Paradise under the microscope – By Trevor Brown, special for NODAL
By Trevor Brown *
Jamaica with its decades of capitalist under-development is on record as onethe Caribbeanand Latin American states that has the greatest levels of inequality among the different social classes. This coupled with and almost 2-decades long structural adjustment programme by the IMF further exacerbate the structural inequities that are a feature of these countries.
Its safe to say that apart from the period of Democratic Socialism of the Michael Manley –led PNP regime of 1972- 1980, when a deliberate effort was made to undertake desperately needed social reforms, which was one of the ‘triggers’ for the ‘unholy’ alliance between the local bourgeois the CIA in remake of the ‘Allende take-down’ in 973, the status quo remains firmly in place.
High levels of unemployment especially among the youth, greater levels of pauperisation of the ‘working poor’ both in rural and urban areas, a murder rate which is akin to that of a war zone which placesus amongthe top 5 countries in the world per capita, a financial capitalistclass ( banks, insurance companies, investment companiesetc.) that breaks their individual companies record every year without fail, in an economy whose growth hovers between 1% and lower for the past 2 decades. A country where 40% of its inhabitants live on ‘captured land’ (land to which they occupy by social force but without any legal entitlement). An overall economy where tourism and remittances from Jamaicans living abroad accounts for the bulk of our foreign exchange earnings, which goes out the other way in paying for the food imports that amounts to almost US1billion dollars per year, while our overall export earnings is somewhere between a paltry USD 200-250M per year.
The social safety net that the government offers to the most vulnerable in the society is woefully inadequate to meet their need constrained as they are by the strictures of an IMFprogramme,which ended in the last quarter of last year but so enamoured is the current JLP administration of the so- called ‘fiscal prudence’ that was forced on them by this gendarme of imperialism, that they have asked them to continue to play a monitoring role regarding the economy. The out of control crime situation with is murderous hand maiden, has led to the government employing states of emergency (SOE) as its main ‘ crime- fighting tool ‘across most of the police divisions in the island which has led to wide-spread abuse by a over- worked and under resourced militarized police force that work in tandem with the army( Jamaica Defence Force) of especially the unemployed an ‘unattached’ youth, that is only mitigated by the persistent involvement of civil society groups and vigilant human rights adovocates especially those in the legal profession. The constitutionality of the use of ‘states of emergency’ in this way by centre-right JLP while being challenged, is however accepted by large sections of the population, visibly traumatised by overall crisis situation but accepting the temporary relief that it affords them in going about their day to activity.
The pandemic has made worse the above situation that I have laid out before you and it’s a credit to the government that they sought to use some of the funds available that is constricted by a debt to gdp ratio of 94%, to alleviate the onslaught of especially our early shut- down of the economy in March. A Covid Disaster Relief Fund was set up to assist the most vulnerable in the society and extended to include people whose business would have been shutteredand those who would have lost their only source of income.
The depth of this Covid-19 exacerbation and pauperisation of our population was clearly revealed, when for instance the government earmarked a -one-time/ one off payment which should have expired in about 2months after it was put in place in April but had to be shuttered after a ‘mere’ 3 days when the applications were open, due to the sheer numbers of people that had made the request. Mark you, there were some clear criteria that you had to fulfil online and verified before your request could be considered, which sought to eliminate opportunism from genuine need.
Tourism which accounts for 40% for Jamaica’s foreign exchange income and added to that through direct and indirectly linked industries plays a larger than life role with about 300, 000( three hundred thousand) persons employed. It was particular the mounting pressures from this sector that prompted the government to have a gradual opening up of the economy, which on the face of it was a ‘gamble’, given the fact that our major market for the tourism product is North America, which is the epi centre of the global Covid-19 pandemic. The corollary of this action also was that this relaxation of our covid-19 protective standards had to be relaxed for broad sectors of the economy that were all people-centric.
And so it was, that Jamaica whose overall handling of the pandemic was the admiration of the international community, witness both an infection and death rate taking on an upward trajectory with the majority of new infection cases linked directly to tourism –related visitors.
An example of this is that in June prior to its gradualopening; the country had an overall count of 10 deaths and a positive count of 650 to the present situation where we are witnessing the following numbers. Infection 1732, deaths 19, self-quarantined 29, 700 and an infection that has spread nationally across all our 14 parishes and impacting every demographic group in our less than 3 million (three million) population.
