Commentary: Obama's One Love stop to Jamaica, who will be dancing after he leaves?

By. D.R. Miller

Touch Down: US President Obama will make a quick mic-check stop in Jamaica on his way to the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama. This visit will be welcomed on the island and in the region in general. Since Ronald Reagan in 1982, he will be the second sitting US president to visit Jamaica.

Photo: President Obama leaving the island Jamaica 2015

In Reagan’s case, some argued that his visit was about gaining strategic cooperation from former Prime Minister Michael Manley, who enjoyed a close relationship to then Cuban president, Fidel Castro. Today, several changes have occurred. The Soviet Union has been dismantled, and relations with Cuba are being normalized.

Although Obama’s trip is believed not to be about the past, but the irony is that several of the region’s issues are still in the shadow of the past. Economically, for Jamaica and some of its neighbours, the ship is still searching for an economic anchor.

Although many of these islands have gained independence from colonial rule, many islands quietly remain dependent, with no economic upward mobility for the youth, poor leadership, poverty, crime, stagnation and a missing middle class. Today, only few enjoy comfort zones that they strategically keep up, as the region remains divided between the haves and the have-nots.

The reality: Many hope Obama’s visit will spark new hope and change where along these shores change remains an elusive word and only poverty is as constant as the ocean that surrounds these islands. From the Caribbean to the Atlantic Ocean, these islands are looking more like an America colony than the once British, French, Dutch, and Spanish ruled outposts.

A retired school teacher once said, the only thing missing, especially in Jamaica, where several local stores are stacked with imported American products, is simply to make the US currency legal tender. Maybe Obama can become the next face on a $50,000 bill, given the rate of inflation that shows no sign of easing, as currency across the region has devalued and soon one will need shopping bag to exchange it for one US dollar.

Such as Obama, the first US black president, Portia Simpson-Miler was the first woman prime minister of Jamaica. Many thought her choice would have brought hope, and more economic successes, especially for young women, who also felt liberated when she elected. However, many women’s concerns in this region remain invisible. Her rise to power has been an uphill battle, like others in the region who have been the first.

Today, there are not many positive economic numbers to show since the 2008 economic collapse.

In contrast, it was not only an historic event for Obama; it was believed to be a new paradigm shift in race relations that have been a cancer in the US. His election had the prescription for equality, social and economic justice, and even racial harmony. However, the country is still divided along race, religion belief, and ideology, haves vs. have-nots, although the US economy has rebounded.

This visit perhaps will be a boost to Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, when many polls, according to the Voice magazine, say the opposition leader would win the next election. Obama’s visit will not have the same global impact and political tone as when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu visited the US Congress in early March 2015. Some thought that his US visit was a platform for his re-election.

On the other hand, Obama in Jamaica might tempt the other party to exploit the economic stagnation and the unpopularity to its advantage in the next election. While the threat of external violence, terrorism or billions in aid is a hot topic in the Israel-US relationship, Jamaica could use a few millions in aid.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller: Photo: Bryan Cummings/Jamaica

The topic of terrorism might not be high on the agenda, but perhaps he would like to know how the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) bilateral trade agreements with Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Venezuela are working for all in the region and if there is any more room for dumping.

The Connection: On this day, Obama’s roots, birth certificate, religion will not be in question. The Jamaican motto “Out of Many One People” will ring loud. Although there is deep social stratification and a male dominated chauvinist attitude, he will be welcome as a son of the soil that has deep roots from the 17th century slave ships that docked along these shores.

Often throughout life, some continue to be defined by colour and not the accomplishments or intellect. As much as Obama would have liked to bail out the local sluggish economy as he did with General Motors, a financial package would be stalled in today’s divided US Congress.

Although the term minority is seldom used in the region, the irony is it gives a false sense of equilibrium in the melting pot. For many, the region is like a field planted with 100 corn plants and, out of those 100 plants, you have yellow, white, brown, and multi-colour kernels.

They all dependent on the same water, soil and nutrients to survive. Looking on it seems they are all corn along these hills, valleys and coastlines. However, George Orwell, in his1945 Animal Farm book, said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” and that plot rings loud in the region as many other places.

Okay, this is not an opinion paper on race: Let us get back to Obama’s historic trip.

The Whispers: Jamaica will add one more boisterous smile from this trip. However, one cannot ignore that the region has become a dangerous place. According to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Honduras, which records 103.9 murders per 100,000 people, is ranked number one on the list as the highest murder rate in the world. Jamaica is number three, with 45.1 murders per 100,000. Venezuela is second on the list, with 57.6 murders per 100,000 people. Other places such as The Bahamas, where crime is often low, should be concerned with its 11th place on the list.

Public safety remains a major concern away from the white sand beaches and even retired natives who have called the US and other industrialised countries home for four or five decades are having second thoughts about returning due to safety concerns, and proper collaboration to head off violence given the abundance of weapons in the region.

