Last year, the Jamaican Government imposed limited states of emergency in crime hot spots—including the island’s tourist hub in Montego Bay—in response to a spike in violent crime.
Some citizens’ rights were suspended and the country’s security forces were given extraordinary power to detain people without a warrant within zones of special operations. If this sounds eerily familiar it is because it was in many ways like the 2011 limited state of emergency imposed by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration and, from all accounts, yielded similar results.
That is because as much as people clamour for tough action against crime, their enthusiasm for such measures wanes when it involves curtailment of their rights and restrictions on their movements.
As some citizens found out the hard way in 2011, the lockdowns and curfews managed to contain criminal activity but also resulted in losses for some businesses and a considerable amount of social fallout for those who found themselves, sometimes innocently, on the wrong side of the law.
It was therefore a point of interest that National Security Minister Stuart Young, during his announcement of an accelerated drive against crime on Wednesday, was quick to point out that there would not be a limited state of emergency, although he did warn of “a level of inconvenience, unfortunately, to the law-abiding citizens”.
Therein lies the challenge for the authorities here, just as it was for the Jamaican authorities last year. It is hard to achieve the right balance between the basic rights of citizens and enforcing tough anti-crime measures.
The question is, how much are citizens here willing to sacrifice to achieve the level of peace and security that has eluded this nation for so long? With crime bosses, gangsters and other criminal elements so deeply embedded in communities that some of their underworld endeavours affected legitimate businesses and activities, there is no chance of swift and painless extraction. The “inconvenience” referred to by Mr Young during this “hard pushback” against the criminals is not likely to be minor or brief.
Some law-abiding citizens could be in for a rough ride.
Officials of the Princes Town Corporation have earned $60,000 simply by applying a nominal fee for visitors to the Devil’s Woodyard mud volcano. There may well be other sites of natural beauty or historical significance with the potential to bring in revenue and add value to the country’s tourism infrastructure.
Now is as good a time as any to explore all that untapped potential.