Who is Caricom’s “Caribbean”?


Tomorrow is Caricom Day. It is a holiday and we are expected to celebrate and reflect on being part of the regional community. But who makes up the Caribbean according to Caricom?

A look through their official website, especially on the subject of culture, is telling. The usual politically correct lip service is paid to the region’s diversity in race, religion, languages, and cultures but throughout there is an African dominance with hardly any Indian, Amerindian, Chinese or European presence.

True, the region is predominantly African by race and culture but the 20 per cent Indian population that comprises the English-speaking Caribbean is hardly insignificant.

“Through their chronicles and analyses, historians such as Jacques Roy Augier, Hilary Beckles, Kamau Braithwaite, Carl Campbell, Lisa Goveia, Douglas Hall, Neville Hall, CLR James, Keith Laurence, Woodville Marshall. Lucille Mathurin-Mair, Mary Noel Menezes, Walter Rodney and Eric Williams have played equally important roles in capturing our varied experiences.” So says the Caricom.org website.

The list does not include academics such as Basdeo Mangru, Brinsley Samaroo, Dr Clem Seecharran and other Indian Caribbean historians. By excluding them, Caricom’s “varied experiences” also excludes Indian Caribbean people, their history of indentureship, and their contributions to social, political and economic development in the region.

VS Naipaul, of course, did give Indians a history and a presence through his earlier works in particular. Perhaps, this is the root of the African Caribbean vexation with him: he makes Indians visible. Many would remember that his 2001 Nobel Prize was met here with criticism rather than celebration by sections of the Euro/Afrocentric media which often condemn him for his biting criticisms of the region.

Sir Vidia, however, could not be overlooked or ignored and he is the lone Indian Caribbean to be recognised on any of Caricom’s lists – he is included as a notable writer – for the list of regional artists is as prejudiced as their list of historians.

Not a single Indian artist from Suriname, Guyana or Trinidad and Tobago makes the cut when no art historian or curator would ever fail to note the work of Trinidadian artist James Isaiah Boodhoo whose use of colour has often been compared to Gauguin’s.

Caricom reduces the Indian cultural presence in the Caribbean to Naipaul, and a mention of roti and curry, and chutney music. It is no wonder that Caribbean Indians have never seen the regional body as representing their interests and have never asked for nor expected any help or support from them on any issues including those of cultural and political justice.

In Guyana and in Trinidad and Tobago, Indians continue to be culturally excluded except for politically correct tokenism, and their religions of Hinduism and Islam are still viewed by some as pagan and can make them targets of race hate. The Alexander Village Mandir in Georgetown was repeatedly vandalised for some 11 years during the Diwali festival.

Bishop Juan Edgehill on a recent television programme on Channel 28 admitted that many evangelical Christians view Hinduism as a pagan and idol-worshipping faith.

In Guyana, of course, the ethnic divide between Indians and Africans is also political and has spilled over into violence that targets the largest minority group, Indians.

It is not as if Caricom is silent on issues about regional racism and discrimination. Its Regional Cultural Committee made much a year ago of the deportation of Haitians from the Dominican Republic calling it a “gross denial” of the basic human rights of Haitian-Dominicans. And Caricom is supporting the African Caribbean Reparation Movement, as well it should.

But what Indians remember most about Caribbean leadership is hardly flattering. During the dark days of the PNC era, Forbes Burnham enjoyed a cosy relationship with the region’s politicians in what appeared to be pure racial solidarity. They all looked the other way as he destroyed our country.

Notwithstanding that Prime Minister Burnham was instrumental in bringing Caricom to fruition, regional leadership gains no credibility when it cherry picks the issues it will support especially when these appear to underline prejudiced views.

Caricom has done nothing to date to allay perceptions and fears of its own discrimination and if they plan to be truly representative, the organisation has to begin to look beyond the majority population of the region and become more ethnically and culturally inclusive with its practices and policies.

Indian Caribbean people have contributed greatly to the region’s progress in cultural, social, political and economic matters.

Caricom must recognise these contributions officially and ensure that the Indian presence is given its rightful place as part of Caribbean nationhood.