Papa-Lo has only had one hour’s sleep; something is troubling his spirit. He feels that Cubans have “infiltrated” Jamaica. Last year, Peter Nasser warned Papa-Lo to tell the community not to eat anything made with flour. Papa-Lo barely paid attention, and within a few weeks over a dozen people were struck with violent vomiting and diarrhea and died. The health minister claimed that the flour imported to Jamaica from Germany had been poisoned with a weed killer called “Mother-in-Law poison,” but the people suspected this was not true.
Once again, the Jamaican government is shown to be inept at best––and deeply corrupt at worst. The Jamaican population, made extremely vulnerable by poverty, is left defenseless by corrupt politicians. It is no wonder that there seems to very little trust between the people and their elected officials.
Papa-Lo explains that the PNP have never gone into the ghetto voluntarily, and that it was the JLP who built Copenhagen City in the 1950s, affording the residents the opportunity to wash themselves in private. After that, the PNP built the “piece of shit place they call the Eight Lanes.” Both parties know that whoever wins West Kingston wins the general election, and as a result in 1974 the PNP hired two men from Jungle to begin a war in the ghetto. The men even attacked a funeral, at which point it was clear that the way things used to work no longer applied.
It is perhaps ironic that Papa-Lo, who is one of the oldest gangsters in the ghetto and thus remembers the long history of violence that preexisted the current moment, is also one of the most optimistic characters in the novel. Given the extent to which Jamaica’s entire history is characterized by chaos, brutality, and neglect, how is it possible for Papa-Lo to feel hope for the future?
The PNP won the 1972 election and immediately drove JLP voters out of their jobs. They began killing ruthlessly, even murdering PNP voters if they were union members. However, they never came to Copenhagen City, and eventually Josey retaliated by burning down Lane Number Six and killing everyone in Lane Number Seven. Papa-Lo and Josey killed the men the PNP had hired to begin the ghetto war. That was a year ago, and now there are many people in Kingston who blame Papa-Lo for destroying their hope for the future. People think Papa-Lo is going soft because of killing the schoolboy, but in fact what is making him “lose it” is that he should feel bad about that murder and doesn’t.
People assume that Papa-Lo felt guilt over killing the boy, but this theory does not make much sense given that Papa-Lo has been mercilessly killing people for years. The true reason for Papa-Lo’s change of heart is surprisingly similar to Bam-Bam’s reaction when Josey made him kill for the first time: both are struck by a feeling of emptiness. Josey’s regret seems to come from the fact that it is too late to change his own numbness to violence.