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Decolonization in St. LuciaPolitics and Global Neoliberalism, 1945-2010$

Tennyson S. D. Joseph

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781617031175

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781617031175.001.0001

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(p.187) Conclusion
Decolonization in St. Lucia

Tennyson S. D. Joseph

University Press of Mississippi

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter summarizes the preceding discussions and presents some final thoughts. It suggests that with the approach of the second decade of the twenty-first century, the possibility of another round of postcolonial political agitation is not farfetched as economic indicators approximating those of the Great Depression begin to emerge. Thus, the timid and limited understanding of the independent state as an instrument of economic and political empowerment of the mass of the population will come under scrutiny, as the economic and social conditions give rise to political agitation and deeper reflection in St. Lucia. It is in this context that possible responses by Caribbean states to neoliberal globalization and economic crises can be considered.

Keywords:   neoliberalism, globalization, independent state, Caribbean states

The exploration of the independence experience of St. Lucia reveals that much of the politics revolved around tensions between the local demand for sustaining the economic and political objectives that had given rise to nationalism, on the one hand, and the imperative of adjustment to the largely external demands for adjustment of neoliberal capitalist hegemony, on the other. Central to the earliest impulse for national self-determination had been the issue of economic development and viability and the questions of internal political democracy beyond the historical experience of colonialism. These aspirations were largely seen in the politics of working-class nationalism in the 1950s and in the later expression of a reformist independence project in the 1960s. However, the prenationalist historical experience, coupled with the limitations of economic size, led to the articulation of a view of tentative anticolonialism and limited sovereignty as the dominant expression of nationalist aspirations in St. Lucia. This was reflected in the anxieties involved in transcending the constitutional status of Associated Statehood. It was also reflected in John Compton’s internal economic policy, which was hostile to the interventionist state and which was geared toward facilitating the activities of external capital as a basis for economic development. It was also seen in Compton’s narrow understanding of foreign policy, which essentially was reduced to retaining the friendship of the former colonial power and the dominant Western capitalist powers.

This narrowly defined understanding of postcolonial existentialism was rendered unworkable by the emergence of a global neoliberal order, which demanded further adjustments of the postcolonial state and a further narrowing of postcolonial possibilities. In this work, the origins of the emergence of the neo-liberal order have been located in a period commensurate with the collapse of the Bretton Woods order in the mid-1970s. This fundamentally challenged the global structures, ideologies, and political-economic relations that had shaped the assumptions of the independence project and produced sharp tensions between the juridical and real powers of the state, and between internal economic and political objectives and external economic relations. An ideological perspective that was hostile to a radical framework of national sovereignty was therefore (p.188) dominant. This reality, to a large extent, explains the political economy of St. Lucia in the 1970s and 1980s. The nationalist politics in St. Lucia in this period, in contrast to those of Jamaica, Guyana, and Grenada, was marked by the absence of a project of radical internal reform, and even of the mild anticolonial reformism evident in states such as Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. This pattern was consolidated by the retreat of the St. Lucian Left in the period following the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983.

The defeat of the Left defined the independence project in St. Lucia in the 1980s, and the politics of the period was one in which the ideology of global neoliberalism became further entrenched. In practical terms, this was reflected in the reality of U.S. political, economic, military, and ideological hegemony in the region. In this context, Compton’s notion of independent statehood enjoyed hegemonic status. This was also facilitated by St. Lucia’s economic success due to a favorable international economic environment within which the banana economy was able to flourish. However, by the late 1980s the first challenges to Compton’s deliberately carved notion of limited sovereignty began to manifest themselves, due largely to the political shifts in the global environment associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The developments surrounding this reality were largely viewed within the Caribbean region as resulting in a process of marginalization. Within this context, the economic assumptions upon which the legitimacy of the “narrow” independence framework was based were rendered unsustainable.

The response among the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) countries to these developments was to pursue a project of political unification, and an attempt was made to broaden the concept of St. Lucian sovereignty to include a subregional focus. In short, a stronger basis for the viability of St. Lucian sovereign statehood was being sought as a response to the process of marginalization. In the main, however, the narrow framework of sovereignty continued to shape both the external and internal relations of St. Lucia in this period. This partly accounts for the failure of the United Workers’ Party (UWP) government to seek the necessary legislative instruments that would have made OECS political union a reality.

