Commentary: Jamaica’s self-inflicted wound

-By R.D Miller

Randy

Another Dark Cloud: On Sunday, May 1, 2016, in St Mary Parish, Jamaica the bodies of Harold Nichols, 53, and 48-year-old Randy Hentzel, two US missionaries, were found during what appeared to be a routine evangelist mission to one of the nation’s impoverished rural communities.

Randy and Nichols enjoyed their duties and were scrupulously respected in the community. They were not strangers and have been doing missionary work in Jamaica for over a decade. Today the nation is wondering what next and how did this happen?

According to the report, these men came from a “Pennsylvania-based Christian charity that seeks to give medical care and spiritual comfort to the people of the Caribbean island nation.”

Sadly, their premature deaths are not breaking news. Jamaica and several other islands have been plagued with ongoing crime and violence including economic turmoil for decades.

These barbaric ideological killings threaten to erode the perception of other breathtaking coastlines. Businesses and leaders are now quickly gauging the image impact, and the economic and emotional effect is causing many to reconsider their travel plans.

Just like a drug addict, several pockets of Jamaica have severe criminal mentality issues that she must work to overcome immediately. A few parts of that region could use a detox, but with limited resources, and an unwillingness to accept makes this path to rehabilitation more difficult.

This is not a random act; many have said quietly about an increasingly uncomfortable feeling being viewed as a weak animal in a jungle where a few in disguise wait for an opportunity to attack their prey for their own survival.

How many locally self-made businesspersons have been targeted and killed this year alone not because of any criminal involvement, but a mindset by few who regard success as part of the problem.

Blame

Looking for Hope: Political strife has annihilated many of the youths, and the leadership from the police commissioner, community leaders, to national security minister, has to begin to take more steps on what has already been begun to eradicate this disease and an impression that no one has the tools to tackle it adequately. As a result, these barbaric acts are hatched based on the crime of opportunity.

Although hopelessness, lack of opportunity can breed crimes, these troubled people would be better served by seeking guidance on how to become successful, and not practically using violence to satisfy an emotional and economic disconnect.

The headlines that have emerged on CNN and other media outlets seemed like a shock to viewers; however, for those looking in with close ties, or after the local news sporadically; it is not a farfetched headline.

Many locals have suffered similar premature deaths and few answers after the cameras are off. These criminals are still roaming the streets, and if someone can find an offender, fear for one’s personal safety may create silence.

That image thing: Although Jamaica is not alone seeing a high murder rate per capita, based on a recent United Nations report; however, it would be a mistake to draw a comparison to other nations. Comparison alone cannot combat crime; it should be a motivation.

Although some in the media have spun the news in trying to improve these negative headlines that it is not a reflection of the island in general. Sadly, it might be late to regain its boisterous image until fundamental changes can be implemented.


It is time for a massive march against crime to take back the island.

These crimes cannot be in street retaliation, carefully placed blames, or gun for a gun settlement or even a court sentence. A systematic problem can only be solved when leaders begin to develop opportunities for a dying group of youths who stay stagnant.

They must form community involvement built on commitment and an acknowledgement that this increasing criminal mentality has to be addressed proactively or even capital punishment.

This recent killing is an image problem and confirms what many have feared a beautiful mango fruit with a bright and beaming skin is rotting from its core. Poverty and the ever-widening gaps between the haves and the have-nots are one aspect of disparities and a moral compass that has no direction.

Though no one can predict one’s behavior from external influence, reversing a barbaric mentality will take a holistic approach from the community

Graduationorig
Photo Credit: Jamaica Observer

Today, despite graduation there are few opportunities. Furthermore, in a new global economy that requires excellent talent, many are unequipped. Therefore, graduation seems to be only based on age attained, and not an accomplishment to be competitive.

These two individuals dedicated their lives to supporting others for decades. Today families are left to ponder why? The impoverished people also lost, as a decade of a medical the mission is cut short.

No one wins from a criminal act. Today the targeting of visitors is forcing several potential returning residents to look elsewhere for retirement. Moreover, others who have returned are preparing to exit. Few will admit to this trend.

Leadership cannot continue doing photo-ops, believing that as long as there is an image of one love, things will solve itself. In fact, most of the successful people’s have permanent homes outside of their native land.

