Beware the don
BLP hopeful alleges that garrison politics is here
A Barbados Labour Party (BLP) hopeful has charged that the sort of political tribalism seen in Jamaica is creeping its way into Barbadian politics.
Educator Marsha Hinds-Layne, who is seeking the nomination to challenge Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in St Michael North West, has told Barbados TODAY that garrison constituencies often associated with community dons and criminal networks are being introduced by local politicians.
She did not name the constituencies or the politicians involved. However, Hinds-Layne, who has lived in Jamaica, was adamant that this is something that must not be allowed to thrive here because of the threat it poses to democracy.
“I have worked in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana and I have seen garrison constituencies. A garrison constituency is not something that we should cultivate in our political and social space. Garrison constituencies are very problematic for several reasons. They are dangerous things to construct and if I can be a part of destroying the possibility of that happening anywhere in Barbados, I will do that,” the outspoken potential candidate said.
Garrisonism has been deeply entrenched in Jamaica’s political landscape for several decades. The border wars between garrison communities of different persuasions result in increased difficulty in maintaining law and order; an inability to maintain social infrastructure which borders or passes through disparate communities; a restriction of movement through these areas which affects human rights, transportation, job attendance and opportunities; and a restriction of business opportunities to the localized area, as customers from other communities are denied access by blocked roads and real or perceived threats of violence, according to Citizens’ Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), an anti-corruption organization formed in 1997 as a standard-bearer in the challenge to corruption in the Jamaican electoral process.
Garrison constituencies may be those in which an overwhelming majority of the voters are totally committed to one political party or constituencies characterized by pockets of garrison behaviour, with supporters from the two major parties. They are created by the development of large-scale housing schemes by the State and the allocation of the houses to supporters of the party in power and homogenization by the dominant party activists, pushing out the minority from within and guarding against intrusion from outside, according to CAFFE. Cheap
vote-buying is also integral to garrison politics.
“It is clear that garrison behaviour is a cultural phenomenon induced by political tribalism, nurtured by community dons and supported by gang-related criminal elements,” former CAFFE chairman Alfred Sangster wrote in a November 13, 2011 column after the then Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness asked the opposition leader Portia Simpson-Miller to join him on a symbolic walk through their two garrison constituencies.
Hinds-Layne supported her charge of its introduction here by making reference to a claim made by an unnamed BLP candidate that during the 2013 general election he was approached by a don in his constituency who assured him that the don could deliver 100 votes in the dying moments of the election at a cost of $300 each.
“That is exactly how a garrison constituency works. You must have deep pockets. You go to the don who is usually a man of influence in the community and you garner his support. His ‘soldiers’ then have no choice but to also pledge allegiance to him. It is problematic and we do need to break it up. I think it is so unfortunate that the only thing that we can find to do with these dons is to further institutionalize them in a garrison structure,” Hinds lamented.
The part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies also supported a contention by prominent criminal lawyer Arthur Holder that block and gang culture was no longer a sub-culture but was fast becoming Barbados’ dominant culture.
Hinds argued that there was no denying that there are young men in communities who have been able to carve out a space for themselves outside of the established social system and have been targeted by some power-hungry politicians.
“They should be lured back into the system. It has been done in Brooklyn, New York and there is no valid reason why it cannot be done here. You cannot deny that this sub-culture is a reality and we have to interface with it. There are some young men around Barbados who do not have strong family support around them and the dons have been able to supply that family structure. They construct networks around the sale of whatever illicit drugs . . . and they establish shops sometimes.”
The outspoken Hinds-Layne is seeking to challenge Sinckler who took over 63 per cent of the votes in St Michael North West in the 2013 general election, securing 2,650 votes to 1,533 by the BLP’s Gregory Nicholls. The spread is 12 per cent fewer than the 75 per cent which CAFEE has used to define a garrison constituency in numerical terms.
The mother of four and former Alexandra Secondary School pupil seemed unperturbed by the challenge, telling Barbados TODAY she wanted to help stop the “social mayhem” that the country is experiencing.
“I have come to recognize that the country has several challenges that need to be addressed. More people who are concerned with what is going on in Barbados have to be willing to take a stand to address the social mayhem that currently exists . . . I am entering elective politics to see if I can assist in stopping the slide.
“If people are saying that you have to have deep pockets if you enter the race in St Michael North West, then we can conclude that there is vote buying in Barbados. I am concerned about the plight of the young in Barbados. What I bring to St Michael North West is a mother, a teacher and a person who cares about people who cannot look after themselves. I want to build a community that is based on cricket, football and cultural activity, not one based on perpetuating the culture of the don man,” Hinds concluded.