With tropical storms pottering around in the Atlantic (two are called Peter and Rose, the names of our nephew and niece, respectively), it has been warm and muggy in Kingston. Clouds appear and do not bring rain. It has been a week of surprising developments – not least that of the toast to “No Movement Day” that stirred anger. Nikki Minaj’s scurrilous remarks and ridiculous allegations regarding her cousin’s friend in Trinidad may seem laughable, but they have done a great deal of harm – no doubt. How horribly embarrassing for Trinidadians. Tacky, to say the least! Generally though, it was a rather “political” week. And, of course, a week of crime – which I wrote about here for Global Voices – the endless crime wave that rivals our COVID-19 “third wave.”
Agriculture: The Caribbean Week of Agriculture launched on September 15. How can we strengthen agricultural systems to ensure food security and at the same time boost Caribbean economies? You can watch the virtual launch here on CARICOM’s Facebook page. Unfortunately, our own Agriculture Minister might not have been tuning in, since he was handing in his resignation (see below).
Caribbean: In Guyana there has been great anger and ongoing protests at the killing of a businessman by the police in the Essequibo Coast community.
Some Caribbean countries are now struggling with debt, as COVID continues to bite. Belize could close a unique environmentally-friendly debt restructuring deal, to buy back a $526.5 million bond at a discount with money provided by the Nature Conservancy’s blue bond financing program. As part of the deal, the government would fund a $23.4 million marine conservation trust that would help protect the world’s second-largest barrier reef. It would also enact “durable marine conservation efforts and sustainable marine-based economic activity.” Economist Marla Dukharan signaled the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago as the next two Caribbean countries expected to default on their sovereign debt, following defaults by Barbados and Suriname.
Cuba is seeking World Health Organization (WHO) approval for its two COVID-19 vaccines, Abdala and Soberana 02.
Corruption and Transparency: Our final three-day lockdown period ended abruptly on Tuesday evening – with a viral video and a huge wave of social media outrage. In the video, the popular Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Floyd Green was seen at a birthday party for his assistant Gabrielle Hylton, at the R Hotel in Kingston. It was a joyous affair, with champagne flowing and the party-going Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members sitting in close quarters, with only one reveler that I could see half-wearing a mask. The problem with all this was that it was a “No Movement Day,” as decreed by the Prime Minister – a measure which, as a Cabinet Minister, Green would have signed off on as part of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) measures to combat COVID-19. Toasts were made to No Movement Day, followed by cries of “Showa!” (a JLP salute). Also present was JLP Councilor for the Mona Division Andrew Bellamy, and the video is being examined for other breachers of the DRMA.
By midday the next day, Mr. Green had resigned (was he asked to resign or did he volunteer to?) He received so much praise from some quarters for this perhaps unusual and speedy response that it almost wiped out his transgression (I did mention that he is popular, a “good guy,” and a hard worker by all accounts). He posted a video on Twitter in which he appeared contrite. Mr. Bellamy and Ms. Hylton have since apologized, and resigned. One wonders whether charges will be proffered. Let’s not hold our breath!
This group of people were flagrantly using their privilege to get around COVID rules, while ordinary Jamaicans suffered from the lockdown – without employment, income or in many cases, food. I am not making excuses for the privileged ones. They all knew what they were doing. Moreover, Mr. Green and his friends have set the worst possible example, at a time when the Prime Minister and Health Minister in particular are beseeching the Jamaican public to follow the rules. It seems there is one set of rules for a certain group, and another set for all the rest. Mr. Green & Co. were unlucky that they got caught on video.
However, he won’t be left out in the cold. According to the Prime Minister, Mr. Green may be employed in other capacities. I see. The Prime Minister also said that Jamaicans are naturally inclined to “forgive,” because it’s our “culture,” but that there is a “new” mood of accountability, now. Right.
Meanwhile, 21 people were arrested under the Disaster Risk Management Act in Hellshire, St. Catherine. They didn’t get a chance to issue an apology. They were just picked up and charged.
So, Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Audley Shaw (“Man a Yaad” as he is affectionately called) has assumed responsibility for Mr. Green’s important Agriculture and Fisheries portfolio. The amiable veteran politician has not had very good health in recent years. I hope he can manage. A little reshuffle may be in order, at some point. The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) believes a new Agriculture Minister should be appointed soon; could it be the Prime Minister’s wife, Juliet Holness, MP, who is working on several agricultural projects in her rural constituency?
Now, why are former Education Minister Ruel Reid and former President of the Caribbean Maritime University Fritz Pinnock still being paid out of the public purse? Opposition Education spokesperson Angela Brown-Burke would like an explanation, and so would I. The multi-million dollar fraud case in which Mr. Reid’s wife and daughter, and a Councilor are also charged, is dragging through the courts slowly. Very slowly, with another hearing coming up this month, I believe. Both Reid and Pinnock were charged in 2019.