While these islands continue to compete as if they are at the Olympics, with distrust and dislike, they are all connected. While some will have a toast with Obama, quietly, economically they have been on pain killers and have not lived up to their full potential in moving people forward

This trip will not create any significant comprehensive financial package to head off stagnation, or subsidise health care, create new financial regulations, prison reform, increase the 63-member House of Representatives, cut the bureaucratic red tape that is often reported and recognized as a major hindrance to conducting business.

However, I hope he asks the local government make sure enforcement to prevent corruption through the Corruption Prevention Act.
Here is what he should propose and highlight:

The need for legislations to promote equality in the gay and lesbian community that has seen detrimental treatment for many years, more attention to victims, and their families of sexual violence such as Ingrid Brown wrote about in the Jamaica Observer in 2012. She reported a major issue that is not unique to Jamaica alone where children were being raped and infected with STDs, as Dr Knight from the Bustamante Children’s Hospital noted. Sadly, many victims will remain silent.

Furthermore, the president should ask for a new consumer protection agency like the one he created in US to cut the exploitation of many who became victims of quick loans.

What if the president lands on your island, what would be your socio-economic, criminal, and social justice data show? Many in these areas would have reached the US shores if it were not for the ocean.

Sorry to Say: After Air Force One takes off over the blue waters, the unemployment rate will not change, education costs are still rising, crime remains high. Many still have significant problems gaining employment for being labeled a former prisoner, poverty and a criminal justice that seems to help only who can afford it for the right price and where distrust in government roars like the ocean brushing along shores are just a few issues that will still be on the table.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson has tried and, despite her history in the Jamaican government, she too struggles for equality. Even her minimal achievements will continue to be rushed up against the shores.

What next?
One hopes the US or other presidents to these shores bring economic prosperity, making it a frequent vacation spot. Perhaps the next one could be simply to see a grandparent: We’ll see you again, thank you for stopping by.

Commentary: Goodbye, going once, twice, sold

By D.R. Miller

The New Coast: Recently a solemn promise was broken. A few of us halted all travel plans until we were convinced that the government had
the chikungunya virus under control. However, breast cancer took a dear family officer after 30-plus years in public service. 

Despite the earlier concerns, many of us went. Traveling the coastline, with the ocean dangerously few feet from the vehicle, while staring at beautiful homes tucked in hillsides, the temptation to pullover for a quick
swim, or capture the sunset, and walk barefoot from the cold left behind emerged.

However, a once simple pastime and custom for natives from a hot sunny day or a weekend with families to prime free beach areas to relax, is apparently becoming very difficult and just an idea.

The high criminal elements that are sometimes a deterrent has now been taken over by: segregation, isolation and the fight equality now seems more dangerous.

Even vacant lots that should have been designated as historic land and preserved are either leased or bought by foreign private investors.

Home prices are extremely high and few older structures that could use an upgrade, owned by the less fortunate people passed on from their ancestors, and dating back to British rule, many found themselves restricted to move freely.

As the mega-building rises, green land and trees are diminishing, thus contributing to the record high temperatures, while ignoring the environmental impact.

Where will be the new location?

The gentrification in disguise is a global trend, creating social stratification sold as transformation. Sure, a few job are created by new stores, and hotels.  However, some working conditions often look like a previous century, working in hazardous conditions for extremely low wages, unable to buy a small home in the communities they are serving.

What is the trade-off, and where are the unions to balance labor and human rights? The region is now dominated with massive imports. Locally grown products have dwindled to small corners like news racks covered with international news clips while local customs and identity get lost.

Locals at cleaning fish on the sea coast
Jamaica yellow yam
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – Jamaica

Analyzing the region’s plight from the outside is difficult. Who are the investment banks in disguise, as famous faces who claim they are in love with the region while commercialization threatens native culture.

Credit: Mento Quintet by Richard Blackford: Maintaining tradition is important.

Obviously an incredible lack of knowledge or accountability about who are the human piñata lining their pockets. What is troubling, it seems an iPhone, Facebook, and YouTube seem to be more important to some, while the sand is being swept from under their feet.

When Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell was not selected as the 2015 Miss Universe, many mobilized in the street, online and voiced their displeasure. The same emphasis on these issues as to the plight of their nation — access to where one can live or swim free — is needed.

As many questioned Kaci’s skin colour to represent Jamaica, it only underscored the argument that a few are still stuck in an identity crisis to see even more dire issues.

Crowd gathered to with her beauty contact in Kingston, Jamaica

The quiet marriages while other basked in social media, but how long will these marries last.

Few months ago, I wrote about China’s penetration into the Caribbean markets for anyone who has access to a red carpet. The modernization of technology and infrastructures brought to this region and others should not be an economic long-term sentence for some.

Source: Pool/Getty Images AsiaPac)
Robert Gabriel Mugabe Zimbabwe and Chinese leaders
The Chinese delegation at a meeting with the president of Dominica

Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago , and Chinese President

This new colonization with local hidden alliances has not lifted the poor from poverty. Many still depend on handouts for survival while the middle class struggles. The lack of transparency, accountability and ignorance continue to slow growth.

Protia Simpson-Miller: Jamaica P.M and Chinese leader

One report noted that China uses its financial influence and CARICOM as its umpire to expand. Several projects, from medical centers to stadiums in St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, and Jamaica, and others with cheap loans has some positive effects, but who are the real long-term beneficiaries?

McKinley & Company, a global consultant firm that operated in more than 40 countries, once noted that several companies have failed, especially in the energy industry, due to cheap imports from China over the past ten years. To the Chinese credit, education is mandatory.

They have tremendous control over the value of their currency in spite of questionable human rights issues. While the priceless seaports and other infrastructures are being sold, leaders should at least learn some of their business strategies, and even negotiate an energy efficiency deal to cut the dependence on fossil fuel, especially in Jamaica where an average customer pays about 42 cents per kilowatt-hour. Many factories should be mandated to clean up the air, but that will hit the élite who run the country.

Selling Our Souls: While many Africans sold slaves, they did not invent slavery. Today, the selling of native land is a rebirth of such dark period. The Europeans and others turn the plight of others into major businesses. Having few natives at the table today does not make it more acceptable.

In November 1927, Marcus Garvey was deported from the US. He fought for self-governance and despite pushback even from black leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, who once described Garvey as “a little, fat black man; ugly, but with intelligent eyes and a big head.” The region could use him today as an ambassador. Patriotism cannot only be in the music that comes out of the region.

This paradigm shift along these blue waters is troubling.

Sunday, November 17, 2014, opened the world to an issue kept off air when CNN aired Anthony Bourdain’s Part Unknown. To some, it was uncomfortable, but viewers saw that Jamaica is not all about reported violence, marijuana, and a relaxed attitude.

Furthermore, few are willing to sell their souls and local government leaders seem muted. When personal financial gains ruin an entire community, conflict is inevitable. With high unemployment and poverty, and division, the criminal enterprise thrives and hopeless youths become radicalized, not necessarily from religious ideology, but stemming from polarization, isolation and the lack of opportunity.

New Charity Economy: Today, it seems the region has more charity organizations than small businesses to help the youths. However, not all charities are bad. In the US, one in six receives some type of food support and many school students go hungry each day. Philanthropist Jeff Levitetz recently funded several schools in Jamaica’s rural outpost “In Honor of his 96 year old Grandpa Charlie”, working with Coconut Creek’s nonprofit Food for the Poor. The charity aims to build or upgrade 50 schools on the island. Jeff’s grandfather has a personal love and affection for the Jamaican culture.

Jeff Levitetz, president of The Levitetz Family Foundation, proudly stands… (Food for the Poor / Sun-Sentinel )

In addition, US$166 million is pledged to Jamaica to addresses climate change. The irony is that the coastlines are being ripped apart by development, causing severe climate issue. Furthermore, despite millions donated, some charities do not serve the desired purpose, and the lack proper oversight leads to actions where donations are used to further personal needs.

When politics becomes more important than higher education that only a few can afford, it only creates a new generation of ignorance. Throughout local districts, several primary and high schools still lack a good library and other educational resources to properly educate the next generation. Yes! You can continue to blame slavery, and the lack of reparations. The arguments remain valid, and add several economic down slopes since independence to the debate.

Even 200 years ago, education was a necessity. Between 1835-1842, the region had a slave fund shortly after emancipation. While many in the US were denied access to education in that same period, the British government voted 30,000 pounds per annum towards the education of former slaves.

Early education attempt after slavery

The fund ended around 1845, as studies have shown for many of the British West Indies colonies. It played a pivotal part in training teachers, and building schoolhouses. It was called the Negro Educational Fund. As 200 years ago, very little funds came from the West Indian governments.

The once colonial power seemed to have more interest in educating former slaves than many leaders today. The disappearance of good governance to educate its people could learn something from 200 years ago. It seems handouts have become the normal way for survival for some, while the communities need a sustainable long-term foundation. New charities and awards checks are not capitalism.

New Approach: Few economies have rebounded since the 2008 financial economic collapse. The Caribbean still has an economic virus. The unemployment rate, inflation currency devaluation, and crime remain a problem. Despite these issues, the people remain welcoming, but they must not be fooled in a misguided perception that the few millionaires who own these shores are totally in love with the island’s relaxed vibes, food, and people.

Love does not hurt others.

When Ian Fleming (and James Bond) fell in love with Jamaica in the late 1950s, conflicts were not about access to one’s own land. The few who have the media are skilled at making noticeable linguistic shifts, while masking an urgent need to resolve the dangerous ideological faults even within their party. While it looks like capitalism on the coasts and inland; however, if it is one-sided, it defeats capitalism as a driving force to end poverty and inequality.

Today, we are left wondering how young police officers will be able to afford a home in area they will patrol to protect mega properties and address the untold stories, where hard drugs and young girls who struggle to find employment become nightclub dancers for a few dollars, controlled by pimps who force them into prostitution, sexually abused and exploited. They are not beach beauties that stroll the sand, they are victims that are often overlooked throughout the region.

Modernization is important; however, it should not take a nation back centuries, where only the rich and famous get to rewrite.

As Burning Spear, Jamaicam reggae Super Star once said in a song, “My island don’t sell out.”