Saturday, May 29, 2010

Matt 24 watch, 100: Insurrection and Civil War in Jamaica

I have been busy elsewhere for the past several weeks (pardon), but never would have imagined that the above theme would be what I have to speak to next in succession. So, with pain, but a measure of hope, and some prayers:


For me, the living nightmare of the past week began with a phone call from my Dad, on the declaration of a State of Emergency, with news of several police stations attacked, the Hannah Town Station being torched and looted.

The fort-like Central Station on East Queen Street was also attacked; having to call on the army for rescue. And, a party of police responding to a distress call from motorists, were evidently ambushed and badly shot up, six officers being wounded, two dead.

The upshot of the past week is that over the next day or so, the Jamaican security forces (with possible US backing and technical support: likely, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; just possibly, jet aircraft; and, on description of "bombs" and a passing reference to "heavy artillery" by a Government spokesman, maybe also artillery beyond the known 51 and 81 mm mortars in the JDF inventory . . . ) fought a short siege battle with a druggie warlord enclave, breaking in through a front-line of barricades with Improvised Explosive Devices and entanglements, backed up by small arms.

They reportedly took some 50 – 60 casualties [just one fatality, the two other acknowledged security forces fatalities were on an ambush of police responding to a distress call elsewhere in the city . . . ballistic vests make a big difference] but broke in and through what sounds like a 200 m deep defensive zone after about 3 hours; which is usually decisive in defeating this kind of fortification.

The insurrectionist side suffered serious losses, many of them fatal.

The official "civilian" [including insurrectionist] body count is now 73 and counting. [UPDATE, Jun 1: Government spokesmen have acknowledged that security forces snipers shooting from 300 m or more were responsible for many casualties, which would explain a preponderance of dead among the insurrectionists. It also explains why guns were not easily recovered from the bodies of dead gunmen. It is also to be noted that the Police Commissioner remarked that the advanced state of decomposition of a significant number of bodies suggest that they were killed before the battle, probably to enforce compliance with the wishes of the gangsters then in charge of the community.]

Reportedly, 22 guns [UPDATE: over 40, and 9,000 rounds of ammunition; including weapons recovered from searching the garbage being removed from the community] have been recovered (including four AK 47 assault rifles and apparently one .50 calibre long range anti-vehicle sniper rifle), along with army and police uniforms, and unexploded shrapnel loaded bombs. There are reports of women being sent out to recover guns from fallen insurrectionists, so that security forces were constrained to hold fire.

As an Observer newspaper account on how some of the insurrectionists dressed as women while fighting summarises:

"There were two women among the [73] civilians [NB: including insurrectionists] killed. The rest are all males and some were dressed like females at the time they were killed," Ellington said . . . . Seventy three persons were killed while three members of the security forces were killed and 58, (30 soldiers and 28 cops), injured. The joint police/military team has also seized 22 illegal weapons, 7,000 rounds of assorted ammunition, explosive devices, police and military uniforms and paraphernalia. ["Dudus' cronies wore dresses - Police," by Karyl Walker, Online editor Jamaica Observer, Fri. May 28, 2010. Parenthetical clarifications added. (I find it strange that not only the news media but the security forces' spokesmen are not making a clear distinction between insurrectionists and true civilians caught up in the chaos.)]

As an aftermath to the siege, 700 were initially detained, including dozens of teens. By official report, 200 have gone home on processing, and some youths have been placed in shelter homes. [UPDATE: Almost all detainees were released over the weekend.] At least one detainee seems to have gone suicidal, climbing up onto and threatening to jump off a roof until -- after hours of talking -- he was tackled and taken to hospital.

So far, the warlord at the focus of the conflict is still at large, but the security leadership seem confident they can capture him. Though, already there has been a controversial and tragic two to three hour wee- hours- of- the- morning gun-battle in an upper class neighbourhood that has ended with four wounded JDF soldiers and a well-respected businessman dead.

We shall see how the Dudus manhunt fares.

On a more hopeful note, in response to a call to the public for members of a list of other suspected warlords and gang leaders to come in, most have now presented themselves to the security forces.

Serious recriminations are flying fast and furious over the specifics of what happened, blunders, atrocities and cover-up claims, and the wider trends and circumstances that led to the growing cancer. (NB: One quite worrying sign is the lack of a count of wounded civilians; as it is usual for there to be far more injured than fatalities in a battle, and in an urban environment with a lot of civilians around, we should be seeing significant numbers of civilian injuries. Security force spokesmen should be pressed on the numbers of injured civilians, and how many wounded insurrectionists were taken prisoner. But, the tribunal of inquiry will doubtless look closely into this.)

However, it is plain that Jamaica faces a cancer of druggie gangsterism, and linked drug money and protection racket [de facto taxation?] funded warlordism tied into the political systems especially through depressed communities where in effect the warlords and their retainers have been the de facto government in the society, especially the capital. Multiplied by a breakdown of law and order and much mistrust between the public and especially the police.

(I should note, the incidents have occurred about 50 – 150 miles by road from the resort areas favoured by tourists, on the South coast, not the North. But of course the headlines have doubtless done serious damage to the vital tourist industry. Which Jamaica can ill-afford.)

I hope — and pray — that out of this horror, a serious rethink of where the society has been headed will lead to reformation.

I for one would favour a South Africa style Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Inquiry. That will be painful, and will move the older generation of politicians (those implicated in the era of a low key civil war tied to the culmination of the cold war era’s impacts in Jamaica across the 1970’s and the early 1980’s) off the scene definitively, and perhaps some of the younger ones too, but it will allow the land to build on the truth and a national rededication to the right.

Then, maybe the nation can be rebuilt on a sounder foundation over the next generation.

The announcement of an inquiry into the events of the week past will perhaps be a step towards that.

Let us now turn to the Jamaican National Anthem, as a prayer for a deeply wounded, traumatised and bleeding nation:

Eternal Father bless our land,
Guard us with Thy Mighty Hand,
Keep us free from evil powers,
Be our light through countless hours.
To our Leaders, Great Defender,
Grant true wisdom from above.
Justice, Truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, Land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.

Teach us true respect for all,
Stir response to duty’s call, strengthen us the weak to cherish,
Give us vision lest we perish.
Knowledge send us Heavenly Father,
Grant true wisdom from above.
Justice, Truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, land we love.
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica land we love.

In the Name of our Lord, Creator, and Saviour. AMEN

1 comment:

IlĂ­on said...

May God watch over and protect you and your nation.