With Jamaica celebrating fifty years of independence this week and success for Caribbean states within the Olympics the world’s attention is focused on this collection of small island states. Famed for their idyllic landscapes and vibrant, colorful and laid back culture these islands has entranced foreign travelers from around the world.
However beyond tourism and Caribbean stereotypes the region is currently involved in fierce politically debates assessing its current world position and whether it can take a leading role in its own global affairs. Politically the region is noted as a region that still, in many cases, represents the colonial environment that existed several hundred years ago. The UK, France, Netherlands and the USA all have control over islands in the region and continue to administer them in the same way they have for centuries; with a Governor who reports directly to the executive power in the respective country. But fundamentally these states often are politically isolated from the electoral process that determines the leader in their controlling nation.
However beyond the continued colonial presence in the region many former colonies still bear the hallmarks of colonial rule with linguistic ties, political and judicial links and a shared social identity typified by migration. Jamaica is one of the best examples of the current political scenario for many Caribbean nations.
It gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962 but remained a member of the Commonwealth and because of this retains the British monarch, Elizabeth II, as the Head of State. This intrinsically ties the Caribbean nation with its former colonial power, Britain, and this pattern is extended across many independent nations within the Caribbean, including the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines. Often tied into these political links is a complex colonial heritage that sees ultimate judicial power vested in London, where the court of appeal for many Caribbean nations exists.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the court of appeal for most of the Commonwealth nations in the Caribbean and thus, despite these countries achieving independence, the continues to exist with a judicial structure that provides Britain with ultimate power, 50 years after it left the region. This has understandably caused many problems in the Caribbean and an alternative Caribbean Court of Justice was established, although the realization and adoption of this as a new court of appeals has been a slow process.
However it is not just the old colonial powers who are the only influences in the Caribbean. Its geographical location has meant that it has become a sub-region of North America and is also often grouped as part of Latin America. In either region it is the lesser partner, subject to the political and social constructs of the larger nations in either region. Countries, such as Cuba and Antigua & Barbuda, have close links with Venezuela due political alliances (Antigua & Barbuda is part of ALBA, an organization led by Venezuela) and other are influenced by the great power to the North, the USA, that dominates both the social and economic landscapes in the Caribbean. For many economic development in the Caribbean is hampered as attention is focused on the much larger countries on the mainland, including the USA and Mexico, one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
But the Caribbean is attempting to break out of the influence of others and the starting point may be the cultural stereotype that beyond everything else marks out the Caribbean from its neighbours. This stereotype, combined with the natural beauty of the region, has meant that tourism continues to be the bedrock of this region, and understandably development of this industry is considered key to future development. However the people in power are looking at a more sustainable and cultural beneficial tourism industry; one that avoids the mass tourism that is characteristic of many boom and bust tourist regions. Examples of this new development include plans in Jamaica to preserve and develop Port Royal, once the centre of pirating in the Caribbean, in order to build a sustainable industry to attract tourists and boost development in the local area.
In addition many in the Caribbean are taking regional politics and economics into their own hands, using mutual support and unity across the region to ensure a stronger voice for the island states. CARICOM is still the main forum for Caribbean interests however the next decades could see greater development within other regional bodies, such as the Association of Caribbean Nations and the Caribbean Development Bank, that would further the political and economic development of Caribbean.
However with such heavy influence from powers all around and the fact that as islands they continue to be small countries with elatively little influence on world affairs, maybe analysts believe that they will struggle to dictate their own futures, without reference to the leading world powers. For the Caribbean to move forward it must first take control of its own judicial process, although cultural and social links with former colonies would continue to benefit these nations, and then look to continue their personal economic development, using tourism as a bedrock. By taking this advantage Caribbean islands could do what other small states around the world have done punch above their weight in world politics.
If they can take hold of their own affairs and work together as a region, as Jamaica’s motto states “Out of Many, One People”, then the vibrant Caribbean may have a very bright future.