Monday, May 13, 2013

Let us have a Garrison Inquiry

by Jean Lowrie-Chin  

Observer column | Mon 13 May 2013
PNP president Portia Simpson Miller and JLP leader Andrew Holness will again see their parties go against each other on March 26, almost three months after the general elections- photo illustration
An appeal to our leaders to make all Jamaicans fully free (Composite photo of PM Simpson Miller and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness - from
Having suffered through that daily soap opera aka ‘The Manatt Inquiry’ and still smarting from the unfinished Finsac Inquiry, Jamaicans are wary about yet another inquiry into the Tivoli incursion announced by the Government.  I believe that this could be a meaningful exercise – one which could actually change the course of Jamaica’s history, if the inquiry were widened to explore allegations of other existing garrisons in both JLP and PNP constituencies. No honest politician could object to such an exercise.
After ensuring that we have gathered credible information on the Tivoli incursion, we could then move to the conditions in other alleged garrisons. Finally, we would be able to hear from residents in these areas, the challenges they face in doing such simple activities as crossing from one side of the road to the other when that road is declared the ‘border’ between a ‘JLP section’ and a ‘PNP section’.  Many of us know first-hand of these communities.  We see the pious political representatives singing hymns at church services, while their constituents dare not negotiate certain corners to arrive at that very church.
In one community I know, an outreach organization had set up evening classes but the attendance kept falling.  It turned out that, because classes ended after a certain hour they could not safely walk past a ‘zone’ to get home. 
A letter from Talk-Show host Joan Williams published in the Jamaica Observer last Tuesday gives us a sobering account of garrison living:  As I listened with an open mouth to the prime minister's defence of the [inner-city housing] programme, I could not help but recall the desperation with which a mechanic who I knew approached me sometime ago. He lived in a garrison community and had managed to get a government house, for which he paid a small mortgage. When his mom got ill in St Thomas, he went to the country for about three months to stay with her. When he returned, his belongings had been packed away to the back of the house for which he had been paying for years, and other persons were living in his home. He was told that he had a house in the county and it was other people's turn now to live in the house!”
She continued, “When I suggested that I would go to the police with him to deal with the matter, you can guess the response.  The reality of garrison life is that the vast majority are decent people, but they live under the gun and are modern-day slaves as the concept of free will in most of those areas is nothing but a dream. …Political representatives of garrison communities have a responsibility to liberate those who live under tyranny in these areas, but they pretend they do not know the enforcers and have nothing to do with them.”
Joan Williams did not spare the church for their apathy: “… if Jamaica were really a Christian country, or if modern-day Christians were against slavery as were some of their counterparts centuries ago, they would have risen up with one accord long ago and united to demand from the political beneficiaries, the freedom of those thousands of Jamaicans who live under tyranny in the garrisons. It was the late Martin Luther King who said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ I wonder what he would say if he reincarnated in Jamaica today where we seem all too happy to remain silent about the wickedness that passes for normalcy and democracy in this country, with the tacit complicity of the huge religious sector?”
Yes, let us have a Garrison Inquiry, Jamaica - it is the best opportunity we have to free suffering Jamaicans from this grim reality.

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