LIFE AND DEBT (Stephanie Black, 2001)

The following is one of the entries from my list of the 100 greatest films (through 2006) from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Life and Debt is a tale of two Jamaicas. There is the bright, shiny Jamaica that caters to tourists. The other Jamaica consists of struggling Jamaicans. With narration by Jamaica Kincaid, based on her book A Small Place (actually, about Antigua), Stephanie Black’s documentary takes a look at the tiny nation that gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962, its economic difficulties ever deepened by the ruthless manipulation of its economy by outside corporations and financial institutions.
     A focus is the relationship between Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund as, beginning with the 1970s world economic crisis, Jamaica borrowed heavily, at exhorbitant interest, in order to stay afloat after other banks refused to help. The film reminds us that the IMF, set up by Allied nations anticipating victory in 1944, was intended to rebuild Europe, not help the Third World, which came into existence later as states gained independence from colonial empires. Like the separate World Bank, the IMF additionally imposed economic restrictions, all to local detriment, in exchange for absolutely necessary financial assistance.
     One segment addresses Jamaica’s once growing dairy industry, which is being squeezed out of existence in compliance with U.S. demands through the agency of the Inter-American Development Bank. The ideology of an “integrated global economy” will not permit Jamaican farming, including dairy farming, to feed Jamaicans and sustain local farmers. “Lower trade barriers,” this tiny country is instructed by the Megabeast; “compete with us on a level playing field.” Cheap imported powdered milk, subsidized 130% by the U.S. government (as one farmer puts it, “Nobody can compete with that”), has replaced actual milk in Jamaica. Recurrent images of wholesome milk in streams, discarded by mandate, are heartrending; or is it the fact behind them, that children are drinking powder & water instead?

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