Where we stand‎ > ‎News & Comment‎ > ‎

ALL ABOUT SLAVERY by Burton Sankeralli

posted 11 May 2015, 19:38 by Gerry Kangalee
The Forum on the Future of the Caribbean was hosted by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, the University of the West Indies (UWI) together with the UNDP on May 5-7, 2015. I only attended the last day so my own participation was limited but I do share my reflections some of which are not original but I draw from remarks heard from people in attendance. 

As is evident in the organization, the approach of the conference was top down and elitist. And it was framed by the dominant bureaucratic apparatus. However it did seek to gather important academics and others thus it had some significance and was not altogether useless. Indeed there were present participants even presenters who may be defined as progressive.

Topics covered dealt with such areas as economics, finance, poverty diplomacy etc. There was even a paper on the Caribbean and space exploration.

More significant were the areas not properly addressed namely serious engagement of the people and their culture. One would expect that here is to be found the true future of the Caribbean. Our rich and deep community life, religious social expressions and spirituality, music, our art and craft, explosive creativity as seen in Carnival, our literature, our history of struggle against oppression.

All this it appears was largely ignored by the forum which was dominated by a Eurocentric, elitist, bureaucratic, technocratic approach held in our most exclusive hotel in an extremely formal setting. So much so that one participant asked why so many people were dressed in (formal) black. I heard another remark that the discourse had not really changed since the 1970s.

The event was of course laced with jargon – disruptive thinking, bold action, practical outcomes… “convergence” and even talk of “radical” ideas. By the way it needs to be noted how the status quo appropriates progressive and progressive sounding terminology for its own purposes. One would think that if they were really serious about creative disruption and progressive ideas a great deal of attention would be paid to the Cuban and Bolivarian Revolutions.

And here is another limitation. The dominant vision of the region was really that of the Caricom Anglo-Caribbean. There is a widespread ludicrous assumption here that the English speaking Caribbean is the Caribbean. So there was of course a complete and utter absence in the forum’s discourse of hemispheric thinking. The Venezuelan presentation on Petro Caribe and ALBA was ignored. I heard the comment that the Trinidadian response to Petro Caribe is to pretend that it does not exist.

This writer was moved to ask whether most Caricom citizens even know the phrase “Our America”. In actuality the very vast majority do not. Not even those of us who are supposedly educated.

But as was said a gathering of Caribbean academics and Caribbeanists was important and some, hopefully the majority, did have intelligent things to say. I did note two rather insightful remarks. One presenter pointed out the uselessness of economists in predicting what is going to happen next year far more fifty years from now, he said he preferred reading science fiction. Another (it was I believe Wendy Grenade of the UWI campus in Barbados) asked us to imagine a future Caribbean without political parties.

The same speaker mentioned the elephant in the room and there were quite a few. Most disturbing about the dominant discourse was that it largely ignored Imperialism, exploitative global capitalism, cultural hegemony and something called the US military. There was an assumption that we have in place democratic systems but of course globalization is presided over by an oligarchy and the same applies to the majority of our Caribbean states.

This of course means that this entire edifice of discourse supposedly involving creative, critical and disruptive thinking was founded on a radical and comprehensive mis-analysis. But there seems to be no examination of this.

So when a speaker (Camille Wardrop Alleyne a Trinidadian aerospace engineer at NASA) presented on space exploration and the Caribbean there was as far as I could tell no mention of Cayenne (in the Caribbean region) the French department where the European Union launches its rockets. How are our Caribbean people involved in and benefit from this? What does this mean for the people’s desire for real self-determination?

Needless to say the participants on the floor were quite marginalized in the whole exercise and at the end one sensed their frustration.

It occurs to me that this entire academic exercise was really all about slavery. And here I refer to the specific historical system and our general Caribbean condition.

Our quest for a “future” is really our ongoing struggle for liberation, to be a Caribbean people. But of course the discourse of the forum cannot address this because to all appearances it is being conducted by a mindset that wants desperately to be European. This was once referred to as “Afro-Saxon”.

It is this ongoing colonial hegemony that needs to be fundamentally dismantled and destroyed. What needs to be disrupted is the present global (dis)order: the cause for which Hugo Chavez gave his life; this, as we seek to realize the possibility of fully being a Caribbean people defining our own Caribbean space. It is such bold action that is called for; failing this the only practical outcome of the forum is a free lunch.

Or are we slaves?