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Decolonization in the English-Speaking Caribbean:

Myth or Reality?


From, The Newer Caribbean (Eds. Paget Henry, Carl Stone, Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1983, pp.3-12

   In 1962, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago became politically indepen­dent. This event ushered in a period of formal decolonization of the English-speaking Caribbean. Since 1962, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have been joined by Guyana. Barbados, Grenada, the Ba­hamas, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Belize, and Antigua, while the other smaller islands of the Caribbean have obtained virtual polit­ical independence through "associated statehood" with Britain. This status" meant full internal self-government with Britain, the colonial power, retaining responsibility for external affairs and defense. Even British responsibility for external affairs was readily and willingly ab­dicated several times, on request, for example, to permit the islands to engage independently in international negotiations such as those lead­ing to the regional integration movement.

Britain has also stood ready to grant these islands full political independence any time they wish it, since these former jewels of the British Crown are now no more than so many albatrosses around the collective British neck, breaking the fundamental law of colonialism that the net benefit from a colony be positive to the dominant elites in the colonizing country. Britain would gladly approve their flags, na­tional anthems, and disposable constitutions, give them a few pounds as a going away gift, a visit from some lesser lights in the Royal Family, and send them packing, to sink or swim as best they can. Their pur­pose, as far as the British are concerned, has been served.

Political independence then, de jure or de facto, has either been  attained in the English-speaking Caribbean






These islands also seem to suggest decolonization to the casual ob­server, simply through their participation as independent actors on the international stage. They belong to the United Nations and its tributary organizations, participate in and host international conferences, sign international treaties, and take positions on matters ranging from the Law of the Sea to the need for nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

Decolonization appears to be manifesting itself not only politically but also economically. One of the most striking features of Caribbean economic life over the last decade or so has been the rapid growth of state and local intervention into the economy and the apparently sys­tematic encroachment on what were formally the exclusive preserves of the metropole. In Guyana, the state owns some 80 percent of the domestic economy. Bauxite, rice, sugar, the control of trade, and even the vast holdings of Bookers have fallen under the flag.

The other Caribbean territories have not gone as far; but in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, what superficially seems to be ex­tensive economic decolonization has taken place. Oil, bauxite, sugar, communications, hotels, meat processing, public utilities, banking and finance, international air transport, flour milling and cement, to name a few, have come under state ownership. Local capitalism has also grown significantly, in these two countries, especially in the manufac­turing sector. In the Windwards and the Leewards, sugar, tourism, and the utilities have apparently been extensively localized.

But the most salient indicator of formal decolonization would seem to the casual observer to be.The sociological changes of the last two decades. Around the region, black faces adorn boards of directors, inhabit ministerial offices, and man all reaches of the civil service. The administrative and political structures of the region have become al­most completely Africanized and Indianized. New elites have burgeoned. In Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago particularly, the rise to power and privilege of the local elites has been the most visible and most flaunted. Huge, garish new houses have gone up in exclusive neighbourhoods, testifying cogently to their owners’ affluence, if not to their taste.

Mercedes sports and touring cars bump and jounce their way through the potholes. The materialistic wives and children of the new elite, to whom social concern is as foreign as their color TV sets, shop in Miami, finger their way through boutiques, and display a disdain for their less fortunate fellow citizens of which any nineteenth-century British aristocrat would have been proud.

Almost as significant as the changed sociology of Caribbean ad­ministrative and political life, and much more alarming to certain metropolitan observers, is the enunciation by certain Caribbean states of






independent political philosophies sharply at variance with the philosophies and perceived interests of the dominant hegemonic power—the United States. Guyana, Jamaica, and Dominica had re­gimes that affirmed a faith in socialism as their preferred political and economic path into the future. And while these expressions may in some cases be less than serious and in others abortive, these faint stirrings of independent decisionmaking suggest to some that the Caribbean may in fact be already decolonized, or at least decolonizing.

