Category Archives: Caribbean

Biden Urged to Adopt a Good Neighbor Policy Toward Latin America

Election season is a difficult time to develop good policies towards Latin America, since both Democrats and Republicans cater to the small, but organized, conservative factions of the Latinx community in Florida, vying for their votes. But if Biden wins the White House, there is a chance to reverse the Trump administration policies that have been devastating for Latin America, policies that punish innocent civilians through harsh economic sanctions, destabilize the region through coups and attempts at regime change, and close our borders to desperate people fleeing north in search of safety and opportunity, often as a result of U.S. security and economic policies.

The Trump administration openly calls its Latin America and Caribbean policy the “Monroe Doctrine 2.0.” The Monroe Doctrine — asserting U.S. geopolitical control over the region — served as a pretext for over 100 years of military invasions, support for military dictatorships, the training and financing of security forces involved in mass human rights violations and economic blackmail, among other horrors.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt distanced himself from this doctrine, outlining a new vision for relations in the hemisphere. His “Good Neighbor” policy temporarily ended the gunboat diplomacy that characterized U.S. foreign policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the policy had its flaws, such as FDR’s support for the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, his administration’s failures were often the result of not adhering to the Good Neighbor principle of non-interference.

That is why over 100 organizations that work on issues related to Latin America and the Caribbean sent a letter calling for the next administration to adopt a new Good Neighbor Policy toward the region based on non-intervention, cooperation and mutual respect. Among the organizations calling for a new approach are Alianza Americas, Amazon Watch, the Americas Program, Center for International Policy, CODEPINK, Demand Progress, Global Exchange, the Latin America Working Group and Oxfam America.

The letter to the presidential candidates warns that in January 2021, the U.S. president will face a hemisphere that will not only still be reeling from the coronavirus but will also be experiencing a deep economic recession, and that the best to help is not by seeking to impose its will, but rather by adopting a broad set of reforms to reframe relations with our neighbors to the south.

First among the reforms is lifting the brutal economic sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua that are causing widespread human suffering, especially during a pandemic. These sanctions have not fulfilled their objective of regime change; the past 20 years of U.S. wars in the Middle East has taught us that U.S.-imposed regime change brings nothing but death and chaos.

Another reform is to put a stop to the hundreds of millions of dollars of police and military equipment and training that the U.S. provides Latin American and Caribbean countries each year. In many cases, such as Honduras and Colombia, U.S. funding and training have supported troops involved in corruption and egregious human rights abuses, including numerous extrajudicial killings and attacks targeting local activists and journalists. Much of this militarized “aid” is transferred in the name of the decades-long war on drugs, which has only fueled a vicious cycle of violence. The letter asserts that the “war on drugs” is a counterproductive way to deal with a US public health issue that is best addressed through decriminalization and equitable legal regulation. It also calls for scaling down US “security assistance” and arms sales, as well as the removal of US military and law enforcement personnel from the region.

The letter points out that although the U.S. public has been rightly condemning any sort of foreign interference in our own country’s elections, the U.S. government has a history of flagrant interference in the elections of our neighbors, including training political groups it favors and funding efforts to marginalize the political forces it opposes. In Venezuela, the Trump administration has gone to the extreme of anointing a legislator, Juan Guaidó, as the unelected “president” of Venezuela and putting a multi-million dollar bounty on the head of the UN-recognized president, Nicolas Maduro. The letter denounces such blatant interference and calls on the U.S. to respect the sovereignty of other nations.

The endorsing organizations also denounce U.S. intervention in domestic economic policymaking, which occurs in large part through its enormous influence within multilateral financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank. In order to obtain credit lines from these institutions, governments typically have to agree to austerity measures and other policies that lead to the downsizing of welfare states and a weakening of workers’ bargaining power. Moreover, as Latin American economies are reeling from the pandemic, the U.S. must cease demanding the implementation of neoliberal models and instead support public health, education and other basic needs.

Regarding human rights, the letter notes the U.S. has a role in advocating for them across the hemisphere. However, it warns against the instrumentalization of human rights for political gain, since too often human rights violations in the U.S. or in allied countries are ignored, while violations in countries considered adversaries are magnified. It says the U.S. should focus — both at home and abroad — on the rights of historically excluded communities, including indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, LGBTQ+ individuals, women, and migrants and refugees. It urges the United States to speak out when human rights defenders, including environmental and land rights activists and labor organizers, are in danger—a situation all too frequent in Latin America and the Caribbean today. It also calls on the U.S. to help depoliticize and strengthen existing multilateral institutions that defend human rights.

With respect to immigration, the letter insists that the next administration must undo the brutal harms of the Trump administration, but also reject the status quo of the Obama administration, which deported more people than any administration ever before and built the infrastructure for the Trump administration to carry out violent anti-immigrant policies. The next administration must hear the demands for immigrant justice, including a moratorium on all deportations; an end to mass prosecutions of individuals who cross the border; the re-establishment of asylum procedures at the border; an immediate path to citizenship for the Dreamers and for Temporary Protected Status holders; defunding the border wall; an end to the “zero-tolerance” (family separation) policy and other policies that prioritize migration-related prosecutions; and an end to private immigration detention.

As the region — and the world — anxiously awaits the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, groups in the U.S. are gearing up for the possibility of a Biden win, and the need to push a new administration to make a positive contribution to the well-being of people throughout the hemisphere.

The post Biden Urged to Adopt a Good Neighbor Policy Toward Latin America first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Expense of the American Dream

Political analysis, alas, is no less immune to what has been called the “fashion system” than any other segment of human consumption habits since the end of the Great War bequeathed the industrial form of indoctrination that prevails—now in digital form—today. The polemics offered as contemporary insights can be found in older documents, the sources we call history. Like fashion and pageantry, the writing for daily consumption is always presented as “new” and/or “improved”. Sometimes it is presented as “classical” with the veneer of ancient authority. Yet the misery to which the vast majority of humanity is subjected has been altered only minimally since 1492 gave the Roman Catholic and later Protestant elites in Europe the impetus to seize the rest of the planet, dominating the world’s population and the rest of nature.

Despite this power the Eurocentric cultures have never transcended their propensity or vulnerability to the millenarianism that is pejoratively attributed to the medieval period, the previous era of Roman Catholic domination over the peoples of Christendom. Perhaps this is a condition of the unique solar-based calendar system that prevails in the Dark Peninsula of Europe. Ironically, it is the darkest part of the planet Earth (at least in terms of days of sunlight) that has acquired the habit of calling the rest of the world—where, in fact, there is more sunlight—“dark”; e.g., Africa. It is also this relatively small region of the world whose population claims to have ennobled humanity with the supposed escape from its pathological violence with the Enlightenment.

The countries in which this Enlightenment was to have occurred—as an end to its shameful “darkness”—have nevertheless been the source of the greatest violence and destruction ever caused by humans. In the course of a mere 500 years, the peoples from the European peninsula managed to systematically decimate three continents and develop weapons and business practices capable of killing the rest. At the same time, this homicidal culture is managed and perpetuated by people who now believe the world is doomed because of climate change. Hence they have begun preaching that all those who happened to survive the vicious onslaught of half a millennium are at fault now for the immanent destruction of life on Earth—as they have come to know it.

The “dark” world—meaning, in fact, the non-white part—is alleged to be the cause of this impending apocalypse through overpopulation, overconsumption, overdevelopment, or mere striving for equality of life with those Enlightened who have plundered the planet.

Gerald Horne asks us to reconsider this perverse reversal of the facts. He is not talking about the impending apocalypse, but about the one that already occurred and thus the processes that apocalypse already set in motion. Although his 2018 book is clearly a response to the 2016 US Presidential elections, Professor Horne is simply asking a question that should be obvious. Why does the world have to suffer at regular intervals the messianic anointment of rich white people whose mission is to impose their will on whole nations and continents? Why have two revolutions in the dark centres of power been unable to stop the homicidal juggernaut of European culture, controlled by a tiny elite in the North Atlantic basin? Professor Horne focuses on the events in England, North America, and the Caribbean in the Seventeenth Century. In his view, the so-called Glorious Revolution in England constituted a crucial turning point launching the ascendancy of the English-speaking peoples; making them the premier “white” race upon whose domination the sun should never set and the blood should never dry.

Establishment history defines the Seventeenth Century as the beginning of progress. In North America that “progress” led to the founding of the new Eden later to be constituted as the United States. On the older side of the Atlantic basin, the great hope was to be the United Kingdom. By the end of the Great Slaughter of 1914-1918, these two pretenders to civilisation joined for all intents and purposes to embody the new Jerusalem, even recreating the Crusader fortress to restore imperial control over the inhabitants of the old Jerusalem by mid-century. The United Kingdom fought nearly forty years to defeat the French Revolution in Europe, while the United States helped to defeat it in the western hemisphere. It took some seventy years for their combined forces in the “special relationship” to defeat the Russian Revolution.

The question that must be asked is, if there was, in fact, Enlightenment in the dark peninsula of Europe, among the most backward societies on the planet, why did the inhabitants of those societies find themselves compelled by the supposedly most enlightened among them to destroy any and every attempt to follow the principles of that Enlightenment—liberty, fraternity, equality—in the most ferocious manner, developing for that purpose the capacity to annihilate millions and poison the environment for man and beast alike?

Of course, this question has been asked, especially by European scholars writing in the wake of the Second World War.1 Much has been said about the internal contradictions between equality and social order or the defects of secularised Christianity. There has been a good deal of criticism directed at the imperatives of modern science and the ideology of progress. In the end there seems to be a consensus that it is man’s weakness (dare we say “sin”) in the face of forces he has unleashed—the indeterminacy of even the best planned actions—which has led us all to the realisation that the Enlightenment was not that bright after all, that liberty, fraternity and equality are quaint illusions, the pursuit of which has most recently burdened us with “climate change” due to “global warming”.

Professor Horne’s reply to this question, I suppose—were he to breach academic decorum—would not be “man’s weakness” or that the trinity of Enlightenment virtue was illusory. Rather he would—and, in fact, does—argue that the Enlightenment was not the cause of European improvement (which did not occur) but a polemic that emerged mainly in the countries that became the greatest colonisers and traders in non-white human flesh. In other words, Enlightenment discourse was a product of the ideology of white supremacy, which preceded it in development. The Enlightenment emerged as a style for rationalising the creation of “white” identity or “European” identity. That meant suppressing the urges to murder and steal from each other based on differences of language, religion, family or ethnicity or general brigandry. Why after the slaughter of the Thirty Years War was that necessary? The European population itself had been seriously depleted. And the hope of further enrichment from abroad required every available hand for its achievement.

Andre Gunder Frank gave a plausible economic explanation for how the backwater of the Eurasian continent began to undermine the largest and most developed economy of the time after 1492.2 He argued that the Spanish conquest of South America introduced masses of new precious metals, primarily silver, which opened the Chinese economy to Europeans for the first time on a large scale. China’s silver-based economy was increasingly destabilised by the inflow of new money into the Asia-Pacific region China had traditionally dominated. Of course, Spanish gold and silver also destabilised the economies of Europe, leading to competition and more wars. However, this would not have been possible without the annihilation of the indigenous population in the Americas, whose land and labour had to be stolen for this purpose. Spanish loot became the target of England’s pirate fleets, ultimately exhausting His Most Catholic Majesty’s treasury. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was to leave Britain to become the ruler of the waves.

