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Caricom referendum is a must

David Burt, the Premier, has had a war of words over Caricom with revered predecessor Sir John Swan (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

We must host a referendum on our participation as a full member of Caricom. It is a national decision that will involve and affect everyone, and should require the full consent of the majority of the people. It can be a simple majority — the essential thing is to demonstrate that the proposition has majority support.

Having a referendum would be the “progressive” thing to do. “Progressive”, following the use of the term in the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th, meant inclusive. If we recall the Bermuda Progressive Group known for the 1959 Theatre Boycott, the principal aim was to broaden the voter franchise. It was this movement that led to the adoption of the name Progressive Labour Party. Well, we all know the idea of being a party to the progressive movement was long abandoned, as the party now proudly calls itself a “labour” party and a labour movement.

Using the ethics of a labour movement permits the leadership to abandon thoughts of inclusiveness. They will argue, “we have a mandate from the people to lead”. In today’s terms with all the modern communication including social media, it means they don’t have to listen because the only mechanism they recognise is the vote. As long as they have the electoral mandate, they will rule as they see fit.

The idea of being a progressive party or being associated with a progressive movement ended in 1965 — or rightly the summer of 1964. This latest Caribbean twist has been lurking in the background, spun by a small core which I refer to as “the Devonshire plot”. For David Burt, the Premier, to both back and accuse Sir John Swan of anti-Caribbean attitudes dating back to his days as premier and earlier is unfortunate because Sir John, like most Black Bermudians, has West Indian family ties.

Revenge is never a strong basis for any endeavour to be launched. Yet we get the impression from at least one outspoken MP that this is some form of payback for being labelled a “pond dog”.

My grandfather on the Davis side was a first-generation Bermudian born to his father who came in from St Vincent to work as a carpenter at Dockyard in the 1880s. I recall during the 1950s, and even the latter 1960s, there were a lot of West Indian carpenters brought in to work for the Government. These men were respected and not looked down upon.

The superintendent for the wing of the hospital built around 1970 was a Mr Douglas, a West Indian who never abandoned his accent and was highly respected. These men came to Bermuda to better themselves and their circumstances. They gained upward mobility and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If Bermuda enjoyed a higher standard of living, there was nothing to be ashamed of for that, either.

This author can never prejudice or look down on West Indians because his grandfather was a first-generation Bermudian. My grandfather was not so fortunate in that he was robbed and murdered near Pond Hill at the young age of 37. He worked as a liveryman for the hotel at the top of Langton Hill. He was carrying the fares and tips from visitors. He left a wife and seven children who struggled with the help of the Anglican Church, from where one of his grandchildren became Bermuda’s first Black bishop.

The West Indies and West Indians are an indelible part of Bermuda; we cannot erase that fact. Nevertheless, Bermuda has a long history stretching back more than 400 years, and the economic nexus for most of that history has been hinged to the “northern” desk, where we have had significant involvement.

Interestingly for centuries, through salt trade in the Turks islands, privateering and a dominating influence in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands, we were dubbed as the “hardware store of the Atlantic”. Our sailors gained a reputation for selling small tools and some of our nomadic farmers became known for selling small vegetables to plantation owners who were steeped in cash crop such as sugar cane. We laid our footprints all over the history of the south.

We can say proudly we have managed to capture the best of both worlds in the north and the south. It leaves us to wonder if we have lost the genius that made us. Regional immersion is perhaps a wise thing to consider, given our size and the demands on a small population for items such as education and healthcare.

Why not explore all the options available from both northern and southern hemisphere? Why choose one to the exclusion of the other? This is where open discussion can offer help. This can happen when you have a government that is willing to discuss what could be the best options for its people. Unfortunately, this government seems to feel like a rat stuck in a corner — “us against them” — where any sign of dialogue represents a diminution of power. When the truth is, consensus is real power.

Democracy means different things to different people. To one set, having a vote and being elected is a sign of democracy. To another, it’s not only being elected but maintaining the participation of the electorate throughout the term.

It is too obvious what this government’s meaning of democracy is. They will say we are going to have public discussions and then interpret for you what the outcome of the discussions was. They will not ask for a plebiscite or referendum to test your opinion because that would be progressive.

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Published March 05, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated March 04, 2024 at 8:00 pm)

Caricom referendum is a must

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