Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Editorial | Garrison? Which garrison?

Published:Saturday | June 18, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Take steps to dismantle garrisons. That is one of the precise recommendations of the recently concluded West Kingston commission of enquiry.

Nothing new here, however, because this call has been made repeatedly in the past 25 years by persons who have studied Jamaica's political history and tried to understand the garrison phenomenon.

A garrison, in Jamaica's social context, is a community or constituency with overwhelming allegiance to either of Jamaica's major political parties. That support is largely shored up by strongmen and so-called area leaders who help to corral votes and instill fear among dissidents.

Jamaica has more than a dozen such constituencies, and it would be fair to say they exist to ensure political domination and ultimate electoral victory for candidates of either the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) or the People's National Party (PNP).

In Parliament Thursday, Opposition Spokesman on National Security Peter Bunting pledged his party's support in helping to realise the recommendations of the David Simmons-led commission. We have no reason to doubt Mr Bunting's sincerity, but we sadly can feel no optimism in this promise.

At least nine members of the nation's Parliament are comfortably ensconced in the Honourable House because the men who rule their garrisons with iron fists have ensured that they secure sweet electoral victory. Hypocrites that they are, we hear them declare that elections are free and fair and free from fear - meaning, we suspect, that instead of a 100 per cent majority, it is now 80 per cent in some cases.

 

SECURING VOTES

 

Have any of these parliamentarians ever stopped to consider what it took for them to secure 90 per cent of the votes in a constituency? Does it come about because the people who live in these mostly depressed and economically deprived communities think their political representative is doing a great job and deserves to be re-elected? Does it happen out of sheer loyalty? Or is that the enforcers who are euphemistically called area leaders use intimidation and the promise of violence to ensure that members of the constituency vote for the 'right' candidate?

Any member of parliament who presides over a garrison is, in fact, making a mockery of democracy. Yet, right now we are witnessing an intense battle happening in Dr Omar Davies' South St Andrew constituency as two Comrades fall over themselves to ace the prize.

Lawlessness dominates life in the garrison. The don exists by illegality, whether it involves extortion, robbery, gun and drug-trafficking or lottery scamming. The don, who has become a powerful authority figure in the garrison constituency, has political as well as international connections. He is the procurer and distributor of weapons and ammunition and with his ability to provide resources, he earns the respect of the community.

Christopher Coke was one such don, and we are now left to deal with the heavy casualties he left in his trail. Think of the hefty cost in lives and the damage to property that it took to bring him to justice - and by a foreign power, too.

There are more like Coke steeped in criminality and holding constituencies in safe keeping for the next general election.

Garrisons are marked by lawlessness. Their activities are inimical to the interest of economic growth and have sucked the commercial life out of the city. Areas on Mountain View Avenue, Red Hills Road and Slipe Pen Road are just examples.

So who really wants to change the status quo?