Features

Jamaica 2005 Year in Review

Written by Cordella Lewis

Hot news items for 2005 seemed to suggest that criminal activities may have developed a tendency to be more repetitive than to increase in intensity. They also intensified within designated areas; for instance ‘garrison’ areas around Spanish Town signified their intention to unseat the popularity of the Port Royal of a bygone age in terms of notoriety. The Pirates had migrated from the high seas and were now roaming the byways and hedges (new intra-island super highways thrown in the mix) of the island in modern cars licensed by politicians whose questionable links with them had been gradually unearthed over the months. The ‘buzz’ was that the two gangs battling for ‘territory’ were firmly seated in the lap of both political parties. King Fish drew some big fish into their nets, putting away those gang leaders and dons who were not put down by their own disgruntled and independently armed disciples –a growing tendency for which the police cannot take much credit. Tension was further added by the fact that the Minister of National Security was faced with a request for remuneration increases and this at a time when several of their numbers had lost their lives in the line of duty.

Extortion grew from a whispered rumor into a many-headed monster, mutating from a newly-hatched pest to the merchants of downtown Kingston to the towering creature which had the frightening capability to shut down the streets of the Old Capital. So vicious were its tentacles that they reached into the pockets of ordinary higglers selling from make-shift cardboard shelters on the sidewalks. Many business giants in the area, including fast food suppliers had seen the writing on the wall and invested in gated shopping malls, moving their business to more ‘protected’ malls- for the time being. The influence of the bad boys encompassed the clearing of street sellers; confining unwilling vendors to inner market spaces which they felt robbed them of sales.

A new mayor took over the reins of the beleaguered city and found himself facing the wrath of Katrina, and resorted to the less self-effacing activity of a cleanup.

Other criminal actions moved (perhaps more like checkers than like chess) across the board between Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay, with a brief foray into Clarendon, read May Pen, Crawle and Rocky Point. The so-called leader of a Spanish Town based gang was shot after months of espionage, in a multi-storied mansion in Clarendon leaving several millions in real estate, transportation vehicles and construction machinery. Speaking of Clarendon, watchers earlier in the year paid a lot more attention to the difference in spelling between Crawle and the original Kraal than to the center stage on which top cop Reneto Adams found himself. (Incidentally, and ironically, the Afrocentric word “Kraal”originally meant a protective enclave significantly circular in shape). A few other sleepy rural hamlets in Jamaica have likewise been rudely shaken out of their innocence. After efforts made by the police and the courts to settle the dispute surrounding the killing of the occupants of a house in Crawle, the year ended with the dramatic acquittal of Adams. It is felt that the message sent out by citizens, clergy and the constabulary force – now led by Lucius Thomas and Mark Shields and planning to turn out new trainees – alike, is that they are determined to “take back the island” from the criminals.

Effect on Children

Crime had such a particularly negative effect on children especially in the inner city that it was remarked on by the international body overseeing the welfare of children.

Macabre history was made when a ten-year-old girl was caught in a burning building with her grandparents-all caught in a fatal net not of their own making. Again rumor suggested that reprisal was at the root of the dastardly action that prevented their escape from locked grills. During the year, several schools were forced to close, many children participated in funerals of classmates, and forceful abduction of children reared its ugly head. Another girl under the age of twelve was placed on the stand to testify about what she saw or didn’t see at Crawle, with some accusations of tutoring thrown in for good measure.

Minister of Security Phillips was hard pressed this year to maintain his hold on his own credibility as a serious contender as an aspirant for the top post after Prime Minister Patterson steps down from office in the new year.

Sports

Asafa Powell returned home in triumph to see his picture elevated on the grounds of Jamaica House overlooking Hope Road. The failure of the Cricketing Aggregation, the Netball Nannies and the Football Footsies has thankfully been overshadowed by the encouraging performance of the under twenty brigades in most of the island’s sports. Mr. Fennell probably pulled off a coup when he succeeded in getting Ambassador Ottey to be so gracious as to return home in time to have her statue unveiled before the “Xmas Axe” fell! Loyal and gentlemanly Jamaican that he is, he managed to convince watchers that plans to honor Sister Merlene had been fermenting in the national pipeline.

Education

Most educational institutions at primary, secondary and tertiary levels continue to do well under difficult circumstances. This year, more focus has been placed on Early Childhood (Shortwood College now offers Associate level studies), while tertiary level students now gain credits for supervised Community Outreach Projects done during the semester. This year too, an in-depth study of examination performances at secondary levels was executed by a scholarly Jamaican. It revealed weaknesses (more in supervision than in execution), and strengths which re-confirmed the staying power of rural schools of long-standing reputation, including boarding institutions such as Westwood, Hampton and Munro.

Politics

As the race for The Succession intensified, Portia (and her new Team) managed to maintain her hold on the public imagination in terms of popularity to the same extent that The Bruce let go of his. Arriving in the vicinity of Tawes Pen ostensibly to help quell the latest mid-year disturbance, he opened his mouth and, pushing his foot aside, declared that if the police came in, it would be ‘bangarang’- a word that should be used only in a traditionally and culturally acceptable way. And this raised too many questions in the minds of the populace, because although they regularly mete out to the police more than their fair share of cussing, they know that for fire, flood, thief, murder, praedial larceny, rape and ‘dissing’, a-who you gonna call? CRIME BUSTERS !

Rising from the ashes of the West, the Hon. Karl Blythe came riding as a bona fide contender for a place in the sun on the steed of his cleared name, a name cleared of a certain mishandling of designated funds when he was Minister of one of those pesky Utilities. New affiliations and Loyalties came to light as individuals and groups came out of the woodwork to claim and lend support. Beverly, having just stepped off the Media talk show platform to settle in to writing her book, was lured by the new concept being promulgated by Omar for a First World vision for Jamaica. Public statements were made as to who will go on supporting whom, should the results turn out otherwise than expected. And so continues the run-up to, let’s say, about April of 2006, when it will be spring, and when the new Budget is usually unfolded to the bewildered eyes of the voters.

About the author

Cordella Lewis