When the supply of precious metals became insufficient to award unearned wealth, Europeans shifted to drugs. The principal drugs of that era were sugar and tobacco. Unlike mining, which ends when the lode has been exhausted and the metal has found its way into foreign treasuries, drugs are a renewable source of wealth. However, prior to the emergence of the chemical industry, most drug production was labour-intensive and plantation-based. The only way to keep the industry profitable was low input costs and monopoly control of supply and price. With little labour in Europe to spare, what remained of the indigenous populations was enslaved along with a new source found in Africa. For Europeans, Africans were a population surplus that could be used to drive the sugar plantations of the Americas. Sugar was foremost a product of Caribbean islands and hence every striving European ruler sought islands for his own domestic drug market. At the same time competition for slave labour intensified to permit the maximum volumes for the least possible cost. The competition was finally reduced France (with Saint Dominique), Spain (with Jamaica and Cuba) and Britain (with Barbados and the neighbouring islands). France’s colony was by far the richest and most profitable until it was lost by the Haitian Revolution. Britain finally drove Spain out of Jamaica and with its superior naval forces emerged as the leading drug producer of the Caribbean and ultimately Europe’s leading drug pusher.

The island economies had two serious disadvantages in the Seventeenth Century. At some point, especially the smaller islands like Barbados, would be fully exploited. New territory was needed for new profits. Far more serious, however, was the population problem. European colonisers had been unsuccessful at inducing or forcing enough of their subjects to leave their homes and work as serfs in the Caribbean. The importation of African slave labour soon led to overwhelming African majorities on the sugar islands. These majorities were not passively resigned to their lot. On the contrary it became increasingly dangerous for Europeans to live among these large slave populations without the use of extreme violence and military force. The cost of maintaining military domination of the slave populations and fighting drug wars against rivals was decreasing the profitability of these colonies steadily. Thus in by 1688 and the Glorious Revolution new means had to be sought to maintain the profitability of both African slavery and the drug economy it was used to support.

Professor Horne shows that the new monarchical dispensation created by the election of William and Mary to the British throne opened the market for the trade in Africans by abolishing the previous royal monopoly on the slave trade. Moreover the reconciliation of mercantile interests with those of the landed aristocracy created an ideological consensus, which would reduce the historical tensions within Christendom. The ideology of free trade, expressed in Adam Smith’s canonical text, was an outgrowth of the reorganisation of the European drug trade and slavery as its principal labour policy.3 While the State, in Britain’s case the Royal Navy, would continue to protect the essential trading infrastructure and fend off competition, the rest of the business would be opened to private enterprise. As in the economy today, the expenses were socialised and the profits privatised.

A solution had to be found to the labour crisis in the Caribbean. The problem was complex. On one hand the island drug economies relied on African slave labour. However, since the Africans soon outnumbered the Europeans, increasing degrees of violence were needed to subjugate this workforce. The competition between rival national gangs, especially between Britain and Spain, meant that enslaved labour (including the residue of indigenous people among the slave population) was not only tempted but were often successful at alleviating their condition by changing sides in the various drug wars that plagued the islands. In Jamaica, the entrenched free African enclaves, fought alternatively with the Spanish against the English or the English against the Spanish in order to obtain relative advantages.

On the other hand indentured European labourers were just as likely to join Africans to rebel against their oppressors, especially Irish Catholic labourers against their English Protestant lords. The necessity of reducing the cost of violent control over Africans led the owners of the plantations to look for another strategy.

As Theodore Allen also argued in an earlier study, the solution was found in a new legal regime.4 African labourers were to be subjected to very strict and harsh controls from which Europeans were exempted. Europeans were to be punished for cooperation with Africans. Europeans were to be released from their bondage after a term of years while Africans would not only be bonded for life but also as a class. White’s study focussed on the British colonisation of Ireland and the creation of the race regime in North America. Gerald Horne shows that this process began even earlier in the Caribbean. Moreover in Horne’s work the process is fundamental for the inception of the United States. It was, in his view, the threat by the United Kingdom to revise its labour regime by abolishing bonded labour that led the English colonists on the mainland (many of whom had moved their wealth from the Caribbean to North America) that led to the war creating the United States.

Professor Horne’s argument, published in several books over the past decade, explains the roots of Anglo-American empire and the so-called free market/ free enterprise or capitalist system in a manner consistent with Marx but with more reliance upon the insights of Walter Rodney5 and Eric Williams.6 While Karl Marx may have provided the most useful theoretical description of the system called capitalism, it is apparent that the program derived from Marxism by various European and North American political parties has been insufficient to remedy the fundamental crimes of African slavery. He says this failure is not an oversight but due to a fundamental error. By treating industrialisation and modernisation as the results of the Enlightenment and the product of European humanism, a reversal is made.

Slavery made industrial capitalism possible. It was the obscene profitability of the Caribbean drug trade, later expanded to other primary commodities, based on African slavery that gave Britain and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands the enormous capital resources to develop its industry. Moreover it was the culture, the ideology of white supremacy that the Enlightenment first theorised. For that reason there should be no surprise that the leading Enlightenment leaders of the day; e.g., Thomas Jefferson in the United States, should have felt no compulsion to include Africans among the beneficiaries. Quite the contrary, the Haitian Revolution forced the “enlightened” French in Bordeaux to accept that liberté, egalité et fraternité was not meant just for Europeans—but for all the French.7 Admittedly this class has never fully accepted the Haitian argument. But according to Professor Horne that should be no surprise since the slogans were intended by the emergent bourgeoisie to unite Europeans against Africans, not with them.

Without abandoning the Marxian analysis of capitalism, despite its historical limitations, the questions have to be asked. Why does the United States claim to “exceptionalism” retain its high level of acceptance even among the anti-establishment? Why is slavery, despite the historical and economic data, still treated as incidental to the foundation of the exceptional US? Professor Horne poignantly recalls that three hundred years of slavery and genocide are ignored when the origin of the United States is described, but the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union are reduced to the ten years of Joseph Stalin’s wartime rule. African slavery is treated as mere collateral damage in the pageant of Manifest Destiny.

Much of the historical data has been compressed but can be found elsewhere in Gerald Horne’s earlier works. The core is argued in depth in The Counter-Revolution of 1776. In The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism he summarises his previous work as an explicit criticism of the political inflammation exposed by the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the slave-built mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He says that the present US government is extreme in its expression but of a deeply held faith shared across the US political spectrum.

Donald Trump has been the target of attack on both sides of the Atlantic basin. It is hardly possible to find anyone who can say anything about United States policy without blaming the real estate mogul from New York. The revulsion is obvious in this short essay. However, a careful reading will reveal that the present POTUS is merely a more obvious and inane expression of the consensus forged by the ideology of white supremacy, the driving force of cross-class capitalism. That ideology was necessary for Europeans to suppress their other homicidal differences; e.g., religion, language, nationality and greed.

Professor Horne shows that the Dark Continent was Europe, not Africa. The Enlightenment was made possible by a bonfire of African slaves. And as James Baldwin once told the Cambridge Union, the American Dream was at the expense of the American Negro—who built the country: picked the cotton, dug the canals, laid the railroads, for nothing, for nothing.8

Today the world is still dominated by states and corporations warring for control of the drug traffic and other primary commodities. Africa is still being plundered and apparently its inhabitants can be enslaved, displaced, starved or killed at will. There is virtual silence among those Enlightened.

The first rule of any successful crime is to make the victim feel he or she deserved it. The darkness that has hung over the non-white world for the past half a millennia could only be maintained by the fiction that the light is “white”.

  1. Probably the most well known of these is The Dialectic of the Enlightenment by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944).
  2. Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, 1998.
  3. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776.
  4. Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 1994.
  5. Walter Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545 to 1800, 1970 and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1982.
  6. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, 1944.
  7. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, 1938.
  8. James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley, debate before the Cambridge Union, 26 October 1965.

Canada: An International Banking Powerhouse

Strange how some people think Canada is a colony, a victim of U.S. power, when so much evidence points to the Great White North being an imperial power.

For example, Canada is an international banking powerhouse.

The Globe and Mail report on TD’s third-quarter results noted that its “international operations  – mostly in the United States and Latin America – produced outsized returns” while another recent story in that paper’s business pages pointed out that the Bank of Nova Scotia and Bank of Montreal “are doing brisk business lending in international markets, helping drive third-quarter profits higher.” For Canada’s biggest bank, reported the Financial Post, “U.S. wealth management unit helps propel RBC to $3.1 billion profit.”

Canada’s international banking prowess is not new. Dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks had become major players in the English Caribbean colonies and US-dominated Cuba by the early 1900s.

The Royal Bank of Canada began operating in Britain’s Caribbean colonies in the late 1800s and had branches there before Western Canada. During the 1898-1902 occupation of Cuba RBC was the preferred banker of US officials. (National US banks were forbidden from establishing foreign branches until 1914.) By the mid-1920s the “Banco de Canada”, as it was popularly known, had 65 branches in Cuba. In 1919 RBC established an association with the Westminster Bank, which had operations in British Africa. In 1925 RBC published an ad in Canadian magazines with a map of the Western Hemisphere with dots denoting the Royal’s presence throughout the Caribbean and South America. The headline read, “A bank with 900 branches: at home and abroad.”

The Bank of Montreal has operated in the Caribbean since the late 1800s. It was tied to British rule there and in Africa. According to James L. Darroch in Canadian Banks and Global Competitiveness:

In 1920, a substantial interest in the Colonial Bank was purchased [by the Bank of Montreal] to fill out the branch network and to provide representation in the West Indies and West Africa.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) entered the Caribbean just after World War One and Mexico a bit earlier. According to Darroch, “the CIBC acted for the U.S. government after the U.S. came into possession of the Philippines following the Spanish-American war” of 1898.

Scotiabank has “full-service  banking operations in 37 countries”. It set up shop in British controlled Jamaica in 1889, US-dominated Philippines a few years later and the Dominican Republic during the US occupation of 1916-1924.

With operations spanning the globe, Canadian banks are major international players. The five major Canadian banks are among the world’s 59 biggest banks. At 0.5% of the world’s population, Canada should have 1 of the world’s top 200 banks. To put it differently, this country’s proportion of the world’s 59 biggest banks is more than 15 times the share of Canada’s global population.

Canada’s outsized banking power is not new. In 1960 three of the world’s twelve biggest banks were Canadian and Canadian banks oversaw 15% of the international foreign currency market.

Similarly, Canada’s big five banks have long generated a significant share of their sizable profits from their international operations. In 1981 a Bank of Nova Scotia executive said, according to Walter Stewart in Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks, “I don’t know why Canadians are upset about bank profits. We’ve stopped screwing Canadians. Now we’re screwing foreigners.”

Foreigners have protested Canadian banks for at least a century. CIBC and the Bank of Montreal were targeted during the 1910–17 Mexican Revolution and there’s been publicly recorded criticism of Canadian banking practices in the Caribbean since at least 1925. In the early 1970s Canadian banks were fire bombed in nationalist protests in Trinidad and Tobago and Scotiabank was targeted by demonstrators and the courts in Argentina at the start of the 2000s.

Amazingly, the Canadian left has generally ignored Canada’s international banking prowess (even as their foreign operations receive direct government assistance). The dominant left nationalist political economy perspective frames Canada as a victim of international capitalism. Looking at the world through a left nationalist lens generally leads individuals to ignore, or downplay, the destruction wrought by Canadian corporations abroad and “Canada’s hugely privileged place in the world economy”, as Paul Kellogg puts it in Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy after Left Nationalism.

Canadian banks have amassed significant wealth through their domestic operations and relationship to the profits generated from Tim Hortons’ workers, Inuit resources, oil extraction, etc. But, they’ve also made huge sums internationally and by skimming some of the wealth produced in US oil fields, Peruvian mines and Port-au-Prince sweatshops.

People on the left should tell it like it is: Canada is an imperial power, our ruling class profits greatly from the exploitation of poorer countries.

