9 The Road To Independence

“Independence” by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images
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As we discussed in the last chapter, the strikes, protests and uprisings were the birthplace of unions. From these unions would rise the independence movements of a people no longer willing to accept:

  • A substandard way of life.
  • No longer willing to be violently repressed and oppressed.
  • No longer willing to swallow the abuse and denigration of the foreigners bleeding their countries dry.

Enough is enough!

Strikes in British Territories

All of the strikes and protests as well as the violent suppression of said movements, in the 1930s, caused Britain to set up the West India Royal Commission in 1938. Those of the commission traveled throughout the kingdoms Caribbean domain and reported shocking finds. So shocking that politicians debated whether to release its contents to the public. The absolutely atrocious conditions of living, the state of health and housing of the people was not something they wanted in the open, yet, the people were already aware of the investigation and the publishing of no results would cause an even greater issue. When it was at last published in its “entirety”, in 1945, it failed to mention the conditions in which the women in these areas found themselves in. The Coolies faced such harsh condition as well as discrimination that there was at one point talk of sending them back home, yet, of this nothing would come. However, no matter the debate or proposed solution, the fact still remained that the Indians, in particular, were living a depressive life, uneducated and in filthy conditions as well as being starved. The reports given by those of the commission had finally opened the eyes of the mainland government as to the reason for all of the highly justified unrest! Yet, these discoveries were made at the start of World War II…

“BE040876” by Tullio Saba, Public Domain Mark 1.0.

World War II

Britain entered World War II in September of 1939 and would be left in ruins by its end. Yet, in terms of the unrest taking place in the Caribbean, the war did not stop the labor strikes. At the height of the war, in 1944, Barbadians were cruelly aware of the disparities they were experiencing. Those who had left for the US to take up working in war factories or in other capacities were writing back about earning $5 a day when those at home could count themselves blessed to earn $1 a day. However, the better pay in the US did not help to mask or allow them to lay aside the discrimination and segregation lifestyle that awaited them; particularly in the American south. Despite the good pay, many would willingly go back home towards the end of 1944.

What is going on in the US at this time?

World War II & The Caribbean

The Caribbean became a participant in the war without the chance of declaring neutrality. As the source of oil and other resources, Germany was quick to send its U-boats to cut off the Allies from their supplies. To worsen matters, the Dutch fell to Hitler in 1940 and forces from Jamaica as well as Martinique were quickly dispatched to Aruba and Curaçao to keep the Dutch colonies out of German hands. It was imperative to avoid this from happening but there was also the fact that Aruba held the refinery for Venezuelan oil and could not fall into enemy hands.

Although officially neutral, the US would pick a side and be involved in the war from the start. The US would strike a deal with England in 1940 for the 90 year, rent free, rights to build bases on British held territories in exchange for 50 destroyer warships. This is not to say those on the selected Caribbean islands were amiable or amicable to those arriving to do establish the bases. For example, the establishment of the Chaguaramas base in Trinidad upset the locals who had once freely swam from the beaches which the US  had commandeered. People had also lived in the surrounding areas and were forcibly moved to make way for the bases perimeter. Shortly thereafter, the situation was aggravated by the installation of an Air force! The US, it seemed, had overtaken the island and Americans were a dime a dozen.

Americans/ “Yankees” & Trinidad

As is common with the arrival of any fresh blood to an area, the US brought actual and visual wealth with them to Trinidad. Despite the islands oil reserves it had long been poverty riddled and the arrival of Americans gave the poor a view of unimaginable wealth. In response, the locals would take jobs on base, as entertainers for example, or decided it was a good idea to emigrate to the States. With the money these soldiers flashed to the cash strapped natives, the US became the land of plenty. Then there were the locals that absolutely hated the “Yankees”! They noticed the soldiers had money, the women and the famous “rum-and-cokes”. So infamous became the drink that songs were written of its glory! However, this too would pose a problem as the original song, with a sample from Lionel Belasco and sung to a calypso beat by Lord Invader, would be stolen and rebranded as that of another artist; leading to a very lengthy court battle. It would later become a top 10 hit in the US with the clean version being sung by the Andrews Sisters.

“Drapeau France Libre Courseulles Normandie” by Jebulon, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

World War II & The Fall of France

As with the fall of the Dutch, when France fell to Hitler the Allies grew concerned for its Caribbean holdings. However, France had a naval ship stationed off the coast of Martinique, having been sent to quell the island’s unrest, and with a load of gold sent to the island for safe keeping, Martinique would be placed under the control of Marshal Pétain’s Vichy. He would rule for Free France until 1944.

The US, as neutrally involved as ever, attempted to avoid the transfer of colonial fathers over Caribbean islands by sending ships of provisions to those who complied. However, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the US was no longer neutral! Entering the war and the Caribbean, the US would take over control of Curaçao and fight to keep other colonies from trading with French territories. The US would also take over Suriname for its bauxite mines, which were an integral part in the production of aluminum. For the French territories, US and Allied fears were assuaged when the Free France momentum swept through its Caribbean holdings. The movement, would not be well received by the British whose colony, Dominica, became the recipient of refugees from the neighboring French islands.

“Caribbean general map” by Kmusser, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

They were well aware of Dominica’s French past and the island itself was incapable of handling the mass migration and sought to remove them from the island. The scarcity of food and supplies  in Dominica, however, were no different than on the French islands from which they came as only a privileged few were allowed to partake it what little could be scrounged up.

What are the French territories?
“Churchill CCathedral H 14250” by Horton (Capt) – War Office official photographer, This work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.

World War II & The British

Similar to the Cubans and their fear of a race war, because of Haitian refugees, the British were afraid of those escaping from German controlled or Axis controlled lands. They feared that not all were escaping the wars cruelties but that they were actually spies and to that end any who arrived with German or Austrian passport were put into internment camps. This, however, did not mean that a mass migration of refugees made there way to the Caribbean. Quite the contrary, as many of the refugees made for the US or made attempts to reach Cuba and the D.R. who also welcomed Jewish refugees; Trujillo did so make “amends” for the slaughter of Haitians as well as to further whiten the country.

At wars end, the British mainland laid in ruins, was virtually bankrupt, and maintained its rationing procedures. They had also lost their title of world power as none were left in doubt as to who the new world power was… the US.

World War II: Europe & The US

The US, at wars end, emerged victorious and as the all important factor leading to European victories over Hitler. As for their stakes in the Caribbean, with companies such as United Fruit, the US and its sugar as well as banana plantations now held power while European countries had to step back and lick their wounds. This is not to say that Europe wasn’t uneasy at the power shift. European imperialism was at an end and that of the US was rising as were the independence movements within the West Indies.

Britain’s fall from grace was cemented with its loss of India in 1947 and followed with that of Ghana in 1957; much to the interest of avid Caribbean watchers. The wars aftermath, however, treated the Caribbean very well as many flocked to Britain to help their rebuilding efforts. The jobs, however, came with poverty, discrimination and more of what they experienced back home. This fueled the budding independence movement within those who went seeking to help their mother country; despite their abuse and mistreatment. With all of these tensions came an increase in national identity and the question as to what being a Barbadian, for example, meant. They began to understand that they may have crossed the pond but home would always be in the Caribbean and everyone would ensure they remembered that.

West Indians in the UK

Those who moved to the UK for the rebuilding efforts were not the first West Indians to make the crossing. Those who previously migrated did so, often times, seeking  education as only rudimentary education was available on the islands. An example of this would be former prime minister of Trinidad Eric Williams, whose PhD tackled the debate of capitalism and slavery. He brought up the idea of its correlation and that there were various reasons for abolition, yet, his theories were not well received as scholars saw no point in studying the Caribbean.

Far from disheartened, Williams’ would argue that the British Industrial Revolution was a product of Caribbean slavery  and that the abolishment of the practice was an economic evolution rather than any sense of humanity or morals. From Jamaica, came the British educated, Norman Manley, his unionizing relative Alexander Bustamante and in Barbados there was Grantley Adams.

It would be educated minds such as these, who would bring up the discussion of forming a federation which would come to actual fruition in 1958, the West Indies Federation, without Guiana, British Honduras (Belize), the Bahamas, and the British Virgin Islands; Grantley Adams would be named prime minister.

“United Kingdom Flag Fingerprint” Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.


