Topic Seven.


Robert Buddan


The state is the foundation of politics. It is the central and most authoritative political organisation of any society. It consists of the executive and legislative branches of government, and the civil, judicial and security arms of administration.

The Caribbean state, however, arose not as a self-conscious and rational construct of Caribbean peoples, as the US and British states did, but from the purposes established by colonial powers and after Independence, the purposes set by new Caribbean leaders within the structures that were largely inherited from the colonial period.

Anglo-Caribbean States.

The Anglo- Caribbean states achieved independence facing certain challenges unique to them, such as:

1. Small size and the uncertain future of viability and vulnerability.[1]

2. The delayed and incomplete process of nationalism so that nations did not identify strongly with their states.

3. Colonial state structures that were not designed for the new tasks of development and democracy, and the capacity and relevance of those structures were yet to be tested.[2]

4. A geo-political climate in which the Cold War had arrived in the Caribbean with the Cuban revolution so that at precisely the time these states were becoming independent and needed a stable environment the regional climate was becoming unstable.[3]

5. Great expectations from populations that had been denied rights and opportunities for hundreds of years and now were overly-optimistic about what their governments and their leaders could do for them.

Leaders and the state.

Two difficulties arose:

1. Some nationalist leaders about the kind of state that was required. Some preferred a socialist-type path to development. Others preferred a capitalist path.

2. A younger, more radical generation of had their own ideas. The criticized the two-party model as divisive, the state as serving the rich and the dependency on imperialism.

These different leaders disagreed about what the appropriate structures and purposes of these states should be.

The Colonial State.

The colonial state was limited in representativeness and political participation, centralised under an administration of expatriate civil servants, restricted in government functions, and was subordinate to the imperial government and its interests. The legislative assemblies represented the propertied planter and merchant classes. After emancipation, they were obstructive, irresponsible and apathetic - incapable of dealing with the new situation which emancipation created. In fact, they were more concerned to limit the entrance of coloured and Blacks to the assemblies as a local middle class arose. It was their prejudice and shortsightedness that led to the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica in 1865 when the plantocracy preferred to abolish the assemblies and grant direct rule to Britain in the form of Crown Colony government. It was only in the Bahamas and Barbados that the Old Representative System continued because in those countries, white hegemonic rule was not seriously threatened.[4]

Crown Colony government was essentially concerned with (oppressive) law, (police) order, and bureaucratic efficiency (keeping proper accounts and collecting taxes). It was unresponsive to most demands made on it by the new classes. The elite was unable to anticipate unrest because there was little communication between government and the governed.[5]

Government expenditure on economic development and social services were minimal. Yet, governments survived because public opinion was ill-informed, apathetic and inarticulate. The majority of the people had few channels through which they could express their grievances and many might not even have dared to believe that they had a right to do so.[6]


One consequence is a natural suspiciousness of and alienation from government as a psychological legacy of colonial rule. A political history of riots and rebellions mark a deep suspicion that Caribbean peoples have of government, one which has carried over into the post-independence period. The social distance between government and people, the different economic interests of elite and mass, the lack of a common language of communication and the absence of mechanisms providing direct access to political institutions led to the perception that government was alien, oppressive and elitist. This in turn resulted in a pattern of resistance to authority. Resentment and resistance, sometimes taking the form of violence became characteristic of political behaviour.[7]

The Radical Critique: Post-Colonial or Neocolonial States.

In studying the Caribbean state, some political scientists take the view that while they have achieved formal independence, that is, freedom from direct political control by a foreign power, they have not achieved real independence. They use the term 'neocolonialism' (new colonialism) to suggest that while the form of control has changed, the substance has not. They make two points in particular: one is about control - economic and ideological; and the other is about independence - real or symbolic.

The argument goes that the locus of control has shifted from the political to the economic and ideological spheres. It is possible and even necessary to grant Independence or freedom from foreign political control, but it is vital for exploiting foreign powers to retain economic control through foreign ownership and investments and through control of world trade and financing. On this point, Trevor Farrell[8] suggests that a real test of independence is to ask, in whose interests are a country's resources preponderantly organised and to what extent is a country in control of its own dynamics and development. His answer is that, it is foreign powers that still organise and control the economic resources of the Caribbean. The belief that Caribbean peoples control their own destinies is an illusion.

These writers suggest that neocolonialism is about ideological control as well - the control of the mind, what one thinks and what one believes. Neocolonialism is a mental (cognitive) condition. As such, it promotes positive beliefs in western materialist values, consumer tastes and life styles, and beliefs that western or foreign ways and things are better than local ones.

The other point made by the radical school of thought is about symbolism and symbolic manipulation. Independence they said is merely symbolic. Louis Lindsay says, A No sooner was the right to independence conceded in form, than it was withdrawn in substance."[9] He continues to say that independence is mainly ceremonial providing the state with a national constitution, national flag, national anthem, national dish, national tree, national bird and so on, Abut for the great majority of citizens in the alleged newly independent state, life continues in much the same way that it did before what was heralded as independence was achieved.[10] Lindsay uses terms like, 'ceremonial independence,' 'symbolic independence,' 'documentary (paper) independence,' 'pseudo-independence,' to describe what he considered to be the superficial nature of the neocolonial Caribbean state.

Lindsay and Farrell seem to be saying that after independence, Caribbean leaders became managers of the state but they do not control real power. They make the distinction between management and control. Nationalisation of the 'commanding heights' of the economy only appeared to give states power over these economies. The rise of Blacks to ministerial positions, corporate boards and civil service posts similarly gives the illusion of national power. But Farrell insists that, AThe granting of political and administrative [power] did not signify any fundamental change in the colonial relationship as long as ownership and control of the commanding heights of the local economy remained firmly in the hands of the metropolitan investors and their home governments."[11]

The Social Democratic (Reformist) State.

Carl Stone sees the central theme in the evolution of the Caribbean state as a struggle for democracy, that is, a process of converting the colonial state to one serving the interest of the majority class along with the accountability of government through popular political participation.[12]

The goals of the post-colonial state was different in trying to promote:

(1) Fuller development of the idea of the public interest through an array of public policies to serve the majority classes;

(2) A more expansive and active role for the state in the economy to obtain increased revenue to finance higher levels of public spending;

(3) More active government administration so that a capable public sector could compete with the private sector to serve public interests;

(4) The growth of reformist ideologies to replace the aristocratic state with a social democratic state.[13]

In essence, Stone argues that the Caribbean state underwent a transition from being an aristocratic state designed to serve minority, private interests to a more social democratic state designed to serve majority, public interests.

To accomplish the goals of social democracy the region's nationalist movements consciously sought to win universal adult suffrage, promote representative parliamentarism and competitive party systems and to build a national administrative state with broader functions. Stone goes on to argue that independence not only brought a new state into being but that the state brought real benefits to the people. It was more than just a change of form. There was change in substance.

He cites evidence in:

The social sector - The new and beneficial role of the state could be seen in areas such as health and education.

The economic sector - The state sought to stimulate economic development given the weakness of a modern private sector and the prevalence of a backward plantation sector. Beginning in the 1950's, Caribbean states followed a path of 'industrialization-by-invitation.' The state provided tax holidays, protection for infant industries, investment incentives to local and foreign investors, provision of infrastructure, industrial estates, industrial policies and planning systems.

Then from the late 1960's into the 1970's, Caribbean states pursued policies of economic nationalism. Influenced by more radical thinking, the larger states begun to engage in ownership of large areas of the economies. The countries following this path were Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and to a lesser extent, Barbados. In Guyana, at one time, the state sector was responsible for over 80% of GDP.[14]  In Trinidad, the government was a majority owner in 53 large enterprises and a minority holder in eleven.[15] In Jamaica, similarly, the government owned parts of the major industries - sugar, bauxite, hotels, banking.

The public sector - As the state became more active, its bureaucracy also grew. New agencies had to be created to service the new roles it had taken on and it had to employ more people to operate its agencies. Agencies were created with responsibility for overseeing industrial development, urban development, and export promotion. Planning and statistical institutes emerged, central banks became more powerful, foreign affairs agencies became more active in international negotiations and regulatory agencies became more numerous.

Cabinet ministers came to have more power as their scope of responsibilities grew and prime ministers developed more centralised systems of executive management to coordinate the work of bigger governments. A new class of special advisors and prime ministerial staff came into being and generally a set of public sector managers and technocrats became a part of the state.[16]

Government spending as a percentage of GDP rose dramatically in Jamaica after Independence. It was 6.2% in 1955, 12.1% in 1970 and 22.1% in 1977.[17] Government revenue as a percentage of GDP also increased. It was 14% in 1950 but rose to 21% by 1970 and 24% by 1980.[18]  Government also became a large employer. It employed 57,000 persons in 1968 and 107,000 by 1973.[19]

The highest development of the social democratic state was achieved in Jamaica between 1972 and 1980. During the period important social legislation marked the attempt to meet the social welfare of the majority classes: maternity leave for women, minimum wage, protection of workers against unfair dismissal, protection of tenants from the arbitrary power of landlords, reduction of the voting age to 18, and a number of community-based initiatives in health, youth training, neighbourhood security, cooperatives and others that strengthened popular participation.[20]

The objectives of the Manley government were clearly to correct the situation that prevailed under colonialism. Its four main objectives were to create an economy that would be more independent of foreign control and more responsive to the needs of the local majority; create a more egalitarian society of opportunities and sense of self-worth; develop a more democratic and participatory society; create a stronger sense of history, culture and heritage.[21]

The (neo) Liberal State.


