Avatars of Eric William's Pan-caribbeanism


In 1966, Sidney Mintz wrote ‘the political leaders of the Caribbean have very rarely worked with real purpose towards any pan-Caribbean consciousness or identity. Men like Williams in Trinidad, Castro in Cuba, and the late Manley in Jamaica would grasp at such a vision, but for the greater part it would remain a dream for tomorrow.” At the time when Mintz was developing this argument, the vision of an pan-Caribbean identity or conscience was in the case of Eric Williams, the future project for which he would fight with just and serious cause. That said, the purpose of this paper is to analyse the way in which Williams transcended what Mintz meant by “a dream for tomorrow.”

In the course of this research, various sources have been consulted such as, for example, government papers at the National Archives of the United States and Great Britain, and the Luis MuñozMarin Foundation of Puerto Rico. However, it is Williams' own words, his articles in university revues, his books, his speeches, his personal and official correspondence, and his diaries over many years deposited in the Eric Williams Collection of the University of the West Indies on the Saint Augustine campus of Trinidad and Tobago, that together constitute the main documentary sources.1


Eric Williams, the eldest of seven daughters and five sons, belonged to an urban and catholic coloured, lower middle-class family in Port of Spain. In his autobiography, Williams says little of his political affiliations, but in one of the rough drafts he sketched out for this book, he wrote that T.A. Marryshow (1887-1958), born in the neighbouring island of Grenada, was his patron without mentioning the latter in the published version. Up until then, nothing indicated in this writings that Williams had ever made reference to Marryshow, brilliant orator, bibliophile, journalist, and editor of the newspaper “The West Indian.” His pamphlet ‘Cycles of Civilisations' in which in 1917 he incorporated several of the articles he published in ‘The West Indian' in order to refute the white supremacist, vulgar racism of General Jan Smuts of South Africa is not even mentioned in the writings of Williams.

Why should Williams have erased all mention of someone of such importance? One possible explanation may lie in the fact that differences between the two men in respect of style and content were so entrenched. Whilst often critical, Marryshow in old age remained respectful and accommodating, and not at all confrontational in his relations and writings concerning the colonial metropole. Right up to his omission, the impact of Marryshow may be seen as having had a moderate influence on Williams' interest in history, in his love of books, and in the development of his integrationist political thinking.

As he recounts in his autobiography, his father's ambition forced him to use education as a means of social advancement. From childhood onwards, he won several grants which allowed him to study at the best state secondary school in the country, Queen's Royal College, and later to enter Oxford University. At Queen's College, he attended the courses of the illustrious Marxist and Trotskyite man of letters C.L.R. James later becoming his tutor when he won the much coveted ‘Islands Grant Award,' enabling him to study in Great Britain, and perhaps even assumed the role of university and political advisor before their break-up in 1960.

Oxford University and Howard University

In 1937, Williams was awarded a doctorate in history at the University of Oxford, the first Caribbean to obtain such an elevated grade in this discipline. His thesis, entitled “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of West Indian Trade and Slavery” vigorously challenged the orthodoxy embedded in British historiography, which attributed to humanist thought the campaign which would bring an end to the slave trade and slavery in England. In this study, he focused on two themes – the sugar plantation and African slavery, which would become constants in his historical researches and the central determinant in his conception of the Caribbean.

In 1939, Williams obtained a post at Howard University, which he would call the ‘Black Oxford,' at Washington D.C. At the time of his arrival, US government circles were in uproar over the imminent entry of their country into the Second World War. As will become evident later, during the next ten years, until 1948, Williams would submerge himself in the politico-university Caribbean exchange movement through the vehicle of his publications on both the history and the present-day region, and including his active involvement in the regional organisations of the Caribbean: the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission (1942-1945), and its replacement, the Caribbean Commission (1946-1961).

The Hispanic Caribbean and Haiti

Williams' great strength resided in his profound knowledge of European history and that of the British Caribbean, at that time the product of his researches in the metropolitan archives, and his period in London during the politically crucial decade of the depression in the 1930's. In 1940, he successfully completed his first voyage in historical fieldwork to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, thanks in large measure to his fluency in Spanish and French.

His first stopover was in Cuba, where he would experience the region's most fecund intellectual life. There he would rediscover his “indefectible friend,” the “monumental” Fernando Ortiz (1881-1969). Williams who was less than enthusiastic in acknowledging intellectual debts, recognised what he owed to Ortiz, namely “the huge body of research on Cuban history and society, which had long been for me one of the great stimuli and a most important input into my own intellectual development and personal university-based research.”

