As Jamaica prepares for the Christmas and New Year holiday season, there is increasing worry among government, civil society and locals in particular about a spike in the murder rate and the seeming inability of authorities to do anything about it.
For the year so far, police are reporting that approximately 1,525 people have been killed. This figure is second only to the year 2009, when 1,680 people were killed.
But the good news is that the Jamaica tourism brand is so strong that the daily media reports about murders and gangland activity have had little or no impact on millions of European, North American and other tourists deciding to visit the island each year. This year is no different.
Omar Robinson, the head of the Hotel and Tourist Association, told reporters recently that bookings are soaring for the winter season, which started in mid-December and runs until mid-April.
The violent crime wave “hasn’t significantly impacted the industry as the bookings are still coming. Both government and the security forces are taking the required measures to reduce the crime rate. They are focusing on that. We in the industry are focusing on going out there and marketing the country,” Robinson said. According to him, this year’s winter arrivals are expected to top last year’s 2.1 million visitors.
But people such as respected University Professor Anthony Clayton say authorities are simply not doing enough to reduce the number of murders and to erase Jamaica’s international stigma as one of the murder capitals of the world.
Clayton argues that authorities missed vital opportunities to reform neighborhoods and imprison gangsters in the past seven to eight years.
“The only thing that ever really brought down our rate after 2009 was the normalization of Tivoli in 2010. After that happened, the bad guys were demoralized. The gangs were disrupted and the homicide rate fell by 40 percent. What we should have done is to go on and normalize every other high-crime community in the country, but we let that opportunity slip away. I knew that we would only have a couple of years before the homicide rate started to come back up again. That is sadly what happened, and now we are exactly where we started,” the Gleaner newspaper quoted Clayton as saying.
He was referring to the globally reported clashes between security forces and heavily armed gangsters in Western Kingston, where authorities have moved in to flush out notorious district don Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who was wanted by American justice for arms and drug trafficking. He has since been convicted and jailed in the U.S.
Clayton said the administration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness must now up the ante on criminals in the coming months.
“For me, the only thing to be optimistic about is that the government of Jamaica is taking crime more seriously than ever before. That is because it is now a conditionality of all the support that we get from our international development partners like the IMF. Every single one of them now is saying to the government, ‘If you can’t deal with organized crime and corruption, then what is the point of supporting you because your economy cannot grow until you deal with these cancers.’”
Comparative figures of the number of people murdered in a given year show that the one thousand mark is easily surpassed in 2010 at 1,428; in 2011 at 1,125; in 2012 at 1,097; in 2013 at 1,200; in 2014 at 1,005; in 2015 at 1,192; and in 2016 at 1,350, staggering figures for a population of approximately 3 million.