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Jamaica's poll bloodbath

43 people have been killed in the run-up to the Jamaican election by gun-toting gangs linked to UK Yardies

Tony Thompson in Kingston
Sunday October 13, 2002
The Observer

The men who came to kill Glenroy Harris left little to chance. When the police arrived at the scene on Thursday evening, they found 28 assorted spent shell cases and two live rounds scattered around the labourer's body.
Harris, 29, was the forty-third person to be murdered in Jamaica this month, after the government announced the date of the general election.

Since then, tensions on the island, which has the third highest murder rate in the world, have increased. Many areas of the capital, Kingston, are in a state of war as armed gangs loyal to the two rival political parties - the ruling People's National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party - launch attacks into each other's territory and candidates.

Motorcades led by both Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and opposition leader Edward Seaga were fired upon in recent days. On Friday PNP candidate Jennifer Edwards was shot at while campaigning in a JLP stronghold and then slashed with a knife. She was forced to seek refuge in a safe house until police could escort her from the area.

Sporadic gunfire has been heard throughout Kingston almost constantly during the past week. Residents in the so-called garrison communities in the poverty-struck downtown district have taken to barricading their streets with abandoned cars, concrete posts and tree stumps in an attempt to prevent drive-by shootings. With the election due to take place on Wednesday 16 October, police say the situation is getting worse.

Although ostensibly political, much of the violence emanates from the 'garrison communities' known by their unofficial names which include Tel Aviv, Dunkirk and Southside in downtown Kingston, which are also home to the country's drug barons. And what is becoming clear is that many of the attacks are being funded by Yardie gangsters based in London. They are using money made from the drug trade to disrupt elections and ensure their favoured candidates are brought to power.

Superintendent James Forbes of the Jamaica Constabulary told The Observer : 'We know that the drug barons are attempting to worm their way into the polit ical process either at ground level or through other methods. You only need to look at the large number of drug couriers travelling between Jamaica and London to know there is a link.

'It is by no means far fetched to say that certain people involved in the drug trade in London and the rest of Britain are both financing and having a considerable influence on activities back here in Kingston.'

Such tactics can be effective because Jamaican elections are often close. Following landslide victories for the PNP during the last three elections, pundits say this year will be closer than ever, which has increased the potential for violence.

Officers from the Met's Operation Trident, which investigates black-on-black gun crime in London, say they are also monitoring the situation in Jamaica.

When I called the Jamaica Constabulary press office for details of a fatal shooting in central Kingston on Friday morning, the officer barely missed a beat when she asked if I could be more specific. 'We had quite a few of them, which one do you mean?'

It transpires that by late Friday morning, six fresh bodies had been found in Kingston and two more elsewhere in Jamaica. These included the bodies of 17-year-old Garthan Powell, Errol Thompson, 24, and his brother Ian Thompson, 29, found together in a sewage ditch. All three had been shot and the two brothers had been blindfolded and bound before being executed. A bloodstained vehicle was found nearby and the trio are believed to have been kidnapped from their homes the previous evening. According to police insiders, they were killed by PNP supporters over the theft of a gun.

During the 1980 campaign, 844 people were killed in the space of two weeks, most of them on election day itself.

This year, the ruling People's National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party signed a pact in an attempt to halt the killings. However, the aggressive advertising campaigns by the two parties, possible thanks to a lack of libel laws, make a mockery of this. The JLP's snappy election slogan is: 'The PNP can go to Hell'. In response, the PNP focuses its attention on the alleged corruption of the JLP's leader.

Both parties have agreed to ban campaigning in six key areas including central Kingston as it attracts too much trouble.

It was Jamaica's violent elections that gave birth to Britain's Yardies. They started life as gangs who would be given guns and money by political parties to ensure certain communities stayed loyal or voted a particular way. When the party supported by a particular gang lost power, the gunmen moved abroad and sold drugs, sending the money to Jamaica to continue the fight.

Many of the early Yardie killings in London were still politically motivated, though police say this is now a rarity. 'These people are simply criminals, they have no allegiances,' said one officer from Operation Trident. Eager to learn more about the murder of Glenroy Harris I persuaded a taxi driver to take me to the murder scene, Burke Road, in a ghetto in the west of Kingston. On the way we stopped at the local police station to get the latest information. When the Desk Sergeant learns that I plan to visit Burke Road he is astonished that I don't have an armed escort. As we passed through the garrison known as Tel Aviv, my driver, George, pointed out the spot where he saw a man killed the year before. 'I heard this blam, blam, blam and when I look round this man was lying on the ground surrounded by blood. He was trying to draw his gun but there was no strength left in his body. I tell you man, I am Jamaican, I was born in the ghetto and I love my country but me 'fraid these people. Me nah trust them. They shoot you dead and then apologise afterwards.'

Every side street was blocked by a barricade. Most had graffiti declaring the street's allegiance to one or other political party. On the edge of Burke Lane we stopped to ask a woman selling sweets by the roadside if she knew anything about the killing of Harris. 'I heard about it. I know the man, knew him well. The way I understand it, they kill him for the ganzi.' 'Ganzi' are the T-shirts in the colours of the two political parties. Harris, wearing his green JLP colours, was killed when he met a group of PNP supporters in orange.

When the woman learnt that I planned to walk down Burke Road and question the locals, she pleaded with me not to go. She then pleaded with my already nervous taxi driver not to take me. 'You see that street now, pure gunmen living down there. Nobody else.' I reached a compromise with my driver - he agreed to drive past the end of Burke Road so I could decide how safe it looked.

While the streets around were busy, Burke Road, 200 metres of pot-holed tarmac lined with ramshackle houses, was a ghost town. The silence was eerie. I decided to move on. Two hours later, a policeman was shot and killed at the junction of Burke Road and Spanish Town Road bringing to 10 the number of murders on Friday.,6903,810939,00.html

Trinidad and Tobago News

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