The Prime Minister’s call therefore should seen in the context that the projections for the economy are are dire, in the words of the finance minister Nigel Clarke it might take up a number of years before the economy gets back to where it was , based on the battering that is been wrought by Covid-19 and desperate financial resource constraints. Secondly our capacity for health care and hospitalization is severely handicapped by a lack of adequate number of hospital beds and ventilators and save for the involvement of the Cuban Health team that currently has 430 health specialists, the highest number in the entire history of collaboration with our sister country , which includes 141 from the internationally acclaimed Henry Reeves brigade that came in April to deal with specifically with Covid-19, we would be in a significantly worse situation. Thirdly a burgeoning unemployment situation with no clear end in sight and a crime situation which is now bereft of any significant measure aimed at its cauterization, as part of the agreement with the opposition PNP was that the general elections would not be held with the coercive SOE in place-the main ‘crime-fighting’ tool of the JLP administration.
So even with the national polls which has the governing JLP ahead by the PNP by double-digit numbers, it was a source of ‘cold comfort’ to the ruling party faced with the prospects of the what is ahead of them,’ delay is therefore danger’. What could also be occupying the mind of the PM, is the fact that when he ‘scraped home’ with a one-seat majority win over the PNP to form the government in 2016, it was against the run of the national polls which saw the then Portia Simpson led party with a similar poll margins. Importantly to note also, is that in that the current state of constituencies which numbers 63 in total, the JLP has 7 marginal constituencies that they need to get over the line in order to secure a consecutive 5-year term while on the other hand the PNP needs 4 to form the next government. A constituency is considered marginal if the victory is less than 500 votes. Finally there is a growing concern by influential voices for a postponement of the elections, given the higher levels of health risk that is posed by the gathering of people that is a normal in the process of voting ,which is further complicated by the absence of ‘voting by mail’, that not a part of feature of our electoral arrangements. This concern is further buttressed by an equal public cynicism which sees all other areas of our national life that caters to the assembling of people, being savaged by the government covid-19 restrictions and they include restrictions, church, funeral, entertainment related events, meetings of all sorts etc. The response of the PM is the butt of derision among our people ‘you can’t allow your institution to collapse…you can’t allow democracy to fail because of COVID’ to the vote catching gimmickry of promising free vaccine to all Jamaicans against Covid,shortly after handing in his nomination papers on Tuesday August 18th.
For the Jamaican people, sad to say there is not much to distinguish between both parties, as the party of the Michael Manley democratic socialist period, is a far cry from the PNP that currently exist. They both support a neo-liberal approach to the economic development of the country and embraced an IMF programme. This was magnified by the ‘poster child’ status that was given by the main spokesperson for imperialism led by Christene Lagard head of the IMF and president Barak Obama who visited our beloved country during the period when centre-left PNP led the governmentat the helm.
The most clear distinction with both parties are in the area of foreign affairs as the PNP’s stance is progressive and non-aligned which is in sharp contrast to the centre-right JLP who is known internationally as a pro-Trump advocate and a ‘choir boy’ for any issue which is supported by the empire, including that of the pariah state of Israel. What is interesting to note though, is the position of the current leader of the PNP Dr Peter Phillips who along with other elements in the leadership, have been promoting a democratic socialist platform which contains support for the strengthening of the position of the working people and the underclass. Within the multi-class alliances that make up this party though, there have been resistance by pro-capitalist interest to the left of centre positions articulated.
The make-up of both parties reflects the interests of our society in a general way with the difference being which class is dominant at any given point in the parties’ existence. The JLP from its formation made it clear that ‘they are with the west’ in the words of its founder Alexander Bustamante inspite of strong working class foundation. Its the party that the big land owners and those of the capitalist class find comfort and ability to wield their influence without much resistance. The working class elements are accommodated from the standpoint that they bring the numbers that are necessary for electoral support and any other kind of mass action that are needed from time to time.
The PNP on the other hand while it contains elements of the capitalist class in its ranks, are subjected to strong alliance which includes the intellectual and professional classes that normally provides the leadership with support from trade union leadership. This position harkens back to the foundation of the party as a socialist one that in 1952 saw the need to purge itself of a Marxist-left leadership which represented the party main strength among the working class at that time. Interestingly Michael Manley’s democratic socialism was the most profound expression that the party has made towards the practical expression of this most humane concept of organisation.
Bi- partisanship is necessary in key areas of the country’s life and makes for the lowering of political tension in a society, where the divide and rule tactic of our former British colonial mastershave conspired to delay the possibilities that our beloved country can become.
* Communication specialist