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Stabroek News

Dons and garrisons under pressure
published: Sunday | May 22, 2005

Ian Boyne

WHEN THE power elite in Jamaica decides that enough is enough and is willing to rally its troops and the entire nation to its cause, the political elite trembles in its boots.

The planned islandwide shutdown of businesses this Wednesday, plus the two major rallies in New Kingston, the heart of the mega-powerful corporate sector, will be significant salvos from a sector which has had an enormous influence over Jamaican politics since the turbulent 1970s. The Jamaican private sector might be laid-back, gun-shy (no pun intended) and anything but militant normally, but when it is stirred to action, no section of the society can afford to take a ho-hum attitude.

Last week I warned Bruce Golding that if the private sector perceives that he was in any way pussyfooting with the underbelly of his constituency they would turn away from him in revulsion, and that he would be burnt beyond recognition. The sane, rational and discreet Golding came back to the fore with the Rotary address last Tuesday, just in time to escape the wrath of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) which has planned the very strategic set of protests against the criminal elements in the society. On Tuesday Golding was back to his calm self, informing us that he would be putting the issue of garrisons on the front burner of the Vale Royal discussions, and calling for the implementation of recommendations for the dismantling of garrisons. We hope ­ for his sake also ­ that this Golding personality will remain with us for some time. If it does not, then he will be a footnote in our political history.


Take heart, readers. The dons and the garrisons are under pressure and we must make sure the pressure does not let up. Even the Machiavellian politicians know that the entire society ­ including the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) masses ­ are fed up with the galloping crime rate and are determined that something must be done now.

I am convinced that P.J. Patterson and Bruce Golding have the intense desire to put an end to garrison politics. I believe they are going to make a major difference. Not only are they pragmatic, calculating politicians who sense the disgust, outrage and anguish of the Jamaican people, but I believe in their heart of hearts they are convinced of the evils which garrison politics has wreaked on this country.

Mutty Perkins would say that while P.J. Patterson himself has never presided over a garrison constituency, unlike Golding and other leading contenders for the highest office in this country that he would have benefited from its fruits as head of a party which has garrison constituencies. While we could debate that, I believe that anyone who knows the man PJ Paterson and his temperament, values and philosophy would know that he himself would have no stomach for it. It is the best of times and the worst of times. The crisis which we are facing has opened up an historic opportunity for all the social classes, as well as the main political parties, to work together to 'degarrisonise' the society and to put in place some strategies to curtail, if not eliminate, 'dutty' politics.

I predict that PJ Patterson will not leave Jamaica House until he has worked out with Bruce Golding some agreements, guidelines and principles which will lead to an improvement in the Jamaican political system. I believe this has become the major legacy which he wants to leave. And I believe that in Bruce Golding as Opposition leader he has the right man to broker this historic pact.


But Golding is no fool. He realises the mood of the country and he knows that the moneyed classes, which have helped to propel him to where he is, is determined to end garrison politics and the rule of the dons in Jamaica. Golding is not your most decisive leader and he does vacillate and seem to need a lot of pushing, but with the level of anger and resolve which exist in the society against the rule of the warlords, he is getting all the push he would ever need.

Unlike many of Golding's critics, I don't believe he is insincere and that he is still at heart a garrison politician. His commitment to a changed political culture is genuine. I don't believe he has totally squandered his credibility. He wants to implement radical changes to the political system. And while he believes in the presidential system, I don't think he accepts the one which exists in Tivoli Gardens today! But he has inherited a constituency with a strong and fierce criminal network and donmanship and he has been trying to tread the rough waters carefully. But Golding must see clearly now that the tide has swung against that network. And that tide is going to wash him away if he is not perceived as not moving decisively and resolutely against it. I think the business sector downtown is ready to be mobilised to pull resources from that criminal network. The downtown business people's credibility depends on their own willingness to stop paying the extortion money which is building up the coffers of the criminal network.

