30 May 2010

Article: Jamaica's Bloody Democracy

Orlando Patterson's op-ed article "Jamaica's Bloody Democracy" appeared in today's "New York Times".

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "The violence tearing apart Jamaica, a democratic state, raises serious questions not only about its government's capacity to provide basic security but, more broadly and disturbingly, the link between violence and democracy itself. The specific causes of the turmoil are well known. For decades political leaders have used armed local gangs to mobilize voters in their constituencies; the gangs are rewarded with the spoils of power, in particular housing and employment contracts they can dole out. Opposition leaders counter with their own gangs, resulting in chronic violence during election seasons. These gangs eventually moved into international drug trafficking, with their leaders, called 'dons,' becoming ever more powerful. The tables turned quite some time ago, with the politicians becoming dependent on the dons for their survival. [...]

"Yet Jamaica, to its credit, has by global standards achieved a robust democracy. [...] Freedom House has continuously categorized the island as a 'free' country. [...] It may or may not be true that democracies do not wage war with each other, but a growing number of analysts have concluded that, domestically, democracies are in fact more prone to violence than authoritarian states, measured by incidence of civil wars, communal conflict and homicide. There are many obvious examples of this: India has far more street crime than China; the countries of the former Soviet Union are more violent now than they were under Communism; the streets of South Africa became more dangerous after apartheid was dismantled; Brazil was safer before 1985 under its military rule."

Orlando Patterson is John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard.

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