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States of emergency not the best ambience for business

Published:Friday | July 30, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist

Were it possible to avoid the politics of the now lapsed state of public emergency, we might consider a few situations that might help us understand why mere pursuit of states of emergency shall not cure Jamaica's crime and violence problem.

We are all familiar with the beauty of the Blue Mountains.

Some of us are privileged, also, to be familiar with the picnic spots at Hollywell.

One can - perhaps I should say, one could - go there with friends and family, take a picnic lunch or meats to barbecue and enjoy the pleasant atmosphere, the cooler temperatures of the hills, the singing and sighting of strange birds, the calming, idyllic pass of perfumed mists that momentarily, significantly reduce visibility and yes, perhaps a few mosquitoes.

But the general feeling is one of relaxation, stress reduction, an altogether enjoyable, pleasurable experience.

Consider a Paris café - Café des Deux Moulins - in which you may sit by the curbside and watch as the world passes by. The ambiance is pleasant. Some guys simply watch the girls go by as they sip their beverage, munch on a sandwich, then enjoy a 'cancer stick'.

All this is done in utter comfort, peace and calm.

Consider the Greek restaurant now trading under the name 'Black Pearl' in Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados. This establishment sits between the road, a small mall-type car park and the beach.

Beside the restaurant, separating it from the beach and blue sea, is the boardwalk. People walk, jog, run, or simply amble and shuffle their way past.

They're unwinding as you enjoy a classic Greek moussaka: healthy with its eggplant, cheese and spices. No one is disturbed. The experience is altogether pleasant.

Failure

Shift gears and move to Kingston. Reflect on Trafalgar Road where an enterprising, if optimistic or perhaps unrealistic, Jamaican businessman decides to create a Parisian-type café, complete with curbside seating. It fails. Why? None of the promised pleasant ambiance could be guaranteed.

The passerby is likely to be ill-clad, perhaps foul-smelling and certainly not going to leave you alone. You and your guest are likely to be rudely disturbed when he or she begs for the rest of your unfinished muffin; worse, demands it - plus 'a Nanny'!

The experience will likely be horribly discomforting.

You confront, face to brute face, the reality of urban poverty, adult and youth unemployment and the incapacity of mainly unwed parents to take care of their children who may become street urchins, among other dreadfully unpleasant possibilities. Clearly, if Trafalgar Road, perhaps in memory of one of our famous saviours, Admiral Nelson, could be sanitised by security forces, the venture might succeed.

But, is that the way to go? Is that sustainable? Is that what freedom entails.

It is not that the young person is merely wicked, evil, or closer to mother earth as a subhuman predator animal. It is that our social system as it has evolved, bequeathed us a grave and intractable set of economic and social problems which we have yet to successfully confront.

Garrison politics is merely one response.

That politics which relies on violence as an underlying organising principle, arises precisely out of the conditions that generate these problems.

Mayhem created elsewhere

If we agree that the don makes his domain peaceful, dispenses 'justice', provides Nike shoes, school fees and street dances, we understand why the peace and ordinary life might prevail in that community. The mayhem is created elsewhere.

Create a state of emergency and much of the 'revenue-generating activity' that forms the economic base of the don's capacity to deliver these goods and services is destroyed. Or rather, put on hold. The associated extortion, mayhem, murder and other things that take place outside of the sanitised area must, of necessity and by definition, be curbed. But can we make this the basis of social life?

Portia Simpson Miller, I note from reports of her speech to a PNP gathering, is uncomfortable with the notion of 'dismantling peoples' communities'.

She is correct, to the extent that both linguist and public relations experts would agree. Transfer the words to people's lifestyle based on states of emergency and it smacks of disallowing the birth of free villages, or denial to former black slaves the right to purchase land jointly. But this is a hard one. As US commentators and politicians like to say: this is a mess.

The cure is not, definitely not, merely states of emergency which accomplish by force, what freedom, choice and the ability to work for a living normally guarantee among human populations.

Sure, there is a place for states of emergency. To believe, however, that this shall solve Jamaica's crime and violence problem, its rate of murders, and go about patting ourselves on the back, is likely to give us the back pain of payback.

Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist

wilbe65@yahoo.com