Bermudian Indpendence and Caribbean Integration

I believe that Bermudian independence is inevitable. I am not opposed to remaining part of Britain, although I am opposed to remaining part of the United Kingdom. Whats the difference? By Britain I envision a federal British republic, something along the lines of the vision outlined by Tony Benn in his Commonwealth of Britian Bill. This would have entailed, amongst other things, the end of the monarchy, the disestablishment of the Anglican Church as the State Religion, the replacement of the House of Lords with an elected upper house, equal representation of men and women in both elected houses of parliament, national parliaments for England, Scotland, Wales and the territories, and a federal parliament and president. I can see and support this form of remaining part of Britain.

Unfortunately, I also see the realisation of Bermudian independence as much more likely to occur before the rise of a federal British republic.

There are a lot of arguments both for and against independence, and despite the flaws of the Bermuda Independence Commissions report, I do believe that it does provide an excellent overview of these pros and cons; it also serves as a useful resource for exploring the independence debate.

I’ve always held that independence in name, that is a new flag, a new anthem, a new motto, and all the other paraphenalia of independence is independence in name only as long as we are dependent on others economically. We would simply move from the realm of official colony of the UK to an unofficial (or neo-colonialist) colony of the US (which in many respects we are already in most things aside from name).

In order to achieve true independence it is necessary to also build self-sufficiency; only in this way does one avoid the neo-colonialist trap. I will admit that Bermuda, with its limited resources, really does not have the ability to achieve self-sufficiency. But we do have the capability to greatly increase our self-sufficiency as well as diversify our dependence on foriegn imports in such a way as to avoid our total dependence on one alone, and thus reducing our chances of being subjugated in a neo-colonial fashion to that other country.

In the last nine years of the Progressive Labour government, a Party which is committed to independence from the United Kingdom, while it has achieved certain necessary preconditions for independence (such as the constituency review and other modernisation reforms), has so far failed in developing or expanding our capacity for self-sufficency.

The Sustainable Devolepment Plan did offer the potential to increase our self-sufficiency, and remains an important starting point for any future development. Social investment into alternate energy resources, including home solar panels (complete with the ability for reverse meters), expanded desalinisation plants, waste treatment of Hamiltons sewage (which could be used for gray water and has other potential uses as well), genuine work on marine energy (through thermo-cline and tidal energy), wind power, investment into communal gardening and domestic container gardening, a realistic fisheries plan (including adequate processing centres and aquaculture), a national compost plan, expanded public transport and a phased transition to alternate fuel vehicles, all would contribute to greater local self-sufficiency. Investments in alternate sites for food and other vital commodities away from the monopolistic control of the US, say through greater use and investment in Caribbean and Latin American agriculture and industries, would also go a long way to increasing our ability to achieve independence.

All of this and more can be done while we are still a UK colony, and would benefit us while a colony.

However, as I’ve said, Bermuda has limited resources, and ultimately I do not think Bermuda by itself can achieve self-sufficiency and thus political independence. As a result I think a natural evolution following Bermudian independence is greater integration with the Caribbean, and ultimately a Caribbean federation.

There are some who jealously reject any lumping of Bermuda with the Caribbean, and will give learned geographical lectures to any who try to say that we are part of the Caribbean. They almost fanatically oppose connections with the Caribbean, with Caribbean regional organisations, and there are even those who single out Caribbean-born workers in Bermuda as trouble makers, ‘jump-ups.’

Of course, geographically speaking, we are not part of the Caribbean basin, we are a mid-Atlantic island, one of the most remote island outposts there is (only modern transportation and our ‘proximity’ to the present major power in the world reduce the ‘feeling’ of this isoloation). But there are quite a few similarities, that in my opinion make the idea of working with and learning from the Caribbean common-sense. We are a small island, in both population and size, like many Caribbean micro-states. We are traditionally a ‘plantation’ economy not in the sense of us having a long history of sugar-cane production, but in our history of dependency on more or less one economic mainstay (this has fluctuated over our history, from tabacco, to whaling, to privateering, to onion/lily production, arrowroot, tourism, and more recently, international business). We are also subject to similar environmental problems (hurricanes for example). Ecologically, although of course unique, we have the similarities of (albeit reduced biodiversity) of coral reefs, sea grass meadows, mangroves, sub-tropical vegetation.

