The Holness House Revisited, Trafigura Looms and Zika Updates: Jamaica on Friday, June 3, 2016

Apart from bouts of insomnia (is it the heavy, humid weather?) all is well. Our old dog has been taking refuge in our back verandah on a daily basis as thunder rumbles around (bringing little rain). It’s been an interesting week in journalism, actually – and lawyers have been very busy! I very much enjoyed talking to Nadeen Spence (an inspiration, to me) and the organizers of the I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation summer camp about blogging and activism, this morning at the University of the West Indies’ Mary Seacole Hall. Now…

Investigative journalist Zahra Burton, of 18 Degrees North.

Investigative journalist Zahra Burton, of 18 Degrees North.

Investigative journalist Zahra Burton has set the cat among the pigeons. Her report aired on Television Jamaica (TVJ) for her 18 Degrees North investigative journalism program (the first in a new series) revisited Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ home – and other properties, as well as property tax arrangements. The PM immediately sought his lawyers and categorically denied the allegations. According to Kate Chappell’s blog (read more here: https://jamaicajournal.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/18-degrees-north-receives-legal-threat/ ) the program was vetted by TVJ and Ms. Burton’s lawyers.“I am steadfast in my commitment to investigative journalism,” says Ms. Burton, “There is nothing to apologize for. We stand by our story.” Through his lawyer Gordon Robinson, the Prime Minister has demanded a retraction and apology within a week, threatening legal action if this is not done. The program was due for a repeat airing on Sunday morning, but a court injunction has just put paid to that. I did not watch the program, so cannot comment; but Ms. Burton would surely have been aware of the “atmospherics” in Jamaica, especially immediately after a closely fought election. The timing seems rather off, and TVJ is now in hot water.

Then the Jamaica Star came out with a rather baffling story about Opposition Member of Parliament Julian Robinson and his wife, who have apparently put down a deposit on an expensive house in Beverley Hills (valued at around J$70 million). So what?  “I just think it’s a lot of bad mind, because nobody can point to any activity with me that is illegal or nefarious,” says former state minister Robinson, who says he has always made his integrity declarations to Parliament on time.

Broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson Miller interviewing Andrew Holness back in 2013, as Opposition Leader. (Photo: newsandviewsbydjmiller.wordpress.com)

Broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson Miller interviewing Andrew Holness back in 2013, as Opposition Leader. (Photo: newsandviewsbydjmiller.wordpress.com)

DJM and the PM: Leading broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson Miller (often known as DJM) sat in a posh setting with Prime Minister Andrew Holness this week for a one-on-one interview, also televised on TVJ. As usual, Ms. Jackson Miller did an excellent job, questioning the Prime Minister in her incisive but fair and balanced manner. She is naturally skeptical – a good trait in a journalist. She quizzed the PM on his promise to make a full declaration of his finances, as the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Peter Phillips had demanded during the election campaign – and as Holness had promised to do. What’s keeping you, Prime Minister? Note: Mr. Holness has done two such interviews before, as Prime Minister and as Opposition Leader. Former PM Bruce Golding did one. Portia Simpson Miller did none.

trafigura

Trafigura hearing postponed: Yes, I told you the lawyers have been busy! Lawyers for former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, PNP chairman Robert Pickergill; PNP Region Three chairman Phillip Paulwell; and party member Norton Hinds about a J$31 million donation to the PNP in 2006 from oil trading firm trading firm Trafigura Beheer have appealed the hearing set for Monday in open court. They have somehow obtained a postponement. The Dutch Government is operating under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. I don’t quite understand the legal details at all, or what happens next; but I do know the lawyers, led by former Senator K.D. Knight and former Attorney General Patrick Atkinson, have done a masterful job in blocking the case so that their clients do not have to testify, for the past ten years. They’re smart. But…why is Ms. Simpson Miller so reluctant to testify in court? So Trafigura continues to loom.

More disheartening news of alleged police criminality and corruption: The owner of the minibus that crashed, killing five passengers and injuring nine others, last week in St. Ann is, in fact, a policewoman. She has not yet been charged I understand. The minibus was defective, was not licensed or insured, and the conductor who was driving did not have a driver’s license. Secondly, Constable Gladstone Williams and an alleged accomplice have been charged with the murder of Corporal Judith Williams in downtown Kingston on April 28. And thirdly, two police officers have been charged for fraudulently using government advance cards to obtain goods and cash. Ugh.

“Jamaica must never consider itself too poor a country to help,” said the Prime Minister on the subject of the beleaguered Venezuelans. He says he is going to try to find a way to assist – ironically, perhaps through the PetroCaribe Fund. Ah, well.

The landslide on the North-South Highway. (Photo: Gleaner/contributed)

The landslide on the North-South Highway. (Photo: Gleaner/contributed)

The North-South Highway has only just been completed, but already there has been a landslide that blocked one or two lanes in St. Catherine. The earth is apparently saturated by recent heavy rains (and the rains are forecast to continue this weekend). Were the developers in too much of a hurry to complete the highway? Are there other vulnerable points? Perhaps blasting their way through the hills wasn’t the best method for China Harbour Engineering Company to adopt. And if there is a hurricane…?

Sporting news (not good): Jamaican sprinter Nesta Carter, who ran the first leg in Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team in Beijing, has tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, which was found in his ‘A’ sample. If it is confirmed by his ‘B’ sample test results, then he may be banned and may even lose his gold medal.  Michael Frater, Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell also ran in the relay. Will they possibly lose their medals too?

Andrew "Flippa Mafia" Davis has received a 25-year prison sentence for drug trafficking in New Jersey. (Photo: Gleaner)

Andrew “Flippa Mafia” Davis has received a 25-year prison sentence for drug trafficking in New Jersey. (Photo: Gleaner)

And “Flippa Mafia” (what a name) – or Andrew Davis got a 25 year sentence and a heavy fine in New Jersey for helping to distribute cocaine via the U.S. mail service. His two brothers had already been sentenced. Why didn’t he just stick to dancehall music?

Take the mote out of thine own eye: Derrick Kellier made what I thought was a rather sad speech about the political party he serves, the PNP. Why was it sad? It was a regretful, nostalgic look back at the idealistic days of “democratic socialism” in the 1970s. Ah, those days are gone, lamented Mr. Kellier (who, it was revealed not long ago, had two of his daughters working in the ministry he was in charge of). Perhaps, Mr. Kellier and PNP, you could think about renewed standards. Perhaps you could reflect on what you have (collectively) done to strengthen governance over the last two or three decades when you have been mostly in power.

Back in Twitterland, I have to agree with these sentiments: The green and orange wings of the ‘articulate minority’ have become truly tedious now. When will the state of perpetual election mode end?”

Purgatory: I ask again… When will Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs (now Bureau of Gender Affairs) Faith Webster have her life taken off hold? Isn’t it about time?

It’s been a great week for interesting discussions: One on the “dehumanizing” aspects of social media with Arnaldo Brown on Newstalk 93 FM’s Fresh Start morning drive time show; I was a panelist at an amazing Skype discussion with graduate students from across the region at St. George’s University in Grenada (led by Jamaican Dr. Leo Douglas) on diversity in conservation; and thirdly, I had a very stimulating talk on social media advocacy, with Nadeen Spence and the organizers of the I’m Glad I’m a Girl Foundation summer camp, as they prepare for this important event. Lots of food for thought – and lots to write about, too.

 Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health, speaks during a press conference on the Zika Virus. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health, speaks during a press conference on the Zika Virus. (Photo: Norman Grindley/Gleaner)

Special kudos to Health Minister Christopher Tufton, who has gone the extra mile this week in terms of communication. What a refreshing change from his predecessor, who one recalls dismissed the Chikungunya Virus with a wave of the hand (literally) and kept us in the dark as much as possible. I attended an excellent G2K forum on Health Sector Reform at which Minister Tufton gave an informative, clear and intelligent presentation for half an hour without referring to any notes at all. Environmental Solutions’ Eleanor Jones and former head of the Jamaica Medical Doctors’ Association Dr. Shane Alexis also provided us with great insights. Then on Thursday, Minister Tufton gave us a pretty thorough update on the current state of the Zika Virus via a press briefing; you can find the text on the Ministry of Health website. Strangely, neither the Jamaica Information Service nor the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica saw fit to air a briefing on such an important topic live. The Minister told us there are only 16 confirmed cases (two of them pregnant women), but noted doctors have reported around 2,000 suspected cases this year – mostly in Kingston & St. Andrew and St. Catherine. He also told us the Ministry, with the assistance of Food for the Poor, will be obtaining thousands of mosquito nets and mesh to secure water in our drums – because as he keeps telling us, three quarters of the mosquito breeding sites are water storage tubs around people’s homes!

