The funeral of Baroness Margaret Hilda Thatcher, the United Kingdom’s first and only female Prime Minister, took place in London yesterday. She was one of the longest-serving Prime Ministers (over eleven years) and one of the most influential political leaders in twentieth-century Europe.
So much has already been written about the “Iron Lady” since her death on April 8. Crowds of left-wingers (many of whom did not appear old enough to have actually experienced “Thatcherism” for themselves) danced and beat drums and bought copies of “Ding Dong, the Wicked Witch is Dead.” I considered this tasteless, but it is their right to free speech. The state funeral was beautifully executed, the coffin piled with white roses, the gun carriage, the slow funeral marching soldiers.
I lived in England during most of the 1970s and 1980s. These were times of a kind of drifting change, often of the “one step forward, two steps back” variety. On returning from living overseas in 1976, I was rather startled by the dreary state of English society. Something didn’t fit. Compared to Japan, where I had been living, there was no vibrancy, no growth. There was endless bickering and many divisions along class lines (nothing new). The freshness and idealism of the sixties and early seventies had long worn off. London was dirty, untidy. There was a strike literally every week – the post office, the trains, and of course the endless coal miner strikes up North.
So along came Maggie, she of the rigid hair-sprayed do, the commanding voice, administering the “painful medicine” like a strict nanny (that phrase may sound familiar, Jamaicans!) It certainly was painful, and prolonged. But I feel that much of the eighties experience in Britain (when things at times seemed turned upside down and then back again) was due to global forces as much as it was to Mrs. Thatcher. She was merely an instigator. Perhaps I sensed this because, for much of that decade, I worked in the international financial markets in London. Everything was booming. It was carried along on its own momentum. We were called “yuppies” (young upwardly-mobile professionals) and were resented by the working class. A young man once threw a brick through our car windscreen in protest. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) was also active in the City of London; bomb scares were frequent, and a wine bar near our office was blown up, killing a number of the hated yuppies. In a sense, Mrs. Thatcher exacerbated already existing strife and division in British society. It was all “in your face.” But many of us prospered.
Mrs. Thatcher was a radical. She was hard-right and often divisive. The state was the problem, not the solution, she said. But whatever you might think of her politics and her at times abrasive personal style, the woman had a vision for her country. And she achieved it, dragging England kicking and screaming into the twentieth century. She brought about change. I strongly disliked her foreign policy, in general; although being a Euro-skeptic I am thankful her approach to the European Union was a guarded one. But it’s really debatable how popular she was with the people. Under the Westminster system she did not always have the popular vote. And of course a Prime Minister has more actual power than a President of the United States, as we are fully aware; so she generally got her way.
I spent a few weeks in and around my home town last year, and concluded that yes, Britain has become a much more liberal, tolerant and egalitarian society; or at least, it aspires to be. It has changed dramatically, although I sense a growing societal conflict over the immigration issue. The Thatcher years were the final years of the Cold War, remember; Europe and the world was a very different place. Hard to imagine; it seems light years away.
Should Mrs. Thatcher have forced that medicine down our throats? I believe that, like most medicine, it was necessary at the time. And I believe that a good leader does what needs to be done, whether people like it or not. There are a few lessons in leadership that we could perhaps consider, looking back on the Thatcher era. And one of them is: You don’t have to be universally loved to be a good leader. Leadership is not about being loved. Politicians can kiss babies while campaigning, but once they achieve power they need to get on with the job at hand. I don’t recall Mrs. Thatcher ever telling us how much she loved us; but there is no doubt she loved her country. She proved this by her actions, even if sometimes misguided (I never approved of the Falklands War, but understand why she did it).
Of course, we do admire and love many of our leaders. Nelson Mandela, for example, is loved because of his selflessness and personal sacrifice; and because he stood for principle and stayed true to his principles. Not just in words, but primarily through his actions. He translated his vision into action, creating a new South Africa through the extraordinary power of his leadership. And people followed him, and revere him to this day. If you set an example of integrity and principle – if you demonstrate it through your actions - then you will be not only loved, but respected.
And I am not just talking about pretty speeches. President Barack Obama is one of the most powerful speech-makers I know; but it is by his actions that we judge him.
