Where’s my vuvuzela? …Announcing the Second Coming of Portia Simpson-Miller

The Jamaica Observer made this really useful interactive map available, with all sorts of information on constituencies at your fingertips if you hovered over it

Las May, Daily Gleaner, December 30, 2011

The December 29, 2011 general election was the fifth election in which I’ve voted, all in Jamaica, and this one was the most deeply satisfying. Not just because the candidate I voted for won, but because she won so decisively. It was also almost like a normal day, with no skirmishes or violence to mar it (well actually that’s not really normal in Jamdown, is it? But you know what i mean) At 6.42 pm yesterday when I tweeted, “I think Portia’s going to whip dem, this is going to be a rout…” I was in a minority of one who called it correctly long before the results made it plain there was going to be a landslide. Everyone thought it was too close to call, though my friends at Nationwide, like many others, had given it by a hair’s whisker to the JLP.

As Election Day came closer and closer I began to feel in my gut that there was going to be an upset. Unlike the highly touted pollsters with their ‘scientifically tested’ samples (99% of which turned out to be wrong) I was going by my own experience, by what i was hearing from close friends, associates and radio and what I was picking up on the ground so to speak.

Up to a month before the election I also thought that the JLP had it locked with their master-stroke of appointing a new leader, Andrew Holness, whose relative youth (age: 39) in a party dominated by oligarchs, signaled the beginning of something fresh and long overdue.

Lady wears both party colours so as not to be victimized by either?

Then unexpectedly one or two friends whose opinions i value highly, and who are both more Labour-leaning than PNP-types both said they thought the JLP would lose. The reasons they gave–the bleak economic landscape foremost among them–made sense. Still I didn’t really believe they were right and in the meantime the ruling party’s catchy election jingle Vote for Labour had bored itself into the nation’s skull, including mine. EVERYONE was humming it, I didn’t see how the JLP could lose, particularly as the PNP seemed to be mum on the whole judging by the lack of memorable jingles, TV ads or statements.

The much hyped debate did a lot to boost Sista P’s votability quotient. Widely portrayed by the JLP as being incapable of stringing a sensible sentence together the Leader of the Opposition came across as relaxed, friendly and totally in control in contrast to former Prime Minister Holness who looked like a rabbit caught in the horsehairs. He seemed visibly nervous whereas Portia came across as gracious and comfortable in her skin. These things speak louder than words, something the JLP seems to have forgotten even though they have the example of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding to hand. Golding was articulate to the point of eloquence, as sharp as they come and extremely knowledgeable. Did all this make him a better leader? Really? Then why are we even discussing why the man who prematurely succeeded him lost the election to win his own mandate yesterday?

So incredibly considering the negative publicity she received in advance of the debate, Portia took the debate. Another major blunder the JLP made was the scurrilous attack ad in which Portia was depicted as a raving lunatic. They aired it so often it began to be annoying and I started to feel resentful because it seemed like a cheap shot to me, using the most questionable editing tactics, freely re-arranging quotes, speeding up speech, distorting sound and generally altering and doctoring existing audio and video to suit their own purposes. To make matters worse the message they seemed keen to transmit was that Portia was loud, emotive, out of control and therefore not capable of being a good leader. It’s the kind of scornful, contemptuous portrayal women have suffered at the hands of men for centuries; poor people have suffered at the hands of the smug middle and upper classes; those who are not quick on the draw face from those who are considered bright; Muslims face from the West, etc etc.

Consequently anyone who has ever been the butt of such demonizing tactics would have and probably did, identify with Portia. I know I certainly did and I share very little with Portia in broad terms; imagine then how the hundreds and thousands of people who view her as someone who has risen from their own ranks, who feels she represents them, felt.

And that was the big miscalculation on the part of the JLP’s G2K. To make matters worse the Party lobbing such belittling take-downs is widely perceived as representing the ‘Mulatto’ and light-skinned segments of the population. Coming from them, or from anyone for that matter, the attack ads took on a racist dimension.

The JLP also miscalculated how their attack on the PNP’s Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) would be viewed. In their haste to scoff at JEEP as being ” nothing more than another crash programme” that would burden taxpayers’ pockets the Labourites forgot that while this approach might appeal to the middle class minority, to the far larger group of unemployed, underemployed and unemployable, JEEP would be a boon. Most of them don’t pay taxes so what do they care about that?

