THE CARIBBEAN

OUR SUNNY NEW FRONTIER

NICHOLAS STEED February 1 1967
THE CARIBBEAN

OUR SUNNY NEW FRONTIER

NICHOLAS STEED February 1 1967

OUR SUNNY NEW FRONTIER

NICHOLAS STEED

THE CARIBBEAN

JAMAICA IS WHERE the former British Caribbean starts, and it is there you must first go if you wish to understand Canada in the West Indies. The first thing I learned in Jamaica is that, geographically, Castro’s Cuba may be 90 miles away; psychologically, it is much, much nearer.

“Did you hear,” a cab driver asked me in Kingston, the sprawling capital, ‘dat he bleed dem now?”

“Who?” I asked.

“Castro,” he said solemnly. “He fatten up de political prisoners. Den he bleed dem. He sell de blood to de Russians for Vietnam. Den he shoot dem. But dey jus’ skin ’n bones by den.”

I tipped him handsomely; one of the joys of cab-driving in the Caribbean is the drivers’ juicy gossip. They give you the lowdown on the current political scandals, tell you about how many women they’ve got pregnant, or spread ghoulish Castro scare rumors — started up, no doubt, by enterprising local chambers of commerce.

How powerful new forces are shaping the West Indies ■ Canadians in paradise ■ And a guide for island - hoppers

I was taking the cab to the Canadian high commis/ continued overleaf continued / sioner’s residence, a spacious mansion set in well-tended grounds in one of Kingston’s posh residential suburbs. There I had a date to meet the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Canadian Club of Kingston, which was, as luck would have it, holding one of its periodic get-togethers.

There they were, 75 strong, sipping coffee in the shade on the lawn away from the burning midday sun. The conversation, as usual, revolved around the scandalously high cost of maids. "My dear,” said an assistant bank manager’s wife, "do you know what I’m having to pay? Four pounds! Almost $12 a week!” The other women clucked sympathetically, and the high commissioner’s wife, Mrs. Harry Jay, glided over. "I’d like you to meet the treasurer,” she said. "She’ll tell you how much the auxiliary has raised for charity this year.”

Is Canada's role only a sort of mini-imperialism?

The treasurer, a pleasant little woman, consulted her immaculate little accounts book. "Nearly £80," she announced proudly. The money was split up among a score or so worthy

causes, each of them receiving a total of two or three pounds.

That evening, as the sun subsided into the sea in a tropical ostentation of color, I went for a drive through the slums of West Kingston. My guide was a fifth-generation white Jamaican and he drove fast, the car windows rolled up tightly and a .38 revolver on the seat beside him.

"Man, I’ve used it,” he said grimly. “And I’ll use it again, if I have to.”

West Kingston is not the real Jamaica, as Jamaicans are quick to tell you; still less is it typical of the West Indies as a whole. But it’s there all right — a sprawling shanty ghetto of tens of thousands of blacks; the fetid stink of garbage mingling with blaring Beatle music through the sweat of a tropical night; the women perpetually pregnant, the men groping in vain to adjust to an alien urban poverty; a world where the seductively simple panacea of Communism finds new converts daily.

The contrast with the sunny affluent world of the Canadian ladies was inescapable — although probably unfair to the Canadians, who after all were only enjoying a Canadian standard of living, as do we all.

But somehow, however much I tried, I couldn’t help making the comparison with the Canadian ladies; their chic hats, their little accounts book proffered as evidence of social conscience. Was this really Canada's role in the Caribbean — a sort of mini-imperialism, with a parsimonious Victorian charity thrown in to assuage the conscience?

In search of an answer in Jamaica you look for evidence of Canada's physical presence on this, the largest of the Caribbean islands.

It is not hard to find. In the towns there seems to be a Canadian bank on almost every corner. Throughout the Caribbean, Canadian banks, along with the British Barclays D.C.O. (the initials used to mean “Dominon, Colonial and Overseas,” but “colonial” became a bad word, hence the condensation), have a virtual monopoly in banking. Then there is the mighty bauxite mining works of ALCAN, where the workers are the highest paid in the Caribbean (as much as $80 a week) and where the smelter works around the clock to satisfy the world’s demand for aluminum. With $160 million invested in Jamaica, ALCAN is one of Canada’s largest single investments overseas.

