“Brutal British! Imperialists! Why Anguilla and not Rhodesia?” These are but a small sample of the sentiments voiced by Anguillans and some West Indian leaders after Britain’s diplomatic blunder in landing troops on tiny Anguilla last March.
This type of criticism also emanated from within Britain itself when the former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas Home described the British Government’s action as “fumbling diplomacy. “and went on to characterise the whole action as ” … a story of mismanagement, miscalculation, misjudgement and ineptitude from the start.”
Without doubt the above sentiments, whether expressed in the Caribbean or in Britain, were richly merited by the Wilson Government. Now that some time has elapsed and the smoke has cleared, it is possible to take a calmer and obviously more objective look at things past. When this is done, British policy does not come off looking any better than at the time it was implemented. What also emerges on closer scrutiny is the failure of the independent state of the Commonwealth Caribbean to play a constructive role in the whole Anguillan imbroglio. While it is quite fashionable to point accusing fingers at British colonialism and Britain’s problems with the remnants of its empire, Caribbean leaders and peoples have to pay attention to things of more immediate concern. Among these ‘things is an emergent Caribbean diplomacy. Difficult as it is to conceive of any nation or nations equalling the abysmal diplomatic record of the British in Anguilla, the nations of the Caribbean have unbelievably succeeded. This must appal all West Indians.
To place the behaviour of the Caribbean states in the proper perspective, a brief recapitulation of events is necessary. Ever since the possibility of associated statehood was suggested in the St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla House of Assembly in 1965. Anguillans have never been fully receptive to the idea. This explain the trip to London in 1966 of Peter Adams, Anguilla’s sole representative in the House of Assembly at that time, and the Opposition Leader of St Kitts. A joint communique at the end of this London Conference of July 1966 indicated that the matter had been seemingly solved when some of Anguilla’s demand for local autonomy were met. The matter submerged temporarily only to resurface in January 1967 when Anguillans realised that, inter alia, unitary associated statehood, with which they were to be soon blessed, would not relieve them of Mr. Bradshaw’s leadership. It was with Anguilla’s withdrawal from the new constitutional arrangement in May 1967 that what was to later become the Anguilla’s crisis, was precipitated. It was between May 1967 and March 1969, when British troops landed in the island, a period of almost two years, that Britain and the Caribbean nations had the opportunity to bring their diplomatic resources into full play
Here we are primarily concerned with the actions taken by the Commonwealth Caribbean governments. This in no way implies that Britain should be divested of its responsibility for Anguilla. It merely means, as others have already observed, that Anguilla is a Caribbean affair. Any political happening in the Caribbean, regardless of the metropolitan power involved, is a Caribbean matter. Granted that the Caribbean is recognised as a mare Americanum, any ripple in this sea cannot but help affect the area since even tiny ripples do have an odd way of spreading themselves over larger areas in concentric circles. This is why the Caribbean Governments have to concern themselves with the Caribbean first and foremost. Gone are the days when these islands were objects of inter-relations and pawns in the international skirmishes among metropolitan powers. Any change involving power relationships in the Caribbean amongst the islands, or any change of this nature between the islands and any metropolitan power, falls squarely within the confines of Caribbean diplomacy. It is for this reason that even if Anguilla is legally Britain’s problem, the Caribbean states must be actively involved in any future settlement of the problem. I can think of no other way in which a resolution of the problem satisfactory to Caribbean governments can be arrived at without total Caribbean participation.