He describes Puerto Rico as being “depressing” because of the poverty, the prostitution, “United States in every respect,” the Spanish language subordinate to English, and “a totally unambiguous US colonialism.” At the University of Puerto Rico, he met Jaime Benitez who was appointed Rector a year later. He spent little time in the Dominican Republic, then in the iron grasp of the bloody dictatorship of Rafael L. Trujillo and where “the silence of the tomb reigned everywhere, broken only by the noise of army boots – there was no one to speak to, little information to be had, no books to buy.” Four years after the massacre of thousands of Haitians, the silence of the terror, and who knows, perhaps also the traditional Dominican racism, prevented him personally from listening to the country's intellectuals. This absence of communication and as a consequence of any real acquaintance with the country, explains the relative absence of any mention of the Dominican Republic in his published work, and his involvement in integrationist politics.2

In Haiti, the lack of both time and money limited his stay to just visiting the capital Port-au-Prince. He sought out and got to know the “famous sociologist, Jean Price-Mars, author of ‘Thus spoke the Uncle'.”3

Over there, he learnt from the US representative for fiscal affairs that the British Prime Minister Churchill had agreed to a concession for military bases in Trinidad.4This concession which Williams would vigorously contest nearly two decades later, reinforced his view of the strategic importance of the Caribbean for the United States.5 According to Williams, it was this voyage around the region that would establish the basis of “my emergence as the academic spokes person for the Caribbean,” enlarging his view of the Caribbean beyond the island of his birth and the British-run part of the region, given that in 1940, more than any other, I was the Caribbean with the closest and most direct contacts with the totality of Caribbean territory, as much from an historical as a contemporary viewpoint.”

The Antillian Federation

It was in The Journal of Negro Educationin 1941, what Williams first presented his concept of a “federation or pan-antillian union.” Explaining his project, he used the term ‘Caribbean' in the British sense, that is to say the islands of the Caribbean or Antilles, and not as understood in the US which included the independent mainland states bordering the Caribbean Sea. Elsewhere, he identified three issues, each of which (as will be seen later) would be taken up again, modified or eliminated in the years that followed, right up to his definitive proposals of 1981.

The first issue related to the historico-social base of the West Indies within which is found a dominantly black, manual labouring population sharing the common heritage of slavery in turn facilitating a certain sense of unity.

For Williams, “in this context of shared history, racial origins, and basically similar social groupings penalised by the same economic curse, the dynamics of these artificially differentiated territories are the same, and it is time to acknowledge these fundamental identities over and above incidental differences.”

The second issue is that relating to the different “cultural varnishes” of the French, British, and Spanish presence (the Dutch are not mentioned, probably an unintended omission), which may make any reconciliation impossible. He notes, however that one should remember that attitudes towards Negroes of ‘Latin races' are for various reasons fundamentally different to those of ‘Anglo-Saxons.'

The third issue was that of the role of the Cuban leader which was “inevitable not only because of his far-flung reputation, but also thanks to his educated intellectual contributions representing an intellectual oasis in a desert of intellectual sterility, created by sugar and referred to as a civilisation of backward peoples.”

In 1942, Williams published The Negro in the Caribbean, a work denouncing colonialism, the absence of democracy and the monoculture of sugar cane in the region, and which according to its author “established his reputation.” His definition of the Caribbean was enriched by the inclusion of all the islands of the archipelago as well as the Guyanas (today Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname), ant British Honduras (today Belize) because “they are similar in their economies as in the racial characteristics of their populations.”6

In this work Williams, in his role as an historian and prior to the imminent creation of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission, outlines a concept of the Caribbean destined to influence politicians and government administrators, the metropolitan decision-makers and the future political leaders of the Caribbean, affirming that “the patch to be followed by the politicians of tomorrow depends not only on a political federation respecting all nationalities but also on an economic federation.” In the face of possible objections given the difficulty of achieving such a project, his response conjures up the catastrophic alternative: “the Caribbean like everywhere else in the world, will either unite itself or it will collapse.”

At a time o uncertainty, Williams' proposition was one of many seeking to address the future shape of the post-war world.

The Anglo-American Caribbean Commission

In March of that year, the creation of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission (AACC) was announced; a body made up of Great Britain and the USA whose objective was the setting up of several economic and social programmes in their respective colonial territories. Straight away, Williams sought nomination to the commission but only secured a post of consultant to the Bureau of Strategic Affairs, forerunner of the CIA, given that not being an American citizen precluded the possibility of a post with more senior responsibilities.

In parallel with these developments, Williams as a professor at Howard University organised a conference on the economic future of the Caribbean. He himself presented a paper on the theme of the Conference in which he reviewed nine aspects of the economies of the Caribbean. For the last of the latter, he presenteda diagnosis of both the present and the future of the Caribbean, underlining the necessity for economic cooperation based on interdependence in order to become competitive in a global economy.

“The Caribbean is a geographical construct... a collection of isolated entities, each living in isolation from the other... a federation would make possible an economic development that is today impossible, and would afford the Caribbean a power of negotiation in the world which isolated entities do not have... for several years past, the people of the Caribbean have recognised the principle of independence, it is time that they recognise the privilege that is represented by interdependence.”

