Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Mark Wignall | A corrupt state of emergency

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Ryan and I were seated on the veranda of his rented house in Bull Bay talking about many matters of politics, making money, women, hustling and the recent islandwide state of emergency that had been imposed on us by then prime minister, Michael Manley.

It was a windy day that Sunday in the latter part of 1976 when we saw heavily armed policemen and soldiers exiting a van by his gate and arrogantly making their way towards where we were seated. Ryan was called out by his full name and he was told that he was being detained and shown a form attesting to the legality of the detention.

As Ryan's wife and I protested, we, too, were threatened with detention, so we immediately backed off. Ryan was taken to the Half-Way Tree Police Station lockup. Ryan was no saint, but he was no gunman. The state of emergency (SOE) was officially called on the pretext that violence had spiralled out of control. In reality, as a commission of enquiry would eventually determine, it was mostly political and designed to assist the ruling PNP in expropriating political space and the next election.

Back to Ryan. He was a hustler and made a modest sum from selling American visas by way of a rogue contact he had inside the embassy. He was also a small-time ganja exporter, shipping off loads of 200lb and 300lb to Miami and New York. One of his main partners was a senior policeman, and that cop who he thought was his friend was using the extra powers granted under the SOE to shake him down for an immediate cash infusion.

Ryan knew that I was not, in principle, in favour of the illegal export of ganja, but he also knew it was mostly because I was deathly afraid of being caught, and my mother would probably die of a heart attack if it should ever be found that her son was involved in something illegal. Ryan also knew that I was not in the mood of condemning those who dabbled in ganja export.

A week after we were visiting him regularly at the Half-Way Tree lockup, word came to us that he was about to moved to either Red Fence or Wire Fence at Up Park Camp, the main repository of detainees, including, at the time, the very famous Pearnel Charles of the JLP. Ryan's wife was deeply in love with her husband and she was shivering with fear thinking that if he was sent to Up Park Camp, indefinite detention would be his ultimate fate. At just about that time, a senior police officer made it known to her that he wanted to sleep with her, and if she did, he would release Ryan. She gritted her teeth, did what he wanted, and within a few days, Ryan was out.

A few days later, the wife called me and begged be to come over. Her face was in a mess after Ryan had beaten her up. I convinced him to come with me on the road to share a drink and talk over the matter.

He began to cry as he spoke, "Mark, what would you do if you found out your wife sleep with another man?" as he gave me the details.

"Think about it. She did what you see as a horrible thing. The situation is all messed up and she had to do what she did just to give you your freedom. I don't know what I would do, but I think you should go home to her and hug her up."


They want to come home


Jay and I were best friends in the early to mid-1960s and in the 1970s. He departed Wolmer's at just about the same time I left KC, at the end of the 1960s.

Jay left Jamaica with his wife in the late 1970s. Like my other friend, Mandrill from KC, who left in the mid-1980s, both have done quite well, Jay in business and real-estate sales and Mandrill from his engineering profession.

In the 1990s, Jay would call me regularly and enquire if it would be the right time for him to return home.

He told me he had amassed enough money to purchase/build three homes in Jamaica. Each time I would tell him, "This is not the right time," because there would always be another spike in the murder rate and I feared that the Jay who left Jamaica in the late 1970s would not be able to cope with the Jamaica as it had become in the 1990s.

In the 2000s, he would call at various times, and each time I gave him my best advice and told him no, because murders were seemingly always on the rise. Jay had his family intact and his grown children also wanted to 'return' to the land that their parents had told them about.

Mandrill and his marriage had drifted from each other, and although he visited often and we would travel to our old haunts in Annotto Bay and in the inner-city grime of Southside, he had seen enough to say, 'Jamaica is my home and I will always love it, but I will never return here of my own will. It is not the place, Wiggy, that you and I once knew.'

In the late 1980s, I spent the night at a well-known, upscale housing scheme in Westmoreland. Almost all of the houses had eight- or 12-foot satellite dishes, two- or three-car garages, and at least two storeys.

The lady of the house was in her 60s, illiterate, but was smart enough to take full advantage of the lucrative ganja trade in the 1980s that had been a hangover from the bonanza time of the 1970s from which many business scions of 2018 made their first 'seed money'.

"Is about one million dolla it cost mi fi build," the lady told me as she gave me details of the ganja-cash swap at sea a few miles off the Westmoreland coast.

Next door to hers was another swanky house with fancy cars parked in the garage. The lady told me that it was owned by a constable and, like her, he had built it from the ground up by using proceeds earned from the illicit trade in ganja exports.

National Security Minister Bobby Montague has sent signals that it will be open season on those in the society who are living in opulence, are not meeting their tax obligations, and may be involved in illegalities.

The minister ought to know that in a society where opulence is celebrated and the mechanics of corruption make men into heroes, he is treading on dangerous socio-political grounds where no special class is immune from either dirty money, or a fear of flaunting it.

In the last general election when the PNP coopted what was originally JLP internal 'opposition research' carried out by those in the JLP who did not support Andrew Holness for JLP leader, and made Holness' mansion a main subject of the election campaign, people at street level responded quite negatively to the PNP. Gang leaders and corrupt cops are part of a bigger system that operates in the general mindset of many Jamaicans. That message is read to mean that the 'system' is hostile to one's personal causes and, therefore, it is the duty of the one who strives to thrive, to beat the system at all stages if one wants to stay one step ahead.

That is part of what derailed P.J. Patterson's Values and Attitudes Campaign. Many of those who were giving it lip service were already captives of the subcultural fightback.

It was doomed to fail.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to and