Jamaica Update, July 27, 2021: Insults hurled, apologies not proffered, and COVID-19 fraying nerves

The problem-plagued Olympic Games in Tokyo finally got under way, and has proved a helpful distraction for Jamaicans fretting about COVID-19 and everything else. And we had some soothing rain – although it has been a contentious week, with insults flying here, there, and everywhere. Oh, and on a personal note…our roof is still leaking. And, as I have noted in previous posts, COVID “tun up.”

Caribbean: Some exciting political news. Firstly, in Saint Lucia there was an upheaval at the July 26 general elections. The somewhat conservative Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, a former Tourism Minister, was soundly defeated after five years in office and the new Prime Minister is former Opposition Leader Philip J. Pierre, leader of the Saint Lucia Labour Party. Chastanet’s United Workers Party won only two seats (he held on to his own), and interestingly two Independent candidates won seats. He made a gracious concession speech.

In Barbados, Prime Minister Mia Mottley says the island’s transition to a parliamentary Republic will take place on Nov 30 2021 – Independence Day. The President will also be sworn in on this day and will be elected via an electoral college of both Houses of Parliament. So, out with the Queen! Many on social media are clapping and cheering. So long as it benefits the Barbadian people and improves their lot, rather than for personal or short term political gain, I am all for it.

In Cuba, Jamaican students told Nationwide News Network they are hungry, and that they need more support from their Government in getting food packages to them. There are food shortages. Mexico has shipped some aid to the island, which is an amazing gesture.

Children’s Rights: A mother has been charged with “pimping out” – in other words, trafficking – her own 14-year-old daughter to a 57-year-old man. She received money and goods in return. He is out on bail, she is on child trafficking charges and remains in custody.

There is a lot of concern (as always) about children working, and in some cases living on the street. Nothing much seems to change, however. Nevertheless, this young man who once worked as a windscreen wiper somehow managed to turn his life around, thanks to the HOPE Programme. “Yuh affi firm,” he says: stay strong. This is another positive and well written story in the Jamaica Star, our daily afternoon tabloid, which has been producing some nice journalism of late.

Corruption and Transparency: Finance Minister Nigel Clarke disclosed in Parliament that the Airports Authority of Jamaica had breached regulations when it invested in a rather new private company, First Rock Capital Holdings, without permission from his Ministry. However, as usual all is not what it seems. A report in the Jamaica Gleaner on this matter turned out to be erroneous; its retraction (or rather, correction) was in today’s newspaper. This all seems rather unfortunate.

The Integrity Commission published the financials of former Opposition Leader Peter Phillips and his family recently, in accordance with the law.

A past Dream Weekend. The promoters have assured that “all protocols will be observed.” What about numbers? (Photo: Twitter)

COVID-19: The “recrafted” measures (up to August 11) announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on July 26 have been received without too much uproar; the numbers have been rising rapidly, and people were expecting tighter measures.

The “Dream Weekend party marathon planned for the national holiday weekend has already been rescheduled to earlier hours but will still go on. I learned that seventy percent of the patrons of the annual event are from overseas. I am still concerned that we should be partying at all, however. Hotels in Negril, where it takes place, have been getting cancellations, in particular smaller establishments. Culture Minister Olivia Grange says party promoters are adjusting to the new regulations, which stipulate that “small events” should be at 50 percent capacity.

Meanwhile, the Spanish River Bridge in St. Mary was also “Party Central” last weekend – a very large crowd, no social distancing, or masks – and not for the first time.

You may remember the fiasco of deejay Elephant Man, who tried to cover up his travel itinerary when arriving at the airport in March 2020, just as COVID-19 was getting started. He avoided mentioning that he had visited Germany! Well, he appeared in court and had his bail extended this week, on immigration charges.

Condolences to the family of Dane Sortie and his father, who died of COVID complications. (Photo: RJR News)

COVID-19 cases in Westmoreland seem to be rising rapidly. Now a music producer, Dane Sortie, has died of COVID complications, not long after his father reportedly also died from the virus.

Culture: Minister Olivia Grange has announced that Jamaica will soon be embarking on a joint project with the Government of Costa Rica on a Marcus Garvey project: to rehabilitate Garvey’s Freedom House in Limón, Costa Rica. The two countries have just celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations.

Education: Seventy percent of teachers are not yet vaccinated. “The signs are not looking good” for face-to-face classes at the beginning of the school year, says Jamaica Teachers Association head Jasford Gabriel. In response to a question at yesterday evening’s press briefing, the Prime Minister also hinted that teachers who are not vaccinated may be treated differently than those who are. It’s under discussion. Once more vaccines are here, the “vaccinated vs unvaccinated” issue will become a more pressing and quite possibly contentious matter, I believe.

Human Rights: A young man who posted a viral video, filled with “bleeps,” hurling insults at Prime Minister Andrew Holness, was actually arrested for an earlier break-in incident, the police say. However, he was subsequently ordered to apologize for his “bad wuds” disrespecting the Prime Minister in the police station, and his apology was also recorded, suggesting that perhaps his outburst was the reason for his arrest? Surely this must be a freedom of speech issue. One recalls that another young man who “dissed” the Prime Minister in a viral video (last year?) was hauled out from under his bed, arrested and made to apologize publicly on video.

There is a 19th century (!) law still on the books regarding using curse words. That is another thing… Should it be revisited? In a Twitter thread, the police went on the defensive, commenting:

The Constabulary would like to reiterate the fact that all citizens in our democratic society enjoy wide ranging rights and liberties, including freedom of speech. However, those rights and liberties come with responsibilities and implications.

