Columns

Who first gave Tivoli its guns?

Mark Wignall

Sunday, June 27, 2010    

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IF we should follow the narrative according to Eddie Seaga, the architect of Tivoli Gardens and Jamaica's most confrontational prime minister (1980 to 1989) and political leader (1974 to 2005), there are no guns in Tivoli Gardens.

When Seaga openly drank beer with Lester Lloyd 'Jim Brown' Coke (after 'Jim Brown' was freed of murdering eight men in Rema in 1984) in his 'Let bygones be bygones' meeting, and had declared the Shower Posse leader the protector of his community in 1992 as Seaga walked at the head of Coke's funeral procession, there were no guns in Tivoli Gardens, just doves, heavenly music, free housing, free electricity, free water supplies and a member of parliament prepared to defend his people against the background of those realities.

In 1974 when the well-liked and publicly decent Hugh Shearer gave in willingly to the hungry hounds in the JLP and Eddie Seaga was made JLP leader, it was two years into the leadership of Jamaica's most well-loved and highly popular prime minister Michael Manley. Some saw Manley as confrontational too, but the conventional wisdom of the times would declare that Manley brought the troubles on himself and was forced to defend his 'democratic socialist' dreams while struggling to define glaring social inequities and huge economic gaps between the few who had and those who had little but wanted more.

The conservative viewpoint after Manley had gone rogue in 1974 by declaring his Government democratic socialist was best summed up by a businessman I spoke with in the late 1970s. "Most of us uptown grew up poor. Manley is forcing this social equity thing on the people. He should just allow the times to deal with itself. With sufficient education everything will fall into place," he said.

Manley's rhetoric after 1974 indicated a man impatient with the political direction since Jamaica had gained independence in 1962. Then, unions had muscle but little clout in industrial relations legislation. Manley was of the view that a worker should have some 'ownership' in his job, that the rights of women should be enshrined in law and that the power of employers to hire and fire at will should be curtailed.

The private sector interests bristled.

As Manley's fiery tongue spurred a mass migration of the elite business class and much of the second-tier management class, so did the money follow, to various cities in the US and Canada. Manley followed that up with diplomatic and other flirtations with socialist countries and their far-left leadership -- Samora Machel of Mozambique, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Fidel Castro of Cuba.

Manley's friendship vs USA's interests

As Manley seemingly went on an irreversible path towards his democratic socialist heaven and spoke of walking with Castro "to the mountaintop" one got the distinct impression that among the small group which included Castro, Machel, Nyerere and other genuinely socialist leaders, Manley was the minor schoolboy on a hero-worship trip among his elders.

While Manley continued on his anti-American rant, many could not quite figure out exactly what had motivated him to move his politics and the people of this country (unwillingly) away from the traditional interests (read economic assistance, nearest, largest trading market) of the US and into the friendship of socialist countries which themselves were starved of many of the items which Manley desired for the development of the people of Jamaica.

Henry Kissinger, who was then the hard-nosed US secretary of state, had reminded all who would listen that America had no friends, only interests. And, reasonably, why should any country put friendship before interests?

In the period leading up to the 1976 general elections, violence took off in earnest. It was then no secret that new guns had come upon the Jamaican landscape, and it was argued that the firepower of the JCF was inferior to those of the gunmen aligned to the political parties.

Many left-leaning scholars began to write articles in reputable international publications outlining what they said was the unmistakable footprint of the CIA in Jamaica. If the CIA and the US had declared Castro and Cuba their mortal enemies from as far back as the failed CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 -- and the history available to us then had chronicled the CIA's involvement in Guyana, Chile and of course Cuba -- why should the CIA single out Jamaica as a country to be off its radar and direct involvement? Just by that reasoning alone, it is safe to surmise that the CIA was operating actively in Jamaica in the period when Manley was going off on his socialist rants and having Cubans all over Jamaica.

It mattered little how much genuine economic and infrastructural assistance the Cubans were laying out in Jamaica. In the geopolitical sphere, to the Americans, Jamaica was not just dancing too close to Castro; we were planning a more intimate date and a marriage was imminent.

