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BEHIND THE VIOLENCE IN JAMAICA


     

In

early July, Jamaica made headlines. Before the repressive forces had restored

"order" more than 25 people lay dead. Some had been shot in the back of the

head, others at close range. One witness reported that he heard pleas for mercy

from inside one of the houses where the Jamaica Defense Force and police fired

at their supposed attackers. The victims were mostly young men from Tivoli

Gardens in West Kingston, an area that has served as the base for former Primer

Minister Edward Seaga and currently leader of the opposition Jamaican Labor

Party.            

Seaga

used gang violence as a political weapon in 1976 and 1980 when I was making

campaign films for the People’s National Party under Prime Minister Michael

Manley. I witnessed Seaga’s thugs use arson and gun terror as tactics to scare

and alienate voters from Manley. Seaga at this time in 1976 and 1980 also

enjoyed backing from the CIA. Manley strove, in vain, to forge a path of genuine

independence, which brought a hostile response from Washington. Manley announced

his neutrality in the Cold War, pushed the non-aligned nations groups and

pursued friendship to neighboring Cuba. Manley took the lead among the

Commonwealth nations in attacking the apartheid government in South Africa and

he backed Castro’s dispatch of troops to Angola to save its fragile independence

from attacking armies from South Africa and Zaire — policies that annoyed

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

At

home, he tried to make Jamaica as self sufficient in food as possible and to

limit oil imports. Using a levy on bauxite to finance some of the reforms, he

built housing for the poor and undertook a series of measures to bring the

bottom classes higher on the social ladder.            

The

world financial elite retaliated against these "radical" polices. Jamaica’s

ability to get loans and credit suffered as Jamaica’s business elite

simultaneously withdrew their money from Jamaican banks and refused to invest.

By 1977, Manley reluctantly accepted International Monetarv Fund support. But

subsequently Manley’s government did not pass the IMF tests because he allocated

too large a part of Jamaica’s budget to reforms that IMF officials believed

maintained inflated wage levels. In this period, Jamaican leaders still behaved

as if they, and not the world financial elite, controlled the economy. But

without money they could not run the country, so they finally submitted to IMF

"discipline." The Jamaican currency was devalued, subsidies for the poor were

cut along with other government programs designed to help the poor and maintain

some food self sufficiency.

In

1980, Jamaicans suffered not only from the effects being IMF’d, but also from

the high oil and low sugar prices. By 1980 oil prices had risen from $8 to $32 a

barrel. Add to the economic hardships, the campaign of gun violence, which

reduced tourism in Jamaica and, predictably, Manley and his People’s National

Party lost the election.

Some

21 years ago, I witnessed a near assassination attempt against Manley. I also

saw the results of the violence campaign: hundreds of dead, almost all poor

people. In one case, thugs torched a residential community and shot people as

they tried to escape the flames.

The

People’s National Party used its own gangs as well and often narco-trafficking

and gang violence became hopelessly confused. From 1980 on, possessing state

power in Jamaica meant rewarding friends and relatives. It ceased mattering

which Party won elections because control of the nation’s economic policy lay in

the hands of foreign banks and corporations and international lending agencies.

The gangs from both parties continued to thrive, however. But unlike the Manley

years, gang violence now had little to do with political differences. Gangs

dealt in drugs and other illicit activities, but the police and military

slaughter of civilians in early July had little to do with policy differences.

Rather, it exemplifies a situation common in the third world where the military

and police massacre rival armed gangs who might compete with them for control.

Under

Prime Minister Patterson, the People’s National Party now runs the Jamaican

State, but the corporate globalizers control its economy. The military and

police in Jamaica as in other third world nations enjoy a certain autonomy.

Operating under the façade of democracy, they establish their rules, one of

which is assuring their monopoly over the means of violence. Politics has ceased

to exist in anyn meaningful sense when the politicians lost control of the

budget.

I

recall visiting Michael Manley who won re-election in 1989 — now as a free

market promoter. I asked him what he planned to do.

"Either unblock the roads, clogged by Hurricane Andrew, or raise teacher’s pay

to keep schools operating," he said. "The current budget lacks money to do both

– or anything else," he sighed.

That

statement and the recent violence epitomize conditions in Jamaica and in much of

the third world, among the reasons that people demonstrate against this new

world order — wherever its leaders meet.

 

 

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