chapter  3
22 Pages

The dependency economist as grassroots politician in the Caribbean

ByIvor Oxaal

Lying a few miles from Latin America, with the hills of Eastern Venezuela visible across the placid Gulf of Paria, is the island of Trinidad. With one million inhabitants it is the major industrial and commercial centre of the islands comprising the Lesser Antilles. Sighted, named and claimed for the Spanish by Columbus on his third voyage, this minor conquest on the fringe of the continent remained undeveloped for centuries. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, however, a more vigorous breed of French Creole planters and their slaves were admitted who opened new land to cultivation and established a picturesque social ascendancy with their balls, fétes and carnival. In the early nineteenth century the island passed over to the British who instituted Crown Colony rule and greatly expanded the production of slave-grown sugar. With the abolition of slavery in the 1830s the resulting labour shortage on the plantations was resolved by the importation of thousands of indentured labourers from India, thus establishing the island as a conspicuous example of one of those makeshift social and cultural conglomerates which the British Empire created, as needed, throughout the world in the heyday of European direct rule.