Anarchy is the word on Jamaican streets

A WEEK ago today, Lloyd Thomas was a multi-millionaire, a self- made Jamaican of working-class origin who started in the hardware business with less than pounds 100. On Tuesday he found himself hiding underneath a still smouldering pile of timber inside his premises, hearing a gang of 40 heavily armed youths searching for him and saying they would kill him "because he's rich".

The gang had burned his yard on Kingston's middle-class Red Hills Road the night before, throwing Molotov cocktails over the 20ft wall. Mr Thomas, 39, saw it all from his home on a hill above, unable to get there because anti-government protesters had blocked Kingston's roads with hijacked cars and burning tyres.

With police involved in gunfights elsewhere, he finally made his way down alone in the morning to find close to pounds 1m in damage to his yard, known locally as the place to buy anything necessary to build a small house. Most of his wares were burnt to cinders.

It was then that the gunmen and looters came back for more, to salvage the scattered cement from burnt bags, out-of-shape plumbing pipes and blackened kitchen sinks. "I hid over there," a shaken Mr Thomas told me yesterday, pointing to a pile of burnt out timber and corrugated iron in a corner. "I had this, and four magazines with 10 bullets each," he said, fingering the automatic pistol tucked into the front of his trousers. "But there were 40 of them. I thought, I have 40 bullets. If they find me, I could take out maybe two or three, but ..."

Mr Thomas's yard, known simply as Lloyd's, was one of the worst hit during three days of violence last week after the government of Percival Patterson imposed a 30 per cent rice rise on petrol. Nine people were killed in the worst incidents here in 20 years, mainly in shoot-outs between police and armed residents of working-class suburbs. Damage was widely described as worse than that from Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

The violence led airlines and cruise ships to cancel visits to the former British Caribbean colony, but they have now resumed after calm returned towards the weekend. An unknown number of Britons, North Americans and others cancelled holidays to Jamaica, prompting the government to launch a campaign to lure them back. It is true that despite the worst week in 20 years, there was little danger to tourists: cocooned in secure beach resorts, their chances of being harmed appeared minimal.

But in the shanty towns of Kingston, things got so bad that Jamaicans spoke ominously of anarchy and quite seriously about a return to colonial rule. The protests were clearly about more than just petrol prices. They were, essentially, about increasing poverty and hunger.

Looters were seen carrying refrigerators, taking care not to empty the contents. Women grabbed only sanitary napkins, stuffing them inside their clothing out of embarrassment. The fact that wooden beams, plumbing pipes and kitchen sinks were stolen from Mr Thomas's yard seemed symbolic of the government's inability to provide adequate housing or facilities.

Only in areas controlled by the traditional "dons" - wealthy businessmen often involved in narcotics and controlling "posses" of heavily armed young men to police their areas - was there no looting. Downtown Kingston, a commercial area under the undisputed control of a businessman known only as Zeke, was untouched during the week's riots.

Mr Thomas, the looted hardware millionaire, appeared to concur that private, not official, self-protection had become the answer here, raising real fears of anarchy. "I'm a Jamaican," he said, "but I wouldn't invest here again. The authorities did nothing to protect me. The mall next door was untouched because they had security. Whoever can manage this country I'll support, but I'm thinking of migrating.

"I hate to talk bad about my government, but it is a jackass government. Just because I got rich, I became a target. This was about grudge, hate, malice."

Mr Patterson asked the nation to await a report, due today, by a crisis committee he appointed after the riots to review his price rises. The committee was expected to roll back the rises by at least half, if not completely, but there was much doubt as to whether such a move would maintain order for long.

"It's like putting a sticking plaster on cancer," said Clive Dobson, a trade union leader. "We have a deformed political system under which a government can commit the country to enormous debt without any public debate. This crisis is the most severe of my lifetime."

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn