50/50 Surveying the Past, Mapping the Future

Hundreds of people congregated at the University College of the Cayman Islands campus for a three-day conference examining the history and future of the Caribbean region. Here is an overview of some plenary presentations. 

The Caribbean Conference: 50/50 – Surveying the Past, Mapping the Future on 21-23 March was the result of a collaboration among UCCI, International College of the Cayman Islands and University of the West Indies. The event marked the 50th anniversary of the fall of the West Indies Federation and contemporary independence of Jamaica and Barbados. 

The conference consisted of plenary presentations to all in attendance, as well as multiple breakout sessions into smaller panel discussions. The plenary presenters covered a range of topics including regional unity, national independence, the judiciary, relative performance of countries, current challenges and strategies for the future. 

“Towards a more perfect union” 

Former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur argued that the greater unification of the Caribbean is necessary to its survival. 

Arthur noted that his nation has been a prime beneficiary of regional cooperation, with more than half of its commodity exports going to Caribbean Community countries, and between 15-20 per cent of tourists to Barbados coming from the Caribbean region. 

“Our region has truly been Barbados’ oyster,” he said. 

He said that the region’s history has been one of struggles and striving in the face of obstacles, and that challenges are only expected to be more formidable in the future. 

“The Caribbean taken as a bloc constitutes the world’s smallest and most vulnerable group of countries,” Arthur said. 

Despite patent disadvantages, Caribbean countries have achieved notable success. “It is also of some great significance that the countries in the Caribbean that have recently performed the best are those that appear to have the most meagre resources with which to work,” he said. 

The development of the region has been driven by the “creative imagination of its people” – a promising portent dovetailing with realities of global society. However, he said, “Going back centuries now, our political landscape is strewn by the proclamation of grand schemes to forge unity at all levels, and the inability or failure to successfully bring such grand schemes to fruition.” 

A looming crisis for Caribbean countries is their extremely large ratios of debt to gross domestic product. The region should not expect a rescue from outside countries, as Greece and Ireland received, he said. 

“Since our economies are neither systemic threats nor basket cases, the situation facing Caribbean economies generates no equivalent response to that being followed elsewhere,” Arthur said. “We are therefore very much on our own, left to our own devices.” 

He said Caribbean countries are increasingly seeking solutions by way of relationships with non-Caribbean countries, jeopardising regional unity. 

“[T]he region faces the spectre of becoming a ‘failed society’,” he said. 

In the last 50 years, the triumph of the Caribbean has been the triumph of “insular nationality” – and the conception of the ‘Caribbean man’ is more myth than fact. And modern communications technology means that the ordinary Caribbean citizen is better connected to global society than regional society, he said. 

He lamented failures to create a single regional economy, calling that a strategic mistake. In order to move toward a more perfect union, fundamental issues of regional governance must be fixed and resolved, he said. That would constitute forming supranational institutional arrangements endowed with “real executive authority”. 

“The community must become a community of pooled sovereignty,” Arthur said.

The attractions of Nationhood: Illusion and Reality – Lessons from the CARICOM experience 

Former Caribbean ambassador Sir Ronald Sanders spoke on the allure of independence and its potential consequences. He said a strong regional support network – that currently does not exist – would be vital to the hopes of aspiring independent Caribbean jurisdictions. 

Sanders referred to a recent statement by the new Chair of the United Nations Committee on Decolonisation, Diego Morejon Pazmino of Ecuador, who said new strategies are necessary to ensure the final disappearance of colonialism. Sanders said neither Pazmino nor the committee indicated what those new strategies would entail or what might replace territories’ present links to metropolitan powers. 

“Yet, these are important questions for the people of these small states to consider in determining how they should respond to the siren call for independence and nationhood, often made by political leaders within their countries,” Sanders said. 

There are 16 non-independent territories on the UN list, including seven in the Caribbean, six of those administered by the UK. 

“The urge for independence is often present among small and vocal groups who link their non-independent status to slavery, exploitation and racism and who regard forms of political independence as a defining end to that experience,” he said. “The urge is understandable, but for small states – and more particularly micro-states – the practicalities of its achievement should restrain passion.” 

