27 March 2005

A Stone for the Disinherited

Common Sense
John Maxwell

If Terri Schiavo is lucky, she will at last be allowed to die in peace and with dignity. Mrs Schiavo has not been among those present for the last 15 years, despite the efforts of her husband and her family to bring her back from a condition barely distinguishable from death.
The husband accepted the inevitable some years ago, her parents have not.

The world is now aware of the issues and principles at stake in the dispute, and an overwhelming majority of the American people agree with her husband that it is a travesty to try to keep her 'alive'.

It is an ironic fact that the people of the US have been better informed about the legal and medical details of this contentious dispute than they ever were two years ago about the legal and military details of the impending war against Iraq.

Pressure from the rabid, religious right - the three Rs of American politics - ensured that the Press devoted enormous amounts of time and resources to the Schiavo case with the result that there can hardly be anyone in the US - or anywhere else on the planet with access to television - who does not know the details.

The most trenchant commentary on the case, in my view, came from Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, who said crisply, "As the Bush White House desperately manoeuvres in Iraq to prevent the new government from being run according to the dictates of religious fundamentalists, it desperately manoeuvres here to pander to religious fundamentalists who want to dictate how the Government should be run".

Michael Schiavo (left), husband of Terri Schiavo, answers question during a news conference following oral arguments in the Florida Supreme Court case in this August 31, 2004 file photo, in Tallahassee, Florida. With Schiavo are his brother Bryan (centre), and his attorney George Felos. Schiavo insists that his wife told him she would never want to be kept alive artificially. For seven years he has fought her parents to carry out what he says would be her wish. (Photo: AP)

In the process, President Bush and his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, have demonstrated a cold-hearted hypocrisy which would be difficult to rival.

Despite their so-called principles, their enthusiasm for the campaign to "err on the side of life" evaporated at about the same time the polls disclosed that President Bush's approval ratings had fallen precipitously and were lower than they had ever before been in his presidency.

Having displayed their contempt for the US Constitution and for the 'States Rights' they and their right-wing brethren affect to defend, they backed off as soon as it became obvious that their act was not playing well in Peoria or anywhere else.

President Bush did not 'err on the side of life' when he consigned the born-again, fully conscious Karla Fay Tucker to lethal injection, although Jeb Bush wails about giving Terri Schiavo the same rights as any convicted murderer on death row. Imbeciles and innocents were all grist to Mr Bush's Texan mill, which consumed more human life than any other single legal jurisdiction on earth.

And Mr Bush was the gentleman who signed into law, an act which allowed Texas health care providers to pull the plugs of patients on life support if their guardians couldn't afford to pay - whatever their prospects for survival.

Politicians are rarely an exemplary breed, but in this case they have provided examples of mendacity, hypocrisy and cowardice, which will take ages to surpass.

Zapping the Disinherited

Last week, in the US state of Minnesota, on a Native American reservation, a high school student armed himself with several firearms and, having murdered his grandfather and his grandfather's female partner, proceeded to kill several of his fellow students as well as a teacher and a security guard.

It was reported that he had been a disturbed youth, being treated with Prozac - like the 15-year-old tried as an adult and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment a couple of weeks ago for murdering his grandfather and grandmother when he was 13.

As in earlier, similar cases, the diagnosis was that the boy killers were loners, frustrated, bullied or teased, without any real sense of their own importance. They lashed out, perhaps under the influence of their prescribed medication or under the influence of the Internet or something. Nobody, it seems, took them seriously.

Another news item, this time from California, reported that nearly half of all blacks and Hispanics - mainly boys - drop out of high school instead of graduating. And there are more young black men in prison in the US than are in college in that country.

In Jamaica, entire generations of boys and young men are in similar predicaments and they react in similar ways. They are cosily described as marginalised males, and for most people, that is the end of it.

Almost exactly 40 years ago, Douglas Manley, brother of Michael Manley and son of Norman Manley, did notice what was happening to young men in Jamaica. In an article entitled - if my memory serves - "Mental ability in Jamaican children", Manley described the beginning of the marginalisation process.

Bustamante was then prime minister. He despised teachers - he considered them all members of the Opposition PNP. As far as he was concerned, they would have to wait for decent wages. They are still waiting.