William's project for federation echoed that of the AACC which sought to encourage greater economic and commercial relations between the islands of the Caribbean in the context of a closer political involvement with each other. Three months after the conference, Williams was appointed to a post of great significance within the AACC, bit in 1944 he was placed in charge of research for the Agricultural Committee of the Caribbean Research Council within the sub-regional organisation. That same year, he published his classic work Capitalism and Slavery, a substantial rewrite of his doctoral thesis, which brought him very significant recognition within the academic community. At this moment in time, the by now reputed historian, initiator of a conception of the Caribbean and a federal future, becomes an activist within the AACC which he thought would become a driving force for the future of the whole region. In the years that followed Williams, for work-related reasons, would visit nearly all the British, French, and Dutch colonies. In his autobiography, he develops the point: “travels extended my vision of the West Indies, deepened my historical researches, and enhanced my political contacts.”*

The Caribbean Commission

Williams' engagement and success would continue to a point when he accepts the post of Deputy Director of Research for the Caribbean Research Council at Port of Spain, where the headquarters of the organisation would be re-located, now re-named the Caribbean Commission with the support of France and Holland. This appointment would prove to be a cardinal moment in the development of his thinking and in his later actions, despite writing in his memoirs that he was constantly the victim of racial prejudice and the metropole's generally apathetic regard to the region. He was responsible for researching the economic, commercial, and agricultural problems, amongst others, of the region, as well as land ownership, the production of tubers and meat, intra-caribbean trade, the sugar industry and tourism. Whilst Williams endeavoured to undertake all research with a regional dimension, the position of the metropole was shifting, and in the post-war world its interest was focussing more on reinforcing bi-lateral relations with its colonies.

In 1952, after several years of both historicaland contemporary research in respect of the varying realities facing the islands of the Caribbean, Williams became conscious of a number of difficult issues mitigating against better cooperation between the countries of the region. Amongst these, he cites the isolation created by distance and the absence of appropriate communications, the international rivalries in the region and the intra-archipelagic jealousies. But above all else he emphasises the linguistic barriers, and the absence of a common corpus of knowledge as the most important. In order to confront this lacuna in the region's historical records, Williams pursued his university and educational research outside the Caribbean Commission. In his role as President of the Trinidad and Tobago Historical Society, he founded the first Caribbean history journal, the Caribbean Historical Review, a publication which lasted from 1950 to 1954.

Williams tried, but with little success, to involve institutions and personalities from Trinidad and Tobago as well as the region in these projects. One of the latter, then still unfinished was the editedcompilation of documents, in three volumes, on the history of the Caribbean which would later be completed by Williams and published by the University of Puerto Rico. The tile for this work was to be Readings in Caribbean History, and Williams suggested adding the subtitle “From Colombus to Muñoz Marin,” explaining “Whilst my huge personal admiration for him [Luis Muñoz Marin] as one of the greatest sons of Caribbean birth is implicit in my proposal, the main reason is that he embodies the populist movement in the Caribbean, and moreover is representative of the most recent period of Caribbean history, as was in their time Columbus, Colbert, Toussaint Louverture, amongst others.”7

The rector, Jaime Benitez, without even having consulted the Governor Muñoz Marin, refused to accept the proposed title if the work was to be published under the auspices of the University using public funds.

Williams' attitude towards Puerto Rico merits a separate study, as it was to influence his future positions in both economic and political domains. No written evidence of support on the part of Williams has been found for the nationalism of Pedro Albizu Campus, nor for the electoralist independentism of Gilberto Concepción de Gracia, but in 1952 he backed what he called “cordial relations with the United States based on local autonomy,” initiated under the auspices of the Governor Luis Muñoz Marin. Demotivated by the inaction of the Caribbean Commission, he writes a letter to Muñoz Marin in which he proposes the creation of an Institute of Caribbean Affairs at the University of Puerto Rico, with the aim of providing the necessary knowledge and information base for national politicians and regional planners, as a common data bank designed to facilitate Caribbean cooperation.8

Into the political arena

So it is not surprising that in 1955, having been driven out of the Caribbean Commission, that during an historic address in the main square of Port of Spain, Woodford Square, in front of a crowd of 10 000 people, “Mr Caribbean” as he cas already known, launched himself into politics. Very quickly, with the support of the Afro-Trinidadian professional and middle-class (doctors, university teachers, lawyers) and in smallest measure the Indo-Trinidadians from the same professions, the founding charter of the new party, People's National Movement (PNM) was confirmed. In tune with the ideas of Williams, the document endorsed the federation of British territories, the required condition for support towards rapid economic development. But the document also added that “from the start, account should be taken of a strengthening of economic ties with the non-British territories of the Caribbean.” Puerto Rico and its model of industrialisation on demand would play its role in the early years of his political career. In his most important lecture on the economy of Trinidad and Tobago, Williams would plead that they follow “'the example of Puerto Rico” producing both for the internal regional market as well as for export, whilst noting in passing that the country had the advantage of its own oil.

