The movement from colonialism to independence in the West Indies in recent years has been associated with internal conflict over one issue or another. There has hardly been a dull moment. The debate on the siting of the Federal capital, the Jamaican oil refinery issue, to federate or not to federate, and during the past year, the Windward-Jamaica banana conflict, are but a few outstanding examples. A clear exposition of the real issues Involved in these conflicts is necessary in order to understand the dilemma of West Indian society at this critical stage. The present paper attempts to analyse the most recent conflict in these terms.
Ever since the banana became a commodity of international trade in the late nineteenth century, Jamaica has been the chief West Indian exporter. Today, the situation has changed with the four Windward Islands of Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada together rivalling Jamaica for the top berth. All the islands depend almost exclusively on the British market for their banana exports. Export production in the Windwards expanded at a dramatic rate over the past ten years from about three million stems a year in 1956 to over ten million stems in 1964. And by the end of last year Windward supplies to the U.K. were slightly greater than those from Jamaica. Unfortunately, the combined total of Jamaica and the Windwards exceeded the amount the market could absorb at price levels obtaining in recent years and the bottom fell out of the market. Prices fell sharply from £70.15 a ton before mid-October to £63.15, then to £56.15 by November 7 and to a record low of £39.5 by December 28. Though prices have rallied since, they have generally remained below seasonal levels of recent years.
These developments have stimulated stormy debates between interested parties as well as between governments. The debates have provided some insight into the factors which create an impasse between West Indian territories over this and other issues. First, the banana war clearly exposes the vulnerability or the territories to manipulation by outside interests when operating as separate units. Second, public discussions arising from the conflict reveal the consistent failure or the West Indian Press (in so far as The Daily Gleaner is typical) to analyse regional (and other) issues from the point of view of popular West Indian interests. Third, the conflict reveals the ambivalence of the “better-off” units like Jamaica in their relations with the “less advanced” territories on the one hand, and the rest of the world on the other.