The Caribbean's Last Opportunity For Redemption Part II


Editor's note:

A few days ago, began a series from the perspective of youth regarding the upcoming National Budget. T'Vaughn Lewis, an Economics graduate of the University of the West Indies detailed the history of slavery in the Caribbean to bring us to the present where he postulates that this has had a significant impact on the way the islands are governed to this day. 


In his second installment, T'Vaughn walks us through personal experiences that attest to such, and what's next for the Caribbean.


Good Governance to Sustainable Development: The Caribbean- On the Road to Independence


It was 2011, and I was in a taxi heading to work. I was privy to a conversation between two senior citizens that confirmed some suspicions I had floating around in my head for some time. One of the men made the statement that “nothing has really changed” and we have just been refashioned to play the same “ole game”. The other gentleman went on to add that “slavery hasn’t really died”. He went further by adding that we have simply “removed the chains from our feet and hands” but we are still enslaved mentally. We still work and live “in a plantation”.

It is truly amazing what one can learn from listening to the conversations of other people. My grandparents and parents alike have always told me “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”, and therefore, you can learn what a person truly feels or thinks about a matter by listening carefully to what they say or do not say. It is with this background that I pen the second installment of Good Governance to Sustainable Development: The Caribbean’s Last Opportunity for Redemption?

This installment deals with the following issues that arose out of the ‘demise’ of both slavery and indentureship: Colonialism, independence, contingent development and the plantation legacy.

The first notable resistance against slavery and colonialism stemmed from Henri Christophe and Toussaint l’Ouverture. Most would be familiar with the latter name, but Henri Christophe with the help of the former, freed Haiti and it became the first and oldest Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804. This revolution soon gave birth to others in Latin America (namely the rise of Simón Bolívar) and other Caribbean islands that were yearning for independence away from their colonial masters. Soon after Haiti’s independence, divisions arose: Emperor Jacques I (He was responsible for ousting the last white French from Haiti and declaring it free and independent) was assassinated on October 17, 1806 by two of his very own members-Alexandre Pétion and Henri Christophe. Both seized power but because of unresolvable differences, this led to a split in the country with Pétion leading the southern Republic of Haiti and Christophe leading the northern State of Haiti.

Meanwhile in the other Caribbean islands, the winds of independence were whirling. The Dominican Republic followed soon after Haiti and fought for its independence in November 6, 1844 (Their independence like Haiti’s was very problematic and tumultuous: They moved from under the Spanish, to the French and even became a protectorate of the United States of America). Cuba then stepped up and also fought for its independence in The Cuban War of Independence (1895–1898) which culminated in the Spanish-American War (1898), whereby Cuba was independent but essentially remained a US protectorate along with the Philippine Islands and Puerto Rico. These three islands were bought by the US for $USD 20 million ($USD 5.67 billion today!).

One marked difference between the remaining Caribbean islands and Haiti, Dominican Republic and Cuba was the severity of their struggles for independence. The three aforementioned islands lost countless lives for their independence. It is estimated that by the time Christophe and Pétion seized power, the “cost of freedom” resulted in at least 125,000 causalities between 1789 and 1804. The other Caribbean islands had independence, for want of a better expression, literally given to them on a silver platter. After two consecutive World Wars, the remaining colonial Caribbean islands lost their earlier appeal and significance in the eyes of the Europeans and no longer had to fight for independence. The British colonies banded together to form an associated federation with Great Britain in 1958- Both Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, the largest British colonies, led the way and became independent in 1962. The associated federation came to dissolution with the independence of Barbados in 1966 and the other smaller British statehoods, in a similar vein, drove towards independence in the 1970’s. Dominica was the last colony to become independent in 1978.

So what is next for the Caribbean? Majority of the Caribbean islands are now independent with the exception of thirteen dependent territories that still maintain their allegiance to a metropole state. Soon enough, these newly independent states have come to realize that once left on their own, they have to govern themselves. One issue though surfaced that stymied the true development and self-governance of the entire region- the plantation legacy. One may innocently think that slavery and the concomitant plantation society that followed was simply a system that was obsolete, inhumane and one that needed to be replaced. This not the case. Slavery and the plantation society are ‘total institutions’ that have bequeathed a legacy of dependence and contingent development upon the Caribbean. For some three hundred years, the Caribbean has been conditioned in this manner (This does not mean that it’s impossible to break this cycle of dependence) and to date, it still perpetuates the colonial institutions that it has inherited since the plantation structure.  Slavery, and particularly the plantation society, left behind an accursed dependency syndrome and legacy- It’s almost like the Caribbean still maintains an umbilical relationship with its colonial masters though ‘independent’ of them .It can be best described in the following words of economists Lloyd Best and Kari Polanyi Levitt (1975):

…that the plantation legacy represents an endowment of mechanisms of economic adjustment which deprive the region of internal dynamic. More specifically, it involves patterns of economic distribution and disposal that discriminate against economic transformation.

This legacy, as the duo of Best and Levitt describe, “discriminates against economic transformation” meaning that the colonials of the day would have designed a ‘total institution’ that would not have entertained meaningful and independent development away from the colonial structure. The Caribbean plantation economy (The Caribbean is termed a ‘hinterland of exploitation’- one which existed merely for the extraction of natural resources to the motherland) adhered to an unyielding set of rules. The ‘rules of the game’, as posited by Best and Levitt, were as follows:

  1. Inter Caetera- this specified the area over which the metropole had influence and set limits on the extent to which the hinterland could enter into relationships with other countries besides it motherland.
  2. Muscovado Bias- this rule relegated the hinterland to primary, agrarian production for the metropole. The metropole would then add the ‘lion share’ of value to the raw good, which it then exported back to the hinterland.
  3. Navigation Provision- all modes of transport belonged to and was determined by the metropole.
  4. Imperial Preference- all trade was done on a preferential basis between the hinterland and the metropole.
  5. Metropolitan Exchange Standard- the currency used in the hinterland was determined by the metropole. All debt and other financial intermediaries were specified at the discretion of the metropole.

These rules provided the basis for the ‘total institution’ that was slavery and the plantation society. We as a Caribbean people have inherited this enduring legacy, and more than that, we have perpetuated the legacy because we have not truly moved away from this plantation society. Yes we have been freed of the physical chains but our mindsets, behaviours and choices as a people have demonstrated that we are still enslaved to our colonial masters in the ‘same ole game’. We are not sugar cane plantations anymore, but we have morphed into oil and gas plantations, tourism plantations, financial services plantations and the list goes on. We are still mainly producing primary goods to metropole states who in turn export it back to us as a manufactured, finished product. Most, if not all, of our currencies and financial intermediaries are tied to a metropole state. For decades, our trade has been on a preferential, assisted basis by our very own former colonial masters. With these facts in mind, the subsequent questions demand truthful and realistic answers- Were we honestly ready for independence? Are we really independent, sovereign states? Would our fate have been any different had we decided to remain dependent territories of our colonial masters?

In the third and final prt of this series, T'Vaughn makes some recommendations on the country can move forward and skillfully develop policies that are tailored to our needs and current situation. Particular attention would be paid to epistemic dependence, South-South co-operation and regionalism.



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