The context of a crossroad is simply understood in terms of traffic, for if you come to a section where two roads meet (intersection) then there are four clear choices — go straight, go left, go right; or turn back. Secondly, at a T-junction the choice is to the left or right or go back. In either case, the choices are simple if you know where you want to go; or extremely complicated if you are totally lost.
Jamaica has arrived at some similar point with regard to our international policy directions that pose some serious implications regarding allies and friends, and who to turn to for speedy aid and succor. Britain, USA, China, or go it alone are the current choices, but these are not presented as either or, but perhaps a combination of more than one.
Britain is a non-starter following its choice to exit from the EU (Brexit). Its status as the pre-eminent financial centre of trade and investment fund movement is threatened by its choice to leave the EU. Already Germany has started to seem attractive to those players in the world who survive on the fungible nature of international capital movements.
Secondly, the ease of entry to the EU for goods and services will no longer be automatically through Britain, and the end of the colonial dependence is in sight, just like slavery, and Britain is no longer the “mother land”. But we will still remain friends.
The USA has been a friend in many different ways through trade, aid, and a sanctuary for Jamaican migrants. Trade from the better prices it paid for sugar during the pre- and post-emancipation period compared with Britain, and we broke the rules by selling to the US in a kind of quiet “black market trade” arrangement. Jamaican planters even supported the American War of Independence by smuggling arms to the Continental army through the swamps of Florida.
Over the years our migrants have helped the US to build the Panama Canal and other major works, and they have become solid citizens contributing greatly throughout the Northeast coast in the great cultural centres of New York; Washington, DC; Hartford; and more recently South Florida. At the same time our Diaspora has earned much-needed foreign exchange to help relatives in Jamaica through remittances, regular barrels with food items and household gifts. This has been a win-win relationship.
China has had two quite different episodes of engagement with Jamaica. The first comprising a period of indenture that quickly changed to an entrepreneurial revolution in the wholesale and retail trade with a great focus in rural Jamaica. These people have reduced their original cultural differences and have embraced their Jamaican identity while continuing to honour the traditions of their ancestors. They are our friends from primary and high schools, from the Catholic youth organization, from the Kes Chin and Byron Lee musical era, right down to Tessanne Chin (grandniece of Kes).
The second involvement has been more recent and has been characterized by people, technology, finance, a desire for land, and a backdoor to the USA for Chinese firms, their services, and products. The “new Chinese” continue to acquire former “old Chinese” businesses and have made substantial progress in the urban and rural retail trade through a highly organized total cash wholesale network.
They have also brought construction expertise and systems of finance that have made them attractive bidders on large projects, leading to disquiet in the construction sector, and new paradigms of labour productivity, and project completion timeframes. But be absolutely certain, they are here to stay. They are not into building and going home. They want land; and their intent is friendly control of more of our domestic activity. In short, they are moving in. This is not exclusive to Jamaica and it encompasses the entire region.
The go-it-alone option has always been with us from the 1920s with the often forgotten self-reliance teachings of Marcus Garvey. This option says look within us, achieve through education, discipline, and ethical behaviour, value science and technology, and respect ourselves and others. This option suggests that we can chart our own destiny and still remain friends with our neighbours.
This much talked about fundamental thinking is today vaguely connected by abstract thoughts in many fora, and very few connect the whole with Marcus Garvey. I really believe that the lack of cohesion is an intentional ruse to hide the Garvey philosophy, as in its essence it does not support the status quo since 1938.
It is a relevant philosophy and direction that has been seemingly subverted by the “vote for me and I will look after you” mentality that has divided our nation and has encouraged us to hide behind the promises of the “Green and Orange” flags. This has not yet produced any semblance of sustainability. It is also a philosophy that would set a clear path out of debt; and out of the hands of the IMF (who have had to treat with our economic path more seriously than we have been willing to do for ourselves).
We can no longer trust ourselves to be honest and to take decisions beyond personal enrichment, and access to the proceeds of corruption present a clear and present danger to sustainable national growth and stability. The clear choices are obfuscated by the “love for the poor but not empower them verbalizations”. I ask myself, if there were no more poor, who would the politicians have to love? So much for socialism and capitalism!
So, as we are stopped at the crossroad, which path will we choose: America, China; or Garvey? As other commentators would have said “the choice is yours” or as the old peanut vendor at Sabina Park used to say: “Ital or salt; pick yu choice; di whole a dem nice.”