Divisions then and divisions now...


Divisions then and divisions now...


Thursday, August 29, 2019

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Our two political parties are the problem. It is because of their role as Jamaica's managers.

Alternating in power since 1939, they set it firmly towards becoming a respected democracy. However, their sharing of authority for decisions has also, more than once, created a division of the country that has blocked its advance.

Harmful division of the country by the parties began in the late 1970s as the impact of their garrison creations — the conversion of poor communities into machines for electoral violence, played out across capital Kingston. The business sector was divided to the point of significant emigration. Civil society was divided; the majority siding heavily with the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The Church was divided; fundamentalist majority preaching against communism. The security forces were divided; the more militant even shooting up a Spanish Town People's National Party (PNP) meeting presided over by its topmost leaders.

This division was deep. It was both economic and ideological — the latter backed by international Cold War divisions. But digging below the communist-capitalist labels and connections, the issue for Jamaica was how and why not, in the pursuit of some level of equality, include the excluded black poorer classes. Heavy International Monetary Fund (IMF) policy on top of middle-class party and self-interest produced the decidedly negative 1980 response.

Division of the country returned 30 years later in 2009-10 over the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke. That was the surface issue. The real issue was about putting an end to the “mother of all garrisons” and to partisan divisiveness. The solution pointing to the deeper issue can be noted in the recommendations of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry — they were to address community deprivation and security forces reform.

In this instance, tables reversed, the large majority of the country was demanding Dudus's extradition. It took nine months before resisting Prime Minister Bruce Golding, and a handful of top JLP leaders, finally yielded. This assertion of the long overdue central authority of the State was a declaration of the unity of the country over partisan divisiveness. It was a profoundly important decision, even if delayed and horribly marred by the murderous behaviour of sections of the security forces.

Here now at the tail end of the 2010s the country is confronted, once again, by a division of the country over how to deal with the issue of violence and crime, specifically, and whether states of emergency are the right method. Backed by popular demand and the security forces, the JLP Administration took the line of extending them, only to be blocked by the Opposition's refusal to go along. From significant sections of civil society, private sector, and the Church has come a call for at least dialogue, and, from many, community social intervention.

The JLP has accused the PNP's refusal of being a partisan act, ignoring its claim that an extension would violate the constitution. Others, in turn, see partisanship in the JLP's state of emergency policy, arguing that continuous extension, because of their popularity, was a way, consciously selected, to ensure victory to the governing party.

The states of emergency talk is the surface issue, however. The deeper ground issue is the community empowerment and, along with it reform of the police. Since the 1990s, many wise heads have repeatedly urged these two elements, but have been largely ignored. The middle class character of the leadership has so far blinded both parties from appreciating, especially, the needs of the deprived lower-income classes. The JLP's reluctance to even dialogue can have no other source than partisanship.

The issue is not just one of method or 'approach', however, it is about the kind of society we want Jamaica to be — class-divided like now, an 'us-and-them' society, kept this way by middle-class political parties chiefly interested in their hold on power? Or is it to be an inclusive society, giving justice to all; that is, respect, some level of equality and a share in the country's growth and prosperity?

As Government takes its time to act — to suit an election timetable — many more will be maimed and killed, and even more will grieve.

Horace Levy is a member of the Peace Management Initiative and for many years he has been active in the non-government organisation community. Send comments to the Observer or halpeace.levy78@gmail.com.

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