“One from ten leaves naught”

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my Gleaner column of October 15, 2017

Research on a great Jamaican scholar who went to Oxford in the fifties has led me face to face with the exciting moment when the political federation of the Anglophone Caribbean was not only seriously being considered, it had briefly become a reality. By Jan 3,1958 the Federation of the West Indies was a functioning political entity and by May 31, 1962, it was no more. Most of us are only familiar with the famous statement made by then-President Eric Williams of the federal government of the West Indies when Jamaica’s departure put paid to the future of Federation: “One from ten leaves naught.” But what exactly were the considerations that led Jamaica to leave the Federation after a referendum by the then JLP government returned a majority vote against it?

Among university students from the Caribbean at Oxford, Cambridge and other universities in England the Federation was a political entity impatient of debate. In the West Indian diaspora that developed in England, migrants from different islands were forced to shed their national identities and band together as West Indians. To begin with, it soon became obvious that to the English they were all seen as having the same racial/ethnic identity—often misidentified as Jamaican.

As they settled into their new homes and workplaces the creolization of English cities began to occur, arousing the resentment of working-class English men and women who viewed the West Indians as interlopers. This pushback further reinforced the sense of a diasporic West Indian identity.

It was natural in such a climate for there to be great sympathy for a federation of the relatively small micro islands of the Caribbean into a larger, more powerful polity. This further united the university students from the Caribbean, who felt that uniting against common adversaries would give the West Indies a better chance of postcolonial prosperity. Today the plans for a Federated West Indies are hardly remembered and it’s well worth lingering on them here to regain a sense of why the idea was so seductive.

The initial push for Federation had been made by the British, who were increasingly reluctant to foot the mounting bills to maintain their fifteen colonies in the West Indies. There were, for example, seventeen governors, eight directly taking orders from Downing Street, complete with their individual staffs, to govern the 15 colonies or ‘units’ as they came to be called.

Many of the West Indians at University in England looked forward to returning to become citizens of the independent “West Indian nation state” proposed at the time. But Federation meant different things to different islands in the Caribbean. In Trinidad and Tobago, it was synonymous with the politics of Chaguaramas, a piece of land leased by the British to the US in 1941 for purposes of maintaining a naval base there. There was tremendous political pressure to recover the leased lands for the site of the Federal Government but Eric Williams, the leader of Trinidad and Tobago was also wary of alienating the Americans by making such a demand.

It fell on J. O’Neil Lewis and William Demas, civil servants who had been sent to university in the UK by their government, now back in Trinidad and Tobago, to write a paper on the Economics of Nationhood laying out an administrative structure for federal governance. Trinidad and Tobago felt that the freedom of movement of persons enabled by Federation without concomitant movement of capital and investment would affect Trinidad the most, with other small islanders flocking to the oil-rich island for jobs. The Federation had to be able to intervene in such a situation by providing aid, funds for which could be found only if the region’s customs and income taxes ended up in its coffers. The Federal entity would also determine industrial policy for member states. Naturally, there was disagreement over such proposals particularly from countries such as Jamaica that felt it had little to benefit from such administrative arrangements.

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There was no agreement among the 10 countries in the Federation as to whether the power to regulate industrial development, freedom of movement and the collection of taxes should rest with the Federal Government or the individual island state governments. For Jamaica, for example, the ability to use its own income tax and country revenues to fund its industrial development was crucial to its economic policy. The Jamaicans countered the strong-Federation model proposed by the Economics of Nationhood with MP18, a proposal for a looser federation of politically powerful units.

There was also disagreement about parliamentary representation for the member states. The Jamaican Premier Norman Manley suggested that it should be proportional to population numbers so that Jamaica with a full half of the population involved in the Federation, ought to have fifty percent of parliamentary seats available. Although a modified version of this and other suggestions of Manley’s were taken on board by the incipient Federation, in 1961, the people of Jamaica voted in a referendum not to remain part of the regional entity. Basically, Jamaicans could not see what advantage there was in a coalition with a number of, what they considered small, insignificant islands, and were suspicious of being governed by a government external to their territory over which they would have little control.

Had British Guiana and British Honduras been part of the Federation the Jamaican decision to leave might not have been so clear-cut for it was felt that their larger markets would have made belonging to such a federation a more economically viable and durable political decision. But for various reasons they were not so Jamaica bowed out, leading to Williams’s immortal statement “One from ten leaves naught.

Cross-Border Politics: Why TnT may have blanked 13 Jamaicans…

A look at some reasons 13 Jamaicans were denied access to Trinidad and Tobago.

deportees

Diana Thorburn Chen: An apology is not necessary. What is necessary is for Jamaicans to have an honest conversation among ourselves about why we are turned back so often from our neighbours’ doors. But that would require us doing some soul-searching and talking honestly about how our actions bring on these reactions. Highly unlikely, so we will keep up the facade of indignation over and over again as until we face the truth nothing will change.

VERITAS also thought that Jamaicans needed to open their eyes and look within…

We are hypocrites too. When CARICOM member Haiti was struck by that devastating earthquake recently, and many Haitians turned up at our borders, desperate for admittance and “free movement”, we demanded the government send them back. Many of us were angry any money was even spent to accommodate them for the period they were here. Is it that free movement only applies when we want it?

What really troubles me about all this is the nagging feeling that most of us are angry because of our false sense of pride. We have always been a proud and, as one of my colleagues pointed out, reactive people. Trinidad’s exercise of its sovereign authority hurt that pride and so we are now reacting. If we are honest with ourselves, we have always harboured the unhealthy sentiment that Jamaica is the best of the Caribbean, a capital of sorts, and therefore we have behaved accordingly entitled.  That is the source of our pride. Many of us are incredulous because we deem Trinidad a “spec in the sea” and “two likkle fi even be a country”, an “insignificant” country should never seek to disrespect Jamaica, right? We took the same stance on Mugabe’s comments on Jamaica. Meanwhile, the United States rejects us in droves every single day and we sit pretty smiling at that, with little more than a peep. In our quest to satisfy our wounded pride, we have gone as far as accusing Trinidad of “badminding” Jamaica for our achievements. I admit myself baffled at that argument, because we have such precious little to ‘badmind’. We are on auto pilot, veering on the edge of a political, economic and social abyss, who would ‘badmind’ that? Pride aside, how about we accept the fact that statistics are not in our favour? Most countries have instituted visa requirements against us because we do not have a good track record for international conduct and behaviour. We have to accept that; the bad mek it worse for the good. It is unfortunate, but true. Let us put our pride aside and accept the realities.

Click here for more.

Then there were those who still thought Jamaicans had been wronged:

Michael Andrew David Edwards Whatever the reasons, the treatment as described is unacceptable; they wouldn’t accept it from us

And others who imagined the worst case scenario:

Nicholas Laughlin: I find myself thinking it’s a good thing Trinidad and Jamaica don’t share a land border.

Oh Nicholas, the very thought makes me shudder. But honestly i do have to ask: how can a population that has no qualms about turning away neighbouring Haitians when they arrive on Jamaican shores in dire need be so self-righteous when 13 of theirs are shown the door?

13 Jamaicans denied entry to Trinidad and Tobago

Jamaicans are considerably incensed over Trinidad and Tobago’s refusal to grant 13 of their compatriots permission to land in that country. The subject has dominated the talk shows as well as social media ever since the day the 13 were sent back. This isn’t the first time this has happened, in fact news reports said that over the last three years at least 1000 Jamaicans have been sent back from the twin island republic. An Observer article provides details of what is promising to blow up into a diplomatic row:

On Tuesday, 13 Jamaicans, including an 11-year-old girl and a man who is married to a Trinidadian woman, were denied entry upon arrival at the Piarco International Airport in Port of Spain and were sent back to Jamaica the following morning.

Immigration officials at the airport seized the Jamaicans’ passports and ordered them to sit on a hard bench all night before shipping them out of the country, despite the fact that the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) allows for free travel between countries by Caribbean Community nationals.

The move by the Trinidadians is also a direct breach of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and defies a recent ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which handed down a judgement in favour of Jamaican Shanique Myrie who had sued the Barbados Government.

Myrie was refused entry into Barbados on March 14, 2011, was detained, subjected to a dehumanising cavity search, and deported to Jamaica the following day.

Reactions from social media and local newspapers give some idea of the outrage this has caused:

From Facebook:

Mariel Brown
The fact that 13 Jamaicans from one flight were deported needs to be addressed by the tt government before we end up with a xenophobic backlash from Jamaica.

Diana Thorburn Chen
There are already FB fliers circulating calling for a boycott of all T&T goods & services.

Zarna Herrera
Xenophobic backlash in full force already

Signs of the xenophobic backlash are fully in evidence. The following is from the Observer article quoted above:

Jamaican George Lopez said Jamaicans can use their purchasing power to hit the Trinidadians where it hurts most.

“The only thing that works is the economic embargo. Don’t buy their goods, don’t give their children jobs. The Government won’t do it, so the people must,” said Lopez.

“I am going to remove my money from any financial institution that has ties to the eastern Caribbean. I have long boycotted them, my family and friends also, from the 1970s. They are racist,” he charged.

Lopez said Trinidadians’ hatred for Jamaicans go way back to the 1960s when the Alexander Bustamante-led Government voted against a Caribbean Federation.

“There is a retention of hatred. It is the small island mentality. Jamaica is a continental mentality. I won’t go there (Trinidad),” he said.

