Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Arnold Bertram: A ticking time bomb (Pt II)

Published:Sunday | May 1, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Arnold Bertram
DEA agents take Jamaican gang leader Christopher 'Dudus' Coke from Westchester County Airport to a waiting vehicle June 24, 2010 in White Plains, New York.

The lumpen-proleteriat enlisted enthusiastically as foot soldiers in the paramilitary organisations of the major political parties for the 1980 general election. Until then, the spoils of political warfare were limited to welfare grants, small contracts, and the recruitment of labour for government projects.

In 1980, the stakes were much higher, for by then the Shower Posse controlled the Jamaican end of the illegal trade in hard drugs between Colombia and the United States. It was to secure political protection for their operational base at Tivoli Gardens that the Shower Posse invested heavily to recruit and arm more contingents of the lumpenproletariat than their political opponents. It was well worth the investment, as by then the illegal drug trade was bringing in an estimated income of some US$200 million annually.

In the post-election period, as the underground economy grew exponentially, the criminal elite contracted, to an even greater degree, the kind of services that the growing lumpenproletariat was only too happy to provide.

While many factors contributed to the islandwide growth of the lumpenproletariat in the 1980s, the most fundamental was the continued stagnation of the Jamaican economy that failed to provide adequate opportunities for the growing labour force.

The JLP's victory in the 1980 general election was hailed in Washington as a triumph for free-market capitalism, and the JLP leader, Edward Seaga, was selected by President Ronald Reagan to be the first foreign head of government to be invited to the White House. Jamaica received US$1 billion in special assistance from the US government; a special US$67-million purchase of Jamaican bauxite for the US strategic stockpile; US$133 million from the World Bank and the IMF pledged assistance to the tune of US$698 million. Such levels of US-led international economic support on a per-capita basis made Jamaica second only to Israel.

However, despite this massive external assistance, the highly anticipated levels of economic growth were not realised. Using 1980 - the election year when political warfare dramatically reduced economic output - as the base year to calculate GDP growth, exaggerated the reality of economic output in 1981-82.

The economy actually contracted in 1983-84, and it was only after 1986 that any significant growth took place. Hence, "... production levels in 1987 were still below real output in the economy over all the years between 1970 and 1976 ... . Under the JLP in the 1980s, the rich have become much richer and the poor much poorer." (Stone, 1989)

The Report of the World Bank on Structural Adjustment in Jamaica 1981-1985 is also instructive:

"By the closing of the third structural adjustment loan in 1985 ... total output was lower than in 1979; external public debt was 180% of GDP, up from 61% in 1979 ... ; the numbers of unemployed seeking jobs had grown by almost one-fourth, despite massive migration; government spending on health, education, and social services had been cut back, and living standards of the poor had worsened."

The impact of continued economic stagnation over the next two decades on youth unemployment was reflected in a survey by Pat Anderson in 1999 that showed that "of the 122,961 unemployed persons in the 15-29 age group in 1998, 31.2% had been unemployed for less than six months, 24.3% for between six and 11 months, and 44.5% were long-term unemployed. Of the long-term unemployed, 63.2% had never worked".

As the ranks of the urban unemployed increased, the inevitable process of degeneration transformed many of them into lumpenproletarians.


Rural-Urban Migration


Economic stagnation in the 1980s also brought rural impoverishment. "Local food crop production flourished under the PNP, achieving a 32% growth between 1973 and 1978. No similar spectacular growth occurred in the 1980s." (Stone, 1989) This in turn spurred a new wave of internal migration. These migrants, however, did not move to the capital city, but to the new urban centres which had a growing economic base in tourism, mining or commerce.

While some of these migrants retained their aptitude for industry and hustled legally to send their children to school and provide food for their families, others took to crime, and the squatter communities in which they lived provided a base for illegal activities. The more aggressive took over streets, private property, parks and created havoc and confusion.

"Social expenditure fell from 14% of GDP in 1980 under the PNP to 9% under the JLP in 1985 ... . Jamaica had the largest reduction in educational expenditure in the entire region in the 1980s." (Stone, 1989)

As a consequence, the school building programme was downsized and the resultant lack of accommodation to meet the increasing demand led many secondary schools to introduce the two-shift system in order to optimise the use of existing facilities. Class sizes quickly grew beyond the optimum and the extended use of the physical facilities increased maintenance and replacement costs.

The results were disastrous. Of all, "the youth unemployed in the 15-29 age group, 73.7 per cent had no educational certification of any kind, although 26.8% had four years or more of secondary education". (Pat Anderson, 1999)

Another study by Dr Ralph Thompson noted that in the non-traditional high schools, 89 per cent of the students failed English at CSEC, while 96 per cent failed mathematics. In technical schools, 81 per cent failed English and 96 per cent failed mathematics. The situation was much worse for the fact that not all students in the cohort were allowed to sit the examinations. Over time, many of those who were unable to enter the labour market chose a way of life that led to their absorption into the lumpenproletariat.


Weak Enforcement of Law and Order


The growth of the lumpenproletariat islandwide created new centres of urban blight in proximity to Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, May Pen, Santa Cruz, and Savanna-la-Mar, where the migrants survived economically by securing commercial vending space as close as possible to the potential market. There was no enforcement of municipal laws and the failure of the State to respond firmly to increasing lawlessness and antisocial behaviour emboldened the lumpen and accelerated the drift towards anarchy. In the meantime, an emboldened criminal elite were becoming more armed and dangerous.

In three raids on Tivoli Gardens on March 17, 1993, September 30, 1994 and April 24-30, 1996, the security forces found 2,877 rounds of ammunition used in Thompson machine guns, M16 assault rifles, AK-47 rifles and a range of semi-automatic pistols. A similar raid on Arnett Gardens in January 2001 produced two AK-47 assault rifles with telescopic lenses and equipped to launch rockets, four rockets, one semi-automatic pistol, eight magazines, three silencers and several assorted rounds of ammunition.


Retreat and Surrender


In July 1987, Lester Coke, the don of Tivoli Gardens, was acquitted of murder in the Supreme Court when witnesses failed to turn up. His cronies celebrated his acquittal by firing a fusillade from their automatic weapons outside the precincts of the Supreme Court. The chief justice, followed by the police, ran for cover.

In 1992, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke succeeded his father, Lester Coke, as the don of the Shower Posse, and once installed, Tivoli Gardens became a state within a state, with its own justice system. With independent sources of income amounting to millions of dollars, Dudus, now able to perform the roles of benefactor and protector more effectively than any politician, took for himself the title of 'President', and as far as he was concerned, it was for Seaga to adjust himself to this new reality.

The Gleaner of September 29, 1994 carried an interview with Edward Seaga as a wave of violence engulfed his constituency of Western Kingston. It was a chastened Seaga who admitted that "criminal elements in West Kingston have been raping women in the most brutal way and murdering people". Dudus had superseded Seaga as the real power in Tivoli Gardens.

The continued surrender to these criminal elements was again evident in September 1998 when officers at the Central Police Station publicly called on the don of Matthews Lane, Donald 'Zeeks' Phipps, who was in custody at the time, to restore public order after the police proved incapable of so doing. The time bomb was ticking even louder.

The final part in the series will focus on the search for solutions.


Report of the World Bank on Structural Adjustment in Jamaica 1981-1985

Carl Stone, Politics Versus Economics 1989

Pat Anderson, 1999: Analyses of 1998 Labour Force Data

- Arnold Bertram is a historian and former Cabinet minister. His most recent book, 'Norman Manley and The Making of Modern Jamaica', is to be launched in May. Email feedback to and