Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tribal Jostling (exploiting migrants in Cayman)

My column in this weekend’s Cayman Net News explains the 2009 election results in terms of how and why the PPM got tossed out of office so unexpectedly. The topic was prompted by the sudden burst of rhetoric from the PPM after nearly two years of sulking.

I quoted the standard axiom of politics, that Oppositions don’t win general elections so much as Governments lose them. It’s way too early to get caught up in the excitement (?) of the 2013 campaign, but can we discern any of the issues yet? Well, no, because there never are any issues in Cayman elections. Our two Parties don’t differ in their policies, only in the personalities of their spokesmen and representatives. Both Parties subscribe to semi-Marxist economic ideas and to a semi-fascist approach towards bond-service for migrant workers.

Both Parties rank Caymanian bloodline as a superior qualification for job-seekers at all levels, over ability or aptitude. Some occupations are actually reserved for ethnic Caymanians, again regardless of ability or aptitude. Most prominent among these are the offices of MLA and managers of the indentured-service system. No immigrants need apply for those or dozens of other reserved jobs. They are not reckoned to be loyal enough to the interests of the bloodline Caymanian community.

This set-up wasn’t designed (by the British FCO) to last forever- but, yet, it has lasted for more than a full generation after the influx of immigrants that began in the mid-1970s. The FCO’s embarrassment threshold has been raised quite a lot in recent decades. Its clerks are no longer fazed by faint intimations of slavery-  namely, in the exploitation of low-paid indentured-servants recruited from thousands of miles away. Compared with what goes on in the British-controlled enclaves in the Middle East, the exploitation is small beer.

Yet, to innocents whose souls are not dead to humanitarian feelings, the exploitation is offensive. Of course, the offence is leagues away from slavery; it is semi-slavery only in its worst manifestations. However, it does sit uncomfortably with the FCO’s championing of international standards of human rights. Ah well... colonial masters are allowed to be hypocritical; that’s one of the privileges.

Regrettably, neither of our political Parties wants a free labour market in Cayman. Party doctrine requires the state control of labour, and that’s what we get. During boom times, an economy can afford to pay for the inefficiencies of bond-service; but in less prosperous times, not so much. None of our MLAs or their cronies have any real concept of those inefficiencies or of how to remove them. Some of our immigrants do. The office of MLA needs to be opened up to immigrants, if our Islands are to progress beyond the present silly tribal jostling.

It doesn’t seem to bother our MLAs that they are figures of amusement to so many neutral observers. There is no dignity in the narcissism of village Napoleons, after all. It isn’t conducive to good governance to exalt vanity above talent. The FCO’s tolerance can only be explained by reference to the secret national interests of the mother country. You would think those interests could survive the addition of two or three foreign immigrants to the list of candidates for the 2013 general election; but maybe not.

They would receive the standard death threats, of course; but foreign-born candidates in our beauty pageants - Miss This or Miss That - often receive similar threats, and nothing much ever comes of those.