VOICE FOR AN INDEPENDENT MONTSERRAT
THE OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE CARIBBEAN PAN-AFRICAN MOVEMENT
As the new year approaches, it is time for Montserratians to reflect on our past, assess our present state and decide how we want to shape our future. In this year- end issue, we present a brief recent history of Montserrat by highlighting important events and the people who shaped those events.
As we chart our history from the 1940s to the present what emerges is a picture with lots of movement but very little change. Instead of taking more political and economic control of our lives we seem intent on giving it to others. We remain a colony, dependent on the british and recent actions indicate our determination to become more so.
Although emancipated 158 years ago, Montserrat still greatly reflects its legacy of slavery. Most of our people live in small villages close to the estates and plantations where our fore-parents gave their life's blood to create riches for their masters.
Since emancipation, these descendants of slaves, now classified by some, as poor, working-class "peasants," were governed by british civil servants and by an elite merchant/planter class (plantocracy) which included such titles as Edgecombe, Griffin, Mercer, Wall Osborne, Howes, Shand, Graham.
This elite group made all decisions concerning the people's welfare and the system created to govern us was simply an extension of the slave and master system that existed during slavery days.
There was no change in the makeup of the legislative council until Robert (Marse Bob) Griffith broke the barrier in 1943 and became the first recognized descendant of the slavery system to be a member.
In 1946, after great resistance by the merchants and landowners, R.W. Griffith, first President of the Montserrat Trade & Labour Union, got the organisation registered to improve the lot of the labourer.
The poor were made aware of the oppressive conditions under which they lived and had no problems identifying the group that benefitted and perpetuated the system. Regionally, these issues were constantly in the forefront and the strident tones of Garveyism could be heard in the speeches of Marse Bob, and others in the land who championed the rights of the poor.
In 1951 when W.H. Bramble became a full functioning member of the union, the ground work had been well laid and the minds of the masses well prepared. They knew who their enemy was.
The status quo held until 1952 when every man and woman over the age of twenty-one became eligible to vote.
In that year, the Honourable William H. Bramble and his Montserrat Labour Party with four other descendants of slaves won all five seats and became the council members. During the campaign, Mr. Bramble told the people:-
Keeping true to his promise to champion the cause of the poor, W.H. Bramble forced legislation to be written and passed in 1953 which freed many of our present-day senior citizens and most of the emigrants who went to Britain in the late 50s and early 60s from the plantations and estates to which they were tied since "emancipation" in 1834.
Many people under the age of forty can recall in detail and with resentment the amount of work they had to do to ensure that their parents satisfied some estate owner or overseer by working a certain amount of tass each day.
Much if not all of this work was done at the expense of their education because they could not go to school and plough, hoe, weed, harvest and mind stock at the same time. In a response to his political opponent, Mr. Eric Kelsick in 1957, Mr. Bramble said:-
The Labour Party set about doing what it could within the narrow limits that bound it having inherited:-
a political system that was not set up to govern in the best interest of the populace;
a social system with masses of uneducated people who were christianized by zealous proselytes with superiority complexes;
a largely poor and landless people living on the fringes of old estates sharing a common family plot that was big enough for only one or two people one hundred and fifty years ago;
an education system that catered to the elite of the society; an elite with a MASSA mentality who still looked upon the masses as theirs to command;
an industrial world that drained our most energetic and imaginative people.
All constitutional powers lay in the hands of the british government and final say so on any given decision was in the hands of the Commissioner and british civil servants in key positions.
In his first speech to the new council the territorial governor informed them that their position was one of "stimulation and advice".
He warned that fully responsible government could not exist where a country depended on direct grants from outside in order to maintain its public services.
However, the Labour Party recognized that its position at the top lay in the hands of the labourers of the land and continually sought ways to improve the lot of the labourer.
The labour movement continued to grow and the labourer began to get proper political representation with W.H. Bramble as leader of the Labour Party and President of the M'rat Trade & Labour Union.
