While many were busy over the weekend debating the merits of the latest soca release from Machel Montano and SuperBlue, Jamaica was continuing a major military operation pursuant to a state of emergency which Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared last Thursday for the parish of St James.
While we have been trying to contain our own crime problem, Jamaica’s crime situation has been spiralling at an alarming rate. Last year, the country’s murder rate soared by almost 23 per cent, with more than 1,500 people killed according to the Jamaican press. In 2016, the island was among the five countries in the world with the highest violent death rates, ranking alongside Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The parish of St James alone recorded 335 murders in 2017. Holness called the state of emergency after a series of murders – including a drive-by shooting – took place not far from the Sangster International Airport.
“I have been advised by the security forces in writing that the level of criminal activity, continued and threatened, is of such a nature and so extensive in scale as to endanger public safety,” said Holness.
The Jamaican press reported widespread support for the measure from residents of St James, Jamaican politicians, and the Jamaican Manufacturers Association. However, security officials have declined to answer media queries, citing the sensitivity of security operations.
Trinidad and Tobago has already had its own experience of the calling of a state of emergency after a crime wave. That took place in 2011, but its advent was controversial with objections being raised by a wide spectrum of civil society groups, lawyers and business associations. The 2011 event netted short-term gains, but whether it had a long-term impact on crime is not apparent. It will be interesting to see if any lessons can be learned locally from Jamaica’s experience during this trying time.
As a Caricom State, it is in our interest for Jamaica to get its crime situation under control. While the state of emergency there has been welcomed, one area where the island will suffer is in tourism. The emergency has brought negative publicity to the island internationally.
But in the assessment of Jamaica’s government, that fallout was clearly something which had to be balanced with the threat posed to public safety. It was a stark reality that called for toughness, despite the political fallout. Indeed, such a threat would have potentially been more detrimental to the country’s tourism industry in the long run.
We hope the operations being undertaken in Jamaica net results and that the long-term crime crisis on the island is brought under control. Such an outcome will be to the benefit of the citizens of Jamaica, its thousands of international visitors, and the Caribbean as a whole.