Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Britain to ‘Retake’ Control of the Turks and Caicos Islands: Constitutional Right or Modern Recolonialisation?

"Good. Its time that it was realised that some territories are not able to be entirely self governing due to their size location or history. A consultative legislature with limited powers is all that can be hoped for until circumstances change."
Ash, Perth, Australia

The constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is to be suspended by the British Government today (March 25, 2009), arising out of what it has characterized as, investigations into political corruption in the Caribbean islands, which are still under British colonial rule. The suspension will cede all executive powers in the colony into the hands of the Governor General; who, according to Dr. Michael Misick, TCI Premier, ‘is not [even] a citizen of the country’.

According to the Times of London (online edition, March 17, 2009), in a report by the British Foreign Office authored by Sir Robin Auld, British Parliamentarian, the House of Assembly, Cabinet and ministers of Government will be terminated. Their powers will be transferred to the Governor.

Accused of selling ‘Crown’ lands, apparently without Britain’s awareness or sufficient remuneration in terms of sales taxes, income, etc., Dr. Misick and several of his colleagues (politicians) will be investigated and, possibly, tried for criminal charges by Britain.

This news holds special significance for us in the Caribbean, particularly given our history as former colonies. There is more to the issue than just the mere question of colonial entrapment and domination, though, or even the specific context of the TCI where the politicians are under suspicion. The news is also important in re-contextualising arguments about debt relief and economic enslavement, especially during the current world economic downturn.

While there may well be grounds for British involvement in the affairs of the its colony, the suspension of the TCI constitution, undoubtedly also, evokes old questions about the contempt for non-white, non-British residents of Empire. The remarks above clearly highlight the intractable lack of regard of certain groups of people by colonists, as well as the abiding notion that leadership is largely the preserve of the British Parliament and none other. This is not unlike the arguments used to maintain control of former colonies like Jamaica, who though now politically ‘independent’ retain a Governor General as the representative of the Queen in their constitutions and the state.

Indeed, I made this point, recently, to a friend upon hearing this distressing news. I first enquired whether she had also heard it, herself, as well as to also discuss some of its implications for us here, specifically regarding Dr. Misick’s claim that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) should ‘intercede’ on the TCI’s behalf to Britain. Alarmed at the defeatist and, seemingly groveling manner in which the embattled Premier responded to Britain by asking the, admittedly, less than potent CARICOM bloc to beg for mercy on the TCI’s behalf, I indicated to her just how objectionable his response was.

‘Global War on Terror’/ Democracy:

Before I was able to speak clearly on the matter, however, I was railroaded by a seeming impatience with reasoning, instead. I was treated to an unusual, if not curious face-off with my friend. My position was ridiculed as ‘rhetoric’ and the equivalent of ‘going around the mulberry path’ – code I was to discover for: ‘I (she) do not wish to talk about this, other than to hear herself speak!’ Still, I persevered and indicated that I was dismayed by the meanings of the impending take over, especially during the ‘Global Age of Terror’.

Ostensibly aimed at growing democracy in disparate parts of the world, I pointed out that Britain’s colonial interests in the TCI (Caribbean) sat visibly at odds with this noble thrust. After all, the Region was neither immediately politically important to the terrorism project – perhaps with the exception of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, nor was it necessarily a strategic platform from which to operate British economic interests – at least not on the face of it.

My friend countered with the implication that, the Caribbean was, indeed, a hotspot. Earlier, she had heard news of Russia and Venezuela forming a partnership in the latter country. She argued that the two events, together, were significant, presumably in terms of spelling doom for the Region.

Whereas I concurred that the events were newsworthy, however, I disagreed that Venezuela’s and Russia’s relationship, though troubling in some respects, was unusual. Largely, aimed at enriching the two oil producing nations, who were also at odds with the United States, currently, their partnership in the US’ backyard could hardly be viewed as surprising in this regard. Unlike Britain, who claimed to be more interested in spreading democracy and liberating ‘oppressed nations’ from demagogues like Sadam Hussein, the Taliban and others, the Russians and Hugo Chavez were more obvious about their intentions; however nefarious.

I ventured also that a more direct challenge against the contradictions of British declared interests in democracy might prove more meaningful than an impotent plea for ‘mercy’ by Dr. Misick. My friend disagreed and completely cut me off, accordingly. She stated that, Britain was (well) within its right to do as it saw fit. There was, effectively, no need for discussion. Ironically, I had initially made this same point, which I later revised upon more careful consideration.