The Long March to Post-Capitalist Transition: Pan-Africanist Perspectives

The following talk was given by Ameth Lô in a French-language panel, “L’aurore de notre libération,” in Montreal on May 20, 2018, at “The Great Transition: Preparing a World Beyond Capitalism.”

*****

The centenary of the October 1917 Russian revolution, a world-shaking historic event, was an occasion for celebration throughout the world.

Many diverse interpretations are advanced as to its success in achieving a radical transformation of society, both in terms of its history and its overall impact. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this event altered forever the course of history.

For Black peoples, this revolution arrived just over a century after the victory in Haiti in 1804. That event was the first massive and successful revolt of Black slaves, and an important step toward the long-overdue abolition of slavery worldwide.

The establishment of the first Black republic in the Northern Hemisphere emerged from an extended process of resistance to oppression, marked by massive slave revolts on the plantations of Jamaica, Brazil, and elsewhere. Even today, Haiti continues to pay the price for its audacity and steadfastness, for which it has never been forgiven by proponents of the slave system. This dramatic breakthrough later contributed to achievement of a collective consciousness among Blacks.

Indeed, these events demonstrated that freedom comes only through struggle. That is how Blacks laid the foundations for pan-Africanism throughout the African diaspora. Brought to the fore by figures such as the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Edward Blyden, and many others, this movement was linked to the struggles of workers and oppressed peoples across Europe and beyond, which culminated in two historic revolutions:

  • The French Revolution of 1789.
  • The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917.

During this process two historic currents, the international Communist movement and pan-Africanism, established strong ties, forged through suffering and resistance. This is not to deny that there were occasional conflicts, resulting from the exigencies of episodic struggles and underlying strategy.

In what follows, we will attempt to illustrate how these two currents, which evolved almost simultaneously over the course of almost a century, became interrelated. This inquiry will reveal a perspective for a transition toward a world with increased justice and greater capacity to assure the survival of the human species and of our planet – in a word, a better world, free from the system of domination that victimizes Black peoples around the world. Most of oppressed peoples live in countries at the periphery of the world capitalist system, but they also are present as layers of common people in the metropolitan countries.

Communism and Pan-Africanism: A Zigzag Relationship

Let us note first of all that Pan-Africanism emerged within the African diaspora, that is, outside the continent. The dire conditions faced by Black peoples during several centuries of slavery provided a fertile ground for emergent revolts. These uprisings in turn gave rise to Pan-Africanism as an ideological tool for the liberation of oppressed Black peoples. It should be noted that millions of Blacks worked for hundreds of years without any form of payment – that is, for nothing. This servitude made possible the industrial revolution and the acceleration of capitalism’s development as a global system, spreading out from its initial strongholds in Europe and North America.

The international Communist movement, from its foundation in 1919, was committed to struggle on behalf of the oppressed and exploited worldwide. It thus took note of the conditions of Black peoples and solidarized with their struggles, not only in the African continent but also in countries like the United States where racial segregation was at its peak from 1920 to 1924. Brief passages in the Communist International archives take note of the struggles carried out by Blacks not only in the diaspora but in countries subjected to colonial domination in Africa. The Communist movement’s statement on African liberation, adopted in 1922, was markedly pan-Africanist in inspiration. Indeed it was written by Black delegates who were strongly influenced by the movement led by Marcus Garvey.

In the years that followed, however, this principled position was subject to several mutations, caused by contradictions internal to the socialist movement. In addition, the difficulties were aggravated by complications imposed on national liberation movements in the Cold War context, where conflicts both between and within alliances often took priority over ideologically principled positions with respect to unconditional support for the struggles of colonial peoples for self-determination. These struggles continued throughout the rise of fascism in Europe, grew more intense in the 1930s, and found expression in the anti-colonial wars and the defeat of Apartheid in Africa. The outcome of these wars played a central role in dismantling colonial structures and heralding a period of decolonisation.

During this development, a crucial role was played by the large number of Africans that took part in freeing Europe from Hitler’s claws. Conscript soldiers from across all of West Africa were organized in the Tirailleurs sénégalais (Senegalese Sharpshooters). Their courage and their decisive contribution has never received its proper reward. Quite to the contrary, and upon their discharge form service, when these soldiers at the end of 1944, asked to receive their demobilization payment, the French colonial authorities on December 1, massacred dozens –  hundreds  of these protesters. This crime took place at the Thiaroye camp a few miles from Dakar, capital of Senegal, and is known today as “the massacre of Thiaroye.”

Cold War, National Liberation Movements, and Internationalist Solidarity

Among the precursors of the pan-Africanist movement was George Padmore, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who came to the United States as a young student. He quickly joined the U.S. Communist Party and played a significant role in the international Communist Movement, where he worked for the goals of pan-Africanism. Assigned as a revolutionary cadre to work in the Soviet Union and Germany, he nonetheless cut his ties with this movement in 1934. Profound disagreements had arisen with regard to the decolonization of Africa, still under the yoke of the old colonial empires, above all those of Britain, France, and Portugal.

During the 1930s and after, the Communist movement sought to align its course regarding decolonization with its own interests in terms of positioning itself in the contest under way among the Western powers. This process convinced progressive pan-Africanists of the need to take their distance from the Communist movement, achieve autonomy of thought and action, and steer their course in conformity with the interests of oppressed Black peoples. In a word, they had to rely above all, on their own strength.

This is the context that led Padmore, who had enjoyed a measure of success in keeping the colonial question on the agenda of the Communist movement, to leave it in 1934 and return to Britain. There he met C.L.R. James, his childhood friend, who was quite active both in Trotskyist circles and in the Black community in London.

In 1936, Italy invaded Ethiopia, which along with Liberia was the only African country that had succeeded until that point at avoiding colonization. The Italian attack had great symbolic significance. It alerted the African diaspora within Europe to the need not only to mobilize against this invasion but also to hasten the organization of nationalist movements with a pan-Africanist outlook in order to speed the end of colonialization.

The Black students in Europe were already active during this period and were laying the foundations for “returning to their roots” – that is, of going back to Africa in both the cultural and political sense for the liberation of their peoples. Among the more prominent currents was the FEANF (Federation of Students from French-Speaking Black Africa). In Portugal, there were students that united around the “Case Africa,” among whom were the majority of leaders who organized and directed national liberation struggles in the then-Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde (Eduardo Mondlane, Agostinho Neto, Amilcar Cabral).

In Britain, this current was based on figures linked to a structure called IASB (International African Service Bureau), among whom were C.L.R. James; Ras Makonen of British Guyana; Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya; Kwame Nkrumah, father of Ghana’s independence, whom James had introduced to Padmore; and others.

The outbreak of World War 2 led to a breach between the pan-Africanists and the Communist movement. The official line advanced by Moscow from 1941 was to support the war against the Nazi forces and to postpone anticolonial struggles until a later date. Ironically, the Soviet Union had been diplomatically aligned with Germany from 1939 until 1941. Obviously, this approach could not win favour among the pan-Africanists, given that almost all the African colonies were under the yoke not of Germany but of the countries that Moscow now viewed as its allies against Hitler.

Once again, the specific conditions in which the struggle developed globally made clear to the pan-Africanists the path to follow and the need to retain a degree of autonomy, seeking to base the liberation struggle on their own forces, without closing the door to forms of internationalist solidarity that were truly disinterested.

Somewhat later, after the end of World War 2, close and deep ties with internationalist solidarity movement were re-established to support the African peoples in the struggle against colonialism’s last bastions in Africa. Che Guevara’s revolutionary mission in the Congo (1965) fell short of success, as did his expedition to Bolivia (1966-67). Yet these setbacks did not dissuade Cuba from remaining true to its ardent desire to support Africa in its moments of peril.

This tradition also found expression some years later in Cuba’s close collaboration with Burkina Faso during the short revolutionary experience led by Thomas Sankara and his comrades between 1984 and 1987.

The historic battle of Cuito Cuanavale (1987-88), in which Cuban soldiers fought side by side with guerrillas of liberation movements in Southern Africa, succeeded in routing the army of the racist apartheid system in South Africa. This victory opened the road to Namibian independence, freedom for Nelson Mandela, and South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994.

South Africa’s racist regime, backed by consistent support from the Western imperialist powers of Europe and by the USA, then posed a mortal danger to the African peoples. The victory in Angola constituted an initial decisive step toward removing this danger. Yet despite this victory’s importance, it did not end the struggle, given that the power of large-scale capital in South Africa has not been ended and still controls the decisive sectors of its economy.

Cuba demonstrated to the world its celebrated generosity, despite its limited resources and vulnerability as a state under siege by imperialism. Cuba thus brought back to life, a half-century after the fact, the initial vision of internationalist solidarity that prevailed in the first years of the international Communist movement after the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution.

During those years, prominent progressive activists and pan-Africanists such as Lamine Senghor (Senegal), Guarang Kouyaté (Mali), and Messali Hadj (Algeria) took part in the Brussels congress of the Anti-Imperialist League (1927), whose honorary president was the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein and which spoke in the name of all the colonial peoples oppressed by imperialism. The congress already prefigured, in embryonic form, the movement of non-aligned countries that was launched by the Bandung conference in 1955. The Non-Aligned Movement brought together the most prominent leaders of dozens of African and Asian countries, including Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Soekarno (Indonesia) and Zhou Enlai (China). The gathering marked a decisive step in the decolonization of the Global South.

It must be noted, however, that during this entire period of anticolonial struggle by national liberation movements in Africa, they suffered from the impact of ideological rivalries within the Communist movement. Sometimes liberation movements acted as mouthpieces for this or that Communist current. Nationalist, pan-Africanist, and progressive movements in Africa became fragmented along the lines of cleavage that then prevailed in the so-called socialist camp. These currents failed to overcome their differences and to unite their scattered forces in a massive movement capable of undertaking the sweeping decolonization needed to make possible the transition from a colonial state to an independent state. Even today, the aftermath of these divisions represents a continuing barrier to the urgent unification of forces in a united front capable of countering imperialism’s aggressive restructuring and responding to present-day challenges.

Left-wing forces in Latin America have succeeded in creating such united fronts. This surely should convince pan-Africanists and progressives of the need to overcome the wounds inflicted by past divisions. A new era in the struggles of our peoples must be opened up by forces that transcend the limits of the neo-colonial states. The fact that many activists span both these two historic movements can be an asset in unifying the existing pan-Africanist and socialist nuclei. Such a reorganization is a basic precondition in advancing toward new horizons of progress and – why not? – a post-capitalist transition.

But what is the present state of the pan-Africanist movement and of the socialist and communist forces in Africa and in the diaspora?

The Left and the Pan-Africanist Movement: Their Present Reality

Before addressing the prospects for such a transition, we must first carefully assess the present state of pan-Africanist and socialist forces. The torch of resistance in Africa to the capitalist system and its expansion was carried for a time by the national liberation movements in southern Africa and the former Portuguese colonies. Here we saw promising attempts at a radical transformation beyond the limits of the neo-colonial state. They were disrupted, however, by murderous destabilization organized by imperialism acting through local agents. Samora Machel in Mozambique, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau, Steven Bantu Biko and Chris Hani in South Africa, Patrice Lumumba in the Congo – all were cut down by imperialism. This halted temporarily every effort at radical transformation. The systematic assassination of every anti-imperialist leader created a vacuum, a lull that has lasted several decades.

During this period capitalism’s great financial institutions recovered their vigor and, little by little, dismantled all the gains that had been achieved through the sacrifices of courageous patriots loyal to the ideals of pan-Africanism and socialism. The only exception to this extended lull was the leap forward registered by progressive forces led by Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement in Grenada (1979) and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso (1984). Ultimately, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) further disoriented and finished off forces already weakened by internal disputes regarding ideological positioning and by the inadequacy of their roots among the popular masses of Africa.

