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JAM | Nov 16, 2023

Is Bobby Montague right in calling for Jamaica to study and adopt the El Salvador model in confronting crime and gangs?

Al Edwards

Al Edwards / Our Today

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, January 31, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File)

Quite frankly, in the main yes.

Why so?

The top responsibility of any government is to protect and ensure the welfare of its citizens and see to it that law and order prevails.

For succeeding decades crime and murder in Jamaica has got progressively worse with governments unable to tame this rampant beast.

For a long time now Jamaica has been included as one of the murder capitals of the world.

Last week, People’s National Party (PNP) shadow minister Lisa Hanna made the point in parliament that a murder rate of above 35 per 100,000 was viewed as a place at war. In Jamaica the murder rate is 53 per 100,000.

At the top of this month, MP and former Minister of National Security Robert Montague suggested that in order to address the insidious crime problem that threatens the viability of the country, Jamaica should study and adopt the El Salvador model of dealing with criminals and gangs.

In March 2022, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele instituted a National State of Exception, a measure to crackdown on gangs as the country also became one of the murder capitals of the world.

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele speaks as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination started at a public health center in San Salvador, El Salvador, February 17, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File)

This saw the police given sweeping powers of arrest, emergency security measures were put in place and certain civil liberties suspended.

With murder, extortion and fear gripping the country, something drastic had to be done and it was with 66,000 people arrested in the past year.

That line by Samuel L. Jackson’s Agent Augustus Gibbons in XXX (2002) comes to mind:
“Do we want to drop another mouse in the snake pit or do we want to send our own snake and let him crawl in?”

Sometimes the ends justify the means.

Six years ago, El Salvador had 103 murders per 100,000. Last year it was eight murders per 100,000. Today 90 per cent of the people of El Salvador look favourably upon their president’s decision.

El Salvador has now seen a 40 per cent increase in tourism with Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines returning.

Booby Montague has always been a blunt, straight talking political operator. Many scoffed at going the way of El Salvador, citing Jamaica does not have adequate prisons and detention centres, cannot feed incarcerated numbers, this method contravenes constitutional and civil rights.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifford Chambers and members of the Area One Specialised Operations Team visiting major checkpoints in the St James Police Division on Thursday (November 9) following the declaration of a state of public emergency earlier this week. (Photo: Facebook @JamaicaConstabularyForce)

A week later, a gang war breaks out in St James which sees primary school children shot dead in the crossfire. Days later, many schools across the island received bomb threats. The bomb threats of prep and primary schools is unprecedented in Jamaica and is a sign of things to come.

Will the inertia and absence of an effective strategy to curb crime and murders continue to dog Jamaica? Can nothing really be done but politicians going before the media sombre-faced and indignant and then its back to uncontrollable crime-as usual?

The Government has vowed that Jamaica will attain developed world status by 2030- the place to live, work, do business and retire in paradise.

Well you can’t achieve that if your country is overwhelmed by crime. Law and order must be at the heart of that aspiration and attempts to make it a reality.

It’s absence makes it just a pipe dream…sweet talk by ambitious politicians who have to placate restless and fearful citizens.

The prime minister was right to declare a State of Emergency for St James. Murder and gang warfare there is out of control and is a clear and present danger to all of Jamaica.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness addressing a recent post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House. (Photo: JIS)

The woke, civil rights warriors have condemned the decision and claim it is a violation of people’s right and leads to “net fishing” with the innocent scoped up and thrown in jail.

But while they twiddle their thumbs and scratch their heads in search of an alternative, people are dying, lives destroyed and heart break and sorrow descends upon families.

Brad Pitt’s Sergeant Don Collier in the movie “Fury” says, Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.”

No beast was ever tamed peacefully and crime and murder in Jamaica won’t be either.

Robert Montague declared: “ We need to study and adopt the El Salvador model of dealing with gangs. We must include under the Enhanced Security Act, the provision for declaring for what I call a State of Emergency on the violence producer and not on the community.

Member of Parliament for St. Mary Western, Robert Montague, addresses the welcome ceremony for the inaugural interCaribbean Airways flight to the Ian Fleming International Airport in Boscobel, on Thursday (June 16) (Photo: JIS)

“I am confident that the work I started with Minister Charles on that Act will continue. We must take the DNA finger samples from persons who are subjected to monitoring orders.”

This would be a definitive action in addressing Jamaica’s crime problem. St James is the capital of Jamaica’s tourism product, and it is threatened by uncontrollable crime. No one from a law-abiding developed country wants to risk their lives in a third world-crime -ridden banana republic where gangs run riot.

Turning his attention to adopting the El Salvador approach to taming the beast of murder and crime in Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that in his view Jamaica’s constitutional arrangements would not allow for such an approach. However, if the situation continues on its current trajectory, he surmised that the people will call for order.


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