Get past mere talk on dons, garrisons

Kevin Obrien Chang

Sunday, July 14, 2019

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In most cases, the problem is not that governments are weak; it is that they are complicit, deliberately supporting criminal groups for the sake of both power and enrichment. In Bangladesh, Jamaica, and Nigeria, for example, political parties hire criminal gangs to herd their voters to the polls during elections and scare away the opposition, then protect the gangs between campaigns. — https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/review-essay/2019-04-16/real-killer

Most Jamaicans consider dons and garrisons a main reason we are one of the world's most murderous countries. Our political leaders largely pretend they don't exist.

What are dons? Rachel Kleinfeld's A Savage Order gives a clear context.

“In... Jamaica... parties hire criminal gangs to herd their voters to the polls… and scare away the opposition, then protect the gangs between campaigns.”

The term don is common slang for the gang leaders, likely derived from mafia movies — think, Don Corleone.

Garrisons are constituencies, or even areas in constituencies, where don-led gangs use violence to ensure votes for their party. The harder the core garrison, the more one-sided.

In the 2016 General Election, four seats had a 5:1 or more party ratio. There are St Andrew South Western (94 per cent People's National Party [PNP]), St Andrew Southern (89 per cent PNP), Kingston Western (85 per cent Jamaica Labour Party [JLP]), and Kingston Eastern (83 per cent PNP). Are these results of good governance?

In the 1997 leadership debates, then National Democratic Movement (NDM) leader Bruce Golding challenged the PNP's P J Patterson and JLP's Edward Seaga to walk with him through garrisons to work to defuse political violence. Both Patterson and Seaga feigned ignorance of garrisons and dismissed a walk as pointless. Television ads attacked Golding's honest admission: “I have consorted with gunmen.”

In 2006, as JLP leader, Golding asked Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to walk with him through garrisons. She agreed. But neither mentioned walks again.

The matter rested until Prime Minister Andrew Holness's 2011 inauguration speech.

“Both political parties have it within them to mutually agree to end the social construct of the garrison... Let us start the process by getting the leaders to walk together in these areas of exclusion... Hopefully, this small step will lead to other steps that will eventually remove garrisons from our political landscape.”

Some 82 per cent of Jamaicans liked the idea.

( http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/82--say-leaders-should-walk-the-garrisons)

At the time, Opposition Leader Simpson Miller said no. “[She] rejected Holness's use of the term garrison to describe communities, as the term 'negatively affects the psyche of the honest, decent residents of these communities, but also elevates and emboldens criminal elements that live there'.

“...She does not consider any community in her constituency a garrison... [and] again called on the prime minister to stop labelling certain communities as garrisons.”

Presumably she got 90 per cent plus in every election because of high life quality representation?

( http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Portia-says-no-garrison-walk-until_10081675

http://m.jamaica-gleaner.com/news/article.php?id=33918)

Unlike predecessors, Holness followed through. “PM Andrew Holness made good on his inauguration day promise to invite the Opposition leader to work with him to end the garrison culture... a letter urging… Portia Simpson Miller to accompany him on a tour of communities with the garrison label and linked to both political parties, was sent.”

( http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Walk-with-me-Portia)

We never heard a reply. (Opposition leader quiet on PM's letter http://m.jamaica-gleaner.com/news/article.php?id=32870)

Holness tried again in the 2016 election run-up. The Jamaica Observer noted on December 3, 2015, 'Holness invites PNP to walk in Newlands, but Arnaldo Brown rejects offer'.

“Opposition Leader Andrew Holness yesterday toured sections of Newlands, where two people were killed on Tuesday, and extended an invitation to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to join him in a walk — as a gesture of unity and peace...”

( http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Unity-squabble_19241946)

As elected prime minister, Holness revisited the concept.

“PM Andrew Holness has extended another invitation to Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller to join him on a walk through some of Jamaica's garrisons. When Holness was sworn in as [prime minister]… in October 2011, he had shared his vision for dismantling garrisons.

Holness said then that Jamaicans should live in a free and fair political environment. He invited Simpson Miller on a tour of garrisons... She did not take up the offer. Holness extended it again yesterday.” There was no response. (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20160304/holness-again-makes-garrison-walk-invitation-simpson-miller)

Mea culpa or finger-pointing?

