Late score from the Caribbean: People 3, Rulers 0

The Caribbean masses are stirring. The peoples of these tiny island states have long followed a pattern of rebellious behaviour. One island explodes and then the others follow in a train of revolt. Thus was modern democracy established in the Caribbean in the 1930s. Once black power gripped the Caribbean in the 1970s, all were consumed. Serious reforms followed; black faces appeared where there had only been whites before. Racism originated in Caribbean slave plantation society; we are a 20th- century people trapped in a 19th-century economy. Each island nation boasts a national flag and national anthem, a parliament, a senate, ministers of this and ministers of that, a Whitehall-style bureaucracy and diplomats galore in London, Brussels, Washington and New York.

Yet not one Caribbean country is self-supporting. Sun, sand, sea, bananas, sugar: almost a monoculture from the inception. Nothing has changed. The governments are mendicants with flags. They beg, borrow and steal. Currently they are on their knees in Brussels seeking concessions for bananas. For decades they have been debating the issue of diversification from these one-crop economies. Millions of words have been written on the subject. University theses abound. But nothing has been done. Ministers go to the advanced nations of the west to hustle loans from small banks. They owe everybody. The caste that governs belongs to the middle class; it has neither the experience of the workers nor that of the owners of capital. That is perhaps why they are comfortable in the mess in which they find themselves.

I could go on and on, elaborating on the conditions of economic and social life in the Caribbean. Banks - the IMF, the World Bank and every little outfit, offshore and inshore - are demanding payments on interest and capital. In Antigua, a Texan banker has moved in to oversee his collateral - which is the Antiguan people. IMF officers reside in ministers' homes to ensure proper spending.

The Jamaicans seem to owe every bank in New York and have turned the screws on the population; as a result, the tax burden on petrol is enormous. It is the only source of energy and therefore triggers off increases everywhere in the economy. The finance minister casually announced the tax increase on petrol in his budget speech in the middle of April and the population exploded, making Jamaica ungovernable for a few days. The population is heavily armed and at times there were ding-dong battles between the people and the police and army, who are also armed. All classes were involved: university students, doctors, lawyers - all were protesting in one way or another. This is a new phenomenon in the modern Caribbean.

P J Patterson's government had to beat a retreat, setting up a committee which is certain either to reduce petrol tax or cut it entirely. The people have won the first round.

Next stop, Guyana. The people of Guyana are racially split: Indians on the one hand, with state power and the patronage that goes with it, and Afro-Caribbeans on the other. There have been race riots in the past year.

Meanwhile, the West Indian cricket team has recovered marvellously in its games against the Australians following their debacle in South Africa. Alienated from government and the centres of power, the cricket team belongs to the people. Any suggestion that it is not being treated fairly will bring the masses on to the stage. It was so in Guyana, where they swarmed the field and brought the one-day game to an end.

And in congenial Barbados, little England, they stoned the Australian team and were very close to getting at the authorities. In both cases they got their way.

Three-nil to the people of the Caribbean. My sentiment generally rests there. Now an Englander, I continue to feel part of them at the best and worst of times. They are on the move, believe me!

Next Article