December 31, 2010

Good Thurs. –0 degrees here.

Yokelly, we watched a documentary called Life and Debt about the impact of the International Monetary Fund economic policies on the economy of Jamaica. Pretty sobering. After Jamaica became independent from Britain in 1962, they expected to export their goods and “grow their economy.” Then came the 1973 oil embargo and skyrocketing gas prices. I remember buying gas for 50 cents a gallon or less. With much higher fuel prices, the Jamaican government couldn’t run its economy. So they went to the IMF for a loan. The loan came with conditions, one of which was Jamaica had to relax tariffs on imported goods to create “a level playing field” for the giant American based international corporations. US companies like Chiquita and Idaho potatoes and manufacturers of powdered milk and packaged chicken were allowed to ship goods to Jamaica with US government subsidies. The result was the destruction of the Jamaican farming, dairy, and poultry industries. Meanwhile, international companies established a “Free Zone” in Kingston where they operated sweat shops sewing clothes for Tommy Hilfiger, Hanes, and other name brands, paying workers the equivalent of $30/week. The cloth was all US manufactured, destroying the Jamaican textile industry, and the workers got minimum wage for incredibly labor intensive work. When local workers protested for higher wages, they brought in Asian workers. The result was high unemployment and high crime, while Jamaica paid more interest on its international loans than principle. The main income generator was and probably still is American tourism. The documentary follows a group of Americans around on their weeklong vacation, showing them getting stupid tours (“on your left is a banana grove”), hanging around swimming pools, engaging in drinking contests and drunken dance lessons, etc. Depressing. Meanwhile the locals have to suck up to this idiocy to make a living.

The guy they interviewed from the IMF was a real weasel. The whole system is run for the international corporations by same. Efforts to help the struggling Jamaican economy become self-sustaining were branded “anti-competitive.” Chiquita controlled 95 percent of the banana market when it tried to crush the Jamaican banana market, which sold exclusively to Britain. Greedy people never have enough money and will stoop to anything to make more. Hence the proverbial saying in Medieval Latin, cupiditas radix malorum est: “cupidity [avarice, greed] is the root of evil.” It is still true. Available at Netflix. Americans generally know too little about the rapaciousness of American corporations, despite the ravages of Wall Street on our own economy. The democratically elected governments of Chile and Guatemala were overthrown with US money and military connivance to protect Anaconda Copper and United Fruit Company respectively. Not a pretty picture. It will be our undoing. Empires come and go. Ours is relatively young by historical standards but is already beginning to show signs of internal strain.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

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