Synopses & Reviews
Conventional wisdom in the study of recently decolonized states holds that as only states that had been British colonies have been continuously democratic after independence, the British must have created the conditions for democracy in their colonies. This question is explored through a comparison of three recently decolonized states in the Caribbean region -- Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Surinam -- similar in history and social structure, but differing in that Surinam was a Dutch colony.
The political evolution of these states into independence and beyond is studied via an examination of the existing literature and through interviews with journalists, scholars and politicians. These countries appear to uphold the conventional wisdom, since Jamaica and Trinidad have been continuously democratic since independence, while Surinam has not.
It is clear from the author's research that the similarities in the political evolution of these countries far outweigh the differences; in particular, the British in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dutch in Surinam, developed similar state structures -- simultaneously liberal and authoritarian, in their colonies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
However, in two countries, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the emergence of political parties was linked to labor protests, while this linkage, (though not the protest), was absent in Surinam. Democratic politics in the former two countries turns out to rest on a two way alliance between the middle and lower classes, embedded in a paternalistic state structure inherited from the colonial period. In Surinam, the absence of this alliance rendered democracy more vulnerable.
Theauthor concludes that while the peoples of the Caribbean did not fight long struggles for independence, they have been able to preserve the least poisoned gift of the colonizer, democracy. This should be a source of considerable pride.