The process of “deepening globalization” of the 1990s fundamentally challenged postcolonial development assumptions. Most pertinent to the St. Lucian experience were the challenges to the external economic relations that had sustained the banana industry. Among the features of this process was the emergence of the World Trade Organization (WTO) with a powerful mandate to pursue the objectives of free trade. Given the importance of the banana industry in St. Lucia’s economic development and as a determinant of internal political relations, deepening globalization posed a fundamental threat to the strategies (p.189) that had defined St. Lucian independence. The threats to the banana industry undermined the link between the interests of the weaker sections of rural society and the broader goal of the economic development of the state. The disruption of this link explains the conflict between the state and small banana producers in the early 1990s. This development also led to the defeat of the UWP in the general election of 1997.

These challenges continued to persist despite the huge popular mandate enjoyed by the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP). The main weakness of the SLP during its two terms in office (1997–2006) was its failure to devise a strategy that could effectively reestablish the link between the sovereign ambitions of the state and the economic advancement of the domestic population. Throughout the period of the SLP in government, the impact of globally hegemonic neoliberalism significantly militated against the realization of such an objective. Indeed, the SLP’s neoliberalism effectively increased the capacity of global capitalist economic relations to influence the internal economic relations of the society. Central to the SLP’s project was a retreat by the state from activities that had previously occupied a central place in governmental activity. Typical of such a retreat was the party’s policy in the banana industry. One of the positive features of the industry prior to the neoliberal challenge was its inclusion of a large number of small farmers in the economic and political decision-making structure, through the St. Lucia Banana Growers’ Association (SLBGA). In contrast, the SLP’s project of commercialization witnessed the economic and political disenfranchisement of the majority of the producers in the industry. A related policy of economic neoliberalism in other sectors of the economy resulted in a gradual but perceptible challenge to the party’s neoliberalism within the wider society. Thus, despite the attempt by the SLP to create wider spaces for democratic expression and participation in the society, its concessions to global neoliberalism resulted in huge gaps between popular expectations and the party’s perception of its activities as progressive. The persistence of this contradiction between governmental administrative success and popular disillusionment was a critical factor in accounting for the defeat of the SLP in December 2006.

These contradictions, however, deepened and widened in the twenty-first century under the UWP government, led first by John Compton and, since September 2007, by Stephenson King. A critical factor in widening these contradictions is the reality of a global economic recession, which in scale, intensity, and duration has drawn comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s to 1945. Compounding these difficulties was the reality of political instability in the wake of the death of Compton, who had led St. Lucia from 1964 and through nearly all of its years as an independent state up to 1996, and also during 2006 and 2007. Coupled with the evidence of political inexperience and the (p.190) absence of technical training and know-how by its key leaders, a framework for continued political error and degeneration was established in St. Lucia in the middle of the global recession. Between 2006 and 2010, St. Lucia experienced a measure of political turmoil that it had not seen in the previous twenty years. It had witnessed the death of a prime minister, the arrest of three ministers of government, revelations of a criminal history of one senior minister, the instability of a cabinet revolt against a sitting prime minister, a long and disruptive strike in the public sector, and an unprecedented upsurge in crime, particularly drug-related homicides. By the end of 2010 the new government had not resolved any of the structural factors that had resulted in these developments, signaling the strong likelihood of continued instability.

It is in this context that the political noises surrounding the establishment of diplomatic relations with Taiwan were isolated for examination in this work. The central argument raised in examining the China-Taiwan affair was that the episode represented the culmination of the narrowly defined understanding of sovereignty and independence that had been consciously advanced by the sections of the political class that had led the independence movement and had responsibility for determining the direction of the postcolonial state.

