ALL AH WE IS ONE: Wiki lessons
The Caribbean’s initial response to the recent release of the full cache of intercepted communication of US diplomatic cables by whistle-blower group WikiLeaks is indicative of the entrapment of our political understanding at the surface level, where personalities tend to substitute for issues.
Whilst elsewhere the WikiLeaks revelations have led to serious fracturing of relations with the United States, in the main we have reduced them to an opportunity for personalized finger-pointing and name-calling.
Thus far, only Ralph Gonzalves of St Vincent and Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana have publicly condemned the US for its unflattering and indeed insulting characterizations of Caribbean governments and public officials. In typical neo-colonial fashion, the rest of our governments have accepted with submissive silence the most condescending and dismissive descriptions by third-rate US embassy officials of our ministers of Government. Our media, too, have treated US analyses of personalities and policies as gospel: who they curse stays cursed, and who they bless remains blessed.
It was indeed ironic to hear Senator Maxine McClean described by former US Chargé d’Affaires Brent Hardt as “unqualified, opinionated, and unapproachable”, when it is highly debatable whether his own Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is more “qualified” than Senator McClean.
Even more ironic, however, is the fact that these US officials did not draw such conclusions independent of their Caribbean informers. There is a strong hint in the WikiLeaks documents that the viewpoints expressed represent the perspectives of the trusted informers.
Indeed, the over-enthusiastic revelations from these informers, who felt themselves privileged by US attention, provide yet another instance of our deep slide downwards from our earlier suspicion of imperialism. When it is recalled how Wynter Crawford of Barbados was astute enough to dismiss British colonial officials who knew nothing of the region as “blockheads” and “birds of passage”, we can appreciate how much we have reversed course over the years.
There are, however, some positives. Those who were less vigilant have now learned the hard way that the imperialist leopard will never change its spots and they have vowed to be more careful in how freely they welcome the flattery of US attention and special invitations. It will take years before Caribbean officials relax their guards with US embassy officials and adopt postures of “informality” and “familiarity” which are so crucial to information gathering.
Also, the success of the revolutionary “cyber-politics” of the WikiLeaks group is itself a cause for celebration. Marx had always warned that it is our material world which shapes our consciousness and our social systems. The technology of the cutlass gives you an undemocratic, planter-led society, while the technology of the microchip gives you a society of mass participatory democracy and freedom of information.
A new democratic politics is here, ushered in by new technology, and it is discomforting to imperialism.