Would ideology direct the flow of guns?

In the mid to late 1970s, at a time when Cold War tensions were being played out right across the globe between the US and its NATO allies and the Soviet Bloc and its satellites, Michael Manley's political direction placed Jamaica, a small island in America's backyard pond (the Caribbean Sea), in the cross-hairs of hostile US policy action.

The Bauxite Levy, a big hit at home, did not endear us to US corporate interests and the US State Department which saw Jamaica as just another sprat in the Caribbean pond and in the region falling under the influence of the Monroe Doctrine.

Manley's shift to the far left in 1974 and beyond, which seemingly came as a random pick out of a magic hat or as a result of him believing that the PNP's early dabbling with its socialist label did not fully mesh with the academic echoes of his London School of Economics days was 180 degrees apart from Seaga's embrace of free market capitalism, American style.

As it was known that gangs in the various garrison areas had pledged their guns to either the PNP or the JLP and it was common knowledge at street level that contrary to the present times, it was the politician who was mandated by the politics of the times to supply their goon squads with the tools of intimidation and death. If therefore the CIA had more than a presence in Jamaica at that time, any guns which came in through CIA facilitation would more than likely end up in the hands of JLP goons in JLP garrison communities.

None of us have seen these secret manifests and shipping schedules and neither have we been presented with end-user certificates in what had to be extremely covert action. With Manley threatening to walk with the Communist Fidel Castro "to the mountaintop" and the JLP fiercely criticising his politics and ideological direction, the JLP would be naturally seen as a friend, or at least, an interest to be pursued as long as its usefulness could be relied on.

What we do know is that killings by the gun rapidly increased in the 1976 to 1980 period during a time when the ideological divide in Jamaica mirrored that of the Cold War protagonists on the global stage.

The development of heavily armed, key garrison communities like Tivoli Gardens and other community pockets notionally loyal to the Opposition into the phase independent of the politics would be a sure fire way for the Americans to intervene, especially in the absence of an ideological divide.

'Dudus' may have arrived on the stage sometime after that ideological divide fizzled, but that by itself, that is, his independence and having the blessing of no global master, would have been his undoing.

What if Dudus doesn't talk?

A reader has suggested there may be more to the Dudus extradition than meets the eye. Last Thursday she wrote: 'I am an avid and regular reader of your columns but today I find it important to send you an e-mail because of the question you raised in your article published in today's Observer.

'The nation is hoping 'Dudus' Coke will live to spill the beans and, in doing so, reveal the identities of the persons who are accessories to his alleged illegal deeds. You know that most Jamaicans are happy for Presi to leave immediately and go to the USA to spill the beans on the big men, which includes prominent businessmen, private sector/corporate leaders, politicians, lawyers, senior police officers, etc who helped him to reach the high-profile influential and affluent don that he, 'Dudus', had become. However, the big question is, what if the USA does not offer 'Dudus' a plea bargain deal and instead puts him away for life? Was this the quid pro quo deal that the local authorities [had] with the USA that caused the immediate signing of the extradition request for Presi?'

Interesting and unusual position to take, especially as the vast majority of our people expect him to talk, and one that squares with the seeming ease with which the local authorities dealt with the matter towards the end.

Will the downtown tax continue?

If 'John' (not his real name) from somewhere downtown knows what he's talking about, the downtown tax is well, about and alive.

"Poor people haffi live. Di ting did done set aready. Wi know how fi run it because is a business and we is businessman," he says.

In built-up areas close to garrison pockets, the dons prey upon the rich and the not-so-rich so that the 'tax' can be collected to fund the community and the lifestyles of the enforcers. I have no hard evidence that Tivoli Gardens, Matthews Lane and other areas downtown that are partitioned by geographical politics engage in the collection of 'taxes', but maybe it is the tooth fairy who does it.

The owners of the stores downtown would never admit that they pay this extortion tax and it is rare that minibus drivers admit that they are forced to pay. But if a king has been toppled and it appears that the arrangements will be continuing, what has changed apart from personnel and hype?

Commissioner Ellington, over to you, sir.

observemark@gmail.com

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