As Douglas Manley saw it, the effect on the male youth of Jamaica was disastrous. Because male teachers had fled the classroom to sell life insurance, or into the police force, young boys in school generally lacked male role models.

They lacked male role models at home as well, because the economics of Jamaica meant that men had to migrate all over the country and even abroad, looking for work. This syndrome was best described by Edith Clarke in her book, My Mother who Fathered Me. Clarke ascribed much of the weakness of Jamaican family structure to this need to migrate, and also, if I read her right, to traditional practices and customs inherited from slavery.

In a society in which male Jamaicans are no more literate today than they were 95 years ago (about 30 per cent), it should be easy to understand why in the age of the cellphone, many Jamaican men still believe that mosquitoes can carry the HIV/AIDS virus. And why they still treat family life as a sometime thing - even when they do not migrate.

In addition to the absence of fathers and male teachers, young boys, because of economic pressure, are prematurely dragged out of school and into the labour force to help their families survive.

Douglas Manley predicted four decades ago that in 20 to 30 years Jamaican women would be considerably better educated than their men, and would have great difficulty finding mates of equivalent educational and social status. Those years have come and gone and Douglas Manley has proved correct.

The University of the West Indies has had to implement what is effectively an affirmative action programme for men in order to try to come near to a balance of the sexes on the campuses.

Because men are so scarce in these upper reaches of the society, their behaviour towards women is casual and often, brutally dismissive. For many young, educated Jamaican men, there is "always another gal" - always another epithet to disparage women, always the sense of an unearned self-importance.

A kind of Jamaican droit de seigneur

In the working-class Jamaican man these attitudes are perfectly expressed by the dancehall artistes whose sadistic lyrics are lapped up by their audiences of both sexes, making the best of their fates - as they imagine. And if those fates include HIV, well.

In a society in which the plantation system still rules, no government has considered that cities exercise their magnetic attraction because there is nothing to do in the rural areas but to gaze on the acres of hunger symbolised by the rolling expanses of idle land.

When slavery was abolished it was the landowners who were compensated for the loss of their capital equipment - the slaves. The slaves were induced, constrained, bribed, beaten and victimised by the laws of the land to go back to the sugar estates, and when even those harsh measures had little effect, the British brought in coolies from China and India to take over from the Africans.

It didn't work, but added a new level of oppression and exclusion. Blacks could not get the loans or the credit to start enterprises, even shops, and had to wait until N W Manley's Facilities for Titles law in 1955 to be able to embark on the business of 'making themselves men'.

Since Independence, the land has been transformed from a productive asset into a portfolio asset. The 'ghettoes' are overcrowded. The schools are primitive, lacking separation between classes which are taught by rote - Class One attempting to be heard over the racket of Class Two.

Because there are so few decent schools, the competition for places is intense. The boys, traumatised by the absence of fathers or father figures, have to be drafted like mules, to learn. (Lest anyone question the value of male teachers, consider this: to whom does a pubertal boy turn when he gets his first 'wet dream'? To his mother? To some unknown woman teacher?) Even the Boy Scouts are now, I understand, mostly led by women.

Because there are so few decent schools and so few places, the boys, distracted by testosterone, are almost always lagging behind. At the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication where I teach part-time, the ratio of men to women is, as in most of the rest of the university, about 30:70 and this is because as I said, the university tries to achieve some sort of balance of the sexes. Without that, it would be more likely four to one - 20:80.

Thirty years ago, Dr Lloyd Barnett's commission of inquiry into conditions at the country's prisons discovered that on Death Row the number of people with extremely high Intelligence Quotients was much higher than in the population at large.

The obvious question is why should some of the smartest boys in the country end up being condemned to death for murder. Since I am no sociologist, my answer is the answer of a layman: it is that the weight of traditional slave society culture, the absence of literacy and the economic disfranchisement combine to drive the brainiest among the poor into crime. They are too proud to beg, too spirited to go gently into any good night while about them and above them are so many examples of grossly unearned increment.

In a society in which they are outsiders from birth, they may make temporary peace with the oppressive system, but they are always at war with it.

