Mon | Sep 28, 2020

Mark Wignall | Where is the meat, America?

Published:Sunday | November 10, 2019 | 12:00 AM

In 2012, the New York Times wrote a column, part of which read: “China’s economic might has rolled up to America’s doorstep in the Caribbean with a flurry of loans from state banks, investments by companies, and outright gifts from the government in the form of new stadiums, roads, official buildings, ports, and resorts in a region where the United States has long been a prime benefactor.”

Three years later, in 2015, our favourite US President, Barack Obama, had a whistle-stop visit to Jamaica, but while he was spinning his political magic on us, there was enough of the economic winking and nodding to let us know that he was not comfortable that we had allowed the Chinese infrastructural investment to purchase long-term loyalties.

And if you thought US foreign policy was shy of its short-term memory, just recently, the top United States military official in the region, Admiral Craig Faller, listed China among those countries that do not hold the values shared by Jamaica and America.

America, we get it. China, we get it. We are not foolish enough to wallow in a thick soup of sovereignty while our politicians are pressed to provide the people and the country with development.

The other day I was trying to speak with a Jamaican young man working on one of the China Harbour road sites. It wasn’t an official interview, but at one stage, he bowed his head, looked around him furtively, and said, “Mi nuh want dem si mi a talk to man all like you.”

For his sake, I walked away.

We get it, China Harbour. you are the only game in town apart from the BPOs springing up all over. A lot has changed since the days of the 1980s when, according to the external trade policies of the Reagan administration, Jamaica was about to take off. For a while, the only country that enjoyed more USA aid per capita was Israel. Now, what happened to that chimera?

The American military might is totally free to talk up its security apparatus in the Caribbean and share with us the scary parts of China and Maduro and the Russians. The names may have changed, but we have been here before.

China is not leaving Jamaica anytime too soon, and the Americans know it and can do little about it. And I suspect that if the Jamaican at street level was asked to give a choose which country that individual would prefer to be tinkling power over him or her, China or America, I would not be surprised if China came out first.


Over the last few weeks, I have been writing a series of articles on the police force, its problems and possible solutions. One of the good things that has been happening is that senior policemen are willing to meet and talk with me, but under no circumstances do they want their names to be called.

A very senior cop told me last week about what was once ‘blue seam’ policemen.

“The ISCF was originally a parish police volunteer reserve that was converted into a full-time auxiliary and which was then absorbed into the JCF. After our rural police were put on station duties, no one was left to help the police win hearts and minds and deny the shottas rural spaces to hide, settle disputes, and keep the peace in our far-flung villages,” he told me.

“Many of those in the system who are enjoying good health want to help do it, not just to tell it. But the fact is, Mark, our crime-control architecture is warped and expensive, and it operates in favour of powerful, vested interests.”

“When you say powerful vested interests, what exactly do you mean?” I asked.

“The big-business class, the political class, the powerful criminal class,” was his response.

“Here is the thing,” I said. “What will it take to get 10 or 20 of you senior people to put your names to a strong and purposeful document?”

“Not going to happen,” he said immediately. “Sell-out is baked in the Jamaican system, and no place is it stronger than in the police force. Every man will be looking at the nearest man and finding ten thousand reasons why him will sell him out. Just a fact.”

And then I heard this from another senior cop long retired: “I can remember a particular commissioner of police had tried with three of his ‘brand name’ action-type policemen. He wanted them to use the skills he knew they had instead of the tendency to shoot on the fly. He placed one in a highly placed administrative division where he would be involved in more training. The policeman hated it. Let me tell you something that I’m sure you know: all brand-name policemen run with a set of hard-core criminals.

“One day, I was in earshot of the policeman and his thugs. I heard the cop say to the thugs: ‘You nuh si di boss lock mi dung? A want onnu tun up di ting pon di road’.”

I was shocked but not surprised. Plus, to hear it come from a retired cop was stunning.


We in Jamaica do not have to look to the Ukraine for any examples of ‘you wash my back or I will break yours’. Jamaica is a small country, but the guns are pouring in from Haiti and the US. What, reasonably, can the Americans do to bring calm to the gun carnage in Jamaica?

Certainly, if the Americans believe that too many of our cops are seated around the same table as evil gunmen, they are not going to be too eager to assist.

Gunmen, especially those in the west, have been thumbing their noses at the security forces. At some stage, the word has to go out that one side is stronger than the other, and the stronger side is not the police and soldiers.

At some stage, the communities making up these SOEs have no choice but to support its continuation even when Mass Jahno and Miss Likkle know that they are trapped either way. If the SOE is pulled, the thugs will brag and boast and tun up di ting. If it is kept in place, those people know that the gunmen still run tings, but some are quieter for now.

What we need are cameras at the ports, drones for the craggy coastline from Port Henderson to Negril, cameras at every main intersection, in all urban settings – all linked into a very real database. It’s good for the Americans to show up and bare their face and say their piece and have us cower in fear.

I am certain that there is a bigger side to the cyber security apparatus we could accept from the Chinese and those the Americans may wish to foist on us.

Poor Jamaica is there caught in the middle while the two superpowers gaze at the minnow in the middle. I suspect that there is going to be a long standoff while nothing gets done.

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