Jamaica is Holding Its Own in New World Bank Doing Business 2017 Report

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The World Bank has just released one of its Flagship Reports, and one which the Jamaican public and private sectors always pay close attention to. It is entitled: Doing Business 2017 and is subtitled, on a hopeful note, Equal Opportunity For All. The full report and accompanying datasets are available at http://www.doingbusiness.org

How did Jamaica fare in the report, you ask? Well, we are obsessed with “rankings,” but this time it’s a little more complex than usual, because the methodology has changed. So, according to the World Bank, 2017 rankings cannot be directly compared with those for 2016.  Although Jamaica ranked 65 in 2016 and now stands at 67 in 2017, in real terms this is a not a “slip” in the rankings, but rather holding firm. You have to compare like with like by looking at the table with back calculations.

So – the ease of doing business ranking is now based on the distance to frontier score. This measure shows how close each economy is to global best practices in business regulation. A higher score indicates a more efficient business environment and stronger legal institutions. On the distance to frontier metric, Jamaica’s score went up from 66.73 in Doing Business 2016 to 67.54 in Doing Business 2017, using a comparable methodology. This means that in the last year Jamaica has improved its business regulations as captured by the Doing Business indicators in absolute terms—the country is narrowing the gap with the global regulatory frontier.

There are other “pluses”:

  • Jamaica implemented substantive improvements in the local regulatory framework in the following areas in 2015/16:
  • Jamaica made paying taxes less costly by increasing tax depreciation rates and the initial capital allowance for assets acquired on or after January 1, 2014. Furthermore, companies incorporated for less than 24 months are exempted from paying the minimum business tax. Jamaica also made paying taxes easier by implementing an electronic system for filing of corporate income tax, VAT and social security contributions.
  • Jamaica reduced the time of documentary compliance for exporting by implementing ASYCUDA World, an automated customs data management system.
World Bank Group logo

World Bank Group logo

Here is today’s press release from the World Bank Group on the Latin America and Caribbean region, in which Jamaica’s progress is noted. Thanks very much to Gerry McDaniel (World Bank in Jamaica) for adding the above clarifications.

Latin America and the Caribbean Continues to Improve its Business Environment, Says Latest Doing Business Report

WASHINGTON, October 25, 2016 – Business reform activity accelerated in Latin America and the Caribbean with over two-thirds of the region’s 32 economies1 taking steps to improve the business climate for entrepreneurs, says the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2017: Equal Opportunity for All.

The report records a total of 32 reforms implemented by the region’s economies in the past year, compared with 24 the previous year.

Furthermore, Doing Business data shows efforts by governments to make it easier to do business in the region. For example, starting a business now takes an average of 32 days in Latin America and the Caribbean, compared with 55 days five years ago. However, there is a substantial variation across the region. For instance, in the area of Getting Electricity, entrepreneurs faced 97 power outages in 2015 in Guyana, compared with zero outages in Costa Rica.

“In the past year, business reforms in the region focused on the areas of Starting a Business, Paying Taxes and Trading Across Borders,” said Augusto Lopez-Claros, Director, Global Indicators Group, Development Economics, World Bank Group. “It is essential for economies in the region to further remove obstacles to growth in these areas in order to improve their business environment.”

On average, economies in Latin America and the Caribbean perform best in the areas of Getting Electricity and Getting Credit. The average time it takes a warehouse to get connected to the grid in the region is 66 days, about a month shorter than the global average of 93 days.

Yet, complying with tax regulations remains cumbersome in the region. The time required to pay taxes is 343 hours (43 working days) per year on average, compared to the global average of 251 hours (31 working days). However, nine economies took steps in the past year to improve the process of complying with tax requirements, while Guatemala made paying taxes less costly for a medium sized company by reducing the rate of corporate income tax.

Nine economies in the region implemented more than one reform making it easier to do business: Argentina, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico (United States). Jamaica adopted an automated customs data management system which reduced the time for traders’ documentary compliance. Ecuador made starting a business easier by eliminating the need to publish company charters in local newspapers. Puerto Rico (U.S.) made registering property easier by digitizing its land records and improving the quality of infrastructure and transparency of its land administration system.

Red tape - a major hurdle to doing business. (Graphic: TradePost)

Red tape – a major hurdle to doing business. (Graphic: TradePost)

For the first time, the report includes a gender dimension in three indicators: Starting a Business, Registering Property and Enforcing Contracts. The report finds that a few economies in the region, such as Haiti, and Suriname, place additional legal barriers in front of women entrepreneurs. For instance, in Suriname, married women need to provide their husband’s identification documents in order to start a business.

The Paying Taxes indicator has been expanded to cover post-filing processes, such as tax audits and VAT refund. Economies in the region generally underperform in these additional areas. For example tax audit compliance time is lengthy in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

1 Chile, which is classified as an OECD high-income economy, is not included in the reform count and regional averages.

Contact: In Washington: Indira Chand +1 (202) 458-0434, +1 (703) 376-7491, ichand@worldbank.org

P.S. You might also be interested to know that this news comes out as the FOROMIC International Conference takes place in Montego Bay (October 24 – 26, 2016) – for the first time in Jamaica. The Inter-American Microenterprise Forum (FOROMIC) funded by the Inter-American Development Bank  is a space where business and financial institutions, with a focus on microfinance for small and medium sized businesses, are able to showcase innovative efforts towards financial inclusion. For live streaming and more, go to http://www.fomin-events.com/foromic/2016/web/  Big tings a gwaan!

Prime Minister Andrew Holness with President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) at FOROMIC in Montego Bay. (Photo: Office of the Prime Minister)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness with President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) at FOROMIC in Montego Bay. (Photo: Office of the Prime Minister)

 

OAS Mission Highlights Good Practices in Jamaica ́s General Parliamentary Elections 2016

Prime Minister-designate Andrew Holness greets former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga at the JLP headquarters on Belmont Road in St Andrew last night. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)
Prime Minister-designate Andrew Holness greets former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga at the JLP headquarters on Belmont Road in St Andrew last night. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

February 26, 2016

The Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS/EOM) in Jamaica, led by former Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Mrs. Janet G. Bostwick, congratulates the people of Jamaica on the conclusion of the General Parliamentary Elections on Thursday, February 25.

The EOM was composed of 23 international observers from 15 OAS member states and two observer states. The EOM also had specialists in electoral organization, electoral technology, political financing, gender and political analysis.

In Jamaica, the Representation of the People Act provides for early voting by police, military and Election Day workers in order to facilitate the conduct of activities on Election Day. On early voting day, February 22, the Chief of Mission visited polling stations in three constituencies of two parishes to observe the conduct of the poll and to interact with polling station staff.

