Who’s paying the watchdog?

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DPP Paula Llewellyn arguing for regulation of media in Jamaica at PAJ forum “Who’s watching the watchdog? Media regulation in Jamaica and elsewhere”

Gleaner column, Dec 20, 2017

Some weeks ago the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) held a public forum on whether there was a need for a Press Council in Jamaica to oversee or deal with complaints against journalists and media entities. Titled “Who’s watching the watchdog? Media regulation in Jamaica and elsewhere” participants in the panel discussion included Janet Steele, a George Washington University journalism professor and writer based in Washington, D.C. and Jakarta; Dionne Jackson-Miller, broadcast journalist and President of the PAJ; Claire Grant, Vice Chairman of the Media Association of Jamaica and General Manager of TV Jamaica; and Robert Nesta Morgan, Director of Communication in the Office of the Prime Minister. The discussion was ably moderated by Archibald Keane Gordon.

Dionne Jackson-Miller who went first was decidedly against government regulation, believing that it might be used to muzzle the media rather than allow it to perform its function as one of the guardians of free speech and democracy. She like many others in media here preferred self-regulation by media entities. Steele who followed her, said that in the US they tended to do without press councils. Her opening lines had the audience cracking up when she thanked the US Embassy for inviting her but said that she wanted to make it clear she was not representing the American Government, merely expressing her own views. “Hopefully I won’t embarrass the US Government…but at this point that would be hard to do, wouldn’t it?” said Steele, as the room dissolved in laughter.

Steele went on to say that she was glad to be in a room full of journalists who were universally agreed that they should regulate themselves. How best to do this was the question. Could it be left to a journalistic code of ethics? What happens if a person feels they’ve been insulted, defamed or libeled by a media house? Whereas in the US they had dispensed with press councils, Steele had been part of setting one up in Indonesia which worked very well in dealing with such complaints.

Consisting of three members of the press, three members representing media owners and three members elected by the public from people knowledgeable about the field the Indonesian Press Council has been extraordinarily successful in mediating disputes and holding the media accountable, said Steele. It also has a public education function, educating the public on the advantages of a free and fair media.

Claire Grant who followed Steele, mentioned her transition from print journalist to marketing and sales and then to media management. She then presented some interesting statistics. Jamaica can pat itself on the back for ranking 8th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index though at the same time it ranks 83rd  of 176 countries in the World Corruption Perception Index. Norway which tops the press freedom index has a corruption perception index of 6 while Nigeria which ranked 122nd in press freedom ranked 136 in corruption perception.

Unlike Jamaica all the other countries ranked in the top 10 in press freedom rank very low in the corruption perception index. Singapore like Jamaica is an anomaly,  ranking very low in press freedom—151, but high in the corruption perception index—7. This made me wonder…was Jamaica’s poor ranking in corruption perception an indication that the Press in Jamaica is NOT using the freedom at its disposal to perform its watchdog function adequately?

This led to a brief discussion of the relative lack of investigative journalism in Jamaica with Dionne-Jackson Miller asserting that she would not be sending inexperienced rookies out to investigate risky or dangerous issues that required the attention of seasoned journalists who knew what they were doing and could protect themselves adequately. Jackson-Miller flagged the low salaries paid to journalists as a problem, ensuring that only relatively junior members of the profession could afford to work in Jamaican media houses for any length of time.

This means there is a dearth of senior journalists with the kind of backative and cojones needed to survive the perils of investigating high-level corruption.

The issue of insufficient remuneration was also brought up by international human rights attorney Jody Ann Quarrie who expressed concern that low salaries in conjunction with corruption would lead down a predictable path leaving poorly paid journalists vulnerable to blandishments by criminals and corrupt individuals and entities thus allowing ‘unsavoury practices’ to flourish rather than be curtailed.

To my mind this is a much more serious matter than the question of a press council. If our media houses are not willing to pay competitive industry salaries to ensure the highest quality of journalism why brag about ranking high on the press freedom index? Is Jamaican media’s bark worse than its bite? And what does this mean for democracy?

Art and Artifice

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Gleaner column, Dec 13, 2017

Art has been in the headlines globally, regionally and locally in the last few weeks. On the global stage Christie’s mid-November auction featuring a long-lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, was very much in the news especially after the much hyped painting sold for US$450.3 million. Created more than 500 years ago the painting depicts Christ as Salvator Mundi (Latin for Savior of the World).

According to Wikipedia “The painting shows Jesus, in Renaissance dress, giving a benediction with his right hand raised and two fingers extended, while holding a transparent rock crystal orb in his left hand, signaling his role as savior of the world and master of the cosmos, and representing the ‘crystalline sphere’ of the heavens.”

Before the auction Salvator Mundi was estimated to sell for approximately US$100 million. Christie’s elaborate marketing campaign toured the painting around the world attracting more than 27,000 people. A YouTube video showing mesmerized expressions on the faces of those who gazed upon the artwork was circulated virally by the auction house as well.

The clever campaign certainly delivered. On the day in question a mystery buyer paid four times the estimated value of the painting leaving everyone agog about their identity. CNBC speculated that the sheer price of the painting ruled out “most everyday billionaires”. Eventually the New York Times broke the news that the da Vinci had been purchased by an unknown Saudi Prince named Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud.

Within days this version of events was disputed by the Wall Street Journal which claimed that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the buyer, with Prince Badr acting as proxy, and that the painting was intended as a gift for the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAR). The Crown Prince has been in the news recently for abruptly arresting 159 other princes and powerful business and political rivals.

The latest news is that a statement has now been put out by Christie’s announcing that Salvator Mundi was actually acquired by Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism once again contradicting the earlier story that the Saudi Crown Prince bought the rare painting as a diplomatic gift for the UAR. What remains certain is that the renowned artwork will be on display at the Louvre, Abu Dhabi.

Closer to home, speaking of diplomatic gifts, mystery surrounds rumours that a painting given by President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic to Prime Minister Andrew Holness on his recent state visit to Jamaica, is a fake. The painting by the Dominican master artist Guillo Perez, has become the subject of intense debate and disapproval in the Dominican art community. The country is apparently plagued by counterfeiters, with fake works having been sold to foreign collectors as well as institutional collections according to an article in the Diario Libre.

“I can give assurances that if the president of the Dominican Republic, Lic. Danilo Medina has presented a work of art by a Dominican artist, it is because he feels pride in our art and because he is interested in the world paying attention to our artists, especially when this happens in a regional market forum “said renowned gallerist Juan José Mesa to Loquesucede.com.

Back home the art world is expressing consternation over the refurbishing of Laura Facey’s emancipation monument, Redemption Song, during the course of which the large bronze was painted a startling jet black. Nothing inflames art purists more than unwarranted interference with a work of art; such horror and anguish has been expressed in the public sphere over the re-pigmentation of the emancipated couple that you would think they had been painted shocking pink.

In a Gleaner article the sculptor explained that the repainting occurred during an attempt to resolve the issues of calcium build-up on the fingers of the bronze sculptures and on the walls of the surrounding water pool. The National Housing Trust, which is in charge of the monument, consulted Facey on the best way to do this. Facey recommended an expert and the rest as they say, is history. Black history.

The process to remove the marine paint and restore the monument’s natural bronze patina will be expensive. Perhaps in future artists might voluntarily monitor renovations of their works to avoid the commission of this kind of costly error. If it’s any consolation Laura, questions were also raised internationally about the authenticity of da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi because it had been painted over and refurbished so many times. This didn’t prevent it, five hundred years later, from fetching 450 million dollars.

The Case of Judge Loya

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Gleaner column, Nov 30, 2017

In India, a case with potentially sinister undertones has divided media. The death of High Court Judge BH Loya in December 2014 is raising questions about the integrity of the judiciary and the political machinery of the country. If what is suspected is found to be true it implicates the Chief of the ruling party, BJP President, Amit Shah.

On November 26, 2005, a man in his thirties named Sohrabuddin Sheikh was gunned down by a team of police in Gujarat in what is known in India as an ‘encounter’ killing. Essentially a form of extra-judicial killing of people in their custody, Indian police are known to eliminate suspected criminals and gangsters in fake encounters, where they claim the suspect was shooting at the police while attempting to escape and “the gunfire is returned” killing them. Sound familiar?

