Socialist Worker

IMF bled dry West Indies

by Hassan Mahamdallie
Issue No. 1772

'CAPITALISM AH no we fren' says the Jamaican reggae dub poet Mutabaruka, echoing the rebellious spirit of our times. Mutabaruka's words are caught on an acclaimed new film documentary that takes as its subject a part of the world-the Caribbean-that should be one of the richest. Instead the Caribbean is becoming ever poorer, due to crippling debts imposed by the IMF and World Bank.

Life and Debt has been playing to packed houses in America (and Jamaica), and we can only hope it soon gets distribution in Britain. When the British ruling class were made to abolish slavery, instead of compensating the slaves they compensated the slave owners. And then when Jamaica, a mineral-rich and fertile island, shook off British colonialism in the 1960s, it was left a bankrupt economy.

The country was forced to crawl to the IMF and then bled dry. The result has been devastation for the mass of Jamaicans, impoverishment and an undermining of democracy. This is a combination that has bred instability and violence. A quarter of a century after the IMF seized upon Jamaica the island is still crippled by debt.

The World Bank pushes ever more loans Jamaica's way, but the money goes straight out of the island. The present government hands over half its entire budget to the big banks, but spends just 3.7 percent on health and 1.2 percent on welfare. Life and Debt opens with an idyllic scene of a sun-kissed Jamaican beach before plunging into a scene of rioting in Kingston triggered by austerity measures. Robber barons

During the uprising a 25 year old pregnant woman is shot dead in the crossfire. This is the Jamaica that tourists are never allowed to see. The film shows how the island's banana industry has been all but wiped out after the US won a case at the World Trade Organisation scrapping a scheme whereby Britain guaranteed to buy a quota of bananas from Jamaica.

The US forced this ruling through to benefit its Chiquita and Dole multinationals. These robber barons operate in Central America, where workers' rights are savagely suppressed. The multinationals, with the assent of the Jamaican government, have been let loose on the island. Life and Debt shows weary women workers walking into a Free Trade Zone. It should be called a 'Free Fire Zone', where the corporations shoot down people's dignity and rights.

The film shows how 10,000 Jamaican women now work for foreign companies making goods such as shirts for Brooks Brothers. They are paid about £15 a week. The Jamaican government has agreed with the World Bank to suppress its own citizens' rights. No trade unions are allowed in the heavily guarded sweatshops that line the port of Kingston.

When women workers try to organise they are sacked and blacklisted. To cap it, all the island's chicken industry has been destroyed by US agribusiness, which has flooded cheap meat onto the market. As the small farms went under in the countryside the McDonald's went up in Kingston.

Thanks to Life and Debt we need never be forced to see Jamaica through the lens of the tourist industry. We can put the island in the context of globalisation and the fight against it. As the film-makers put it, 'The lessons of Jamaica extend far beyond its own shores.'

Everyone should lobby their local independent cinema to show Life and Debt. Find out all about it at

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Sat 27 Oct 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1772
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