And talking of speeches, a leader must not ever, ever be seen to give up the ghost. Standing on a platform admitting defeat is simply not an option – whether in an emotional moment or not. President Obama became emotional immediately after the slaughter of innocent children at Sandy Hook and reflected the sense of shock in his demeanor and words. But he never threw up his hands in despair, calling on God to help. He saw this tragedy as a way to propel the country forward into something better; an opportunity in a crisis to make the United States a stronger, more humane society. Whether he will ultimately succeed is yet to be seen; but he hasn’t given up trying. Because he knows what leadership means. If he gives up, if he falters – what will the people do?
“He/she is only human.” Of course, this is true. But leaders are special human beings, and should see themselves as such. They should shoulder that burden. If they are not willing to do it, then leave it to someone else. Weakness is not a desirable or admirable trait in a leader. On this topic, a Jamaican “tweep” commented sagely: “‘Only human’ is an association with humanity to all things weak, negative, finite and limited. We’re also strong, positive and infinitely unlimited!”
Leaders must, must communicate – clearly, regularly, forcefully sometimes if need be. When we first lived in Jamaica, I used to groan when then Prime Minister Michael Manley came on the television for yet another broadcast message: “My fellow Jamaicans…” he would intone. But he was communicating. I am sorry, but the last thing any leader wants to see is a cartoon like this:
And simply put, leaders must obey the rules. It is all about setting an example. You are out there – you have been voted in, elected or selected. You may be a company boss, an NGO head, a Mayor, a parish councilor. But you must – must – follow the rules and regulations, and be seen to be doing so. It’s a bit like the parent-child relationship. If children see their parents smoking cigarettes and cursing profusely, are they going to pay attention when the parents tell them to behave themselves? No, they are going to do as they please. A good leader must set standards and must adhere to them him/herself at all times!
I know many Jamaicans with strong leadership qualities, although I find these are mostly in the private sector, and especially in civil society. Others aspire to be the “boss” or the “big man.” They are happy when they have reached the top. They can be driven around by a chauffeur; they can fly first class. They can wear nice designer suits and have their photo taken in the social pages (which, in my view, should be abolished). They can call their secretary on the intercom and order coffee, sitting in their plush office.
They have “arrived.” But the trappings of leadership are nothing. This is counterfeit leadership, a chimera. This is just a satisfied ego.
Not that leaders should not have an ego; nothing wrong with that. It is a driving force. But it must be used in a positive way. And leadership is about responsibility. First and foremost.
Leaders, be strong. Be humble. Be visionary. Be principled. Be lawful. Be exemplary. Be respectful. Step up to the plate. If you are unable to do so, then step away. It’s not for everyone.
The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground.
Those are the words of another famous British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. He was also the last Prime Minister, before Thatcher, to have a state funeral (and I, as a young girl, was there with my parents to watch the procession, on a day of biting cold in London). During the terrible wartime years, Churchill – who actually suffered from depression for many years – held his head high and lifted the country with him. And then, after the war, he was no longer needed.
We are only human. And we are only on this Earth for a short time. Let us make our lives count for something.
- ‘Lying here, she is one of us’ (standard.co.uk)
- A fondish farewell to Mrs. Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher (newsobserver.com)
- Margaret Thatcher funeral: fans travel thousands of miles to pay their respects (telegraph.co.uk)
- An alternative soundtrack for Maggie Thatcher’s funeral (foreignpolicy.com)
- Lean in, Maggie style (standard.co.uk)
- http://www.winstonchurchill.org All you need to know about Winston Churchill
- http://www.nelsonmandela.org Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
- http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/leadership Basics of Leadership
- http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/02/18/the-most-successful-leaders-do-15-things-automatically-every-day/ The most successful leaders do 15 things automatically every day: Forbes.com
- http://www.theelders.org The Elders: Independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights
Now, here’s a happy photo to kick off with! Yes, so good to see the politicians are still enjoying themselves! This time it was Minister Phillip Paulwell, who celebrated his fiftieth birthday in Port Royal (at the old Fort George of Horatio Nelson fame). According to one social writer, it was “on the social Richter scale – a definite tenner!”
I live in an area of uptown Kingston and a Government Minister is my neighbor. One night, as the sounds of delicious food, the chink of glasses and the carefree laughter drifted over to us, I looked out of our front gate. The street was lined with Prados and other huge SUVs, gleaming in the street lights, with their accompanying security men standing by the vehicles. Several had their air conditioning running, engines purring, ready for the occupant to step into its cool interior when they had finished their merry-making…
La dolce vita indeed, for some.
Now let’s look at the economy. Radio talk show host Ronald Mason has been thrashing out various details of the International Monetary Fund/growth/productivity conundrum, focusing on exports one day, and on the promised logistics hub the next. He has been trying to get people to think, and find solutions. How about selling off entities like the Factories Corporation of Jamaica and Clarendon Alumina Partners that are a burden on the government? How about making a serious effort to collect property taxes, most of which are avoided?
Talking of the logistics hub, the government put out a release last week noting that public consultations will start soon on this huge, and potentially highly lucrative project. It’s all related to the expansion of the Panama Canal, and Jamaica is in the perfect geographical position to take advantage of this. But why are we still making speeches about consultations? They should have got under way last year, I would have thought. Time is of the essence. At this rate, Minister Anthony Hylton, it will have run out. But from the press release, it seems that the Cabinet has only just become aware that the project “represents the centrepiece of the country’s economic growth strategy, and is therefore a major initiative to drive the development and growth of the Jamaican economy.” Well, at least we’ve got that figured out. And implementation? When?
Nationwide News Network has certainly played its part in seeking to explain and explore economic issues in Jamaica. You can find them streaming live online, too. Speaking on the station this week, Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw expressed concern about the “prior actions” required by the IMF. “Wage restraint must be there,” he commented. Yes, Mr. Shaw, we know that. And as I have said before in this post, thunderclouds gather on the horizon. The trade unions are muttering, and the teachers, policemen, nurses and so on are not, it seems, going to go down without a fight. But have Jamaican government negotiators already “caved in to the IMF’s demands” as someone suggested last week? One recalls Finance Minister Peter Phillips’ defiant declarations about “sovereignty” last year. Now, does one sense a different tone? We hear a lot of references to “protecting the poor.” What does this mean? More taxes? What about the somewhat watered-down White Paper on taxation tabled in Parliament? Does that pass muster with the IMF, I wonder?
And how far away are we from the IMF agreement, really? March? April? May? One doesn’t have any sense of this.
Sorry! The last few sentences have mostly ended in question marks. I guess there’s a reason for that…
With his barely-suppressed-excitement voice, the birthday boy, Minister Phillip Paulwell, made a big announcement last week. Jamaica is going to make millions, nay billions, from rare earth elements. A Japanese firm will extract the rare earth from the hideous “red mud” lakes, filled with all kinds of toxic chemicals, that can be found in several spots on the island. The lakes contain the waste from bauxite mines. China has 23 per cent of the world’s supply of this stuff, which is used to make computer screens etc, and “controls” 95 per cent of the world market. Now the Japanese are in a desperate search for the stuff at home and abroad. Geopolitical rivalry going on here; China has, in the past, cut off Japan’s rare earth supply, which they badly need for their manufacturing industry. And the two nations are bickering over those islands.
There is another aspect to the rare earth issue: its severe environmental impact. I hope our journalists will investigate this in depth. When asked about this in a radio interview, Minister Paulwell said with a touch of impatience, “Well, I just want some jobs and growth, and whatever it takes we are going to do it.” Whatever it takes, Minister Paulwell? Even at the risk of destroying our fragile environment, which is already under serious threat? But let’s see. This is a six-month pilot project to find these minerals. Minister Paulwell has been accused of jumping the gun with his big pronouncements in the past. His colleagues in a former People’s National Party administration passed this tendency off laughingly as “youthful exuberance.” Well – much as I admire your enthusiasm and your go get ‘em approach, Mr. Paulwell… You are not so youthful any more. You are middle-aged.
Comments by two women who called one of the radio talk shows last week stayed in my mind. One was a small businesswoman. She sounded quite young. “We are out there on our own,” she said. Small business owners and entrepreneurs get no support. The banks don’t want to lend money to entrepreneurs; but if you want a loan to buy a car, you can get it in 48 hours. There is a lack of visionary leadership, she said, reminding us of the words in the Jamaican National Anthem: “Give us vision lest we perish.”