On Election Day, February 25, the members of the EOM were present in thirteen parishes across the country, and visited 367 polling stations. The EOM noted that the polling stations it observed opened on time and were equipped with the materials required for the election. The EOM wishes to commend the professional conduct and diligence of the poll workers, supervisory personnel and security agents, who facilitated the voting process on both days. While OAS observers noted that most voters had the

necessary information on where to cast their votes, and were assisted in this regard by the electoral authorities as well as party agents, the EOM suggests that posting the voter’s list outside of each polling station would enhance the delivery and transparency of the voting process. In light of the large numbers of outside agents present outside polling stations for both of the major political parties, as well as the significant imbalances that existed at times between the two, considerations should also be given to limiting the number of such agents that can be present within 100 yards of the polling station.

To follow-up on previous OAS recommendations, highlight some positive practices of the Jamaican electoral tradition and in the spirit of further assisting Jamaica in its efforts to continue strengthening its electoral process, the EOM would like to offer the following preliminary findings and recommendations. These findings are based on its analysis of the electoral framework, as well as the information it has gathered through discussions with national and electoral authorities, civil society, political parties and the international community in the pre-electoral phase and on Election Day.

IMPLEMENTATION OF OAS RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Campaign Finance

The Jamaican electoral framework includes important regulations relating to the political finance system, notably limits on campaign spending and the requirement to disclose campaign expenditures after Election Day. The EOM commends the steps taken in 2014 to strengthen the system through reforms in the areas of registration, regulation and funding of political parties. The EOM also applauds the measures contemplated in the Act to Amend the Representation of the People Act 2015, which will further regulate contributions.

The EOM urges Jamaica to prioritize implementation of the Act as a first step towards the strengthening of the political finance system. The EOM also recommends that Government consider introducing additional qualitative measures, including granting the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) meaningful oversight of the campaign finance system and establishing adequate penalties for non-compliance with reporting requirements. These steps will assist in ensuring that the system promotes equity and transparency in practice and further establish Jamaica as a leader in the Caribbean on the issue of political finance.

2. Electoral Technology

The EOM once more applauds Jamaica’s initiative and innovation in the use of EVBIS technology. In particular the EOM noted the use of EVBIS in the voter verification process at multiple polling stations, as well as the systems in place in case the

technology did not function. While the technology has improved substantially and continues to be an important tool to avoid multiple voting, it can introduce delays in the voting process. The EOM recommends that the ECJ continue to work to improve the technology.

3. Gender Representation

The EOM noted that despite the growing number of Jamaican women in decision- making positions, and their presence in most areas of the electoral campaign, women continue to be under-represented in actual nominations for the electoral contest and in their election to the House of Representatives. Of the 152 candidates contesting the 2016 elections, 26 candidates or 17.1% were women. Eleven women, or 17.5%, were elected to the House.

The EOM reiterates that political parties, civil society organizations and the ECJ should work together to develop affirmative actions that may help to increase the participation of women in the electoral competition. In this regard, accelerated efforts by the ECJ to publish existing data on voters and candidates disaggregated by sex and age, while obtaining, analyzing and publicizing similar information for poll workers, electoral

officials and party agents, will assist in properly analyzing and promoting women’s political participation in the electoral process.

4. Media Monitoring Unit

The EOM was pleased to learn of the establishment of a Media Monitoring Unit (MMU) by the Jamaica Broadcasting Commission (JBC). The creation of such a Unit was one of the recommendations issued by the OAS in its report on the 2007 General Elections. The EOM commends the work of the JBC and the MMU to monitor political broadcasts and advertising during the electoral period, particularly the voluntary agreements negotiated by the JBC with political parties and media organizations to regulate such broadcasts in the 24 hours prior to the start of voting day. The EOM looks forward to the completion of the legislative process which will transmute the voluntary agreements into Jamaican law.

GOOD PRACTICES OBSERVED

During its time in Jamaica, the EOM observed several good practices in the electoral field from which other countries in the hemisphere can benefit.

1. Political Ombudsman

The EOM highly commends the institution and the work of the Political Ombudsman. The Political Ombudsman occupies a neutral space between the political forces in

Jamaica and seeks to mediate and moderate unhelpful attitudes and actions in the political and electoral context. In countries where political polarization is present this role is especially valuable. The EOM encourages the people of Jamaica to continue to work with this important national institution to embed a positive, inclusive and peaceful political process. The country’s success in moving beyond the challenges of its electoral history is an important accomplishment that must be upheld.

2. Independence of the Electoral Authority

The authority and independence of the ECJ remains a standard in the hemisphere. The EOM is pleased to recognize the hard work and strong competence of this remarkable organization.

3. Early Invitation for International Observers

The EOM wishes to highlight and commend the step by the ECJ to issue its invitation for an observation mission prior to the actual announcement of the date of the poll. This

early request permitted the OAS to prepare and mobilize its team in a timely manner.

While the EOM was warmly welcomed by the people, authorities and institutions of Jamaica, team members considered that a deeper awareness of the role and functions of international observation missions, and the activities and access required to execute this role, would have facilitated their work. The EOM suggests that a greater appreciation of the work of electoral observation, perhaps within the training offered to polling day workers, would assist the work of future international electoral observation missions.

4. Results Tabulation

The EOM commends the electoral authorities of Jamaica for the timely and efficient tabulation, transmission and release of the preliminary results of the elections, which enhances the credibility of the process and is a significant tool for stability.

FINDINGS AND OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Electoral Violence

The EOM took careful note of the incidents of violence which occurred prior to and on Election Day. As we have said in other country reports, these acts of violence do not support the electoral process and have no place in a democracy.

2. Voter Participation

Voter turnout in Jamaica has been declining since the 1990s, with the 2011 election reaching a participation of just 52.6% of voters. The EOM noted, with concern, that this election was not an exception, and the trend continued with a turnout of only 47.7%. The apathy observed in the general population, particularly among young people, was disquieting. Robust participation in a country’s electoral processes is essential to

maintain and strengthen the democratic system of government and to identify, encourage and develop the next cadre of political leaders.

The EOM recommends that the ECJ, the Electoral Office of Jamaica, the Political Ombudsman and other stakeholders re-double their voter education and public awareness campaigns to inform and energize new voters, while encouraging the participation of the general electorate in the national electoral process.

3. Electoral Organization

The Constitution and electoral law of Jamaica confers the right to vote on all citizens who have reached the age of eighteen, who have been registered and whose names appear on the official voters list. However the law makes no provisions for electors who

are voting in places other than their designated polling division, including persons in hospitals or nursing homes, citizens on remand or serving terms of imprisonment and Jamaicans posted or residing overseas.

The EOM recommends that the electoral authorities consider provisions to facilitate voting by qualified voters, whose names appear on the voters’ list, but who are unable to attend their designated polling division on Election Day.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A detailed report on the observations and recommendations of the OAS Mission will be presented to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington, D.C. It will also be shared with all stakeholders in Jamaica and will be available through the OAS website at http://www.oas.org.

The EOM wishes to thank the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, the Electoral Office of Jamaica, and the numerous stakeholders with whom it interacted, including all citizens, for their openness and generosity in facilitating the EOM’s work. The EOM is also grateful to the governments of Argentina, Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States for their financial contributions that made this Mission possible.