From the 1980's a different state began to emerge. The liberal state is the minimalist state. In the liberal philosophy, a strong state would be too powerful and dangerous to rights and freedoms, and a large state would be too bureaucratic, corrupt and inefficient. The state should therefore leave the economy to the private sector, welfare to individuals themselves to achieve and should undertake only those functions necessary for the public good - defence, education, infrastructure, national security. This was not the state that emerged initially. However, since the 1980's and 1990's, the neo-liberal conception has gained ascendancy.

The neoliberal period had gained the ascendancy because of:

(1) The setbacks to the social democratic state caused by the electoral defeat of democratic socialism in Jamaica (1980), the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the deaths of Eric Williams in Trinidad (1984) and Forbes Burnham in Guyana (1986), and the end of Soviet support of Cuba (1989).

(2) In more practical terms, some Caribbean states had simply exhausted their spending power and had entered a debt trap which prevented them from supporting social services and state economic enterprises any longer.

(3) Internationally, organisations like the IMF and World Bank, backed by conservative governments like those of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, aggressively made aid, investment, trade and debt relief conditional on structural adjustment policies.


The neoliberal state is characterized by certain policies that have been the hallmark of state reforms in the 1990's: privatization, deregulation, liberalization.

The Latin Caribbean.

The Cuban state served the creole elite and Spanish empire. In one sense, it was a military state. It was strategically located. Its excellent harbour was a central route for Spanish galleons sailing back and forth through the New World and Havana became the largest port city in the Americas by 1800. It was also an economic state. Technological innovations made the Cuban sugar industry the most mechanized and efficient in the world by 1840. It was a class-based state. Cuba's sugar revolutions enriched the ruling class that controlled the state. This ruling class was large in size and coherent in organisation. It felt a strong attachment to Cuba as the homeland and when Spain no longer supported slavery, the Cuban ruling class felt it had no further need for Spain and moved for independence.[22]

After independence, the Cuban state and economy strongly took on neo-colonial features. At independence, Cuba found itself occupied by the United States seeking to protect its large investments in the island. The United States imposed the Platt Amendment to the island's constitution conferring the right on itself to dictate all international agreements, to regulate the local economy, to intervene in local political affairs and to establish a military base at Guantanamo Bay. It imposed an American style-educational system. The economy was integrated with the American economy as Cubans used American currency, bought US commodities and sold virtually all their products to the US market.[23]

As Catherine Sunshine put it: AOver the next decades Cuba became in every sense of the term an American colony. US interests owned banks, cattle ranches, mines, ports, railways, and the telephone and power companies."[24]

The Cuban revolution changed everything. A new state emerged. It broke its dependency on the United States and became the leading institution in Cuban social and economic development. Within a few years, Cuba reduced its illiteracy rate to that of the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean. It developed a system of health that is the best in the region. By the end of the 1960's, the state had taken over nearly the entire economy, turning large estates into state farms. The state became the instrument of the revolution and united state and nation for the first time under the socialist brand of nationalism.[25]

The society and economy of the Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), compared to that of Cuba, was largely agricultural, less populated and survived on the periphery of the Spanish empire. The state was a weak administrative centre and was generally governed by strong militaristic caudillos. This small elite exploited the country and almost nothing was reinvested for the colony's own development. The country was not prepared for self-rule. It was a backward and run-down outstation in the Spanish empire. Wiarda describes the situation: AIn 1844, The Dominican Republic was about 98 percent illiterate and 90 percent rural. There was practically no middle class. The economy had been run down and had been devastated further by the Haitian occupation. The social and economic base, to say nothing of the political tradition, on which a viable democracy could be based were simply not present."[26]

After independence, the country came under the neo-colonial hegemony of the United States. The state itself was managed, in part, by the US. In 1905, US tax officials were sent in to directly administer the country's customs receipts to make sure it could pay off its huge debts to the US. In 1907, US marines were landed to protect the customs agents. Their presence increased and turned into full occupation until 1924. A central function of any state is to receive revenue and plan expenditure. This function was assumed by the United States.