The second woman was much older. She used to work training women on the production line. What production line, you may ask? Yes, Jamaica once had a reasonably thriving manufacturing industry. Young people would not remember, but I do remember crowds of women leaving the factories in the Kingston FreeZone when they had finished their shift, so that you had to stop the car and allow them all to cross the road. This woman, although older, wanted the country to move forward. “King’s House should be a museum,” she added. How I agree.
Oh, please: With all the huge issues facing the country, Senator (and Kingston Mayor) Angela Brown Burke wants ganja to be legalized in small amounts for personal use. OK, fine. Legalize ganja if you want. But can we clean up Kingston first, Senator/Madam Mayor Brown Burke? Priorities please!
Senator Tom Tavares-Finson is not very high-profile these days, as senators go. His comments do not often make headlines, as some of the more bombastic senators in Parliament do when they decide to indulge themselves in some wishful thinking and philosophizing. But he said two things this week that made me sit up and give a little quiet clap. Firstly, he pointed to the travesty that is the continued non-appearance of the Public Defender‘s report on Tivoli Gardens. Tavares-Finson, an attorney-at-law, said all along he had doubts about Mr. Witter’s ability to investigate the killing of over seventy people during an attack by security forces on the West Kingston community in 2010. “Technically incapable,” is the phrase he used in the Senate on Friday. Come to think of it, why didn’t we get “outside help” for this monumental task? I am not sure I agree with Senator Tavares-Finson’s call for a judicial enquiry. Such things have proved costly and in general dissatisfying in the past. But, it had to be said. Well said, Tom. And secondly, he pointed to the destruction of Jamaica’s dry limestone forest – death by chain saw and machete.
Just a thought: The word “massacre” derives from Old French, meaning “butchery” or “slaughterhouse.” I don’t like to quote dictionary definitions normally, but Merriam-Webster calls a massacre “the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.” Did all those human beings resist in Tivoli Gardens? Just wondering.
Some “big ups” here – especially to some of our media professionals. They get a lot of flack, but these journalists (among others) did well…
Firstly, to the new “Live at Seven” program on CVM Television. I confess I was iffy about the change in the program format and the hosts. I had enjoyed from its inception and didn’t really want it to change. But host Simon Crosskill is doing a grand job so far. I remember him from his years on TVJ’s Smile Jamaica morning magazine program, being very jokey and sometimes going too far with it… But this program shows his serious side, and also a good degree of sensitivity. The program is addressing some touchy issues, such as the selling of bootleg porn videos to teenagers on the streets of Kingston; and public health issues of various kinds. Late last week it touched on the issue of maternal mortality, interviewing a woman whose sister had lapsed into a coma after giving birth. The woman said the hospital was uncaring. There was also the report of a doctor who had recently returned from Burma and was diagnosed with full-blown tuberculosis after already handling many patients at the Spanish Town Hospital. It’s time they got the Health Minister to agree to come on the program and explain. I hope he will. He seems very well-meaning.
I very much like Simon Crosskill’s sharp, incisive commentary at the end of the program. Very good.
By the way, I looked up Jamaica’s maternal mortality rate. According to a UNICEF report three years ago, “The country’s current maternal mortality rate of 95 deaths per 100,000 live births has not changed significantly over the last two decades.” The government is trying to reduce this rate to 25 per 100,000 by 2015, in keeping with the UN Millennium Development Goal. This seems a tall order, to me.
More thumbs up to two female journalists whom I met last week at a press briefing by the UN Environment Programme in Kingston – TVJ’s Christa Samuels and the Jamaica Observer’s Denise Dennis. It’s a pity the Gleaner was a no-show. The meeting provided much food for thought, and I will be writing about it in the next week or so. Both these ladies have done great reports on the meeting, with Ms. Samuels focusing on the rare earth issue and its polluting effects. The Sunday Observer had some useful and thoughtful articles on environmental issues today, including a focus on the fast-disappearing Negril beach. It’s hardly seven miles any more; at intervals it just disappears into the sea.
If you want some good news, open last week’s copy of the Observer’s TeenAge weekly. The Digicel Foundation has these really nice Mobile Enrichment Carts, and also paid bus fares for 300 students. What impressed me even more was the spirit of volunteerism among youth groups in St. Mary, who pulled together to fix up the Port Maria Primary School. The school has been closed for a while after floods and an overflowing, ancient, malfunctioning sewage plant. Hurricane Sandy aftermath. I am really happy to see young people volunteering in this way.
