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Stabroek News

Spanish Town bus park run by thugs - Gangsters use subtle means to ensure compliance to extortion
published: Sunday | August 31, 2008

A sign next to the extortionists' office close to the exit of the bus park near the old train station in Spanish Town, St Catherine.

WHILE LOCAL law enforcers continue to grapple with ways to counter extortion, racketeers have maintained a stranglehold on local businesses through the use of subtle, yet frightening means, to ensure compliance. The practice has since been institutionalised in many major townships across the island.

In the late 2003, a young entrepreneur - whom we will call John, to protect his identity - and relatives decided that it was a good time to enter into business and figured, after conducting a feasibility study, that the transport industry would be a lucrative venture.


So the young entrepreneur obtained a loan and purchased a bus; then he acquired a road licence which gave him the right to ply the Kingston to Santa Cruz route. The document also allowed him to make stops in May Pen, Mandeville and Spanish Town.

"Our expectation was very high; we expected that after the basic expenses we would receive about $10,000 per day," John tells The Sunday Gleaner. "However, things did not work out this way as the driver would come home with sometimes $1,300, and even as low as $800, which could not even buy gas for the next day."

John relates: "The driver would give me stories: that he has been in the line all day, that he is not making any money, and that if he makes any noise he would be beaten, and stuff like that, but I simply could not understand.

"The fact that it was a new bus on the road, and with the demand for quality transportation service, it was completely impossible. We just could not see through what he was saying."

This kept on for quite a while, and thinking that something was wrong, John made a decision to quit his job and drive the bus himself.

"The first time day I went on the road, the driver accompanied me," John recounts. "When we arrived at the bus park in Spanish Town, there were a number of buses before us, so we joined the line and I began to read a book. Shortly after a man came and knocked on the bus window and told me that he is here for the thing."

The 'thing'

"Which thing," I asked.

"The 'thing' fi load di bus," was his response.

"But the bus nuh load yet," I argued.

"You a tell mi how fi run dis ting," he retorted, "pass up the money."

The driver, seeing what was happening came over and explained the rules to John, who then gave the 'collector' the $200 that was required. He was a known lieutenant of the 'big man' or 'don' for the area, and was also the one who dealt with most of the overseas engagements for the gang. The collector was believed to be the eyes and ears of the don who, while not being at the park on a daily basis, would come around occasionally to ensure that things were in order.

He was determined to punish John for his defiance. So, John was soon told to reverse his bus to facilitate other buses that were being placed before his.

"I was quickly reminded that it was my first day using the facility and that I would not only make things bad for myself, but would also jeopardise the possibility of my driver using the facility, if he chose to ply the Spanish Town route with another passenger vehicle," John relates to The Sunday Gleaner.

He continues: "There were also bus operators who were given preferential treatment, as they were willing to pay more than the $200. As a result, they were not required to join the queue at the back, but on arrival at the bus park would be ushered to the front of the line, loaded and sent off."

Open secret

It was an open secret that Bulbie, (the late leader of the Klansman gang) operated the park, and disregarding the rules meant expulsion from operating not only in the bus park, but also in the Old Capital.

According to John, Bulbie owned about four of the buses that travelled between Spanish Town and Mandeville. John recalls that as soon as these buses entered, the terminus all other units had to give way and allow them to be loaded.

"The situation was clear, if you had three passengers, it is either you drove off with the three or hand them over and allow (Bulbie's) vehicles to be loaded before yours, he was the don," says John.

Another of Bulbie's lieutenants was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the bus park. John describes him as a quiet, unassuming man who conducted his task with much ease, and would show his disapproval of a situation by just a stare.

"He was not afraid to deal with any user of the park who broke the rules," recounts John. "I saw him use an umbrella to beat a driver, who began to load his bus before his turn. I have seen big men bawl, get beaten, and get boxed down, but guns never came into play; the don ran a smart operation."

2x4 lumber

John notes: "Guns pretty much never had to be involved because either you were there long enough to know how the system work, or you know a piece of 2x4 lumber would be used to deal with you."

Disorder was mostly dealt with by the foot soldiers. Usually a sound beating with a 2x4 piece of board was the only thing needed to keep order, and if the circumstances merited stronger measures it would be dealt with elsewhere.

