The independent English-speaking Caribbean states often boast of being free from colonial control, having their own identity and making their own decisions without being instructed by others. But are these countries merely politically independent, and dependent in many ways for their economic survival, and security, on the very countries that once colonized them, and the ones with powerful economies?
Is independence an objective fact, or are we talking about “paper independence”? Is it not the case also, that independent countries are so integrated into the international system that they must depend on trading arrangements for their exports and imports, and that the advanced economies dictate the terms of trade and commerce? And is it not the case that international companies with investments impose conditions on these independent countries which they accept as a panacea for unemployment, and economic and social development of their countries? Where then is independence?
Even in the Turks and Caicos (TCI), there is talk of independence, which is not widely shared. Persons advocating it often have a vague view of what is involved, and most see it as the opportunity for the use of extraordinary power and authority. Some circles see independence as a strategy for further development of the TCI and its people, enhancing their standard of living, as well as being able to project the country’s image on the regional and international scene. But TCI will soon find itself in the position of the other countries noted above, having terms dictated to us in almost every sphere.
So are independent Caribbean states actually independent colonies?
Norman Girvan, in an article titled “Assessing Westminster in the Caribbean: then and now”, published in the Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, sees the Westminster model as part of an independence pact designed to maintain the status quo in the English-speaking Caribbean, and was not about independence.
For him, this independence pact entrenched property rights and the two-party system and preserved the laws, institutions and symbols of the colonial state. He presumes that the template of the constitution was supplied by the Colonial Office.
Girvan further says in reference to Jamaica, that the independence pact was made between the British and the Jamaican political class whereby the Jamaicans exercise formal political authority, with the economy remaining in the hands of foreign firms and the loyal oligarchy.
He notes that the colonial system is structured in such a way that the two political parties are virtually guaranteed, and represent a display of political power, and says that property rights were inserted at the insistence of one of the richest men in Jamaica. And that colonial ways of thinking were implanted into native elites and became the key to entrenching the Westminster system of government in the soon-to-be independent states.
Does all of this mean that Caribbean independent countries are really independent colonies?
If the template for the constitutions of independent Caribbean states was supplied by the Colonial Office, it means that it was not only a guide to what should be included, but its contents were directed as well. If Caribbean elites influenced the inclusion of property rights as an element in their constitutions, was this to preserve the arrangements they enjoyed, and so limited what would be available to the general population? And is this not the basis for land being a contentious issue throughout the Caribbean?
With two-party dominance as an entrenched feature, would this not exclude other potential parties, since government and opposition are critical to the passing of legislation, or voting on major matters such as constitutional change in many instances requiring a two-thirds majority? And was the two-party system crafted to keep populations divided and antagonistic towards one or the other party? So with most of the features of the pre-independence era still in place, could it not be claimed that Caribbean independent states are in fact independent colonies?
If it is as Girvan said, that the independence pact preserved the laws, institutions and symbols of the colonial state, are all of these, with minimum refinements not practiced in today’s independent Caribbean? And does it not mean that the situation prior to independence remains, and further, that Caribbean states are really independent colonies?
Even now, in some countries of our region, there is a call to review the laws, and certain constitutional arrangements, along with existing institutions that existed in the pre-independence era to bring them in line with the pursuit of justice, human rights and the aspirations of the Caribbean polity which an independent country should reflect.
Even the Caribbean Court of Justice has not received overall support from many Caribbean governments because it is felt that real justice can only come from traditional centers abroad. Also, many Caribbean countries still shudder at the thought of moving on to republic status, since they would have to replace the governor general with a president.
Is this not further evidence that Caribbean independent states are actually independent colonies? And do we know that, according to sources, TCI became an independent colony as a result of a royal charter granted by Queen Victoria in 1873?
• Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus. He holds an M.Ed degree from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and training, University of Leicester. He is a past permanent secretary in education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.