Not even the Marxist-oriented People's National Party, the official Opposition, wants to nationalize ALCAN: it is far, far too lucrative to be meddled with.

And there’s Canadian money in hotels — such as Garfield Weston’s Frenchman’s Cove, one of the world’s most expensive and exclusive. You see the Canadian small-business man, the shop or art-gallery owner; the man renting motor scooters; the retired couple running a guest house.

And then there are the Jamaicans themselves. Men such as Theodore Sealy, a patriarchal black intellectual who is editor-in-chief of the Kingston Daily Gleaner (a newspaper much superior, incidentally, to most North American papers of equivalent size). Sealy’s attitude is fairly typical of the West Indian intelligentsia.

"We regard Canada as a friend,” he says. "But we don’t want aid if we’re going to have to get down on our knees for it. That undermines our feelings of / continued overleaf continued / nationhood. What we do want is more trade. For example, we'd like Canada to buy our sugar at a fair price. And we want you to allow more immigration.”

The problem today: too many people. The threat for tomorrow: revolution

Jamaica, 148 miles long, is the largest of the islands and the most populous (1,800,000 people). It is, like the other islands, a democracy patterned on the British parliamentary system. Its people are overwhelmingly black, yet the tiny minority of white Jamaicans still control a disproportionate part of the island’s wealth.

Jamaica's crucial problem is supplying enough jobs and services for its rapidly expanding population. Its birthrate is more than twice Canada’s; every year there are 50,000 more Jamaicans. (Recently a Jamaican newspaper ran a contest for the best design for a national costume. The maternity dress was jokingly voted most appropriate.) Up to now, large-scale emigration has helped keep jobs and population in balance. But two years ago Britain slammed its doors on West Indians, and Canada and the U.S. have proved unwilling to admit any significant number of Jamaicans.

This in essence is the problem facing Jamaica, and most of the rest of the West Indies. Overpopulation leads to unemployment, which creates large-scale unrest. It breeds extremist agitators who say, in effect, “The moderate politicians have failed. Now let us show you what Communism can do.”

This threat may sound exaggerated, but while I was in Kingston a senior cabinet minister warned of nothing less than a coming full-scale revolution. Edward Seaga, the welfare minister, said the government had proof that arms are already being smuggled in from Cuba. Gunfights and knifings between rival political gangs in West Kingston’s notorious slum area had already resulted in six deaths. Shortly after he spoke, a state of emergency was declared and the army moved in to restore order. These political gangs fight among themselves over control of “territory,” much the same way as gangs of hoods in New York might. But they are organized on political lines, and there is little doubt that Communist agitation is behind much of the fighting.

I asked Robert Lightbourne, Jamaica’s trade minister and a man who some believe may be the next prime minister, what he thought of the riots in West Kingston. Was it perhaps a sign that a Communist revolution was possible?

“The riots? Naturally they annoyed us,” he replied. “But on the other hand I was rather pleased. Did you know some of the thugs had shortwave radios tuned into the police? We should be proud — we’re so advanced, Jamaicans are so intelligent — that even our criminals are using modern technology.”

What about immigration? Is Canada doing what it should?

“Well, the Canadian government is showing every evidence of wanting to liberalize its unjust laws. But remember, the Jamaican doesn’t want to go anywhere he’s not wanted. I don’t want to see our people lose confidence, become bitter. We’ve got less of a chip on our shoulder about being black than any other black people, and we want to remain that way.”

Jamaica is poor, but even so its per-capita income of $450 a year makes it wealthier than many nations, including, for example, Portugal. If it can find markets for its sugar and rum and if Canadian immigration policy will open up to act as a safety valve on its population pressure, the future looks bright. But if the population pressure builds up and the economy can’t keep pace, there's little doubt that Jamaica will go pink, if not completely Red. Impatient young European and Cuban-trained Marxists are already building their power base within the opposition People’s National Party, and if it returns to power they’ll probably take over.

If the Western-oriented Jamaica Labor Party loses power to the PNP, the Western nations, including Canada, will have to share a great deal of the blame. For the task of sustaining nearly two million ambitious. intelligent people on a tiny island is too immense to be undertaken without considerable outside help.

