2012 was an active year for Jamaica, marked events that included the election of a new Prime Minister, the spectacular performance of Jamaican athletes at the 2012 London Olympiad, and a year-long celebration of the nation’s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain. The year also saw Jamaica suffer major damage and devastation from Hurricane Sandy.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller
One of the first statements from newly elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller involved her promise to make take Jamaica further along the path of independence, replacing the British Queen with a president as its head of state. While Miller praised Queen Elizabeth II, she stated her belief that it was time for Jamaica to join with other Commonwealth nations in the Caribbean and move toward republicanism.
The new government of Portia Simpson Miller was instructed by the Prime Minister to begin its work right away. Once of the first actions of the government involved discussions with potential investors about how to stimulate the nation’s economy.
The opposition Jamaica Labor Party supported the plans of the Prime Minister to end Jamaica’s relationship with the Privy Council, which is based in the United Kingdom. Simpson Miller said she plans to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice based in Trinidad and Tobago as the final court of appeals for Jamaica.
Simpson Miller made several trips abroad during 2012. In September she addressed the United Nations General Assembly and urged the members to pay closer attention to middle-income countries like Jamaica when considering developmental issues. She noted that many of the world’s poorest people live in middle-income countries like those in the Caribbean. She also called for UN support for countries like Jamaica as they battle for food security, a particular problem in a region at risk for natural disasters. She also called attention to Jamaica’s great potential, much of which is not reflected in its present economic indicators and advocated for reforms in global economic governance.
On a trip to Canada in October, the Prime Minister told that country’s head of state Stephen Harper, who promotes links with royalty, that it was time for Jamaica to determine its own form of government and is considering becoming a republic. She also said that Jamaicans will always respect and honor the Queen, however.
In honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee Year, her grandson, Prince Henry of Wales, made a four-day visit to Jamaica in March. During his visit, he “raced” Usain Bolt, danced to Bob Marley’s music, and visited Kingston, Trelawny, and Montego Bay. He toured Bustamante Hospital for Children and the Victoria Jubilee Hospital and also participated in a military exercise with the Jamaica Defense Force. He met with representatives of the government and with high school students as well.
A time capsule created as a Jubilee gift to the Queen will contain photos of Prince Harry’s visit, while the Prince will contribute a letter expressing his thanks to Jamaica’s government. The time capsule project involves individuals from all Commonwealth countries sharing their memories in honor of the Queen.
The 2012 Olympic Games in London gave Jamaica the opportunity to again show the world prowess of its athletes. Usain Bolt, who won gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and who was already a world record holder, carried the Jamaican flag during the opening ceremonies in London. Jamaicans in the United Kingdom joined with those on the home island and around the world to cheer on their Olympians.
Jamaica’s top four sprint athletes combined their expertise in the 4 x 400 meter competition. Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt, Nesta Carter, and Michael Frater set a world record in the race with a time of 36.84 seconds. Bolt ran in three races and won the gold medal every time. The runner-up in both the individual 100-meter and 200-meter sprints was Bolt’s friend and training partner Yohan Blake.
Jamaicans had a clean sweep in the men’s 200-meter competition, with Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, and Warren Weir taking the gold, silver, and bronze medals, respectively. Bolt retained his title of “greatest sprinter in history” clocking 19.32 seconds over the distance.
On the women’s side, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won a gold medal in the 100-meters in London, defending her previous Olympic victory. She then took a silver medal in the 200-meters.
Jamaica’s 4 x 100 women’s team members Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Sherone Simpson, Veronica Campbell-Brown, and Kerron Stewart, added to the nation’s medal count and set a national record for the race with a time of 41.41 seconds, taking a silver medal in London.
All the athletes who represented Jamaica at the 2012 London games received rewards at the behest of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. A special committee was created to handle the rewards for the athletes’ performance, which was the best in its history. Jamaica won a total of 12 medals in London. The athletes were among the 157 Jamaicans who were recognized at National Heroes’ Day in October.
Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Yohan Blake were nominated at IAAF male and female Athletes of the Year for 2012. Usain Bolt went on to be named Athlete of the Year by the organization in November.
50th Anniversary of Independence
2012 marked the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence, and Jamaican worldwide scheduled events to celebrate.
In the face of security concerns, the Jamaica Constabulary Force assured all authorities and participants that celebrations would be safe.
Celebrations around the world were too numerous to mention individually, but Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Dr. Wykeham McNeill, announced some of the celebrations planned for locations around the world in June. In particular, he mentioned the two-week-long event “Respect Jamaica 50,” which was held in a number of locations in July and August. The event was held in Canada, New York, and London. Many events were held in South Florida as well.
Ten Jamaican musicians worked together to write and record a Jubilee song to celebrate independence. The song, entitled “Mission 50,” was created by Shaggy and celebrates Jamaica’s Olympic athletes. Shaggy wrote the song at the behest of Robert Bryan, project director of the Jamaica 50 Secretariat. Other artistes on the recording include Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley, Assassin, and Tifa, among others.