Moves were made by the merchant/ - planters to regain power but the masses knew who their enemy was and their futile efforts at representation were consistently rejected.
In the last years of the Labour Party administration, the merchant class began to make inroads into the party and seemed to be in a position to take back control of the country and run things once again in their own interest.
In a bitter struggle that effectively split the country in two, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) under the leadership of P. Austin Bramble, took power from the Labour Party and the Honourable William H. Bramble in 1970.
A lucrative real estate and building industry was inherited by the new admin- istration through which the PDP was able to satisfy the two main sectors of the society. The merchant class was getting richer. New members from the poor entered the "club", through their willingness to sell land and the labourers were being employed. As a result, the early years of the administration passed quietly.
The British did their part by trickling down small amounts of Grant-ing-Aid mainly for the transportation infrastructure.
In 1973 the PDP administration called a snap election to stop the rising popularity of Dr. J.A.G. Irish who reintroduced Montserratians to their culture and AFRICAN heritage.
Using the theme of stopping the spread of racism in Montserrat, the PDP government went to the polls after a three-week election campaign and with little opposition retained control of the government of Montserrat.
Although PDP maintained control of government, its popularity was eroded by its stand against the imagined spread of racism.
During this period many of the smaller islands in the region had moved or were moving into Associated Statehood which was then the pre-requisite for independence.
The PDP government did not view independence as a viable option and therefore did not follow the other Eastern Caribbean states when they took advantage of the option to get the british out of control of their affairs.
P.Austin Bramble made a Unilateral Decision to opt out of the Associated Statehood option. This must be recorded as one of the most grevious decisions made by a Chief Minister for an impact on an entire people without any consultation or discussion with those on whom the decision impacted.
Given all that the colonial system has gotten away with over its long history one has to also query whether these unilateral agreements made between Chief Ministers and the british government/FCO have any binding legal standing.
With the colonial system still very much alive and functioning in the society, the PDP government took steps to insure that what was up till then an education system that catered to the minority, would become accessible to all school goers.
Legislation was passed making secondary education free and available to all children. PDP, like the Labour Party before, recognized that support from the masses was the key to staying at the top.
Early in 1975 there was a major split in the PDP party and two of the administration's most energetic members, John Osborne and John Dublin, left the party. Osborne was fired and Dublin resigned in sympathy.
By-elections were held and mediocre candidates won seats on PDP's strength which kept the administration in power.
The last years of the PDP administration were extremely difficult. The oil embargo of OPEC which started in 1973 had now become for the Western Hemisphere an energy crisis. The economy of the industrial nations took a downturn and a severe recession hit the economic giants.
Trickle-down Grant-ing-Aid had now dried up and Montserrat began to feel hard times.
The PDP party had now become P.A. Bramble and brilliant as he was, he alone could not handle a system that needed at least four energetic and imaginative heads to govern effectively in the best interest of the masses.
The education system which PDP had expanded did not plan properly for the large influx of students at the secondary level.
There was no expansion of the classrooms and no visible plan for incorporating new teachers.
There was no recognition by the education administration that the social attitude of many teachers still catered to the MASSA mentality.
Who you were still determined how you would be treated by the system.
Returning students from regional universities began to show up in the classrooms as teachers even though they lacked teacher-training and the ardent desire to be teachers.
University education became a stepping stone into the elite and the attitude of many of the university-trained and told-to- be- teachers reflected that. They didn't know how to teach and didn't seem to care.
During this period a new party, the People's Liberation Movement (PLM), was formed. Its leader was the not-too- long-ago-fired John Osborne along with his deputy John Dublin.
A few months after its formation, the PLM mounted a vicious campaign to remove P. Austin Bramble from power and to end twenty six years of father and son control.
During the last stage of his administration, P.A. Bramble faced extremely harsh economic conditions, a severe drought that lasted seven years, no one beside himself to help make decisions, and an opposition party willing to gain power by any means.