De-Andrea and Kyle restock one of the cupboards on Lady Musgrave Road, Kingston. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

Hunger: Two kind Jamaicans have been setting up small cupboards with food items, for the needy to take. De-Andrea Jackson and Kyle Reynolds created “Free Likkle Cupboards” in several locations in Kingston and elsewhere. If you can spare some food items, please support De-Andrea and Kyle and donate.

Justice: The Jamaican Bar Association wants more public consultations on two pieces of legislation now before Parliament, which would give prosecutors a limited right of appeal in criminal proceedings.

Minister Matthew Samuda says juvenile correctional centres are under-resourced. The recidivism rate is too high, he says (40 – 50%).

Then there is the strange and complex case of an alleged gang leader from Curaçao, Shurendy Quant, who was deported from Jamaica back in 2013… Peter Bunting, who was Minister of National Security at the time, had him deported, although the Supreme Court had ruled in Quant’s favor. Bunting is appealing the decision, which seems like flogging a dead horse.

Minister Matthew Samuda has a challenging task, in charge of correctional services (prisons)

Politics: Remember, amidst all the unpleasantness at the People’s National Party (PNP), two party activists had accused then Chair of the Party Dr. Dayton Campbell, of sexual misconduct. Dr. Campbell sued Karen Cross and Natalee Stack for defamation. They were fined $750,000 each in court for contempt of court after they failed to remove their accusations from their social media. Ms. Cross says she cannot pay the fine.

At the opening of a business outsourcing centre (BPO) in Portmore, the Prime Minister hinted again at the possibility of the municipality and ever-expanding dormitory town near Kingston becoming a parish. I may be a little suspicious but wonder if there are political motives. Portmore has always been somewhat dominated by the PNP. But if it did become another parish, it would surely need to have proper facilities – a hospital, perhaps? – as it has always seemed to be little more than a glorified housing scheme since the first building started there. I am not convinced.

As mentioned last week, there are some “new” (and most unimpressive in my view) candidates for Vice President of the PNP, after the resignation of three VPs. Two of these candidates, Ian Hayles and Richard Azan, made some extremely unpleasant, boorish comments on the political platform over the weekend about a Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament, Rhoda May Crawford – a hard-working young woman, who unseated the ambitious Peter Bunting in a major upset at the last general elections. To their great credit, the PNP Women’s Movement (which has been somewhat dormant but is now headed by Patricia Duncan Sutherland) issued a statement condemning the remarks. Sutherland’s colleague Lisa Hanna has also come on board, in solidarity. It’s a good look, ladies! (Meanwhile, Mr. Azan claimed he had no knowledge of the women’s movement, and hung up during an interview with Nationwide News Network!)

How about an apology?

Rhoda May Crawford (foreground) was fiercely championed by fellow Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament Ann-Marie Vaz – in the background on the truck. (Photo: Twitter)

Tourism: Despite all the stress of COVID-19 and crime, Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett continues to trot out glowing figures on the apparent rebound in tourism. He expects over a million visitors generating US$1.5 million in earnings, by the end of August. Always a man who loves words, he says “nimbleness” is required, as well as the ability to “pivot.” He also conceded, like Health & Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton, that the dreaded Delta variant is likely already in Jamaica.

Transportation and Road Safety: The situation with road crashes and road fatalities is not getting any better. Two young party promoters were killed in a car crash in downtown Kingston.

A taxi driver was killed in a crash in Port Maria, St. Mary – several others were injured. He collided with a tow truck, which tried to avoid the taxi – but he was on the wrong side of the road, said the driver.

Speeding is a huge problem on this stretch of road. Two hotel workers were killed in this crash near Ironshore, St. James. (Photo: RJR)

Two hotel workers were killed on the main road near Ironshore, St. James (always a race track) early on Monday morning, when they collided with another vehicle.

So many families, friends and colleagues are mourning the loss of those who have died violently in the past week. Our murder rate remains “unacceptably high.” And yet…we have accepted it. These are not numbers. They are people.

Two brothers were among three persons killed at Park Lane in Kingston on Sunday evening. The names are 29-year-old Kemonie White, 27 year-old Rushane White and 27-year-old Alex Henry. Long-time Member of Parliament Karl Samuda expressed disappointment that the relative peace in the area had been destroyed. Four others were injured. Some residents have moved out.

31-year-old Stephen Francis, a construction worker, was shot dead on Rodney Road in Whitfield Road, Kingston.

Careen McCallum, a cook, aged 47, was shot dead on Grants Pen Drive in Kingston when a gunmen opened fire on a group of people.

A 16-year-old, Kealon Watson, was shot dead at an apartment in Majesty Gardens, Kingston.

Farmer 32-year-old Alex Morgan was shot dead while working at his farm in Haughton, St. Elizabeth.

“She nuh deserve this”… the daughter of 60-year-old farmer Cynthia Hinds grieves. (Photo: Jamaica Star)

A 60-year-old farmer, Cynthia Hinds, was found dead with chop wounds in a burning hut at her farm in St. Margaret’s Bay, Portland. A man has been taken into custody. So horrible.

Junior Ferguson, 23, was shot dead after being chased onto a football field in Lime Hall, St. Ann. There has been a 35% dip in homicides in the parish this year, although there are a couple of “hot spots.” However, some crimes (burglaries etc) have increased.

A 44-year-old pastor at the Church of God of the Mountain Assembly Garnett Foster, was stabbed to death at his home in Petersfield, Westmoreland. His 17-year-old son has been taken in for questioning. Minister Foster was especially involved in online education for children and helping to guide and motivate young people.

Also in Westmoreland, Sheldon Kilbourne, a 41 year-old businessman and owner of Cave Block Factory, was shot dead while at work.

The Liberty Hall in Puerto Limón, Costa Rica, where Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Liner campaign began. (Photo: Irie Magazine)

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