Tim Hector was an example of tenacity, independence and patriotism
A tribute by David Hinds
November 17, 2002
During a conversation I had with Eusi Kwayana last Sunday he mentioned that he may have to decline an invitation to write an article on Tim Hector since he has not been in contact with Tim's politics over the last decade. Tim often referred to Eusi as the father of Caribbean Black Power and Eusi in turn thought very highly of Tim. Eusi and I have talked quite often about Tim this past year as I try to update him on the new currents in Caribbean politics. On Sunday we talked a bit about the controversy resulting from Tim's decision to represent the Antiguan government at regional forums. Eusi had not heard Tim's explanation and had tried unsuccessfully to contact him over the last year. Little did we know that that conversation would be our last about Tim Hector while he was alive. On Tuesday morning I got an e-mail from a journalist, Ryan Narine, informing me that Tim had died and requesting that I do a tribute to him for the Caribbean Cricket website.
I first learned about Tim Hector in the mid-1970s through the Caribbean Contact newspaper, which reported on his anti-corruption struggles in Antigua and his fight for press freedom. I was immediately drawn to his fearlessness. Later I began to read his writings in the Outlet newspaper that he founded and edited. Nigel Westmaas and I would devour it as soon as it came to the WPA's office and throughout the years Tim's ideas would often be the departure point for our rap sessions.
I knew Tim had been in and out of hospital over the last year through his columns which are linked to my website guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Yet his death came as a shock. In his last posted article written from his hospital bed in Cuba he reported that he was optimistic and feeling fine as he awaited his second surgery. I kept looking for his weekly articles, as I was particularly interested in a series he had started on Antigua. But their non-appearance did not signal to me that things might not have turned out as well as he hoped.
I first met Tim Hector in person fifteen years ago at a conference on CLR James and Walter Rodney in New York. I remember his presentation to this day, as I felt intimidated speaking immediately after him. I last saw him in Antigua in 1998 when I interviewed him for the TV programme, CaribNation. After the interview we talked informally for another hour as he tried to get me to explain the problems that had just started in Guyana. We talked about Antiguan and Caribbean politics and of course about cricket. He said two things about West Indies cricket that demonstrated his unique perspective on the game.
First, he opined that West Indies cricket was not in crisis; that in effect West Indies cricket could not be in crisis as it was the very essence of our being. Decline yes, but crisis no. I remember thinking that he must be crazy for everyone knew that our cricket was in crisis. But Tim was not 'everyone.' For him, West Indies cricket was going through a period of adjustment in the same way that the wider Caribbean society was being structurally adjusted. This is where Tim Hector stands apart from other cricket commentators. He was a thinker about the game not only in technical terms, but also in sociological terms. In this regard he continued the tradition pioneered by his mentor, CLR James. The sociological work on cricket currently being done by Professor Hilary Beckles is possible because of Tim Hector's persistence. Tim did not conceive of our cricket outside of the political, socio-economic and cultural currents beyond the boundary.
The other comment in that interview that struck me was in relation to Carl Hooper. Tim was a great admirer of Hooper. Unlike others he did not see or describe Hooper as an underachiever, but as an important indicator of Guyana's and the Caribbean's contradiction. He thought that Hooper embodied the contradiction of a Guyana that produced Burnham, Jagan, Kwayana, and Martin Carter of one generation, and Rodney, Thomas, and Roopnaraine of the next generation, yet could not put it together as a nation. Tim felt that Hooper would come into his own once he sorted out his significance to his society.
Tim Hector comes from a generation of Caribbean thinker-activists who very early turned their backs on the reformist approaches to the region's political-economic development that their predecessors were advancing. He, along with Walter Rodney, Maurice Bishop, Rosie Douglas, Lloyd Best, Clive Thomas, Trevor Munroe, Andaiye, George Beckford, Phyllis Coard, Ralph Gonzales, Bernard Coard, George Odlum and others, sought to advance what they saw as necessary a Caribbean revolution that would move the region towards an authentic independence. Of this group, Tim Hector emerged as one of the most ideologically independent. Though a Marxist-socialist, he was not keen on the Moscow-Leninist approach. He preferred the Jamesian approach of popular participation and organization and as the WPA statement observed, he came the closest of his generation to living out CLR James' philosophical- political outlook. My generation got in touch with James through Tim's theory and practice.
Like so may left radicals of his generation, Tim Hector did not win elections and so did not hold public office for most of his career. His movement-party, the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM) participated in elections with no success. Yet Tim Hector towered in Antiguan politics.
This was due largely to his public education mostly through the pages of his weekly newspaper, Outlet, which was perhaps the best leftist newspaper in the post-colonial Caribbean experience. Outlet dealt with everything Caribbean whether it was cricket, history, politics, art and culture, or gender issues. And the analysis was second to none. Tim's own column, Fan the Flame, was distinctive for its popular orientation yet rigorous analysis and independence of thought.
But it was Tim's crusade against corruption in Antigua and his struggle for an alternative to the neo-colonial structural adjustment project that he will be best remembered for. He saw corruption as an enemy of development and went after it with a vengeance. For this he was harassed and jailed many times, but he continued to slug away for the cause of the downtrodden even after the decline of the Caribbean left. He never abandoned socialism, for his socialism was not a product of a particular experience in a given set of states.
At the time of his death, Tim Hector was in the process of reassessing his politics. He had "retired" from what he called adversarial politics. He advocated power sharing as a means of harnessing the energies and talents of the working people. This led him to controversially represent the Antiguan government at regional and international forums. Some of his admirers felt betrayed and charged him with sleeping with the enemy, but Tim argued that service to country overrules parochial politics. This last phase of his political practice, therefore, raises an important question for the immediate future of the region's political culture.
What is the significance of Tim Hector's life for our Caribbean? First, I think that Tim's life demonstrates the possibilities of our region in terms of staying the course against imperialist domination and internal authoritarianism.
Tim was never a quitter and in the end even those he confronted are forced to declare him a winner. Second, Tim's life poses the question, in much the same way as Rodney's did: what is the true role of the Caribbean scholar in helping to shape and reshape the practice of politics? Is it as agitator operating outside of formal political institutions or is it as agitator working inside these institutions? Is it as collaborator with reformist politicians in the quest for nationalism? Is it as scholar-activist remaining true to conventional scholarship while attempting political activism or is it as radical scholar serving as the bridge between scholarship and popular movements?
Third, one aspect of his political behaviour that is an example for all political activists to follow was his ability to oppose vigorously but never to hate. His assessment of Vere Bird Snr, Lester Bird, George Walter and Baldwin Spencer are classics in this regard.
Finally, I think Tim Hector's life represents the formation of the Caribbean personhood that responds to the elements of his society-politics, cricket regionalism, history, reggae, calypso, and fiction in an engaged rather than detached manner. Hector never lost sight of his significance to Antigua, but that never clouded his vision of Caribbean nationhood.
As with all public persons, Tim committed some acts of indiscretion and poor political judgment. But in the end I think he was an example of tenacity, independence, and patriotism.
Antigua and the Caribbean would certainly miss his physical intervention, but his life's work will always be a pillar of strength and fortitude for those of us who continue the journey towards facilitating the environment for true empowerment and liberation of our Caribbean and the powerless of all regions of the world.
Perhaps the words of one of Tim's favorite poets, Martin Carter, sums up my farewell to a warrior, a Caribbean warrior:
Now from the mourning vanguard moving on dear comrade I salute you and I say
Death will not find us thinking that we die.