Jamaica Update, September 13, 2021: Putting that awful August well behind us

It was an awful August, truly. Ten days in, the month had already got the thumbs down from me on many counts. The predictable but still shocking report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was one thing. Then there are the relentlessly soaring COVID-19 numbers, reflected in the tired faces of Minister Christopher Tufton and our Chief Medical Officer. The Emancipation/Independence holiday week was quiet for us at home – but hey, over in our tourist resorts there was lots of lively fun (social distancing anyone?) Dream Weekend in Negril (five days of intense partying) has been renamed by some “Nightmare Weekend”… Do drunken partygoers and a third wave of COVID-19 mix well? I think not, and now we have cruise ships arriving in St. Ann – one of the parishes worst hit by the pandemic.

And vaccine hesitancy is all the rage. A man stole an igloo used for storing vaccines, and started tearing apart the ice packs inside. “This is what they are injecting us with!” he ranted in a video that “went viral.” Yes… Things have been that bad.

We also had brushes with two rather unpleasant women: Grace and Ida – Tropical Storms that became stronger after they left us, but deposited enormous amounts of rain. There was flooding and landslides – including a huge one on our favorite walk in the Blue Mountains, not yet cleared. Oh, and there was the crime, as we approach 1,000 murders this year to date. Yes, a thousand.

The enormous landslide, where a large chunk of the mountain at Hardwar Gap (just past Newcastle) came down. The road has still not been cleared. This just about sums up the past few weeks in Jamaica – “everything crash” as they used to say.

And the Olympics are a rapidly fading memory…although some of the Diamond League events following have provided excitement for those searching for the positives and a bit of patriotic fervor. Our athletes did well, and we are thankful for that. On the football front, my team is doing abysmally so far.

Meanwhile, 2021 is relentless. In terms of crime and COVID-19 in particular, September is looking pretty sad. Plus, there is a “system” out there in the Atlantic…

That red sausage-like creature (a tropical wave) looks a little menacing this evening. Graphic from the National Hurricane Center.

Here are a few updates from August – I have highlighted the links.

Caribbean: Perhaps under pressure after recent protests and ongoing economic struggles, Cuba has legalized small and medium sized businesses. It seems a positive step in the right direction. Meanwhile it is battling a huge wave of COVID-19, with 86 deaths in 24 hours recently – reportedly a new high. I find this puzzling as their vaccination rate is quite high – maybe I am missing something here. They are also now vaccinating younger children.

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Bahamas is holding its general elections on Thursday, September 16. Former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding is heading a Commonwealth observer mission there.

Guyana has strongly rejected an “accord” (signed recently by Venezuela’s Maduro regime and the Opposition in Mexico) claiming an “inalienable right” to territory in the Essequibo region – which happens to be rather rich in a certain substance called oil. “The controversy between Guyana and Venezuela is properly before the International Court of Justice and will remain there for peaceful resolution,” say the Guyanese.

Haiti is still mired in fearful political intrigue and the investigations into the assassination of Prime Minister Jovenel Moïse are growing murkier. Miami Herald reporter Jacquie Charles describes it as a “whodunnit.” And then, half way through this horrible month, there was the disastrous August 14 earthquake, as if Haiti could take any more. Over 2,200 Haitians died, and many are still missing. Meanwhile, gangs have gone into overdrive.

FILE – In this July 26, 2021 file photo, a member of the gang led by Jimmy Cherizier, alias Barbecue, a former police officer who heads a gang coalition known as “G9 Family and Allies,¨ joins a march to demand justice for slain Haitian President Jovenel in Lower Delmas, a district of Port-au- Prince, Haiti. Haiti’s government warned Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, about a spike in kidnappings and other crimes as it pledged to fight gangs that in response to the looming crackdown are threatening police with greater violence as the country braces for more instability. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn, File)

And high drama in the smaller islands! In St. Vincent, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on the eve of his 75th birthday, was walking towards the Parliament building when he was hit on the head by a stone hurled by one of a crowd of protesters outside. A middle-aged vendor has been charged with the stone-throwing, but declares her innocence. It has all stirred up some political aggravation too – Opposition Leader Godwin Friday (what an awesome name!) is unhappy at alleged police raids on supporters. After recovering, @ComradeRalph did a parade, declaring “I’m still alive.”