Edward Seaga, former Prime Minister of Jamaica and its longest serving Member of Parliament, acknowledged the impact of music on the nation’s experience and created a historical and comprehensive CD boxed set called “Reggae Golden Jubilee – Origins of Jamaican Music.” Seaga himself chose 100 of the most significant songs from Jamaica to honor the nation’s 50th anniversary of independence.
The celebrations were not without controversy, however, as Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s government later faced questions about the J$41 million spent for technical services associated with the Jamaica Golden Jubilee Village. The contract was awarded outside the scope of the Office of the Contractor General, but Robert Jordan, director of the project at the Jamaica 50 Secretariat, assured critics that the country received good value for the money.
In October, Jamaica was hit by a very large and damaging storm that went on to devastate parts of the northeastern United States. Hurricane Sandy had a serious impact on Jamaica. Losses from the storm included several deaths and financial damage totaling at least $16.5 million. Damages in Jamaica, where Sandy hit at a Category 1 storm, included impacts to livestock and crops like coconuts, bananas, Blue Mountain coffee, and peppers. Luckily, the tourist areas were not severely affected, and Jamaica’s tourism industry remained open for business.
However, Evelyn Smith of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association noted that the severe damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy on the northeast United States could have a negative impact on the island’s tourism industry, since this part of the U.S is Jamaica’s largest source market. Forty percent of Jamaica’s tourist business from the U.S. comes from Boston, New York, Washington, and Philadelphia.
Later estimates of agricultural damage from the storm totaled as much as $1 billion. According to Ian Hayles, Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, some 11,000 Jamaican farmers felt the blow of Sandy, and about 1,500 hectares of crops were totally destroyed. Hayles said it will take the agricultural sector some time to recover from the damage.
While Sandy may have been the most impressive storm, other disasters in combination with the hurricane drove up repair costs for Jamaica. In 2012, Jamaica faced a repair bill from disasters totaling some $1.7 billion. The costs were associated with restoring infrastructure. Heavy rains in September and October caused serious road damage estimated at $300 million, and damage to Port Marie and surrounding areas was estimated at another $100 million.
More tolerant society
Jamaican society as a whole became more tolerant during 2012. There were protests against homophobic behavior and violence against women and activists for both causes became more prevalent. Jamaicans called on the government to impose harsher penalties for rapists, and major demonstrations were scheduled to condemn violence perpetrated against women.
According to a national survey conducted by the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) released in June, more Jamaicans are tolerant of homosexuals as people, but still oppose homosexuality. About one-fifth of Jamaicans is tolerant of the gay-lesbian-transgender community and supports making an addition to the Charter of Rights that would provide such individuals with impartial treatment.
When security guards were charged with assaulting a University of Technology student in Kingston because they believed him to be homosexual, they were fired, and university officials made a strong condemnation of the attack. Jamaicans for Justice demanded action from the government to address violence and intolerance toward gay people.
Protests organized after the attack indicated what was characterized as a “phenomenal shift” in public opinion, according to Collin Virgo of the Jamaica Labor Party. He noted this was the first time in his memory that public opinion was not focused against homosexuals, but instead at the attackers.
Focus on Agriculture
The government has focused its attention on revitalizing the agricultural sector of Jamaica’s economy. The Ministry of Agriculture has moved to protect the Jamaican brand on exported products, and efforts are being made to facilitate the recovery of the coffee, banana, and sugar industries. Jamaican also entered the commercial bamboo market.
Negotiations between Jamaica’s Prime Minister and the European Union after Hurricane Sandy resulted in an agreement whereby the EU will allocate J$13 million to help farmers get the fertilizer and pesticides they need to revitalize their banana crops. The European Union is also providing support for agricultural exports from Jamaica to get into compliance with international standards of quality through the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) Capacity Building Project.
Sugar cane farmers could see financial rewards from the Fairtrade Plan. This plan could allow the farmers to obtain US$60,000 per ton up to 20 tons of local cane if they use environmentally sustainable methods.
As part of its focus on the agricultural sector, the government also encouraged Jamaicans to purchase locally grown and produced products. Jamaica showcased its authentic food products at the Olympic Games in London, and home-grown food products are being promoted by their manufacturers to Jamaican buyers. Senator Norman Grant even asked Jamaicans to shun imported foods during the holiday season, believing that all Jamaicans should work to protect the agricultural portion of the island’s economy. He noted that increased dependence on foreign foods has increased in Jamaica in the past several years, having a negative impact on the local producers and imposing high costs on the country from imports.
The KFC Pilot Project in Jamaica also represents part of the new trend toward eating local and traditional foods. KFC restaurants on the island have started to serve traditional Jamaican breakfast products, providing Jamaicans with good value, while opening an opportunity for growth in the company.
In 2012, Jamaica made a number of agreements with other nations, including China, Cuba, Venezuela, Japan, and countries in Africa and the Middle East. Jamaican and China signed an agreement to rehabilitate infrastructure on the island, while the Jamaican Ministry of Education started a collaboration with the Education Ministry of South Africa.