"We were very secure as long as we behaved ourselves, but I never saw any other weapon on the premises, during the period I operated there," John says. "Personally, I chose to behave myself. If they say load the bus, I load the bus; if they say move up the bus, I move up the bus; if they say reverse the bus, I reverse the bus; if them say leave with what you have, I leave with the few."

Even though the police could be seen conducting traffic duties in the vicinity of the bus park, they had no authority in the terminus.

"The police were always there, but they had no say," John quipped. "They pretty much had nothing to do, because the men who ran the park were, in effect, police and justice of the peace; they were the judge and the jury."

John continues. "There were times when I was tempted to take it on myself and report some of the incidents to the police, but which police could I trust? As far as I observed, the gangsters were friendly with a lot of the cops, and the word on the street was that a large number of policemen were in collusion with the wrongdoings."

"After a while I discovered that I became kind of acclimatised to the situation and almost began to become a part of it," John states. "It reached the point that prior to coming out of the business, in a strange way I began to have a sense of respect, not for the system, but for the person who was running the bus park, because he was in control and he ran the park efficiently Whatever he wanted done was done."

"They had their system in place, you don't park out of line, you can't stop in the middle and pick up, you simply had to abide by the rules because they ran an organised operation.

"At the end of the day, you began to succumb to the surrounding that you are in and in a subtle way you begin to adapt," John relates.

  • ... Not just in Spanish Town

    John would soon learn that Spanish Town was not the only area plagued by extortion. Not being able to get any passengers to Mandeville, he took someone's suggestion and took passengers to May Pen.

    "On my arrival at the bus park, a man came out and told me that I could not come in the bus park, even though my bus licence allowed me to stop at any of the bus parks between Spanish Town and Santa Cruz," John recounts. "I was not pleased, but I had to return to Spanish Town without any passengers."


    John continues: "Another bus operator gave me the contact to the May Pen terminus, a man who became my surety each time I wanted to enter the park, for a smalls.

    "Things were not as organised as in Spanish Town, with a number of individuals claiming to be in pole position, so I was caught in a situation that if I had to deal with someone who did not respect my contact then I had to find money to pay both.

    "The one time I refused to give someone money, because I had already paid my contact, my bus was moved to the back of the line; you just have to let off and everything was OK," John says. "You did not get the feeling that one would physically abuse you in May Pen; they only acted in a threatening manner, a sort of intimidating tactic," he adds.

    "The most subtle form of it (extortion) was in Mandeville where you did not feel forced to pay," John reports. "As a matter of fact, I didn't realise I was paying extortion until someone told me that the money was going to the big man. I did not even realise who the man running the park in Mandeville was until someone pointed him out to me. It was simply, they load your bus, you pay and leave."

    Surprisingly, John notes, in downtown Kingston you had no hassle. It was not as pushy as Spanish Town; you enter the park, pay a fee to load your bus and you leave.

    "The don literally runs Spanish Town, not the police, not the parish council," John notes. "In Spanish Town you could feel the presence of the don, but in May Pen it was a bit more subtle, as it was just men collecting to load your bus and you had no option but to pay them."

    Says John: "I just could not understand why nothing was done about what was happening, because this was a man who was known throughout Spanish Town and was a known accomplice of Bulbie. He is there every day, not arrested when he does his antics, and no one dares to make a report to the police.

    "You had to be careful about what you said and who you said it to. You do not know who is who," John points out. He says it was when he was about to leave the business that he discovered that a juice cart vendor, who was always among the bus operators, was an integral part of the gang and was the owner of one of the buses.

    Not much difference

    John admits that there was not much difference in what he took home in comparison to what his driver used to take in. But despite his frustrations, remained in the business until he began to experience some serious mechanical problems with his bus.

    "When you are caught in the situation, you will reach the boiling point, then find yourself simmering into the system, do the bawling and complaining, then you accept," reasons John.

    "I began to feel sorry about the situation, because most of the young men involved in the extortion racket with whom I spoke had to be living in fear, while most of us in the transport business were tolerant only because we had no option."

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