|Posted by Diana McCaulay on November 21, 2013 at 6:55 AM||comments (1)|
Watching Tessanne Chin on The Voice stage on Tuesday night, head lowered, waiting for America to “save” her, I was reminded of the Jamaican rock iguana. I hope she won’t take offense. I mean it as a high compliment – they’re both so special. Both born Jamaicans. Both rare. In the case of the iguana, vanishingly rare. And their immediate future rests in the hands of others.
Like most of Jamaica, I’ve watched Tessanne with pride, not just for her extraordinary talent, but for her charm and humility. And I’ve wondered, as journalist Dionne Jackson Miller blogged recently (http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/why-the-sudden-love-for-tessanne/, why we so often wait for the endorsement of others before we get behind our own.
Last week, I attended meetings at the Hope Zoo hosted by UWI, NEPA and the IUCN (Int’l Union for the Conservation of Nature) Iguana Specialist Group, which have been working for more than 20 years to save the Jamaican iguana, thought to have been extinct, in one of the most successful conservation programmes in the world. In the WORLD, people. Perhaps I do need to say that our iguana is unique to us, found only here on our rock, and is one of the 100 most endangered animals on the planet. Eight zoos in the US hold specimens of our iguana as last ditch saviours of their genetic material – in case all animals go extinct in the wild, a likely outcome of any large transshipment port nearby. But unlike other iguanas, ours have not bred well in captivity – no one is sure why. Enter the process called headstarting, whereby hatchlings are taken from the Hellshire Hills, grown at the Hope Zoo to a size where they are not so vulnerable to predators and then released back to the wild. 52 young adults were released this season. From the handful of animals seen in the 1990s, there are now more than six times the number of nesting females in the Hellshire Hills.
One of the presentations at the Hope Zoo talked about history – and the presenter showed an extract from one of Hans Sloane’s papers dated 1725 – iguanas, Sloane had written, were plentiful in Jamaica – I think of the name Liguanea, and I imagine many iguanas on the plain – and were excellent eating. Then we hunted them to near extinction. This is what happens when natural resources are approached with recklessness – we eliminate their many benefits, quite apart from their intrinsic value.
At the end of the meeting day, we were taken to look at the headstarting cages at the Hope Zoo. And for awhile, I stood starting at an adult iguana, Rocky, I called him in my mind, giving myself permission to anthropomorphize, and I asked him, animal to animal – couldn’t you have tried a little harder to be just a little cuter? Our iguanas are a dull, patchy gray/brown, with just the tiniest hint of aqua around their dorsal ridge, so faint I wondered if it was wishful thinking on my part. Their skin doesn’t fit them. They’re big – can grow to four feet from head to tail. They’re small dinosaurs but we like our dinosaurs to be the bad guys in films. Rocky, my boy, I said to him, you’re just too reptilian.
And I remembered my climb to iguana bush last year, courtesy of Prof Byron Wilson at UWI, landing on the beach at Manatee Bay, the walk through the mangroves and the bright orange crocodile ponds, and then the climb through the forest of Hellshire, the sharp rocks, the stones that turned treacherously underfoot, the rich colours of fallen leaves, the heat. And then the two wild iguanas we saw, so perfectly adapted to their habitat. It’s simple – Rocky and his kind do not exist to please the aesthetic sensibilities of human beings.
Rocky, I said, that afternoon at Hope Zoo, where do I find the words to convince Jamaicans that you’re worth saving? How can I convince them that you are the Tessanne Chin of the Hellshire Hills, what will cause us to have new eyes, new respect, for one of our own, a creature who was here before we were? Rocky was dignified but mute.
I know the rhetoric – if one Jamaican child can eat from the eradication of the iguana, so be it. We thought they were gone and we were fine with that. Most of us will never see them in the wild. Who cares, who cares, who cares – these are the loudest voices.
In the end it comes down to respect, to awe, for the complexity and beauty of the place where we live, first our island, and then our planet. With regard to the prospect of the transshipment port far too close to the dry limestone forests of Hellshire, I’ve listened to people say – we never heard of Goat Islands before. We’ve never been there and so they do not matter – level them. By that token, an awful lot of the world should be leveled because most of us will never see most of it. I’ve heard the dismissive remarks from people who should know better about “two likkle lizaad”. We have become an urban people, with no connection to wild places and no regard for wild things.
