Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Confessions of a subversive

Surfing online blogs and forums is a fascinating waste of time. It probably doesn’t amount to an addiction, but it’s close. I am signed on to five expat-forums, and there are five expat bloggers that I check out every few days. The bloggers all write entertainingly and fluently from their current homes in France, Chile, Thailand, Santo Domingo and Indonesia. My blog is not as popular as theirs, but it does have some followers.

Because blogs are essentially ego-trips, we bloggers all envy those among us who manage to attract thousands of hits each week. How satisfying that must be! My blog gets around one thousand a month – pretty small beer. I don’t advertise my blog locally, because attracting too many local fans might land me in more trouble than I could handle. For the past 26 years my writings have brought the wrath of the political and bureaucratic establishments down on my head, and I don’t want to have to fight deportation again.

I first found myself “off-message” when I was hired to set up a permanent Chamber of Commerce office in 1986. Despite being a British colony, Cayman openly censors commentaries, especially by expats. There is a whole department of government devoted to suppressing freedom of speech. A major purpose of our Immigration Department is to exercise censorship through the issuance or non-issuance of Work Permits.

The local politicians reluctantly allowed the Chamber of Commerce job to go to an expat; they had to be persuaded that they had nothing to fear. Unfortunately, that wasn't true. Supported for the first time by a back office, my Directors publicly opposed two major proposed Laws. Those Laws provided for state control of the entire private-sector workforce and of all pension-moneys. Oops! Shocked by this unprecedented opposition in a hitherto docile electorate, the political directorship slandered the Chamber as “a seditious organisation” and its Manager as a “subversive”.

When we actually won the hearts and minds of the voters on the pensions issue (we called it an Income Tax), my Work Permit was pulled and my young son scheduled for deportation. Linda and I scrambled to salvage what we could. This was our home, and no bunch of quasi-Marxist politicians was going to throw us out. For the next two years I was stamped in each month as a visitor by the Chief Immigration Officer, a Civil Servant who reported to the British Governor and not to the local establishment.

In self-defence I began writing political commentaries in the lesser local newspapers, and became so high-profile as to be almost impossible to deport. Both parties fought to a standstill, and retired exhausted. A bold dissident to most expats of the day (though not all), a hateful villain to many Caymanians, I finally won the right to stay; but there was a whole mess of blood on the floor when the fight was over – and much of it was mine.

Over time, the lesser newspapers folded, and a generous fan set up my blog as a vehicle for my critiques of society’s shortcomings. Blogs cost nothing to operate, so they need no revenue, and no advertisers who might be vulnerable to threats from the authorities.

Bloggers can write what they feel like writing; it’s a wonderful freedom. My blog covers religion, historical speculation, politics, crime, finance, human rights, violence against women, and barking dogs – as well as carrying reminiscences about back-packing through the Middle East in the 1960s with a girl I met at a Youth Hostel and later married.

This month I reported on playing cricket in Vanuatu and Corfu, for goodness sake. Fun to write, but not the sort of topic to attract a huge worldwide base of avid readers. Sigh. I probably need to work on a new business model.