JO - 'Beg yu a dinna money'
'Beg yu a dinna money'
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Begging by able-bodied people has been elevated to an art form in Jamaica. The lexicon has evolved to communicate the type of need, the intensity of the need and the urgency with which the need is to be met: Beg yu a t'ing; beg yu a money; beg yu a nanny; beg yu di change; beg yu a bus fare; beg yu a drinks money; beg yu a breakfast money; beg yu a lunch money; beg yu a dinna money.
Once the language of the unemployed, the begging words fill the mouths of that other fast-growing social grouping, the working poor. Our government's pyrrhic victory in its wage negotiations with the nurses, teachers and police will add to the phenomenon.
Given the regularity with which one is bombarded with cries of desperation, one would logically conclude poverty is on the increase. Not so, say the Statistical Institute of Jamaica and Planning Institute of Jamaica. The incidence of poverty in the country declined from 16.9 per cent in 2004 to 14.8 per cent in 2005. Apparently, the desperation reflected in the language of a people is not recognised as a reliable economic indicator.
Shifting gears slightly, I am perplexed by Butch Stewart's statement - reported on the pages of this newspaper and repeated by him in a radio interview with Cliff Hughes - on the matter of US citizens travelling by air to the Caribbean being required to have a passport by January 8, 2007. Butch feels that the selective application of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) can be traced directly to the growing relationship between Jamaica (and other Caribbean nations) and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez who has been strident in his criticism of President George Bush. Implicit in this charge is the view that the friendship between the administrations in Kingston and Caracas is to our detriment and therefore inadvisable.
Many Jamaicans continue to operate from an old paradigm which sees the US as the great benefactor to the north and us as a beggar nation which must toe the line to keep the goodies flowing. They are fearful that anything other than complete capitulation to the wishes of the US government leads inevitably to retribution. That is far too simplistic a view of international relations. The power play taking place between Chavez and the Bush administration brings the current geo-political dynamics into sharp relief.
Chavez is no Fidel Castro and America knows it. The fight, if there is one, is not about cold war posturing or political ideology. It is about economics.
As a way of dramatising the deterioration of the economic and trade relationship between industrialised and developing countries, Michael Manley used the example of a 180-horsepower tractor which in 1960 could be purchased with the foreign exchange from exporting 200 tons of sugar.
A quarter century later the same transaction required 800 tons of sugar. With the trade gap widening each year, the debt among Latin American countries, including those like Venezuela lucky enough to have oil, is skyrocketing towards the unsustainable US$ trillion mark.
The debt crisis has served to unite Latin American countries. Finding a way out of the quagmire calls for leadership and it appears Chavez has stepped into the breach. There is no way of knowing for sure, but if I had to guess at his motive I would say it is the prospect of creating a mega trading block out of Mercosur (Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay), the Andean Community (Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru), Central America Common Market (Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua) and Caricom. The population of such a grouping would be on the order of US$375 million with combined GDP close to US$2 trillion.
This imaginary grouping of debt-ridden developing states would, it seems, provide the perfect counterfoil to the US-dominated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) comprising the United States, Canada and Mexico, and the much more inclusive Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The US by itself has a population numbering 300 million and a GDP close to US$10 trillion or almost 80 per cent of the GDP of the entire hemisphere. One can understand why these other states would relish being members of an economic grouping in which they have a bigger voice.
The immediate task for Chavez is to position Venezuela as an influential player in world affairs by getting it elected to the UN Security Council, even at the cost of temporarily splitting Latin America and angering the US. People watching from the sidelines need not be unduly concerned by the theatrics displayed by the Venezuelan leader on his recent visit to the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Skilfully orchestrated, calculatingly delivered and yes, overreaching a bit, the anti-American rhetoric is meant to impress the more radical countries whose support Venezuela needs. Mr Bush being a politician understands these tactics.
Beggars are seldom ever choosers. Surely, though, Jamaica should be allowed to choose its friends, especially when the benefits to the country from Venezuela's multi-billion dollar petro-diplomacy are so appealing.