Sanders listed some of the benefits that mother countries confer upon citizens of their territories, including access to social services and education, freedom from immigration controls and opportunities to work. He said points of contention typically concern territorial governments’ relationship with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office via the British-appointed governors, rather than arising from the individual citizens themselves. This is a situation familiar to the Cayman Islands. 

“In the past there has also been more than a little tension here in Cayman between the government and the British authorities over the extent to which the Cayman government can incur debt without approval from the British government,” he said. 

He also referred to complaints from officials in the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands and Anguilla. 

“The relevant point here is that there is dissatisfaction in the relationship between the governments of some of the non-independent territories in the Caribbean and the British government, as on the one hand, governments seek to assume greater political control of their territories and on the other hand, the British government applies what it considers good governance systems and procedures that constrain the powers of local governments,” Sanders said. 

The desire for independence is typically restricted to the political elite, not the general population, he said, for three reasons: Benefits conferred by the metropolitan power, high financial costs of independence, and that as non-independent states look across the waters, they see many independent countries whose standard of living is not as good as theirs. 

According to Sanders, the primary gain of becoming independent is gaining a voice in international organisations. For several Caribbean nations, that voice has been rendered meaningless by their inability to pay dues to the organisations, or necessity to be represented by a larger intermediary state, such as Canada on the boards of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. 

He said a robust CARICOM would be an asset to UK territories looking at independence. 

“Within a CARICOM framework, independent from Britain would not leave them swimming alone in the turbulent sea of international relations without even a meagre life belt,” he said. 

He added, “But, CARICOM itself does not at this present juncture in its history offer an enticing prospect.” 

Sanders relayed concerns recently set down by St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who described CARICOM’s performance using terms such as patchy at best, mostly in tatters and undermined daily. 

Sander said, “Surely, in the tough economic circumstances in which Caribbean states exist; in the reality that none, by itself can successfully combat the challenges of sea-level rise, of HIV/AIDS, of drug trafficking and gun running; in recognition that each by itself is a voice crying in the wilderness, the time for that commitment to mature regionalism has come.” 

He said deeper regional integration would not only be an opportunity for CARICOM’s independent members, “but would offer the non-independent Caribbean states a viable vehicle for their own progress”. 

 

The History, Meaning and Importance of Judicial Independence: A Caribbean Perspective 

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie of the Cayman Islands spoke on the importance of the financial and political independence of the judiciary and its members. The Chief Justice traced the concept of judicial independence from the Hebrew Testament and Greco-Roman civilisation, through the English monarchy and Magna Carta, to England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the enshrinement of separation of powers in the US Constitution.  

He pointed to several examples of transgressions upon the independent judiciary in the British Commonwealth that have taken place this year. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani refused to obey a court order to investigate alleged corruption by President Asif Ali Zardari, with whom he is party co-chair. In Papua New Guinea there was an attempted coup and many recent attempts to suspend the Chief Justice. In Maldives, paramilitary forces invaded the court, kidnapped and arrested the Chief Justice. In Malawi, a strike by court officers forced the closure of all courts in the country. In Fiji, “the farce of the non-democratic government” has been preventing ordinary access to the courts, Smellie said. 

“The obvious lesson that these recent and current examples hold for us who enjoy the relative stability of our Caribbean democracies is, of course, that we may never take the great organising principle for granted,” he said. “The separation of powers is the backbone of democracy.”  

While Caribbean governments have been far more stable, some ministers exert control over judges’ travel schedules and budgets. 

The Chief Justice also addressed fights over funding for legal aid, which has long been a contentious issue in the Cayman Islands.  

“Even more poignant and closer to home was the recent diversion of the entire legal aid budget away from the courts by way of ministerial edict for other nation building purposes. This was said to be justified in part out of a sense of political umbrage that the courts should not be spending money on expensive lawyers to get criminals off the hook,” he said, alluding to a particular tussle regarding the 2009/10 budget with the then-Leader of Government Business, now Premier, McKeeva Bush.  

