05 December 2009

Cayman Islands Contemplates Political Future

Will Independence ever be the answer?
Cayman Net News, Cayman Islands
1st December 2009

Last week’s referendum result in St Vincent and the Grenadines, when the country’s voters decisively rejected a move to adopt a new constitution removing the Queen as head of state and abandoning the UK’s Privy Council in favour of the Caribbean Court of Justice, is unusual in that it appears to go against the flow of regional desires to sever the last bastions of colonial ties.

The issue of independence for the Cayman Islands is one that has been increasingly mooted in recent months, no doubt as a result of Britain’s intransigence in relation to borrowing our way out of financial failure and our economic model generally.

Although the question of independence has not yet been raised with any great fervour, there are people of influence in these islands who support -- at times not so secretly -- the notion and who accordingly promote and support those politicians who may be similarly inclined.
And, granted, we have surely been given cause to re-examine the benefits of our historical ties to Britain in the light of the various events that have taken place during the last couple of years.

However, the prospect of independence has never been a major factor in our political landscape, unlike other British Overseas Territories in the region, notably, Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands, where it has formed from time to time a significant election issue.

Once its former Caribbean colonies began to achieve independence in 1962, Britain’s policy has been to withdraw from individual security, but not economic commitments, to the Commonwealth Caribbean. British interests in the region have been reduced mainly to trade, investment, and limited economic and security assistance.

What arguments are likely to be advanced in favour of independence for the Cayman Islands? One could certainly say that we would not be completely on our own. As a full member of the Commonwealth, we could expect some financial aid in case of need from the larger countries.

But then, who is to say that we will benefit anyway if we remain under British rule, given the independent spirit the Caymanians in dealing with their economic and social affairs, for example, in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. Even Grenada, which is a fully independent nation, got more hurricane relief aid from Britain than Cayman.

Some five years ago – shortly before Ivan struck, in fact – there was something of a fuss when a delegation from Cayman Islands non-governmental organisations (NGOs) addressed the United Nations Special Committee of 24 (C24) on Decolonisation in New York and claimed that there had been “misleading representations” by the British Government dating back to the 1960s regarding its obligations under various UN resolutions dealing with self-determination.

Although the most recent pronouncement by the C24 concerning the Cayman Islands is somewhat anodyne – it merely notes the finalisation of the new constitution and recommends that participate in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) as a new associate member – it would seem from a contemporaneous statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the C24 may well adopt a more active approach in promoting independence for all 16 remaining non-self-governing territories. In fact, Mr Ban said that the United Nations must step up its decolonisation efforts.

Decolonisation “is an unfinished process that has been with the international community for too long,” he said.

In the last two years of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, Mr Ban called for the acceleration of the UN’s work to “achieve concrete results.” He told the C24 to continue its support of the “legitimate aspirations of the people of non-self-governing territories so they can exercise their right to self-determination.”

So far as we know, Britain will never force us to become independent but the views, activities and resources of world bodies such as the C24 will certainly lend support to any local interests that wish to take up such a cause.

On February 4, 1960, former British Prime Minister and consummate politician of his era, Harold Macmillan, in speaking about the future of Africa, coined the memorable phrase: “The wind of change is blowing through the Continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.”

At that time, the use of this simple metaphor in relation to the turmoil of African affairs was most apt and may still prove to be relevant to an increasing acceptance of the notion of independence for the Cayman Islands.

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