Prime Minister, please rescue Black River
St Elizabeth Parish Court in Black River

Dear Editor,

Literature was one of my favourite subjects in school. I was intrigued by the mystique.

I found the work of English novelist George Orwell riveting; Washington Irving's classic on Rip Van Winkle, the Dutchman who fell asleep and woke up 20 years later only to discover a brand new world that was changed completely by the American Revolution, was another literary piece that I will not ever forget.

I returned to my parish capital, Black River, recently and felt like Rip Van Winkle — everything has changed, unfortunately, not for the better.

Sometime ago I wrote an article about the blight, flight, and death knell of that town. Last December I was there and had first-hand observation of how a once-thriving town, a historic centre, lies dormant as if it is on life support awaiting someone to disconnect the ventilator. The prognosis of Black River is poor.

I observed that maybe 95 per cent of the buildings pre-date my grandma who, if she were still alive, would have been 132 years old this past February. There is no significant development. Seine fishing, maybe, is the active activity, and the safari is the only tourist attraction. The Ambersleys, Barracots, and Francises who were strong parish fathers are now relegated to faint historical memories.

The town is overrun by a new generation of Chinese who have no interest in aesthetics. They focus on getting all they can and canning all they get. They maximise the minimum and minimise the maximum, hence the town lies waste while the technocrats keep silent.

The landmark Bank of Nova Scotia is no more there. I went there the last Friday of the year to close all my accounts because my 90-year-old aunt will not be able to travel to Savanna-la-Mar or Santa Cruz to get her little pension or change any little cheque I send her. When I arrived at the bank at 9:00 am there were six people ahead of me in the line. I was out at 11:30 am — lousy, carefree, lacklustre service with no sense of urgency.

While I was waiting impatiently I looked through the window of the bank and observed that right across the street was the office of Clyde Green, Member of Parliament (MP). His dreary office had his manifesto blowing in the wind on a ripped up piece of canvas — "Building Back Stronger" — while on the same rickety building was another sign: "Building for sale". Under the watchful eyes of the MP the parish capital died. From my inquiry, no lobbying is being done to save the life of the town. All the significant businesses are moving to crowded Santa Cruz or Savanna-la-Mar, each place approximately 20 miles away.

I walked around the town and observed that the police station is insecure, the market environs unsanitary, the few small businesses seem anaemic, and the people look depressed and distressed. Perhaps the only semblance of life in the town is the fact that the 44-mile Black River still runs to the sea.

Like the children of Israel at the Rivers of Babylon, I, at Black River, wept when I remembered the town of my childhood. Like Rip Van Winkle I am lost. Is there a resuscitating specialist who can help to give Black River intensive care?

Incidentally, Prime Minister Andrew Holness took a stopover in the town a few weeks ago, and in order to seek political mileage indicated that there will soon be another city in Jamaica, as if to give the impression that Black River will be the place.

Pocco Wright, then MP in 1972, had promised the people of St Elizabeth North Western a salt fish factory in Burnt Savannah, and today the people can't even buy fish or salt fish. Our Prime Minister and our MP know how to politicise. Some election must be on the horizon and they know well that, that constituency is the weathervane of Jamaican politics, for, as goes St Elizabeth North Western, so goes the election outcome for power.

Mr Prime Minister, I gently and fervently beseech you to do something to restore the glory of the parish capital. Bring into remembrance that some of the nation's brightest scholars have come from this parish. Our nation's second prime minister, outstanding athletes, farmers, preachers, businessmen, and the best rum are from the parish. Never forget that the parish is the breadbasket of the nation, and if they go on strike you will be presiding over a malnourished nation.

I don't have space to recite the contribution of two bauxite companies to the nation, the beauty spots of Lovers' Leap, Holland Bamboo, YS Falls, and Tomb Stone. Remember, also, that the first car to ever come to Jamaica came to Black River.

Black River was also the nation's first shipping port and it was there that hydroelectricity was first produced and the first telephone installed. We have history.

Mr Prime Minister and Mr MP, please rescue our parish from degradation, depression, and dereliction. Establish some service industries; and some factories going; build some Business Processing Ooutsourcing Centres, factories; establish some laboratories for research; encourage the farmers by expanding irrigation and establishing a food processing plant. One last thing, gentlemen, establish some housing schemes so that people can have affordable housing and then, Mr Prime Minister, Black River may very well have the infrastructure to become the fourth city.

Burnett Robinson

Son of St Elizabeth

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