A GUY'S VIEW: The more things change the more they remain the same

“One step forward

Two steps backward and tremble.” – Serenader, Barbadian calypsonian.


According to reports coming out of the United States of America, President Trump has expressed an interest in buying Greenland.

At 811 000 square miles, Greenland is the largest island in the world. It has a population of about 56 000 people. It is currently belongs to Denmark, but is autonomous.

Greenland is in the North Atlantic and is often ice covered. It is not an idyllic Caribbean island with a near paradise-like climate that one could see Americans flocking to for their vacations. Thus far, there is no certainty of what prompted Trump’s interest in this land. One is, therefore, left to wonder about the seriousness of this claim.

What is of interest to me is the idea that an individual can decide that he wants to buy a country which is home to other people. If an individual purchases an island, what is the status of the people who live there?

A few centuries ago, European nations traded Caribbean islands more easily than persons buy or exchange house spots now. These countries owned islands and other territories on which their rulers never set foot and never would, and when it suited their interest, they gave them away in exchange for another one like they were exchanging shoes.

When these exchanges took place, the residents of those lands changed nationality based on who the new owner was at any particular time. As a result, most of our Caribbean neighbours had at least two or three nationalities during their pre-independence history.

But one thought that was an eighteenth century state of mind. That is why it sounds so strange to hear that the President of the United States has an interest in buying a country that is occupied by human beings in 2019.

To own a country confers certain sovereign rights. So on the transfer of ownership the new owner is able to exercise control over the lives of the people who never knew or met him and had no interest in him or he in them.

The post-colonial strategy that is used to control people is to give them autonomy, an anthem and a flag along with membership of the United Nations. This approach is workable because there is really no interest in the individuals who happen to occupy the space. The interest lies in what resources or strategic value the land offers. In this way you have control without responsibility. Other than a small remote territory, the idea of buying an island seemed, until now, a bit dated.

But one should not think that President Trump’s thinking is peculiar to him, in terms of ownership of people and their resources. Trump’s powerful position as well as his indiscretion with the expression of his ideas, draw attention to him and his words, but rest assured that there are many who share and support his ideas. And they are not all in America.

India just decided that it will unilaterally assert control over Kashmir. India controls 45 percent of the Kashmir region. India-controlled Kashmir has been an autonomous space, with the Indian constitution granting that region the right to have its own constitution, make its own laws, except with respect to defence, communication and foreign affairs.

About two weeks ago India decided to strip Kashmir of its autonomy. The military moved in, political leaders were placed under arrest, all telecommunications, including telephones and the internet, were shut down and a curfew imposed.

This has irritated Pakistan, India’s neighbour which has claimed all of Kashmir, as has India. The major problem here is that India is a Hindu country and Kashmir is mainly Muslim, like Pakistan. Muslims do not take kindly to being administered by non-Muslims and this has been expressed in a three decade long rebellion going on in Kashmir against Indian rule. Clearly the wishes of the human beings living in the region are irrelevant to its Indian rulers.

But the Kashmiri problem is not as simple as I have represented here. In the mix is British interference, Chinese interest and Pakistan’s need to secure its water supply. This space is not adequate to fully unpack these issues.

India is a vast country. When it was under British rule, there were semi-autonomous areas that were outside the direct control of the rest of India but remained under British tutelage. Kashmir was one such region. It is interesting that India fought to be rid of British rule, but sees no resemblance between its colonial history and it forced control of Kashmir.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the fight is on by Western agents to ensure that China never gets back control of that territory. The British agreement to return Hong Kong to China has been formally executed, but grudgingly. But 2019 China is a different challenge from nineteenth century China, so the strategy is to create an environment of unrest and discontent with pictures sent around the world as evidence of the will of the people to disregard their Chinese heritage and adopt British values.

One wonders whether the Chinese have not been caught off guard with the most recent protests. Protesters moved into the main international airport and shut it down, preventing flights from coming in or going out. Could that happen at Heathrow, Gatwick or Grantley Adams?

This underlines the point that one should not jump to conclusions without understanding the facts that are peculiar to a situation. One has to be discerning enough to distinguish between the expression of the wishes of discontented people and the well-orchestrated performance for television of producers and actors.

When it was convenient to western policy, self-determination was the buzz word. Colonialism was a bad word and an old concept which time had passed. But that was always selectively applied. Neo-colonial control was never challenged and is alive and well. One only needs to look at what former colonial states do when they believe that they are in trouble. Or what France has done to its African colonial outposts.

At the base of it all is the reality that the human rights issues that were thought to have been fought and won are still very much on the battle field. Old mindsets that were thought outdated we now know were only awaiting the right time to be reasserted. Terms may change, but attitudes may not.

Barbados Advocate

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