It has been said, ad nauseam, that COVID-19 has highlighted (indeed, worsened) the inequalities in our society, which are already so glaring. It’s a sort of heightened reality.
So, while uptown parties are flourishing after curfew hours and various establishments in and around New Kingston are packed to the gills (you only have to drive past and see the parking lots) the Jamaica Constabulary Force is busy in the rural areas, tracking down illegal parties. People are bending the COVID-19 rules all over the island, which is truly frightening. I have no problem with the JCF enforcing the rules, at all. But doesn’t it seem to you that a blind eye is often turned to the places rather obviously frequented by the “big men” and their friends? That’s where the inequities start showing up – and there are many other examples. We are living through COVID-19 in parallel universes, and they have always existed.
And so, this is Christmas. While there are Christmas markets going on uptown, as usual, with artisans seeking to make some money and hopefully getting some buyers, there is mounting anxiety across the island among market vendors. What is happening with the traditional Christmas “Gran’ Market”? Is it on or off? Mixed messages have been coming out; it seems western Jamaica may not be celebrating.
The closure of beaches and rivers has also brought confusion – and heartache for those seeking to make some money over the holidays. On December 1, the Prime Minister announced that under the Disaster Risk Management Act public beaches “may open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.,” under strict COVID-related provisions, beginning December 1 and ending January 15. Subsequently, on December 14, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development issued a list of 16 beaches and 19 rivers that are to “remain closed,” which the Prime Minister duly shared on social media.
Winnifred Beach in eastern Portland is one of those on the list. When our son was growing up during the early 1990s, we were regular visitors there, spending long, lazy days basking in the sun. It is beautiful, the waters usually calm and clear, in a sheltered bay fed by a spring that smells of sulphur and spills over the sand into the sea. For a while, it became over-used by busloads of people coming from urban centres for parties, creating stacks of unmanageable garbage and damaging the environment. Then it was taken over by a group of citizens who take great care of it. It is quiet and pleasant.
The people who run small restaurants and businesses on the beach are now deeply distressed. They are crying (literally). They had been preparing, setting up their businesses and setting up COVID protocols in anticipation. Now, it is all shut down, unexpectedly.
Here is the press release from the Free Winifred Benevolent Society. They have also posted an online petition. If you empathize with this situation and want to add your voice, please sign.
Keep Winnifred Beach Open
We, the Free Winnifred Benevolent Society, were surprised and disappointed that just a week after the announcement that the beaches were being reopened, the government made a resounding U-turn and closed everything indefinitely.
Apart from the fact that Winnifred Beach is one of the few remaining free public beaches in the Portland community, this decision creates a dangerous situation of social and economic instability.
In the hope of being able to start working again after almost six months of closure, several members of our community had invested in buying stock to reopen their small businesses, only to have them closed again only a few days after the Government’s official announcement.
Several cases of local farmers having their animals stolen have been reported, and a growing nervousness due to the economic crisis is starting to spread in the community. Winnifred beach is well known and has been used for generations by the immediate local community as well as by Jamaican citizens and international tourists who come there to spend a leisurely day at sea.
Families, seniors, church’s groups and tourists visit the beach regularly especially as a result of having free entry and also for the authentic, pleasant and colorful atmosphere around.
We think that this beach is a vital and healing gathering place all Jamaicans and should be kept open.
Our Association, composed of beach’s vendors, local citizens and other volunteers has already put in place everything necessary to observe the safety protocols relating to the ongoing health emergency and we believe it is everyone’s right to be able to use this public asset for the good of the whole community.
We believe that the development of a healthy nation requires the availability of social spaces that are freely accessible to the populace.
We ask all free Jamaicans of good will, the Minister of Tourism, the Environmental Associations and all Winnifred Beach’s lovers to join our battle and act firmly to support our call for reopening our beach.