I left Rocky in the fading light, thinking of Tessanne’s soaring voice, and the singular Usain Bolt standing in solidarity with her on The Voice stage, extraordinary Jamaicans both, as our iguana is extraordinary and I wondered, not for the first time, who might change our minds and hearts.
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on July 18, 2013 at 10:00 AM||comments (5)|
As we listen to the usual bleating about damage caused to “brand Jamaica” by a civil society group raising legitimate national issues in an international forum, I decided to research the concept of nation branding. I found a report done by FutureBrand for 2012/3 – the entire report is here: http://www.futurebrand.com/images/uploads/studies/cbi/CBI_2012-Final.pdf
I skipped to the top 25 country brands – no Jamaica. Looked at the top country brands in our region – nope, no Jamaica. I found Jamaica on page 106 of the report in the full list of countries ranked at 62 out of 118 countries. Jamaica was ranked behind the Maldives (16), Mauritius (20), Bermuda (24), Barbados (29), the Bahamas (37), Belize (46), the Dominican Republic (53), Trinidad and Tobago (54) and Cuba (57).
Say what? We don’t have one of the strongest brands in the world??
The FutureBrand report says they annually measure and rank global perceptions of nations using a Hierarchical Decision Model to discover how key audiences view a country – the model tracks awareness (does a respondent know the country exists), familiarity (how well is a country known), associations (what are its perceived qualities), preference (how highly is it esteemed), consideration (is the country being considered for a visit or investment), decision/visitation (has an actual visit or investment taken place) and advocacy (do respondents/visitors recommend the country to others). The criteria measured are:
Values: Political freedom, environmental friendliness, stable legal environment, tolerance, freedom of speech
Quality of Life: Education, health care, standard of living, safety, job opportunity, like to live in
Good for business: Investment climate, advanced technology, regulatory environment, skilled workforce
Heritage and culture: History, art and culture, authenticity, natural beauty
Tourism: Value for money, attractions, resort and lodging options, food
When you see the components of a strong brand, Jamaica’s unremarkable global ranking should surprise no one.
I found Jamaica’s name in one other place in the report – page 88, under tourism. “Weak perceptions around safety can have a negative and very real effect on a traveler’s willingness to visit. We see this in countries like Guatemala, Vietnam, the Phillipines and Kenya – all ranked above 100 (in safety) – that, despite having major despite having major attractions to their credit, fail to perform well in the dimension overall. Exceptions include Egypt, Jamaica and Indonesia – also nations that rank 100 and above for safety but perform relatively well in the tourism category.”
We may hit the headlines for various reasons, often tragic ones, the world may gather to watch our athletes – an unstable foundation on which to build a nation’s future – and we may hear Jamaican music in many countries of the world, but none of this means we have built a solid nation, nor a strong brand.
In fact, we remain stubbornly resistant to the truth about ourselves and our country – the JAMPRO website is a marvel of breathy advertising copy and mixed metaphors: “Business Brand Jamaica captures the essence and dual nature of the great Jamaican people. Creative and supportive with an unyielding, enterprising spirit, we continue to be pioneers, reaching great heights and blazing trails around the world. The creative and innovative side of the Jamaican people is exemplified by the exotic cuisine, pulsating rhythms, tantalizing designs and indomitable human spirit for which we are internationally renowned. Our business acumen is another side of Jamaica - lesser known, but just as powerful. We are contemporary, globally connected, and possess an entrepreneurial character which has spawned new businesses and innovations in a variety of commercial endeavours. And we are dedicated, hardworking, supportive, educated, and highly skilled, making our workforce, efficient and productive.”
So Minister Lisa Hanna, get over yourself, a petition by Jamaicans for Justice on the status of children in state care is not what's damaging Jamaica’s reputation – the actual status of the children is what is doing the damage.
The plain fact is this: good intentions and public relations are never going to build a strong nation brand.
(I have written to FutureBrand to ask for Jamaica’s score sheet – if they send it to me, I will share it.)
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on June 22, 2013 at 10:10 AM||comments (0)|
I just finished the first draft of my third novel, probably entitled The Dolphin Catchers. I know now I must let it sit in a drawer, figuratively speaking, for about three weeks before I read it through again, to attempt to come to it as a new reader.
I don't know what to do with myself on this hot and still Saturday morning - for many months, every day I have woken up at 5.30 am, sat at my computer and let myself fall into the world of my characters. Maybe I'll update my website, I think, I haven't looked at in forever. And I see my blog - no entries since January. Failed on the blog writing, book promoting, keeping website vibrant and new counts.