It later emerged that contrary to the police version of events, Sheikh was travelling in a luxury bus with his wife, along with a friend when all three were abducted from the bus by Gujarat Police, who killed Sheikh on November 26, and his wife on November 29. According to an article in Scroll.In the police would later claim, as they are wont to do, that the individuals killed were dreaded terrorists, with plans to assassinate Modi and other senior leaders, or launch terror strikes, but rarely would there be any convincing evidence to confirm such allegations. No postmortem or statutory magisterial inquiry followed the killings.

The truth was much simpler. After pressure from Sheikh’s brother prompted a court case and a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry it emerged that Sohrabuddin Sheikh was a member of a criminal gang that had been in cahoots with some Gujarat police officers and political leaders, operating an extortion racket in neighbouring Rajasthan. After Sheikh’s gang threatened highly-connected marble businessmen in Udaipur his political and police bosses felt that Sheikh was getting beyond their control, and needed to be eliminated. They could not, however, risk charging him formally, for fear he would expose his powerful partners in crime.

The investigation that followed allegedly pointed at none other than Amit Shah, then Home Minister of Gujarat, as having given the orders to eliminate Sheikh. “According to the CBI charge-sheet, the killing was orchestrated by senior police officers on the orders of Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah and former Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, who was also a senior BJP leader.” A supplementary charge-sheet filed by CBI on May 6, 2013, alleged that the owner of RK Marbles and the Rajasthan Home Minister conspired to kill Sheikh as he was allegedly trying to extort money from RK Marbles. According to the article “The CBI further charged that the killing was outsourced to the Gujarat Police in consultation with Amit Shah, the Minister of State for Home of Gujarat.”

In May 2013 Amit Shah along with 10 or more other police officers was charged and jailed for the extra-judicial murders and involvement in criminal extortion activities. A year later, however, there was a change of government with Narendra Modi’s party, the BJP, sweeping to power. Suddenly everything changed. The trial continued but Amit Shah now refused to appear in court. The trial judge, JT Utpat, reprimanded Amit Shah on June 6, 2014, for failing to appear in person, ordering him to present himself in court on June 26, 2014.

Mysteriously on June 25, 2014, only a day before this scheduled hearing, Judge Utpat was transferred to a different court, and replaced by Judge BH Loya. When Amit Shah again failed to appear in person at the trial Judge Loya also expressed disapproval, ordering him to appear in court on December 15. In the early hours of December 1, 2014, in circumstances that his family claims were suspicious, Judge Loya, with no history of cardiac problems, suffered a sudden heart attack and died. Among other things, his sister claimed that Mohit Shah, then chief justice of the Bombay high court, had offered her brother Rs 100 crore (approx. US$15 million) to give a “favourable” judgment in the case.

“Within weeks of Judge Loya’s death, on December 30, 2014, the third judge to hear the case, MB Gosavi, discharged Amit Shah from the Sohrabudin Sheikh fake encounter case. Gosavi said he saw no evidence against Shah, and instead said he “found substance” in his main defence that the CBI had framed him “for political reasons”. In so doing, Gosavi ignored crucial pieces of evidence such as police officer Raiger’s categorical statement that Amit Shah had instructed obstruction of the investigation, and his phone records.”

Amit Shah was soon elevated to the post of President of the BJP. Perhaps because of this, despite the sensational nature of these events and their importance to the nation, mainstream media in India steered clear of reporting on or investigating Judge Loya’s untimely passing until a magazine called Caravan undertook to do so two weeks ago. Since then the Indian Express and certain key newspapers have published articles insisting there was nothing suspicious about Judge Loya’s death.

Influential journalists such as Arun Shourie, a former member of the BJP, disagree. “Every media house should have been running to develop that story,” he said a few days after the Caravan story emerged. “It is the end for conventional media—not only because it is being overtaken as a source of news by the new media, but because of its cowardice and greed…There is a Zulu proverb—a dog with a bone in its mouth can’t bark. That is the condition of the mainstream media today.”

