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NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Spirit of Independence


NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Spirit of Independence

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I REMEMBER THE 60s. Okay, before you say: “Oh no, another look back through rose-coloured glasses!” Fear not.

While nobody wants their own “back in the day” stories to be from hell, I think I can accept the bad with the good from the 60s.

It was the best decade in which we could have become an independent nation. The negatives were heavily outweighed (and maybe helped create) the positives, from a global perspective.

The sixties was the decade in which the gloom of post-World War II recession began to be shaken off. But it was also a time of war in Vietnam and protests against it.

There was the feeling that the world should no longer be run by people who wanted to fight current battles the same way they fought the last world war, because it would lead to another one.

We also saw the civil rights movement emerge as a human rights achievement for all mankind, and there were the music, the movies and the cultural shifts that we are still building on today.

In Barbados, we had no music superstar like we do today, but we did have the political equivalent of a rock star. His name was Errol Barrow. He embodied the country’s assertion of its birthright to nationhood, and he did so not by proclaiming himself a dictator with armed mercenaries by his side, but with a supreme intelligence and dry humour to match, and an often confrontational public persona. In person, however, he was folksy and down-to-earth.

The confidence engendered by the Skipper helps explain how Barbados went from close to 80 000 visitors in 1966 to over 300 000 just 12 years later, in 1978.

How it built a financial system, fuelled by that emerging tourist industry, from a time pre-Independence when getting a loan depended on who you knew at the bank to a mass market industry for pre-packaged loans.

How we went – over several decades, of course – from an era in which Barbados Shipping & Trading Co. Ltd. was the biggest and most powerful company on the island to a country where Trinidadian interests rule the wholesale-retail space, Irish and American interests the telecommunications space, and a variety of mainly foreign investors the hotel space.

And if you take that level of foreign ownership in a negative light, I don’t: We have also created our own fair share of local success stories and we are proud of them. They are not all millionaires or billionaires but they don’t have to be.

Barbados realised that it would be successful by allowing foreign investment to come in and hopefully thrive. Our embrace of foreigners both at the economic and personal levels leads to the question: Who really captured whom? We know the answer.

The positive spirit of change that emerged in the 1960s imbued Barbados with a spirit of confidence that allowed our Government to build one of the top educational services in the world and for our young industrialists and hoteliers of the era to build out our hotel, factory and road infrastructure.

When I look back at how tiny our economy was then compared to today (and it’s not that big today) my sense of awe at our success increases. We beat almost all of the odds.

If you think I have just put on those tinted glasses, well, I haven’t.

We have plenty of problems today and we are in real danger of losing much of what we have achieved over the years. But for today, I look back and marvel at what we accompanied with that spirit of independence and salute all those, many of whom are still with us, for their service in creating this wonderful country we proudly call home.

Patrick Hoyos is a journalist and publisher specialising in business. Email: [email protected]

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