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EDITORIAL - JLP wrong on Tivoli enquiry

Published:Tuesday | January 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We confess to being surprised every time spokespersons for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) hit out - as the party's leader, Andrew Holness, and West Kingston MP Desmond McKenzie again did at the weekend - against the commission of enquiry into the May 2010 events in Tivoli Gardens and surrounding areas.

For, we still half expect to hear sound arguments from the Opposition on this issue, which, if that were the case, could propel them to demand a robust probe of the matter, including the circumstances under which a Jamaican community became so detached from the State and under the control of criminal overlords, that a law-enforcement venture there ended in the deaths of at least 76 civilians and one soldier.

Indeed, a fair hearing and an intellectually rigorous report, of which we believe the commissioners are capable, might help to prevent these periodic episodes in Tivoli, in which the West Kingston community is bloodily pitted against the security forces, and provide a template for preventing other vulnerable communities from slipping over the precipice.

Instead, the preferred action of Mr McKenzie and some others in the JLP would be for Tivoli residents to be bought off by the State with a few dollars of compensation for the deaths of family members and the repair of their homes, while Mr Holness has engaged in a waffling uncertainty. He has talked of coroner's inquests into each of the 76 deaths and some ill-defined truth and reconciliation session - processes that would only conflict with each other and likely meander to nowhere.

The opportunity for the Opposition's latest misadventure on the Tivoli enquiry is the extrapolation that the process could cost more than J$300 million, the bulk of which would be in fees to the commissioners and lawyers, while, according to the Opposition, the Tivoli residents who suffered grave trauma have received little or no compensation. So, Mr Holness, the opposition leader, believes that the enquiry should be abandoned.

Archetypal garrison

In the circumstance, it is important to recall a number of facts about the 2010 incident as well as the evolution of Tivoli Gardens. The incident was triggered by an attempt by the security forces to arrest for extradition Christopher Coke, the latest in a line of community dons who straddled politics, criminality and legitimate enterprise. Further, developed by former JLP leader and Prime Minister Edward Seaga, Tivoli Gardens emerged, or so it appeared to outsiders, as something peripheral to Jamaica: its loyalty was first to its MP and his parliamentary successors and to the party.

In other words, Tivoli Gardens was the archetypal garrison, the model for the zones of political exclusion where criminals, influential persons and politicians led an easy coexistence, the latter having the benefit of the muscle of the former in the corralling of votes. This is a dysfunctional system, it is widely agreed, that has stifled Jamaica's social and economic development.

We understand the political calculations that would cause the JLP to be uneasy with these issues being robustly explored with regard to Tivoli. Mr Holness, born in post-Independence Jamaica, brands himself as a modern leader not yoked to the stagnant politics of the past. We desperately want to believe him. But his handling of the Tivoli affair up to now gives us cause to be cautious.

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