After that occupation, the state became a virtual personification of the dictator, Rafael Trujillo between 1930 and 1961. He controlled the armed forces and the single party. He dominated or controlled, privately or through the state, about 50 percent of GNP. He placed strict controls on interest groups. He controlled education and the media. He organised a system of strict surveillance and spying.[27]

Wiarda provides a useful analysis of the historical character and capacity of the state in the Dominican Republic. It has, he says, historically been weak, performing few functions and never able to always provide order and stability. However, under Trujillo, the state became much more centralised and its capacity increased. Sizeable ministries were created that could control national life. The size and strength of the armed forces were increased to facilitate Trujillo's personal control. The state's control of the economy also grew to enrich the ruling family. The state system was far more centralised militarily, politically and economically than before Trujillo. By the time of Trujillo's assassination in 1961, the Dominican Republic had the second largest state sector in Latin America and the Caribbean after Cuba and much of that state was run to the political and economic benefit of Trujillo's ruling family and ruling class.[28]

The state became corrupted, bloated and inefficient. This tradition was carried on by Trujillo's successors, most notably Juan Balaguer. These dictators did succeed in creating a national state with authority. But as Wiarda sums up, AState power is heavily concentrated and centralized; the state has immense power over the economy; and the state is not always effectively limited by autonomous intermediate groups."[29]

It was only towards the last years of the twentieth century that a more liberalising regime came to power seeking to privatise much of the state sector and reform the system away from the Trujillo-Balaguer era of corruption and control.

The Haitian state was born in revolutionary violence and beset for many years after by civil war. It changed from a monarchy to a republic in 1859. Even then, its authority was severely restricted to the capital of Port-au-Prince while virtual anarchy prevailed in the countryside. A national state, integrating the entire country under one central administration did not exist.

Haiti too, became a neocolonial state under United States hegemony when the latter occupied it in 1915. Once again, the US controlled the country's customs receipts until 1947. Local control of the state was generally in the hands of a mulatto elite. When the Haitian state came under the control of a Black leader in 1947, it was that of the dictator, Francois Duvalier. The Haitian state at independence symbolised black power in the hemisphere but was never able to realise the same. The state became captive of the ruling Duvalier dynasty whose family fortune was estimated at between $500 million and $900 million whereas 90 percent of Haitians earned $180 a year. The country's ruling family and class, constituting 0.5% of the population received 46 percent of the national income.[30]

The state accomplished very little for the black majority. Knight offers this conclusion: AIn 1989, Haiti remained the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with an annual per capita income of less than $400, an employment rate of only 60 percent of the labour force, and an illiteracy rate well above 80 percent of its nearly six million people. Although more than 70 percent of the population lives by agriculture, farming constitutes less than 40 percent of the gross domestic product, and poor Haitians emigrate in large numbers to wherever they can find legal or illegal employment."[31]



[1] The themes of viability and vulnerability were captured by Vaughan Lewis (ed), Size, Self-Determination and International Relations: The Caribbean, 1976.

[2] Christopher Clapham says this is characteristic of all ex-colonial states. See, Third World Politics,1988.

[3] See, Jorge Heine and Leslie Manigat (eds), The Caribbean and World Politics, 1988. The authors regard the period from the Cuban Revolution (1959) to the invasion of Grenada (1983) as that in which cold war rivalries were most concentrated.

[4] See Ann Spackman, Constitutional Development in the West Indies, 1922-1968, 1975, pp.22-23.

[5] Ibid., pp.25-26.

[6] Gladstone Mills, Grist for the Mills, 1994, p.6

[7] Ibid., p.27.

[8] See ADecolonization in the English-speaking Caribbean: Myth or Reality@ in Paget Henry and Carl Stone (eds), The Newer Caribbean, 1983, pp.3-13.

[9] See, The Myth of Independence, 1981, pp.2-3.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Op.cit, p.7

[12] Stone in Davies, p.90

[13] Ibid, p.94.

[14] From Trevor Farrell, AThe Caribbean State and its Role in Economic Management,@ in Omar Davies, op. cit, p.9. 

[15] Ibid

[16] A useful discussion is provided by Edwin Jones and Gladstone Mills, AThe Institutional Framework of Government,@ R. Nettleford (ed.) Jamaica in Independence, 1989, pp. 105-130.

[17] Stone in Davies, p.117

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Evelyne Huber Stephens and John Stephens, Democratic Socialism in Jamaica, 1986 give a detailed discussion and list of the democratic socialist initiatives.

[21] Michael Manley, Struggle in the Periphery, 1982, p.39.

[22] Knight, op.cit., 227-233.

[23] Ibid. Pp.236-239.

[24] Catherine Sunshine, The Caribbean: Survival, Struggle and Sovereignty, 1996, p.50.

[25] Ibid., pp.91-99.

[26] Wiarda, op.cit., p.430.

[27] Ibid., pp.432-433.

[28] Ibid., pp.443-445.

[29] Ibid., p.445.

[30] Sunshine, op.cit., p.83.

[31] Knight, op.cit., p.221.

Eighth topic The Caribbean Abroad

Political Geography | Political History | Political Culture | Political Leadership | | Democratic Traditions | The Decolonizing State | The Caribbean Abroad