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The price of Independence

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by Nilio Gumbs Tue, Oct 5, 2010

Recently, I heard some guys arguing that the people of St.Vincent and the Grenadines have not benefited much from gaining independence from Britain. They cited the fact that Caribbean islands which remain colonies of Britain, France, the Netherlands and the United States are more prosperous than those that chose independence.{{more}}

Colonies such as Bermuda, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Barts, Netherland Antilles, Aruba and the United States Virgin Islands are far more prosperous than even Barbados and the Bahamas, the two most prosperous Caribbean countries within CARICOM with GDP’s of around US $15,000.

The argument postulated may have some merits economically, which cannot be ignored in light of the present reality of living in a globalized and competitive world.

Sims wrote an article sometime ago arguing that small countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines cannot undertake large capital projects without significant assistance from larger and more developed countries. In essence, such an assertion will make one wonder what is the relevance of being independent.

In this country, the capital side of our budget is heavily funded by the European Development Fund and Taiwan. Many of the projects including schools and polyclinics recently built were from this source.

What are some of the issues that must be explored in rationalizing the debate in favor or against independence?

Undoubtedly the colonies in the region are more successful than those that sought independence. What make these colonies more successful compared with those that are independent?

The French do provide budgetary support for their departments: Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and St. Barts, making them the envy of the Caribbean. Recently, the Martinique and French Guiana electorate rejected in a referrandum, the notion of greater autonomy that was sponsored by the French government itself. The people of those two French departments were concerned that they would loose the significant benefits they receive as French subjects.

Many investors feel safer investing their funds in colonies because of greater regulatory oversight and greater safe guards for their investment in colonies that have to adopt European Union and United States procedures. The recent bank failures in the United States may run counter to that argument.

These colonies can also enjoy the benefits of European Union hand outs to less developed regions. This same mechanism has lifted a backward Spain, Greece and Portugal to become major economic players in the global economy.

Montserrat in this region may have been lucky in not seeking independence from Britain, because Britain undertook to build a new capital called Brades. Also, Montserrates subjects could have taken refuge and work in Britain from the catastrophic Volcanic eruption which destroyed the original capital.

Martinique and Guadeloupe are bananas producers from the Caribbean. They do not have worry about the accusation of preferential access to the French or the European Union market.

Supporters of independence can argue that small nation are given a voice to articulate their positions at international forums such as the United Nations. Critics however, do argue that these countries are easily bought out in some international institutions, such as the Whaling Commission, because of their vulnerable positions economically.

It has allowed us to fashion our own Economic, social political and current historical experience and space unimpeded by our colonial masters.

The severity of slavery that was suffered by our fore parents at the hand of these colonizers made us feel that we have to break the shackles of colonialism and slavery by achieving independence.

We in the Caribbean have been spared the discriminations suffered in Brazil and the United States that persisted after slavery. Black people in the United States were given adult suffrage in 1966 after much demonstration and disturbance. In St.Vincent and the Grenadines, we enjoyed that right fully in 1951.

The argument in support of independence can be backed by statistics. In 1952, there were only four secondary schools. The St.Vincent Grammar School, the Girls’ High School, the Intermediate High School and the Emanuel High School Kingstown. In 2010 there are 26, many built after independence.

In 1975, around 45 per cent of the population were deemed to be illiterate. The last survey conducted in 2002 , noted that it now stands at 17 percent.

However, should we be really concerned about being independent or part of a larger entity? Black Americans and Brazilians view themselves as such. Yet their fore – parents probably had a more brutish experience of slavery and discrimination than that experienced in the Caribbean. In the 1990’s, when McGuire, a white American, and Sammy Sousa, a black from the Dominican Republic, were slugging it out for the record of the most home runs in baseball, a survey revealed that black Americans supported McGuire simply because he was an American.

In assessing the arguments, Vincentians should ask certain questions which were pertinent of the day. Were Vincentians

really enthusiastic about independence or were they influenced by a small educated and political elite who were articulating their own positions? Or was it a position that Britain was willing to shed its black subjects in these islands? Spain and Portugal incorporated the Canary Islands and Madeira as part of their territory, but these islanders have the same skin coloration as their mainlanders.

Could it be that the forces that propelled India and Pakistan in the 1940’s and Africa in the 1960’s to independence were so great and carried such a global momentum that allowed Britain to grant Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados their independence?

Had independence in these islands influenced the political leaders of the less developed islands to pursue such a path?

Many people in the Caribbean feel we have not benefited much from independence except for national pride. To the consternation of the People National Party (PNP) government, then in power, a survey conducted in the 1990’s revealed that most people who lived through colonial times felt their lives were much better then.

They were also nostalgic of the bus system they had under colonialisms which was in tatters in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

In looking at the pros and cons, we have to ask ourselves whether the working class, the illiterates, and poor Vincentians were fully involved in the process. Or were they blindly following the founders of independence and the defenders of such, who lived comfortably as professionals, the intelligencia and the privileged minority, while they, the majority, lived a wretched existence on a daily basis.

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