Columns

Come clean on the 'Seventies'

Jason
McKay

Sunday, September 08, 2019

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I was in Russia some years ago and had the benefit of travelling off the beaten path to places like Siberia and other places less famous, but still quite fascinating.

During the tour I noted with approval how almost every conflict that resulted in loss of life was commemorated by some form of statue, shrine, or sanctum.

This made me think. There is none of this to memorialise the people killed in the undeclared civil war in Jamaica between 1976 and 1980. In fact, there is nothing in any history book at all. It is as if it did not happen.

The truth commission in South Africa, which was held in 1996, was designed to heal the wounds of a broken country. It allowed for the victims to ventilate their experiences and for the offenders to confess their crimes. This was, of course, limited to the period of apartheid and the brutality that accompanied it.

The fact that it pardoned the offenders for all crimes confessed has been a bone of contention for many, myself included. However, being a pragmatist, I understand that President Nelson Mandela was doing what he could to avoid furtherance of the civil war.

I am not sure what could be done about that period of our history that spanned 1976, or actually 1974 to 1980, but I know that it destroyed a prosperous country and laid the foundation for the gang culture that is destroying us today.

I think at the very least the few living who were part of this history need to have a frank conversation with the rest of us. This needs to happen fast, because the actors of that period are quickly dying out.

The loss of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga represents many things, and a lost opportunity to get an explanation for this period is certainly one. There does not have to be an inquisition to blame and condemn. There were only reasonable people involved. There must have been a good reason for the actions of all these good men.

I would have liked to ask former Prime Minister Michael Manley if he really intended to turn Jamaica into a communist country. If he did, I would have wanted to know why he felt this was necessary, and why he did not state this in his election manifesto.

I would have liked to ask him if the Jamaicans sent to Cuba to train were in fact being trained to participate in revolutionary activities. And, if he said 'yes', I would have liked him to explain why he used this process.

I would have liked to ask Seaga if he had felt so significantly threatened by this thrust that his party armed young men to combat it. And, if he said yes, I would have asked him to explain why he felt this method was necessary.

I would certainly ask both of them if foreign powers were involved with this illegal activity, and why would they choose to involve outsiders in our internal affairs. But they are both dead, and I cannot.

The process of unearthing the facts and recording our history should have been done years ago. I can understand why we missed the opportunity with Michael Manley, because he got ill while in office. But, not so with Seaga. He lived for over a decade past his public service.

There are very few of the pertinent people still alive, even fewer still serving. Time is running out. Thousands lost their lives and it is not recorded anywhere. It is not taught in our schools. This is a disservice to all who died. In fact, its omission is laying the foundation for it to happen again.

I do not think Jamaicans under 50 years old understand how much of a disgrace this period of our history was. Politicians openly endorsed and associated with killers. They defended them in the press and celebrated with them publicly when they beat criminal charges. It was as if criminals and killers became legitimised and were a functional part of our Government.

Murders increased to over 800 in 1980 from fewer than 200 in 1974. That is the equivalent of a murder rate of 5,000 per year in 2019, as compared to under 1,300 in 2013.

It is that over 800 dead in 1980 that makes the 1,400 last year seem acceptable. It changed our expectations. It changed our standards. It changed us. The history needs to be told. It needs to be explained.

The press needs to get involved in demanding this process. It was the press that brought an end to politicians attending the funerals of dons. It was the press that demanded a process in the issuance of Government contracts. It was the press that created police accountability.

To combat the current scourge of violence, we need to know how it began. We need to know why it began. And, we need to know why in the hell they did this to us.

— Feedback: jasonamckay@gmail.com


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