What do they expect might fall on their heads, I wonder? PM Andrew Holness, Technology Minister Andrew Wheatley, JPS CEO Kelly Tomblin and others wear the correct headgear as Wigton Wind Farm Phase 3 is officially opened. (Photo: PM's Twitter)

What do they expect might fall on their heads, I wonder? PM Andrew Holness, Technology Minister Andrew Wheatley, JPS CEO Kelly Tomblin and others wear the correct headgear as Wigton Wind Farm Phase 3 is officially opened. (Photo: PM’s Twitter)

Meanwhile, the Instagram Queen apparently has Zika… and of course, posted a video on Instagram. I am speaking of the spirited Opposition Member of Parliament and former beauty queen Lisa Hanna, who is currently trying to insert some much-needed energy into her party. Stay in the limelight, dear! And keep on pushing your party towards change.

Orrin Carr (Zanj Rrac) is the founder of the awesome online radio station Zanj Radio. And he needs your support for his studies in Sweden!

Orrin Carr (Zanj Rrac) is the founder of the awesome online radio station Zanj Radio. And he needs your support for his studies in Sweden!

Hailing up Zanj Radio! Orrin Carr (aka Zanj Rrac) is the founder of this online radio station with a difference. Zanj, who started broadcasting from his University of the West Indies dorm room in 2010, has been accepted for a Masters degree in Media Management at the prestigious Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). However, he badly needs funds to make it possible for him to take up the offer. His crowd-funding site is here: https://www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/send-zanj-to-the-royal-institute-of-technology–2/  Do help this young creative Jamaican if you can! I wrote an article for Global Voices, here:  https://globalvoices.org/2016/06/02/zanj-radio-jamaicas-online-music-station-with-a-social-message/

William Mahfood. (Photo: Gleaner)

William Mahfood of Wisynco. (Photo: Gleaner)

Congratulations to William Mahfood and the staff at Wisynco, who are already starting to bounce back from the major fire on their Lakes Pen compound. Mr. Mahfood sounds upbeat and morale seems high. I wish them all the best. Doing business in Jamaica ain’t easy.

Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Daryl Vaz (left); and Chairman of LASCO, Hon. Lascelles Chin (right), present a trophy to teachers and students of the Howard Cooke Primary School for winning the LASCO Re-Leaf Environmental Awareness Programme (REAP) competition. From second left are: teacher, Yakiesha Smith; students, Ricardo Hamilton and Mikalia Brown; and teacher, Olivene Walker. The award ceremony was held on June 2. (Photo: JIS)

Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Hon. Daryl Vaz (left); and Chairman of LASCO, Hon. Lascelles Chin (right), present a trophy to teachers and students of the Howard Cooke Primary School for winning the LASCO Re-Leaf Environmental Awareness Programme (REAP) competition. The award ceremony was held on June 2. (Photo: JIS)

Ingrid Riley

Ingrid Riley, founder and CEO of ConnectiMass and Kingston Beta. Congrats Ingrid!

Congrats to IT pioneer Ingrid Riley, who has been appointed as Chairperson of StartUp Jamaica! Ingrid posted on Facebook: “Being asked by the Government of Jamaica to serve is an honour. I’m eager and excited to get started working with fellow board members and the Tech Community. Our Entrepreneurs are awesome and deserve our support.” Big ups to Ingrid for her hard work and focus!

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How about giving back a little? Every two years, the Calabash International Literary Festival parachutes into the sleepy town of Treasure Beach. A bunch of great writers from all over the world enjoy being “rootsy” for a weekend, and then leave. Middle class Jamaicans (mostly women) flock down to the south coast for a  weekend of socializing, being entertained by said writers, and posting photos on Facebook. They are the fans. Many other Jamaicans go down to Calabash for a day, for a bit of profiling; it’s a great place to be “seen.” That’s all fine, and great fun. But I honestly wonder what Calabash contributes to the island in a lasting way. It’s something nice for the calendar on the Jamaica Tourist Board website. For a week or so every two years, the small enterprises in Treasure Beach do booming business. In its earliest years Calabash held free workshops for local writers and poets, and I hugely benefited from one of these (I wouldn’t have minded paying). Those workshops are now defunct, I guess for financial reasons, and no one has time. But how about sponsoring a group of students of English from the inner city to spend a day there listening to great writers and maybe meeting one or two? Hold some literary competitions for budding local writers? Surely a little money could be set aside to do something like this every two years. Well. It’s just a thought.

It’s very sad that I do not know the names of some of these Jamaican men who were killed. I don’t know why so many are unidentified, although that often happens with police killings. However, my deepest condolences go out to all the families. A middle-aged couple who ran a business in Southdale Plaza were shot dead as they closed their shop a few nights ago. All these are sad stories.

Helen McGoo, 50, Southdale Plaza/Constant Spring Road, Kingston 10

Gordon Davis, 60, Southdale Plaza/Constant Spring Road, Kingston 10

Junior Elliot, 27, Rodney Road, Kingston 13

Unidentified man, Innswood Estate, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Commodore/Linstead, St. Catherine (killed by police)

Unidentified man, Colbeck, St. Catherine

Unidentified man, Montego Bay, St. James (killed by police)

Ricardo Kerr, Hartford, Westmoreland

Unidentified man, Balaclava, St. Elizabeth

Ricardo Kerr, one of Westmoreland's "most wanted," was shot dead almost one year after he escaped from the Savannah-la-Mar police lockup. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Ricardo Kerr, one of Westmoreland’s “most wanted,” was shot dead almost one year after he escaped from the Savannah-la-Mar police lockup. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

WE-Change Celebrated International Women’s Day in a Very Special Way

WE-Change's powerful message.
WE-Change's powerful message.

Due to the pressure of other things, I was unable to attend most of the International Women’s Day events last week. There was a plethora of them, especially at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus, including a lecture at Mary Seacole Hall and the UNDP’s launch of a new publication “Where Are The Women?” to name but two… The event that I especially did not want to miss was WE-Change’s “Her Legacy,” which honored Jamaican women, with a focus on several individuals (including myself – I felt humbled). It was funded by J-FLAG and UN Women. I should not have been absent, but I had to be. However, I hear that it was an enormous success, attended by a cross-section of Jamaican women (and men). I am sharing below some thoughts from founder Latoya Nugent, and selected photographs from the evening’s happenings. This was a milestone event in many ways: WE-Change is an affiliate of J-FLAG, serving the Jamaican community of lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women. It is also a member of the 51% Coalition, and not yet one year old. Congratulations to them on bringing together Jamaicans in all them diversity! Here is a heartfelt piece by Latoya Nugent:

(l-r) Judith Wedderburn, 51% Coalition; Rochelle McFee and Latoya Nugent, WE-Change; Taitu Heron, UN Women; Nicolette Bryan, WE-Change; Nadeen Spence, Young Women's Leadership Initiative/Mary Seacole Hall. (Photo: WE-Change)

(l-r) Judith Wedderburn, Gender & Development Specialist/51% Coalition; Rochelle McFee and Latoya Nugent, WE-Change; Taitu Heron, UN Women; Nicolette Bryan, WE-Change; Nadeen Spence, Young Women’s Leadership Initiative/Mary Seacole Hall. (Photo: WE-Change)

#HerLegacy – ‘A Treasured Memory’

–Latoya Nugent–

Several months ago the WE-Change team decided that WE wanted to do something special, something different, to honor, celebrate, and commemorate International Women’s Day, or rather what has now become International Women’s Week.

WE knew that several groups, organizations and individuals would undertake a number of initiatives on March 8 – the day observed as International Women’s Day. WE didn’t want to add to what WE knew would have already been a hectic day for many persons, particularly those who always try to support all things women and all things gender equality!

WE knew the events would be awesome, but WE suspected that they would look and feel like many of the women’s events persons would have hosted over the years on this special day – a forum, and perhaps a lecture or two.

You should know by now that WE-Change is big on change, creativity, and consciousness raising. So WE conceptualized #HerLegacy and decided to host it a couple days after International Women’s Day on the evening of March 10, 2016 at the Doctor Bird Suite, New Kingston Conference Centre.

