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Jamaica eyewitness

Judith Turbyne, Caribbean regional manager

Judith Turbyne, Christian Aid's Head of Caribbean region, gives an eyewitness account of the unrest in Jamaica's capital Kingston.

‘All out war’- that is the headline in Jamaica’s oldest newspaper.
The build up to the real violence took several days. Yesterday it erupted in full-scale gun battles. The main centre of the violence is Tivoli which is the strong-hold of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. However, there are several other areas across Kingston and St Andrew and into Spanish Town.

Several people have been killed (exact numbers difficult to come by), including members of the security forces. Several others have been injured.

I was out of Jamaica for the weekend, and flew back in yesterday to a city that has been semi-paralysed by the violence.

The streets were spookily quiet. The route home was blocked in two places. Luckily the driver (from the Department for International Development) knew the safe routes home.  Being in an armoured car was a new experience for me, but I have to say at that particular moment in time, it felt good.

Later at home, safe behind the walls of our apartment complex, we could hear the constant flying of helicopters and see the smoke of Tivoli as parts of the inner city community burned. The major market in the city has also been set alight. 

I have lived in Jamaica, now, for three years. And although the violence has simmered under the surface, and has been hinted at by the high murder rate, this is the worst explosion of violence I’ve seen during my time here.

But the violence is not surprising. Jamaica has worked hard of late to present itself as a stable democracy and it is true that its recent elections have been noticeably more peaceful and unmarked by violence.

However, elections alone do not make a democracy nor are they the only indicator of good governance. Democracy has been undermined in Jamaica by forces far more powerful than a peaceful electoral system.

The 'don structure' in Jamaica has existed for generations; it has been a double-edged sword that has both undermined government and increased levels of crime and violence in the country, but at the same time filled gaps in parts of rural and urban Jamaica where poverty is deeply entrenched and where the state presence has been historically – and continues to be - very weak.

Political parties have for more than 30 years colluded with and supported rather than dismantled this system.

None of the solutions are easy. The optimists see this as a possibility to break with the past and begin to look at creating more democratic and accountable governance in Jamaica. 

While the pessimists believe that the violence that has started will be a long time in going away. And that the result will not be a better Jamaica, but the same Jamaica with an increased number of dead and another tender wound.

For the staff with Christian Aid, it means minimising movement and staying safe. And more than anything, it means monitoring the situation and ensuring that we make the best possible decisions.

For our partners, it is more complicated. Many work in the poorer areas of town. They will have to work hard at staying safe, and operations will have to be suspended for a short period time at the very least. 

For our partner Jamaicans for Justice that is vocal on issues of governance, rights and corruption, it is a difficult time, as they will again be in the spotlight. But they are used to that. They continue to be brave and unflinching in their desire to build a better Jamaica. 

However, it is essential that the citizens of Jamaica push their political leaders to break with the past and create a new and more transparent system of governance.

Our work in Jamaica


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