On Sunday, May 23, 2010, effective at 6:00 p.m., a limited state of emergency was declared for Kingston and St Andrew due to the instability being experienced in the capital as a result of criminals seeking to prevent the arrest of crime lord and Tivoli Gardens strongman, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. Sections of West Kingston became unstable after the Government approved the extradition request for Coke on May 17/18, 2010, a request that was first made by the United States Government in the summer of 2009.
The 2010 state of emergency was the fifth such declaration made in Jamaica since Independence in 1962; declarations made for differing reasons. The following are summaries of these five states of emergency in Jamaica’s history.
What is a State of Emergency?
According to section 20, subsection (1) of the Constitution of Jamaica (pg. 56), a:
“period of public emergency” means any period during which:
(a) Jamaica is engaged in any war;
(b) there is in force a Proclamation by the Governor-General declaring that a state of public emergency exists; or
(c) there is in force a resolution of each House of Parliament supported by the votes of a two-thirds majority of all the members of each House declaring that democratic institutions in Jamaica are threatened by subversion;
States of Emergency in Jamaica’s History
- When: declared at midnight on Sunday, October 2, 1966, and ended on Friday, November 4, 1966. Total duration: 33 days.
- Why: in response to outbursts of political gang violence in the troubled zones, the state of emergency was “proclaimed by the Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon. Roy McNeill, following discussions with the Prime Minister, Sir Alexander Bustamante, and advisers at Jamaica House” (The Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, October 4, 1966, pg. 1).
- Where/How: Western Kingston and sections of South-Western St Andrew were impacted by the state of emergency. Police and military personnel cordoned off the troubled zone and imposed a curfew for the area from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Police and military personnel searched the area “house by house, business place by business place” (The Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, October 4, 1966, pg. 1) looking for weapons and materials used to make bombs.
- When: from Saturday, June 19, 1976 to Monday, February 28, 1977.
The initial term of a state of emergency is 30 days. Following this rule the 1976 state of emergency should have ended on July 26, 1976. This was not the case; instead it lasted a total of 255 days or 8 months and 10 days. Let’s break this down:
- On July 14, 1976, a majority of the House of Parliament approved the continuation of the state of emergency for 130 days (four months) to end on the October 26, 1976.
- On October 5, 1976, the House approved the further extension of the state of emergency for 125 days. The state of emergency eventually ended on February 28, 1977.
- Why: the state of emergency was declared by the Governor-General, Sir Florizel Glasspole, on the advice of the Cabinet led by Prime Minister, Hon. Michael Manley, in response to the increased violence across the country. According to the declaration by the Governor-General, Sir Florizel Glasspole, under the state of emergency the security forces were to “lock up and keep locked up all persons whose activities are likely to endanger the public safety, and in particular, the gunmen and the terrorists” (The Sunday Gleaner, June 20, 1976, pg. 1). In his statement to the nation on June 19, 1976, the Prime Minister, Hon. Michael Manley, noted that the state of emergency was necessary as a result of the increased violence in the country at “a scale unique to our history” and that there were “indications that the stage was to have been set … to undermine confidence in the lawfully elected Government, and the constitutionally established security forces of the nation” (The Sunday Gleaner, June 20, 1976, pg. 1 & 26). According to many analysts, however, “the Michael Manley administration used the powers of the state and state agencies for devastating strategic and propaganda effect against his political opponents” (Steer 2007). In fact, the 1976 general parliamentary elections were held during the state of emergency. The PNP won.
- Where/How: the security forces imposed three 10-hour curfews, starting at 8:00 p.m., in different sections of the Corporate Area. The curfews were confined to Penwood Road/Bay Farm Road; Maxfield Avenue/Spanish Town Road and Greenwich Farm areas.
- When: from Friday, September 10 to Saturday, October 9, 2004. Total duration of state of emergency: 30 days.
- Why: the state of emergency was declared at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, September 10, 2004, a few hours before the full force of category four hurricane Ivan impacted Jamaica later that day. In his statement to the nation declaring the state of emergency, the Prime Minister, Most Hon. P.J. Patterson, stated that this was necessary as: “The hurricane is likely to endanger public safety and has the potential to deprive the community of essential supplies and services as well” (JIS 2004).
The Prime Minister was severely criticised for implementing this state of emergency, which, despite all good intentions, went against the stipulations in the Jamaican Constitution.
- When: from Sunday, August 19, 2007 to Friday, August 24, 2007. Total duration of the state of emergency: six days
- Why: The state of emergency was declared by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller, in response to reports of looting in both urban and rural areas, exchange of gunfire between criminal gangs and “further reports of sizeable groupings of armed criminals sighted in sections of the Corporate Area” (Gleaner, Wednesday, August 22, 2007) after the passage of hurricane Dean on August 19, 2007.
- When: from Sunday, May 23, 2010 to Thursday, July 22, 2010. Total duration of the state of emergency: 61 days.
- Why: The State of Public Emergency was declared by Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who advised the public in an address to the nation that the “decision was based on information and advice provided by the security forces that actions were being taken which pose significant threats to law and order in the Corporate Area” (Jamaica Information Service, May 23, 2010). According to Prime Minister Golding:
What is taking place is a calculated assault on the authority of the State that cannot be tolerated, and will not be allowed to continue.
The state of emergency will enable the security forces to exercise extraordinary powers necessary to deal with this extraordinary situation. These include the power to restrict the freedom of movement, search premises and detain persons suspected of involvement in unlawful activities without warrant. These are necessary measures to restore order to a community that is now threatened.
The state of emergency was later extended to end on July 22, 2010, and further included St Catherine.
Jamaicans are now very cautious (suspicious?) of attempts by the Government to impose any states of emergency, due to past abuses of power during these periods. Do any of you have memories of these five states of emergency? Why not share your own history in the comments below?
Until next time…
Davies, Garwin (2003). Cabinet Documents: State of Emergency, 19702 – ‘In the best interest of the country.’
The Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, October 4, 1966, pg. 1
The Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, June 22, 1976, pg. 21
The Gleaner, Wednesday, August 22, 2007. Looting Spurred State of Emergency.
The Gleaner Company (1995). The Gleaner Geography and History of Jamaica. 24th edition. Kingston: The Gleaner Company Limited
Jamaica Information Service (2004). Statement by Most Honourable Prime Minister P.J. Patterson Re: Hurricane Ivan on September 20, 2004.
Jamaica Information Service (2010). Address to The Nation on The State of Emergency by PM Golding, May 23, 2010.
The Sunday Gleaner, June 20, 1976, pg. 1 & 26
The Sunday Gleaner, May 23, 2010. State Of Emergency For Kingston And St Andrew.
Steer, Colin (2007). The Ghosts of 1976.