By Oliver Mills
One Caribbean writer once remarked that the reason why there is so much extortion among the Caribbean population is because of its history of buccaneerism, where all sorts of activities took place that resulted in the deprivation of Caribbean people, as a result of the forced acquisition of major sectors of their resources by the actions of various groups of buccaneers with the tacit, and often open support of their country of origin. We should remember that the buccaneers were not citizens of any one country, but several. And as some historians say, they were often used by their governments to wage a low budget proxy war against their rivals.
Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
But the point is that those European governments that encouraged the buccaneers often gave them a licence which made their operations legal, in return for a share of what was acquired. However, many of those who operated this way often disregarded the provisions of the licence, and exploited their own opportunities for private gain. They failed to observe the terms of even the valid letters their governments allowed them.
So how do we define buccaneer politics? This concerns the different methods used by various power groups to influence, threaten, frighten, even cajole others into getting what they want, which results in deprivation, some say exploitation, at the expense of those who have been affected by these actions. The people, or even a country, are manipulated into becoming a part of a certain situation, which often ends up with the weaker vessels receiving the bitter plants, while those with position power, political power, influence, and connections end up weighing heavy. This is buccaneer politics at its best.
But sadly, it is the ordinary everyday person who gets the bad cards. In one independent country, there was the case of a single minister of government who got a number of acres of land from his government, and party, with the stated intention of providing housing for local people. He received payments for lots he promised to allocate. But after more than a few years had passed, nothing happened, and those who were promised houses protested about the situation. The minister did not deliver. And it took the parliament of that country to write off the minister’s debts to the people, and reimburse them. Buccaneer politics for real?
During periods of Caribbean history, the more powerful countries either captured islands from each other, settled islands, took over the resources of the people, did away with their culture, introduced different, not better ways of doing things, and even depersonalised them. Is this a form of buccaneer politics? The natural resources of these countries were taken over by different groups, and different interests, often backed by the political heavy weights in their overseas countries, and the entire way of life of the indigenous people was affected, often negatively. One Caribbean historian said that the industrial revolution was only able to gain traction because of the capital that came from the unpaid slave labour in the different colonies. Was buccaneer politics at work here?
In this modern period of Caribbean politics, one Caribbean political scientist has described his country as a gangster state. He feels that what goes on in the political system there is actually a rip off of the country’s resources, by those who were elected to develop those resources in the interest of the people who put them there. They did not get the mandate to milk the country. Does this mean that buccaneer politics from within has replaced parliamentary politics?
But others argue that parliamentary politics is actually buccaneer politics in disguise. They say that some politicians in league with local and outside interests actually use their power, authority and influence to buccaneer the system, even following what are apparently the procedures the system has itself made valid. Legislation is formulated and enacted not in the interest of the citizenry, but in the interest of those who enact it. The particular country is seen as a private business to be manipulated and sourced for personal benefits that make those involved far better off than when they entered politics, while the people who put them there live basically on the fringes of the society.
Taxes and other methods of revenue extraction are then imposed, along with benefits some politicians accrue from outside investments, and this helps to keep the political class in power, while enjoying the fat of the land. The people shrink in importance until the next election. Politics then becomes a game, where the main players, the politicians, are out on the field where all the action is, while the people are mere spectators watching the sport. Is this buccaneer politics in a subtle form?
In a political context where politics is king, buccaneer politics flourishes. Development initiatives become self-serving, a mere political strategy to further re-jig the system in the interest of the political class, while the people sit down by the rivers of Babylon and weep for the days when things were much better, and politics was about them and their interests, while the country was put first, ahead of narrow private interest. Politics then, according to some, has become not a tool for development and progress, but a form of buccaneerism, where the politicians behave like feudal lords from another age, while the people are reduced to serfdom.
Fake attempts to appear to act in the people’s interest, by engaging in contentious issues with others, have nothing to do with the betterment of the country. Rather, it has to do with seeking greater power through a change in the constitutional process, so that the political class can have greater access to the fat of the land. The more weight gained by politics, the greater the burdens that are placed on the people, giving free reign to buccaneer politics.
More specifically, buccaneer politics is seen when particular groups of people in positions of social power, occupying non-political positions, use their influence, or position power to game the system. It is seen where those who allegedly come to show how institutions should be properly managed, engage, somewhat, in the same maneuvers it is said caused the system to be audited in the first place. Buccaneer politics is also represented where people are brought into a country to perform responsibilities, with uncertain work performance records, and are given benefits they never dreamed of in their own countries, and indigenous people are either left out or ignored. Here, the system is not only gamed, but also buccaneered.
Any individual, or group, that uses connections, or contacts to obtain top positions in another person’s country, and shows no evidence of bringing about transformational change in the processes of the country they came to, but is shown to benefit from the resources of that country, without evidence of quality contribution to it, has buccaneered the system, even though the system condones it. Remember the traditional buccaneers also received official letters giving them permission to game and exploit other countries and their people.
So is buccaneer politics alive and kicking? We see it in the operations of formal two party system politics. It is seen where influential social groups game the system. It is represented where citizens on a one on one basis game each other for benefits, and a won-lost situation results. It is reflected where certain business interests seduce persons into agreements that are unfair, make conditions that over time cannot be met, and then foreclose on the persons concerned.
It is further noticed where some loan agencies that sought to help indigenous people, may be taken over by a feudal system of governance, and the loans sourced to certain groups, which then make demands on those who, because of economic reasons are unable to sustain their payments. And, when these persons are unable to sustain the conditions of their loans, they may find themselves faced with dispossession. No compassion. And no sensitivity to the peculiar situation these persons find themselves in, precisely because the economic context has changed, with no fault of their own.
Buccaneer politics is unhealthy politics. It is an unethical practice. It causes society to be further impoverished, and creates divisions between and among people. When a system is being buccaneered, it stalls development efforts, contracts the economy, and causes mistrust, and a lack of faith. Just as the British put an end to buccaneering and piracy in the Caribbean, so must people of good will raise their voices to stop the practice of buccaneer politics wherever, whenever, and however it may raise its head.