A Caribbean federation would benefit us all, from Bermuda to Barbuda, to Cuba to Guyana. It would have to offer membership to all of the Caribbean islands, not just the anglo-Caribbean. Despite our unique histories and cultures/languages, there is also a good deal of similarity. Also, the Caribbean as a whole does have the resources, agriculturally, minerally, industrially, intellectually, to actually build regional self-sufficiency. At the moment most of our economies remain stuck in a plantation style of dependence on one or two main pillars, international business and tourism in Bermuda, tourism and bananas elsewhere. Also, our economies are loargely dominated by a periphery-centre dynamic; despite their agricultural potential suprisingly most islands concentrate on cash crops for export and actually import foodstuffs that could easily be grown at home. Under an integrated federal Caribbean there would be the ability to change our economic dynamics into greater regional integration.

I sense that most fears of joining with the Caribbean stem from a general perception of the region as being poorer than Bermuda, or a region of ‘banana republics.’ This perception fails to take into account the combined effect of formal colonialisms legacy of imperialistic economic structures, the structural inequality and poverty of much of the region, or the role that neo-colonialism has had in the region, especially during the Cold War (the modern history of Haiti, Domincan Republic, Cuba, Jamaica and Grenada spring readily to mind).

There is also a sensation that by joining with the Caribbean Bermuda would be exploited for its wealth by the greater Caribbean. I myself beleive that the strong should indeed help the weak, and in as much as we are economically strong we should commit ourselves to assisting or weaker neighbours with social investment. But it is not necessarily true that Bermuda would have a greater economic burden than other countries should it join with the Caribbean. Furthermore, through unity Bermuda would be better able to protect its interests on the global scale from threats to its welfare. The cooperation of the islands, including Bermuda, in the aftermath of Hurrican Ivan, and likely after Hurricane Dean, further demonstrates the potential for integration.

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10 thoughts on “Bermudian Indpendence and Caribbean Integration

  1. Very well thought out arguments there jonnystar. If I were initially ambivalent about the idea I would probably be inclined to agree with you.

    One little tidbit of info which you may find ironic is that although some Bermudians will “jealously reject any lumping of Bermuda with the Caribbean”, the term “West Indies” was originally used to refer to all of the Americas (North and South) until the term “America” came into favour and the term “West Indies” gradually became reduced to just the Antilles, Bahamas and those mainland territories nearby. So Bermuda once definitely was (and sometimes still is) considered to be in the West Indies and thus West Indian.

  2. Good post, pity that this topic didn’t get much discussion when initially posted. Many people that live in Bermuda look down on the island nations to the south. Lumped as a bunch of people that sell beaded necklaces on the beach for a living. Of course some of our American friends think of Bermuda as one of the “islands”, so it’s a little ironic.

  3. Personally I think that only reason we, as a nation, should decide to go independent is if the benefits of doing so outweigh the negatives. These negatives are plentiful and deserve far more than the pittance they get in the BIC report, and should be discussed just as seriously if not more so than potential benefits.

    What pisses me off is when the person elected to serve the people blatantly, publically, internationally goes on the record about taking us to independence. He’s as entitled to his opinion as I am, and he can express it all he wants. But his position as elected representative of me and all of us, who are some 75% against the idea, should answer accordingly. I have no problem if he were to say, well I personally believe that we should go for it, but my electorate do not and therefore I must do everything to support them. Instead we get strange comments, like well I’m not going to hold a referendum am I, because then I’d lose! Erm, the point of your position is not to work out a cunning plan to get your will over the people’s. Sorry.

    It just seems to me that 75% of Bermudians barely agree on anything, but not wanting independence is something they all stand up for. So we should focus our energies on issues that are pertinent and solvable, no matter what our leader’s personal ambitions are.

  4. Independence is such an intriguing phenomenon when you use Bermuda and our Caribbean neighbours for comparison, particularly those that are or are former British dependencies.

    St. Kitts and Nevis was the last former British dependency to go independent, way back in 1983. Before that, there was a torrent of small island nations pursuing independence (Jamaica started it all in 1962). There were plenty of good and solid reasons for these countries to seek independence. Perhaps at that time, Bermuda could have also considered taking that route, what would have happened then, we can only speculate. People talk about Jamaica and to a lesser extent Guyana struggling since then, however there are potential success stories when you discuss Barbados and the Bahamas, countries that have built tourism and international business products while never having to devalue or float their currencies.

    Different age now. Small island nations are having to defend themselves from the big boys who proclaim to be about free trade and the like but have policies that intend to cripple the smaller countries’ economies, such as their protesting the EU banana import quotas to help the economies of the Eastern Caribbean coutnries. Now it’s about alleged tax evasions. Bermuda (and BVI, Cayman, etc.) aren’t hurt by having Britain in the picture to help. Breaking political ties with Britain without giving serious consideration to possible consequences is dangerous.

