By Theresa Bennett
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What the Tourists’ Eyes Don’t See

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Review of 'Life and Debt', director Stephanie Black
Issue 273

Get a taste of anti-capitalism Caribbean style. ‘No money, no job. Borrowing money to lend. Too much foreign debt’–these are the words of the Jamaican reggae artist Mutabarka in the powerful documentary ‘Life and Debt’.

This film exposes the harm capitalism inflicts on a nation and its people by looking at Jamaica, where the IMF has had its claws into the country for over 25 years.

Jamaica usually hits the headlines for its famous tourist attractions or because of violent uprisings. Worst still it makes the news when racist stereotypes label Jamaicans as ‘Yardie criminal gangs’. ‘Life and Debt’ goes beyond the headlines to the real Jamaica by examining the cause of the island’s problems.

This former British colony won independence in 1962, only to be left an insolvent economy. Jamaican self rule was never given the chance to make it Prime minister Norman Manley’s post-independence acceptance speech attacked the IMF declaring, ‘The Jamaica government will not accept anybody, anywhere in the world telling us what to do in our own country. Above all, we’re not for sale.’ But faced with no penicillin in the country and no wheat to make bread, Jamaica was forced to turn to the IMF for help in 1977.

From scenes of an idyllic sunset audiences are taken to the brutality of Jamaican life. The island’s news footage shows protests sparked by fuel price increases to bail out bank failures ending in violent unrest in the capital, Kingston. A young pregnant woman and an 18 year old man are caught up in the gunfire and shot dead. The film is narrated by the Caribbean author Jamaica Kincaid and uses words adapted from her award-winning work ‘A Small Place’, which examines that postcolonial experience.

‘Life and Debt’ uncovers the multinational dominance of the luxury tourist industry, which brings over a million visitors to the island each year. While American tourists can enter Jamaica just by showing their driver’s licence there is no escape for Jamaicans. Last year 20 percent of visitors refused entry to Britain were Jamaican.

This film asks why the Caribbean region is mired in poverty. The answer lies with the IMF which imposes crippling debt repayments.

It is a rural country with over two and a half million citizens, 20 percent of the population live in poverty. Jamaican farmers, labourers, factory workers, vendors (market and street sellers) artists and writers featured in the documentary expose the daily hardships they experience. Over 10,000 women work for just £15 per week in substandard conditions for foreign multinationals in Jamaica’s free trade zones. Today even the country’s food security is at risk. Big multinationals enjoying massive US government subsidies are flooding Jamaica with cheap food to wipe out local producers.

Bananas aren’t grown in the US, but that didn’t stop the US government doing the bidding of the multinationals Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte at the World Trade Organisation. Caribbean growers lost access to protected markets in the former colonial countries in Europe.

‘Life and Debt’ puts global capitalism to the test and the result is a damning documentary the IMF don’t want you to see, because this is more than a Caribbean experience.

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