Ironically, a few hours earlier, Minister Christopher Tufton had been asked at an early evening COVID-19 press briefing what was going to be done about parties being held in hotels – an issue that continues to rankle with many Jamaicans. He responded that hotels are bound by their own strict protocols. Hmm.
COVID-19: There has been a bit of a setback regarding incoming supplies of the Pfizer vaccine. We have run out, Minister Tufton announced on Tuesday evening. Those 82,000 Jamaicans who are now awaiting second doses will have to bide their time until the second tranche of vaccines, donated by the U.S. Government, arrives (the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires, John McIntyre, sounded somewhat defensive when addressing the matter at the opening of a field hospital at May Pen Hospital on Wednesday). This should be at the end of the month or early October, according to the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ Dr. Melody Ennis. Meanwhile, we have good stocks of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (which is a single dose) so those who have not yet been vaccinated should not wait – just go and get vaccinated as soon as possible! The best vaccine is the one that’s available now!
I have asked several times about those populations of senior citizens who are both vulnerable and have to stay in one place – ie, those in infirmaries (which are government institutions) and care homes (many of which are privately owned). I have always been assured that all is well, there are no visitors allowed, etc. Now it transpires that 24 residents of the St. Elizabeth Infirmary (there is one in each parish) have contracted COVID-19; two have died. Two staff members have also tested positive.
It was disturbing to learn recently that only 10 per cent of the prison population has been vaccinated (was a truly concerted effort to get them vaccinated ever undertaken?) Now even more worryingly, we learn that 58 prisoners and 38 staff members have tested positive. What did we expect? There will be a “No Movement Day” for seven days at the Tower Street prison. I thought prisoners could not normally move much. All of this sounds like shutting the barn door (or the prison door) after the horse has bolted.
Another shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines (100,800 doses) arrived in Jamaica on Friday 17th – the second shipment in a week.
Several vaccine-related issues are starting to pop up on the horizon. Firstly, the UK Government’s new travel rules, as of October 4, will not suit anyone traveling from Jamaica (and may therefore also be a deterrent to tourists), as it does not recognize our vaccination program currently. But, Oh, Jamaica is not the only one, says Acting British High Commissioner to Jamaica Daniel Shepherd. Humph! And then, you must get vaccinated to travel to the United States. This might speed up our vaccination process!
Member of Parliament Alando Terrelonge, who has been very diligent in getting his constituents out to be vaccinated, now says he supports mandatory vaccines. He feels it’s the only way forward. I am leaning towards agreeing with him. Another MP, James Robertson, has already stated his support for mandatory vaccines. And then a major Jamaican firm, Cari-Med, says its employees must get vaccinated, or get tested every two weeks. They just hosted a vaccination blitz. It’s moving in that direction…
Education: In an update to Parliament on Wednesday, Education Minister Fayval Williams reported that some 22,000 students are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and a total of 73,880 have received jabs. However, as there is a delay in the arrival of the second batch of Pfizer vaccines, it’s not looking optimistic for a reopening of face to face classes any time soon. The goal is to have 204,000 students vaccinated, and we are far from that as we await more Pfizer vaccines.
The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston was badly damaged by a fire – in the painting studio section. It is believed to have started with an electrical fault. The college needs to make sure its rambling campus has proper maintenance. Now many art students are in distress, having lost not only some artwork but also materials, notes, laptops and more.
Human Rights: Here’s an update on the alleged cutting of a young Rastafarian woman’s hair by police officers in Clarendon, recently. Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson told a press briefing on Wednesday that the Jamaica Constabulary Force had handed over their files to the Independent Commission of Investigations to complete the investigation. I liked the Commissioner’s comments:
“It’s important on a number of levels, I think the main one is that beyond the actual case itself, it led to a national conversation about the JCF’s reaction to different groups, to Rastafarians in particular. You know, a wider conversation about how we treat with diversity and our public.”
The police shot and killed thirty-three-year-old Dwight Huggins in Spanish Town, St. Catherine during curfew hours. They report that a gun was seized.
Distressingly, the trial of three police officers in the case surrounding the death of Mario Deane in Montego Bay on Independence Day, 2014 has been postponed for the tenth time, because of the lack of jury trials due to COVID-19. I cannot imagine the hurt and pain his mother continues to suffer. Justice delayed…
Justice: The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is reportedly in some disarray, with five prosecutors leaving recently. The Gleaner newspaper suggests that this is because of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn’s leadership style in a department that is always inundated with work.
With much fanfare, the trial of 33 members of the Spanish Town-based Clansmen Gang began on Monday. Several streets downtown were blocked off and security was heavy – and one assumes that this will continue for the duration of the trial. The other remarkable thing about this trial is that for the first time in Jamaican history the pleading and opening statements were live streamed to the public; we heard the prosecutor’s opening on the radio. Chief Justice Brian Sykes believes in transparency and bringing the courts into a more open age of technology. However, on the second day video technology for a witness statement totally failed. In due course, the final summations and verdicts will be aired publicly.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck tabled The National Identification and Registration Act, 2021 (commonly known as “NIDS”) in the Lower House on Tuesday. Revamped, revised and refreshed! Let’s see how it goes, this time around.
