Of Paradise Lost

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O. Dave Allen

“You need a new picture,” asserts the soft-spoken Chinese Ambassador Tian Qi, in the presence of a photograph of Ruel Reid, the embattled former education minister, hanging in the boardroom of the Montego Bay Community College (MBCC). That was not the remark of a careless diplomatic.  It was a command made by a self-confident, powerful and secure diplomat who came to Montego Bay with a diplomatic pouch containing a demand of the Jamaican state to ‘protect the interest of our Chinese nationals’. This message marks the beginning of a new diplomatic relationship between Jamaica and the new imperialist on the block. The Chinese have arrived!

The assertiveness of the Chinese interest in Jamaica is bolstered by the powerful Association of Chinese Enterprises in Jamaica (ACEJ), a non-profit organization that was officially launched recently. This mega conglomerate is akin to the Dutch East India Company with all its implication.

ACEJ conglomerate includes China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), Huawei Technologies Jamaica Company Limited and JISCO Alpart Jamaica, all  among the group of companies and enterprises engaged in manufacturing, agriculture, mining, telecommunication, construction, healthcare, commerce, import and export trade, among other business activities across the island.

Ever since the contraction of the lotto scam, there has been an increase in the number of barefaced robberies in Western Jamaica, with Chinese nationals as the prime target, the pitfall of unintended consequences. 

Not long before the meeting of the Fujian Association of Jamaica held in Montego Bay with Ambassador Tian Qi, on the first of April, the Chinese business community threatened to lock down business activities in Jamaica to protest the increased level of robberies upon the Chinese business community. I was reliably informed that the local Chinese network recorded no less than five robberies of Chinese businesses per week since August of 2018.  However, it was the brazen daylight robbery by M-16 toting gunmen who shot and killed the 61-year-old security guard, Canute Earle of Norwood, and 41-year-old driver Floyd Wilson of Rosemount Gardens in the 20 million-dollar heist, that was the tipping point.

APOLOGETIC POLICE

It was at the Fujian Association meeting that a compliant and apologetic Superintendent Vernon Ellis, head of the St James Police Division, assured the local Chinese business community: “I want to give to you, as businesspeople, the reassurance to carry out your business. Remain calm and continue to support the police as we make the environment safer for you to do business.”

So, the government with a Commissioner of Police, who is a soldier, the only instrument he knows, instructed the Prime Minster to call a State of Emergency. This SOE is not about the increased level of murders. It was called to placate the Chinese in response to their demand to secure the interest of their nationals.  

It was not surprising to hear the strange duet of “Sykie and Trim”, the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce (MBCC) and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) in their joint statement in support of the recently declared State of Emergency  when up to April 7, Mr. Robin Russell said that despite the new spike in serious crimes, he is not in favour of the re-imposition of a State of  Emergency.

Mr. Russell, chairman of the Montego Bay chapter of the JHTA, in his April 7 statement, went on to say that the industry would not want to repeat “the shock in the market” that the announcement of the State of Emergency created last year.

GREEKS BEARING GIFTS

So, let us not fool ourselves about this State of Emergency and the Mayor’s hastily hatched Operation Restore Paradise, laudable as they may sound. I  don’t trust the Greeks bearing gifts.

On the surface, there were no cataclysmic events, nothing extraordinary  that would have caused the government to call a SOE, this time round,  unlike that which obtained on January 16, 2018 when the firewall that was built to protect the fragile tourist industry was breached, when a man was brutally  shot and killed in a brazen daylight shooting in the heart of the tourist mecca during high season. Three other persons were shot and injured, including an infant boy, near the Donald  Sangster International Airport.

That was the tipping point, the catalysis for the 2018 State of Emergency. On top of that there was also the fear and the hysteria among the citizenry caused by the rising murder rate over the Christmas period which continued into the New Year. And the embarrassment to the hapless Holness regime after the leader promised the electorate that they would be able to “sleep with their doors and windows open”.

This time, while the murder rate has inched up, we are not at that place that we were last year.

The police promised the Chinese business community that they would have obtained quick-response technologies through cellular-phone systems. But there are some obstacles in the way of the police implementing this technological application in the sea of informality that obtains along the chaotic thoroughfare of St. James Street.

OPERATION RESTORE PARADISE

Let us be clear, the Mayor’s much-lauded initiative, Operation Restore Paradise is commendable on the face of it. But let us not be fooled ourselves, it is part and parcel of the security strategy, designed to meet the demands of the Chinese ambassador  to create an atmosphere for the   safety and security of his Chinese  nationals.

The municipal corporation has a clear mandate to create an atmosphere that is conducive for business, but it cannot be at the exclusion of the micro sector. If we continue this path, Montego Bay will be the first China Town in Jamaica.  Please be reminded, your worship, there will be “no peace without justice”, according to Peter Tosh. 

The St. James Municipal Corporation also has the obligation to integrate the marginalized sectors into the mainstream of Montego Bay’s formal economy. We could start with restoring the People’s Arcade to accommodate the 400 displaced vendors who are pushed aside to facilitate surveillance of the formal business operations on St. James Street.  Let us sit down and reason together on how we can build a Montego Bay for all.

The Mayor should insist that the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) allow the shop owners to make connection to the JPSCo grid – shop owners and tenants whose buildings have been inspected and passed by a licensed electrical contractor.  These people are being frustrated by the Jamaica Railway Corporation, which has refused to provide the vendors with a letter showing tenancy so that they can enter in a contractual agreement with the JPSCO to access electricity. The JRC continued to pinprick the occupants at the Arcade with the hope that they will abandon their holdings without compensation.  The Mayor could reconnect the water supply that has been disconnected since December of last year and for which there is an NWC-registered metre in the name of the Corporation. The Mayor could insist that the JRC provides the promised sanitary conveniences to avert a public health crisis.  If these arrangements were made, then the displaced vendors from the streets could comfortably operate their businesses in the designated arcade.

The disgraceful state of the Charles Gordon Market makes mockery of the grandiose desire of the Mayor to “Restore Paradise”.

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