A World Fit for Children

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Clovis, Jamaica Observer, November 30, 2017

In the midst of heated discussions in the public sphere about the proposed abolition of corporal punishment in Jamaican schools the 12th annual Caribbean Child Research Conference took place under the theme “A World Fit for Children: The UN 2030 Agenda”. This agenda aims to promote a global movement that will ensure that children worldwide are protected from poverty, harm and exploitation, war and disease among other things. It also promises to create an environment that listens to children and allows them to participate in decisions that affect them.

Clearly the world is a long way off from achieving even a quarter of these goals. Still the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies Mona has been holding a conference annually in which schoolchildren participate alongside adult scholars in presenting their research, thus at least partially fulfilling the mandate about child participation and listening to what they –the primary stakeholders in this conference–have to say.

This year the adult papers ran the gamut from “The Disappearance of Self-initiated Play and Playful Learning from the Early Childhood Landscape: A Guyana Context” by Godryne Wintz to “Exploring the Knowledge of Parents about Child Sexual Abuse within a Jamaican Suburban Community: A Case Study” by Viviene Kerr. The latter explored changes in parents’ knowledge of child sexual abuse within a Jamaican suburban community and was prompted by an increase in sexual abuse cases from a low of 121 in 2007 to a high of 2,671 in 2011 (OCR, 2011).

That is a huge increase by any standards which begs the question has the reportage of such cases increased or has the incidence?

In “Trouble with Neketa: Drama as a Force in Early Childhood Professional Training Programmes” Grace Lambert dealt with the rejection of Creole language or mother tongue in early childhood settings in Guyana. As she pointed out this practice of rejecting children’s home language breaches the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child which promotes the principle of development of and respect for children’s language. More significantly, this practice contradicts developmentally appropriate early childhood learning experiences which dictate that children’s home language is probably the best medium for early interactions. Using a case study approach, Lambert’s research examined the impact of the first Early Childhood Development (ECD) professional development programme offered by the University of Guyana on ECD practitioners’ interaction experiences with Guyanese Creole speaking children. It highlighted how practitioners’ knowledge of language acceptance principles influenced their recognition of Creole as a legitimate way of speaking. The research emphasized the extent to which dramatisation effected change in consciousness and enlightened attitudes to first language recognition.

In “Counselling gender-nonconforming students in Jamaican high schools: The guidance counsellors’ perspective” Halcyon Reid explored how Jamaican high school guidance counsellors treat with gender nonconforming students. The study focused on the factors impacting how they approach service to these students, how their training helps them deal with issues surrounding gender-nonconformity and sexual identity, and actions that may be necessary to improve counselling services to gender nonconforming students. The aim was to identify gaps in the training of guidance counsellors in their preparation to serve sexual minority students and provide recommendations that may lead to a larger study which can inform policies governing guidance and counselling in schools.

The second day of the conference was devoted to child researchers who presented findings from their studies. The subjects were varied as the following titles indicate: An Investigative Study on Trusted Adults who Sexually Abuse Children – Thea-Moy Hill, Westwood High · An Analysis on the Link between Dysfunctional Families and Deviant Children Disability – Sandrene McKenzie, Westwood High · Investigating the Effect of the Zone of Special Operation (ZOSO) on Children in Mount Salem St. James – Aniska Christie, Westwood High.

There was also An Exploration of the Impact of Parental Migration on the Development of Teenagers in Rural Jamaica by Dylan Baker, Westwood High · An Investigation on the Impact of Gang Violence Among Teenagers in Jamaica (Underlying Reasons for Teenage Boys Joining Gangs and the Negative Impact on Jamaica) by Julleyne Sewell, Westwood High and An Investigative Study into the Impact of Gang-Related Sexual Grooming on the Academic Performance of Teenage Girls on the Community of Highgate Gardens by Breanna Julal, Glenmuir High. Ms. Julal won the overall award for the best research study and presentation.

With the elimination of corporal punishment in schools Jamaica will have gone some way towards achieving a world fit for children. Although none of the papers given at the Child Research conference dealt directly with this subject, investigations into abuse and violence dominated the presentations. “If we cannot have a world fit for children, we will not have one fit for adults,” cautions Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee, the conference convenor. Spare the rod and improve the world.

