Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 8th 2015 Contents In delivering the keynote address
at the opening of the third Inter-
national Conference of the AHEC---
Caribbean Economic History Asso-
ciation---The History of Investment
in the Caribbean, Vice Chancellor
of the University of the West Indies,
Professor Hilary Beckles, cited the
late CLR James on the notion that
the concept of the West was invent-
ed in the Caribbean as labour was
brought from Africa, capital from
Europe and put to work on land
across the region.
In a provocative speech on
Wednesday, Beckles, a noted his-
torian himself, outlined the devel-
opment and investment history of
Caribbean economies and explains
the roles that must be played by
academia and entrepreneurs in the
region s future.
The politics of plantation econ-
omy and new world thinking
had a great deal to do with
the concept of the Caribbean
having to participate in an
anti-Western discourse and
the notion of confronting the West, created
a political narrative that the historian some-
times has difficulty with.
How could the Caribbean be seen as jux-
taposed or in conflict with this thing called
the West? I have always said that this is con-
tradictory because the Caribbean was created
by the West and, in fact, the Caribbean was
one of the first pristine creations of the West
and that many of the earliest political nar-
ratives---even deep into slavery---were, in fact,
part of a Western discourse, about freedom,
justice and liberty.
CLR James, for example, had argued that
the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 18th
century, was quintessentially a Western Rev-
olution, no different from any of the other
revolutions in Europe and North America.
There were revolutions about concepts of
freedom, justice, equality, all of the elements
which constituted the Western discourse and
the political narrative. The Haitian Revolution
is at the centre of it.
The purpose was to achieve all of the things
the Americans had pursued in their war against
Great Britain. We see in this the economics
of Toussaint L overture, having taken posses-
sion of the colonial economy.
As commander in chief, he sort to re-insert
Haiti into the world economy. He could not
imagine any other form of economic devel-
opment other than the globalised North
Atlantic world. He did his best to re-insert
the plantation system into world trade. He
invited foreign capital to develop the economy.
He called for closure relationships with French
capitalism. He opened up to British and Ger-
man merchants. Therefore, he saw economic
development very much through Western
Now, if that conversation was taking place
at the end of the 18th century and early 19th
century, how is it therefore, 100 years later,
we found ourselves going in the completely
opposite direction? This suggested that we
detach from the Western economy, we must
critique the Western world and we must par-
ticipate in an anti-Western narrative.
Between the 1820s and the 1830s, there
was little scope for economic development
outside the traditional plantation system.
Despite, efforts at diversification and to various
other commodities other than sugar,
economies of the region are not really devel-
This is why, at the end of the day, when
the first major industrial project comes on
board at the end of the 19th century, the
Panama Canal, it throws the Caribbean worker
into conflict with tradition and over 100 work-
ers of the Caribbean rejected the plantation
to become industrial workers.
This is extraordinary, because even in Bar-
bados, 45,000 workers, half of the entire
workforce packed up and fled to Panama to
work on the Canal. In the 1930s, CLR James
writes the Black Jacobins. His reason for writ-
ing it, is to again, re-insert the Caribbean
political economy back into the concept of
The historians I believe have made these
points quite clear and economists have engaged
and participated in much of this. At the centre
of James argument, was the idea that the
Caribbean existed at the centre of the Western
world. He pushes the argument even further,
to say that the West was invented in the
The concept of the West being invented in
the Caribbean, poses a number of geographies,
that the concept of the West is not geograph-
ical per se.
The concept of the West is a political econ-
omy and an ideological construct. In the for-
mulation of this Western concept, the
Caribbean is where it all started. This is where
entrepreneurs arrive in the aftermath of
Columbus. They brought capital from Europe,
they brought labour from Africa, some from
Europe as well, their markets were always
considered to be global. And an entrepreneurial
culture evolved that was always global and
The world had never seen this construct
before and it was built in the Caribbean for
the first time. This is what he says makes the
Caribbean the heart of the West.
That becomes the legacy of the Caribbean.
The Caribbean then enters into this concept
of globalisation, leading the world into that
language. We can say today that there is no
culture or civilisation anywhere in the world
that can teach us about globalisation. We start
with the concept.
The Caribbean then as it is now, is the most
globally penetrated economic and social system
in the world. I can see this at the economic
level and the ethnic cultural level. We can see
how an indigenous organisation has emerged
that draws upon all these physical elements.
