Jamaica reported 1,500 homicides last year. In such environments of high insecurity, citizens’ rights often take a back seat to in the demand for government action and security. Carolyn Gomes, the executive director and co-founder of Jamaicans for Justice, has emerged as an outspoken leader for defendant’s rights, dedicating specific attention to exposing and lowering the incidence of extrajudicial killings, which JFJ estimates to number around 1,250 between 2000 and 2007.
Last week, Dr. Gomes and six other activists were awarded the UN Human Rights Prize for demonstrating firm commitment to the advancement of human rights worldwide.
A vote to decriminalize marijuana passed through Jamaica’s parliament Tuesday night and is expected to be signed into law by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen later this week. The law, approved by Jamaica's Senate in February, will overturn the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1948, which punishes the possession, cultivation, selling, transporting, and smoking of “ganja,” the local term for the drug.
Under the new regulation, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana will no longer show up on an individual’s criminal record, but will be re-categorized as a low-level offense resulting in a small fine. Individuals will be permitted to cultivate up to five plants on their property. Additionally, the law permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes, as well as for Rastafarian religious ceremonies.
Marijuana regulation has been a hotly contested topic on the island, in large part due to Jamaica's close ties with the United States. However, Jamaica’s national security minister, Peter Bunting, assured the parliament that the new law would not affect international relations.
"The passage of this legislation does not create a free-for-all in the growing, transporting, dealing or exporting of ganja. The security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaican law consistent with our international treaty obligations," said Bunting.
Earlier on Tuesday, Alaska passed legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington as the only U.S. states to do so. Elsewhere in the hemisphere, Uruguay permits the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina have decriminalized possession of the drug, and Chile, Costa Rica and Guatemala are in the process of discussing new policies around marijuana.
Jamaican lawmakers debated a proposal on Tuesday to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Though no bill has been drafted, the preliminary discussion comes as a response to a motion introduced in January by lawmaker Raymond Pryce of the governing People’s National Party (PNP), who believes there is great economic and social potential in decriminalizing the drug.
Jamaicans have become increasingly opposed to the island’s drug policy, which results in the arrest of about 300 youth each week, limiting their future employability. “For personal use, the punishment of a criminal record is too much,” said Minister of State for Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford.
Government regulation and taxation could also be a boon for Jamaica’s struggling formal economy, with the promotion of marijuana-related tourism.
A 2001 government-appointed commission found that marijuana was “culturally entrenched” in Jamaican society and recommended legalization of recreational amounts. But given staunch opposition from the United States, such efforts were never realized. Now that several U.S. states—as well as Uruguay—have begun regulating marijuana use, Jamaican lawmakers feel emboldened to finally take on drug policy reform.
The media across the world has a knack for framing narratives in a way that perpetuates the status quo. This is true whether the subject is the rich, the poor, gays, lesbians, Africans, Americans, or Muslims.
I was yet again reminded of the power of the media to influence public opinion as I flipped through the Evening Standard and Metro (two dailies published in the United Kingdom) and read headlines about bombings and other acts of terrorism. From these, it was clear that the Western media treats Muslims in a particular way—the very same way the Jamaican media treats people who are poor, from marginalized communities or are homosexual.
As a result of their portrayal in the media, Muslims, lesbians and gays are often defined by their wrongdoing. Headlines often read “Muslim Terrorist” or “Muslim Extremist” just as Jamaicans are used to reading headlines such as “Gay Miscreant” or “Gays Wreak Havoc.”
During a recent visit to Washington DC, I spoke with a Muslim friend who is distressed by the fear and hysteria on people’s faces when they see people thought to be Muslim. The Boston Marathon bombing in April heightened this fear. Although she does not wear a hijab, my friend is still frightened by these incidents and the treatment that follows them. What is ironic is that the same media that generates anti-Muslim sentiment then goes ahead and criticizes the media in places like Jamaica for similarly biased treatment toward gays and lesbians.
The result is a contradiction in what is permissible in the media. Christians, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their faith. Heterosexuals, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their sexuality. The rich, whatever their crimes, are rarely identified by their socioeconomic status.
It is also a fact that people from the lowest income quintile struggle academically and that people of color are more likely to be unemployed. But that does not mean poor people and minorities lack interest in educating themselves.
We must begin to question our privileges and freedoms if we want to make our communities more hospitable. Be reminded that prejudice is interconnected and serves only one purpose: to maintain a status quo.
