When I was growing up in Jamaica, Election Day used to only mean two things: violence and bloodshed.
That was a given and, as far as the island’s citizens were concerned, Election Day was an unofficial public holiday, where schools and businesses were closed and everyone stayed home. They stayed home to avoid losing their lives.
I didn’t understand it until many years later. I didn’t understand that’s how corrupt my country’s government was or just how violent inner-city Jamaican citizens could get just to secure votes for a particular party. These people were willing to go to these great lengths because they believed that government officials could guarantee their well being.
Now, that’s just one example of how corrupt the Jamaican government can get. To look at our biggest example, just Google the words “shower posse.”
Today, however, the latest evidence of government corruption has to do with the Christopher “Dudus” Coke extradition.
Kingston and Washington D.C., have been at odds over this issue since last September. That’s when the U.S. formally requested that Coke, the reputed don of Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston, be extradited to answer charges of distributing marijuana and cocaine and conspiracy to illegally traffic firearms in the U.S. The Jamaican government responded by refusing to honor the request, saying that they did not have substantial evidence to justify an extradition.
The Jamaican prime minister put the country’s citizens through nine months of angst, during which he severely tested Jamaica's relationship with one of its closest allies, and threatened the country's political, social and economic stability, before finally signing the request on Tuesday.
With a Jamaican inner city swearing to protect the hand that feeds them, which happens to be Coke and not the government, this only means more violence and bloodshed. One man’s criminal army is preventing him from being extradited at all costs.
In West Kingston today, along with shouts of “leave Dudus alone… he’s next to God” echoing out of that community, barricades filled with liquid petroleum gas cylinders have been mounted, high voltage barbed wire has been installed, and criminals are preventing residents from leaving, and confiscating their mobile phones.
Many of us Jamaicans, in and outside the island, are asking one thing: How could the Jamaican prime minister have allowed one man – just one man – to doom our country’s relationship with the U.S. and, apparently, our future? Today, our economy is at its poorest, the education system is at its worst and the murder rate at a record high, with almost 600 murders in only 123 days of this year. How could our leader give even the slightest hint that it is not he who has true power in this country, but this one man?
Many Jamaicans feel that our beloved country is incapable of self government, as evidenced by the lack of effective governance by either of the two major parties that we’ve seen underperform in the last few years. We’ve lost all confidence in our government, and would like it to be dismantled and started anew. And for those of us who can’t wait around to see if that’s a possibility, we’re asking when and how can we leave?
With all of this being a very real reality, to many of us, it is clear that Jamaica is a sinking ship. And, if you are on a sinking ship, do you grab a life jacket and get to safety, or go down with it? For those like myself who had a life jacket (citizenship or residency in another country), we chose to jump ship.
In the meantime, all we can do is wait to see how this all plays out. We will see how many lives will be lost in the name of one man, and just how far an impoverished community is willing to go to protect their don.
Shanique Palmer, 22, of Sunrise, is a native Jamaican and a 2009 graduate of the University of the West Indies. She was a 2008 summer reporting intern at the South Florida Times.