Grange assures Coral Gardens Rastas land transfer will be done

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange has conceded that while the Government has done its best to correct injustices meted out to the Rastafarian community during the 1963 Coral Gardens massacre, there are still some outstanding matters to be dealt with. The transfer of promised land is one of them.

“I know there were some issues that were still outstanding and we have addressed some financial issues… just recently, and the other matters will be addressed. I searched my e-mail and found that there was no response to a letter that was sent to the National Land Agency for the transfer [of lands]. Your Member of Parliament Dr [Horace] Chang, deputy prime minister, was under the impression that the transfer was done. And when I heard that there was this concern I did my research and found out that the transaction was not completed,” explained Grange.

She assured that “it will be completed”.

The minister was responding to chairman of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolence Society and educator Gregory Taylor, who pointed out that, despite the Government making amends, there are outstanding issues surrounding “land and scholarships for Rastafarian children”.

They were both speaking during a ceremony held within the chambers of the St James Municipal Corporation to mark the official visit to the city of Montego Bay by His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie.

The prince is a special guest of the Jamaican Government for national heritage celebrations. Prince Selassie is the grandson of Haile Selassie, who was emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 and inspired the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica.

Following Taylor’s comments, Grange asked for patience and gave an assurance that the Government will keep its promises.

Following years of agitation by the remaining members of the Coral Gardens community in St James, an inquiry was done by the Office of the Public Defender during the tenure of Arlene Harrison Henry. In December 2015 that office published a report which concluded that Rastafarians there had suffered extreme acts of violations of their basic human rights. The public defender recommended that the State should apologise, pay compensation to individual survivors, and make reparation to the wider community.

In June 2016 representatives of the community met with government representatives and submitted a 13-point plan, which was formed based on an ongoing negotiation.

Taylor outlined the progress made.

“Prime Minister Andrew Holness gave a public apology to the rest of the community. In December 2019 a trust fund was established for the benefit of all the rest of you and survivors of the 1963 atrocities. So far $112 million has been deposited into the trust fund and disbursements are done on a monthly basis to the individual survivors. And thirdly, in March 2021, an elder-care facility was opened for the benefit of all those survivors who did not have caregivers. All expenses and operational costs are covered by the government parties,” he told Rastafarians gathered during Saturday’s discussions with Grange.

He urged the Government to settle unresolved matters to put an end to what he described as decades of discrimination against the Rastafarian community in Coral Gardens.

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