Russ Ford's Blog

The Jamaican Paradox

I am still in Jamaica.  Not literally of course, I am writing this from my computer in south Etobicoke.  It is hard to say if my trip which I described in my previous blog, will be life changing but it has certainly  changed my perspective on the world.

Over the past week I have met a few Jamaicans who now live in Toronto.  Without exception all asked me how I enjoyed my trip.  I think they thought I was going to respond by talking about the great  beaches, friendly people and tasty cuisine.

While all that is true, they quickly lost their smiles when I said, "I think Jamaicans are treated like second-class citizens in their own country."

No one disagreed, in fact all were quite eager to express their views on the "two Jamaicas".  One is what the tourist sees  and the other is what the Jamaican people have to live under.

Jamaica to me is a paradox.  It is home of some of the  most fertile farm land in the world. It has natural resources to export and of course it has a very vibrant tourism industry.  How can a country with that much going for it, be in such an economic mess?

So I started doing research and actually found the situation is far worse  than I envisioned.  Let's start with some basic social indicators.

1) There are 60% less nurses working in Jamaica today than in 1980.
2) In 1990, 97% of Jamaicans completed primary school.  Today 73% complete school.
3) In 1990 59 mothers per 100,000 died in child birth. Today it is 110 mothers per 100,000 who die.

Life in Jamaica is getting worse for Jamaicans.  The more foreign capital that comes into the country, the more open their markets become to international trade, the lower their living status drops. 

Some have benefitted  by the structural changes to the Jamaican economy. Those beneficiaries are,  and this should come as no surprise,  American and Canadian businesses who through their agent, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)  have crushed the indigenous economy of Jamaica.

Back in the 1970s the Jamaican economy went into the dumpster.  As you may recall this was the time of the oil crisis when the price of petroleum products went through the roof.  Jamaica,  which already had a devaluation of its currency and were also working through sanctions imposed by the American government for Jamaica's new cozy relationship with Cuba,  found itself in an economic crisis.

So it went to the IMF for the first of its four loans, the latest one being last month. Now the IMF is not your typical banker. Its loan guarantees are far more prescriptive.  In the case of Jamaica the strings of the loan were high interest rates, the government had to abolish trade unions in some parts of the island and of course the big one, Jamaica had to remove its trade barriers and become part of the free trade universe.

The high interest rate on the loan further indebted the country and free trade  killed its local industries.

Let's take agriculture as an example.  Until free trade Jamaica had a fairly prosperous agricultural industry.  But when the tariff walls came down,  the big American agricultural firms dumped their products into the Jamaican market.  The American food was cheaper than the domestic product  largely due to its higher  level of technology. Jamaicans could not produce goods for as cheap as American imports were selling and the once vibrant  Jamaican agricultural industry bottomed out.

That is how it started and today Jamaica has one of the world's high debt  ratios. Unemployed is at 14% and 50% of the government's money is spent trying to meet its debt payments.  That does not leave much for health and education.

It does not end there though.  As a condition of its most recent loan, the government of Jamaica must produce a budget next year that will result in a 7.5% surplus of its GDP.  No other country in the world aside from oil producing nations,   have been able to produce such a budget surplus.

How will this be achieved.  The Jamaican government will act just like ours does when faced with an economic problem whether it be real or imagined.  It will start an  austerity campaign.

We all know what that means.  The poor, those needing government help and government workers will shoulder the costs. The Jamaican government currently owes its teachers $80 million in unpaid wages. I am guessing that they won't be paying that out too soon.

The government will either have to raise taxes or further cut services.  And after my experience in Jamaica it is hard to imagine how services could be cut more.
When Jamaica achieved independence  a little more than 50 years ago, it ushered in a feeling of great pride.  Jamaicans were now to be masters in their own house.

In reality Jamaica is still a colony.  Rather than  a colony of Britain, it is now a colony of the IMF.  It has usurped Jamaican independence by imposing demands on its government that no sovereign state should have to accept.
As former Prime Minister Manley said, if you want to know who benefits from the IMF, take a look at who started the IMF.`

It was established in 1944 just before the end of the war by the leading industrial powers.  Its stated  intent  was to provide  short-term loans  to countries that had fallen on hard times. Over time the IMF realized its money could not only be used to stabilize countries, but it could also be a lever to reshaping the global economy.  It could use  loans in exchange  for access to more markets.

So the industrial nations of the world of which Canada is one, have greatly benefitted by impoverishing  countries like Jamaica.  While there are examples of past Jamaican governments making some rather dubious economic decisions in order to curry re-election,  it is clear to me that solving Jamaican economic problems has more to do with Canada than Jamaica

The Jamaican government neither has the respect of its citizens or the ability to get out from under the problem.  It is just too big a hole and the IMF restrictions  provides the government with little wriggle room.

No, the solution lies here.  As a member of the G8, Canada can exert influence over the practices of the IMF.  Reforming this institution is however not in Canadian interests if you define our interests solely from an economic perspective.  The IMF has served us well at the expense of other less industrialized countries.

So here is where global citizenship or at least its concept comes into play. Being a global citizen  means you actually care about the world beyond your own national borders.

That will be a hard sell. What I have described is not the Jamaica that most Canadians know.  It is the land of great beaches and rum. It is where we go to relax and not worry about things.

The next time you are relaxing on the beach with your margarita ask yourself where you think Jamaicans go to relax and not worry about things.


your blog

Dear Russ
there is a fabulous documentary called
Life In Debt about Jamaica it highlights
all of the points you made.
it might be a good film to show at LAMP
perhaps as an educational tool and a kickoff
to perpetuating awareness and an openness
for thinking like a Global Citizen.
thank for your leadership beyond The Lakeshore
you are an example to us all.

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