Nonetheless, the South African Communist Party, one of the oldest on the continent, succeeded in playing an important role in destroying the Apartheid system (1994) and in forging a fruitful partnership with nationalist forces (the ANC) and the workers’ movement organized in strong unions such as COSATU (Congress of South-African Trade Unions).

The present state of the pan-Africanist and socialist forces – enormously fragmented into still embryonic nuclei – is not favourable for the emergence of a movement capable of mounting a serious challenge to present-day imperialism. New struggles have arisen; popular revolts have broken out that overturned the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Tunisia and of Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso.

Will we see the emergence of new leaderships capable of doing the necessary to build political movements sufficiently prepared, organizationally and ideologically, to face the dangers posed today? That task remains to be accomplished. In the meantime, the absence of vanguard movements sufficiently rooted in the masses could well explain in part the inability of the various popular revolts mentioned above to grow over into full-fledged revolutions.

The Sankara experience: A model for our future.

During the period following the national liberation movements, the revolution in Burkina Faso stands out as the most relevant case of an attempt to break away from the colonial/capitalist system. This revolution drew its strength from both its anti-imperialist orientation and its deeply pan-Africanist inspiration.

Burkina Faso is a small country of the West-African Sahel, characterized by extreme poverty. It is wedged into a region often afflicted by periods of drought that drive its population to emigrate into Ivory Coast and other countries. For many years, Burkina Faso was mired in political upheavals stemming from the fierce struggles among elites for control over the state apparatus and the personal enrichment that it brings.

From the moment of revolution on August 4th 1983, when Thomas Sankara became president, the revolutionary leader and his comrades showed their colours through their solidarity with all struggles of oppressed masses around the world (Palestine, Western Sahara, etc.). They invited the people of Burkina Faso (the Burkinabé) to roll up their sleeves in building a foundation for endogenous and autonomous development, relying on their own efforts.

Although the revolution lasted only four years, it continues to provide a model to all youth in Africa and the world over who seek a better world, one based on humanism and solidarity, in a contest against imperialist dominance sustained by military or economic coercion and by devastating neoliberal policies that enable the masters of global financial capital to control the world.

The central goal of the Burkinabé alternative lies in meeting the needs of the African masses impoverished by decades of the punitive IMF’s “structural adjustment programs,” which imposes continual payments of so-called debt to sinister “funding agencies.”

Oftentimes, any project of revolutionary transformation encounters major obstacles. Nonetheless, many projects spearheaded by Sankara were not only accomplished, but qualitatively changed the Burkinabé population’s conditions of existence. With the help of Cuban volunteers and within the space of a few months, more than 2.5 million children were inoculated against the infectious diseases that plague the very young. Access to education more than doubled and increased to 22% from 10% in three years. During the same period, intensive efforts were made to counter desertification by planting ten million trees.

The event that had the greatest impact on consciousness was the institution of “Women’s Wednesdays,” in which men carried out women’s traditional household tasks. This initiative helped modify popular modes of thought previously shaped by traditional beliefs. It sought to make men more aware of the difficult conditions that women had to contend with every day in order to enable the family to live in decent conditions. Without such a change in thinking, the revolution cannot possibly embrace the population, since almost half of it now lives in conditions of servitude.

Many dikes were constructed to retain water, enabling the rural population to cultivate their land throughout the year and thereby increase their income. Ouagadougou, the capital, was transformed through the construction of new revolutionary housing developments and by an ambitious program to upgrade slum areas that had formerly been virtual ghettos. As regards culture, the emergence of people’s theatre and cinema made it possible to rally the population for the tasks of national reconstruction.

This promising experience had a tragic conclusion: the assassination of Sankara and the end of the revolution in October, 1987. This outcome should lead us to reflect more deeply on the type of organizational framework needed to carry such a radical project for the transformation of African societies to a successful conclusion.

In our view, there is no way around the necessity of building a broad progressive alliance, based on the project of an alternative society carrying out a radical transformation of a capitalist and/or neo-colonial society. To achieve this goal, we must break with the dogmatic positions that often obstruct efforts for consensus around what is essential. By unduly exaggerating such minor and/or secondary contradictions, such dogmatism contributes to undermining worthy initiatives, as in Burkina Faso and Grenada.

In addition, a systematic struggle is required against the elitism of petty bourgeois groupings made up of an intelligentsia cut off from the masses and popular culture, groupings that wallow in theoretical battles disconnected from concerns of the population. Finally, although every social experience has aspects that are universal, we must break with mimicry – the desire to impose such specific experiences on a social environment with its own historical reality.

For this reason, the present renewal of the pan-Africanist movement both within the continent and in the African diasporas can fulfill its great potential only if it unifies the task of rallying pan-African forces once more through popular struggles around the challenges faced by the popular masses, such as ongoing land seizures, economic partnership agreements, sovereign control of the currency, and resistance to heightened militarism and economic degradation driven by climate change.

Toward a Post-Capitalist Transition? Tasks and Perspectives

One hundred years after the Bolshevik revolution and fifty years after the end of colonialism in the formal sense, we still face the challenges of bringing a new world into being and making the transition to a post-capitalist society.

With the stagnation of the anti-imperialist movement in the south, free-market ideologists seized on the brief lull in radical struggles to declare and present neo-liberalism as the final victory of capitalism. Yet the inherent contradictions of the capitalist mode of production are still intact and continue to pose the same fundamental questions that will determine whether or not humanity survives. This period is characterized by a rapid deterioration of our ecological system and a deepening of disparities among different social layers – both within countries and at a global level; both within the countries of the South and in the advanced centres of the capitalist system.

Just as Karl Marx predicted, the capitalist mode of production has reached its limits and has today become a barrier to human development. Far from liberating working people by qualitatively reducing their hours of work, advanced robotization is pushing millions of proletarians into the army of the unemployed and the ranks of the lumpen proletariat.

Africa, whose fate is so central for pan-Africanism and for the world, is currently witnessing the massive seizure of the continent’s natural resources. This pillage is sustained by increased militarization, including through the presence of dozens of foreign military bases, which serve to protect the geostrategic interests of the imperialist powers. The post-colonial state’s very nature testifies to the fact that the process of independence remains incomplete. Added to this are questions of collective survival posed by so-called jihadist movements that, in fact, are all too often a creation by the very forces that claim to be combating them.

In reality, the instigators of the present organized pseudo-chaos act as “pyromaniac firemen” – ready to seize on sinister forces crouching in the shadows and press them into action. In this way, the imperialist forces seeking a new mode of domination, strive to make themselves indispensable on the continent in order to attain unfettered control of the continent’s immense energy resources. Countries of the “triad” – Western Europe, North America, and Japan – are dependent on their ongoing ability to draw on these resources almost without payment in order to maintain their countries’ standard of living.

In the Caribbean, the diasporic African population experiences a dependence on foreign food that grows day by day as a result of climate change, rising sea levels, and salination of their soils. Meanwhile, their economy is controlled by an outward-oriented tourist industry, foreign banks, and cruise ship companies. Added to that, agreements for unequal partnership with the European Union still prevent the emergence of local industry capable of competing with foreign multinationals.

U.S. imperialism has renewed its aggressive expansion with the goal of increasing the isolation of the so-called BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) through a well-orchestrated strategy of encirclement. Meanwhile, imperialism extends its tentacles in Africa by installing a host of military bases (AFRICOM plus French, German, Turkish, and Chinese bases). All this underlines the urgency of mounting a credible alternative that can lead the world to think in terms of going beyond present-day capitalist society. Even though weakened by the emergence of new blocs, the monopoly enjoyed by the Triad is not going to collapse in its own right.

On the other hand, during the past century, the world has achieved significant advances in scientific knowledge that, if oriented to the urgent needs of humanity’s majority, will enable us to realize the advent of a new society, capable of transforming the world of work and, consequently, of the social relations that arise from the division of labour. However, despite the potential for a qualitative transformation, present technological progress – and above all the present revolution regarding tools such as artificial intelligence – bears within it seeds that could produce quite the opposite effect. These tools could be focused above all on achieving increased and permanent control of citizens through cyber-surveillance and manipulation, minimization of productive labour, concentration on financial speculation, and the like. This control is exerted not only in the physical but also in the mental domain in order to stifle any thought of questioning the established order.

In sum, the nature of social life in the post-capitalist era will be determined in large measure by the way in which these recent technological advances are utilized.

It is thus imperative for both socialists and pan-Africanists to reconnect with the traditions of radical struggle on a transnational level for the emergence of a new society. We need to reconnect with viable forms of transnational solidarity in order to promote the class struggle of oppressed layers of the population. This course requires that the Eurocentric Left recognize that such deep-going shifts in the international relationship of forces will involve a lowering of the standard of living in the richest countries. These living conditions have been made possible only through the systematic pillage of resources from the countries of the South and from Africa in particular. Is the new Left prepared for such an eventuality? The future will tell.

On the other hand, these struggles will necessarily take new forms, given the capacity of the capitalist system to assure its survival through continual adjustment. Sources seeking an alternative must therefore also display the same capacity for adaptation in developing the tactics and strategies needed to attain their goals.

For Africa and the Caribbean, such a transition should involve a deepening of pan-Africanism, which must pose again the urgency of decisive steps toward creation of a federal state – a federation of Africa and its diaspora – which alone can counter the dynamic of domination that draws strength from the fragmentation of our peoples. The weak neo-colonial states into which they are now divided are equally incapable, individually, of assuring their own survival or of exercising the flexibility needed to negotiate in sovereign fashion how their country is inserted into the world system. Such a federation will also offer the sisters and brothers of the African diaspora in the Northern countries a chance to go back to their roots in Africa, if they so desire. Their contribution will be decisive in terms of their daily experience as an oppressed Black minority in the countries of Europe and North America.

All other approaches are illusory and incapable of seriously challenging the alliance of the bourgeoisie in imperialist countries, sustained by their multinationals, with the African elites charged with managing these pseudo-states. The masses are held hostage by the comprador elites, acting as a supplementary force and a buffer between the dominant forces of world capitalism and the popular classes engaged in struggle.

The outcome of these struggles is far from settled. We face a transition in which advances will be made at a varying tempo, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. But this tempo can only arise from the capacity of peoples in struggle to manage their development. If one thing is certain, it is what was said a few decades ago by the former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara: “Freedom comes only through struggle.” So Aluta Continua! The Struggle Continues.

Cozumel, Cancun: The Rights of Nature Plowed Over, Sewage Saturated, Cruise-ship Imploded

With the power of the telecom thieves and my cellular phone, and, viola, I am conversing via text and downloaded images with my 21 year old daughter on the Island of Cozumel, with her mother, stuck in the maelstrom of tourists and a denuded ecosystem. Yes, I admit, I loved that island, 1979, 1983, 1987 (1989 was the last time I was there), but I knew my very presence, my ecological footprint, the baggage of being an American, a scuba enthusiast, journalist, too, and dive bum, all were part of what was starting to become very out of whack in the world of those who have and those who do not have. Cultural genocide, the toxicity of Western things, Western mores, Western values, Western consumption and economy, well, it was easy back then for me to notice all of that. Of course, being a communist young allowed my Marxist view of things, but still, I knew my very presence there was part of the upsetting of the natural order of things.