Last but not least, congratulations again to all the nominees and winners of the Jamaica Blog Awards 2012 (including myself, I guess!) I don’t want to single anyone out but there is much talent and enthusiasm among our young blogging community! I witnessed that last night at the awards. But next time, perhaps, a better venue for the celebration!
Finally, Diane Abbott (a Jamaican-born Member of Parliament in the UK – she was my MP once!) stated simply in the Sunday Observer why the murder of an eight-year-old British citizen in Jamaica was major news over there: “As long as the shooting of children in Jamaica makes front-page news in Britain, Jamaica will pay a high economic price for the failure to bring violent crime under control.”
On that note, my deepest condolences to the grieving families of all those who lost their lives to violence last week – including those killed by the police, who shot four more Jamaican citizens dead, in alleged “shootouts.” The sad list of names is below. Others who were murdered last week were a thirty-year-old registered nurse; the Director of Corporate Services at the Ministry of Youth and Culture; a businessman and licensed firearm holder who killed the man who robbed him in a popular jogging area in Kingston; and a man who had already received gunshot wounds and was lying in bed in a ward at the May Pen Hospital. All precious lives lost. And, by the way, how did a policeman only get fifteen months in jail for deliberately shooting a man (not in self-defense, as he claimed) and then kicking him repeatedly when he fell to the ground? I don’t understand the technicalities of it. But. I dunno.
I dunno. On that note I will end!
Those who died violently this week:
Eurick Brown, 16, Half Way Tree, Kingston
Christopher Bingham, Constant Spring, Kingston
Winston Joseph, Constant Spring, Kingston
Unidentified man, Merrivilla Road, Kingston 5
Sean Thompson, 45, Angels Estate, St. Catherine
Audrey Barrett, 47, St. John’s Road/Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Shellian Pinnock-Lafayette, 30, Farmer’s Heights, St. Mary
Milton Lue, 44, Gayle, St. Mary
Courtney Patterson, 28, Wentworth, St. Mary
Unidentified man, Montego Bay, St. James
Nicolas Chambers, 21, Salt Marsh, Trelawny
Xavier Lewis, Duncans, Trelawny
Adif Washington, 36, May Pen Hospital, Clarendon
Neil Virgo, 38, Unity Primary School, Westmoreland
Killed by police:
Tevin Rose, 19, Payne Land, Kingston
Shoyan Bird, Payne Land, Kingston
Leslie Miller, Montego Bay, St. James
Raul Reid, 22, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/witter-apologizes-for-non-delivery-of-long-awaited-tivoli-report Witter apologizes for non-delivery of long-awaited report: RJR News
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/plans-being-made-to-hasten-tivoli-report Plans being made to hasten Tivoli report: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130119/lead/lead1.html ”Dirty secret”: Tavares-Finson calls for public judicial enquiry in Tivoli killings: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42247 Imani Green family not scammers: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130117/lead/lead1.html Cops embrace INDECOM; Commission notes improvements, but still wants more: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130117/lead/lead3.html Groups call for greater accountability for police killings: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130117/lead/lead6.html INDECOM probes safety measures employed for murdered patient: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42270 Licensed firearm holder, gunman killed in Kingston: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Murder-in-Angels-_13430942 Murder in Angels: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Nurse-slain_13426035 Registered midwife gunned down near St. Mary home: Jamaica Observer
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130119/news/news4.html Cop jailed for unlawful wounding: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130120/lead/lead2.html Fear fuels not-guilty verdicts: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130117/cleisure/cleisure3.html Stop ridiculing the poor and vulnerable: Jaevion Nelson op-ed: Gleaner
http://www.unicef.org/jamaica/early_childhood_13951.htm UNICEF calls for continued efforts to reduce child mortality
http://jamaica-star.com/thestar/20130118/news/news5.html Calabar students rushed to hospital after brawl: Jamaica Star
http://www.caribjournal.com/2013/01/15/op-ed-medical-tourism-in-the-caribbean/ Op-ed: Medical tourism in the Caribbean: Caribbean Journal
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130117/cleisure/cleisure1.html The potential of rare-earth metals: Gleaner editorial
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/-Hold-the-applause-_13415326 ”Hold the applause”: Jamaica Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/environment/Gov-t-losing-billion-_13431006 Government losing billions: Jamaica delays action on environment protocol to its detriment: Sunday Observer
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/environment/Gov-t-hunts-grant-funding-to-solve-Negril-s-problems_13286262 Government hunts grant funding to solve Negril’s problems: Sunday Observer