Williams and the PNM against all hope would win the elections, and the era of party politics was established in Trinidad and Tobago. Against this particular conjuncture of events, there could hardly have been a better-prepared candidate – given his historical and contemporary researches into the country itself and the region, his personal and professional experience of the regional and metropolitan context – to take up the post of party leader and later Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Federation of West Indies

During the course of this early stage, both as a nationalist and anti-colonialist leader, at the very moment of the Bandung Conference, Williams would find himself immediately immersed in the process of the political integration of the Federation of the West Indies, a British initiative. From the start, he contested the ‘hands-on' authority of the Governor-General, a British civil servant, over the imposition of differentiated customs duties and the international obligations of the Federation. But he most important problems emanated from the political reality of the federal territories, in particular his own and that of Jamaica.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the PNM lost the federal elections to a coalition led by Bhadese Mahraj. Its unexpected response was to treat the Indo-Trinidadians “a recalcitrant hostile minority,” which would stick with Williams for the rest of his political career.

From the start, the West Indian Federation faced structural problems, but the final ‘coup de grace' would be wielded by the Jamaican electorate. Jamaican insularity, explained by its geographical isolation and tenuous relations with the rest of the Caribbean, meant that Gordon Manley favoured the creation of a weak central government, whilst Williams on the contrary sought one that was centralised and strong.

The decision of the Jamaican electorate was to abandon the federation at the first referendum. Williams, with his skill for finding the perfect catchphrase at the right moment, declared that “10 minus 1 = zero,” and refused to allow the federation to continue with the other eight members of the eastern Caribbean, or to constitute a unitary government with Grenada. It is possible what Williams favoured no other alternative for fear of reviving ethnic tensions in Trinidad and Tobago, which played a decisive role in his decision. However, the far-sightedness of Gordon K. Lewis noted that “Trinidad takes one step backwards now, in order to take two steps forward later. The Caribbean, viewed in its totality, clearly lacks the audacious leadership ready to risk everything for the greater cause.”

The Caribbean Economic Community

At the beginning of the 1960s decade, Williams, as the only surviving political leader of the West Indies Federation, risked taking two steps forward in order to promote the cause of Pan-Caribbeanisms. Firstly, at his behest, the PNM passed a resolution in January 1962 to bring about independence, which took effect on the 31st August of the same year, and which Williams would celebrate with the publication of the first national history of his country. Secondly, he declared himself ready “to join with all the peoples of the Caribbean in a Caribbean Economic Community, and to take whatever action necessary to achieve such an objective.”9 Williams Wasted no time in attempting to become the “guiding leader” of Pan-Caribbeanism.10 He used his authority as convenor to put in motion the procedure for establishing the Conference of Caribbean Heads of State of the Commonwealth, and at the first meeting in July 1963, he presented his project for a Caribbean Economic Community, which took as its model the European Common Market.

Notwithstanding the scale of his project, which called for Caribbean Economic Community extending beyond the confines of the sub-region, Williams was only too aware of the geopolitical veto of the USA opposing the inclusion of Cuba. For this reason, in August of that year in Le Monde diplomatique, Williams revealed his differences with Cuba noting that “Trinidad and Tobago face the Caribbean, whilst Cuba turns it back on the latter preferring integration within the wider communist world.” He offers his own model of development “as halfway between the all out nationalisation of Castro and the out-dated capitalist system imposed by the power of the ‘Marines' and dollars of the United States.” This centrist path promoted itself as “an engaged society, with on the one side the government and the other the main foreign investors” in order to formulate and achieve the economic and social objectives pledged by the state administration.

The Pan-Caribbean overtures of the Caribbean Economic Community would not be realised in the face of the refusal by Barbados and Jamaica to include non-British territories, particularly undemocratic country like Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. So Williams decided to rejoin the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA), an initiative promoted by Antigua, Barbados, and Guyana, mooted since 1964. At its foundation in 1968, CARIFTA included these three countries together with Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, and Saint Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, which William Demas (for several years, the economic advisor to Williams) as General Secretary. On this particular appointment, Williams must have felt reassured as Demas at that time shared a Pan-Caribbean concept identical to his own.

Eric Williams and Puerto Rico

As far as anyone can recall, Williams would not renounce his aim for closer ties with the rest of the non-Anglophone Caribbean. In parallel with the CARIFTA policy of economic integration, Trinidad and Tobago continued its discussions with Puerto Rico, the Dutch Indies, Suriname, and the French Antilles regarding two issues – British West Indies Airways, and the two ships offered by Canada which originally belonged to the Federation – with the aim of providing transport services at a regional level. With the year 1964 bare underway, several informal accords were agreed with Puerto Rico and the Dutch West Indies to launch joint policies in the areas of tourism, commerce, maritime transport, and communications.

