Who is the State in Jamaica?
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Last week we suggested that Jamaica had a very different type of state than Barbados at least partially because of the long history of labor repression that follows the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834.

A telling example of this is the conviction of drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke after his extradition to the United States in 2010.

Before being sentenced Coke wrote a long letter to Judge Robert P. Patterson asking for leniency (you can read the text here).

Points 9 and 10 from the letter are very interesting. They state:

9.  I did a lot of charitable deeds and social services to help members of my community development, where I implemented a lot of social programs that the residents from my community could better their lives, programs that teach them about self-empowerment, education and skills training.

10. I also host a lot of charity events annually such as:

a. A back to school treat for the children after the summer holiday has ended, by giving the children school bags, books, pens, pencils, uniforms and other items necessary for school. I also provide the children with food and refreshment along with entertainment at this event.

b. ..

The list goes on and on and includes D.J. competitions where the winner can record a song, Christmas parties, founding a youth club, giving free food to people in old-age homes, keeping parks and recreational areas clean, helping out at a home for orphans, starting a school called the Western Institute of Technology, which teaches computer and information technology skills and was certified by the government, founding member of the local Parents Association Committee, guarantee that all children between the age of 6 and 16 were off the streets after 8pm.

As evidence he also submitted a list of unemployed people who he had helped to find jobs and a letter from the local member of the Jamaican parliament praising him for all this charitable work.

Dudus did all his charitable work (and masterminded his drug dealing) in an area of Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, called Tivoli Gardens.

He took over the running of a gang called the Shower Posse that had been founded by his father Lester Coke. The gang was so powerful that functionaries of the Jamaican government, such as the police, had to ask its permission to enter Tivoli Gardens. Lester had started out as a bodyguard for Jamaican politician Edward Sega who was instrumental in creating Tivoli Gardens out of the Back-0-Wall shantytown in the 1960s and who was elected, without interruption, for 43 years to the Jamaican parliament, becoming Prime Minister between 1980 and 1989.

Seaga built a political machine in Tivoli Gardens using exactly the same strategies, handing out food and supporting education while at the same time groups like the Shower Posse made sure that the votes got delivered.

Seaga’s Jamaican Labour Party was not the only political party thus based. Michael Manley’s People’s National Party, which, as we noted in our previous post on this topic, is responsible for initiating a severe economic decline in Jamaica, has another infamous neighborhood in Kingstown, Trenchtown.

This again goes to underscore that Jamaica does not have the same institutions as Barbados.

Jamaica has suffered from a long history of violence unleashed by the attempts of former slave owners to repress labor after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. The political parties which emerged in the 1940s in the context of a nationalist movement started using violent tactics early on and they built their support bases with the cooperation of gangsters in the context of a very weak state unable, or maybe unwilling, to provide order. This violent polarized politics bred very inefficient economic policies, as it has done in much of Latin America, and Jamaica experienced economic divergence from Barbados.

In fact the Jamaican state has a lot in common with the state in countries like Colombia where, as we discuss in Why Nations Fail, paramilitary groups provide many state like services to local people and deliver votes for politicians.

Article originally appeared on Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (http://whynationsfail.com/).
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