Despite it all, in the 1950s, an extraordinary
book was published in the Caribbean that
confronts this history, but again, sees the
region as outside this narrative and I am refer-
ring to Cheddi Jaggan s The West on Trial.
The question, therefore, how could a
Caribbean produce a book so called and sug-
gest that somehow the region is outside that
narrative and that the Caribbean was being
acted upon by external factors and those forces
can be constituted as the West.
We are now in a circumstance, where our
economies are the most sluggish in this hemi-
sphere in terms of rebounding from this reces-
sion and that there are reasons for this. One
of the reasons is that , if you examine every
model of economic development that has
brought transformation to economies in the
modern world, in the last 30 to 40 years. Each
one is based upon a massive investment in
higher education, research and development,
linked to industry development.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, we
have the lowest enrollment in higher
education in the entire hemisphere. If
you take this hemisphere, from Alaska
to Argentina, we in the English-speak-
ing Caribbean, have the lowest enroll-
ment in higher education in the hemisphere.
If you take the age cohort of 18-30, North
America is 45 per cent and rising. Latin Amer-
ica is 30 per cent and rising. We are less than
15 per cent. We are therefore speaking about
not being prepared for development. I will
venture to add, that what is holding back
Caribbean development is a shortage of capital,
but a shortage of relevant skills.
Skills that can drive innovation, skills that
can drive entrepreneurship, skills that can
make our economies much more competitive.
All of these things, I am suggesting to you
have been historical and that we have made
all these strategic errors time and time again.
Globalisation is best conceptualised as a
double-edged sword. We have been at the
centre of it for 300 years. But now we are
being told that Caribbean development requires
that the Caribbean becomes globalised. Econ-
omists are writing some very interesting argu-
ments, calling for the globalisation of the
Caribbean, suggesting that we need to be fur-
ther penetrated in order to find the energy for
We are not understanding that inscription
into the global economy is a pre-condition.
It is obvious that the Caribbean has been the
most globalised, quintessentially so.
We are now in the Caribbean, beginning to
get this right. People are saying that the
Caribbean is an exhausted culture. People are
saying that our economies are sluggish and
the recession is gripping deeper is because
our culture and civilisation are exhausted. That
all our energies were burnt out fight slavery,
fighting indentureship, fighting for Independ-
ence, fighting anti-colonialism.
In the middle of that exhaustion, there is
fragmentation, there is doubt. There is a sense
of disillusionment in the Caribbean. This is
the argument from the Right. I think we are
just starting to get this right.
There is now in the Caribbean, the real-
isation that there has to be broad-based eco-
nomic enfranchisement of the majority of
people and that only the people can drive the
region out of recession and create sustainable
development. Not elites. Not minorities. Not
direct foreign investment, but the mobilisation
of popular economic will. That is now becom-
ing clear for the first time. It is also becoming
clear, that we are on the cusp of creating
dynamic, internationally competitive entre-
I sit on the board of Sagicor Financial---
one of the larger financial institutions of the
Caribbean world---and I can tell you, building
a global financial conglomerate in North
America and Europe, there are some brilliant
Caribbean people doing this and young people.
We only have to speak to persons who are
involved in the other major corporations,
Guardian Holdings, ANSA McAL and they
are now beginning to feel a sense of self con-
fidence and we can feel it coming. It is still
in its infancy, but it is beginning to happen.
We are now realising that academics and
industry must be further aligned. The future
of this university and the region depends on
it.There must be stronger industry-academia
links where the university and intellectual
communities participate more directly in the
process of wealth creation and wealth re-dis-
tribution. I believe for the first time, we are
now coming to a consensus on how best to
conceptualise the economic development of
this region, the political narrative and the role
of civil society.
In this regard, our university is ripe for
reform. We will see an old university faded
into the distance and we have to construct
this university in the vanguard of this process
of wealth creation, re-distribution, building
indigenous capacity, sovereignty and cele-
brating what and who we are. A special, pecu-
liar Caribbean celebration, very much intel-
lectually at the centre of the West even though
our economies at the moment are in the south
of this West.
SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt NOVEMBER 8 • 2015
Modern capitalism began
in the Caribbean---Beckles
PROF HILARY BECKLES
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