Every Jamaican, or persons who feel allied to Jamaica, should have an opinion about what is going on currently in that country, as the government and its security and law enforcement agencies confront citizens who purport to stand in defence on an alleged criminal.
Jamaica did not get to this situation overnight, and most Jamaicans know this all too well, having lived in a virtual 'state of siege' for nearly four decades, as crime and violence dictated so many aspects of what was deemed to be normal life, especially in and around its capital, Kingston. But, that it should get to this situation through the request by a US law enforcement agency to extradite, for alleged drugs and gun running, a Jamaican citizen who resided in the constituency of Jamaica's current prime minister is quite amazing. That this constituency in western Kingston, Tivoli Gardens, should also have been that of a previous long-standing Jamaican prime minister, would make most people wonder how politics and crime are intertwined in Jamaica.
Elected people are there to represent and lead. But, a case such as this has made many wonder who is being represented and how is the nation being led. I cannot cast aspersions against any individual but one consequence of this current series of events is that facts that some may wish to keep secret will find their way out into the public domain. If not done openly, my feeling is that it will be done covertly. We live in an age where there are really no secrets and once information is passed it can be shared almost infinitesimally. It's really a matter of choice and timing over what is disclosed. That's good for ordinary citizens.
Yesterday afternoon, Jamaica's prime minister made a statement to Parliament about the state of emergency in Kingston and St. Andrews, and how the emergency powers regulations would be invoked. Later in the evening, when I heard discussion on Jamaican radio about how high school students at Excelsior had been sitting CXC exams when gunfire rang out, and students crouched on the floor and continued to try to write their answers, I knew what it meant that a country's priorities were all wrong. It is one thing to grow up doing homework by the light of a candle or kerosene lamp, or as I saw in Guinea students sitting at a gas station because it was one of the few places that had light. It is something else to try to gain an education when you feel you are in a war zone. Jamaica, in the eyes of much of the world, has been one crime zone, with its horrendous murder rate. The fact that the crimes are not really spread across the nation is irrelevant to international perception. Tourists ask about places of interest but really are hard pressed to feel that it is wise to leave the north coast enclaves or the bucolic south coast to venture into Kingston. That attitude wont be changing anytime soon. For that matter, I wonder how many people will start to really draw in their horns and start to isolate themselves from downtown Kingston even more. Sad, when a long-awaited revival of what is still a beautiful capital is getting underway.
I also heard some Jamaican journalists talk about how foreign media seemed to be demanding information or creating stories in the absence of rapid information. How strange it seemed that BBC reporters appeared in fatigues alongside JDF officers and were able to interview people, yet local journalists seemed absent. How odd that stories were breaking in foreign media rather than in local ones. Part of the problem is that even though the media in Jamaica is quite vigorous, that in much of the developed world is much more vigorous and have no need to be sensitive to any local mores. Moreover, what is Jamaica to them? A broken or failed state of some 3 million people. A blip that has grown to be a bit of bigger blip. I wont even go into the potential racial angles that may get thrown on it by news agencies that are largely Euro/North American-centric, as yet another state run by black people seems to descend into chaos.
We in the Caribbean have lagged in our participation in some aspects of the information revolution. The speed of the Internet does not wait for those who want to massage every message. In the same way that electronic surveillance does not respect the walls of any building. If a businessman can set up cameras to observe his business without any of his staff or customers being aware, simply as a means of avoiding theft and crime, how hard is it to set up similar to deal with any aspect of life? Those who have committed wrong acts need to live with the reality that facts are facts and never change. Their disclosure is no longer a matter of personal choice. The world is almost totally open, and secrets will out. Be sure of that: ask Sarah Ferguson.
One good thing I hope for from this frightening debacle is the disclosure of what does what with whom. Like my daughter chewing gum but pretending she is not but my being able to smell it, Jamaica is full of inappropriate liaisons. It's not unique in that sense. But its people have paid a very heavy price for that and when you have to take goods that you did not really want to have, it's good if you get a chance to send them back from where they come.
Jamaica's bizarre socio-economic clock cannot turn back but it can be reset. This may be the spur to find ways to start dealing with that process.
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