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

Grand Bahama and The 2012 Elections Part 1: An Island of Two Tales
By Joseph Gaskins
Feb 17, 2012 - 12:37:25 PM

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When I first started this column, I wrote about being a Bahamian. More specifically, I wrote about being from Freeport—being born to parents who themselves were born in Grand Bahama. I talked about attending Mary Star of the Sea School and Freeport Anglican High School, when it was still called that. Even after leaving for college, I returned to spend my breaks boozing in Bahama Mama’s and partying on Fortune Beach, where many of my childhood memories were made.  In my mind, Freeport is and will always be home, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Maybe I just happened to fly into Freeport on a bad day in August 2011, but I have a feeling there was nothing especially different about that particular Tuesday. The city was quiet—a ghost town almost. There seemed to be just a few locals about with almost no tourists to be found. Downtown, stores were shuttered and buildings seemed abandoned.  The once well manicured grass in the median of East Sunrise Highway was overgrown and unkempt. Along the way I bumped into familiar faces—everyone spoke of hard times, unemployment, classmates turned drug addicts and plans to move elsewhere. What I remember from my youth as a vibrant city of fast-paced deals, where money and opportunity seemed abundant, now resembled more of a wasteland—a place where dreams went to perish.

Perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I would argue statistical evidence proves my description accurate. The Nassau Guardian reported on February 8 th that the jobless rate for Grand Bahama was above 20%, signaling massive unemployment on the island. Young people around the Bahamas as a whole have been especially hard-hit, experiencing an unemployment rate of 34%. This is no doubt higher for Grand Bahama in the same way the island’s unemployment outpaces the national average. There has been no new investment announced for the island and while Nassau experiences a 38% increase in arrivals from Latin American Copa Airlines, for example, tourists refuse leave the cruise ships that dock in Freeport .

The doldrums in which Grand Bahamians find themselves in have, in an election year, inevitably led to two divergent stories being told—an island of two tales.

The message from the official opposition, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), and newcomers, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), paints Grand Bahama’s current economic plight as a function of government incompetence and neglect. The PLP said that Prime Minister Ingraham of the governing Free National Movement (FNM), “has yet to deliver on his victory message shortly after the 2007 elections where he pledged that Grand Bahama would be very high on his government’s agenda.” Osman Johnson, DNA candidate for the Pineridge constituency, called statements by the junior Minister of Finance, Zhivargo Laing, farcical. Laing seemed to have suggested that the manufacturing sector in Grand Bahamas was relatively stable. Johnson responded, "It is this kind of statement which belies the ignorance of this FNM government to not only the true situation which is prevalent at this time, but also the genuine need of the people on this island for the government to take action."

I would venture a guess that Laing is likely aware of the genuine need of Grand Bahamians, given that he’s left Grand Bahama to contest a different seat in New Providence. Many Grand Bahamians, including my immediate family, have migrated to the capital. Tough times for everyone, I suppose?

The FNM obviously disagrees with these assessments, hoping to run off of what they believe to be obvious successes in Grand Bahama, despite the difficult times. An FNM statement in response to PLP criticisms read, “The FNM has a record of accomplishments in Grand Bahama [with] the 1,000 strong National Job Readiness and Training Program, which is providing Grand Bahamians with new skills, work and hope. The FNM has a legacy of care, compassion and competence in Grand Bahama.” The statement goes on to rehash what it describes as the “wavering and wondering” of the PLP in the face of layoffs at The Royal Oasis Hotel and the “failure” of Christie administration to deliver on the ‘Marshall Plan’ promised to Grand Bahamians after the hurricanes that ravished the island.

Whichever of these tales you buy (if any), one thing is certain: more than any time in the last 15 years, Grand Bahama will be a hotly contest election battle ground.  In the article, “Election Battle Begins in Grand Bahama,” the Tribune highlights the slate of candidates for the island’s five constituencies. Seventeen candidates in all, including two independent candidates, will run this election and if national newspaper headlines, official party statements, and public partisan bickering are any indication, Grand Bahama is up for political grabs.

This is good news for Grand Bahamians, who I’ve often referred to as the African-Americans of Bahamian political life. My intention here is not to ignore a host of historical and social differences between these two groups, but to draw a parallel for the purposes of making my point clear.

African-Americans are essentially stuck between a political rock and a hard place in American politics. While Democrats may represent some of their concerns, African-Americans have yet to see any necessary radical changes for their benefit. In fact, as time has progressed, Democrats have moved toward the center-right on the political continuum—especially under the Clinton administration and its neo-liberal policies—much to the disadvantage of African-Americans. Despite the faltering of the liberal-left, African-Americans will likely never change party affiliations en masse and join Republicans, a party that has proven itself unconcerned with a non-white constituency.

Like African-Americans and their dedication to the Democrats, Grand Bahamians have—for the last decade and a half or more—sent mostly FNM candidates to parliament. There is a reason why Grand Bahama is referred to as “FNM Country.” Why this is the case is a question left for exploration and I’ve heard a number of explanations over the years. Similarly, there is an opportunity to explore whether FNM policies and representation have actually been beneficial for Grand Bahamians in the past, despite the voting pattern.

There is, however, an important difference between these two groups. Grand Bahamians have an advantage compared to African-Americans in that the alternative choices, the PLP and DNA, are actually interested in courting their vote. It is at this critical juncture of political uncertainty that Grand Bahamians must make their demands known and must, in turn, demand that political parties make their policies for Grand Bahama crystal clear.

It is with this in mind that the attention of this column turns to Grand Bahama and the 2012 elections. The series of articles to follow will focus on the position Grand Bahama will hold in the upcoming elections, the issues, and how the various parties propose to address them. This will be done in typical “New Bahamian” fashion: radically.

In the face of misinformation, confusion and partisan rhetoric regarding the role of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, the arguments concerning Grand Bahama’s economy and the direction in which it should go, and the slew of new candidates on the ballot this election, this column will work to provide some clarity for what I’ve attempted to argue is an election with more at stake for Grand Bahamians than any other in recent history. 

Joey Gaskins is a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was born in Grand Bahama Island and is currently studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where he has attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies and has begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology. Joey also writes for  the Nassau  Liberal  
www. nassauliberal. webs.com  and the Tribune . You can reach him at  j.gaskins@lse.ac.uk



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