“While the position with legal aid has since been restored to the status quo ante, the episode certainly gave the impression that the political directorate did not regard the administration of justice as an important priority and did not understand the need for the institutional independence of the judiciary as a vital aspect of its ability to administer justice,” the Chief Justice said.  

“The episode was an example of how bureaucratic control of the administrative functions of the judiciary can undermine the need of the judicial institution to be insulated from political control,” he added. 

 

What Explains Success and Failure in National Development? A Re-Examination of the Barbados-Jamaica Debate 

Sociology professor Orlando Patterson examined the relative successes of Barbados and failures of Jamaica, postulating that despite their ostensible similarities and timing of their independence from Britain, real underlying differences in their societies and treatment by the British set the two nations on divergent paths. 

Independent Caribbean states have had a mixed, largely disappointing record, marked by massive urban and rural poverty and social insecurity, particularly among the elderly. However, states have demonstrated political maturation and extraordinary cultural production, said Patterson, who for eight years was a special advisor to Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley. 

For this presentation, Patterson examined the two outliers of the region, Jamaica and Barbados – the former, which has failed despite abundant resources and high initial expectations, and the latter, which ranks among the world’s advanced countries despite minimal resources, small land area and a high population density. 

Patterson pointed to several tables of data showing Barbados’ statistical superiority over Jamaica according to objective measures. For example, the literacy rate in Barbados is 99.7 per cent (higher than the UK’s rate of 99 per cent), whereas in Jamaica it is 87.9 per cent. Patterson said further that Jamaica’s rate is probably high, considering the high number of people who are barely functionally literate. 

“How could Barbados have gotten it so right? How could Jamaica have gotten it so wrong?” he said. 

As a caveat, Patterson said Barbados’ development is not a miracle like the so-called East Asian Tigers. However, its steady growth over the decades has propelled the nation ahead of most Eastern European countries and even the former colonial power Portugal. 

Current economic thinking, placing utmost emphasis on institutions, does not present an adequate rationale for the disparity between the two countries, he said. 

“Jamaica and Barbados inherited similar institutions from their British colonial past. Hence, institutions could not be the explanation for the divergence,” Patterson said. 

While economists say institutions and policies are important, “they neglect the elephant in the room, the social and cultural context of the growth” – which Patterson called the embeddedness of the economic institutions. 

Patterson cited features of Barbados as a colony that worked to its favour when it became a nation, including a deep long-lasting representative government, a climate that made the island seem as a healthier place than Jamaica, use of the entire island for plantations, more whites and lower landlord absenteeism, more commitment to the island from the white elite (and hence more capital reinvestment into Barbados), ruthlessly efficient planters, natalist policies regarding slaves from very early on, and overall a more cohesive society. In Barbados, poor whites known as Redlegs were viewed in absolute contempt by rich whites. That reduced the black sense of racial grievance, he said. “The system was segregated but it was seen as less unfair than Jamaica’s,” he said. 

The white Barbadian slave owners’ policy of allowing their slaves to reproduce (as opposed to the Jamaican policy of working them until death and then importing more slaves from Africa) brought about a near-equal gender ratio among the slave population, a more homogeneous Creole population and a low level of revolts in Barbados. Additionally, there was no post-emancipation peasant system in Barbados, due to a lack of land. From the beginning, it was instilled in Barbadians that migration or education was the only way out, Patterson said. 

The British, meanwhile, practiced self-fulfilling imperial policies, he said. Specifically, the British viewed Barbadians as smarter, safer and more reliable than other Caribbean people, and therefore invested more resources and training into the population. Barbadians were trained for lower level support roles in the Empire, such as comprising the police force for other territories such as Bahamas and British Columbia (Belize). 

“Barbados was already way ahead at the end of the colonial system,” Patterson said. 

In 1960, Barbados’ per-pupil primary school spending was 2.3 times higher than in Jamaica, he said. In 1860, roughly one-in-six Barbadians could already read, judging by the number of Bibles distributed by churches. 

“The human capital investment is the number one difference between Jamaica and Barbados,” he said. 

“Innovation Governance and Small States: Strategic Opportunities in Energy, Food and Health” 

A trio of UWI faculty spoke on looming challenges and future strategies for Caribbean states. Neville Duncan, former director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies at UWI-Mona in Jamaica, discussed the Caribbean’s place in the global economic picture. 