In mid-July of that year in London, Williams would declare the four “pillars” of the new Caribbean to be Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, the Dutch Indies, and Cuba.11 Just over a month later, the Governor Muñoz Marín would announce the withdrawal of Puerto Rico, alleging the accord's stipulation that only democratic states would be included, so that communist Cuba, the Dominican Republic then governed by a national council, and British Guyana under the communist Cheddi Jagan were not acceptable.12

Williams did not make this disagreement public. However, during the course of the same year, he demonstrated that he main obstacles in this debate were political, for two reasons: firstly, the rivalry between two metropolitan centres and their respective spheres of influence, and secondly, the lack of any constitutional authority on the part of Puerto Rico regarding such issues. The rivalry between the metropoles in question concerned the United States and France, whilst with regard to the second question, it raised a comparison between the status of Puerto Rico en that of the Dutch West Indies, which demonstrated that in the case of the latter, unlike Boringuen, there was no doubt that they were free of colonial control.13 In 1965, Williams realised that he was in no position to further the process of integration. In vain, he solicited Great Britain to convene a conference between the United States, France, Holland, and the Dutch West Indies and Suriname, Canada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, in order to debate the whole regionalist question, and the promotion of the Caribbean Economic Community.

One should perhaps interrogate the question of Williams' disillusionment in the case of Puerto Rico. Firstly, like many others, he was mistaken in believing that the status of Associated Free State approved in 1952, and confirmed by UN Resolution 748 (XV) in 1953, gave the island autonomy. Subsequently, the difficulties of Puerto Rican industrialisation – and the failure of their own experience in Trinidad and Tobago – led him to lose faith in this development model. Finally, the view he held of Muñoz Marín as a leader endowed with a vision of the Caribbean, did not accord with reality, given that his interest was limited to relations between Puerto Rico and the United States, and to the development of liberal democracy across Latin America. Following the electoral victory of the annexationist party in 1968, Williams in his book From Columbus to Castro: The history of the Caribbean 1492-1969, excludes Puerto Rico from his Pan-Caribbean project because “Puerto Rico has succeeded in its economic development, but lost its national identity. What possible gain is there for a country that surpasses all others, but loses its soul.”

However, in the case of the French Antilles, whose status as overseas departments of France was so similar to that of US federated state, Williams appeared less categorical, even when in 1969 he directly questioned President Pompidou on answering whether or not Martinique and Guadeloupe could become part of Caribbean Federation, and obtained the following response: “Mr Prime Minister, do not forget that they are integral parts of France.” This same line of questioning on the Dutch West Indies and Suriname elicited the same answer, which made it clear that “these islands had a particular relationship with Holland.”

In his history of the Caribbean, the politician-historian Williams makes no reference at all to these meetings, but recognises that the peoples of Guadeloupe and Martinique largely supported these ties, and that the ending, or at least loosening, of the latter with France represented a pre-condition to better economic relations with the rest of the Caribbean. Williams held the view, without any tangible evidence, that “one can be reasonably certain that time will show that the present arrangements, do not offer the final solution of the problems of these territories.” Despite all this background rage and in-fighting, Williams would continue to reiterate the case for his Pan-Caribbean project, from which he excluded only Puerto Rico.

“Once the movement towards economic integration and political independence for all the territories had begun to gather momentum in the islands of the Commonwealth, it became necessary to establish close economic relations with all those countries outside the Commonwealth – the French and Dutch territories and those independent countries like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba, which needed to be brought back into the wider American family. (Puerto Rico... appeared to be proceeding slowly but surely towards statehood and member of the American Union).”

In pursuing the project, Williams would no longer adopt the categorical position of the official historian of the sub-region of the 1940s and 1950s, by affirming that “during the next stage, it is no longer possible to anticipate the sort of relationship which might develop between the Commonwealth Caribbean and the other countries of the region.”14 Accordingly, he proposed a number of working collaborations for the production, processing and marketing of such products as sugar and bauxite, the exchange of technology and scientific know-how, and industrial integration in specific sectors, using primary resources from the region or elsewhere. Even though one notes a much greater sophistication in the measures proposed, very much in keeping with his concept of the Caribbean as influenced by the economists of the University of the West Indies, none of them gave rise to any interest at the time. On the other hand, Williams would return with great confidence to his own development model for Trinidad and Tobago, based on a combination of foreign investment and the strictest control of the economy by the government and other nationals, in contrast to Puerto Rico's freedom of action and Cuba's totalitarianism.

The publication of his history of the Caribbean was hardly noticed in Trinidad and Tobago, because of the convulsive events of the so-called “February Revolution” in 1970, otherwise remembered as the Black Power marches and demonstrations, and failed mutiny of the tiny army that almost toppled his government. For a section of society “the Doctor,” as he was known everywhere, ceased to be seen as the liberating father of the nation, but rather more as a neo-colonial puppet.15 Even though his leadership was in decline, Williams won the 1971 elections and was returned to power. During that campaign, the PNM renewed its commitment to “continuing its programme of closer cooperation with the other countries of the Caribbean regarding economic and commercial activities.

