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Caribbean Islands

Political Dynamics

In the late 1980s, Cayman politics was relatively calm. The Caymans had no officially recognized political parties; elections for the twelve elective seats in the Legislative Assembly were contested by "teams" of candidates, as well as by independents. The teams showed no differences in policy or ideology. All candidates traditionally pledged to work for continued economic success and for continued dependent status. In the November 1980 elections the Unity Team, led by Jim Bodden, won eight of the twelve seats. The Dignity Team, headed by Benson Ebanks, won two seats, and two went to independents. The Dignity Team later fell apart when one of its two legislators joined the Unity Team.

Elections were held again in November 1984 against a backdrop of dissatisfaction with Bodden's Unity Team. Many voters felt it was time for a change; public disquiet had grown over the rapid rise in the immigrant work force. Criticism was voiced that Bodden and his government should have moved more quickly to preserve the good name of the colony and its financial services when the United States alleged that Cayman banks had been used to launder illegal drug monies. Independents captured nine seats in the election, but the other three remained in the hands of the Dignity Team; Ebanks became chief minister. Despite the change in leadership, continued economic prosperity helped to maintain political stability in the territory.

Cayman Islands residents have expressed the strong wish to remain British dependents; this position was voiced twice to United Nations groups, in 1977 and again in 1981. The finance secretary commented that "venturing into independence" was not a viable route to prosperity for small countries and that the British link inspired investor confidence. Moreover, support for Britain was shown in 1982 when the Cayman Islands sent a US$1 million donation to the Falklands Fund from private and public sources.

Politics in the Turks and Caicos Islands differed from the situation in the Cayman Islands in three notable ways. First, the Turks and Caicos had two defined political parties. Second, independence was a salient issue and a determinant in party identification. Finally, the political landscape in 1980s had been shaped by government corruption.

The first elections in the Turks and Caicos under the revised 1976 Constitution took place that year and were won by the proindependence People's Democratic Movement (PDM). Independence appealed to many in the Turks and Caicos, who were influenced by the Jamaican independence process in the early 1960s. In early 1980, Britain agreed that if the governing PDM won elections later that same year, the islands would receive independence and a payment of around US$21.6 million. However, the PDM chief minister, J.A.G.S. McCartney, was killed in an accident that May. Lacking his strong leadership, the PDM lost the November 1980 election to the Progressive National Party (PNP), which supported continued dependent status. At the next general election, in May 1984, the PNP, led by Chief Minister Norman Saunders, won eight of the eleven elective seats. During that campaign neither party raised the issue of independence, largely because citizens had become aware of the value of regular British financial aid. Both parties were committed to free enterprise and to the development of the Turks and Caicos through tourism and offshore financial services.

The PNP's 1984 election victory could be explained in part by growing economic prosperity over the preceding four years. Government revenues had risen; more banks had established offices in the islands; the airport on Providenciales had been finished; and tourism had expanded dramatically.

In 1985 the Turks and Caicos were rocked by a major drug scandal. In March, Chief Minister Saunders, Minister of Commerce and Development Stafford Missick, and another PNP member were arrested in Miami by DEA agents, in cooperation with the islands' own governor and police force. During the trial, the prosecution showed a videotape of Saunders receiving US$20,000 from a DEA undercover agent. The DEA said that Saunders took the money in return for promises to protect drug shipments from Colombia as they passed through his native island of South Caicos on their way to the United States.

Saunders and Missick were found guilty of drug conspiracy charges by a Miami court on July 21, 1985, although Saunders was acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. Missick was convicted of the additional charge of cocaine importation. Saunders and Missick were subsequently sentenced to prison terms of eight and ten years, respectively; each was fined US$50,000.

Although precise data on citizen attitudes were not available, many islanders resented the fact that Saunders was arrested in a United States "sting" operation carried out with the knowledge and consent of the British governor and the British government; they contended that Saunders had been set up. Some of these islanders also thought that the popular Saunders, the national tennis champion as well as the chief minister, should have been brought to trial at home. In spite of these feelings, however, the islands remained calm after the arrests. Most people were primarily concerned about the effect that any adverse publicity would have on the territory's fragile economy.

With three of its legislators in jail, the PNP still held a majority of five to three in the Legislative Council. The PNP selected the former minister of public works and utilities, seventy-two-year-old Nathaniel "Bops" Francis, to be the new chief minister. Ariel Misick received the key appointment of minister of commerce and development. The reorganized government's top priority was to maintain investor confidence and proceed with planned development projects. The new government also took pains to tell both London and Washington that it condemned drug trafficking in the islands.

Political turmoil in the Turks and Caicos did not end with the Saunders conviction. In July 1986, the British took the unusual step of imposing direct British rule on the territory, following publication of the report of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into arson, corruption, and related matters. That report severely criticized both the Turks and Caicos government and the opposition for alleged malpractice and criminality. The report also made recommendations for constitutional reform.

Although Governor Christopher Turner announced the decision of direct British rule on July 25, 1986, Chief Minister Francis had actually resigned just before the announcement after reading press accounts that London was prepared to use British troops available in Belize in the event of local hostility to the order. Perhaps because of the possibility of British military action, the islands remained calm after the announcement. As part of the July 25 decision, Governor Turner created an advisory council of four prominent residents to assist him during the two years a constitutional commission reviews possible changes in the islands' governmental structure. That constitutional commission began its work in November 1986 under the leadership of Sir Roy Marshall, a former vice chancellor of the UWI.

In mid-1987 officials from the Turks and Caicos visited Ottawa and offered the Canadian government the opportunity to annex the islands. According to the Turks and Caicos representatives, polls indicated that 90 percent of the residents of the islands favored some form of special relationship with Canada. From the perspective of the Turks and Caicos, the principal attraction of annexation undoubtedly was economic; its citizens wanted a North American standard of living that the islands could not meet. Indeed, one observer had questioned whether a territory of only 8,600 people, scattered over eight islands with no agricultural resources, an infant tourist industry, and only a limited pool of skilled labor, could really succeed as a viable economic entity.

The prospect of annexation was also attractive to many Canadians who were frustrated with the unfavorable exchange rate encountered during vacations to the United States or to Caribbean nations whose currencies were pegged to the United States dollar. Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney referred the annexation proposal to a special parliamentary committee for examination. Nonetheless, it appeared unlikely that the Canadian government would quickly adopt such a proposal; in 1986 the Canadian External Affairs Department recommended against a similar annexation attempt, fearing the possibility of racial tension between white Canadians and black islanders.

Data as of November 1987


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