Thursday, March 31, 2011

Crime & Credibility (in Cayman)

It was disappointing to read Crimestoppers’ latest public appeal to trust the security of their TIPS Hotline. Poor old Crimestoppers, they just don’t get it. I don’t know a single soul - high social status or low, expat or Caymanian, male or female - who would call you with information about a crime. Maybe all my associates are crooks and scofflaws: well, who knows?

In any case, the Crimestoppers committee or directors or whatever they are, can’t be bothered to give us actual proof that the Hotline is secure. They are like the American tourist of legend who, in a foreign land where the natives speak no English, thinks that shouting louder will help him be understood. Look, Crimestopper people, it doesn’t prove the Hotline is secure by simply asserting it over and over again.

The Crimestoppers mean well, and their motive is honourable; but they are too credulous of assurances by their Miami agents about the phone calls. “Hello. My friend and I just robbed a bank. If I tell you his name, will you give me a thousand bucks and witness protection?” “Course we will, sir! That’s what we’re here for.”

The Police themselves have a credibility problem, and exhibit the same insouciance towards it. Where can we turn to? Who can protect us? Increasingly, the answer is: ourselves. Dogs, burglar bars, spray-cans of bleach, alarm systems...; we’re on the path to guns and gated compounds. And, if we lose faith in the willingness of the Prosecution Service to prosecute and the judges to punish, we will be on the path to vigilante vengeance.

Neighbourhood Watches have an uncertain reputation. How are householders supposed to distinguish between good guys and bad guys, driving by? How can we tell a dog barking at a trespasser from a dog barking at a leaf? When I have to get up in the middle of the night to yell at a neighbour’s dog, am I unwittingly helping a burglar? Any self-respecting burglar will probably shoot a barking dog and come back next night when the coast is clear.

Or poison it. Maybe all Cayman’s dog-poisonings are done by burglars- although sleepless neighbours may well be responsible for some, I guess. (No, Madam, I didn’t poison your dog. I don’t poison dogs. I’m just saying.)

If we of the general public have to rely on ourselves to protect ourselves, we will surely see the development of vigilante justice. Large private rewards are becoming more common than they were. So far, they are offered for “information leading to the conviction of...” but it’s only a short step from there to “information leading to the private identification of...” It can’t be too hard to find and hire an assassin locally.

Soon there will be irresistible pressure on MLAs to enact a “Castle Law” - as in “a man’s home is his castle”. It is a legal maxim first written in English by a respected judge four hundred years ago, and honoured in England until quite recent times.Some American states still honour it, allowing householders to fend off home invaders by whatever force is felt to be necessary - no questions asked.

Cayman is a British territory, with a British Police Force and senior Civil Servants beholden to a UK government that no longer respects the Castle Doctrine. However, British law does still honour the concept of “jury nullification”. That allows a jury to bring in a Not Guilty verdict in defiance of a law it disapproves of. We may get to see a local example of that, next time some householder shoots a burglar.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Honouring Cayman's women - or not

It’s a pity Cayman’s “Honouring Women Month” is so narrow in its application. It honours true-born Caymanian women well enough, but foreign women are left un-honoured - dishonoured by default. Our migrant domestic helpers are the most vulnerable people in Cayman, and among the most admirable, and should not be discriminated against in this way. Until due notice is taken of the need to ease the burden on them, the Month is nothing more than an exercise in humbug.

Britain is proposing to end its exemption of Cayman from the application of The United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but unless discrimination against migrant domestics is ended, what would be the point? Our MLAs and Civil Servants shouldn’t need an International Convention to make them act humanely, anyway.

As we are all aware, foreign helpers aren’t granted equal protection under the law. Too many of them must reimburse their employers for their Work Permit fees. Too many are not covered by medical insurance. Too many are owed back wages, sometimes for several weeks. Requesting back wages is too often taken as insolence by their employers. Sometimes that “insolence” serves as an excuse to cancel their Work Permits, and to send them home without ever receiving their money.

