#COVID19Chronicles-133: August 25, 2020-What do the main parties stand for?

Election Day is September 3, and the first of three debates will be tonight.

You can keep track on a scorecard provided by the Jamaica Debates Commission:

I’d hoped to read at least part of both manifestos by now, but the JLP hasn’t got theirs ready, yet—due out this morning. (I could make the obvious point about how daft it seems that the party that had the election timing in its control couldn’t have its manifesto out first.)

Instead, we have the LalaLand Manifesto of the Jamaica Progressive Party. I’m being uncharacteristically harsh on that, because it was the tail of a damp squib of an election appearance, because the party pulled out days after issuing the manifesto. It was manifestly a non-flyer. It would not get on the manifest of an plane except to see Barnum and Bailey. They will be the butt of jokes for days, and deservedly for the many dreams of untold riches that were snatched from our grasps.

PNP has come out with a nifty ‘personal’ manifesto. It’s cool in that you don’t have to provide a real profile, so you can see how you’d fare, for instance, if you were a rich, transvestite with a family of four, and a herd of pangolin living in St. Elizabeth. There’s hope for all, in that sort of offering.

But, as we’re really talking about the political heavyweights, I’d like to have both JLP and PNP story books at the same time. I’d also have preferred if a bit more technological flair had been shown and I could have had the documents in audio file form, so that during the likely many days of being locked in, I have lots of material to listen to and dream the days away. So, let me hold off.

The thought that’s going through my mind is just a simple one: What does each party stand for? Once upon a time in my life, I had a clearer idea of different philosophies driving the parties and their policies. That was clearer to me from I could really think about these things in the 1970s through 1990s, and I had the clear social democratic dreams of Michael Manley to look at and a more capitalistic and business-oriented and US-focused stance of Edward Seaga.

Now, it’s a bit harder to describe in a substantive way. I asked my wife and she said ‘Prosperity; focus on growth’ versus ‘Cater to the people’s needs’. I’ll not hold her feet to the fire on this, but it tells me that the ideas are a bit squishy. Maybe, that allows for more chewing away at the middle ground of people’s desire for better lives shaping it is slightly different images.

More assuredly, after the current administration, the JLP can put itself forward as a party that is set on ‘getting things done’ and appearing to get them done quickly. One of the problems with the PNP’s cries that much of this is building, literally, on their plans, is that people wonder why the plans were languishing. Ideas that don’t materialize aren’t worth much.

The real meaning of support for each party is maybe quite basic for lots of people and it’s not about grand images that show a Jamaica in totality, but the state of a community, say, that looks different then than it does now. Hence, politicians’ focus on basic services, like water and roads. It’s embarrassing to the nation that water supply is still such a thorny issue across the country. The state of roads is, sadly, going to be an unwanted thorn to the administration, after Tropical Storm Laura lashed us this weekend and many roads—including the crispy ‘cyaapet’ are now in a flooded or washed away shambles.

The damage to the rural roads cement (no pun) a tale that is as old as most people, of roads that are just not fit for purpose.

The damage to newly constructed stretches tells us that little has changed: US$20 million spent and what? Many will smell a familiar rat when learning that new roads were built without drainage systems. ‘Tom drunk, but Tom is no fool.’ 😦

The most that any party can do in coming days is make more promises about the provision and the maintenance, but memories will be fresh of what those realities are.

I don’t want to keep harping on about the things that can turn a near ‘slam dunk’ election win into a ‘squeaky bum’ nail biter, but you’re seeing some of them with the impact of nature on the national ability to move. That’s one of the problems with any idea of delaying elections, as far as the government is concerned: more stuff can go wrong.

In this narrow, optic, then, it’s not going to do the government too much harm that the pandemic has forced its hand to tighten restrictions again, with effect from tomorrow.

While, it’s easy to see a cynical take to that, it’s also what people have been clamouring for as the infection numbers rise sharply. But, as cards get handed out to play in coming days, it’s going to be a nervous time seeing whether some of them are hard to play with a positive air or if they are just to be turned over with hope of drawing a better one. Nature is not a controllable beast and, during hurricane season… 🙂

Teaching moments: Simple actions in Rio that would look good in Jamaica

A ten day trip to Rio, whose prime purpose was to enjoy the atmosphere of World Cup football, is no fact finding tour. But, I’ve had to look at socioeconomic developments and try to assess them quickly for most of my working life. So, let me use that experience to share some observations that could help Jamaica move ahead. They are not in any special order.

