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Globalisation is as old as Colonialism
by Ras Tyehimba
May 30, 2006
The term 'globalisation' has its origins in the latter half of the 20th century, referring to, in a very general sense, the movement of the world's nations towards some sort of global village, characterized by advanced technology, and rapidly expanding economic and political interdependence. However, for the Caribbean, globalisation is nothing new (Brown, 2002; Sankatsing; Watson, 2003; Klak, 1998, Boodhoo, 2002; Singh, 2002, Girvan, 1999; Pantin, 2001; Sylvester, 2002). Despite the technology, and other unprecedented aspects of the present phase of 'globalisation', it is a process that can be traced to Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World in the latter 15th century and the subsequent 500 plus years of European conquest, colonization and exploitation of the Caribbean region. From a Caribbean perspective, the essential nature of globalisation translates into a continuation of Euro-American political, economic, intellectual and cultural imposition on the region, albeit more effectively via modern technology, and the activities of multinational corporations and international organizations such as the WTO, IMF and the World Bank. Despite the seemingly overwhelming global forces, these immense challenges do not negate the opportunities available for the Caribbean to navigate the turbulent geo-political economy to bring benefit to the region.
According to Norman Girvan, the early impact of globalisation on the Caribbean was the extermination of the majority of the indigenous population, mercantilism, slavery, the plantation system, and centuries of rivalry and wars among the colonial powers. He implicates these factors as part of a legacy of political and linguistic fragmentation that continues to be a obstacle to regional integration. This legacy, however, not only impedes regional cooperation, but stifles the internal development of Caribbean states.
During the period of colonial rule, the institutions and the socio-economic arrangements were constructed to maintain the status quo of European domination that allowed for exploitation of the enslaved (and indentured) labour force towards maximum extraction of natural resources, in most cases sugar. The struggle for Independence was intimately linked to hopes of ending the centuries long pattern of subjugation, whereby the Caribbean as sovereign nations, could take control of its own social, political and economic destiny. With Independence achieved, however, within the geopolitical climate of the Cold War, the Caribbean turned to the world's ex-colonial powers for financial, technical and infrastructural assistance, and they were only to happy to comply, thus maintaining the relationships of dependency and exploitation. Thus, these newly formed states remained bound to the values, institutions, paradigms, and economic and political dictates of their former colonial rulers under the guise of 'modernization' and 'development' and Multi-National Corporations replaced the plantation as the mechanism of exploitation.
In addition, there has been, "a continuing trend on the part of the developed countries to move decisions away from democratic forums such as the UN and to locate decision-making functions in institutions such as the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank- which are under the control of developed countries (Benn, 2000)." For instance, the debt crisis of the 1970's brought about by the world recession forced some countries of the Caribbean to turn to the IMF and the World Bank to borrow money that came with neo-liberalist conditionalities attached. In Jamaica, in the 1970's Manley's socialist-democratic regime after being critical of the US and the IMF was forced to go cap in hand to the IMF after Washington engineered economic and social destabilization which rocked the country (Chin, 1997).
The 'Banana Wars' is another prime example that underscored the nature of the relationship between Transnational Corporations, International Organisations, and the United States. Chiquita, a large Transnational Corporation with extensive banana plantations in Central and South America, and a contributor to campaign funds of both the Democratic and Republican parties, pressured the US to take action via the WTO against the EU's preferential treatment accorded to Caribbean banana producers (Girvan, 1999). The WTO, to which the US is the largest financial contributor, ruled in favor of the US. Given that banana is the main export of the small eastern Caribbean states who cannot compete with Chiquita's large plantations that reap not only bananas but economies of scale, it is hard not to draw the conclusion that the WTO, like the IMF and World Bank, acts to preserve the interests of powerful nations and their homegrown Multi-National Corporations.