Jamaica’s Sovereignty Saga, Crisis in the Caribbean Nation
Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, a political scientist, is Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs of York College, The City University of New York. A specialist on Caribbean security and related issues, he had published widely on those subjects,
British philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell once posited, “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you long have taken for granted.”
Some Caribbean people—in and out of the region—long have taken gang operations for granted. But the current Jamaican saga forces many individuals to raise several questions—about governance and other consequences for Jamaica , potential impact on Jamaica ’s dealings with the United States generally, and security implications for the Caribbean as a whole, among other things. I’ll address a few aspects of the first question here and leave attention to the others for another Opinion.
Fundamentally, the saga in the land of Marcus Garvey , Bob Marley, Rex Nettleford, and other Caribbean and world notables is a manifestation of the sovereignty of Jamaica being under siege.
Discussions about sovereignty often focus on its international dimension; freedom from outside interference; that no authority is legally above a state except that which a state’s leaders voluntarily confer on international bodies. This is the formal-legal aspect of sovereignty, and it’s a cardinal feature of international relations.
But there’s another key aspect of sovereignty, one related to a nation’s internal dynamics. As I explained in the book Drugs and Security in the Caribbean: Sovereignty Under Siege, this aspect, called “positive sovereignty,” pertains to the holders of state power not only being free from external interference, but also having the ability to deliver “political good” to citizens. Positive sovereignty pertains to governance, and it entails having the economic, public security, psychological, and other capabilities to articulate and enforce public policy. And, as I also showed in that book, the nexus between drugs and criminality plays out in ways such that in some societies, sovereignty is or can become under siege.
There are multiple aspects of this reality in the Jamaican context. Paradoxically, while the constituents of Tivoli Gardens and other garrisons have been instrumental in electing key state power holders, formal state power holders are not free to exercise sovereign power over garrison territory the way they do over places such as Montego Bay or Ocho Rios, unless the garrison power brokers—the posse dons—allow them.
So, under normal circumstances, the Jamaican Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defense Force are persona non grata in garrison areas. The posses provide their own law enforcement. Thus, in terms of law enforcement and public policy related to crime and justice, which are essential to governance and positive sovereignty, there is only a limited exercise of sovereignty by the Jamaican state over the entire national territorial and political space. Complicating things is the disrespect that, understandably, derives from acts of impunity by some policemen and corruption within some public security agencies.
Yet, it’s not just in this area that sovereignty is limited; the economic sphere also is implicated. What’s true for most societies is patent in Jamaica : economic inequalities are structural and poor communities cope with the relative deprivation often through complicity in or turning a bind eye to actions by criminal gangs or individuals that provide economic and social goods not provided by the state power holders.
Not that all residents in garrison communities are criminals. Nevertheless, in the context of survival realities, they recognize the locus of the political and economic power and their loyalties shift from the power holders of the official state to those within “their state.” This is especially when their power brokers are able to secure contracts from the formal state to help meet their economic and social needs. And, as we saw with the confrontation in Tivoli Gardens , some garrison residents are willing to die for their dons
Beyond all this, good governance and positive sovereignty require more than a mere modicum of trust in and credibility of the state power brokers. To say that Prime Minister Bruce Golding made Herculean political miscalculations is to put it nicely. Thus, it’s not mere conjecture to suggest that there’s a major reduction in the reservoir of trust and confidence by Jamaicans in him particularly and in the JLP government generally.
That Golding was able to survive a no-confidence motion on June 1 last, by 30 votes to 28, highlights and portends the governance difficulties he will face in ensuing months. This surely will complicate acceptance of his government’s articulation and enforcement of public policy by Jamaicans, not just at home but also in the Diaspora, which is a crucial constituency for several reasons.
The political inelegancies that precipitated the confrontation between the Jamaican state and the Tivoli Garden garrison state have colossal economic consequences for the entire nation. Space does not permit full examination here. But clearly funds must be found to pay for funerals, damaged property, overtime for policemen and soldiers, and increased police protection for government officials, Carolyn Gomes and Jamaicans for Justice leaders, and other citizens now facing credible death threats.
These obligations will have to be met in the context of economic stringencies that necessitated IMF assistance. Trade-off decisions on resource allocation will be essential. Even if—and it’s a big “IF”—the $US 1 billion in loans and grants Finance Minister Audley Shaw says are needed are actually acquired, the government will have to redirect funds. Consequently, less money will be available for critical social areas, such as housing, health care, and education. This will exacerbate the problem of delivering public goods to citizens generally, further undermining trust and political sovereignty.
Sadly, sovereignty is under siege in Jamaica . Surely, there are regional implications, but these will be addressed later.