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Gleaner 180 - Our sovereign selves

Published:Saturday | September 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Horace Levy
  • Our sovereign selves

Published: OCTOBER 18,1979

Dawn Ritch, Contributor

If you want to see the blood drain from a politician's face, just tell him that you think Independence was a mistake.

Indeed, mention to any Jamaican in a high place that Independence was a mistake, and they'll tell you not to say it too loud. People have pride, they say, and Britain didn't want us anymore. Too expensive after the war.

So Britain gave us some dyes and material to make a flag, and clapped politely while we ran it up the pole. Ever since then, we've been independent, trying to cultivate a national identity and meeting with no end of trouble.

To say nothing of abject poverty, a far worse standard of living than enjoyed as a colony, and a passport that nobody particularly seems to want, according to the thousands who gladly give it up each year.

This is Independence. And we're stuck with it because we decided that we'd rather be kings of impoverished petty kingdoms, instead of becoming a pawn of a West Indies Federation. So even Anguilla, with a mere 8,000 souls on her tiny shores, could reject a constitution in 1967 which bound them to St Kitts-Nevis and St Lucia, hardly more substantial herself, has now been welcomed as a new state into the United Nations. At least 13 other islands in this archipelago they call the West Indies, all threaten to become territories and confuse themselves with much talk about their national sovereignty.

When you consider that it takes a population of considerable size to warrant going to the expense of infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, drive-ins and banks, you wonder how some of these islands have anything at all. Which is why many of them have so very little, and why their residents are to be found migrating to Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica, who in turn migrate to England and the United States.

Yet all these sovereign little territories, including ourselves, want to have a voice in the United Nations. Our myriad leaders claim that they represent sovereign, independent peoples and that gives them the privilege of littering the UN. with their votes. Meanwhile, most of the people that they claim to represent frequently live in some other island, but mainly in Canada, the USA and Britain, and these are the countries which are ritually abused by the leaders of our sovereign selves.

Seaga has said that a country's foreign policy should be compatible with its domestic strategy. He has won long applause for that, if only because it is a common sense which Manley totally lacks. But is Seaga really ready to carry that commonplace understanding to its logical conclusion? After all, a client economy functions best in a client state which is not hypocritical about its own status.

The West Indies' sole claim to economic fame is that its islands are primarily involved with exporting raw agriculture products that their overseas markets don't want anymore, and haven't wanted for nearly a century. Our sole claim to sociological significance is the pervasive feeling among all the island populations that they would really rather be somewhere else. Preferably in Paris, London or New York. Its inhabitants learnt, from the time of the 17th century that to succeed is to emigrate, and to emigrate is to succeed.

Those who remain are 'what lef' and are asked to swallow all bitter pills in the name of national sovereignty, well knowing that our leaders have absolutely nothing to be sovereign about ... neither resources, nor people.

  • Response: Sovereignty is a passionate matter

Published: SEPTEMBER 13, 2014

Horace Levy, Guest Columnist

A dictator of the last century reportedly asked a reprehending Pope how many tanks he had. That, clearly, is how the powerful view sovereignty. They measure it by military might on top of economic muscle. In the world of power politics, a small sovereignty is just an annoying mosquito.

Yet, small Jamaica has made its presence felt in the world through its music and track achievements, as well as by leading the boycott of South Africa's apartheid regime. As a tourist destination its hotels excel and are rated among the best in the world. For their part, the eastern Caribbean 'small islands' have outpaced Jamaica in economic well-being.

There is more to sovereignty, it appears, than numbers and dollars. Behind and beyond global status is what statehood means to the citizens of tiny nations to be their own rulers and have a voice alongside the wealthy giants. It is the assertion of the innate human value of every person and every group. And that is why every person and group has the right to determine its own way of life and to be respected by every other person and group. It's as basic as that.

Caught up and swept away by the bitter hostility between the 'communists' and the 'capitalists' of the 1970s and siding with the latter, Dawn Ritch is led to express contempt for the country's independence. The country, she said, has "a passport that nobody [her class especially] particularly seems to want", amid "a far worse standard of living than it enjoyed as a colony". Her weak analysis blames democracy - "maybe adult suffrage was where it all went wrong".

Thankfully, The Soviet-US Cold War no longer divides Jamaica nor the world. But this has not put an end to the issue of sovereignty nor to the passion it provokes. Even as one is amazed at the extreme to which cynicism carries Ms Ritch and at the one-sided vehemence visible on The Gleaner's entire October 18, 1979, editorial page, one must remember the 25,000 gathered very recently by church organisers in Half-Way Tree and the political pronouncements heatedly made.

The issue on that occasion, drawing much public attention, was homosexuality. Central, however, to the church people's objection to it was the allegation that it is an import from foreign - something alien to the Jamaican psyche and culture. Defenders of gay rights are equally of the view that church fundamentalism is itself deeply indebted, in funds and views, to its North American counterpart.

So sovereignty is a live issue and a passionate matter. The context for it has changed, though, or rather the change that was just budding in the 1960s and '70s is now fruiting but has yet to be plucked by people and digested by politicians.

So, CARICOM, for example, is in limbo. Having rejected Federation under Labour Party Bustamante's influence, Jamaica is still turning up its nose at the 'small islands' that are now its economic betters - under a People's National Party that has lost its 'vision'. Jamaica is not alone in facing this kind of challenge. It has the company, most prominently, of Europe. In various ways, it is a world problem.

For the change that has jelled is the reality behind the often-heard 'globalisation'. Globalisation is pushing people together at the level of economies, politics and ideas, even as they stay physically and sovereignly separate. The push-together is carried by communication channels, which cannot be blocked.

The change, however, is only partial. Imperialist capitalism is still around. And our politicians, whose power hunger made the country vulnerable to imperialist tools like the IMF, are now divided over its use - a critical sovereignty issue.

So, dealing with that and combining togetherness and distinction is hard; hard on human rights - witness the worldwide clashes of values - especially our right to real sovereignty; hard on the poor - ever more distant from the rich; hard for the people to get dialogue with the bureaucracies they employ.

Unless we understand this reality and keep our vision of lofty goals, the passion that is also crucial will be wasted by bias or inertia. Jamaica's challenge today is to respect minority rights, raise up the poor, assert sovereignty within a Caribbean unity, and fence strategically with imperialism.