Stretching some 67 km (41.6 miles) north to south across Jamaica, the $600m four-lane highway skirts around a mountain and will eventually be lined with luxury hotels, restaurants and bars.
Nicknamed the “Beijing highway” – after the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt reportedly turned down a chance for the road to carry his name – the state-of-the-art tolled carriageway is the most striking sign that the Chinese treasure ship has arrived in the Caribbean.
The red and gold flag of the People’s Republic flutters over the construction site, where hundreds of Chinese workers reside in camps and trucks are lined up in military precision.
When completed early next year the tolled highway, paid for by Beijing, will cut driving times from Kingston to the tourist resort of Ocho Rios on the north coast from nearly two hours to 50 minutes.
It is the single biggest investment by the Chinese in the Caribbean.
In return for expertise and investment, the Jamaican government has handed over 1,200 acres of land around the road to the Chinese, who plan to build three luxury hotels with 2,400 rooms.
In a country in the grip of austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund, and where poverty has doubled since 2007, according to the Centre for Economic Policy Research, the arrival of the Chinese is seen by many as the only hope.
Jamaica has become the hub of the Chinese presence in the Caribbean, and is now home to the regional offices of the state owned Chinese Harbour Engineering Company, (CHEC) which is building the highway link road.
The country’s prime minister Portia Simpson has rejected warnings from trades unionists that the presence of the Chinese will do little to lift Jamaicans out of unemployment, but the government has not said how many local people will be employed on the project.
The Joint Industrial council – a coalition of building and construction workers – has said the Government’s claim that Chinese workers are only brought in to do advanced engineering work is “egregious and misleading” and the Chinese are doing common labourer’s work which could be done by Jamaicans.
Simpson condemns criticism saying discussion of the issue will send the message “do not invest in Jamaica” to the Chinese.
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