Janet Bostwick, head of the Observer Mission from the Organization of American States, leading a delegation from The Jamaica Pegasus hotel to observe the police, military and election-day workers voting on February 22. (Photo: Gleaner)

Janet Bostwick, head of the Observer Mission from the Organization of American States, leading a delegation from The Jamaica Pegasus hotel to observe the police, military and election-day workers voting on February 22. (Photo: Gleaner)

International Migratory Bird Festival Focuses on Caribbean Habitat Restoration

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Just a couple of months ago, over 220 delegates from 33 countries descended on Kingston, Jamaica for the BirdsCaribbean 20th International Meeting at the Knutsford Court Hotel. It was an exciting five days, with one day in the middle for field trips. Since then, time has flown past and International Migratory Bird Day is here. Since early September (the arrival of the beautiful American Redstart, our “Butterfly Bird”) the birds have been arriving on our shores – a miracle of nature that never ceases to amaze and fascinate me. Here is BirdsCaribbean’s press release, focusing on the many activities that will take place not only in the Caribbean region, but across the hemisphere, in celebration of our migrating birds.

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October 1, 2015—In a region that seems blessed with eternal summer, one of the most noticeable signs of autumn is the arrival of countless migratory birds. Leaving their summer breeding grounds in North America, they transform Caribbean wetlands and forests with their colors and songs. Events celebrating these birds and their miraculous migrations are also arriving this month with International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD).

IMBD is coordinated across the Western Hemisphere by Environment for the Americas (EFTA), and events are held in over 700 locations from Canada to Argentina. BirdsCaribbean, the largest organization devoted to wildlife conservation in the Caribbean, will coordinate activities throughout the region beginning in October, a time when migratory activity is at its peak in the Caribbean. BirdsCaribbean has been the regional coordinator for the past eight years.

The theme of IMBD this year is “Restore Habitat, Restore Birds.” This theme is particularly relevant in the Caribbean, where natural habitats share limited island real estate with dense human populations and intensive development. The migratory pathways and overwintering grounds of the Caribbean are an indispensable part of the life cycle of about 350 bird species, from egrets and ducks to hawks and songbirds.

“We use birds as an inspiration to restore forests and wetlands,” explains BirdsCaribbean President Leo Douglas. “The underlying truth is that supporting habitat restoration is always a wise focus. Healthy local habitats are essential for human health, our agricultural base and the natural beauty that drives tourism.” Douglas noted further that the mangroves that protect us from storm surges and form critical fish nurseries are simultaneously important habitat for birds. Similarly, island forests sheltering a rich diversity of bird life are critical for preventing erosion and devastating land-slippages and mud slides.

Public activities to mark IMBD will include a diverse array of events such as bird-watching excursions, lectures, seminars, school-based art competitions, church services, and media campaigns. Tree plantings, seedling giveaways and other hands-on habitat restoration activities are planned on many islands.

As part of this year’s festivities, BirdsCaribbean has produced a free ebook about native trees: Heritage Plants. This illustrated book explains the importance of native trees to birds and other animals, includes a guide featuring dozens of native trees of particular value, and serves as a resource to foster habitat restoration within local communities.

“Planting a native tree is a fantastic way to beautify your backyard or neighborhood,” notes BirdsCaribbean’s Executive Director Lisa Sorenson. “Along with birds, native trees are the most iconic features of the Caribbean landscape, and their roots are deeply intertwined with both the wildlife and the cultures of the region.”

The ebook Heritage Plants is available for download on the Resources page of birdscaribbean.org. For additional IMBD resources, visit www.migratorybirdday.org.

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For more information, and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Ingrid Flores, Regional Coordinator of IMBD Caribbean, BirdsCaribbean

Email: imbdcoordinator.pr@gmail.com

OR: Scott Johnson, Chairperson, Media Working Group, BirdsCaribbean.

Email: sjohnson@bnt.bs

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) is the largest-known bird conservation and education event of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. IMBD was initiated in 1993 by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. It is currently coordinated by Environment for the Americas, Boulder, Colorado, under the direction of Susan Bonfield, Executive Director. For more details, see: http://www.migratorybirdday.org.

BirdsCaribbean is a vibrant international network of members and partners committed to conserving Caribbean birds and their habitats. We raise awareness, promote sound science, and empower local partners to build a region where people appreciate, conserve and benefit from thriving bird populations and ecosystems. We are a non-profit (501 (c) 3) membership organization. More than 100,000 people participate in our programs each year, making BirdsCaribbean the most broad-based conservation organization in the region. You can learn more about us, our work, and how to join at: http://www.birdscaribbean.org.

Our Butterfly Bird, the female American Redstart.

Our Butterfly Bird, the female American Redstart. We have two or three (possibly juveniles?) who have been in our yard for a few weeks now. Quite possibly my very favorite migratory bird!


 

The Disappeared Ones

Just imagine: Your husband goes to work one day, and never returns? Your teenage daughter goes out to visit a friend, saying “See you later!” and that is the last time you ever see her? Your mother is at home and gets a knock on the door, and when you come home, she is gone? You search and make enquiries and telephone calls. Days, weeks, months – years – pass, and you hear nothing. Life goes on around you as if nothing has happened. Can you imagine?

Today (August 30, 2015) is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

In the past, there have been notorious cases of mass disappearances; under dictatorships in Argentina and Chile, for example. During Argentina’s “Dirty War,” (Guerra Sucia) from 1976 to 1983, roughly 30,000 citizens disappeared under the brutal military regime that seized power during a period of instability. The government called it the Process of National Reorganization. They arrested, tortured and murdered thousands of dissidents suspected of left-wing activities. Hundreds of babies of the “Desaparecidos” were kidnapped and illegally adopted. After democracy was restored, Carlos Menem’s government began an investigation, discovering hundreds of secret detention centers.

Mothers marching in the Plaza de Mayo with cutouts of their "disappeared" sons. Photo by Gerardo Dell’Orto, 1990

Mothers marching in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires with cutouts of their “disappeared” sons. The mothers began their protest in front of the Presidential Palace in 1977 and their numbers grew to hundreds of women – week after week. The President apparently called them “Las Locas” (the Crazy Ones), threatened and ridiculed them, but they continued and have been a strong force for human rights.  Photo by Gerardo Dell’Orto, 1990

In Chile, thousands of citizens also disappeared under Augusto Pinochet’s military rule from 1973 to 1990; many more thousands suspected of being political dissidents were also tortured. The Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (the Chilean secret police) took many people to the Villa Grimaldi, on the outskirts of Santiago, for interrogation. Many were never seen again. In the same hemisphere, in Guatemala, Colombia and El Salvador, many, many thousands disappeared during civil wars.

There is a memorial park (Parque por la Paz) at the site of the notorious Villa Grimaldi on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile. (Photo:http://hostalprovidencia.com)

There is a memorial park (Parque por la Paz) at the site of the notorious Villa Grimaldi on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile. (Photo:http://hostalprovidencia.com)

Europe has not fared better. During World War II, the regimes of Josef Stalin in Russia and Adolf Hitler in Germany are now well known for human rights abuses, including disappearances, on a very wide scale. The Balkans conflict of the 1990s has left thousands of civilians unaccounted for and political leaders are very slow to investigate or to provide reparations to their families.

