AFRICANGLOBE – “Hot or cold?” It’s not a question I expected on ordering a beer at Lisa’s Pub. It looked and felt like places I have crawled to in downmarket Port of Spain. But on Old Hope Road, the petite bar woman, the crown of her head dyed scarlet like the walls, professionally offered the options for serving Red Stripe.
In the Jamaican capital, I spent more time in places oriented to upmarket clientele and taste where, no questions asked, Red Stripe is served cold. Twelve years since my last visit, dim recollections brightened upon arrival into today’s megapixel definition of, among other things, the arresting allure of Jamaican women.
So Jamaica is more than I remembered: impressively larger, upscale, with prosperity expressed in the busy traffic of foreign-used cars (called “deportees”) and other high-end vehicles. Rough calculations from gas station signs suggest it would in Kingston cost three times as much, in TT-dollar terms, to fill up my own car.
The city looked more diverse and felt more affluent than I had pictured it from years of reports pegged on “indicators” of economic and other prospects for livability.
Spoilt by a T&T, where the easy answer is “gas and oil”, I tried to imagine on what Jamaica’s signs of abundance could be based. Amid the sumptuousness of bars and restaurants such as Cru, where I was entertained, it occurred to me that art, advanced design, and prideful housekeeping are more readily embraceable in Jamaica, and customer service is also superior.
In supermarkets, I appraised shelves and counters lavishly supplied with imported goods. Nearly no item is price-tagged in less than three figures. My eyes caught T&T exports in Blue Band margarine, Carib beer and Associated Brands cereals.
For answers about where the money is coming from, the dailies, Gleaner and Observer, served upfront reporting on economic performance, suggesting a higher level, than in T&T, of reader interest in the topic. What I see around Kingston belies the official picture showing a Jamaican economy to have hardly grown at all in 40 years. But it has taken on debt to the level of 146 per cent of gross domestic product. (By comparison, Barbados’ debt stands at 75 per cent of GDP, and T&T’s at 43 per cent.)
It’s as if, Finance Minister Peter Phillips said, “we have sought to borrow ourselves to a brighter future”. Loans, last year totalling nearly US$2 billion, come from the IMF, the World Bank and the IDB, who jointly call the economic policy shots. Dr Phillips thus claims as an achievement that Jamaica “has passed five consecutive quarterly reviews of the IMF”. Other money comes in—”remittances” from Jamaicans abroad—enough to be counted last June as US$168.3 million.
Nor is it just official Jamaica patting itself on the back. High IMF official Min Zhu on Thursday voiced confidence that “the Jamaican economy is moving around the corner into the upside…with strong growth, good fiscal policy, reducing debt as well”. Five years ago, stories had told of Jamaica’s inability to afford its own national airline. Then prime minister Bruce Golding undertook an urgent solo mission to press the T&T government into buying Air Jamaica. Under IMF urgings, Mr Golding had needed to unload the national airline onto the deep-pocketed buyer recognised as T&T’s Caribbean Airlines.
Soon, the Jamaican leader would be facing irresistible US force compelling him to arrest and extradite his valued constituent, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. “Dudus”, infamous head of the “Shower Posse” gang, having been convicted of racketeering and conspiracy, is now serving 23 years in a US prison.
Watched from as far south as T&T, such episodes implied a scaling-down of Jamaica’s general image and independent agency. Jamaica gave up on owning a national airline, but “Air Jamaica” still appears in giant lettering on the side of a building near the airport.
Such defiance marks a continuing low-intensity encounter with T&T. Flash points show in the denials of entry to Jamaicans at Piarco, with righteous rage voiced not only inside the Kingston Parliament, and trade wars past over patties, and impending over lube oil.
Then Imam Yasin Abu Bakr presumed upon existence of some convention assuring him Caricom-wide enjoyment of the open-ended sufferance taken as his due in T&T. After Jamaican authorities ticked off reasons from the Imam’s track record, that disqualified him from entry, the Imam offered resistance to being deported in the Caribbean Airlines economy class.
At a cost of J$4 million (about TT$225,000), the government chartered a private jet to fly the Imam home. In Parliamentary exchanges over that decision, National Security Minister Peter Bunting defended the expenditure as a prudent, least-cost, investment toward earliest closure of Jamaica’s freshly opened Abu Bakr file.
The more costly alternatives risked bad publicity over the Imam’s feared disruptive misbehaviour in economy class. Again, private-charter deportation avoided continued detention in Jamaica, likely entailing lengthy litigation. The minister pointed to the ominous prospect of the Imam’s using his time behind Jamaican bars “to radicalise persons there”.
Plus, I sensed, to Jamaicans, caused to feel small by T&T Immigration door-slammings, it was finally gratifying to kick out some name-brand Trini, for cause.
By: Lennox Grant
—To be continued