Artistically set in beguiling Caribbean reggae beats, the film “Life and Debt” reflect on decline in the economy of Jamaica and subsequent effects on its tourism industry. After independence in 1962, Jamaica is rescued from financial huddles by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank through loans in 1976. However, the financial aid is attached to certain conditions which plunge Jamaica into a seven billion dollar debt with high repayment interest rates.
The film adopts excerpt utilization of sequences arranged in a woven ‘tapestry form’ and focuses on reflections by individual Jamaicans on survival during the worst depression that hit their infant economy. Survival strategies are dependent on foreign policies and business agenda imposed by America and world monetary organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank.
Narrated in a stylized framework and combined with traditional documentary enlightening, the film presents international lending complexities, policies or structural adjustment, and market liberalization to function within peripheries of free trade. Unfortunately, these policies hurt the economy.
The impact is felt in tourism, education sector, monetary valuation, health care, employment opportunities, manufacturing, agricultural, export, and import sectors. In the writing of Dirk Van Der Elst, it is important to understand culture of your subject in order to relative with their norms, ethics, and multiculturalism. Culture on its own is a “constructed, socially produced norm”(Write Work Contributors 03).
From appearance, the tourism industry seems alright. In fact, tourists enjoy the best of weather, imported food, and entertainment in a country where the mass is in absolute penury. The first scene in the film opens with Ms. Kincaid’s ‘voice-over’ narration as dozen of vacationers arrive in the island of Jamaica.
We begin to observe profound disparity behind breathtaking sceneries. Ms. Kincard’s ‘voice-over poetic agency’ offers an informed understanding of the colonial past, legacy, and economic challenges on its tourism industry. In Gmelch’s narration:
Generally, outward ripple of tourist dollars foster demand for goods and services in other areas. Farmers, fishermen, and merchants benefit because they must grow and supply more fish, meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables, and fruits to feed the large number of visitors. (Gmelch 09)
Unfortunately, this is not the case in Jamaica. For instance, as the vacationers take their meals in an exotic hotel along the queen’s road, Ms. Kincaid’s ‘voice-over’ reminds the audience of failed agricultural sector. The narration ‘voice-over’ states, “When you sit down to eat your delicious meal, it is better that you don’t know that most of what you are eating came off a ship from Miami. There is a world of something in this, but I can’t go into it right now” (Life and debt).
As the audience begin to understand claims in the first scene, the archival recording of Michael Manley; the former Prime Minister, seriously condemning International Monetary Fund for the economic woes facing post independent Jamaica surfaces.
He is categorical in his claim by stating that “the Jamaican government will not accept anybody, anywhere in the world telling us what to do in our own country” (life and debt). After signing the first short-term loan from the IMF against backdrop of limited alternatives, debts owed to the World Bank, IMF, and Inter-American Development Bank grow to a tune of four billion American dollars.
At present, the figure is slightly above seven billion. However, none of positive impacts the loans had promised materialized. As a matter of fact, the heavy interest payments and unfriendly policies on structural adjustments work to worsen the situation as substantial percentage of foreign exchange generated is directed to debt repayment in the backdrop of little reinvestment.
In a closely orchestral move, Jamaica is burdened with high interest loan repayment despite the fact that it receives little than what it repays. In addition, should the benchmark conditions fall below expectations of the lenders; each renegotiation is a companied by even tighter and stringent structural programs for adjustments.
As the first condition for receiving loan from IMF, Jamaica is forced to devalue its currency as a means of improving balance of payment. Besides, wage guidelines and increase in interest rates are prescribed. As a result, we observe series of increasing unemployment, violence, exorbitant cost of food, dilapidated hospitals, and inverted relationship between the few super rich and the poor majority.
Tourism industry only thrives in stable and secured economy lucking Jamaica. Despite being in a brink of collapse, America is portrayed as selfish business partner who take advantage of unfortunate situation to maximize profits. To further maximize profit, potato producers from America descend upon the infant market of Jamaica and offers to sell seeds, fertilizers to farmers but are not interested in exchange trade.
In the free trade zone, we observe workers who earn thirty dollars after a week of intense labor in the American Cooperation company. In addition, the harbors of Kingston are occupied by American companies who pay dismal taxes and rent. In fact, they import raw materials at zero tax rates. The same situation is in chicken, banana, milk, textile, meat industries. In an incident, a company in America attempts to unethically dump expired chicken in the market of Jamaica.
The objective of this film elucidates on the unfriendly impact of foreign economic policies imposed on an infant market and how these selfish policies have massive impact on lives of people under them and tourism industry dependent on cultural exchange. Despite being an international body, IMF reserves eighty percent of voting rights to few states.
Thus, policies approved address needs of developed states and not necessarily developing counterparts. The main agenda of IMF is promotion of currency devaluation, monetary austerity, and lowering wages to minimize effects of inflation.
However, when these policies don’t auger well with the nation where they are implemented, outcome is devastating due to prolonged depression and recession. Generally, drafters of these policies assume that they are necessary in integrating different economies into the global economy of free trade. However, these policies are silent on market inequalities, industrial infantry, cultural variance, and relative advantage a nation may poses over another (Thelwell 53).
In direct interview conducted with different respondents, it apparent that levels of knowledge on discursive topics vary. An expert tend to be specific and balance emotion and reasoning in giving a response.
For instance, the IMF representative accepts weaknesses as addressed and gives an alternative. However, the locals, who live with the diverse effects of depression, are emotive in response. Response to situations also varies. The locals have opted for violence and series of protests.
Due to fear of insecurity and looting, the guard in the tourist resort is alert and paces continuously along the beach as the vacationers relax. Training of repulsive dogs signifies fear of insecurity. Despite appearance of calm in tourism industry, the government is aware of insecurity as a result of limited employment opportunities, unreliable income, and idleness of the mass that are laid back in a world of oblivion.
According to Strachan, in his narration:
the best alternative is organizing Caribbean around myths that encourage their residents to live as equals (men and women, black and white), that erase shame in the past of slavery, that expunge the stigma in their being the descendants of Africans and instill instead a reasonable esteem for their pre-colonial heritage, and that serve to foster faith in their collective ability to fight neocolonialism. (Strachan 255)
Besides, the government should seek an alternative partnership deal with friendly nations as suggested by authors of these writings. In my opinion, improvements in tourism industry would involve culture and inclusion of the population in tourism activities. This involves respect for cultural difference, appreciation, and reward for cultural preservation.
Authors of these writings share common believe in acculturation and appreciate the essence of participative approach in reviewing policies and alternatives in a society. Besides, they adopt similar approach in addressing challenges experienced in the society through narration supported by observable evidence.
As an anthropologist, I concur with findings of these works. As a matter of fact, it is necessary to create flexible solution instead of migrating to other places. Reflectively, rich culture which could have been harnessed for aesthetic and tourism attraction may end up in a drain. Conclusively, it is apparent that policies promoting economic stability and acculturation of tourism industry are the optimal alternatives for inclusive development echelons.
Gmelch, George. Behind the smile: the working lives of Caribbean tourism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. Print.
Life and Debt. Dir. Stephanie Black. Perf. Kyle Kibbe, Richard Lannaman, Alex Nepomniaschy, and Malik Hassan Sayeed. New York Film, 2001. DVD.
Thelwell, Michael. “The Harder They Come: From Film to Novel.” Exiles: Essays on Caribbean Cinema [Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc.,] 5 Feb. 1992. Print.
Strachan, Gregory. Paradise and plantation: tourism and culture in the Anglophone Caribbean. Michigan: University of Virginia Press, 2002. Print.
Write Work Contributors. “Dirk Van der Elst’s “Culture as Given, Culture as Choice”.” WriteWork.com. WriteWork.com, 18 April, 2003. Web. 11 Feb. 2012.