Fifty six years after the Coral Gardens incident in St. James, where the police and soldiers detained Rastafarians, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport has signed a Deed that will establish a Trust Fund for the benefit of victims.
The Deed was signed at the Ministry’s offices located on Trafalgar Road, in Kingston, on Thursday (December 19).
In April 2017, Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, apologised for what took place, on behalf of the Government.
Included in the Prime Minister’s apology was the commitment to establish a Trust Fund of no less than $10 million for victims of the Coral Gardens incident. The amount was recommended by the Office of the Public Defender, which started an investigation into the incident in May 2011.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange, said signing the Deed is the Government’s way of making right to a wrong.
“We [the Government] acknowledge that for 56 years, you our Rastafarian brothers and sisters have lived with the physical, psychological and emotional scars of that incident at Coral Gardens and the atrocities that you experienced over the years, so we are taking steps to change that,” Ms. Grange said.
“In April 2018, in keeping with the commitment given by Prime Minister Holness and in keeping with the recommendation of the Public Defender, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, transferred cumulatively, a sum of $12,718,000 to the Administrator General for the purpose of setting up the Trust Fund. So today, we formalise the process in the presence of our Rastafari brethren and sisters, as part of our programme of reconciliation,” the Minister told the audience.
Executive Director of Jamaicans for Justice, Rodje Malcolm, said establishment of the Fund is “bittersweet,” given that 10 survivors from the Coral Gardens incident died within the last two years.
“This is a historic moment of acceptance on the part of the State by the present government that what happened in 1963 and afterwards, was a gross violation of human rights that should have never occurred,” Mr. Malcolm said.
Treasurer, Rastafarian Coral Gardens Benevolent Society, Lewis Brown, said the group is happy with the decision of the Government for its members to benefit.
“I really appreciate what the Ministry has done for the Rastafarian Coral Gardens Benevolent Society. We have been calling for this for 56 years since the incident took place and what took place after,” Mr. Brown said.
One of the victims, Isaac Wright, told JIS News that he is elated that he lived to see the Trust Fund being established.
“I feel very happy and wonderful within my spirit for the Government creating history for us,” Mr. Wright said.
Another victim, Edward Fray, who lost his job and all his belongings during the incident, except the structure of his house, said he is happy with the establishment of the Trust Fund.
“I lost my job. I was a butcher. I had to beg and after one year, I saved for three months and bought a mattress and started again. I suffered a lot…But now, I feel better,” he said.