Life and Debt in the New Year

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Huddling and exposed

The year is not so new anymore and the haze of new year celebrations and resolutions begin to pale. 2012 was an important year in Jamaica’s history, at least symbolically, as the nation turned 50. But at the end of it, it seems Jamaica 50 made any difference, nothing of lasting value was created and so a year later we are no better. We started Jamaica 50 under a new government and what their first year returned to rule has underscored is that regardless of party, Jamaica remains prey to bungled governance which sabotages our potential and leaves us wallowing in economic morass.

I recently read a post by fellow blogger Annie Paul, on her Active Voice site, titled ‘Cauterizing Jamaica’s Debt Wound’ in which Paul extensively quotes The Chicago Tribune story ‘Jamaica’s Debt Hurricane’. Reading the article reminded me of the first time I heard Bounti Killer’s ‘Anytime’ – as though someone had taken a cold, sharp knife and sliced away the veneer I tried desperately to hold on to, leaving me vulnerable and exposed. There was an unflinching truth which summed up so much of my concerns for this would-be-paradise if only we could afford it.

“The Caribbean nation actually is in worse financial shape than Greece: Jamaica has more debt in relation to the size of its economy than any other country. It pays more in interest than any other country. It has tried to restructure its loans to stretch them out over more years, at lower interest rates, with no success… Jamaica is caught in a debt trap. More than half of its government spending goes to service its loans. The country can spend barely 20 percent of its budget for desperately needed health and education programs. Its infrastructure is faltering. It lacks resources to fight crime. It has little margin to recover from natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.”

The report isn’t exactly surprising, but still the starkness is unsettling, because it makes it hard to hide from the facts. I have been consumed by thoughts on whether Jamaica’s economic fate can change. I do not understand it and not merely because math and anything numeric confounds me, but because in many ways Jamaica doesn’t look like a 3rd world country (or at least not what television tells me a third world country should look like). I know there is pervasive poverty here. The kind that gnaws at you and you cannot romanticize. So I’m not sure what accounts for this discrepancy. The question continues to gnaw at me as I’m driving down Oxford Road looking at the new building by ATL Autohaus and wondering how we can afford so many Audis and Volkswagens if we are so poor. How does a country with so much a poverty and debt manage to live like this?

The ill-formed conclusion I have come to is that while it is easy for us to blame the government for our situation, and they are responsible for so much of what is wrong with this country, the way that we live, the continued foreign-mindedness and absence of sufficient social conscience impacts on the economy. So while I have not really made any resolutions for the new year, I am resolved.
I resolve to explore how far the mickle-muckle theory can stretch. Those of us who believe that change can come must find ways to do this. As I have said before, Canada is cold and they won’t take us all anyway, even though your average middle-class Jamaican is now a Canadian-in-waiting. As Buju said, “who can afford to run will run/ but what about those who can’t/ they will have to stay…”

Jamaica remains in a perilous situation of life and debt. It has been this year for a long time. But it has to change. It isn’t merely that if it doesn’t something will have to give – that has already begun as the society crumbles around us and the blood rises in the streets. I am tired of talking about our potential. It needs to stop being idle chatter and become a reality.

So ask yourself, What will you do about it?