Jamaica’s British colonialism and slavery legacy

From British daily The Morning Star:

The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica
by Ian Thomson (Faber & Faber, £14.99)

Sunday 10 May 2009

by Roger Fletcher

LEGACY: The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica.

How Jamaica is still suffering from 300 years of British rule

Dramatic changes in certain areas have given impetus to candid examinations of Britain’s role in creating the present world.

From the outset, Ian Thomson leaves little doubt that this role has been disastrous.

When he points out that cruelty has been “implicit in Jamaican life for the 300 years of British rule,” he bravely quotes Karl Marx who said that such history was “characteristic of the beastliness of the true Englishman.”

In just under 400 pages, the author gives us a detailed picture of the tragedy of this Caribbean island.

Both anecdote and evidence are skilfully combined to leave little doubt of Britain’s responsibility for the corruption and decay that make up modern Jamaica.

Interwoven with this are fascinating reflections on the cultural scene and descriptions of the profits of the twin trades of slavery and sugar that were exploited by the British ruling classes.

While the final chapter Take down the Union Jack explicitly condemns the perpetrators of the Jamaican tragedy, an earlier chapter dealing with Michael Manley and Edward Seaga leaves out a great deal.

And many readers will be surprised to read that “Obama has even won the approval of Castro’s Cuba,” a rather simplistic claim that demands much clarification.

Research to show which groups [in Britain] got rich from slavery cash: here.

Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson Miller suggested today that the British government should finally apologise for enslaving Jamaican peoples’ ancestors: here.

Unmasking slavery’s profiteers in Jamaica: here.

Brazil’s census offers recognition at last to descendants of runaway slaves: here.

Glasgow University making ‘reparations’ for slavery-funded bequests: here.

11 thoughts on “Jamaica’s British colonialism and slavery legacy

  1. Jun 21, 12:38 PM EDT

    Guns from America fuel Jamaica’s gang wars

    Associated Press Writer

    KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Ships from Miami steam into Jamaica’s main harbor loaded with TV sets and blue jeans. But some of the most popular U.S. imports never appear on the manifests: handguns, rifles and bullets that stoke one of the world’s highest murder rates.

    The volume is much less than the flow of U.S. guns into Mexico that end up in the hands of drug cartels – Jamaican authorities recover fewer than 1,000 firearms a year. But of those whose origin can be traced, 80 percent come from the U.S., Jamaican law enforcement officials have said in interviews with The Associated Press.

    And as the Obama administration cracks down on smuggling into Mexico, Jamaicans fear even more firearms will reach the gangs whose turf wars plague the island of 2.8 million people.

    “It’s going to push a lot of that trade back toward the Caribbean like it was back in the ’80s,” said Vance Callender, an attache at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

    U.S. authorities are beginning to target the Jamaican gun-smuggling network as part of a broad effort to boost security in the Caribbean.

    But they have a long way to go. Jamaican authorities have confiscated only 100 guns coming into ports in the last five years, along with 6,000 rounds of ammunition. That in turn is just a fraction of the 700 or so weapons confiscated on the streets each year.

    Authorities know they’re only seeing “the tip of the iceberg,” said Mark Shields, Jamaica’s deputy police commissioner.

    With arsenals to rival police firepower, the gangs are blamed for 90 percent of the homicides in Jamaica – 1,611 last year, about 10 times more than the U.S. rate, relative to population.

    Unlike in Mexico, the vast majority of Jamaican guns seized are submitted for tracing. Jamaica and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives find most of the seized weapons come from three Florida counties – Orange, Dade and Broward – all with large Jamaican populations, according to Shields.

    X-ray scanners were installed two years ago at Jamaican ports, but the gangs use bribery and intimidation to get their shipments past inspectors.

    In April, a newly hired customs supervisor had his tires slashed and days later was shot at on his way home from work, authorities say. The man was known for his strict scrutiny of cargo coming into a gang-infiltrated warehouse on the Kingston wharf.

    When the gangs apply pressure, “no one says no,” said Danville Walker, Jamaica’s commissioner of customs.

