To the right of today’s editorial appears a letter to the editor, originally published in the Jamaica Observer, by eminent Jamaican entrepreneur Gordon “Butch” Stewart, whose business interests include the Sandals and Beaches resorts, Appliance Traders and the Observer newspaper. Some of our readers might assume that we are republishing the letter because it details the personal and positive relationship between Mr. Stewart and U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump.
While that is of note, our underlying reason for reprinting Mr. Stewart’s letter is not its content – but rather because the letter indicates a prominent businessman’s willingness to speak out on an issue of importance … and sign his name to his words.
Put another way, Mr. Stewart’s letter demonstrates a necessary component of a healthy democracy. It’s one thing for a people to claim they have free speech, but it’s meaningless if they do not exercise it.
Far too often in the Cayman Islands (in fact, we’d call it the norm), our community’s leading citizens are reluctant, if not invisible, when it comes to engaging in public discussion on major topics facing our country.
While any individual who wishes to refrain from entering the public arena is within their rights to do so, Cayman’s phenomenon appears to be based not so much on a desire to remain silent, but on a fear of speaking out.
For example, when the Cayman Compass was brought under its current ownership more than three years ago, we changed our editorial polices to insist that writers sign their real names to all letters and web comments to be considered for publication. Incoming missives declined dramatically.
(An aside: Our editorials reflect the official stance of the Compass editorial board and so do not carry any single individual’s name. However, if you want to know where the buck ultimately stops, look no further than publisher and editor-in-chief David R. Legge.)
Particularly for our leaders (and here we are not referring to our “political leaders”), it is a civic responsibility to register their positions on public issues – publicly. When the best, brightest and most successful people are not leading the public debate, others of less stature and accomplishment jump in to fill that rhetorical vacuum and threaten to steer the course of the country in less-than-desirable directions.
We are continually astonished – and even at times a little bit flattered – when leaders in the community compliment us privately on the editorial positions we take in this space. A not-atypical response is, “That needed to be said; keep up the good work.” We can assert with certainty that we fully intend to. However, a bit of public support, as opposed to private whispers, from leaders in the business community and the community at large would be welcome – certainly not for our sake but for the sake of the country.
Being a country predicated upon business negotiations, there is still a belief in Cayman that most problems can be solved “behind closed doors.” Often, that’s true. But not always.
We have found that the best antiseptic for a social illness is exposing it to sunlight. Airing issues in the pages of the Compass is a shortcut to solving problems, skipping over back-room wrangling, back-and-forth arguments and interminable judicial proceedings. Put something in the newspaper – and things happen.
But the shortcut only works if people are willing to take that route. That means putting your name on your observations and opinions.
If you want to own your country, you have to own your own words.