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Smash those walls now - Garrisons must be dismantled

Published:Sunday | March 14, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Kingston Mayor and Councillor Desmond McKenzie (left) and Horace Chang clear the area after residents blocked Spanish Town Road during a police-military operation in Tivoli Gardens on Tuesday, October 4, 2005.- File photo

Martin Henry, Contributor

Mr Prime Minister, tear down those walls and set yourself and the other captives free! You have promised to dismantle the garrisons and there is no better time than now.

From The Gleaner of June 1, 2005: "Opposition leader Bruce Golding on Tuesday, May 17, appealed for the implementation of crime recommendations to dismantle garrisons and reshape politics in these communities.

"Mr Golding, who in 1995 denounced garrison politics while establishing the National Democratic Movement (NDM), said the country is being faced with a 'huge implementation deficit'.

"Speaking ahead of the bi-partisan crime summit at Jamaica House ... the West Kingston member of Parliament cited the recommendations of several crime committees since 1970 ... ."

From the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) website:

His [Bruce Golding's] crusade for political reform - "In the early 1990s, after considerable reflection and analysis, Golding felt the need for reform of Jamaica's political system. He was concerned that the history of political tribalism had polarised the society and had prevented the people from uniting behind common goals. He embarked on a crusade, both within the JLP and publicly, for fundamental constitutional changes and major reform of our political culture and practices. Public response was overwhelmingly positive but much less so within the JLP, some of whose senior members were reluctant to embrace his ideas for change.

"He then announced his intention to form a new political party that would be "new and different, inclusive not exclusionary", committed to fundamental reform of our constitutional arrangements and political system. This gave birth to the National Democratic Movement and Golding was elected its first president.

"Although there was strong support for the ideas espoused by the NDM, it lacked the organisational strength to translate this into electoral support. In 2001, the NDM again fared badly in a by-election in North East St Ann. Shortly after, Golding announced his resignation as president of the NDM.

His return to the JLP

"In September 2002, shortly after the announcement of new elections and after intensive behind-the-scene negotiations, Golding rejoined the JLP under a Memorandum of Understanding under which the JLP committed itself to [among other things]:

"Develop practical initiatives to eliminate political tribalism and garrison politics.

"Establish a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute corruption among public officials.

"Golding rejoined the JLP merely three weeks before election day ... The fact that the JLP performed substantially better, polling 48 per cent to the PNP's 52 per cent and winning 26 seats to the PNP's 34, is widely attributed to the impact of his return to the party ... . In April 2005, Mr Golding was elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of West Kingston."

From the 1997 Report of the National Committee on Political Tribalism: "The most vulgar and dysfunctional manifestation of political tribalism has been the development of 'the garrison' within constituencies ... . A garrison ... is a political stronghold, a veritable fortress, completely controlled by a party.

"The border wars between garrison communities of different persuasions result in:

(i)the increased difficulty in maintaining law and order

(ii) an inability to maintain social infrastructure;

(iii) a restriction of movement;

(iv) a restriction of business opportunities.

"The hardcore garrison communities exhibit an element of autonomy, in that they are states within a state. The Jamaican state has no authority or power except in so far as its forces are able to invade in the form of police and military raids. In the core garrisons, disputes have been settled, matters tried, offenders sentenced and punished, all without reference to the institutions of the Jamaican State .... Gang leaders who have close relationships with the constituency's member of parliament get preferential access to contracts and jobs and function as key elements of the local community political leadership ... .

"There is a link between garrison forces and the party's political leadership, which provides two functions:

(i) It provides the main conduit for accessing and distributing scarce benefits. The top rankings thus become the main brokers between the members of parliament and the local communities.

(ii) In a transactional sense, the Member of Parliament is sure of retaining his [or her] territorial support, while the rankings are able to acquire wealth and local power as well as protection from the forces of law and order.

"Criminal gangs tend to identify themselves with particular garrison communities and remain affiliated or aligned to their particular party."

Mr Golding scathingly contributed to the committee as the president of the new and different NDM, who had walked away from the old 'garrison politics'.

From the Roadmap to a Safe and Secure Jamaica, Section 3.4, "Roadmap to 'Degarrisoning': "The party-crime links are strongest in the garrisons ... Garrison communities are zones of exclusion, characterised by high levels of crime ... 'Dismantling' is taken to mean a ... process of political, social and economic renewal of the affected communities ... The process involves steps toward ensuring law and order, and a balance of power with authority shifting to legitimate leadership."


The MacMillan Roadmap made an extensive set of recommendations for degarrisoning.

The Roadmap was commissioned by the Bruce Golding-led Opposition in 2006 and chaired by former Police Commissioner Colonel Trevor MacMillan, who would later be appointed Minister of National Security from the Senate.

A party leader/prime minister who has declared that he is prepared to pay a political price for standing up for the constitutional rights of one prominent citizen, whom the US Government wants extradited, must move now move to liberate the prisoners of the garrisons, restoring their constitutional rights and freedoms. Mr. Golding, in fulfilment of promise, must act now to remove this most vulgar manifestation of political tribalism and root of crime from the face of Jamaica, or be discredited.

From all the many recommendations which have been made by many committees and task forces over these many years, three strategic manoeuvres must be made to dismantle the garrisons. Mr Golding has demonstrated capacity for strategic thinking and action when he wants to. The three fundamental requirements for degarrisonisation are:

1. In military parlance, which fits the situation very well indeed, the armed forces of the garrisons must be pacified.

2. There must be a security guarantee, provided by the Jamaican State, to all citizens in communities being degarrisonised and a provision of reliable justice.

3. Opportunities must be created for citizens in communities being degarrisonised.

As any strategic thinker and leader will confirm, strategic objectives must be kept few and simple for success.

The security forces will have to be beefed up, given a free hand and resources to accomplish pacification. The options to the garrison forces will be to surrender or be taken out. The sources of wealth of the dons and gang leaders must be choked off through the legal system and security operations.

Simultaneously, the 'security forces' must provide airtight security, removing the legitimate compulsion for self-defence, which is powerfully driving the maintenance of garrison militias and the protective role of dons and gangs. Justice must be swift and sure, undermining the judicial role of dons.

Wholesale devastation

Opportunities for employment, business and educational advancement must be provided. The people must be moved from a position of dependence on criminal providers to a position of independence. The wholesale devastation of the physical infrastructure of these communities, in years of warfare and neglect, requires a massive rehabilitation effort which can be spearheaded by the people there themselves and is the place to start.

Small business entrepreneurial capital can be responsibly injected into the restoration of these devastated states within the state. Programmes for social renewal will have to be put in place.

In so far as the garrisons are creatures of the political parties, I don't share the view that any bipartisan approach is necessary for their dismantling. Bipartisanship on the matter is more a hindrance than a help. What is needed is a neutral state approach with total disregard of parties. And this is precisely where hope dims. Bruce Golding has so far proven to be more a son of the Jamaica Labour Party and a crafty politician than a Jamaican statesman who puts country first, above both self and party. But his present crisis at constituency, national and international levels may yet provoke a Damascus road conversion. There is opportunity in crisis.

In the name of the thousands of garrison dead and the thousands of burntout refugees; in the name of those from generation to generation, whose tears of grief has flowed unstanched; in the name of young girls, who must be handed over to dons as sex slaves; in the name of the captives, including the gangsters themselves, held prisoners behind those invisible garrison walls; in the name of God, the righteous judge, Mr Prime Minister, tear down those walls, and set yourself and the other captives free, NOW!

Martin Henry is a communications consultant who may be reached at or