Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today.
by Rev Guy Hewitt
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing. Edmund Burke Those who would call themselves good citizens and patriots must do everything in their power to eradicate the influence of drugs from our politics and democracy. It is not too late.
At Harrison College, my chemistry master (Frank ‘Fanny’ Fields) engaged us in the study of chemistry by adding potassium to water unleashing a ‘vigorous reaction’ that captivated our impressionable young minds. While I did not pursue chemistry, the lesson was not lost on me: some things are not ordained to mix. That includes politics and drugs.
I similarly recall a quote from ‘The Godfather’ in its depiction of the business of organised crime. In the bestselling novel and Oscar-winning movie, Don Vito Corleone opined, “It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business.”
While the recent debate surrounding the Deacons Farm multitudinous feeding has been spun as support for the black working class or as a perpetuation of the practices by previous administrations, both are specious arguments. The bottom line is that drugs is a dirty business and its agents are merchants of death and societal destruction.
However, I am far from naïve: this is not new, even to Barbados. No other case spawned more controversy and accusations in Barbados than the 1978 murder of 29-year-old Victor ‘Pele’ Parris. Despite two costly enquiries, replete with rumours of drug dealing and complicity by police officers and politicians in illegal activities, no arrests were ever made. The Mighty Gabby’s calypso surmised the alleged cover-up…Who kill Pele, nobody won’t say.”
Neither is this a Third-World phenomenon. We recall the Iran-Contra affair of selling arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua during the 1980s civil war and the related allegations that government agencies may have been involved in the Contras cocaine trafficking operations. But because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right. Some argue that drugs is a modern variation of gambling or bootlegging. To others it is the consequence of the law of supply and demand: if there is a demand, it will be supplied; if the demand is strong and widespread it will be supplied, no matter what. But that still doesn’t make it right. People use drugs for different reasons. For some it is as a way of expressing personal liberty. Others see it as a way to pursue pleasure. Still others embrace it as a way to escape suffering, solitude and isolation. Sometimes a lack of values and convictions providing clear points of reference for personal life choices, especially among our youth, means they are easy prey for drug dealers. Therein lies the problem, no one can solve problems by running away from them.
Many youth, particularly males are lured to drugs by the prospect of fast money; for too many, it may be the only perceived way to break away from poverty or prolonged unemployment. In some communities, the revenues generated by these activities maintain an ‘underground economy.’ In the 1998 General Election in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Los Angeles Times reported that then opposition leader, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, made a direct appeal to those engaged in marijuana production with his reggae campaign song: “Those in the hills! You have a friend in me! Rastafari!”
It should be appreciated that the emergence of St. Vincent as one of the region’s largest marijuana producers was a consequence of adverse global trade policies. When the US government won a World Trade Organization decision eliminating the vital European preferential trade deals that maintained the Caribbean banana industry, much to the chagrin of the US and DEA many farmers turned to marijuana out of necessity. St. Vincent followed swiftly behind Jamaica in establishing a commercial cannabis industry through the legal medical marijuana market and the decriminalisation of use.
But let us not try to reconcile the irreconcilable; we need to accept that politics and drugs shouldn’t mix. Through the ages in keeping with Ephesians 5:18, Christians have been at the forefront of battling against the epidemic of intoxication and the personal tragedy of alcoholism and drug abuse. Now persons of faith need to take a stand against the weakening of public morals and the legitimising of deviant behaviours. We must get drugs out of our politics.
The most immediate and obvious consequences of drug trafficking on democracy is its promotion of violence. Drug traffickers and dealers kill, often with impunity. While this is often targeted and localised, it can easily escalate. Drugs can also pervert public administration as public officials can be enticed by promises of quick and easy money. Drugs can create ‘no-go’ areas when corruption and/or coercion undermines the basic respect for the rule of law.
The recent images of Deacons Farm youth jeering at the police was a tragedy not only for law enforcement and the local community but also for democracy as a whole.
Political campaigns are fought on two general fronts: an ‘air war’ – consisting of public events, mass meetings, advertising and media engagement to persuade voters, and a ‘ground game’ – canvassing and mobilisation of voters. Often it is in the latter that elections are won or lost and this is when the influence of drugs dealers is often most prevalent.
The reliance on clientelism persuasion and other inducements to get out the vote facilitates a growing influence of nefarious actors in the democratic process. Jamaica is a case study on the deleterious effect of drugs in politics.
In a nonfictional version of the Godfather’s Don Corleone, donmanship (so-called ‘dons’) has been a crucial political and economic factor in Kingston, Jamaica. Donmanship is the anointing of a leader of a garrison constituency (urban housing area) ably supported by an organised, coercive, community control system.
The political career of Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding ended prematurely over his opposing the extradition of drug lord Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke to the US. It was asserted that Golding could not have maintained his parliamentary seat in West Kingston without the support of Coke, the former don of Tivoli Gardens, a vote-rich stronghold for the Jamaica Labour Party. Many of the Jamaica’s most notorious gangsters have been based in west Kingston, including Dudus’s father, Lester Lloyd Coke, popularly known as ‘Jim Brown.’
Jim Brown, the founder of the Shower Posse gang, which his son Dudus inherited, ruled Tivoli Gardens throughout the 1980s with support from then representative and Prime Minister Edward Seaga. When Brown was arrested in 1992 for extradition to the US he incredulously, while in police custody, burned to death in a cement jail cell devoid of any flammable materials. Many suspected his knowledge of the ties between politics and its criminal underbelly triggered his murder.
It is accepted that both political parties had deep-rooted associations with various dons, although the People’s National Party has managed to divert focus from their original garrison constituencies.
While a deplorable situation, it would be hypocritical to suggest that residents, whether in Deacons Farm, Tivoli Gardens or elsewhere, are any more wrong for looking to these dons for support than those in the mainstream who look to their bosses, pastors, charities or politicians for assistance. If society is doing nothing to improve their circumstance or provide a way forward then what right do they have to judge?
It’s easy to criticise: to blame those who should know better, or demand persons get an education and employment, or choose a path of righteousness over evil.
But what opportunities are provided to them to achieve this in their current circumstances? If, given the options a person faces, the path of survival is an evil rather than the good one you can anticipate that’s the one they’ll likely take. To ask people to simply say ‘no’ is unrealistic.
If we are to ensure political stability and social progress, we need to begin a new process of national reconstruction, one that builds from the bottom up.
Beyond education reform to improve competence in mathematics, English and science, we need to infuse civic learning to impart acceptable societal values and behaviours in the next generation.
Also urgently needed is more market demand-driven training programs to provide opportunities for employment, particularly for the growing cohort of low-skilled young males. Of necessity is the need for economic diversification.
To create the necessary enabling environment for this to emerge, a new cadre of politicians is needed; ones who put country before party and neighbour before self. It must be the case of political aspirants asking not “what your country can do for you, [but] what you can do for your country.” To support them and such transformation, we also need a fit-forpurpose public administration, transparently recruited with proven competencies in leadership and management capable of transforming people and instructions to advance social and economic prosperity.
This is no small feat! It’s very much all hands on deck. But for those who truly love this fair land there is the need to accept that doing nothing is no longer an option. May God give us the strength and courage that we need.
Guy Hewitt is committed to nation building. He currently resides in Florida.