Despite that, he continued to serve the masses and make moves to improve the lot of the common man.
When the British government realized the precarious condition that the PDP government occupied and that it was about to loose an ally the purse strings were loosened.
Money became available for two major projects. The new Glendon Hospital came on stream and a new port project was approved. Total local participation in the civil service also became a reality as the last position held by a british civil servant, that of financial secretary was taken over by a Montserratian.
The PLM party came to power in 1978. In the most vicious campaign in Montserrat's brief history the PLM party and its members totally assassinated the character of P. Austin Bramble. In the process, they also destroyed the memory of the Honourable W.H. Bramble and the contribution that both Bramble administrations had made to improve the quality of life and conditions of the descendants of slaves.
PLM's main supporters were the die- hard members of the old Labour Party who had never forgiven P.A. Bramble for removing his father, their leader, from power.
Appealing to the emotions of this core group and blowing up all the other negatives larger than life the PLM party swayed the country to its side and took all seven seats.
Because of the make-up of the constituent representatives, the PLM party had no problems convincing the masses that they too were a party for the people.
This, however, was not the case. The main financial backers and caucus members of the PLM party were merchants and after twenty six years of rejection by the people they had found a means of regaining control of the country.
The first five years of the PLM administration went quietly. The economic downturn that the western world had suffered had bottomed out. The PDP party had left in place the port project and the AUC project was just coming on stream. Plans set up by the Bramble administration but not yet executed were carried out and the party sang its campaign motto "let the good times roll."
Having the mandate from the people to govern, PLM started early in its administration to show the direction that it intended to follow. Without notice or fanfare the economy of the country was being guided towards external dependency and it would appear that almost overnight, before anyone realized what had happened, Montserrat had become a merchant's paradise and an import based economy.
Due to the drought, the agricultural sector was in dire need but the PLM party choose instead to kill rather than revive the agricultural infrastructure.
Having inherited from PDP a civil service with no british civil servants in controlling positions and knowing that a government could not be fully responsible for itself when it depended on grants, John Osborne took Montserrat out of grant in aid.
PLM's platform was quite clear: for the merchants and investors in the party, an import based economy; for John Osborne and his charismatic appeal to the masses, the final steps along the road to independence.
In their second term of office beginning in 1983, the first cracks began to appear in the PLM party.
P. Austin Bramble was able to regain his seat in Plymouth. John Dublin, then the deputy leader and the minister of education, was fired by John Osborne for conflict of interest.
The ministry, already saddled with problems and too big for one person to manage, was now taken over by Annie Dyer-Howe.
Most of her energy was put into the social services of her ministry and the education sector continued on its downhill plunge.
With little or no support within his ranks for the independence section of his program, John Osborne took it upon himself to champion the independence of the country alone.
The british, who by this time had already recognised the need to hold on to the rest of their dependent territories, found themselves in a difficult position as they had little or no internal leverage with which to control John Osborne. For them, John Osborne became an international embarrassment.
Wherever he went to represent his country, Mr. Osborne told his audience of Montserrat's position as a colony and his feelings when he had to be represented by the union jack and the british national anthem.
Here was a man with national pride who found himself in a position to look the british in the eye and tell them exactly how he felt. For this, he gained the everlasting enmity of the british government.
Even though the party had begun to loose its popular appeal and conditions began to worsen economically, PLM still had a core of support among the masses.
Recognising the drop in popularity and sensing an opportunity to take power directly, the National Development Party (NDP) was formed.
There was no disguise in its makeup as the merchant sector of the society took to public platform and attempted to convince the masses that it could represent them better.
In 1987, the PLM party went to the polls with its popularity at a low ebb. Any combination of the PDP and the new NDP would have replaced PLM.
In the end, however, P.A.Bramble stayed true to his roots and did not align with the merchants.