I resisted being a typical American, and was working for international rights and universal human and environmental rights, young, 16, and yes, the power of human population and marketing and markets and consumerism to flip societies into poverty hell, I got at a young age, 16 or so. The beauty of a place is the palm tree frond cabanas, dirt roads, no air strips, no docks for Disney people, none of that, and yet, without all of that shit, American trappings, some of us especially sought it out, Cozumel, and lowered our destructive footprints, and our minds were deeply flooded with where we were and who was there – Mexico and its people and tribes and history.

It was clear that a true revolutionary lives with people, is a traveler, sometimes is not a resident or citizen tied to flag or stamp on passport, and the possibility of living that in 1975 when I first headed to Mexico as a diver in the Sea of Cortes, and, well, for forty-two years, I am still in the struggle to define myself as human, humane, a giver, and someone who knows the sham of capitalism, even in today’s marketplace of ideas that are swollen with idiocy.

Things have changed a lot, of course, since then – all of Mexico, 1975, hell, before Diego and Frida, under a volcano or inside the crucible.

Duelo / Mourning

This country has been defined for me by artists, like Graciela Iturbide and Octavio Paz,

Literature is the expression of a feeling of deprivation, a recourse against a sense of something missing. But the contrary is also true: language is what makes us human. It is a recourse against the meaningless noise and silence of nature and history.

Pajaros

and, Carlos Fuentes:

The United States has written the white history of the United States. It now needs to write the black, Latino, Indian, Asian and Caribbean history of the United States.

and all the exiled ones living in Mexico a hundred years ago:

I’m thinking here of the work by Helen Delpar on the U.S. artists and intellectuals who were attracted by The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican (the title of her splendid book). More recently, the University of Chicago historian, Mauricio Tenorio has been exploring this phenomenon, employing the term “Brown Atlantis” to describe the appeal of Mexico City to these U.S. cultural and academic constituencies. In using the term “Brown Atlantis,” and the same is true of Helen Delpar’s work, the emphasis has been very firmly on Mexico as the center of indigenous politics, art and philosophy. I have suggested to Mauricio, somewhat cheekily, that Havana played a similar role, albeit rather less substantial than Mexico City, and that the label in this case might be “The Black Atlantis” — given the passion shown by U.S. and European intellectuals, musicians and artists for things African or African-descended in Cuba in the 1920s and 1930s.


But, Cozumel, back to that incredible stopping place for my journey throughout Mexico and Central America, and here, in a piece — short story I wrote, titled “Bird Stamp” – you can see the youthful vigor and romance of the place . . . .

ABOUT THE FICTION

Usually people wait until after the holidays to start voicing their frustration with Inland Northwest winters, but sooner or later the familiar lament begins: “I can’t stand another [foggy/rainy/snowy/ cold/dreary] day. Next year, I’m flying to Mexico.”

But what do you do when, as so happens in Paul Haeder’s “Bird Stamp,” the Inland Northwest follows you there?

Haeder’s story suggests that not only is Spokane a place, it’s a state of mind. And as such, it’s a potent literary device conveying undercurrents of hope and despair, possibility and dead ends. We’re proud to name Paul K. Haeder’s “Bird Stamp” the winner of The Inlander’s ninth annual Short Fiction Contest, and to announce that he’ll be reading from this and other works on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at Auntie’s Bookstore. In addition to offering some well-deserved kudos to Mr. Haeder, we’d also like to congratulate our second- and third-place winners, “Metaphorica” by Robert Salsbury and “Washtucna’ed” by J.A. Satori. Both stories will be available on our Web site, www.inlander.com. Congratulations, Paul, and our thanks to everyone who entered this year’s contest.

About the Author: Paul K. Haeder

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had English teachers who would do the same assignments they give their classes? Climb down into the writing trenches and get grubby with grammar like the rest of us? Well, that’s exactly the kind of teacher this year’s winner, Paul K. Haeder is. As a professor at SCC, SFCC, the Continuing Education Program, and previously at Gonzaga, it’s not uncommon for Haeder to do his assignments right along with his students.

“I threw out some ideas to the class and went home and wrote some of [‘Bird Stamp’],” he says. “I brought a page of this into class the next day and said, ‘This is what I came up with.” It was primarily just supposed to be an example, but I kept tweaking it and reworking it and thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll send it in.’ I never expected it would win.”

Haeder has only lived in Spokane for three years. Previously he worked in El Paso and has degrees from the University of Texas and the University of Arizona (where, as city editor of the daily college paper, he had the opportunity to go out drinking — on separate occasions — with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tess Gallagher, W.S. Merwin and Octavio Paz). He’s worked as a journalist for everything from the Miami Herald to E-Magazine and says that in his younger days he used to “hitchhike, pick up writing jobs for small newspapers and teach diving,” which is how he was able to infuse the Cozumel scenes of “Bird Stamp” with so much authenticity. “The diving-off-Cozumel parts weren’t just fantasy,” he jokes.

Haeder is married to writer and teacher Connie Wasem and has an 8-year-old child. He’s also a strong advocate for environmental issues. And it’s not surprising to find that, after hearing that he’d won The Inlander short fiction contest, he went right back to his writing desk to start a few new projects.

“I’ve got writing in my blood,” he says. “I think the real pivotal event for me was 9/11. After that happened, I had a lot of my students asking me, ‘Why do you care about literature and poetry?’ And I told them, ‘Now is the time to care. That’s where we can retreat and rediscover ourselves in times of trouble — in writing.'”

About the Artist: Amy Sinisterra

If the name of the artist for this year’s fiction contest sounds familiar, it might be because you’re used to seeing her photo credit throughout many pages of The Inlander. Amy worked as our editorial art coordinator for four years before launching her own photography business, Amy Sinisterra Photography. During that time, we were often astonished at what Miss Sinisterra could accomplish with only a basic, no-frills digital camera and her own imagination. It’s largely due to her intuitive and wide-ranging images of nightlife, downtown, local artists and food and drink that we’ve been able to present a vision of Spokane as a unique, edgy, attractive place to be.

A graduate of the University of Washington in Fine Art and English, Sinisterra is also an accomplished writer. Her ability to envision scenes served her well as the illustrator of this year’s fiction contest — the photo illustrations accompanying the story came to her while reading and re-reading Haeder’s evocative “Bird Stamp.” Sinisterra continues to take pictures for The Inlander on a freelance basis. To see more of her work, visit her website.

About the Judge: Beth Cooley

We were delighted to have Beth Cooley as the judge for this year’s fiction contest. Cooley’s recently published young-adult novel, Ostrich Eye, is a nuanced, suspenseful and ultimately satisfying novel that garnered her a Delacorte Prize (for first novels in the YA genre). In addition to teaching writing and literature at Gonzaga University (where she is also chair of the English Department), Cooley is a regular participant in EWU’s “Writers in the Rural Schools” program, an outreach effort in which published regional authors visit elementary, middle and high schools in outlying areas. She is at work on a second novel, tentatively titled Shelter, which will be published by Random House sometime around 2006. Cooley, who has been published in Mid-American Review, Roanoke Review, Poet Lore and other journals, shares her home with “my husband, Dan Butterworth, two daughters and a house rabbit named Scout.”

Of this year’s winner, she says: “‘Bird Stamp’ initially stood out among the stories submitted because of its vivid imagery and original language. The poetry of the story kept me involved almost as much as the protagonist, who is realistic and believable. Structurally, I found the interwoven plots of disease, love, infidelity, risk, life and death intriguing. The stories within the story, such as the lost Japanese divers and the marines, were fascinating. Paul Haeder makes us believe in his rough and colorful Mexico and his troubled, complex characters.”

The place — Brand Cozumel, 2017 — is home to 100,000 permanent residents. Once home to the moon goddess (Ix Chel) where women went on pilgrimages for fertility 2,000 years before present time, I knew then, working around environmentalists and cultural protectors, that the Island was up shit creek without a paddle. Rare species decimated, like a fox and coatimundi, and birds and alligators. The place once had 10,000 Mayans living here, and thanks to the Spanish conquest, the conquistadors brought smallpox, and in the ensuing 50 years after that first infected contact with the white race, only 186 men and 172 women of the Mayan culture were left. The island was refuge for people fleeing the Caste War of the Yucatan, and even old Dishonest Abe Lincoln was set on purchasing the island in 1861 for freed slaves.

The Island is mangroves and cenotes, underground freshwater holes and wet caves from thousands of years of percolated rain purifying underground. There are still Maya ruins on the island, and the west coast faces the mainland a few miles away, and the east side is currents and winds from the Caribbean stretch, with thus far, little development, but there are developer sharks out there looking for huge resorts and wind farms and anything else that moves capital along while killing culture, peace, peace of mind, ecosystems.

Now, tourist submarines, 300 restaurants, resorts, bars, para-sailing, kite surfing, dolphinariums, and the crud that is tourism on steroids run what once was a sacred place of communing with dimensions lost on the white zombie race and those co-opted by the race’s shekel-love.

Imagine, dolphins penned up, queued up, performing on cue, held in prison to perform for the sick race of people who can afford to fly to Cozumel and sit on their asses or snorkel into the dolphins’ prison.

The very notion of shifting baseline syndrome (generational amnesia) is what this Western Culture brings with it everywhere, destroying everything in its path, because of that great six percent of the global population’s – USA’s — attitude: “What I see now, what I do now, what I know now, what I experience now, what I touch, taste, hear, taste smell now, what I perceive now, what I want now, what I dream now, what I take now, that’s my baseline.”

Now my daughter is not one of those myopic ones, now five days in Cozumel, texting me how lucky she knows she is to be here where all the service workers plod through their lives cleaning up the shit of the tourists – cruise ships by the hundreds yearly (3 million people drop in, in a year), divers by the hundreds of thousands a year, and resort-goers by the same amount per annum. She has difficulty squaring the raw beauty of the sun and sky and azure water with her own status of being privileged enough to spend a week away from Spokane to be with her mother in a bonding ritual of mother-being-with-daughter. We talk a lot about shifting baseline syndrome, and generational amnesia, and how hard it is for scientists now, starting out, to realize they are working with a short deck of cards and a stacked deck, to boot. This is evidenced in so-called marine stewardship, or management. The oceans’ harvest and disgusting by-catch waste is evidence of shifting baseline syndrome getting it wrong and killing the planet. There are four times the number of fishing vessels in the ocean compared to the oceans’ capacity to regenerate.

The same holds true for Cozumel – 100,000 homo sapiens, 2017, and 20,000 in 1984. The bloody stupidity of developers and merchants and people wanting a piece of the ever-shrinking slice of the commons pie is that population density of humans is exponentially destructive to the commons, the ecosystem, the culture, the animal and plant life.

The irony is her own father, me, was a bum on Cozumel in the 1980s, writing newspaper stories, diving a lot, and finishing up a novel that ended up raked over the coals in New York City’s perverted publishing world (rich summer interns from Vassar or Smith College acting as first readers of manuscripts, both unsolicited and those, like mine, through an agent). I was there taking out tourists for dives, and then, back at the shop at night, smoking joints, drinking rum, and talking communism with a couple of dive shop managers from mainland Mexico (read my story “Bird Stamp” for some of that narrative). Fun deep dives 210 feet (7 atmospheres was my max with two scuba tanks strapped on) under that line of surface and air, with one big inhale of sativa right before descent, and imaginary worlds, but real eight foot black coral formations, hundreds of barracuda gazing at us, eagle rays, lemon sharks, blue sharks and a carnival of fish and corals and sponges not seen anywhere along the island’s shallower dive spots. The black-blue trench west was pretty darned deep – 3,000 feet.

How do we tell our children “there are no more sleepy fishing villages,” and how do we square the fact some of us, like myself, were able to hitchhike from Nogales to Panama, hit all the spots along the Yucatan-Quintana Roo coast, into Belize, into Honduras, for a pittance. Dirt roads, indigenous villages thriving, animals and ecosystems at least somewhat intact and in places vibrant?

