Gun battles between gangs and state security forces in the Jamaican capital of Kingston seemed to abate Wednesday, though at least 27 were killed in violence that started last weekend when the police raided an inner-city neighborhood looking for illegal guns. Opposition Jamaican Labor Party leader Edward Seaga accused Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of ordering the raids to win political support ahead of a general election. Business leaders arranged mediation between Seaga and Patterson Thursday in hopes of protecting the $1.3 billion tourism industry, which accounts for about one-sixth of the country's economy.
According to the Financial Times, Jamaica's already-high murder rate tends to rise as elections approach. The FT explained, "Jamaica's politics have been poisoned by gang warfare in Kingston since the 1970s. Violence reached its height in 1980, when an estimated 700 people were killed in election-related fighting. Although the gangs have now turned to the lucrative trade in cocaine and marijuana, most retain political allegiances." Prime Minister Patterson ascribed the violence to criminal elements, and an editorial in the Jamaica Observer observed, "Our sense is that this time, while there is genuine concern of possible security forces excesses in Tivoli Gardens on Saturday, many Jamaicans believe that there was also an intolerable attack by heavily-armed gunmen on the legitimate forces of the state." In an interview with Toronto's Globe and Mail, Seaga claimed the prime minister "panicked at the prospect of losing an election that has to be called by the end of next year." Recent opinion polls show Seaga's JLP 16 points ahead of Patterson's People's National Party, and Seaga maintains the government "thought it could turn public opinion by engineering a situation that showed JLP supporters in a bad light."
The Irish Times compared Jamaica's popular image as a vacation paradise with the reality of "poverty, crime, political polarization and violence." It noted that a recent U.N. report that ranked countries' "human development index" placed Jamaica in 78th place, "behind Colombia, Libya and Macedonia and on a par with Azerbaijan." (You can view the report here; Adobe Acrobat reader is required.) An op-ed in Britain's Independent by a Jamaican-born, British-bred writer recalled the "gaping chasm between those who have and those who eke out a meagre existence on the island." It concluded:
PJ Patterson, the Prime Minister and the first black man to hold that high office, must take charge. A nation on the brink of bloody anarchy cries out for commanding leadership to stem the bloody rot. Otherwise the beautiful island of my birth looks set to turn into a Macedonia or a Bosnia.
Global condom-mania: In Kenya, the Daily Nation said President Daniel arap Moi was "embarrassed" that his country spends more than $12.5 million importing over 300 million condoms annually to fight AIDS. The East African Standard reported, "The President caused prolonged laughter when he challenged those using condoms to abstain from sex for two years, adding that this was the surest way to fight the Aids menace." The president also announced measures to make combination-therapy drugs available at affordable rates to people living with AIDS. According to the Standard, Kenyan religious leaders denounced the condom imports as "improper, immoral and suicidal," claiming the money should be used for AIDS education and to provide aid to AIDS orphans. Moi said AIDS kills 700 Kenyans every day and has caused a 14 percent decline in GDP. … A Reuters story in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post pooh-poohed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's bid to fight the AIDS pandemic and boost low rubber prices by using the nation's surplus to make free condoms. Thailand is the world's largest rubber exporter, but according to rubber traders, its surplus is only suitable for making tires. … Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald profiled a Chinese entrepreneur who wants to bring thinner, safer, better lubricated condoms to the world's most populous country. With a one-child policy and 343 million women of childbearing age, contraception is big business in China. Currently, just 4 percent of those using contraception prefer condoms. (Intrauterine devices account for 45 percent of the market, female sterilization for 38 percent, and the contraceptive pill for 2.2 percent.)