The “Me Too” Phenomenon

Gleaner column of October 18, 2017

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” read the Facebook update. So said, so done. Within a couple of days the #MeToo hashtag gathered so much momentum that women who didn’t post #MeToo as their status update on Facebook were in the minority.

It was the logical outcome of a wave of outings of famous men who have systematically assaulted women, using their power to extricate sexual services from their victims either without consent or by manufacturing it. Whether it was the drugging of victims by Bill Cosby or demands for sexual favors in return for Hollywood stardom by Harvey Weinstein, the public outcry has made it clear that such blatant abuse of power has to stop. If not  the perpetrators will be named and shamed in no uncertain terms.

Interestingly there were many who rushed to Cosby’s defense insinuating that he was the victim of a plot against black people, and that the increasing number of women accusing him of sexual abuse were lying. In the Harvey Weinstein case one has yet to hear of sinister plots against Jewish Hollywood producers but no doubt its a matter of time. In the meantime he is being pilloried in no uncertain terms, losing contracts, respect and prestigious positions left, right and centre.

Note too, that all of this is without benefit of police charges, trials in court and conviction by jury as was demanded by the Jamaican public when a small group of women here insisted that it was time to expose sexual predators by naming and shaming them. In the Weinstein case it was the New York Times that broke the story, after in-depth investigation and interviewing of some victims.

The outing of Weinstein is not only loosening the tongues of his victims, it is pushing other women around the world to talk out about the routine sexual harassment they face, particularly in show business. A former member of popular American band the Pussycat Dolls has claimed in a series of tweets that the girl group operated as a ‘prostitution ring’, with the members forced into sex with entertainment executives. “’To be a part of the team you must be a team player. Meaning sleep with whoever they say. If you don’t they have nothing on you to leverage,’ tweeted Kaya Jones who spent two years as a band member.

It’s bad enough to be sexually exploited but far worse to face denial and vilification when you try and report or talk about the offense committed. Instead of receiving help and sympathy the victim is often hounded and disparaged as Kaya Jones found out. In India Sheena Dabholkar, a Pune-based writer and blogger, started a thread on Twitter highlighting the harassment she experienced at popular bar and hangout spot High Spirits, as well as the response she got for calling it out.

Sheena’s tweets elicited social media testimony from many other women who had experienced the same disgusting behavior from the bar’s owner, Khodu Irani, who has been accused of groping, sending lewd messages, fat-shaming and harassing multiple patrons/employees of his cafe.

Sexual exploitation is not just an occupational hazard of show business and entertainment however. It abounds at universities too. John Rapley, who worked at University of the West Indies for many years, wrote an interesting blogpost titled ‘The Weinstein Syndrome’. Said Rapley:

“I once worked in an environment where this sort of thing was rife – a university, where most of the students were women and most of the teachers, men. The students were in the full flower of youth and the teachers, well, were not. But they had something more potent. The authority and aura that go with scholarship sometimes suffice to bring young students tumbling into a lecturer’s lap; but for those who lack charisma or charm, there is plain power. They determined grades, they assigned scholarships, they controlled promotions. And enough of them were ready to use that power to impose themselves on reluctant young women that it became what Weinstein called ‘the culture.’”

There is no institution that is immune from the abuse of power. Earlier this year the founders of the Tambourine Army and others found themselves the subject of hostile media attention after outing members of the Moravian Church for preying on underage girls. It is astonishing that outrage is reserved for those who find the courage to name and shame rather than the perverts who commit the crime of sexual exploitation.

“‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality,’ declared T. S. Eliot. But bear it we must, and stand alongside those for whom reality is too often a punch in the gut. I looked at my many sisters and friends declaring “me too” on their Facebook walls (knowing that for every “me too” said aloud, there are thousands-upon-thousands whispered or left unsaid) and I am floored. It shouldn’t be a surprise—and in many ways it isn’t—but to see the avalanche of evidence rushing down… Reality does feel like too much.”

If only more people thought like Garnette Cadogan, quoted above, one of the few men to respond compassionately to the #MeToo confessions. There is simply no excuse for demanding that women (or men) remain silent in the face of systematic sexual depredation.