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“We can’t control what’s happening, but we can sure see it”

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, a two-island nation 1.000 miles southeast of Jamaica, is the next-largest independent former British Caribbean nation; its position, however, is quite different from Jamaica's. The per-capita income of Trinidad's one million people is more than $1.000 a year, making it a reasonably wealthy country. It has oil refineries, car and television assembly plants, and fertilizer, petro-chemical and, of course, traditional sugar and rum manufacturing industries.

Of all the islands, Trinidad is the most mixed racially: 30 percent of its people are coloreds, descendants of immigrants originally from India; another 20 percent are mixed white and black; the rest, Negro of African origin. Its capital. Port of Spain, is a bustling and often squalid metropolis, its streets swarm with Cypriots, Lebanese, Chinese. Syrians, Turks — you name it. Port of Spain has it. But unlike nearby Guyana, it has seen little overt tension between Indian and Negro. The prime minister. Eric Williams, is of mixed blood and his moderate People's National Movement Party has an overwhelming majority in the legislature.

Williams, an Oxford-educated PhD in political science, faces an opposition that is so fragmented into squabbling groups that he’s able to rule virtually as a benevolent dictator. When he came into power, the civil service was so corrupt that it was incapable of carrying out any progressive measures. Williams has done much to eliminate the graft, yet most Trinidadians still believe that senior government officials are amassing gigantic personal fortunes. One responsible businessman I talked to claimed to know for sure that one cabinet minister had salted away four million dollars in Swiss banks since assuming office.

Communist agitation in Trinidad has been widespread; last year wildcat strikes, fomented in some cases by imported agitators, threatened to close down the island's economy. Williams passed an unprecedented law banning all strikes. Since then there’s been peace on the industrial front, but again it is widely believed that Communist Chinese agitators are still entering the country.

One Trinidad-born white man, a plantation manager all his life, told me, “We can’t control what's happening, but we can sure see it. In the meantime you sit back and continue to hope for the best.”

Canadian aid is not an issue in Trinidad, because there isn’t the need for it that exists on other islands, such as Barbados, some 200 miles to the northeast. The largest of the so-called "Little Eight” islands, Barbados is traditionally the Canadian’s favorite island in the sun. In fact, it is the only tourist spot in the world visited by almost as many Canadians as Americans: last year, 15,000.

Barbados has none of the passion and violence of Jamaica and it’s free of Trinidad’s industrial tawdriness. It is a placid island of 250,000 highly educated people: it claims its literacy rate is 99 percent, which would make it more literate than Canada. Its capital. Bridgetown, is a pleasant little city. Huge old wooden fishing boats line the docks, while tiny vintage English cars race around jockeying for position with Detroit’s latest products in a cachophony of blaring horns.

With a thriving tourist industry. Barbados has a per-capita income of some $450 a year, more than the seven other small islands but still pitifully small by our standards. Its sugar industry, once the mainstay of its economy, has slowed down drastically since the collapse of world sugar prices, and the future prospects for the industry look far from promising.

Barbados’ associations with Canada are strong. For years, McGill University has had agricultural and marine research stations there, and more recently. the celebrated HARP navalgun space project. For decades, the old Canadian National steamship “Lady boats” were one of the island’s fewmajor communications links with the outside world; today. Air Canada leads in linking the islands to North America with fast, modern jet services.

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They feel Britain’s let them down, Canada won’t let them in

Unfortunately. Barbados has also seen a less desirable side of Canada. A large number of Canadians live on the island, some retired, some just getting away from it all. and some running, or pretending to run. hotels. As one Barbadian businessman told me in something of an exaggeration. "The ones that run hotels are their own best customers at the bar. The rest are either gangsters or the black sheep of the family.”

Thousands of Barbadians bought tickets in a hospital sweepstake that a Canadian syndicate persuaded the government to allow. The scheme’s backers were convicted in Toronto of running an illegal sweepstake and the hundreds of Barbadians who had won prizes never got them.

Despite all this. Premier Errol Barrow is strongly pro-Canadian — so much so that the only magazines on his waiting-room table are the French and English editions of Maclean's. Photographs of the HARP project decorate his office walls. Yet Barrow is angry about certain aspects of Canada's policy to the West Indies, most particularly immigration.

“We know Canada allows peasants from central Europe to enter as immigrants." he says, “people often with no skills and who don’t even speak English. Yet when it comes to West Indians, people who’ve lived for centuries under British rule, people who understand British institutions and speak English, we find we’re barred. Color discrimination? You draw your own conclusions.”

Like the other West Indian leaders, Barrow feels Britain has let the islands down. He looks to Canada to assume part of Britain's former role. but. he says, he's puzzled by Canadian policy.

“Canadian aid," he says, "is not very well organized. Frequently, we're not even aware that it's going on. We need more information about it. But above all. what we need is more liberal entry into Canada for our products — sugar, rum. molasses." Barrow says he s prepared to turn anywhere for help — even behind the Iron Curtain — but he regards Canada as "our most natural ally.”

Like the other larger islands, Barbados has put much effort into selling its people on birth control. Some progress has been made. There’s little problem in persuading women to have a device fitted — it's the men who object. Virility is still something measured in terms of children and men are reluctant to have only one or two.

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“Man, I got two kids already,” my cab driver in Barbados told me. He looked about 20 years old. “Marriage? Man, 1 be much too young yet.” Many girls still believe the myth that if they don’t have a baby by the age of 21 they’ll go mad. It’s not at all unusual for a perfectly respectable girl to be, say, a local church official, while raising five or six fatherless children.

Is Canada doing enough to help the islands? No, say critics

On the smaller islands, the so-called “Little Seven” — St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Montserrat, Antigua, Grenada and Dominica — overpopulation is an equally pressing problem. The islands are primitive, poor and badly in need of massive help from outside. Their per-capita incomes range around $250 a year, their populations from St. Lucia’s 100,000 to Montserrat’s 1 5,000.

Most of the islands have new constitutions which come into effect this year, and which give them almost complete independence. Britain will still look after their defense and external affairs, but the islands are free to terminate this arrangement any time they like.

Internally, each has its own problems. Antigua is plagued by a water shortage that last year had tourists leaving the island at the height of the season because they couldn’t get a bath. St. Lucia has no proper jet strip and only 200 hotel rooms on the whole island. The other islands are all desperately poor, their sugar economies running down through low prices and a lack of proper marketing schemes.

Although poverty is widespread, actual starvation is rare. In many cases a man can just pluck his daily food off the trees around him. But islanders are no longer content as they once were with such an idyllic existence. On the tiny island of St. Lucia, for instance, people every day are learning — through television, radio and magazines, and from tourists — about the comforts and luxuries people have elsewhere. Not unnaturally, they react by thinking that maybe they should have some of these things, too — decent homes, medical services, schools, even refrigerators and cars.

“Brotherhood” — and after

That is why John Compton, first minister of St. Lucia, came to Canada last year. Along with other West Indian leaders, he was in Ottawa for a Canada-West indies conference called by Prime Minister Pearson. The West Indians were looking to Canada to come Lip with something that woLild help their fledgling nations get on their feet, and perhaps, with a bit of luck, stave off the sort of popular dissatisfaction that led to Castro in Cuba.

At that conference, Compton and the other leaders heard much talk about Commonwealth brotherhood, about the moral and practical reasons why wealthy nations should help the less fortunate. After much publicity, Canada Linveilcd its new aid program. It amounted to $13 million dollars a year for the 13 Caribbean nations’ 3.5 million people. More than half of it was in loans that had to he repaid; all of it had to be spent on goods made in Canada.

St. Lucia’s share of the aid came to $300,000, and Compton was wondering how on earth he was supposed to build a prosperous, stable new nation if this was all that Canada was prepared to do to help.

Almost the only encouraging factor for the islands was the reaction of Canadian newspapers which denounced the West Indian aid package as grossly, even insultingly, inadequate. Southam News Service called it “pathetic” and the Toronto Globe and Mail's Ottawa columnist, George Bain, wrote that “it was hardly an impassioned embrace.” Austin Clarke, a West Indian novelist living in Canada, wrote in the Toronto Telegram that his beloved islands are becoming the “brothels of Canada.” He said Canada’s posturing as the West Indies’ fairy godmother is a fraud, and he accused Canadian businessmen of growing fat off the West Indies trade without any concern for the islands’ economies. Compton tends to agree with Clarke’s bitter assessment. And he adds, “The British have dumped us. It is totally disillusioning. They won’t give us a penny — they say they can’t afford it. After all these years of colonialism they're through, just not interested.

