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Jamaica Angry Island

2 minute read

“Capitalism–gone–mad,” sang the demonstrators to a calypso beat as they danced in the Jamaican capital of Kingston. But not all the protests that paralyzed much of the Caribbean island last week were so harmonious. At least seven people were killed and 20 injured in angry demonstrations and looting triggered by a 21% rise in fuel prices, the latest austerity measure by the government of Prime Minister Edward Seaga. Protesters blocked roads with debris until broadcast appeals by Seaga and his political opponent, former Prime Minister Michael Manley, ended the disturbances by late Wednesday. Soon after, a calm blanketed the city, broken only by sporadic looting and the sound of bulldozers clearing the wreckage from the streets.

Jamaica’s economic ills have kept social tensions high for the past year. Gasoline and electricity costs have nearly doubled in that time, and food prices have rocketed since Seaga’s election in 1980. Unemployment stands at 25%, aggravated by Seaga’s firing of 5,000 civil servants as a cost-cutting measure.

The one bright spot has been the revival of tourism, which declined dramatically during the 1970s because of political violence and anti-U.S. rhetoric. Under Seaga, it has bounced back and is now worth an estimated $435 million. Most of the 12,000 tourists on the island were unaffected by the demonstrations, except for the postponement of a few homeward flights for 24 hours. Indeed, the protests barely reached the north coast resort area. And even though many flights from the U.S. into Kingston were canceled for two days, planes continued to land 85 miles to the northwest at Montego Bay, the island’s main tourist airport.

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