Fri | Jul 28, 2017

We are sorry - Gov't apologises to Rastas for Coral Gardens incident

Published:Wednesday | April 5, 2017 | 4:00 AMJason Cross
Members of the Rastafari communtiy tried to march on Jamaica House yesterday to register yet another protest against the 1963 Coral Gardens incident of their brethrens. The police prevented them from doing so, but their placards tell all.
Members of the Rastafari community making their way to Jamaica House yesterday were prevented by the police from doing so. Here Superintendent Courtney Coubrie from the Traffic Division interacts with some of them.
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The long-awaited apology from the Government to the residents of Coral Gardens, particularly the Rastafari community, for the atrocities meted out to them more than half a century ago, has finally come, accompanied with a bit of compensation.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness officially apologised to the Rastafari community in Parliament yesterday and declared that the Government would be ensuring a similar occurrence does not happen.

"I am happy to have finally reached the point where we can discuss concrete and tangible actions, which ease some of the heavy burdens that survivors and the community had faced. Today, without equivocation, we apologise for what occurred in Coral Gardens. We express regret and sorrow for this chapter in our national life that was characterised by brutality, injustice and repression. (It) was wrong and should never be repeated," the prime minister stressed.

Holness yesterday outlined a number of tasks that the Government will follow through on to compensate the Rastafari community for the incident.

"We have taken a symbolic yet courageous and pivotal move, which means that we can face the future with renewed hope. While we know this (apology) cannot erase the brutality, oppression and injustice, I am comforted by the willingness of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society to keep the dialogue going," he said.

Holness listed a number of benefits that those who were affected will receive.

- The public defender will be asked to continue the work her office started in finding survivors and gathering important information on them and their families. She will be collaborating with the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society and the member of parliament for the area to make that possible.

- A trust fund of no less than J$10 million is to be made available to them and their families.

- Six lots at Pinnacle will become designated protected heritage sites, which will also include a Rastafari Village.

Shortly before Holness' apology, members of the Rastafari community attempted to march in protest on Jamaica House. The police said that they would not be allowed within 200m of the premises, but that did not halt the determined group.

They were adamant, however, that yesterday's march would have been the last, as they would resort to international law for help.

"We are here today to agitate for compensation for what the Government gwaan with in 1963. We have been meeting with them for several months now, and this Government formed an ad hoc committee of Parliament to meet with I and I and they met with I and I one time," member of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society, Ras Chalwa, told The Gleaner yesterday, before the apology.

"The proposal is to have compensation for the actual victims and also the community because they attacked the entire community in 1963. The public defender did a report in 2015 and stated that the Government breached several of the constitutional rights of Rastafari," he said.

An April 1963 encounter with the police in Coral Gardens left eight Rastafarians dead. Several were beaten, jailed and had their locks cut off.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com