Category Archives: Regionalism

Time to get rid of the Jon crows: The issue of TV coverage of sport

Frustration, even anger, are not unknown emotions to most people. However, when they come and you feel that it’s because of something truly avoidable, they tend to intensify. I was enraged last Sunday (August 16) when I was unable to watch the men’s 100 metres final in the World Championships, from Berlin. I wanted to see history happen, with Jamaica’s Usain Bolt winning as in last year’s Olympics and breaking his world record set then. But, the machinations of a corporation or two who did not see it possible to help me and other people living in Barbados share that moment was all it took for frustration to turn to rage to turn to anger. Canadian Broadcasting Corporationcame to the rescue (oh, thanks, Canada), by cutting away from the ATP tennis at the Roger’s Masters Final in Montreal to show the race with a 15 minute delay.

In the meantime, I had gone ‘back to the future’: I had experienced the race live. An irate Jamaican friend on the phone in my left hand, was listening to me attentively. A friend who worked for VOB on the phone in my right hand, was giving me step-by-step commentary, that I was repeating to my Yardee. “They’re off. Bolt is ahead. Bolt surges ahead. No one in sight. Bolt wins! Bolt. New world record. 9.58 seconds. Usain Bolt…” At the end of my rebroadcast, my Jamaican friend was whooping and hollering, “Yes! We do it! Yes. Praise Jesus. Yes!”

But, why did we need to go back to the 1920s? It appears that Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) had bought the television rights, but Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation had not paid to share those rights. So, we in Barbados lived the ‘hermit’s life on the momentous moment. It was not until Thursday, August 20, that CMC clarified what CBC had done. That was after….Barbados’ Ryan Brathwaite had created no small piece of history for this small rock, by winning the men’s 110 metres hurdles in 13.14 seconds, a new national record (which he had just broken with 13.18 secs. in the semis). Oh dear, Barbados had not been able to see its son have HIS day in the sun. People in Barbados were now very angry–they should have been since Sunday, but different strokes for different folks. “Why we cyan see dis? Why?” was the general call. But, praise CMC for making sure the right person is under the bus.

I love to see Caribbean integration possibilities wither and die: much as I believe that such integration is possible and could be beneficial, many do not. So, better to leave no doubts when you do not believe. CMC? It seems you did the right thing, so I read a correction to my letter below. CBC? Whatever your reasons for not buying the rights, you will be held up in the annals of history for a CRAVEN act. Some would like to suggest that the problem is simply that CBC has a new General Manager, Lars Soderstrom (a former international media consultant), who is non-Caribbean. That has to be too simplistic a view. It is about management generally, remembering that CBC is government-owned. If government is not influencing its policies then perhaps I need to look at the person with line responsibilities. No. CBC failed us–yes, it is personal–when success was so easy: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory–a rare talent. I suspect the capabities of a media company that does not see the need for, or merit in, putting dates on its online material; try a link and see for yourself. Would that the region were rid of craven actors. If anyone says that CBC’s actions were due to financial constraints I will demand a full and forensic investigation of their transactions over the past 12 months. Why? B.E.C.A.U.S.E. they did the same thing for the Beijing Olympics. So, craven then. Craven now. One word to describe them. Jon crow!

My letter, written early on Monday and sent to several newspapers (Gleaner-Jamaica; Advocate and Nation-Barbados), which reads more muted than I was, was published on August 21. Fittingly, the day when they could celebrate their first gold.

I am no politician and hold no political ambitions–never have. But, I want leadership that can feel people’s needs and cater to them. Leaders who are not simply ready to pass by possible moments in our history for reasons that have nothing to do with a gun being held to their heads. I want people who learn from mistakes leading and running institutions in the Caribbean. I DO NOT WANT JON CROWS NEAR ME! I am not carrion and am not to be fed upon as if I am dead and have no feelings. I do feel and I will respond. Jon crows need dead meat to survive. Stop feeding the Jon crow.

Read on, for the letter. My Living in Barbados blog, also has a piece that verbalises in Patois how I felt on the day (‘What a shame!’). Standard English is for ordinary moments. Patois is for expressions from the heart. There is a follow-on piece that tries to share the joy that was experienced when I found live coverage, in a sports bar in Barbados. I did share fully with Jamaicans and Barbadians THE moments when Usain broke the 200 metres record again, and took gold–the day before his birthday. I did see and live through the agonizing tension of the 100 metres hurdles, which after a blanket finish, needed many minutes to declare Ryan Brathwaite the winner. I did glow as Melaine Walker took gold in the 400 metres and laugh myself silly as the mascot took her on a lap of honour only to lapse into a stadium machine and turn Melaine into a pole vaulter. Some of those moments are also on my Living in Barbados blog (‘Rage ain’t nothing but a number’).

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Here is the link to the Advocate letter. The printed text is below, with my correction regarding CMC/CBC inserted.

Where’s the coverage?

8/21/2009

THE joy of Caribbeans – in my case, Jamaicans – winning medals at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin has been a frustrating experience, or non experience to try to share. Those of us in Barbados have once again to endure what seems like a disregard for support for our region.

