In 2015 there were 1192 murders in Jamaica. The country had about 45 slayings per 100,000 people in 2015 keeping it ranked as one of the world’s most violent countries. By comparison Chicago, which has roughly the same population as Jamaica, around 2.7 million, had 468 killings in 2015. With the recent Olympics showcasing the physical superiority of some of Jamaica’s athletes, the darker side to real Jamaican issues gets pushed aside. Usain Bolt has brought a lot of attention to Jamaica but he gets more attention as an individual than the Country as a whole.
When people first here ‘Jamaica’ the immediate perception is Reggae music, ganja, Sandals holiday resort and Usain Bolt. Perception is a dangerous concept and Jamaica has been riddled with airbrushed associations & counterfeit stereotypes from day dot. The violence that has been occurring in Jamaica along with the extreme poverty are regularly overlooked from the outside world, and I can understand why. Its more comfortable for to do so, and its better for tourism if nobody knows the real extent of the Country’s depravity.
The truth is much more harrowing, and much more complex. Jamaica’s public debt stock is approximately two trillion dollars, with a large proportion owed to the IMF. The island’s economy has been shaped by centuries of violence, plunder and slavery. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been wasted on sugar plantations which have kept the wheels of metropolitan industry turning in the UK and America. Jamaica has never recovered from slavery, with the economy totally dependent on foreign capital, mining and raw materials.
Jamaica became independent from Britain in 1962 but it was only in the 1970’s that the government of Michael Manley initiated polices to reduce dependency on foreign capital, improve living standards and fight inequality. These measures came up against the oil crisis of the 1970’s, and as import prices rocketed and exports fell Jamaica was forced to run up debts. A lack of fiscal understanding of those who ruled Jamaica and the willingness of external countries to provide economic solutions made for a severely toxic concoction.
This situation gave the IMF and World Bank the leverage to impose large-scale structural adjustment policies and the impact was devastating. During the 1980’s the number of registered nurses fell by 60%, there was massive currency devaluation, abolition of food subsidies whilst the cost of food significantly increased. Health, education and housing were run into the ground and there has been no progress in any of these areas since. Because Jamaica is classified as upper middle income, it was never eligible for debt relief so is stuck in an impossible position. Slavery is not a linear concept, and comes in many forms it seems.
It is a well known fact the countries which have been shackled with the most debt end up experiencing the most intense type of poverty and brutal subsequent violence. I do not want to overshadow what Usain Bolt has done for Jamaica however athletics does not eradicate poverty and athletes do not prevent murders. Musicians do not have the answers to political problems and politicians don’t seem to have the answers to economic issues. Holiday resorts do not spread money throughout communities and entertainers don’t educate children.
For any kind of positive change to occur we have to first accept the reality of the conditions of a situation. On the face of it Jamaica can look like an all singing all dancing super relaxed party island, with very fast runners and a wicked cricket team. I have Jamaican relatives who have a completely different perception of their own country. They have experienced beatings, shootings, robberies and homicides. Many people live in fear and desperation, whilst every day is a struggle to survive. The reality is, the debt won’t go away, people will continue to kill each other at these alarming rates and in four years time we’ll see Jamaica represented on TV during the Olympics for 4 weeks and then the Country’s sorrows will once again be forgotten. The truth is not enough people care unless there’s a gold medal involved.