The long-simmering garrisons exploded Sunday afternoon, fueled by the obvious conclusion that the police were going to take advantage of the long holiday weekend to try and execute the arrest warrant on Dudus in Tivoli. Reports and rumors of gunfire and violence across Kingston flooded Twitter and Blackberry Messenger as people panicked and struggled to grasp exactly what was going on.
Incompetence abounds. The government has been telegraphing its every move with the precision of a bad prizefighter, the consequence being that the garrisons are better prepared than they are. The stonewalling on execution of the extradition request was pointless, an unwinnable battle that, on balance, only gave Dudus time to amass a cache of weapons - as would be logical for an alleged arms dealer facing inevitable extradition to do. Announcing that the extradition request would be signed - instead of simply signing it and going in and trying to serve it without anyone being the wiser - only gave the garrisons time to erect their ingenious barricades, laced with propane tanks and barbed wire linked to high power electrical lines (if only such inner-city innovation could be directed to good, Jamaica would be on a better path).
What was clear from the outset: this is war. War between the garrisons and the government. Heavily armed garrisonites were attacking police stations, in one case burning it to the ground as the police - surrounded and out of ammunition - had to flee. Roadblocks were reportedly set up in JLP-constituent garrisons across Kingston; the police were inexplicably ill-prepared and outgunned. The Republic of Tivoli reputedly offered J$10,000/day to any man who would come and defend it. By mid-afternoon the Prime Minister had declared a state of emergency with a 6pm curfew, and gave a tepid and vacuous evening address on TV, in which he assured viewers that the police had the situation under control, despite the clear reality that the situation was escalating rapidly.
What has also become clear - painfully clear - from the unfolding of events, is that the government would rather have Dudus dead than alive. After the lambs were sent to slaughter, the government was justified in calling in the military on Monday morning to take control of Tivoli. Unconfirmed reports from Tivoli are of bombs, scores of dead bodies piling up, women running into the line of fire to retrieve weapons from fallen garrisonites. The news media are only reporting a few government casualities, and no numbers for “civilian” casualties. Power and cell phone service in Tivoli were cut, robbing all but a few with landlines of communication. Consequently, the reporting is one-sided, and the story of Tivoli is not really being told.
No one even really seems to know if Dudus is even there. Many are speculating he’s off island - counting his money and smoking a cigar in Cuba. I think that’s unlikely. Dudus is creating his own legend - his followers are holding him up as a Robin Hood type figure, saying they will die for him like Jesus died for them. To flee would be cowardice.
And why does the US want Dudus so badly? My guess is that they see Jamaica as low-hanging fruit: an easy win to publicize and partially offset the obvious ineffectiveness of the war on drugs in countries like Mexico, where the violence and risk to US citizens is considerably greater.
From the jump, this has been a tragedy of Shakespearean measure, each of the protagonists moving unheedingly to their doom. Once the US cast the die, there has been no choice for anyone involved: every actor, from the innocent and hard-working citizen who lives in Tivoli to the Prime Minister himself, is acting almost in a predestined way. Dudus will die: it’s just a question of when and where - in Tivoli, guns blazing, or in a Jamaican jail, awaiting extradition, on orders of the government who he would implicate as criminals were he to talk. Bruce Golding will resign, tainted by scandal and the bungling of the entire Dudus affair. The innocent civilian in Tivoli, who could not leave his community to escape the violence, for fear of being labeled a traitor or a coward, will likely lose their job, and stay mired in a vicious cycle of poverty. Many gunmen will die, and their children will grow with vengeance and bitterness burning in their hearts, ready to die to avenge the deaths of the family and friends who went before. An entire country will be destabilized, and yet the world will keep spinning, the next Jamaican government just as corrupt and ineffective as the last, shackled by a post-colonial legacy that cannot be fixed by IMF loans or mere independence.
It’s hard to believe that not much more than a month ago, we spent a peaceful evening in Tivoli, admiring a friend’s newborn son, sitting on a wall drinking rum and watching a weekly amateur boxing match. The streets came alive at night - bustling with folks home from work and children playing in the streets. We watched as a man scrubbed the slatted blinds covering his first floor windows, inside and out, taking determined pride in a modest existence. I remember watching groups of children playing in the streets, narrowly avoiding being hit by the occasional car or motorcycle that came blasting through, but never surprised or irate by the near-miss. I thought of it as a precise choreography, a delicate equilibrium in which everyone was mindful of just where they needed to be. All that is gone now, destroyed by the flap of a butterfly’s wing in an administrative office in Washington, D.C.