How can prominent members of our community be so full of humbug as to celebrate the women of Cayman while pretending not to know about the exploitation of foreign domestics? By their silence, our rulers - both local and in London - give their consent to the exploitation. The celebrations are based on a lie. I’m sorry to say this, but Caymanian women should not celebrate any freedoms that exclude their sisters in indentured service - in actual servitude close to slavery, some of them. Let Caymanian men celebrate what they will or will not, in Honouring Women Month. Caymanian women should know better, and should have nothing to do with it.

Our public sector has a Department of Gender Affairs and a Women’s Resource Centre. What do they do to protect female domestics who come from Jamaica, Latin America, Philippines and other Caribbean islands? I haven’t heard of anything. By their silence, those Offices endorse the exploitation.

Our private sector has a Business & Professional Women’s Club. I don’t expect them to represent the interests of female domestics any more than I expect the Chamber of Commerce to do so. All the same, a modicum of compassion wouldn’t be amiss once in a while (during Honouring Women Month, for instance): a bit of recognition, perhaps.

Some years ago I resigned from our local Human Rights Committee because it wouldn’t do anything for the exploited migrants of Cayman, or for the Cuban boat people. (There are women on those boats too, you know. Do they deserve to be shoo’d away like stray hens, in Honouring Women Month?) What is wrong with our values, that we can allow our agents to act callously towards our fellow humans, day after day?

No wonder our new Human Rights Commission is a flop. No wonder its public-education program is stillborn; nobody can decide how to reconcile the anomalies. The Commission’s members either don’t know how to get the programme going, or don’t care. There must be people out here who could and would do it for them. Ah, but could we be trusted not to tread on political toes? That’s the main question, right? A cowardly Human Rights Commission is a disgrace. Unless its members find the courage to publicly oppose the exploitation of low-paid foreign workers - especially the women - they ought to quit. There is no merit in sitting around shuffling papers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Loyalty to Cayman

Our Islands’ criminal gangs draw their members from extended families (clans) living in yards and other close neighbourhoods. The clans’ and their individual members’ loyalty to each other is far stronger than their loyalty to the wider community. They may be Caymanian patriots, but only up to a point; they won’t readily betray one of their own in response to appeals for witnesses to crimes.

I have every sympathy with their loyalty. I wouldn’t betray my son or grandchildren to their enemies, no matter what they had done. And I don’t expect any other loving parent to do what I wouldn’t do. To the families of the criminal underclass, The Enemy is the Police. Before Cayman’s law-enforcement authorities get any cooperation from that quarter, the families must somehow be persuaded to feel loyal to the broader community.

What about expat immigrants? How do we get them to cooperate? Well, it depends. It’s unrealistic to expect them to get chummy with overt xenophobes. For all expats, the Immigration authorities are The Enemy. Nothing positive would result from forcing expats to sit on committees alongside former Immigration Officers or members of Work Permit Boards. That would be like packing a Civil Rights committee with former Ku Klux Klan members. (There are a few expats who do willingly enjoy rubbing shoulders with known xenophobes, but they can be dismissed as stooges or cronies. I could name most of them, if I had to.)

Caymanians and expats have entirely different sets of prejudices. The Immigration authorities are anathema to most expats, however long they have lived here; and there is a close working relationship between Police and Immigration. So what Work Permit expat in his right mind would risk summary deportation by cooperating with the Police? I’m not talking about middle-class Englishmen, here. It’s the low-status Jamaicans, Filipinos, Latinos and Indians who are the most vulnerable.

Ethnic Caymanians’ equivalent prejudice is Birthright Entitlement. Pretty much all ethnics believe in the entitlement in some degree or other. They think it’s fine that expats can’t vote until they’ve lived here for 15-20 years, and can’t be elected to the LA for 10-15 years after that. Even most liberal-minded Caymanians are content to allow their Islands to suffer from the politics of vanity and irresponsibility.