Jamaicans often purport, in defense of their homophobia, that as long as gays and lesbians keep “it” to themselves, they have no problem with homosexuality. According to this logic, if a gay person affirms and accepts his or her sexual orientation, he or she is forcing “it” on others. What exactly constitutes “forcing” is quite subjective, and barely anything can be deemed as such.
As a consequence, the vast majority of gays and lesbians in Jamaica live their lives in secret for reasons that include fear of discrimination, violence or harassment, fear of unemployment or eviction from their homes, or even the fear of simply “offending” someone with their homosexuality.
The ironic thing is that these gays and lesbians (many of whom finally decide that being open about their sexuality is not necessarily important) are routinely scrutinized and policed as they go about their daily lives—by the very same people who asked them to keep “it” to themselves.
Top stories this week are likely to include: India-CELAC dialogue; Jamaica marks its independence; impact of the Antamina spill; Repsol to meet with Venezuela on YPF; and responses to Petrobras’ poor quarterly release.
India-CELAC Dialogue: Tomorrow, Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna will host a troika of high-level diplomats from the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) in New Delhi with the objective being to deepen relations with Latin America. As Chile currently holds the CELAC presidency, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno will lead the delegation that will also include Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Cuban Vice-Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra. According to India’s foreign ministry, India’s trade in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) was over “$25 billion in 2011 and cumulative investments are estimated to be $16 billion mostly in hydrocarbons, minerals, agriculture, pharma and IT;” still, there is “vast untapped potential” for further collaboration. This presents an enormous opportunity for Latin America, notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak: “Greater trade and investment linkages with India will be critical for protecting the region against any decrease in demand caused by a slowing Chinese economy. India represents a growing, untapped middle class.” For more on LAC-India relations, read “The Other BRIC in Latin America: India” from the Spring 2011 AQ. As well, AS/COA notes that diplomatic ties between LAC and India have expanded; between 2002 and 2009 the number of LAC embassies in New Delhi grew from 12 to 18.
Jamaica Rings in Independence: Today Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence from the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II remains the island’s monarch, but Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller pledges to loosen ties with Great Britain and make her country a republic. Doing so would maintain Jamaica’s status as a British commonwealth, but would remove the Queen as Jamaica’s head of state and have the prime minister become president. Reflecting on 50 years of independence, Simpson-Miller told TIME Magazine that “despite our challenges, I think we’ve done very well on balance our first 50 years […] Jamaica is more than just the ‘brand’ the world recognizes so well; it’s a place of pride for the people who live here, its educational institutions, its sports achievements, and its science and technology growth.”
Impact of Peruvian Mine Spill: A toxic copper concentrate spilled at the Antamina mine in the Peruvian region of Ancash on July 25 has made over 100 people ill. Antamina’s environmental director has disputed that the material was toxic, instead referring to it as a “dangerous substance that requires a particular handling but not necessarily toxic.” Still, on Sunday, the company was fined for not activating its response plan to the accident. Copper has been instrumental to Peru’s economic ascent, accounting for 60 percent of export income, but “environmental protection has been relatively lax” in the Andean country according to the Associated Press. As more details emerge this week, will the government take additional action?
Repsol Representatives to Meet with Venezuelan Officials on Thursday: Officials from Spanish firm Repsol S.A. will meet with Venezuelan leaders on Thursday to discuss Repsol’s dispute with Argentine firm YPF after Argentina’s government seized a majority share of YPF, formerly held in a joint venture with Repsol. Venezuela has pledged to invest in Argentina to boost its oil production and desires an amicable resolution to the conflict with Repsol and the Spanish government. Repsol has investments in Venezuelan oil and gas fields, according to Bloomberg.
Fallout from Disappointing Petrobras Report: Petrobras posted its worst quarterly report since 1999, registering a R$1.35 billion ($663 million) loss in the second quarter, versus a R$10.94 billion—then equivalent to $6.86 billion—gain one year earlier. Petrobras President Maria Graça Foster blamed the loss in part to an “excessive depreciation” of the real against the dollar. What steps will be taken in response to this report?
Today is the 101st observation of International Women’s Day, a time to shine the global spotlight on the economic, political and social achievements of women. From my perspective, although Caribbean women are still victims of sexism, machismo and other forms of discrimination—unfortunately as in every other region in the world—their successes have been remarkably profound. The right of a woman to education and political participation is hardly denied. A number of Caribbean women are parliamentarians and ministers; the current prime ministers of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are female.
International media are beginning to notice. The Independent (UK), in a ranking of “The Best and Worst Place to Be a Woman,” announced that the Caribbean is the best place for women to be a journalist and that the region has the highest percentage of women—almost 60 percent—working in high-skilled jobs. The Bahamas is ranked the highest for economic participation and opportunity for women. This progress shows that more people are finally divorcing from their prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about the societal status of women. However, as we rejoice in this euphoria it is crucial to issue a clarion call for change in areas where basic female rights are still violated, the most glaring of which is reproductive health.
Women and girls must have access to all options of modern contraception to make informed and responsible decisions about the size of their families. But this is not so. Women and girls in the Caribbean are still marginalized and negatively impacted by antiquated laws such as Sections 56 and 57 of Trinidad & Tobago’s Offences Against the Person Act, which fail to account for their sexual and reproductive rights. When I asked on Twitter about which reproductive rights matter most to women in the Caribbean, one follower noted the “need [for] access to affordable, safe and legal abortions for the pregnant poor teenagers as well as the 'successful' married women.”
Two regrettable constants throughout the Caribbean region are that insecurity threatens human development and that crime and violence stymie economic prosperity. Research has upheld the latter; violence discourages tourism, foreign direct investment and business expansion. Crime has negative impacts on people’s livelihoods, mental wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and political freedom.
In 2010, the Caribbean had an intentional homicide rate of 21 percent per 100,000 people, a three-percentage-point increase from 2004. Barbados and Suriname have shown relatively low homicide rates over a 20-year timeframe, from 1990 to 2010. The World Bank reported in 2007 that crime is so costly, that if it were to be controlled in Jamaica alone, Jamaica’s gross domestic product would increase by 5.4 percent annually.
The UN Development Program (UNDP) is doing a commendable job of highlighting these devastating effects, in part through its recent publication of “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security.” This is the UNDP’s first-ever Caribbean-specific report on human development, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Trinidad & Tobago earlier this month to launch it. The report provides an assessment on the state of crime in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago—and gives space to the national and regional policies and programs that these countries are enacting to address it. It ultimately states: “the Caribbean cannot achieve sustainable well-being and enjoy the fruits of its efforts toward progress unless its people can be secure in their daily lives.”
Police, government and UN officials watched yesterday as half a ton of ammunition blazed in a furnace in Kingston, Jamaica. This followed the 2,000 pistols and revolvers that were melted down on Tuesday, as part of an effort to combat gun trafficking and corruption and reduce violent crime. Many of the firearms had been seized during police operations; others were decommissioned and being destroyed to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
Jamaica’s new minister of national security, Peter Bunting, said the destruction of the guns was an important first step toward reducing trafficking and the risk of theft. “The removal will help to reduce the risks of these weapons possibly being diverted back into the illicit trade,” he said at the Jamaica Constabulary Force armory.
Jamaica has one of the highest gun-crime rates in the world. Criminal gangs—whose turf wars and fatal shootings make up the bulk of Jamaica’s homicides—often possess as much firepower as police forces. Their weapons are in large part smuggled in from the U.S., although corrupt Jamaican police officers willing to sell weapons to criminal networks have also been a concern. A report released yesterday by the UN found that Jamaica has the Caribbean’s highest murder rate—even though the 1,124 murders reported in 2011 represented a seven-year low for the country—and the third-highest murder rate (60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants) in the world, after El Salvador and Honduras.
The Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 (the UN’s first-ever dedicated to the Caribbean) also found that gang-related crime costs Jamaica $529 million a year in lost income—much of it from the tourism industry. On the whole, the total cost on the regional economy was estimated to be between 2.8 and 4 percent of GDP.
The report was based on consultations with 450 experts and leaders and a survey of 11,555 citizens in seven countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Any piece of legislation that addresses the issue of sex is bound to be met with controversy. This is only magnified in countries that promote policies that run against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members of their population. Stakeholders like the Church, for instance, police morality by prohibiting any form of same-sex intimacy.
Today, terms like “sex” and “rape” are only viewed in the heterosexual prism—that is, only men and women legally engage in sexual activity. When these definitions were conceptualized, our awareness of the many ways in which people exercise their sexual freedom was perhaps very limited. But in 2012, despite cultural awareness to the contrary, much legislation does not deviate from conventional paradigms.
Beginning in 1927 in the United States, rape was defined as the “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.” The Obama administration, however, expanded that definition to include more forms of sexual assault such as rape of men and oral or anal sex. According to Vice President Biden, "this long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years."