Meanwhile on Twitter my good friend Grindacologist was gnashing his teeth and muttering under his breath about any Trinidadian musicans coming here:

@Grindacologist

wait till kes the band try come round ere again…a worries…

all di one machels montanas…

goin mek dem sleep pon di tarmac…

when a jamaican gets killed in trinidad dem all try deport the corpse…

Stay tuned to this spot for further updates on this contentious issue.

Trinidad Journalism in crisis?

What the hell has happened to press freedom in Trinidad and Tobago?

The news broke yesterday. Trinidad Guardian Editor-in-Chief Judy Raymond had reportedly walked off the job, followed by Sheila Rampersad and several other conscientious journalists in an atmosphere rife with allegations of political interference. Then today both the governemnt and the Guardian refuted the charge of political interference. As Patricia Worrell@bytesdog succinctly put it “This Guardian story have more twists and turns than Lady Chancellor or the road from Maracas.”

Raymond’s laconic Twitter account @HeyJudeTT doesn’t yield much at first glance. Her last three tweets are suitably cryptic but the Orwell quote is telling:

heyjudeTT
Judy Raymond@heyjudeTT
A luta continua
7 hours ago

heyjudeTT
Judy Raymond@heyjudeTT
“Journalism is printing what someone else doesn’t want printed. Everything else is public relations” – George Orwell
a day ago

heyjudeTT
Judy Raymond@heyjudeTT
fun times in the newsroom
3 days ago

Here’s another blog’s take on the situation:

Trinidad Guardian editor-in-chief Judy Raymond did not even realise she was holding a political seat!

Raymond was hired last year to help the Guardian bottom-line: Increase sales. However, Mr Live Wire understands she ran afoul of the company’s motto: Stay close to the Government.

Photo: Ansa McAll chairman Anthony Norman Sabga. Editorial policy is whatever he writes down on a sheet of paper.

Photo: Ansa McAll chairman Anthony Norman Sabga.
Editorial policy is whatever he writes down on a sheet of paper.

In a politically aware country, although not necessarily a politically intelligent one, Raymond’s Guardian won nationwide acclaim for a string of exclusives including the stunning Section 34 scandal.

It turns out that Government officials felt Raymond and her nosey crew should spend more time on hard-hitting stories like the intrusion of Keith Rowley’s back door at Balisier House or MP Donna Cox’s alleged slap across the face of a PNM rival, presumably during recess.

For more click here.

How will this situation be resolved? The region watches and waits with bated breath.

The Bocas Lit Fest 2011

A report on Trinidad’s inaugural Bocas Lit Fest 2011, a literary festival. with photos.

I have so much work to do, so many deadlines to stop ignoring, but i know i won’t be able to do a thing unless i spit this post out of my craw.

Caribbean Writing panel at Bocas Lit Fest. l to r: Nicholas Laughlin, BC Pires, Mark McWatt, Jane King, Marlon James and Tanya Shirley

Bocas was a blast. I am SO glad I went to the first edition of this literary festival in Trinidad which promises to be an annual ritual. I mean I couldn’t not go really, after all one of the organizers was longtime friend and fellow reader and reviewer Nicholas Laughlin of the Caribbean Review of Books. And Trinidad is a place i like to visit as often as I can, awash as it is with good friends, doubles, rum and roti…

Nicholas Laughlin, Marlon James, Tiphanie Yanique

I think what impressed me most about Bocas was the huge amount of corporate support it recieved and the media coverage. On its opening day, April 24th, 2011, the Trinidad Express even devoted an editorial to it titled, “Bocas connects T&T to literary world”:

This country has nurtured some of the finest writers in a region whose literature is celebrated all over the world. Not only the Nobel laureates Derek Walcott and Sir Vidia Naipaul, but also CLR James, Eric Williams, Earl Lovelace, Sam Selvon, Edgar Mittelholzer, Ian McDonald and Michael Anthony are among the pantheon of those whose works are considered Caribbean classics. Yet until now, Trinidad and Tobago has not marked that aspect of its heritage in any organised way. Literary festivals take place throughout the Caribbean, but it is only this year that the country with one of the richest literary traditions in the region will celebrate that part of its culture.

The inaugural Bocas Lit Fest is an idea whose time has come. Named after the straits that connect Trinidad to the Caribbean, the Atlantic and the world, the festival, which takes place in Port of Spain from next week, will bring together writers and readers in over 50 events.

The festival aims, among other things, to celebrate the Caribbean’s literary achievements and to enhance this country’s presence on the world stage, as well as to encourage reading and literacy and to support the local publishing industry.

Writers and other participants will fly in from all over the world to watch, listen to and take part in readings, workshops, performances, panel discussions and film screenings. As word of the festival spreads, it has the potential, in the medium to long term, to become an attraction for the purpose of event tourism.

In its 43 years, the Trinidad Express too has played its part in supporting local writing and writers. In the past decade, this newspaper has serialised the publication of works by Anthony and Lovelace. At one time, indeed, Earl Lovelace was also a reporter in the Express newsroom, while he was already a prize-winning novelist. He covered the news alongside the late Keith Smith, Express editor at large, whose writing will be memorialised during the Bocas Lit Fest.

So as consulting editor Lennox Grant said at Tuesday’s launch of the festival, “The Express, then, as the One Caribbean Media flagship, can claim that we make good company for writers and for writing that bids to be remembered and cherished beyond the fleeting impact of the daily headlines.”

One Caribbean Media, parent company of the Trinidad Express, will demonstrate its commitment to excellence in writing in a concrete way, through its sponsorship of the OCM Bocas Prize, which is open to Caribbean writers and which comes with an award of US$10,000.

OCM offers its congratulations and best wishes to the organisers and sponsors — Republic Bank, KFC, National Gas Company and the National Library — and is delighted and proud to be associated with this historic event, the inaugural Bocas Lit Fest.

In fact the programme listed 20-22 sponsors on its back page. Clearly the Trinidadian media, their private sector and their government were quick to cotton on to the great potential of a festival such as this, something that can’t be said for Jamaica where the extraordinarily successful Calabash Literary Festival has just come to a premature end after a golden run of 10 years.

Bocas couldn’t have been more different from Calabash. Firstly it took place at the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, far from any quaint beach resort. The Trinis have invested big time in this Library which is a high-tech edifice of glass, steel and concrete across from Red House (that houses Parliament). Bang in the middle of the downtown area it was easy to slip out for a bite to eat or a spot of shopping.

National Library of Trinidad and Tobago

Another thing i liked about Bocas was the mix of events in the programme. Readings were only one part of the Festival which included workshops with the invited authors, panel discussions such as the one on Caribbean writing pictured at the top of this post, “Does “Caribbean literature” really exist?” The moderator BC Pires limited the discussion by framing it too narrowly I thought, invoking the ghost of Wayne Brown, who hovered absently over the whole festival (not surprising since he died less than a year ago and was a Trinidadian writer of some prominence). Everyone knew what English Literature, Indian Literature, German Literature and American Literature are said Pires, so why the angst about whether Caribbean Literature exists or not? But of course none of the literary canons he invoked are as clear cut and well-defined as Pires was making them out to be…English literature is now written in India some say, and Indian Literature is a vexed terrain with some not wanting to admit Indians writing in English to the canon and others defining it exclusively by them as Salman Rushdie did in The Vintage Book of Indian Writing celebrating India’s 50th Independence anniversary more than a decade ago.

Kim Johnson on music and ways of listening

Another regular feature on the Bocas Lit Fest every year is going to be The Bocas Debate which this year was on Press vs. Government, the Freedom to Print What? with Judy Raymond, Selwyn Ryan, Mervyn Assam and Amery Browne. The latter two being politicians, predictably thought that if anything, TnT enjoys too much press freedom (!), while Judy and Selwyn both journalists/columnists scoffed at the very idea.

Nicholas Laughlin, Marlon James, Tiphanie Yanique

The real gamechanger Bocas has initiated is the annual OCM Bocas Prize open to poets, fiction and non-fiction writers who have published a book. Offering US$10,000 as the prize The Bocas is a serious literary award which will make a big difference to writing in the region. This year’s finalists were Edwidge Danticat in non-fiction for Creating Dangerously, Tiphanie Yanique in fiction for How to Escape from a Leper Colony and Derek Walcott in Poetry for White Egrets. Well, no prizes for guessing who won.

I attended several of the workshops which cost TT$50 each (about US$8.50): What happens next: how to build a plot with Marlon James and OCM Bocas Prize judge Mark McWatt; Words into flesh: how to create characters with OCM Bocas Prize judge David Chariandy; and What every writer wants to know: how to get published with OCM Bocas Prize judge Margaret Busby, Ken Jaikaransingh, and Jeremy Poynting.

OCM Bocas Prize judge Margaret Busby at 'how to get published' workshop
India up close: a candid look at the Subcontinent with Patrick French and Samanth Subramanian
Marlon James, Patrick French and moi

The day before Bocas started ARC magazine was launched at Alice Yard in Port of Spain. I had the pleasure of introducing the magazine to its new audience. I also have a text in it about Jamaican-born artist Andrea Chung’s work. Look out for ARC! Its the first serious all out art magazine in the Anglophone Caribbean, kudos are due to its founding editors, Vincentians Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins.

ARC Magazine launch at Alice Yard

Another post should follow tomorrow on Bocas…didn’t want to cram it all into one post.