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Letter of the Day | Jamaica owes Bert Samuels a debt of gratitude

Published:Tuesday | January 5, 2021 | 12:13 AM


May I take this opportunity to publicly thank attorney-at-law Bert Samuels for his outstanding, persistent and fearless advocacy in securing the release from unlawful custody by US officials last October of the four Jamaican crew members of the vessel Lady Lawla, and their eventual repatriation to the shores of their beloved homeland on the cusp of the beginning of the new year, 2021 ( The Gleaner, Friday, January 1, 2021).

By all reported accounts, these four Jamaicans were treated unfairly and their constitutional rights as citizens of a sovereign country breached, when their vessel was seized and eventually destroyed by US Drug Enforcement Administration/Coast Guard on suspicion that it was allegedly trafficking contraband in the form of liquid cocaine. Thankfully, a Florida court of law, having heard the case brought against the men, subsequently delivered a judgment in their favour clearing them of any wrongdoing.

This occurrence is of more than passing interest. To begin with, Mr Samuel’s role in securing the men’s freedom from unlawful detention by big power, the United States, filled the gaping breach left by the Jamaican authorities in the form of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, which failed to demonstrate seriousness in honouring the long-held desire of the majority of the Jamaican people to be masters of their own destiny in their own house. Disregard and abandonment of this principle betray an inability to make sense of 1838, 1938 and 1962.

Second, the Jamaican Government missed a golden opportunity to ably demonstrate that if only on the level of rhetoric about “prosperity” and “build back better”, it understands that the best alliance any political administration and its leader in this country can cultivate is one with its citizens, but not as cannon fodder and faceless statistical units for the voting booth or the production process, but instead as active, living, breathing private citizens. This, after all, is what democracy is supposed to be about.

The society owes Mr Samuels a debt of gratitude for demonstrating that the right of self-determination, even in the face of great odds, is not incompatible with commitments such as the struggle for justice, community building, growth and development. In this regard, true citizenship does not begin and end with the acquisition of a birth certificate and/or a passport. Rather, it is the core value for the kind of democratic organisation successive governments say it seeks which can lead to greater levels of participation in governance, opportunity for individual advancement, and the nurturing of individual excellence over stifling, uniform mediocrity.

I hope the Government will now play its part in ensuring that the Lady Lawla four are justly compensated.