a tale of two cities

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Arnold Ber­tram

SINCE THE dis­man­tling of the transna­tional or­gan­ised crime net­works based at Tivoli Gar­dens in 2014, scam­ming in all its forms has re­placed the il­licit trade in hard drugs as the ma­jor com­po­nent of the crim­i­nal un­der­ground econ­omy. In this new dis­pen­sa­tion, Mon­tego Bay and its en­vi­rons have emerged in 2016 as Ja­maica’s crime cap­i­tal, with more than 200 mur­ders so far this year.

The law­less­ness that over­whelms Mon­tego Bay and threat­ens the vi­a­bil­ity and growth of the tourism sec­tor has its roots in a pat­tern of devel­op­ment that has cre­ated two cities in the ge­o­graph­i­cal area de­fined as Mon­tego Bay. The ‘first’ city is the is­land’s tourism cap­i­tal, which con­tin­ues to ex­tend along the coast. The ‘other’ city is the pro­lif­er­a­tion of some 20 in­for­mal set­tle­ments that have spread across the in­te­rior. Over time, these set­tle­ments have be­come a fer­tile breed­ing ground for crime with the ex­pan­sion of the age group 15-29, who are not work­ing, not look­ing for work, or en­rolled in any train­ing in­sti­tu­tion.

Mon­tego Bay’s emer­gence as Ja­maica’s crime cap­i­tal is rooted in the fail­ure of ru­ral devel­op­ment in St James. Plan­ta­tion slav­ery had utilised the labour power of en­slaved

African-Ja­maicans not only as field work­ers, but also as en­gi­neers, builders, welders, and wheel­wrights in the pro­duc­tion of sugar. The tragedy is that nei­ther their skill as ar­ti­sans nor their ex­pe­ri­ence as in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­ers and traders was utilised for the devel­op­ment in postE­man­ci­pa­tion.

Once the Eman­ci­pa­tion Act was passed, the planters im­posed ‘wage slav­ery’ by charg­ing rentals for the pro­vi­sion grounds that were of­ten as high as the wages paid. Those who re­fused to work for star­va­tion wages were ejected from the pro­vi­sion grounds and re­placed with in­den­tured labour from In­dia.

The planters also used their power of leg­is­la­tion to en­act va­grancy laws that widened the def­i­ni­tion of a ‘va­grant’ to in­clude “an un­em­ployed African-Ja­maican walk­ing the streets in search of work”. With­out ei­ther em­ploy­ment or ac­cess to land, and faced with star­va­tion, some of the newly freed peo­ple chose mi­gra­tion first to Panama, where they risked their lives to work on the Panama rail­road in a most un­healthy en­vi­ron­ment, and later to Costa Rica and Cuba. Those who re­mained be­gan mi­grat­ing from ru­ral ar­eas to the towns where they ‘hus­tled’ as best as they could. It was in these cir­cum­stances that Free Ja­maica lost ir­re­place­able ar­ti­san skills as well as the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop the coun­try­side on the ba­sis of both wage labour and peas­ant pro­duc­tion. Within a decade of Eman­ci­pa­tion, the in­tro­duc­tion of free trade had Ja­maican­grown sugar un­com­pet­i­tive, and eco­nomic ruin now also faced the es­tate own­ers.


It was not un­til the last quar­ter of the 19th cen­tury that the econ­omy of St James be­gan re­cov­er­ing, with the plant­ing of bananas for ex­port and the growth of tourism. J.E. Kerr pi­o­neered the ba­nana in­dus­try on his Cather­ine Hall Es­tate and the es­tab­lish­ment of Doc­tors Cave Beach as a health spa by Dr Alexan­der McCatty and his sons marked the be­gin­ning of tourism in Mon­tego Bay.

How­ever, the ba­nana in­dus­try did not ab­sorb the labour dis­placed by the de­cline in the sugar in­dus­try, and in its in­fancy, the tourist in­dus­try was racially ex­clu­sive. The dis­placed peas­antry from the in­te­rior of the parish be­gan mov­ing to the town of Mon­tego Bay, where, over time, they estab­lished an in­for­mal set­tle­ment on land now oc­cu­pied by #1 Post Of­fice, the li­brary, and the court­house, which be­came known as Mea­gre Bay.

