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"Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Not too long after, it was settled by human rubbish from Europe, who used enslaved but noble and exalted human beings from Africa to satisfy their desire for wealth and power. Eventually the masters left, in a kind of way; eventually the salves were freed, in a kind of way. Of course, the whole thing is, once you cease to be master you're no longer human rubbish, you're just a human being and all the things that adds up to; so too with ...
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Special heartfelt gratitude to the interviewees who share the truth with such eloquence. See more »
This is the Jamaica the tourists see, says the narrator in Stephanie Black's documentary Life and Debt, a country of lush jungles, clear blue water, and sandy beaches. Beyond the luxury hotels, however, is a third world country fighting poverty, crime, and hopelessness. Based on the novel by Jamaica Kincaid A Small Place, Life and Debt, the film studies the effects of the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on the economy of Jamaica, focusing on the impact of economic globalization on the dairy farmers and factory workers. Backed by a soundtrack of native reggae music, Life and Debt is filled with economic facts that require some knowledge to fully understand. You don't need a master's degree in Economics, however, to understand the desperate faces of children in poverty, the agony of farmers who can't sell their crops, or the hopelessness of factory workers who earn the equivalent of thirty US dollars per week.
Black interviews former Prime Minister Michael Manley who explains how the current situation came to be. When Jamaica achieved its independence in 1962 after being a colony of Great Britain for 400 years, help was needed to build its economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank gladly supplied this money in the form of short-term loans. These loans though came with strings attached. Subsidies to local farmers were prohibited and tariff barriers were lowered to allow cheap foreign goods to come into the country, inevitably driving local industries out of business. What's remains is tourism, sweatshops and fast-food chains. Manley blames the big Western powers that have used Jamaica for cheap labor and easy sales. For example, thanks to huge subsidies other countries including the United States exported powdered milk to Jamaica at an excessively low price, forcing the local dairy industry to shut down. He also points out that big American businesses like Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte have worked to stifle exports of local Jamaican bananas. Manley asks of the IMF, "You ask, 'In who's interest? I ask, 'Who set it up?"
Watching this documentary, it became clearer to me why thousands of people took to the streets in Seattle to protest the WTO Conference. It may not be widely known but the WTO has established ground rules that make it easier for the developed countries to market their products in third world countries. Under WTO rules,
1. Governments are not allowed to pass laws that favor local firms and discriminate against foreign-owned corporations.
2. Governments are not allowed to prevent foreign nationals from buying a controlling interest in local companies.
3. Governments are not allowed to subsidize domestic companies.
4. Governments are not allowed to pass laws that would provide favorable terms of trade to particular trading partners.
Ralph Nader said it all when he described globalization as being the subordination of human rights, environmental rights, and consumer rights. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank now own almost every facet of the Jamaican economy and the only ones that are making money are franchises like McDonalds, Wendy's, and Burger King who contribute little more than unskilled low paying service jobs. If you are thinking about asking the IMF to change its policies, keep in mind that any change in IMF policy requires an 80% approval and the richest nations such as the United States, Western Europe, Japan make up more than 80% of the vote. Life and Debt, like the recent film Bowling for Columbine, is one-sided, in your face, and may appeal only to those already in agreement. However, its images are so vivid that, for the first time, you may experience the human impact of policies that can turn the world into "one big casino".
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