CMC [correction: CBC] did not buy the television broadcast rights. We have therefore been subjected to the displeasing situation of listening to the events, when broadcast, on radio. Just like in the good old Colonial days. I felt insulted as a national and as person of this Caribbean region.

We have reason to be proud, that our smallness in size and number is clearly no limitation on our ambition and achievement.

But it would seem that that pride is not shared or we will not be allowed to share it ‘live and direct’.

We look at the few symbols of regional unity and most of them are in tatters. We all know we are nationalistic, at least in part. It is natural. But we are also in need of integration and collaboration as a region. The action of CMC [correction: CBC] is to me another nail in the coffin of Caribbean unity. We saw how the region could share in the gains of one or a few nations as if we were all one.

I wont go to the historic racial significance of Berlin, and recall the ignominy faced by Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. (Many readers will only know this from history books, or now, the Internet, see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/system/topicRoot/Jesse_Owens_at_the_Berlin_Olymp/).

I just note that many black athletes in 2009 have proudly shown solidarity with that moment by emblems denoting Jesse Owens.

All we ask is for CMC [correction: CBC] to show a little solidarity, too.

This was just too much for me.

Dennis Jones

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The JPG version of the printed page is below (Advocate does not archive the print versions of the papers, for legal reasons).

World Champs Letter Advocate Aug 21 2009

Time to think again

Life in the English-speaking Caribbean is much more complicated than it should be. A collection of small islands and nations have struggled to do things that many larger countries have failed to do well, and at a cost that governments would be ashamed to admit. I will just list a few of the more obvious ones that affect daily lives.

First, almost every country has its own currency, and we all struggle with the need to change money every time we travel. Admittedly, the group of islands in the Organization of East Caribbean States have a common currency, which says something about their sense of commonality and willingness to integrate. but, most of the rest of us have to change our national dollars for other dollars. Most of our countries do not have freely convertible currencies, but some countries willingly allow the exchange of currencies: outlets in Trinidad will take the Barbadian dollar and the EC dollar. In Barbados, it is less common to find outlets taking other Caribbean currencies. In many of our countries, the US dollar is readily accepted. Some have argued that the region should adopt the US dollar formally as its currency; most recently, former PM Seaga has proposed that option for Jamaica. Such a move would not be new in the region, but with people who try to be fiercely independent, it would be a hard sell. But, it was no so long ago, though under British colonial rule, that we all used the Pound sterling.

Second, customs and immigration procedures. I am really at a loss to understand why we could not have agreed on common forms for customs and immigration; in fact, most of the forms are minor variants of each other. As a corollary, and perhaps with machine-readable passports it may be easier, could the region not be inventive and have customs and immigrations information generated automatically as passengers check in? Maybe, we could show the world how to do things efficiently. The regional mobile phone companies have seen the benefit of making the region ‘seamless’, by having systems that allow use of phones when you travel without imposing roaming charges while calling within the region. Would it not be wonderful to move from country to country without felling that you needed to relearn and redo everything? It’s enough to have to learn to eat cou-cou, or bammy, or cook-up rice, or crab and dumpling, or conch/lambi, or drink Red Stripe or Carib or Stag or Piton or Kubili or Banks. So, to the powers that be, give the people a little ease, nuh.

My Caribbean neighbour is not my friend

As the Caricom heads of government start their 28th conference in Barbados, the gathering storm in Barbados around a possible take over of its largest company, Barbados Shipping and Trading (BS&T) has to be a important signal in the move toward making the Caribbean Single Market Econbst.jpgomy more than a slogan. In Barbados, news broke in mid-May that a major conglomerate from Trinidad (Neal and Massy) planned to take over the most important of Barbados’ nationally-owned companies (BS&T) sent shock waves through the island and the meter measuring national fear of foreign invasion shot up into the “danger” zone (see cartoon from The Nation). When, several days ago, a hostile counter bid was made by another Trinidadian entity, Ansa McAl, which already had singificant investments in Barbadian companies, Bajan concern about being taken over by Trinidad got feverish. Continue reading

Conference on the Caribbean: A Participant’s Perspective

caricomheadssmall.gifDuring June 19-21, Caricom heads of state and its secretary-general attended a conference in Washington DC, hosted by the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organisation of American states (see conference web site). The heads of state had an historic summit with the US government (see White House statement); long overdue many agreed, but it had been a long time in the planning and fell well in Caribbean American heritage month. The White House statement makes most of the right political noises on issues such as protecting democracy and enhancing security, expanding trade and building the services sector. Whether Caribbean citizens will feel that any of this really has them in mind will be for time to tell.

The conference and summit have left those present in Washington with some sense of optimism because Caribbean issues were put in front of American government officials as well as offiicals from important multilateral agencies. That optimism, however, needs to be set in a realistic context: the Caribbean is small and is not amongst the US administration’s highest priorities (one can judge this by the ease with which US officials absent themselves from proceedings). With President Bush coming to the end of his 2nd term, he may be seen as a lame duck, so whatever “commitments” his administration made could be added to the litany of promises yet to be fulfilled.

