Thursday, June 19, 2008

The 'stolen' of Australia and Jamaica

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Monday, March 17, 2008
column in the Jamaica Observer

Last month Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stood before his Parliament and made a historic apology to the over 100,000 Australian Aborigines who had been systematically taken from their families in a 60-year "integration" programme. Thousands of Aborigines and fellow white Australians gathered inside and outside the Parliament building, hanging on to Rudd's every word. At the end of the speech, they broke into loud, long applause, some crying and hugging each other.

This is what the recently elected prime minister said: "The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

"We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
"We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

"To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

"And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."
What a speech, what a moment. It is the moment we are still waiting for in Jamaica, the moment when our leaders will face our confused, abused and warped brothers and sisters, and apologise for stealing their innocence and their future. Unfortunately, not many of those wronged will hear the apology - they have been long dead. At an average of over 1,000 people killed each year, we have lost 20,000 brothers and sisters to violence in the past 20 years.

What happens to the families of these victims? Some must grab their "bundle" and run, fearing that they will be next. Others, who have nowhere to go, cower under beds. We repeatedly hear stories from teachers of traumatised children who scream and scamper under desks and behind doors when they hear those awful shots. We have stolen their childhood.

And then there are the children, unabashedly having sex on the steps of a school in their uniforms, trysting in the bus terminal and on the bus. "Where is your mother?" my friend asked a tiny boy begging money at the traffic light. "She gone look man," was his blunt answer. Dirty lyrics reverberate from giant speakers, as mid-week dances run all night with no thought for the child who must sleep to learn the next day. We are stealing their values and their education.

We understand that Kevin Rudd's predecessor had objected to any apology being given to the Aborigines. Like Rudd's naysayers, we in Jamaica are slow to accept the blame for the plight of our country. As we steel ourselves for the hardships that will come with the spiralling cost of oil on the world market, we have to admit that we have used our impressive intelligence for unimpressive advancement - countries with only a fraction of our abundant sunshine are making far better use of solar energy.

As a nation, we are slowly realising that "confession is good for the soul". On launching the National Democratic Movement in 1995, Bruce Golding was practically ridiculed when he admitted to past unsavoury alliances and vowed to introduce a "new and different" politics to Jamaica.
Earlier this year, we heard a lone voice, that of Detective Constable Carey Lyn Shue, who, after becoming a Christian, admitted to creating "ghost witnesses" for a murder case he was investigating. He was roundly criticised by fellow cops who referred to a "code of silence" among police officers.
The Observer reported that former police commissioner Trevor MacMillan wisely suggested that to promote this openness, the Force should offer amnesty: "I would want to say to them, 'Come forward and do the right thing' without prosecution, so we can have a review of all such cases and where there are innocent people they can be released from prison."

While we are shocked by a spate of recent arrests of police officers for crimes ranging from involvement in the guns-for-drugs trade, corruption and kidnapping, we should be encouraged that this may very well be the result of fellow officers breaking the code of silence and becoming a part of a new initiative to cleanse their ranks.

It was also refreshing to see an advertisement from the EOJ, showing declarations of campaign spending by politicians on both sides, and we have heard more calls for transparency and accountability. (Let's not get crazy, though - the '90s meltdown should be a closed chapter - the overburdened taxpayer just cannot afford to pick up the tab for a commission of inquiry and "restitution".)

The PJ Patterson-led PNP government should get credit for their role in fast-tracking electoral reform to give us one of the most fraud-proof electoral systems in the world, as well as for creating the post of contractor general and appointing the excellent Greg Christie to help make us more honest.
But we are still waiting to hear a heartfelt apology from our politicians - to paraphrase Rudd:

"We apologise for our complicity with thugs who have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Jamaicans.

"We apologise especially for the untimely death of tens of thousands of Jamaicans.

"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these victims, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
"For our divisive strategies, pitting parent against child, brother against sister, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

"And for the indignity and self-degradation we have allowed by turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the rampant vulgarity, damaging our proud culture, we say sorry."

Then, like Australia, we will have to move honestly and purposefully to heal our hurting nation.

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