Sure, they wring their hands over the mess their representatives make of things; but at least the representatives are their tribal brethren. Not even McKeeva’s or Alden’s worst enemies would swap them for expats. Isn’t that something?

So what kind of coalition could possibly work between the uppity wogs and the local crew of God’s chosen islands? It’s a difficult question to answer. There is so much blood on the floor, so to speak. Forty years of an indentured-servitude system policed by the Immigration bully-boys are not easily forgotten or forgiven. They have left an enormous reservoir of resentment. If the FCO had deliberately set out to create an unbridgeable schism in our society (which it probably did do, in Britain’s national interests), then it can take pride in its success. A job well done, chaps.

Nevertheless... If true-born Caymanians were to swallow hard and allow all expats a stake in Cayman’s future, the battle against crime would be energised immediately. If expats were to swallow hard and settle for less than full civil rights, a deal might be possible. Both sides would have to give up some ground, and both sides would be unhappy about it. But the end objective is the elimination of street violence, and that requires some concessions - the FCO’s master-plan be damned.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More Expats Needed? (in Cayman)

When Cayman’s population fell by 4,000 or 6,000 or 10,000 or however many it was, the whole commercial sector suffered from the loss of customers. Every seller of goods and provider of services, every landlord, every car dealership- all were sorry to see them go. Only the hardcore xenophobes were pleased.

When our economic recovery begins, our population will slowly swell again. Some of the incomers will be former residents, and some will be new to Cayman. It will be interesting to see whether our Immigration authorities will change the Immigration Law before then, or keep it unchanged in order to boost the numbers to artificially high levels again.

There is no commercial need to replace all the workers who left. The migrants we have could comfortably take up the slack- if they were allowed to work more than one job at a time, and to switch employers. For practical reasons, that would mean issuing Work Permits in their own names, and that's not likely to happen. After all, both the private and public sectors have built their respective infrastructures in expectation of ever higher numbers of residents; they desperately want a return to the old growth rates.

I can’t see the Immigration people doing anything that would limit the number of expat residents. The Law has always accommodated (within the bounds of propriety- just!) the desire of ethnic Caymanians to own slaves. That’s why Work Permits are issued to employers, not to employees. Restricting migrants to one job each maximises the local population. You do the math.

The Immigration Law and all its amendments (and the Caymanian Protection Law before it) were written by and for the local merchant-class. For them it was win-win: slavery as near as dammit, and the maximum number of bodies to sell things to. Indentured foreign labour keeps wages low for low-skilled Caymanian workers too. That's win-win-win.

For the Immigration authorities, more Permits means more paper-shuffling, which in turn means a bigger bureaucratic empire. Furthermore, Immigration rules forbid unskilled migrants from bringing their domestic partners to Cayman. That's a fourth win, since male migrants constitute a ready market for the prostitutes (amateur and professional) imported and managed by some members of the empire itself. At least, so the marl road has it; and the marl road is fairly reliable on things like that. There was a time when the marl road actually carried the names of the recruiters who visited Central America in search of pretty young “helpers”, and who, uh, ran the necessary road-tests, so to speak.

An unwanted side-effect of the lawmakers' preference for unaccompanied migrants has always been the prevalence of marriages of convenience. Of course mixed-marriages don’t always last, but once a child is born of a union it is rare for the foreign spouse to be deported. Some mixed marriages are bigamous; not every foreign spouse declares the existence of a family back home. Some expats actually dump their expat spouses for Caymanian ones, and some of the second-marriages are suspiciously brief. Again, a child of the union is insurance against early deportation in the event of an early divorce.

All the temporary marriages, the bigamies, the children of convenience, the trafficking of hotties- all are directly attributable to the merchant-class of the '60s and '70s who set out to establish a semi-slavery society, reviving the indentured servitude that replaced slavery in Britain’s Caribbean colonies in the years after the Great Emancipation.

The system serves a contemptible purpose, and it is impossible not to despise all those who implement it. What a pity that we can’t find true-born Caymanians with the compassion to change the situation.