Imagine living in a country where free speech as it relates to politics is all but impossible. Just imagine not being able to openly question why you haven’t seen your political representative for quite sometime or worse, voice your opinion as to why you think come next election your vote will be going to another party.
No, this is not the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin or Idi Amin’s Uganda. This is 21st century Jamaica and a phenomenon known as garrison politics. There are roughly 12 garrison communities in Jamaica – in the areas bordering Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine. The governing People’s National Party has 10 to its account and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party has the remaining two.
What distinguishes these communities from the rest of Jamaica is that not only are they “islands of an alien culture” but as the 1997 Report of the National Committee on Political Tribalism pointed out “The garrisons exhibit an element of autonomy, in that they are states within a state”.
The report also noted that “The living conditions of the people in most of the tribalised communities reek of an abandonment and neglect. Sub-standard housing, poor sanitation and numerous environmental hazards are immediately visible.”
But what is life really like behind these walls? In the community of Tawes Pen in the Central St. Catherine garrison, where zinc fences separate most of the run-down houses, residents are obviously disgruntled over their living conditions, yet remain fiercely loyal to the JLP.
A woman, who gave her name only as Rose, told our news team bluntly: “This is Babsy’s turf (referring to Member of Parliament Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange) and we are under One Order. No matter how them fight us, a just the JLP we are defending. No PNP must come around here.”
Over in Southwest St. Andrew, the constituency of PNP vice-president and leadership contender Portia Simpson-Miller, the situation is strikingly similar. Poorly constructed and half-built shacks characterised sections of the area while children are seen running around with reckless abandon. Yet, no one dare says a bad word about Mrs. Simpson Miller, affectionately known as Sister P. Asked whether it wasn’t about time some meaningful attention was given to the constituency, a man who gave his name only as Reds said: “I want everybody to know that a Sister P send every children around here to school. She not getting any help from anywhere and a just she alone doing her thing. We love her and a she we backing forever.”