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Newsmaker: Pushback from Jamaica, NY official re US travel advisory | Loop Jamaica

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This week’s featured overall development as Newsmaker of the Week is the general pushback by various officials, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness, and surprisingly, a high-ranking New York Police Department (NYPD) officer, against the recent level-three travel advisory that was issued for Jamaica by the United States Department of State.

The advisory warned Americans to “reconsider travel” to Jamaica in light of what the US State Department said were high levels of violent crimes and substandard health services.

But Jamaica’s Police Commissioner, Major General Antony Anderson, said he was surprised at the travel advisory that was imposed relative to crime, as only five of the more than three million Americans who visited the island in 2023, lost their lives in violent manners.

“We had three million Americans visit Jamaica last year. 

“We had five homicides in that three million visitors, of which the police have cleared up three of them so far,” said Anderson on Thursday at his headquarters on Old Hope in St Andrew while on a video call with a group of US-based reporters from outlets such as NBC.

Anderson said none of the incidents took place within a tourist area, adding that all the victims were both Jamaican and US citizens. 

Continuing, he said: “Jamaica, essentially with our visitors, is a really safe place. We have a large diaspora in New York, and we don’t want them scared about coming home either.”

For Deputy Commissioner in the NYPD, Tarik Sheppard, “tourists are very safe” in Jamaica, adding that he was very impressed after Anderson revealed to him in discussions that 2023 was the safest year that Jamaica had in 22 years.

“The safest year in 22 years is a major accomplishment for any law enforcement agency, and so, (I’m) just very impressed…,” said Sheppard.

On that score, he advised tourists to “come to Jamaica for your visit”. 

He added, “The (crime) statistics I’ve seen do not justify the concerns outlined in the travel advisory”. 

The US Embassy in Kingston has, however, fired back at the pushback the advisory has been receiving locally and internationally. 

While stating that the latest travel advisory for Jamaica was a “routine release”, the US Embassy insisted that the priority of the US Department of State is the safety and security of US citizens overseas.

A statement shared by the embassy late on Wednesday said the US Department of State is obligated to provide information to US citizens travelling or residing abroad through travel advisories.

“These advisories are aimed to help people assess the risk of international travel and understand what steps to take to ensure their safety overseas,” read the statement.

The statement followed pronouncements by Prime Minister Andrew Holness a day earlier as he engaged in a video call with Arnie Weissmann from Travel Weekly along with Sandals Resorts International Chairman, Adam Stewart, to discuss Jamaica’s response to the travel advisory for the Caribbean island.

The prime minister said then that Jamaica strongly disagrees with the categorisation, and highlighted the country’s achievements in fostering economic prosperity and enhancing security.

In the article, Weissmann said Holness seemed genuinely perplexed by both the contents and timing of the latest US travel advisory. 

He highlighted that two weeks before the advisory was released, the Financial Times published a glowing report about the island, calling it “arguably one of the most remarkable and radical but underappreciated turnaround stories in economic history.”

Earlier last week, too, Tourism Minister Edmond Bartlett described the recently issued US travel advisory as being “without merit” because visitors have been moving around freely in both remote and inner-city communities across Jamaica.

He said tourists have not been harmed in their travels to those areas.

Speaking on a Zoom call with several top tourism industry professionals last week, Bartlett said: “There is not a risk to come to Jamaica – once you go, you know”.

However, in its statement on Thursday afternoon, the US Embassy in Kingston said the updated advisory on January 23, 2024, was a routine release, and that it provided an analytical update on the medical services.

“It was not timed with any other issue,” the US Embassy stated.

It also added that the level of the US Department of State’s travel advisory did not change with the update, and has remained at level three, the same level it has been since March 2022.

“The update incorporated analysis of accidents, illnesses and deaths of US citizens, based on a review of health services and the medical care received when US citizens are hospitalised,” the statement continued.

The US Embassy added that Jamaica is and will continue to be a major tourist destination for US citizens.

Still, the pushback has continued, especially with some tourism officials pointing to some minimal cancellations by visitors who intended to stay at some resorts.

On social media, a range of reactions to the flaying of the latest travel advisory for Jamaica was also noted.

“They (US State Department) need to issue those advisories to visitors and tourists travelling to the US,” a male Facebook user commented.

In response to that comment, a man opined, “Crime is rampant all over the globe, but trust me, Jamaica is way worse than the US.” 

A male Facebook user was critical of the comments made by the NYPD deputy commissioner.

“The deputy commissioner is irresponsible. The Federal Government has a “duty” to issue travel (advisories) warning about increased crime rates, especially in election years,” the man wrote.

“Everywhere we go there are Government warnings, from speed limits to slippery when wet. The US government even warns about weather so ppl (people) can act accordingly before storms. 

“This cop knows very little about the system that he lives under,” the man claimed.

A woman, in responding to those views, said: “Your point is well taken, however, tourists are safer than the residents and citizens of Jamaica, in the same way that white communities (are) safer than urban/ghetto communities in any country, including the USA.”

Meanwhile, a male Facebook user agreed with the NYPD deputy commissioner’s views on the travel advisory for Jamaica. 

“Thank you, sir… America need(s) to advise people about their mass shootings,” he stated.

Shared another: “I don’t agree with the contents of the advisory, and while every country has a right to protect their citizens anywhere they go, I believe America is using their ‘big stick’ to try teach Jamaica a lesson for what I don’t know.” 

Commented a woman: “I still feel that the Government can do more to protect our citizens regarding crime, so I will have to agree with the (US) State Department for having the right to warn their citizens (about travelling to Jamaica).

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