With the in­tro­duc­tion of rail Un­rest, crime and so­cial dis­or­der are com­mon­place in Mon­tego Bay.

ser­vice to Mon­tego Bay in 1895 and the build­ing of a road to Lucea, the in­for­mal set­tle­ment con­tin­ued to ex­pand with mi­grants from out­side the parish and quickly be­came Mon­tego Bay’s first ghetto, where mi­grants lived in an in­creas­ingly an­ti­so­cial en­vi­ron­ment and hus­tled in the town and on the docks. In prox­im­ity to this ghetto, the new eco­nomic elite lived well along what is now Glouces­ter Av­enue, with the Fletcher House across from the fort as the di­vid­ing line be­tween the two con­trast­ing com­mu­ni­ties that be­came known as Mea­gre Bay and Fat Bay. In a real sense, these two com­mu­ni­ties cre­ated by the growth of tourism repli­cated the great house and the bar­racks of the sugar es­tate.


By the end of the 19th cen­tury, poverty and dis­con­tent had be­come the in­creas­ing lot of the dwellers of Mea­gre Bay as a re­sult of “the grind­ing, crush­ing weight of the taxes which they [were] un­able to pay and of the prose­cu­tions which [had] been re­cently in­sti­tuted against them for not be­ing able to pay”. The pot over­flowed on Satur­day, April 5, 1902, as the Mea­gre Bay dwellers led some 2,000 peo­ple in a riot to protest the in­crease in taxes. They held the town of Mon­tego Bay hostage for two days, dur­ing which time the Bar­nett Street Po­lice Sta­tion was sin­gled out for at­tack and the court­house stoned.

Re­in­force­ments of 60 armed po­lice­men brought some quiet the fol­low­ing day, but af­ter church ser­vices, the ri­ot­ers re­newed their protest, this time with a march­ing band play­ing On­ward Chris­tian Sol­diers.

When the riot ended, one per­son had been shot dead and a sec­ond died from sus­tained in­juries. Four po­lice of­fi­cers were se­verely in­jured, and only 31 of the 70 po­lice­men were in a phys­i­cal con­di­tion to re­port for duty the fol­low­ing day. The Daily Tele­graph, the mouth­piece of Fat Bay, de­scribed the ri­ot­ers from Mea­gre Bay as “a horde of the worst and most de­praved [who] joined the rush against law and or­der ... and the women of the pave­ment, loose, vile as cor­rup­tion, hideous and shame­less, egged on the men to vi­o­lence”.

The 1902 ri­ots drove an even deeper di­vi­sion be­tween Mea­gre Bay and Fat Bay. By the end of World War II, the ba­nana in­dus­try had de­clined and tourism had be­come the driver of eco­nomic growth in the parish. By the end of the cen­tury, Fat Bay had ex­panded to be­come Ja­maica’s prin­ci­pal re­sort area, with one-third of the coun­try’s room stock, the Mon­tego Bay Freeport, a 30,000-square-foot cruise ship ter­mi­nal, an in­ter­na­tional air­port, and an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence cen­tre.

While Fat Bay was emerg­ing as the cen­tre of Ja­maica’s tourism, Mea­gre Bay had also ex­panded, and by the be­gin­ning

of World War II had found a leader in Al­lan Ge­orge St Claver Coombs, the co-founder of Ja­maica’s first is­land­wide trade union in 1936. He made Mea­gre Bay his base, where he estab­lished an­other union, the Rad­i­cal Work­ers Union, to rep­re­sent the ba­nana work­ers and to lead the hunger marches and strikes of that pe­riod.

Then came the 1944 gen­eral elec­tion, the first to be held un­der uni­ver­sal adult suf­frage. The Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party did not en­ter a can­di­date, and Iris Collins, rep­re­sent­ing the Ja­maica Labour Party, won com­fort­ably. How­ever, two of the can­di­dates who con­tested those elec­tions were Wal­ter Fletcher of Fat Bay and A.G.S. Coombs of Mea­gre Bay. In that mini-con­test, Coombs re­ceived 15.2 per cent of the votes and Fletcher 14.5. The end of Mea­gre Bay came shortly af­ter the elec­tion when it was bull­dozed to fa­cil­i­tate the ex­pan­sion of com­mer­cial devel­op­ment, as well as in­fra­struc­ture for tourism.