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has been seeking to identify thousands of missing people in Bosnia since the civil war.

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has been trying to identify thousands of missing people in Bosnia since the civil war. Diggers and bulldozers tore skeletal remains apart in mass graves, destroying evidence. Twenty years after Srebenica, the families are still waiting for  “closure.” (Photo: hmd.org.uk)

Yet if you think enforced disappearances are for the history books, you are wrong. They are as much a feature of life under tyrannical governments across the world as ever; and, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon points out, not only governments are involved. Nowadays, armed extremists and terrorist groups are secretly abducting, imprisoning, torturing and murdering. Under any circumstances, the Secretary General reminds us, enforced disappearance is illegal.

And I say these human rights abusers of the past are well known “now” because yes – at the time when these things happened, society in general may have been cowed, complicit or even ignorant of what was happening. Unless their own son or daughter disappeared, of course; or unless they found themselves alone in a dank, stinking cell with a torturer. But life went on. People may not have talked about it much at all – whether out of fear, ignorance or indifference.

Despite ongoing mass protests, the Mexican government has been very slow to investigate the disappearance of 43 student teachers almost a year ago.

Despite ongoing mass protests, the Mexican government has been very slow to investigate the disappearance of 43 student teachers almost a year ago. The leader of a group searching for the students, who had discovered a mass grave in Iguala, was shot dead in Acapulco on August 10.

So now, have things improved in the 21st century? Hardly.“Governments in every region of the world, from Syria to Mexico and from Sri Lanka to Gambia may be holding hundreds or even thousands in secret detention,” says Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty. There have been over 200 forced disappearances in Bangladesh since 2009; these are only the documented ones. In many cases, men dressed in the uniforms of state security forces come to arrest people. Families seeking assistance through the state justice system have had no success. Human rights defenders are regularly harassed and threatened (and as we know, several Bangladeshi bloggers have been brutally murdered).  Amnesty highlights the tragic situation in Syria, where it estimates almost 85,000 people have been forcibly disappeared between 2011 and 2015. Back in this region, official figures say nearly 25,000 people have disappeared or gone missing in Mexico since 2007. Last year, 43 students of the Ayotzinapa rural teacher-training college in Guerrero State were ambushed and kidnapped on their way to an anti-government protest. Three or four of them were killed; the families of all the others are living in mental agony and fear.

"On July 9th, our loved ones have been disappeared, and they include 17 lawyers, their assistants, and law firm staffers, as well as 6 rights defenders," wrote a group of relatives to China's Minister of Public Security Mr. Guo Shenkun.

“On July 9th, our loved ones have been disappeared, and they include 17 lawyers, their assistants, and law firm staffers, as well as 6 rights defenders,” wrote a group of relatives to China’s Minister of Public Security Mr. Guo Shenkun in a letter dated today.

In China, there are the so-called “black jails.” These are secret locations where political enemies – disgraced officials accused of corruption – end up, under the rule of “shuanggui,” an internal disciplinary procedure. In this case the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is in charge, operating outside the country’s legal system. Often torture is involved; confessions are needed, and information on other possible enemies of the State (read: Party). This is quite apart from journalists, civil society, non-governmental organizations, feminists and anyone else who might be deemed a threat. On July 9th, 17 lawyers, their assistants, and law firm staffers, as well as six rights defenders were taken away. They appeared on television just nine days later, having already been allegedly tried and found guilty of vague crimes. Since then, their families have heard nothing about them.

The families of the lawyers and human rights defenders wrote a letter to the Minister of Public Security today, noting:

At home we fear even knocks on the door. People at the door who claim to be checking our water meter, delivering a package, fixing water pipes are least likely robbers (if they are we can at least call 110), and most likely someone who is a disguised secret police of the People’s Republic of China, and a 110 call wouldn’t get you help. Such fear and panic do not beset these lawyers and their families only; they beset the entire Chinese society.

Here’s another letter. Way back in 1970, James Baldwin wrote the beautiful and powerful “Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis.” Angela Davis, the fierce civil rights campaigner, was in jail at the time. Apart from expressing thoughts that are incredibly relevant to the situation in the United States today, the eloquent and masterful Mr. Baldwin had this to say – I picked out a few excerpts:

You look exceedingly alone—as alone, say, as the Jewish housewife in the boxcar headed for Dachau, or as any one of our ancestors, chained together in the name of Jesus, headed for a Christian land…We know that democracy does not mean the coercion of all into a deadly—and, finally, wicked—mediocrity but the liberty for all to aspire to the best that is in him, or that has ever been…If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”

James Baldwin. (Photo: Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty)

James Baldwin. (Photo: Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty)

Saharan Dust, Heil Hitlers and UC Rusal: Sunday, July 13, 2014

The World Cup final was exhausting and I must admit I could not have taken much more stress. It was a hot afternoon, we had the fans turned up full and ate mangoes and drank coconut water at half time. This did not help Argentina to a victory, sadly. But all the Jamaicans who suddenly started supporting Germany after their demolition job on Brazil last week were happy, and it was a good reason for a Sunday afternoon party, for some.

Russian Neo-Nazis chant "sieg heil" in Moscow during a demonstration to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Russia is experiencing a surge of extremism, sometimes resulting in violent attacks on foreigners. Yes, CVM Television, nazism is alive and well. How insensitive and ignorant of you.

Russian Neo-Nazis chant “sieg heil” in Moscow during a demonstration to celebrate Hitler’’s birthday. Russia is experiencing a surge of extremism, sometimes resulting in violent attacks on foreigners. (Yes, CVM Television, nazism is alive and well. How insensitive and ignorant of you).

A dampener: Our local television station, which had exclusive rights to the World Cup, managed to destroy all the good feelings when one sports reporter decided it would be very amusing to give a Nazi salute and a couple of “Heil Hitlers” following Germany’s win. If this was in the U.S. or many other countries, the journalist would have been fired. But this man will likely be let off the hook (or in Jamaican parlance “get a bly”). Does this sports expert know about the historic moment when the African American Jesse Owens won races at the Berlin Olympics, and Hitler’s reaction? Does he know that Hitler exterminated not only Jews (if you care not for their sensibilities) but also blacks, Roma people, disabled, homosexuals? And does he know that neo-Nazism is flourishing in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, and that Nazi salutes are illegal in many countries? But this is Jamaica! Mediocrity rules… A half-hearted apology will do, it seems.

How will the German Embassy in Kingston respond? Because surely, respond they must.

Now, I’m looking forward to the start of the English Premier League season. Go Arsenal! Roll on, August 16!

