Columns

Who first gave them guns?

Mark Wignall

Sunday, June 17, 2012    

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TO me it seems to be more than speculation that it was the CIA which first armed Tivoli Gardens.

Many of us with JLP sympathies would want to believe otherwise and accept that what took place in Jamaican politics in the latter part of the 1970s was purely mismanagement of the economy by then Prime Minister Michael Manley.

Many studies have been done of that period and a few have attempted to determine what brought about the sudden influx of automatic weaponry and assault rifles into the hands of criminals who were parading as protectors of their respective political turf.

What these studies have failed to do is bring focus to bear on stemming the tide of the guns and ammunition. Events in May 2010 tell us that the criminal gunman network had matured beyond the activist gunman of the 1970s, genuflecting before his political master.

Events in 2010 laid bare the reality that the power of the gun had reversed the relationship between the politician and his client gunman. The gun, the international trade in illicit drugs, and holding to ransom entire communities as protectorates had freed the gunman of the 1970s from his political master. In 2010, the master was the gunman and the politician who had brought his Frankenstein's monster to full adulthood had become an almost hapless outsider, looking on and seeking audience, all at the pleasure of the criminal gunman.

How did we come to this?

We know that politicians and union leaders in the early years of our political development were always natural magnets to street thugs. What the politician launched in a political campaign speech could always be completed by his politically connected thugs at street level. What the union boss could not complete at the negotiating table was finalised by street toughs threatening the bosses with bloody murder as they left the safe confines of the boardroom.

Not all politicians were comfortable with the arrangements, but many of them accepted the 'natural order of things' and created layers of authority between themselves and the gun in the belief that what was not directly authorised by them freed them of culpability.

In the 1970s the PNP's Michael Manley's 'anti-imperialist' rhetoric was seemingly highly reflective of the antagonism that the Americans had towards him as he spoke of democratic socialism and walking to the mountaintop with Fidel Castro. In the Opposition JLP, Eddie Seaga who had become leader of the party in 1974, was 180 degrees apart in ideology.

Like Bustamante of the 1960s, Seaga was firmly with the West and a hard-nosed pragmatist. Manley was a more dreamer political leader and saw the world as his stage. Manley was a charmer and easily likeable, while Seaga was a fire breather who needed a crisis to beat back the political capital that Manley had in excess.

Manley talks, the CIA acts

Even before the CIA put together a ragtag 'army' of 1,500 mercenaries at the botched Bay of Pigs Cuban 'invasion' in 1961, Castro was made out to be the sworn enemy of the USA.

At the height of the Cold War (which ran from 1945 to 1989) in the 1970s Michael was cosying up to every leftist radical that the world could throw up. Before that, the USA had not only the persistent paranoia of the CIA to contend with, but the reality of the Cubans installing Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in Cuba, America's backyard.

One year after the highly trained Cuban army had demolished the invaders at the Bay of Pigs, the world held its breath for 13 days as the US and the USSR had a tense stand-off before the Russians agreed to dismantle and return all of what was on the ground in Cuba or enroute to the island.

No one had to spell it out to Manley that the US would not take kindly to anyone cozying up to Castro while spouting such anti-American platform speeches in Jamaica and on the world stage. I am not here making out a case for the need for Manley to have made himself impotent before America, its Monroe Doctrine, and the idea that in the world it is not just an exceptional nation but the exceptional one.

To me, Manley should have seen it coming.

Between the mid-1970s and 1980, the terrorist gunman appeared on the scene and our lives were made into a living hell. No community was as feared or armed as was Tivoli Gardens.

What happened in the almost constant carnage that took place from 1976 and came to a bone-chilling crescendo in 1980?

Tivoli Gardens blossomed out not only in high-rise housing units for JLP-only in the 1970s, but it became the power base of the JLP and the community from which the JLP would launch its 'defensive' gun attacks on PNP-controlled areas.

As Manley opened up his social agenda package and announced his Government as democratic socialist in 1974 he began cosying up to Cuba's Castro. Taking on the responsibility as the de facto world leader of the non-communist, 'progressive' nations, Manley's fiery rhetoric brought more attention to himself than he had bargained for from the Americans, and especially the hawkish Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

In telling those who disagreed with his new political directions that they could opt for 'five flights a day to Miami', significant sections of the upper middle class began to vote with their feet, hopping on those very flights along with one-way tickets to Canada and Britain.

The society began spinning out of control in violence and economic uncertainty and the Americans could not afford Manley and the PNP in that dispensation beyond 1980. Knowing what many of us have long known about the CIA, it takes a stretch of geopolitical naivety to not believe that it was the CIA which first armed street forces loyal to the JLP and introduced the high-powered rifles into our already violent lives.

If we accept that, it is also par for the course to believe that the Cubans would also provide the PNP's street forces with weapons as blowback to the relatively awesome weaponry that the JLP had. It is a fact that after the PNP lost the general elections of 1980 criminal gunmen, allied to the PNP, who had committed murder at home sought and were given refuge in Cuba.

Why was this so? Quite possibly because Cuba had seen the gun carnage in Jamaica in 1976 to 1980 as a straight fight between the 'progressive' forces (PNP) and what had to have been seen as the 'reactionary' JLP supported by the CIA.

Expect no answers from our politicians or diplomats in earshot. In 1997, Bruce Golding, as head of the National Democratic Movement, came closest to a politician admitting that our politics was finely interwoven with the gun. It is indeed the epitome of ironies that he as prime minister in a JLP Administration in 2010 was seen to be protective of Jamaica's most notorious don.