    “It’s a massive problem,” said Leslie Green, a Jamaican assistant police commissioner. “There aren’t any checks or any controls on goods leaving the United States. Yet anything leaving here, we have to make sure it’s double-checked and tripled-checked for drugs.”

    This complaint – that Americans care only what comes in, not what goes out – echoes that of Mexican authorities, who say cars going from the U.S. into Mexico aren’t searched for weapons or cash.

    Now hundreds of agents are participating in a $95 million outbound inspection program, stopping suspicious-looking cars and trucks as they cross the border into Mexico. Authorities don’t know how many firearms get through, but more than 12,000 guns used in crimes in Mexico last year were sent to U.S. authorities for tracing, a number that grows as more agencies in Mexico are trained to submit traces.

    The U.S. and Jamaica both prohibit the unlicensed transport of guns. But like Mexican smugglers, Jamaican ones depend on lax U.S. gun laws, corrupt customs inspectors and front men acting as buyers.

    Florida gun laws make it relatively easy to buy a legal firearm, and much of the smuggling is done by family and friends, said Shields, the Jamaican police official.

    The guns are concealed in container loads of blue plastic and cardboard barrels, the kind Jamaicans use to send household goods to their families on the island.

    Some shipping companies advertise a no-questions-asked policy in soliciting customers, said Walker, the customs commissioner. He declined to single out individual companies.

    In one of the few Jamaican gun-smuggling cases prosecuted in the U.S., Tawanna Banton, 36, of Florida was convicted of buying a Glock handgun later used in the gang killings of four island police officers. She said her Jamaican boyfriend arranged the purchase, and she was paid $15,000 to buy the handgun and a .50 caliber “Grizzly” rifle with a tripod mount, according to court documents.

    She told ATF agents the guns were then hidden inside kitchen appliances and driven to Miami for shipment to Kingston.

    Banton pleaded guilty to making false statements to the gun dealer in 2006 and served a month in prison.

    Besides coming in on freighters, authorities say, guns are stolen or purchased from crooked police or in “guns-for-ganja” deals by fishermen, who bring homegrown marijuana to nearby Haiti and return with pistols, revolvers and submachine guns – many of them believed to be from the U.S. as well.

    Callender’s ICE unit began investigations in Jamaica last year with a focus on guns. He said agents in Miami and New York have been working to “interject themselves” into the shipping networks. Indictments are imminent in two or three cases involving suspected Jamaican traffickers inside the U.S., he said, without elaborating.

    Then there’s the $45 million Caribbean Basin Security Initiative on regional security, announced by U.S. President Barack Obama in April, which is designed to help the islands counter any spillover of violence from Mexico.

    Meanwhile, at the ports, Jamaican customs officials are training more spotters to patrol the warehouses, including five in Kingston who process an average of 10 shipping containers daily.

    But inspectors feel the odds are still stacked against them.

    “The guys we’re up against, they have time, they have money, and they are very resourceful,” said Andrew Lamb, a supervisor with Jamaica customs’ Contraband Enforcement Team. “They’re pretty good at what they do.”


  2. Royal family is the last thing Jamaica needs

    Prince Harry’s visit was unwanted by the suffering poor and the working class of Jamaica, I have no doubt.

    Back in the 1990s I was a student at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica’s capital Kingston. I was on the receiving end of a previous royal visit by her maj herself.

    Students, none too impressed, expressed their anger in the inimitable Jamaican style.

    On the walls of the new law faculty building the queen had come to unveil they daubed “Nanny fi we queen” .

    This referred to Nanny of the Maroons, a freedom fighter who led her mixed tribe of escaped slaves in successful rebellion against the British back in the 18th century.

    Fifty years since Jamaican independence, the British monarch still acts as the head of state. Jamaica’s elected governments are technically subject to the governor general.

    This is the same royal reserve power that was used to depose the 1974 Labour government in Australia, and to rubber-stamp the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 that overthrew “the big revolution in a small island”.

    There are small protest movements that give some hope for the future for Jamaicans.

    But to become a properly sovereign state Jamaica needs to cut its ties with Britain.

    Graham Campbell, Glasgow



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