It’s an axiom of human-rights theory, that without freedom of speech, no other freedoms can be guaranteed. As an English colony since 1670 (British since 1707, to be pernickety), the Cayman Islands ought to be a model of free speech. But they’re not.
As noted in my earlier columns, we have a wonderful variety of expat nationalities living here. We all get along well together, regardless of race, colour, religion, culture, wealth, social status, and every other factor that tends to divide communities. Not for us the usual tensions between Moslems and Christians, or blacks and whites, or rich and poor. Our standard practice is to congregate by occupation.
I have also noted earlier, that the only persistent tension in our local community is between expats and ethnic Caymanians.The latter have a monopoly of political representation, but – being educationally deprived – tend to be excluded from the best-paid jobs, at least in the private sector. They don’t welcome criticism of public policies from expats old or new.
The traditional punishment for expat critics is deportation, normally by cancellation or non-renewal of Work Permits. Such critics are labelled anti-Caymanian, and despised by local patriots. Work Permit expats are not barred from commenting favourably on public issues (!), but they risk their jobs and residency if they identify themselves with any adverse criticism of government policies and practices.
The main platform for dissident opinions is a website (caymannewsservice.com) that welcomes anonymous posts on all manner of topics. There are only half a dozen of us who post under our real names, and none of us are reliant on government goodwill. Even Caymanian citizens risk official frowns (and unofficial punishment) for publicly speaking out against government actions or intentions. Where dissidents in the USA can be audited by the IRS, dissidents in Cayman can be disciplined through the Work Permit system. Here’s how.
All of our migrant workers are indentured to specific employers. If employers can’t find suitable Caymanian applicants for any jobs, they must hire suitable foreigners and seek Work Permits for them. However, there is nothing automatic about the granting of permission. If an employer has a political enemy on the Work Permit Board, well, maybe the file gets lost, or maybe some rejected Caymanian applicant is found to protest his rejection, or maybe some new Caymanian appears out of the mist and applies for the job, or maybe the file gets lost again… And so on.
Mostly, the curtailment of free speech has only a minor impact on our everyday lives. People are easily persuaded that government knows best, everywhere in the world. But the censorship damages the credibility of our “offshore” tax-haven. After all, when every local tax-haven professional affirms the virility of Cayman’s regulatory regime, and the price of criticism is governmental disfavour, overseas observers can be forgiven for doubting his sincerity.
Our government employs only a token staff to supervise our multi-trillion-dollar traffic in international transfers. So, predictably enough, it doesn’t have much of a clue who is transferring money or what the sources of the money are. It relies on the banks. Now I am a strong defender of offshore tax-havens, and believe they are unfairly blamed for the deliberate laundering of the criminal moneys. But I know inadequacy when I see it, and will never support the stooges who lie about Cayman’s standards of supervision. They (the liars) aren’t believed anyway, and don’t deserve to be.
Regrettably, our local politicians can’t see beyond the ends of their noses. They revel in the supposed glory of their high offices and the wealth they attract, and free speech is a threat to all that. They will never in this life give way on the censorship issue. In the ultimate, they would rather our offshore centre were closed down entirely, than lose their power to control the serfs.
Gordon Barlow has lived in Cayman since 1978. He was the first full-time Manager of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce (1986-1988) – a turbulent period when the Chamber struggled to establish its political independence. He has publicly commented on social and political issues since 1990, and has represented the Chamber at several overseas conferences, and the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee at an international symposium in Gibraltar in 2004. His blog www.barlowscayman.blogspot.com contains much information on life in Cayman, written from the point of view of a resident and citizen.
Read Gordon's other Expat Focus articles here.