How We Got Independence
By The late William "Para" Riviere, Historian
Independence came to Dominica on 3rd November 1978, that is to say, four hundred and eighty-five years after Columbus made Europeans aware for the first time of the existence of the island, called Waitikubuli by its indigenous inhabitants. The constitutional break from Mother Country Britain was not so significant, when examined alongside similar disengagements by sister territories of the British Empire. After all, India had obtained its independence in 1947 while, on the continent of Africa, the dispensation came in the nineteen fifties and later, beginning with Ghana in 1957. Next door in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica had severed their umbilical cord in 1962, Barbados, Guyana and the Bahamas in 1966, and Grenada in 1973. In fact, these sister territories might have enjoyed independence at an earlier date, had the process of constitutional evolution not been interrupted from 1958 to 1961 by a failed attempt at political unification of the region under the umbrella of an entity called the British West Indies Federation.
From Colonialism to Globalization
The Colonial Power was clear as to the kind of freedom it was conceding to the self-governing colony: economic dependency, wearing the mask of political independence. Post-Emancipation, the plantation order would give way to classical colonial rule. And classical colonial rule would evolve into imperialism. The shift symbolized that administrative control of territory by institutions, including a structure of government, a system of courts and a police force or army was no longer necessary for the economic exploitation and the drain of a country's wealth might be done even more profitably, through the export of capital. The transition from colonial rule to imperialism intensified in the last third of the 19th century. And the partitioning of the African Continent amongst the leading nations of Europe at the Berlin Conference in 1884 marked the definitive arrival of the export of capital as the central feature of international economic relations.
The Multinational Corporation
The export of capital assumed three main forms: the multinational or transnational corporation; bilateral aid given directly by the government of one country to the government of another; and multi-lateral aid pooled by countries into international institutions and provided as grants or loans to needy, mainly developing, nations.
Long before the dawn of the 20th century the multi-national corporation would sideline national capital as the major vehicle of global investment. But, although American capital had found its way into banana cultivation in Jamaica in the last quarter of the 19th century and, into Guyanese bauxite, about 1916, the assault of the multinational corporation on the English-speaking Caribbean would be made comparatively late. In oil exploration and refining, Shell, Texaco and Amoco. In bauxite mining for processing overseas, Alcoa, Kaiser, Alcan and Reynolds. Research by Norman Girvan, Lloyd Best, Clive Thomas, Havelock Brewster and others of the Trinidad-based New World Group discovered that in 1961 American capital assets in bauxite mining in Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname totaled $220-270 million, that is to say, a more than 30 per cent return on investment. And in 1968 American assets in the industry totaled $279 million. In sugar production for refining abroad, Booker Mc. Connell monopolized the Guyanese industry and, Tate & Lyle, those of Jamaica and Trinidad-and-Tobago. Here in Dominica, Barclays Bank (now First Caribbean International Bank), Royal Bank of Canada, Cable & Wireless (now Flow), Commonwealth Development Corporation (C.D.C), American Life Insurance Company, Geest Industries Ltd, and L. Rose and Company, a branch plant of Schweppes International, would be established by the 1950s.
Germany, France and Britain led the way. It is estimated that between the end of the 19th century and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, German overseas investments increased by 250 per cent, those of France, by 200 per cent, and those of Britain, by 100-150 percent. The trend would continue. On the eve of the First World War, overseas investments of the major exporters totaled US $36,300 million. Twenty-five years later, on the eve of the Second World War, it amounted to US $53,000 million. Needless to say, most of this went to European countries the economies of which were devastated by the World War.
The immediate post-World War Two years were decisive. The economies of European nations, including Britain, were shattered. The process of recovery would be facilitated by the establishment of a new international order led by the United States and centered around an intensification of exploitation of colonial wealth. With that in mind, International aid institutions like the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) and the World Bank, and trading and commercial bodies like the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) which evolved into the World Trade Organization (W.T.O.) were put in place.
Together with other members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (O.E.C.S.)., the colony had acquired internal self-government in 1967. The Colonial Power maintained responsibility for defence and external affairs. But we were extended the liberty to proceed to full constitutional independence, whenever. Edward Oliver Leblanc, the island's first Premier, might have understood the violently turbulent waters into which a complete constitutional break from Britain in the existing global economic environment would have cast a largely agricultural banana-growing economy. From 1967 to mid-1974, when he resigned as Premier and opted out of politics, he had on many occasions expressed his discomfort with having to conduct the island's internal affairs almost exclusively on budgetary grant-in-aid from the Colonial Power. More than this, he had supervised the failure of two signal efforts to attract overseas development projects: the first Sunday Island Port Authority, in 1968; the second, Valhala Development Enterprise, in 1973.
The Walk to Independence
Successor to LeBlanc, Premier Patrick Roland John, was less endowed. In August 1975, that is, some twelve months after assuming the reins of office, he declared to his Labour Party's twenty-first Annual Convention that 2nd November 1976 would be "the appointed day of self-determination". In the event, discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office got under way, at the conclusion of which the Administration was invited to prepare a Green Paper for submission to both the British Government and, as well, to the people of Dominica.
On 20th December of that year the Premier updated the House of Assembly. Evidently, a Green Paper and a draft Independence Constitution had been prepared. The draft Constitution was to be distributed "as widely as possible". "Discussions" were "taking place throughout Dominica on the subject of independence". Further, parliamentarians and the wider pubic were invited to submit amendments to the draft Constitution, to reach the Office of the Cabinet Secretary on or before the end of February 1977. John's intention was to move a Resolution in March 1977, seeking approval of the final draft of the Constitution. As a signal of things to come, the parliamentary Opposition boycotted the sitting of the House.
The Green Paper
The Green Paper focused on two things: one, an economic philosophy for the nation; and, two, ways and means of attracting financial and material assistance needed to implement an economic programme. As to the philosophy behind the programme, the Administration declared a commitment to a political ideology described as "new socialism" and embraced the "principle of a mixed economy" encompassing a private sector, a co-operative sector, and a public sector. John's thinking was a carbon copy of that of his mentor, President Forbes Burnham of Guyana. Burnham had embraced a philosophy described as "co-operative socialism" and had declared Guyana to be a "co-operative Republic".
Instead of outlining a vision for economic growth and development, the economic dimension of the Green Paper engaged itself in the use of popular terms and clichés. It did mention, first, the institution of the co-operative and, second, the "joint venture enterprise", as the economy's "two engines" of growth. As to co-operatives, no more was said that they would be "fostered in those areas where they can make the best contribution to the development of the country". And, as to joint venture enterprises, the Green Paper stated an intention to "continue to pursue and foster" them "as the best way of attracting foreign capital and putting it to work for the benefit of both our country and of the investors". Mention was made of government's collaboration with Colonial Development Corporation (C.D.C.) in joint ventures to electrify the island, to undertake housing development and to produce an agricultural blue print for agricultural and forestry development.
To secure the financial and technical assistance required to meet the nation's development needs, there was once again much rhetoric but little substance. Stated initiatives included to maintain "close contact" with the CARICOM countries of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago from where "considerable assistance has been received"; and to "maintain ties" with "such bodies as the European Community and the Caribbean Community". As to CARICOM, support would be given by the Administration to "all movements and endeavours aimed at making it a trading community more capable of contributing to the overall development of the Caribbean peoples". The Green Paper also gave an undertaking to support "the other regional institutions", which remained unidentified. Admission to "Latin American Institutions" would be sought. "Contact" would be maintained with Canada, Venezuela and France, from which sources the island had received "help" in the past. And, an intention was expressed to "seek close ties" with the Government and people of the United States of America.
