THERE is genuine confusion over what is a garrison. Some people think it is a ghetto; a place where poor people live in squalor with attendant poor government services. It is true that the garrison possesses these features, but it is a mistake to lump it with Soweto in South Africa, Watts in Chicago or the Favela in Brazil.
For a true understanding of the garrison one has to go to the Report of the National Committee on Political Tribalism, 23 July 1997. Under Garrison Communities, the report reads thus: "The most vulgar and dysfunctional manifestation of the process of political tribalism has been the development of the garrison within constituencies. At one level a garrison community can be described as one in which anyone who seeks to oppose, raise opposition to or organise against the dominant party would definitely be in danger of suffering serious damage to their possessions or person, thus making continued residence in the area extremely difficult if not impossible. A garrison, as the name suggests, is a political stronghold, a veritable fortress completely controlled by a party."
No one could fault Public Defender Earl Witter for his recommendation of a commission of enquiry to do a forensic examination of issues relative to the May 2010 incursion by the security forces into Tivoli Gardens. But a number of journalists and public commentators have expressed the view that the enquiry has to go further to get to the root causes of the scourge of violence and human rights violations, a disproportionate amount of which are perpetrated by or inflicted on these communities and the persons who reside within them.
Writing in the Monday, May 13, 2013 Daily Observer, Jean Lowrie-Chin left no doubt as to where she stands on the need for a full-scale garrison enquiry. I quote her: "Having suffered through that daily soap opera aka the Manatt Enquiry and still smarting from the unfinished Finsac Enquiry, Jamaicans are wary about another enquiry into the Tivoli incursion announced by the Government. I believe this could be a meaningful exercise, one that could actually change the course of Jamaica's history, if the enquiry were widened to explore allegations of other existing garrisons in both JLP and PNP constituencies. No honest politician could object to such an exercise."
Mark Wignall, writing in the Thursday, June 13, 2013 Jamaica Daily Observer, also made a compelling case for widening the ambit of the enquiry to include political garrisons. This is a direct quote. "Those of us who were hoping that the planned commission of enquiry into the Tivoli killings of May 2010 would have extended its reach into a wider probe to produce a document on the garrison phenomenon had allowed ourselves to be drawn too closely to occupation of that place called a fool's paradise".
Lloyd D'Aguilar, 21 May 2013 Daily Observer, writing under the headline, "Commission of enquiry not adequate for Tivoli", suggests an International Criminal Court-type arrangement for getting to the truth and exacting punishment. I am sure he harbours no illusion that such an enquiry will become a reality in this lifetime. At least, such a radical view does embolden me to renew my call, made several years ago, for reparation for garrison victims. A good case could be made for such a claim given the over 40 years of Government-sponsored action towards creating political garrisons. If a committee were ever to be established to receive submissions on the behalf of those who have been disenfranchised, maimed, injured and killed through the garrisoning process, I would be at the head of the queue to make opening arguments. I can imagine my contribution going something like the following.
"Your honour, distinguished members of the Political Garrison Reparations Committee, the creation of garrisons by politicians ranks as possibly the worst case of political manipulation and gerrymandering to have taken place in any democratic country in the second half of the 20th century. I am presenting as exhibits: the Report of the Committee on Political Tribalism (27 July 1997); the Report of the National Committee on Crime and Violence (October 31, 2001), the Roadmap to a Safe and Secure Jamaica (May 1, 2006), along with several other reports from National Committees established to examine the problem of crime and violence linked to garrisons. These documents along with newspaper articles and reports of self-incriminating speeches given by politicians speak far more eloquently to the evil and unjust practices associated with the garrisoning process than I can. Government- sanctioned tribal politics which holds citizens hostage within garrison communities rank among the most horrendous of all deprivations of human rights and violations of the founding ideals in our nation's history. The practice was characteriSed by systematic discrimination on the basis of politics, forced evictions, and other insidious institutions and practices directed with inhumane and malicious intent toward Jamaicans whose only sin was in being poor. These practices were rooted in undemocratic principles, political bias, abuse of power, and a blatant disregard for the trust of the people and the public good. Thousands have died violently in communities that have earned the reputation of being "killing fields". Countless others have been dispossessed of opportunities to develop their God-given potential in these man-made zones of exclusion. The legacy of poverty, ignorance and despair cannot be fully assessed in social and monetary terms, but righting this great wrong requires that an attempt be at least made."
Reparations coupled with apology and payment of restitution by the government of the day are becoming a popular means of attempting to undo wrongs perpetrated against society's vulnerable classes by their governments. Only days ago, the British government expressed regret and offered compensation for acts of torture inflicted by the British colonial government on Kenyans fighting for liberation from colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s. Would such an approach work in Jamaica? I doubt it. Some years ago the Government announced it had established the National Committee on Reparations under the chairmanship of the late Professor Barry Chevannes. Beyond the initial announcement not much, if anything, has been heard of the work of this committee.
The Public Defender, a pragmatic man not given to illusions of grandeur, in his Tivoli Report strikes what appears to be a workable balance. In addition to recommending a commission of enquiry he recommends a process toward the economic, social and political transformation of Tivoli and similarly troubled communities. What we do with this recommendation will prove once and for all whether we are a nation of talkers only; not doers of the word.