So in general the JLP was seen as trying to win the election through slander and mudslinging; they had very few ads promo-ing their worldview, their plans for new and inspired governance, or their creative approach to the problems plaguing the country.

The 2011 Elections in Jamaica were notable for the comraderie displayed by supporters of both sides

The utter contempt and disdain displayed by the government concerning the Tivoli incursion in which 73 civilians lost their lives was another nail in the JLP’s coffin, coming on the heels of the JDIP scandal. Security Minister Dwight Nelson’s blasé denials and prevarications when questioned by the media about a ‘spy’ plane (see my previous posts on this), fortified by a truly callous campaign mounted by the de facto JLP organ, the Jamaica Observer, dismissing the role of the US DEA Lockheed P-3 Orion in the invasion of Tivoli was more than any citizen could stomach. Former PM Holness’s belated attempt to set the story straight by contradicting his own security minister was the final straw: here was a party whose ministers didn’t hesitate to lie when it suited them, for whom the deaths of 73 civilians mattered so little they would try and shrug it off as Nelson had done.

But the most laughable, most despicable strategy employed by both the Labour Party and the Jamaica Observer was (as @BalanceMan said on Twitter) to treat the election of 2011 as if it was a referendum on gay rights. Again they completely misread the mindset of so-called ordinary Jamaicans (who are anything but ordinary). They assumed that this was a life-and-death issue which would be a liability for the PNP following Portia’s gallant statement that her government would review the existing buggery laws and that she was not averse to having a gay minister in her cabinet. The Observer tried its best, with numerous cartoons and articles on the subject to turn the population against the PNP by playing on the well-known local hostility to homosexuality.

Instead it backfired on them. Out of 63 parliamentary seats the JLP won 22 and the PNP 41! As Trindadian writer/editor Nicholas Laughlin observed on Facebook after the results had become known:

To summarise: in Jamaica, widely considered the most homophobic country in the Caribbean, the ruling party runs a gay-bashing general election campaign and loses by what can only be called a landslide.

On a side note you couldn’t help laugh at the following wisecrack referring to the PNP’s promise to remove general consumption tax from our energy bills. RT @rushknot: Electricity tax gone! *turns on AC*

And that is where I’m going to leave this for now; let’s hope that these are not just empty campaign promises because the outcome of the 2011 elections in Jamaica, in which popular sentiments on gay rights played such a prominent role, must give all of us plenty of cud to chew on. It certainly demands a rethinking of the global view of Jamaica as ‘the most homophobic place on earth’. Let’s see if the PNP having gained such a huge nod from the electorate will now put its mouth where its money is and REALLY strike a blow for equal rights for all.

73 Civilians killed in Jamaica. Big deal! So what?

To my astonishment the Jamaica Observer carried an editorial on Sunday  titled “There was a spy plane over Tivoli, so what?”  This was astonishing to me because in my last post I had commented saying that the Minister of Security’s reaction to questions about the spy plane he said he knew nothing about seemed to be a nonchalant shrug. “In fact he acted as if it really wasn’t his business or ours (!) An unidentified flying object in our airspace? Pshaw! So he didn’t know about it, so what?

Now here was one of the nation’s leading newspapers shamelessly saying exactly the same thing. Not only that: highlighted on the Letters page was an inane one titled “What’s the big deal about the surveillance plane?”

“Dear Editor,

Ok, so it has been confirmed that a US plane provided surveillance assistance during the 2010 Tivoli Gardens operations. I don’t understand the controversy and what’s the big deal if they were invited to assist to strengthen the army’s tactics and strategy?”

The big deal dear thick-skulled letter writer and Observer editors is that 73 people were killed under unexplained circumstances during that Tivoli Gardens operation. This spy plane has video footage of what happened on the ground during that operation which ought to be central to any investigation into the massacre of 73 civilians by government forces only one of whom was killed in the battle for Tivoli.

So no one is faulting the government for asking or accepting assistance from the US government. As the Sunday Gleaner’s editorial eloquently said:

“…the decline in crime in Jamaica, in particular homicides, since Coke’s departure and the degrading of his network suggest that America’s insistence on his extradition, and whatever help they may have given to effect it – the memorandum included – were the best aid package by a foreign government to Jamaica in recent times.”

