Caribbean panorama of heroes and icons
- And the elusive goal of a political union

Guyana Chronicle
January 1, 2000

AS THE Caribbean Community reflects on its heroes and icons of the 20th century, there must be a shared hope that we fare much better in the first year of the Third Millennium, than we did in 1999, as the people of a region grappling to avoid marginalisation in the new economic order of `Globalisation'.

In the 20th century of two world wars, that also witnessed the landing of an American on the moon and the birth and death of the Soviet Union as a superpower, neither limitations of size nor resources prevented the Caribbean from making its own positive impact on the global stage through the creative genius of its artistes, writers and economists as well as a few of its political thinkers and politicians.

Thanks to Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean gave to the international community the celebrated original musical sound of the 20th century - pan music.

The symbolism of that cultural creativity, the steelband, was to be presented in the form of a tenor pan to the United Nations in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of that organisation after two world wars in a century that will also be remembered for the four most significant political revolutions - those of Russia, Mexico, China and Cuba.

Much earlier, the revolutionary `back-to-Africa' movement of Marcus Garvey and the contributions of intellectual visionaries like CLR James and George Padmore, were to help in the struggle against colonialism and imperialism.

At the same time, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, that hero of the working class, was pioneering trade unionism within the Commonwealth, and Uriah `Buzz' Butler, Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley, Grantley Adams and Arthur Cipriani, among others, were to enlarge the struggle for workers unity and social justice.

The modern Caribbean of the 20th century was to also achieve the distinction of winning two Nobel prizes for economics (Arthur Lewis) and literature (Derek Walcott), two of the region's outstanding icons.

Others, like the `Mighty Sparrow', had already made his own contribution in popularising on the world stage calypso as a very entertaining and effective medium of communication. He did so with the passion and dynamism that Bob Marley was to replicate internationally with his reggae music, while scholarly icons like Rex Nettleford was defining and articulating the Caribbean cultural identity.

A combination of the contributions of the region's distinguished cricketers and cultural performers, writers like George Lamming and V. S. Naipaul for sure, helped propel the Caribbean in global thinking and as a place in the age of international tourism that you simply cannot afford to ignore.

The `New World Movement' of academics, writers, lawyers and social commentators, was to make a dynamic impact in the post-independence period of the Caribbean's intellectual life. And apart from a central figure of the Movement like Lloyd Best, economists of the calibre of Clive Thomas and the late George Beckford will be remembered for seminal works such as `Persistent Poverty' (Beckford) and `The Poor and the Powerless' (Thomas).

Tragically, one of the Caribbean's most famous bright young sons, Walter Rodney, `historian of the people' and author of the internationally acclaimed work, `How Europe Underdeveloped Africa', was to fall victim in the best known act of political assassination in the modern, post-independence history of the English-speaking Caribbean, while struggling for democracy and justice in his native Guyana.

Last month, I explained in a December 12 article, my choice of Cuba's Fidel Castro as `Caribbean Man of the Century' in the field of politics and government. He is the Caribbean leader who did more than most to help the process of political liberation in Africa and in overcoming the enormous pressures of some four decades of an embargo by the world's now sole superpower, the U.S.A.

In a different role, Guyana's Cheddi Jagan was to become the `enfant terrible' of British colonial politics in the Caribbean during a long, heroic struggle for political freedom and social justice.

A friend of Cuba's Castro when others were afraid to stand up and be counted, he died at age 79 as Guyana's first freely-elected head of state in that home of the CARICOM Secretariat.

Together, Trinidad and Tobago's Eric Williams - a pan-Caribbean visionary and author of `Capitalism and Slavery' - and Jagan, who produced `The West on Trial' and also, to a lesser extent, Jamaica's Michael Manley, author of `Up The Down Escalator', would have emerged as the most prolific writers of books, monographs and essays than any other of the region's politicians on issues of regional and international importance.

Their works remain for their contemporaries, friends and foes alike to examine, reject or benefit from. Some of their contributions should be recommended as compulsory textbooks for secondary school and university students.

An elusive goal

At midnight yesterday, when we moved into the Third Millennium, there must have been a sense of disappointment for a significant percentage of the region's people to note that for all its reputation for creativity and resourcefulness, the Caribbean has failed to come up with a single project of a regional nature to commemorate this historic milestone.

There is not even a symbolic gesture of a regional cultural or other initiative at this time carrying the name tag - Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as we usher in the new millennium.

As we reminisce on the hundred years journey of the 20th century, we can recognise the panorama of national heroes and icons in virtually every field of endeavour - education and medicine, science and technology, the arts and culture, literature and sports, trade unionism and politics.

It was certainly the century of the birth and rapid enlargements of the women's rights movement that influenced the rise to significant leadership positions of Caribbean women, particularly over the last two decades, in the fields of diplomacy, politics and government and, more recently, the judiciary.

Political unity

But for all the analyses, warnings and promises, we have not been able to advance the regional agenda on that most crucial issue of our togetherness since the death more than three decades ago of the short-lived West Indies Federation -political integration, in any form!

Neither the ideas, vision nor commitment of a Norman Manley, Eric Williams, CLR James, Grantley Adams, Forbes Burnham or Errol Barrow could have moved the political integration agenda forward after the collapse of that British influenced centrally-weak federation. Williams, Michael Manley, Barrow, Burnham and Vere Bird Snr. will, however, be recalled as architects, along with Shridath Ramphal and William Demas, of CARICOM.

With the dawn of political independence, the region launched, in 1973, CARICOM as a mechanism for functional cooperation and economic integration. For all its real and imagined weaknesses, it stands out today as a successful model of regional economic integration.

But, for all the `widening and deepening' processes that have taken place, inspired to some extent by the thinking of that statesman of the region's economists, William Demas, we are left to hope that CARICOM will indeed be a functioning single market and economy served, hopefully, by a Caribbean Court of Justice in a year's time.

Political integration continues to be taboo. There appears no creative imagination, no political will on the part of successive governments from Jamaica in the northern subregion to Guyana on the South American mainland to make possible political union an agenda issue for CARICOM.

At the close of the 20th century, therefore, we remain a group of nations of scattered islands and mainland territories with plenty flags, plenty anthems and national mottoes, plenty cabinet ministers and central bank governors, plenty currencies and airlines, but nowhere to realisation of that elusive goal of political unity.

Yet, it seems imperative that, for all our divisions or differences, we keep hope alive for the unity that could make possible the elusive dream of `one people of one Caribbean nation'.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples