Political Systems

Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Despite generally similar political traditions throughout the region, there are marked differences among the political systems in the various countries. For example, in the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Barbados, a strong two-party political system has developed, and the performance of third parties has been dismal in elections. Trinidad and Tobago has a multiparty system, which, between 1956 and 1987, was dominated by the People's National Movement, first under the leadership of Eric Williams (party leader, 1956-81) and then under George Chambers (party leader, 1981-87). Furthermore, in Trinidad and Tobago, ethnic politics constitutes a significant part of the political equation, as Hindu and Muslim East Indians compete and form coalitions with black Trinidadians.

In the smaller islands, a number of factors have coincided to make dual-party, democratic politics a difficult achievement. In some cases the populations are simply too small to provide the critical mass of diversity and anonymity. Family and kin relations make secret balloting and privacy elusive. The associations and cooperative organizations that were so important in Jamaica, Barbados, or Trinidad did not exist in the smaller societies. As a result, political stability and coherence of the type found in the larger countries have been difficult to achieve in smaller countries. For example, between 1979 and 1983, the government of Grenada was taken over by a band of self-avowed Marxists led by Maurice Bishop and Unison Whiteman. The People's Revolutionary Government, as it called itself, tried to create a new type of politics in the British Caribbean--namely, a populist government ruling without the benefit of elections. The experiment, which went against a long, strong tradition of elections in the Commonwealth Caribbean, ended abruptly in confusion with the military intervention by troops from the United States and other Caribbean states in October 1983.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress