Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Letters to the Editor

The new owners of The Compass (our weekdays newspaper) have announced that it won’t publish any more anonymous letters, either online or in print. From some time next week, writers must use their real, verifiable, names.

It’s a significant change. Putting one’s name to criticism of any government action or inaction risks being victimised. Many individual Civil Servants and politicians have the power to destroy any private business in the Islands: we all know it and they all know it. They will still have the Cayman News Service (CNS) “bloggers” to worry about, but The Compass will carry almost no letters critical of the authorities.

The new owners promise that the paper’s editorial line will be rather less obsequious than hitherto. If that happens, the readers will gain on the swings what they will lose on the roundabouts. Work Permit expats, especially, have never trusted The Compass to keep their real names secret, so they will go back to their traditional boycott, and continue to express their opinions only on CNS. Permanent Residents, too: “Permanent” does not always mean “permanent”, in Cayman. The Immigration Monster invents its own definitions when it wants to, or is instructed to.

I well remember the day the boss of the Immigration Enforcement Unit came to my house in full uniform, with a uniformed chauffeur, to deliver a formal notice from the Immigration Board that it was “minded” to cancel my Permanent Residence. Oh dear. The content of some of my recent newspaper columns had upset the ruling politicians of the day, and my continued presence in Cayman had been deemed “not in the public interest”. The Enforcement Unit was reminding me, and the watching public, that its duties included acting as a political police-force.

Three earlier blog-posts of mine (*** see below) have reported the fuss that followed the attempt to deport me, and have noted the likely damage to Cayman’s overseas image. An international finance centre whose “offshore” professionals are forbidden from telling the truth about Cayman’s regulatory regime? How bizarre. Check my Archives, if you will.

It’s embarrassing to have to confirm each year that our local rulers’ suppression of free speech is as determined as ever. Since we are a British colony, we must conclude that the suppression is UK policy, too. Since the GCHQ (equivalent to America’s NSA) monitors every email within Britain's jurisdiction, wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage every dissident to put his thoughts down in writing? You would think.

Ah well, what can you do? Cayman is a very comfortable place to live, as long as you close your mind to a few unsavoury government policies. Exploiting unskilled migrant workers is one of them, standing by while boat-people drown is another, censorship by intimidation is yet another. The Immigration Department is the instrument by which those three policies are enforced.

No Work Permit expats are reckless enough to sign their names to any public letter, except on the most innocuous of topics, and few citizens either. Since all local businesses depend on Work Permits, they must strive not to get on the wrong side of the Immigration authorities or any of the clerks.

The number of “unprotected” individuals (those without political influence) who sign letters critical of public policies and practices can be counted on two hands. Of foreign-born citizens, one hand. The Compass’s new policy will severely ration Letters to the Editor, when it comes into effect.

Well, who am I to object? This blog of mine doesn’t publish comments, either. It’s a vehicle for my opinions, nobody else’s. Newspapers and news-websites are vehicles for their owners’ opinions – mainly, their opinions on what news to print and not print, and what slant to put on it. That’s just the way things are.

*** Freedom of Speech, October 2011; Telling the world, May 2012; Confessions of a subversive, October 2012