[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]


Volume 65 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: THE CARIBBEAN AND THE GUIANAS (except Cuba)


CLIFFORD E. GRIFFIN, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, School of Public and International Affairs, North Carolina State University
JOAN F. HIGBEE, Specialist in the Caribbean Area, Hispanic Division, Library of Congress

THE INTERRELATED ISSUES of governance, development, and viability in an increasingly globalized world continue to resonate within and among Caribbean countries as they have attempted to respond and adjust to the profound impacts of the global recession. The maintenance of good governance, together with the role of civil societies, migration, citizenship, economic growth and development, crime, HIV/AIDS, culture, and identity continue to strongly impact these countries as they cope with the impact of the ongoing global recession. Indeed, it is at this historical moment of global economic downturn, when countries the world over have been turning to their governments for more effective leadership, that the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), the region's international governmental organization (IGO) that is responsible for regional governance, is facing its most strident criticism.

The article, "Bye Caricom & WI Cricket," penned in the October 27, 2009, edition of the Barbados Nation News newspaper by retired (Barbados) diplomat and social commentator, Peter Laurie, contained a rather blistering attack against CARICOM. This attack registered the most high-level criticism of the quality of governance within this international governmental organization (IGO). Laurie opined that "CARICOM has exhausted itself. Caribbean regionalism is not so much in retreat as it is irrelevant. CARICOM leaders have absolutely no interest in regional integration other than what petty benefits each can gouge out of it. Most of them, except for the cheapskates and freeloaders, are slowly realizing that they get out less than they put in. CARICOM is no longer a win-win situation, but a zero-sum game... In a globalised world economy, we're all better off fending for ourselves. CARICOM has become a drag on the progress of its member states...." These sentiments capture the mood of many thinkers across the Caribbean, and speak to a large extent to the challenges, if not the failures of governance across the region.

However, there are many opposing views, including that presented by Patsy Lewis in Surviving Small Size: Regional Integration in Caribbean Ministates (item #bi2009000536#). She argues that culture provides the most important noneconomic grounds for regional unity, and since Caribbean countries share many common cultural traits, political union (regional integration) "may become a possibility if these countries were to emphasize a shared West Indian identity, a democratic process, and a need to act as a sovereign entity to combat globalization and economic weakness." There is an intellectual and historical basis for this claim. Peter Manuel, for example, in his edited volume, Creolizing Contradance in the Caribbean (item #bi2009004604#), undertakes a pan-regional analysis of the diverse forms of contradance and quadrille, the most popular, widespread and important genres of Creole Caribbean music and dance in the 19th century, and demonstrates how these forms constituted sites for interaction of musicians and musical elements of different racial, social, and ethnic origins, which forged musical genres like the Cuban danzoacuten and son, the Dominican merengue, and the Haitian mereng.

Contradicting this cultural commonality argument is Prem Misir's edited volume, Cultural Identity and Creolization in National Unity: The Multiethnic Caribbean (item #bi2009000537#), which contends that because slavery separated similar linguistic and cultural groupings, it produced a creolized population, whose "commonality" is an embrace of a variant of European culture. More important than the common variant of European culture is the fact that the Caribbean population is "a multiethnic mosaic," which exhibits centripetal forces. It is, therefore, these centripetal forces that endanger national unity, good governance, and political stability in the region. This perspective is also borne out in Viranjini Munasinghe's Callaloo Or Tossed Salad? East Indians and the Cultural Politics of Identity in Trinidad (item #bi2009000531#), which examines how Indo-Trinidadian leaders in Trinidad have come to challenge the implicit claim that their ethnic identity is antithetical to their national identity as they seek to change the national image of Trinidad to one with Indo-Trinidadian culture portrayed equally alongside those of the dominant Afro-Caribbean (Creole) culture.

The multiethnic mosaic is consistent with the existence of latent separatist/secessionist tendencies in a number of multi-island states. These tendencies are captured by Douglas Midgett in Pepper and Bones: The Secessionist Impulse in Nevis (see HLAS 63:2067) in which he suggests that "Nevisian predilection for separation from its sister island in the two-island state of St. Kitts-Nevis is born less of some collective identity formation and more of a growing intolerance of what Nevisians regard as continued bondage in an unworkable state structure." This is also one aspect of CARICOM's "dysfunctionality" that Laurie advances in his contention that the regional governance institution has become irrelevant.

