Tue | Feb 19, 2019

Mark Wignall | Thanks, Venezuela, but bye-bye

Published:Sunday | January 13, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness,(right) tickles the funny bone of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (centre) during a working visit to Jamaica on May 22, 2016. Also in the photo is Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica's foreign minister.

From the September 18, 2018, issue of Business Insider comes this: "Venezuela's president feasted on expensive steak at a celebrity chef's restaurant on Monday, a scene made striking by the fact that millions of people back home are starving.

"President Nicolas Maduro was seen dining with his wife on Monday at an Istanbul branch of Nusr Et, the international chain of restaurants owned by the Turkish chef NusretGokce, also known as Salt Bae.

"Maduro was in Istanbul for a stop-off on his way from China, where he went to ask for more loans for his economically stricken country. Recent polls of Venezuelans show that many struggle to afford food, and the country often sees mass protests because of the economic hardships. The government has advised Venezuelans to breed rabbits for food as a way to beat their hunger."

Yeah, rabbit meat. I've had that before, once when I was but a child, and it wasn't at all an unpleasant dining experience as long as one knew that chewing rabbit bones will lead to breakage of teeth. Joke aside, it seems that the live representative of Hugo Ch·vez's new take on the Bolivarian Revolution, Nicol·s Maduro, is socialist only as a political tag instead of a committed public servant desperately trying to advance the lives of the citizens of Venezuela and drive away poverty and inequality.

The present JLP administration stands ideologically opposed to Maduro and his horribly failed redo of Chavez's political legacy. Politics aside, with Venezuela having its economy terribly lopsided, with 95 per cent based on oil exports, pricing was always either a time of boom for the country or of social and economic calamity when oil prices headed closer to the bottom of the barrel. Diversifying the economy while oil prices were making oil-rich countries economically better off never seemed to have been a consideration of the gurus guiding the socialist experiment.

Many years ago, a song carried the lyrics, '... He ain't heavy, he's my brother,' meaning, of course, that in a relationship between at least two people, the economic pains and the social strains of one person must never be seen as a weight on the other. Good for personal relationships. With countries, it is entirely different.

It is the ideological similarity between Chavez and the PNP and its leaders that led to PetroCaribe, with Venezuela providing Jamaica and others in the region with oil on yearly terms running close to it being considered charity. When the PNP lost power, the JLP administration accepted the friendly oil import terms until we are now at a spot where the dance can no longer be enjoyed by the partners. "The music has long stopped," said a well-known journalist when the matter was being discussed about a week ago.

If the terms of sale at this time are in Jamaica's favour, the country must make the most of that opportunity. This is not anything remotely personal. It is just business, and that business must be the concerns of the welfare of most of us. So goes the theory, anyway.

Venezuela owns a 49 per cent stake in Petrojam, and Jamaica owns a marginal majority. A recent Guardian article carried the following: "We want the whole world to hear us," said Carmen Padilla, a haemodialysis patient and campaigner for chronic patients in Barquisimeto. "Venezuela is not suffering a humanitarian crisis. Venezuela is in a complete humanitarian emergency."

At this time, Jamaica does not have the economic capacity and the global clout to help dig Venezuela and its people out of the hole into which Maduro has been. But it can cut and run, especially if the price is right. That's the most politically pragmatic option. Tough.

 

Why do so many politicians own gas stations?

 

The answer to the question is simple. One doesn't have to build anything. That is considered entrepreneurial efficiency, where all one needs is name recognition, political clout, and a bank manager very much in touch with the powerful strategic alliance.

The way the reasoning goes is this: The station is already there, and, owned by one of the big oil companies, 'relationships' outside of those considered official governmental ones are always desired.

Second is that the politician gets the best, most trafficked spots. Think of it. Any station on the way from the airport to downtown Kingston or New Kingston. A spot at a junction on the busy Half-Way Tree to Cross Roads thoroughfare. A place close to the bustling Old Harbour.

And it is not just occupied by members of one political party. It cuts across the PNP and JLP divide.

"Is there some connection between the lax internal controls at Petrojam and politicians owning gas stations?" I asked an independent operator.

"I am not going to say that all the racket taking place at Petrojam is definitely linked to those politicians owning gas stations, but, listen, I know how the thing runs. If you get one tank of gas per week 'free', that is $14 million. Right in his pocket."

"So, how does that petrol leave the refinery and end up free at someone's gas station?" I asked.

"Don't pretend yu don't know!!!" He said. "Years ago it used to be badman, but now is a likkle badness and nuff contacts in high places. It not going to stop because powerful people are benefiting from the present arrangements."

"Do you know of any politician involved in this part of it?" I asked.

"Let us leave the argument right there. Let's talk about the environment and plastics."

 

Rainfall and dengue

 

It was the best of times when the rain washed away the mosquito breeding sites and the worst of times when blocked-up pools in our poorly cleaned gully system create ideal spots for new breeding sites.

"Why dem can't use prisoner, murderer who a serve hard labour fi clean di gully dem?" a small shop owner asked me.

"Well, two things," I said. "First, to have hardened prisoners in the public space and in gullies cleaning them, it would create a logistical nightmare. Where would the armed guards be? Only on the top ridges or some actually in the gully?

"The second is, I don't think the political directorate wants to take away the goodie basket of bullo wuk for gully cleaning at Christmas time and just prior to elections. Even although the gully cleaning is minimal at best, there is no way that the politicians would be prepared to let powerless prisoners take that away."

"But, Mr Wignall how dem can seh dem care bout disease outbreak? When chik-V did lik wi in 2014, every gully near me did stay same way wid whole heap of stagnant water in dem. Now, wi have dengue and even though it nuh look so bad like chik-V, yet di gully dem still stay bad."

The heavy rains in the dense Corporate Area will be a brief respite from the demons of dengue. In the home, the use of mosquito tablets on electrically heated mats is expensive, and, in many instances, is ineffective. It's a grand waste of money.

Not many Jamaicans are into rubbing mosquito repellent on their bodies. I have never used it, and do not plan to, although if you want to, it's your call. Burning mosquito coils must, at some stage, be considered slow poison.

If we have done the best to keep our surroundings free from potential breeding sites, in buying a pesticide, we want the ideal one to stun the mosquito and keep us humans just short of the poisoning threshold.

As they all are now, a really good pesticide would kill a lot of mosquitoes and do its part in shortening our lives. Opt for none. Sleep with a fan directly at the foot of your bed. Have it on full blast. Stay dengue free.

- Mark Wignall is a public-affairs and political commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.