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Associate editor – features—-


A UN safety and security officer ruffled the feathers of the Jamaican participants in a regional meeting of waste management interests at Jamaica Conference Center yesterday, when he warned visitors about the “significant increase in violent crimes” in the last four years and advised them not to venture outside the boundaries of the conference location and their hotels.

Chair of the opening ceremony Lt Col Oral Khan, chief technical director in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, had just presented the keynote address on behalf of Minister Daryl Vaz when Gonzalo Ramos was invited to the lectern.

Jamaican Conference Center

Jamaican Conference Center

“Restrict your travels/movement from this building to your hotel and don’t be tempted to go to other places that you’re not sure of. Try to walk always with a colleague; try not to wear any valuables; avoid travelling alone, especially after business hours,” Ramos warned.

He continued: “Our hosts are aware of this and I’m sure the conference will end (early) enough to give you time to get back to your hotels during daylight hours… During the day we don’t expect you to experience any trouble. The Jamaican people are very hospitable, very friendly and very respectful so as long as you don’t cross those boundaries you will be okay… As long as you’re here in the compound, you’re okay.”

In a 10-minute briefing which he said was routine for all UN events anywhere in the world, Ramos informed the group about Jamaica’s murder toll, the country’s movement from sixth most violent country in the world to fourth, the number of criminal gangs in operation as per data released by the constabulary force two weeks ago, named three garrison communities in Kingston which they should avoid, and reported that the police have been asked to do mobile patrols in the vicinity of the conference center.

Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett

Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett

He advised the conference participants to always take private transportation when travelling between the conference center and their hotels, and to beware of beggars because while “most of them are friendly and are just trying to make a buck, some of them work with criminal gangs”.

“I don’t want to scare you at all,” he said. “Jamaica is indeed a paradise island and it’s safe, with wonderful people living here, but it has challenges like many other countries. Those challenges are localized.

“First, the good news: In this island we don’t have terrorism and we don’t have armed conflict and we hope will remain like that for many years. However, we do have a high prevalence of violent crime. Violent crimes are a major concern for us, and the trend during the past four years is this rate has increased, significantly by the way,” Ramos said.

As he spoke, some of the Jamaicans in the room looked around at each other and muttered comments.

Crime Scene in Kingston

Crime Scene in Kingston

For those of them who spoke with the Jamaica Observer, it wasn’t so much the content of Ramos’ briefing that was irksome but the timing of the delivery.

Lt Col Khan took the floor when he was through and said to cheers and applause from the locals: “These are challenges in any major city… but we don’t live in fear.”

“I must tell you, I’m a little taken aback,” Christopher Powell, a former executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority, reported.

“I can understand their concerns; we know there are challenges, but my disappointment was how it was put across. If you read between the lines, it was like he was saying we are a country in turmoil, and we’re not. I thought the briefing could have been held privately with the people from abroad, at least during the break time,” Powell said.

Asked if Ramos’ briefing was predicated by any particular incident, head of UN Environment’s Caribbean Sub-regional Office Vincent Sweeney answered in the negative and reiterated that safety and security briefings are routine procedure.

Lt Oral Khan

“It’s necessary, but I wish it wasn’t so,” he reported.

Ramos also issued medical and hazard advice, warning about dengue, chikungunya, Zika virus, H1N1, and the hurricane season.

Caribbean Waste Management Conference is a three-day event being staged by UN Environment in partnership with the governments of Jamaica and the Netherlands for the purpose of creating a best practice action plan for Caribbean Small Island Developing States. In addition to participants from across the Caribbean, it has attracted attendees from Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the US.

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