Kingston, Jamaica has indeed provided a battleground upon which political opposition exploded into cinder block warfare, at certain times connected to a larger network of wars popularly considered Cold in our history books. Loyalty to either one of the two political parties in Jamaica, PNP and JLP (the ones that receive the most votes) places supporters of either side in potential crossfire. Include a long history of poverty and therefore the potential for tendencies to defy conventional law and we’re left with a city, troubled, yes, but indeed informative as to the far extent to which politics can be taken by people and the extent to which politics can dictate underworld dealings and vice versa.
The space between the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP) has been hot with killings in the past. Less so, now. But in the seventies and eighties, a person could be exiting the downtown Carib Movie Theater at the brink of government instated curfew: Mind you get tapped on the chest with the lips of an M16. Tracing the M16 up the ranks would bring one to Jamaica House, the highest tier of power in Jamaica and then to America where the gun was manufactured. During those days, the national military, the Jamaican Defence Force acted as a sort of rubber between two colliding bricks (because the police alone couldn’t handle it), hence the curfew to curb political civil war. Of course, they had their rogue moments. As the US government often supported armies around the globe to suit its interests, some militias also received American sponsorship. That of the JLP was bountifully supported by the US because remember: the “Cold” War was one fought essentially between M16s and AK-47s (and then some of course) worldwide. So JLP militias had American issued weapons and PNP militias had the AKs from Russia or whatever else could be used. Seen?
The leader of PNP, Michael Manley countered JLP leaders in their focus to allow for Jamaica’s resources to be exploited by foreign Western countries. Manley, the Prime Minister between 1972 and 1980, wanted free education for all, decent healthcare and the nationalization of the island’s natural resources. Some say he tried to bring socialism to Jamaica. Run for the hills! Despite the seemingly benign platform of PNP, the party still had their gunmen around the city functioning as political mercenaries.
A book of Michael Manley’s, published in 1991, entitled The Poverty of Nations explains the gradual process of how pluralistic European mercantilism evolved into the global consolidated system today that we know as Capitalism and how this development prevented much of any development to occur in the Caribbean and other places classed in the “Third World”. (Who knows how the old Adam Smith would’ve reacted). The leader of the JLP during the time of Michael Manley, Edward Seaga, supported United Brands Company’s mastery over Jamaican fruits grown by Jamaican farmers. On a back-to-school special at the beginning of September 2012, on TV Jamaica (TVJ), the still-living Seaga expressed his opinion that if children have any special needs or learning disabilities, they must sort them out before entering the class room, as if the class room or at least a school couldn’t possibly be a place where issues in learning should be dealt with.
A glimpse alone at JLP and PNP reveals the staunch divisions between them that still exist today. But these divisions surpass those of Democrats and Republicans in severity. No shots are ‘licked’ in the air during our State of the Union for example. Laypeople in America can “talk politics” anywhere essentially. And to equate JLP and PNP to the Bloods and the Crips would be very much limiting the seriousness behind the causes and motives advocated by Jamaican political parties and followers.
Today, in Jamaica, at least in Kingston, political fervor trickles down onto the streets, the ally ways, and the gullies. Many walls are colorful with tags ranging from “Gully God” to “Gaza” to “Garrison”, and from “PNP” to “JLP” all making claims to groups, armed and willing. On these levels, political issues have marginal importance compared to how the political party bosses aid and supply their respective constituents. The relations between the politicians and the constituents matter most. In an impoverished area, one would most likely support and defend the cause of men who warrant the building of a hospital in the neighborhood or whoever provides money and resources to supporters. Party bosses did this to hold onto support. This was a manipulatory practice. People have been shot dead solely for supporting the opposite party, not because they believe in the nationalization of bauxite mines for example. Party bosses puppeteered street militia battles for their own ends essentially. But also, at times, organized criminals have actually exercised their own sway over politicians, blurring the sources of power during political civil strife in the concrete jungle.
In the 1960s, Seaga, the JLP party boss, built Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston (near Trenchtown). So, Tivoli Gardens, considered a “political garrison” (basically an urban warzone) has remained a JLP neighborhood full of JLP supporters. Ever since its construction, it has become the most violent part of Kingston, Jamaica. Political warfare has spilled viscous crimson all over the concrete. An article from the Jamaica Observer, explains how during the development of this area, “the original residents were forced out and replaced with Seaga’s supporters.” Later, the campaign for Seaga’s “bid for power in the 1980 elections…ended with more than 800 murders.” And violence continues as long as common people serve party bosses and party bosses, the organized criminals rather than people serving the very causes themselves. A chronology of the life of Jim Brown, the Jamaican organized criminal, and his son Christopher “who had succeeded [his father] as Tivoli’s informal monarch following the patriarch’s tragic death in 1992”, gives accounts as to how the underworld can drive politics. Jim Brown was mysteriously burnt to death in Gun Court, a Kingston jail.
Today, Portia Simpon-Miller of PNP is Jamaica’s prime minister. This year marks the 50 years of Jamaican independence from Great Britain. Even though Total Petroleum is everywhere saying Bonjour to everyone. Even though LIME, the British owned communications provider, nearly has a monopoly on mobile phone systems in Jamaica. This is the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, while people may still die in the streets for wearing PNP colors (orange) in a JLP (green) neighborhood, all contributing to a political opposition that precedes 1962, the year of Jamaican independence, by nearly twenty years.