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25 years of independence – another side

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I was somewhat intrigued by the “Vincentian’s” editorial of October 22, “25 years onwards”. As one who frequently harks back to the 1970s when there was a lot of vitality in the region especially where the search for alternative paths to development was concerned, I took interest in what was said about the period from the 1980s to present day.

“Unfortunately, in the 1980s we aligned ourselves with imperialism and failed to pursue our own independent path to social, cultural, economic and political development. In the 1985 – 2000 period we lost much of what had been achieved during the era of the late 1960s and 1970s. We threw wide the door to cultural domination by the imperialist North and found ourselves in the most reactionary of circles keeping company with the Reagans, Thatchers, Bothas and Kohls.” {{more}}

Now does the “we” apply only to St. Vincent or to the region? What were the realities then: realities for small independent nations in the midst of the Thatcher-Reagan conservative revolution? By what stretch of the imagination can it be suggested that we kept company with the Bothas and Kohls? It is true to say that the period between the 1960s and 1983 were golden days for the region, a time when progressive forces kept issues on the agenda and pointed to alternatives to the prevailing model of development.

The Grenada revolution in 1979 was to have provided a path to a new approach to development and to have served as an example to the rest of the region. In the process Grenada messed up and the Grenada revolution became dirty. The progressives in the region took cover as Reagan tried to convince us that there was a communist behind every bush. The arithmetic was not a simple one. Michael Manley pushed the agenda of the South but the forces unleashed by Reagan helped to strangle his efforts. Grenada fought desperately but fell victim to its own forces, assisted of course by the strong winds blowing from outside.

The Caribbean capitulated, reaching its lowest ebb when Eugenia Charles stood on the steps of the White House and farcically issued a phantom invitation to Reagan to save Grenada and the Caribbean. Michael Manley, whose government was defeated in 1980, appeared to be the only glimmer of sanity. But he was then out of power and returned later to backtrack on a lot of what he had tried before. The man who was a spokesman for the South had lost his voice.

We all have to take responsibility for the directions our countries took. Interestingly enough the Grenada revolution self- destructed when critical forces in the region were beginning to reassess and to look more favourably on what was happening there. Our so-called progressives abandoned ship. In St. Vincent the United Peoples Movement was ripped apart. Many of our intellectuals and activists seemed to have lost hope and began, with the fall of Soviet communism, to sing from a different song sheet. They accepted, it seemed, from their body language and rhetoric or lack of it that there was only one path to development. The way was prepared for the language of market forces and liberalisation. In my view 1983-84 was a turning point in our search for alternative paths to development.

My problem with the “Vincentian’s” analysis is that it is a bit simplistic. The question is what were the alternatives then for small single countries against the powerful forces of the West? There was hope by our leaders in 1983 that the Caribbean would have occupied a high place on the U.S. agenda or at least be recipients of U.S. handouts. Eugenia Charles was given a lot of promises that failed to materialise for Dominica and the region.

In reality, the region was no longer important to Reagan and the West. Poor Eugenia lost faith and made a complete change in her attitude to Cuba. But to what was the “Vincentian” referring when it mentioned the independent path to social, cultural, economic and political development that was then open to us? Which other countries at that time took this independent path? The point about throwing ourselves wide open to cultural domination by the imperialist north is one worth looking at. Again, what were the alternatives then? What are the alternatives today in the light of globalisation and American dominance that come with the technology? We have to find answers to this. We have to examine the issue of globalisation closely and its impact on Caribbean identity or we will be lost. But all of this is easier said than done.

If the focus of the editorial was on St. Vincent, and it probably was since what was being discussed was our 25 years of independence, then we have to remember that we are looking at a country of about 90,000 people then. We had just been given the formal instruments of independence and entered that status without fully understanding what we were about. It is not clear that we have developed that understanding even today. The editorial went on to state that, “Unfortunately, for most of the past twenty five years, we failed to pull our people forward.” Again the pronoun we! This is an effort that will have to be fought on all fronts.

I expect little from the politicians who are trapped in the five-year electoral mindset. Civil society will have to play the leading role and pull our political actors forward. It is incumbent on our intellectuals, our union leaders and civil society generally not to accept what appears to be the inevitability of our situation but to continue to look for ways forward, ways that would preserve our identity and make lives better for our people. This is why we have to go beyond our political divisions and forge alliances for the benefit of the development of our people.

Many of us see constitutional reform as providing the means, but it is we the people who have to make our constitutions work. But even then the constitution is only a mechanism. The ball is in our court.

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