Viewing the gallery of honorees. (Photo: WE-Change)

Viewing the gallery of honorees. (Photo: WE-Change)

Under the International Women’s Day global theme – Pledge For Parity and the UN Women theme Stepping It Up For Gender Equality, #HerLegacy featured a small gallery of powHERful inspiring Jamaican and Caribbean women who have made significant contributions to gender equality in the region. The gallery recognised the contribution of Dr. Marcia Forbes, Dionne Jackson Miller, Carla Moore, Judith Wedderburn, Taitu Heron, Nadeen Spence, Joan Grant Cummings, Jean Lowrie Chin, Professor Verene Shepherd, Emma Lewis, Yaneek Page, Patricia Watson and Joy Crawford all from Jamaica along with Teocah Dove from Trinidad & Tobago, Kenita Placide from Saint Lucia, and Peggy Antrobus born in Grenada and naturalised in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Beyond showcasing these 16 powHERful women leaders WE also wanted to pay special tribute to women in spaces that are not always acknowledged: women in families and women in communities. WE also thought it most fitting to pay special tribute to three Jamaican women who WE refer to as our unplanned advisers: Taitu Heron, whom WE have dubbed as the Goddess of Wisdom, Joan Grant Cummings the Goddess of Knowledge and Nadeen Spence the Goddess of Intellect; they have been steering this 10-month old organization (WE-Change) into greatness! As part of our tribute, WE presented each of the goddesses with portraits created for them by the talented Veneesia Thompson of ManyMe Inc.

Imani Duncan Price shared memories of her inspiring mother, Grace Verona Duncan, who passed away in 2010. She worked for decades with children with mental and physical disabilities. (Photo: WE-Change)

Imani Duncan Price shared memories of her inspiring mother, Grace Verona Duncan, who passed away in 2010. She worked for decades with children with mental and physical disabilities. (Photo: WE-Change)

Hosted by MC Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis, the #HerLegacy programme also provided an opportunity for persons across three different generations to pay tribute to their mothers. Judith Wedderburn, Imani Duncan Price, and Jomain McKenzie (represented by Ifidel Williams) all shared inspirational stories about the lives of their mothers and how these women have moulded them into unique beings. Dr. Adwoa Onuora did a special reading from her recently launched book Anansesem, which elevates the role and impact of motherhood and mothering on black consciousness and national development; she shared a very intriguing, thought-provoking and illuminating story about a unique interaction she had with her daughter and how that experience evolved into a beautiful realization of the importance of black consciousness in self (no matter how young in age we are), as descendants of Africa.

WE-Change was sure to treat the audience of approximately 160 persons to crowd-rocking performances from two emerging Jamaican artistes J-mi and Anna Mariah who thrilled us with ear-pleasing music and smooth delivery – both performances were perfectly executed and earned the stamp of approval of the audience.

Earlier in the program WE heard from one of our senior officers, Rochelle McFee who offered remarks on behalf of the organization, packaged in the story of her own personal experiences with radicalism and the revolutionary impact of her grandmother’s mothering on her gender-blind outlook on life. Tonni Ann Brodber masterly delivered a brilliant presentation in her remarks on behalf of UN Women, which chronicled the flame that is still alive in women’s rights activists and advocates throughout the decades. She delved into the magnetic and irresistible energy among Jamaican and Caribbean women’s rights advocates, something she believes we should channel into what could perhaps become the most powerful social justice movement in the world. And it is this kind of organizing that is needed to challenge our government and the oppressive quality of our culture to ensure we achieve Planet 50-50 by 2030.

Thoughtful: Tonni Ann Brodber, Deputy Representative at UN Women Caribbean and Nadeen Spence of the Young Women's Leadership Initiative at the event. (Photo: WE-Change)

Thoughtful: Tonni Ann Brodber, Deputy Representative at UN Women Caribbean and Nadeen Spence of the Young Women’s Leadership Initiative at the event. (Photo: WE-Change)

#HerLegacy would not be complete without addressing one of the most common issues affecting women – violence in all its forms. So in spoken word form, Taitu Heron shared the gift of her pen and creativity with us; she performed three incredibly well written pieces, one of which was a renaming piece performed as a duet with Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis that demonstrated how easily we could begin to (re)address and (re)name each other using positive language, because we are kings and queens, not &%$# and &%$#. The most gnashing piece she performed was her Libation Poem for Women that recounted the experiences of Jamaican women and how we resisted and survived the ugliness and pain of slavery, colonialism and oppression of the woman’s body and mind.

This was followed by a sober, tear-jerking, agonizing, wound-opening personal story shared by a survivor of sexual violence. She narrated the horror of her experience even through the tears that pierced her eyes. The room was still. She spoke about her years of countless journeys to courthouses to ensure that that justice was served, and so it was! The perpetrator was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. At the end, the entire room stood in awe, and offered an applause that would go on for more than a few seconds. This, is the definition of a powHERhouse!

#HerLegacy was a success. And WE are grateful to UN Women (Caribbean) & J-FLAG for funding this initiative, and for investing their faith in this young organization. They were confident that WE would deliver.

My role model, Public Relations guru and philanthropist Jean Lowrie-Chin enjoying the event, along with her daughter Anita. (Photo: WE-Change)

My role model, public relations guru, writer, poet and philanthropist Jean Lowrie-Chin enjoying the event, along with her daughter Anita. (Photo: WE-Change)

It is this kind of support that young women’s activists, advocates and organizations need to continuously raise awareness about, challenge, address, and reduce Violence Against Women. It is this kind of support that is needed to tackle the culture of patriarchy and privilege that currently serve to oppress us because we dare to be women.

#HerLegacy would not have been the success it was without this support. The reviews have been extraordinary and WE are humbled by them. The online/social media dialogue about #HerLegacy before, during, and after the event was quite rich and extensive; at one point during the event our hashtag (#HerLegacy) was trending on Twitter in Jamaica!

It was a phenomenal evening!

WE did it!

“This event ‪#‎HerLegacy will be a treasured memory.

-Carla Petite, attendee-

 

 

 

The Non-Debate Election Campaign: UWI Blocks Town Hall Meeting on Campus, RJR Cancels Forum

CANCELLED.
CANCELLED.

My dear, patient readers: Please ignore my last blog post regarding a planned Town Hall Meeting with Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, Senator Mark Golding and representatives of the two smaller political parties. This was organized by two dynamic youth-led organizations, UWILeads and Integrity Action Movement (the student arm of National Integrity Action). The University of the West Indies (UWI) has blocked the event, canceling it a few hours before it was due to start. All representatives of the political parties were confirmed. The organizers had to cancel after the UWI administration’s blocking of the meeting, since they did not have enough time to relocate the event.

The reason for the cancellation of the event is not clear (the organizers were told they “did not follow protocol,”) and we await a statement from the UWI administration explaining its sudden and last-minute decision. As of my time of posting, the two organizations involved are waiting for information.

The students are upset and angry, and visited the Principal’s Office on campus seeking an explanation of the decision. Contrary to some earlier tweets and reports (which I shared), there was no  protest. A statement will be issued soon, I am told.

Meanwhile, RJR earlier today announced it would hold a “news forum” in which teams from the two political parties would be questioned separately by a team of its journalists on their plans, proposals and campaign issues for the 2016 General Election – that is, not a televised debate. The People’s National Party (PNP) advertised this as an alternative to the televised debate. Just a few hours after its announcement, RJR canceled its forum. The head of the Press Association of Jamaica Dionne Jackson Miller and RJR colleague Emily Shields had already announced that they would not participate, on principle – a position supported by veteran journalist Ian Boyne.

So, the election campaign is clearly degenerating into a series of refusals, withdrawals, denials and the cancellation of events that would explain the political parties’ policies and proposals as well as enlighten the general public. Who loses? The UWI students, youth, members of the public, television viewers, Jamaicans living overseas, undecided voters like myself… You name it. Well, didn’t I write a few days ago that the PNP’s campaign manager Peter Phillips was heading down a dangerous road? You could say that this series of mishaps and fiascos is a spin-off.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller shake hands at the 2011 televised political debate. No happy smiles and handshakes this time around. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller shake hands at the 2011 televised political debate. No happy smiles and handshakes this time around. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Meanwhile, the PNP confirmed in a letter to the Jamaica Debates Commission (JDC) signed by its General Secretary Paul Burke that it will not participate in any televised debates. The JDC has expressed disappointment, and says it will have to revisit its mandate (it operates under strict rules and guidelines, and can do nothing more).

So… The Jamaican election campaign 2016 has turned into quite a farce. It’s as if the Jamaican public’s right to be informed and enlightened on the issues in the pre-election campaign has been blocked at every turn. We might as well leave it all to the die-hard supporters at their various rallies.

