For millennia, the Cayman Islands existed in absolute isolation from civilization, untouched by either the Arawaks or Caribs, or any other groups that resided in the region — and the only “Caymanians” were the iguanas, insects, lizards and parrots that evolved here into their own distinct species.
Christopher Columbus himself didn’t pause too long when he espied the Sister Islands in 1503, and it wasn’t until the next century that people dared to settle here permanently. Life in Cayman ebbed and flowed for the next 300 or so years, until our banking industry metamorphosed our country from a drowsy Caribbean backwater to a premier offshore financial center, with tens of thousands of inhabitants and hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
Things have changed – and in many ways more dramatically in the past 50 years than in the preceding 50,000.
Although Cayman remains, in a geographic sense, as remote as it ever was, practically speaking our islands are intimately connected with our neighboring populations through methods of movement and communication that are able to overcome, or even disregard, the natural barriers that insulated this territory for so long.
For instance, look at our animal analogues. Grand Cayman’s beloved blue iguanas are confined to a handful of protected areas out east, while “imported” green iguanas roam freely and innumerably. Beneath the sea, voracious lionfish are devouring generations of “local” fish.
Back on land, we humans are not only attempting to manage our resident “melting pot,” but must also be aware of attitudes and developments occurring in places thousands of miles away.
For example, late last week the U.S. Supreme Court dropped a cultural bombshell on our large neighbor to the north, ruling that same-sex marriage is a protected constitutional right.
Although same-sex marriages have been performed in most of the U.K. since 2014, the issue has not really appeared on Cayman’s political radar as of yet. Rest assured, however, that Cayman will have to acknowledge and adapt to the new cultural norms in these and other countries, one way or another. This January, a senior international human rights professor from London told a local audience that several of Cayman’s laws pertaining to gay people and couples were already in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and could be successfully challenged in court.
An issue that our Customs officials, police and court system are already having to deal with is that of tourists, primarily Americans, who can’t seem to remember to leave their ammunition behind when traveling from their gun-friendly jurisdiction to Cayman – and who then get caught with one or more bullets at the airport on their way out of our country.
Local law enforcement and judges appear to have developed a process designed to adjudicate these cases swiftly, typically concluding with a stiff fine and a stern warning. However, while we commend Cayman’s airport security screeners for their thoroughness, we are wary of the strain on local resources that these ammo-packing travelers are causing. What else may be slipping past U.S. airport authorities into Cayman? What else may then be slipping out of Cayman, while our personnel’s attention is being diverted over a matter of a few departing bullets?
On a similar note, we in Cayman are also starting to see cases where visitors are being arrested for possession of marijuana, and who then plead ignorance of Cayman law – which of course is no excuse, legally speaking, but is somewhat understandable given recent decriminalization or outright legalization initiatives in certain U.S. states and Jamaica.
Now, we are not arguing for the relaxation of any of our laws or standards in regard to the above issues, but we in Cayman would do well to remember that, beyond our shores, the world continues its motion, and at an accelerating pace – and to shape our public policies with a view that is increasingly outward-looking, rather than inward-facing.
Thanks to the magic of ships, airplanes and electronic technology, we in Cayman are no longer alone. And we as a country cannot afford to operate as if we were, well, stranded on an island.