What the Green Paper did not reveal was that while the John Government was articulating this grandiose seemingly above board economic vision for the island it was clandestinely targeting development assistance from the most notorious sources imaginable. In July 1975 Government had concluded a development project Agreement with an entity called the Alleyne Mercantile Bank owned by Sydney Burnett-Alleyne, a devious Barbadian gun-runner in the pay of Portugal's dictator Salazar. And, two years later, Alleyne was identified as the man behind the scenes in Premier John's secret plan to facilitate South Africa's setting up on Dominican soil of a host of projects, including an oil refinery. In that way the racist South African regime would be enabled to evade not only sanctions directed at it by the United Nations General Assembly since 1963 but, even more critically, an oil embargo imposed by the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (O.P.E.C.) ten years later.
The Green Paper committed a future independent Dominica to the pursuit of a "liberal and democratic" philosophy of governance. Avenues along which the nation would travel to make this a reality were identified. Among them were (a) to seek full membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations "as early as possible"; (b) to "maintain the long established ties and association" with the British Government and with "nations friendly to Britain; (c) to "maintain close contact with and to seek support and help from "the great democracies of the world"; (d) to seek membership of the United Nations and its agencies, organisations and institutions' to "give full support" to bodies, including the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization the Organization of American States, the World Bank and the American Development Bank; (f) to "accept and succeed to treaties or conventions made on behalf of Dominica by the British Government with other States; (g) to observe the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations; (h) to commit to a policy of non-alignment "in the true sense of the concept"; and (i) to abide by the principles of international law.
The draft Constitution differed from the existing Associate Statehood Constitution in two fundamentals. First, was provision for a Senate constituted as a separate chamber. The justification advanced was that a separate Senate would enable "mature and experienced intellects" to come forward "for the support and furtherance of the democratic and developmental process in the State, and to help it onwards towards a virile and wise growth". The second difference from the island's 1967 Constitution was the introduction of an Ombudsman "in the form of a Permanent Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry". The institution was described as a "Swedish device to check maladministration in all forms".
The draft Constitution also envisaged the British Monarch as the independent nation's Head of State. Accordingly, it was proposed that the Monarchy's representative would undertake "further administrative functions where these would not conflict with other duties under the Constitution". A proposed such function for the Head of State was to serve as "Chairman of the Parliamentary Commissioners".
Against a Referendum
In terms of process, the John regime argued that the transition from self-government to full independence ought not to be subjected to a national referendum, as provided for by Section 10 (1) of the West Indies Act, 1967, which conceded Associate Statehood. It relied, instead, on Section 10 (2) of the Act. The provision stipulates that "Her Majesty may at anytime, by Order in Council in respect of any Associated State, terminate the status of association of that state with the United Kingdom as from such date as my be specified in the order".
On the whole the island's population was concerned more with trying to make ends meet rather than with engagement on the issue of constitutional independence. High unemployment combined with low income levels and overbearing taxation to drastically reduce the population's purchasing power; the island's youth were particularly disadvantaged. In the event, there was neither a groundswell of support for the proposed new political status nor any significant protest against it.
Dominica Freedom Party
The response of the Opposition Freedom Party (D.F.P.), led by Barrister and Solicitor, Eugenia Charles, to Government's plans for independence was most vocal. The party's tone was greatly influenced by a regime of human and labour rights violations which had characterized Labour Party rule since 1968. In 1968 the Seditious and Undesirable Publications Act, popularly called the "Shut Your Mouth" Bill had wantonly attacked the right to freedom of expression. In 1973 was enacted The Civil Service Act, which sought to put an end to activity by public workers deemed to be "political" and "anti-government". In 1974, the Prohibited and Unlawful Socities and Associations Act, popularly known as the Dread Act, while aiming at the island's small Rastafarian community, deprived the populace of the very right to life. In the same month the Police (Amendment) Act was amended to enable the recruitment of Special Constables with powers and immunities afforded to the regular police force. In 1978 the Industrial Relations Act severely restricted the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of all categories of unionized workers to embark on strike action. And, in the same mouth, Defence Force legislation upgraded the existing volunteer body to a 150-man army comprising fifty soldiers and a hundred volunteers.