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell. (Photo: Gleaner)

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is wielding a big stick at UC Rusal. (Photo: Gleaner)

UC Rusal is in Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell’s bad books. The Minister told Parliament last week he gave the Russian bauxite company an ultimatum in a letter dated July 1, which states:“It is my intention to revoke the special mining leases in respect of the Alpart and Kirkvine refineries in the event that bona fide mining operations do not commence within six months.”

An aerial view of the UC Rusal Windalco Kirkvine bauxite plant in Manchester, which has been closed for five years now. (Photo: Gleaner)

An aerial view of the UC Rusal Windalco Kirkvine bauxite plant in Manchester, which has been closed for five years now. (Photo: Gleaner)

But UC Rusal is reportedly restructuring its huge debt and last week announced the launch of a huge mining project in Dian-Dian, Guinea  – involving the construction and putting into operation by 2016 of a bauxite mine with an annual capacity of 3 million tonnes with the potential for a further increase of up to 6 million tonnes. UC Rusal says Dian-Dian is “the world’s largest bauxite deposit with reserves of 564 million tonnes.”  UC Rusal has just invested many millions in one of its smelters. Minister Paulwell, for all our blustering, aren’t we small fry? The Jamaica Labour Party wants greater transparency. Do we know the terms of the Government’s agreement with UC Rusal? And is the Government hoping a Chinese firm will step into the breach, as suggested in a Gleaner editorial this week?

Lips are sealed: Meanwhile, no further comment from anyone on the resignation/retirement of Police Commissioner Owen Ellington. Only continued speculation and remarks by unnamed “sources” in one or two of our media houses. Will we ever know the truth?

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Gearing up: Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has told her party’s women’s organization to start preparing for local government elections, due in the first quarter of next year. I suppose we will have to wait until then for the Portmore mayoral election, ma’am? Already three months overdue – by law.

A view from space of an African dust storm crossing the Atlantic and heading for the Caribbean.

A view from space of an African dust storm crossing the Atlantic and heading for the Caribbean.

We are under a thick haze, apparently a blanket of Saharan dust. It actually blows on the strong trade winds all the way from Africa and settles on us in the Caribbean, exacerbating our drought conditions. If you want to know anything about the weather, just tweet @JamaicaWeather and you will receive a detailed but not too technical answers to your queries. Genius! By the way, he calls this “climate variability” – not “climate change.” Now, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is concerned about poor air quality in parts of Kingston. Could NEPA release some of their findings? We hear about “monitoring” but that means little to those who have to breathe the stuff in. 

And the heat goes on…

The Jamaica Observer’s Crime Reporter, Karyl Walker, is an experienced reporter with a gay obsession. So he is at it again in today’s edition of the newspaper, with the headline “Police hunt gay murder suspect.” I suppose we should be grateful the headline was not “homo murder suspect,” . The article sparked the usual flood of mostly ignorant comments online. Mr. Walker, were you not taught in journalism school that this kind of reporting is unethical and unprofessional? Or may I suggest a refresher course? Anyway, I look forward to the headline “Police hunt heterosexual murder suspect,” one day soon.

I believe good sense will prevail and Jamaicans for Justice will emerge stronger.

I believe good sense will prevail and Jamaicans for Justice will emerge stronger.

Jamaicans for Justice has problems: I just hope (and believe) they will be resolved soon. Thanks to the Sunday Gleaner for its balanced reporting on the internal governance issues of the important human rights lobby group.

This is my idea of a parlor.

This is my idea of a parlor.

A rotting parlor: Mayor of Kingston & St. Andrew Angela Brown-Burke says her parlor (that is, her office I suppose) was rotting, so she had to get it fixed at a cost of J$1.7 million. It doesn’t seem a lot of money to me, quite frankly. We wouldn’t want the Mayor to fall through the floor. But some councilors think we can’t afford it. By the way, in Jamaica mayors have “parlors.” It reminds me of Victorian households, cluttered with the best furniture and china.

The JDF training camp in Newcastle. An amazing place but don't let it fall down. Please!

The JDF training camp in Newcastle. An amazing place but don’t let it fall down. Please!

Talking of rotting, I hear the historic Jamaica Defence Force training camp up in the beautiful Blue Mountains, Newcastle, is in a very bad condition. Can’t some of the soldiers at least do a few repairs?

Major bouquets to:

Joni Jackson's birthday invitation…to donate blood.

Joni Jackson’s birthday invitation…to donate blood.

Joni Jackson, who celebrated her thirtieth birthday by inviting friends to donate blood at the National Chest Hospital. She even wrote about it – and the importance of giving blood – on a blog. She is hoping this will start a trend. I hope so, too. (Please give blood whenever you can. It is safe and painless and you will likely save a life!)

In the past two or three days, the following Jamaicans have lost their lives through violence. My condolences to all their relatives and friends who mourn…

Rasheed Samuda, 18, New Kingston

Hewit Jarrett, 44, Gayle, St. Mary

Vivian Fletcher, 54, Adelphi, St. James

Unidentified man, Greater Portmore, St. Catherine, killed in an alleged shootout with the police

On the roads: A visitor from the UK was killed attempting to cross the main road last night in Rose Hall, Montego Bay, at the pedestrian crossing. There are conflicting stories as to whether this was a “hit and run.” This road, where several large hotels are located, is a race track, and not very well lit. This is certainly not the first time a tourist has been killed trying to cross the road in our tourist resorts. Negril’s Norman Manley Boulevard is quite notorious. The motorists simply do not slow down for anyone!

A British woman was killed by a speeding car on the Rose Hall main road in Montego Bay last night. Was this a hit and run? Details are scarce. (Photo: Janet Silvera/Gleaner)

A British woman was killed by a speeding car on the Rose Hall main road in Montego Bay last night. Was this a hit and run? Details are scarce. (Photo: Janet Silvera/Gleaner)

Street Lights, Water and Summer Breaks: Friday, July 11, 2014

The last few days have been…well, interesting. High drama on the football front, with the spectacular collapse of the Brazilian team at the hands of Germany and the subsequent struggle resulting in a penalty win for Argentina. At the beginning of the tournament I bought three flags: one for Brazil (husband is a Brazil lover, like many Jamaicans); one for Germany – whom I expected to win; and one for Argentina – my sentimental favorite. Now the last two are in the finals!

Opposition Spokesman on National Security Derrick Smith.

Opposition Spokesman on National Security Derrick Smith.

Ellington’s retirement: Since the weekend speculation and rumor has been increasing, in the absence of any statement from the ruling People’s National Party administration. The Opposition National Security Spokesman Derrick Smith has tabled five questions for his counterpart, Minister Peter Bunting, in Parliament. These are key questions, including whether “international partners” (read: the United States) have imposed an arms embargo on Jamaica and are invoking the Leahy Act in relation to police homicides. The Government has denied knowledge of this, or are not willing to say.

Much of the speculation swirls around a connection between the Police Commissioner’s sudden departure from office and the ongoing investigation of an alleged police “death squad.”  Not sure if I mentioned: A policeman under suspicion of involvement in the alleged death squad was arrested in Ajax, Toronto, Canada by the Toronto Police Fugitive Squad on Friday, June 27. The following Monday Commissioner Ellington announced his resignation. It’s not clear whether Constable Witney Hutchinson will be extradited from Canada in connection with a 2011 murder.