The blunt truth, however, is that all of this is.largely epiphenomenal, The reality is that the English-speaking Caribbean remains essentially colonized. What has changed is the form of the colonization, the mech­anisms through which it operates, and the colonizing agents. This is not to say that no change has taken place. Change has in fact taken place and more change will follow. The dynamic of events in the Caribbean,as in other areas of the Third World, thrusts toward ultimate and real decolonization. But that time has not yet arrived.

Events in the Caribbean are affecting, and are being profoundly affected by, what is taking place on the international scene. This is nothing new. From its inception the Caribbean has always been pro­foundly affected by, and in turn has affected,- international events. Thus decolonization as a dynamic is integrally bound up with events in the outside world, with what is happening to the exercise of American power globally, with the increasing clash of rival, metropolitan capital­isms, and with other international political and economic de­velopments.

At the present time, however, decolonization is more apparent than real. In examining this contention, it is necessary to elucidate the essence of the colonial condition, and then seek to measure contempo­rary Caribbean reality with this yardstick.

In the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill enunciated what is still one of the best, frankest, and most succinct descriptions of what a colonial relationship is about, a definition which permits one to see the essence of the colonial condition. In his Principles of Political Econ­omy, Mill declared: “If Manchester, instead of being where it is, were on a rock in the North Sea. . . it would still be but a town of England, not a country trading with England: it would be merely, as now, the place where England finds it convenient to carry on her cotton manu­factures. The West Indies. in like manner, are the place where England finds it convenient to carry on the production of sugar, coffee, and a few other tropical commodities. All the capital employed is English capital , almost all the industry is carried on. for. English uses, here is little production of anything except the. staple commodities, and these are sent to England, not to be exchanged for things exported to the

6   Trevor M. A. Farrell

colony and consumed by its inhabitants, but to be sold in England for the benefit of the proprietors there.

The essence of the colonial condition is twofold. First, the organization of the resources of the colonized is effected in the interests of the alien, colonizing power, rather than in the interests of the colonized. While this is not necessarily a zero-sum game, the colonial condition implies that the net benefits are skewed toward the colonizer. There is then the enforced subordination of the victim’s interests to those of the controlling power.

Second, colonialism fundamentally implies the lack of control over the dynamic of one's own movement or developrnent (political, economic, or cultural). Herein lies an essential between dependence and interdependence or even ordinary, relative weakness vis-à-vis another country. The classic colony is unable to make its own  decisions, to choose how to adjust to a given configuration on the international scene. Its response is dictated or tightly  circumscribed by the dominating power.

          At a technical minimum in assessing decolonization one has therefore to focus on two fundamental issues: in whose interests predominantly are a country’s resources organized, and to what extent is a country in control of its own dynamic. Decolonization can also be dealt with at a second level which extends above this technical minimum.

 For people brutalized by centuries of exploitation, contempt, indifference, slavery, and metropolitan racism, decolonization should also mean the building of a new society as advocated by

Franz Fanon—one dedicated to humanity and to the eradication of injustice and exploitation nationally as well-as .internationally. It should mean the restructuring of social relationships, the abrogation of the grosser forms of class differentiation, and the opening up of the political and economic system to genuine popular participation and shared control by all the people.

At this level, decolonization cannot simply mean the exchange

white overseers for black ones. It cannot mean the exchange of white overlords for black ones, or of white brutality, repression, insensitivity and arrogance for black brutality, repression, insensitivity, and arrogance. Decolonization for the Caribbean and other Third World countries should mean more than this.

Let us look more closely now at the contemporary Caribbean beginning with the first and basic level of the "technical minimum” for identifying real decolonization. It is necessary at the outset to be quite clear that_flags,_national anthems, local legislatures, black cabinets and boards of directors do not by themselves say anything about whether real decolonization has been effected. What is perhaps less widely recognized is that the apparent capture of local ownership and control of significant areas of economic life does not necessarily mean substantive change in the colonial nexus. Ever since the publication of Kwame Nkrumah's book Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Im­perialism, the Third World has been well aware that the retreat of direct colonialism did not in fact mean the end of colonialism.2

The granting of political and administrative apparatus 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 metropolitan investors and their home governments. The organization of local resources in.foreign interests continued unabated in many cases and startingly enough was even intensified in certain cases. It was quickly discovered that control over the dynamic and path of development had been retained abroad.

