Violence blocks Spanish Town restoration project
The Ministry of Tourism has more than $100 million to spend on projects in Spanish Town but it is afraid to do so because of the frequent outbreak of gun violence.
With its magnificent Georgian buildings and historical sites, Spanish Town has been selected as one of the perfect destinations for Jamaica's push towards heritage tourism.
Already, the money has been found by the Tourism Enhancement Fund to restore and preserve the old buildings to create one of the island's premier heritage-tourism sites.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett told The Sunday Gleaner that the restoration project should have already started but the frequent outbreak of gang violence has been a deterrent.
"Spanish Town is still on our radar as a premier destination for heritage tourism. It has a treasure trove of Jamaica's historical heritage, but we must ensure that it is safe and secure," said Bartlett.
He was responding to questions from The Sunday Gleaner during a tour of one of Cuba's premier heritage-tourism sites, Old Havana.
An obviously frustrated Bartlett declared that crime and the frequent instability in Spanish Town had to be addressed.
"The crime will determine how and when this project will proceed. I want the leaders of the comm-unity to understand the impact that crime is having on the develop-ment of Spanish Town," Bartlett added.
He said he will be working with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, the Spanish Town Restora-tion Committee and the members of parliament for the area - Information Minister Olivia Grange and Sharon Hay-Webster of the Opposition - in attempting to find solutions.
"I saw what they have done with the preservation and restoration of buildings in Old Havana and the impact that this is having on the economic life of the residents of that area.
"I am determined that we cannot allow crime to retard the develop-ment of what could be a significant addition to Jamaica's tourism product," Bartlett said.
Spanish Town has been the scene of several major violent incidents resulting from clashes between the Jamaica Labour Party-aligned 'One Order' gang and the People's National Party-linked 'Clansman' gang.
In recent months, an unofficial peace treaty and increased police presence have resulted in a reduction in crime in Spanish Town, which was Jamaica's capital for more than 300 years.
But with several illegal guns still in the hands of criminals, the town is vulnerable to violent outbreaks, which could scuttle the heritage-tourism plans.
The tourism minister has already announced plans for significant developments in Falmouth, Tre-lawny, and Port Royal as part of the drive towards heritage tourism.
Millions of dollars will also be spent in Lucea, Hanover and Port Antonio, Portland, as part of the heritage-tourism drive.
The nation should hear more about these developments when Bartlett makes his contribution to the Sectoral Debate on Wednesday.