The Caribbean Community

At the start of the 1970s, of all the political leaders of the English-speaking Caribbean, Williams embodied its historical memory as the one key actor who had participated in the preceding process of integration. In 1972, the Heads of State Conference under his “magisterial chairmanship” decided to transform CARIFTA into the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).16 The latter would take effect at the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the location of a US naval base in Trinidad whose closure would eventually be brought about by Williams after a bitter struggle. On the 4th July, 1973, Williams would define the Caribbean as “that area which encompasses all the islands and mainland territories whose economic development allows us to consider them as part of the Caribbean theatre.” That year, Williams' objective was a new political federation of the Commonwealth Caribbean, followed by “an economic integration of the whole of the Caribbean regardless of national origins or language affiliations.” He noted also that Jamaica, under the new leadership of Prime Minister Michael Manley, now displayed a spirit of practical cooperation in contrast to the doubts and fears of the 1960s.

In September 1973, and totally unexpected, Williams in a mood of frustration brought about by a weakened economy with the sharpest drop in currency reserves, and a political climate worsening by the day, announced his intention to withdraw from political life. The immediate reason given was “the issue of Caribbean integration which would never be attained in the near future, the cause of which remained a lack of any evident drive towards colonialism.” Amongst other obvious reasons cited he mentioned two new ones: Firstly; the identification of Cuba as a Latin American and non-Caribbean state, and “the fact that this was the case before Castro and arguably became even more so with Castro.” Secondly, with reference to Venezuela and other Latin American states, he declared “they have always considered us as a handful of colonial negroes in colonies of the British Crown.”17

The conflict with Jamaica

In December of the same year, Williams goes back on his decision to resign, given the arrival of newfound prosperity thanks to petrodollars generated by the oil crisis. In 1974, he offers support for two major capital projects exploiting raw materials form the region. Of particular interest was the installation of two aluminium foundries, one in Trinidad and the other in Guyana by the governments of those two countries and that of Jamaica, and supported by Williams for being in line with the policy directions extolled by “Caribbean university intellectuals in respect of industrial integration and synergy, linked to a fuller utilisation of local resources.”

All this would come to nothing when Trinidad and Tobago withdraw because of a bilateral accord signed by Michael Manley for Jamaica, agreeing to supply Venezuela, a major oil producer, considerable quantities of bauxite and aluminium so as to augment the smelting capacities of this country.18 On the 4th May, 1975, Williams accuses Venezuela of attempting to re-colonise the Caribbean, and in turn rejects usage of the term “Caribbean basin,” a new geopolitical concept enjoying increased currency, used also by the United States. But the true conflict remains that between Manley's “Latino-American doctrine” and Williams' concept of the Caribbean that clearly excluded the mainland Latin American states, which will become clear later. “Usually, the Caribbean defines itself as – and we have adopted the same approach – the island and mainland territories in which plantation economies were established mainly under the control of European metropolitan powers, characterised by the introduction of massive foreign labour, low paid workers, forcibly brought in from Africa, China and other places. It is this that affords a distinct unifying identity. There was slavery in Venezuela and in Mexico, but never on the same scale. It is a land apart that owes nothing to traditional North America nor Latin America.”19

This refusal to consider Jamaica's Latino-American initiative stemmed largely from Williams' conception of the Caribbean. One could also add that Venezuela's active strengthening of ties with the eastern Caribbean also played its part. The new commercial and political forces at work in the region made it clear that his federal project was not viable in the current economic climate.

From here on, Williams boycotted CARICOM's principal means of consultation and decision – making, the Heads of State Conferences, and in December 1977, he stated that “We have witnessed this year the final quasi-collapse of the Treaty of the Caribbean Community.” His critique of CARICOM would prove crushing: “first, and foremost, CARICOM has neither even been nor is Caribbean. It is a Caribbean community that excludes the larger part of the Caribbean” and “its members remain deeply divided, whilst the Treaty which created it is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.” Despite Williams' own deception over CARICOM, the Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1974 would add a clause allowing the Heads of Government to accept as a member “all other states of the Caribbean region.” That is what followed with the integration of Suriname in 1995, and Haiti in 2002. In the author's opinion, as yet still to be substantiated, this clause came about at the instigation of Trinidad and Tobago.

In conclusion, William's final declaration – “What God has divided, cannot be united by any man. It i here that the law of the Caribbean is revealed” – reflected his sense of total deception after his repeated attempts both formally and informally to promote Caribbean integration. A few weeks later, he died, almost totally isolated from his own people and other governments of the Caribbean, whether English speaking or not. As a historian, Eric Williams had postulated that the social base found in the sugar plantation and black slavery was in itself sufficient to underpin regional integration under a Pan-Caribbean Federation. Furthermore, in his role as a regional administrator, he instigated concrete research adopting a regional perspective en the very real problems confronting the Caribbean. Although all too aware of differences of scale and resources, distinctive cultural processes in demography and ethnicity, and divergent policy developments under the grip of different metropolitan capitals, his readiness as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago was such that he strived to achieve an economic and even political integration of both the Anglophone and non-Anglophone Caribbean. Even if he failed in that project, his perseverance was to prove fundamental in the creation of an economic, functional and in small measure, political integration of the Anglophone Caribbean within CARICOM.

