Welcome to the Caribbean: Paradise Lost

Any withdrawal of enthusiasm for Antigua as a tourist destination will at once reduce the island to

The tiny island states of the Caribbean are drifting in the dark. In a world dominated by huge corporations, national economies expanding beyond the human im agination, enormous armies erupting in bloodshed in remote corners of the world, tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes tossing and turning millions into human detritus, these islands, from which a substantial number of British citizens have come, appear doomed.

It is clear to me that, from Haiti in the north to Trinidad and Tobago in the south, there is little or no tomorrow. At the start of this very month, Dr Catherine Mullaney and her husband, Ben, were visiting the island of Antigua, a picturesque tourist destination, on their honeymoon. They were safely ensconced in their hotel on Jolly Beach, or so they thought.

In the dead of night, they were savagely murdered. The news spread throughout the UK. Every radio and television news broadcast carried reports of the brutal murders, informing the 90,000 foreign tourists who visit Antigua yearly that there is trouble in paradise.

Antigua has a population of roughly 70,000. Tourism accounts for between 60 and 70 per cent of its income. Any withdrawal of enthusiasm for Antigua as a tourist destination will at once reduce the island to a basket case. Such is the economic fragility of these island states.

One may write a similar script for Jamaica, St Vincent, St Lucia and Barbados. Haitians await their Caribbean brothers and sisters, who are threatening to join them in orgies of violence and self-destruction.

Add to these the long-drawn-out volcanic explosions that all but destroyed Montserrat from 1995 onwards, and Hurricane Ivan, which almost blew Grenada into oblivion.

I was on holiday in Barbados when Peter Mandelson arrived in Jamaica to pursue the World Trade Organisation's objectives. Newspapers, television and radio stations announced that the West Indian political leaders were busily engaged in trade negotiations. And for what? A handful of bananas here, a sackful of sugar there. The Caribbean governments are in denial. The world in which we live can easily do without agricultural produce from these islands.

"Negotiations" implies that both sides have leverage as they assemble around the table. The Caribbean islands have none. Rising food prices threaten the daily lives of their citizens. The increase in the price of oil doomed West Indians to penury until Hugo Chávez offered a lifeline: oil on loan and facilities for its storage without payback in the foreseeable future. All the countries, with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, jumped at the opportunity. A change of government in Caracas would put them all back to square one.

These realities have thrown the peoples of the Caribbean into a self-destructive cycle. They slaughter each other by the day, and now tourists as well. And Trinidad and Jamaica lead the way.

In fact, this violence has become a commodity for export. British representatives have, in the past few weeks, been trawling the region for able-bodied young men to join the former British imperial army. Huge queues of potential mer cenaries bear testimony to the degradation of the Caribbean spirit. But joining the military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq is preferable to a violent life in the Caribbean.

Caribbean folk in England with kith and kin on the islands and close ties to home are paralysed in the encircling gloom. And the hurricane season is upon us. Any day now, another island will submit to the hostile forces of nature.

I throw my arms up in surrender. Not trouble in paradise now, but Paradise Lost.

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 18 August 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Superpower swoop