MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica -- The politically charged violence that killed 25 people in four days made no difference to the vacation plans of Texan Brett Balmarez.
He and other carefree tourists who stepped off the Carnival Cruise Lines' ship Inspiration in Montego Bay had heard about the gangland violence -- now calm -- in Kingston, on the southern coast.
"It's not going to interfere with our vacation," said Belmarez, a school administrator from New Braunfels, Texas. "If there had been some violence here on the north coast, we would have been notified."
While he headed off on a snorkeling trip, residents in a small town 40 miles east of Montego Bay were mourning the death of a police officer, killed when a rock hurled by protesters hit him in the head.
"It doesn't make any sense," said Beverly Hamilton, a neighbor of the officer who was killed on Monday in Rio Bueno, a north coast resort town. "It's only politics, that's all."
The violence surged last weekend, after more than two months of clashes between gangs with rival political ties killed 37 people. Some say the unrest has already damaged the island's vital $1.3 billion tourism industry -- airlines and hoteliers are starting to report cancellations.
Jamaica's two main political parties created the country's fearsome gang culture in the 1970s, by organizing and arming criminals to intimidate voters in Kingston's poor neighborhoods.
The gangs are largely focused on the drug trade, now, but most retain political ties. Prime Minister P.J. Patterson's party and the opposition accuse each other of orchestrating the latest unrest ahead of general elections next year.
Police took action against the gangs in a notorious Kingston neighborhood on Saturday. Residents erected roadblocks in protest, saying the authorities were targeting their poor neighborhoods because they are strongholds of the opposition Jamaica Labor Party.
On Monday, Patterson ordered the entire army -- more than 3,000 troops -- to quell the violence.
The gunbattles appeared to have ended by Wednesday, and security forces in Kingston cleared smoldering roadblocks. In all, police said 25 people were killed in four days. Labor Party leader Edward Seaga put the death toll at 26 -- 22 civilians, three police officers and a soldier.
"It's the politicians. It's their war," said James Findletter, a 25-year-old fisherman in the northern resort town of Ocho Rios, where another cruise ship docked as usual on Wednesday.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.