The people, having never forgotten who their enemy was choose the lesser of two evils and PLM scraped through with a four seat majority.
At this point, John Osborne had effectively eliminated the british from the internal affairs of the country. With no Grant-ing-Aid money with which to apply leverage and no british civil servants in key positions to misdirect, their hands were tied.
Understanding the concept of time in power politics, the british waited patiently for Osborne's administration to collapse and for him to return humbly to them with his hat in his hand. This never happened.
Once again a brain-trust from the Bramble administration was used. The lucrative off-shore banking industry which the PDP had proposed as part of its party platform was now revived by the PLM and put into operation.
Just when it appeared that the british had brought him to his knees, John Osborne had found a way to continue without them and generate income. With this margin of security he became more self confident. He continued to insist internationally that he and his people needed self esteem and stated that independence was the vehicle through which this would be acquired.
With the added influx of offshore money, the administration budgeted funds for independence education. Such stalwarts in the community as Howard Fergus were brought on board and the mental preparation of the people for their continued march to freedom started once again.
The PLM administration, however, had internal problems. Having only four seats and no flexibility for maneuvering, each minister became a chief. With no imagination and oversized egos they squabbled incessantly among themselves.
John Osborne had satisfied the merchants in his support group. It was not, however, in their interest to assist him in a program that would uplift the masses.
Independence, from their position, was definitely not an option that they would initiate. The other members of his council did not have the will to support or the vision to assist an independence movement. They were quite willing to enjoy power and maintain the status quo.
The british had no desire to see Montserrat escape from their clutches because if it did, the remaining dependent territories would also demand their independence.
Once again John Osborne found himself alone and his movement died. The mental preparation of the masses never got off the ground.
By 1988 another recession had begun. The people once again started to experience hard times. The NDP party, with its insatiable desire for power overlooked national interests and willingly collaborated with the british to break John Osborne.
NDP published all the negatives they could find or invent about PLM and John Osborne in its weekly party propaganda sheet.
Against all odds, the administration survived. However, it became a free for all. Each minister ran his ministry as he saw fit. There was no plan or direction.
The agricultural sector, long put out to pasture, continued to die a slow death.
The education system was rife with problems that were never properly addressed from its initial expansion by PDP. With a minister whose ego far outstripped his ability to do anything, the system that should have been the key to our continued progress was now a breeding ground for illiteracy.
Following the pattern established, the system had more parasites in its ranks who were willing to be paid for doing nothing than genuine teachers.
The curriculum bordered on the ridiculous for its immensity and cumbersomeness. Students were taking 16 subjects in 1st form.
The teacher core has become a dumping ground for personnel who should be employed by government but for whom no other employment was available.
By the end of 1989 the PLM party was in disarray being subject to:-
continued onslaught from the NDP propaganda organ willing to spread any form of gossip;
heated confrontations with the governor;
rumours of direct british interference;
rising public dissatisfaction and a dying economy.
These were the conditions that hurricane Hugo met when it blew across the island with its two hundred miles an hour winds.
With the passing of Hugo, the british got the opportunity they had been waiting for.
In a state of emergency, control of the colony automatically reverts to the governor. Governor Turner lost no time applying his constitutional powers and within a few weeks the entire PLM party became non-existent.
The governor, exercising his "CONSTITUTIONAL" powers, ran the country. The british, seizing the moment, took the opportunity to remove from John Osborne's control, the means by which he had flaunted his personal independence in their faces.
While the energy and mindset of the entire country was engrossed in personal survival, the british made their move.
Putting together all the various bills and acts by which they had traditionally governed the colony, they amended one specific section by removing from local control the offshore banking industry and presented to the island a ready-made constitution.
No discussion, no participation. Here. This is your new constitution. From January 1990 this is the way you will be governed.
Overlooking the greater national implications of the constitutional change and sensing the imminent destruction of John Osborne, the NDP, through its leader, Bertrand Osborne, and their propaganda sheet, wholeheartedly endorsed the british position. Once again, the merchants had proven that their interests were not one with the people.
