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Saturday, 14 July, 2001, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Jamaica counts the cost
A woman shouting for the violence to stop
The violence left at least 28 dead
By David Willis

From somewhere inside came a high pitched scream, followed by uncontrollable sobbing.

And as she stumbled towards the door of Maddens funeral home in Kingston, Evelyn Ruddock collapsed into her mothers arms.

Nine months pregnant, she had just identified a decomposed body as that of her husband Humphrey - he died in this week's gun battle between police and gang members, along with more than 20 others.

This is not a paradise for policing

Detective Superintendent James Forbes

Bowing to an island-wide sense of grief and outrage, the Jamaican Government has now announced that it will assist with the funeral expenses of those who died.

Compared with the cost of repairing the country's tattered reputation as a paradise for western holidaymakers, it may prove to be a drop in the ocean.


The sadness which has engulfed this tiny island nation since last weekend's bloodshed - the worst since independence from Britain 39 years ago - will be followed by misery if, as expected, western tourists are scared away.

Police patrolling in Kingston
Police complain they are out-gunned by drugs gangs
The violence took place miles from the chic resorts that flank Montego Bay, but it could easily affect them if - as many here expect - the result is a slew of cancellations.

Tourism officials are upbeat, saying they have been here before and bounced back, but the two million visitors who take to Jamaica's palm-fringed beaches every year are a vital source of foreign currency for the country's stagnating economy.

"The images of roadblocks across our capital and the gun battles in Kingston have (only) served to reinforce Jamaica's reputation for crime and violence," reported the Daily Observer newspaper.

"The upshot we expect to be a heavy body blow to tourism just as the economy was showing some sign of improvement after half a decade of stagnation."

Election violence

The threat is far greater if the violence re-occurs, as many expect it will in the run-up to next year's elections, given that the gangs all have links to senior politicians.
Jamaican APV
The army was deployed to restore order

There have been dark rumours of a possible descent into anarchy if the bloodshed - so far confined to the ghettos of west Kingston - were to spread island-wide.

"This is not a paradise for policing," said Detective Superintendent James Forbes, who admits he and his fellow officers are becoming out-numbered and out-gunned by the drug gangs.

After touring the ghettos and shanty-towns where countless of his colleagues have lost their lives, I was taken to the police training academy where new recruits are made to recite lengthy tracts from a thick policing manual, left behind by the British.

The instructor was ashamed by the lack of computers and the sad state of the firing range where young men and women - barely out of school - are taught to shoot rifles with a killing range of almost a mile.

Roll of Honour

But any suggestion that the police are trigger-happy is swiftly countered by a reference to the Roll of Honour, stretched across four faded wooden boards in the entrance hall.

It lists the officers who have died in the line of duty and reveals a tragic pattern - the death toll surges every year in which there has been an election.

Following the latest bloodshed the leaders of the two main political parties have said they are considering talks to ease the tension, yet the chances of a breakthrough seem remote.

And the longer they delay, the longer Jamaican economy will decline, and the longer the widowed will bury their dead.

The BBC's David Willis
"New police recruits are fully aware they'll be outgunned by the drugs gangs"
See also:

12 Jul 01 | Americas
Rights groups condemn Jamaica police
11 Jul 01 | Americas
Army quells Jamaica unrest
10 Jul 01 | Americas
Gun battles shake Jamaica
10 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Blairs to visit Jamaica despite violence
10 Jul 01 | Americas
Jamaica seeks help to stop violence
29 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Jamaica
29 Mar 01 | Americas
Timeline: Jamaica
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