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The garrison game

Published:Friday | March 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM

IN 1991, the New Beginning Movement, of which I was a convenor, organised a walk through western Kingston. We began at the St John's United Church on Upper Rose Lane and walked through Matthew's Lane and into Tivoli Gardens. There was a line beyond which folk from the People's National Party (PNP) garrison of Matthew's Lane could not cross into Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) territory.

Some say we Jamaicans are not easily made to keep straight lines, but this boundary line - imaginary rather than painted on the road - was mathematically straight. If nature abhors a straight line, this was definitely unnatural.

Similarly, there was a line beyond which the Tivolites would not stray. This was a higher order of discipline than I saw in my decades of involvement in the Jamaican education system - first as teacher and then on school boards. Clearly, in a garrison, the rule of garrison law is strictly obeyed, quite in contrast to the rule of law which emanates from Gordon House.

This is not something to be celebrated. The social phenomenon that is the Jamaican garrison is based on violence and fear and murder. Garrisons were created to guarantee electoral victory, and served their purpose well. The garrison system is a new form of slavery, with all its implications of economic and sexual exploitation.

Garrison game

After that walk through 'Matches Lane' and Tivoli Gardens almost 20 years ago, I wrote two articles which were published in The Sunday Gleaner on consecutive weeks. One was called 'Who will bell the cat?' and the other I think was titled 'A Pox on Both Your Houses'. I identified both political parties as playing the "garrison game", and called on them to put an end to the monsters they had created.

The garrison phenomenon has been analysed by social scientists and commentators, and civil society has shown outrage, and there is widespread agreement that they should be dismantled - and both parties have openly stated that as their (politically correct) position; but I do not believe that much has changed over the last 20 years. Except that the garrisonisation of the inner city has continued.

In the more than 17 years I have been writing this column - under both the PNP and the JLP - I have consistently iden-tified these political garrisons as a blot on our national character, as the sources of drug-dealing and gunrunning and extortion, as entropic forces which serve to keep us poor and underdeveloped. My own moral con-science will not allow me to join or find common cause with either of the political parties which have spawned this evil system and today actively keep it in existence. Clearly, there are many others whose consciences are not as sensitive.

Wrong values

Clearly, our present crop of politicians highly value the garrison system they have created, for despite the promises of their party manifestos, they have taken no steps to dismantle them - neither the PNP when they were in power, nor the JLP now. Frankly, I had expected that politicians had some shame, and would try to distance themselves from the more unsavoury elements among their supporters. But I suppose the system will not allow it.

I am ashamed of my country to know that the US State Department has accused Jamaican political parties of close links to crime lords. The recent US Narcotics Control Strategy Report also says that three Jamaican commissioners of police have resigned over the Government's unwillingness to cut the nexus between political organisations and the criminal underworld. Does this evoke even a little shame in the consciences of any of our politicians - PNP or JLP? How about defending our Constitution by returning Jamaica to the rule of law? (Clearly, I am not talking here about garrison law).

The private sector of Jamaica which has funded our political system - including the garrisons - over the last decades, has not come out strongly against the garrison game. They could put a stop to this new system of slavery in three months by withholding their political contributions. Now that they have weighed in on the 'Dudus' affair, let us see how quickly the Government capitulates.

We only formed a national environ-mental protection agency in 1991 when foreign powers made it a condition of receipt of further loan and grant funding. I wonder whether independent sovereign Jamaica will rid itself of its garrisons on its own, or whether the Government and the private sector will have to be pushed by foreign powers?

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon.