Beauty Queen Politics

Beauty pageants and a former beauty queen have been atop Jamaican news recently.

Dr. Dayton Campbell (again) found himself on the wrong side of the Twitterverse when he shared his opinion (a now deleted tweet) about a contestant in the Miss Jamaica World 2013 pageant: “bout best shape, she shape like the Jamaican economy.” Setting aside the fact the problems of a beauty pageant — women’s bodies on display for judging and ogling, objectification of women, whether they belong in the 21st century, the racial/shadism and classism issues — Dr. Dayton’s tweet is, at least, inelegant. The economy for which your government is responsible? OK. He was properly castigated for his tweet and has apologized. Hopefully he learns and breaks the pattern of plain dumb tweets (given his status as an elected leader and a member of Jamaica’s current government), in favour of authentic but sensible commentary or the like. Because he is an elected leader of a country I love and that is important to me, I sincerely and wholeheartedly wish him well. Jamaica needs good leaders, whether it is those who have a natural aptitude or it is those who have to be groomed and guided.

Minister Hanna speaking at the July 17, 2013 post-Cabinet press briefing about the JFJ online petition. (Image @MYOCJA)

Minister Hanna speaking at the July 17, 2013 post-Cabinet press briefing about the JFJ online petition. (Image @MYOCJA)

A few days before Dr. Dayton’s tweet, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) had a run in with a former beauty queen who is now Jamaica’s Minister of Youth and Culture, the Honourable Lisa R. Hanna, MP. Though I still fondly remember then Miss Hanna’s victory at the 1993 Miss World contest (and my aunt’s gasp when Miss Hanna appeared in that white dress) I find myself disappointed with her leadership as Minister of Youth and Culture. Small but telling to me was her mismanagement of last year’s Jamaica 50 celebrations; the song turned out to be the tip of proverbial iceberg. Perhaps it should be no surprise then that the Honourable Minister Hanna’s focus on July 17 was principally on appearances (image, reputation) rather than squarely on the rebutting substance of an online JFJ petition to the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) about the state of children in GOJ care. At the time of Minister Hanna’s comments at a post-Cabinet press briefing the petition had maybe 100 signatures and I believe that JFJ was aiming for 300 signatures. The petition was scheduled to close on July 25, 2013 and though it was circulated widely through Twitter and other JFJ outlets, it was unknown to many Jamaicans (on The Rock and elsewhere). Well, apparently, thanks to Minister Hanna’s tirade the petition closed with 913 signatures. Minister Hanna’s comments begin at about 06:53 into this video (the question and answer period begins at about 19:20 into the video)

At the July 17 post-Cabinet press briefing and through her Ministry’s official Twitter account, Minister Hanna stated that

I tried not to giggle when I first saw this. Is this the human rights reputation where so many citizens are killed in “shoot outs” with the island’s security forces? Killings for which there are no resolutions? The human rights reputation that includes security forces widely thought to be unspeakably corrupt and a country in which too many fear the police as much as they fear gunmen? Is it the human rights reputation that is created by a twisted idea of justice where a mob (or a police officer) attacks those thought to have done wrong (whether rape, murder, or spousal abuse, or being gay) with no consequences, or is it the one that is created when someone accused of murder is held for years only for the case to come to trial and for the Office of the Director of Prosecution to be ill-prepared to present its case because it failed to locate key witnesses or to gather evidence that the accused is linked to a crime? Or is it the international reputation that rests on this nebulous idea of “Brand Jamaica” and which is currently being painted as one that is uncivil (maybe even backward) insofar as the GOJ and “society’s leadership” has yet to condemn or even comment on the recent mob murder of a teenaged cross-dressing boy apparently thought to be gay? If even to express condolences and to promise full investigation because mob justice wont’t be tolerated…. Tarnished indeed. Certainly it can’t be the human rights reputation of yore where Jamaica was a leader in speaking out about injustices around the world, say apartheid in South Africa. Ironically the push for human rights (such as it is) rests partially on the work of organizations like JFJ. Though it isn’t always looked upon favourably (I’ve often heard criticisms of it as an organization that only talks about “gunman rights” and doesn’t speak up as much or at all, for example, when members of the security forces are killed), JFJ has been a vocal critic that seeks equality for all Jamaicans. But, I’m just seeking some clarity about the reputation to which Minister Hanna is referring.

Also: what is this dehumanizing Jamaica that Minister Hanna keeps referring to? Is it that any organization needs to dehumanize Jamaica or is it that Jamaicans do that just fine on their own?

The Minister further states that

Is the young lady featured in the video accompanying the JFJ petition being intellectually dishonest or over-sensationalizing as she relates her experiences as a ward of the State and how she survived not only the Armadale Fire but also the treatment by those meant to care for her before and after the fire? Or is the implication that her account isn’t true…?

Maybe it is true that

and that

I am glad that things are “being done” on a number of issues raised in the JFJ petition, and I look forward to consistent follow-up information with specifics about what is “being done” to ensure that our children who need it the most are cared for and, frankly, given a fair shot at having a good life. It is good when the GOJ can firmly rebut public statements with concrete information about actions; this is a the kind of interaction that is necessary between a government and civil society for our children (or any issue) to be meaningfully addressed. Why the chastising tone though? Despite Minister Hanna saying that she can’t speak to the motives of the JFJ she seems to already have done so when she wonders why the JFJ has moved on from talking about extrajudicial killings to now talking about children, as if the issue of human rights abuses in Jamaica is confined to one particular group or area or that JFJ must only focus its attention on one of our many human rights problems. The implication seems to be that JFJ is issue-shopping and that by issue-shopping its current focus on children in State care and what the State does and does not do is invalid and disingenuous. Moreover, didn’t Minister Hanna address JFJ’s motives by emphasizing how seriously the GOJ is “taking” the issue and by emphasizing that there is deliberate harm being done to Jamaica’s international reputation with the petition as a tool of inflicting that harm? Seems to me that the GOJ has already decided that JFJ’s motives and its petition are malicious and deserve public censure and criminal sanction if possible.

Given the totality of the diatribe statement I was glad to see the Minister state that

but then came the pesky human right record business along with talking about motives again

But, I thought that Minister Hanna was making no inquiry or comment on JFJ’s motives? Frankly I thought that the JFJ petition and campaign were designed to bring necessary albeit uncomfortable attention to the problems of how children in State care…? Why is a malicious motive being imputed to and action because the action takes direct aim at and criticizes the GOJ for inaction? Why is it being characterized as malicious and why is there the hint of criminality by referring the petition to the Attorney General for his review? I don’t understand: why does it seem that Minister Hanna is afraid of criticism and why does it seem as if she is trying to intimidate JFJ? O is this a part of the newly found and vigorous attempt at due diligence? So when are we going to get a look at the various reports investigating Mr. Richard Azan’s activity in Spaldings, and when will the Attorney General complete its assessment of possible criminal activity in that situation?

Later in the July 17 briefing and online the Minister states that

which is a valid point because parents are indeed responsible for raising their children, and I take no issue with holding neglectful parents accountable. I do not think that it is the responsibility of anyone but a child’s parent(s) to raise him or her though I do think it is also important for a community (family, neighbours, the chosen worship center, schools) to take an interest in children’s welfare and for a government to facilitate conditions in which it is suitable for children to be raised. But when parents (and the community) fail to the point of placing children in harm’s way and the State must step in, the heavy and necessary burden is on the State to ensure that it treats its wards with due care and attention, including proper supervision and housing. What is wrong with advocating for, at least, minimum standards for these criteria?

Which is it: concern for how things look to the international community or rebutting statements to focus on the substance? Speak the truth and shame the devil, ma’am, no need for the scolding.

nelson mandela quote on leadership

On good leadership from, o, someone called Nelson Mandela…

We may, of course, debate the merits of petitions and dispute whether or not they are effective. But I think it is indisputable that Minister Hanna’s comments put the petition front and centre helping JFJ to accomplish at least some of its goals. If nothing else JFJ and the Jamaican public now have the GOJ on record about what is “being done” so the quest for accountability and transparency in the name of our children can continue. But Minister Hanna’s comments also did something else: it placed front and center the GOJ’s growing atrocious treatment of any and everyone who dares to express opposition or criticism of its policies or conduct. From calling an opposition leader an “enemy of the state” to blithely dismissing the press and its obligation as ruling government to face the Jamaican public with clear and full information + to face questioning, recently the GOJ has seemed more intent on a “my way or the high way” approach that is deaf to anything but its own voices and that is intolerant of criticism. Scare tactics. Fellow Jamaican blogger Miz Durie captures the niggling fear that I have about this growing pattern in a post titled Jamaica in “1984”.

Minister Hanna is right that it is never appropriate for Jamaica’s reputation and name to be tarnished. But why can’t the Minister (and her colleagues) realize that the tarnishing is being done, at least in part, by (in)action of the GOJ? That the tarnishing includes reckless and arrogant tirades from a Minister against an organization advocating on behalf of children? That the tarnishing includes deafening silence in the face of the murder of a child like Dwayne Jones, who was, apparently, judged and sentenced to death one night in MoBay?

Related Articles & Information

Ministry of Youth and Culture Statement on JFJ Petition

Ministry of Youth and Culture on Twitter (scroll to tweets made on July 17, 2013)

Hanna slaps JFJ – Rights group stands ground on juvenile detention

JFJ Engaging In Dishonest Tactics to Smear Ja – Hanna

Youth Minister knocks JFJ’s online petition

Commentary: The Jamaican government’s brutish response to child rights advocates

EDITORIAL – Ms Hanna Went Too Far

Jamaicans for Justice Research & Report for “Lift Up Not Lock Up Campaign”

Renovating Police Lock-Ups: Unnecessary Expenditure


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