Jamaican armed forces surround and storm poor neighbourhood
TIVOLI GARDENS in Kingston, Jamaica's first public housing estate, resembled a war zone after armed police, backed by the army, fought their way into the neighbourhood to arrest alleged drug boss Christopher "Dudus" Coke and to suppress the "Shower Posse" - his loyal armed supporters who had erected street barricades as an act of defiance to the authorities. At the time of writing, Dudus continues to elude the police manhunt.
The house-to-house military operation, which began last weekend, has left scores of people dead and injured. Hundreds have been arrested, and a 30-day state of emergency has been declared in two parishes.
Desperate residents, trapped in their homes, called the local radio station describing scenes of utter mayhem, with dead bodies left uncollected on the streets and of having to lie on the floor of their homes to avoid the ricocheting bullets.
Ordinary people were caught in the crossfire between armed gang members and an unrestrained police force, which is notoriously corrupt and brutal. Even the minister of education admitted on the BBC World Service that "we are concerned that there might be human rights violations."
The area under assault is represented in parliament by prime minister Bruce Golding of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). This right wing party has nothing in common with workers' organisations but instead has a history of carrying out neo-liberal economic policies on behalf of US imperialism.
Media sources say Golding is clearly linked to Coke and the Shower Posse. And according to the New York Times, Coke has a consulting company in Jamaica that has earned millions of dollars in government contracts.
Many commentators believe that Golding's seeming reluctance to act on a longstanding US Justice Department request to extradite Coke to America to stand trial on drug trafficking in the US and other criminal charges, is because Coke was on the payroll of the prime minister. Coke's lawyer, until the extradition order, was Tom Tavares-Finson, who is also a JLP senator.
Since the 1970s, both the JLP and the rival People's National Party (PNP) have benefitted from the criminal gangs that control different neighbourhoods of the capital Kingston and who can be relied on to mobilise each party's vote.
The US authorities actively sought to destabilise the left-leaning PNP government in the 1970s, which at that time had widespread support from Jamaica's workers and poor.
Led by Michael Manley the PNP won the 1972 election. Manley nationalised a number of industries and introduced popular reforms in health and education provision. He also introduced price controls on a number of key products and provided consumer subsidies for others. Internationally, he established friendly relations with Cuba, which alarmed the US government.
But similar to the experience of Salvador Allende's 1970-73 reformist government in Chile, the PNP's failure to take bold and decisive measures to overturn capitalism and transform society to socialism eventually led to economic crisis and chronic instability. It demonstrated that there can be no 'half-way house' to socialism.
Hit by a world recession and a massive hike in oil prices, unemployment increased (reaching an estimated 40% in some parts of Jamaica). Capitalist financial speculation, rampant inflation and a chronic shortage of foreign exchange and investment meant that living standards declined.
The 1976 election was also marked by widespread violence when JLP gangs, believed to be armed with guns supplied by the US CIA spy agency, murdered hundreds of PNP supporters including Roy McGann, a PNP MP.
Despite the intimidation and economic crisis Manley's party won the election. However, the PNP leadership turned to the capitalist International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial assistance. The IMF demanded cuts in government spending and inevitably the pressures of capitalism to reverse the social reforms led to widespread disillusion with the PNP.
These conditions led to the sweeping victory of the Edward Seaga-led JLP in the 1980 general election, winning 59% of the vote and 51 seats compared to 41% and only nine seats for the PNP. As many as 800 people died in violence during this election.
The JLP proceeded to carry out IMF dictates and swingeing austerity measures were introduced. Seaga responded to US pressure and severed diplomatic ties with Cuba. In 1983, Jamaican forces participated in the US invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada which overthrew the left wing government there.
Having been re-elected in 1989, Manley retired in 1992. The PNP was now under the leadership of Percival Patterson who shifted the party much further to the political right to embrace market-oriented policies.
The economy today continues to be in a weak state, dependent on earnings from tourism, bauxite mining and from remittances from Jamaicans abroad, the latter accounting for 20% of GDP.
Between 1995 and 2005 the Jamaican economy grew by only 0.7% (sixth lowest in the world) and actually contracted by 4% in 2009. The economy remains heavily indebted. Last year, once again, the government was forced to go cap in hand to the IMF for assistance.
Unemployment remains high and poverty and social inequality is widespread. These chronic social problems have fuelled the drug trade and associated gang culture.
The armed party militias established in the 1970s have evolved into criminal gangs dealing in drugs and are involved in violent feuding for territorial control. Jamaica today has the unenviable record of being one of the most dangerous places on the planet with 1,500 people murdered each year out of a population of three million.
Even charities fear to venture into desperately poor areas like Tivoli Gardens which have been abandoned by the state agencies and are ruled over by the likes of Dudus Coke, who dispenses his largesse to the poor like a feudal lord.
Underlying the present conflict is a distorted class struggle. According to the author Ian Thompson: "Politics in Jamaica is often about resources: if the JLP lose an election, Tivoli Gardens stands to lose the housing schemes, public contracts, firearms and other favours politicians have promised in return for votes" (The Guardian, 25 May).
Decades of poverty and despair amongst the majority of the population, while the Jamaican elite and foreign capitalists extract wealth and profits from the workers and poor, amply illustrates the failure of capitalism to provide an optimistic future.
Only through the workers' organisations absorbing the lessons of the history and experiences of working class struggles throughout the Americas, can the basis be laid for a successful new workers' political party to develop. Such a party, equipped with a political programme for the socialist transformation of society and linked to an international perspective of struggle against imperialism, could rapidly challenge the Jamaican ruling elite and its rotten system.
In The Socialist 2 June 2010:
British Airways cabin crew strike
Environment and socialism
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party LGBT
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis