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Containment Of Jamaican Gangs Is Not A Solution


Analysis prepared by Research Fellow Alex Sanchez

Containment in Their Shanty Towns is not a Solution: Constructive Engagement and not a Face-off between Gangs and New Jamaican Prime Minister is Needed

* Jamaica should be a paradise not just for tourists, but also for day-to-day citizens trying to live out their lives

* London's behavior towards its former colony based on deporting Jamaican criminals back to overcrowded Kingston jails does not do the job

* How much of the violence in Jamaica is gang-related and how much is politically-motivated?

* Jamaica does not need "chameleon" politics; it needs leadership

After three months in power, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding has his work cut out for him regarding national security issues, and the time for action is at hand. The proliferation of gang warfare is a growing cancer on the island, which, combined with corruption, political violence and common crime, creates a deadly pathological social cocktail that inevitably will prevent the nation from achieving its rightful place as a Caribbean leader. If some dramatic anti-crime and corruption program is not implemented in short order, the island's stature will undoubtedly deteriorate, leaving regional competitor Trinidad-Tobago in a much more favorable status within the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the local tourist industry suffering from grievous injury. More and more, Jamaica is being alluded to for its punishing problems with crime and not as an island in the sun. The two factors simply cannot coexist.

Past Jamaican governments have been successful at confining the gang problem to ghettos and shantytowns. This, however, does not mean that a solution had been found; it simply means that it was made to seem invisible, going mostly unseen by the well-off Jamaicans and, most importantly, by the thousands of tourists that pour into the island annually. Tourism is a critical part of the country's economy; Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett recently declared to the Jamaican American Chamber of Commerce that in 2006, the island attracted three million visitors and "cleared" $2 billion in revenue.

This is where the situation gets complicated; Kingston has attempted a policy of "containment" vis-à-vis its gangs, both regarding a very limited number of political crimes as well as the action of much more common apolitical street gangs, making their leaders de facto chieftains of skidding neighborhoods and tattered communities, as long as they do not hassle the tourists. The situation is slowly worsening, and while gang rumbles have not saturated the island's tourist resorts (which could very well prove disastrous to the industry in the very near future) they are apparently unstoppable. Solving this growing epidemic will be Golding's critical mission for his term in office. Jamaica may be a Caribbean paradise, but even in paradise there are deadly snakes and never has a potential victim been more vulnerable.

Golding Takes Charge

Bruce Golding ended the 18 years of rule by the People's National Party (PNP) and by becoming Jamaica's prime minister after being sworn in several months ago. He has been labeled a "chameleon" because of his shifting political ideology during the late 1990s. Until 1995, Golding was an important figure in the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), which was then controlled by Edward Seaga. Disagreements with Seaga prompted Golding to leave the JLP to form his own party, the National Democratic Movement (NDM). Golding's aim was to have a third party as an alternative to Jamaica's traditional two-party system and as a personal vehicle for his political ambitions. However, the NDM failed to gain what he thought of as the necessary popularity and Golding left the party that he had helped found and returned to the JLP in 2002.

It seems Golding's most recent change of heart proved the right one for his own political ambitions as he did eventually win the seat of Prime Minister. Furthermore, the JLP managed to achieve a slight legislative majority in the elections by gaining 33 seats in the 60-seat House of Representatives. The island's traditional ruling party, the PNP gained the other 27.

Among the members of Golding's 18-seat Cabinet are Dorothy Lightbourne, attorney-general and minister of justice, and Derrick Smith, minister of national security. Golding himself will hold the minister of defense position. The previous government had a 14-member Cabinet, and there has been persistent criticism that Golding is unnecessarily and expensively growing the government, including appointing ministers without portfolio.

According to the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), in one of his first decisions as prime minister, Golding, responding to various small caliber accusations involving various forays of complicity involving the country's police and constabulary, "called for the establishment of a single independent body that will investigate all cases of abuse and unlawful conduct by members of the security forces in Jamaica."

The Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF)

When he declared the necessity of creating an oversight institution for Jamaica's security forces, Golding declared that "the government will do everything possible to strengthen and support the police in combating crime and in the lawful execution of their duties. However, this cannot be at the expense of the constitutional rights of the people." It is unclear if such statements prompted the resignation on October 10 of Police Commissioner Lucius Thomas (as well as the head of the Jamaican Defense Forces, Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin). Golding accepted the resignation of both officers, even though Thomas gave no reason for his decision.

The magnitude of the problem is illustrated by events like that of June of this year when, in an effort to more effectively monitor crime on the island, the Jamaican government hired the British-based company Mason Communications Ltd. to install closed-circuit TV cameras at strategic spots across the island. Then Security Minister Peter Phillips said the cameras would be installed both in high-crime areas such as rural Clarendon parish, as well as the relatively crime-free resort cities of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios along the north coast. So far, it is unclear if the cameras have proven entirely effective in thwarting crime.

The reality of the situation is that the JCF is ill-equipped to handle the rising wave of violence. In 2005, the Jamaican police called for a wage increase, arguing that their monthly salary of $415 for a starting officer was not worth the risks they took daily. In addition, the badge of a JCF constable does not inspire any great amount of respect among gangs, not even enough to avoid routine attacks against the force. For example, in December 2006, a group of constables were on patrol in a vehicle in the community of Salt Spring. Their vehicle was shot at by unidentified gunmen, wounding three policemen. Due to attacks such as this one, the government has resorted to dispatching the Jamaican defense force as part of internal security operations, along with the regular police.

Don't Hurt the Tourists

At the beginning of the year, as violence spread throughout the island, particularly in St. James Parish, the government made the decision to regularly deploy troops as well as police officers to a number of locations, including St. James, home of the world-renowned Montego Bay resort, which reportedly receives over one million visitors a year and is traditionally Jamaica's most popular tourist destination. The deployment followed a January 2007 shootout in Montego Bay between police officers and gang members that left five dead. In addition, St. James Parish was one of the most violent areas in Jamaica during 2006, with a record 178 homicides, including the unsolved murder of an Australian national who was found slain in his hotel room at the resort.

It is evident that Kingston is very concerned over protecting its lucrative tourism industry, even if this means leaving neighborhood ghettos at the mercy of high levels of violence, as these areas do not receive the police attention they otherwise would deserve. Tourist resorts and communities populated by well-off Jamaicans are traditionally the areas that feature strong security. If Golding is true to his word about combating crime in Jamaica, he knows very well where the criminals are--not in the resorts but in the shanty towns. Sending security forces to protect tourists does not protect the general Jamaican population that Golding was elected to serve.

Gang Warfare or Political Violence?

The Western part of the capital city of Kingston, including neighborhoods like Trenchtown, have experienced the most violence of the entire island. Statistics indicate that in 2005 there were 1,671 homicides in Jamaica, an island of 2.8 million. The JCF says that overall homicides this year are up 12% and they are up 9% compared to last year. Of course, these statistics only reflect the crimes that are actually reported to the JCF, one can only imagine how much violence occurs that is not reported, and therefore not counted in statistics. A September 12 Associated Press article by Ben Fox explains that the "police estimate that about half the killings involve Jamaica's numerous gangs. A small number are thought to be attacks and counterattacks by supporters of the country's two main political factions [...] in the late 1970s and 1980s politicians encouraged and some say armed Kingston street gangs to intimidate opponents and rustle up votes. Hundreds of people were killed as a result."

Political violence is a huge overlapping issue: as early as July of this year, as the country was looking forward to the elections, there were a number of incidents in the community of Mountain View Avenue. One of these included shots fired at Joan Gordon-Welby the JLP candidate to the area. In a separate incident, Sanjay Ebanks, campaign manager for Welby, died of two gunshot wounds in Kingston's St. Andrew South Eastern district.

Later, in September, there were widespread attacks throughout the island that claimed a number of lives. According to reports, in one attack, four people were shot in Georges Valley. Another three people were murdered in the neighborhood of Mountain View Avenue in Kingston. The violence prompted a meeting between the public ombudsman Bishop Herro Blair and electoral officials; however the voting went on as planned.

Police blame much of the island's gun violence on street gangs who fight for control of the lucrative drug and extortion trade. The island is a major transshipment point for South American drugs. In 2004, there were a number of gun fights across Spanish Town, particularly after gang leader Oliver Smith was killed by unknown gunmen. The next year was a particularly bloody one for Jamaica; in May of that year, the violence became so widespread that business owners closed their shops for an afternoon across Kingston as a way to protest the government's ineffectiveness in controlling gang fights. In June 2007, the Jamaican police declared that a dispute between rival gangs led to the death of George Grant. Apparently, the man was tortured (fish hooks were found in his mouth), before he was beheaded, with his head being found in a bag.

It's Not Always Good to be Back Home

What to do with the Jamaican deportees that are sent back to the island has been a matter of grave concern to policymakers in Kingston for a long time. In June 2006, then-National Security Minister Stephen Philipps traveled to London to discuss with British authorities about the fate of Jamaican deportees being sent from the U.K. to its former colony. Philipps declared "among the issues that were raised by us included ways in assisting the re-induction of persons being deported into Jamaican society, where we do training programs and the like."

According to a December 6, 2006 report published by the CMC, "the majority of the 5,101 Caribbean nationals sent back to the region between the period 1 October 2005 and 22 October 2006 had criminal convictions. Jamaica received 1,364 deportees, Haiti 743, Trinidad & Tobago 298 and Guyana 244." Grenada's ambassador to Washington, Denis Antoine, was quoted as saying "you [the U.S.] get trained people, but you send back unwanted criminal deportees." He then added "we are saying that it hurts, because it hurts. Their intention is not to hurt us, we hope, but then if you are our friends and neighbors, please pay attention to it, that's what we are asking." Another December 2006 report by the CMC explains that, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security, more than 36,000 persons were deported to the Caribbean between 1998 and 2005; some 11,455 were sent to Jamaica.

Showing the other side of the coin regarding Kingston's interest in the scope of the deportee efforts, former minister Philipps was quoted, in a March 2007 New York Times article, as saying "we have intelligence that many of these criminal deportees come back and are at the center of some of the criminal organizations here, [...] in an ideal world, I wouldn't accept any deportee [...] but I acknowledge our obligations under international law.'"

Criminal offenses among the deportees are based on drug-related charges and bank robbery; however it is unclear how big the correlation is between the rise in crime in Jamaica and the influx of deportees. An April 2007 article by cracking investigative journalist Rory Carroll in the influential British daily The Guardian, explains that "many of the drug offenders are not gangsters, but 'mules,' such as Pauline Jackson, 45, a large, softly-spoken mother of five from a Kingston slum who was offered £2,500 to smuggle 41 cocaine pellets through Gatwick."

Gang violence was instigated in the 1970s and 1980s by the islands' political parties. Increased crime statistics in recent years may simply have to do with the government's inability to train its security forces and give them the necessary equipment to control gangs.

If anything, the Jamaican deportees are individuals who put yet another burden on an island known for having a weak economy, and being overly dependent on tourism. In addition, it creates strain and resentment from the part of Jamaican authorities who are receiving these "unwanted guests" from nations that they consider their friends, meaning the U.S. and the U.K. At a time when Jamaica has become a hub for the transshipment of illegal South American drugs, Washington is not following a coherent policy. By forcibly sending back individuals who, due to the poverty in the island, could eventually join some gang or become involved in drug trade as 'mules,' including formerly incarcerated Jamaicans found guilty in the U.S. and who have served hard time in the U.S. jails, Washington is guaranteeing that there will be a new generation of sophisticated criminals who will be able to take over the leadership of local Jamaican gangs.