The question is why then Minister of Information Daryl Vaz denied this so vigorously immediately after the Tivoli incursion and why Minister of Security Dwight Nelson continued to do so until a few days ago.

And the really burning question is why the government shows so little interest in acquiring the video footage shot by the P-3 Orion. Are we to assume that the residents of Tivoli matter as little to this Prime Minister as they did to the previous one?

If this is a strategy by the Jamaica Observer to come to the rescue of its favourite political party it should think again because in its haste to diminish the import of the spy plane what it seems to be saying is that the massacre of 73 civilians in Tivoli in May 2010 was insignificant.  Big deal! So what?

The Spy Plane the Government didn’t see…

“Old dinosaur gone and young dinosaur a come.” Caller to Breakfast Club re JDIP scandal and JLP….LOLOL! I had posted on Twitter.

I thought this was quite the funniest comment I’d heard about the runnings when i heard it a few days ago but now I’m forced to wonder if there isn’t some truth to it. The Jamaica Labour Party gave itself a real boost when it decided to select young Andrew Holness to replace the controversy-plagued former Prime Minister Bruce Golding when he stepped down from office some weeks ago.

Holness further boosted his ratings when he asked for, and received, Transport Minister Mike Henry’s resignation in the wake of allegations of corruption in that ministry. But almost as soon as he had staunched that open sore, another boil erupted in the body politic with Security Minister Dwight Nelson’s pointless denials to the media that the government had authorized a US DEA Lockheed P-3 Orion plane to provide surveillance support during the May 24th, 2010 offensive by the Jamaican armed forces against Tivoli Gardens. TG was the highly fortified garrison community in which Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, wanted by the US for drugs and arms running was thought to be hiding at the time.

Most people in Kingston saw the plane flying around over the harbour that day and wondered about it especially after then Minister of Information Daryl Vaz categorically denied in a May 25, 2010 press conference that the Jamaican government had received any assistance from external governments. The confusion increased earlier this week when a lengthy article in the American magazine The New Yorker affirmed that the US had indeed provided Jamaica with aerial surveillance during the military operation.

According to the article:

A year and a half later, the Jamaican government has refused to make public what it knows about how the men and women of Tivoli Gardens died. So has the government of the United States despite clear evidence that the US surveillance plane flying above Tivoli on May 24th was taking live video of Tivoli, that intelligence from the video feed was passed through US Law enforcement enforcement officers to Jamaican forces on the ground and that the Department of Homeland Security has a copy of this video. The video could corroborate, or refute, allegations that members of the Jamaican security forces massacred dozens of innocents, and could help identify the alleged killers.

Questioned about this on Nationwide radio two days ago Minister Dwight Nelson refused to acknowledge that there had been any assistance, asserting that he knew nothing about the alleged ‘spy plane’. Nor it seemed was he curious enough to find out, all these months later now that the question has come up, what a foreign aircraft was doing in local airspace. In fact he acted as if it really wasn’t his business or ours (!) An unidentified flying object in our airspace? Pshaw! So he didn’t know about it, so what? Fail!

Nelson simply, stubbornly, kept denying that there had been assistance from any other government –forcing the young Prime Minister to call a press conference by the end of the day admitting that there had indeed been assistance from the US government although he tried to make a great deal of the fact that the US had not been part of the planning of the operation. Head of the JDF Antony Anderson also made a point of this.

This however was not what the public had asked about. What everyone wanted to know was the origin of the so-called spy plane and the reason it was in the air above Tivoli Gardens on the day of the military incursion into that community.

Its also interesting that all of this has now come to light because of investigations and expos´s by foreign journalists. So it seems that we are on the whole in need of quite a lot of foreign assistance one way another for in addition to the New Yorker article titled A Massacre in Jamaica which highlights the fact that despite 73 civilians being killed in the military incursion (in contrast only one security personnel went down) no one has been held accountable and no satisfactory answers seem to be forthcoming, there was also a Wired article on the subject titled U.S. Spy Plane Shot Secret Video of Jamaican ‘Massacre’.

In fairness local journalists such as Lloyd D’Aguilar and others have also been demanding similar answers but none had been forthcoming till now.

The following is an excerpt from the Wired.com article:

Somewhere in the bureaucratic bowels of the Department of Homeland Security is a videotape shot above the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica on May 24, 2010. It could reveal whether the Jamaican security forces, acting on behalf of U.S. prosecutors, killed 73 members of a notorious crime syndicate or innocent civilians caught in house-to-house fighting. That is, if anyone in a position of power actually wants that question answered.

