Cablegate: Jlp Orchestrates Islandwide Day of Protest Against

Published: Wed 7 Sep 2005 08:49 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: DECL: 9/7/15
Classified By: CDA Thomas C. Tighe. Reasons 1.5(b) and (d).
1. (U) On September 6, the opposition Jamaica Labor Party
(JLP) carried out an island-wide demonstration against the
People's National Party government, on the same day that
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson was hosting Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and
senior delegations from CARICOM states, the Dominican
Republic, and Montserrat for the signing of the PetroCaribe
agreement. In much of the capital, streets were empty and
businesses closed as most residents stayed home while many
held demonstrations in their communities. Actions were
largely peaceful, though sporadic roadblocks, gunshots, and
violence were reported across the island, and police made
numerous arrests. In the aftermath, the JLP announced a
successful protest, and stands prepared to do it again if the
GOJ does not respond in a way that addresses the concerns
that were expressed. End Summary.
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JLP Calls for Peaceful Protest of Price Increases
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2. (U) Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) leader Bruce Golding on
September 4 called for a nationwide day of protest against
the GOJ, to be held on September 6. The JLP magnanimously
announced that it had pushed the protest back by 24 hours,
not wanting to disrupt the traditional first day of school
for Jamaican children. In any event, schools were closed
nationwide on September 6, disrupting the second day of
school. Probably not coincidentally, the JLP protest took
place on the date of the GOJ-hosted PetroCaribe signing
summit (septel) in Montego Bay, where Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro were visiting
with Prime Minister PJ Patterson and government leaders
representing 16 Caribbean countries.
3. (C) Delroy Chuck, JLP MP and shadow justice minister, told
Pol/Econ Chief late on September 3 that the JLP leadership
would meet the following day in the Stony Hill section of
Kingston to finalize plans for the protest. Perhaps in a
moment of unintended candor, Chuck cheerfully acknowledged
that the JLP had been out of the news lately and needed to
"remind" voters that it remains a force. The action,
explained JLP General Secretary Karl Samuda on September 4,
was prompted by the GOJ's series of recent price hikes,
including increases in the general consumption tax (GCT), bus
fares, water, electricity, and landline telephone service.
Higher prices have drawn the ire of citizens, especially the
poor, who have already faced double-digit inflation rates in
the past two years (reftel). In a party statement, Golding
on September 6 called for the protest to be carried out
"within the law."
The Capital Shuts Down, Violence Flares
4. (U) In Kingston, traffic was very light throughout the day
on September 6, a sign that those residents who were not
demonstrating had chosen to stay at home, either out of
solidarity with protesters, or out of fear for their own
safety. Some people, including Embassy employees, reported
setting out for work only to find their route obstructed by
manned roadblocks, forcing them to return home. The result
was a capital that appeared largely deserted, with businesses
shuttered for most of the day, if they opened at all, and few
cars on the road.
5. (U) The media reported isolated incidents of vigorous and
often dangerous demonstrations around the island, including
burning roadblocks and gunfire that The Jamaica Gleaner
newspaper described as "mayhem" and "pandemonium." Police
reported the arrests of 35 protesters, including Spanish Town
Mayor Andrew Wheatley, who was reportedly participating in a
roadblock. At least one JLP Member of Parliament, Mike
Henry, was also seen supporting residents who had set up a
roadblock. (Note: A PNP MP told us on September 7 that
blockage of roads specifically violates the law, and that the
police high command's pre-approval of the demonstrations
specifically precluded roadblocks. End Note). Embassy
contacts in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) reported
that one police officer was shot and slightly injured in
Kingston, and that at least two people were killed during the
day. Some people were reportedly pulled from their cars and
beaten by demonstrators.
PNP Dissuades Supporters from Involvement
6. (C) Notwithstanding the incidents that took place, Balfour
Denniston, member of the People's National Party's (PNP)
National Executive Committee (NEC), told Poloff at midday on
September 6 that the demonstration appeared to be atypical in
its moderation. He cited the country's violent gas riots in
1999, when both PNP and JLP supporters took to the streets.
The PNP, said Denniston, had taken measures on Sunday,
September 4, to avoid a similar scenario by discouraging its
constituencies across the island from lawless behavior. He
said that the party had sent its local representatives to
communities to "lubricate" influential community leaders,
including by "handing out money." Denniston said that the
party's efforts had been successful, implying that primarily
JLP supporters were causing trouble during the current
demonstration. Denniston said that the JLP's call to action
was not/not irresponsible, and that Golding had explicitly
called for peaceful and lawful demonstrations. However,
Denniston said he suspected that certain aggressive elements
within the JLP, including Deputy Leader and MP James
Robertson, could incite violence among demonstrators loyal to
the JLP. In that case, Denniston said, volatile areas like
Spanish Town and West Kingston could easily "blow up."
JLP Claims Success, Watches PNP for Response
7. (C) JLP General Secretary Karl Samuda told Poloff on
September 7 that his party considered the demonstrations a
success, although he did lament the fact that some protesters
had become unruly. Samuda insisted that the JLP only
endorsed peaceful demonstrations, but admitted that protests
in Jamaica seem to be inextricably linked with road blockages
and lawlessness. However, Samuda added that the protest was
the first in Jamaica to be so controlled and organized at the
constituency level, as opposed to past demonstrations, which
have developed more spontaneously at a central location.
Samuda said that the JLP was now looking forward to the
September 13 session of Parliament, in which it hoped the PNP
would be willing to revisit its agreement with Jamaica Power
Service Company, the Mirant-owned utility whose recent price
increases kicked off the protest. In addition to the
electricity costs, Samuda said that unreliable power meters
were also a problem that the GOJ should address.
8. (C) Samuda maintained that the September 6 PetroCaribe
meetings were never discussed during the JLP's planning
meetings, and that the timing was "a sheer coincidence." He
also said that he was upset by the Private Sector
Organization of Jamaica's (PSOJ) complaints about lost
productivity during the protests. Samuda called the PSOJ
hypocritical, pointing out that it had called for a day of
business closures following the May 21 death of "one of their
own," businessman Maurice Azan. Samuda insisted that the
Jamaican people were entitled to a day of demonstration,
considering that more than 1,000 people have been murdered so
far this year.
8. (C) News of the JLP's call for a day of protest was
greeted in some quarters with unease, as many Jamaicans
recalled the infamous 1999 "gas riots" in which JLP and PNP
supporters united and created widespread havoc. Others were
probably happy to take a "free" day off work. Either way,
the impact of the day's actions remains to be seen. On one
hand, business interests lamented a day of lost productivity
and the associated negative economic impact, which one
economist said was likely to affect investor confidence. On
the other, the JLP is willing to overlook the economic damage
if the PNP takes citizens' demands seriously in Parliament.
Unfortunately, GOJ action to address the people's demands
will only continue to reinforce the notion in Jamaica that
violence and "bangarang" are the only effective means to
achieving political ends. End Comment.
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