Patron-Client Relationships in Jamaica: The Changing Role of the Don

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Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


Patron-client relations among impoverished urban communities in Jamaica have seen in a shift in the past two decades. Clientelist relationships were formerly between Members of Parliament and the urban poor -mediated by dons. However, the MP has suffered a loss of power in these neighborhoods. The don, who formerly stood aside the MP in power and influence, has surpassed the MP. The literature studying patron-client relationships in Jamaica focus primarily on the relationship of the MP to the community. This focus, however, is inadequate. Residents of garrison communities appear to have a particular allegiance and reverence towards their respective don. As such, I ask the question: what factors contribute to the allegiance the urban poor feel towards their don? In order to understand the patron-client relationships in these neighborhoods I have conducted interviews with former residents as well as Members of Parliament. Findings from this study indicate that while some residents of this community have genuine loyalty to the dons that represent them, others feel a sense of forced allegiance as a means to obtain scarce resources. Furthermore, absence of state and social cohesion emerges as themes.


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