So here I am, everyone. Coming up for air. You can't do everything and I was writing my third book. Maybe now I'll blog a bit... stay tuned.
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on January 13, 2013 at 10:40 AM||comments (2)|
On Friday, January 11th, 2013, the Gleaner reported a “salty ritual” at the Ministry of Youth and Culture. According to the article, the Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna and Acting Permanent Secretary Sydney Bartley appeared on Tuesday morning with the President of the United Theological College of the West Indies, Reverend Dr Marjorie Lewis and called a staff meeting. Let’s stop right there for a moment. If the Minister of any Ministry walks into the office on a work morning and calls? attends? a staff meeting, this cannot be considered voluntary. So let’s put to rest the idea that no one was forced to participate.
Anyway, when the staff gathered, what appeared to be “devotions” morphed into the salty ritual. Small plastic cups containing salt were given to the staff (All of them? That’s a lot of salt and cups…I wonder who paid. Some staff members refused to take the cups, the Gleaner asserts, others took them. Can you see this? I don’t know how many people work at the Ministry of Youth and Culture, but it must be hundreds – hundreds of bemused public servants in a staff meeting, being given cups of salt…!). Staff members were then exhorted to keep the salt on their desks “as a reminder that we are the salt of the earth and that it will keep away evil spirits.” This very senior trio then allegedly went around to all the offices in the Ministry and sprinkled the salt while praying. This was followed by some staffers sweeping the salt out of their offices. Some reported feeling the ritual itself was evil and that afterwards, there was a “strange feeling” in the office. You can imagine how much work got done that day.
The Gleaner reported mystification on the part of the good Reverend and the Acting Permanent Secretary to the ensuing fuss; the latter still had his cup of salt on his desk. It was all voluntary, they said, no one was forced to do anything. Right. The senior officials of the Ministry of Youth and Culture just wanted to start the year on a positive note, using the passage from Matthew, Chapter 5 verse 13 – you are the salt of the earth. Anything to shift attention from the dismal performance of the Ministry, I imagine, after its many demonstrated failings to protect our children.
In an editorial on January 12th, 2013, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130112/cleisure/cleisure1.html
the Gleaner then asked “How much religion is too much?” It’s a good question. Is it right that a staff meeting in a government ministry contain religious rituals of any kind? What should people of other faiths (or no religious faith) do while these rituals are being conducted? It is particularly worrying when these rituals are conducted by the State. What would happen if we had a Minister who was a Buddhist? Would staff be required to learn mantras and make symbolic gestures in staff meetings? Is only Christianity allowed in Jamaica? Aren’t we supposed to have separation of Church and State?
What worries me more, though, is the unstated notion that underlies public prayer and ritual at Government gatherings – even conventional Christian prayer – which is that these rituals are a substitute for good policy, enforceable laws and effective action. We see this all the time in national prayer breakfasts, church services and the like. It drives me mad when I get invited by the National Environment and Planning Agency to church services to pray for our wetlands. It would be much more effective if NEPA would simply stop granting permits for the destruction (sorry, they call it “modification”) of wetlands.
Whenever we have this blurring of the responsibilities of Church and State, a few voices suggest that the Lord helps those that help themselves, but still, as a nation we seem wholly behind the idea that we will be saved somehow, not by acceptance of responsibility and our own actions – but now, it seems, by cups of salt.
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on December 4, 2012 at 7:45 AM||comments (0)|
Below is the invitation for the "commencement ceremony" of the North South Highway Project. You decide whether this is just about the Mt Rosser leg...
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on November 29, 2012 at 1:35 PM||comments (3)|
On Thursday last week, I finished the review of the 387 page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the North-South highway link, Caymanas to Linstead leg. For non Jamaican readers, this is a long-planned modern road link between Kingston and the north coast of the island. It cannot be denied that the existing road is problematic at various points – the Rio Cobre gorge which narrows to the single lane Flat Bridge and floods regularly, sometimes trapping people and even drowning them, the winding road over Mt Rosser, where, if a large vehicle breaks down, motorists can easily be delayed for upwards of three hours, and the impossible-to-keep-repaired Fern Gully. It’s clear that the road from Kingston to the north coast needs to be modernized.
The Government of Jamaica started with the middle leg – the Mt Rosser bypass. There were murmurs of geological problems at the time, but these were ignored. The road was built – except for a section in the middle, where the GOJ and the road contractor could not agree on a price or an approach to the geological problems – and there that almost finished road has sat, unused, for perhaps 18 months. As you drive on the old road, you can see the major scar of the new Mt Rosser bypass – and at one point where it slices through a hill, you can clearly see why limestone forests should never be removed – there is so little soil on which to reestablish anything else. I feel the Mt Rosser bypass was designed by someone with no respect for aesthetics or natural resources, but I also felt it was necessary and hoped it would not become one of Jamaica’s many white elephants.
Fast forward to the December 2011 election of the People’s National Party. Large national infrastructural projects were announced, including the North-South highway link, which was to be taken over by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). There were media reports of commercial developments associated with the road – no details or location – promises were made that this road would not cost the Jamaican people a dollar, and assurances given that all environmental due diligence would be done.
Through the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)’s legal programme, with the help of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), and with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, JET has reviewed some 40 Jamaican EIAs over eight years. As I finished this latest one, I sat back in my chair and wondered if there was any point in continuing. For eight years we have been sending written submissions to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) describing the same deficiencies – failure to adequately evaluate alternatives or cumulative impacts, failure to adhere to the Terms of Reference issued by NEPA, poor and unscientific collection of baseline data, inadequate assessment of environmental impacts and downplaying of risks, lack of detailed monitoring plans and failures in the public process. Yet this latest EIA for a major road project crossing low lying areas in the flood plains of five rivers, susceptible to landslides, posing risks to ground water and requiring the removal of an unquantified amount of forest contained many of these same deficiencies. It was late. I was tired. I attached our review to an e-mail to NEPA and hit the ‘send’ key.
The next morning, I read a letter to the Editor of the Gleaner from Zhongdong Tang of CHEC stating that the “commencement ceremony” for the North-South link would be on December 5th, 2012. Here is a link to the letter so you can judge for yourself what I understood from this, what anyone might have understood. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121123/letters/letters5.html
Angry that the public process for this leg of the road was only just completed, there yet had been no time for a decision maker to review any of the public comment but a ground breaking celebration was already planned, I slapped out a press release objecting to this evidence of the “done deal” syndrome and describing my frustration with a bankrupt EIA process.
This was followed by:
A reporter from the Gleaner called to ask, among other things, whether JET would file legal action over this latest perceived breach to the public process. I said we could certainly consider it, but JET had already filed two successful legal cases on this very point and they continued to happen, so I had to question the effectiveness of this course of action. Naturally, the reporter’s story led with “Court battle looms over Highway 2000 North-South link.” http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=41358
The CEO of NEPA called to explain that he could not possibly be blamed for the holding of a ground breaking ceremony and that NEPA would be rigorous in their process. I pointed out all the many problems with Jamaican EIAs, described over many years, which continued. He heard me, but had to take another call.
Emails and phone calls to JET arrived, stating various versions of “tek wey oonu self, we waan di road.”
The Managing Director of the National Road Operating and Construction Company (NROCC) called to explain there was a “misunderstanding”. The ceremony which had been in the newspaper was only the “recommencement ceremony” of the Mt Rosser link, which had already been given a permit, and in fact was nearly completed. I expressed the view that there was little to celebrate about this particular leg of the highway, but of course, we are addicted to such ceremonies. (I remember being invited to one to celebrate the export of expired pesticides which had been in inadequate storage posing serious risks to public health for 30 YEARS!)
I spoke to the lead scientist of the EIA Consultants to object to the downplaying of the environmental and public safety risks in the summary pages – all but one rated as “minor” - while they were described in full in the pages of this substantial document which will be read by few. He promised to get back to me.
RJR Journalist Dionne Jackson Miller requested an interview on her radio programme Beyond the Headlines on Monday, November 28th. I was to be “on” with the Minister of Transport and Works, the Hon Omar Davies.
During the interview, an unnecessarily aggressive Dr Davies (isn’t his Ph.D in Geography?) was most interested in hammering home the point that I had been wrong about the ground breaking ceremony. He repeated this at least three times, despite Mrs Jackson Miller’s attempts to suggest that this ground had already been covered. He fell back on the hollow assurances, heard so many times in the past, that nothing would be done in advance of receiving the NEPA permit, and all work would be carried out in accordance with the environmental permit. A man then texted the radio programme to ask why his area near the start of the new road was already crawling with Chinese workers. The Minister felt that they might be surveying; he did not see this as any evidence of any “done deal” syndrome. He did concede that bulldozers would be another matter. (There must be a frantic scramble this morning to find heavy equipment that cannot be described as a bulldozer. Can’t you hear it? Yes, the Minister said that bulldozers on the land would be evidence of a breach of the public process, but this is not a bulldozer! It is a BACKHOE! TOTALLY DIFFERENT! THE MINISTER SAID NOTHING ABOUT BACKHOES! In the commercial break yesterday, I entertained myself with images of the land clearing being done in reverse. But it is not funny).
