Caribbean Leaders Challenge Western Hegemony and Economic Violence

Caribbean countries need to unite to defy condescending West

Kenneth Mohammed

Caribbean nations have such a long history of economic violence, manipulation and exploitation perpetrated against them by the west that it is generally expected that they take it on the chin. Recently, however, their leaders have been standing up to a spate of condescension and sanctioned bullying.

In an interview with the BBC reporter Stephen Sackur, the president of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, displayed what can only be termed controlled rage. Ali scolded and schooled Sackur on the hypocrisy of the developed world, questioning his agenda and integrity. The interview reverberated around the global south. This was not the first time a British journalist had tried to patronise Ali. Last year, Richard Madeley, on the subject of slavery reparations with Ali, was outrageously disrespectful.

We in the Caribbean are the canaries in the coalmine, on the frontlines of the catastrophic consequences of the climate crises and yet the least of the climate offenders. Sackur and his lack of understanding of the vastness of Guyana and its advances in creating a net zero footprint, was not just unprofessional but reeked of imperial condescension. The arrogance of economic violence – never by chance and always by choice – is perpetrated when structural policy choices are made for the benefit of the richest and most powerful people and countries, while subjugating the weak and impoverished.

BBC’s Stephen Sackur and Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali

In the corrupt expanse of global geopolitics, where might is right and money talks while poverty is forced to listen, the Caribbean often finds itself relegated to the sidelines, dismissed as inconsequential, a mere tourist destination. However, beneath the palms lies a complex history of economic violence and exploitation at the hands of western powers. From the shackles of slavery and colonialism to the insidious grasp of neocolonialism and neoliberalism, the resilient people of the Caribbean endured a tumultuous journey towards sovereignty.

For centuries, European powers ravaged the region to fuel their imperial ambitions, the legacy of which is etched into the culture, economies and politics of Caribbean society. Consider the catastrophic saga of Haiti serving as a stark reminder of the lasting consequences of historical injustice. Forced to pay exorbitant reparations to France after independence, Haiti has struggled to break free from the cycle of poverty and instability, marred by crime, corruption and mismanagement, entrenching its dependence on foreign assistance.

Consider Cuba: since the Cuban Revolution, which ended in 1959, the nation has been subjected to a relentless campaign of economic aggression, aimed at suffocating its socialist experiment. From trade embargos to covert sabotage, the US has spared no effort in its bid to cripple Cuba’s economy and undermine its sovereignty.

Other issues are more furtive. For example, the widespread establishment of US military bases across the Caribbean. From Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to Chaguaramas in Trinidad and Tobago, these bases symbolise American hegemony, projecting its power and influence – a constant reminder of the Caribbean’s subjugation.

Another covert issue is in the many biased agreements that multinational corporations use to exploit the Caribbean’s resources, allowing them to make unfettered super profits. Despite vast oil reserves, these nations have been forced to accept unfavourable terms, robbing them of equal profit sharing and stifling their economic potential, often enabled by corrupt and incompetent energy executives and politicians.

The installation of tax havens in US and UK territories in the Caribbean has also served to surreptitiously exacerbate the region’s economic woes. The lack of due diligence processes and secretive beneficial ownership through shell companies has encouraged money laundering and tax evasion. Preferential tax treatment for foreign corporations and wealthy individuals has enabled billions of dollars to be siphoned away from Caribbean economies, depriving them of much-needed revenue for social services and infrastructure.

Another example of western exploitation has been the unscrupulous land grab by foreign development companies in numerous islands, such as Barbuda, where ordinary taxpaying citizens have lost access to their beautiful beaches. These companies are often owned by the super-rich and political elites. Adding insult to injury, the racially biased perception of corruption in the Caribbean perpetuates harmful stereotypes and undermines efforts to address issues of governance and accountability.

While corruption certainly exists in the region, it is portrayed in a one-dimensional manner, ignoring the root causes of poverty, inequality and historical oppression. By shifting the focus away from structural reform and towards punitive measures, such as blacklisting, the west further entrenches its hegemony while ignoring the fact that billions of illicit cashflows are parked in its coffers.

Historically, the Caribbean has not been short of defiant leaders. Fidel Castro epitomised this spirit. Denouncing imperialism and advocating for global solidarity, he inspired generations across the world. In Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams was a staunch advocate for Caribbean unity and self-reliance. Williams championed a vision of economic independence, calling for the diversification of the Caribbean economy and the empowerment of its people. Maurice Bishop of Grenada advocated voraciously for socioeconomic development, women’s and worker’s rights, and Caribbean unity, but was eventually executed by his desperate compatriots, puppets of the US.

More recently, Mia Mottley of Barbados has continued the resistance, confronting the forces of neocolonialism head-on. Mottley has been an articulate critic of the inequities perpetuated by the global economic order, calling for a reimagining of the Caribbean’s relationship with the west.

In this context, the scolding of the BBC reporter by the president of Guyana was applauded throughout the region and the diaspora. Ali’s outspoken and passionate defence of the region’s views on development in the face of climate hypocrisy struck a chord with many who feel silenced by western dominance and the legacy of economic violence.

All this is not to excuse the leaders in the Caribbean, some of whom have proved to be astonishingly corrupt, incompetent and self-serving. The hidden puppet-masters that finance these politicians wield unfathomable power. It is also not to absolve the masses who continue to vote along partisan or racial lines.

As they seek to chart a course towards a future of prosperity and equality, only through collective action and solidarity can the Caribbean break free from the shackles of the former colonialists whose only interest is neocolonialism, through corporations and institutions.

Despite the need for direct foreign investment, the Caribbean now needs to wake up and strengthen alliances with Africa, Asia and South America or others who come without a history of economic violence, the ones always portrayed as the villains by the self-serving biases of the west.

Kenneth Mohammed is a freelance writer and Caribbean analyst with a focus on corruption