What Really Happened in Grenada? Part 2

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Bernard Coard signing my copy of his book, The Grenada Revolution: What Really Happened? at the launch

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Gleaner column of Sept. 27, 2017

In this column I continue my reportage of the launch of Bernard Coard’s book The Grenada Revolution: What Really Happened? Put on by the Department of Government at The University of the West Indies on September 15th the anticipation-filled event fully lived up to its promise.

One of the enduring beliefs about the unhappy events of October 19th, 1983, when Prime Minister Maurice Bishop along with several cabinet ministers and other supporters were lined up at Fort Rupert and assassinated was that the orders to kill him came directly from the Worker’s Party of Jamaica (WPJ), from none other than its leader at the time, Trevor Munroe.

The question of Munroe’s role came up more than once at the launch, the first time during

Professor Rupert Lewis’s eloquently articulated response to Coard’s book. Lewis who had lived in Prague 1982-84 as a representative of the WPJ on the World Marxist Review, a theoretical journal containing jointly-produced content by Communist and workers parties from around the world. As such Lewis  had direct access to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. What he said was this:

“The letter that Trevor sent to me to deliver to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union basically said there were two trends in the New Jewel Movement (NJM). There was a working-class trend, a proletarian trend led by Bernard and a petit-bourgeois trend led by Maurice. I was very angry at this simplistic portrayal of the complex struggle that had taken place in Grenada.”

Coard’s own response to the question of Munroe’s role during the tense and emotion-filled q and a afterwards was passionate, his voice rising an octave or two:

“With respect to the role of anybody, any Jamaicans, and in particular the WPJ, let me just say this, that Rupert’s critique of myself and all of us in the leadership in Grenada was based on the fact that we were very jealous of the little piece of sovereignty that we had. We bad for wi piece of sovereignty. We will decide everything ourselves, we will listen to advice but we will take our own decisions. Listen, if people givin’ us arms and training and economic help and help with our international airport, and we weren’t prepared to let them dictate to us, you think Trevor Munroe or anybody could tell us what to do in the Grenada Revolution? Come on, get serious. Call it petty nationalism if you want but that nationalism runs very deep so I don’t care what anybody says, or what anybody says to anybody else, we are going to make our own decision. That’s how we are. I don’t agree that that’s a wrong approach. I don’t agree that people helping us have a right to tell us what to do, they can advice yes, but we decide whether to take that advice or not. I’m sorry, I make no apologies for that.”

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Militia

Coard’s own response to the speakers before him was methodical, articulated in nine points. He started by describing how painful the process of writing the book had been, how he had been unable to write for the first 19 years in prison despite being urged to do so by many and had finally decided to do so because there had been hundreds of thousands of articles published on the Grenada Revolution during that period, most of them by outsiders, almost exclusively detailing one side of events and it was important for someone to write from within the revolution as it were. So as emotionally painful and difficult as the recounting of those traumatic events was Coard had finally decided to write to provide a different perspective.

After outlining his methodology ( extensive use of contemporaneously kept minutes and court documents) and objectives for writing this memoir (to document the mistakes they made), which he said would be the first of several volumes, Coard mentioned two things that to me are worth highlighting. He said a study of US actions in Grenada, not just at the end, but throughout the life of the revolution, “would help to cast light for those who are interested, in happenings going on right now in various parts of the world.”

“You cannot understand what is going on in Venezuela unless you understand what we went through in Grenada. And just like we made mistakes from the beginning, the Venezuelans are making mistakes. But the fact of the matter is it is one thing to make mistakes and to suffer the consequences of those mistakes. It’s another thing to have a very powerful country deciding that in addition to whatever stumbling you make on your own I’m going to make sure you can’t get up and walk.” Coard said that despite having held 11 elections Chavez was consistently referred to as a dictator by US media.

The next point Coard made was that on August 9, 2017, an article had appeared in the Washington Post, by a specialist on North Korea, Benjamin Young, in which he details the connection between Reagan’s decision to invade Grenada and the current potentiality for nuclear war between the USA and North Korea. “This is important because what he says in that article is that Kim il Sung, the grandfather of the current leader, was not just extremely disturbed by the invasion of Grenada but that it was the basis of a decision by the North Korean leadership to embark on a program of acquiring nuclear weapons.”