No country can survive if crime becomes an influence where criminals enrich themselves at the nation’s cost. Furthermore, a willingness by a few elected officials to squash laws, because they were introduced by the other party, fails to compromise to fight these issues.

Ship in Cuba orig
Photo Credit: ABC News (US)

Who will gain: Given the recent report of a decline in the tourist industry, high debts, low manufacturing output, coupled with crime, one of its close neighbors, Cuba, is rising since new diplomatic relations with the US.

Having this headline does not help the cool and relaxing vibes this island sells.

As these missionaries’ deaths dominate global headlines, Cuba is showing an American cruise ship docked at its ports, looking to discover what has been missing for over 50 years.

A successful service-oriented economy is vital to support a good standard of living for people who work in that industry.

Despite the economic gap, they are connected and the impression of safety based on gated communities does not make it those problems over there. Crime anywhere is a safety problem everywhere

MDR-Ja
Photo Credit: MRD-Library

Looking Back: Today, many are longing for those days when one could rent a vehicle with a visitor license plate, travel anywhere with frequent stops throughout the entire country.

In addition, the only safety concerns parents and friends provided for on vacation were to be alert of the roads or a goat rushing from its banks or a few blind corners and an unheeding truck driver who believed since he maintains a bigger vehicle he had the right of way but however gave you a smile.

Moving Forward: These criminals are now emboldened, establishing an innovative strategy of kidnapping, and demanding ransom, but the nation cannot yield and they must be eliminated.

Although many are saddening by this act, the majority looking on still hope that future breaking news will not give people second thoughts about a visit to the island. This can only be possible if everyone accepts the role of community policing, advocates, and mentors and gives back in some capacity.

Goodbye, going once, twice, sold

By R.D. 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 and showed our final respect for fallen hero who also made it possible for countless family members who now have a career in law enforcement. After the flight landed, it was time to both reflect, and enjoy our heritage and the ancestors land.

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.

Many of the local people I spoke with are not against investments or people who do not look them; and they should be respected and protected, but these residences would like to see a balance. They work hard and played by the rules, but finding it more difficult to get ahead and like-stability for everyone; especially ones without a voice to survive.

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 purchase a small home in the communities they are serving.

What is the trade-off, and where are the unions to balance labour 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.

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. 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 appear to be more important to some, while the sand is being swept from under their feet.

The New Master/Employer

This new push in the Caribbean is not an overnight success for some. China started its diplomatic engagements in the early 1970s, or what can be called their blueprint. For Jamaica, the voyage started under former Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson on a high-level visit in 1998, when Jamaica opened an embassy in Beijing. Later, the Caribbean Economic Trade Cooperation was forged. In 2005, Jamaica hosted the first China-Caribbean trade fair. Other Caribbean countries have seen an explosion in key areas.

A 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 the region should not be an economic long-term sentence for some.

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 and remittance from family members. The lack of transparency, accountability and ignorance continue to slow growth.

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.

(1 Dec 2015) Chinese President, Xi Jinping

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 reduce 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 elite who run the country.

Li+Keqiang+Jamaican+Prime+Minister+Portia Simpson

Some agrued that investments are ok, but after that cameras aSome argued that investments are ok, but after that cameras are off, little financial accountability, but in order to positive some remain cautiously optimistic and hope these inroads- pay off in the long-run

Dominica PM Skerrit
Tian Qi (R), China’s ambassador to Jamaica, and Jamaican foreign minister Kamina Johnson (2019) Update
Trinidad-PM-meets-Chinas-President

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 push-back 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.

Marcus Garvey

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.

The culture is going through a silent erosion where few rich individuals and companies are building resorts that not even the locals can afford to visit. “Imagine prohibiting an American from a public park,” as one vendor’s legal struggle put it to keep one of the last free beach from development.

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

Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell

Where is the local tourist board?

Furthermore, few are willing to sell their souls and local government leaders appear 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.

eff 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 downward 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 region and elsewhere were denied access to education in that same period, the British government voted 30,000 pounds per annum towards the education of former slaves. 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 to analyze global trends and make decisions.

The disappearance of good governance some 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 are 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 once said in a song, “My island don’t sell out.”

Jamaica Reggae Superstar: Burning Spear