MONTEGO BAY, St James – Leaders of the tourism sector and the wider business community in Montego Bay have accepted the latest state of public emergency (SOE) with the acquiescence that comes from being down this road before.
Meanwhile, the few residents who would speak in the still-tense community of Salt Spring have welcomed the measure as one that they expect will make them safer.
Prime Minster Andrew Holness announced the SOE during a media briefing Wednesday morning as an attempt to stop the blood-letting in the parish. The latest fatalities include two school boys and a man on their way home in Salt Spring.
The SOE comes at an inopportune time for the country’s tourism sector which is now on the brink of what was expected to be a bumper winter season.
However, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Robert Russell, whose Deja Resort is in Montego Bay, St James, does not anticipate any fallout.
“I don’t see it impacting tourism arrivals. This is not the first one we’ve had. We’ve shown that we managed it well, we’ve shown that most of these operations are in specific areas so we don’t see it adversely affecting the tourism product,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
“We’ve been here before and we know that it works,” Russell added.
As he has done in the past, he threw his support behind the SOE.
“We support the law enforcement agencies in whatever lawful means they will use to save Jamaican lives. Safety of our workers, their children and communities are paramount and necessary for us to have a successful tourism product,” said the JHTA head.
“We continuously work with the ground commanders to ensure that the operations of the tourism sector are not affected but we can’t afford to be losing children to gun violence; it’s just unacceptable,” Russell added.
He cautioned, however, that in implementing the SOE, care must be taken to minimise disruptions.
“We also hope that everything will be put in place to not affect the smooth running of tourism operations which means staff coming to work, buses getting to the airport, etc,” he appealed.
When contacted, president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce Oral Heaven said he had already received at least one complaint from a member who was stuck in traffic for hours because of an SOE checkpoint. He is concerned about how this will affect productivity but, like the JHTA head, he pointed to the need for the enhanced security measure and pledged support.
“We are always ready to work with the authorities, hence the reason why we have the crime study going on to see how we can assist in crime prevention,” Heaven noted.
A visit to Salt Spring on Wednesday hammered home the impact that the recent blood-letting has had on the community. Most residents stayed behind closed doors or gates and those who reluctantly spoke with the Observer were unwilling to be named.
“I can sleep in my bed at nights and not worry,” said one woman who was taking her child to school. “I’m glad that the police are here because the man them a go on too bad.”
Another woman expressed similar sentiments.
“I’m comfortable man, I feel good and them so close to where I am makes me feel even better,” she said before making a hasty retreat to her house.
A man from the nearby Flower Hill community, which has featured in the recent flare-up of violence, also welcomed the SOE, saying he anticipates that things will be better with the security forces in the area.
Over the last two weeks, at least six murders have taken place in Salt Spring. In separate incidents, armed thugs opened gunfire on two taxis travelling between Flower Hill and Salt Spring. Five of the deceased were involved in those attacks.
But it was Monday evening’s slaying of seven-year-old Justin Perry and nine-year-old Nahcoliva Smith that sparked the most outrage. The bullets of a high-powered weapon ripped through the body of the intended target, Tevin Hayle, before hitting the boys, both students of Chetwood Memorial School. Hayle also died.
A little over two weeks ago, men armed with high-powered rifles pulled Imani Jarrett and Odane Smith from a taxi and killed them near the gates of Salt Spring Primary School.