Some of them, of course, are more 'fortunate' than others and learn trades which do not require them to read or write. There may be an Einstein, a Pushkin or a Colin Powell at this moment, chopping cane in a canepiece somewhere. There may be a Ray Charles, a George Washington Carver or a Nelson Mandela disassembling and reassembling a machine pistol somewhere else.

So when the prime minister decides to pacify the 'volatile areas' by increasing the number of police and soldiers, the dispatching of community development workers should be more than an afterthought.

Much, much, more.

20 March 2005

Diff'rent strokes for Diff'rent Folks

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Mr Bush is on a roll. He's so happy he's thumbing his nose at the world. He's got away with Abu Ghraib, with Fallujah and Haiti and everywhere the rent-a-crowd counter-revolutions just seem to go rolling along.

For a man who had travelled out of the United States only once (or was it twice) before he stood for the presidency of the United States, Mr Bush seems to know a lot about the world outside. It rather resembles Texas, only very slightly bigger.

Instead of signing death warrants, Mr Bush can now appoint ambassadors and World Bank directors to destroy international institutions, carrying to the logical conclusion the remark by the prophet of the neoconservatives - Richard Perle - to the effect that the Iraq War meant the end of the "evil system of international law".

These days, nobody seems to notice, or at least, nobody of any consequence. We in the (misnamed) developing world will, however, feel some of the consequences.

Meanwhile, the US media, supposedly dedicated to freedom of the press in aid of the free society, concerns itself not with the crimes of the grand and greedy, but with the peccadilloes of rap singers, baseball players and small time hoodlums. Their picture of America the Beautiful and Free is oddly disconcerting.

It is a little off-putting to watch the necrophiliac voyeurism of a Larry King as he probes the psychic guts of yet another victim of the American way.

It is weirdly non-compelling to hear the daily recital of the elaborate fictions served up to discredit Michael Jackson or to learn that the rap singer L'il Kim faces 30 years in jail for lying about a shooting incident outside a nightclub, while somewhere else Ken Lay is explaining why he is not guilty of anything and the Congress refuses to investigate American corruption in Iraq or the corruption of the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Mr Tom DeLay.

Mr Bush's appointment of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations - a job once held by Adlai Stevenson - seems weirdly appropriate, since Mr Bolton is not only about as far right as Adolph Hitler but is a pathological liar to boot.

Mr Negroponte's appointment as America's security czar seems fitting too, in this age of American gulags around the world, and of people being rendered like fat pork - 'teased' into confessing while their brains turn to jelly in some faraway, foreign torture chamber.

The nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank seems entirely sensible, even deserved, in this scenario where morality consists of denying post-facto contraception to poor women and in prolonging the torture of a brain-dead woman who has been in a vegetative state since 1990.

Last week, the Congress of the United States attempted to prolong the agony by issuing a subpoena for Terry Schiavo to appear before them to testify in her own defence. This Grand Guignol gambit was Congress' way of trying to ensure that the plug was not pulled on a ghastly experiment in hypocrisy which has gone on for 15 years.

Of course, people do notice. Yesterday was the anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, and all round the world, millions demonstrated their impotent rage and frustration at the senseless killing and destruction authorised by Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice, Bolton and Negroponte.

Just over two weeks ago was the anniversary of the assisted coup in Haiti where democracy was aborted on 'humanitarian' grounds. Haitians, as the acting secretary-general of the OAS, Mr Einaudi, has said, should have no business in running Haiti. Democracy works, in the horrific personages of Latortue and his gang of CIA-trained killers.

In a speech before the UN Human Rights Commission, Perez Roque, foreign minister of Cuba was scathing:
"We all knew that the Commission on Human Rights was victim to the political manipulation of its work because the Government of the United States and its allies have used the Commission as if it were their private property and have turned it into some sort of inquisition tribunal to condemn the countries of the South and, particularly, those who actively oppose their strategy of neocolonial domination."
You may remember it was the new UN ambassador, Mr John Bolton, then an undersecretary of state, who two years ago invented a monstrous lie against Cuba to the effect that biological and chemical weapons were being manufactured there. In his new post at the UN he will no doubt have the opportunity to spew his poisoned rhetoric directly at Cuba and Venezuela and all those other picayune powers who do not wish to accept US domination.

The UNCHR has long been used to pillory Cuba and other states which the US wishes to demonise. So Mr Roque chose his platform with care, it seems, and used the occasion to denounce the international double standards which allow rich and powerful states to abuse international law and human rights with impunity. Mr Roque was harsh on the European Union (EU).

A year ago, the EU had shown much tender concern for the fate of several dozen people who the Cubans considered treacherous, paid agents of the United States. Mr Roque denounced the EU for its recent use of a procedural ploy to sabotage "a draft resolution that proposed to investigate the massive, flagrant and systematic human rights violations still committed today against over 500 prisoners at the naval base that the United States keeps, against the will of the Cuban people, in Guantanamo Bay".

To the casual visitor from Mars it must seem a little odd that the US and the EU, both such doughty 'champions' of human rights, don't seem to be enthusiastic about investigating the documented abuses up to and including murder, which have happened just 90 miles north of Oracabessa.

Mr Roque was disturbed by another development: "The second event was the release of the report presented by the High-Level Group on Threats, Challenges and Change, set up at the initiative of the UN secretary-general.

It categorically states that 'the Commission cannot be credible if it is seen to be maintaining double standards in addressing human rights concerns'. Should we then wait for the representatives of the United States and its allies to come up with self-criticisms at this plenary session and undertake to work with us, Third World countries, to rescue the Commission on Human Rights from disrepute and confrontation?"

Since that is obviously not going to happen, Mr Roque spoke on behalf of the civilised world when he said that the enjoyment of human rights today depends on whether you live in a developed country or not, and on the social class to which you belong.

"There will be no real enjoyment of human rights for all as long as we fail to achieve social justice in the relations among countries and within countries themselves."

With Mr Negroponte minding the chicken coop, Mr Bolton riding herd on the fictional United Nations and Mr Wolfowitz flexing his intellectual muscle at the World Bank, it is clear that for the next four years - at least - Mr Roque's prognosis will hold true. "They will always be the attackers and never the ones under attack.

Their peace rests on their military power. They have also achieved economic development, based on the pillage of the wealth of the other poor countries that were former colonies, which suffer and bleed to death for those to squander. However, in those developed countries, incredible as it may seem, the unemployed, the immigrants and the impoverished do not enjoy the rights that are most certainly guaranteed for the rich."

The invasion and destruction of the Iraq state was first mooted by President Bush as a case for 'regime change'. Saddam Hussein was a bad guy and needed to be removed for the good of humanity.

That impolitic justification was urgently replaced by something apparently more rational and likely to be accepted by the world: Bush, backed by Britain's Tony Blair, said Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and was likely to use them against his neighbours, and perhaps, even against the United States.

Nightmares of mushroom clouds in American cities began to be peddled by Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser at the time. In the United States, though nowhere else, a majority of the population had been convinced by the Administration's rhetoric that Saddam was behind the atrocities of 9/11.

World opinion quickly assessed the real reason as the United States' lust for control of the world's energy resources. I myself carried a sign saying "No Blood for Oil" in one of the thousands of popular demonstrations in which millions of people around the world protested against the coming invasion.

The protests were a waste of time. Messrs Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Co were not to be stopped. On the night of March 18, 2003, the United States launched an attack meant to murder Saddam Hussein and to intimidate his people into submission by frightfulness - "shock and awe" as it was called.

This was followed by a barbaric reduction to rubble of the Iraqi state and its cities. The 8,000 year-old record of civilisation in Babylon and other places did not escape American vandalism. Museums and government ministries were looted and the whole apparatus of government destroyed in an apparent effort to remove from the Iraqi people, the very idea of autonomy and independence.

No weapons of mass destruction have ever been found. But no sweat - "Mission accomplished!"

Bush, Rumsfeld, Bremer and the Halliburton company rule. Two years later, the American 'cakewalk' has turned into a pathway to hell for the Iraqi people, more than 100,000 of whom have so far perished in the American campaign to purify their country.

Despite the American effort to impose its own 'democratic solution' on the country, the result has been the substitution of a fundamentalist Islamic government for the secular regime of Saddam Hussein. When Mr Bush began his crusade against Islamic fundamentalism/terrorism he had been warned that his intervention could have the opposite effect to that hoped for.

That prognosis has turned out to be accurate. To control Iraq and the Middle East, the Americans will need to remain in Iraq for the

foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Halliburton company extracts its private tribute in unaccounted and unaccountable billions, and American oil companies wait to be let loose to exploit Iraq's massive oil reserves in the service of American democracy. There is just one fly in the ointment. A resistance movement which 18 months ago numbered less than 5,000 members, today counts anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 fighters, determined to frustrate Mr Bush's grand design.

It seems that while they may have been shocked by Mr Bush's display of power, they were clearly not awed.

13 March 2005

The Ignoramocracy

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Our dear prime minister has appointed yet another of his task forces to tell him exactly how we got into this unholy mess over the Doomsday Highway and Portmore.

The task force consists of a most talented group - some of the very people who got us into the mess: The National Road Operating and Construction Company, the Bouygues Company of France and the company set up by the Government to own the highway.

They are superbly qualified to make sense of the debacle. The only missing factors are Mr Kingsley Thomas of the Jamaica Development Bank and Mr Hylton of the Port Authority. And, perhaps, the National Environment and Planning Agency, which, like the prime minister, specialises in being invisible.

Some of us warned the prime minister and all other concerned parties five or six years ago that they were going about the Millennium Project the wrong way.

Some of us, indeed, suggested that what we needed was not a road across Jamaica concreting an area the size of Hanover, but the upgrading of existing roads and a more appropriate project like the Norwegian millennium project which put the entire educational system on the Internet for free access.

But the panjandrums of Jamaican development were adamant. They wanted to alter the Jamaican geography - to leave a lasting monument to globalisation and the insanity of bureaucrats in Jamaica and at the World Bank.

A section of the causeway bridge linking Kingston and Portmore.
The original idea for the road - as I have reconstructed it - was simple. The misbegotten causeway across Kingston Harbour was sinking, because as the builders were told 40 years ago, you don't build bridges on peat, quicksand and unconsolidated detritus. And you don't build bridges or anything else on that sort of material in a zone which is more susceptible to an earthquake disaster than Japan, Alaska or California.

The problem was: having built houses for nearly half-a-million people in a deathtrap, how do you go about ensuring that even a sizeable minority of them would be able to escape in the event of an earthquake, a tsunami or a hurricane?

Obviously, a new Portmore road had to be built, at great expense, because the original job had been so botched. The Port Authority was brought in to requisition the sinking old causeway for its spanking new world-class port. Got the picture?

The other problem was, of course, how to justify the expense of the new Portmore road. Simple: make it part of an enormous new project in which the Portmore costs would subside and become invisible, eventually, like the causeway.

Add to the mix a new international airport to replace Norman Manley and a another new town, another instant slum like Portmore/Braeton, another dormitory for Kingston, this one near May Pen and built in an area which is one of the world's most precious treasure-houses of biodiversity - Harris Savannah.

Many of us, including Greenpeace founder David McTaggart, have wondered why the Government of Jamaica had not signed the protocol to the Cartagena Convention respecting Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW). Well, my friend David is now dead, so I can't now tell him that the reason the Government didn't sign SPAW was to preserve its vandalistic options re Harris Savannah.

David McTaggart and I had got solemn undertakings from two successive ministers of environment that the Government would soon sign SPAW. That was about four or five years ago. After all, this country was the official repository and registry for the SPAW treaty, yet, whenever there is a SPAW meeting, the registrar country, Jamaica, is an observer - not a member. It was and is a stinking disgrace.

Mr Patterson and Fidel Castro are the only two world leaders still around who in 1992 signed Agenda 21 in Rio de Janeiro. The Treaty of Rio pledged all of us to eradicate poverty by environmentally sound, sustainable development. Cuba is now a model for sustainable development. Jamaica is the bad example which teachers use to terrify their students. All this despite the PNP's election promises in 1997:
"Protecting and conserving our island's resources is an imperative, if we are to preserve its natural features and beauty.

"Man is dependent on the integrity of the environment and there is a sacred obligation to protect God's earth and to preserve the quality of life for future generations. "We have therefore pursued a collaborative national effort with the private sector and individual communities, to rescue areas of the environment that are under siege."