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/nswma-reports-garbage-pile-up-cleared NSWMA reports garbage pile-up cleared: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130116/business/business1.html Jamalco plans US$26mil temp fix to energy problem – source says future plans include coal-fired plant: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=42370 Jamaica’s dry tropical forest under threat – Tavares-Finson: Sunday Gleaner)
http://go-jamaica.com/news/read_article.php?id=42351 Logistics Hub public consultations to begin this week: Gleaner/Go-Jamaica
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/another-setback-vaz-forbes-and-bicknell-case Another setback in Vaz, Forbes and Bicknell case: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130117/letters/letters7.html Holness didn’t push GG to force government’s hand: Letter from Governor General‘s office to Gleaner
http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/former-railway-workers-give-government-ultimatum Former railway workers give government ultimatum: RJR News
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130120/out/out3.html#.UPwUrRtOPAI.facebook Paulwell’s rip-roaring shindig: Sunday Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130116/letters/letters3.html Al Miller’s parallel universe: Letter to the Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130117/letters/letters5.html Mediocrity is PM’s mantra: Letter to the Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130119/lead/lead2.html Legalize ganja for medicinal purposes, says Brown Burke: Gleaner
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130116/news/news1.html Family cancels Christmas celebration to help needy: Gleaner
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/teenage/50-schools-to-receive-literacy-boost-through–Nominate-2-Educate–campaign_13372443 50 schools to receive literacy boost through Nominate 2 Educate campaign: Observer TeenAge
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/teenage/Digicel-pays-busfares-for-300–students_13384784 Digicel pays bus fares for 300 students: Observer TeenAge
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/teenage/Youth-groups-assist-in-clean-up-exercise-of-Port-Maria-Primary_13385189 Youth groups assist in clean-up exercise of Port Maria Primary: Observer TeenAge
At dawn she is cool and quiet, still holding the mysteries of the night reefs. As the sun rises, she spreads out like a glittering party dress, sequined in silver-white. In the heat of the summer day, she tries to merge with the sky, blurred and shifting at the edges. As the afternoon comes and with it the trade winds of summer, she becomes restless and foam-tipped. When evening comes, she sinks into the sunset, painting herself briefly with its colors. At night she reflects only starlight, and dreams while the sharks roam. This is our Caribbean Sea.
Our sea is a stone that changes color with the light, from opal to turquoise to indigo blue. But those colors are changing. The blood of its creatures that we humans kill is leaking into the blue, dark and stinking. The filth that we produce on our small islands is constantly seeping into its waters: garbage - plastic bags, plastic bottles, sanitary napkins, diapers, dead dogs, half-eaten burgers and beef patties, toothpaste tubes, beer cans and much more; poisonous chemicals that we spray onto our crops; half-treated or untreated sewage; all kinds of waste from factories and shops and the docks and the ships that pass through the harbors.
The blood. Dear reader, you may or may not be aware that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) recently met as it does regularly, to decide the fate of these unfathomably beautiful creatures around the world. As usual, it was politics and power play, and tiny nations such as ours in the Caribbean are caught in the middle of it all and used as pawns to be pushed this way and that. Our votes are important for those countries that persist in hunting whales. And so it came to pass that a presentation by Brazil, South Africa, Argentina and Uruguay to establish a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary was defeated at the IWC’s recent meeting. St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, Grenada and St. Lucia joined the whaling nations (Japan, Iceland, Norway) and some small Pacific islands in opposing the whale sanctuary; St. Vincent and the Grenadines (which already hunts whales) abstained from the vote.
They should be ashamed of themselves. As a resident of the Caribbean, I am ashamed of them.
Indeed, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (where the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films have been made) has asked the IWC if it can hunt down and kill 24 humpback whales over the next five years. This is on the basis of a “super-proposal” by St. Vincent, the United States and the Russian Federation for so-called “aboriginal” subsistence whaling. Yes, the aboriginal peoples of St. Vincent need to kill these humpback whales, for their own survival. And who are these aborigines of St. Vincent, you may well ask? Where are they? Well, you tell me. I thought (I could be wrong) that the Caribs had died out decades ago, although there may be some descendants left – a few.
