The world is again agog at a new violent flare up on the Caribbean island of Jamaica that now has the enviable distinction of being one of the most violent places on planet earth. And while I completely agree with this characterization based on the fact that violence is an endemic and widespread epidemic in Jamaica, there is cause for much concern with this new and deadly round of domestic conflict. Without a doubt the violence that claimed nearly 1,700 lives in 2009, and more than 1,300 to date in 2010 alone, is a deeply disturbing trend as is the perceived inability and powerlessness of successive Jamaican governments even before independence in 1962 - to contain it and institute methods to curb its growth.
This new round of bloodletting no matter what the causes, reasons or rationales only strengthens the foundation and sets the stage for more continued violence down the road. Prime Minister Bruce Golding's credibility and prestige is shot to smithereens. To me it is very difficult to see how he can recover from this political and social debacle especially when the full body count is tabulated after this violent unrest subsides or at least contained. The funny thing is he created this mess for himself, all by himself, and no matter his newfound tough stance against a reputed drug lord his initial response was foolish and arrogant at best. He thus bears direct responsibility for the body count and the deadly violence on both sides government and civilian.
Beyond the political hopscotch of the ruling Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) is the fundamental fact that systemic and pervasive violence in Jamaican society is not a new development and in all likelihood will not disappear any time soon. And while the roots of this violence goes back to at least 50 years, over this period it has adapted, changed and morphed into the deadly, organized and deliberate institution that it is today. That is because both politics and economics play and will continue to play pivotal and crucial roles in Jamaica's spiraling violence and the development of its criminal, lumpen sub-strata.
So any resolution, solution or effort to deal with this problem must start with politics. First, let me begin with Prime Minister Bruce Golding who promised much and positioned himself as Jamaica's new modern-day business savvy "messiah" but who after two and a half years in office has done very little to solve his country's deep and lop-sided economic and social problems.
In fact, any examination of the present political situation places Mr. Golding squarely in the middle of this awful and violent mess. The reputed drug-lord Christopher Coke lives and resides in his West Kingston/Tivoli Gardens constituency. Mr. Golding cannot feign ignorance of this embarrassing fact because to do so would have him appear out of touch with what goes on in an area of Kingston that he represents in the Jamaican Parliament. And herein lies his Catch 22. To admit knowledge of this fact would beg questions as to why he did nothing about this? Why did he take 9 months to make up his mind about Mr. Coke's extradition to the United States? And if he was genuinely ignorant of Mr. Coke's presence in his constituency how could he be so out of touch and not grounded in his community? or did he simply do what generations of Jamaican politicians have done just look the other way?
Still, Mr. Coke's support is not only among his reputed criminal ilk but with ordinary, poor, and disenfranchised Jamaicans who have lost faith in their government and political leaders to deliver the goods and services that will improve the quality of their daily lives. One woman said it so eloquently: "Dudus (Mr. Coke's nickname) helps us. When your grandmother dies he buries her. When your children have to go to school he pays for it and when you are hungry you go to him." With such a man replacing the established government and usurping its traditional role garrison residents now view the Jamaican government as ineffective and uncaring. So extraditing Mr. Coke was bound to be confrontational and volatile.
Poor Jamaicans in the Tivoli Gardens community saw this as literally taking bread from the mouths of their children. The sophisticated nuances of the Jamaica-US extradition processes and the like was lost on them. In fact, they could care less about such things. All they saw was government socking it them again by taking away from their impoverished community a man who helped to make their difficult lives a bit bearable by his ability to spread money around. The source of that money is of little consequence to a hungry, starving and largely forgotten people.
Did Mr. Golden think that a man dubbed by a former Jamaican minister of national security as "perhaps the most powerful man in Jamaica" would simply allow himself be arrested by police many of whom are on his payroll, or whose family he's helped in the past? Still, government any government is duty bound to stand up to any force domestic or foreign in the defense of its citizenry. And too, Prime Minister Golden is well within the scope of his duty and responsibility to say yea or nay to the United States' request for extradition after examining all of the available evidence.
So now we come to more issues of politics in the case involving Mr. Coke and Mr. Golding's behavior. Initially Mr. Golding was convinced that, in the words of Mr. Coke's attorney, he was just a simple businessman, and that he was compelled to protect a Jamaican citizen from unfair and unjust legal proceedings awaiting him in a New York courthouse where if found guilty he would spend the rest of his life in prison. Apart from the fact that Mr. Coke was the wrong candidate that the prime minister chose to hang his human rights credentials on, he clearly miscalculated just how much of a violent backlash would occur when he suddenly was struck by a righteous epiphany and reversed himself.
Enter economics that other important factor in understanding the roots of this new round of violence in Jamaica. Mr. Golden and his government, especially his minister of national security, are both aware of the explosive and violent nature of the country's reputed 80 garrison communities of which Tivoli Gardens was the most violent and dangerous. And from every indication Mr. Coke is Jamaica's leading exponent of not only garrison-style politics, but also garrison style economics. His brand of economics rests on a foundation of drugs, guns, murder, extortion, intimidation, fear and violence. In essence, the sobriquet "don" mimicked after the Italian mafia - is a fitting title for Mr. Coke.
Garrison communities by their very nature are not engines of economic development. People are duped into believing that going to "a don" for financial and other help means that the don is protecting the community and looking after its interests since established government does not seem to care. But on closer examination the degree of exploitation by these criminal elements is exposed. Economic and social development cannot occur in a garrison community and therefore poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment are what define garrison communities. The result is violence of all kinds, drug use and abuse, prostitution, and other anti-social, negative forms of undetected oppression by the don and his henchmen enforcers.
In Jamaica these garrison communities are ruled by a thuggish element that historically is closely aligned with the ruling political classes and parties. This suppression of people's freedom is the hellish exchange that an impoverished populace has to make to put food on the table and keep a roof over the heads of their children. As the only game in town young men and boys aspire to be dons or soldiers and eagerly join these gangs thus continuing the cycle of intimidation, patronage, violence, lawlessness and fear. This is the situation in Jamaica's Tivoli Gardens, Trench Town and other garrison communities today.
The garrison phenomenon started in the 1960s just after Jamaica's independence but tribal political violence started way back in the late 1940s when Jamaica attained universal adult suffrage. Political contests back then were marred by violence carried out by both elements of the Peoples National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). In those early days fanatic supporters of both parties used sticks, stones, bottles and knives to intimidate and cow voters. Guns and rifles are the preferred tools today.
Soon politicians mainly from Jamaica's mulatto upper class were actively engaging these gangs from poor, ghettoized communities as surrogates because of their disdain and contempt for these communities populated by a poor, largely uneducated mass of people. Politicians and political parties looked the other way as these gangs ruled their garrisons with brutal efficiency delivering votes and guaranteeing political loyalty to the JLP or PNP. Both political parties channeled funds and other resourced through these dons as opposed to engaging the people themselves and building grassroots institutions that would become grounded in these communities, thus empowering them.
Over time this gave the dons in the garrisons enormous power, influence and control. These garrisons became their own personal fiefdoms. Inevitably, wars between various groups and dons supporting either the JLP or the PNP broke out first along political lines and then over turf and expansion of territory. By the 1970s the old original dons had all died, been murdered, or arrested by cops. But a new breed of dons assisted by a criminal element in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, changed the social composition of the don structure and their gangs.
By the 1980s these new-age dons were using the Internet and other modern communications technology to do their business as they branched out and built their criminal enterprises while successive Jamaican governments looked the other way, pretended that everything was all right, and allegedly became politically entwined with these criminal organizations for political gain and power.
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