People: The formidable, dedicated former head of the Nurses Association of Jamaica, Edith Allwood Anderson, has passed away. She was one of those people you will never forget: a passionate advocate for her nurses for many years, despite her illness (she went blind later in life). I have memories of those vibrant demonstrations for nurses’ rights outside various government buildings. They sang, they danced, they made noise. She gave the politicians a “warm time” – one of a kind.
Also on the medical front, gynaecologist and public health doctor Dr. Leslie Meade will be the new head of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) – an organization that has an influential voice, these days.
Politics: Well, apart from the Floyd Green fiasco, there has been quite a lot of “politricks” in the form of more opinion polls and more reactions to the polls. The Jamaican people don’t seem to be very impressed by either political party, at the moment. While the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) got absolutely dismal ratings in recent polls, the governing Holness administration is not riding the crest of a wave either. In fact, its numbers are down overall compared to a year ago. On the topic of the PNP, Education Spokesperson Angela Brown-Burke rather amusingly described it as an old car that Opposition Leader Mark Golding is working on. It needs a lot of fixing: changing the tyre, new windscreen wipers, etc., she added. What I am concerned about is the engine. It’s got no drive.
Tourism: Please read Gordon Robinson’ hilarious column on the topic of tourism and COVID. He has realized that the famous “Resilient Corridor” (with a positivity rate of 1.4 percent) has now seceded from the rest of Jamaica, which currently hovers around 40 percent!
Two more cruise ships are arriving in Ocho Rios this week. There are strict protocols in place with these ships, we are assured.
Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett has a very sweet, “touchy-feely” radio ad in which he urges Jamaicans working in the tourism industry to get vaccinated. His “spin doctor” Delano Seiveright is thrilled that Jake’s Hotel in Treasure Beach has (almost) fully vaccinated its staff. Is it the only hotel? Mr. Seiveright is proud of the fact that “several other properties” have staff who are around 70 percent vaccinated. Well, this confirms my personal desire not to stay at any hotels until the situation improves. How is the “Resilient Corridor” so safe? Well, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) says it has a “one percent positivity rate” – among workers, tourists, locals, who? The JHTA also reports that about 47 percent of tourism workers are now vaccinated. Less than half the workforce is something to be proud of it seems.
Meanwhile, one travel agent is upset with properties that only accept vaccinated guests. He calls it “vaccine apartheid.” Well, surely it is up to the property owners and hoteliers. They can set their own rules, as they please. This man says he loves Jamaica, “So I hope that you guys don’t start doing stuff like that.”
The upmarket Bluefields Villas in Westmoreland is at loggerheads with local residents, having put up a chain link fence to prevent them from accessing the public beach there. The issue of beach access is a troubling and regularly occurring one. Legal action is threatened.
Women’s Issues: Senator Kamina Johnson Smith opened the debate on the long, long awaited Sexual Harassment (Protection and Prevention) Act 2021 in the Upper House on Friday (September 17).
The murders, the crime, rolls on. 26 senior citizens have been murdered this year, to date. What is happening in downtown Kingston? My deepest condolences to all those who are mourning their deaths – and to the families, friends and colleagues of all those whom I have omitted to mention, below…
52-year-old Mark Phillips, a licensed firearm holder, was shot dead when he intervened in an attempted robbery on Penwood Road, Kingston.
Kevon Mitchell, 41, a plumber of Havendale in St. Andrew, was killed in crossfire as he got out of his car in downtown Kingston. Here is a sad account by his friend, who witnessed his murder.
Victor Newman, 22, has been charged with the murder of his grandfather, 84-year-old Menocal Stephenson, whom he stabbed to death during a dispute in Quick Step District, Trelawny.
Gunmen broke into a home in Claremont, St. Ann and shot three members of a family. Two senior citizens, 61-year-old Thelma Nembhard and 68- year-old David Nembhard, were killed, while a 19-year-old woman was injured.
Shana-Kay Richards, 32, of Comfort District in Manchester, was at home with her children when a gunman kicked down the door, told the children to get out, and shot her dead.
Sergeant Averel McCollin, who was attached to the Hunts Bay Police Station in St Andrew, was shot dead in the early hours of the morning on Sunday (in curfew hours) where he was playing dominoes with a group of people, in Gregory Park, St. Catherine.
34-year-old vendor Kevelle Reid was shot dead in broad daylight in the town of Falmouth, Trelawny.
23-year-old Kevon McLeod was shot dead in Church Pen, near Old Harbour, reportedly while cooking jerked chicken.
44-year-old Arvid Matthews, a fisherman, was shot dead in Portland Cottage, Clarendon, and two days later, another man was killed. I heard on the radio that this was all in connection with a “flour for cocaine” scam. That is new to me.