Elsewhere, his attempts to incorporate French and Dutch territories came up against their metropolitan interests as much as those of the territories themselves. He set apart Puerto Rico and Cuba for different reasons: the one for its integration, increasing by the day, within the US orbit, and the other because of its integration within the Socialist bloc, and for choosing to turn towards Latin America and not the Caribbean. Whilst always included within his overall integration project, no initiatives from him are in evidence in relation to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. One must assume that the comings and goings of these autocraticregimes and their political instability allied to disinterest in the wider region as expressed by Dominican and Haitian political leaders caused him to avoid any such ‘rapprochement.' In the case of Juan Bosch, the only important political leader in Hispaniola, with the necessary sensitivity to consider such a regionalist project, the historical fragmentation of the region, so often denounced by Williams, would thwart any mutual knowledge of each other and contrast between them.

As it becomes further and further removed from the existingregional status quo, Williams' concept would not be acted on. However, the integration of both Suriname and Haiti within CARICOM would be a step in the right direction. CARICOM faces serious problems, but the integration of other Caribbean countries remains one of its objectives, and membership does not require participation in the Caribbean Common Market. Separately, the creation of the Association of Caribbean States, a CARICOM initiative bringing together all the independent states of the Caribbean, is in one sense a recognition of the differences between Williams' ‘Caribbean' and that of those Latin American countries of central, northern, and southern America. Never before, nor after Williams up to the present, had any public intellectual, regional administrator or Caribbean-born national politician attempted to define the region in order to bring to fruition a project establishing a Pan-Caribbean federation within those same boundaries. The outcome, toady still only partially realised, should provide the incentive for continued debate around both present and future studies on the Caribbean.


1 Part of the private and publicly available documentation, which as with Williams' personal library is deposited in this collection (see ‘Eric Williams Memorial Collection', Henceforth EWMC).

2 His knowledge of Cuba and Puerto Rico was always greater than of the Dominican Republic, given that the early provocation by Pedro F. Bonó (1895) stating that “Cocoa represents oligarchy and tobacco democracy” had come to this attention.

3 No Spanish translation exists of Thus spoke the Uncle…, Ethnographic essay, Port-au Prince, Compiegne Printers, 1928.

4 Reference to the setting up of military bases in the colonies of Antigua, Bahamas, Bermuda, British Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Trinidad.

5 He concluded a lecture in the public library of Port of Spain as follows “Two hundred years ago we were sugar plantations. Today we are naval bases”.

6 This definition of the Caribbean remained the most commonly used until a few years ago, and is still used today.

7 Originally, Williams considered using the subtitle for the history of the Caribbean which he was writing.

8 This proposed dates from 1948 during a conversation with professors from the University of Puerto Rico and, I believe, represents the intellectual origin of the Institute of Caribbean Studies, established within the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Puerto Rico in 1958.

9 The Caribbean Economic Community comprised not only the 10 members of the Federation, but also the three Guyanas and all the independent and non-independent islands of the Caribbean Sea.

10 The “structural leadership” refers to the person who acts on behalf of the state in formal negotiations with other equivalent national institutions. To this end, he/she manages the means of structural power available (i.e. the power based on material resources) so as to facilitate interaction relating to the business unless discussion.

11 “The ‘Four Pillars' of a Future Caribbean”, London Daily Mirror, 20 July 1964, p. 10.

12 On the 4th December 1964, Muñoz Marín would refuse Williams' invitation to meet with him on the 15th of that month during a meeting on “regional cooperation” giving as his reason his resignation from the government.

13 Williams was right. The constitutional agreement between Puerto Rico and the USA did not anticipate full autonomy, and did not give it authority over its international relations. The opposite would prove to be the case in the Dutch West Indies with regard to its internal affairs.

14 It seems that William himself thought that he had miscalculated because at one moment in 1970 he sent Deutsch the outline of a book which he intended to title ‘The Search for Caribbean Identity' (La búsqueda de la identidad del Caribe). The author has not been able to trace this book proposal, and it seems that the project fell through when Williams failed to reply to Deutsch's offer to sign a contract.

15 A publication of the National Joint Action Committee, the most important organisation within the ‘Black Power' movement declared ‘the economic control by the whites gives them political control. Our political representatives have become veritable puppets. Every five years, the blacks obtain a little power over which to haggle during the elections. We have had enough of priority programmes and promises. The fact is that the rest of the time is wasted over policies which lick the boots of the White Power structure” (Slavery to Slavery: NJAC on the Economic System, multicopia, 1970, p. 7).

16 The acronym ‘CARICOM' stands for Caribbean Community and the Caribbean Common Market.

17 The reference to Venezuela was not surprising given that relations between the two countries were politely chilly because of Williams' suspicions, founded in his historical researches.

18 In his book, Manley does not mention the accord with Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, referring only to the accord with Venezuela (see Michael Manley, Jamaica: The Struggle in the Periphery, 1982).

19 Manley would seek closer ties and greater cooperation with the Latin American states so as to create a new international order which favoured developing countries.




Alleyne Doddridge, “The Eric Williams They Knew: Oral Reminiscences of Colleagues”, Caribbean Issues, vol. 8, n° 11, 1999.


Benitez Jaime, “Memorandum, From: Jaime Benítez, Chancellor, to Mr. Millard Hansen, Director, Social Research Center, 11 July 1952”.


Brewster H, Thomas C.Y., The Dynamics of West Indian Economic Integration, [Mona] Jamaica, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1967


Demas William Demas, West Indian Nationhood and Caribbean Integration, Bridgetown, CCC Publishing House, 1974.


Demorizi Emilio Rodríguez, ed., Papeles de Pedro F. Bonó, Barcelona, Gráficas M. Pareja, 1980.


Deutsch Andre, “Letter, Andre Deutsch to Eric Williams, 2 February 1971”, EWMC.


Geiser Hans J., Alleyne Pamela and Garaj Garaj, Legal Problems of Caribbean Integration: A Study on the Legal Aspects of CARICOM, Leyden/St. Augustine, Sijthoff/Institute of International Relations, 1976.


Girvan Norman, The Caribbean Bauxite Industry, [Mona] Jamaica, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1967.


Government of Trinidad and Tobago, CARIFTA and the Caribbean Economic Community, July, 1968.


Lewis Gordon K., “The Trinidad and Tobago General Election of 1961", Caribbean Studies, vol. 2, n° 2, 1962.


Mahabir Winston, In and Out of Politics: Tales of the Government of Dr. Eric Williams from the Notebooks of a Former Minister, Port of Spain, Imprint Caribbean, 1978.


Manley Michael, Jamaica: The Struggle in the Periphery, London, Third World Media, 1982.


Marryshow T. Albert, Cycles of Civilization, St. Georges, The West Indian, 1917.


McIntyre Alister, “Some Personal Reflections on William Gilbert Demas”, en Kenneth O. Hall, ed., The Caribbean Community: Beyond Survival, Kingston, Ian Randle Publishers, 2001.


Mintz Sidney W., “The Caribbean as a Socio-Cultural Area”, Journal of World History, vol. 9, n° 4, 1966.


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Muñoz Marín Luis, “Letter, Luis Muñoz Marín to Dr. Eric Williams, 24 August 1964”, Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín, Sección V LMM Gobernador de Puerto Rico, Serie 12, Doc. 100.


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Williams Eric, “The Impact of the International Crisis upon the Negro in the Caribbean”, The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 10, n° 3, 1941.


Williams Eric, The Negro in the Caribbean, Washington, DC, Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1942.


Williams Eric, Capitalism and Slavery, Chapel Hill, NC, University of North Carolina Press, 1944.


Williams Eric, The British West Indies in World History: A Lecture, Port of Spain, Guardian Commercial Printery, 1944.


Williams Eric, “Letter, Eric Williams to His Excellency Governor Muñoz Marín, 8 November 1951", Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín, Sección V LMM Gobernador de P.R., Serie 12, Cartapacio #1951, Documento 196.


Williams Eric, “Letter, Eric Williams to Millard Hansen, 15 June 1952”, vol. 107, EWMC.


Williams Eric, “Four Poets of the Greater Antilles”, Caribbean Quarterly, 2, n° 4, 1952.


Williams Eric, History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, People's National Movement, 1962.


Williams Eric, International Perspectives for Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, Office of the Prime Minister, 1964.


Williams Eric, “Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference”, in Sutton, comp., 1964.


Williams Eric, Inward Hunger: The Autobiography of a Primer Minister, London, Andre Deutsch, 1969.


Williams Eric, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969, New York, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970.


Williams Eric, “The Caribbean Community Treaty (1973)”, in Sutton, comp., 1973.


Williams Eric, “A New Federation for the Commonwealth Caribbean?,” Political Quarterly, vol. 44, n° 3, 1973.


Williams Eric, People's National Movement, Address by the Political Leader, Dr. Eric Williams, September 28, 1973.


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Williams Eric, “Caribbean Integration, Speech to the House or Representatives, 2 December 1977”, in Sutton, comp., 1977.


Williams Eric, “The Party's Stewardship, 1956 to 1980", in Sutton, comp., 1980.


Williams Eric, “Economic Problems of Trinidad and Tobago (1956)”, in Paul K. Sutton, comp., Forged from the Love of Liberty: Selected Speeches of Dr. Eric Williams, Port of Spain, Longman, 1981.


Young Oran R., “Political Leadership and Regime Formation: On the Development of Institutions in International Society”, International Organization, vol. 45, n° 3, Summer, 1991.

Author: Humberto Garcìa Muñiz
Translation:  : Louis Shurmer-Smith