Last month, Member of Parliament (MP) Everald Warmington told Parliament that much of the criminal activity being perpetrated in the Corporate Area is to be blamed on members who use gangs as election tools.

“The problem is that people encourage gangs to fester and develop as an asset for them during elections, and after election when they turn loose, they make noise about it. What needs to be done is that all persons, whether you are MP... turn in the gang members.”'

( https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/warmington-accuses-colleague-mps-of-using-gangs-as-election-tools_168409?profile=1373)

Just before this, Prime Minister Holness urged police to cut links with dons.

( http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20190531/cut-links-dons-pm-warns-police)

Some said he should say the same to politicians.

( http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/commentary/20190605/john-brown-politicians-are-link)

Out of curiosity I googled “Dons Andrew Holness”. A long list of responses and articles came up on-screen. Here are a few:

1. 'Stop extorting schools, Holness message to thugs' (August 18, 2010; http://www.yardflex.com/2010/08/stop-extorting.html)

“I'm saying to the community dons, leave our schools alone,” Education Minister Holness said…”

2. 'PNP not interested in ridding country of garrison politics' January 31, 2016:

“Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has charged that the ruling [PNP] isn't interested in ridding Jamaica of garrison politics, which… fosters underperformance by political representatives and stifles implementation of good policies.

“Holness… wrote to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in 2011 and made several calls for both parties to join hands in tackling the issue, but to no avail.

“ 'I made a call to the prime minister to say, 'Let us walk in these areas. Let those garrison areas be exposed.' — I call them zones of exclusion. Let them be exposed to alternatives. Allow them to make their decision freely. Remove any form of enforcership that may exist.”

( http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Holness--PNP-not-interested-in-ridding-country-of-garrison-politics_50118)

3. 'Watch lists for dons, criminal masterminds' (March 1, 2018; http://www.loopjamaica.com/content/watch-lists-dons-criminal-masterminds-holness)

“Government will be moving aggressively against dons and gang leaders who are said to be the country's main violence producers.

“Prime Minister Holness said... that consideration is being given to placing these individuals on watch lists, with the collaboration of the courts… they would be subjected to enhanced surveillance and other measures.”

4. 'Dons are the new slavery masters' (August 1, 2018; http://www.rjrnewsonline.com/local/prime-minister-andrew-holnesss-emancipation-day-message)

“What would be incomprehensible to Sam Sharpe would be the organised violence of gangs and dons against their own people. Yes…the new oppressors, denying our people their freedom, the new slavery masters who use the gun, instead of the whip, to extort hard-working Jamaicans of their earnings to demand daughters as tribute from their mothers, and recruit our sons into the murderous gangs, to drive fear into entire communities through threat of pain and the enforcement of death.”

5. 'Reject the dons, they are not Robin Hood, they are criminals, says PM Holness' (November 6, 2018; http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Reject_the_dons,_they_are_not_Robin_Hood,_they_are_criminals,_says_PM_Holness?profile=1228)

“ 'The dons are illegitimate, evil, corrupt, and we must get them out of our society. And until we have this very strong, empowered youth who have that view, then the gang members will always feel like they have a little protection in their community. They must have no protection in their community, they are not Robin Hood, they have not served us. They are criminals, that's what they are and that's what we must call them,' said Holness.”

Civil society, social partnership groups, the private sector, the Church, the media have not publicly backed Holness's campaign against dons and garrisons. The PNP has been largely silent, and so mostly is the JLP, apart from Delroy Chuck. Might Warmington's challenge be a turning point?

The states of emergency give breathing room. But our obscene homicide rate is rooted in our political system. Jamaica cannot acheive normal murder levels until we admit dons and garrisons exist and emancipate ourselves from their political slavery.

Our prime minister must keep trying. Perhaps Opposition Leader Peter Phillips is more enlightened than Patterson, Seaga and Simpson Miller. Maybe he will accept a garrison walk invitation? We have to start somewhere.

Kevin Obrien Chang is a entrepreneur as well as a social and political commentator. Send comments to the Observer or kob.chang@fon


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