I could not have said it better myself. Unfortunately, all of the Jamaican environment is under siege today, mainly from our own Government.
In his New Year's speech 1999/2000, the prime minister spoke of the Government's Millennium Projects. "The centre-piece is Highway 2000. That will involve the construction of a 230-kilometre multi-lane tolled expressway, which will link Kingston to Montego Bay and Kingston to Ocho Rios.

"This project will be implemented on a Build-Own-Operate-Transfer, known as BOOT, model with the private sector taking the lead in arranging the financing. That will involve putting up their own money as equity in the venture. The company will operate and maintain the highway under a concession agreement.

"Most importantly," the PM promised, the Highway will spawn a range of developmental opportunities . to create significant employment and putting Jamaica on the path of sustained economic growth.
At least four well-laid out, 'user friendly' (sic) industrial parks would accompany the highway, with new technology sprouting everywhere, to produce "approximately 50,000 new direct job opportunities".

Despite the fact that the Government, according to their own publicity, began planning the Doomsday Highway in 1994, one year after they resurrected the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, they have paid nothing but lip service to the ideas embraced by Mr Patterson at Rio in 1992 and endorsed by the PNP in 1997.

Remember the attempted rape of Hope Gardens (1999), the continuing rape of Long Mountain - the spoliation of its unique biodiversity and the desecration of its Taino (Arawak) archaeological sites and the destruction of northcoast landscape by the new highway there?

In the brave new world of sustainable development, the NRCA, later renamed the NEPA, was supposed to guard our biological treasures, defend our landscape and generally work for the serenity and happiness of all of us.

Central to this idea was public participation in decision making through public examination and debate of Environmental Impact Assessments. The Government alleged that it had carried out this process, producing thousands of pages, impenetrable to any but the most dedicated statistical economist cum environmental expert. I think I am the only person who has ever attempted to read all of it.

As I said two years ago, "20th century triumphalism and arrogance knew no bounds, and since we are Jamaican and just a wee bit behind the times, we acknowledge none, except perhaps, those limits set by the IMF and World Bank. Certainly we don't need to consult or inform the hundreds of thousands of wage-earners whose pension funds are being sunk without a trace into the Doomsday Highway".
Mr Patterson sold us the highway with the idea that the foreign investors would be putting up the money for it. No such thing; most of the investment is Jamaican, from our pension funds and our National Housing Trust. The French company will be putting up some, but it is they who will reap the profits, not the Jamaicans who put up most of the
money. And of course, neither the Jamaican investors nor the inhabitants of those places to be affected have ever been consulted about what is being done "for their own good".
In the 1997 manifesto the PNP boldly declared that they would:
  • Undertake a comprehensive programme to clean up the physical environment and to protect our beaches, watersheds, reefs and other sensitive ecosystems;
  • revitalise our national parks and gardens and establish additional national and marine parks."

Say what?

The Port Authority, always in stealth mode, is stirring up the terminally polluted waters of Kingston Harbour, letting loose God knows what poisons and plagues. As I remarked three years ago in this column, the so-called EIA presented by the Port Authority was very scant on specific details:
"the Port Authority, knowing that the mud they are redistributing is toxic, do not know where it will eventually end up. They are going to spread their toxic waste in Hunts Bay, not sure whether it will stay there or spread across the harbour.

"At a public meeting the PAJ called to discuss the EIA two years ago [ie 2000], I asked the consultants whether it was not true that the material was classifiable as toxic waste according to international standards. The consultants said 'yes'.

"I then pointed out that to dispose of it outside the harbour [as was intended] would breach several international conventions. When it was suggested that it would perhaps be better to dump the stuff inside the harbour, I pointed out that the deposition of noxious material was prohibited under Jamaican laws going back to the 19th century." ('Do people really Matter' - Common Sense Feb 20, 2002).
Since that time, I have asked the Port Authority to explain whether the exotic toxins it has been and is now liberating in Kingston Harbour are a threat to the health of the people of Portmore and areas farther afield. They have refused to answer. I reminded them about Minimata in Japan, where, as in Kingston Harbour, there had been dredging of toxic material. What is much more serious is that the Port Authority knows, or should know, that their dredging and dumping can cause serious disease and death to unwary innocents.

