Jubilee disgrace!

I had no choice but to abort the topic I had previously intended to
write about in order to share with you the deep hurt and anger I feel
about the way the poor are being treated in our country, and
paradoxically in the year in which we are celebrating our country’s

At a time when Jamaicans – even those in the middle class – are feeling
the hardships of the economic crisis that is upon us, it is
unconscionable, inhumane and unjust for those without a formal living
structure to be evicted and put out on to the streets.
How can anybody evict children? The pictures carried in both the print
and electronic media are not only an indictment of the society as a
whole; it is a Jubilee disgrace! Here we are celebrating our 50th
anniversary of Independence while in the midst of the revelry our
brothers and sisters, including small children, are being evicted as
squatters and threatened with imprisonment.
The families put “out-a-door” last weekend to contend with the pouring
rain and the broiling sun have been placed by the media in our faces
over the last few days. We don’t have the luxury of saying that we don’t
For me personally, it is an irony of fate that I happen to know a little
more about one of the squatters that have been evicted from downtown
About a month ago, a young woman called me asking for help to find
somewhere to live. She said she had all of her documents to show me and
that she had been trying to get help for a long time. I could hear the
desperation in her voice and I made way for a meeting with her amidst my
busy schedule.
The young woman arrived accompanied by two beautiful children – her
daughters – seven and five years old. I was startled to see that their
mother had no fingers and that her hands were very badly deformed. She
would explain afterwards that her fingers had been severed by a man when
she was 17 years old. Both her knees were also severely damaged. She
said that it was a miracle that she made it out alive, and had spent an
interminable length of time in hospital and at Mona Rehabilitation
The children kept staring at me with curious and penetrating eyes. They
were alert and articulate and I knew instinctively that their mother
must have invested a lot of time in them. “They are doing well in
school,” she told me, reaching into her bag to pull out the report card
of one of her daughters. Despite the obvious hardships, I knew that I
was looking at a proud and supportive mother.
I was encouraged to see that the two children bore the same last name.
“They are the same father,” the mother disclosed. “Does he live with
you?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied, and I felt that here was a family
that needed encouragement and support.
The mother gingerly pulled out of her bag several documents
substantiating her efforts to get help for a place to live. She had gone
to a variety of government agencies and the letters she showed me
confirmed her visits. “I try everything,” she said, “and I still don’t
have anywhere to live. I am just a squatter.”
It is clear to me that the issue of squatting has to be methodically and
mercifully worked out with the objective of reform and rehabilitation
being paramount in the equation.
In the process, there are certain things that are worth pointing out.
First, we should all be reminded that people who have somewhere to live
don’t squat. The practice is entirely a problem that affects the poor.
While some of the country’s proletariat remain on unoccupied and
unclaimed land for long periods of time, there is also a growing
population of people I describe as “itinerant squatters” – those
homeless individuals who move from spot to spot, squatting, but not
settling. The risk is that some of those itinerant squatters become
permanent squatters as time goes by.
Second, the issue of squatting is bound up with the ongoing problem of
partisan political violence and somebody has to take responsibility for
that. Whole communities like Tredeger Park and “No Man’s Land” have
become depopulated as a result of the scourge of criminal gangs
associated with both the PNP and the JLP. Under the threat of terror,
Jamaicans are run out of their homes and communities at short notice –
sometimes with only a few hours warning. Those politicians, who are
advocating criminalising squatting, must first tell the Jamaican people
how they intend to fix the problem of their own political refugees.
Third, and by no means least, is the fact that successive
administrations must take responsibility for aiding and abetting
squatting. Permanent squatting does not happen overnight. It takes years
and decades for some of those communities to become entrenched. If
government was doing its job properly, the situation could not have
deteriorated to what we see today. Squatting for political advantage and
votes has exacerbated the problem.
Let us deal with the squatting problem once and for all, before we are accused of hypocrisy in this our Jubilee year.
With love,
Betty Ann Blaine
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