Op-Ed: The Caribbean and Thatcher

By

By David Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s name will always have a distinguished connotation in the Caribbean.

Thatcher died at the Ritz London Hotel on Monday after a stroke. In many ways, Thatcher can be considered a unique politician who changed Britain, the Caribbean and the world.

To date, she is the only woman to serve in the post of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

It can be agreed that she helped rescue England from the brink of financial collapse and restored its military muscle. She radically transformed Britain from being a nonfunctional welfare state to a state where investment and profit were welcomed.

She privatized Rolls Royce and British Airways, now significant private enterprises.

Although she was anti-union, she urged Jamaican-British residents to vote conservative under the political chorus “Labour says he black, we says he’s British.”

This pragmatic approach to race relations increased her popularity in poor black urban districts such as Brixton.

And her political declaration that the West could do business with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev was something that may have ended the Cold War, as we knew it then.

Did Thatcher change the world? Through their influence, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan ideologically shifted the Caribbean from a left-leaning region in the 1970s to a sound and competitive marketplace by the late 1980’s.

After Thatcher, Fidel Castro was no longer the dominant politician of the Caribbean, and during her 11-year tenure as Prime Minister, many Caribbean politicians including Michael Manley and Lynden Pindling shifted from being socialist fellow travelers to pragmatists.

Thatcher was a strong woman, who, despite philosophical differences entertained Nelson Mandela in 1990. For those Caribbean individuals who claim England as their country of birth, Thatcher is frequently a source of inspiration. She certainly would not suffer fools gladly.

When Argentina violated international law by invading the British Falklands Islands, Thatcher reacted with efficient and incisive military action.

Many Caribbean people coming from a British background similar to the Falklands sympathized with her definitive and specific action.

It can be argued that without Thatcher there would have been no Portia Simpson-Miller in Jamaica or no Kamla Parsad Bissessar in Trinidad.

All three are strong, tough-minded women leading political parties in what has traditionally been a male-dominated world.

By breaking the male monopoly of power in a Westminster model of government and doing so on a sustained basis, Thatcher blazed the trail for Caribbean female leaders of the future. Although Thatcher was technically against the United States invasion of Grenada, she was spiritually in support of Grenada’s return to parliamentary democracy.

Thatcher’s legacy for the Caribbean will be a perceived contribution to the development of free market and conservative ideas. Edward Seaga and Peter Phillips would have been enormously influenced by her; and her direct role in the end of communism in Eastern Europe has had its inevitable impact in the Caribbean today.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.