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Author opens up about 'The Road Not Taken'

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Howard Campbell,  Gleaner Writer

Of the many controversies that played out in politically charged Jamaica during the 1970s, the Brigadista programme was a sore point. Hundreds of Jamaicans went to Cuba where they participated in government-run camps that trained them in para-military strategy.

One of those Jamaicans was Colin Dennis, who reflected on his nine-week stay in Cuba in the 1985 book,
The Road Not Taken: Memoirs of a Reluctant Guerilla

To mark the 30th anniversary of his Cuban expedition, he recently updated it but has unmasked some of the characters that appear in the original.

Now 54, Dennis has been living in Canada since 1983. He plans to launch the revised version of
The Road Not Taken
in July, approximately 25 years after it was first released by Kingston Publishers.

'Still about me'

"The story is still about me, but I've removed blinders from some of the persons so things are more clear," Dennis told
The Sunday Gleaner
from his home in Ontario.

One of the figures unmasked in the book was then a councillor for the ruling People's National Party. Dennis said he made several trips to the camp where he was assigned to check on the progress of the Jamaican brigadistas.

Readers will still be in the dark as to the true identity of 'Macko', a journalist whom Dennis claimed recruited him for the programme. He said besides their involvement in the Communist Party of Jamaica (CPJ), he knew little about this man.

Roy McGann, a member of parliament and parliamentary secretary in the ministry of national security, and former Manchester High School athlete, Barron Smith, are also key figures in
The Road Not Taken
. McGann and Smith died under controversial circumstances leading up to the October 1980 general election.

Top-secret operation

Colin Dennis was born in Porus, Manchester and also attended Manchester High School. He was among the thousands of youth drawn to prime minister Michael Manley's socialist message and was willing to do anything for the national cause. He was a member of the CPJ in May 1980 when he was approached by Macko to participate in a top-secret operation in Cuba. Dennis said he lied to his family, telling them he was going to Miami, but insists he was unaware what awaited him in Cuba.

Dennis recalls that some of his brigadista 'classmates' included hardened criminals who supported the PNP. He believes the programme contributed to political violence in Jamaica throughout the 1970s, and gave birth to the unwavering criminality that currently affects the country.

"It facilitated the gun culture, the government was helping to arm poor people," Dennis said.

Dennis said he went through "severe depression" after his Cuban trip and was unable to find work when he returned home. He and his wife left for Canada in 1983 and gained permanent status there two years later, through mass amnesty for illegal residents.

Today, the self-professed liberal says he keeps a low profile and has not been back to Jamaica since he left 27 years ago. He said he may return for a local launch of
The Road Not Taken
in July.