The Korean leader’s fear that N. Korea would be next in line for a Grenada-style invasion led to an investment in nuclear weapons as a deterrent, a “delayed fuse” as Coard put it that we are confronted with today. “In other words the US invasion of Grenada, as far back as October 1983, is directly linked to the current potential for nuclear war between the United States and North Korea.”

A sobering note to end on.

From Nation to Abattoir?

Chubby

 

My column of September 6, 2017. The funeral for Leonard Collins “(Chubby”) is this Saturday at Church of Christ, Mona. I still shed tears at the wantonness of his killing.

I didn’t know his given name. On campus he was known as Chubby, a dread with a bicycle and a green thumb, who worked in the Maintenance Department for many years. Involved in a job-related accident some years ago, Chubby was waiting to collect some long overdue compensation monies.

On Friday, the 25th of last month, the money finally arrived in his credit union account and Chubby went and collected it. The first thing he wanted to do was buy a cake for his two-year old son. He sat down outside his August Town home with some friends idly discussing where to buy the cake. Some said Megamart, others said he should get a Cherry Berry cake from Sugar and Spice in Liguanea.

I remember when the ‘yout’, as Chubby called him, was born. The proud father came to my office to see if I could help in any way, as there were complications. I gave him some money. What Chubby really wanted was for me to visit his son in hospital because he said ‘they’ would treat him and his family better if someone like me visited. It haunts me to this day that I allowed my fear and dislike of hospitals to dissuade me from going.

Two years later Chubby did not get to buy his son a cake. The same night he got the money, someone pushed their way into his house and robbed him, viciously shooting and killing him in the process. I don’t think his death made the news. Sometimes I wonder if murders in August Town are under-reported to protect the much vaunted but fragile ‘peace treaty’. I know that not all murders are reported to the media by the Police in time for them to carry the news.

It’s heartbreaking when from he that hath not, even that which he hath not is taken. A good, hard-working man has been struck down, separated from the one thing he could call his own—his life. What lies ahead for Chubby’s son now, joining the legion of fatherless children?

There was a series of gruesome murders in Clarendon during the same period but  it’s human nature to mourn those closest to us, especially if they lived in physical proximity and you knew them. Someone from one’s own family, country, class or caste takes precedence over nameless strangers halfway across the world. The media too spends more column space or airtime on individuals who were prominent because of talent, brains, money or beauty. Thus the murder of designer Dexter Pottinger last week has dominated social media, where shell-shocked Jamaicans have been expressing sorrow, outrage, anger and bewilderment at his killing by a person or persons unknown.

The usual arguments are making the rounds. As Pottinger was openly gay there are those who suspect he was killed directly or indirectly because of his social orientation. Others counter this by saying he was likely killed by a lover in a crime of passion, so this can’t be classified as a homophobic murder. I find the latter a strange claim the fallacy of which is illustrated by looking at women who are murdered by their partners, ex husbands or boyfriends. Does the fact that this might be a crime of passion negate the fact that beneath the casual slaughter of women lies a deep-seated patriarchal belief that they are inferior and therefore expendable? Does it negate the widespread misogyny that permeates such societies and drives violence against women?

“Please don’t make it about the fact that he was gay” implored someone on my Facebook timeline. And I get that people don’t want Jamaica to get bad press again, especially if this was a straight robbery and murder, so to speak. But the fact is if a black man is killed in a racist country, the first thing you’re going to wonder is whether the color of his skin was a contributing factor. If racists view black people as an alien species endangering the public, in much the same way as homosexuals are viewed as dangerous threats to society here, it makes them more vulnerable to violence by those who feel justified in ridding society of the ‘menace’ by killing them.

Thus some men feel justified in killing men who make advances towards them instead of politely brushing them off in the way women do 365 days of the year when men make unwanted passes at them. Imagine what the world would look like if women killed every man who made a pass at them! I’ve never understood the “I killed him because he made an indecent proposal” defence that seems to find such currency here.

We might never know the reason Dexter was killed but in the meantime how about building a nation where people are as concerned to eliminate unwarranted prejudice as they are to protect their country’s reputation?