Sun, Fun and a Rum Deal: Perspectives on Development in the Commonwealth Caribbean

By Potter, Robert B.; Lloyd-Evans, Sally | Focus, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Sun, Fun and a Rum Deal: Perspectives on Development in the Commonwealth Caribbean


Potter, Robert B., Lloyd-Evans, Sally, Focus


European and North American perceptions of the Caribbean Sea and its many islands seem to revolve around the "sun, fun and rum" equation at best, or "sand, sea and sex" at worst. This is not surprising given the promotion of the Caribbean as a major holiday destination by tour operators, the media, international agencies and national governments alike. Such an image is reinforced by advertisements and publication of a quarterly lifestyle magazine under the title Caribbean World, which provides articles on these "seductive" islands, the visits of the rich and famous, and fashion tips for the beach.

Other views of the region are dominated by images of the exotic, and as geographer David Lowenthal stressed in his book West Indian Societies (1972), there is the false homogenization which is born of a unified cricket team, and a sea parading as a landmass. The vibrant culture of the Caribbean, as portrayed through its music, evokes images of a carefree, fun-loving society, but the reality is somewhat different. Beneath a contemporary surface shaped by the dictates of international tourism, the realities of political struggle, oppression and the daily round of poverty are all too clear to see.

Although the wider Caribbean region is home to 35 million residents, it is also the vacation playground for over eight million North American and European tourists a year, accounting for an estimated three percent of total world tourism. The majority of tourists are attracted by the promise of a brief visit to paradise, where their every need will be catered to in secluded luxury resorts. Only a minority of visitors venture out of this contrived environment to observe the reality of the lives of the people who serve them rum punch with a smile. Fewer still are witness to the underlying cultural, economic and societal complexities which make each island unique in detail, while at the same time sharing many common features and challenges. The Caribbean is seen by many as lacking its own unique cultural identity, and as not possessing a coherent self-image. A parallel economic view suggests that the Caribbean should become a series of service stations for tourism, export processing, and offshore (tax-avoiding) banking.

The Caribbean region has always been highly fractionated and is culturally pluralistic, home to many ethnic and cultural groups (see box, "Caribbean History in Brief"). This diversity belies the common heritage that colonial development ira, posed, making the present-day Caribbean a European creation. According to the acclaimed Trinidad writer V.S. Naipaul, the Caribbean can be described as Europe's "Other Sea," the Mediterranean of the New World. Indeed, the Caribbean was one of the regions which economist Andre Gunder Frank specifically cited in outlining his ideas on dependency theory, in which he argued that the longer a developing country was part of the European economic system, the more underdeveloped it would become. From a cultural point of view, the writer C.L.R. James made a similar point when he wrote of a Caribbean still in the process of being born.

Colonial cultures tend to be hybrid-syncretic, that is, admixtures of diverse elements. This is the result of centuries of cultural penetration, control and manipulation by outsiders. In the Caribbean, these outside-imposed forces were extreme and resulted in a high level of westernization, evident today in the areas of cricket, literature, and ideology. Politically, for the majority of the islands in the decades since gaining independence from their European rulers, governments have generally been led by center-right political parties. in this respect, the islands can be seen as capitalist states, peripheral to the US/European capitalist core. Culturally, though, the Caribbean is a product of an amazingly complex mixture of European, African, Asian and American influences, representing one of the true socio-cultural melting pots of the world.

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