With the end of the national emergency, control reverted to PLM. John Osborne attempted to resist the british. There was little response as he had now lost touch with his support base at the roots level.
The country languished from lack of leadership as each minister, including John Osborne, started to pay more attention to his own personal business affairs.
The press willingly collaborated with the british and spread gossip of alleged corruption.
The offshore banking industry was destroyed, not because the industry itself was corrupt but because the money generated went to local Montserratians and the potential that it gave local leadership to move away from british control was too dangerous to leave in local hands.
Internal dissension within the PLM party could no longer be controlled and finally in 1991 Benjie Chalmers forced the dissolution of the legislature.
The british, at this time, through their constitutional powers, controlled the country. They had an opportunity to give the island a boost if they so desired by giving adequate time to the electorate to make an informed decision and to the candidates to make themselves viable.
The governor, by allowing only the minimum time of three weeks for an election, was unfair to the electorate and to the emerging candidates and could only benefit Britain's willing collaborators, the NDP.
At this time a third party emerged from a group of concerned citizens who organized themselves in late 1990. The National Progressive Party (NPP) entered the fray and three parties contested the 1991 elections. PLM went through the motions, NDP happily went along its way and NPP appealed to the socialized christians.
The people, despite all the confusion, still recognised their enemy. PLM had betrayed their trust. NDP could never truly represent them. The electorate had no choice and NPP came to power by default.
Winning only four seats, with three political novices and one seasoned politician who has regularly switched loyalties at whim, the NPP could insure the populace of only one thing.
Put us in power, said the leader, Reuben Meade, and I will guarantee you that aid donors all over the world will open up their purse strings and flood the country with money.
That's it. We will be better beggars than any who came before us.
Unfortunately, the reality is that aid can only be obtained with british approval. So in effect if aid is to be granted it will be done by the british.
Clearly, NPP also has a program to insure that they remain at the top. They have already demonstrated that their only intent is to maintain the status quo.
It is also quite clear what that program is:
Quite clearly, the dictum given to W.H. Bramble by the governor in 1952 still stands.
As David Taylor, Montserrat's present governor, says, "It's necessary for the British to be involved in setting priorities because they are ultimately the government which is responsible for the conduct of affairs in Montserrat."
So the cycle begins once again. Already the civil service is top heavy with british civil servants.
From the NPP administration, we hear such phrases as: "we have excellent relations with the british," "we are working in full cooperation with them,"" we will not burden our people with the problems of independence," and many other trite and meaningless words meant to appease the oppressor and lower the dignity of the oppressed.
Within one year the NPP has lost touch with the people they never really knew. Lacking the political acumen of W.H. Bramble, P.A. Bramble, or John Osborne they do not even seem to realize that the way to stay on top is to satisfy the will of the masses.
This will, has not changed one iota from the days of enslavement on the shores of Afrika, to the days of slavery and "emancipation" in the Caribbean.
Independence is Montserrat's next step on the long march from the dehumanizing era of slavery.
Dignity, self worth, national pride, self determination, true knowledge of self, and control of our resources cannot be gained under a colonial system.
No administration that collaborates with the enemy can hope to survive.
No oppressor, no matter how manipulative, can take out of the minds of the masses that which was etched into their gene pool with the blood of their forbearers.
The inalienable right of a people to determine their own destiny belong to all no matter how large or small the population.
The people know who their enemies are.
The british involvement in Montserrat has a definite cycle. Whenever the economic conditions are good for profit they flood the island in large numbers.
Whenever times become difficult and money becomes scarce they disappear.
In the sixties and the first two years of the seventies the british government was willing to let Montserrat take the independence option.
The colony had become an expenditure on their taxpayers that they could do without. By 1973, however, the thinking of the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) changed.