Tourists need to be left to enjoy their visits and feel safe. Arriving in Rio, the biggest problem is figuring out where to collect baggage; the claim areas are split, either side of duty free shopping. Once done, passing Customs is simple, with basically no stop. Admittedly, Jamaica has been tagged as a drug haven, so we need stiffer checks to protect ourselves from those who want to try some simple drug running, as part of organized operations or just to get some extra dosh. That hurts our tourism badly, and maybe the only way out is some brutal sentencing, including near immediate deportation. The idea of airport courts seems radical but, it may be what’s needed to frighten the daylights out of the casual wrongdoers. Admittedly, tourists arriving at Montego Bay tend to have lghr checks than arrivals at Kingston, most of whom are residents. That, naturally, sets up resentment from locals. But, evenhandedness is something with hitch Jamaica struggles.

Once on land, tourists in Rio see plenty of signs that security is ready to deal with all problems.

Rio Tourist Police, on Ipanema beach strip

Municipal and national guards were everywhere in uniform Rio. It was likely that some of the road sweepers or other tourist workers were undercover operatives. They were on hand, visible, and clearly ready. I have no idea at what cost. But, no one wants to robbed or mugged on the street when just trying to enjoy sun, sand, and sea.

Tourists just want to have their fun
We read stories about how favelas and streets had been cleared of vagrants. News reports yesterday mentioned how protesters had been picked up ahead of the final and that 25,000 security personnel had been added to deal with potential protests at the final. Rio is in a very difficult position, so extreme measures are no surprise. But, in the end, the naive or educated visitor wants to come and go safely, and leave a country to sort out its internal strife.

Like Jamaica, Rio has its vendors. They work the beach strips, selling on the beach, trinkets, drinks and snacks. On the roadside, little cafes and juice bars are dotted around. Massage services are there, too, on the beach. Most vendors take no straight away. Pestering in not common. I did not see if vendors were licensed. But, they went on walking the beach. Most beach visitors just went about their recreation. No one offering them drugs. They could get drinks if they wanted, or play or doze, if not.

I’ve barely seen any police at Jamaican resorts, by contrast. Maybe, they are all under cover. But, we have reports of petty or more serious crimes against tourists. Each incident is a blight, and becomes amplified as a negative story when people get back home. Most people have positive images of Jamaica before they visit. The taxi driver who loves “Bobby Marley” is typical. We need to harness that.

Taxis should be safe and trustworthy . Most visitors do not know their way around a foreign country. They often think they are easy targets for exploitation. So, one way of allaying those fears for the benefit of all is for the popular form of transport from point to point, the taxi, be a reliable service. Rio has a lot of taxis, but they never seemed enough.

Taxi, with onboard GPS, meter, visible official driver ID

Perhaps, the arrival of all those football fans was the reason for seeming excess demand. However hard it was to get a taxi, each one tended to give the same experience. The driver was licensed: the vehicle had the driver’s badge clearly visible. The vehicle was metered. The cost was clear, and drivers did not haggle over the small number, eg R$11.30 was R$11. The driver wore a belt and each seat had a belt. (One driver, seeing my 10 year old daughter was in difficulty strapping in, stopped to free the belt, which had gotten trapped under the seat. Attentive and courteous.) If uncertain of destination, drivers quickly tried to verify directions by using on board GPS, or checking with another driver. Vehicles were NEVER overloaded: no space, no rider. No exceptions. Naturally, in this age of widespread smartphone use, some drivers tried to stay abreast of social activities. One driver was constantly checking and sending voice messages,though he limited this to when stopped at traffic lights. One driver was one the phone to an acquaintance, but still drove carefully.

We took at least two taxis each day and never saw one accident–at all. Rio has six million people and an area half that of Jamaica. Admittedly, road conditions are far better in a Rio, with several four-lane freeways through the city.

Rio has good, spacious roads

Pedestrians do not have priority, so that would tend to create more problems, but none were evident.

If visitors feel safe travelling around a strange place, day or night, they are likely to venture out more and further. That tends to mean more spending. We are experienced travelers and have a friend who had lived in Brazil and spoke Portuguese. But, those aspects did not feature much in routine travel. We tried our luck on the streets, often needing two taxis, which did not arrive simultaneously. We never ended up at different places; we sometimes had a long wait to meet up again. We were not really worried. We did some research and ventured out on ferry boats, too. No mishaps. Drivers also gave good advice about when to travel and better routes.

My understanding is that the government did not mount any special campaigns. But, perhaps, the trade associations got members to buy into supporting the events with positive attitudes. Or, people have understood what is good for business.

Free Wifi internet access needs to be widely available. Most traveller know about the high cost of roaming charges, so shy away from making local telephone connections. However, they will do their best to keep in touch with friends, families, and colleagues through email, text messages, including via Whatsapp, and social media sites. You only need to go anywhere with free wifi to see the clusters of communicators. Rio offered free wifi to those who were already subscribers to local telephone services. But, many bars, restaurants, and shopping areas had free wifi. Even some hillside slums, favelas, had free wifi networks.

