What a week of upheaval and apprehension as Tropical Storm Elsa approached, seemingly setting her sights on us. In the end, she squeezed between our island and Hispaniola, dragging a huge bag of rain along with her. And as you know, Jamaica has just “reopened” and the Delta variant is on the horizon (or quite possibly already here). Another perfect storm on the way, perhaps?
Caribbean: Saint Lucia will hold general elections on July 26, Prime Minister Allen Chastenet announced.
I would recommend following the new-ish online media website, Our Today. There are all kinds of interesting stories, apart from the regular news. Here is a good one about a Montserrat-based entrepreneur who has recently published a book, Start, Grow, Thrive: Build a Business to Last.
Health issues seem to be very much in the news. This New York Times article focuses on the challenges faced by many U.S. graduates of Caribbean-based medical schools, such as St. George’s University in Grenada. I stayed in a student dorm there when BirdsCaribbean held its international conference on the campus – a lovely and well-equipped campus, indeed, but I believe the fees are quite high.
Climate Change: Alok Sharma, president for COP26 — the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference – paid a visit to Jamaica this week and held a press briefing at the UK High Commission. He is apparently the first overseas official to visit since COVID-19 restrictions began last year. The UK (Glasgow) will be hosting COP26.
COVID-19: The arrival of 65,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from Mexico spurred another “blitz” – scheduled for the weekend, but somewhat curtailed by Elsa’s arrival. Some vaccination centres seemed rather empty (only those over 50 who were ready for their second dose between 8 and 12 weeks were eligible) but reports suggest all went well. Vaccinations are on again today, as we pick up the pieces from Elsa and get back on track.
Crime: Is the Jamaica Constabulary Force reporting crime statistics differently, and if so why? Opposition Leader Mark Golding raised the issue recently, but the Prime Minister says there is “nothing to hide.” Our murder rate has passed the 700 mark, half way through the year – a five percent increase over 2020. The police have reported that between January 1 and July 1, 725 homicides have taken place – up from 689 for the same period in 2020. There have been a staggering 18 murders in the past six days.
An alleged gang leader has been charged for the murder of Lafine Bent in Trench Town.
Meanwhile in Central (downtown) Kingston the nightmare continues. Residents of Beeston Street were driven out of their homes, firstly by gunfire and then as their houses were set on fire. Prime Minister Andrew Holness says he is prepared to declare a State of Emergency in the area. Of course, that’s different from a ZOSO, now in operation in Norwood, St. James, where things have quietened down considerably. But what will it achieve, in the long or even medium term? It’s a band aid.
The National Crime Monitoring Oversight Committee is still not satisfied with the deliverables from the Government, in terms of legislation – two out of the seven items due by the end of June have advanced to the Committee’s satisfaction, said Chair Lloyd Distant. “The committee is absolutely concerned” about the prevalence of domestic violence, affecting women and children, he also noted.
Two American tourists were approached by armed masked men while horseback riding in Laughing Waters, St. Ann, in an attempted robbery. The gunmen ran away when an alarm was raised.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Jamaica seems quite focused on security issues. The Strengthening Human Resilience in Northern Clarendon and West Kingston Programme is a joint UN programme being implemented by five UN Agencies. UN representatives visited Clarendon communities recently: on the ground perspectives are extremely important.
Education: The mandatory National Summer School began on Monday, July 5, with some face-to-face learning for the first four weeks, and fully online thereafter. The Jamaica Teachers’ Association supports the program – but how many students will attend? There seemed to be teething pains as Summer School started, but hopefully things will improve as it goes on. Some 23,000 students are enrolled in online school.
Health: Junior doctors were upset over several career and pay-related issues. Thankfully, some of the concerns – including the issue of ridiculously short-term contracts issued by the South East Regional Health Authority – have been resolved. The Government has also agreed in writing to make outstanding gratuity payments by August of this year to doctors. These payments had been owed since 2014! The issue of the over 100 “recently unemployed doctors” (the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association’s words) has not been sorted out however, and this is a sticky one.
Human Rights: Residents are protesting the killing of 36-year-old Tashekia McLeod, who was shot dead by the police on Seaward Drive in Kingston. She reportedly approached the police with a knife. The story is confusing and there seem to be several missing elements. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is investigating.
INDECOM must be quite busy these days. A man with mental health issues who became “boisterous” and was smashing windows in Port Antonio, Portland, was shot by the police when he approached them with a machete and a stone.
Cases of child abuse appear almost daily in the news these days. I sense that this is because the police are taking the issue more seriously and prosecuting more. A 50-year-old man has been charged with the (repeated) rape of his eight-year-old stepdaughter. What goes on in these men’s heads?