 

 

Responses from National Integrity Action, Press Association of Jamaica and Private Sector Groups to PNP Withdrawal from Television Debates

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is greeted by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness during yesterday's signing of the Political Code of Conduct at Emancipation Park in New Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is greeted by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness during yesterday's signing of the Political Code of Conduct at Emancipation Park in New Kingston. (Photo: Gleaner)

There have been strong reactions to yesterday’s statement from the incumbent People’s National Party (PNP) outlining its stance on televised political debates prior to the February 25 general elections. The PNP’s statement was issued a short time after both parties signed a Political Code of Conduct. Its letter to the Jamaica Debates Commission is also posted on the PNP website here: http://pnp.news/2016/02/11/letter-to-debates-commission/ 

Influential private sector groups issued a statement last night – via the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA). A past head of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Christopher Zacca tweeted: “I fully support the PSOJ JMA JCC JEA statement expressing deep concern about the @JamaicaPNP pull out from the debates. Sad.” PSOJ Executive Director William Mahfood tweeted that the PNP’s decision was “completely unacceptable – flies in the face of our democratic process.” The anti-corruption NGO National Integrity Action and the Press Association of Jamaica also responded with strong statements. Please see below

jma

February 11, 2016

Private Sector (JMA) Calls for Decision on Political Debates

With an impending General Election underway, the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA), the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA) and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) are now deeply concerned about the lack of confirmation regarding the staging of the political debates, despite the persistent efforts by the Jamaica Debates Commission. The existing delays are quite perplexing, particularly as both political parties had signed off on the terms of a memorandum of understanding to cover the three debates, on November 11, 2015. As a coalition of private sector entities, it is our utmost belief that all political aspirants have a responsibility and a duty to share their vision for the sustainable development of Jamaica, and to make themselves available to participate in such a forum.

The cornerstone of any participatory democracy is the informed voter. We fervently advance that the political debates provide an opportunity for the electorate to adequately evaluate the policies proposed by the candidates and ultimately make an informed decision. We ardently assert that the political aspirants would be derelict in their duties to the people of Jamaica, if they were to forgo the highly anticipated political debates.

It is also disquieting that with merely fourteen days before the national polls, the two major political parties have yet to make available to the public their Manifestos. We continue to appeal for their release, so that the people of Jamaica are able to substantially analyze the content proposed to drive the country forward. All Jamaicans deserve such an opportunity to further grow and strengthen the democratic process.

Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)

Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)

 

February 11, 2016

For Immediate Release

NIA calls on the PNP to Reverse Debate Decision in the National Interest

National Integrity Action, in upholding its principles of transparency and accountability, regards the decision of the Peoples’ National Party not to participate in any debates with the Jamaica Labour Party as a backwards step for Jamaica’s democracy, notwithstanding the reasons offered. It should be recalled that:

  • Pre-election National Debates in 2007 and 2011 served the Jamaica people well in allowing them a better understanding of the issues;
  • “The right to seek [and]receive … information…through any media” is enshrined in Jamaica’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms;
  • The Access to Information Act identifies “transparency” as one of the “fundamental principles underlying the system of Constitutional Democracy”;
  • Successive Prime Ministers, including Prime Minister Simpson-Miller have pledged “greater openness in government” (Inaugural Address, January 6, 2012).
  • The decision not to participate in any debates with the Jamaica Labour Party runs in the opposite direction from both best practice and good democracy.

    The concerns raised by the Peoples’ National Party regarding statements and utterances by the Leader of the Opposition are real and must be dealt with in the appropriate forum, namely, by reports to the Office of the Political Ombudsman and by action through the Courts of Law. These concerns should not be used as a reason to deprive the Jamaican people of the opportunity to hear question and answers regarding plans to “Step Up the Progress” and concerning “The Path from Poverty to Prosperity”. The NIA therefore calls on the People’s National Party to reconsider its decision in the national interest and on the Debate Commission to do all in its power to ensure that the debate does take place and that Jamaica does not retrogress on this important aspect of its electoral democracy.

 Professor Trevor Munroe

Executive Director
1 (876) 383-2447

Dionne Jackson Miller heads the Press Association of Jamaica.

Dionne Jackson Miller heads the Press Association of Jamaica.

Meanwhile, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) today issued a statement via social media (@djmillerJA) and a hashtag #HoldTheDebates has started. Please see below…

The Press Association of Jamaica is alarmed at news that the National Political Debates may not be held.

The PAJ wishes to put on record its belief that it is of national importance that the Debates be held, with the participation of both major political parties.

“The election campaign is very short, which already limits the amount of time the public and media have to probe the positions of the individual candidates and their parties. To eliminate what has become an important source of information for the public would be a huge step backwards, and one we would condemn strongly,” says PAJ President Dionne Jackson Miller.
The Association believes it would be unacceptable in a modern Jamaican democracy for either of the parties to refuse the public the opportunity to see and hear its representatives questioned about issues of national importance. The PAJ is therefore urging the two parties to find other avenues to work out their differences, and not use the political debates for that purpose. The Association strongly urges the People’s National Party, as the party which has not yet agreed to the debates, to do so in the national interest.
The PAJ commends the Debates Commission for its tremendous work over the years in staging the national political debates, and calls for all well-thinking Jamaicans and civil society organisations to speak out, and join the call to ensure that the National Political Debates are again held, as the public expects.

Andrew’s Coercive Forces, Zika Approaches and Don’t Blush, Baby: Friday, January 8, 2016

A huge crocodile was found in Albion, St. Thomas this week, very close to people's homes. It was eleven feet long and so large and heavy it took six or seven employees of the National Environment & Planning Agency to carry it away to somewhere safer. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)
A huge crocodile was found in Albion, St. Thomas this week, very close to people's homes. It was eleven feet long and so large and heavy it took six or seven employees of the National Environment & Planning Agency to carry it away to somewhere safer. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

It’s been such a pleasant week. Half of me wants to get going on things, while the other has a hangover from the holiday and is inclined to laziness. I suspect there are others who are in this bipolar state! However, as expected, things are quickly warming up on the political front. And the weather? We are in a very dry spell, with water restrictions on the horizon.

More fallen trees: I hope that no politicians at any level had anything to do with the disgraceful protests on Monday morning (the day schools reopened after the holiday break) in North East St. Elizabeth. People’s National Party (PNP) supporters of Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce were upset. Very upset. They are not happy with the choice of Evon Redman as candidate in the next elections. The protest caused major disruptions to people trying to get going at the start of the week; also, a number of large trees were cut down. Please, if you must protest, don’t cut down trees! There is enough chaos and destruction already. It’s so sad! And the squabbles continue in the PNP. Young Damion Crawford has quickly gone off the rails again, on social media. We are all so tired of it, now.

(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Solange Ferreira bathes her son Jose Wesley, who has microcephaly as a result of the Zika virus. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

BBC World recently ran a short feature on expected “Big Health Stories for 2016.” The reporter mentioned several issues, including obesity, antibiotics, etc. However, no mention of the proliferation of mosquito-borne viruses; but then, it’s not a “First World problem” – yet. BBC World tends to ignore Latin America and the Caribbean at the best of times, mind you. But let’s be clear: the Zika virus is now in Puerto Rico (local, not imported), according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). As we now know, the virus is linked to babies born with an abnormally small brain (microcephaly) – usually quite a rare affliction. In 2014, Brazil had less than 200 cases of microcephaly; last year it was at least 3,000.It will soon be in Jamaica – sooner rather than later. I did a Storify on the topic. It’s here: https://storify.com/Petchary/the-zika-virus-approaches

I would like to ask Health Minister Dalley: Have the 1,000 volunteers been deployed yet in their anti-mosquito activities? Are funds being disbursed in the anti-Zika effort?  Any updates available, as it moves steadily closer? I have seen some good television PSAs from the Ministry, but will they be enough?

Andrew Holness at JLP Conference

Andrew Holness’ heavy-handed moralizing over “endangered families” was mere pandering, I know. Was Mr. Holness sincere? I often ask myself that question.

“Our Jamaican understanding of the family”: Opposition Leader Andrew Holness spoke at a fundamentalist Christian get-together under the headline “Heal the Family, Heal the Nation.” He supports the “teachings of the Holy Book” as taught to him by his parents, he told the meeting, and whatever the Biblical definition of “family” is. He said the family is under threat from “coercive forces.” The dreaded gays are out to destroy our families! But tell me, Mr. Holness: What is the typical family in Jamaica, today? What is really threatening the traditional “nuclear family” (which hardly exists in Jamaica) with extinction? I can think of a few threats: domestic violence, violence in the community, hunger, poverty, child abuse, incest, illiteracy, unemployment, children bringing up children. Should I go on, Mr. Holness? But then, you are merely pandering to the fundamentalists, aren’t you? Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who also attended the event, to her credit spoke in more general terms about the importance of family. Of course, but even if the family structure has changed, what’s important is love! 

The prices of both bauxite and sugar (two basic commodities on which Jamaica’s economy once depended) have declined drastically in global markets. So…

While it has created an enormous amount of environmental destruction, the bauxite sector is nevertheless a major employer in several rural communities and the closure of plants has resulted in considerable economic hardship in those communities.