Jamaica’s high schools have started to offer classes in Chinese, and government ministers made several trips and investment missions to China and Singapore to discuss furthering trade.
Mindray, a major electro-medical equipment manufacturer based in China signed a Statement of Intent with the Jamaican government to pursue investment opportunities.
There was a continued expansion of access to the Internet via broadband technology in Jamaica. Consequently, revenues for telecoms in Jamaica rose considerably, by an estimated 138 percent. As a result of enhanced Internet access and computer technology throughout the island, Jamaicans are getting more chances to obtain their educations remotely. Remote learning programs were introduced in several areas, and communications industry observers believe that 2013 will only see more growth in the technology that will increase the benefits of social and new media.
Energy management and sustainability
Jamaican authorities continued to investigate sustainable sources of energy, as well as more efficient energy management strategies.
Pig farmers in Jamaica are developing a bio-energy sector. The farmers received help from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that will allow them to generate bio-energy from their farming operation. This could mean high income for the farmers, as well as a new and renewable source of needed energy.
Energy experts have called on Jamaica to find more efficient and less costly sources of energy in order to improve the island’s economic development. Evolution at the Jamaica Public Service Company is expected to have a serious impact on the director of energy production and consumption in Jamaica.
Finding more sustainable energy sources was touted by government authorities and environmentalists as having benefits beyond the obvious. Jamaica’s government has become more impressed by wind and solar energy production. The government also recognized the importance of managing and developing water resources as key to economic development in Jamaica.
2012 saw no lessening of the impact of Jamaica’s greatest export to the world: its music. While some musical genres like dancehall were subject to controversy during the year, the lasting respect around the world for reggae and the history of Jamaican music balanced out the controversies.
Dancehall artistes were banned from shows in Zimbabwe and London and were even excluded from the Jamaica 50 Concert, which celebrated the country’s independence anniversary.
State Minister for Tourism and Entertainment in Jamaica, Damion Crawford, encouraged the country to protest what he called the “arbitrary banning” of Jamaican artistes by some members of CARICOM.
The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, angered reggae performers by stereotyping Jamaican culture. He said it was dominated by drunkards and marijuana smokers. Mugabe said Jamaican men were always drunk, and Jamaican women were in charge of things. As a result of his comments, Jamaica’s government launched an investigation of Mugabe to see if these were his real opinions of Jamaica’s people, and if so, to implement diplomatic measures to address the issue.
Early in 2012, Zimbabwe decided to allow fewer Jamaican dancehalls acts to perform in the country, citing questionable lyrics and potential troublemakers at concerts, but by New Year’s Eve in December, popular Jamaican deejay Popcaan was invited to showcase his talents in the nation’s capital of Harare.
The continuing popularity of reggae around the world was evident in 2012 in the fact that Jimmy Cliff released a new album that rejuvenated respect for vintage reggae, Bob Marley received a new Grammy award, and Peter Tosh received recognition from the government of Jamaica 25 years after his murder. Tosh’s daughter Niambe accepted the Order of Merit on National Heroes’ Day on behalf of her father.
The history of Jamaican music was showcased in specials for the television network HBO and at the Jamaica Music Museum through a photographic exhibit. A worldwide celebration and recognition of Bob Marley and his cultural contributions was fostered in 2012 with the release of a documentary film about his life. Scottish director Kevin MacDonald made “Marley” to bring the music legend back from invisibility and to introduce his life and works to a new audience.
There were calls from reggae historians and artistes to save traditional reggae in the modern music industry and to educate young people about the history of the island’s music. William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke, legendary reggae musician and lead singer of the Third World band for 40 years, wants more local respect for artistes on the business side of the industry.
Recognition and respect for traditional culture
Perhaps prompted by the Jamaica 50 celebrations, there was an increased focus on and support for traditional Jamaican culture, history, language, cuisine and arts during 2012.
The publication of the Holy Bible in Jamaica’s Patois language was a cause for celebration among supports who are glad the language is gaining respect and is no longer being “demonized” as of little value.
Jamaica’s schools started to teach Garveyism to their students. Marcus Garvey, a Black Nationalist leader who died more than 70 years ago, inspired people around the world with his message of self-reliance and Black pride. Jamaica has decided to promote Garvey through a new mandatory civics program that will use his teachings to foster respect for other people, self-esteem, and personal responsibility.
A study by a professor at the University of Illinois found that Jamaican teenagers who are immigrants to the United States tend to succeed at higher rates if they continue to have strong links to their traditional culture. Those who drop ties to Jamaican culture tend to have lower grades and more negative behaviors than teens who keep their strong ethnic ties.
A final nod to Jamaica’s independence can be found in the 2012 decision by the Ministry of Justice to abolish flogging and whipping as a punishment of prisoners. The law allowing the punishment dated back to slavery days on the island. Mark Golding, Justice Minister, said that while flogging has not been ordered since 2004, the fact that the law remained in the penal code was “degrading” and violated all of Jamaica’s international obligations.