Political street forces co-operated against the wishes of the JLPNP
IN the late 1990s when super spy Roderick 'Jimmy' McGregor was appointed by then Commissioner of Police Francis Forbes to head an intelligence-gathering outfit called the Special Intelligence Unit (SIU), 'Jimmy' went to sea on wiretapping the phones
of senior policemen, politicians, well-known political activists with suspected criminal links, and community dons otherwise known as 'area leaders'.
Based on written transcripts of taped conversations I saw after the SIU was suddenly shut down (the wiretaps were deemed illegal) and a meeting I had with 'Jimmy', among the phones listened to were those belonging to a fast-rising don in a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) garrison, a well-established strongman in a People's National Party (PNP) garrison pocket, a celebrated thug who controlled a large swath of a PNP garrison,
a Kingston-based businessman/activist with more than notional attachments to the PNP, and quite a number of senior politicians.
It is my understanding that the actual taped conversations have been listened to by a few senior policemen and some top people in both the JLP and PNP, but because none of the players leave the stage smelling like a freshly cut rose on Valentine's Day, it provides the perfect basis for mutual insulation — no one side can ever bawl out for a public revelation of the various conversations taped.
I wrote about this matter some years ago and later after the offices of a lawyer close to peripheral matters of the storage of the tapes were raided by members of the security forces and documents seized. The lawyer was representing a Bahamian who was in Jamaica for an extended period, but who was facing deportation for other matters.
Information had come to me that a certain Jamaican had left some very sensitive 'taped material' for storage in the North Coast apartment of the Bahamian and that seemed to have been what the security forces were trying to sniff out.
The matter ended up in the courts and the lawyer won.
One aspect of spy McGregor's wiretaps that would have had to be most troubling for the antagonistic politics that the leaderships of the PNP and JLP relied on to cement the political divisions among the low-information members in the electorate was what appeared to be the birth of close co-operation between the PNP and JLP garrison or street force leadership in their local operations.
Even more troubling was their collaboration in their international 'business' operations, which spanned almost the entire length of the continent of North and South America. Jamaica as a trans-shipment point was sweetly positioned midway.
This was best explained to me at the time by a 'semi-don' attached to one of the political parties.
"In Jamaica, Arab and Jew co-operate in business. We is Jamaican and that is even more reason why wi shouldn't allow any JLP or PNP bwoy fi tell wi fi keep firing wi gun after one another," he said.
The full public manifestation of the alliance of the PNP and JLP street forces came in September 1998 when Zeeks, the head of the Matthews Lane PNP garrison pocket in the JLP-held Kingston Western constituency, was taken in by the police on certain charges.
Rioting broke out in downtown Kingston. At that time I was in cellphone contact with someone living on Orange Street who knew the 'runnings'. He told me that he could identify some men from Rema (JLP), Tivoli (JLP), Jungle (PNP) and Matthews Lane (PNP) among groups of men armed with high-powered rifles, walking together and banging on doors and ordering people to get out of their houses (at 7:00 pm) and proceed to Central Police Station to protest Zeeks' arrest.
In 1998 and after, I wrote extensively about the matter, especially when Zeeks was given a megaphone while still in custody at Central and asked to quell the increasing restiveness of the crowd outside the gates. I classified that seminal moment as indicative of the power shift; the very moment the State ceded its power and handed it over to the streets.
Why would JLP gunmen support such a cause on behalf of a well-known PNP strongman? Simple. The alliance between the PNP and JLP street forces' leadership in their 'business', whether local or international, had given them the independence from relying solely on Government contracts to survive and, in a knee-jerk response they felt that there was no time like the present to flex their muscle.
The business and in-your-face apolitical template was set. In general, the message went out right across the country's inner-city communities, from Bull Bay in the east to Flanker in the West, that each unit could, to varying degrees, provide its respective community residents with basic material needs like assistance for the indigent, lunch money for school children, a few hundred dollars for a health problem, etc.
In doing so, it lessened the influence of the local politician, demoted him to second stringer and gave the dons the cover they would need from harassment by members of the security forces who were not already on their payroll.
Some amount of extortion of established businesses existed before the 1990s, but once the huge cash infusion began to come about because of the lucrative trade in illicit drugs and the elevated power derived from it, the level and the ferocity of the extortion increased.
In the western part of the island bright youngsters with their eyes set on other things began to learn from the criminal elements in other nations far afield. That gave birth to the lottery scammers. In time, the scammers became so big that they even began to fund a certain political party of their choice.
The common bonds which held the criminality together were, first, the sense that they and the poor and powerless people close to them had always been 'taken to the cleaners' by both the PNP and the JLP, and the cash, power and independence were too good to give up. The second was the most destructive to the nation — the increase in the cache of arms and ammunition islandwide.