How 70 died after a mother had been insulted

It is difficult to keep up with the rapid degeneration of Caribbean society into the most appalling violence. I wrote here some time ago of a friend and colleague. Tim Hector is his name. He is the editor of the twice-weekly Antiguan journal Outlet, and for more than 20 years a thorn in the island government's side. During his revelations about drug running among ministers and their supporters, they murdered his wife - chopped her head off completely. It was perhaps the most gruesome murder in the island's history.

Then, quite recently, the government and its supporters burnt down Outlet's headquarters.

A few days ago, a leading government party organiser issued an open threat that he was going for Hector's jugular. Instantly an attempt was made on the life of his eldest son, Che. The boy was about to be taken away and executed when a tiny distraction allowed him to escape. But within hours Hector's second son had his house burnt down and all his musical instruments destroyed. He's a band leader, one of Antigua's most popular musicians.

Hector is an old friend; I hold uncle status with his children. He is one of the few West Indians I know with a stiff upper lip. There is nowhere else for him to go, he will say, pointing out that Jamaicans are worse off.

Yes, indeed! Some gangster by the name of "Pang", or some such ridiculous sobriquet, "runs things", as they say in Jones Town, one of the violence-infested areas of the Jamaican capital, Kingston.

Apparently a young hoodlum slapped Pang's mother across the face and told her that her son was past it. No one can verify the assault. It may well have been merely verbal. Anyway, he was dead in a jiff. Pang unleashed his forces. They simply shot up enemy territory (man, woman and child) with machine-guns and M16 rifles. Seventy were dead in a week. Seven hundred citizens abandoned their homes and camped outside police stations for protection. Jamaica now has an internal refugee problem.

In Trinidad, where I was born, citizens boast that they hogged the international headlines for three days when the judicial process, aided by Britain's own Privy Council, hanged nine men. There is more to come, and I am determined to include every single detail. The leading figure in that band of convicted murderers was "hanged by the neck until dead". By the end of this ritual, the rope had ripped his head from his body - it was held on by a thin film of skin. Same with the second execution. By the time of the third, the executioner just about got it right, but only just.

As the bodies were being driven to the final resting place - if you can call it that - blood was flowing from the hearse as it sped away.

These facts were reported with delight in the local press. As I write, I believe "another neck has been popped", as they say on the island.

My niece has just returned from that place. She attended a public concert headed by a leading American rapper, who drew thousands to the audience. Apparently the singer uttered an expletive and some wise police officer arrested him for using obscene language. The patrons stoned the stage, and the police at once opened fire with machine-guns. My niece physically shook as she recalled the experience.

As these islands drift through economic crisis, uncertainty and dire poverty, state power has become much more authoritarian.

Hanging is being restored everywhere in the Caribbean; Trinidad and Tobago has given the lead. All police forces are visibly armed; magistrates and judges are recognised not for any judicial skill but for their tendency to jail the most inoffensive wrongdoer.

Yet all is not lost. Caribbean peoples are some of the most rebellious in history. It will take much more than these middle-class authoritarians to break that spirit, and they will certainly not break the Tim Hectors. I can vouch for that.

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