Jamaica’s democracy experienced three declines between 2010 and 2019. Specifically these declines began in 2011, 2015, and 2017. Within each decline Jamaica experienced either: vertical corruption, state violence, non-state violence also known as gang violence or polarization. In some years Jamaica has had multiple precursors. The declines of the country’s democracy had led to Jamaica’s reputation for being one of the most dangerous.
Freedom House gave Jamaica a score of 78 out of 100 based on their freedom of the world. The country gained more points for political rights than civil liberties. However, the country scored a 2 out of 4 in regard to citizens ability to be free from external forces influences political decision. This score aligns with the vertical corruption within the country. According to the US Department of State’s 2014 Crime and Safety Report for Jamaica, police are “unable to patrol and protect most neighbourhoods,” (“Jamaica: The Jamaican…”). In 2017, members of the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) were accused of bribing citizens for money and other gifts to avoid writing them a ticket (Robinson). The leader of the Police Traffic Division, Calvin Allen, responded to the accusations by asserting that the described behavior is against JCF policy and any cop caught engaging in such activities would be considered breaking the rules (Robinson). Although, no actions have been taken against police citizens are still choosing to speak up about the encounters.
The corruption within the Jamaican police force has created an opening for gang related violence. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs nearly 80% of Jamaica’s illicit activity is gang related. With citizens’ trust for police being lowered, citizens are less likely to report these crimes and actively participate in civic society. In 2010 the country entered a state of emergency due to violence that spurred across Kingston (Sheil). The prime minister initiated the state of emergency due to four police stations being attacked, resulting in two officers, a soldier and a civilian being killed (Sheil). The desensitization to crime is seen in Kingston residents’ open mockery of police as they stood behind barricades (Sheil).
Before the Jamaican democracy declined in 2015, the number of murders rose to 1,200 after an 11 year low. Since 2015 the upward trend of gang related homicides has continued. The threat of violence has caused citizens to look to these gangs for support. Jamaican gangs have even made their way into national politics. Gang members participate in being paramili-tary agents or adversaries; performing internal security functions to deliver elec-toral support, police and/or protect the party faithful; securing strategic territory at the behest of the political hierarchy.
In 2010 the world was made aware of the Jamaican Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, relation to a notorious gang leader, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. Bruce Golding was accused of stopping Coke’s extradition to the United States because of their relationship. Coke controlled Tívoli Gardens, the area that maintained support for the Jamaican Labour Party. Golding used Coke to gain support for his campaign, in return Coke received protection from the law and control over neighborhoods. In an attempt to end the relations with Coke, Golding order the military to kill all civilians in support of Coke. A political leader chose to end civilian lives in order to save himself and his “secret”. This act eventually led to Golding’s resignation. For 30 years the government has been using force to gain the votes of constituents. Elections were won because of illicit activity rather than public opinion. The country has been seeing a clear sign of democratic erosion.
The use of gangs to gain votes has also caused polarization between the two political parties in Jamiaca. The two main parties within the country is The Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), with few third parties able to gain any traction in the political world. The JLP and the PNP ideology varies across the board. However both parties have switched their view since their initial development. The PNP Party was originally knownfor their socialist views, but hey have became more focused on accommodating the massesinstead of transforming society. The JLP was the complete opposite with focus on capitalist policies.
This is a really interesting article discussing the connection between organized crime and democracy which I haven’t seen in many other places. The ways in which crime erodes democracy by promoting corruption among local and state leaders is definitely an issue to be considered when discussing theories of democratic decay. It would be interesting to see if there are any historical examples of similar democracies with high crime and corruption rates, to understand how to overcome the issue. The extreme control that organized crime groups exert over politics in Jamaica is definitely a sign that the state could be headed to authoritarianism.
I would be interested to learn more about how the use of gangs promotes polarization, and whether or to what extent organized crime groups actually control political policies. Overall, this was a really interesting take on the effect organized crime can have on democracy.
Wow, this is a great topic for your country! I too have similar issues with corruption in government in regard to my country Guyana. Even though recently, anti-government protests and concerns have now been made aware to the President. Another thing that I have noticed is that a lot of Caribbean nations have trouble with violence and corruption; I wonder why? Guyana too has problems with polarization effecting government and societal life. Organized crime mixing with local and state leaders definitely have an effect on how the citizens of Jamaica view their overall freedom and legitimacy of government. Personally I see a major decline of democracy in the future for Jamaica from this information you have provided and I hope that an increase in vertical accountability comes soon. If the different gangs are able to control and dictate what happens in government, people should be worried about the economy in the near future.