Over 500 Jamaican soldiers rushed into the teeming Tivoli Gardens neighborhood that day for what became known as Operation Garden Parish, a mission to capture the local mafia don, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. The mission was the result of heavy U.S. pressure: Coke had been indicted in U.S. federal court for running an international marijuana and cocaine ring. It would become one of the bloodiest days in recent Jamaican history.

What happened on May 24, 2010 garnered international headlines. But what no one knew until now was that circling overhead was a P-3 Orion spy plane, operated by the Department of Homeland Security. A lengthy investigation by journalist Mattathias Schwartz (a Danger Room friend) reveals that the Orion took footage of the hours-long battle. It has never been publicly revealed.

Bradygate continued…

Update: Today was the most unsettling exciting day in the last decade or so. Around 3 pm started to hear rumours that ‘war’ was going to break out because the Prime Minister was going to announce that the extradition proceedings agaist ‘Dudus’ Coke were going forward. A feeling of panic began to spread and there was a stampede to get out of downtown where the rumours started circulating around 11 in the morning. By mid-afternoon everyone was on the road trying to reach a safe place. Top 10 ways to get home quickly proclaimed a blog…

The most interesting thing was that the US Embassy sent out an announcement saying a talk it had planned to hold at the Institute of Jamaica tomorrow was being postponed. I found the title of the talk interesting. It was called “Congress and the President: An Invitation to Conflict” and should have been delivered by one Don Baker. hmmmmmmmm. Doesn’t Bruce own a bakery?

At the appointed hour Bruce Golding addressed the nation looking suitably contrite and apologizing profusely. Then he announced that the Attorney General was going to sign the relevant papers so that the extradition could proceed. Dudus’ lawyer, Tom Tavares-Finson was reputed to be livid with anger; he would defend his client in court he said.

More on the runnings tomorrow. Time for bed now…

Bradygate…The Don of a New Era, Part 1

Mr Golding has now admitted to parliament that he authorised the hiring of a law firm to lobby senior US State Department officials on Mr Coke’s behalf Photo: AFP/GETTY (Daily Telegraph UK)


Las May, Daily Gleaner, 15 May 2010 (our cartoonists are world class)

I feel it for Bruce Golding
. Who could have predicted the woes that would befall his first two years as Crime Minister, er, oh, LOL, i mean Prime Minister. I know what his wife Lorna means when she says we must read between the lines because he isn’t free to disclose everything. My first reaction when i heard that he had admitted sanctioning the Manatt, Phelps ‘initiative’ from the get-go was that someone or something had forced his hand. Only something far worse staring him in the face could have made owning up to having played fast and loose with the truth seem like the better alternative.

And i feel it for him because this turn of events has nothing to do with him personally, or the Jamaica Labour Party for that matter. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles in countries that are well on their way to being narco-democracies. I’m amazed at the amount of moral indignation being directed at the PM by members of the media. C’mon! It’s not a matter of morality is it? It’s a matter of how to decriminalize a country. Not easily done. The Colombians might have a tip or two and the Haitians. Forget about decriminalizing ganja or gay-ness, this is an entire country that has been hijacked by criminality. How is a government to cope?

Granted the PM could have handled the entire matter differently from the beginning. But he was playing by the old rules like all politicians have done so far. And he’s been jerked to reality by the powers-that-be. This is a power struggle. That’s what we have to realize. And to win this power struggle we need the new, the young, the strong and the able…because only they know how to negotiate the new rules that are now in effect. Alas, our criminals too are world-class and internationally competitive.

In the meantime a spurious facebook page purporting to be that of Dudus Coke is making the rounds in cyberspace. It’s a no holds barred version so if you’re under 15 or an Ayatollah or a member of Jamaica’s Moral Majority you might want to make a hasty switch to a less profane website.

Finally, take a look at National Dish by Michael ‘Flyn’ Elliott below. As a painted image it pretty much captures our predicament as a society. And for a variety of innovative takes or interpretations of the state we’re in you must visit the National Gallery’s Young Talent V which opened today. It is an exciting show that signals the resurgence of the visual art scene here. Here is a link to my photos from the opening.


National Dish by Michael ‘Flyn’ Elliott