Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cayman – warts and all

Last Tuesday at 11.30 in the morning, somebody in Switzerland was reading my “Checkpoint Charlie” posting of last December. Fancy that. I don’t even know anybody in Switzerland. What an amazing thing it is, to be able to track one’s online visitors, on such a basic blogsite as mine. The tracking is limited, of course; Switzerland is a big place.

My stats analysis doesn’t stretch to a Google Earth view of the man’s front door. In the whole of last week, he or she was my only visitor from Switzerland. There were twenty hits from Hong Kong and eight from Russia, of all places. Whoa! Are we talking KGB and the Chinese equivalent, or what?

Actually, the visitors are probably Western expats who belong to the same that I joined recently. We read one another’s blogsites, those that look interesting. Some of the blog-portals on the Web have hundreds of members. Most of them are much younger than I am – boys and girls in their twenties, who post photos of beach parties and boating adventures.

Some forums are more serious – elderly folk looking for cheap places to retire, and middle-aged folk wondering where to store gold bars where their tax-men won’t find it. Many ask for information on local lifestyles, laws and customs.

Nearly all posters to the forums are anonymous – just like the posters on Cayman News Service’s forums. Most of my posts on this my own blog are about Cayman’s lifestyle, laws and customs – good and bad. The code of ethics for expat blogs requires that one tells the truth about one’s current home – warts and all, as they say. However, the only safe way to do that here in Cayman is to hide one’s identity.

In today’s CNS “Viewpoint” column, for instance, someone calling himself “Cayman Conscience” suggests that Cayman doesn’t need 15 elected MLAs. Of the forty people who have posted comments, all forty of them hid their identities. That pretty much says it all. Any expat who signed his name would risk deportation, any native Caymanian would risk being punished through the indentures-licensing system.

Still, fear can’t be the reason why most posters on international blogs and forums prefer anonymity. I’ve no idea why they do. I have (though not by choice) been a Daniel in the furnace, in Cayman, so there is no point in my hiding my identity. When Cayman’s political establishment sought to deport me (and my young son, for goodness sake) for the “crime” of opening the Chamber of Commerce’s office in 1986-88, my Directors’ intervention saved us.

When my Work Permit was pulled, a senior British Civil Servant was able to keep me on the Island. When, years later, the old establishment sought to cancel my Permanent Residency for writing an independent newspaper column, public support from the owners of the local TV station saved my bacon.

Censorship is a way of life here, for expats and ethnic Caymanians alike. Besides that, though, Cayman is a comfortable place for expats of all ages to live. The money is excellent compared with what’s available back home, wherever home is. Security of tenure is reasonable and fair for foreign workers with skills, provided the censorship rules are obeyed.

Foreign workers without skills risk being exploited by the indentured-labour system; they have limited civil rights. However, we have thousands of unskilled expats from Jamaica, the Philippines and the old British India. They don’t all get exploited; indeed, most employers treat their expats very fairly.

I expect the same applies in all places with an indentured-labour system. It’s rather shameful for a British colony to stand comparison with the Gulf dictatorships in permitting the exploitation of unskilled foreign labourers, but there it is.