On the question of inadequate monitoring, the Minister said we should not be so untrusting as to assume that all the monitoring failures of the past would continue in the future. He deplored my “adversarial position.” I didn’t manage to respond to this on air – Minister Davies said he had hardly been given the space to say two words – but really, Minister, what is wrong with an opposing view, especially one well supported by scientific references? Isn’t that why you have a public process? And isn’t review and comment on the EIA the appropriate method? Are you saying only admiring and supportive views will be tolerated? That we should wait until the environment HAS BEEN destroyed before sounding a warning? Or are you objecting to the views being aired in public? I would like to point out that they are only being discussed because they are made public.
Later that night, I was unable to sleep. This always happens to me after media interviews, I feel I could have done better, why did I not say this or that, how tired I am of the whole fight, how hopeless it is, how badly we are being led, how short term our thinking. I mean, you’d think given recent events in Pt Maria, we’d be concerned about flooding possibly related to highways, you’d think given that we now have a climate change ministry and we are supposed to be all exercised about climate change, we’d care about removal of forests. My thoughts turned to Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, a man I do not know, a lecturer in literature at UWI St Augustine campus, who is now on hunger strike to protest a highway in Trinidad. His unequivocal act of resistance is not the path I have chosen – mine is the endless reviewing of piles of paper, the futile meetings, the useless committees, the circular public arguments. But I know with a certainty I do not possess the resolve needed for a hunger strike. I remembered a comment about American environmentalist David Brower – he successfully resisted a dam in the Grand Canyon and lost the Sierra Club their tax exempt status as a result – Thank God for David Brower, he makes the rest of us look so reasonable. And I thought about some of the early actions of Greenpeace – the little zodiacs skimming a grey sea between the harpoons of whaling ships and the whales themselves, the youngsters scaling the stacks of industry to let fall their protest banners – oh for an environmental radical or two in Jamaica! I fell asleep thinking about a 50-odd-year-old man facing organ failure and death over the re routing of a road.
And this morning, Annie Paul posted a link to this short video of Dr Kublasingh’s position on the road. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUhguG92uuQ
In case he seems too reasonable, there is also this one of him using – gasp! - “bad language” to the Minister of Health. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K0as6uUGOY
(The sound is bad and the "cussing' starts at about minute 4..)
I also heard him interviewed on the radio here on Jamaica Speaks on Hot 102. He sounded strong, for someone who had not eaten or drank in 14 days. The internet is full of support for him as well as questions about his sanity. To me, he just seems brave. A man risking death for his convictions. As I ponder what else I should be doing, what else we all should be doing about the relentless risk and sacrifice of Jamaica’s natural resources by an unholy alliance of politician, civil servant and citizen, I find no answers. I look at my watch. I’m late for yet another meeting.
(As I always do, I send this blog to my husband for his editing eye and his response is terse. So what, I e-mail back, bored in the meeting, you didn’t like it? Not much, he says. It’s your familiar environmental lament. He's right. Should my form of resistance be a vow of silence then?)
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on November 6, 2012 at 11:55 AM||comments (0)|
The Merchant of Feathers II
Is the mother whose son is found
in a compromising position with a man
in a university bathroom
and is beaten by security guards
who police anuses
while girls walk unguarded in the night
and a mob of educated fools chant
for more blood, more fire.
This mother must put her son back together again
paint his wounds with Gentian Violet
ice swollen tendons, protuberant eyes
find the scars deeper than skin
and like a seamstress mend what’s broken within
and when his father who isn’t worth two dry stones
or a shilling sees his son on the news and appears
at her door to beat her son some more
she will turn herself into serrated edges
stand sharp and poised to kill
for her son is her only gold
and if the father’s thirst for blood is too great
she will pacify him with what he needs
to prove he is not like his son.
In her, he will bury the fear.
And in the morning she will stir soft words into
the cornmeal porridge, carry it to her son’s bed
blow a benediction into each spoon full she brings
to his bruised and beautiful lips.
