Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Country under seige

This week's events warrant an additional blog, and given I am unable to go to work and am settled at home in one of the areas that remain safe and not directly affected I have time to write.

The week's events have generated all kinds of feelings for me, fear, anger, sadness and an enormous frustration that the potential that is this incredible country is once again being challenged. It feels remarkable that I am here as the convergence of years of dysfunction erupts into war across the city and in all the poorest and most troubled areas across the country. Although the extradition order and attempted arrest of Mr Coke have been the catalyst for the current violence they are certainly not the cause. The causes are many and complex and go back into the history and politics of this unique island that feels as if it should be paradise.

In reading the news as the drama in Kingston has unfolded this week I have been struck by the simplistic and inaccurate characterisation of what has happened here. The Prime Minister suggesting this is "an anti-drug offensive" (BBC May 25th), many others only focussing on the reason for the "offensive" being the apprehension of Mr Coke. The reality is the events of this week are the result of decades of complex and unacceptable relationships between the "bad men" and the politicians. Their interdependence has been commonly acknowledged for many years but what has emergerd in recent years is what appears to be a shift in the power from those in politics to those in crime. However, neither demonstrates any genuine concern for the true victims - the impoverished and powerless - who are forced to depend on gangsters for food, money for school and protection at an horrendous personal price, as a result of the failure of any goverment to provide for the basic needs of the communities they are supposed to serve. Both the gangsters and the politicians are determined to maintain power at whatever cost to those caught within the boundaries of their turf. This minority of warring power holders seems to be holding the country hostage.

As the week progresses it feels as if perhaps this crisis will offer an opportunity to move away from the power relationships of the last forty years though it is not evident who can make that happen or how they will get into a position to do so. What is clear is those currently in positions of political power have lost any vestige of credibility they had. If the loyalty of the people is gained by ensuring they are fed and educated as the followers of Dudus are indicating perhaps the opportunity is to pay attention to that and put in place a means of ensuring a basic quality of life that affords some dignit. Instead of enormous amounts being spent on guns, soldiers and police perhaps a modicum could be diverted to education, job creation and social assistance.

Even the weather has been unsettled this week - the afternoons bring brooding clouds moving menacingly across the sky from mountain to ocean in layers and deepening colours of grey. Torrential rain storms, thunder and lightening, the first reaction to which is "is that mortars and explosions?" And magnificent sunsets of glorious colours.

Within this city in crisis I am safe and have the reassurance of many looking out for me but the events of the week increase the sense of need to contribute something that is of value. When I return to work next week I am sure the work with the students will have a different focus, as they return from their very difficult experiences of the week.

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