Summer holidays starting early: So far as I know, Parliament is not yet on recess, but at least two ministers are on vacation. One is Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who took a holiday after the CARICOM meeting (do we know what happened at that meeting, apart from a couple of speeches? Any decisions taken, apart from decisions to form task forces, committees and discuss further…?) The PM is due back on Friday. The other vacationer is our Youth and Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, who is in Brazil. I wonder what the attraction is there.

Bank of Jamaica.

Bank of Jamaica.

Stepping in: The Bank of Jamaica announced that it would be intervening yesterday for a day. The slide of the Jamaican Dollar had accelerated this week. The J$ made a modest recovery on Thursday and closed the week at J$112.69/US$1. Recent comments by International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde during her visit her about the “over-valuation” of the J$ (she noted that it had some way to go) surely did not help. Its slide has picked up speed since then. But still, Private Sector Organization of Jamaica head Christopher Zacca has just told us to “stop talking down the dollar” and produce, so I’d better shut up.

EPOC meets: Do you want to know what the Economic Program Oversight Committee (EPOC) has been doing? I’ve discovered that details of all its meetings can be found here: http://www.digjamaica.com/imf/epoc

Former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke sworn in by Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1991. Sir Howard died on July 11, 2014. (Photo: Gleaner Archives)

Former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke sworn in by Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1991. Sir Howard died on July 11, 2014. (Photo: Gleaner Archives)

Death of Sir Howard Cooke: This evening we heard that former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke passed away, aged 98. He was a school teacher and a long-serving People’s National Party politician and government minister. He was Governor General from 1991 to 2006. Here a fellow blogger pays tribute:https://elmaestrodixon.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/walk-good-sir-howard-1915-2014/

Victoria Jubilee Hospital. (Photo: Gleaner)

Victoria Jubilee Hospital. (Photo: Gleaner)

Hospital crisis: Nurses walked out of the Victoria Jubilee maternity hospital in Kingston yesterday. Why? There was no water. There’s a severe drought – yes, but aren’t hospitals priority for water supplies? Can you deliver babies without water? Water was subsequently trucked to the hospital. Meanwhile, the University Hospital of the West Indies has postponed many surgeries due to a shortage of operating theaters; a friend’s elderly mother has been there for about two weeks now waiting for an operation on her broken hip. But hey, it’s not just Jamaican hospitals that are struggling; Barbados’ main hospital ran out of supplies recently. The UK’s much-touted National Health Service is now 100 million Pounds Sterling in the red and is “on life support.” We will all have to try and keep ourselves healthy. Preventative medicine!

The drought bites harder: The National Water Commission in Clarendon (the worst hit by the drought) is only trucking water directly to paid-up customers who call them. In St. Elizabeth supplies at the Santa Cruz market are dwindling and prices rising rapidly as farmers are producing less. And so on. Government officials are now mulling over ideas they should have mulled and put into practice years ago.. “Oh, that would be a good idea,” etc.

Faith Webster, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs, whose life is on hold. (Photo: Gleaner)

Faith Webster, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, whose life has been on hold for quite a long time now and who is fighting her suspension on half-pay in court. (Photo: Gleaner)

Witch hunt? Faith Webster, Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a hard-working and long-serving public servant, was indicted by the Public Service Commission three weeks ago and thirteen charges have been laid against her following an internal audit. We don’t know what these charges are, but the Supreme Court has granted Ms. Webster leave to appeal against them and ruled that no further disciplinary action be taken against her until the appeal is heard. What is happening here? Why was Ms. Webster pushed out?

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith gets kudos from me for keeping the focus on vulnerable women and girls in particular. (My photo)

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith gets kudos from me for keeping the focus on vulnerable women and girls in particular. (My photo)

Much needed review:  A parliamentary committee has begun sitting to review the Offences Against the Person Act, The Domestic Violence Act, and the Child Care and Protection Act. There were over 800 reported cases of rape in 2013; but the real number is much higher as many cases are still unreported. I hope that once the deliberations are over there will be some changes to the sentencing for acts of violence against women, children and the elderly – especially sexual violence. The Upper House passed a resolution put forward by Senator Kamina Johnson Smith calling for this review. Kudos to her.

More silly nonsense: State Minister Damion Crawford  decided to make another rather nonsensical speech to party supporters this week. He asserted that former Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is not “brighter than me.” What actually is the point of such a personal comment? If you have nothing helpful to say, perhaps it would be best to say nothing. But Minister Crawford does have a point; he has been chafing at the “old style politics” of patronage for some time. The problem is, the childishness has tended to overwhelm his more serious discourse.  Breaking news this evening is that the much-heralded first “Rasta yute” Member of Parliament and former head of the PNP Youth Organization has informed his party that he will not seek re-election next time around. So that is that.

Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company, is straight-talking, always accessible to the media - but, I sense, more than a little frustrated with the current situation, these days. (Photo: Gleaner)

Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company, is straight-talking, always accessible to the media – but, I sense, more than a little frustrated with the current situation, these days. (Photo: Gleaner)

“My biggest customer doesn’t like to pay its bills”: Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), complained recently; her body language expressed frustration. The Government owes JPS about J$2 billion for street lights alone. When asked about Ms. Tomblin’s comments, Local Government Minister Noel Arscott observed, in his usual nonchalant style, that she was being “disingenuous,” adding drily: Yes, we would like to pay our bills, but… [we cannot].” About 20 per cent of our street lights are not working.

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott. (Photo: Gleaner)

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott. (Photo: Gleaner)

Oh! And what about the mayoral election in Portmore, Minister Arscott? No word on that? Last time I checked, it was well overdue. The current Acting Mayor  has been serving for nine months since the death of Mayor George Lee. The Municipalities Act states the Deputy Mayor should act for not longer than six months, so this situation is now in breach of the law. Is the Act to be amended, and if so when? Will the next mayoral election take place some time next year, when local elections are due? Is this democracy?

A stationary mystery: CVM reported this week that a police car is parked in the middle of May Pen, near the clock, with its wheels propped up with rocks to stop it moving. Oh yes, it’s been there about a month like that, said local residents. Has there been an explanation? Is it silently monitoring activities in the town? Hmm..

Old Harbour News

Old Harbour News

New media arrivals: Cliff Hughes started his new talk show on Power 106 FM (you can find it streamed online) on Monday. So far it has been enjoyable, refreshing and positive, with some insightful one-on-one talks with newsmakers, as well as the regular call-in people. I recommend the online Old Harbour News, a website that I discovered only recently; it’s actually about a year old. It is also on Twitter (@oldharbournews) and Facebook.  It has local news, but some well-written stories and things you might have missed. Here is one story (a sad one) about an autistic child who perished in a fire recently; his mother blames the lack of water in the rural area of Planters Hall: http://www.oldharbournews.com/index.php/news/item/204-if-we-had-water-my-baby-would-be-alive-today  And the Sunday Statement makes its debut on August 31 – Jamaica’s third Sunday paper.  Want another way to get your news online? There is the new Loop Jamaicawhich taps into social media feeds and provides a flow of Jamaica news, here: http://loopjamaica.com  A very attractive and user-friendly website.

