2 November, 2001
The myth of Independence?
Sorry to spoil the party folks, dressed up to the nines in our Madras and trying hard to forget reality for two weeks by swamping ourselves in the myth of nationalism. Don't get me wrong, nationalism can be a healthy tonic, and I myself have encouraged many to imbibe over the years, but taken to excess we begin to fool ourselves while reality passes us by. Do we use it as a drug to delude ourselves into escaping the truth? What did Karl Marx say was the opiate of the people? No, that was something else! I will have another Kubuli please.
As a former colony, nationalism helps us to feel confident about ourselves. It also helps to cope with post-colonial blues: the former exploiters, the former oppressors, and the former this and that. But you cannot survive on this refrain forever. One day you are going to have to wake up and realize that the world has changed from what it was in the 1970s and the old grievances or delusions have become senseless with the passage of time. No one is listening anymore and most countries and companies have "sympathy fatigue". If you don't look out you will begin to suffer from a psychological condition called "victimhood". You will complain endlessly about what a victim you are and you will do nothing about it.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the geo-politics has changed. Dominica is no longer "under the threat of Cuban style communism" (if we ever were) or as the Cold War argument went. We are no longer high on the priority list for development aid. Economically we are now classed as a "middle income country". The majority of our ten thousand family units has access to telephones and TV, to electric power and piped water, to schools and health clinics. Compare us to Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Bangladesh or the Kurds. On the aid begging line they are far more in need than we are. Count ourselves lucky that rivers still flow, people can grow food, the air is clean and the rain falls. But many of us don't want to hear. We want to be like Miami or at least like St.Martin without understanding the predicament of being a small island state.
The small island state is a creation of 1960s post-colonialism. Small island states had never existed before because by their very nature they are not viable. Venice, you may say is an example from the past, or Singapore today. But the ownership of their businesses and the control of their trade did not, and do not, make them independent. They are simply small island states that, because of culture and education and freedom from hang-ups, have been more able to integrate themselves into the global economy.
But here we are, a small island state in a highly competitive world. Powerful global giants surround us. For all of our trappings of independence: our colourful flag, our happy hymn-like national anthem, our Bwa Kwaib and yards of Madras, it is they who ultimately call the shots. For our own survival we often have to comply.
The news that American Eagle has requested that their fees for entry into Dominica be lowered by 20% has not received wide publicity. The request came with the diplomatically couched ultimatum that if it were not granted the airline would have to pull out of Dominica. Naturally the government granted their wish pronto and, to be fair to all airlines (and to pre-empt them from crying foul), the cut was extended to the other two airlines, LIAT and Caribbean Star.
All this is quite understandable given the present climate. Everyone is using the "present climate" as an excuse to do what they have been longing to do for some time, especially in the airline industry. This does not help our two little struggling airports. They are in deficit to the tune of over $3 million and rising. Arrears of revenue for Canefield, is $1,159,715.30 and that for Melville Hall is $1,946,146.72 according to the Audit Report. We cannot earn a profit from the airports that exist and yet we plan for bigger things. Is this economic reality or the myth of nationalism at work?
Some years ago Carnival Cruise Lines made similar couched threats about our head tax on their passengers. "Make demands and we cut you out of our itinerary" was the tone of their message. We jumped to it and even went so far as to give them a deal on water that they had not asked for. Better bow to Carnival than face the wrath of taxi drivers and vendors. And Carnival knows local politics well enough to know how to deal with governments.
WHO IS BOSS?
"In ten years time", a Dutch economist said to me, "the Eastern Caribbean will be controlled by a handful of international companies. They will let government continue, you hold your elections, you fly your flags, drive around in your state cars, speak in the UN. But they will know who is really boss."
The World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, (our present lifeline to any aid at all) is calling the shots and do we jump. Already the IMF is appalled by the way we are managing ourselves. Their latest reports have been most critical and the next one will be worse. Their officials stand aghast at the sight of our unfinished sports stadium, our unfinished sports complex, our financial complex and ask not only "How are you going to pay back for them?" but "How are they going to make any money?" It will call the shots on any future loans. The CDB asks the same questions about their projects. The funding agencies think we should have got our act together years ago. Still lurking around is the OECD who have already got us to do what they want on offshore banking laws and are even more demanding now that "terrorist money" is floating around the world. They shoot, we jump.
We speak for Taiwan in return for aid. We vote for Japan in return for aid. And then there is America, or more correctly the USA. Their Dominica file must be growing fast. For some time there have been all the Coast Guard, drug suppression, "Ship rider" agreements, now there is an extradition question, Lybian aid and banking, Cuban travel and assorted local rhetoric being filed away. "Speak softly but carry the big stick", said Theodore Roosevelt of the Caribbean one hundred years ago. And US policy in the region has not changed too much since then. So with all this bowing and scraping, calling shots and jumping, where is the independence? "Mister, now is not the time to be so damned philosoph" I hear you say. "Give the man another Kubuli!"
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