Jamaican social activist and radio broadcaster Lloyd D’Aguilar is a founding member of the Tivoli Committee, a pressure group that aims to make those responsible for the 2010 storming of Tivoli Gardens to be held publicly accountable for their actions. Afropop Worldwide’s David Katz and Saxon Baird spoke to him on Feb. 10, 2015, in the midst of the official Tivoli Gardens Commission of Enquiry, launched by the Jamaican government in December 2014.
What is the Tivoli Committee and when was it formed?
Lloyd D'Aguilar: The Tivoli Committee was formed shortly after May 2010, when the security forces went into Tivoli Gardens and committed a horrific massacre against the people there. As many as 200 people were probably killed, even though the state only acknowledges about 73 or 74. This is the worst massacre in the history of Jamaica since 1865, when the British went into Morant Bay and massacred 500 people and burnt down houses and so on.
Give us a little bit of background to the case. Why did the security forces storm Tivoli?
To make it very simple, the United States requested the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who is regarded as the “Don” in Tivoli, and Tivoli is regarded as a garrison; the prime minister at the time was Bruce Golding, who was also the representative for the area, and he felt that there were constitutional issues surrounding the extradition warrant, so he held out for nine months before signing it. Once he signed the warrant, then it was seen as a betrayal, it was seen as an attack on the constitutional rights of Dudus Coke, who was wanted by the United States for drug smuggling and gun running, and he’s very popular in the area because he’s very generous to people. And so barricades went up all around west Kingston, and gunmen started firing at the security forces, and Golding was forced to declare a state of emergency, and the rest is history. The security forces went in there and massacred people; they claimed that they had a vicious fight against gunmen, but the evidence and the facts don’t prove that. What the people say is that they went inside the houses and went door to door, house to house, and executed as many young men as they possibly could, and who they didn’t execute they beat; they tortured, they stole, they pillaged, they did all kinds of things, and then they interred maybe 500-600 people at the National Arena and held them there for many, many days.
Let’s talk a little bit about why a situation like this would arise in Jamaica. How can it be that something like this is taking place?
Well, it arises because the police have been given license for decades now to kill as they see fit; they are being given the right to be judge, jury and executioner, and this has been going on for decades, from one political party, one government, to the next, and we have never been able to rein it in. Human rights groups all over the world, governments have been commenting on it, and nothing has happened, so this is a excessive manifestation of what is a policy in Jamaica that happened in Tivoli Gardens in 2010.
When do you think this type of situation began in Jamaica and why?
Well, I spoke about Morant Bay in 1865; it was a couple years after that the Jamaica Constabulary Force was formed, and the Jamaica Constabulary Force was set up to protect the planter class who felt threatened by this little mini-rebellion in Morant Bay, and so the police force has evolved over the years basically as an occupying army in the inner cities, to control and to enforce the policies of successive governments since independence…. Basically, we are an underdeveloped society; we are poor, we are backward, and the ruling class has no solution to the economic problems, and [so they believe that] the best way to deal with that is to use violence and instill fear in the people. So that is the essence and the genesis of this policy of using violence against poor people in inner cities.
When you say that Tivoli Gardens is a garrison community, how would you define a garrison community and when did they first come into being in Jamaica?
Well, the garrison is defined by the academics as…built around certain housing estates, [where] housing is made available to people of one political party or another, and in order to maintain political support, guns are distributed by the politicians and gangs evolve. And so that garrison will ensure in that constituency that everybody adheres to that political party, so that when election time comes, 90 percent of the people are voting for that political party, and so there’s been a symbiotic relationship between these gangs in these garrisons, the politicians and the state, and sometimes they coexist with the police as well; sometimes they have friction, and sometimes they coexist. And I think this is what was happening in Tivoli Gardens. Dudus Coke coexisted with both governments; he was into gun running and drug smuggling and he benefited from contracts from the state, but the extradition warrant sort of upset everything and led to the massacre which took place in 2010.
I’m curious about the idea of the Don. It seems like there was an excessive amount of force going into Tivoli, and some articles seems to suggest, they thought there would be a huge army defending Dudus. Can you talk about that perception, the government’s perception, the fear of the Don?
Well, a lot of it is, they engage in certain disinformation campaigns; you’re gonna launch a counterinsurgency operation, so you have to build up the enemy and make the enemy look more fearsome than it really is. I’m not saying that there weren’t gunmen there, and it is true that some police stations were burned down, and opportunistically, gunmen took the opportunity to fire at the security forces and build up roadblocks and so on, but they made the army of Dudus look more fearsome than it really was, and let’s face it, the Jamaican Constabulary Force, the Jamaica Defence Force numbers about 13,000. They have all kinds of arms, equipment, helicopters, etc. I mean, this “army” would have been no match for a professional army, but they had decided on a counterinsurgency operation, they were being prepared for it by Canadian and United States special army trainers here; there was three months of practising for it, and they just executed that plan…which was signaled by the United States, which provided aerial surveillance…I’m not saying they were involved in the conflict, but they were there monitoring the situation, so they knew what was happening, and it was preplanned.
