Editorial | In a state of anarchy | America’s travel advisory a call to action
In recent months, up to earlier this week, Ed Bartlett, the tourism minister, has been busy boasting about Jamaica's record performance in tourism for 2017. The island welcomed 4.3 million visitors - an increase of 21 per cent - of which 55 per cent were stopover tourists, or those who stayed for several days. The others were cruise ship passengers.
Tourism is important to the Jamaican economy. By Mr Bartlett's estimate, in 2017, it grossed approximately US$3 billion, making it the number one foreign-exchange earner, ahead of money remitted by Jamaicans living abroad.
About two-thirds of these tourists are from the United States. So, any negative signal by America to its citizens about travel to Jamaica, such as one issued this week by the State Department, is potentially ruinous.
The Jamaican authorities, and tourism interests, we expect, are now scrambling to limit any negative effect of that travel advisory. But given the worsening state of criminal anarchy in the country, and the ineffective and ineffectual response of the Government, they ought not to be shocked that it was issued.
What, if anything, is surprising is the scope and tone of the warning, as well as the strictures placed on US diplomats based in Jamaica on moving about the island, especially the capital Kingston and the tourism hub Montego Bay.
In most respects, the Americans haven't said anything that those of us living in Jamaica don't know, including the fact that "violent crime, such as home invasions, armed robberies and homicide is common".
Jamaicans also know that despite it being a major crime which the police report as having declined, that "sexual assaults occur frequently". What some might not realise is that this frequency was "even at all-inclusive resorts", which are the bedrock of the tourism business.
Jamaicans are also too painfully aware of the fact that "local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents", to which we would add that those deficiencies include high-quality institutional and political leadership.
This ineffective response to criminality is evidenced by the 1,616 homicides for 2017 - a murder rate of around 60 for every 100,000 people living here. Although it is still early in the new year, at the current trajectory, Jamaica is on course to record more than 1,800 homicides in 2018.
'KEEPING A LOW PROFILE'
Given that they deem the Jamaica Constabulary Force incapable of arresting this problem, the Americans have told their citizens who travel to the island to avoid night-time outings and secluded places, "even in resorts"; to avoid a raft of communities, and to generally "keep a low profile", which we don't expect is the way tourists plan to enjoy their holidays.
Further, and more spectacular, are the narrow geographical areas in Kingston and Montego Bay to which embassy staff and US staff are restricted and the outright prohibition on their travel to Spanish Town.
The urgency of solving crime is not primarily for the safety of Americans or other visitors. It has, fundamentally, to be about the safety and well-being of Jamaicans, of which tourists will be beneficiaries. In other words, Jamaica has first to be safe for the people who live here if it is to be safe for visitors.
Given our long history of a dilatory approach to criminality, tackling the problem now will demand extraordinary leadership, starting at the top of the Government.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has to make as its primary mission of his administration mobilising the country into action and be ready to do whatever necessary to stanch the crisis. He has to be prepared to take risks.
In this regard, the Americans, with their travel advisory, may have done Jamaica a favour.