Caribbean: What Happened in 2012 (Part 2)

The first part of this post observed that in the Caribbean blogosphere, the year was punctuated by hunger strikes – the first in Cuba, which ended with the death of prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza – and the second in Trinidad and Tobago, where Trinidadian environmental activist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh finally ended his own 21-day hunger strike on December 5, based on assurances that the government, the Highway Re-route Movement and various civil society groups would undertake an independent study about the section of proposed highway his lobby group was against. Part 2 of the regional blogosphere's 2012 summary recalls other issues that got Caribbean netizens talking – from the Olympics to the need for greater political transparency…

It was a challenging year in Guyana, following the killing of three people (many more were injured) in the mining town of Linden, after police fired upon a crowd who reportedly blocked the Wismar Bridge while protesting an increase in the electricity tariff. The incident prompted an online discussion about the abuse of power by police; more protests – this time about the killings – ensued, with social media playing a pivotal role in getting the message out. Even the #OccupyGuyana Movement came out in support of the Linden protesters.

Just about a month later, there was another shooting of civilians by police; the fact that the victim was a 17-year old boy, by all reports unarmed, only added to the outrage.

Chris Brown; CC image by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer

The very next month, insult was added to injury when talk of an upcoming Chris Brown concert in the country's capital, which was allegedly being financially supported (at least via tax breaks) by the Guyanese government, raised the issue of domestic violence in the country. (Brown had been charged with assault in 2009, when the news broke he had allegedly assaulted his then-girlfriend, Barbadian-born singer, Rihanna.) It wasn't long before those protests seemingly put an end to any possibility of Brown performing in Guyana.

On August 6, 2012, Jamaica marked 50 years of Independence from Great Britain, a milestone that was made even more special by the outstanding performance of the Jamaican athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympics in the former “mother country”.

Usain Bolt; CC image by Alexandre Moreau | Photography

As one of Jamaica's most influential poets, Louise Bennett-Coverley, wrote:

She hope dem caution worl-map

Fi stop draw Jamaica small

For de lickle speck cyaan show

We independantness at all!

(Of course, other Caribbean territories had their Olympic dreams come true as well, most notably Grenada, which won its first ever Olympic medal thanks to Kirani James’ gold in the Men's 400 Metres event.)

The euphoria gave way to despair, though, when in early November, there were reports of a vicious beating of a gay student at the UTech campus in Kingston: the issue of homophobia in Jamaica was once again under the harsh glare of the spotlight. One blogger even wondered whether gay bashing had now become a national policy, given the island's history of anti-gay dancehall lyrics, media blocks on pro-tolerance public service announcements and former prime ministerial positions on gays in government. Online discussion of the topic was ongoing and intelligent.

St. Lucia
The citizens of St. Vincent and St. Lucia grappled with a new visa entry requirement imposed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) this year. St. Lucians also had to face the economic reality of the country's new Value Added Tax and looked at the possibility of bananas becoming a renewable energy source.

Trinidad & Tobago
The political shenanigans in the twin island nation helped to make its blogosphere one of the most active this year. As early as March, netizens began questioning the relevance of the Congress of the People, one of the political parties that form the People's Partnership government.

The gaffes and political missteps were seemingly endless: a police raid of the home of a journalist which raised concerns about press freedom (a concern that was shared by other regional territories); the commitment of an employee of the Ministry of Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development to the St. Ann's Psychiatric Hospital after she reportedly got into an argument with a senior official; the controversial appointment of Jack Warner as Minister of National Security and his first “accomplishment” – the removal by army troops of members of The Highway Re-Route Movement a protest group demanding that the leg of the $7.5 billion Point Fortin highway which passes through their community be abandoned or, at the very least, redirected. That action would come back to plague the government later in the year.

The ruling party appeared to bloggers to be floundering: there was a Cabinet reshuffle, the unfortunate turtle crushing incident and a serious episode of flooding as a result of torrential rains from a tropical depression that immobilised entire communities on the country's densely populated northwest peninsula.

Keshorn Walcott; CC image by ciamabue

The only distraction from the disaster was the fact that Trinidad and Tobago won its second Olympic gold medal in history, thanks to the stellar performance of nineteen-year-old Keshorn Walcott in the Javelin Throw event.

And then things got even more serious, thanks to the Section 34 controversy, in which it was revealed that the law was manipulated, the houses of Parliament misled and the population duped – distracted by celebrations for the country's 50th anniversary of Independence, no less – ostensibly to secure the freedom of those involved in the Piarco airport corruption scandal, who are alleged suporters of the United National Congress, the main party comprising the People's Partnership government. With the fallout came the firing of the country's Minister of Justice, a disenchanted electorate and massive protest action.

Protesters in Port-of-Spain; image by @RaiRicomas, used with permission.

Everything came to a head when Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, an environmental activist and literature professor, undertook a hunger strike to protest the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir section of a highway from San Fernando to Point Fortin in southeastern Trinidad. Kublalsingh refused to eat or drink anything until the Prime Minister made good on her promise to meet with him and other members of the Highway Re-route Movement, who insisted that the current route would displace many homes and adversely affect the environment. Soon though, the protest became more symbolic, with many netizens seeing his dissidence as a plea for transparency in the use of public funds and a demonstration against the cavalier manner in which the electorate's concerns are managed by those in public office.

Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh; photo by Jo Sinanan, used with permission

The eventual agreement by the government to an independent assessment of the project signalled an end to the hunger strike, but the entire standoff still reminded some bloggers of the Section 34 debacle:

Many of the issues of the Debe to Mon Desir Highway are quite similar to Section 34, in a general sense. Both issues showed us a government unwilling to act responsibly and transparently, and undertaking a project for the benefit of their financiers. Accountability, Transparency and Party Finance Reform. Kamla and them promising this since 2010, not so? And a man had was to almost kill heself to remind them and us of this!

The images used in this post are as follows:
– Photo of Chris Brown by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer, CC BY-SA 2.0
– Photo of Usain Bolt by Alexandre Moreau | Photography, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
– Photo of Keshorn Walcott by ciamabue, CC BY-NC 2.0
– Photo of the Section 34 protest march by @RaiRicomas, used with permission
– Photo of Dr. Kublalsingh by Jo Sinanan, used with permission. Visit Jo's photoblog to see more of her work.

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