What were the good citizens of St. Vincent protesting? Why, proposed laws to make COVID vaccination mandatory. This same issue got the usually well-behaved citizens of Barbados equally riled up. They also marched against proposed legislation to have government employees vaccinated. They want their “freedom” (to infect others) and their rights (to get sick and die). Those who are vaccinated are not, meanwhile, allowed such luxury, and have to stay home or continue to wear masks. Meanwhile, we have had anti-vax demonstrations in Kingston and elsewhere, apparently organized by “Jamaica’s third political party” and one or two evangelical churches. As President Biden said recently, this is turning into a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” But hey – freedom of expression.

Antigua and Barbuda brought out the big guns for the protest on mandatory vaccines. A little over the top. (Photo: Antigua Observer)

And then, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne made a big show of “cutting short” his holiday in Saint Lucia to go and deal with naughty protesters (Freedom Fighters for Antigua & Barbuda) who also want their freedom and say they did in fact write to request permission for their march. The response seems heavy-handed. Two women were arrested for participating and more arrests are expected.

Also in Antigua, Sir Lester Bird – a member of the Bird dynasty that dominated the islands’ politics for decades and A&B’s second Prime Minister from 1994 to 2004 – passed away age 83.

Climate Change: As COP 26 (the UN Climate Conference set for November in Glasgow) steadily approaches, the Climate Action Network is calling for it to be postponed. Many representatives from developing countries will simply not be able to attend, the Network says, due to the high cost of travel and COVID-19 restrictions.

COVID-19: The situation has been deeply depressing. As we prepared for another in the series of three-day lockdowns, we had to put up with reports of anti-vax demonstrations. Nevertheless, we are vaccinating like crazy. All hands on deck. I plan to give a recap of some COVID-19 news and information from last week’s extensive press briefing by the Ministry of Health and Wellness shortly.

Education: Minister Fayval Williams put a brave face on it and gave the traditional back-to-school address before school reopened – virtually – on September 6. But the future looks uncertain. Unless a significantly higher number of students gets vaccinated, it is going to be hard to move on to face-to-face schooling. A disturbingly high estimated number of children actually were unable to go online in the past academic year – as many as 120,000. This means they were not learning at all. Teachers are extremely worried that they are losing students, and will lose more. Meanwhile, the Minister is playing it by ear and will see how things look at the end of month. Really, what more can she do? I empathize with her, with the teachers, parents – and especially, the children. It’s rough!

Minister Williams said the first day or two would be for the students “to get in touch with their emotions” and share with each other and their teachers. She understands the stress and strain on the students. However, connectivity remains a huge problem! Especially in certain rural parishes. The Minister said that (greater) efforts to roll out a broadband system will take place throughout the school year. NB Minister Williams also talks about introducing specialist teachers at primary level – an excellent idea. Meanwhile, it’s time to “play it by ear,” it seems.

The young woman whose locks were allegedly cut at a police station, and her mother.

Human Rights: The Rastafarian community is still upset and asking questions about the cutting of a young woman’s dreadlocks at a police station in Four Paths, Clarendon, where they staged a protest. Meanwhile, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) reports that it has been making enquiries and will be talking to police officers next. This all might take a while, it seems. That media-loving young lawyer, Isat Buchanan, says it will soon be resolved.

Immigration: A planned deportee flight from the UK to Jamaica was postponed amid all kinds of complications – COVID-related and otherwise. Eventually, seven Jamaicans were deported, out of the planned 90. The hard-line UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is determined to get rid of as many immigrants as possible.

Tourism: It seems things aren’t quite as perfect as we had assumed in the so-called “resilient corridor.” A reported “cluster” of COVID-19 at Hedonism II has been strongly refuted by the all-inclusive in Negril as greatly exaggerated. Over the past two weeks, more than 1,300 guests and 200 staff were tested, the hotel notes, and the overall positivity rate was less than two per cent.

And a Carnival cruise ship with 1,700 passengers arrived in Ocho Rios today (September 13th) – a “no movement day.” The news got very mixed reviews from Jamaicans on social media. We are told that all the passengers were fully vaccinated and had presented negative test results prior to boarding the ship. Moreover, some attractions were opened for the benefit of the tourists. Once again, craft vendors who were sidelined were angry, having struggled to get to the cruise ship port to find no buyers. I don’t understand why communication on such matters seems so poor, as this has happened before. However, it must be said that cruise ship schedules are planned and signed off on many months ahead.

