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No bastard Citizens of Jamaica at home and abroad

No bastard Citizens of Jamaica at home and abroad

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

(24 May 2024) — We are joined by the spirit of the land we call the “Rock”. We are bound by the country of our heritage, where ours or our ancestors’ umbilical cords, our navel strings, are buried. We are bound by being Jamaicans by birth or descent. Being Jamaicans by birth or by descent make us no less Jamaican. And whether living in Jamaica or abroad we are all Jamaicans

Most importantly, we are bound by the love we share for Jamaica. During our 2023 diaspora panel discussion on the constitutional reform process taking place in our country, one of our diaspora panelists from Canada said, We love Jamaica, and all we ask is that Jamaica loves us back.” Her words were as much of a plea for reciprocity as they were a recognition that far too often, we are led to question whether Jamaica as a nation truly loves or cares about its diaspora.

I am old enough to recall the time when children born out of wedlock were not included in the core family structure. They suffered discrimination and were deprived of certain rights under law and in practice. But since the 1970s, a period of great social transformation, Jamaicans decided that nuh bastard nuh deh again,” We in the diaspora are not bastards or stepchildren of Jamaica. We are full members of the Jamaican family, and we demand that we are treated accordingly.

Constitutional Discrimination in Practice

Debate over the question of dual citizenship of Jamaicans who hold dual citizenship status in non-commonwealth countries is welcome, but some of the views expressed are quite disturbing. To suggest that one set of Jamaicans abroad have superior rights over another, as enshrined in our constitution, is at the least absurd. Those who wish to perpetuate the vestiges of colonialism not surprisingly embrace a provision in the Jamaica Constitution Order in Council which, no doubt, was embedded  by the colonial masters to ensure control over our country in its colonial image in perpetuity. Importantly, what we refer to as the Jamaica Constitution is cited in U.K. statute as “The Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council 1962.”

There is irony in the way the current Jamaican government treats with the diaspora. One of the founding fathers and first prime minister of Jamaica, Sir Alexander Bustamante, was at one time a member of the diaspora not of the commonwealth. Our fifth prime minister, Edward Seaga, was born in Boston, thus acquiring U.S citizenship and nationality at birth. Yet members of the current JLP government are dismissing the idea of removal of this grossly discriminatory practice of dual nationality. But that is not all.

Members of the diaspora trained, working, and living in the United States as dual citizens have the most to contribute to Jamaica’s development. Given the opportunity, U.S.-based diaspora who are exposed to the best training, science, and technology, and possess the greatest wealth are being denied the opportunity to have an impact on Jamaica’s future development and governance. It’s idiotic!

The proposition to remove this artificial impediment to some Jamaicans abroad in the process of constitutional reform, modernizing the constitution of a truly independent nation, and severing all vestiges of colonialism which still relegate our people to an inferior position to the British should have the full support of both government and opposition. The minister responsible for guiding this process should not seek to complicate this process by introducing a litmus test for patriotism and fealty to the nation which many at home would fail.

Racial Animus

But even that confounding rationale doesn’t seem to satisfy at least one member of parliament, a junior minister – member of the government – who is not smart enough to offer a sensible alternative without resorting to a racist diatribe against the Leader of Opposition because he had the temerity to insist on the end to this discriminatory practice. She embellished her own legitimacy in her claimed ancestors enslaved and oppressed experiences, citing her “roots” in St. Thomas where National Heroes George William Gordon, the son of a Scotsman and an enslaved mother, “a bastard” who had to purchase his own freedom, and Paul Bogle the son of enslaved Africans, were executed for daring to reject British oppression. The colonial masters which many Jamaicans still shamelessly revere. It may be excusable when, due to no fault of theirs, they do not know better.

But this member of parliament, who ought to know better, is not alone in playing the race card against the Leader of Opposition. The senior minister of finance had set this ignominious precedence in our political dialogue. What is most disconcerting is that Jamaicans are not outraged by these racist tropes. Perhaps had there been outrage, particularly from the party leader, who is also the prime minister, these members of parliament and his government would not have dared to cross this line. It begs the question, is this another junior minister gone rogue or is this policy condoned by the government?

There are many in our society who share similar ethnicity with the Leader of Opposition and who hold the reins of economic power in Jamaica. They provide critical funding support to both political parties without which they would be broke and inoperable. In the same way I want to hear from the government condemning this elected official, I want to hear from the private sector. I want to hear their unqualified rebuke of racism in Jamaica. I want them to issue a warning of withholding funding to the political party which does not act against those who promote racism and demand retraction of such statements when uttered against fellow Jamaicans. They have a responsibility to promote civility in politics and in society. Why their silence?

This process of constitutional reform must treat all Jamaican citizens equally. Where disparities exist, they must be removed. Equal rights must be accorded to all Jamaicans. Anything less is unacceptable

© Curtis A. Ward

[This article was published in the Jamaica Gleaner on May 23, 2024.]

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About the author

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward is a former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations with Special Responsibility for Security Council Affairs (1999-2002) serving on the UN Security Council for two years. He served three years as Expert Adviser to the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee. He is an Attorney-at-Law and International Consultant with extensive knowledge and experience in national and international legal and policy frameworks for effective implementation of United Nations (UN) and other international anti-terrorism mandates; the legal and administrative requirements to effectively implement and enforce anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); extensive knowledge of the legal and regulatory requirements for effective implementation and enforcement of United Nations multilateral and U.S.-imposed unilateral sanctions; and the imperatives for Rule of Law and governance. He is a geopolitical and international security analyst, and a human rights, democracy, and anticorruption advocate.

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