One can mark this dawning recognition in several ways. Intellectu­ally there was the rise of the "dependency school" in Latin America and the Caribbean, launched by academics who focused attention on the phenomenon of the continuation of effective colonialism through indirect, economic means. The cry against neocolonialism went up and demands grew for nationalization. "Localization," 51 percent control, and the perpetuation of the colonial situation were felt to be bound up with continued foreign ownership of key areas of economic life. The capturing of equity ownership, it was felt, would mean the effective ending of colonial control, direct and indirect, political and economic.

This belief has turned out to be erroneous,' which is essentially why the widespread nationalizations and state interventions into eco­nomic life in the Caribbean do not by themselves mean that decoloniza­tion has really been achieved. As it turns out, the metropolitan stranglehold has once again simply shifted its grip.

When the assault on direct (political) colonialism was launched, the white West retreated, after the French adventures in Vietnam and Algeria and the British adventures in Kenya and Malaysia, into the hasty granting of political independence. Direct colonialism, which was manifested most clearly  in political control, gave way to indirect  neocolonial control exercised through the economy and through direct foreign investment and the concomitant ownership and control of the commanding heights of Third World economies.

The assault on neocolonialism, manifested this time through nationalization, through repeated complaints in international forums such as UNCTAD and, most dramatically, through OPEC, has resulted in yet another maneuver. Once again the form was conceded, but the substance was retained. In its search for liberation and de­velopment, the Third World is like a man groping in the dark for a door he cannot see, moving by successive approximations. Often the wrong protuberance is grasped; then the error is discovered and another at­tempt is made.

The belief that colonialism would be eradicated, simply, by achiev­ing political independence has turned out to be mistaken. With hindsight it is clear that Nkrumah's dictum, "seek ye first the political kingdom, and all other things shall be added unto you," is not true. Similarly, it is now being recognized that the measure believed to be the corrective for the original error (i.e., effecting state or local ownership of key economic sectors) is also ineffective, and may indeed be irrelevant.

Ownership, it turns out, does not necessarily mean control. The multinational corporations haye learned to make nationalizations work for_thern. Through the media of marketing agreements, management contracts, service agreements, and licensing agreements, effect control over industries or entire economic sectors can be maintained while equity ownership is happily conceded.

A shrewd company now finds that there are positive advantage to be reaped from a retreat from a relationship too easily stigmatized as neocolonial. The surrender of equity ownership can lead to an improved cash flow and enhanced profitability, or to getting an ignorant Third World government to prune local operations of unwanted, obsolete properties at a high price to the state. It also has the attraction that it reduces a company's visibility and defuses local criticism while essential interests are maintained intact. Moreover, because nationalization may now be effected on attractive terms, the risk of a worse deal from a tougher, more competent host government sometime in the future may be obviated.

It is necessary not only to look at what kind of nationalizations or localizations have been effected, but also to investigate exactly has been acquired. This may amount to meaningless, economically insubstantive assets, even though such assets are nominally loc the key sectors of the economy.

Close observation of economic decolonization in the Caribbean demonstrates that this decolonization is more apparent than real. Only in Guyana can meaningful control over the commanding heights of the economy be said to have been effectively transferred to local hands. In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, two oil "nationalization taken place which permit the government to pretend that it ha into the producing and refining business. One of these turns out not to have been a genuine nationalization at all. The state's acquisition of a 50.1 percent (majority) equity in Trinidad-Tesoro masks the effective locating of real control in its foreign, joint-venture partner's hands.

Decolonization in the English-Speakin^ Caribbean   9

Furthermore, both this and the 1974 nationalization of Shell-Trinidad turn out to involve economically insubstantive areas of the local oil industry. The key areas in producing and refining remain firmly under foreign control.  Trinidad's oil resources continue to be organized in the service of foreign metropolitan interests, not in local interests. Large quantities of crude are brought in by one company for refining (Trinidad having served as its Caribbean refining center), while another carries away large quantities of crude to be refined elsewhere.