While tourism’s amiable marketing man Delano Seiveright does his best to explain that protocols are strictly observed, there are still mutterings about the “two Jamaicas” – the tourism bubble and the rest of us. A tweet from an American anti-vaxxer a few days ago didn’t help (and made me furious): There’s a choice, he tweeted – get vaxxed or go on holiday to Jamaica. Yes, we welcome the unvaccinated with open arms here in Jamaica! Trumpist Florida anti-vaxxers, the doors are open for you! What an insult, how hurtful for those who are sick and dying right here in Jamaica.

This sweet girl, Sajeana Caine, age 14, was killed in a car crash in Downs, Manchester along with her father and another relative.

Transportation and Road Safety: The number of road crashes continues to soar. SIX people were killed in crashes on the Independence Day holiday (August 6) – two after curfew hours. Two were teenagers, aged 18 and 14, on a motorbike. Three family members also died driving home on that day.

Since the start of the year 290 lives have been lost – an increase of 13 percent over last year. There seems to be no sense of a crisis, although our driver seem to have gone mad. Is it drink? Is it the hot weather? Is it COVID? Many crashes are taking place inside curfew hours. Despite all the training efforts of the National Road Safety Council in western Jamaica, someone commented on Twitter that they saw 72 (!) motorbikes in Negril in one day, and not one of them was wearing a helmet. It has become a whole lifestyle.

Murders across the island continue to move inexorably upwards. Now they are up by eight per cent compared to the same period in 2020 – as of September 11, an appalling 991 murders and counting, which is around a 10 percent increase over last year’s horrors. The numbers are deeply shocking; the stories behind these deaths are often senseless, distressing – and always sad. These are people, not statistics. My condolences to all who are grieving the loss of these men, women – and children.

Nine murders actually took place on Sunday, September 12 – a “no movement” day. Eleven people were murdered in one day – last Friday, September 10. Many of these killings take place in broad daylight, by the way.

Here are just some of the murders that have taken place over the last few weeks:

Two men, including an alleged gangster named “Bun Down,” were killed on the outskirts of Coronation Market in West Kingston last Friday. Two men from Matthews Lane were shot dead a few hours later downtown.

In Harbour View, Kingston, there was a huge traffic build-up on the main route to the airport, after two men were shot dead on the Sir Florizel Glasspole Highway, Bayshore Park on a Friday afternoon.

Four family members were shot dead in Havana Heights in Denbigh, Clarendon, on the eve of our current lockdown: 33-year-old Tashana Whyte and her 25-year-old sister Sherona Whyte; Luke Newman, a 19-year-old chef; and Michael Salmon, a 25-year old construction worker.

Also in Clarendon, 47-year-old Cleverton Brown and Beverley Pinnock, both of the Gayle Housing Scheme, Lionel Town, Clarendon, were sitting in their yard when they were shot dead in a drive-by shooting.

37-year-old Glendon Sterling, otherwise called ‘Buss’ was shot dead by gunmen at a bar in Charles Town, St. Ann’s Bay on Tuesday evening.

In Oracabessa, St. Mary, a 47-year-old woman was shot dead at her home in front of her eleven-year-old daughter. She was a supervisor at the Bashco Trading Company in Ocho Rios, St. Ann and apparently a lovely salesperson.

Western Jamaica is maintaining its high murder rate. 34-year-old Orayon Williams (said to be a “top tier gangster” from Granville) was shot dead in the Fairfield shopping area in Montego Bay, in broad daylight (as is often the case these days). The three parishes of St. James, Hanover, and Westmoreland now account for 194 murders this year – an astonishing 44 percent increase over 2020.

Delisha Fearon, 26, was murdered at home in Savannah Cross, Clarendon, in front of her 3 year old daughter. Her throat was cut. Apparently she was a quiet woman…

In Buckfield Ocho Rios, businessman Orville Grant was killed while visiting a friend’s house. Grant was the owner of the popular Whalers Seafood Restaurant. Employees are grieving.

Also in St. Ann, in the rural district of Benin, a 25-year-old man, Daniel Campbell, has been charged with the murder of his 60 year-old mother Glascora.

A body found in Pusey Bush, Lauriston, St. Catherine was suspected to be that of labourer Sheldon Myles, who had gone missing a week earlier.

Gang warfare persists in several areas. Thirty-year-old Javon Marco-Grant, who has the awful nickname ‘Devil Man’, was shot dead in Hermitage, August Town.

Where’s the road?

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