Under a hail of bullets in a relatively isolated incident, more than 20 civilians, 3 members of the Jamaican Police Force and 1 member of the Jamaican military lost their lives. After several days of tense and difficult security operations, scores of arrests were made and an untold cache of weapons removed from the area.
While varying accounts of how this combat began float throughout the international media. The sense of loss and concern hovering over those of us who care about Jamaica see explanation and prevention as key. To those friends and family who have lost loved ones, I offer my sincere condolences. News accounts cite the ages of the deceased range from 15 years to 83 years old.
To those who suggest that this is political, I speak to Jamaica’s colorful and consistent history of democracy. The Jamaican parliament is a fully representative national body—elected by the people of Jamaica to conduct its national affairs and carry out the duties of a sovereign state. Jamaica has historically had a vibrant and active opposition and the democratic principle and practice have governed Jamaican politics since its independence in 1962. In other words, the opposition in Jamaica—at any given time—has room to operate as an opposition within the context of Jamaican law and as a full participant in the political process.
It is clear to me that the Jamaican government recognizes the advantage of its democratic roots. It is equally important that the Jamaican people embrace the privilege of political change through democracy and not violence.
In these coming days, it is my sincere hope that all Jamaicans call on that reserve of democratic spirit and patriotism—and exercise calm. I have drafted language and introduced in the United States House of Representatives a Congressional Resolution on the Unrest in Jamaica. It is a clear and concise statement of interest from the legislature on the peace and progress in Jamaica. In my Resolution, I acknowledge the historical ties and neighborly relations between the United States and Jamaica. It address five areas of concern:
Any time lives are lost as a result of violent civil unrest—it is a tragedy. The grief associated with death is overwhelming enough without the added complexity of national prominence
The authorities are urged to invite open and honest dialog as they seek to bring this unfortunate chapter to a close.
The Government of Jamaica is encouraged to conduct an open, timely and transparent investigation of the events leading up to the crisis.
The United States Government is urged to provide technical advice upon demand by the government of Jamaica and continue to cooperate with authorities to stem the tide of illegally transported firearms and ammunition from the United States to Jamaica.
A clear show of support and commendation for the democratic process and the rule of law in Jamaica.
I would be remiss if I did not expand on the relevance of illegal firearms and ammunition in Jamaica. Only the illegal transport of firearms and ammunition could account for the impressive cache of arms finally confiscated during this uprising and the arsenal which, the Government of Jamaica believes, still exists in the area: an arsenal which reportedly would rival any small arm weaponry available to the Jamaican government by legal means. To the extent that the United States is a procurement source for this illegal weaponry trade—we must continue to cooperate with the Government of Jamaica to stem this fatal tide.
The United States just recently participated in the United Nations Small Arms Conference to discuss the impact of and the need to “cap” the well of illegal firearms internationally. Unfortunately, we fell somewhat short of the mark by setting the tone for the treatment of supplying arms to “non-state actors.”
On the face of this debate, much is left wanting—however, not having participated in the full conference I reserve comment on the final non-bonding communiqué. I do however support the global effort to halt the illegal shipment of weapons. I further lend my full support and commitment to implementing any existing agreements between the United States and any one of its international partners, which significantly reduces—and seeks to eliminate the illegal transport of weapons from the United States.
I make this digression about the illegal weapons trade because it is a critical component to the debate.
The Government of Jamaica has demonstrated its willingness and intentions to conduct a fair and thorough investigation. I am particularly encouraged by their acknowledgment of the critical nature of transparency. The people must have confidence in both the process and the results. Every resident must believe that their government represents them and the law enforcement officials will protect them. The inclusive nature of the inquiry will render sideline critics of justice and democracy mute. More importantly, the residents of the affected areas will feel the protection of the system and a respect for their human and civil rights—which may or may not have been violated.
My resolution makes a clear and concise statement about the recent events in Jamaica. I walk around the 6th Congressional District every weekend and I am constantly reminded of the rich and diverse heritage of the residents. I feel connected to my constituents through both our common heritage and current community. I live the anxious moments throughout our community—fearing the next news report. I care and seek to send that message from the halls of Congress.
To my critics, I concede that this Resolution does not address many issues in Jamaica. Most notable absent from this statement is any reference to the Jamaican economy and trade relations. While those are very critical areas of concern, their relevance to the occurrence of this incident begs a question. Political instability, civil unrest and shoot-outs on city streets do nothing to enhance economic development or trade: I submit this fact is not lost on the parties concerned.
Trade and economics have relevance in many quarters of U.S. foreign policy debate. The Congress just considered billions of dollars in aid and foreign assistance We will debate preferential trade agreements with several trading partners and I will pay particularly close attention to the developing negotiations around the Free Trade for the Area of the Americas (and the interim Caribbean Basin Preferential Trade Agreement.)
However linked to unrest economics and trade may be, neither has ever been enhanced, improved or rewarded from behind the barrel of a gun. It is the recent events behind the barrel of many guns, which drives my current resolution. It is the need for explanation and the hope to prevent such a thing from happening again.