The conference also showed that there are plenty of leaders in the extended Caribbean community, not just amongst those who have assumed political leadership positions. Successful and striving would fit many of the women and men present at the conference who are in business, non-profit organizations, studying, or whatever field they are in. That should be a good signal because we have seen in recent months some startling lack of leadership, decision-making and vision within the region and things associated with it. Continue reading

Conference on the Caribbean: Into the Briar Patch

During June 19-21, in Washington, DC, Caribbean leaders, academics, activists, entrepreneurs, and others will mingle with members of the US government, representatives of international and regional financial institutions, and others with an interest in the region (see link). There will be two side forums on private sector development and the Diaspora.

The Caribbean region has many issues to face. Whether politicians see the issues in the same way as their populations is not clear, but the democratic process will be a guide as elections come along later this year. To me there are several thorny problems that could derail the region’s vision for itself.

First, is the burr of intraregional trade. It has been clear for some time that each Caribbean nation does not view neutrally the arrival of investors from another country. I will cite just the recent reaction in Barbados to the proposed take over by Trinidad’s Neal and Massy of Barbados Shipping and Trading. Generally, people don’t see these moves as strengthening the region’s ability to compete in a broad international environment, but merely as the loss of an important national player to a foreign entity, and as such a bad thing. The economic and financial explanations of possible merits rarely sink into most people’s minds. It is little different, when we consider the movement of labour between the countries. The movement of skilled or other workers from the larger countries (Guyana, Trinidad, and Jamaica) is often seen negatively in the smaller countries such as Barbados. And these movements quickly get tinged with emotive and racist language, citing themes such as “invasions” and “aggressiveness”.  So, what future for regional intiatives such as CSME? There does not seem a readiness to share a common economic space, especially if it means an influx from poorer, more violent, and apparently less stable countries in the region.

Related to this is the prickly question of regional air travel. The region may not really be able to support its own stock of air operators. We have seen the demise of Caribbean Airlines. The merger of Liat-Caribbean Star is underway. Air Jamaica’s future has been called into question, not least by the recent selling of its Kingston-London route to Virgin Airways. The other problem is the high cost of travel within the region, with its related negative impact on tourism. Liat-Caribbean Star charges too much for travelling short distances within the region: the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Vincent Vanderpool-Wallance, has recently called these high fares the “silent killer” of regional tourism. The fact that some of the shareholders (Antigua, Barbados, St. Vincent) in the regional airline also own their main airports, puts a contradictory twist to how to price for international travel, given that the airport investment needs to be recouped. St. Lucia’s government has recently announced that it will no longer finance Liat, and has contracted with American Airlines to provide services between St. Lucia and Barbados. A little friction between the governments over these moves will be no surprise!

A complex and growing issue is the relationship with China. This has the double dimension of which “China” countries decide to work with. Some Caribbean countries are for a “one China” policy and are building deeper relations with the People’s Republic (see Barbados’ PM’s recent visit to Beijing, for example). Others do not wish to follow that road and are deeping relations with Taiwan (see St. Lucia, for example). Some (like St. Lucia) seem to switch with a change of government (see article in Broad Street Journal). The People’s Republic of China has an interesting position at present. It is a member of the Caribbean Development Bank (see link), with its own Director and seat on the Board of Governors. It is becoming a major source of financing in the region, especially of prestige construction projects (such as stadiums and highways). The People’s Republic of China is taking a fast-extending role in the development of poorer countries worldwide (especially in Africa, where this help can also mean access to valuable primary commodities), and has the resources to fulfill this role. It has also become an important source of labour to the Caribbean to help with construction projects. But this latter aspect is coming at a price as local opinion quickly turns hostile when it seems that local labour is being pushed to the side (whether due to proper procedure of suspected underhand dealings). Whether local labour has the skills to compete well against Chinese workers, it is often hard to compete with Chinese companies on price: anecdotal stories of Chinese workers getting US10 a day and having to rumage around to find food and live in what are seen as squalid conditions do nothing to enhance the image of the Chinese worker. The presence of Chinese workers and contractors is not a singular problem in the Caribbean, but part of the emerging impact that the People’s Republic is having on economic developments. It is becoming the dominant international force. Mix this with the pre-existing sense of invasion from foreigners that some are feeling and one does not have to look far to see an unhappy road ahead if somehow the apparent large influx of Chinese workers is not controlled, especially in the smaller islands.

The politicians and others will have more than these issues to think and talk about and I will try to see if some of these reflections can be quickly incorporated into this blog.

Having problems with regionalism and globalisation

A lot of talk has been generated by the Cricket World Cup (CWC) as an example of how the region can come together and make things successful. But around that talk there are other mutterings or loud shouts that suggest that not everyone sees it this way. Take, for example, the opening and closing ceremonies for CWC. I have heard and read comments that complained that the Jamaicans did not pay enough attention to the culture from the other countries. Recently, some Bajans have been complaining that the closing ceremony did not showcase Barbados, not least because the contract for the final music and dance “spectacle” had been given to a Trinidadian, Peter Minshall. That added to discontent that much of the final event had involved contracts going to foreign companies. Continue reading