Jamaican Army Deployed Ahead of Tax Increases on Gasoline, Cigarettes and other Consumer Items, Violence Would be a Deathknell to Tourist Season

Motorists flock a Total gas station in Kingston yesterday.
(Photo: Garfield Robinson)

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.

Stephen Fray, a "Mentally Challenged" Gunman Holds Hostages on Canadian CanJet Flight 918 at Jamaica’s Sangsters Int’l Airport


The gunman has been removed from the CanJet airline and is in police custody. Thank God this nightmare is over. According Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz, the “mentally challenged youngster” was apparently upset over a failed relationship.

Well, this is indeed a first for Jamaica — an airplane being hijacked. I was dozing off last night and the last thing I recall hearing was that an airplane had been hijacked in Jamaica, but I thought to myself, that can’t be. I was mistaken. According to Fox News, Stephen Fray, a mentally challenged 20-year old man, hijacked CanJet Flight 918, a Canadian charter plane on the tarmac at Donald Sangster International Airport, located on the outskirts of Montego Bay. He is currently holding the flight crew hostage, after setting the passengers free, having robbing several of them first. All I can say is, he’d better step off the plane peacefully. The Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper is in Jamaica for a one-day visit and that’s certainly not the way Prime Minister Bruce Golding wanted him to be welcomed to the island.

Television Jamaica reports Prime Minister Golding, along with national security ministers, have flown in by helicopter to oversee negotiations with the gunman. The hostage situation began at 10:30 p.m. local time when the man breached security systems, possibly using an airport staff entrance, and providing several fake identification cards.

Flight 918 was carrying 182 passengers and crew. All passengers have been safely removed from the aircraft, but CanJet crew and the armed man remain on board. The motives of the gunman are unknown at this time and officials say the situation is ongoing. Source: Fox News

This incident begs the question of how did this man gain access to a restricted location within the airport building? According to the Gleaner, an official said that the man threatened personnel in the terminal before proceeding to the aircraft. He was still not restrained because there were no armed security personnel in the terminal. The Gleaner further states that a senior official at MBJ Airports Limited said armed security personnel are not usually in the terminal and that it is an internationally accepted practice. Really? That seems strange that you have a man issuing threats and no-one bats an eye, let alone approach the man to ascertain his state of mind.

It’s reported that as soon as the man boarded the flight he issued orders that he wanted to go to Cuba. Though this is an isolated incident, nonetheless, it raises some serious concerns about security at the airport and heads should roll for this. Unfortunately for Jamaica, which depends heavily on tourism, this incident will have some fallout and may hurt the country’s image. Considering the economic challenges the island is facing, this is the last thing they needed, but the damage isn’t irreparable. They need to bring this to a close sooner, rather than later. The longer this drags on, the longer it stays in the news and could have an effect on the country’s image.