On the positive side, however, ground was broken for the building of a new state-of-the-art therapeutic centre at Maxfield Park Children’s Home in Kingston. It will offer residential programmes as well as outpatient counseling services for children and their families. This is so, so needed. Hurry up and complete it please, and then make sure it is well-equipped and staffed!
Infrastructure: There was a major landslide near Lucea, Hanover. A small house perched on the edge, and the main road from Lucea to Montego Bay was impassable for most of Tuesday. And this was before the storm.
And then, there was Elsa. I wonder how some of our roads are doing – for example, the Gordon Town Road, which had completely collapsed. The enormous amount of work to fix it (basically to rebuild a mountainside) was half-way complete. Then there is the endless work in progress, the South Coast Highway. A television report pointed out that equipment and materials left there by the contractors washed down in the floods. We saw footage of residents desperately trying to clear the debris from the raging torrent beneath a bridge today. Not only careless, but inconsiderate of the plight of residents. They knew the storm was coming. Similarly, those living in Grants Pen, St. Thomas, believe the building of the Highway has not helped at all, and that China Harbour Engineering Company have started building and then left the community, leaving them to more flooding. But you know, these are just rural people with not much influence (or money)…
There was also a great deal of flooding in Old Harbour, St. Catherine.
We are counting the cost. The Prime Minister announced that around $800 million worth of repairs and restoration is needed. He has urged Members of Parliament to use up all the funds they have for drain clearing, etc. Additionally, thousands of farmers have suffered. Suddenly, we are focused on disaster preparedness; and of course, it is very early in what is predicted to be a busy hurricane season.
Meanwhile, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the Meteorological Service of Jamaica both came in for criticism at their low public profile, especially their lack of social media presence (which we have noted all along). They are trying, but we know that both government agencies are in a considerably weaker state than they were some ten or twenty years ago, when they would hold major press briefings before (and after) any major storm, and always kept us informed on preparedness. It is sad, but they are deeply under-resourced.
People: There are lots of people to talk about, but not much space. I must mention that the first black policewoman in the UK, Sislyn Fay Allen, passed away recently at her home in Ocho Rios at the age of 83.
Tourism: We now have a flight to Switzerland and welcomed some Swiss people. There are plans to build on Eurowings connections, with new air services in the pipeline, says Delano Seiveright, the tourism advisor. Diversifying in terms of tourism arrivals is the key (not only Americans, Brits and Canadians).
Youth: I am proud and pleased to see that Neville Charlton, who founded Youth Inspiring Positive Change some years ago and has been driven by the fierce spirit of volunteerism ever since, has received a grant from UNDP Jamaica to pursue peace-building activities in socially challenged communities. This work is so much needed. I wrote about Neville’s work five years ago for Global Voices.
The murder rate moves on, inexorably. I post this list of names (I am afraid there are several missing) to remind ourselves that these are not numbers – they are people. And also, so that I have the opportunity to extend my deep sympathies to the families and friends of all. Whether “good guys” or “bad guys” – we don’t do victim blaming. They are all victims. May they rest in peace.
Fitzroy Booth, 20, was shot dead in an attack on his home in Darliston, Westmoreland. A 17-year-old girl was raped during the attack.
A headless body (unidentified) was found in John’s Hall, St. James after the attack
56 year-old Marcia Stewart, a shopkeeper of Forty Acres in Orange Bay, Portland, was found dead with chop wounds and her house burned down.
Chadrick Dubibad, a 25-year-old vendor, was shot dead on Princess Street, Kingston by a licensed firearm holder.
Andrew Thompson otherwise called ‘Goblin’, who was listed as wanted on the JCF’s Wanted Wednesdays Campaign in May, was fatally shot by the police during a “targeted operation” in Franklyn Town this evening. A 9mm Pistol was recovered.
Corporal Devon Thomas, an off duty policeman, was shot dead at a bar in Papine, St Andrew on Friday, July 2.
50-year-old Ricardo “Ted” James was shot dead while sitting in front of a shop in Weise Road, Bull Bay. Three others were injured.
An unidentified man was shot dead in Granville, St. James.
24-year-old Ian ‘Tikki’ Reid and chef, 28-year-old Oshae Watson were shot dead in Rum Lane, downtown Kingston. A suspect in the murders has now been held. There have been 37 murders in the Central Kingston Division this year, a 48 percent increase over 2020.
67-year-old Lorraine Ming was shot dead at a bar in Windsor District, St. Ann.