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Let's hope PNP threats of street protests just more idle talk

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, May 13, 2018

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In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams. — Nigerian proverb

In the absence of desperately needed political traction, the People's National Party (PNP) has latched on to a rusty political strategy which well-thinking Jamaicans now largely see as outdated and unproductive. In recent months, 89 Old Hope Road has issued repeated threats to mount street demonstrations. Norman Manley's party seems fixated with political anachronisms.

In February, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and PNP President Dr Peter Phillips threatened street demonstrations: 'Phillips threatens to take disputes with Government to the streets' ( The Gleaner, March 1, 2018).

Then, The Gleaner of March 29, 2018 screamed: 'K D Knight threatens to 'rouse up' country if no crime plan by April 30'. The story said, among other things: “Opposition Senator K D Knight has threatened to 'rouse up' Jamaicans against the Government if it does not present a crime plan by the end of April.” April 30 has come and gone. Knight, for reasons best known to him, did not make good on his threat. Was it a case of premature announcement syndrome? He has set a new 'rouse up' date. Speaking in the Senate on May 2, 2018, a very agitated Knight said, “But, but I don't care, who say what now. If by the time you come back there is no crime plan. Then the plan that I have is going to be put in place.” Was Knight referring to street demonstrations?

Before the most recent extension for a further 90 days the state of public emergency in St James was slated to end on May 2, 2018. With the current extension, the state of emergency in St James will expire on August 2, 2018. Is there a connection between Senator Knight's 'rouse up,' agenda and the expiry of the state of emergency in St James? Recall that in the aftermath of the February 25, 2016 rejection of the PNP, Senator K D Knight publicly stated that the PNP was 'in survival mode'. ( Nationwide News Network, September 20, 2016). I believe the PNP is on political life support. A drowning man clutches at straws. Are street demonstrations the PNP's last straw?

In his May 2, 2018, tirade, Knight stoutly defended his near 11-year stint as minister of national security. According to Knight, “My days are being referred to now as the good old days; the good old days. And did I, as minister, did the Government then, have a crime plan, we had several, several crime plans.” After these several crime plans this was the result: 'Jamaica struggling to cut its alarming murder rate — New head of national security faces a raging crime wave'. Knight said he regretted that the country's crime rate had not declined during his tenure. ( Miami Herald, October 31, 2001)

K D Knight was booted from the security portfolio after years of severe pummelling by the public. He was replaced by Dr Peter Phillips, who I believe was an even bigger failure. Rural folks in their philosophical wisdom say, “Ole wood can't make good furniture.”

One party, two parties

The PNP's agitation for street demonstrations is spreading as evidenced in utterances by its spokespersons. This suggests to me that common sense has taken leave of Norman Manley's party. Like all well-thinking Jamaicans, I have no wish to see the demise of the PNP. In fact, with one notable exception, I agree with its founding president, Norman Manley, who said to his party in 1964, “If there is one thing one year of independence has taught us, it taught us how vital it is to the peace and security and freedom of our people to have two parties in this country. Other places may get along well with one. We don't live that way; and we are not prepared to tolerate a society with the abuse of power. ( The Gleaner, September 17, 1977)

I believe that as many political parties as our market will accommodate should be allowed. Our citizens can only benefit. The market will spit out those political parties that are no longer relevant to the times. Maybe that is what is happening to the PNP. Is their push for street demonstrations all about the preservation of relevance and a deadly fightback against political market forces that are not favourable to them anymore?

South-western rally

Member of Parliament for St Andrew South Western Dr Angela Brown Burke said, among other things, in Parliament on April 12, 2018: “I am not one of the technical experts, but if a state of emergency comes for St Andrew South Western I am going on the road. And I am going on the road to protest, because we want investment, we want intervention.” These astounding remarks by Brown Burke fly in the face of simple political intelligence, it seems.

Police reports up until mid-last month showed a more than 250 per cent increase in murders in the St Andrew South Police Division. Dr Brown Burke might have forgotten that a story in this newspaper on July 17, 2017 said that of the 190 gangs operating in Jamaica 48 were operating in her constituency. Why then was there a threat of street protests? It seems the PNP is totally bereft of actionable ideas. Apparently its leadership sees street demonstrations as the party's only political salvation. The most recent shouts for street demonstration came from Peter Bunting, former minister of national security when he spoke at a divisional conference at Bellefield High School in Manchester on April 29, 2018. The growing calls for street demonstrations by the PNP will not win them any political brownie points. If the PNP were foolish enough to move from threats into action that would only hasten their political 'Waterloo'.

Gas riots

Those in the PNP who scream for street demonstrations would do well to remember the gas riots of 1979, 1985 and 1999. Nine people died in the fuel riots in 1979 and 1985 and dozens were injured, some seriously. Damage to Jamaica's image was extremely costly. Damage to public property ran into hundreds of thousands. The mother of all gas demonstrations, however, was in 1999.

These are snippets of how some mainstream media among other things represented that woeful event:

“Violent protests, looting and shootings triggered by a hike in fuel prices brought Jamaica to a standstill yesterday. Foreign airlines cancelled flights into Kingston after disturbances that left one woman dead and at least six other people wounded.

“The woman was shot by a private security guard fending off looters. A police officer shot in the face on Monday was in critical condition.

“Air Jamaica cancelled flights to Miami and London yesterday and British Airways cancelled flights to Jamaica on the advice of the British high commissioner on the island, who is monitoring the situation.

“Cruise ship passengers were told to stay out of the northern resort town of Ocho Rios and some hotels in Montego Bay reported tourists were unable to reach the airport.

“[Prime Minister P J] Patterson had said the tax would help to restore the lost money of some two million depositors in failed banks, 500,000 policyholders in insurance companies and 55,000 pensioners.

“But leading figures in the economy warned that alternatives should be found.

“But the finance minister, Omar Davies, vowed not to alter the new fuel tax, arguing that the funds were required to improve the country's roads and public transit system.” ( The Independent, April 21, 1999)

The Gleaner of April 28, 2009, reflected on the 1999 gas riots this way:

“There was widespread rioting in April 1999 when Prime Minister P J Patterson announced that a 31 per cent gas tax would be imposed:

“From Morant Point to Negril Point tyres went up in flames and businesses were forced to close as Jamaicans joined in the infamous 1999 gas riot.

“Public transportation and the education system were virtually crippled, while the police force, the military, and the fire brigade worked overtime to contain the protests.

“Many commuters were forced to walk long distances as bus drivers and taxi operators abandoned their routes and parked their vehicles.

“The security forces, which were largely outnumbered by demonstrators, struggled to contain the situation and sometimes stood quietly by while the protesters had their way.

“During the mayhem, at least three members of the security forces were shot and injured and another four injured otherwise during demonstrations.

“A pregnant woman was also shot and killed.

“Several private and public vehicles were set on fire and some firemen were stoned while trying to put out the blaze.

“The demonstrations led to more than 100 arrests in the Corporate Area, St Elizabeth, St Thomas, Clarendon, St Catherine, and St James.”

The Chicago Tribune of April 22, 1999 reported this:

“ 'Omar (Finance Minister Davies) have blood in him eye, and I have blood in mine for him too,' a woman shouted as she hauled a piece of wood to reinforce a burning barricade. At least 140 people had been arrested during the protests. Britain issued a travel advisory.”

The Associated Press, April 22, 1999 said: “In Kingston, overnight, demonstrators set four shops on fire and looters smashed other businesses, ignoring a curfew. Some parts of the island suffered blackouts and telephone problems.”

Days after the flames of the gas riots had subsided there was still tremendous unease throughout the country. The Patterson Government announced that a committee was set up to examine and recommend changes to the gas price hike. Patterson promised to report to Parliament on the deliberations of the committee in short order.

CNN reported that: “Police beefed up patrols before Patterson's speech, and officials of the ruling People's National Party met with community leaders to appeal for calm.

“ 'Our leadership has been out in the communities doing what they are supposed to do — mobilising, organising and preventing further roadblocks,' said Paul Burke.” ( CNN, April 27, 1999)

The committee recommended that the gas hike be slashed by 50 per cent. Patterson agreed. In a seemingly contrite speech, Patterson told Parliament, among other things: “The events of last week served to remind us any solution we devise as a Government cannot succeed without the understanding and the involvement of the people. Some lessons are hard for all of us.” Additional taxes to fill the budget holes were adopted by the Government.

It is said that once you squeeze the toothpaste from the tube it is near impossible to put it back in. Street demonstrations, and especially violent street demonstrations, are part and parcel of political violence in this country. I gave a synopsis of the genesis of political violence in Jamaica last week. I hope there is not even a scintilla of violence being contemplated in the PNP's numerous calls for street demonstrations.

It was former Prime Minister P J Patterson who described our politics as “a fight for scarce benefits and spoils carried on by hostile tribes that seem to be perpetually at war”. Our country has made some important strides since 1962. We still have significant, especially social and economic, hurdles to surmount. Dr Phillips says he is interested in building a better Jamaica for all Jamaicans, I hope those are more than just words.

More rays of sunshine

I was very happy to hear last week that the Tourism Enhancement Fund is to provide $1 billion over the next five years for the provision of housing solutions for tourism workers. According to a report in this newspaper: “Bartlett, during his contribution to the 2018/19 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives yesterday, informed that housing will be provided through the Housing Agency of Jamaica.

“Bartlett said a survey of housing needs for tourism workers was conducted in the accommodations sector.

“ 'When we did the research we found that more than 88 per cent of the workers in the industry cannot even access National Housing Trust (NHT) solutions,' the minister said.

“In addition, the workers also indicated that they would not be able to afford a house costing more than $2.5 million.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 9, 2018)

I am positive that the majority of tourism workers are not tremendously concerned whether this initiative is the brainchild of the previous Administration or the previous Government. That they will benefit is the crux of the matter.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

Fortitude is the guard and support of the other virtues. — John Locke

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@ yahoo.com

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