Jamaica treading through its difficulties

Since Michael Manley succumbed in the second half of the 1970s, after his experiments in economic and foreign policy radicalism, to the IMF’s insistence that he accept one of their more severe programmes for the recuperation of a depressed Jamaican economy, the country has gone through a number of attempts at trying and retrying those IMF policies to which it had originally objected.

Governments of both parties, the Peoples National Party(PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party(JLP), have gone through variations of the programmes proposed by the IMF, but have generally encountered popular resistance. Consequently they have either given up on implementation after a while, or they have felt constrained to go to elections, which they lost.

The most recent episode of this was the failure of the JLP government of Prime Minister Holness, who succeeded Bruce Golding on his resignation in September 2011, in disgrace over America’s displeasure with his handling of its request for extradition in the so-called Dudus affair; an episode which was followed by Holness’s inability to convince the electorate that he could successfully conclude, and then implement, a new IMF programme.

So the election of the PNP, led by Portia Simpson-Miller, seemed to the electorate to be a last resort for some conclusion of this continuing nightmare of failure either to agree to proposed IMF programmes, or to persevere long enough to carry them to some acceptable conclusion on the part of the Fund.

In recent times, characterized by a reported situation in which unemployment has reached a decade long high of over 30 per cent, with youth unemployment half of that, the PNP government seems to have reached a position that has induced the electorate to feel that the country has reached the end of the road, and that however stringent the measures proposed, they must be accepted and implemented.

So for the first time in recent years, with prices rising and severe public sector and general government expenditure cuts, and unemployment increasing, there is relief in official circles and no doubt elsewhere, that the country has passed its first IMF test since the government’s acceptance of the PNP-negotiated programme. And in effect, this seems to reflect a general public acceptance that at this point, there are no better alternatives.

The depth of the country’s economic difficulties over the last few years, have, however, obviously induced the population in general to accept that the economic difficulties are only part of a larger problem that the country faces. The severe challenge and virtual humiliation that Golding’s JLP government faced with the Americans’ refusal to countenance anything other than immediate rendition of the alleged drug criminal Dudus (a resident of Golding’s constituency inherited from Edward Seaga) was obviously deeply felt in the country. And as the pressure on the subordination of the country to the drug menace continues, witness the statement, made in Jamaica last week by British Baroness Nuala O’Loan of Britain, protesting that the Jamaican government seems incapable of dealing with the consistent rise in the number of police shootings of individuals, normally referred to as extra-judicial killings.

But Jamaican officials will also, last week, have been relieved, to hear another side of this kind of story. This indicated a 40 per cent fall in the number of murders in the country since 2009. And it was followed by a statement from the American Ambassador that on the issue of this and the related matter of the control of the drug trade, “an awful lot of introspection” has “been going on in Jamaica,” and that cooperation between the US and other countries had “risen to another level.”

In the post-Dudus era which, however, still haunts the Jamaican political establishment, the government has obviously decided to demonstrate that it is willing to come to terms with Jamaica’s high profile in the hemispheric drug trade. But it must obviously be also aware that its demonstrated resilience on the matter is predicted to come up against a new version of that brick wall, with current predictions that a result of pressure placed in recent years by the US on Mexican and Central American authorities, is likely to be a diversion of the trade through the Caribbean once again.

The Government of Jamaica must now be feeling that it is entitled to special favourable consideration in US government policies as a result of this predicted trend. Jamaicans are well aware that in the early 1980s, the then Edward Seaga government’s efforts, which showed some promise, to take advantage of the 1983 Caribbean Basin Initiative(CBI) and maximize its efforts to export manufactures to the US, were soon stymied by the even more favourable scope for investment and exports made for Mexico, through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994.

The Portia Simpson-Miller government of the PNP, a party more inclined to diversification of the country’s foreign policies, would appear to be attempting to counteract this challenge, by acceptance of initiatives made by the government of China to entertain favourable incentives for investment in Jamaica. So even as the government struggles with the IMF, it has sought to entice the People’s Republic to indicate an interest in the return of Jamaica’s orientation towards industrialization by investing in the creation of the country as a major hub in the Western hemisphere.

Jamaica will obviously have seen, in recent years, the interest of entrepreneurs in the now private sector-oriented People’s Republic in investing in the Dominican Republic, even as that country continues to recognize Taiwan. Obviously, Prime Minister Simpson-Miller’s visit to China last week will have indicated a strengthened desire on the part of Jamaica to have its long political commitment to the PRC reciprocated, as China spreads its economic wings.

It is the country’s good fortune, that the visit of the Jamaican Prime Minister to China at this time will have taken place when Jamaican athletes, led by the iconic Usain Bolt, were demonstrating their prowess in Moscow as a reflection of their citizens’ resilience.

So even in this time of grave challenges, this positive side of Jamaica’s international notoriety will have given an indication of the country’s determination to persist in treading through dangerous political and economic waters. The government will surely be persuaded that these intangibles will help its diplomacy in pursuit of economic reconstruction.




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