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Volume 55 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: THE CARIBBEAN AND THE GUIANAS (except Cuba)


ANTHONY P. MAINGOT, Professor of Sociology, Florida International University


THE DOMINANT FEATURES of the literature on Caribbean government and politics during this period were its presentism, its insularity, and the absence of all-inclusive or ontological paradigms. This last feature is new; it reflects the passing of ideology evident elsewhere in the world. The first two features, presentism and insularity, are not. As in the past, a small part of the literature reflects the contemporary political concerns of subregions of the area, while the other, much larger, part is concerned with the contemporary politics of individual islands. Judging from recent scholarship, the first generation since independence - which the late Gordon K. Lewis calls the "third seminal period" after Discovery and Emancipation - has continued the scholarly insularism so often attributed to the colonial atomization of the Caribbean. And this, let it be said, at a time when governments are engaging in constant talks and efforts at various forms of regional association. Whether it be widening and deepening CARICOM, joining NAFTA, or creating the Association of Caribbean States, Caribbean leaders have been actively searching for ways to overcome the economic disadvantages of smallness in an age of regional geoeconomics. This political activity has been several paces ahead of the scholarship.

In addition to the insular bias in the analysis of politics, the preference for formal institutional analysis continues. Comparative studies of political cultures and the dynamics resulting from different social structures, or political studies of greater historical depth, continue to be few. Exceptions to the latter assertion are works by members of the British Society for Caribbean Studies, such as Paul Sutton's Politics in the Commonwealth Caribbean (item bi 93005330) which reflects the high quality of their scholarship, and by the Fundación Cultural Dominicana and its president, Bernardo Vega. The Fundación specializes in primary research in Dominican Republic-US and Dominican Republic-Haiti topics and has recently been publishing key documents in US-Caribbean diplomatic history. This still leaves major research voids in critical areas of Caribbean political life. Absent, for instance, are studies of the political influence of the various private sectors, whether those formally so described, in commerce and agriculture, or the all-important informal sector. The nature and role of this informal sector, handled mostly by marketing women who have a Caribbean-wide reach, have yet to be studied. Also awaiting analysis is the political role of international criminal cartels and the corruption they spawn. What, for instance, is the political role of the vast amounts of money flowing through the Caribbean and seeking security in one of the many regional offshore tax havens? The fact is that the Caribbean has entered into a new phase of development which emphasizes the private sector, the service sector, and export-driven growth, with very few academic studies to provide the policymakers with intellectual support and guidance.

The closest thing to a comparative analysis of the region's politics continues to be the edited book, by now a hallowed Caribbean genre. Colin Clarke's Society and politics in the Caribbean (item bi 93019878) and Anthony Payne and Paul Sutton's The contours of modern Caribbean politics (item bi 94001541) are outstanding examples of this approach: bring together a fine group of scholars, acknowledged experts in their particular areas; assign them the study of specific subregions of the area; let a good summary introduction pull the various strands into an intelligible whole. Because Clarke, Payne, and Sutton have done all this so well, their books will have an enduring shelf life. And yet, as valuable as these readers are, their division of the region by type of political system reflects the persistent bias towards institutional political analysis rather than the examination of political cultures.

Less valuable but also noteworthy in this genre is Caribbean visions (item bi 93019856), a collection of 10 presidential speeches of the Caribbean Studies Association, the premier gathering of scholars working on the Caribbean. The volume's value is reduced by the absence of a good analytical introduction or conclusion.

Evidence that official political enquiry in the Caribbean has outpaced formal scholarship is the Report of the Stone Committee (item bi 93019876), produced by the late Carl Stone of Jamaica. As chairperson of a government-appointed committee with relatively narrow terms of reference - to study the performace of Jamaica's parliament - Stone led his committee into a comparison of parliamentary and presidential executive systems. Given the variety of systems existent in the region, and given the scholarly trend to associate political with economic changes, this certainly is an area waiting for some serious comparative analysis.

Given this presentist and insular concern, it is perhaps predictable that Haiti would receive the greatest attention from both Haitian and foreign writers. The partisan nature of this literature is such, however, that students would do well to follow the sage advice of studying the historian before you study his or her history.


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