The beautiful parrotfish grazes off coral reefs, keeping them healthy. Don't eat them! They are getting fewer.

The beautiful parrotfish grazes off coral reefs, keeping them healthy. Don’t eat them! They are getting fewer.

Fishy tip: Let’s stop eating parrot fish; they protect what is left of our coral reefs. And let’s eat lion fish; I am told they are succulent (and they are a destructive invasive species).

The lion fish looks very fancy but gobbles up reef fish voraciously. In turn, we humans should eat more of them. When the spines are removed I am told it is very tasty.

The lion fish looks very fancy but gobbles up reef fish voraciously. In turn, we humans should eat more of them. When the spines are removed I am told it is very tasty.

“Three cheers” for:

Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister, the Hon. G. Anthony Hylton (right) and JBDC CEO, Valerie Veira are all smiles as they present JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Lacey-Ann Bartley. The announcement was made recently at the JBDC Small Business Expo (May 22), an official presentation was made to Bartley at the Ministry of Industry, Investment & Commerce. (Photo: Facebook)

Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister, the Hon. G. Anthony Hylton (right) and JBDC CEO, Valerie Veira are all smiles as they present JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Lacey-Ann Bartley. The official presentation was made to Bartley at the Ministry of Industry, Investment & Commerce. (Photo: Facebook)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lacey-Ann Bartley, the Jamaica Business Development Corporation’s (JBDC) Entrepreneur of the Year. A young woman who is going far! I first introduced my readers to Lacey-Ann as one of National Bakery’s “Bold Ones” (if you do a search you will see a couple of articles I wrote on this great project). Lacy-Ann does great things with wood! You can find Bartley’s All in Wood on Facebook, at (876) 348-0934; email: bartleysallinwood@gmail.com and at http://www.bartleysfurniture.com.jm/

The Mandela Essay Competition from JN Foundation. DEADLINE IS MONDAY, JULY 14!

The Mandela Essay Competition from JN Foundation. DEADLINE IS MONDAY, JULY 14!

The JN Foundation, which goes from strength to strength with its many and varied range of activities. Its volunteers are a force to be reckoned with! Want to learn more? Read their quarterly newsletter here: http://issuu.com/jnfoundation/docs/jnf_newsletter_july_2014_final/0  The deadline for the Foundation’s Nelson Mandela Day Essay Competition is Monday, July 14! To submit your entry, go to: https://www.facebook.com/JNFoundation/app_432976163386165

Daniel Sturridge with a young fan at the launch of his charity foundation in Jamaica in June, 2013. (Photo: Gleaner)

Daniel Sturridge with a representative of Digicel, which supported the launch of his charity foundation in Jamaica in June, 2013. (Photo: Gleaner)

Daniel Sturridge, the Liverpool and England national footballer (who scored against Italy in the World Cup) who will host his second annual Daniel Sturridge Foundation Family Fun Day tomorrow (Saturday, July 12) at the Constant Spring Football Field. Sturridge has Jamaican grandparents. Thank you, Daniel!

Public Affairs Intern Sybil Lewis, from the University of California at Berkeley shares tips with students while Rodje Malcolm (left),  Jamaican studying at Morehouse College, listens. (Photo: U.S. Embassy)

Public Affairs Intern Sybil Lewis, from the University of California at Berkeley shares tips with students while Rodje Malcolm (left), Jamaican studying at Morehouse College, listens. (Photo: U.S. Embassy)

The U.S. Embassy in Kingston, for its annual pre-departure seminar for Jamaican students going to study in the United States last week. This session always provides much useful (and practical) information for outgoing students; about sixty of them came to the Embassy last week, and parents too. If you need advice on studying in the United States, please email kingstonIRC@state.gov or call 702-6172.

The refurbished Montego Bay Civic Centre is home to National Gallery West, which also has space for performances and a bistro. The effort has received strong support from the Montego Bay Arts Council, headed by hotelier Josef Forstmayr. (Photo: Facebook)

The refurbished Montego Bay Civic Centre is home to National Gallery West, which also has space for performances and a bistro. The effort has received strong support from the Montego Bay Arts Council, headed by hotelier Josef Forstmayr. (Photo: Facebook)

The National Gallery of Jamaica, which officially opened its National Gallery West in Montego Bay today. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday 10 am-6 pm; admission free until September 30, 2014. Kudos to the Tourism Enhancement Fund of the Ministry of Tourism for making this happen, with the support of the Montego Bay Arts Council. As noted before, I am pleased with the Ministry’s support for Jamaica’s visual, written and performing arts in all its forms.

The sad list of names is shorter, again, and for this we must be thankful. My condolences to all those who mourn. I would also like to know the condition of a 16-year-old girl, who was reportedly thrown from a car in Trafalgar Road, New Kingston on Tuesday night. She was found to have a gunshot wound to her back and was rushed to hospital. I hope she is recovering from this terrible trauma. 

Unidentified man, Asquith Street/Jones Town, Kingston

Kawayne Mitchell, 19, Marlie Mount Primary & Infant School, St. Catherine

Lavena Robinson, 48, Springfield, St. Catherine

Fidel Smith, 48, New Market, Westmoreland

World Cup 2014: More Than Just a Leg Show

My father used to have a great expression. When he couldn’t see the point of an event or performance, and thought it was pretending to be something it was not, he would call it a “leg show.” In other words, just a bunch of people showing off their physical attributes.

In some ways, if you are not a serious football fan (and if you follow social media) you might be forgiven for thinking that World Cup 2014 is, indeed, a mere “leg show.” I, for one, have always been very much focused on footballers’ legs. After all, what would they do without those lovely, finely muscled… Oops. I’ve gone a bit too far there and don’t want to be accused of being sexist. But I laughed out loud when a lightly injured Algerian player lifted his leg while being helped into a stretcher. “THIGHHHH!” cried one of my female Twitter friends, right on cue.

You can stop here, if you like, as this blog post may go downhill a bit from now on. The Twittersphere, in particular, has been a delight throughout the hotly-contested tournament in Brazil, so far. Some of us have developed an obsession with beards, and tattoos. But it all started with Uruguay’s jerseys, which were – and still remain – much too tight. The pale blue jerseys even inspired an Egyptian activist writer whom I much admire and follow on Twitter (sadly, she’s a Manchester United fan but I might forgive her!), to write this article: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118177/world-cup-2014-costa-rica-vs-uruguay-reaction.

Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and team mates sing the national anthem with constricted breath due to tight jerseys. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and team mates sing the national anthem with constricted breath due to tight jerseys. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Indeed, Uruguay did have a lot going for them, at the beginning of the contest. The jerseys, Diego Forlan’s pale blond tresses and Edinson Cavani’s sculptured features were just some of the pluses. This week, however, in the curious way that sports has, everything unraveled, suddenly.

