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Ronnie Sookhdeo

Revolt Sweeps Eastern Caribbean

(September 1979)

From Militant, No. 471, 21 September 1979, p. 10.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Caribbean has become a cauldron of revolt.

The recent revolution in Grenada has sent reverberations throughout the entire region and detonated social and political upheavals in the islands of Dominica and Antigua during the summer.

Earlier this year the US Secretary of State was forced to concede that “There was not a single island in the Caribbean that could not go the same way as Grenada within five years”. (Financial Times, 25/4/78)

Such is the chronic nature of their economies, the poverty and wretchedness of the mass of the people that it was impossible to contain the virus of revolution.

These poverty-stricken islands reeling like punch crazed boxers from one economic blow after another, have just been dealt a further cruel blow by nature.

Hurricane David wreaked havoc throughout the islands earlier this month. In Dominica it killed thousands and made a further 60,000 homeless (out of a population of only 90,000). It also caused millions of pounds worth of damage destroying the principal foreign exchange earners – sugar cane and bananas.

The economies on many of the islands are already devastated through paying for the huge oil increases and manufactured goods and industrial equipment – it is now so parlous that their only source of foreign exchange are the remittances from relatives living abroad.

Single crop economies

Unemployment in the Caribbean is estimated at a staggering 60%. And with over half the population under the age of 25 and restrictions on emigration to Britain and the US, the islanders are condemned to a desperate existence.

Many just manage to eke out a living by scouring the countryside for vegetables or by fishing. Many households are without such basic amenities as drinking water or sanitation.

The price of sugar which has risen spectacularly in the early 1970s and promised to go some way towards solving their economic problems has now collapsed. This was due in part to poor weather and the insane policies of the major capitalist countries.

In particular, the Common Market countries have recently taken measures which have had an enormously adverse effect on cane sugar production in the Caribbean and other undeveloped areas of the world. They subsidised their beet sugar producers to the tune of £600m in the past season to dump their supplies on the world market.

This cuts the share of the market of the cane producers and at the same time depresses the price of sugar which has had a catastrophic effect on the cane producing countries.

This policy has resulted in sugar process being well below the cost of production over the past 3 years! Moreover, cane sugar imports into Britain have been dramatically cut following entry into the Common Market.

For many islands the final blow was struck last year when the banana harvest failed due to a combination of natural disasters and a glut on the world market.

For example in Dominica, banana production fell just under a third for each of the last 2 years!

In St Vincent (with a population of 120,000) the volcano which has been rumbling intermittently and belching hot lava over the island, completely destroyed the banana crop – estimated at over £4m.

The banana industry in both islands was the single largest employer.

Tourism, another pillar of the economy has only exacerbated their problems as the industry achieved early successes and then collapsed.

In St Lucia tourism climbed from 50,000 in 1969 to a peak of 200,000 in 1978. In 1977 tourism earned the islands £7m. With these funds the government commissioned new hotels and facilities plus a planned industrial free zone area.

The increased fuel costs, and the changed situation internationally have virtually stopped the tourist trade.

In 1977 the government turned for help to multi-national capitalism. It gave permission for the US-based Amerada-Hess Oil Corporation to build a $135m oil refinery. The company demanded conditions of course. Its main demand was a government bill affirming no interference or possibility of nationalisation.

But last month under enormous pressure from the masses the old conservative government was thrown out in elections. And the new radical government has pledged to re-examine this bill.

Antigua and Dominica also highlight the explosive social and political processes now unfolding.

These two impoverished islands have a history of the government using the veneer of constitutionality in order to mask widespread corruption and repression.

Both governments are now desperately attempting to curb the upsurge of radicalism and defuse the growing social dynamite.

In the last 3 months the islands have been paralysed by waves of strikes – involving every section of workers – struggling to improve living standards.

In Antigua, instead of getting to grips with the fundamental problems of his island, the Prime Minister and his deputy (his son), have blamed the strikes on his predecessor who had been found guilty of corruption – and on communists. The regime has been attacked by workers because of its internal repression and also its gangster policies of acting as a staging post for arms to the South African and Rhodesian regimes.

Dominica was the scene of a titanic struggle against the repressive policies of Prime Minister Patrick John. In attempting to rush through parliament legislation banning strikes and curtailing the freedom of the press, he united at a strike the opposition parties and the trade unions.

A general strike paralysed the island and John was compelled to resign.

It had come to a head with the shooting of demonstrators and the revelations in the foreign press of his links with gangsters and the South African regime. Bizarre plots were also revealed which contained all the ingredients of a spy plot – the mafia, assassination attempts, foreign mercenaries – were all implicated.

There is no way that capitalism can solve the problems of the area. The only way out is a decisive break with world capitalism and the establishment of a socialist federation.

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