Jamaica

In the postcard view of Jamaica, Bob Marley casts a long shadow. Though he’s been dead for thirty-five years, the legendary reggae musician is easily the most recognizable Jamaican in the world—the primary figure in a global brand often associated with protest music, laid-back, “One Love” positivity, and a pot-smoking counterculture. And since Marley was an adherent of Rastafari, the social and spiritual movement that began in this Caribbean island nation in the 1930s, his music—and reggae more generally—have in many ways come to be synonymous with Rastafari in the popular imagination.

For Jamaica’s leaders, Rastafari has been an important aspect of the country’s global brand.…  Seguir leyendo »

Among the most enigmatic features of Jamaica, an island of only 2.8 million people, is its astonishing supremacy in running. Currently, the world’s fastest man and woman are both Jamaicans. Nineteen of the 26 fastest times ever recorded in 100 meter races were by Jamaicans. The list goes on.

Jamaica’s global dominance is broad and deep, both male and female, and started to emerge over half a century ago. At the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Jamaica was ranked 13th by the International Olympic Committee. By the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, it was first in sprints, with Usain Bolt winning three gold medals, and an unprecedented clean sweep of the women’s 100 meters.…  Seguir leyendo »

Before my Jamaican-born grandfather, Egan “Teddy” Brooks, left Harlem for Scotland in 1935, he was on the track team at George Washington high school in New York. Somebody wrote on his yearbook photo: “Can he run!”

This week’s Commonwealth Games will provide a further demonstration of the Jamaican flair for sprinting. The fact that my grandfather, Usain Bolt and many other Jamaican-born athletes are so fast is, in scientific terms, an anomaly. Anomalies are often the harbingers of a profound scientific insight. So what might we learn from this one? The answer has nothing to do with reinforcing prejudices about the sporting abilities of black people.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kenroy Williams, also known as “Booms,” is “Guardian of the Reptiles” in Hellshire, located near the Goat Islands in Jamaica. The region is centered in the Portland Bight Protected Area, an area of ocean and land set apart in 1999 to protect its rich biodiversity of birds, reptiles, plants, trees and marine life.

But now, the Jamaican government is preparing to sell the Goat Islands to the China Harbour Engineering Co. to build a megafreighter seaport and industrial park. China Harbour is part of a conglomerate blacklisted by the World Bank under its Fraud and Corruption Sanctioning Policy.

“They’re destroying what should be preserved,” says Booms, who has been working to protect exceedingly rare reptiles in the area for seven years, including the critically endangered Jamaican iguana.…  Seguir leyendo »

During last week’s independence festivities, I took out my prized commemorative plate. It was a gift from the mother of a long-ago boyfriend who, incomprehensibly, complained constantly that his mother loved me more than him. Needless to say, he didn’t last.

The plate has a little chip, but it’s the spirit that counts: a little bit of tactile history. It features the Jamaican coat of arms. There is an Amerindian woman bearing a basket of pineapples and a man holding a bow. At school we were taught they were Arawak. These days, they are called Taino. But the distinction is academic.…  Seguir leyendo »

June once again marked a proudly celebrated Caribbean Heritage Month across the United States in recognition of significant social and cultural contributions reinforced by shared cultures, languages, religious traditions and culinary tastes. The United States is a stronger union from the contributions of this complex and diverse group of people who make up the emerging Caribbean demographic in the American fabric.

For Jamaica and the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the celebration continues to mark the 50th anniversaries of independence. At midnight Aug. 5, 1962, Jamaica hoisted with pride the symbolic colors of nationhood — the black, gold and green.…  Seguir leyendo »

A friend of mine once told me how her son, then eight years old, had thrown a tantrum and threatened to walk out on her. She dared him. Fuming, he packed and prepared to set out. He never did. By nightfall he realised that his bravado couldn’t survive the big, bad world outside.

His reaction is emblematic of Jamaica’s relationship with the UK. There has always been rage against Britain, for almost 200 years of slavery and more than 100 years as a wrung-out colonial dishrag. But we’ve generally huffed and puffed and done nothing about it.

Now Jamaica has seemingly summoned up the cojones to go one better than my friend’s son: it’s putting out the old lady (in this case, the Queen).…  Seguir leyendo »

For two weeks, the Jamaican army and police have fought gun battles in Kingston. The many allegations of human rights abuses committed by the security forces – including extrajudicial killings and the disposal of bodies – have received almost no international attention. Nor have the linkages between the Jamaican crisis, the security establishments in the US, Britain and Canada, and the mutations of the “war on terror”.

But strategy and tactics deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are being applied in Jamaica. Drones fly over Kingston, and were used in the 24 May assault to select targets. On 7 June, Tivoli residents discovered that to enter or leave the area they had to produce “passes” issued by the police (revised, after protests, to restrictions on movement after dark).…  Seguir leyendo »

The violence tearing apart Jamaica, a democratic state, raises serious questions not only about its government’s capacity to provide basic security but, more broadly and disturbingly, the link between violence and democracy itself.

The specific causes of the turmoil are well known. For decades political leaders have used armed local gangs to mobilize voters in their constituencies; the gangs are rewarded with the spoils of power, in particular housing and employment contracts they can dole out. Opposition leaders counter with their own gangs, resulting in chronic violence during election seasons.

These gangs eventually moved into international drug trafficking, with their leaders, called “dons,” becoming ever more powerful.…  Seguir leyendo »

The tragedy unfolding in Jamaica is symptomatic of a wider crisis of organised crime, armed violence and political corruption caused by a failed “war on drugs”. The tangled political and economic roots of the problem run very deep.

Caribbean nations were born from the violence of chattel slavery and rebellion, colonial domination and the struggle for liberation and self-determination. The postcolonial flight of capital and structural readjustment have been compounded by the end of transatlantic trade agreements that have led to the collapse of the region’s agricultural economic base. High levels of unemployment and extreme marginality have been the result for many communities.…  Seguir leyendo »