The Caribbean Reality

European-Imperialism

Drawing from the colonial period, which only functionally ended with the British West Indies’ labour unrest in the 1930s, the West Indian reality is today one of systemic un-freedom due to the maintenance of the plantation society which perpetuates a plantation-like socio-economic structure. To believe that the end of colonialism-proper means the end of authoritarian governments and anti-democratic mechanisms such as criminal libel laws to control the media would be a mistake. One must understand that the Caribbean in general, and the West Indies in particular, are substantially defined by colonialism. Consequently, the Caribbean may be seen as a post-slavery civilization with a mirroring politico-economic structure.

The influence of Euro-American foreign policy, facilitated through international aid, dictates the Caribbean development agenda; limiting the extent to which the region exercises its right to self-determination. This situation dates back to independence of the then colonies; being preceded by the implosion of the West Indies Federation in 1962. Though popular sentiment may resist Euro-American policies which, inherently carry with them the refashioning of the Caribbean way of life, there is a tradition of compromise with international powers to facilitate local development. This explains why, for example, even though in many Caribbean countries while corporal punishment is a popular statutory mechanism for disciplining school children, the UNICEF’s call for its end was not vehemently rebuffed as imperialism; but instead compromise was made by establishing ‘child-friendly’ non-‘flogging’ schools.

The Caribbean understands its dependent disposition relative to more developed economies and uses diplomacy to safeguard its future. This inherently means compromise at the expense of sovereignty. The Caribbean way of life, like Latin America, has a fixation on peace and investment in our greatest, and in the case of countries like Barbados, our only abundant natural resource; its people. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’ (CELAC) declaration of our region as “a zone of peace”, and the exclusion of this hemisphere’s military and economic great powers, the USA and Canada, from its ranks at its establishment in 2011 are testimony to this fact. This concept of peace, created through mutual respect for culture and individual history guides the Caribbean, of which various Latin American and South American countries are geographically a part, in its quest for prosperity; however limited it may be. This exploration of the Euro-American Nexus’ relation to the Caribbean creates greater appreciation of the ensuing topic of Caribbean domestic policy.

Barbados proves the greatest case study for understanding Caribbean development philosophy and its inextricable link to education as evidenced by 14.27% (2009) of government expenditure allocated to that sector. Unlike Jamaica with an abundance of bauxite and Trinidad and Tobago controlling vast oil reserves, Barbados is without natural resources; circumstancing a people-centred society. Historically, Barbadian politics and economic initiatives were primarily constructed by the people’s needs. Consequently, profits derived were used for their benefit. With a size of 166 square miles and a population under 300 000, Barbados has over 70 and 20 primary and secondary schools respectively, leading to being among the top 5 literate countries at 100% in UNESCO world rankings.

Human development policy emphasis and the creation of the welfare state directly derived from colonialism and cannot be ignored. Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor designate of the University of The West Indies (UWI) and Chairman of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Committee On Reparatory Justice, in addressing the British Parliament in 2014 explains that Caribbean poverty is systemic because the British Parliament, “in 1833 determined that the 800,000 enslaved people in the Caribbean were worth, as chattel property, £47M [£3.892B Conservatively (2013)]” and in compensating slave owners for the loss of ‘property’, “provided the sum of £20M [1.656B (2013)] in grants”, while refusing compensation to freed Blacks. Compensation was denied and poverty institutionalized by way of British Emancipation Acts which gave Caribbean countries independence while holding that, “ ‘property’ cannot receive property compensation”.

Less than a century ago, Barbadian children attended school barefooted while pit-toilets and outdoor kitchens fuelled by firewood were commonplace. In fact, these conditions are but some of the reasons for the labour unrest earlier mentioned. This reality is only but a half-generation (25/2 years) removed from the general populace but various aspects are a mainstay in contemporary Caribbean life. Circumstances like mass child labour prompted Caribbean countries, to compromise with the economic (white planters) and political (black descendants of the enslaved as well as indentured servants) majorities in order to secure the universal right to education but it was Barbados that made it free up to tertiary level.

Contextualized by these maladies, one is dismayed by the Barbadian government’s decision in 2013 to limit the access to universal education. Until then Barbadians enjoyed, through heavy direct income taxation (20% to 35%) and indirect value-added taxation (17.5%) tax-payer subsidized education up to university level. The ruling party’s argument during the Fiscal Estimates Debate (2013) highlighted education as exponentially increasing government spending to uncontrollable levels; resulting in debt of student fees to UWI exceeding $100M BBD ($50M USD). In accordance with the ruling party’s solution students now pay tuition fees while the economic cost is tax-payer funded.

While this seems fair, understanding the Caribbean reality illustrated above, the payment of tuition fees is a barrier to social mobility for the average Caribbean person because Barbadians still pay heavy taxation rates in addition to this new barrier. What placed Barbados ahead of many Caribbean countries including the more historically powerful Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and what makes Barbados’ achievement the Eastern Caribbean countries such as St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis is the rapid transformation of the socio-economic status of individuals unilaterally facilitated by way of ‘free’ education. Though great strides have been made, the reality remains, that systemic generational poverty bars many from being able to pay the tuition fees. Notwithstanding the assurance of loans being available, the impact of high cost of living induced by heavy taxation makes the loan repayment simply impossible.

The generational revolution is under threat!

