Fri | Aug 17, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | That apology and our political culture

Published:Monday | December 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Christopher 'Dudus' Coke's supporters took to the street in life-or-death support in the lead-up to the bloody May 2010 security operation in West Kingston.
Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the Tivoli Gardens don who is currently serving a 23-year sentence in a US federal prison.
Majorie Williams shows the passports of both her sons who were killed in the west Kingston incursion. Williams was among many persons at the Tivoli Gardens Community Centre in search of their relatives on June 2, 2010.

There was no general advance notice that the prime minister would be making the apology to the people of Tivoli Gardens in the House of Representatives last Wednesday. It seemed choreographed to deflect headline attention from the continuing embarrassment of the police motor vehicle scandal that Montague's ramble the previous day had only complicated and about which Andrew Holness, strangely and uncharacteristically, had nothing to say.

So there was no time to prepare an appropriate response to the carefully parsed piece of revisionist history; the verbal envelope in which our head of government wrapped another $200 million of taxpayer money to be given to the Tivoli victims.

I believe in the spirit world - a reality that exists beyond that which we can see but which we can often sense. So, in the unease of listening to the Most Honourable speak (on behalf of all of us?), my glance turned to the gallery, empty of human spectators but crammed full of the unrequited spirits of the scores of Tivoli dead, robbed unnecessarily of mortal life and on behalf of whom a Government, which, by fault and default, had occasioned their deaths.

This same Government was now, lately and under instruction, not out of stricken conscience, throwing them and their survivors a morsel of remorse before turning our backs on them and their kind, once again, to fester poverty and tribalism still, and who knows, to vomit up another Presidential Clique.

I perceived those spirits in Gordon House screaming at us seated below to speak the full truth about the atrocity of May 2010 and what led up to it; to abjectly repent that the political culture, 48 years after Independence, could conceive, give birth and nurture a state of affairs resembling in severity the way they used to put down slave rebellions and comparing in size to the carnage of Morant Bay in 1865 which, at least, had shaken the conscience of Europe.

I asked myself as the prime minister evaded the issue of accountability (remember, too, the "I cannot recall" travesty of the connected Manatt enquiry), what lessons have we learned from the Tivoli massacre? If so many lives and so much property could be expended there to protect a partisan enclave and cosset a criminal kingpin so that his empire could deliver patronage, votes and selective mayhem, should there be surprise when bright, desperate youth follow the 'Showa' example and kill off more than 1,500 people so far this year, while the police eliminate another 200-plus?




And what trust and credibility can observant Jamaicans place in governors in whose hands they place their lives and freedoms, if, having presided over Tivoli, they and those under their command take no responsibility, except in this most saccharine and mealy-mouthed apology.

So wait: You can take approximately 70 lives (and don't forget the soldier who perished) in Jamaica and nothing but a statement of regret and passing some money come out of it?

Talk the truth. That alone will set us free. The 2010 Tivoli uprising was bound to happen and will happen again there, and elsewhere, so long as the maintenance of political power feeds on the exploiting of chronic and unnecessary poverty and ignorance, and where the institutions and leadership of the State are so compromised that warlords emerge and prevail.

We can do so much better than all this. The same outraged spirits that filled the Parliament chamber and those of our national heroes and all others who dreamed and sacrificed for a morally, politically, economically excellent Jamaica are urging us, as Peter Phillips said when he spoke last Wednesday, to end the toxic divisiveness that gives rise to the carbuncle of crime and injustice.

The members of the Cabinet in 2010, individually and collectively, need to acknowledge their culpability for obstructing the course of law in relation to Coke's extradition. Their action and inaction set the stage for what eventually happened. Most of them, including Andrew Holness, now are in charge of us again.

The security forces, despite it being a war situation, need to repent of their brutality and, in future, be held accountable for illegal and murderous actions.

The community of Tivoli should openly admit that they allowed themselves to be cowed, bribed and misled to their own peril and the disgrace of the whole nation.

The redemptive aspects of this episode in Parliament came when the prime minister, in reply to me, extended his apology "as a member of that Cabinet"; when he announced the resumption of the so-called bipartisan Vale Royal talks in January (which properly ought to take place before the public in Parliament); and when Desmond McKenzie acknowledged the faults of the people of Tivoli in the whole affair.

Maybe then the spirits of the dead and the consciences of the living can rest quietly hereafter.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to