The referee didn't seem too impressed by the bite mark. And Luis Suarez seemed to be blaming Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder for getting in the way.

The referee didn’t seem too impressed by the bite mark. And Luis Suarez seemed to be blaming Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder for getting in the way.

This was largely due to a dental incident. Yes, I am sure you have heard about it. The unfortunate (and incredibly brilliant) Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez lost control of his incisors (and not for the first time) and bit an Italian opponent. His front teeth are, indeed, very large, but no – they don’t operate independently. Bizarrely, after the incident Mr. Suarez sat down, holding onto his teeth (perhaps trying to indicate that the teeth were the injured ones). Problem is, as we know, this wasn’t the first time. Mr. Suarez (who got off relatively lightly in my view, with a nine-match ban) is on his way home now; he was photographed today walking under a sign that said sadly “Exit.”

Giorgio Chiellini eventually saw the funny side, when a maid at his hotel took a bite. Perhaps he just tastes nice. (Photo: Mail UK)

Giorgio Chiellini eventually saw the funny side, when a maid at his hotel took a bite. Perhaps he just tastes nice. (Photo: Mail UK)

Of course, the Twitter response was hilarious. It was noted that you were more likely to be bitten by Suarez than by a shark. Various photoshopped images flew around. I feel sad for him, and I do think he needs counseling. Also, we will miss his quick-witted goals.

A tourist jokes in front of an advertisement with a portrait of Luis Suarez at Copacabana beach (Photo: AFP)

A tourist jokes in front of an advertisement with a portrait of Luis Suarez at Copacabana beach (Photo: AFP)

By the way, did you know that Uruguay hosted the very first FIFA World Cup in 1930? There were only 13 teams. You might think the United States are wet-behind-the-ears newcomers to football (soccer) – but the U.S., Argentina, Uruguay and Yugoslavia reached the semi-finals that year. Uruguay beat Argentina in the finals. For a concise, lyrical, delightful World Cup history, do read Eduardo Galeano’s “El fútbol a sol y sombra” (Soccer in Sun and Shadow) – I wrote a review of it which you can read if you look in the lefthand sidebar of this blog.

Drogba and his beard.

Drogba and his beard.

Back to the beards. When the powerhouse from Côte d’Ivoire, Didier Drogba, arrived on the scene, we were all bowled over by his majestic beard. It looks perfect. In fact, so much so that a Twitter account was immediately forged, @Drogbasbeard. But the Ivorian beard has had some serious competition. 

Italy's Andrea Pirlo sports a splendid beard, which enhances his lovely Italian face.

Italy’s Andrea Pirlo sports a splendid beard, which enhances his lovely Italian face.

In the beard stakes, here are some of my personal favorites so far (and I am still assessing them, so give me a little more time):

Andrea Pirlo of Italy (who owns a vineyard, by the way); Cameroon goalie Charles Itandje – a beard with flair; Raul Meireles of Portugal, who has a 21st-century punk look, with tattoos and a mohawk too; and last but not least, another African goalie, Rais M’Bolhi of Algeria, has a beard to conjure with.

Portuguese player Raul Meireles during a training session in Campinas, Brazil, on June 18. He's been setting the pace on the personal style front. (EPA/JOSE SENA GOULAO)

Portuguese player Raul Meireles during a training session in Campinas, Brazil, on June 18. He’s been setting the pace on the personal style front. (EPA/JOSE SENA GOULAO)

Of course, there is a significant group on Twitter who admire those tattoos that footballers love to adorn their bodies with (have you ever seen David Beckham’s? Wow). Top of the beard plus “ink” stakes has to be American goalkeeper Tim Howard. I have seen him almost every week keeping goal at Everton in the English Premier League, but somehow during the World Cup competition he has acquired greater stature. Yes, stature is the word. Some of us on Twitter were a little overwhelmed by a PETA campaign ad featuring Tim, causing some of us to question whether he was real. This, of course, sent us to dear old Google to do a little more Tim research, coming up with some more impressive photographs to prove that yes, his tattoos (and everything else) were indeed the real thing. Wow. And he has done some fantastic saves, too.

But, the World Cup really is more than my father’s proverbial leg show. I swear. There have been so many touching, funny, sad and odd little incidents. Many records have been broken, and many “firsts”: for example, today Algeria qualified for the final 16 for the first time, causing their fans to go completely insane in Brazil, Marseille and Algiers. Colombia’s goalkeeper, Faryd Mondragon, was the oldest player ever at the World Cup, at age 43. Yaya and Kolo Touré’s younger brother Ibrahim died of cancer, aged 28, on June 19. The Ivorian brothers’ grief was palpable. By contrast, Miguel Herrera, Mexico’s coach, has been keeping us all amused with his energy and enthusiasm for his young team. Sweating profusely, at times nearly bursting out of his shiny suit and gesticulating wildly, the chubby coach grabbed the celebrating players and wrestled them to the ground when they won, rolling around with them in sheer joy. He photo bombs his players regularly, making crazy faces. The famed Cristiano Ronaldo managed to score one goal before Portugal was eliminated, and changed his haircut regularly, his special brand of hair gel gleaming (and melting) in the Brazilian sun. And as anticipated, Brazil’s Neymar and Argentina’s Messi are competing – both charming and delightful players, both scoring goals.

A friend tweeted plaintively the other day, “Why is the World Cup only every four years? Why can’t it be more often?” 

An eccentric Brazilian fan sends up a prayer.

An eccentric Brazilian fan sends up a prayer.

I know what she means. Perhaps because it is in Brazil, World Cup 2014 has a flavor all its own. And then there are the fans – crazy, beautiful, wild, in their insane costumes. They deserve a blog post all to themselves, and they shall get one.

PS I forget to mention. I have fallen in love, with an Argentine player called Ezequiel Lavezzi. A splendid name for a very handsome man. But I am keeping him to myself. Oh, OK then – go and look at my Facebook page, where my friends are all a-flutter. Viva Argentina!

You can check out my World Cup Pinterest board (271 pins and counting) here: 

#1 in the Beard and Tattoos stakes: Mr. Tim Howard, Everton FC and U.S. goalie. This was a photo campaign he did for PETA.

#1 in the Beard and Tattoos stakes: Mr. Tim Howard, Everton FC and U.S. goalie. This was a photo campaign he did for PETA. As they say on Twitter: #nowords

http://www.pinterest.com/petchary/fifa-world-cup-2014/

Goalies seem to like beards - do they look more macho and intimidating, perhaps? Here is Rais.

Goalies seem to like beards – do they look more macho and intimidating, perhaps? Here is Rais.

 

Charles Itandje of Cameroon's chin-hugging beard makes his face look longer, doesn't it. Very nice.

Charles Itandje of Cameroon’s chin-hugging beard makes his face look longer, doesn’t it. Very nice.