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Columns : The New Bahamian - Joseph Gaskins Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

A Critical Reading of the WikiLeaks
By Joseph Gaskins
May 27, 2011 - 8:40:51 AM

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Last week, in my introductory article for this column, I attempted to answer the “who’s” and the “what’s” of our impending adventure together. Specifically, I tried to be clear about who I am and what I intended to do with the new platform that has been afforded to me. I think now I want to focus on the how, and for me (with all my shiny, new sociological training) this is a question of methodology. How do I intend to advance the “New Bahamian” perspective that I spent considerable space in my last article discussing? How do I hope to push my country toward the new politics I argued were so essential for our continued growth and survival? And lastly, how will I endeavor to “challenge—as radically as possible—Bahamian business as usual”? Tough questions for a little column like mine; but I think the answer is obvious.

After last week’s article was posted, I got varying reviews by email, through Facebook and by word of mouth. Interestingly enough, one thing most people wanted to make clear to me was that I had said things that people had apparently been afraid to say, afraid because of—what one person described as—“reprisals”. In my opinion, this fear has seemingly atrophied any kind of deep and meaningful public critique of Bahamian politics, society and culture by the media, many non-governmental organizations, and especially by what can be loosely described the Bahamian intelligentsia. Simply put, I am talking about pissing people off by calling them out on their foolishness—the foolishness that has become the norm—and by clearly showing what their foolishness costs us. I want to talk about the foolishness that transcends political party lines, religious affiliations, and business relationships, because I have none of those. What I do have is a theoretico-political orientation from which I intend to levy my critique. This particular orientation demands not only a radical reading but also has an inherent principal that can be described as construction. In other words, I can’t only piss people off by calling them out; I must also suggest a clear alternative to them or their foolishness. Critique and construct.

Let’s take for example the scandal that is mushrooming out of the Nassau Guardian’s recent reporting of cables obtained from WikiLeaks. As many people are probably aware, the Nassau Guardian has gotten its hands on communiqués from the U.S. Embassy concerning the Bahamian political landscape. The communiqués describe U.S. officials’ opinions of various politicians, highlight the disputes within the two main political parties and even detail election-time expenditures by the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement. While it is a struggle for me to gauge the public response to the cables from this distance, I fear the direction of their analysis will take a detour toward the superficial or “juicy” points of interest, rather than what are—in my opinion—the more concerning issues.

This fear is justified given recent editorials by The Nassau Guardian itself. In “Rallying the FNM’s Troops,” the paper thought it more important to instruct the current government in deft election-time political maneuvering, encouraging the FNM to brand McCartney’s Democratic National Alliance (DNA) a mere tool of the PLP, instead of encouraging its readers to be mindful of such campaign tactics—to consider political substance over partisan styling. I know that I’m new to this writing for public consumption thing, but I thought the purpose of a newspaper editorial was to elevate public discourse by presenting the paper’s opinion on issues important to the community in the interest of the community (see here or here if that’s difficult to believe). This point becomes particularly lucid in light of the WikiLeaks cables. Elected officials (or rather, officials who can’t seem to get elected) are confident that securing votes can be as simple as providing “free paraphernalia” . The last thing we need is to give our politicians a license to smear while they’re busy buying votes.

Of similar concern is campaign funding, which the cables mention but provided very little detail. According to the article by The Nassau Guardian, the FNM’s financial base is a hold-over from the days of the old United Bahamian Party from which it grew. While this is an interesting theory, I’ve seen no evidence to support or disprove this claim. We have no laws that require campaign funding disclosure, so while we can perhaps assume (accurately or not) where the FNM is getting their financial backing, the PLP’s funding—amounting to $7 million dollars during the 2002 elections ($3 million more than FNM funding estimates)—remains a complete mystery. Political party funding disclosures are essential to modern democratic processes as winning an election becomes more and more expensive. We can no longer assume that governments represent the interests of the people when they owe their victories to their financial underwriters. In this way, democracy has become corporatized, with the investors in political parties—be they foreign, the oppressive elite of yesteryear, or local corporate interests—reaping the dividends of their ability to influence the course of the nation, rather than the everyday citizen.

The WikiLeaks have provided a unique opportunity for the Bahamian public to have some honest, candid conversation about how and by whom our country is run. The U.S. Embassy has released a statement claiming that the publishing of these cables could potentially damage the progression of our “shared objectives”. We’ve seen in the past that the United States’ definition of “shared” is often at best a euphemism for something much less cooperative. And, if I may speak frankly, there is a difference between a relationship defined by “shared objectives” and one defined by an acute asymmetry of power and dependency. Let’s not pretend.

That it took a massive breach in United States security for us to have such conversations is a sad commentary. Let’s try not to get bogged down in the easy and entertaining stuff—the political backstabbing and character assassinations. What do our politicians think of us, not each other? How do Bahamian people decide how to cast their votes? Who is funding political parties during election time and when will we have a law that requires such disclosure? What kinds of debts are owed to political underwriters after the ballots have all been counted? And, why is the United States really so interested in the fine details of the Bahamian political landscape? These are the questions that are sure to piss some folks off and I think that’s when you know you’ve struck a chord—just ask Fred Mitchell and the U.S. Embassy

Joey Gaskins is a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He is currently studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he hopes to attain his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and go on to pursue a Doctoral Degree. Joey also writes for the Nassau Liberal  www.nassauliberal. webs.com . You can reach him at j.gaskins@lse.ac.uk ]


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