While it has created an enormous amount of environmental destruction, the bauxite sector is nevertheless a major employer in several rural communities and the closure of plants has resulted in considerable economic hardship in those communities. Alternative livelihoods are needed.

Bauxite flounders: A number of Clarendon residents protested at the unhealthy living conditions they endure due to their proximity to the Jamalco bauxite plant (Clarendon Alumina Production Ltd). They say the company has not given them the compensation due to them for wrecking their lives (in particular, their farm lands that have been basically dug up). “We don’t get nothing, all we get is hole,” one complained. (Protesters claimed the police were very heavy-handed at the scene of the protests – and we saw this on television). Jamalco, which is wholly owned by the Government of Jamaica, is losing a lot of money. Its 2014 net loss of US$85 million exceeded its 2013 loss of US$55 million. Has the Ministry of Finance now released its audited accounts  by the way? And when will we see the March 2015 accounts?

Meanwhile, Noranda Jamaica in St. Ann (the same company which has been nibbling at the precious Cockpit Country, digging access roads and holes next to people’s homes) sent 100 workers home on December 21 (they are now back at work thankfully), and says it is discussing with the unions to make more workers redundant this month – up to one third of the workforce, it seems. The unions are not taking this lightly, but are awaiting the results of discussions. There’s a glimmer of hope, though, in the news that the hideous, toxic “mud lake” near Mount Rosser will be rehabilitated and eventually reforested. I didn’t think this was possible, but we will see. Rio Tinto Alcan (which now owns plants at Ewarton and Kirkvine) is undertaking the work. Oh, but what happened to the “rare earth” to be extracted from it, which Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell excitedly announced a few years back? It was to bring millions to the coffers. I guess it just didn’t work out…

Hampden Sugar Estate. (Photo: rumconnection.com)

Hampden Sugar Estate. (Photo: rumconnection.com)

And sugar not so sweet, either: Some Jamaican sugar moguls are not very impressed with the Chinese administration of some sugar estates. They seem rather miffed that the Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (a subsidiary of COMPLANT International), which purchased the Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge sugar estates for US$9 million from the government in 2010, has not revived the sugar industry as hoped – at least, not yet. With the Long Pond sugar factory now closed, its owners Everglades Farms (which bought two estates in the 2010 divestment) now just have their Trelawny estate, which fortunately is producing award-winning and delicious rum.

What happened to the planned divestment of Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport?

30 public beaches are being rehabilitated around the island by the Tourism Enhancement Fund. Work has started on 16 beaches, so far. I hope that residents will enjoy the beaches and also take care of the facilities!

Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill (centre), cuts the ribbon to officially open the refurbished Burwood Beach in Falmouth, Trelawny. (Photo: JIS)

Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill (centre), cuts the ribbon to officially open the refurbished Burwood Beach in Falmouth, Trelawny. (Photo: JIS)

Chris Gayle finally goes too far: The self-styled playboy and cricketer Christopher Henry Gayle has finally overstepped the mark, with his pathetically sexist comments to an Australian reporter. I did a Storify about it and was tempted to write a blog post, but enough already. Mr. Gayle is 36 years old and a seasoned professional sportsman, but seems to have no concept of what is appropriate. Since he fancies himself a ladies’ man, he could have saved his creepy approach until after the interview. Instead, he embarrassed himself in front of the cricketing fraternity, fans and the world in general. “Don’t blush, baby” (she wasn’t blushing).

One of Mr. Gayle's social media posts. Relaxing with the ladies!

One of Mr. Gayle’s social media posts. Relaxing with the ladies!

It’s a pattern of behavior. Mr. Gayle has been thoroughly cringeworthy for many years, in and out of the public eye. My sister sat next to him at a charity cricket event in the UK years ago, and told me it was an uncomfortable experience. His Instagram posts are, as the Australian press called it, “sleazy”. Gayle seems to be sex-obsessed and fueled by a huge ego – his non-apology made matters worse. But what harm is there in complimenting a pretty woman, many Jamaicans say (including women)? “Oh, it’s a simple joke!” says Gayle – the standard response by people who have just offended someone with their words or actions (whether racist, sexist or exhibiting some prejudice or other). In other words – “I found it funny. If you didn’t, then something’s wrong with you.” What also upset me was that Gayle’s behavior (over the years) just seems to reinforce that dreadful and unfair stereotype (as all stereotypes are) of a black man who only “thinks below his waist.” The stormy reaction in the Australian press may also be due to that country’s extreme sensitivity over sexism – it has quite a history in that area, going way back. My Storify is here: https://storify.com/Petchary/christopher-gayle-s-embarrassment

Dionne Jackson Miller heads the Press Association of Jamaica.

Dionne Jackson Miller heads the Press Association of Jamaica.

Here is Jamaican journalist and Press Association head Dionne Jackson-Miller’s take: “Female reporters have to put up with sexist offensive comments all the time. Most are not carried live on international TV so they just act professionally and get on with their jobs. Doesn’t mean they like it or accept it. From lame pick up lines to more sexually explicit comments, to condescending put downs, they put up with a lot. The comments downplaying the Gayle issue from people who should know better indicate a basic lack of understanding of appropriate behaviour in professional settings and the difficulties still faced by many professional women in general and reporters in particular.” Well said. 

The new Bailey's Irish Cream ad. What…?

The new Bailey’s Irish Cream ad. What the…?

Now, Bailey’s Irish Cream (a Jamaican favorite) distributed by Red Stripe/Diageo, just put out this online ad. What do you think of it? Reactions are flooding in on Twitter. I am amazed that Red Stripe actually thought this was appropriate. What message are they trying to send?  Poor taste, in my view.

On the mend: I am glad to hear that former Health and Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Kenneth Baugh is now out of hospital, after brain surgery last November. He is recovering, albeit slowly. Meanwhile former Spanish Town Mayor and Jamaica Labour Party candidate Dr. Raymoth Notice was released from hospital, after being shot two weeks ago. Yes, they’re both medical doctors!

No kudos for Gayle, but definitely some for…

LGBT, HIV/AIDS and human rights activist Angeline Jackson, who is now a Certified Life Coach. And still just 25 years old! Here is her blog: http://www.angelinejackson.com/blog Congratulations, Angeline, on your latest achievement!

Head of the EU Delegation to Jamaica Paola Amadei pays a farewell visit to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade AJ Nicholson. (Photo: MFAFT)

Head of the EU Delegation to Jamaica Paola Amadei pays a farewell visit to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade AJ Nicholson. (Photo: MFAFT)

It’s sad to say goodbye to Head of the EU Delegation Paola Amadei, who will be moving on to Germany. She has been very focused and supportive, especially on women’s issues; BirdsCaribbean is also grateful to her for her support for their 20th International Meeting in Kingston last July. We will miss her kind and gentle presence.

A group photo from the (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

A group photo from the Coaches Across Continents training in Jamaica. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

I do love football, and it does not have to be a divisive force. It’s good to see that the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation and Ballaz International have partnered to bring the NGO Coaches Across Continents, which uses football as a vehicle for social change, back to Jamaica for the third consecutive year. Close to 100 football coaches are being trained in Kingston and Montego Bay. Big ups!

A Maroon procession makes its way from rituals at the Kindah Tree to the center of Accompong Town in St. Elizabeth on January 6. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A Maroon procession makes its way from rituals at the Kindah Tree to the center of Accompong Town in St. Elizabeth on January 6. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The Accompong Maroons, who at their annual peace treaty celebrations vowed to preserve the Cockpit Country, threatened by the aforementioned bauxite mining.“There is more riches here than any bauxite can value,” said Maroon elder Melville Currie. Very well put.

My friends at the National Environment & Planning Agency (NEPA), especially Ricardo Miller, who rescued a very large crocodile in St. Thomas this week (see photo above). Kudos too to the residents, who did not harm the animal, which is a protected species. NEPA encourages Jamaicans who come into contact with a crocodile not to interfere with it, but to call the agency at its Corporate offices: namely (876) 754-7540 or the toll-free hotline at 1-888-991-5005.

I am not sure what has been happening in parts of Clarendon in the first week of the year. National Security Minister is telling us there has been a decline in murders in the past two months, but I am not terribly convinced.  And this week, a group of youngsters broke into the house of a 75-year-old woman in St. Ann, perhaps with robbery in mind. The woman was brutally raped. She is suffering “physical pain and mental trauma,” said the local councilor. My heart goes out to her; and also to the families of all those who have lost their lives in the past few days. 

