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#1 Mar 23, 2018 8:25 pm

New Historian
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The roots of Jamaica’s tribal war

Everything you needed to survive in the ghetto - jobs, money, food, guns – all flowed from politics. Jamaica’s tribal war between PNP and JLP had spiraled out of control, into a never-ending series of street battles between brutal and well-armed gangs sponsored by both parties. Large sections of downtown, the so-called garrison constituencies, became no-go areas to anyone with sense – especially the police.

Ever since Jamaican politics began there was violence. In the sixties it was rocks and sticks with the occasional knife, but by the seventies it had graduated to M-16s and AK47s. Each new election saw ever-escalating violence, more atrocities, more bodies. Although the carnage was largely confined to the downtown war zones - Rema, Jungle, Tivoli Gardens and the (in)famous Trenchtown; the reality was that nowhere was safe.

When they weren’t waging war on opposing political gangs, out-of-work gunmen weren’t averse to a bit of “ordinary” crime and violence – and woe betide the poor citizens who fell victim to these angry armed men. Some of the stories of people held hostage in their own houses, and the rage of their captors, were spine-chilling. We all knew a good many – too many – who were affected by it, suffered from it, died from it.

Even the politicians couldn’t stop the violence, not that they tried too hard. Once they’d created the monster, it could easily turn on them if they tried to rein in its excesses. Each party had its gangs of well-armed gunmen complete with command and control structures. Opposing “field-marshal ginnerals” waged pitch battles using military tactics against each other – as well as the police and army. Despite the wringing of hands and plastic smiles of the politicians, war in the ghetto raged on, occasionally spilling over into our “safe” uptown areas. In Jamaica virtually any crime involved a gun, which increased exponentially the chances of a minor crime escalating to murder – and worse.

Both sides had their hard men; hardened street politicians who wouldn’t hesitate to arm their enforcers – and use them. But the PNP had one big advantage: power. Being the ruling party they had the whole range of governmental powers at their disposal; and they used them very well. This was the first time that known gangsters, drug dons and murderers became respectable government contractors. Like “Feathermop” and “Burry Boy” Blake, two of the PNP’s most lethal enforcers; paid millions under nicely padded government contracts. But Manley had created a killing machine he couldn’t control. When Burry Boy got gunned down in 1976, twenty thousand people attended his funeral, including Manley – who had to scurry with the rest of them when the mourners came under gunfire from a nearby JLP stronghold.

Then there was the Green Bay Massacre, in which five JLP gunmen (or harmless supporters, depending on your political persuasion) were lured into an ambush in a remote area of Hellshire and gunned down by the Jamaica Defence Force. It was only because of ineptitude why more weren’t killed.

“No angels died at Green Bay,” we were told by PNP Security Minister Dudley Thompson. But angels died in the Orange Street fire, when up to fifty armed men surrounded a tenement yard and hurled fire bombs, mowing down anyone who tried to escape the inferno. With a death toll reported to be eight children and three adults, this was a new low in Jamaican political violence. As usual the government set up some mealy-mouthed commission of enquiry, who tamely reported:

“Many dwelling houses were burnt to the ground, an untold amount personal belongings were destroyed; several lives of human beings and domestic animals were lost, and very little was left standing and intact shortly after midnight on the 19th May, 1976.” 

Yes we knew all that, but who did it? Ah, that they couldn’t say.

The government tried everything: state of emergency, Gun Court, roadblocks – nothing stemmed the carnage. Your average Jamaican constable didn’t exactly scare the pants off hardened criminals like Dennis Barth aka Copper, who wouldn’t hesitate to take on the police – and usually won. These were well armed, trained, professional criminals who didn’t think twice about shooting anyone who got in their way – or who didn’t. Copper met his end in a blaze of criminal glory leading a paramilitary-style attack on Caymanas Park Racetrack, going after the day’s lucrative cash takings.

Jamaica had become a stressful, unpleasant place. No matter how you tried to deny it, ignore it or hide from it, everyday life was overlaid with a constant miasma of fear. A nagging shadow in the back of your mind, a story you heard, a worry about your girlfriend, your wife, your mother driving home alone. You’d want to get the “I’m safe” call but most of the time you wouldn’t have a phone.

Many women flatly refused to venture out after dark unaccompanied by a male, but most of Jamaica’s womenfolk adopted a healthy attitude; that they weren’t going to be kept prisoners in their own homes. But everyone had burglar bars, let’s not be silly. The violence was everywhere.


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#2 Mar 24, 2018 7:56 am

Dancer
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Re: The roots of Jamaica’s tribal war

Very unpleasant reading .
'No wonder 'Ting' is wary of going back for even a sea bath.

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#3 Mar 24, 2018 10:17 am

New Historian
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Re: The roots of Jamaica’s tribal war

And it only got worse.

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#4 Mar 24, 2018 3:09 pm

Calypso
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Re: The roots of Jamaica’s tribal war

New Historian wrote:

And it only got worse.

NH you wrote a very factual article about Jamaica's struggle for political identity.  Gunfire, killing etc. are ingrained when the two opposition parties: JLP and PNP  compete for power.  From politics emerged the Jamaican mafia protecting  its designated ghetto territories. I, too remember chilling tales of kidnappings, decapitations, rapes ,etc.  Election is a dirty business in Jamaica and still is. Politicians give the poor little but they don't get it. In turn they end up paying too high of a price!

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#5 Mar 24, 2018 7:40 pm

houston
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Re: The roots of Jamaica’s tribal war

Why is that? Why the anger and violence?
Why the total disregard for human life?

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#6 Mar 25, 2018 7:38 am

Calypso
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Re: The roots of Jamaica’s tribal war

houston wrote:

Why is that? Why the anger and violence?
Why the total disregard for human life?


https://history.libraries.wsu.edu/sprin … n-jamaica/


It was inculcated into the cultures during the seventies by politicians.

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