ARTICLES: ISSUES IN THE WINDWARD-JAMAICA BANANA WAR

III

Most of us are now well aware of the functional limitations of the conventional West Indian press. The manner in which The Daily Gleaner participated in the banana debate is only one example of an everyday phenomenon. It was also bad enough that the representatives of the West Indian industry, particularly those in Jamaica, allowed themselves to be manoeuvred by the private marketing firms. But perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the entire debate is the fact that when the Jamaican Government formally entered the picture, its spokesman – the Minister of Trade and Industry – endorsed the Banana Board’s policy, a policy which, as pointed out above, was really handed down by Elders and Fyffes and which was hardly in the true interest of Jamaican growers.

The following excerpt is taken from a policy statement by Mr. Lightbourne, Jamaica’s Trade Minister, “on his return from Britain where he had talks with Jamaica’s agents on the island’s banana trade there.” (Daily Gleaner, February 6, 1965):

“It is essential at. this time that we continue to sell all we can to Britain, because if we do not the Windwards will flood the market with their surplus production we must now allow the Windwards to take over from us in a market that is traditionally ours.”

It appears that Mr. Lightbourne, like the Board, allowed himself to be bamboozled by Elders and Fyffes who no doubt seduced him with the argument of traditional Jamaican dominance, as if this could in anyway increase export earnings and bring more incomes to Jamaican banana growers. On the contrary, since dominance would mean oversupply on the market it could only be secured through lower prices to growers. All along, Fyffes was playing on Jamaica’s characteristic insularity and petty nationalism which blinded not only the Banana Board and The Gleaner but the Jamaica Government as well. None of these could see the real issues involved even though they were obvious enough, as New World Fortnightly, The Times and The Economist were able to demonstrate.

The constitutional independence of Jamaica appears farcical in the particular context. For the Government had the appearance of a puppet for the ventriloquist, Elders and Fyffes. Whereas the chain of policy formulation and decision-making should normally be from the Government to the Statutory Authority then to the Authority’s marketing agent for implementation, the actual linkage in this case was backward. A private firm called the tune and all Jamaica jumped.

The Minister’s policy statement, detrimental as it was to the growers themselves, also shows an extremely unsympathetic approach to a problem crucial to the Windwards’ economies and at the same time peripheral to the economy of Jamaica. If an opportunity ever presented itself for Jamaica to restore the confidence of the smaller West Indian territories after its decision to withdraw from the Federation, this was it. Bananas account for less than 7 per cent of Jamaica’s total exports. But over 70% of Windwards’ exports are derived from bananas. (In St. Lucia alone, the share is now about 85%~- Concession to the Windwards would hardly affect Jamaica’s export earnings and would perhaps increase revenue to the grower, through higher prices. It would be a demonstration of regional awareness on the part of Jamaica and a show of concern for the less developed smaller territories – all at no monetary cost. Instead, the totally irrelevant argument of a traditional place in the market was the main policy consideration.

It really should not be surprising that the Jamaica Government has shown no concern with the development problems of the “less advanced” West Indian islands, with which it was once constitutionally associated. After all, even inside Jamaica itself successive administrations have shown little real concern with closing the income and stat.us gaps existing within the country. And, as the saying goes, charity begins at home! Yet the same governments have consistently exhorted the more advanced countries to help close the gap between rich and poor countries, classifying themselves conveniently in the latter group in order to obtain concessions and handouts. Jamaica makes the case to the United States, for example, that the latter should diversify away from light manufacturing, such as textiles, in favour of countries like Jamaica. What then of Jamaica’s position in bananas vis-a-vis the Windward Islands?