19 April 2008

Dancing on Eggs

John Maxwell
In a column after last year's general elections I predicted the political crisis now upon us. I said that the JLP was likely to lose its majority in Parliament whenever it was decided that foreign nationals could not be elected members of the Jamaican parliament.
That time has now arrived.
In my column I cautioned that we would need to tread very carefully when the crisis developed because there was potential for great civic unrest if the matter was not handled with tact and intelligence. I specifically cautioned the PNP not to press for an immediate general election but to consider whether it would not be worthwhile in arranging some power-sharing arrangement in which both parties could devise together and implement together ways of tackling the urgent political, social and economic disasters in which we have been embedded for the last several generations.
What I did not foresee was that we would be in the midst of an economic crisis at the same time as the political crisis.
We are now beset by both crises, although, judging from the level of public debate, few people recognise either.
The fact is that once the Chief Justice determined, as she had to, that Americans and other foreign nationals could not sit in our parliament, the JLP would lose its majority. The economic crisis has been sharpened by the worldwide speculative inflation in food prices and the shortage of some classes of food. The social and political crisis has been sharpened by the debt and by the popular expectation that the advent of a new government should mean some relief and surcease for the poorest.
Globalisation has meant that hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans have been forced onto the streets by privatisation, deregulation and devaluation.
Our fantasy economy has been spewing up great fortunes while leaving most people idle and without resources to help themselves. The destruction of agriculture has meant that we are less able to feed ourselves than we have been since the end of slavery in 1838.
Speculators and the bauxite industry have driven people off the land and into the 'ghettos' and disrupted the whole social order of this country, producing unforeseen crises in education unemployment and crime.
Hundreds of thousands of the our best, youngest and brightest have been forced abroad whence they keep Jamaica alive by remittances which are now more important to the economy than tourism or bauxite.
Had we not destroyed agriculture and had we put the idle acres to work, agriculture would be as important as remittances. The burning of sugarcane land and other land, the over-use of fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides which are the pillars of agribusiness, have destroyed the productivity of the land. Few people realise that soil is not simply mineral dirt but is almost half composed of bacteria and other living organisms which are what differentiate the Sahara from Amazonas.
The uprooting and effective destruction of the Jamaica School of Agriculture, the destruction of the experimental agricultural stations and the extension services; and the cold war against the Jamaica Agricultural Society have all combined to put us squarely behind the 8-ball now that there is a world food crisis.
And while people are hungry they are without work and increasingly resentful of the forces of law and order, especially since those forces have continued the four decade long assault against the working classes and the unemployed.
Those two factors alone mean that we are at a serious disadvantage in dealing with any emergency which may come upon us. A natural even such a the next hurricane will make government impossible in this country unless we take steps now to do what should have been done twenty, thirty, forty years ago – putting our house in order.
The latest speed-bump in the political system is likely to add an unpredictable element to the whole noxious stew.
What is happening in Haiti is going to happen in Jamaica if we don't take steps to deal with the problem NOW.
The fierce urgency of NOW!
EPA: The Government needs to sit down with the Opposition to demand an annulment of the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union. These arrangements have one potential – to further pauperise Jamaica.
THE DEBT: The Government needs to sit down with the Opposition to demand an end to the commercial usury which means that 70 cents of every dollar we pay in taxes goes to margin-gatherers in the Caymans, Miami or some place other than Jamaica. If we cannot get the usurers to agree on some alleviation of our crushing debt burden a united country needs to announce that we are not going to pay any more than say, 35% of the claims against us because we are in a desperate, live threatening situation.
We can do what the Haitians cannot, because we still have to some extent, a government which represents most of us.
HAITI: Because we can, we should devise systems to offer whatever technical aid to Haiti. There is nothing like helping a brother to take our minds off our own troubles. Besides which, it is our duty.
THE LAND: The Government and Opposition should agree that we are going to bring all idle and under-utilised land into cultivation, using the capital freed up by repudiating the debt. We need to get the large landowners to understand that if there is no future for the poor there is no future for them in this country. Putting the land back into cultivation will do several things:
•It will begin the process of re-socialising Jamaicans into a sense of productive community;
•It will allow us to develop and provide proper schools and other public services and amenities for our people;
•It will reduce the level of crime and violence by giving young minds something to grapple with other than M-16s and the need to scrape a living as parasites.
• We need a comprehensive programme to rehabilitate the land itself, to stop erosion and the chemical warfare against "pests'.
•We urgently need to protect our water supplies against chemicals, squatters and mining and protecting them, planting trees and making terraces with give thousands work and produce thousand of acres of productive land.
• We need to finance the planing of fruit crops by small farmers, taking advantage of Jamaica's enormously diverse micro-climates and soil types to produce sustainable exports of real food.
• We need to plan for specific production targets for locally produced and consumed food, with incentive payments to those who produce them.
•We need to embark on programmes to recycle and re-use organic material for natural fertiliser and soil conditioners. We burn our garbage, poisoning people, especially children and contaminating the groundwater.
•We need to end the mining of bauxite and other minerals in Jamaica. We need to conduct studies to confirm that land in situ is more productive than land exported as ore. Digging up Jamaica and shipping it away will eventually produce here what was produced in Nauru, a bare, desolate place fit only to be covered by the sea.
•We need to revise the tax system so that the rich pay their appropriate contribution to the development of the country and that the poor afre relieved on tax on their basic necessities.
THE PEOPLE we need to embark on a programme of sustainable development in which the people make the decisions, or at least have the major say in the making of the decisions about what is going to happen to their country.
•We need to plan about how we are going to protect the enormous areas of land and the huge numbers of people at risk from global warming, sea-level rise and saline intrusion.
•We need to build dikes to protect Portmore and other large population centres from storm surge and later, sea level rise. If we are wise and humane, these projects will employ a large number of people instead of bulldozers and put money where it is needed, into the base of the society.
• We need to provide credit for small entrepreneurs, higglers and other people who are necessary parts of any food distribution system in Jamaica. We need to provide civilised accommodation in good locations where they can sell their goods without harassment from the police or the parish councils
•We need to ensure that all developments are in the public interest and to understand that Jamaica cannot be developed by outsiders parachuting in to erect economic or touristic free zones which are simply mechanisms for exporting capital from Jamaica.
Above all, we need a programme of remaking Jamaica into the place we keep on talking about, that demiparadise, that blessed isle, where every prospect pleases and not even man is vile.
We have to reconnect the Jamaican people and communities with each other, end both the low income and the high income ghettoisation of Jamaica which simply defines territory to be fought over.
We need to do what Norman Manley started seventy years ago with people like Thom Girvan and Eddie Burke and hundreds of other forgotten Jamaican heroes: we need to build a nation instead of a collection of competing interests, continually at each other's throats. We need urgently, to rebuild our communities and lift up the poor and disinherited.
We can do it, if we really want.
Now, more than any time in the past, we need to recognise that all of us have the same interest. We all want a Jamaica that works, in very sense. We don't want parasites of any kind, either those that steal cars or those that steal beaches.
We don't have much time.
Copyright 2008 John Maxwell

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