Little wonder the D.F.P's main concern was to secure checks and balances on the Administration's growing authoritarian style of leadership. Hence, its exclusive focus on the Draft Constitution. It adopted a two-fold strategy. First, it called for a referendum. And, second, it proposed that the Constitution include four checks and balances on the powers of the Prime Minister. One, that an independent Dominica should embrace a Republican form of governance, with an Executive President elected directly by the people; and the President, as Head of State, should be invested with executive powers in terms of security, external affairs and defense. Two, that the size of the House of Assembly should be reduced from twenty-one elected representatives to thirteen, and nominated members be increased from three to eight. Three, that nominated members be allotted to contesting parties on the basis of proportional representation, that is to say, according to the percentage of votes obtained.
A fourth proposal was made in response to a provision in the Draft Constitution for an Electoral Commission to supervise the holding of national elections. While the draft proposed that the body be wholly nominated by Government, the Opposition D.F.P. preferred a Commission of three persons chosen: one by Government; another, by the Leader of the Opposition; the third, by the President.
Popular Independence Committee
Lesser interventions were made by two organizations on the left of the island's political spectrum. The Popular Independence Committee (P.I.C.), led by returning Black Power advocate, Rosie Douglas, gave "unconditional support" to John's call for independence for the island. A newly-formed grouping, it was persuaded to do so largely because of Government's rhetoric concerning its commitment to the "ideology of new socialism" and its declared vision to "make the poor man the real man". The organization from its base in Grandbay set up small groups of youth in Mahaut, Atkinson, Boetica and, among secondary school students, in Roseau. Leaflets were circulated. Pamphlets were published. There were group discussions. Most of all, P.I.C. members swelled the audience at sessions of Parliament at which issues concerning the transition to Independence were debated.
The Popular Independence Committee (P.I.C) also invested in the promotion of visits to Cuba. This was done under the auspices of its affiliate Dominica – Cuba Friendship Society, one of a host of such associations established by radical organizations throughout the region. Ambitiously hoping that such visits might bring socialist consciousness to visitors, one such visit was led by the spouse of Premier John. But the Society's attempts to persuade the Premier to visit Cuba were in vain. Rhetoric about socialism was one thing; pursuit of socialist transformation was quite another.
Ten months short of the coming of Independence, the P.I.C's campaign of unconditional support of independence came to an abrupt halt. In January 1978 Michael Douglas and Ferdinand Parillon, two Ministers of Government holding politically contrasting views with their colleagues on many matters of national development were dismissed from their posts. It is unclear whether the Independence Committee's change of position was related to the dismissals.
League of Socialist Workers
The League of Socialist Workers (L.S.W), co-ordinated by a Central Committee, including Ron Green, Joey Peltier, Aurelius Jolly and historian, Para Riviere, stood poles apart from its left-leaning counterpart. It had evolved in late 1974 from the earlier-established Movement for a New Dominica, and held a different view of Government's supposed commitment to socialist transformation. More than this, it entertained a different understanding of socialist theory and the creative application of that theory to the economic and social conditions prevailing in the island in the mid-1970s.
A pamphlet circulated in early 1977 put its position on independence this way: "it would be a mistake … at this time or any other time, to say "No" to independence from Britain. To take that road is to misunderstand history and make a complete mockery of our people's long history of struggle. And, it would be a mistake no less profound, to say "Yes" to independence and separate it from the wider, all-time question of how to bring a good life to every single one of our people". That is to say, the League did not understand acquisition of constitutional independence to be one historical stage, and the provision of a decent livelihood to every Dominican citizen to be another, later historical stage. Its position pamphlet concluded thus: "… constitutional independence is merely a small question within the overall issue of putting an end to man's exploitation of fellow man".