How can we tell our daughters that while the old man was, in his own consciousness/mind, someone special and not some cruise-ship loving, monolingual tourist with red-white-and-blue coursing in his veins, I/we still have helped set the world on fire now, with Western culture and USA/USIsrael the demon of the world, with our NAFTA, our ripping off of everything, the nano second by nano second of extreme exploitation?

I remember in the 1980s how the island was still moderately wild, tame, but still, not overrun as it is now. I remember a modicum of discussion by locals and even the expats and tourists about keeping the place as pristine as possible. Oh where oh where does the smart growth go, planned growth thinking disappear, limited growth thinking vanish, small is better mentality dissipate to, when, in the end, the cancer is Capitalism, and Capital, and the developers are like incinerators, burning land, men, women, crustacean, mammal, reptile, fish, bird, what have you?

You will not find much on the internet or in the hearts and souls of people today, or much power of people and environmentalism and cultural survival for-about-because of Cozumel these days. Once you build it and keep building it, they will come and never stop coming. Cozumel is a tourist trap, and almost anyone dives, but few are true spiritual kin to the marine world. Even (or especially) Trump had his feces-covered hands on the island, along with his daughter’s and son’s mitts. All wanting this huge north island crap trap built that would be a winter playground for the rich and the others, with insanity and hedonism the number one operating currency in an unholy project to kill the island off permanently.

Ideas for wind farms on Cozumel – ugly, ecology killing, and why these for the island? What is it with the white race and the developers wanting every stitch of sacred land for more artery-fouling feeding resorts and golf courses and pathetic suites of balcony-ed luxury. But, thankfully, the wind farm has been somewhat halted — by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA). The group argues, “Among other things – that the wind farm would threaten endangered species in Cozumel, destroy precious mangrove and jungle, damage underground water supplies and cause years of disruption to the local community.”

Think of the power of Mayans 1,800 years ago, starting with pilgrimages from the mainland for fertility rites and medicine, eventually making Cozumel into a sacred destination for women from the mainland. Ruins in San Gervasio, about 6 miles down a dirt road from Carretera Transversal, the only main east-west route across the island, I have visited. The place had been populated for 1,350 years, until 1650. A religious center for the island, the three groups of temples, platforms, shrines and plazas are connected by sacbeoob, the “white roads” common to another place I spent a lot of time at, Chichén Itzá.

So, my daughter is there, where her father dove and learned the power of Mexicans from other places, leaving villages behind to serve the Americanos and diving lust. Cozumel was a side-trip, and while I knew all 31 Mexican states, and attempted a few of the hundreds of states of mind the Mexican possesses, I knew deep down that the shit of the world, America and then transnational corporations, would pollute more than just the minds of the Mexicans thinking somehow a Trump Golf Resort would move them any closer to the dung heap that is capitalism eating its own young.

I give my daughter hope in words and artists, and the legends of goddesses:

The Maya words Ix Chel have many interpretations. Ix means woman, Goddess, divine feminine; Chel means rainbow or translucent light. Her name is Lady Rainbow or Goddess of Divine Translucent Light. Ix Chel was always associated with bodies of water like lakes, rivers, creeks, streams and oceans where it is more likely to see rainbows and her beautiful sparkling light. Even in modern times, women sleep at watersides and pray to her for guidance in a dream – myself included. Just as in ancient days, many Maya women still relate that their weaving patterns were divined in dreams.

Like many other Goddesses of the world, Ix Chel depicts the three stages of a woman’s life – Maiden, Mother and Grandmother. The first image is of young Ix Chel the maiden, Goddess of weaving. She wears a snake on her forehead to signify that she is the Goddess of medicine and to symbolize intuitive knowledge as well as great control over earthly forces. Maya midwives placed her wooden image under the birthing bed.

The second image is Ix Chel, the Mother Goddess of fertility, the moon and motherhood. As Mother Creator of all Maya people and consort of the Creator God, Itzamna, she decided the face and sex of every person in utero. She and Itzamna (Lizard House or House of Sastuns) lived at the crown of the ceiba tree where they invented sexual intercourse to create the world and its people. She sits elegantly poised on a crescent moon to signify the moon’s effect on menstrual changes in women. She holds a rabbit in her arms, another fertility symbol. The Maya saw the shadows in the moon as the outline of a rabbit. The Maya discovered that one moon cycle and one menstrual cycle are 29.5 days. The calendar priests determined their famous 260 day Tzolkin calendar based on women’s menstrual cycles and the duration of pregnancy.

The third image is the Grandmother Earth Goddess of the moon, rain, medicine and death. She receives the bodies of her deceased children into her physical body, the earth. Revered for her wisdom and knowledge, her glyph demonstrated the vital importance of elders. Again, we see Ix Chel with the snake on her head, signifying medicine, healing and intuitive wisdom. Only the maiden and grandmother have a snake (to symbolize medicine) on the forehead because (as Maya women have told me) the Mother Goddess is too busy raising and caring for her own brood. Grandmother Ix Chel’s clay pot, shaped like a uterus, pours down rain to fertilize the earth. Often glyphs show a rainbow pouring out of her clay pot. Ix Chel was also consort and wife to the rain god, Chac and one of the Nine Benevolent Spirits that guide the Maya people to this day. Interestingly, this Goddess had at least three husbands – Itzamna, Chac and Ah Puuc.

NOTE: Black and White photos, Graciela Iturbide.

Corrupt Canadian Banking Practices

A recent photo in French daily Liberation hints at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s role in facilitating tax avoidance, which is partly an outgrowth of Canadian banking prowess in the Caribbean and Ottawa’s role in shaping the region’s unsavoury financial sector.

Just before the second round of the French presidential election documents were leaked purporting to show that Emmanuel Macron set up a company in a Caribbean tax haven. The president-elect’s firm is alleged to have had dealings with CIBC FirstCaribbean, a subsidiary of Canada’s fifth biggest bank.

While Macron denies setting up an offshore firm and contests the veracity of the documents, this is immaterial to the broader point. If the documents are a fraudulent political attack, those responsible chose CIBC First Caribbean because it is a major player in the region and has been linked to various tax avoidance schemes.

CIBC registered 632 companies and private foundations in the tax haven of the Bahamas between 1990 and May 2016, according to documents released in the Panama Papers.

CIBC was named 1,347 times in a cache of leaked files concerning secret tax havens released by the Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2013.

FirstCaribbean was implicated in the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal. To avoid an electronic trail of a $250,000 payment to former FIFA official Chuck Blazer, a representative of FirstCaribbean allegedly flew to New York to collect a cheque and deposit it in a Bahamas account.

In 2013 the US Internal Revenue Service sent FirstCaribbean a summons for information on some of its customers who may have been evading US income tax and the CIBC subsidiary was placed on an IRS list of “financial institutions where taxpayers receive a harsher penalty if they are found to have undisclosed accounts.”

CIBC is apparently popular with wealthy, well-placed Africans. Economist Thierry Godefroy and legal expert Pierre Lascoumes write that the “Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is known as the bank of many African dignitaries” while French Africa specialist François-Xavier Verschave called it “the nefarious CIBC, favourite bank of African oil dictators.” In 1997, for instance, the Toronto-based financial institution was the conduit of a $22 million transfer from Geneva to the British Virgin Islands for Kourtas, which was owned by Gabonese dictator Omar Bongo.

CIBC is not only the Canadian bank with operations in a Caribbean financial haven. In fact, Canadian institutions dominate the region’s unsavoury banking sector. In 2013 CIBC, RBC and Scotiabank accounted for more than 60 percent of regional banking assets. In 2008 The Economist reported Canadian banks controlled “the English-speaking Caribbean’s three largest banks, with $42 billion in assets, four times those commanded by its forty-odd remaining locally owned banks.” With their presence in the region dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks have been major players in the Caribbean since the late 1800s.

(Going back further, much of the capital used to establish the current incarnation of CIBC came from supplying the Caribbean slave colonies. The Halifax Banking Company was the first bank in Nova Scotia and the founding unit of today’s CIBC. The Halifax Banking Company’s leading shareholder and initial president, Enos Collins, was a ship owner, who made his wealth by bringing high-protein, salty Atlantic cod to the Caribbean to keep hundreds of thousands of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day.” He was also a privateer, licensed by the state to seize enemy boats during wartime, and according to a biography, likely captured and resold slaves in the region.)

Ottawa shaped post-independence Caribbean banking regulations. Beginning in 1955, a former governor of the Bank of Canada and director of the Royal Bank of Canada, Graham Towers, along with a representative from the Ministry of Finance, helped write the Bank of Jamaica law of 1960 and that country’s Banking Law of 1960. These laws, which became the model for the rest of the newly independent English Caribbean, pleased Canadian banks. In The Banks of Canada in the Commonwealth Caribbean Daniel Jay Baum writes, “the overall and firm impression with which one is left after reading the [Bank] Act is that its drafters did not intend to control the foreign operations of Canadian banks, or that if they intended to, they failed to do so.” More to the point, notes Towers of Gold, feet of clay: the Canadian banks, “West Indian banking laws, when they were written, were written with our help and advice and for our benefit.”

Alain Deneault details the work of Canadian politicians, businessmen and Bank of Canada officials in developing taxation and banking policies in a number of Caribbean financial havens in his 2015 book Canada: A New Tax Haven: How the Country That Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens Is Becoming One Itself. Deneault writes:

Beginning in the 1950s, at the instigation of Canadian financiers, lawyers, and policymakers, these jurisdictions changed to become some of the world’s most frighteningly accommodating jurisdictions. In 1955, a former governor of the Bank of Canada most probably helped make Jamaica into a reduced-taxation country. In the 1960s, as the Bahamas were becoming a tax haven characterized by impenetrable bank secrecy, the Bahamian finance minister was a member of the board of administrators of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). A Calgary lawyer and former Conservative Party honcho drew up the clauses that enabled the Cayman Islands to become an opaque offshore jurisdiction.

Another way Canada has enabled the offshore financial infrastructure is by signing tax treaties and Tax Information Exchange Agreements with Caribbean tax havens. Due to a 2011 Tax Information Exchange Agreement, Deneault writes, “subsidiaries of Canadian companies that record their profits in the Caymans can now transfer them to Canada without paying any taxes.”

While they’ve proliferated in recent years, the first double taxation treaty Canada signed with a Caribbean tax haven dates to Wayne Gretzky’s inaugural season in the NHL. In 1980, Joe Clark’s short-lived Conservative government signed a double taxation treaty with Barbados. This allowed Canadians to park their international profits in Barbados, which taxes companies at between 0.25% and 2.5%, and transfer them here without paying tax in Canada.

Ottawa has actively defended the Caribbean financial system. In response to a push for greater regulation of the offshore world, in 2009 Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty told the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund (where Canada represents most members of the Commonwealth Caribbean as well as Ireland):

Some of our Caribbean countries have significant financial sector activities. There is a risk that changes to financial sector regulation in advanced countries could have negative unintended consequences on these activities. In particular, there is a risk that measures taken against non-cooperative jurisdictions, including tax havens, could have unintended negative impacts on well-regulated, transparent, financial centres. I believe that this should be avoided. Countries that comply with international standards should be protected from such measures.

Canada has shaped the Caribbean’s opaque financial sector and CIBC seems to be at the centre of international offshore tax avoidance.

Let’s go, Canada! Time to clean up the mess we created in the Caribbean.

Undermining Haitian Sovereignty

Can cute Canadian Caribbean dreams about enchanted islands come true? Or is reality more complicated and Canada a far less benign actor than we imagine ourselves to be?

In a recent Boston Globe opinion titled “Haiti should relinquish its sovereignty”, Boston College professor Richard Albert writes, “the new Haitian Constitution should do something virtually unprecedented: renounce the power of self-governance and assign it for a term of years, say 50, to a country that can be trusted to act in Haiti’s long-term interests.” According to the Canadian constitutional law professor his native land, which Albert calls “one of Haiti’s most loyal friends”, should administer the Caribbean island nation.

Over the past 15 years prominent Canadian voices have repeatedly promoted “protectorate status” for Haiti. On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go” and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.

Four months after Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government Prime Minister Paul Martin reaffirmed his government’s desire to keep Haiti under long-term foreign control. “Fragile states often require military intervention to restore stability”, said Martin at a private meeting of “media moguls” in Idaho. Bemoaning what he considered the short-term nature of a previous intervention, the prime minister declared “this time, we have got to stay [in Haiti] until the job is done properly.”

A few months later a government-funded think tank, home to key Haiti policy strategists, elaborated a detailed plan for foreigners to run the country. According to the Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) plan for Haiti’s future, commissioned by Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, the country’s different ministries would fall under Canadian oversight. Québec’s ministry of education, for instance, would oversee Haiti’s education system. The FOCAL plan put Haiti’s environment ministry under Canadian federal government supervision.

FOCAL’s proposal was made after the 2004 US/France/Canada coup weakened Haiti’s democratic institutions and social safety network, spurring thousands of violent deaths and a UN occupation that later introduced cholera to the country. Irrespective of the impact of foreign intervention, colonialists’ solution to Haiti’s problems is to further undermine Haitian sovereignty.

Haiti is but one piece of the Caribbean that Canadians’ have sought to rule. Earlier this year NDP MP Erin Weir asked if Canada should incorporate “the Turks and Caicos Islands into Confederation.” Weir echoed an idea promoted by NDP MP Max Saltzman in the 1970s, Conservative MP Peter Goldring through the 2000s and an NDP riding association three years ago. A resolution submitted to the party’s 2014 convention noted, “New Democrats Believe in: Engaging with the peoples and government of Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British government to have the Turks and Caicos Islands become Canada’s 11th Province.” As I discuss in the current issue of Canadian Dimension magazine, leftists have long supported the expansion of Canadian power in the region.

In a 300-page thesis titled “Dreams of a Tropical Canada: Race, Nation, and Canadian Aspirations in the Caribbean Basin, 1883-1919” Paula Pears Hastings outlines the campaign to annex territory in the region. “Canadians of varying backgrounds campaigned vigorously for Canada-West Indies union”, writes Hastings. “Their aspirations were very much inspired by a Canadian national project, a vision of a ‘Greater Canada’ that included the West Indies.”

Canada’s sizable financial sector in the region played an important part in these efforts. In Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks, Walter Stewart notes: “The business was so profitable that in 1919 Canada seriously considered taking the Commonwealth Caribbean off mother England’s hands.”

At the end of World War I Ottawa asked the Imperial War Cabinet if it could take possession of the British West Indies as compensation for Canada’s defence of the empire. London balked. Ottawa was unsuccessful in securing the British Caribbean partly because the request did not find unanimous domestic support. Prime Minister Robert Borden was of two minds on the issue. From London he dispatched a cable noting, “the responsibilities of governing subject races would probably exercise a broadening influence upon our people as the dominion thus constituted would closely resemble in its problems and its duties the empire as a whole.” But, on the other hand, Borden feared that the Caribbean’s black population might want to vote. He remarked upon “the difficulty of dealing with the coloured population, who would probably be more restless under Canadian law than under British control and would desire and perhaps insist upon representation in Parliament.”

Proposing Canada acquire Turks and Caicos or rule Haiti may be outlandish, but it’s not benign. These suggestions ignore Caribbean history, foreign influence in the region and whitewash the harm Ottawa has caused there. Even worse, they enable politicians’ to pursue ever more aggressive policies in the region.

Caribbean Reparations Movement Must Put Capitalism on Trial

Why is the reparations movement in the Anglophone Caribbean not putting capitalism on trial in its campaign to force British imperialism to provide financial compensation for its industrial and agricultural capitalists’ enslavement of Africans? To what extent is capitalism such a sacred spirit or god whose name should not be publicly called in order to avoid attracting its vindictive and punishing rebuke? Are the advocates of reparations truly convinced that British imperialism’s payment of financial compensation for the enslavement of Africans would end the economic marginalization of the labouring classes who are toiling under capitalist regimes throughout the region? Why are we willing to place racism or white supremacy in the dock but not its creator – capitalism?

On 17 December 2007, the United Nations’ General Assembly passed a resolution that made March 25 the annual commemorative International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This day should be used as a rallying point by people of good conscience to press the former major slaving states such as Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Sweden to pay reparations for their participation in the economic exploitation and racist dehumanization of enslaved Africans. The General Assembly’s initiative is an acknowledgement of the over fifteen million Africans who landed in the Americas and the over thirty million captives who died during the process of catching and delivering them into the Holocaust of Enslavement.

Capitalism and Slavery in the Caribbean

A key goal of all yearly progressive remembrance activities in the Caribbean and elsewhere should be to educate or remind people of the fact that capitalism was the primary force behind the extraction of the labour power of enslaved Africans. Of equal importance is the need to etch into the consciousness of the public that white supremacy or racism was simply an ideological tool used by the capitalist enslavers and various European states to morally justify the enslavement of Africans. Racism was deployed by these early capitalists and their respective national states to mask the purely economic motivation behind the development of an enslaved labour force.

In the seminal and classic book Capitalism and Slavery that was written by the late historian and statesman Dr. Eric Williams, he states that the brutal, exploitative and exacting labour condition of white indentured workers served as the template for the institution of African enslavement or slavery:

Here then is the origin of [African] slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had not to do with the color of the laborer but the cheapness of the laborer…. The features of the man, his hair, color and dentifrice, his “subhuman” characteristics so widely pleaded, were only later rationalizations to justify a simple economic fact: that the colonies needed and resorted to [African] labour because it was the cheapest and the best. This was not a theory; it was a practical conclusion deduced from the personal experience of the planter.1

Williams asserts that slavery, as “basically an economic institution,” gave birth to racism. He further states that “Unfree labor in the New World was brown, white, black and yellow; Catholic, Protestant and pagan.” Racism or white supremacy is now an autonomous system of oppression that intersects with patriarchy and capitalism to create differing degrees of labour exploitation within the ranks of the working-class.

The point that should be centred in the minds of revolutionaries and radicals in the Caribbean is that capitalism, the architect of racism, is still negatively impacting the lives of the working-class descendants of enslaved Africans as well as the societies that were built by their exploited labour. The late revolutionary, organic intellectual and historian Dr. Walter Rodney convincingly argues and documents in his ground-breaking text How Europe Underdeveloped Africa that capitalism was the main contributor to the stagnation of Africa’s economic development (see Chapter 4 – “Europe and the Roots of Africa’s Underdevelopment – To 1885).

Rodney’s indictment of capitalism and its retardation of the potentiality of the greater portion of humanity (the labouring classes) should be duly noted by the reparations activists or advocates who are playing footsie with capitalism:

… the peasants and workers of Europe (and eventually the inhabitants of the whole world) paid a huge price so that the capitalists could make their profits from the human labour that always lies behind the machine. That contradicts other facets of development, especially viewed from the standpoint of those who suffered and still suffer to make capitalist achievements possible. This latter group are the majority of [humanity]. To advance, they must overthrow capitalism; and that is why at the moment capitalism stands in the path of further human development. To put it another way, the social (class) relations of capitalism are now outmoded, just as slave and feudal relations became outmoded in their time.2

Dr. Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, has written an excellent and easily comprehended book, Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide. It is a must read for people who would like to understand the basis of the claim for reparations from Britain for its role in the enslavement of Africans and genocide against Indigenous peoples in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, Britain’s Black Debt has placed the misbegotten child of capitalism – racism- on trial, but not the inherently exploitative and soul destroying parent – capitalism. If we are going to throw the book at capitalism for chattel slavery, we are morally and politically obligated to do the same for the wage slavery of capitalism under which the Caribbean working-class is currently being exploited.

Caribbean States and Reparations

Today, we are witnessing the unconscionable, but politically understandable behaviour of the neocolonial states in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in divorcing their call for reparations from measures aimed at throwing capitalism into the cesspool of history. These member states of CARICOM are all committed to the implementation of social, economic and political policies that have enshrined capitalism in the region.

They are interested in reparations as a way to deal with their balance of payment, budgetary and development challenges as seen in the call for debt cancellation, technology transfer and a formal apology and not statements of regrets in this regional body’s Ten Point Action Plan for Reparatory Justice.

While these governments are acting like capitalism was not the real culprit behind the economic exploitation of enslaved Africans, progressive civil society groups and individuals who are advocating for reparations should not be silent or conveniently forgetful of this historical fact. We should expect the liberal petite bourgeois or middle-class reparations advocates to not indict capitalism. Their class interests and aspirations are totally immersed and dependent on the continued existence of capitalism. The petite bourgeois elements, unlike the labouring classes, display high levels of class consciousness and the former group tends to allow its class interests to guide its thoughts and actions.

However, radical and revolutionary reparations activists and supporters have no business not putting capitalism on the stand in their activism and general public education initiatives. As political activists who are committed to ending inequity and exploitation that are rooted in the social, economic, political and cultural structures of society’s principal institutions, they should know that capitalist economic relations and practices are a major source of oppression.

As such, they ought to educate the public on the reality that the capitalism that exploited the labour of enslaved Africans is the same capitalism that exploited them as wage slaves after the end of slavery. Capitalism is still exploiting Caribbean workers and taking the lion’s share of the profit that comes from the labour power of the working-class.

CARICOM’s ten-point reparations proposal is implicitly using the societies in the global North as the model of social and economic development. The mature capitalist societies in North America and Europe are characterized by widespread income inequality and concentration of wealth as well as the political marginalization of the working-class. How can such societies in good conscience serve as the standard of social, political and economic development for the Caribbean?

Reparatory Justice for Social Transformation and Dual Power

In the Caribbean, the revolutionaries and radicals must advance a reparations agenda that demands Britain/Europe’s financial compensation for the economic exploitation and racist dehumanization of enslaved Africans. It has been estimated that Britain’s reparations payment to Africans in the Caribbean would be in the region of £7.5 trillion.3 The £20 million paid to the enslavers of Africans after the 1838 abolition of slavery in the British Empire would be worth about £200 billion in today’s currency.4

The proposals below ought to be a part of the Caribbean reparations movement’s programme and be seen as a part of the general class struggle. The neocolonial Caribbean states do not need the immediate payment of reparations to undertake some of these demands. The social movements in the region must organize around these demands as a part of a dual power strategy or infrastructure of dissent or anarchist transfer cultures:5

Promote labour self-management and economic democracy: The governments in the Caribbean must capitalize national and regional Worker Self-management and Entrepreneurship Funds from allotments out of the respective annual national budgets. These funds would be controlled by progressive civil society forces. These financial resources would be used to finance and support worker cooperatives and other labour self-managed companies as well as the work of the support organizations and structures that are necessary to ensure the viability of the workers’ ownership, control and management of their workplace.

It would be the duty of the revolutionary and radical organizers to ensure that a critical mass of the worker-cooperators embrace labour self-management as a part of the class struggle and the fight for socialism. The worker’s democratic control of the workplace combined with popular assemblies would be the laboratory or training ground for the self-management of the future stateless, classless and self-organized (communist) society.

