Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jamaica: State Stability and Security - Gangs

            After a long history of Spanish and British colonization, the state of Jamaica established independence in 1962.  Similar to other post-colonial states, Jamaica was a state that emerged with a native population suffering from extreme poverty after decades of foreign exploitation and left in a fragmented domestic political void.  As post-colonialism evolved to globalization, Jamaica remained stable enough for continued foreign capital investment-exploitation, and the newly independent island state did not find itself at war with surrounding states or threatened by further foreign occupation.  The threat to Jamaica’s security and stability, and the safety of the Jamaican people, emerged and continues from a domestic threat: gangs.

Post-Colonial Political Void

            Political voids were characteristic of emerging independent states after decades of colonial occupation by European powers, and the result was no different in Jamaica as domestic political groups vied for power.  Within ten years of Jamaica’s independence, the PNP (People's National Party) and JLP (Jamaican Labour Party) were locked into a grueling battle for domestic political dominance within the democratic parliamentary system left behind by their British occupiers.  After the 1972 election of the PNP’s Michael Manley, “Jamaica’s ruling elite and foreign backers waged a violent and debilitating assault on Manley’s government and party to prevent it from implementing reforms, combining paramilitary assaults on neighbourhoods supporting the PNP with sabotage of the country’s economy” [1]. 

The political gang warfare of the 1970s went both ways as “the two main parties helped organize and arm in Kingston's poor neighborhoods in the 1970s, gangs that controlled the streets at the behest of politicians and intimidated voters at election time”[2].  The PNP was ousted in the election of 1980 when “the political violence reached its height in 1980, when an estimated 700 people were killed in election-related fighting” and the JLP won the national vote and has held power since.  As a result, the gang problem in Jamaica had been born, nurtured and strengthened by political sponsorship and unofficial, and at times official, state support.

Poverty and Drugs

            Poverty in Jamaica has “been a persistent feature of the Jamaican landscape from the post-Emancipation period”[3].  After the dissolution of political party funding for gang activities, Jamaican gangs found an independent funding source in “the introduction of cocaine in the mid-1980s”, as youth amidst post-colonial poverty began to view “the easiest way to become ‘better off’ was to buy cocaine and sell it”[4]. 

As the amount of people living under the poverty level in Jamaica climbed to “an all-time high of 45% of the population, combined with an inflation rate of 80%” in 1991, and previous restraints on gang activities by their political affiliations that funded and armed them were deteriorating, Jamaican gang members, with no other viable options, began to violently position gang alliances throughout the Kingston garrison territories for power positions in the cocaine game [5].     

            The drug trade and violent crime in Jamaica were greatly impacted by the “significant use of the gun in the 1980’s and the illicit drug trans-shipment trade changed the country’s crime landscape from conflict between individuals to violent conflict over turf” and eventually became “anchored in institutionalized relations and occupational roles (subsequent development of extortion and racketeering) [6].

Modern Gang Violence and Economic Growth

            Today, Jamaica boasts one of the highest murder rates in the world due to gang violence and drug trafficking.  As gang violence continued to develop after the turn of the century, Jamaica suffered from “1,674 murders in 2005, up from 1,471 murders” in 2004 amidst “gang related fights over drugs and turf” [7].  A 2004 World Bank report written on the violent crime epidemical erosion on possible economic growth in Jamaica states that “crime costs society at least 4 percent of GDP explicitly, including lost production, health expenses, and public and private spending” and that “Some 10-20 percent of firms in the business survey suggested that they may close down in the next three years because of crime.” [8]

            The gang violence epidemic is debilitating to the Jamaican state because the majority of gang action and violent crime takes place in densely populated urban areas trapped under heavy poverty such as Kingston where “in 2001, about 51 percent of reported violent crimes occurred” [9].  Jamaica has open borders for investment and foreign vulture capital is flowing into the state, but after natural resources and cheap labor are extracted by foreign investors, the Jamaican government is forced to spend her prostitution pay from foreign capital exploitation on reigning in gang violence and paying off international debt instead of maximum reinvestment into the social economy of the state.


            The origins of gang activity in Jamaica were a direct result of the political void and extreme poverty left by colonial oppression, and the violence was grossly accelerated by the political detachment of gangs and the emergence of cocaine, and later crack-cocaine, in the over-crowed cities suffering from mass poverty.  As crime and murder rates continue to expand as a result of bloody gang conflicts over drug territories, the government of Jamaica, which is already under extreme debt to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, is unable to reinvest the foreign capital that is exploiting their domestic natural resources and cheap labor for profit, because crime stability drains a good portion of the GDP after the international debtors extract their payments.  In the case of Jamaican security and economic growth, it is no longer a foreign colonial master or a neighboring nation-state that threatens that security and development.  The largest threat to national security and development, Jamaican gangs, destroys from within.


1.  Annis, Roger.  Gangs and Violence in Jamaica and Haiti.  Center for Research on Globalization, June 14, 2010.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from

2. Rosenberg, Matthew.  Jamaica: 20 Dead in Political Violence.  ABC News, July 10, 2013.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from

3. Anderson, Patricia.  Poverty in Jamaica: Social Target or Social Crisis.  Columbia University.  Souls Journal, 2001, p. 39.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from

4.  Lolland, J & Moser, C.  Urban Poverty and Violence in Jamaica.  World Bank, Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Washington, D.C, 1997, p. 14-15.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from

5. Hughes, Wesley.  A Historical Perspective on Poverty, The Transformation of Jamaica Report.  Office of the Prime Minister, 2006.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from

6. Gray, Sherrian.  Trends in Urban Crime and Violence in Kingston, Jamaica.  UN Habitat Global Report on Human Settlements 2007, p. 7.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from

7. Biswas, Soutik.  Jamaica Struggles to Fight Crime.  BBC News, May 16, 2007.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from

8. The Road to Sustained Growth in Jamaica.  World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2004, p.18-19.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from

9. The Road to Sustained Growth in Jamaica.  World Bank, Washington, D.C., 2004, p.18-19.  Accessed on March 9, 2013 from




No comments:

Post a Comment