Bahamian economic colonialism
We often refer to The Bahamas as a postcolonial state, given its independence from Great Britain on July 10, 1973, when the then prime minister, Lynden Pindling, and his government said goodbye to the former head of state and welcomed a new beginning as a part of the commonwealth. What we cease to grasp, and what much of Bahamian history and economy do not demonstrate, is that colonialism was never posted anywhere. Its structures remain deeply entrenched in every aspect of Bahamian life and landscape.
Parliament, as noted recently, is still the territory of the Queen, and when Elizabeth II dies, it will become the domain of her son, Charles. Economic structures really never ceased being owned by particular corporations. Bases, as in parts of islands or entire cays, would have been given from one government, from Britain, the owner at that time, to the United States, and so they would have retained many spaces until the Cold War ended in the early 1990s.
It is somewhat alarming that many young Bahamians are totally unaware of the occupation of Bahamian land, or land they think of as belonging to the country, that in fact never actually came over to the country when it was conceived in the 1970s.
Colonialism has allowed us to discuss racism and segregation ending and to further the idea of a separation of colors that never actually untangles the confusion of class and race. Space in The Bahamas is deeply racialized and classed. Many people believe that tourism benefits all parties equally; they realize that tourists bring money into the local economy, yet they never challenge the reality that most of that money is immediately repatriated to the corporation’s home country. Polly Pattullo, Mimi Sheller, Emilio Pantojas and Amalia Cabezas all demonstrate the colonialism of the foreign direct investment model. Yet, Bahamian economic and legal structures all support a landscape the perpetuates FDI. In fact, education remains deeply colonial and non-reflective of the need for local awareness or history or geography. The recent announcement of Bahamian businesses downsizing or shutting down should be sufficient to show how little Bahamian business actually benefits from a structure that purports to support and empower Bahamians but actually supports offering businesses by providing them with tax and duty-free concessions. This is colonialism; they do not have to be British. The colonially designed structure to support foreign businesses setting up in paradise maintains still.
May Laws from the Hotels Encouragement Act, the Out Island Development Act and the Industries Encouragement Act, as well as the current World Trade Organization will seemingly continue to bleed the national coffers dry. Little examination is conducted on the colonial impact of such laws and regulations and their resultant impact on national development and on nationals.
Comaroff and Comaroff’s Law and Disorder in the Postcolony shows the effect of the imposition of laws on former colonies:
“In fact, efforts on the part of the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and governments of the north to democratize patrimonial systems — thus to eliminate the ‘politics of the belly’ (Bayart 1993), caudillismo, communalism, and their cognates — have only exacerbated their unruliness. Those calls to reform, it hardly needs noting, set great store by liberalization, both economic and political, the latter centered squarely on the panaceas mentioned earlier: on multiparty politics and the cultivation of civil society. And on unrestrained privatization. But such measures, as the Report on the World Social Situation, 2005 (United Nations 2005) reiterates yet again, have widened inequalities within and across nation-states,24 abetting the accumulation of wealth and power by elites, both licit and illicit. As Larry Rohter and Juan Forero, commenting on Latin America, point out, ‘With once-closed economies having been opened up and corporate profits at record levels, the opportunities for graft and bribes are larger than ever’.”
Bahamians can see and feel the increased violence surrounding them.
“Clearly, liberalization and democracy have done little to reduce violence. Quite the opposite. Not only have those excluded from the spoils tended to resort, ever more prosaically, to militant techniques to survive or profit (Bayart 1993: xiii; Olivier de Sardan 1999a; Caldeira 2000), but many ruling regimes have ceded their monopoly over coercion to private contractors, who plunder and enforce at their behest.”
The authors indicate how the old paradigms continue and the violence the civilized world decries as a natural occurrence in the postcolonial world is only exacerbated by the developed world and its policies in the postcolony. The very structures we cling to so dearly are as anti-Bahamian development as is the attitude of much FDI. The colonial structure of much of the Bahamian economy not only pays for FDI but allows the very money they claim to invest in the economy to be repatriated to home countries from whence it does not return, except as tourist dollars, and the cycle continues. The more recent egregious example of this is selling stocks in Bahamian oil on the London Stock Exchange, perhaps less well-known, but it continues the old pattern of supply colonies being exploited by a central power abroad and being aided and abetted by local political elite and leaders.
• Ian Bethell-Bennett is a professor at the University of The Bahamas.