Kay Osborne | So much trouble: A call to action
So much trouble in Jamaica. Corruption and crime troubles. Entrenched inequality troubles. Unschooled and underschooled children troubles. Cost-of-living troubles. And on and on. And with the Commonwealth secretary general’s fiasco, the Government has once again stirred trouble elsewhere, damaging the country’s valued relationships with key external partners. Worse, the ill-advised betrayal of Jamaica’s CARICOM and African partners has caused untold damage to the nation’s long-earned reputation as a principled and respected world-leading country in foreign affairs.
But this is not the first time the Holness administration has betrayed valued partners. In 2019, the Government betrayed our generous benefactor, friend, and partner, the nation of Venezuela. Jamaica’s and Venezuela’s roots go back a thousand years, starting with indigenous Tainos arriving here from Venezuela. Also, Jamaica sheltered the great Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar when, under assassination threat, he found refuge here, where he wrote the famous Carta de Jamaica. In 2005, late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez initiated the highly beneficial PetroCaribe agreement with Jamaica and other CARICOM countries. Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves, sold oil to beneficiary countries at highly concessionary terms. No deal with another government or institution has been nearly as favourable for Jamaica.
Through 2018, the arrangement delivered more than US$5 billion to Jamaica, the funds spent on infrastructure development like Highway 2000, Kingston and Falmouth ports, Norman Manley and Sangster International airports, and the refinancing of government debt. In essence, Venezuela’s generous PetroCaribe agreement supported and improved the lives of nearly every Jamaican. In addition, it saved Jamaica’s economy from financial ruin. Nevertheless, when US President Donald J. Trump sought our Government’s assistance in ousting the duly elected Venezuelan government and installing a non-elected pretender as Venezuela’s leader, he secured Prime Minister Holness’ wholehearted support and that of his administrationt. Never mind that Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro honoured the PetroCaribe agreement, even visiting Jamaica in 2015 in celebration.
Unlike the late President Nelson Mandela, who declared to the US government that enemies of the United States are not necessarily his country’s enemies and that the US cannot dictate who should be South Africa’s friends, Prime Minister Holness leaped at the opportunity to support Trump’s unjust and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to oust Maduro from office. Last week, prompted by galloping oil and food prices which the Russia/Ukraine war has caused, senior US government officials journeyed to Venezuela, seeking oil-sourcing agreements with President Maduro’s government, which made the Holness administration’s betrayal more acutely felt, and Jamaica’s reputational damage and lowered world standing starker.
Reputational damage is neither quickly nor easily recovered, but recovery is possible. It requires an acknowledgement that the reputation has been damaged and why, and appropriate corrective action taken based on a plan. Whether or not the Holness administration is capable of introspection and willing to accept blame is unclear. What’s clear is that without proper corrective actions that require making amends, it is unlikely that the Government will be able to forge trusting collaborations and partnership arrangements, on which foreign affairs success depends.
Citizens everywhere, especially Jamaica’s non-political leaders of all kinds – religion, business and professional, media, education, social enterprises, and all others – no longer have the luxury to ‘hol dem cawna’ and remain silent, unless the problems affect them personally or directly affect their narrow, sector interests. This crucial moment requires all hands on deck. It cannot be business as usual.
It is not beyond the collective wisdom of our citizens, especially non-political leaders of all kinds, to be change-making catalysts and collaborators in solving many or most of our seemingly intractable problems. Nevertheless, it takes a vastly changed mindset, with leaders taking personal responsibility for solving problems beyond what’s currently imagined. Therefore, I urge the nation’s leaders of all kinds to broaden their roles, and that of their organisations, to include the need to substantially change our nation’s frightful trajectory.
Therefore, this appeal is an open call to action for citizens everywhere, especially Jamaica’s non-political leaders, to take a stand in our country’s long-term interest. The time is now to say ‘no more, no way, not on my watch’; and to use our voices and influence, skills, and assets to change the country’s hellish trajectory to one in which citizens stand a chance of living in fearless dignity and respect to old age in a God-inspired country that follows the fundamental biblical teaching – that we are our brothers’ keepers.
Many successful business and professional leaders know strategies to recover from reputational damage. For the nation’s benefit, I encourage those with such knowledge, who can influence Prime Minister Holness and Cabinet members, to work with the Government to develop and implement a plan to repair the egregious damage to our country’s reputation. Further, business and professional leaders are well positioned to engage the US government and influential US connections to stem the flow of US-manufactured weapons into our country. A Jamaica-born, Kingston College-educated US ambassador should be more than willing to engage in this centrally.
I encourage citizens everywhere to join calls for the United Kingdom to pay slavery reparations to fund infrastructure, education, and social services. The devastating lack of such assets and resources directly resulted from the UK’s inhumane exploitation, for hundreds of years, that benefited the imperial family and the UK itself, the UK extracting funds to build its Industrial Revolution dominance, while impoverishing our island state and elsewhere.
The opposition leader and members must demonstrate their relevance by offering and applying innovative solutions to intractable problems, and not seeking to oppose when the agreement would benefit the nation.
Religious leaders use biblical texts and good works to serve and influence congregants. It’s time to utilise these skills and strategies further to help lead the nation towards a worthwhile future. Social and traditional media enterprises have the wherewithal to influence citizens’ attitudes and conduct significantly. The urgent need for such strategies is glaring.
These ideas are not line-in-the-sand prescriptive solutions to the nation’s troubles; others are likely to have different and better solutions. However, my goal is to instil passion among our leaders and regular citizens, to reimagine our individual and collective role as citizens who craft meaningful missions that counter the apotheosis of dumb destruction to which our nation is subject.
Kay Osborne is a media strategist and human-rights activist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.