A study of the output mix of the Trinidad refineries shows a com­position heavily weighted toward residual fuel oil, the cheapest of the major products, because this fits in with metropolitan requirements, whereas Caribbean needs are quite different. Even the use of Trinidad's natural gas resources, the fertilizer plants in operation and planned, can all be seen, on close investigation, to represent the sys­tematic organization of the country's resources in line with metropoli­tan rather than local needs.

Petroleum nationalization in Trinidad and Tobago is largely farce' and fantasy. So too is bauxite nationalization in Jamaica. Despite government control of 51 percent of the operations of key companies in the bauxite industry, the agreements guaranteeing decades of bauxite reserves  and the arrangements made with respect to price and taxation  mean that Jamaica has still not achieved effective control over her key mineral resource.

 Two significant features of the manufacturing sector in the con­temporary Caribbean must be  noted. Manufacturing is largely .based in Jamaica and in Trinidad and Tobago. It turns out, on closer examina­tion, that local ownership and control of this sector is effectively vitiated in salient areas by means of the licensing agreements entered into for accessing foreign technology. In the Trinidad-Tobago vehicle assembly industry, for example, the local industry might as well be   foreign-owned, since all the_key economic and technological variables  are under the control of foreign licensors.4 Decisions on model changes, plant layout, pricing, and the use of purchased technology as subject to foreign decisionmaking as they would be if the'plants were wholly owned subsidiaries of a foreign corporation

 The second interesting feature of this sector in the Caribbean is its control by the old, white plantocracy, who took advantage of incentive legislation, state-provided resources, and the 1960s' faith in import-    substitution to move from their estates into the new "screwdriver" assembly plants.

In Agriculture it is true local ownership and effective local control of export staples such as sugar, and bananas, have been success­fully ,achieved in many cases. But this sector still remains subject to

10   Trevor M. A. Farrell

metropolitan dictates, and the metropolitan dynamic. Here, however, the foreigner can hardly be blamed. The annual beggar's pilgrimage to Europe capitals to beg for better sugar prices under the Lome agree­ment, for example, is something that Caribbean governments have the power to stop. They lack the courage and the perspicacity, however, to radically restructure the region's_agriculture, thus demonstrating that the most powerful and tenacious effects of colonialism is in, the   minds of the colonized.  

The economy of the Caribbean thus can hardly be said to have been effectively decolonized.  Caribbean resources continue to be orga­nized in accordance with metropolitan interets. This is true for oil and gas for Jamaica's bauxite and, to a large extent, for the region's agricultural sector.  Manufacturing remains technologicallv dependent and effectively foreign-dominated. And while a few indigen­ous banks have appeared in the larger territories, banking remains effectively under domination despite the so-called localization in Trinidad and Tobago.

The continued subjection of the Caribbean economy to metropolitan dictates is exemplified most starkly by the Jamaican experience in 1977 and 1978. Jamaica's balance of payments crisis, manipulated to some extent by the metropole and rooted at base in the effects of the 1974 rise in oil and other import prices, has resulted in humiliation at the hands of the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund. Beginning in 1977, Jamaica had been reduced to a virtual colony of the IMF , By 1978, the island was being effectively, if unobtrusively, ruled by the IMF, acting proxy for the U.S. aluminum industry. Guyana also fell into similar toils.

The Caribbean has been unable to effect the reorganization and restructuring of its economy that would have been the hallmark of real decolonization. The kinds of linkages that could be created and which were so brilliantly outlined by Havelock Brewster and Clive Thomas more than a decade ago have not been made.  In fact, the one really dramatic attempt at forging such linkages was speedily aborted. This was the proposed aluminum smelter to be located in Trinidad and to combine Jamaican and Guyanese bauxite with Trinidad natural gas. The partners rapidly fell out with each other, but it is now an open secret that the Trinidad government was told in no uncertain terms by a very senior person in the World Bank that such a project was not at all acceptable to metropolitan interests. What is not known is whether the disagreement between the partners had any relation to the foreign intervention.

It must also be noted that the domination of the Caribbean by metropolitan interests is not simply economic. It is political as well,

Decolonization in the English-Speaking Caribbean   II

And this influence and control operate at several different levels, from the openly diplomatic to the clandestine, and through a variety of international organizations and foundations. In fact, there can be little doubt that the Caribbean is one of the most thoroughly penetrated regions in the hemisphere today.

Of additional significance is the extensive cultural and psychologi­cal colonization which still marks the contemporary Caribbean. The cultural absorption of the Caribbean into the "one-world" of the giant American multinationals is obviously not unique to the region. But the ease of communication, the nearness to the North American centers, the lack of language barriers, and the absence of any rooted, resistant traditional culture all mean that the cultural penetration of the Carib­bean can proceed even faster and more thoroughly than in most other, underdeveloped regions. Especially in those people over forty, the C^ psychology of the colonized is very apparent.

At the level of the technical minimum, therefore, it is clear that decolonization in the English Speaking Caribbean is more apparent than real. But at the second, higher, level at which decolonization can be approached, the picture is even more grim. This is because the mass of people continue be firmly shut out from real participation in their country’s political and economic life. Moreover, the old-white plantocracy," after a decline in the early and mid-1960s (the pe­riod of political independence) are now experiencing a rapid resur­gence more economic than political.

The local capitalist class in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, is once again dominated by whites, several of whom were formerly old estate families. Riding on the crest of incentives and import substitu­tion, they have captured control of key areas of the local economy not in foreign hands and have begun to take over the communications media using profits given to them by the state. Furthermore, these white families have begun to exercise open influence on state policy and on the political process. The wheel thus threatens to come full circle.

Far from experiencing a diminution in stratification and with the growth of egalitarianism and reduction in racial tensions that might have been expected, the Caribbean has experienced the converse. Ra­cial feeling is on the rise in Guyana and in Trinidad and Tobago. Class distinctions have grown tremendously, especially in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica and there is increasing polarization and repres­sion. The media have fallen under the control of either the state or the capitalist classes, and these groups have not hesitated to impose severe censorship. Antilabor legislation has engendered considerable bit­terness and political unrest, and dissidence and political opposition

have been increasingly met by the denial of work permits, deportation denial of the right to demonstrate, march, or meet, and even by death at the hands of American-trained police forces. The Caribbean is not yet Idi Amin’s Uganda, but there is a serious threat of fascism, as more and more development programs prove unworkable arid as the insecure governing elites lash out in their attempt to maintain domininance.  The Caribbean is in fundamental crisis. The crisis is stark in cases of Jamaica and Guyana. Trinidad's large foreign reserves due to OPEC initiative mask the bankruptcy of its domestic policies for the time being, have kept the wolf from the door—the wolf was so clearly lurking between 1970 and 1973. The blunting, blocking and possible eventual destruction of OPEC will put Trinidad and Tobago back into eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the desperate reality now faced by its sister territories.

The smaller islands—so neglected, so unnoticed, so ignored are in a state of endemic crisis. They are locked into the vicious circle of the lack of resources (except for sun, sand, sea, and the sexual prowness of the beach boys), continued lack of even basic infrastructure, flight of their young, skilled people, and the depressing effects of poverty and malnutrition. These islands are of little interest to the metropole, to foreign capital, and to the international aid agencies, for they offer so little to exploit. Their allure seems directed to the odd tourist, the fly- by-night entrepreneur skirting the borders of illegality and, of course the denizens of the new demimonde—the Mafia. One after another these beautiful islands with their poor, beautiful, historically battered people are succumbing in desperation to the tourist complexes and their uncertainties, to freeports, offshore banking, casinos, and organized crime.

The Caribbean may not be decolonized, but it is in serious crisis and it is fundamentally unstable. Like in other areas of the World, however, there is a basic dynamic at work leading inexorably to conflict, with the ruling elites currently overseeing the region interests of their metropolitan overlords and with those metropolitian overlords themselves. For the urge to freedom is one of the strongest impulses known to man. The history of the twentieth century is really the history of the struggle of the colonial world for freedom from its bonds. Metropolitan maneuvers may hinder or sidetrack this struggle but no serious analyst would dare to claim that decolonization reversed or ultimately prevented from running its course.