Grantley Adams made great strides to further the federation, yet, with Jamaica pulling out and the loss of faith in it by other participating nations, the federation ended in May of 1962. On August 6th, 1962, Jamaica won its independence as well as membership into the Commonwealth with Alexander Bustamante as the leader. On the 31st, Trinidad won its independence and was followed by Barbados on November 30th, 1966 with Errol Barrow as leader. The celebrations following each independence were massive and herald the start of a new era! The majority of Britain’s remaining territories were also granted independence.

  • The Bahamas in 1973
  • Grenada in 1974
  • Dominica in 1978
  • St. Lucia & St. Vincent in 1979
  • Antigua & Barbuda in 1981

Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, as well as the Turks and Caicos remained dependents of Britain. Yet, there still remains 3 British territories to discuss…

Independence:  St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla

St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla had a difficult independence movement in comparison to those previously mentioned. Britain had long linked the islands who were geographically far apart and even separated by the French island of  St. Barts as well as St. Martin. Once the animosity and geographical issues were dealt with, St. Kitts and Nevis were granted independence in 1983 with Anguilla remaining an overseas territory of Britain.

All of the Caribbean countries would join together and form CARICOM by 1973 , the Caribbean Community, to handle trade deals and problems that may present themselves. For British Honduras and Guiana, independence would be fraught with disputes and strife as well as US interventions.

“V.l.n.r. Minister van Guyana Burnhan , Minister van Engeland Stewart en Irribare, Bestanddeelnr 919-2068” by Anefo, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Independence: Guiana

As Guiana had not joined the federation the ensuing decades would see the territory and its people suffer much as it had previously. After the creation of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), by a Indian dentist and a black lawyer, the party would get involved in the 1953 election. Winning a shocking majority of the seats in government the British nullified the constitution under which they had been elected. With Indian dentist Cheddi Jagan being labeled as a communist the US feared if he were to become prime minister the territory would align themselves with the USSR; an intolerable circumstance. As it became clear that the PPP would be pushing for pro-laborer reforms throughout the British colonies, Britain agreed with the US and feared a possible Soviet connection. Long after the removal of PPP officials the rumor mill was hard at work

“Cheddi Jagan Anefo” by Unknown author, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

It was not long after this that the PPP split along racial lines with, black lawyer, Forbes Burnham forming the People’s National Congress in 1957. With fears of communism running high, Britain would prop up Burnham and put him in office in 1964. The fears of Britain and the US finally quelled and the territory itself in ruins, independence was granted in 1966.

The two powers were, however, quite wrong about Burnham and soon realized this as he nationalized cane fields, bauxite mines, established relations with the USSR and allowed an embargoed Cuba to refuel its planes as they traveled to Angola’s aid in the 1960s war. During this time, the people suffered greatly as the country deteriorated. It was not until Jagan’s appointment to office in 1992 that some semblance of order would be restored; Jagan would die in office in 1997.

“INF 10-67-9” by The National Archives UK, No known copyright restrictions.

Independence: British Honduras (Belize)

Rather than a geographical or racial divide, British Honduras, renamed Belize in 1973, had problems achieving independence due to Guatemala. Guatemala continuously laid claim to the territory under a 1859 treaty and the British saw fit to grant independence rather than to continue having the argument. When talk of this began, Belize leaders were quick to realize a need for speed or risk Guatemala seizing the opportunity. With the guidance of George Price, the seminary trained prime minister of Honduras, Belize was given home rule by Britain in 1964. With Price at the helm, Belize was steered into independence in 1981 with the promise of aid from the US should Guatemala question or threaten Belize sovereignty. As no agreement was reached prior to independence, the debate as to Guatemalan claim to the country remains till this day and a topic of great contention.

“Central America” by Ryan Henderson, licensed under a creative commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
“Guatemala Flag Fingerprint” Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

Central America & the US

United Fruit had established itself in the Caribbean and with its plantations along the coast of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, the corporation also had a vested interest in Central America. With there banana plantations these countries were all seen as easily controllable by corporations such as United Fruit. What ever was built or produced, however, did not go to the locals as those hired to do the work were foreigners and the infrastructures built were for the corporations use.

As in the Caribbean, the US ruled over these countries through the corporations and with the onset of the Cold War, their level of control would strengthen. By the end of the war, only one country would emerge relatively intact and that would be Costa Rica; although this did not mean they were left untouched. The harsh realities of US control is identifiable in these countries, yet, never as much as in Guatemala and Nicaragua. These nations saw US interference lead to several dictatorships and waves of blood. In Guatemala, when pro-US dictator Jorge Ubico was democratically ousted, the US made immediate moves to overthrow the president who threatened their control. With president Eisenhower’s blessing,  as well as that of other key figures who were all connected to United Fruit, a new president was installed; Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas took power in July of 1954. Yet, not even a pro-US president could keep United Fruit in power in Guatemala.