The League's position was guided, further, by its assessment that the ongoing discussions with the British Government were bound to lead to a full constitutional break. For one thing, the island, like others before it, had long been no more than a millstone around the neck of the British. For another, the Colonial Power had indicated that this was so most transparently when, on conceding Associate Statehood, it committed itself to completion of the constitutional break anytime the island requested. Most importantly, the organization was convinced Government's call for independence, like other political issues, would be considered and acted upon strictly along party political lines. Since its formation in 1968 the Opposition D.F.P. had signally failed to form any significant impression on the minds of electors resident outside the island's capital, Roseau.
In these circumstances, the League largely remained outside the discourse on constitutional independence and busied itself, instead, with four inter-related activities: One, organizing workers, peasants, young unemployeds, secondary school students, and women into independent mass bodies of their own. Two, raising the levels of social consciousness of these social strata by publication and circulation of weekly information leaflets and the hosting of public meetings at which people took to the podium to make presentations about how they felt about the state of their country and the road on which they thought the new nation should embark. Three, setting-up financially rewarding co-operatives among small farmers, fishermen and seamstresses. Four, mobilizing communities around voluntary projects. Central to these activities, the League engaged itself in bringing into being a vanguard organization aimed at winning state power from the ruling Labour regime at the historically correct moment. From its base in Portsmouth, the second town, work was conducted in Roseau and concentrated over some fifteen villages spread over the island's North, North-East, East, South and West Coast.
The Constitutional Break
Although negotiations moved on without obstruction, Government's intention to achieve independence on the 2nd November 1977 failed to materialize. Three months after that date, in February 1978, the island's Legislature by a vote of 16 to 3 approved a motion to proceed to constitutional independence. This done, a conference was set for London in May of that year. Taking account of continued disagreement on some issues, the Conference proposed "early 1978" as the new date for the transition. "Early 1978" came and went. And the gap separating Government from Opposition, though narrowed, was not bridged.
Out of deep concern the British Government despatched Richard Posnet, an advisor, to the island "to discuss the remaining issues and to form an assessment of the state of public opinion". Posnet reported two decisive observations, one of which stated: "I met no more than one or two people who were opposed to independence as such". The other was that the agreed constitutional arrangements contained "substantial safeguards" which, in the circumstances, he considered acceptable.
Government had made some amendments to the draft Constitution to accommodate Opposition proposals. It agreed to move directly to a republican form of governance, provided the President was nominated rather than elected. It abandoned its idea of a two-Chamber House, but disagreed the Opposition's proposed method of nominating members. And it accepted the proposals as to the establishment and composition of an Electoral Commission. On the 3rd November 1978 the island was proclaimed an independent republic within the British Commonwealth of Nations, with Patrick John as its first Prime Minister. There was no referendum.
Forty Years On
This, then, is the historical, economic and political context in which we got our independence. It is misleading to suppose that Mother Country Britain conceded Independence to our nation to enable our people to enjoy the fruits of development. Far from this. The plain truth is that the British, by comparison with, say, the French who to this day have semi-colonies on both sides of our island under the guise of being Departements, that is to say, equal parts of the Republic of France, were not so liberal as their surrogate historians have professed. They did not concede Constitutional Independence to our Associate State out of altruistic, in other words, genuinely impartial motives. The British offer of independence came because continued colonial rule was no longer in its interest. Not only had its overseas territories become millstones around its neck. Not only had globalization and the export of capital enabled it and its allies in the developed world to plunder the resources of developing countries even more ravenously than was possible in the heyday of colonial rule. More so, it was transparently clear that in the aftermath of the Second World War political independence for would-be ex-colonies would be an economic tragedy rather than a blessing. Political independence would not mean economic independence. It would mean economic dependence on a more massive scale. The mendicant, that is to say, begging or, better yet, "thank-you-massa" character of relations between overseas aid donors and the twelve Administrations which have ruled our country in the forty years following the concession of constitutional independence stands as convincing testimony. We, the descendants of Neg Mawons, deserve better.