ANTHONY Hylton recognises that dealing with cultural diversity issues such as the death penalty and homosexuality will continue to prove ticklish for Jamaica’s relationship with its international partners.
However, he believes that how the dialogue is managed will make a big difference.
Hylton, chair of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) Policy Commission, is so convinced of the importance of how the country deals with cultural diversity that he gave the matter specific attention during an interview with the Observer last Friday to discuss the party’s longawaited Progressive Agenda.
The document, which the PNP is scheduled to launch this Wednesday — the 124th anniversary of the birth of National Hero Marcus Garvey — acknowledges the difficulties associated with the issue, pointing out that “these differences may heighten cultural contradictions to such an extent as to challenge deeply embedded cultural values, norms and practices in the Jamaican society”.
With that in mind, the PNP has committed in the Agenda to embrace the principles of dialogue, tolerance, education, respect for human rights and human dignity in addressing controversial issues relating to cultural differences.
“No political party before has ever frontally sought to address the issue,” Hylton told the Observer, then cautioned that if we don’t address it “we’re going to have problems with some of our bilateral partners who are helping us with development”.
Capital punishment and homosexuality have been two of the most controversial issues in Jamaica for many years. The country’s bilateral partners in Europe, where many countries have abolished the death penalty, have been encouraging Kingston to do the same.
While Jamaica receives millions of dollars in aid annually from the European Union (EU) in particular, EU officials insist that their assistance is not tied to the death penalty issue.
Locally, opinion polls have for years shown that the majority of Jamaicans are in favour of capital punishment, and in 2008 legislators voted 34-15 to keep the death penalty. There were 10 abstentions in that vote.
On the issue of homosexuality, international rights groups and gay lobbyists have often accused Jamaicans of intolerance and have even blamed homophobia for a number of murders of gay men here. However, the majority of those cases have turned out to be crimes of passion.
On Friday, Hylton said there was no consensus in the PNP, or in the country for that matter, on any of these issues.
“It’s not that we’re endorsing any particular position on anything,” he said. “We’re simply saying that it requires leadership, because in the other sphere of working with our development partners elsewhere in a globalised space we’re going to have problems with these difficult situations which, for them, are conditional on their continued assistance and support. The people in Europe are saying what kind of people are we, why are we so hostile to homosexuals, for example, and yet we know why, because we have a different cultural perspective, but we have to manage that dialogue with them, otherwise they’re going to say why are our taxpayers’ money going to these brutish people?”
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