The CIA has never been shy of using drugs to finance its dirty tricks, as it did in Laos in the 1960s, in the process making nearly a third of its soldiers in Vietnam heroin addicts. Is it therefore far-fetched or wildly speculative to believe that Jim Brown's ascendancy to 'higher heights' in Tivoli Gardens was ably assisted by the CIA, after which, even without CIA help, the momentum took Tivoli and those who came after Jim Brown to even more dizzying towers of power?

There will be no truth and reconciliation because Jamaica is still at that brutish stage where there is no utility value to doing the right thing.

The failure of the Jamaican male

A reader named Raymond Grant sent me a most interesting take of his view of the Jamaican male.

It is a position which I share. According to Mr Grant, ‘I am now retired and work in the food industry, mostly in schools where I reorganise the schools’ canteens to serve the interests of the students. You have my full permission to do what you think is necessary to get the message out.’

According to Mr Grant, Jamaica has several issues which mitigate its performance and there are two major ones which prevent it from increasing its productivity. He makes the bold step in asserting that the two main performance failures are the public sector and the Jamaican male.

He accepts the fact that studies have shown the public sector to be generally, woefully inefficient and although several pockets of workers deserve to be made redundant, it is highly unlikely that any government would risk the political capital to act decisively.

Mr Grant’s piece is carried in full.

‘Since 1970 Jamaica’s economic development and economic growth have been disappointing and underperformed most other countries in the region. Our leaders are not laying the foundation for economic development by addressing deep social issues.

‘No amount of IMF support, lower interest rates, energy policy, ICT, etc, will have any significant impact on the development of Jamaica until we effectively address the underperformance of the Jamaican male.

‘I have worked in the industrial field for 40 years, and five years in the school system, and have a unique perspective of the father’s behaviour over the years.

‘On Friday afternoons at sugar estates, bauxite companies and construction sites, you will observe hundreds of women with their children waiting for the fathers to leave work so that they can get some money to feed and clothe their children.’

Years ago when I worked in the shipping industry I observed the very same thing that Mr Grant speaks of. In some instances the baby mothers would wait outside bars and often, very unpleasant spats would occur.

Mr Grant continues.

‘I have spoken with hundreds of mothers over the years, and the story is the same, they receive inadequate support for their children.

‘In the schools, it is the same. Children are sent to school, sometimes with only the bus fare to reach school, and no lunch money or return bus fare. They have to fend for themselves. How they survive, only God knows.

‘I have spoken with hundreds of fathers over the years about their children, and in most situations the answers are the same, ask the mothers.

‘I have concluded that less than 25 per cent of Jamaican fathers support their children adequately.’

A week ago, I was in discussion with a well-connected person who told me of a minister in the last Administration who has consistently refused to support his children financially. I know of a well-heeled businessman who has had to be taken to court to support his two teenage children. It is not just the little man steeped in ignorance or existing off odd jobs. It happens at the top of society.

Says Mr Grant, ‘In the workplace, in which I am most familiar, I have also concluded that less than 25 per cent of the male staff perform adequately. Ask any business leader, any bank manager, or for that matter, any construction foreman, and he will tell you that the female workers outperform the male workers.

‘Step down a bit in the lower age group and take a careful look at the University of the West Indies and University of Technology, and you will observe the ratio of male students to female students, it is frightening: 70 per cent female to 30 per cent male. What is more interesting is at the primary level the ratio is almost even, but as the age group increases the ratio increases with the male performing at a lower level. This, in my opinion, is attributed to the lack of support from fathers in our society. Almost all the social ills in Jamaica can be traced back to the absence of the fathers in the homes.

‘This is a basis for concern, and all leaders must come together and deal with this issue. If not, 10 years from now Jamaica will still be talking about the high levels of crime, low levels of human capital, poor education, low productivity and insufficient training of the labour force.

‘Can we change the culture? Of course we can, but it will not be easy, because it is going to be a battle of the minds and the hearts.

‘The natural order of man is to care for the family. Maybe we have been taught to care less for our children. Our leaders, that is, politicians, religious figures, businessmen, and civil society must step up and face the Jamaican male. What makes great leaders is the capacity to change the country through the spoken word, to move the country to do better than it thinks it can with the English Language.

‘It must be tackled from three perspectives — the law, persuasion in changing how the Jamaican male think, and his value systems. It will not be easy, because to change the culture of any country requires deep thought and persuasion, but it can be done, and must be done.

‘From 1992-2008, a period of 16 years, for eight of those years productivity was negative. (Source: World Bank – report # 60374-JM May 26, 2011)

‘Jamaica has a low level of human capital, and insufficient training of its labour force; therefore, the productivity output remains low. China had the same problem, and reversed it, and then presented its credentials to the world and got the investments in manufacturing, which enabled it to move 350 million of its people out of poverty in 20 years.

‘The Chinese model recommends itself, not politically, but economically. We have our deep democratic roots, which must be preserved. What is there to stop Jamaica from doing the same on a smaller scale? It is all about education and training. It is all about working hard and smart. We can do it and lift 300,000 people out of poverty in five years.

‘China’s labour rates have started to climb, and Mexico will benefit from that development, and so can Jamaica if we take the necessary steps now, but first, we must fix the male problem.’

observemark@gmail.com

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