You can't cuss politicians for hypocrisy and speaking out of both sides of their mouths, and you are giving dons money through the backdoor while shutting down your businesses to decent, law-abiding citizens, and calling us out to Emancipation Park while you are in bondage to dons and terrorists. Cut off the money from those bastards.

You won't have any moral authority to talk to the Prime Minister and the other political leaders when you are facilitating dons and terrorists. I know the real threats: Mr. Azan paid for his bravery. Yes, we have to be realistic. But we also have to strategise as to how to defeat the criminal network. Let's take heart. The pressure is mounting on the political class and, for its own survival major concessions will have to be given.


The role of the private sector and civil society is crucial at this time. The PSOJ has been astute and strategic in its three-day campaign to dramatise the country's intolerably high homicide rate. And what I particularly admire about the PSOJ's posture is the fact that it has clearly isolated the criminals and terrorists and has made it clear that its shutdown of the country's business has nothing to do with any attack against the state. PSOJ President Beverley Lopez, in well-worded statement, said that to "demonstrate our support and resolve that making Jamaica safe again must be our No 1 priority", the major business associations would be initiating activities to "encourage support for our communities, the security forces and our leaders at this difficult time". Excellently put.

For too long the criminals and terrorists have had us in civil society warring with one another, with human rights activists versus hard policing advocates like me and Garnett Roper; and PNP and JLP supporters and leaders trading accusations. Let's stop it now. We must unite against the dons and warlords and give them no succour. We must support the security forces and say so openly and loudly like the PSOJ, so that the terrorists won't be emboldened. Speak out against genuine, proven abuses, yes. But support them in the war against terrorism.


I like the part about "support for our communities". There are communities in Jamaica under bondage and oppression, where people's human rights are trampled daily by dons, warlords and their shooters. There are many old ladies who can't sleep at nights, who are trembling with fear, sleeping under their beds because of the gunshots and inter-community wars. There are countless atrocities which take place in the garrison communities on a regular basis, and the time has come for the powerful private sector and influential groups like Jamaicans for Justice, the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights and other groups to start working for the liberation of these people in the garrisons.

In a thought-provoking paper delivered at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York last month, Christopher Charles, Ph.D candidate in social and personality psychology and a former resident of a prominent Kingston garrison said, "in the same way that Jamaicans for Justice and Families Against State Terrorism and other groups encourage residents to speak out about police excesses in the inner-city, the residents should be encouraged to speak out about political excesses, discrimination and abuse in garrison constituencies and given institutional and legal support like what the residents who are abused by the police receive. The residents are more likely to be a part of the anti-garrison movement when this kind of support is provided".

The human rights lobby in Jamaica should broaden its agenda to include the oppressed residents of garrison communities who are violated by the system of donmanship and criminality which exists. An excellent article which explores garrison politics and violence, with particular reference to August Town, is Charles' piece in the UWI's Social and Economic Studies (SES) journal (53:2, 2004)

While Charles acknowledges that criminal gangs have graduated from total dependence on the politicians, he shows that the party political network is still highly useful to the criminals: "Gang members who are fleeing the police more often than not seek safe haven in communities controlled by gangs who share their political allegiance. Members of the criminal gangs are adept at clandestinely using their party grassroots network contacts and structures to elude the police". This is why all the garrison communities have to be eliminated and the power structures of the dons be destroyed. The politicians will have to cooperate in this process.

So the argument that it is drugs which drive the criminal gangs is only part of the equation. Says Charles in that same Social and Economic Studies article: "One of the common bonds that unite gang members in distant communities is their political identity, and this gives them spatial hegemony".

P.J. Patterson and Bruce Golding have the opportunity to pull off the Jamaican version of what Gorbachev and Reagan did. I believe both men are committed to it. Social forces have only made it easier for them. Any political fool in the PNP or JLP would know that the days of the garrisons and the dons are numbered. Any party of leader who is not seen as emphatic in speeding their end will be consigned to the rubbish heap of political history.

To PJ and Bruce I say, bring it on!

* Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. You can send your comments to ianboyne1 or

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