Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jamaica, a lost cause?

Recently I got a history and current affairs lesson and update on the happenings surrounding Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, who many Jamaicans believe is holding the country hostage, with the help of the JLP government.  Cliff Notes version: Coke is wanted by the United States government on drug charges.  The Jamaican government has refused to hand him over on the grounds that the evidence against Coke was illegally attained.

I have maintained my position in every conversation I have had on this issue that Jamaica, as a sovereign nation, has the right to demand its laws be followed and refuse extradition of a citizen if they are not.  No one disagrees with me on principal, but mistrust of Jamaica's government runs so deep that there is a prevailing certainty that the refusal to extradite has very little to do with asserting state sovereignty or legalities.  Stories about pay-offs, black-mail and political party loyalties are rampant and people are largely resentful of the JLP administration's actions on the matter - especially now that the U.S. seems to be retaliating by revoking visas from and refusing to give visas to prominent Jamaican business people and entertainers.

The chocking hold that decades of corruption have had on the country has just about squeezed the last breath of trust and hope from Jamaicans. We tell our children "there is no such thing as can't." We want them to face every obstacle with an attitude of confidence and determination, but we all accept that there are things we cannot do. There are many things we do not feel confident we can change. There are some things that make us feel hopeless and resigned. Many Jamaicans - on the island and living abroad - think of their country with that resignation and heart ache. With a spiraling economy, decreasing access to good and affordable healthcare, and an ever-worsening crime problem I am hard-pressed to find a Jamaican resident who is not seriously thinking about leaving, or a Jamaican living abroad who is not firmly decided never to return for more than a few days at a time. 

The Dudus affair is only the most recent layer of icing on the cake however, and Jamaica's problems do not rest squarely on the shoulders of the government.  The country's decline has been steady and apparent to all of us.  The beginning was clear in the erosion of simple courtesies and respect for self and others.  Jamaicans joke as much as complain about the lack of customer service in stores and government agencies.  We have come to accept dishonesty and outstretched hands from everyone from our garbage men to our government representatives.  We have taken on coarse language, the disrespect of women, and calls for violence as part of our musical culture.  Those of us who know better are willing to rely on, even call for, censorship, because we do not trust the masses to reject the tasteless foolishness. Those who live in Jamaica lock their grills, cross their fingers and hope for the best against crime and violence.  Jamaicans living abroad know to dig deep for the thickest version of our accents and try to blend in as much as possible when we visit lest we are harassed or worse. Jobs, particularly for the college-educated, are hard to find and prices on basic necessities make them beyond the reach of many.

Criticisms, indictments and laments do no more for progress than calling in to one of Jamaican's daytime radio shows however, so what should be done?  Is there any hope for progress and positive change in Jamaica?  How should that change begin?  Who bears the responsibility for sparking the change needed?