House to Jamaica and we thank the Ministry of Education for its support and belief in our model and our mission.”– Christel DeHaan, Founder, Christel House International

The very able and articulate Principal of Ardenne High School in Kingston, Nadine Molloy, gives a good overview of the issues surrounding COVID-19 in education, here.

Health: With the rapidly growing numbers of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, and accompanying pressure on bed space in some hospitals, there is a great sense of unease. What is more, workplaces around the city have cases popping up all over – yet are still open. I still believe that weeks ago, the Prime Minister should have encouraged businesses to have at least some of their employees work from home, wherever possible. Head of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce Janet Silvera seems to share my view. I know of a law firm, where cases are increasing but people are still going into work. And then there is public transport. Not every employee is fortunate enough to own a car; taxis and buses are very dubious modes of transport. I see cab drivers without masks on a daily basis. Then outbreaks in prisons and lock-ups continue: An inmate at the South Camp Adult Correctional Centre who had tested positive for #COVID19 has died in hospital. Forty-three inmates and 16 staff at the facility have tested positive for the virus. There have also been problems in police lock-ups in St. James.

In terms of educational institutions, Yallahs High School has suspended face-to-face classes for the second time due to some positive cases among staff and students.

Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton wrote a piece for the Gleaner headlined “Now is when Jamaicans need to fight COVID-19.” He urges the Jamaican populace to follow COVID-19 protocols, and for churches and community groups to get on board. Of course, this should have been happening months ago; people are not following protocols, wearing masks or social distancing, and large gatherings in bars, churches and at illegal parties continue unabated! The repeated pleas and moral suasion have not worked for quite some time now. And please don’t tell me “people are tired of COVID.” I am tired of those people!

Lockdown or not? Or just greater enforcement of COVID protocols – and sanctions? There appears to be excessive pressure from the private sector (including the Small Business Association of Jamaica) to keep the economy running, which is quite understandable. However, can you run an economy on sick and dying people?

Miss Kitty (Khadine Hylton) is doing an excellent job so far, sitting in for Cliff Hughes on the radio.

Housing: In my last post I expressed discomfort at the violent destruction of homes on the Innswood Estate in St. Catherine by people who were feeling a little “power” and wanted to exert it. And it was still very wrong. However, the story behind the evicted former sugar workers was thoroughly, and deftly put into perspective on Nationwide’s morning talk show hosted by “Miss Kitty” (Khadine Hylton) while Cliff Hughes takes a break. All is not what it seems.

Human Rights: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has ruled that Jamaica is in violation of international law over LGBT rights and is urging the repeal of homophobic laws, according to the UK-based Human Dignity Trust. The decision was made on 28 September 2019 but remained strictly confidential under their orders until this week. The Trust, which brought the case before the Commission in 2011, says it is a crucial and precedent setting legal victory. The Jamaican claimants in the case were Gareth Henry, a gay man living as a refugee in Canada, and Simone Edwards, a lesbian who was also forced to flee the country home in Jamaica. Back home in Jamaica, hardly anyone commented on the report.

People: Mr. Ewart Beckford, OD – better known as the much-loved “Daddy” U-Roy – passed away on February 17 in Kingston. I shared a few of my thoughts on his enduring legacy here.

The new Chief of the Accompong Maroons, Richard Currie. (Photo: Twitter)

The new Chief of the Accompong Maroons, Richard Currie, is the youngest at age 40, and is causing quite a flutter among my female Twitter friends. Many are now claiming Maroon ancestry, having seen his photo, and making all kinds of admiring remarks. Yes, he’s on Twitter and his profile says: Chief for The Sovereign State of Accompong. Head of State. Defender of the 1738 Treaty of Peace & Friendship. He has all sorts of plans.

We lost two wonderful women in business in the past week. Stephanie Scott, a former Montessori teacher turned events management entrepreneur, who created Restaurant Week, passed away following a car crash on Ash Wednesday near Duncans in Trelawny. She was the only passenger in the vehicle and was preparing to spend the long weekend with friends. She was 65. What a tragedy!

Greta Bogues: A woman rich in wisdom experience and with so much to contribute.

Then on Saturday evening we lost a stalwart of the private sector, Greta Bogues, at age 62. She was not only an astute speaker and mentor on all kinds of corporate governance issues; she was also the first woman Executive Director of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ). A kind and generous person, she will be deeply missed.

Politics: It was the State Opening of Parliament on February 18, and the Governor General read out the Throne Speech outlining the current administration’s plans and policies for the upcoming year. The theme hit an optimistic, determined note:“Building Forward…Stronger Together.” This was after the ceremonial stuff on Duke Street, when all the Members walked down the street in their finery, and tweeted photos of themselves in their best suits and hats.

Minister Pearnel Charles Jr. tweeted a photo of himself with four woman Members of Parliament at the State Opening on February 18. The only one I recognize (sorry!) is Ann-Marie Vaz (2nd left). It’s a bit difficult with the masks, although they are pretty, too.

Road Safety and Transportation: 38-year-old Simone Belgrave, a Canadian citizen, was killed when riding as a pillion on a motorbike in Colerain, St. Mary, which crashed into a tree.

Sports: The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), in the middle of a pandemic, last month took it upon themselves to organize an unauthorized football camp. The aftermath of this was – yes, you have guessed it – some participants testing positive for COVID-19. Needless to say, Sports Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange is none too pleased. She set the JFF and Professional Football Jamaica Limited straight at a recent meeting and it appears that football is totally on the back burner for now.

