‘Politicians appeal to their base of support and this has resulted in class, ethnic, gender and religious schisms’
THE absence of a unified Caribbean political culture creates a perpetual divisive atmosphere in the region.
It is unfortunate that the rivalry and hostility existing among political parties have been a major contributor to the political ignorance and economic backwardness.
In the post-Independence and Black Power eras, Caribbean politics has made little progress. The politics of the region have been unfortunately circumscribed due to the skewed nature of campaigning, stunted ideology and the outdated Westminster system.
Opposition and ruling parties overlook unity in their parochial pursuit of political power. There seems to be scant regard for the genuine promotion of Caribbean unity among the Caribbean territories.
Pleas, from politicians, for national and regional unity seem like a sham. Politicians appeal to their base of support and this has resulted in class, ethnic, gender and religious schisms. It is most unfortunate that Caribbean politics has been based on alienation, hostility, partisanship and segregation.
The political gerrymandering that has been characteristic of most elections has devalued the sanctity of politics and promoted insularity. The prelude to the actual voting and electoral fraud would usually be platform speeches replete with character assassination, accusations of corruption, mudslinging, thuggery and tribal voting. There seems to be a concerted effort on of aspiring and established politicians to appeal to the sentiments of the crowd.
And, politically motivated detractors have undermined the fragile foundations of racial, cultural and religious unity.
The polarization between ruling and opposition parties is a common phenomenon of politics. For instance, Barbados has the DLP and BLP, St Lucia’s political system comprises the United Workers Party and St Lucia Labour Party, Trinidad and Tobago has the PNM and UNC, Jamaica with its two prominent parties- the PNP and JLP, whilst Grenada possesses the New National Party and the GULP/ULP coalition. These political parties need to view themselves not merely as serving local needs, but as contributing to the goal of regional unification.
Islands need the full and genuine support of the Caribbean politicians in times of crisis. For decades, Haiti has been dogged by political and social instability and in January 1999, President Rene Duval imposed a one-man rule to establish a dictatorship in the poverty-ridden island. In lieu of the Caribbean input in the resolving these problems, the question for the region is – Have we done enough to assist a neighbouring island.
The political mentality at the national and local levels has certainly hampered the ability to and clouded the judgment of politicians in their performance at the regional and international levels. Who or what is to blame? Unknowingly, we have bestowed accolades on our leaders and created mini-fiefdoms which do not translate into proactive leaders’ intent on championing the cause of Caribbean unity. Caribbean politicians need to transcend their petty differences and cherish every opportunity to display camaraderie among their neighbours. Indeed, we need to adopt a philosophy of progressive unity as we strive to become a unified entity.
There are recent incidents which demonstrate the glaring insubordination and apathy in the region. In January 1999, the United States won its appeal before the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the favourable European Union imports of Caribbean bananas.
This was the culmination of a dispute between the Eastern Caribbean and the United States in which the rest of the Caribbean paid only lip service to the issue and seemed fearful of opposing the mighty United States. Countries producing bananas such as Dominica and St Lucia should have received overwhelming support for an issue which would severely affect the economic and social future of the region.
The Caribbean’s history has many unfortunate instances of the United States involvement in the Caribbean whilst the region remained spectators. Events include the United States invasion of Grenada in 1983 and the embargo on Cuba exposed our vulnerability to external influences. Undoubtedly, in the 20th century, the United States treatment meted out to Cuba and the passage of the Helms-Burton law, alienated countries trading with Cuba and should have been seriously addressed by our politicians.
Politicians in the Caribbean region need to realise that they are one of the chief architects of Caribbean unity. They must be principled and unbiased. They must strive to be visibly empowered to utilize financial and human resources necessary to create an environment conducive to integration. There is a dire need for a new breed of politicians- dynamic and visionary, capable of shaping a Caribbean ideology that would create a stable region.
Dr Jerome Teelucksingh is a recipient of the Humming Bird (Gold) Medal for Education and Volunteerism. He is attached to the Department of History at the University of the West Indies at St Augustine. He has published books, chapters and journal articles on the Caribbean diaspora, masculinity, culture, politics, ethnicity and religion. Also, he has produced a documentary – Brown Lives Matter and presented papers at academic conferences.
See other articles by Dr Jerome Teelucksingh on AZP News: