There is something quite special about the month of August in the political and cultural history of our Caribbean—this region that bridges the two Americas and constitutes a microcosm of the peoples and cultures of the world.
Today, August 1, sees region-wide celebrations commemorating “Emancipation”, the final liberation of our enslaved African ancestors that was to be followed by the freedom from indentureship (contract slavery) of our East Indian ancestors.
This is also the month, as every school child in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago knows when, first Jamaica on August 6, and then Trinidad and Tobago on August 31, joined the family of independent nations.
Currently, they are both engaged in celebratory activities to highlight the respective golden jubilees of their political independence.
The activities include showcasing their myriad cultural talents, even as the administrations in Kingston and Port of Spain try hard to ignore the choruses of social and political discontent from spoiling official independence birthday festivities.
As it is in the plural society of Trinidad and Tobago, so also in Guyana, Emancipation committees now regularly benefit from state funds to celebrate this historic occasion.
In both countries there is an increasing generosity of spirit in the provision of state funds — as also happens for “Arrival Day” observances marking the date when the indentured Indians first came.
Yet, expressions of impatience, if not outright disappointment, can still be expected from those directly involved in organising/sponsoring these events over how much funding is sufficient or reasonable.
For Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica in particular there is an unmistakable irony in celebrations of Emancipation Day and golden jubilee of political independence .
It is related to an evident lingering bondage in “mental slavery”—if I may borrow from the legendary Bob Marley—that keeps administrations in both Port of Spain and Kingston shackled to the Privy Council in London as their final appellate institution instead of accessing the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as their court of last resort.
Consequently, in the homeland of Marcus Garvey and the iconic Bob Marley that freed itself on August 6, 1962 from slavery and colonialism, to that of the historian/politician Eric Williams and the legendary “Mighty Sparrow” — (recall “London Bridge”?) — there are still frustrating debates to justify delay delinking from the Privy Council and accessing the CCJ.
Of course in Jamaica the scenario is even more politically unpleasant with talk, and more talk, about a national referendum before bidding farewell to both the monarchical system of governance and the Privy Council.
It would, therefore, be interesting to learn whether Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller would have anything new to tell Jamaicans and, by extension us, their Caricom cousins, next Monday (Independence Day) about parting with the “mental enslavement” that keeps Jamaica from moving on to the status of a constitutional republic—as was done by Trinidad and Tobago (1976) and Guyana (1970).
Equally, there is much interest in knowing if her counterpart in Port of Spain, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is getting ready to deliver a political surprise of significance on August 31.
That surprise could perhaps be located in her address for the coming golden anniversary of independence should she choose to at least signal the time-line between now and the third anniversary of her government in May next year for accessing the CCJ as T&T’s final appellate institution.
Meanwhile, across in Barbados, currently preparing to celebrate its 46th independence anniversary on November 30, fears over the social implications of a national economy adrift in rough waters are resulting in some surprising manifestations.
One such development is an open dispute between the Minister of Social Care, Steve Blackett, and the country’s distinguished calypsonian and Cultural Ambassador, Mighty Gabby, over the prevailing social and economic woes being “ripe” for a public “riot”—as claimed by Gabby.
Owners of what was perhaps the most enviable and progressively managed economy in Caricom, Barbadians are currently quite disheartened by the recent downgrading to “junk bond” status of their credit rating by the Standard and Poors investment agency.
By; Ricky Singh