Kingston, JAMAICA -- Despite brimming with Olympics success, Jamaica is approaching its golden jubilee — 50 years of independence from Britain — shouldering decades of struggle against a stagnant economy, widespread poverty and vexing crime.
“It’s hard to see the progress we’ve made, when we’re immersed in all the other failures. And in our case, I am afraid, more failure than progress is apparent,” said Kinshasa Minott, a life coach and mother of two from the upscale St. Andrews community. “We’re failing far more than we’re succeeding. But we can celebrate our successes.”
More than 1,100 miles southeast in Trinidad and Tobago, red, white and black flags and banners adorn government buildings and downtown plazas. The mood is festive, but pensive. Trinbagonians, blessed with revenue from oil and gas, are questioning whether their twin-island republic has lived up to the expectations of Eric Williams and other leaders who pushed for independence from Britain 50 years ago after plans to unite the English-speaking Caribbean failed.
“Yes, we are better off,” said Paul Guerra, 71, a retired ministry of works maintenance supervisor, enjoying an afternoon in Independence Square in the capital of Port-of-Spain. “But we are moving at too slow a pace.”
Anand Ramlogan, the attorney general, said that as “the economic flagship” of the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago has “progressed as a nation, very, very well” since Aug. 31, 1962.
“We have changed governments three to four times over that 50-year period without any bloodshed, without any riots, in a country that historically has a politics infused with race and religion in a very complex potpourri,” he said. “We have matured politically and socially as a functioning democratic society to the point where maybe the time has come for us to undertake a 50-year-mark review of how well our Constitution has served us.”
A half-century after the two nations broke ties with Britain and took charge of their own destinies, citizens find themselves grappling with the realities of independence as discontent over governance, upsurge in crime and lagging social development threaten to overshadow decades of achievement.
Last month, a Roman Catholic priest in Trinidad warned that race and politics still divides the multi-ethnic, multicultural country, and called for greater harmony. His calls came amid concerns about another social ill: spikes in violent crime, which last year forced Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to declare a state of emergency and institute a curfew.
“The nation,” she said at the time, “will not be held to ransom by marauding gangs of thugs.”
But just last week, with the murder rate rising, Persad-Bissessar announced that the country’s police commissioner and his deputy had both resigned. Both had been under pressure over their crime-fighting tactics and raids of two newsrooms.
“The country has lost its way,” said Hugh Sorrias, 60, who moved back to Trinidad from Venezuela 30 years ago. “The country is blessed. But a lot of the mentality of the people has gone haywire.”
In Jamaica, citizens are equally disappointed over the direction of the country since it became the first of 10 Caribbean nations to declare independence from England, on Aug. 6, 1962.