The Bahamas Seeks Independence
By “Awake!” correspondent in the Bahamas
THE spirit of independence and self-determination is everywhere. Not only do individuals want to be free to decide what is good and what is bad for themselves, but whole communities and colonies of people are struggling for the right to govern themselves. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is no exception. Here, too, the cry is for independence.
Foreign rule had its beginning years ago when Christopher Columbus mistakenly came ashore on the island of San Salvador (or Watlings Island), an island in the Bahamas, thinking he was in the East Indies. That was in October 1492. Since then the Bahamas has been anything but independent or self-governing. Within twenty years its native Arawak and Lucayan Indians were displaced; all of them enslaved and shipped off to the mines of Cuba and Hispaniola. For over one hundred years after its discovery, the Bahamas remained in Spanish hands.
A British Colony
It was first in 1629 that England made its formal claim to these islands. On October 30 of that year Charles I gave a grant to his attorney general, Sir Robert Heath, and the islands came under the yoke of British colonialism. The colony attracted religious Englishmen looking for freedom of worship, while at the same time serving as a haven for others, including such notorious pirates as Edward (“Blackbeard”) Teach and Anne Bonny.
In 1718 Captain Woodes Rodgers, the first royally appointed governor, drove out the pirates. For two weeks during the American Revolution, Nassau, the capital of these islands, was held captive by the young United States Navy. In 1782 the Bahamas fell to Spain again, but was restored to the British a year later.
The Bahamas has thus been a British colony, with only short interruptions of rule, for well over 300 years. Since 1729 in particular the country has had a representative assembly under a constitution, one older than that of the United States. This constitution is similar to the one drafted for the original thirteen American colonies.
Unlike other independent states of the British Commonwealth, such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Ceylon, the Bahamas depends upon Britain for directives concerning (1) Foreign Affairs, (2) Defense and (3) Internal Security, or police. Britain, of course, will no longer have any say in these matters when the Bahamas becomes independent.
Political parties in the Bahamas have been important in the steps toward independence. The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was formed in 1953, being spearheaded by H. M. Taylor. Up to that time, and especially before the universal application of the secret ballot, elections had been very corrupt. In A History of the Bahamas, Michael Craton observed: “Bribery, intimidation and the tiny electorates made the Bahamian elections similar to those in England during the eighteenth century.”
This new Progressive Liberal Party dedicated itself to reform. It obtained six seats in the House of Assembly, and, by its united front, provoked the formation of the United Bahamian Party (UBP) in 1958. The United Bahamian Party was in the majority in 1958, with nineteen members in the House. At that time, however, there was little if any talk of independence.
A New Constitution
By 1962 the two parties in government, the UBP and PLP, both were in favor of a greater measure of self-government, and therefore included this in their political platforms. A constitutional conference was held in May 1963 at the London Colonial Office. The outcome of this discussion was that the Bahamas would be given a new constitution.
Thus it was that in January 1964 a new constitution came into effect. Declared Sir Roland, the premier of the Bahamas: “We now have the internal freedom . . . to move swiftly when swift movement is needed, to act decisively when decisive action is called for, and to shape our destiny to our best advantage.” The new constitution was a significant step toward independence.
A Change in Status
The Progressive Liberal Party, the one claiming to represent mainly the Colored voters, became the governing party in 1967. The following year a general election gave it a large majority in the House of Assembly—twenty-nine PLP members, seven UBP members and one member each for the Independence Party and the Labor Party.
In an address before the House on October 7, 1968, Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling explained that the recently held talks in London did not have as their aim independence, at least not immediate independence. Rather, their purpose was to “ensure that the Bahamas would have more responsibility for self-internal government than hithertofore.” This purpose was achieved, evidenced by the change of the Bahamas from a British colony to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. While the traditions of the British monarchal system remained, the stage was set for obtaining independence.
The Growing Issue of Independence
There has been no struggle with Britain over independence. The Colonial Office has made it clear that Britain will gladly relinquish all ties with the Bahamas, granting it full independence, if this is the expressed desire of the populace. But the population as a whole has not been pressuring for independence. The issue has been one primarily involving the political parties, with the question being, not if to seek independence, but when to seek it in earnest.
A power struggle within the ranks of the PLP resulted in the formation of the “Free-PLP.” These dissident members of the PLP realized that without the support of the UBP-oriented voters they could not hope to win the general election. Thus these two groups merged to form the Free National Movement (FNM). Every attempt was made to free this new alliance from any vestige of racial pride and prejudice, which for many years has been a political issue in the Bahamas.
In the meantime, Black nationalism began to affect the thinking and philosophy of young intellectuals and pseudorevolutionaries. The Bahamas is 85 percent Negro. The cry for change, at first faint, became louder. The desire to be completely free from any and all colonial restraint grew. Many became enchanted with the prospect of political autonomy.
The Progressive Liberal Party, which held the majority in the government, decided to shy away no longer from the issue of independence. It became their wish and purpose to make the Bahamas truly Bahamian—culturally, economically and politically. In the ardent pursuit of this objective, an independence seminar was launched early in 1972. A target date was set: INDEPENDENCE—JULY 1973. The issue became one of public concern, debated freely, for not everyone had the same desire for independence.
However, nothing less than an election could really determine public opinion. Would the electorate support the Progressive Liberal Party in its quest for an independent Bahamas? The FNM opposition party was confident that the masses were in no hurry for independence. They believed that it was best to postpone the change until all was in readiness, economically, politically and socially.
The issue was soon settled. Although a general election was not due until April 1973, the House was dissolved August 10, seven months early, and September 19 set as election day.
Election fever ran hot. There were several shooting incidents, a spate of fires, and vandalism ran rife. Both political camps became the object of bigotry, intolerance and outright violence. Hecklers abounded and meetings on both sides were disrupted, depending on who was favored in a particular locale. Election eve was tense, taut with anticipation. Would violence flare if any were disappointed with the outcome?
Strangely, the expected storm never came. The Progressive Liberal Party received a vote of confidence, most of its members being returned to power. The issue was settled. The machinery to bring about the will and desire of the majority was to be put into motion. On December 20, 1972, Britain agreed to the granting of independence this coming July.
But to what extent will the people benefit when independence is an accomplished fact? This will depend, in part, on them and their leaders. These men are still only human and imperfect, as are those who have directed the affairs of these islands until now. The transfer of authority will not root out pride and selfishness. Only one government can do that. It is the one foretold in God’s Word the Bible—the kingdom of God, which Jehovah’s witnesses are proclaiming as mankind’s true hope. This righteous government will bring mankind freedom in a way that no human administration can, for it will liberate mankind from disease, sin and even death.—Matt. 6:9, 10; Rev. 21:4.