In light of this, many of us were surprised to see a video pop up on social media of the 2021 Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run, with around 100 participants in person on Saturday morning. Digicel Foundation held a virtual run late last year, which seemed mightily sensible and enabled more participants to run “virtually” at home or in their favorite exercise spots – safely. However, for some reason there was an “invitational” Sigma Run (usually the biggest charity run of the year) in the middle of Kingston for special people, besides online efforts. Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie said all COVID-19 protocols were observed, but I certainly saw some participants without masks before the race, on the video. I am disappointed that this happened – but the Run did raise J$42 million for three beneficiaries. I hope there will be no resulting COVID cases from the ill-considered event.

But it was in a good cause…

Technology: On an otherwise peaceful Ash Wednesday, a bit of a bombshell dropped into my email under my Google Alerts. It was a report from the San Francisco-based technology news site TechCrunch. According to tweets by the security editor at the site, Zack Whitaker, he was writing a story on COVID-19 apps when he discovered that the data of thousands of applicants on Jamaica’s jamcovid website had apparently been exposed for a few days. He immediately found the provider of the software, the Amber Group, and contacted the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Whitaker has since done some more Twitter threads – including sharing a new report that security at the website was breached, again. Oh, good Lord! Really? However, Amber Group says this second allegation is not true – and in a statement said it was consulting with its legal team.

The Managing Director of Amber Group also has a meditation and wellness

At Thursday night’s press briefing, Minister Tufton passed the buck (sorry but that’s how it appeared to me) to the Ministry of National Security, which now says it has initiated a criminal investigation into the breach. Interestingly, the Amber Group launched a “Coding Academy” in partnership with the Government’s training agency, with much fanfare, just a few weeks ago. The company told the media: “We are confident this was a completely isolated occurrence.” On radio, Senator Matthew Samuda, Junior Minister in the National Security Ministry, said around 700 people (not the suggested 400,000) were contacted regarding a possible breach, via email. His response did not go down well with Mr. Whitaker, who broke the story. Will there be law suits? What are the likely repercussions? My feeling is that this has been dealt with in a careless matter, allowing questions, doubts and more questions to accumulate in social media. A thorough press briefing is in order, to clear the air. It should have been cleared last week.

Meanwhile, as of Monday evening, the crickets are still chirping loudly in the Ministry of National Security. And doubts are now being sown over the public’s take-up of the controversial National ID System (NIDS).

Tourism: The Holiday Inn in Montego Bay has announced its temporary closure for the next four months, due to COVID-19. This will no doubt result in hundreds of jobs lost. The hotel plans to reopen on June 13, 2021. I honestly don’t know how some of the larger hotels are managing to keep going.

It strikes me that the above-mentioned data breach, our soaring COVID-19 numbers and lack of vaccines will not be very encouraging to travelers wishing to visit our shores. Not to mention our crime rate…

And the long list of those who lost their lives violently continues. My deepest condolences to all the families and friends. This may not include everyone, but my sympathies are with all those who mourn their loss.

Jerome Hilton, a spiritual leader, was shot dead at his home in Jointwood, St. Elizabeth.

A deejay/selector by the nickname “Slaughtatone” (real name Cleon Jones) was shot dead while driving in an open-top car off Molynes Road in Kingston. He was apparently visiting from Atlanta, Georgia.

An unidentified man was shot dead in a car on Slipe Road in Kingston.

22-year-old Anthony Smith was shot dead and two others wounded at Kidd Lane, Kingston 13. They were engaged in construction work on a building at the time.

Thirty-three-year-old Mosiah Anderson, a farmer of Westphalia district, Mavis Bank, St Andrew, was fatally shot by a licensed firearm holder after Anderson allegedly attacked him with a machete.

44-year-old Vincent Simpson, a shop operator, and Josiah Linton were shot dead in Race Track, on the outskirts of May Pen in Clarendon.

Mob killings are horrific events, but they still take place. An alleged robber was beaten to death in Harbour Street, Montego Bay.

An unnamed woman is in custody for the murder of Marvin Watson, 36, in Waterford, St. Catherine, who was reportedly her ex-boyfriend. During an altercation, she stabbed him to death at her home. His aunt reportedly said: “Him is very ignorant and dark. She is really tired of him. Him beat her a lot.”

Leabert Piper, a vendor, was shot and killed in Philadelphia, St. Ann on Saturday evening. He was a murder suspect in the killing of a Chinese businessman in Brown’s Town in 2018 and was out on bail.

62-year-old Gladston Morris was found strangled to death at his home in Bethel Town, Westmoreland.

Also in Westmoreland, 27-year-old Elroy Brown was allegedly shot and his house burned down in Mount Stewart District.

In Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland, 34-year-old Romain McNeish was shot dead outside his house.

My condolences to the family of Mr. Maurice Clarke, especially his partner Jacqkuelyn Watson. (Photo: Gleaner)

66-year-old Maurice Clarke, who ran a car wash business, and 19-year-old Nicardo Miller were shot and killed at Inswood Estate, Spanish Town, St. Catherine on Saturday evening while talking at Mr. Clarke’s gate.

24-year-old Akeem Williams was shot and killed as he sat at his gate in Salt Spring, Hanover.

A 17-year-old student was shot dead and his brother was injured during an attack on their home in Lucea, Hanover.

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