Rejecting colonial rule
Eye of the Needle
R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
May 6, 2022

Rejecting colonial rule

There are many, many good and sound reasons why small countries like ours in the Caribbean voluntarily join together to establish regional bodies such as the OECS (for the smaller countries in the Eastern Caribbean) and CARICOM on the broader scale.

Over the years these arrangements, in spite of whatever weaknesses and shortcomings, have proven to be valuable institutions, not always appreciated by a lot of our citizens.

The exercise of regional solidarity and co-operation is especially important in the conduct of international affairs and matters which have bearing on the region as a whole and its people. From time to time the region is faced with challenges which threaten to impinge on our sovereignty and for which such solidarity and co-operation is vital for defending and promoting our common interests.

Two such challenges, interestingly coming from two major countries, are currently confronting the region. One is the situation in the “British” Virgin Islands following the arrest of its Premier in the USA on drug-related charges, and the report of a British-appointed Commission of Inquiry, resulting in an attempt by the British government to reimpose direct colonial rule.

The other is by another power, also a colonial overlord in the Caribbean including in the Virgin Islands themselves, the USA, directly responsible for the “US” Virgin Islands. That challenge is of a different nature as it concerns the holding of the Summit of the Americas, and who ought to be invited, but it reveals as much of the colonial arrogance as displayed by Britain in the case of the BVI.

In the case of the BVI, where though there must always be the presumption of innocence of those facing criminal charges, Caribbean people cannot feel proud about prominent citizens, especially a Head of government, being indicted on such charges. Yet there are procedures to handle these matters and the law must be allowed to take its course. There can be no excuse for Britain to take the retrograde step of direct rule. The BVI does not belong to Britain, and its people, with the assistance of their brothers and sisters in the region, are more than capable of handling the matter.

The firm rebuffs by both the OECS and CARICOM to Britain is therefore most welcome particularly because our leaders often waffle when faced with challenges from more powerful nations. While it must be made clear that we stand collectively firm on the issue of corruption, we cannot support the planned British move. The United Kingdom is not without corruption in very high places but just as it handles its own, we too in the Caribbean can do so as well.

In addition, Britain’s actions in intervening in the internal affairs of Caribbean countries under colonial control, is not a pleasant one. It suspended constitutions in Guyana (1953) and Grenada (1962) to try to get rid of political leadership it did not favour, and Anguilla has remained a British colony since Britain reimposed direct rule in 1967.

In fact, statements from both CARICOM and the OECS commented on this. The CARICOM statement reads in part, “The imposition of direct rule, and the history of such imposition in the Caribbean, was never intended to deliver democratic governance or to be an instrument of economic and social development of our country and peoples”.

The OECS speaks with a similar voice. In its official response to the BVI situation, (the BVI is a member-state of the OECS), the organisation states:
“It is clear to us that in principle, it is ill-advised to impose direct colonial rule and the history of such imposition in the Caribbean has never achieved the desired result”.

However, supportive as I am of the regional positions, we cannot stay there. Britain is bent on reimposing direct rule because the BVI is still a colony of Britain. We cannot halt at opposing the reimposition of direct rule. CARICOM and the OECS must address the issue of foreign colonial rule in the Caribbean, whether by Britain, the USA, France or the Netherlands.

I made this point forcefully three weeks ago in this column, when I referred to the shocking spectacle of one-half of the countries participating in the CARIFTA Games being colonies of foreign powers. Yes, the governance component must not be overlooked, and we must set powerful examples that corruption will not be tolerated. But the ball is squarely in our court where colonial rule is concerned. We cannot eat our cake and have it, trying to get whatever “benefits” we perceive to emanate from colonial rule, but demanding to be left alone when it suits us.

It is high time we cut the colonial chains and assume full responsibility for our own well-being. Many people in the Virgin Islands (both), the so-called “French” and “Dutch” territories believe that their apparent “better off” economic status compared to some of their neighbours, is only possible because of external rule. It is time to challenge this, to demonstrate that there are alternatives for independent economic development and good governance.

Just as CARICOM and the OECS are forceful in their denunciation of foreign direct rule, so the opportunity must be grasped to champion the cause of and end to colonial rule in the region. The Caribbean must not only be a Zone of Peace, but it must also become a Zone cleansed of colonial rule.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.