Ian Burrell: Jamaica's strange fascination with firearms is subtly different to that of the United States

  • @iburrell

On the face of it, the sickening murder of Imani Green might appear to be a horrible symptom of the same gun culture that claimed the lives of 20 children at Sandy Hook a month earlier.

But Jamaica’s relationship with firearms is subtly different to that of the United States. The beautiful Caribbean island has no obvious cowboy tradition, no National Rifle Association and no history of angry young men firing automatic weapons inside schools in order to achieve fame on network television.

Jamaica, it is true, has a strange fascination with firearms – and it is a relationship that has haunted the country for more than 30 years.

Cinema is partly responsible. Wild West films offered cheap thrills to communities deprived of their own media. And, when Jamaica did have its first breakout movie success, 1972’s The Harder They Come starred Jimmy Cliff as an island gangster who modelled himself on a frontier town gunslinger.

But the real roots of the Jamaican gun problem stem from the polarised and bloody election of 1980 when the island was flooded with weapons amid American fears that it could become a new Cuba. Some 844 people were murdered and the guns were never returned. Instead they provided the firearms for the warlords who emerged in the new politically-aligned ghettoes of the capital Kingston.

In the years afterwards, these new criminal militias became the natural enforcers for the South American cartels who identified Jamaica as a key route for satisfying the United States drugs market and have sustained a gun culture that is sometimes even celebrated in the lyrics and artwork of the island’s popular music.

Jamaica’s depressing gun culture is unique. But Hollywood, the CIA and America’s cocaine users must all take some blame for their part in its creation.