First Independence Address Prime Minister Eric Williams 1962

2010-07-26-11-2a_eric_williams

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Fellow Citizens,

It is a great honour to me to address this morning the citizens of the Independent Nation of Trinidad and Tobago as their first Prime Minister. Your National Flag has been hoisted to the strains of your National Anthem, against the background of your National Coat of Arms, and amidst the beauty of your National Flower.

Your Parliament has been inaugurated by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, the representative of Her Majesty the Queen. You have your own Governor General and your own Chief Justice, both appointed on the advice of your own Prime Minister. You have your own National Guard, however small.

You are now a member of the Commonwealth Family in your own right, equal in status to any other of its members. You hope soon to be a member of the World Family of Nations, playing your part, however insignificant, in world affairs. You are on your own in a big world, in which you are one of many nations, some small, some medium size, some large. You are nobody’s boss and nobody is your boss.

What use will you make of your independence? What will you transmit to your children five years from today? Other countries ceased to exist in that period. Some, in much less time, have become totally disorganised, a prey to anarchy and civil war.

The first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy. Democracy means more, much more, than the right to vote and one vote for every man and every woman of the prescribed age. Democracy means recognition of the rights of others.

Democracy means equality of opportunity for all in education, in the public service, and in private employment–I repeat, and in private employment. Democracy means the protection of the weak against the strong. Democracy means the obligation of the minority to recognise the right of the majority. Democracy means responsibility of the Government to its citizens, the protection of the citizens from the exercise of arbitrary power and the violation of human freedoms and individual rights. Democracy means freedom of worship for all and the subordination of the right of any race to the overriding right of the human race. Democracy means freedom of expression and assemble of organization.

All that is Democracy. All that is our Democracy, to which I call upon all citizens to dedicate themselves on this our Independence Day. This is what I meant when I gave the Nation its slogan for all time: Discipline, Production, Tolerance. Indiscipline, whether individual or sectional, is a threat to democracy. Slacking on the job jeopardizes the national income, inflates costs, and merely sets a bad example. The medieval churchmen had a saying that to work is to pray. It is also to strengthen our democracy by improving our economic foundations.

That democracy is but a hollow mockery and a gigantic fraud which is based on a ruling group’s domination [of] slaves or helots or fellaheen or second class citizens or showing intolerance to others because of considerations of race, colour, creed, national origin, previous conditions of servitude or other irrationality.

Our National Flag belongs to all our citizens. Our National Coat of Arms, with our National Birds inscribed therein, is the sacred thrust of our citizens. So it is today, please, I urge you, let it always be so. Let us always be able to say, with the Psalmist, behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.

United at home in the common effort to build a democratic Nation and ostracize outmoded privileges, let us present to the outside world the united front of a Nation thinking for itself, knowing its own mind and speaking its own point of view.

Let us take our stand in the international family on the basic principles of international rectitude. When our time comes to vote, let it always be a vote for freedom and against slavery, for self-determination and against external control, for integration and against division.

Democracy at home and abroad, the symbol of it is our Parliament. Remember fellow citizens, we now have a Parliament, we no longer have the colonial assemblies which did not have the full rights of a Parliament of a sovereign country. The very name “Parliament” testifies to our new Independent status. By the same token, however, we at once become the object of comparison with other Parliamentary countries, inside and outside the Commonwealth.

This is a consideration which involves not only the Members of Parliament but also the individual citizen. The Members of Parliament have the traditional Parliamentary privileges guaranteed in the Constitution. The Speaker, the symbol of the power of Parliament, has his status guaranteed in the Order of Precedence. We shall soon have a Privileges Bill protecting and prescribing the powers of Parliament itself. Measures are being taken to establish the responsibility of Parliament in the field of external relations.

The Constitution recognises the position of the Leader of the Opposition and the normal parliamentary convention of consultation between Government and Opposition are being steadily developed and expanded. The Constitution itself, Independence itself, represent the agreement of the two political parties on the fundamental question of national unity. The ordinary citizen must recognise the role of the Parliament in our democracy and must learn to differentiate between a Member of Parliament, whom he may like or dislike, and the respect that must be accorded to that same Member of Parliament ex-officio.

I call on all citizens from now on to accord the highest respect our Parliamentary system and institutions and to our Parliament itself.

Democracy, finally, rests on a higher power than Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion. The Members of Parliament are only representatives of the citizens. They cannot represent apathy and indifference. They can play the part allotted to them only if they represent intelligence and public spiritness.

Nothing has so demonstrated in the past six years the capacity of the People of Trinidad and Tobago than their remarkable interest in the public affairs. The development and expansion of that interest is the joint responsibility of the Government, the Parliament, the political parties and relevant civic organisations.

Those, fellow citizens, are the thoughts which, on my first day as Prime Minister, I wish to express to you on Independence Day. Your success in organising the Independence which you achieved will exercise a powerful influence on your neighbours with all of whom we are likely to have close associations in the next few years, the smallest and nearest, as part of our Independent Unitary State, the larger and more distant as part of the wider and integrated Caribbean community. Problems of difficulties there will be. These are always a challenge to a superior intelligence and to strength of character.

Whatever the challenge that faces you, from whatever quarter, place always first that national interest and the national cause. The strength of the Nation depends on the strength of its citizens. Our National Anthem invokes God’s blessings on our Nation, in response to those thousands of citizens of all faiths who demanded God’s protection in our Constitution. Let us then as a Nation so conduct ourselves as to be able always to say in those noblest and most inspiring words of St. Paul, “By the Grace of God we as people are what we are, and His Grace in us hath not been void.”

This speech was taken from: http://www.nalis.gov.tt/