The Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) has launched a new book titled How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean: A Reparation Response to Europe’s Legacy of Plunder and Poverty
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles is an internationally renowned economic historian, social justice and minority empowerment campaigner.
He released his latest book on February 25.
It explores how successive governments have systematically suppressed economic development in their former colonies and refused to accept responsibility for the debt and development aid they owe the Caribbean.
Published by The UWI Press, the book is a continuation of the groundbreaking work Sir Hilary began in Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Indigenous Genocide.
Strategically timed, it is launched to celebrate the 50th anniversary of two of the greatest works of Caribbean economic history; “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” by Sir Walter Rodney and “Persistent Poverty: Underdevelopment in Third World Plantation Economies” by George Beckford. In addition, it falls within the context of the 60th anniversary of the independence of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
The thesis is that Britain extracted 300 years of wealth from the region, “sucked it up like an orange” according to Eric Williams, and systematically subverted all indigenous development initiatives in the region, preferring a model of addiction help instead.
Arthur Lewis, he showed, said in 1939 that Britain had benefited from 200 years of free labor from 20 million people in the Caribbean, a “debt it owes the region” which, if paid, can be used to fund a development plan for the Caribbean. It reaffirms Lewis’ argument and shows its powerful relevance for the future. Britain, he writes, must be held accountable by the governments of the region for the plunder of its people that left them in poverty under the economic dependence of white supremacy.
Suggesting that the book is instructive for the Caribbean people as a whole, Sir Hilary says: “We have to ask ourselves where do we go next? We must not embark on the future without an ideological and intellectual roadmap… This book looks at the frontier of post-COVID economic development. It seeks to contribute to the narrative and call for a new world economic order in which there is real hope and opportunity for developing countries, especially postcolonial developing countries.
Readers and critics who commented on the launch included Professor Verene Shepherd, Director of the Center for Repair Research at UWI; Dr. Patricia Rodney, assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, and CEO of the Walter Rodney Foundation; and Professor Rupert Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Political Thought in the Department of Government at UWI, Mona Campus.
According to Professor Shepherd, the book is a “powerful and timely masterpiece; a roadmap for redressing the indecency of colonialism. Dr Rodney, adding his unique perspective, described the new book as “the first scholarship of this magnitude on the region in the 50 years since Walter Rodney published How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. Professor Lewis called it “strong empirical evidence that British slavery and colonialism underpinned underdevelopment and persistent poverty in the West Indies”.
Commenting on the outstanding features of the nearly three hundred page publication, Dr Luz Longsworth, specialist in higher education, leadership and management and former chairman of The UWI Press, who chaired the proceedings, said: “ It is simply amazing that this book covers over 500 years of history from the first entry of Christopher Columbus to the speech of independence. He cites hundreds of scholarly books, articles, unpublished documents from British parliaments from the 17th to the 20th century. [and] has what I call a gallery of dozens of faces of apologists, imperialists, West Indian activists and intellectuals. She called it an evocative and entertaining book, highly readable and accessible to both scholars and the average reader.
In his reflections on the origins of the book, Sir Hilary openly shared memories of arriving to teach on the Mona campus and coming to terms with the results of the tension between economists and historians. Himself from a department where the curriculum was equal parts economics and history, Sir Hilary found himself straddling two faculties and fraternities on the Mona campus. “This book is a product of that disciplinary hybridity, where half of my training was as an economist and the other half as a historian, and I wanted to bring those narratives together.”
According to the UWI Vice-Chancellor, the Mona campus book has been in the works for 30 years. “I always wanted to write this book and saw it as the last book I would write, putting all my experiences as a teacher into it.” He went on to explain the emotional and mental circumstances that saw him born in 2021. “…COVID-19 hit, and I saw the devastation to life and health. I thought I’d better write it down because health isn’t guaranteed.
Sir Hilary affectionately refers to his new publication as his “Mona Book”.
“This book was conceived at the Mona Campus where I taught in the 1980s and now it is born here at Mona. It is my tribute to the Mona Campus and to the intellectual community here over the past four decades,” said he declared.
Special guests at the book launch included: Professor Sir Kenneth O Hall, former Governor General of Jamaica; PJ Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica; Patrick Robinson, judge at the International Court of Justice; Professional Vice-Chancellor and Director of the UWI Five Islands Campus, Professor Densil Williams; and Professor Richard L Bernal.
Lady Mary Beckles and other immediate family members also shared the moment.
The book can be purchased at bit.ly/32oCYfW or ordered from Longleaf Services Inc via [email protected]
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