Published on : Monday, August 16, 2021
Dubbed ‘Little Haiti’, because of its similarity in living standards to the slums of the neighbouring French-speaking country, the unplanned settlement in Negril, Westmoreland is home to approximately 400 residents mainly from other parishes who came to Negril to seek employment.
Nearly 10 acres of land in Negril, Westmoreland, that was earmarked for further development of the popular tourist village is now overrun with squatters and has become a favoured destination for criminals seeking to elude the police.
Dubbed ‘Little Haiti’, because of its similarity in living standards to the slums of the neighbouring French-speaking country, the unplanned settlement is home to approximately 400 residents mainly from other parishes who came to Negril to seek employment.
“Too many people are living in the space. We are operating similar to what you hear is going on in Haiti, more like a refugee camp,” Dale Chambers, a 23-year-old resident of Little Haiti, said. “Guns, drugs and just about all that is bad, including prostitution, is here.”
He added, “The people living here are not working and not going back to their parish, so both older women and young girls are selling their bodies, all in the name of survival, so prostitution is high.”
According to Superintendent Robert Gordon, head of the Westmoreland Police Division, Little Haiti, like any other unstructured community, creates a challenge to proper policing.
“Within that particular space, there are conflicts and the prevalence of weapons, particularly firearms, and they are not afraid to use them. And they do not only operate in that space but have been committing criminal acts in the broader Negril area,” Gordon shared.
There are also reports of several attempts to rob staff buses transporting hotel workers, as well as female drivers traversing the area at nights.
Gordon also confirmed that Little Haiti is a popular hideout for persons who have issues with the law, but was quick to point out that not all the residents are criminals.
The police are yet to identify any gang-organised activities in the space, but recent incidents have led to the arrest of five key perpetrators of violence, with three being charged so far.
The current feud started in the parish of Clarendon between two gang leaders, who, in escaping a police dragnet, both sought refuge in the Westmoreland community.
Investigators say that they are yet to make an arrest in a double murder in the troubled community last month, but are following strong leads to identify the killer; however, residents believe the deaths are connected to a feud over a stolen illegal gun.
Superintendent Gordon was not in a position to provide the data on criminal activities in the division at the time of the interview, but said homicide continues to be a concern in the area.
According to data from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), for the period ending August 12, incidents of break-in, robbery and rape have declined in Westmoreland; however, murder and shooting have increased by 44 and 51 per cent, respectively. Over the period, a total of 881 murders have occurred across the 19 police divisions, 70 more than the 811 committed last year.
Shanty-type wooden housing structures are clustered in close proximity to each other, but no toilet facility was seen at the tenement yards visited. Instead, bags and boxes are used as makeshift toilets, then dumped in nearby drains.
Some of the wooden structures are rented by the occupants for between $5,000 and $10,000 per month from previous owners, mainly used by prostitutes to ply their trade.
“Several prostitutes migrated to this area. They come to Negril to basically see what they can get from tourism and most now live in Little Haiti,” a resident stated.
When contacted, Morland Wilson, member of parliament (MP) for Westmoreland Western, told media that over 90 per cent of the occupants of Little Haiti are outsiders.
He said police reports to his office indicate that almost 95 per cent of the criminal activities in Negril have been attributed to suspects in the area, “so it really has nothing to do with people from Negril”.
Richard Wallace, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, is concerned that Negril might be negatively impacted if the current occupants are not relocated.
“We are absolutely horrified and very concerned about what is happening in Negril,” Wallace said. “Removing squatters is not an easy task and no politician wants to touch it, making it even harder to see our dream of an orderly developed town becoming a reality.
“We have the natural resources that we need to develop Negril into a first-world tourist resort with the proper safety, security and infrastructure development, but instead we are allowing it to go in the opposite direction.”
MP Wilson noted that land that was identified to relocate the residents of Little Haiti was not utilised by previous administrations, but is now hopeful that a proposal to transform the space into a commercial centre similar to what is to be established in Morant Bay, St Thomas, will get started by 2024. But for Wallace and his executives, this will be a waste if safety and security is not the priority of the police going forward.