In my Budget Presentation on March 21, 2017; I committed to making an apology for what has come to be commonly referred to as the Coral Gardens incident; one which occurred at a time in our history when our society was more reflective of the colonial era.
Violence flared up at Coral Gardens leading to the death of civilians and police, significant personal injuries and destruction of property. The Rastafarian community has harboured feelings of bitterness and resentment over the years.
Today, I am honouring the Commitment to tender an apology.
Apology to 1963 Coral Gardens Incident
The Public Defender has published a report on the tragic events that took place between Thursday, April 11 and Friday, April 12, 1963 at Coral Gardens, a farming community, 10 miles east of Montego Bay.
The Public Defender’s Report provides an official account and analysis of the Coral Gardens Incident.
We wish to acknowledge and recognise the Report, as an important first step in our national effort to reflect on, in a very focused way, an unfortunate chapter in our nation’s history.
Today’s statement marks yet another milestone.
As proud Jamaicans, we value and honour our present day constitutional democracy, built on our rich and, in many instances, painful heritage of struggle and suffering.
However, notwithstanding the inhumane treatment and repression, there were and continue to be narratives of resilience, many still untold, of great achievements and victories for those who endured.
We have been able to draw on these experiences to hone an unbridled creative imagination that has presented to the world unique and innovative sound, images, icons and a way of life that have brought us recognition and pride.
Pain, born of the past, however, still resides in the hearts of many.
Fellow Jamaicans, the Coral Gardens Incident was a grave injustice. The Government acknowledges that the machinery of the Jamaican state evolved out of an era when it was considered appropriate to utilize the heavy hand of the state against citizens.
Today, without equivocation, we apologise for what occurred in Coral Gardens.
We express our regret and sorrow for this chapter in our national life that was characterised by brutality, injustice and repression, which was wrong and should never be repeated.
In expressing our regret as a people and as a community, we have taken a symbolic, yet courageous and pivotal move, which means that we can face the future with renewed hope, with increased resolve and in a true spirit of reconciliation.
In keeping with our Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms which amended our Constitution in 2011, the Government of Jamaica assures this great nation that we will continue to strive to ensure that unjust incidents and discriminatory actions such as occurred at Coral Gardens, are never allowed to happen again.
Whilst I know that this cannot erase the brutality, oppression and injustice which was meted out during that tragedy, I am comforted by the willingness of the members of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society to keep the dialogue going.
I am happy to have finally reached the point where we can discuss concrete and tangible actions which can ease some of the heavy burden that survivors and the community have faced.
The actions agreed include the following:
1. The Public Defender is to be asked to continue the work that her office began in terms of locating survivors and gathering important background social information about them and their families, in consultation with the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society and the Member of Parliament for that area. The Office will utilize the list of survivors provided by the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society as the base for continuing the work.
2. The Coral Gardens Benevolent Society will be given advice and assisted in accessing resources and benefits for its members that are already available through a number of avenues.
3. A Trust Fund of no less than $10M will be established for the benefit of survivors of the Coral Gardens Incident, and in this regard, I will work alongside the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that this Fund is set up properly and with due regard for the needs of those it is meant to benefit.
4. In keeping with the principle of cultural preservation, six lots at the property at Pinnacle in St Catherine will be declared by the JNHT as a protected heritage site and will be developed as a Rastafari Heritage and Cultural Centre.
Once again, I wish to thank you and the members of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society for your unswerving commitment to this cause, your patience and “overstanding”, as we move forward together in faith.