It seems like, since even the late '60s, up to the 2000s, there’s been a “Shoot first, ask questions later” policy in that area. Can you comment on that? Is that changing? Where does that come from?
Well, as I said before, the police force is there to enforce the rule of the ruling class, and the ruling class is economically and politically bankrupt—they have no money to spend on the inner cities. We have 1.2 million people living below the poverty line, not enough spending on education and health, and the economy right now is basically bankrupt; we are under the tutelage of the International Monetary Fund. So this has been an ongoing thing for decades, and state violence is a response that is used to maintain the rule of the state. It’s as simple as that.
I’m a little bit confused. What’s their fear? That those living under the poverty line, which sounds like it’s almost half the population, would band together and rise up against that ruling class
Well, as a result of the poverty situation, gangs form naturally, because people have to survive, and if there are no jobs, people tend to form gangs to extort money, to do whatever they can to make a living. So there is an economic and a political basis for gangs to arise, and they are also affiliated with the political parties, so all of that goes together. Sometimes the gangs are independent, sometimes they are aligned to the political parties, and then there’s drugs, there’s guns, and all of that coalesced together.
And the ruling class fears that?
And the ruling class fears that. If they can’t control it, then they will smash it. But it is not only the gangs. It is just young men in the community that the police have the license to engage in preventative police enforcing; in other words, you’re poor and so therefore the police have the right to say, “You might become a criminal. We don’t want you to become a criminal, so we’re gonna blow your brains out before you become a criminal.” And essentially, it’s that kind of a policing [that has] been going on for decades; they have tried to reform, but they haven’t really reformed. I will say that last year, the police killing rate went down dramatically, but this went down only because they discovered a death squad in Clarendon, and the police commissioner was implicated in it, and also because of what happened in 2010, the U,S. State Department has been asking questions about how they gonna resolve that issue, even though the State Department of the United States might have been involved in it itself.
But, you know, there are different arms of the U,S. government, and the State Department, human rights department might be on its own, making certain decisions, and so on. So therefore, the police high command have decided that they have to damper down the killings somewhat, but I wouldn’t be fooled that it’s the end of police killings, it’s just that they had to bring it down. They still killed 114 people last year, which is a hell of a lot of people, given the fact that we are only 2.7 million people, so they can turn it on and turn it off when they want. The policy is still there. It’s just that when the eyes are watching, they may tone it down a little bit, but when the eyes are not watching, and necessity arises, they will go back to the policy again, which still remains.
I’d seen some strange statistics in the newspaper, something about the number of police that were currently charged with committing crimes themselves, and the majority of them were up for murder charges. So I wondered if you had any information about that.
Well, I can’t remember the amount of policemen they say that are charged before the courts, it might have been 40 or something like that; I’m not quite sure, but this is a miniscule number compared to the amount of killings that have taken place. I mean, we’re averaging 200 killings a year [of civilians by police], so it just goes to show that very few policemen are ever brought before the courts, much less convicted. I mean, in the past several years, if they have convicted three policemen, they have convicted a lot and these convictions are usually outright criminal activity on their part, and they just get caught, but if the policeman claims that it was a shootout, and he was doing it on behalf of the state, no matter how the thing plays out, in the end, he will be vindicated because there’s an official policy of impunity for police extrajudicial killings
Can you tell us a little bit about the campaign that you’ve been involved in, and what came out of the enquiry so far?
Well, the Tivoli Committee has been on a campaign to hold the commanders of the operations in 2010 accountable and to bring them before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity—that is our mission. We don’t believe that any individual soldier or policeman will ever be identified, much more to be convicted, for the massacre which took place, and the reason why we’ve been having killings over the years is because we don’t hold the commanders accountable. The Jamaican judicial system is bankrupt; it is not able to even try to command us and it’s just not part of our judicial practice, so we are dead-set that the only true resolution to this matter is to bring the commanders—civilian and security forces—before the International Criminal Court, or try them under our local Terrorism Prevention Act, which nobody’s even talking about, but that’s the only way you’re gonna hold them accountable, so that’s what we’re trying to do.
So we are into the fourth week or so of the enquiry, and I have been kicked out, and they’ve also refused me to even go back in as an observer, which is an assault on my democratic rights, to go into a public inquiry as an observer, so it is that kind of judicial temperament that you have running this enquiry. We don’t believe that anything will come out of it more than a whitewash, because the terms of reference and the Commission of Enquiry Act makes it so, that it can only be a whitewash, so that is not good enough for us. What we really want to see happen is for as much evidence as possible [to] come out; that is the only useful part of this inquiry, the evidence about the brutality and what the commanders have to say, and then we hope that we will be able to use this information at a later date to make a case before the International Criminal Court.