Include labour self-management in school curriculum: The governments in the Caribbean should restructure the curriculum and place at its centre knowledge of the oppressive nature of chattel slavery and wage slavery as a system of labour extraction and exploitation. Of equal importance is the strategic need to adequately educate the students in primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions about workers’ control, ownership and management of the workplace.

Further, the students would be equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitude to collectively self-manage worker cooperatives and other worker self-managed companies. We must challenge the public education curriculum that prepares learners, at public expense, to work in capitalist enterprises. The worker self-management ideas and practices should be integrated throughout the curriculum.

Develop comprehensive land reform programme: According to  Tony Weis in the paper “Restructuring and Redundancy: The Impacts and Illogic of Neoliberal Agricultural Reforms in Jamaica”:

Jamaica’s landscape still bears the scars of the most ferocious form of agricultural production ever devised, as plantations kept their vice-like grip on the best land after Emancipation in 1838, with all subsequent distribution programmes only ever acting on the margins of these inhumanly constructed yet sacrosanct institutions.6

The preceding state of affairs is essentially the situation in the rest of the Anglophone Caribbean.

The governments in the Caribbean must undertake a comprehensive land reform programme that puts flat, arable land in the hands of the labouring classes. Enslaved Africans and indentured South Asians and the Indigenous peoples worked the land and their descendants must now exercise stewardship and control over it.

In order for them to take land out of the capitalist speculative market and to end the idea of the ownership of land by individuals, these governments must create the legislative framework for the establishment of community land trust (CLT). CLT are structures that are used to protect land from the rise or fall in the value of land based on speculation or the whims and fancies of capitalist demand and supply of land and housing. The access to land should be based on the right of collective use or usufructuary rights and not the right of private ownership. Each generation should be the steward of land and not its owners as under capitalism.

Create a cooperative housing programme: The condition of a large proportion of the housing stock in the Caribbean is an assault on human decency, especially for those who live in urban squatter settlements or overcrowded, ill-repaired housing in urban and rural communities. The state must create national funding programmes to support the development and maintenance of cooperative housing by the people through their organizations.

Cooperative housing is a way to engender popular, democratic and collective control and management over the housing by the people who live in these units and to undermine the idea of housing as a tradeable commodity. The members of cooperative housing would have security of tenure but would not be able to pass on the property to their heirs.

Establish working-class friendly labour laws: The system of chattel slavery in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas was a very vile form of labour exploitation. The slave masters did not simply exercise power over the labour power and the fruit of the labour (profit) of the enslaved African workforce. These capitalists also owned the enslaved Africans.

The brutal legacy of exploitation of African workers continued after Emancipation in 1838. In the Anglophone Caribbean of today, progressive organizations ought to develop broad national and regional campaigns to force these neo-colonial governments to create worker-friendly labour laws that make it easier for workers to join or form trade unions. Severe or prohibitive fines must be levied against employers who violate the rights of workers to form or join trade unions. It is hypocritical of governments to demand reparations from British imperialism for slavery, while facilitating the exploitation of workers through laws that are titled against the power of workers in the workforce.

The rate of unionization is very low in the Caribbean and it must become a priority of progressive social movement organizations, socialist organizations, the revolutionary petite bourgeoisie and trade unions to push for legislation that will give workers a greater level of bargaining power in the workplace-based class struggle.

Establish popular, democratic and horizontal assemblies of the oppressed: The revolutionary and radical forces in the Caribbean’s reparations movement must work with other progressive forces throughout society to establish a federated system of popular, democratic and horizontal assemblies of the oppressed. These assemblies would function as the direct democratic structures of political self-management that seeks to approximate the communist self-organizing concept of “the administration of things and not the governance of people.”

The assemblies would be the local, regional and national organs through which the labouring classes discuss, plan and determine their economic and social priorities. The masses would implement their main concerns through their alternative and oppositional institution as well as organize and impose them on existing and domination economic, social, cultural and political institution. In this contestation for power, the peoples’ organizations would use all available and ethical means to advance their liberation.

Perry Mars documents in his book Ideology and Change: The Transformation of the Caribbean Left that a section of the The Left in the Caribbean has a tradition of using or advocating the deployment of assemblies to connect with the people:

What these parties have in common is their strong advocacy of what are called variously ‘people’s parliament’ or ‘people’s assembly’ representing mass democratic participation in grass roots self organizations.7

Further, The Left sees assemblies as political instruments that compensate for the fact that the liberal capitalist democracies in the region are not responsive or represent the needs of the people. Assemblies should not be used as consultative or information-sharing bodies by nationalist and socialist revolutionaries or radicals.

These political assemblies are supposed to be proactive and positive structures that familiarise the people with the idea and practice of shaping all decisions that impact their lives. Mars notes that in the Caribbean:

The problem with the ‘people’s assembly’ is that the implementation does not necessarily eliminate the tendencies towards political centralization and elitism as far as leadership of the movement is concerned.8

From the period of chattel slavery to the current period of neo-colonial flag independence, the Caribbean labouring classes have yet to exercise substantive power over the political institutions that govern their lives. A system of popular assemblies with the capacity to challenge the authoritarian liberal capitalist democracies for power would be one of the best expressions of reparatory justice in the Caribbean.

Conclusion

The struggle for reparations in the Caribbean should become a site of the class struggle and organizing the people for socialism or communism. Capitalism must be put on trial for aiding and abetting the enslavement of Africans and genocide against the Indigenous peoples.

The proposals that are outlined above for adoption by the Caribbean reparations will not become a reality in the absence of national campaigns that organize the people into their self-organized class-based and other popular organizations. We are seeking to build a counterhegemonic force or alternative power bloc to contest the existing forces of domination and to advance the long-term struggle of putting them out of business.

The neo-colonial governments have jumped in front of the reparations bandwagon and are trying to set the agenda. It is incumbent on the popular forces to organize the people in order to wrest the agenda setting initiative from the state and impose their programme of action on the state through the organizing of the labouring classes and other oppressed groups within its ranks.

It is critically necessary for the organizers who are organizing the people from below to do everything possible to utilize all available opportunity to build the capacity of the oppressed to challenge and undermine the existing white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist political order. It is for this reason that a dual power strategy must build the embryonic economic, social and political structures of the future socialist society, while engaging and contesting the existing institutions of power.

It is in this light that the development of worker self-management over their workplaces and the establishment of a system of popular assemblies as the seat of working-class political power becomes necessary. The reparations movement can play an important catalytic role in helping to ideologically prepare the people for the completion of the Second Emancipation in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas.

  1. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 18-19.
  2. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974), 10.
  3. Hilary Beckles, Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide, (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2013), 175
  4. Ibid, 144.
  5. Jeff Shantz, Re-thinking Revolution: A Social Anarchist Perspective, Philosophers for Change. Shantz is opposed to using the concept “dual power” but his preference for “infrastructure of dissent” or “anarchist transfer cultures” is not a variance with a dual power strategy that focuses on self-organization of the working-class and oppressed identity groups within that class.
  6. Tony Weis in the paper “Restructuring and Redundancy: The Impacts and Illogic of Neoliberal Agricultural Reforms in Jamaica”, Journal of Agrarian Change, 4, no. 4, (October 2004): 463.
  7. Perry Mars, Ideology and Change: The Transformation of the Caribbean Left, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), 113.
  8. Ibid, 113.

Canada’s Little Known but Once Flourishing Slave Trade

We love our tales about how “Canada” offered sanctuary to US slaves for decades, but the unabridged version is it sustained African bondage for much longer.

In a recent Rabble.ca story titled “Canada’s earliest immigration policies made it a safe haven for escaped slaves”, Penney Kome ignores the fact that Africans were held in bondage here for 200 years and that the Atlantic provinces had important ties to the Caribbean plantation economies.

According to Kome, Canada’s relationship to slavery consisted of the oft-discussed Underground Railway that brought Africans in bondage north to freedom. But, she ignores the southbound “underground railroad” during the late 1700s that took many Canadian slaves to Vermont and other Northern US states that had abolished slavery. Even more slaves journeyed to freedom in Michigan and New England after the war of 1812.

For over 200 years, New France and the British North America colonies held Africans in bondage. The first recorded slave sale in New France took place in 1628. There were at least 3,000 African slaves in present-day Québec, Ontario and the Maritimes. Leading historical figures such as René Bourassa, James McGill, Colin McNabb, Joseph Papineau and Peter Russell all owned slaves and some were strident advocates of the practice.

After conquering Quebec, Britain strengthened the laws that enabled slavery. In The Blacks in Canada, Robin Winks explains:

On three occasions explicit guarantees were given to slave owners that their property would be respected, and between 1763 and 1790 the British government added to the legal structures so that a once vaguely defined system of slavery took on clearer outlines.

It wasn’t until 1833 that slavery was abolished in today’s Canada and across the rest of the British Empire.

“Canadians” propped up slavery in a number of other ways. Canada helped the British quell Caribbean slave rebellions, particularly during the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution, which disrupted the region’s slave economy. Much of Britain’s Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provided “sticks for the furnishing of a variety of naval stores, especially masts and spars, to the West Indies squadron at Jamaica, Antigua, and Barbados.”

A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown”, Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.

In what may be “Canada’s” most significant contribution to the British war effort in the Caribbean, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. Licensed by the state to seize enemy boats during wartime, “privateers were essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies in the mid-nineteenth century.” But Nova Scotia privateers weren’t solely motivated by reasons of state. They sought to protect a market decimated by French privateers. In A Private War in the Caribbean: Nova Scotia Privateering, 1793-1805, Dan Conlin writes that “in a broader sense privateering was an armed defence of the [Maritimes’] West Indies market.”

Outside of its role in suppressing Caribbean slave rebellions, the Maritimes literally fed the slave system for decades. In Emancipation Day, Natasha Henry explains:

Very few Canadians are aware that at one time their nation’s economy was firmly linked to African slavery through the building and sale of slave ships, the sale and purchase of slaves to and from the Caribbean, and the exchange of timber, cod, and other food items from the Maritimes for West-Indian slave-produced goods.

A central component of the economy revolved around providing the resources that enabled slavery. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein food to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day.” In Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky explains:

In the 17th century, the strategy for sugar production, a labor-intensive agro-industry, was to keep the manpower cost down through slavery. At harvest time, a sugar plantation was a factory with slaves working 16 hours or more a day — chopping cane by hand as close to the soil as possible, burning fields, hauling cane to a mill, crushing, boiling. To keep working under the tropical sun the slaves needed salt and protein. But plantation owners did not want to waste any valuable sugar planting space on growing food for the hundreds of thousands of Africans who were being brought to each small Caribbean island. The Caribbean produced almost no food. At first slaves were fed salted beef from England, but New England colonies [as well as Newfoundland and Nova Scotia] soon saw the opportunity for salt cod as cheap, salted nutrition.

In Capitalism and Slavery, post-independence Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Eric Williams highlights the role of cod in the Caribbean plantations:

The Newfoundland fishery depended to a considerable extent on the annual export of dried fish to the West Indies, the refuse or ‘poor John’ fish, ‘fit for no other consumption’.

High quality cod from today’s Atlantic Canada was sent to the Mediterranean while the reject fish was sold to Caribbean slave-owners.

From 1770-1773 Newfoundland and Nova Scotia sent 60,620 quintals (one quintal equals 100 pounds) and 6,280 barrels of cod to the West Indies, which comprised 40% of all imports. These numbers increased significantly after the American Revolution resulted in a ban on US trade to the British Caribbean colonies. In 1789 alone 58 vessels carried 61,862 quintals of fish from Newfoundland to the Caribbean Islands.

When it comes to our histories, we choose where and how to focus our lens. A bird’s eye view of the historical landscape quickly reveals that “Canada” did a great deal more to support African enslavement than undermine it.