Something topical this week – the news from Kingston, Jamaica is alarming but would you have a clue it was happening if you were in the Blue Mountains, Negril or Montego Bay? We read the views of specialist Caribbean writer Stephen Thorpe, who has been writing about the Caribbean in the UK national press, magazines and international publications for over 25 years.
It’s certainly unusual these days for the Caribbean to feature on primetime and international news bulletins—so when it does, we sit up and take notice. The news out of Jamaica recently however has not made for good reading, or watching for that matter, but it’s important we retain some perspective on the matter. The problems besetting the downtown areas of the capital Kingston are multi-facetted, socially complex and rooted in political machination and corruption spanning more than four decades, a long term cancer at the heart of society. Jamaica is arguably the most arresting, visually inspiring and creative country in the entire region with 99% of its population warm and welcoming, and a sporting pedigree globally unparalleled for its size yet since Independence in 1962 it has been seriously under served by its politicians.
Last week’s horrendous scenes emanating from Tivoli Gardens have scarred Jamaica’s international image once again but this time, whisper it, there may be some sort of positive repercussions. It never rains but it pours—the hurricane season starts on June 2 with a forecast, as ever, for more frequent storm passages too. Ah, Tivoli Gardens. Sounds like some Italianate Eden, replete with fountains and blooming bougainvillea. Er...... no, far from it, it’s a sweltering concrete slum and shanty area housing thousands, abutting nearby Trenchtown, Jones Town and Rema where conditions are no less harsh. No need to rake over the grizzly details, but large swathes of west Kingston are controlled as lawless fiefdoms by drug barons and gun runners, the garrison “dons”, one of whom Christopher “Dudus” Coke, was summoned for extradition by the US back in October.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding of the Jamaica Labour Party and constituent member for Tivoli resisted it, but finally relented unleashing a street war when the residents blockaded the area against government forces and police seeking Coke. He has still not been located. If history repeats itself (and let’s hope it doesn’t) standby for more inevitable unrest. In 1992 Coke’s father, Lester, aka Jim Brown, died in a mysterious fire in prison the day before he was due to be extradited. Your correspondent witnessed the funeral: at the head of the cortege was Edward Seaga, one of Golding’s JLP predecessors as Prime Minister. Draw your own conclusions.
In the 1970’s Seaga opposed Michael Manley’s Peoples National Party which was supposedly aligned with Marxism and Castro’s Cuba and not to the liking of the United States. Guns flooded in from the north setting the tone for present day street culture; even now there are downtown walls smeared with old graffiti from that time: “CIAga Land, Keep Out”. Got to hand it to Jamaicans for retaining their sense of humour in parlous times. The common man refers to “politricks” and “politricians”, and not without good cause. As a former long term Kingston resident I trod carefully in those downtown enclaves, meeting remarkable people like Pastor Bobby Wilmot and Lorna Stanley who gave up a successful 30 year career in Washington journalism to return and offer succour and advice to the “sufferahs” of Trenchtown. These and other brave people like them are undeniably the true warriors of social conscience, not those now supposedly leading the country.
So, what does the future hold for the benighted Land Of Jah ? For the first time in years the police have a presence in Tivoli, so that’s a departure of sorts. And what about prospective travellers, the two million visitors per year, the lifeblood of the tourist industry? Kingston and St.Andrew is still under a state of emergency but at Moondance, Rockhouse and Tensing Pen in sultry Negril, the vibe is unaffected; indeed in every coastal resort, from Jake's and the unspoiled rural backwater of St.Elizabeth in the south to Strawberry Hill and the dreamy Blue Mountains life goes on as normal. The word must still be: go, and savour the upliftment.
For information about where to stay and what to do in Jamaica, have a look at The Definitive Caribbean Guide to Jamaica.
Definitive Caribbean says, fly into Montego Bay and from there choose from a number of other worthy places to stay, where the troubles in Kingston will seem a world away: Coyaba Beach Resort, Country Beach Cottages, Half Moon Club, Jackie's on the Reef, Round Hill Hotel and Villas, Moon Dance Cliffs Resort and Spa, The Caves and villas through Linda Smith Villas and Villa Vacation.
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