Further, as Laurie contends, nostalgia, combined with an unwillingness to admit the dysfunctionality of CARICOM, have resulted in the constituent units failing to develop at their respective pace and abilities, as he points to exhibit number one: "Everybody knows the Secretariat should not be in Georgetown, [Guyana] but nobody will bell the cat." For exhibit number two, Laurie contends that "the Regional Negotiating Machinery has been emasculated for purely political reasons." This is confirmed by Jessica Byron, in "Singing from the Same Hymn Sheet," (item #bi2006002340#), who points out that that "Caribbean countries have often found themselves defending minority positions in multilateral negotiations." Dr. Byron is much more diplomatic than the former ambassador, who noted that "when we (CARICOM) get to sit at the table with the Americans or the Europeans, we end up presenting a laundry list of petty complaints and begging for pittances. How humiliating." Peter Clegg, in Banana Splits and Policy Challenges (item #bi2006002341#), underscores this point by demonstrating how the cozy relationship that once existed between the Caribbean banana interests and the UK government began to unravel in the mid-1980s under the influence of an increasingly powerful European Community. Similar perspectives are captured in the volume, The Diplomacy of Small States: Between Vulnerability and Resilience, edited by Andrew F. Cooper and Timothy M. Shaw (item #bi2009004443#).

The governance issue remains rather complex as the question of political status is treated differently by the various political units across the region. Clegg and Pantojas-Garcia, in Governance in the Non-independent Caribbean (item #bi2009004448#), address three fundamental issues affecting non-independent countries across the region: the effectiveness and fairness of governance arrangements in place between the territories and their metropolitan centers; their economic position and the possibilities for future development; and the patterns of migration and settlement between the territories and each metropole. Pedro Malavet, commenting on Puerto Rico's status in America's Colony: The Political and Cultural Conflict Between the United States and Puerto Rico (item #bi2009000501#), contends that "the Puerto Rican cultural nation is under the sway of US imperialism, which compromises both the island's sovereignty and Puerto Ricans' citizenship rights." But this issue is treated differently by de Jong & Kruijt from the perspective of "extended statehood" (item #bi2009000526#) as opposed to non-independence, which gives agency to these political entities rather than viewing them from the perspective of colonial holdovers in an increasingly independent and democratic world.

Governance also impacts upon the issue of crime (item #bi2008002775#), particularly the extent to which a close relationship continues to manifest itself between politics, political patronage, and drug violence, as indicated by Anthony Harriott in Organized Crime and Politics in Jamaica (item #bi2009004579#). This phenomenon, long associated with the more impoverished sections of Kingston, including the evolution of certain constituencies into garrison communities, is increasingly manifesting itself across the region, as events in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and St. Kitts and Nevis, for example, demonstrate the provision of political patronage among the most marginalized, and the separation between politics and drug violence over the past 20 years that has witnessed locally produced ganja replaced by Colombian cocaine.

Other governance issues, such as maritime boundary delimitation, overlapping maritime jurisdictions, fisheries, and hydrocarbons, are captured in Intervention, Border and Maritime Issues in CARICOM edited by Kenneth Hall and Myrtle Chuck-A-Sang (item #bi2009004584#), and in Clifford E. Griffin's The Race for Fisheries and Hydrocarbons in the Caribbean Basin: The Barbados-Trinidad and Tobago Maritime Dispute—Regional Delimitation Implications (item #bi2009003698#). Criticisms of CARICOM's deficiency in governance also extend into the area of gender relations and gender equity (item #bi2007000458#). As the European Union continues to deepen its integration process, the question that will continue to be on the minds of thinkers, scholars, politicians and pundits alike is whether governance across the region can improve without meaningful change in CARICOM. [CEG]

Although the Constitution of 1987 in force in Haiti envisions bottom-up representation, political attention directed toward the country remains focused upon the president and to some extent the Parliament. National institutions remain undeveloped. In the period 2008–2009, the Parliament of Haiti removed two prime ministers. A third recently confirmed prime minister, still in place in January 2010, has announced that his goal will be to establish an environment favorable to investors and job creation. The jobs most frequently mentioned are those of garment assembly workers earning some three dollars per day. The US Congress passed the Hope II Act that allows clothing assembled in Haiti to enter the US duty free. Former President Clinton was appointed United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti; he has since brought an international body of potential investors to the country. UN forces remain in Haiti. The Haitian Police Force has expanded.

In light of accomplishments made by peasant environmental movements and leaders the agrarian future of rural Haiti is emerging as a story of exceptional interest. Born and nurtured from within the country, created and led by Haitians, there are multifaceted human development initiatives that offer a fresh approach—respectful of culture and context—to economic development, environmental protection and individual survival. A part of that story is told in lectures at the Library of Congress by leaders of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP), available on the LC Web site: http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=4799 and http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=4804.

Since at least 1804, it has been possible to rely upon the "Francophone" Caribbean to address the deepest issues of human identity. Aimé Cesaire died in 2008. From his homeland of Martinique come two works that continue the tradition of questioning identity (items #bi2009004121# and #bi2009004741#) and a third that illuminates it (item #bi2009004120#). [JFH]


Go to the:


Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (7/16/14)