    And, to go back a bit to Jonathon’s original posting, unlike most of our Caribbean neighbours, we in Bermuda don’t have much to fall back on if something happens to set our economy back. Agriculture is diminishing, fishing only does so much, there’s no oil to mine that we’re aware of (unlike Trinidad for example) and the island doesn’t have any significant strategic importance from a military point of view anymore.

    It’s probably why it is of interest to consider new and innovative technologies here and pioneer their developments.

  5. But Tryangle, isn’t Britain one of those very big boys making an issue about tax evasion? And wasn’t it British politicians who were saying that Britain can’t allow territories over which it has control to allow tax evasion or some such? In that case, the ties to Britain would only seem to make it easier for Cayman, BVI and Bermuda to be subject to this issue or if not make it easier for Britain to act, it certainly brings them more into the firing line so to speak.

  6. @ Mark – Disagree entirely. What Britain want to ensure is that they are not opening themselves up to tax policies and corporate activities that could violate existing laws. The measures they are putting in place in places like here, BVI and so forth are to ensure that our accounting and financial reporting standards match theirs, which obviously are accepted by as world class. Therefore our ties actually enhance our reputation, rather than harm it.

    I’d much rather have the UK ask our government to look at updating our tax laws than find out through a lawsuit or worse.

  7. I’ve noticed that most of the arguments presented on the subject that is visible online or in the media is on the side of emphasising ties with the West Indies, and the silent majority of Bermudians who are both against independence and who at best feel no affinity for, identitification with or interest in the Caribbean, are routinely derided as an out-dated, dwindling minority of racist whites and self-loathing Uncle Toms. Caribbean people are described as “our cousins”. Britons and North Americans are never described in familiar terms though the majority of Bermudians have blood ties with these areas. The Caribbean is described as “the islands to our South” (the nearest would be St. Vincent, as near as I can tell…close enough to 1,000 miles South). The islands of Cape Hatteras, along with the rest of the USA, 640 miles WNW, are described as “the USA”. Cape Sable Island, and the rest of Canada, 770 miles to the North is described as “Canada”. Someone who had never been to Bermuda, reading what is easily found written, would assume that these represent the views of the majority of Bermudians, whereas to me they indicate that a minority of people in Bermuda, not necessarily the same thing as a minority of Bermudians, are vociferous about achieving something which most Bermudians have no desire in achieving, and speak loudly and forcefully about it, whereas most Bermudians, content enough with Bermuda’s current political and international arrangements are talking about the things that they wish to achieve, which do not include Bermudian independence, strenghtening Bermuda’s relationship with the Caribbean, or achieving status as British citizens and an overseas territory of the UK. It would be amusing and illustrative to rewrite one of the articles or blog posts that emphasise Bermuda’s bonds to the Caribbean by changing every instance of “islands to our South” to “the Caribbean”, every use of “cousins to the South” to “West Indians”, every use of “USA” or “Canada” to “continent to our West”, of “Britain” to “islands to our East”, of “Americans” and “Canadians” to “cousins to the West”, and of “the British” to (bearing in mind the common citizenship) “siblings to the East”.

  8. Can’t agree, Henry, although maybe my observation point differs from yours. The blogs are a bit different since only Catch A Fire (and possibly my own) ever addresses Caribbean issues at all, but between the online Bermuda news media and the discussion forums (BIAW), the vast majority of comments I’ve read are of a “we want nothing to do with the Caribbean” perspective when Caribbean issues are discussed in the article. I wouldn’t mind being pointed to a link that illustrates your argument, however, so feel free to provide them.

    I don’t have any stats to support one side or another with regard to who has familial ties or affinity towards the Caribbean nations, but it’s safe to believe that there is a significant percentage of Bermuda residents with ties to St. Kitts, Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, Bahamas, etc. Several can claim parents or grandparents who are nationals of said countries.

    And, it may very well be that many of them are more expressively vocal when it comes to relations with countries that they share a heritage with, in the online discussion arena.

    I strongly believe that the majority of Bermuda residents (both from the Bermudian and guest worker segments) would prefer the status quo of BDOT to independence or any form of Caribbean tie-strengthening (Caricom has a ton of its own problems as it is), for what it’s worth and I think the political parties recognize this. As for overseas persons stumbling across the newsmedia and blogs, I have no idea.

  9. (just wanted to add that St. Vincent is far from the nearest Caribbean nation to Bermuda, but to be fair, they’re all further away than Cape Hatteras. They’re all further away than much of the US Eastern seaboard too, for that matter).

  10. Pingback: Independence, someday? | "catch a fire"

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