Common Friends?

In order to assume his new position and duties, Golding took an oath before Sir Kenneth Hall, Governor General of Jamaica. Six thousand people attended the ceremony, many from overseas, which exemplifies Jamaica's continued relationship with the United Kingdom. The Governor General is the representative of the British monarch to Jamaica and holds reserve powers in case of emergency. Jamaica's relationship to the United Kingdom is that of two states that to an extent share a common history. For example, both are members of the Commonwealth of nations.

In the spirit of these historical ties, London has provided Kingston with considerable aid on security matters. In June, the Jamaican government hired Justin Felice, formerly of the Northern Ireland Police Service, to lead an anti-corruption unit in the Jamaican Constabulary Forces. Among other Britons taken on to provide leadership and skills to the Jamaican security forces is Mark Shields, a famed former Scotland Yard detective.

However, there is another side to London's security issues vis-à-vis Jamaica, shared by other countries like the U.S. and Canada. This issue is the deportation of Jamaican criminals from local communities abroad (particularly the U.K., U.S. and Canada) back to the island. A November 23, 2007 article in the Canadian daily The Toronto Star explains that more than 33,000 deportees have been returned to Jamaica in the past fifteen years. The article by Sandro Contenta explains that "between 2001 and 2004, Jamaica absorbed 2,700 deportees a year from the U.S., Britain and Canada - a huge influx, given that Jamaica's entire prison population in 2003 was only 4,744." The article provides a good analysis on the conflicting reports about who really are the deportees. The common perception is that the deportees are criminals who, after they are returned to the island, continue their illicit activities.

Other analysts argue that only a fraction of deportees are hardened criminals, and others are merely mal-adjusted individuals who are jolted both from being forced to be suddenly separated from their families, as well as being forced to return to their native country where they are often stigmatized as criminals. Contenta explains that "the average age of deportees was 35, placing them in an age group less likely to re-offend. And 81 per cent of people deported to Jamaica were convicted of non-violent crimes, including immigration-related matters, fraud and drugs."

An October 27 Press Association Newsfile article reports that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is seeking to draft a new policy regarding the thousands of expatriate prisoners in the U.K. prisons, including a large number of Jamaican nationals. The article explains that "many of the Jamaican inmates are female drug "mules," caught smuggling illegal substances into Britain. Any repatriation deals could therefore have a significant impact on the local drug market, by potentially encouraging smugglers to target the UK in the knowledge that mules could be sent straight home." Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook, said "there should be an element of discretion when repatriation is considered [...] Many of these couriers, particularly women, were forced into smuggling drugs by Jamaican gangs and are now housed in jails thousands of miles from their families and loved ones. An agreement with Jamaica would hopefully see many of them returned to that country, something that most would welcome." There are around 1,400 Jamaican prisoners currently in U.K. cells.

Declarations vs. Results

Prime Minister Golding has said that "corruption in Jamaica is much too easy. It is too risk-free [...] public officials will be impeached and removed from office if they are found guilty of corruption." He has also told the AP that he: "[gets] angry sometimes when I look at the capacity that we have, the resources that we have, the opportunities that we have had and how little use we have made of them."

Jamaica cannot reach its potential unless its numerous security issues have been solved, not simply contained. Gang violence, whether politically motivated or, more likely drug related, is part of the daily life that has, for a long time, been successfully contained to poor neighborhoods of the island, far from the tourist beaches and resorts. The containment wall is now being battered down and the tongues of violence are reaching the tourists and engulfing them, forcing the Jamaican government to recognize that it has a nationwide gang problem of immense implications for the nation's political and economic consequences. Jamaica's new Prime Minister, Bruce Golding has the position to transform Jamaica into a paradise, not just for tourists but for ordinary Jamaicans as well. Unfortunately, this is not an automatic process.

ENDS

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