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Reflections from Jamaica

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A packed day last Wednesday in Jamaica, the day on which I normally write my column, prevented me from submitting anything to the paper.
The week in Jamaica was quite a hot one, not literally I mean, although it was so too. It was also dry, Jamaica having suffered from a long dry spell. In fact, it appears that the northern islands, unlike what is happening in the south have been starved of rain. {{more}}
Jamaicans appeared quite confident on Monday and Tuesday that they would have been awarded the privilege of hosting the finals of the 2007 Cricket World Cup. When they got the opening ceremony instead they rationalized it and concluded that what they were offered was a better deal.
The West Indies team is to be based there and they are to host the 6 first round matches and one semi-final game. The massive road building/extension projects from Montego Bay to Kingston and even in Kingston itself are obviously being done with 2007 in mind. Montego Bay is in the Tourist area and some of the major hotels are located in that part of Jamaica. It is going to be a mammoth task getting from the hotels to Kingston on a daily basis, but the highways that are currently being built will go a long way in facilitating the long drive of over 3 hours.
Sunday, July 18 was the day of the State Funeral of the late Hugh Shearer, former Trade Union Leader and Prime Minister from 1967-1972. Shearer was not my favourite Caribbean person, his reactions and policies during the era of Black Power and in particular, his banning of Walter Rodney had left a lasting impression on me. What I knew about Shearer was coloured by that incident. I was therefore surprised when I saw our Prime Minister accompanied by his wife, in attendance at the funeral. Dr. Gonsalves was one of the student leaders in 1968 that led demonstrations against the Hugh Shearer government, following the banning of Rodney and the prohibition of literature considered subversive. The only other Prime Minister from outside of Jamaica was Baldwin Spencer, a Trade Union leader himself. Sir John Compton of St.Lucia was also in attendance.
I have not heard any comments by Dr. Gonsalves on the death of Shearer and about his leadership and person, but would very much like to hear his reflections about the life of Shearer, given the passage of time and his occupation of the post of Prime Minister and no longer that of a young student radical of the late 1960s and early 70s.
There is no doubt that Shearer has left an indelible mark on the minds of Jamaicans. At least, that is what the tributes seem to suggest. The one serious blot on the funeral was the fact that the tributes were too long, and imagine! Our Prime Minister was not part of that. The long tributes meant that darkness cut short the burial ceremony at the National Heroes Park. It was too dark to continue and so the programme had to be shortened. What struck me about the occasion was the number of parents who took their children along the route.
A number of Jamaicans of the poorer classes spoke to Shearer’s humility and of the contribution he has made to education. In fact Edward Seaga, Leader of the Opposition referred to the major advances made in Education during his tenure, despite being seen by some as ‘not enough of an intellectual.’ Prime Minister Patterson described him as ‘a quintessential nationalist and a dedicated political leader.’ Professor Rex Nettleford saw him as ‘a textured, enigmatic character’ that presented ‘contradictory omens’ to his admirers.
He referred to his impatience with the Black Power Movement and appeared to have agreed with those who put it down to ‘the distaste that this well brought-up country boy had for disorder.’ Hugh Shearer was also a formidable trade union leader having been in the leadership of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and associated with that union for over fifty years. He was, in fact, a protégé of Sir Alexander and made a lasting contribution to labour, holding a number of positions in the trade union movement in Jamaica. The University of the West Indies, in 1994, awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, pointing to his long association with the trade union movement and political life in Jamaica.

Ottley Hall

It is good that the challenges to the Ottley Hall Commission on technical grounds have not succeeded. Ottley Hall, as I have suggested earlier, remains a festering sore on the nation’s body. We need to clean ourselves of it by getting to its very bottom and dealing with those who might have violated the nation’s trust and confidence. Ottley Hall has been marked by numerous accusations and pointing of fingers. We have to get behind it and clear it up once and for all. This is not to support the nature of the Inquiry that appeared at times more like a witch- hunt than an attempt to get at the truth and identify those who are guilty of any misdemeanours.
We need to purge ourselves of Ottley Hall. Any termination of the Inquiry on technical grounds would leave too many unanswered questions for the nation’s good. Of course, the matter of cost has got to be taken into account and the results would have to be balanced against the cost. Only time will tell if it has been worth it, but it might, in any event, serve to remind those in authority that they can be held accountable if they betray the public’s trust.

Crime
The statement by the Human Rights Association hinting at the idea of a witness protection programme should not be taken too lightly. The incident involving the slaying of the lady at Cane End is a shocker. Murders no longer shock us but this is going a step further. Are we about to follow the example of other countries, such as Trinidad and Jamaica where witnesses are hunted down and killed? This is a dangerous development and something must be put in place to protect witnesses especially in criminal cases. One can argue that we are dealing with a single incident, but one is too much and we have to be forewarned. The NEWS’ editorial of July 16 touched on an issue that it raised before but we have to keep on the front burner. We have to be concerned about the resources given to the police to fight crime and to ensure that our crime fighting facilities are relevant to the twentieth century and not to the eighteenth. The increase of dismissals of criminal cases based on sloppy police work must be taken seriously. It is always easy to look for scapegoats and to point fingers at the police, but can we expect much more unless we provide them with the necessary training and resources? This must really be seen and treated as an area of priority.

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