The fundamental assumption of this tentative anticolonialism was to emphasize the “weakness” and “vulnerability” of the St. Lucian state, and, on the basis of this interpretation of “helplessness,” to pursue a policy of dependency and mendicancy as the key feature of its international relations. A critical weakness of this approach, however, is that alternative possible formulations of the state as an instrument of development, resistance, and democratic and economic empowerment of the national citizenry is avoided. In addition, the interpretation of “helplessness” becomes a permanent feature of the country’s international existence. Thus Compton pursued his notion of limited sovereignty sans modification throughout every stage of his leadership—from the period of nationalist ferment, to the period of independence, and into the period of heightened neoliberalism in the 1990s. The embrace of Taiwan as the “savior” of St. Lucia in the early twenty-first century was thus a logical consequence of this narrow interpretation of the possibilities of independence.

The most important factor militating against the unmitigated application of notions of limited state interventionism and participation in domestic economic and social life has been the continued resistance of the people and their insistent demand for an alternative approach. The presence of mass resistance to dependency was seen at every stage of the independence experience examined in this work. It is widely accepted that the period of the 1930s to the 1950s, with its heightened level of political agitation, gave birth to the modern Caribbean as it exists today in terms of its political culture, institutions, and internal and (p.191) external political relations. This period of political agitation had come about as a popular response to the economic conditions of the Great Depression. With the approach of the second decade of the twenty-first century, as economic indicators approximating those of the Great Depression begin to emerge, it is not farfetched to assume that another round of postcolonial political agitation is on the horizon. It is therefore expected that the timid and limited understanding of the independent state as an instrument of economic and political empowerment of the mass of the population will come under scrutiny, as the economic and social conditions give rise to political agitation and deeper reflection in St. Lucia.

A Normative Word: The Anglophone Caribbean State in the New Global Economy

It is in this context that possible responses by Caribbean states to neoliberal globalization and economic crises can be considered. One of the first and obvious issues that will and should occupy intellectual attention is the need to ensure the economic viability of the Anglophone Caribbean sociopolitical space in a period of global economic and political dislocation. A second is the need to ensure that the internal politics of the state reflect the privileging of domestic economic and political aspirations over the demands of global capitalism. In short, any normative reflection on the future of the postcolonial Anglophone Caribbean state must seek to connect the present role of the state with the aspirations that had shaped the nationalist project in its earliest incarnation. In this regard, three possible options continue to impose themselves as logical responses to the current impasse. The first possibility is the pursuit of a strategy of regional integration among territories of the Anglophone Caribbean. The second involves a deepening of the democratic system within Caribbean societies. A third and more general prescription recognizes the need for Caribbean political activists to connect with the new social protest movements that have taken root at the core of the global capitalist system as the crisis of capitalism continues to awaken the consciousness of new generations of humankind. These considerations assume even greater urgency in the context where the previous champions of neoliberalism have been resorting to Keynesian responses in light of the failure of the global failures of neoliberalism.

These prescriptions are, of course, guided by a normative orientation that is sympathetic to the independence of the Caribbean postcolonial states and the national self-determination of its peoples. It is an orientation that identifies the strengthening and perpetuation of the nationalist project as an important basis upon which the impact of global economic relations on the internal realities of (p.192) Caribbean societies can be mediated. In this regard, the prescriptions reject the assumptions of global neoliberalism, which are generally hostile to the barriers placed by state-level processes upon the activities of global capital. These prescriptions, while ideologically delegitimized in the period of neoliberal hegemony in the years between 1980 and 2007, are now being positively reexamined in the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008. For example, many of the strategies that had earlier defined the Caribbean independence project, such as the nationalization of the “commanding heights” of the economy, which had been rejected since the mid-1980s, are now being reexamined in light of the threats to jobs, livelihoods, and the national economy as a whole, as the global economic crisis continues to deepen. However, the Caribbean states’ political responses to the twenty-first-century crisis of neoliberal capitalism must be undertaken, not on a fixed ideological basis, but from a perspective of Realpolitik. In other words, the responses must issue from a sober recognition of the existing capacity of hostile global (and domestic) forces eager, able, and willing to defeat these nationalist objectives. As opposed to making a “fetish” of any specific strategy, it is therefore far more instructive to focus on why these strategies emerged in the first place. This offers far greater insight than is provided by a focus on what these strategies should be. It is in this spirit that a response by Caribbean states to globalization, in the period where neoliberalism has “lost the vitality of its youth,” can be constructed.