Roshane Blake, 22, Chapelton, Clarendon (an alleged robber, killed by a licensed firearm holder)

Lloyd Riley, 76, Frankfield, Clarendon (allegedly killed by thieves trying to steal his cattle)

Dennis Temple, 59, New Ground, Chapelton, Clarendon (shot dead at his home)

David Hudson, Lime Hall, St. Ann

Damion Campbell o/c “Iron Man,” Lime Hall, St. Ann (both these men, police believe, were connected to the case of four family members, who went missing after a house fire on November 14 in Lime Hall)

Mario Hall, 30, Pimento Walk, St. Ann

Carmalita Dinall, 56, Mandeville, Manchester

Two local men have been charged with the murder of a Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus driver in August Town on December 29. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Two local men have been charged with the murder of a Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus driver in August Town on December 29. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

 

The dilapidated house where the body of Manchester Parish Council janitor Carmalita Dinnall was found buried. She reportedly had a dispute with a man over the sale of puppies. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

The dilapidated house where the body of Manchester Parish Council janitor Carmalita Dinnall was found buried. She reportedly had a dispute with a man over the sale of puppies. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

What’s Happening in Hispaniola? Viewpoints From Grenada, Jamaica and the Bahamas

Hispaniola? Where’s that? Some may ask. Oh, it’s that huge island, nearly 30,000 square miles in size and the second largest island in the Caribbean, divided into the Creole-speaking Haiti and Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. It is the island that Jamaicans do not visit that often, perhaps because of the language and cultural barriers; perhaps because of lack of interest. Who knows. Anyway, Haiti is a mere 190 kilometers to the east of Jamaica; but I suspect many Jamaicans know more about New York or London or Miami than they do about either of these countries that lie on our doorstep. Interestingly, Haiti closed its Embassy in Jamaica over three years ago. Please note that Haiti became a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 2002, and the Dominican Republic is an observer at CARICOM and a member, along with CARICOM’s fifteen member states, of CARIFORUM, an economic/trading bloc that has had a somewhat uncertain track record.

Now, things have not been going at all well between the Dominican Republic and Haiti recently, and the profoundly worrying situation there has caused some ripples throughout the region. Below is a blog post by Jamaican journalist Dionne Jackson Miller (you can read it at newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/uncertainfuture-caricom-and-the-dominican-republic/) followed by a much longer piece from the Groundation Grenada blog by the Bahamian Angelique V. Nixon and Guyanese Alissa Trotz, which also addresses the unsatisfactory situation in the Bahamas. This is at groundationgrenada.com/2015/06/12/where-is-the-outrage/.

Immigration and the accompanying human rights concerns is a growing, very disturbing global issue these days, affecting every continent. It seems to me, though, that the situation in the Western Caribbean smacks of xenophobia and racism, and that the Governments involved need to knock their heads together and find a decent, humane solution. This is absolute nonsense in the 21st century, and the actions of the Dominican Republic Government are an embarrassment to the whole region.

Meanwhile, CARICOM (as is its wont) blusters, puts out one or two disapproving statements – and does very little else. Like Dionne Jackson Miller, I would love to learn that they, too, are looking at solutions that will help their oft-beleaguered member, Haiti.

Dionne Jackson Miller.

Dionne Jackson Miller.

#UncertainFuture – CARICOM and the Dominican Republic

It’s encouraging to hear Jamaican Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister A.J. Nicholson explain that CARICOM has not been silent on the latest developments in the Dominican Republic, where thousands of people of Haitian descent, stripped of citizenship by a 2013 ruling of the DR’s Constitutional Court are now in fear of forced eviction to Haiti.

While encouraging, though, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say I want to hear more, and more loudly.

Senator Nicholson addressed Jamaica’s Upper House of Parliament on Friday and explained that CARICOM placed on the agenda of a June 11 high-level meeting of CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) and the European Union the human rights violations being committed against Dominicans of Haitian descent.

He said that “both sides agreed on the importance of the principles of the protection of the status of citizenship and the presumption that persons shall not be rendered stateless. The meeting also agreed that consideration would be given to proposals for “appropriate benchmarks and monitoring mechanisms” to be presented by CARIFORUM.”

Senator Nicholson also noted that at the 26th Inter-Sessional Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community held in The Bahamas in February, CARICOM Heads had decided that “the Chairman of CARICOM should engage with the EU High Representative on the Community’s concerns with regard to the Dominican Republic.”

The meeting also issued a statement expressing “grave concern a number of recent developments affecting grievously Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic. The process of regularisation of Dominicans of Haitian descent arbitrarily deprived of their nationality by the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court ruling of September 2013 expired on 1 February 2015. Government Officials indicated that it would not be extended despite the fact that only a very small number (6937) of the persons affected were able to apply in time, leaving a large number estimated to be over 100,000 vulnerable to expulsion.

“This distressing development needs to be placed in the context of the judgement of 22 October 2014 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which called for the nullifying of all the dispositions resulting from the ruling on nationality and for the reversal of the ruling itself. The Community reiterates its condemnation of the DR Government’s repudiation of international law.”

I have seen CARICOM’s statements on the issue and welcome the expressions of condemnation. The diplomatic efforts to get the EU on board should strengthen CARICOM’s position, and it is hoped will continue, and that we will see a coalition of outrage grow, and press the DR to reverse its current unjustifiable actions, and negate the Constitutional Court ruling which has left thousands of people stateless.

But call me greedy. I still want more from CARICOM.

It shouldn’t be that we have to be calling for the regional grouping to state its position. I want to hear voices from CARICOM raised in international fora, not confined to statements published discreetly on the CARICOM website, and for which you have to search closely and diligently.

I don’t want to wait for a single Foreign Minister (no disrespect Senator Nicholson) to elucidate the group’s position. Glad as I am to hear of the efforts that have been taking place, the voices I want to hear in public are those of the region’s Prime Ministers. PM Ralph Gonsalves is now the lone voice representing CARICOM in the media on controversial issues. What will happen when he retires?

The first time I wrote about this issue I was complaining about the lack of a strong position from CARICOM, and again it was PM Golsalves who was speaking for the region. CARICOM did come through with a much stronger position but the group never appears to have a strong committed voice and leader (apart from PM Golsalves.)

The main problem is that the current crop of CARICOM Prime Ministers is a generally disappointing lot, seemingly perpetually so caught up with domestic crises and petty parochial politics there appears to be little inclination to assume that position of regional stateman or statewoman willing to speak on the world stage.

On this, I would love to be proven wrong. I really would.

Angelique Nixon (Photo: Groundation Grenada)

Angelique Nixon (Photo: Groundation Grenada)

Where is the Outrage? – Tenuous Relations of Human Rights and Migration

It seems we are at a breaking point with state treatment of Haitian migrants and persons of Haitian descent, particularly in the Dominican Republic and The Bahamas. Beyond the issue of people being rendered stateless, there are disturbing reports about abusive treatment and human rights violations in The Bahamas’ detention center, mass deportations from the Dominican Republic, and the separation of families in both places. Haitian migrants and their children remain some of the most vulnerable people, and this continues to be more evident in the recent changes to immigration enforcement policies in The Bahamas and Dominican Republic. These grave conditions for Haitian migrants and people of Haitian ancestry across the Caribbean bring starkly into focus the tenuous meaning of rights and who gets to access protection. Further, pervasive xenophobic attitudes towards certain migrants, and specifically anti-Haitian sentiment, remain an underlying yet clearly serious concern facing us as a region.

In the opening months of this year, there were reports of possible lynchings of two Black men in the Dominican Republic. Videos also surfaced of the public humiliation and beating of a Black man and woman, which some have linked to anti-Haitian sentiment on the island (Reginald Dumas, On Being Haitian, Trinidad & Tobago Express, 10 & 11 March 2015).

Furthermore, reports from the Bahamas (end of 2014 into 2015) have raised serious concerns about the treatment of Haitian migrants and issues of citizenship. Specifically, these include: the rounding up of Haitian or Haitian descended children and persons (those undocumented as well as those seeking citizenship); the poor and inhumane conditions of the detention facility; reports of abuse by immigration officers; the content of the policy and reforms to immigration law; the deadly slow pace of resolving citizenship for persons who apply at age 18; and the targeting of Haitians in the enforcement of changes in immigration policy.

Alissa Trotz (Photo: Groundation Grenada)

Alissa Trotz (Photo: Groundation Grenada)

While some of these concerns are not new, the enforcement of the new immigration policy has been the source of recent concerns. In November 2014, the Ministry of Immigration in The Bahamas announced its new policy that calls for all non-citizens in the country to carry their passports and proof of residency, while children born to non-citizen parents must have a school permit. Since the enforcement of this policy, there have been reports of mass raids in known Haitian communities, and hundreds of people have been held in an overcrowded detention facility and then deported. This new policy has raised urgent questions about whether it will violate the rights of children – who technically by law are entitled to attend school (every child living in the Bahamas has a right to an education, and the country is also party to the Convention of the Rights of the Child). Children born to non-nationals are not automatically citizens but rather have to apply at 18 for status. While the Bahamas government has insisted that they won’t be “infringing on children’s rights,” official statements have emphasized that the Bahamas will be acting in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that children will also be educated pending decisions on whether they are ‘repatriated’ (this is the terminology used by Bahamian state officials) or allowed to remain on the island.

But it’s unclear how the policy will be enforced and particularly what will happen to children unable to produce a student permit come September.

Bahamian lawyers and human rights groups have responded to this policy change and immigration enforcement in several ways. Fred Smith, President of the Grand Bahamas Human Rights Association (GBHRA), has led a campaign against the government and called on international human rights agencies to respond. He asserts that the “government’s mass round-up policy is unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of the fundamental concept that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.” Describing the government’s approach as “institutional terrorism, if by that term we mean an inhuman and degrading policy designed to strike fear in the hearts of an entire community,” Smith argues “they are breeding ‘Haitian hatred’, racism and discrimination. It seems The Bahamas is now into ethnic cleansing.”

While the term ethnic cleansing may seem extreme to some, its use by Fred Smith draws attention to what he names as a ‘shock and awe’ policy. Rather than address immigration issues on a case-by-case basis, since November, migrants in the Bahamas have faced nighttime raids, separation of families, and overcrowding in the detention center. There are widespread reports of abusive treatment of migrants (of women migrants in particular) inside the detention center and during the process of “apprehension” and “deportation.” One incident that received major attention (with several articles in the Bahamas’ Tribune and Jamaica’s Gleaner) was the rape of a Jamaican detainee by a senior immigration officer, who was eventually put on leave.

This story has raised awareness about some of the issues at the detention center and with the horrific treatment of migrants, and in her case, she was held by immigration even though she had papers (spousal permit); she has brought charges against the state. The reports that haven’t received media attention are equally disturbing, as is the silence around what some describe as a targeting of people of Haitian descent and their children. Recently, a Bahamian-born woman of Haitian descent was denied maternal care in the hospital and her child denied access to school (Ava Turnquest, reporting in The Tribune, 12 & 28 April 2015). She has since filed for legal action over the immigration policy and violation of her and her child’s rights.

On 30th January, the New York Times published an article titled “Immigration Rules in Bahamas Sweep up Haitians,” which highlighted the stories of people being deported and children being deprived of status, while it also made some comparison to the rest of the region (glaringly missing, though, was any comparison to the United States’ policies on immigration and constant deportation of Haitians and ill treatment of migrants in detention centers around the country, a state of affairs described vividly by Edwidge Danticat in her 2007 book, Brother, I’m Dying).

The New York Times article provoked strong responses in Bahamian newspapers, including one that highlights the Minister of Immigration’s dismissal of the article as based on exaggerated claims and accusations from civic activists.

On 13th February 2015, however, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted a submission for precautionary measures filed by the Caribbean Institute for Human Rights (ICADH), the International Human Rights Clinic of the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, School of Law, and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights on behalf of over 200 detainees being held at the Carmichael Road Detention Center in Nassau, The Bahamas. The Commission’s analysis concluded that the situation was serious and urgent and that measures were indeed necessary to protect persons from irreparable harm. And the Commission sent a list of requirements of response and action to the government of the Bahamas (Resolution 4/2015). (See the full text of the resolution here)

On 20th March 2015, representatives from The Bahamas government were asked directly about these issues and more during the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing on the human rights situation of migrants in the Bahamas held. (All the hearings are available online and open access through the OAS website.) The petitioners (including Grand Bahamas Human Rights Association and the Caribbean Institute for Human Rights) presented their findings, which included reports of discrimination and ill treatment of persons being held in the detention center and rounded up in mass raids. They also discussed developments since enforcement of the new immigration policy, and how the government’s push to make amendments to immigration law after the implementation of new policy can been deemed unconstitutional. In their submission, petitioners also raised the issue of intimidation and threats to human rights defenders.

The Bahamas government was represented by the Minister of State in the Attorney General’s Ministry, who strongly refuted the petitioners’ report, defended Bahamas’ history of respect for human rights, insisted that the state has not violated human rights of migrant persons, and claimed that the detention facilities are in good order with provisions in place to charge officers who violated the rights of detainees. They also informed the Commission that the policy will now include the implementation of a “belonger’s permit” which would allow persons born in the Bahamas without status to stay in the country (i.e. children born in the Bahamas to non-nationals have the right to apply for citizenship at 18). They contested the notion that these children have a “right” to citizenship (since the Bahamas has Jus Sanguinis rules: citizenship is determined by having one or both parents who are citizens and not on birthplace), and they insisting that such children were not being denied the right to attend school; hence the new policy would not be violating any rights. The state also offered an invitation to the Commission for a country visit.

Not surprisingly, these two reports offered strikingly different understandings of what is happening on the ground to migrant persons and to people of Haitian descent in particular. Further, they disclose very different views on “rights” to citizenship, how this actually works in the Bahamas and who is targeted by these new policies and possible changes to immigration law. What is clear, regardless of the position of the Government of the Bahamas, is that migrant persons of Haitian descent are the most vulnerable and there are serious and urgent concerns about the detention center and how the policy is being enforced.

Commissioner Tracy Robinson is Rapporteur on the Rights of Women at the IACHR. (Photo: IACHR)

Commissioner Tracy Robinson is Jamaican. She has been serving a four-year term as Rapporteur on the Rights of Women at the IACHR since January 1, 2012. (Photo: IACHR)

After the representatives of the Bahamian state presented their report, Tracy Robinson, Commissioner and country rapporteur for the Bahamas, specifically called for state response to the following concerns: official efforts to prevent violence against migrants; the granting of due process and interpreters for migrants being detained; issues at the detention center in terms of overcrowding and ill treatment; and access to the detention center for human rights defenders. Noting that “[t]he state has a duty to exercise due diligence to prevent the violence as well, not simply to prosecute it when it happens,” Robinson also raised important questions in relation to the standing of the new policy viz existing immigration law and how the Bahamian state would address concerns raised about violations of rights and citizenship.

Rose-Marie Belle Antoine is President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). She has dual St. Lucia/Trinidad and Tobago citizenship. (Photo: IACHR)

Rose-Marie Belle Antoine is President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). She has dual St. Lucia/Trinidad and Tobago citizenship. (Photo: IACHR)

In her concluding remarks, IACHR President Rose-Marie Antoine reprised the Commission’s concerns regarding the criminalizing of persons through this new immigration policy and the targeting of persons suspected of being non-nationals. She asked about the use of enforcement and exactly how the policy/law will be implemented and the use of detention for persons who do not have passports on them. The gender dimension of citizenship was also explicitly identified as bearing specifically on ways in which this new immigration policy/law would render persons “stateless” (a child born in the Bahamas with a Bahamian father is automatically granted citizenship, whereas if a Bahamian woman is married to a non-national, their child is not granted citizenship but rather has to “apply” at 18). The state was asked to respond to these issues and allegations in writing and in due course. The official Bahamian response was brief, noting that the overcrowding of the detention center was “situational,” insisting that the Bahamian Government does provide due process for migrants, and indicating that a written report that responded to the other queries would be forthcoming. (The hearing is available on the OAS website: here)

Meanwhile, following the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal Ruling 168-13 and change of citizenship policy in September 2013, in May 2014, the DR passed Law 169-14 that established “A special set of rules for persons born in the national territory who are irregularly registered in the Dominican Civil Registry, and rules about naturalization.” The regularization plan, originally giving people just 18 months to request Dominican citizenship for children born to undocumented migrants, came to an end in February and was extended for another 90 days (amidst opposition from the right) to 15th June 2015. The government has announced that no more extensions will be granted. When the final deadline is reached, it means that overnight thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent will be rendered without status or the right to stay in the country of their birth. This is widely regarded as a violation of rights to citizenship as birthright is stripped away from people who are most vulnerable (Haitian migrants, Haitian Dominicans, and their children). And with this policy change, the DR will be able to legally deport Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry – which they have already been doing for years – even as they depend on their labor and exploit their limbo/stateless status. The Dominican government has claimed that there would be no mass deportations and the approach will be on a case by case basis; in late May it was reported that the foreign affairs minister of Haiti (Lener Reneaud) met his counterpart from the Dominican Republic (Andrés Navarro), to finalise a “Protocol for deportations” (thanks to Arturo Victoriano for clarification and translation).

All this has happened in spite of CARICOM’s response and civil organizations’ protests and petitions. And the June 15 deadline looms, with barely any notice across the region and internationally (with the exception of the Huffington Post and independent media.

In 2013 and 2014, there was a lot more attention to the issue; several critiqued the ruling and offered context for understanding the tenuous history and relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic (for example, see Richard Andre’s interview with Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danticat in Americas Quarterly, and Myriam Chancy’s powerful reflection published and shared on several sites including CaribVoices, The Haitian Times, and Repeating Islands, among others.). The authors of this article have both written about these issues (including Angelique Nixon’s article titled, “Limbo Citizens or Stateless People?: Human Rights, Migration, and the Future for Dominicans of Haitian Ancestry“, carried on Groundation Grenada’s website, and Alissa Trotz in two columns for the Stabroek Newspaper in Guyana). Following a successful campaign by activists/academics/academic-activists in the region and diaspora, CARICOM denounced the ruling and also delayed the DR’s bid for entry into the regional organization.

As Myriam Chancy argues, the ruling creates and reinforces civic death for Dominicans of Haitian descent as well as Haitian migrants across the region (and for Haitian migrants around the region): “This issue of creating civic death is what we need to most be alarmed about in the face of increasing social and economic inequality, forced migration, and environmental challenges facing the region; we are living in uncertain and dangerous times. And while we don’t want to support or replicate neocolonial paradigms upon each other in the region, we must find ways to hold each other accountable for any violations of human rights; and I would further argue that we must find more ethical ways to deal with migration and rights across the region, especially for our Haitian brothers and sisters” (“Apartheid in the Americas: Are You Haitian?” 24 October 2013). Chancy’s poignant remarks resonate even more clearly in this moment.

The ruling and subsequent enforcement of change in citizenship status have been widely regarded as a political and humanitarian crisis in the DR. And with the recent abuses and mass roundups of Haitians in the Bahamas (a situation that CARICOM seems unable to find a response to, despite being in the country for its 26th Inter-Sessional meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government where an explicit commitment was made to the organization’s ongoing no business as usual policy with the DR), it seems the region is far from finding more ethical ways to deal with migration and citizenship rights. What is striking indeed, is the similarity not only in the rhetoric between the Bahamian and Dominican governments but also in the solutions being proposed.

While there has been some media attention to these issues across the region, and even some international reports, there has been a surprising silence and lack of outrage. Certainly, human rights violations around immigration and detention centers are far from new news. But there are several troubling questions that should prompt our concern, outrage and commitment to change. It is clear that people of Haitian descent continue to be targeted unjustly and overtly in new immigration policies as they are scapegoated as “the problem” underlying social ills in various contexts (as migrant communities so often are). It is also clear that women migrants in detention need serious and dire attention, as more reports of violations at the detention center in the Bahamas have surfaced in the past few months (from the case of the Jamaican woman who filed charges in April to most recently reported in the Tribune on 9th June, another immigration officer was suspended following an accusation and investigation of “inappropriate conduct.”)

With recovery efforts still underway in post earthquake Haiti, this assault on migrants and persons of Haitian ancestry urgently underscores just how much work there is left to do across our Caribbean. It is time to call out anti-Haitian sentiments and xenophobia that underpin much of the migration and citizenship issues in the region. It is time to forge and create responses that are regional in focus and promote solidarity and solutions grounded in social justice. It is time to find better ways of dealing with migration, citizenship, regional movement, and labor. And it is time to develop stronger and intersectional approaches to these issues that take into account class, gender and other differences and inequality.

We must keep visioning a just future – one with dignity and freedom for Haiti and Haitians all over the world, for all migrants who have similar experiences, for the Caribbean and all Caribbean people – in which we come together across our differences to create and build regional solidarity.

Sentilia Igsema (2nd R, seated), born in 1930 in the Dominican Republic to Haitian immigrants, poses with four generations of her family outside their home in Batey La Higuera, in the eastern Seibo province, October 7, 2013. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

Sentilia Igsema (2nd R, seated), born in 1930 in the Dominican Republic to Haitian immigrants, poses with four generations of her family outside their home in Batey La Higuera, in the eastern Seibo province, October 7, 2013. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

Our Youth Must Be “The Next Voice for the Environment”: JET’s Schools’ Environment Programme

Due to our family visitor duties (albeit very pleasant duties) I have missed several events. Here is one important one. Over the years, the Jamaica Environment Trust has persevered with its programs that seek to educate our children on a range of environmental issues. It is interesting that the rural schools have done particularly well this year. Congratulations to all!

“Who will be the next voice for the environment?” asked President of the Press Association of Jamaica, Dionne Jackson Miller of the students in the audience at the Jamaica Environment Trust’s (JET’s) Schools’ Environment Programme (SEP) Awards on Tuesday, June 23. Mrs Jackson Miller, the keynote speaker at the awards ceremony, charged students participating in JET’s flagship environmental education programme to be the voices of their generation on environmental issues. “Who saw pictures of the Riverton fire earlier this year?” Mrs Miller asked the children in the audience, “and who was most affected? That’s right, the children – so it is up to you to speak out about the environmental issues which affect you.”

President of the Press Association of Jamaica and guest speaker at the event Dionne Jackson Miller speaks to students of Sandy Bay Primary & Junior High School about their research on the medicinal uses of plants. (Photo: JET)

President of the Press Association of Jamaica and guest speaker at the event Dionne Jackson Miller speaks to students of Sandy Bay Primary & Junior High School about their research on the medicinal uses of plants. (Photo: JET)

The SEP awards highlighted and rewarded the work of schools participating in the programme, the longest running of its kind in Jamaica. Delivered in 31 schools across the island in the 2014/15 academic year, SEP guided teachers and students in campus-based activities they undertook through their schools’ environmental clubs. In early June representatives from the environmental education community traversed the island judging 12 of the top performing SEP schools. Each school was assessed on the four SEP thematic areas: greening, solid waste management, environmental research and the strength of the environmental club. Ten outstanding schools were then chosen to be awarded for their efforts in SEP in the awards ceremony which took place on Tuesday. The participating schools greeted sponsors, JET members and other specially invited guests at the event with a fantastic display of their creative environmental projects to kick off the ceremony. Displays included research projects on environmental issues affecting their school communities, energy conservation and community outreach.

Students of Vista Preparatory School in St. Ann explain the importance of Parrot Fish to Andrea Stephenson of Total Jamaica. (Photo: JET)

Students of Vista Preparatory School in St. Ann explain the importance of Parrot Fish to Andrea Stephenson of Total Jamaica. (Photo: JET)

“It seems to me that it is up to all the young people who have been part of these environmental education programmes – not just run by JET, but by many other organizations – to bring about a different future,” said JET CEO, Diana McCaulay addressing the students in her opening remarks. Greetings were brought on behalf of the main funders of SEP, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority by Peter Knight, CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), who applauded the work being done by JET and the SEP schools. Ms Paula Duncan, Total Jamaica’s Human Resources Manager spoke on behalf of all the SEP corporate sponsors commenting that they were proud to be a supporter of a programme which produced such amazing environmental projects by participating schools.

A student from West Indies Preparatory School in Manchester shows CEO of the National Environment & Planning Agency Peter Knight some tomatoes grown in the school's vegetable garden. (Photo: JET)

Students and teachers of Mount St. Joseph Preparatory School and Holland Primary School  with representatives of NEPA and Total Jamaica showing off their Champion School plaques. (Photo: JET)

Following an enjoyable performance by St Michael’s Primary of a dub poem entitled “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica’, SEP awards for the 2014/15 academic year were announced. Special prizes were awarded to Pisgah All Age, St Elizabeth, Mar Jam Preparatory, St Ann, West Indies College Preparatory, Manchester and St Michael’s Primary from Kingston for commendable achievements in their environmental clubs outside of the SEP thematic areas. Sectional prizes were then awarded to Maryland All Age, Hanover for Greening, Pimento Hall International School, St Ann for Environmental Research and Vista Preparatory, St Ann and Sandy Bay Primary, Hanover for their community outreach projects. The prize for SEP Champion School was declared a tie by judges and went to Mount St Joseph Preparatory from Manchester and Holland Primary from St Elizabeth.

A student from West Indies Preparatory School in Manchester shows CEO of the National Environment & Planning Agency Peter Knight some tomatoes grown in the school's vegetable garden. (Photo: JET)

A student from West Indies Preparatory School in Manchester shows CEO of the National Environment & Planning Agency Peter Knight some tomatoes grown in the school’s vegetable garden. (Photo: JET)

JET sincerely thanks all our environmental education sponsors, without whom this work would not be possible.

St. Michael's Primary School in Kingston performs a dub poem "Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica" at the Schools Environment Programme event on Tuesday. (Photo: JET)

St. Michael’s Primary School in Kingston performs a dub poem “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” at the Schools Environment Programme event on Tuesday. (Photo: JET)