Caribbean still clings to old colonial masters

The people of the Caribbean never cease to amaze me. They seem to be slowly creeping back to colonialism.

Murders are commonplace on these tiny islands: murder by citizen against citizen, murder by government against people. In St Kitts and Antigua, there have been two particularly horrible murders recently. In St Kitts, a multi-millionaire Englishman was on the phone to his daughter when a man with a pistol entered the house demanding money. The millionaire refused, and was immediately executed.

In Antigua, two university students were making love on a beach. They were both killed for no apparent reason. The young man's body was left at the scene, the young woman was taken away. Her body has not so far been found.

Both St Kitts and Antigua are tiny islands with small populations. Yet neither of these murders has been solved. What is even worse is that the police have asked Scotland Yard for assistance.

These governments must live in cloud cuckoo land. Their diplomats in London must occupy another planet. The Metropolitan Police has virtually admitted that it has a huge crisis in detective work. Detective skills are in short supply, except for a tiny resurgence in the Racial Murder Squad. This fact has been plastered across our newspapers for several months, after the McPherson report on the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Yet these governments calmly and coolly return to their former colonial masters, 4,000 miles away, for help in solving crimes, just as the Trinidad government did when it was worried about the involvement of the police in the drug trade. (On that occasion, the officers who were sent to the island had to bolt as they were threatened with assassination.) Ministers need help from their former colonial masters because they have bred incompetent and corrupt police forces. Little do they know that we have the same problems here.

It is not just in policing that the old colonial habits die hard. These islands began their connection to the modern world through sugar, produced largely through slave labour. Its export to the European market helped finance the industrial revolution. Now I hear that Sainsbury's has acquired huge plantations in the Windward Islands, where the company will plant organic bananas for export back to its supermarkets here. These islands have been declared, patronisingly, "organic isles". I expect soon each island will be renamed after individuals in the Sainsbury clan!

The Windwards have long grown bananas and were given special dispensation to enter the European market. The World Trade Organisation brought that special dispensation to a halt, denouncing it as unfair trading. Enter Sainsbury's. But I warn the company that it will find hidden costs. In return for the apparent free access to Caribbean lands will be the upkeep of political parties. Ministers' palms will have to be greased. Further, Sainsbury's will find that the peoples of the Caribbean are hardly docile. They are militantly trade-union-conscious, and the islands in general are violently unstable.

Sainsbury's may get the impression from the weasel words of Caribbean leaders that a return to colonialism has no problems.But like the officers from Scotland Yard, it may have to bolt, leaving its huge investments behind. Be warned.

Finally, note the deterioration in West Indies cricket. The team was whitewashed in the recent series against New Zealand, losing two tests and five one-day games. I have said before that all the successful West Indian teams developed their talent in county cricket here in England. Because of restrictions on overseas players, they can do that no more. They have had to build a team in the Caribbean itself, and they have failed miserably. Maybe it is simply a myth that colonialism was ever brought to an end with independence.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 07 February 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The Prime Minister loses control