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Jamaica: Citizen Media Follows the Standoff

A study in extremes is perhaps how the last 24 hours in the Caribbean region could be adequately described: As Trinidad and Tobago peacefully went to the polls and elected its first female Prime Minister, Jamaica was facing more violent unrest.

On Day 3 of the crisis, diaspora blogger Labrish finds it difficult to separate rumour from fact:

It’s hard to find out how many people have died, and whether the security’s forces efforts are gaining the upper hand. Unconfirmed reports I’m seeing on Twitter indicate that over 80 men, women and children were killed in Tivoli yesterday. There have been reports of people trapped, and bodies in the street. More reports of gunfire today and more downtown roads being blocked. All Kingston schools closed until further notice. Several offices in Kingston and Spanish Town are closed. Not a lot of hard information is coming from official sources. The Gleaner and Observer have some reports but the best sources for info seem to be Twitter and Facebook.

Citizen media is, in fact, reporting in the most timely fashion on the situation as it develops, particularly via Twitter. Last night, there was speculation that ‘Dudus’ had been captured, but the reports turned out to be unconfirmed. On the Ground News Reports, a Facebook group, noted in an update at 6:55 pm yesterday that:

Minister of National Security Dwight Nelson says up to one hour ago intended target Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke was not captured. He also said Coke's brother known by the moniker of Livity was not dead according to his knowledge. He said some men have been detained and are being processed by the police. Security forces have control of elements of Tivoli Gardens.

The group also posted the update on Twitter. It has received some flak for publishing unsubstantiated reports, but defends its position by saying:

Why do we post unconfirmed news? Our vision is to bring together those who hear the truth with those who know the truth. We are a community of reporters, and you are just as much a part of making the news as we are.

Meanwhile, Air Jamaica has suspended certain flights, businesses and banks are reportedly closed and the national Blood Bank was asking the public to donate blood “to meet expected demand with the intensification of violence in downtown Kingston.” Indeed, the casualties appear to be piling up and bloggers are already weary:

@anniepaul: Yesterday was emotionally draining, gingerly trying to find out what this new day has brought for Jamaica…

Unfortunately, today seems to have brought more of the same

@anniepaul: Nationwide playing 12 pm news from yday. Not a good sign. means the streets are still impassable and their reporters can't get to home base?

@TriniLikeSalt: Just heard from a Trini in Jamaica she's hearing gunfire and says it's now in areas outside of Tivoli, and around Kingston. Total assness.

…plus news of an astounding development: local mainstream media is reporting that gangs, allegedly on the payroll of the country's opposition party, are supposedly being paid to contribute to the unrest, a development about which @anniepaul comments:

If the criminals can forge a coalition why can't our leaders? http://bit.ly/bQcbhR #Jamaica

The country's leaders are assuring the citizenry “that the threats that have emerged against the safety of the Jamaican people will be driven back, with strong and decisive action by the country's security forces.” Despite assurances from the Prime Minister that schools would be in full session today, Girl With a Purpose reports that:

All infant, basic, primary and high schools in the parish of Kingston are closed…

This comes as no surprise, given the reported levels of violence and attacks on state security forces. Netizens, however, seem proud of the response by the constabulary:

RT @drewonline: Big up the Jamaica Constabulary Force our flawed yet fearless heroes… Jamaica's finest mi seh!!!

There was some speculation about an alleged meeting yesterday between Dudus’ attorney and the US embassy, which the latter has denied. The implications of the current situation for international relations cannot be overlooked; Jamaican diaspora blogger Living in Barbados sums it up:

The immediate outcome from the state of emergency in Kingston and St. Andrews and the actions to try to extradite Mr. Coke will have an obviously impact of how Jamaica goes forward, but it may raise again how Jamaica is perceived and dealt with by both its Caricom and north American neighbours. Its one thing when citizens lose faith, trust and belief in their elected officials, but it's something very different if those losses are felt by other national governments.

A few months ago, Jamaica was riding the crest of a wave as it secured a new financial support package from the IMF to help it deal with a crippling set of longstanding economic woes. Now, it stands crestfallen as one of its other longstanding woes–a rampant tolerance for crime–shows that its head is considerably bigger.

West indians understand what's at stake here, but even in the face of such a grave situation – or perhaps because of it – they are able to consider the humourous side. As Fake Patrick Manning posted on Twitter shortly after the PNM's defeat in the Trinidad and Tobago elections yesterday:

Hey, things could be worse. I could be Bruce Golding. #silverlining #trinidad #election

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