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on November 3, 2012 at 6:45 PM||comments (16)|
Two male students from the University of Technology (U-Tech) were said to have been caught in a ‘compromising position’ in a bathroom on the evening of November 2nd, 2012 – it is not known what they were doing and all a mob needs is a rumour. A growing crowd of other students chased the young men across the campus. One of the students escaped. The other sought refuge in the security guard post on Hope Road and what happened next was filmed by a cell phone camera. It is dark and the figures are shadowy, but it is clear that a crowd of hundreds is gathered shouting anti gay curses, demanding blood. There is laughter and an air of salacious excitement, what happen, some voices ask? One voice asks to be let in on the fun. The video camera steadies and the inside of the security post can be seen through the glass. The three security guards seem unsure what to do, but soon two of them beat the clearly terrified young man. The crowd roars. There is the sound of breaking glass.
It seems to me a Pontius Pilate moment, if I remember my Bible correctly. An innocent man delivered up to a judge of sorts, a baying mob outside. The judge seeks to appease the crowd with a beating but it is not enough. And we know the end of that particular story.
Other facts emerge. There had been car thefts the night before, a recurring problem on the U-Tech campus, leading to a horrific mob killing in 2003. Some people seem to have thought the man being chased was a car thief, as did the security guards, at least initially. Students found the young man’s photo and plastered it all over the Internet, destroying any hope he can continue to live a normal life in Jamaica, at least for the foreseeable future, and jeopardizing the continuation of his education. The guard company, Marksman Ltd., fired two of the guards the same day, the fate of the others is still under investigation. U-Tech issued a statement condemning the attack. YouTube took down the video, only to have it reposted over and over again. Social media erupted with blogs and comments. Petitions were started.
The title of the YouTube video I reluctantly watched was “Beat the Fish 2!!!” (sic) “Fish” is one of many odious Jamaican slang terms for a homosexual. The day after the attack, Friday, I was utterly unproductive at work, constantly refreshing the Facebook pages and blogs I follow, to see what was being said. There were no public comments following the articles published in Jamaica’s two daily newspapers. This was highly unusual. I wondered if, at long last, the editors of our mainstream publications had decided not to give hate speech any oxygen. But the lack of comment was short lived.
It’s personal for me. My son is gay. Every hateful, bigoted, violent remark is flung directly at him. I miss my son every day of my life, but I am so glad he does not live here. The question is: Why do I?
I had my Jamaican passport with me on Friday, because I needed to make a photocopy. I noticed it on my desk and I held it. I felt, still feel, deeply ashamed to be Jamaican. I felt complicit in this attack because of my long ago decision to remain here, to claim my Jamaican nationality, my Jamaican identity. Now, too late, I want to rescind that decision. I don’t want to be identified as part of a nation that defends and supports an anti gay stance as being cultural, as being Christian, as being an aspect of our sovereignty, our right.
It occurs to me this is why the separation of Church and State is vital. It seems harmless, even positive, when people say: Jamaica is a Christian nation. Public prayer at virtually every function seems relatively innocuous – oh sure, there might be people of other faiths in the room, but Jamaica is a Christian nation, right, they’ll understand, they must adapt to the majority’s wishes. But it is not innocuous. As they always have been, religious beliefs are being used as justification for the abrogation of the human rights of some. Religious beliefs belong in places of worship among those who share such beliefs and nowhere else. They must not have the weight of the State behind them.
In an interview with Cliff Hughes on Nationwide News Network on Friday, I heard the Minister of Education, Hon. Ronnie Thwaites, strongly condemn the U-Tech attack. Well and good, Deacon Thwaites. But it was you who recently pandered to the mob in the withdrawing of educational materials trying, however clumsily, to deal with the issue of respect and tolerance for gay people.
See Annie Paul’s post Gay Bashing in Jamaica a National Policy? for more on this issue
I am tired of pretending that all aspects of our culture are defensible. They are not. There is much about being Jamaican to be ashamed of – our violent and bigoted speech and action towards gays and lesbians tops the list.
A month ago, I went to England, where my son lives, to attend the celebration of his civil union with his long standing partner, another man. The registrar who conducted the ceremony began with a simple statement about relationships between gay people. She said these unions had existed for centuries but only now was it possible for them to have legal status. My son and his partner had written their own vows and the last one was a simple one: “I promise to love you for the rest of my life.” Two honest, productive, fine young men, one Jamaica's loss, promising to love and honour each other, to walk with each other through life. I thought there should be a banner above where they stood, something huge, big enough to be visible all the way across the Atlantic in my homeland asking this simple question: WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
Also Sticks and Stones by Petchary http/petchary.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/40922utechbeating20121101c.jpg
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on September 18, 2012 at 8:35 AM||comments (3)|
On the morning after the 2012 beach clean up of Ft Rocky by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), one of our staff members went to check on the site. There he found the mountain of waste taken off the beach by over 2,000 volunteers uncollected – the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) had been said to be “on their way” the previous afternoon. In addition, he found a pile of burning waste – drugs, he assumed – continuing the long standing practice of the burning of waste near the beach by the Police. For the third year running, JET had either raised the money or begged equipment and removed this residue before the clean up. JET had also written to both the Police Commissioner and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust asking that this practice cease – the JNHT having responsibility for the heritage site of Ft Rocky. Yet there it was happening again, the day after beach clean up. It was too much. I put my head in my hands and I wept.
The previous Wednesday, I had been taken by helicopter to the Pedro Cays, one of the 64 clean up sites around Jamaica. There, I confronted a very Jamaican circle of hell – some 400 Jamaicans, 90 miles out to sea, in shacks and meager shelters, without running water, sanitation or garbage management on a 10 acre island, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. We landed on Middle Cay and the downdraft of the helicopter sent the lighter items of garbage flying to fall unnoticed in the sea. The Masked Booby birds, some sitting on eggs, held their ground in the small patches of sand and vegetation adjacent to a burning dump, the scale of which is difficult to appreciate, unless you have stood there, and tried to come to grips with the staggering amount of waste produced by a relatively small number of people. Nor was the garbage confined to the dump area. Horrific as that was, it was worse to see the waste flung everywhere, on every square inch of what should have been and could yet be an idyllic small island, a refuge for seabirds, surrounded by healthy coral reefs, teeming with fish.
Where, I wondered, do our attitudes to waste come from? Why is it that so many of us are comfortable with strewing our waste where we live, even as these practices make us ill, result in the flooding of our property, and threaten land, sea and life itself? At beach clean up every year, people who spend hours cleaning up the beach still litter where they eat. One corporate sponsor provided food for their volunteers in Styrofoam trays, obviously giving no thought at all to the irony of cleaning beaches and adding to the pile of waste afterwards.
What we took off Ft Rocky Beach 15 Sept 2012
I took two members of the press with me to the Pedro Cays. After 21 years of running an environmental non profit group, I know if it is not in the press, it is on no one’s agenda. After the story hit the media, I was invited to meet with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries on the day before beach clean up. We packed ourselves into a too small meeting room, chock full of numerous representatives from various ministries. A lecture was delivered about there being no need for anyone to be rude and the dangers of having these issues in the press, because now ANYONE can know what is happening in Jamaica. Yes, there is the conch industry located on the Pedro Bank, and most of the conch is exported. Suppose the buyers find out how it is produced… no, that wouldn’t look good. Perhaps there might even be Repercussions.
Everywhere you look in Jamaica, there is manifest failure to govern. The political parties are about appeasement, about making their supporters happy, about making themselves look good, about launches and photo ops. If any action – no matter how essential – is going to lose votes, it can’t be taken. So although a 1940s study stated that Jamaican fisheries were overfished, because there were “too many men chasing too few fish,” there has been steadfast refusal by the Ministry of Agriculture and its Fisheries Division to take the necessary steps to manage our fisheries. What is needed is known: No spear fishing, no night fishing, no Hookah gear, no seine nets, increase in pot mesh sizes, no possession of conch and lobster in closed seasons, the establishment of large fish sanctuaries, protection of nursery areas (specifically mangroves and seagrass beds), protection of herbivorous fish (like parrot fish), strict enforcement, heavy fines and confiscation of boats and equipment for breaches. But it is not done. None of it is done. Oh every now and then some individual fisher is taken to court and fined a few hundred dollars and his fish pots confiscated. He’ll be back at sea within a month.
The Ministry of Agriculture is a big building, as are all government buildings. These buildings contain floors of people, car parks of vehicles, multimillion dollar budgets. Yet government agencies in Jamaica declare themselves to be helpless, without the required budgets, without the needed resources, action has to be approached with decades of caution, issues must be studied, the studies must be revised after years of failure to implement a single recommendation, the studies themselves must be studied. The people in the buildings collect their pay, money is borrowed to meet those payrolls, and the politicians bluster and insist on civility.
It is a perfect storm of abdication of responsibility. We abdicate our personal responsibility for the waste we ourselves generate, we feel entitled to consume and throw away whatever we want wherever we want and someone else must pick up after us. The responsible government agencies point fingers at each other. And the politicians make the usual promises, look to blame the other political party and know without question this issue will blow over as the next national scandal claims the headlines.
The filthy beach of Middle Cay is a perfect symbol of Jamaica itself – an island wasted by the people who live on it.
|Posted by Diana McCaulay on August 30, 2012 at 8:55 AM||comments (2)|
Despite the summer weather, the independence celebrations felt like Christmas to me – a commercial event, advertisements on every page of the newspapers, upbeat videos on TV (my personal favourite is the man on a mission asleep on the bow of a boat!) corporate sponsorship of everything, branding, bunting (instead of pepper lights), billboards, bushing, slogans, sprucing up (often with fire), an explosion of sellers at traffic lights (flags instead of fireworks), painting of curbs and walls, numerous parties. Like Christmas, it all felt divorced from meaning, from any real reflection.
We Jamaicans love a party, and there is the phenomenal success of our Olympic athletes to celebrate. I am as inclined to tearfulness as the next person, watching the Jamaican flag being raised and hearing our national anthem in medal ceremonies. And my heart was definitely full when Usain Bolt looked at the camera and said, “Happy birthday Jamaica,” on winning the 100 metre sprint.
But after the party, what? I’ve looked for and read those thoughtful articles on the 50 years of our independence. To assess whether our achievements merit the hype of the past few days, I ask myself this: If we had been told in 1962 that in 2012 we would face a stagnant economy, crushing debt, one of the highest crime rates in the world, a divided and bankrupt politics and, according to Dr Damien King Head of the Department of Economics at UWI, more than half our people considered poor – I am not sure we would have regarded such a future with joyous anticipation.
Apart from an article by the Jamaica Observer’s Petre Williams Raynor, there has been little review of how we have treated the island itself in our 50 years of nationhood. It’s as if Jamaicans-the-people exist independently of Jamaica-the-place. Many Jamaicans do live elsewhere, of course, holding in their minds and hearts a memory of Jamaica, an idea of what it used to be - and is no longer. To be sure, much of the island’s destruction took place long before independence – forests were cleared, flat lands were converted to monocultures of sugar cane and bananas, and overfishing devastated marine ecosystems from as far back as Columbus’ time. There is the excuse that then, we did not know better. We can no longer claim that to be the case.
In 2012, we have nine declared national parks/protected areas under the NRCA Act, all are underfunded, all have been damaged and continue to be damaged by inappropriate development. Important areas, such as Cockpit Country, remain unprotected. Less than 10% of Jamaica’s original forest remains. The degradation of Jamaica’s coral reefs, especially along the north coast, is a case study in the scientific literature and as a result of this and other poor environmental practices (such as removal of mangroves and sea grass beds), our beaches are eroding. We are also losing access to our beaches, more and more of which are disappearing behind barriers and gates requiring an entrance fee. Jamaica’s waters have been described as the most overfished in the English speaking Caribbean since the 1940s. Although the new fish sanctuaries are a hopeful sign, the fisheries law has not been changed, so the fine for breaches in a fish sanctuary remains J$1,000.00.
We have no sanitary landfill in the country and our garbage dumps burn frequently, causing severe impacts to public health and the environment. Gullies are used as dumps and empty into coastal waters whenever it rains. Most “incinerators” are merely burn boxes and do not meet legal standards. Many towns are not sewered at all and according to NEPA’s 2010 State of the Environment Report, only 26% of the National Water Commission’s plants met standards, and overall, only 40% of all sewage plants were compliant. We have no hazardous waste facility in Jamaica, one modern medical waste facility, and no facility to deal with radioactive or electronic waste. Our natural areas continue to be diminished by over development, overcrowding, venue-ization, and plain neglect. Our native animals, including the crocodile on our Coat of Arms, are killed on sight, poached or threatened by conversion of their habitat. The rivers of The Land of Wood and Water are being trained, mined for sand, diverted for human uses and poisoned, the latter in order to catch fish and shrimp.
Whatever progress we may have made in other areas, our 50 years of nationhood have resulted in the significant depletion of our natural capital, while generating almost no economic growth.
On the 50th anniversary of our independence from Britain, August 6th 2012, raw sewage ran in the gutters of Majesty Gardens . Might that say much about our nation’s progress, both literally and figuratively?