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Patrick’s plan: an “association” of Canada and the islands

“They’ve left a vacuum. Who's to fill it? The Americans? We’ve seen their bases turn our people into pimps and whores. We’ve seen their fruit companies wreck our economies in the interests of what they call free enterprise. We’ve seen them invade the Dominican Republic. Canada? We would like to think Canada would help . . . but so far your aid has just been a dribble, a sleight-of-hand to make the world think you’re doing something. There’s Ken Patrick, of course, but he’s only one man and how much can he be expected to achieve?”

Ken Patrick is a wealthy and influential Montreal engineer, business consultant and entrepreneur who pours a considerable amount of his unbounded energy into promoting something he calls his “Canada-West Indies Proposal.” This is an ambitious scheme whereby Canada and the smaller West Indian islands would enter into an “association.” They would become part of the Canadian currency area: trade barriers would be lowered or dropped altogether; and Canada would handle defense and foreign affairs for the islands.

To Patrick, the logic of it all is overwhelming. He himself has considerable real-estate and business investments in the Caribbean; yet somehow, listening to him you get the impression that his proposal is much more than self-interest on his part. For him, Canada’s responsibility to the islands has become a crusade. He argues with passionate conviction about the island’s problems, their poverty and their alone-ness in the world.

For Canada, he says, the advantages of such an arrangement would be tremendous. We would be playing a really constructive, practical role in assisting an underdeveloped area, instead of merely “prancing about the world stage, preaching to the great powers about what they should do.” Canada could retain a huge portion of the $380 million a year now spent by Canadians seeking the sun in the winter; the money would remain within the Canadian dollar area. Canadian investment in the islands, combined with technical know-how, could rapidly establish year-round fruit and vegetable production. Again, Patrick argues. Canada could save millions in foreign exchange now being spent to import fruit and vegetables from the southern U.S.

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Patrick’s lobbying has produced a new awareness in Ottawa of the islands’ problems, but still there is little official enthusiasm. One backer, however, is General Jean Allard, Chief of the Defense Staff, who believes the islands could be an ideal training ground for Canadian troops.

Most of the islands’ leaders would welcome closer studies of the ramifications of Patrick's proposal. In Antigua, the chief minister, Vere Bird, told me. “We like the attitude of the Canadians. We're hoping that something comes of it all.”

St. Lucia's John Compton bluntly calls independence for the islands a farce. He's especially critical of the provision that Canadian-aid money must be spent in Canada. If Canada, for example, is willing to pay 80 percent of the cost of a new water plant, it means the island must stretch its slender resources to find the balance. Money needed for other, perhaps more important projects, would have to go on the water plant so that the opportunity of Canadian aid would not be missed.

Compton also regards present Canadian immigration laws as a cruel joke. “Why should a school teacher from the islands be forced to spend a continued on pope 69 year working as a domestic in Canada before she can teach? It is profoundly degrading.”

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“We do so little down there, yet we’re treated as heroes”

He feels the chances of a revival of the ill-fated West Indies Federation arc perhaps better than most people believe. The federation split up five years ago when the larger islands. Jamaica and Trinidad, opted out of being aligned with the geographically smaller and economically weaker islands.

Says Compton, “We are one people here in the West Indies, regardless of the fact that different flags fly on each island. Sheer economic necessity will force us to come together again.”

Ken Patrick still feels his own proposal for a Canada-West Indies link is the best bet for the future. “What's $200 million in aid over 10 years?” he asks. “Since the Colombo Plan started, we've poured out more than $500 million in aid. mostly to India and Pakistan. What have we got to show for it? It's just a drop in the bucket. But here in the West Indies so little can accomplish so much.”

Patrick says — and he has newspaper clippings to back it up — that his proposal has received support in Canada from coast to coast. Yet the government makes no move to start exploring in detail the ramifications of putting it into effect.

"Damnit.” he says, “we do so little down there now, yet we’re treated as heroes. What an opportunity for Canada if we really put our backs into it!" ★