By the way, according to environmental societies such as the American Cetacean Society and others, these “Vincentian aborigines” use speedboats to pursue the humpbacks, targeting calves that will lure them to their mothers, and using other illegal methods. They also allegedly hunt down and kill other marine mammals illegally – such as the orca (they may already have slaughtered a few orcas so far this year). They have reportedly not provided data or reported to the IWC on their whale-killing activities. According to an IWC Watch blog (link posted below), the St. Vincent Whaling Commissioner literally shouts down anyone who dares question their need for dead whales. In a somewhat hysterical speech (see link below for the full text), St. Kitt’s Commissioner accused those opposing the “aboriginal” proposal of racism and colonialism; while St. Lucia asserted that there are in fact many full-blooded indigenous peoples in the Eastern Caribbean. The Dominican Republic questioned this; and said it is making money taking tourists on whale-watching trips (so are the Turks and Caicos Islands, by the way). To which St. Lucia retorted, “I say to the Dominican Republic, you can conduct your whale watching while SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) conducts its hunts.”
Wow. If I was a humpback whale, I know which part of the Caribbean I would rather hang out in.
And what of the tourists, by the way – since the Caribbean is undoubtedly very dependent on them? How delighted would they be to know that the residents of the idyllic island on which they spend their dream honeymoon are a little ways out from the shore, pursuing baby whales in speedboats, and filling the beautiful sea they love to splash about in with the blood of humpbacks? What if they were on a boat trip or cruise and actually witnessed such “aboriginal” activity for themselves? After all, these are small spaces we are talking about – it could happen… What if (as I intend to do) environmentally conscious tourists avoided these islands and visited eco-friendly islands instead?
And talking of environmentally conscious tourists, another apparent disaster occurred last week which shows the combination of carelessness and ignorance which typifies much of the Caribbean people‘s (and governments’) approach to the environment. First reports suggested that thousands of eggs and hatchlings of the highly endangered leatherback turtle were reportedly crushed and destroyed by government bulldozer that were attempting to divert a river that was apparently causing problems for the Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel in Trinidad and nearby homes. Later, we were told it was merely hundreds of leatherbacks, and that the river diversion was necessary to save millions of turtles in the future. Ironically and very sadly, thousands of tourists stay at the hotel every year just to see the baby turtles hatch on this famous nesting beach.
There is a postscript to this – a comment on the Washington Post website “from Steven Greenleaf – President of the Caribbean Institute of Sustainability. I was there at the event today in Grand Rivere. I have years of training and experience as an ecologist and natural resource conservationist. NOT ONE person that I spoke to or heard speak who is actually involved in turtle conservation there, including biologists, conservationists, scientists, guides, or commmunity members was critical of the project to re-direct the river. NOT ONE. Thousands of turtles dead from the project……..not true. Did not happen. The river’s new course meant that the nests were being innundated by fresh water, preventing incubation. The turtles were dead before they were dug up. The fact is that the intervention will save thousands of turtle hatchlings, and the properties which were being eroded. Certainly the project could have been handled far better in terms of communication and planning. However completely non-factual and sensationalised reporting and outright fabrication of “facts,” achieves nothing of value and is counter productive in terms of improving environmental management in T&T.” Not all environmentalists appear to agree with him. The Ministry of Tourism also put out a statement and held a press conference, noting, “We are deeply saddened by the unfortunate statements circulating in the media on the “assumed” destruction of the turtle nesting ground at the Grande Riviere Beach in Trinidad.” Assumed. OK.
I feel really sorry for the hotel owners and do hope that their efforts to attract tourists will not be ruined by this. They have a beautiful website and obviously care deeply for the environment.