The actions of the TCI Premier in terms of asking the leaders of CARICOM ‘intercede’ to Britain on their behalf were especially disappointing, if not surprising. It did not reflect an effective use of his platform as a head of state, albeit a colony. Dr. Misick appeared to lack a seriousness of purpose and or pride, particularly given the drastic nature of Britain’s intent. Consequently, the ‘Crown’s impending actions in the TCI are comparable to Queen Elizabeth the Second’s dismissal of the petition brought against her and the British government, in 1994 by members of Jamaica’s Rastafarian community for reparations.

The Queen justified her refusal to acknowledge the claims on the premise that, at the time of its existence, African Slavery was not a crime. While, that may well have been the case according to British law, it is nonetheless debatable whether a similar argument can be made in terms of the outrageous breach of human rights African Slavery so clearly represents, regardless of whichever time in history.

Whether or not an award is made in terms of damages, itself a disputed matter, given the potential challenges regarding allocating any benefits derived from a reparations package in the present, this too is a statement of the collectively disempowered states of black societies, globally. It is important that injustices such as these are actively challenged and that vigilance is maintained in terms of questioning the very premise of such ‘rights’, whether under colonial domination and or other forms of oppression. Ideological resistance is a critical part of this effort.


Rather than make a direct award to each descendant of African slaves in the ‘New World’, including Jamaica, there is a clear case for debt relief for poor countries like ours. This is especially in the midst of a continuingly precipitous fall in the world economy. Poorer/ smaller countries are more likely to feel the dire effects of this fallout. Indeed, in our last budget, seventy cents in every dollar in Jamaica was allocated towards debt servicing while inflation further eroded the value of the remaining thirty cents.

The case for reparations is not a foolish or even misguided, ‘rhetorical’ attempt at noise-making, as a result, especially when considered in this context. The take-over of the TCI by Britain has similar resonances. Dr. Misick is almost obligated, in my view, to exercise a greater sense of pride and forthrightness in terms of his response to Britain’s suspension of parts of the TCI’s constitution.

Rolling over and playing dead, or at the very least making flaccid remarks regarding what is clearly a grave and damaging act is hardly appropriate. A similar set of actions contributed to current untenable states of persistent poverty in the Region and others like it (Beckford, 1972). Hence, the rest of the Caribbean must view Britain’s action with very deep suspicion. After all, as a self declared democratic loving nation, it behooves us to ask: when do these values apply?

PS: I feel it imperative to point out as well that, early last year (2008), I recieved an email from a friend who is also Catholic, in which a priest from a church in the US talked about a Divine visitation from the Blessed Mother (Mary, Jesus' Mother).

Among others, the email highlighted some of the injustices in the world, in terms of the economic systems which privilege the rich and actively disempower the poor and proceeded to explain that a fallout, as dramatic as the economic downturn, was on its way.

The Blessed Mother said that, it would begin in the US in the heart of the financial district and pull other great economies under - think Iceland who, as a Developed Nation, had to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for lonas to help sustain its economy, late last year. She said that, the crisis would spread right across the world to teach man to be each other's brother and that, it could not be prevented, only delayed. And, even that could only be achieved through deeper committment to the Word of God!

I was amazed to see how the economic crisis unfolded last year, accordingly, with the predicted deepening at about the time that the email said (October-November) and which also started with the mortgage foreclosures, as it also said. Absolutely uncanny!

The question is: do we believe that this recession is an opportunity for us to stop and refocus, even if we are not Catholics, or religious, or whether we believe in (a) God? There can be no doubt that the greed of the Western Capitalists have precipitated this crisis, which no one seems to know when it will end.

Recently, a friend on Facebook pointed out to me also, after viewing a very distressing video about poverty in Africa, that academics from the Caribbean/ 'Developing World' like Walter Rodney, George Beckford and others have been talking about these issues for some time. It behooves us to pay attention and to know our history.

The economic enslavement of smaller, poorer countries to the will of those who live in the more affluent parts of the world is an inescapable reality. Any efforts to resubjugate us, in whichever form, must therefore, be streneously resisted; not so much because we expect a physical victory but because it is the right thing to do!

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