Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Never again

Published:Monday | December 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

We note Bruce Golding's declaration of readiness to testify before the ongoing commission of enquiry into the 2010 security operation in Tivoli Gardens, conducted on his orders, to hunt for crime boss and community strongman Christopher Coke, during which more than 70 people died - many of the deaths, it is claimed, being extra-judicial killings by the security forces.

"My statement is being prepared for submission to the commission," Mr Golding told this newspaper, with its implicit promise to be a witness of truth.

This is important, not only because of Mr Golding's pivotal role in those events, but the insights that he can provide will help this enquiry to be of real value to Jamaica by preventing other Tivolis from happening, which means removing the conditions from Tivoli Gardens and elsewhere that make these things possible.

Mr Golding, it is recalled, was Jamaica's prime minister at the time of the Tivoli crisis, at the helm of an administration that for nine months resisted America's attempt to extradite Coke for drug and gunrunning offences. Having relented in the face of pressure, it was he who ordered the state of emergency under which the security forces operated, after Coke's militia firebombed police stations and barricaded the community to prevent their boss' capture.

The former prime minister is important to understanding the Tivoli affair in other important ways. He is a politician of long vintage who, in the past, has spoken eloquently on and spoken out against a cozy coexistence between parties/politicians and the criminal hard men who corralled votes and maintained those zones of political exclusion that Jamaicans call garrisons.

Indeed, at the time of the Tivoli incident Mr Golding was the MP for West Kingston, of which Tivoli Gardens, a community politically loyal to the Jamaica Labour Party, was its heartland. It was here, too, that Coke maintained a base of operation and acted as overlord. The circumstance suggests a duality of authority, in an arrangement in which Tivoli Gardens functioned only nominally, or so it appeared, as part of the State.

BREAKING THE GRIP

Mr Golding's understanding of these issues should help the commissioners, should they apply the full interpretation of their mandate, and Jamaica to focus on pathways out of this conundrum of political relationships that has constrained the country's social and economic advancement. For while they may not be as powerful a criminal organisation as the west Kingston area, there are several communities across Jamaica with many of the characteristics of Tivoli Gardens, including the rule of petty overlords.

Breaking the grip of the criminals and fully reintegrating them into the Jamaican state will require the State exerting its legitimacy, not only through its coercive power, but also by winning people's trust. It can start at the Tivoli enquiry.

It is not only for Mr Golding to tell the broad truth, but all representatives of the State, high or low, who were part of the process and who are called on to testify. If errors were made in the operation, they should be explored and acknowledged. If persons should be held to account, so be it. We believe that Jamaica's democracy and its institutions are sufficiently resilient to endure this scrutiny.

But if such actions are to have real worth, the Tivoli enquiry should be Jamaica's rallying cry of "never again" and a march against the garrisons, wherever they exist.