Jamaica: No hidden agenda in travel advisory, says US Government official

A senior American Government official is assuring Jamaicans that there is no ulterior motive in Washington’s recent travel advisory against the island that triggered concern in the tourism sector and left many people here and abroad fuming.

Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya, who is on a working visit to the island, gave the assurance in an interview with the
Jamaica Observer at the US Embassy in Kingston on Tuesday afternoon.

“I can assure you, having worked in this very consulate myself, having begun my career here, there’s no hidden agenda when it comes to protecting American citizens, and ultimately, what I’ve seen first-hand in my visits today is a mutual vocation between the US and Jamaica for advancing the safety and the welfare of all our citizens, and we’re really proud to support that through our partnerships to support civilian security,” Undersecretary Zeya said.

The level three advisory issued on January 23 advised Americans to reconsider travel to Jamaica due to crime and medical services. It said that US Government personnel, under Chief of Mission security responsibility, are prohibited from travelling to many areas due to increased risk.

“Violent crimes, such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults, and homicides, are common. Sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts,” the advisory said.

It also said that the police often do not respond effectively to serious criminal incidents and when arrests are made, cases are infrequently prosecuted to a conclusive sentence.

“Families of US citizens killed in accidents or homicides frequently wait a year or more for final death certificates to be issued by Jamaican authorities,” the advisory said, adding that “emergency services and hospital care vary throughout the island, and response times and quality of care may vary from US standards,” the advisory stated.

It also said that public hospitals are under-resourced and cannot always provide high level or specialised care; private hospitals require payment up front before admitting patients and may not have the ability to provide specialised care.

Additionally, it said that ambulance services are not always readily available, especially in rural areas, and are not always staffed by trained personnel.

However, Jamaicans here and in the diaspora questioned the legitimacy of the claims and some even pointed to the unprecedented inclusion of health services.

A week after the release of the advisory, Travel Weekly, the leading travel trade publication in the US, carried Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s response.

Holness, the article said, “seemed genuinely perplexed” by the advisory’s content and timing. Travel Weekly noted that two weeks before the advisory was released the Financial Times had written a glowing report about the island, calling it “arguably one of the most remarkable and radical but underappreciated turnaround stories in economic history”.

“Not only were economic metrics the envy of developing countries, but Holness said serious crime was down by 11 per cent last year, murders down by eight per cent, rapes down 15 per cent,” the Travel Weekly piece said, and quoted the prime minister as saying that the advisory runs “counter to the fact that the general trajectory of crimes, particularly serious crimes, are all heading down”.

On Tuesday, Undersecretary Zeya reiterated that the US Government has a duty to ensure the safety and security of American citizens, and the travel advisory system is an important tool and aspect of that.

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