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Jamaica’s big party? Four killed so far

Sunday, February 14, 2016

“One Big Party” ran the Jamaica Observer’s front page splash last Wednesday. It showed jolly ladies in the green T-shirts of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party mobbing a grinning motorcyclist, orange-clad in support of Portia Simpson Miller’s People’s National Party.

No nomination day violence on Tuesday, then? All set for a good-tempered February 25 election?

Inside, the paper told a different story. One man was killed and three people injured when a JLP motorcade met heavy and sustained gunfire at Flanker, a few hundred metres from the airport and the Sandals resort in Jamaica’s north coast tourist capital, Montego Bay.

Said the local police chief: “It would have been a lot worse if we did not have a team in the area…We asked specifically that no motorcade should come through Flanker. I am really sad that our instructions were not followed, and I would really like to know who authorised this motorcade.”

Dr Horace Chang, JLP general secretary and the local MP, says his supporters reported a PNP motorcade in the area, and wanted one from their own side.

The police had good reason to expect trouble. Just after ten last Sunday night, opposition leader Andrew Holness was outlining his Ten-Point Plan to a huge JLP crowd at Sam Sharpe Square, in the heart of Montego Bay.

A sudden burst of gunfire left three dead, and brought Holness to a halt. Two of those killed were from Flanker. They were Javin “Javincini” Campbell, leader of the Uptown Sparta gang, and Nicholas “Chow” Irving from Goat Pen, a home base for the rival Rebel mob.

"I know one of the young men who was killed personally," said Dr Chang. “He is from Flanker.”

Jamaica’s police commissioner Carl Williams says the Sam Sharpe shooting was not political.

But let’s get back to Andrew Holness and his Ten-Point Plan.

He wants a Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation to deliver 250,000 new jobs. At their last count, the Statistical Institute of Jamaica found 188,100 unemployed, just over one-in-eight of the labour force. Those extra jobs would create sub-zero unemployment. 

Portia’s PNP is promising 100,000 new jobs over five years.

Holness wants to double the minimum wage in the public sector, currently equivalent to around TT$300 weekly.

He wants to abolish income tax for those earning less than the equivalent of TT$80,000. Current finance minister and PNP campaign director Peter Phillips say that given Jamaica’s low salary levels, this would be almost three-quarters of the current tax roll.

And all of this while presumably adhering to the IMF’s stringent austerity programme.

In response to efforts to “change the very foundation, the definition and fabric of Jamaica,” he wants a “grand referendum” where voters could show support for his country’s dearly-beloved buggery laws. This would also decide on possible accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice; so far, his party has been firmly in the Privy Council camp.

Predictably, Portia hit back on the economic front. “It’s a Ten-Point con,” she told a mass rally a week ago in the eastern parish of St Thomas: “That can’t work, not with our economic situation.”

In response, Holness called the prime minister a “con artist.” In a televised interview on Tuesday, he said she had failed to deliver on 2011 campaign promises to remove General Consumption Tax (Jamaica’s version of VAT) from electricity, and make Jamaicans prosperous enough to afford oxtail and curry goat, instead of chicken back and fish back.

Unless I’ve missed something, that sounds like par for the course in political campaign talk.

Not to Portia. Her lawyers on Wednesday threatened legal action for defamation. They said the opposition leader’s words “tended to injure, degrade and discredit the character of our client, exposing her to hatred, contempt and ridicule.”

They said: “ordinary, intelligent and unbiased persons…would be likely to understand those words as conveying that our client was involved in acts calculated to deceive or swindle the public.”

They asked for an apology within three days; so that’s up to yesterday. Don’t hold your breath.

Somewhat patronizingly, Portia once called her political opponent her “son.” She now says: “If he was my child, he would have been behaving differently... I still love him, but he is not my son.”

The Jamaica Debates Commission has scheduled three public sessions next week. Portia now says she’ll pull out, unless she gets her apology—and unless the Commission radically restructures the format. 

“Is Portia Simpson Miller a coward?” asked the opinion editor of the Jamaica Gleaner on Friday.

This month marks 27 years since the PNP’s former leader Michael Manley swept back to power after more than eight years in opposition. His party has held power since then, with one four-year break.

Jamaica’s economy remains stagnant. The murder rate is still a world leader. And half the electorate say they will not bother to vote. 

Pollsters and pundits predict another victory for Portia. They may be right; but if so, it looks like a win by default. 


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