Favela Santa Marta has free wifi

Brazil has benefited from extensive infrastructure investment connected to major international events. Again, the pay off comes through the easy experience visitors have.

Litter is a major turn off. In Rio, garbage disposal was constant. Large bins on the sidewalk, plus cleaners walking the beach strips and streets. Of course, people are dirty, but it need not swamp everyone or everywhere. We saw plenty of garbage in a favela. Bottles and cans get used as missiles. Likewise, roads that need repair trap trash as well as people. The impression left was that Rio was clean, even if sour-smelling. That’s an observation, not a criticism. Big cities have their odour.

Finally, Rio celebrates its street art. Downtown Kingston has recently had much of its murals removed from ghetto areas. The rationale was that this glorified local criminals. Whatever the truth of that, the murals are important local expression. By contract, Rio promotes such art.

Favela art, Rio

Admittedly, a recent government initiative has sought to regularize favela life, and accepting murals adds to the sense of ownership. Heavyhandedness is often not needed, once respect has been shown by those in formal authority.

Still shackled

A random set of events today illustrate starkly something very wrong with Jamaica. We are more accustomed than other Caribbean countries, except Cuba, to the glare of sporting success. Admittedly, that has come more through track and field, and somewhat through football, than other sports.

But, over the past two days we went on another of those fairy-tale rides, as a team of bobsledders trundled down an icy slide, holding the slimmest of hopes of a medal. Not surprisingly, knowing the recent history of this team and how they got to Sochi, Russia, the two-man team came in 29th out of 30 (aided by one team not completing their final run). But, that was about what we should have expected. Underdogs, and holding up the stack. However, Jamaica got maybe more of the crowd’s love than any team other than the home-country boys, who came in with the gold. But, love and smiles won’t get us to the podium and wont build us at the lowest level. Our apples are not really piled into the bobsledding basket, even though it’s surprisingly open to many of our athletes or ordinary people. Note, one of the Russian team was a taxi driver and arm wrestler. We can find a few people who could fit that profile.

Our sledders were fantastic in qualifying alone. Consider that at least 4 countries put in three teams in the field of 30 teams. So, for us to be able to get into this small fraternity was truly a feat well done.

Where I gagged was in the process of trying to nurture one of the future athletes–my daughter. She had swimming practice this afternoon, at St Andrew High School. The school has a 25 metre pool and before my daughter’s practice, children from the prep school have a swimming lesson and practice. I often see a girls’ water polo team working out ahead of our practice. Then my daughter and other kids under 11 have their hour. After them, come some 11-14 year olds for a 90 minute session. My kid, sometimes does this session, too. She can hold her own and is often good and tired but well exercised at the end of 2 1/2 hours in the water.

We noted, as usual, the high school girls doing their practices, in preparation for Champs. Hurdles were out today. A girl was working the javelin. Another girl was throwing a shot. Most girls were striding and sprinting on the grass track.

On the dusty, barely grassed track. On the track that is perhaps par for the course for the best track athletes in the country. I thought back to the high school my older daughter attended in northern Virginia. They had a stadium akin to Catherine Hall, in Montego Bay. This was an ordinary state school. That marked the difference between developed countries and countries like Jamaica–so-called ‘middle income’, but really among the poor.

Catherine Hall Sports Complex, Montego Bay
Catherine Hall Sports Complex, Montego Bay

This is how we have to prepare some of the better future stars. I looked forward to seeing what performances would be produced in a few weeks.

On the way home, I heard a news report that the swimmers training for Carifta (regional elite performers) were going to have no training facilities at the National Aquatic Centre, because the pool needed to be closed–again–while new filters are installed. Options are few in Kingston, but at least some exist. All with a good intent, but hampering in the process.

Now, I’m settled in front of the television, watching ‘Monday night football’ from the Red Stripe Premier League. Top two teams are duking it out: Waterhouse away to Harbour View (at the ‘mini stadium’). But, what is that surface on which they are playing? It’s a mixture of bare ground and sparse grass; the overall colour is red. A player goes through, clear on goal, swings and the ball loops high as if he were trying to kick it out of the stadium. It took a wicked bounce. I remember a game earlier in the season when it seemed that a ghost had spirited the ball away from the goalkeeper, but it had hit a stone and put the ball in the path of a striker for a goal. I did not expect a surface like those played on by English Premier League team, but a cow pasture is what I’d expect for ‘Molasses Vale’ in St. Thomas, with sticks and stones marking the field boundaries. What a disgrace!

I wrote yesterday about perpetual underdogs. I saw today without searching what squalid facilities we have to offer our best and those who want to be the best and represent the country at the highest levels. We do much DESPITE, not because of. What could we be if we were not constantly weighed down by the heavy blocks of our poor basic infrastructure?