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CCJ resistance proves JLP just can’t think

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness taps away on his smartphone alongside parliamentary colleagues, (from top) Ken Baugh, Audley Shaw and Derrick Smith, on May 12. All four were part of a united opposition rejection of a push for the CCJ to become Jamaica's final appeal court. The government side defeated the opposition with its two-thirds majority vote.
Garnett Roper

Political opposition, in the way that it has been practised by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) over the last five decades, has been consistently inimical to the interest of Jamaica's national development.

From referendum in 1961 to the recent parliamentary vote along party lines against the bills to make the CCJ Jamaica's final appellate court, the mindset that dominates the party has retarded Jamaica's development. Democracy anywhere, and Jamaica no less, requires a vibrant and robust political Opposition, but that Opposition does not need to be along the lines of the template followed by the JLP throughout Jamaica?s history.

The JLP has been in Opposition longer than the PNP - 30 of the 53 years since Jamaica gained political Independence. One would have thought that by now the JLP would have got the memo that as long as it continues not only to stand in the way of Jamaica's progress but, more egregiously, to stop the progress, it is going to remain the party in Opposition. And, if the JLP is not careful, it might not even be that, but will simply disintegrate as a political force.


Let me trace four events that qualify the JLP as spoilers, nationally and politically. The JLP precipitated the 'no' vote against West Indies Federation in 1961. The JLP did so by clever manipulation, rather than force of argument; it exploited the ignorance, prejudice and fear of Jamaica's population. Students of history remember how Alexander Bustamante made the argument that Jamaica did not want any small islander to be its prime minister and determine the policies that governed Jamaica.

As a result of clever manipulation of the electorate then, the Caribbean has remained fragmented and is still a backwater of international economic development.

Jamaica often compares itself unfavourably with Singapore. The real comparison that ought to be made is between the Caribbean and Europe. It is Europe that divided up the Caribbean into enclaves of the North Atlantic. Yet while the Caribbean has remained divided, Europe has found ways to bridge its differences in language and in economic and political systems. There is single currency and free movement of labour, capital, goods and services in Europe. The Caribbean is left to contemplate what might have been if the JLP had not had its way in 1961.

Imagine what could happen if Jamaica, for instance, could leverage the advantages of its proximity to Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic in trade and economic terms. At any rate, what is abundantly clear to those who think about these things is that the Caribbean can only become a zone of human flourishing when it learns to act as one people. The JLP has not been part of any enlightened thinking about global economic space and is still spouting obsolete political approaches and systems.

The second incident is the Coral Gardens Uprising. Rastafari commemorate this event as Bad Friday because it took place on Good Friday in 1963, arising from a land dispute in which a Rastaman who was a landowner but was deemed a trespasser was shot and killed by the police caused an uprising. The resulting revolt by Rastafari in St James led then JLP leader and PM, Alexander Bustamante, to declare that the police should capture all Rastafari "dead or alive" take them to "Barnett Street" (the lock-up) or to "Bogue Hill" (the burial ground).

Bad Friday was a flash point. It represented a convergence of issues in the social deficits of the lived reality of the Jamaican people. The savagery meted out to Rastafari in St James and elsewhere by the actions of the Jamaican State has put the JLP on the wrong side of history where the deep longing of the people for freedom dignity and justice is concerned.

the Dudus saga

The third set of incidents is what I will refer to indelicately as the Dudus saga. These incidents have cost Jamaica dearly. It cost Jamaica in terms of the loss of human lives that resulted in the from the Tivoli invasion. That the island's murder rate of more than 60 per 100,000 of population precipitously fell only after the incarceration of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke must be the source of soul-searching by the JLP.

The entire affair was injurious to Jamaica's reputation. It cost then JLP leader and prime minister, Bruce Golding, his job and it brought Jamaica's relationship with its great neighbour to the north, the USA, to its lowest ebb.

Nothing illustrates the lack of progressiveness and thoughtfulness of the JLP than this fourth incident: its obstinacy in respect of the CCJ in its final appellate jurisdiction. The Gleaner editorials, in this regard, have been spot on.

The JLP's position, over the years, has shifted without changing. It has gone around the cloverleaf to end at the same cul-de-sac. At first, the JLP position was that no such amendment could be made without an indicative referendum, like we had in 1961. Such a referendum is not what is required by the Jamaican Constitution. The Jamaican constitution requires a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament - nothing more.

The position of the former leader of the JLP, Edward Seaga, was that "pure justice" comes only from the United Kingdom Privy Council. The implied slight on Caribbean jurisprudence could not be sustained and it is therefore no longer the way in which the JLP articulates its opposition to the CCJ. As Bruce Golding has noted, the CCJ is the most insulated of all courts from political interference, so arguments about the vulnerability of the court, or even to fiscal instability, have been abandoned by the JLP.

The position adopted by current JLP leader, Andrew Holness, that the CCJ is part of a quest to impose a failed dream of federation is bizarre. If the CCJ is federationist, what is the Privy Council? If even a modicum of thought had gone into making his "failed dream" argument, Holness would have been forced to recognise that CCJ is an attempt to complete what was begun in 1962, cutting our navel string from the United Kingdom.

How much more does the JLP intend to cost the Jamaican people before it reforms itself? The last time I wrote about the JLP, I posited that the JLP does not learn. Now I am forced to conclude that the JLP not only does not learn, it does not think. It is overcome by intellectual rigor mortis.

- Garnett Roper is president of the Jamaica Theological Seminary. Email feedback to and