“Nicaragua Flag Fingerprint” Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

With an anti-trust lawsuit launched against United Fruit, all of its Guatemala property would be lost by 1970. However, this did not mean a return to a stable government and life for the locals as the country went even deeper into a civil war; from 1960-1996. Of course, the US, along with the CIA, was heavily involved in the countries affairs throughout the civil war which would see tens of thousands dead. The CIA would participate by establishing the CIA School of the Americas, in which students would be trained in the gruesome techniques of torture and forming of killer units. Under the lie of preparing the people to fight against communism, the school produced dictators and deadly military personal by the dozen and continues to do so; although the school now bears the name Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC).

In Nicaragua, the US did what it had done on the island of Hispaniola and trained up a national guard that would fill in the gap left by the US when they left. Out of this national guard would rise Anastasio Somoza García, who took power in 1937, the country’s 40 year dictator. Ruling with an iron fist, backing of the national guard, and US training the Somoza family were untouchable and staunch allies of the US. Yet, this would change after an earthquake leveled the capital of Managua and the Somoza family failed to aid the people.

“Daniel Ortega President” Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

Once the people realized that no help would be coming, opposition would take the form of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) or the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas would wrestle control from the Somoza family as then president Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled to Miami; in 1979.

There for the people and redistribution of wealth meant the US would once again intervene. Newly elected president Ronald Reagan, in 1981, would make it his business to takeout the Sandinistas and gave $20 million to the CIA to make it happen. Congress would intervene in 1985 and cut the finds given to the program. THis action would lead to the scandal known as the Iran-Contra affair. The forces that Regan and the CIA had been training up to take out the Sandinistas, the Contras, were to continue receiving their training and US aid , yet, it would be paid for with funds from a deal made with Iran. Iran would pay for weapons and the release of hostages and the money paid would be used to support the Contras. The Sandinistas would retain power until 1990 when Violeta Chamorro won the elections, with US backing, and ushered in the end of the civil war.

In 2007, however, Sandinista Daniel Ortega would once more take power and continues to rule the country.

“Frantz Fanon – فرانز فانون” by Mohamed Gaber, licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Independence: French Territories

Independence for French colonies would be different than those of Britain. The colonies talk of independence would be mixed with questions of nationalism, Pan-Africanism, anti-colonialism, or international Negritude as posed by Martiniquan Frantz Fanon. Fanon would be educated in Lyon, France following his service on the part of Free France in 1943.

As opposed to Britain, France gave its colonies liberties and certain levels of autonomy as they came to the capital for the rebuilding efforts. Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guiana would be made départements of France rather than satellite states in 1946; with Martinique having citizenship since 1848. These islands would be comparable in status Paris or Gironde.

In terms of their other colonies, France would struggle to maintain the status quo as they called for independence. From Algeria to Indochina to Madagascar, the colonial system would remain intact.

“Suriname Flag Fingerprint” Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

Independence: the Netherlands & the US

Following a decolonization pattern of France and England combined, the Netherlands made their colonies part of the kingdom but awarded them autonomy. Suriname and its Caribbean islands were soon removed from the UN list of non-self governing countries.

“Puerto Rico Flag Fingerprint” Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

The US would make Puerto Rico a commonwealth in 1952 and would put in play “Operation Bootstrap” to boost the islands’ economy. Corporations soon made their way to the island’s shores as word of tax-breaks and rebuilding of dilapidated infrastructures were promised. With a rise in industrialization and tourism, the country’s agricultural economy disappeared as did its dependence on the price of sugar in the sugarcane markets. This made Puerto Rico dependent on the US and led to the country’s current economic circumstance; bankruptcy.

Throughout this period, an independence movement would be gaining momentum in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Cuba. This one would draw international viewers and enrage those opponents of communism.

What battle is brewing? What will its outcome be? 

  • Next Topic- The Cold War in the Tropics 
  • Week 12: Paper #3 Due


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Licensed by Mahalia Méhu under a Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 4.0 International License.


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