Why all the intrigue and manipulation? What are the factors involved in Britain's desire to hold on to Montserrat despite what they say?
The number of Montserratians who have been granted permanent residence privileges in England for the last thirty years can be counted on one hand.
In 1968 a real estate industry started to flourish. By 1973, 3,000 lots had been sold to expatriates.
In 1971 A. Bramble rejected Associated Statehood as a backward step.
In 1973 Governor Thompson told the Rotary club, "We want to develop retiree housing but I am hoping for about 800 retiree houses by 1980; .... but racial balance must be kept ...."
In 1973 P.A Bramble called a snap election to combat "racism" and reassure the expatriate community that they would remain comfortable.
In 1973 the big RA celebrated its 10th year of clandestine operations in Montserrat.
In 1976 P.A. Bramble reaffirmed his faith in the colonial system.
In 1979 the emigration act was written to effectively bar people from british colonies easy access to England.
In 1983 governor Dale predicted that by the mid 1990s the make- up of Montserrat's population would be 1/3 british expatriates.
In 1989 british educators wrote a report to reorganise our education system. According to them, we were producing too many academics and not enough servants.
What they recommended was that we produce better trained personnel to service a tourist based economy:-
low paying, hard working, honest and servile maids, waiters, bartenders, taxi drivers, in fact, the entire Afrikan population, who know their place and who would treat visitors and expats with the respect that they presume they deserve.
The Gallagher report stated that Montserrat lacks qualified human resources to run a proper off shore institution and recommended that, british chartered accountants, british managers and british lawyers were needed. Obviously none of us can be trained.
In 1989 Radio Antilles, subsidised by the German media giant, Deutsche Welle, closed its operations.
In 1990 special legislation was written and passed in England to circumvent the emigration act granting 50,000 residents automatic british citizenship the moment China reclaims Hong Kong.
In 1990 the british forced the Montserrat government to repeal the licences of almost all its offshore banks and destroyed Montserrat's offshore banking infrastructure.
In 1991 the largest offshore banking scandal in the world covering almost every country in the world hit the media. BCCI, headquartered in London and backed by the Bank of England were the culprits.
The british parliament were aware of the corrupt operations for more than two years before the scandal broke. No heads rolled. No governments were brought down. No offshore banking infra- structures were destroyed.
Right off the coast of England on the isle of Mann one of the worlds most lucrative off shore banking system exists. In the Caymans the most lucrative off shore banking system in the region exists. Both are directly controlled and run by englishmen.
In 1997 Hong Kong reverts to China. The dominant elite who control Hong Kong's wealth and its financial banking system are british descendants who will immediately become british citizens.
Montserrat's position on the globe gives it unique access in global communications. Cable & Wireless is now putting in place in Montserrat supposedly the best telecommunications system in the world.
Already they have coerced government into giving them a fifteen year monopoly and are making serious overtures to acquire the cable system and the monopoly on video communications. Linkage of tele- and video-technology will soon be packaged for the consumer.
As the MP responsible for dependent territories stated in 1992, the british want to make the region safe for investors.
Who are the investors?
When the Chinese take back Hong Kong they will not take the financial network that the british descendants have established to bleed the wealth of south east Asia into the west.
When the Afrikans take back South Afrika they will not get the massive network established by the American and European investors to bleed the wealth of Afrika into the west with their trade in diamonds, gold and the other mineral resources of the region.
What type of atmosphere are these britishers from England, Hong Kong or South Africa used to?
One in which the people know who their masters are. One in which there is a clear division in the society between the rulers and the ruled. One in which the population is largely illiterate and servile and a system already exists into which they can enter and immediately take control.
Where will these people settle?
They will move to a place that closely resembles where they were forced to move from, a place where the environment, social and political conditions and communications technology is conducive to their lifestyle and business needs.
In other words, to another british colony and there aren't too many of them left.
PAL Header Image created by Chad Cumberbatch
BACK TO HOMEPAGE