Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Accountability shafted

Published:Tuesday | June 21, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Ronald Thwaites

Commissioner Owen Ellington, now pilloried by the Simmons Commission, preparing to carry out his responsibilities on the eve of quelling the Tivoli rebellion, is told by Bishop Herro Blair after his visit to Coke's lair that he (Blair) had some previous experience with the military and "he had never seen so many rifles in his life and he would be praying for me (Ellington) and my officers".

The Rev Al Miller, Bruce's friend, trying to help out, approaches Coke to turn himself in before the war began and reports to the commissioner:

"I saw the man (Coke) and the man said to me if it was PNP in office, they would know how to deal with this. Tell Bruce Golding (Coke's MP and our prime minister) to find a way to deal with it. I am not going anywhere, and, if they want me, they have to come for me and they have to come good".

Paragraph 3.46 and 3.47 of the Tivoli commission report read like chapters from any history of war:

"We (the commissioners) saw evidence of propane gas cylinders within the barricades and on a roadway. Barbed wire was used to block access ... . Spanish Town Road was blockaded ... . Films and photographs captured images of men wearing bullet-proof vests, piling sandbags ... to be used as firing positions ..."

"In the days before 24th May (2010), some 300 gunmen from all over Jamaica and loyal to Coke had migrated into Tivoli Gardens and other parts of West Kingston. They had come to assist Coke and local gang members in resisting any attempt by the security forces to enter the Tivoli Gardens community and arrest Coke."

This was a war against the Jamaican State. The difference between us and Kosovo, Rwanda, Kurdistan, or South Sudan was at stake. Coke and those who supported him with shouts of "Showa" or "Shower" had good reason to believe they had the support of the political directorate, which, in craven fear of the ambush of his posse and his personal antecedents (Remember what had to be done with Jim Brown?), had faced down the local security forces for more than two generations and now had given the finger to the United States for almost a year.

Neither Edward Seaga nor Bruce Golding (and even now, Desmond McKenzie) had been able (or willing?) to "find a way to deal with it". Truth be told, the PNP had been in power for years and had been ineffective (or themselves too compromised?) to confront this spreading cancer of a rebel state within the largely comatose Jamaican polity.

Cedric Murray, aka 'Doggie', a mass murderer, has told us that he was one of the hundreds who went to Tivoli and "fired my AK until my finger was numb. I eat gun powder until my throat soar (sic)". He says he engaged in a raging gun battle to defend Coke, who he described, like the 600 "ladies in white" days before, as a good and gentle man.

Why this rehearsal of a tale already told?

Because many of us never realised the gravity of the situation. Because the Simmons Commission report blames the leadership of the security forces for, effectively, war crimes and places little or no responsibility on those in the community who, to a man and woman, saw nothing amiss in Coke's rule in West Kingston and in the Cabinet, too, who tolerated, nay, cosseted, Coke and made the events of May 2010 a bloody, inevitable purgative.

And then we same ones some who may have lost loved ones or had their houses destroyed, and others, now our rulers again, they, without so much as a word of disclaimer, explanation, regret or reparation for events they must have known about and condoned wring our hands and shake our heads over the loss of GDP because of crime and the abuse of life, which we do not create.

Delroy Chuck, the minister of justice, wants us all to read the report. Sure, I have read it and will do so again and again. That's why I have quoted from it and drawn some questions from its proceedings.

And surely, if agents of the State, after the war was over, abused people and executed captives, they must be named and punished.

But there is much more to it than that. There is the huge and unresolved issue of political responsibility for what went before, during, and after May 2010 in Tivoli. Remember Minister McKenzie telling us that the commission was a waste of time and money. We need to hear from you and the Government you serve, Minister Chuck. Start by telling us what was in the mind of the Cabinet and Party during the ten months or so that led up to the carnage.

Then perhaps we can move on.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman for education. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.