The worldwide financial recession is bringing about a new world order, replacing the long-running cycle of booms and busts, he said. This will transition to a new political economy that will transcend capitalism, Duncan said, predicting that the world market was heading for a new crash. 

He said global money, in electronic form free of all sovereign control and enabled by open cloud data storage/retrieval technology, will supplant US Dollar hegemony. “Cash will be a thing of the past within three years,” he said. 

Duncan said the new currency will help to democratise cultures. 

Pointing to extraordinary debt-GDP ratios, massive printing of currency, and economies predicated upon cheap oil, Duncan foretold a looming global financial and economic depression, where all economies will be wounded, but hopefully not mortally. 

Topsoil erosion, aquifer depletion and rising food prices will lead to wide-scale hunger. 

Focussing on the world’s three largest economies, the US, Europe and China, Duncan said the US economy will suffer but should recover the quickest, largely due to new technologies (such as fracking and horizontal drilling) to produce oil and gas. 

“The US is on the road to disaster, but the chances are good that the US will save the world,” he said. 

Europe’s silver lining was harder to spot. “Europe is in bad shape,” he said. 

While the argument against China is that its economy is a house of cards that could tumble if one sector falls, Duncan said China’s GDP is already bigger than that of the US and is growing at a much faster rate. 

Michael Witter, a senior research fellow at SALISES at UWI-Mona, talked about the need to incorporate climate change projections into Caribbean development strategies. 

“There can be little doubt that climate change is the most important factor for the long run development and perhaps the survival of the Caribbean,” he said. 

“We can’t afford to take the position of some [US] Republican candidates that it doesn’t exist,” he said. 

Witter lauded a recent policy paper by the Cayman Islands National Climate Change Committee, saying it “must be one of the most up-to-date and technically impressive of such national documents in the Caribbean”. 

He noted that a collaboration among the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (in Barbados), Climate Studies Group Mona (at UWI-Mona), Institut de Meteorologia (in Cuba), and Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (in Belize) is producing important work on climate change in the region. “This cooperation needs to be extended and deepened to improve the models that forecast climate and thereby enhance the information base for policy makers,” he said. 

A primary threat to small island developing states, such as the Cayman Islands, is inundation caused by rising sea levels. Unfortunately, current projects “show temperature increases much greater than the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius that the SIDS need to avoid inundation and severe damage to their economies, together with drier conditions,” he said. 

He urged the embracing of climate change-based initiatives by governments and private sector entities. “Despite the difficulties, the strategy of sustainable development with the objective of building low carbon economies offers the only viable long run strategy for the region,” Witter said. 

Witter called for greater regional cooperation among CARICOM members, and extending that to embrace non-English speaking countries and non-independent territories as well. “Caribbean countries and territories share the Caribbean Sea and the climate, neither of which have regard for language group or constitutional status,” he said. 

Keith Nurse, director of the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy and Services, at UWI-Cave Hill in Barbados, talked about ways that Caribbean countries can diversify their economies through innovation governance in the areas of energy, food and health. 

“It is increasingly recognised that Caribbean countries need to improve their innovation systems in order to compete globally,” he said. At the same time, those systems should also seek to address needs such as poverty and sustainability. 

As most Caribbean countries rely on imported fossil fuels for energy, it is important to invest in local renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and biofuels, he said. As a successful example, Nurse cited Barbados’ investment in solar water heaters, which save an estimated US$520 per year per household, and the manufacture of which creates local jobs. 

In the context of rising food prices, it makes economic sense for countries to invest in local food production by either adapting new crops or improving production of traditional products, he said. 

“There are expanding market opportunities for niche foods in the regional and diasporic markets,” he said. As an example, he cited Barbadian singer Rihanna’s endorsement of coconut water product Vita Coco. 

In regard to health, the Caribbean’s high-risk profile for chronic non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes) demands action to reduce the high economic costs of CNCDs, but also presents “significant opportunities to generate new sources of income, employment and exports from investing in a strategy that moves beyond the curative medical approaches towards a preventative model”, he said. 

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