The end of Mea­gre Bay was the rise of Can­ter­bury and Swine Lane. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the ex­pan­sion of tourism cre­ated the de­mand for labour at all lev­els, and in the ab­sence of af­ford­able hous­ing, many of these work­ers cre­ated their own ac­com­mo­da­tion in the in­for­mal set­tle­ments in Glen­de­von, Bot­tom Pen, Lil­liput, Flanker, Prov­i­dence, Nor­wood, Rose Heights, Com­fort Land in Mt Salem, Re­tire­ment, Mead­ow­vale, St Johns, Friend­ship, Hur­lock, New Ram­ble, An­chovy Mead­ows, Red Ground, and Cop­per.

The Rasta­far­ian up­ris­ing of Co­ral Gar­dens in 1963 and the dis­tur­bance in Flanker some three decades later were both timely re­minders of the po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour that in­evitably comes with an an­ti­so­cial en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, it is with the emer­gence of scam­ming as the cen­tre­piece of the un­der­ground econ­omy that crime in Mon­tego Bay has spi­ralled. The in­creas­ing mur­der rate is ev­i­dence that the per­pe­tra­tors are willing to risk their lives and kill oth­ers.


While a bet­ter-trained and bet­ter-equipped po­lice force is in­dis­pens­able to restor­ing law and or­der, as long as the breed­ing ground for crime con­tin­ues to ex­pand, we will con­tinue to pro­duce crim­i­nals at a much faster rate than we can ei­ther bring to jus­tice or af­ford to in­car­cer­ate.

How­ever, the so­lu­tion must in­clude a new par­a­digm for devel­op­ment. The Ur­ban Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (UDC), estab­lished in 1964, has failed to pro­vide any an­swer to the ex­pan­sion of un­planned ur­ban­i­sa­tion is­land­wide. The pub­licly funded Depart­ment of Ur­ban Plan­ning at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy seems equally in­dif­fer­ent to this ma­jor chal­lenge to or­derly ur­ban devel­op­ment. We must also ask what pro­grammes have been im­ple­mented by the Na­tional Hous­ing Trust (NHT) to pro­vide af­ford­able hous­ing for the thou­sands of work­ers in these in­for­mal set­tle­ments who make their con­tri­bu­tions to the NHT and who pro­vide labour at all lev­els in the most im­por­tant sec­tor of the Ja­maican econ­omy.

The breed­ing ground for crime in these set­tle­ments can only be trans­formed over time by pro­found changes in the class­room learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment; and this trans­for­ma­tion can only be achieved by teach­ers who not only have the ca­pac­ity to de­liver the cur­ricu­lum ef­fec­tively, but also to in­cul­cate the value of a clean and or­derly en­vi­ron­ment.

How much longer will we wait for a pro­gramme of ru­ral devel­op­ment to mod­ernise do­mes­tic agri­cul­ture, in­te­grate the food sec­tor with the SchoolFeed­ing Pro­gramme, as well as the fare served to our vis­i­tors?

The po­lar­i­sa­tion that con­tin­ues to char­ac­terise Mon­tego Bay is a di­rect re­sult of the fail­ure to achieve in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth. The peo­ple liv­ing in the in­for­mal set­tle­ments in­clude some of the 638 bud­ding en­trepreneurs who of­fer shared ac­com­mo­da­tion on Air B&B in the Mon­tego Bay area. Few mea­sures, if any, would con­trib­ute more to the sus­tain­able ex­pan­sion of Ja­maica’s tourism prod­uct than a pro­gramme to up­grade and en­hance the shared ac­com­mo­da­tion of­fered on Air B&B. In the process, Mon­tego Bay could just be­come one in­te­grated city.



Po­lice­men search a man dur­ing a se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion in Mon­tego Bay, St James, on Septem­ber 28.

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