Working Notes Towards the Unification of Guyana (Part II)

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SOME DEVELOPMENTS IN THE NEW WORLD: 1500-1953

  1. In B.G. the introduction of Adult Suffrage in the year 1953 marked a new stage in the evolution of the society.
  1. The Imperial System of the New World, officially initiated by the Papal Donation of 1494, had from the beginning, by its very nature, been inherently unstable. Rival imperial interests from outside and an undemocra­tic social order internally ensured perpetual disequilibrium.
  1. Over time, internal social disequilibrium and shifts in relative strength of imperial rivals inevitably had brought change. The nature and extent of change and the rate at which it took place were different in different territories and regions.
  2. The concrete results after 450 years (1500-1950) can be summed up (with gross but nonetheless instructive over-simplification) as follows:

Extra-continental imperial interests had been largely subdued. This came about in stages

a) In North America, the British achieved supremacy over the French and were in turn driven out from the U.S.A. (1780s) and from Canada (1890s). American interests (U.S.A. and Mexico) chased the Spanish.

b) In South and Central America the Spanish and Portuguese had been driven out (1820- 40) with the help of the British and Americans.

c) In the Caribbean after much interplay and exchange the Spanish and French had for the most part been expelled — from Haiti (1804) Cuba, Puerto Rico (1900), etc. Cayenne, Martinique and Guadeloupe (French) Aruba, Curacao, Surinam (Dutch) alone remained as European colonial outposts along with the British Caribbean Empire (Jamaica, Trinidad, British Guiana, Barbados, the Leewards and Windwards).

Internal social reform had proceeded haltingly, differentially. and in stages towards a democratic order.

a) Only in North America had popular forces achieved a certain dominance, lesser in degree as one moves South. In Canada and the North and West U.S.A. popular mastery was most nearly complete, owing to Emancipation (1860s) and the New Deal (1930s). In Mexico and the South U.S.A. a qualified advance had been made.

b) In Latin America, Puerto Rico alone had progressed some way along the spectrum (formal political independence and emancipation elsewhere notwithstanding)

c) In the European colonies, a gradual recognition of popular interests followed Emancipation and, prompted by the upheaval at the end of the 1930s. a ‘new deal’ had been worked out. The French territories became ‘part of France’, Surinam was given internal self-Government (1954) and the British territories were ‘granted’ Adult Suffrage, the last stage on the road to internal self-government and Independence. Jamaica got Adult Suffrage in 1944, Trinidad 1946, British Guiana 1953, Leewards and Windwards 1954, Barbados 1951.

Within the hemisphere a curious paradox had also developed. The territory which, being the strongest and most advanced, had contributed most to the expulsion of extra-continental imperial interests, assumed the Imperial mantle.

a) Partly out of historical necessity, partly out of goodwill, it became first the guardian of continental interests, then later, as the structure of power acquired its own dynamics. the master of all the continent’s affairs. No territory on the continent escaped the influence of the Munroe Doctrine, least of all the Caribbean countries. Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Trinidad (Chaguaramas) all bore the stamp of U.S. manoeuvre by the end of the 1950s.

b) Curiously enough, it was the new imperial position within the Hemisphere which re-opened the extra-continental dimension. The position of the U.S. as one of the two ideological poles which straddled the world by 1950 meant that the idea of social change in the New World became once more closely tied to the struggle between international imperial rivals. Whatever the positive policies of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A., their positions at the top of the two poles ensured that Inter-American affairs could not remain a continental question but had to become an international question. Cuba today is only the best example of this. It was not the first (B.G. and Guatemala came before) and is unlikely to be the last. The new Papal Donation (i.e., Teheran, Yalta, Potsdam) had once more come under fire!