Now this is news that the Jamaican government certainly doesn’t need to make the international mainstream media, especially on the heels of Stephen Fray’s hijacking of Canada’s CanJet airlines earlier this week. More negative publicity does not bode well for the tourist season. Apparently the government has put police and the army on alert to prevent violent demonstrations as it prepared to announce tax increases on gasoline, cigarettes and other consumer items yesterday. According to media reports, police and soldiers were deployed at what the government called “strategic” locations across the Caribbean island to quell any violent protests. Finance and Planning Minister Audley Shaw was expected to announce the tax increases during a budget debate yesterday. From what I have read in the Jamaica Observer newspaper, it seems that people are taking this in stride, but we’ll have to wait to see how it will play out today. At JA$8.75 per liter gas tax will be a hard pill to swallow, but I guess it’s a necessary one.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding told the nation during a national broadcast Wednesday night that Jamaicans should brace for tougher times because the island could not continue to borrow money to fill holes in the budget. Yes, he too inherited an enormous mess from Portia Simpson’s reign of terror. Of course, I am sure she is foaming at the mouth to start those very protests across the island. Portia Simpson Miller should be encouraging her constituents and others across the island to protest peacefully, not violently.
“There is speculation about the likelihood of tax increases and that there could be disturbances. But what purpose would that serve? Would it close the budget gap. Jamaica can no longer borrow to fill the gap in the budget,” Golding said. Source: Reuters
Jamaica has had a terrible past with protests, from my recollection growing up on the island. I recall in the 1980s leading up to the general elections that Eddie Seaga won by a landslide, there was so much violence that one was afraid to disclose one’s party affiliation. I also recall during my high school years at Mt. Alvernia that there were at least two protests over gasoline price hikes and I had to start a 10-mile walk home, from which I was rescued by my father. Nine people were killed during riots that broke out when a gasoline tax increase was announced in April 1999. I know the economic times are tough and those countries on the fringe, like Jamaica, will feel the excruciating pain, but I would caution that violence isn’t going to solve the ills that dog the country. It will have an adverse effect on tourism and the island’s image, that has suffered because of crime and unemployment. What ever little is left of the tourist season ought to be preserved.