New York, USA — Jamaicans across Central Florida in the United States are firmly behind a call for an honorary consul in Orlando, to serve the needs of the growing population of Jamaicans residing in that part of the state.
Peter Gracey, who heads the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council for the Southern US, made the call in a letter earlier this year, but said that while the letter which was sent through the Consulate in Miami had been acknowledged, he had heard nothing since then.
E-mails by the Jamaica Observer seeking comments from the foreign ministry have not received a response.
Citing what he describes as severe challenges being experienced by Jamaicans in Central Florida in getting consular service, Gracey said that "an honorary consul in Orlando would mitigate the various issues we come across and which have to be dealt with in Miami".
Gracey noted that, the cost of travelling the 235-mile journey from Orlando to Miami was heavy, and even more costly for those who had to travel longer distances, such as from Ocala, Bellevue, Gainesville, Kissimmee, the counties of Citrus,
Seminole and Orange, as well as Tampa "when toll, overnight lodging and food are factored in."
Pointing to the growing number of Jamaican businesses across Central Florida, Gracey also argued that the presence of an honorary consul in the region would help to promote Jamaican culture and open up avenues for greater trade opportunities.
Ocala-based retired corrections officer Leeford Daley backed Gracey's idea as a sound one, saying that travelling all the way to Miami for the services provided by the consul general's office there "is a nightmare as it is both time-consuming and costly".
He hoped the Jamaican Government would react positively and with speed to the proposal.
President of Kissimmee-based CRR Network Louis Witter in offering his support said, "an honorary consul in Orlando would be of tremendous value to the rapidly growing Jamaican community here".
"All the necessary services from a government point of view are concentrated in South Florida. There is no agency to assist with things such as passport or immigration and deportation matters," he lamented. Moreover, the growing number of Jamaican businesses in Central Florida would benefit from some sort of government presence in the area."
Also emphasising the "quite sizeable Jamaican population", president of the Jamaican American Association of Central Florida Joan Edgill declared that: "It would be fitting if we were to have such a service in Orlando. It is not enough that everything is concentrated in Miami."
Rosemarie Roth, who heads the Jamaica Cultural Connection based in Orange County, said "appointment of an honorary consul would mean our needs are being considered and that our issues can be attended to in a timely manner".
"It is just too burdensome to get the type of attention we deserve, especially given the size of the Jamaican population in Central Florida," she insisted.
Dr Patrick Coggins, who teaches multi-cultural studies at Stetson University in DeLand Central Florida, and who interacts closely with the Jamaican and Caribbean communities, said such an appointment would make a huge difference, even if the appointee would be available for only three days weekly.
Data from the United States Census for 2019 lists about 65,000 Jamaicans as residents of Orlando, Sanford, Kissimmee and Tampa alone. However, with research showing an annual seven per cent increase in the Jamaican population, Dr Coggins said that figure would be much higher at this point.
Desmond Campbell, a Citrus County resident, and Naomi Gayle, who is president of the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce in Volusia County, agreed that the consul general's office in Miami had a lot to handle, with responsibility for 13 southern states, including Florida, North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Arizona, Texas and Tennessee.