Rednecks of Uptown
I spent a few days in Jamaica recently at the time the extension for the State of Emergency (SoE) failed to pass in parliament. The reaction to the failure clearly indicates the mounting class divisions in the society. Where is Michael Manley when we need him?
It is clear that ‘It’s not black man time now’ and that a colonial mentality to class and race is dominant. Bruce Golding is governing over the complete decimation of the rights of poor people in Jamaica, and any chance that they may have to earn a living wage.
Say what you want about Eddie Seaga, he does care about poor black people, though he cared more about the upper classes and his own colour. Golding cares zilch about the dispossessed in Jamaica.
But first to the SoE. Apparently on July 20 in parliament, the Jamaica Labour Party tried to trap the People’s National Party into blind collusion by springing on them the ‘need’ to extend the SoE. My belief is that they wanted the PNP to be equally linked to the brutalisation of poor people so that the party couldn’t use that as a campaign issue. “Look”, they would probably say, “The PNP agreed with extending the SoE. They are as much oppressors as we are”.
But thankfully the PNP instead deftly outmaneuvered the JLP, trapping them instead in a continued association with state repression, while the PNP are the defenders of human rights. That will play at the next polls.
Golding’s position in parliament was that the police asked for an extension. He KNEW that he didn’t have enough party members to pass the extension, and ‘hoped’ that the PNP would acquiesce. Novice political mistake, if his intention was really about the extension.
But between the time the request was made and the vote in parliament, Golding never called a meeting with opposition representatives to justify the reasons for an extension. Only political fools would agree to something so blind (as did the US congress when they didn’t debate George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq).
A meeting like that is not only good manners, but necessary.
When the PNP offered an extension for 15 days, Golding rubbished the offer. But shouldn’t he have taken that new proposal back to the police first, if the request originated with them? And wouldn’t a 15 day extension allow Golding time to rationalize the request, and also to get his absent members in place for a majority vote?
I listened in embarrassment as the JLP hoisted Pernell Charles on tv to denounce the PNP’s decision. He, who in the 70’s was detained simply on the basis of a ‘police recommendation’ for a year without being charged, should be the last person to support an unqualified, unjustified state of emergency. Pathetic.
The resulting impasse illustrates lines drawn on the basis of class. The Jamaica Observer and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, both castigated the opposition for not supporting the extension “… so that we can stop this scourge of violence once and for all”.
Let’s be honest. No state of emergency can reduce crime in Jamaica over the long term. 50 days is too short a period to use for a statistical finding. Like every surge in police activity, there will be a temporary reduction in crime while the criminals bury their guns, go underground, sit back and wait. Time is on their side.
If the SoE is extended for a few months, then ‘when man get hungry, no SoE can stop him from trying to get a food’, and there aren’t enough police/military patrols to cover the entire island. Like the taliban and al qaeda, criminals would simply relocate.
But these rednecks of Uptown love the suspension of human rights because they know that their sons and their colour will never be scraped off the streets and held for 60 days without being charged, simply because they are black and poor.
The JLP claims that though the police has detained over 4,000 people since the SoE began, most have been released. And that’s just the point… people being picked up because their only crime is being in the wrong place, and yet they spend days in lockup, in inhumane conditions, most likely without their family or anyone knowing their fate. How many of those locked up were named Matalon, Haddad, Stewart, Issa, Chins, Azan, Ammar, Khouri?
What happens to a youth who can’t work because he has been detained? When he tells his boss why he didn’t come to work for 5 days, what are the chances of his continued employment? What is the physical and psychological toll on him? Doesn’t his life or freedom matter? Will injustices against the poor, reduce crime?
Let me return to where I started. While in Ocho Rios, as I usually do when in Jamaica, I spent time looking, probing, listening. And I must tell you, Jamaicans are resilient, though their collective spirit is broken. But they are being squeezed to a level of desperation by factors not seen since pre-Independence.
As they say, ‘when US cough, Jamaica catch cold’. Well, we have caught the diseases of America’s unbridled and inhumane capitalism where labour is best cheap, dispensable and unworthy of respect. Jamaican workers are living on the edge, some in fear and resignation. But anger is seeping in.
Businessmen have cut their staff drastically while piling on increased workload on those still employed. Benefits are chopped, and even the health insurance premiums that the workers co-pay into, are oftentimes not paid over to the insurance companies. There is no one to appeal to. The Golding government stands aloof to their suffering.
Pressure has increased tremendously on the nation’s workers. Yet most managers continue to enjoy their perks, benefits and new bling. Sound familiar? It should, if you live in America.
Workers have stopped caring, some slacking off, some resorting to pilfering, the costs passed on to the consumer.
The tourism infrastructure is dilapidated to the core. The resort I stayed in was rundown, with signs of shabbiness everywhere. Four of nine light bulbs were missing from my room and it took a day to get two replaced. It took more than 5 hours to get fresh towels because the used ones had to be laundered and returned. My bedsheets couldn’t be exchanged because there weren’t enough.
Cable was practically ‘unwatchable’ and the tv remote took 3 days to make it to my room. The fridge seemed barely functioning. Simple maintenance jobs were apparently ignored and in plain sight. Hell, if they gave me some grout and paint I could have made like new in less than 30 minutes.
Most of the staff was barely going through the motions, and the positive attitude to tourism developed over the last few decades is wearing thin in the resort town. The tourists get less real smiles, and hostility aimed at management is resentment transferred to the guests. I can bet that by next year, there will be an alarming rise in reports of harassment
And it isn’t just small hotels suffering from this bleakness. The horror stories coming from large hotels are frightening… not only as they affect staff, but also as they affect the product. For example, how often uneaten food makes it back to the buffet borders on criminal negligence. Russian roulette is being played in the hotel kitchens.
Then there is the situation of the East Indians, who have made inroads into the tourism souvenir market as well as the retail market in Ocho Rios. There is an increase in tensions between the poor broke-ass Jamaicans and the Indian retailers/community. This is going to explode if ignored.
The Golding/‘Dudus’ Coke episode shows the widening gap between ‘haves and have-nots’. Many poor people are concerned about the abuse of police powers which is a daily issue for them. They more likely than not, know innocent people who have been harassed, jailed or even killed by police. The upper classes blissfully remain uncaring.
Bruce Golding is not solely culpable for the state Jamaica is in… that would make him too important. He shares such blame with his party and with the PNP. But there are worse culprits, the enablers from the upper classes who want to keep their elitist position intact, on the backs of the poor. There is no thought of equality, justice or fairness in their heads.
For their own vested interests, they remain patrons and accessories to the destruction of not only the moral fibre of Jamaica, but of what is needed to get Jamaica back on solid ground… a country based on mutual respect, equality, fairness and justice.
Look where most of Golding’s post Dudus support is coming from. Yes, the likes of the chambers of commerce and private clubs. It’s not that they fail to see the type of person Golding is… they do know and always did. He might be a corrupt and incompetent prime minister, but he is THEIR corrupt and incompetent PM. He is doing what they want with no hurt to them.
Jamaica has returned to a culture of exploitation and greed, of ‘massa’ and ‘bwoy’, of injustices, disrespect for the poor, and there is no good ending for that story.
Bruce Golding does not intend to improve Jamaica as whole, but to make the living conditions of the masses such that they are easily exploitable for the benefit of the once ’21 families’. As an Opportunist, his future doesn’t lie with advocating on behalf of poor people.
Edward Seaga knew that Golding was incapable of empathizing with poor people, Tivoli in particular. While Seaga and Manley could walk comfortably amongst the poor, Golding cannot even fake it.
The SoE is not about eradicating crime, but eradicating memories of his and his party’s own corruption and incompetence. It’s a mere distraction, and now he wants the opposition to take the blame, or at least share in it. Not so fast, my friend. Not so fast.
The Shirley Sherrod story shows several of the fatal flaws of Barack Obama… his feeling that he needs to be involved in everything, and his overcompensation on race. I was once told that ‘Not every argument you’re invited to, you need to attend’. Someone needs to tell Obama that and he will have far fewer personal embarrassments.
The leaking of the military/Afghanistan documents tells what I have been saying for years. This war cannot be won by America. Even the military command doesn’t believe in their mission, never did.
The problem with Vietnam was that the American people were the first to stop believing in it, then that spread to the troops. Now, the contagion starts from inside the military. Get out now.