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
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
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,
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
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
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:
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
and the Tribune
. You can reach him at