Is Britain trying to recolonise the Caribbean?

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, March 27, 2009 – In the wake of the British government’s decision to partially suspend the constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), politicians in this and other British Overseas Territories are worried that London has embarked on a process of “re-colonisation”.

The move by London followed an interim report by a commission of inquiry into possible legislative corruption in the British colony. At the centre of the corruption claims is Michael Misick, the former premier, who is alleged to have built up a multi-million-dollar fortune since he was elected in 2003.

The sole commissioner, Sir Robin Auld, recommended “the suspension of the entire Constitution for an indeterminate period, to replace the democratic process presently provided by the Cabinet and the House of Assembly with direct rule from Westminster, acting through the Governor with, but not bound by, the advice of an Advisory Executive Council”.

His full report will be issued on April 30, but Auld pointed to “clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and general administrative incompetence”.

Governor Gordon Wetherell said in view of the findings, London had determined that elements of the constitution would need to be suspended, meaning that there will be no multi-party elections.

Misick, who resigned as premier on Monday, described the move as “modern-day colonialism” and appealed to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) political and trade bloc and international agencies to intervene.

“It is wrong in the 21st century to have an entire population re-colonised in this fashion, with the executive, legislative, judicial and all other powers lying in the hands of the colonial masters, but vested in one person (the governor), who himself, in this case, is not a citizen,” he said.

“They still view us all as a corrupt people, unfit to govern ourselves,” Misick added. “We cannot and should not take this lying down.”

Britain’s Overseas Territories Minister Gillian Merron all but dismissed Misick’s statement, insisting that the investigation had discovered a “high probability of systemic corruption or serious dishonesty” in the TCI.

“The (British) government has formed the view that parts of the constitution will need to be suspended and has decided to take steps to enable it to do so,” Merron said.

In 1873, after three centuries under Spanish, French, and then British control, the TCI were made a part of Jamaica. When that country achieved independence from Britain in August 1962, the Turks and Caicos Islands became a crown colony.

It has had its own government since August 1976. In 1979, independence was agreed upon in principle for 1982, but a change in government caused a policy reversal.

On Tuesday, the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat said it was following “with growing concern recent political and constitutional developments” in the TCI, which is an associate member of the bloc.

It said the order from London had the potential to “threaten the democratic process in the TCI by terminating the existence of the Cabinet and dissolving the elected legislature, in effect thwarting the will of the people of the TCI.”

CARICOM said that while it is “fully aware of the scathing nature of the interim report”, it is of the view that there is still time for the governing and opposition parties “to come together in the national interest as well as for deeper reflection by all involved in order to come up with a solution that will minimise constitutional disruption.”

Reuben Meade, a former chief minister of Montserrat, another British colony in the Caribbean, said London’s position was equally troubling for his island.

Delivering the annual St Patrick’s Day Lecture last Wednesday, Meade pointed to the island’s constitution, which was last updated in 1989 by Britain, saying the British “just simply gave it to us.”

“They feel that we are not doing their bidding so they threaten to suspend talks on the so-called constitution discussions unilaterally,” he said.

“In 2007, they offered to further modernise by asking us what we wanted in the new constitution. When we try to decide what modern form we want, their response is simply ‘we cannot agree to that because we need for the governor’s powers to be increased’ and then they (the British) put in what they want,” Meade complained.

He said he was also appalled at the treatment meted out to other British Overseas Territories, where “after 375 years of colonial domination, we are yet to see a Black governor in any of the British colonies”.

For his part, Bermuda’s Premier Ewart Brown said he was saddened at the turn of events in the TCI.

“I am sad to see it happen. I will be going down there soon. It is not a happy day for Turks and Caicos or for any of us in the Overseas Territories. I am just hoping they will be able to come out of it.” (IPS)