The garrison — Our great shame of Independence
IT happens every year as we celebrate our Independence that we grab for the names of a few icons — living and those who left us — and parade them as the true spirit of what is in us, but more importantly, what we can be.
As a nation, our heroes and those others whom we look up to and admire are relatively few. There are the standard set of heroes, from Garvey to Nanny, then there are those others whose feats in creativity placed Jamaica on the international map — Marley, Louise Bennett, Bolt, Shelly-Ann, VCB, Ottey, McKinley, and company.
The problem is, there are far too few of them and too little of the spirit, grit, determination in them that is in the rest of us. Plus, it has not yet dawned on us that the heroes who we need to propel this nation towards Independence 100 will be the technologically advanced ones capable of transforming grit, spirit and determination into employment opportunities for those who must be, themselves, attuned to a changing world.
It is no secret that the best of us pack up and leave Jamaica early. There is just something stifling and degrading to the human spirit that Jamaica does to its brightest, best and most resourceful as long as they remain here in an effort to reproduce their lives, materially and socially. It is not that the long haul on foreign shores is a great solution, only that the limits there to material increase are much less than in Jamaica; where playing by the rules is only recommended for the meek, the weak, and those who desire to live hand-to-mouth.
It is easy to admit that the few larger-than-life Jamaicans who have made us proud have done so to make Jamaica's name internationally much larger than what our geographical size is. But, unfortunately, the same goes for what has given our country infamy — too high a murder rate, violent crime, and too far a reach into the international criminal community.
No place was this more obvious than in the Tivoli Gardens' Shower Posse link to the underworld in the US, Canada and sections of Europe. As the formal model was dismantled in 2010, and the remains of the criminal virus has made sections of downtown Kingston socially unviable, it is useful to ask if the planned commission of enquiry into the Tivoli operation by security forces isn't set to losing an opportunity of making the most open and public examination of the garrison shame and to document it for future action.
The former Public Defender Earl Witter is of the firm belief that such a documented probe, as part of the commission, is a great necessity. A few weeks ago I and some other journalists had a lunch meeting with Mr Witter and he was adamant that "the terms of reference must include a pointed examination of the garrison phenomena in Jamaica. We cannot afford to lose this opportunity".
So tightly knotted was the garrison rope placed on the necks of the people living in the political zones of exclusion and dens of criminality that, when faced with the imminent collapse of the Tivoli model and the dismantling of the physical structure of it inside the community, a number of factors came into play.
The first was the fact that the people who had dedicated their lives to voting for one party were psychologically brainwashed into seeing the other party as evil incarnate. Like most brainwashed people, arguing sensibly with them on party politics was a waste of time.
The second factor was, up to the last moment before the criminal don must have realised that his 'presidency' was finished, he was still recruiting those garrison 'soldiers' from outside of his proximate orbit. He was the typical general, planning to run off without telling his soldiers about his true intentions.
The third factor was the intent of the security forces which had been 'dissed' for many years by Tivoli's guns and its effective army of soldiers and the cowed and brainwashed residents. The army on its entry, it seems to me, had every intention of 'redressing' that generational disrespect.
The last factor was, the politicians were deliberately positioning themselves so that it appeared that they were the ones fixing the problem without having any intention of confessing to the nation — prior, during, or after to the operation — that they were the architects of Jamaica's greatest shame of Independence — that of pitting poor, black-skinned Jamaicans against each other so that the politicians could get and hold on to perpetual power.
None of the terms of reference will include a probe into the garrison reality because our politicians are scared of seeing their dark deeds come to the bright light of public scrutiny. On the basis that anything physical or sociological is likely, it is quite possible that the garrison model will be ended by those who are now its prisoners — the poor and voiceless. Should that happen, and the very people lead themselves towards rescuing themselves from socioeconomic abandonment, the politicians will get a free pass because a very important part of our history, a shameful past, will have been deleted.
The 'Love' model, as found in the Epilogue of the public defender's report, has been seen — by the silence of the public commentary on it — not to have any usefulness outside of a Witter flourish at the end of his report. I see it quite differently, simply because the garrison model was built on pure hate. It is almost too simplistic to see that what the public defender is proposing is a politics built on the antithesis of that hate.
One of the great ironies of the days leading up to the Tivoli operation was that the politician who was seen by too many to be standing up on behalf of a don was the same politician who, in 1997, had singled out himself as the only politician to have admitted that criminality and party politics in Jamaica were feeding out of the same pot.
When Bruce Golding was NDM president, in a debate on national TV involving P J Patterson (then PM), Eddie Seaga (as Opposition leader), he made the admission while Patterson and Seaga not-so-skilfully skirted the issue.
Jamaica, it would seem, will never be ready for truth and reconciliation. The fact is, many political reputations have been built on the 'love' that constituents have for their political representatives where, to tell the truth, the vote was delivered repeatedly on a platter of political hate.
The politicians need to keep their ill-founded reputations. That is the reason for deliberately delaying a documented probe into our great shame of Independence.