After all that….Thankfully Jamaica does not have a “whaling tradition” and is not a member of the IWC. However, we are playing our part in damaging our marine eco-systems. We are busy over-fishing our waters; and in an act of desperation – or sheer laziness – some fishermen are still blowing the fish out of the sea with dynamite, causing untold damage. A few days ago, a truck driver (possibly speeding, though we don’t know the cause yet) had an accident “negotiating a corner” on the road that sweeps round downtown Kingston by the sea. The truck tipped over, spilling oil into the ocean and causing a “minor fish kill.” I was actually surprised that there were any fish still living in Kingston Harbour (the eighth largest natural harbor in the world) – which has often been described as a “cesspool.” A friend told me that she had personally witnessed effluent of various kinds (I won’t go into detail) pouring from a cruise ship into the sea at Ocho Rios, St. Ann; others have seen human faces floating past them while bathing in other resorts.
When will we start respecting our beautiful Caribbean Sea? For how much longer can our sea, and its creatures, endure this abuse?
Please support local non-governmental organizations like the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) which has established fishing sanctuaries off the south coast; and the Jamaica Environment Trust, which has conducted sea turtle workshops and numerous other programs and environmental campaigns – including a protracted but highly successful legal battle that finally stopped sewage from being poured into the sea at Harbour View, near Kingston. C-CAM can be contacted at (876) 986-3344; (876) 289-8253; Fax: (876) 986-3956; email: email@example.com; street address: Bustamante Drive, Lionel Town, Clarendon; mailing address: P.O. Box 33, Lionel Town, Clarendon, Jamaica, W.I. The Jamaica Environment Trust is at (876) 960-3693; (876) 906-9783; (876) 906-9385; Fax: (876) 926-0212; email: Address: Earth House, 11B Waterloo Road, Kingston 10, Jamaica Their website links are below. There are many other community-based, local environmental groups that also deserve our support. Do what you can.
- Caribbean Scuba Spotlight on diving in the TURKS AND CAICOS (turkscaicosluxuryvillas.com)
- http://iwcblogger.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/south-atlantic-whale-sanctuary-fails-to-pass-iwc-vote/#comment-347 (South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary fails to pass IWC vote)
- http://iwcblogger.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/is-that-rain-or-just-st-vincent-the-grenadines/ (Is that rain, or just St. Vincent and the Grenadines?)
- http://iwcblogger.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/a-majority-of-iwc-commissioners-agree-one-out-of-three-asw-quotas-sucks/ (A majority of IWC Commissioners agree one out of three ASW quotas sucks)
- Whale sanctuary bid falls short (bbc.co.uk)
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18693753 (Indigenous whaling bids granted after “racism” claim)
- http://www.greenerideal.com/science/0618-aboriginal-whale-hunting/ (Aboriginal whale hunting: Does it make a difference to the whale?)
- Protect whales from new oil industry threat, warns WWF (guardian.co.uk)
- Indigenous whaling bids granted (bbc.co.uk)
- Memories of a moratorium: Rundown of the 64th International Whaling Commission meeting (greenerideal.com)
- Meeting Results In ‘Mixed Bag For Whales’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Don’t miss whale watching while you’re here! (turkscaicosluxuryvillas.com)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/whales-and-such/ (Whales and such – Monterey)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/protecting-our-fish-earth-day-part-1/ (Protecting our Fish: Earth Day, part 1- C-CAM)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/non-human-persons/ (Non-human persons – dolphins)
- http://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/total-destruction/ (Total destruction – Kingston’s Palisadoes)
- http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/trinidad-crews-crush-thousands-of-leatherback-turtle-eggs-hatchlings-while-redirecting-river/2012/07/09/gJQA87tyYW_story.html (Turtle Tragedy: Work crews crush thousands of leatherback eggs, hatchlings on Trinidad beach… washingtonpost.com)
- http://www.bradenton.com/2012/07/10/4109984/activists-seek-answers-in-trinidad.html (Work on turtle nesting beach was crucial)
- http://www.stabroeknews.com/2012/news/breaking-news/07/10/tt-environment-authority-only-a-few-100-turtles-lost/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+stabroeknewsguyana+%28Stabroek+News%29 (T&T Environment Authority: “Only a few hundred” turtles lost)
- http://rjrnewsonline.com/news/local/tanker-overturns-oil-spills-vicinity-kingston-harbour (Tanker overturns oil spills in Kingston Harbour)
- http://www.ccam.org.jm/ (Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, C-CAM/Jamaica)
- http://www.jamentrust.org/ (Jamaica Environment Trust)
- US Objects to SKorean Whaling Plan (abcnews.go.com)