"At Minimata in Japan, beginning about 50 years ago, people began to fall ill with strange and horrible symptoms. Adults and children lost their teeth and their hair, children were born brain-damaged, mothers miscarried and the abortions were frequently,monstrous."

The Port Authority carried on regardless. It is still doing its toxic excavation. No doubt, within a decade or so, when children in Portmore begin to be born with defective brains and genitals, misshapen bodies and degenerative diseases, which will kill them after years of horrible suffering and expense, we will know the answer to these questions.

Meanwhile, we can be comforted by Mr Patterson and his task forces. After all, wasn't he the party leader who promised: "Protecting and conserving our island's resources is an imperative. Man is dependent on the integrity of the environment and there is a sacred obligation to protect God's Earth and to preserve the quality of life for future generations."

06 March 2005

Not Waving but Drowning

Common Sense
John Maxwell

February 27, 2005 is an historic day. It was the date that the New York Times - in a editorial entitled "Thousands died in Africa Yesterday" - officially recognised the Third World. Perhaps I am being unfairly harsh.

Speaking about the enormous response to the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia, the Times remarked that in that case, the developed world opened its heart and its chequebooks, "Yet, when it comes to Africa, where hundreds of thousands of poor men, women and children die needlessly each year from preventable diseases, or unnatural disasters like civil wars, much of the developed world seems to have a heart of stone".

Not every African state was failing, the Times said, most were not. But it did recognise that poverty in much of Africa "challenges not only our common humanity, but our security as well". And the paper discusses the need for financial assistance to Africa and chides the United States for its failure even to meet its meagre promises of help.

It rehearses the arguments about what some in the developed world call 'famine fatigue' and even mentions the fact that compared with what the west spends on sports and entertainment "meeting many of Africa's most urgent needs seems shockingly affordable. What has been missing is the political will".

The United States is at the bottom of the list of developed donor nations, spending less on aid to poor countries than its citizens spend on cat food.

"Most important, relying mostly on programmes like the Millennium Challenge Account, which tie foreign aid to good governance, condemns millions of Africans who have dreadful governments (Liberia, Congo, Ivory Coast) or no government (Somalia) to die.

No donor nation is, or should be, willing to direct money to despotic, thieving or incompetent governments likely to misspend it or divert it to the personal bank accounts of their leaders. Strict international criteria of political accountability, financial transparency and development-friendly social and economic policies need to be established and enforced, not just by outside donors but by prominent and influential African leaders, like South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki."

The old, dead horses are ritually and comprehensively flogged - corruption and ineptitude are rightly condemned, but nowhere is it acknowledged that the developed world might have had any part in encouraging, financing and promoting this corruption and ineptitude. There is no mention, for instance, of the part played by the United States, Britain and Belgium in the murderous destabilisation of the Congo.

And most editors are too young to remember what France did in Guinea when the people voted in 1958 for independence. The French removed every filing cabinet, all government records and even the telephone instruments and exchanges, leaving Guinea bereft of the apparatus of government.

There is, similarly, no memory of Apartheid. Meanwhile, Dessalines and Christophe are, even 200 years after their deaths, excoriated for animalistic savagery. Their accusers do not - conveniently - remember the bloodthirsty French barbarism which provoked the Haitian retaliation.

If anyone wishes to find out what slavery was like, he should read, among other accounts, the diary of Thomas Thistlewood, a planter in 18th century Jamaica. [In Miserable Slavery; Douglas Hall, ed]. Thistlewood's slaves were always running away, perhaps because he raped and beat them whenever it took his fancy. When they were recaptured,

Thistlewood had them mercilessly thrashed and often tied them to stakes in the ground. Then, as a sort of grace note, he would defecate into their forced-open mouths, tying their jaws shut afterwards so that they had to swallow his vile eructations.

Blacks are continually being denigrated for blaming so much on the experience of slavery. Folk memory tells Jamaicans - who have no poisonous lizards - that some lizards are poisonous.

If they can remember West African reptiles, why shouldn't they remember slavery? What is the origin of the Jamaican proverb "The higher monkey climb, the more him expose" when there have never been monkeys in Jamaica?

The New York Times editorial ends "we are the first generation able to afford to end poverty and the diseases it spawns. It's past time we step up to the plate. We are all responsible for choosing to view the tsunami victims in Southeast Asia as more deserving of our help than the malaria victims in Africa.

Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who heads the United Nations' Millennium Development Project to end global poverty, rightly takes issue with the Press in his book The End of Poverty: "Every morning," Mr Sachs writes, "our newspapers could report, 'More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty'.

"So, on this page, we'd like to make a first step.
"Yesterday, more than 20,000 people perished of extreme poverty."
As Comrade Stalin said, one death is a human tragedy, one million is a statistic.

Decimation by AIDS

Last week, the UNAIDS programme announced that nearly 90 million Africans could be infected by HIV in the next 20 years if more is not done to combat the epidemic.

Already, 25 million Africans have HIV, and in 20 years, the likelihood is that 10 per cent of Africans will have the disease which leads to fatal AIDS. The UN recommends that the world needs to commit $200 billion to prevent the literal decimation of Africa.

One wonders how optimistic the UNAIDS figures are, when it is remembered that in Botswana, one of the richest and most progressive countries on the continent, more than 30 per cent of all adults are already HIV positive.

This figure may derive from the fact that Botswana has more sophisticated statistical services than most other African countries where the infection rate is alleged to be lower. These alarming facts do not make much of a dent in the world's consciousness.

On CNN for instance, much more time has been spent in the last 72 hours on the "All-American comeback" of Martha Stewart than the network has probably spent in a year on the butchery of men, women and children in Haiti.

And the US Government and its satraps are much more interested and involved in spreading mischief about Venezuela and Cuba than in doing anything about the rape of democracy a couple of hundred miles from its shores.

But all is well. Two key figures in the Reagan-era dirty war in Central America have been appointed to advise President Bush on National Security and Intelligence. Mr Elliott Abrams, who narrowly missed jail for his perjury before Congress, is deputy chief of the National Security Council. Mr John Negroponte, former ambassador to Honduras and regent of Iraq, is now director of national intelligence.

Mr Negroponte's record in Central America was so awful that his predecessor as ambassador - a Reagan appointee - opposed his appointment to Iraq because he believed that Negroponte covered up the thousands of murders and other atrocities carried out by the Contras and other US-supported forces in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Despite the fact that the American Press has not paid too much attention to the human rights crisis in Haiti, the anniversary of the coup has produced a trickle of comment from other parts of the world. Many of them, of course in their attempt to be "even-handed", speak of non-existent atrocities of the Aristide regime, of official corruption and a host of other sins which were, for whatever reason, not visible before the president was overthrown.

Many seem to look forward to what they call "free elections" - free, that is, of the man most Haitians regard as their leader, and conducted under the guns of the cannibal armies of Latortue and his depraved associates.

Since these atrocities are carried out under the auspices of the United States, Canada, France and the UN, they cannot, by definition, be atrocities. While the United States State Department was condemning other countries for their human rights abuses, the United States was able to congratulate itself on its own rectitude in its annual global human rights report.

The Chinese Government disagreed and told the US to mind its own business and to remove the beam from its own eyes before trying to clear the motes from others'.

The New York Times said on Friday that the State Department's report was "another sad reminder of the heavy price the United States has paid for ignoring fundamental human rights in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo; in the secret cells where the CIA holds its unaccounted-for prisoners; and at home, where President George W Bush continues to claim the power to hold Americans in jail indefinitely without the right to trial.

"The administration's refusal to remedy these abuses - or even acknowledge most of them - leaves the 2004 human rights report heavy with irony and saps its authority."

Unfortunately, the movers and shakers of the US depend for their information on papers like the New York Times and networks like CNN - "the most trusted name in news". If these media behemoths don't care, why should the legislators and think-tanks? And where would they get to know about them?

Haiti, like the United States, was a founder member of the United Nations. At that time, small and weak countries like Haiti were promised that their interests would be safeguarded by the UN - which would not behave as had the old and discredited League of Nations in relation to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) a decade earlier.

Unfortunately, despite the attempts of the Haitians themselves and the notorious evidence of brazen and systematic abuse of the Haitian people, the United Nations is now represented in Haiti by a mission which has become an accomplice of the cannibal armies and an enabler of their abuses.

At least the League of Nations could not have been similarly accused.