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No justice, no peace

Will ZOSO have any long-term effect?

Paul Ward

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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Given the once-again escalating levels of violent crime in Jamaica, the Government passed the zones of special operations (ZOSO) Act in July 2017 premised on a 'clear, hold and build' approach. It allows particular crime-prone areas to be put under a quintessential state of emergency for initially 60 days, with extensions possible, involving curfews, cordons and searches of people, premises and vehicles with a warrant.

Mindful of the unchanging brutality of the police force, and especially the atrocities carried out in West Kingston in 2010, care was taken to build in safeguards against abuse of citizens by the security forces, both the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force. Whether these safeguards would work was anyone's guess, but most commentators were prepared to hope against hope (nothing more) that they would be effective.

At the same time, it was explicitly recognised that without serious social intervention and infrastructural support (the 'build' component), any reduction in crime resulting from the 'clear and hold' components would be short-lived. A broad-based social intervention committee, headed by the prime minister, was to be the driving force, although there were doubts that this was really more than just talk, given the unavailability of funds.

To most people's surprise, a small area in Montego Bay was designated as the first zone of special operations, announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on September 1, 2017, after consultation with the National Security Council. As with the Iraq war, the figures given to justify the choice were soon found to be complete exaggerations.

Taking this action could have been in response to what the International Monetary Fund and the local Economic Growth Council had been saying: that crime was hindering economic development. Concern for the safety of our poor, inner-city communities was probably secondary, given the usefulness of an exploitable 'reserve army of labour'. Selecting a small 0.4 square kilometre area in Montego Bay may have been the result of lobbying by tourism interests and the fear of tackling somewhere more daunting with a greater chance of failure.

Despite only one-third of the security personnel turning out on the first day, the operation went well in terms of quelling the violence. There were no reports of abuse by the security forces, only the inconvenience of the cordons and curfews. Most residents were thankful for the intervention, but did it really achieve very much?

As with the apprehension of Christopher “Dudus” Coke in 2010, criminals were given ample warning to escape before the arrival of the security forces, with possibly dire consequences for other communities. So was it about reducing violence or catching criminals — the answer remains deliberately unclear. Whether Mount Salem will remain peaceful after 60 days when the security forces withdraw is anyone's guess, and those who may have turned informer will be living in fear of reprisals.

But what of the social intervention? Still no budget, just a large and cumbersome committee that has begun surveying the situation and now recommending better garbage collection. Will there be a new community centre, upgrades to housing, schools and streets, income-generating projects, new self-sustaining community groups, etc, etc? Every commentator has pointed out that social interventions can take years to bear fruit, even if done properly. So what really is the plan, especially when such localised operations only move the violent crime to another area?

It comes down to Peter Tosh's refrain that peace is not enough — equal rights and justice must also be in the mix. But will this Administration be prepared to challenge the status quo which so suits the privileged (providing it doesn't boil over)? Will they break with paramilitary policing, at the same time finding the funds for wide-ranging social interventions and investments? Will they challenge the finance capitalists, including our local banks, who have Jamaica all too readily committed to the ideology of austerity?

ZOSO may be welcomed by troubled communities which are indeed boiling over. But such a piecemeal approach, even if abuse can be avoided, will surely not solve our more fundamental problems.

Paul Ward represents Campaign for Social & Economic Justice. Send comments to the Observer or pgward72@gmail.com.

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