Jamaica’s Post-Colonial Hangover

Yesterday Septermber 29, David Cameron arrived in Jamaica on his first visit to the Caribbean as Prime Minister. The prior night (28th) I attended the People of African Descent Summit where the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and Grenadines  gave a wonderful speech about the movement to make Europe pay for indigenous genocide and African slavery in the Caribbean islands, so I was very excited to wake up and see that Jamaica had made the news for its intentions to raise the issue of reparations during Cameron’s visit. Though he focuses specifically on the African American context, Ta-Nehisi Coates explains in his seminal piece “The Case for Reparations” that reparations would enable African Americans to begin to grow the community economically and ultimately impact conditions that plague the African American community (poverty which leads to crime etc.). So imagine reparations but on a larger scale. For most of their existence, Caribbean islands were colonies whose only purpose was to support the metropole. As a result these were severely undeveloped and when slavery eventually ended the [British] colonial governments ruled with iron fists until the labor movements in the 1930s, which began to erode at the colonial state’s power until the countries could claim independence beginning in the 1960s. Even with the dawn of a new “post-colonial” state, these nations continued to suffer from the issues of underdevelopment that were linked back to the monoculture economies that these islands relied on for the majority of these existence. I say all that to say countries like Jamaica never stood a chance of entering the “modern” world after being handicapped by slavery and colonialism which cast a long shadow over the island (let’s ignore how the IMF is crippling the country bring growth to a standstill for now).

At the end of the day (29th) I find out that Cameron wanted to build a 25£ million prison in Jamaica to send Jamaican criminals back to Jamaica to serve their time. *Insert WHAT?! followed by the sound of a Jamaican Kissing his teeth* You mean this is why you flew across the ocean just to insult Jamaicans on their own soil?! (Sorry I forgot the Queen is still the head of state of my little homeland MY BAD). I ignored the comments by British people saying things like, “I am waiting on my reparations from the Romans, Normans, Vikings, etc” or “The Irish were slaves too I want my money!” (there’s a difference between indentured servitude which had a time limit and slavery which was generational and really didn’t have an end in sight if it wasn’t for events such as the Haitian Revolution and the Christmas Rebellion). Cameron’s lack of respect for the Jamaican people is similar to these British individuals who fail to grasp that the UK would not exist in it current form had it not been for slavery and colonialism. I will not go into the specifics but if you enjoy sugar, tobacco, cotton, gold, and coffee you benefit from slaves. These products were first produced under the conditions of slavery so you can thank slaves for making sugar a basic necessity and coffee so commonplace in our society.

You can argue that British tax payers shouldn’t foot the bill for foreign criminals and I would say that is what you get when you leave a colony destitute that it continues to struggle to climb out of poverty, people turn to crime to make ends meet. Also supporters of Cameron’s plan cite the 600 Jamaicans that are taking up space in UK prisons making it the third largest foreign group. To this I ask, did Cameron go to the other countries and offer the build a prison with only 40% of the cost (yes this man expects Jamaica to pay for the other 60%!). Also, Cameron’s comments were colored with a colonialist, even racist tone that Jamaicans are polluting the UK with some sort of inherent criminality complete ignoring that the preponderance of Jamaicans in the UK contribute to the country’s economy. Between the IMF’s neoliberal policies squeezing Jamaica dry, the USA’s role as “big brother”, and the UK’s insistence on maintaining a colonial authority and disregard for Jamaica, colonialism has only evolved to include familiar structures without the burden of the cost of upkeep. I wonder what Jamaicans who want the UK or USA to take over the government have to say now? What these individuals fail to realize is that historically Jamaica was faced with dire circumstances under British Colonial rule, which is why we had events such as the Morant Bay Rebellion and the 1938 Labor Rebellion.

So what solutions should be taken to rectify this? From an outsider perspective it seems likeJamaica needs some new political players not the traditional JLP (who by the way did not want Portia Simpson-Miller to discuss reparations) or the PNP (who seems to have agreed to the deal already). Jamaica needs new political parties with people who truly want the best for Jamaica and not just themselves and their friends. Again I cannot say how this will be accomplished as an immigrant but what I ask is when will Jamaica wake up from its post-colonial hangover?

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