‘You cannot draw up an indictment against a whole nation!’

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IN 1962, the British government held a commission of enquiry (CoE) into allegations of corruption and maladministration on the part of Eric Gairy, Premier of the then-British colony of Grenada.

The CoE concluded Gairy was guilty of the charges; and on the basis of these findings, the British government suspended the constitution of Grenada and dissolved Grenada’s Legislative and Executive Councils.

It was at this point that the then-Premier of the neighbouring territory of Barbados-Premier Errol Barrow-responded to this by introducing the following resolution in the Barbados House of Assembly on June 19, 1962: ‘Resolved that this House strongly protests against the action taken under the authority of the Westindies Act, 1962, by the Government of the United Kingdom in suspending the Constitution of Grenada and in dissolving the Legislative and Executive Councils of that island.’

In his speech in support of the resolution, Mr Barrow condemned the British government for suspending not only the constitution of Grenada, but also for their earlier 1953 suspension of the constitution of the then-colony of British Guyana.

Mr Barrow also enunciated the principle that whatever one may think about the behaviour of the political leaders of a nation, it is not possible to draw up an indictment against a whole nation. His precise words were: ‘You cannot draw up an indictment against a whole nation!’

Premier Errol Barrow further stated, in relation to the situation in Grenada and the published findings of the CoE: ‘…all of us feel as government ministers, having met in Cabinet and considered this matter from the constitutional and every other point of view from which it could be considered, that this is a matter for the people of Grenada themselves.

‘It is not a matter for the Colonial Office or the people of Barbados whether they approve or disapprove. The ballot box is where this should be decided…

‘It is neither the business of the United Kingdom, the people of Barbados, the people of America, nor the people of the Soviet Union. It is a matter for the exercise by the people of Grenada of their democratic rights and privileges, and I want to get that clear’.

In other words, Premier Barrow was explaining that whatever problem of governance might exist in Grenada, the solution to said problem was not to curtail the democratic rights of the people but, rather, to trust the people to use the power of their democratic decision-making to deal with the problem.

It was exactly 60 years ago that the Right Excellent Errol Barrow attempted to explain to the British government that ‘you cannot draw up an indictment against a whole nation’.

But, as Premier Barrow indicated in his speech in the Barbados House of Assembly back then, he was merely borrowing the words of Mr Edmund Burke, the famous Irish-born 18th-century British MP and statesman who, way back in March of 1775, had tried to warn the then-British government they were making a gross mistake by imposing collective punishment on the population of the then-13 American colonies.

Mr Burke’s famous speech, titled ‘On Conciliation with the American Colonies’, was made in the British Parliament and contained the famous phrase, ‘I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against an whole people.’

Well, the rest, as they say, is history. The British administration of the day did not heed the wise words of Edmund Burke, and within a year’s time the people of Britain’s 13 North American colonies had launched the American Revolution.

I am not sure the British administration listened to Mr Barrow and the Barbados House of Assembly back in 1962 either!

And now, in 2022, both the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) have addressed a similar message to the British government on this issue of suspending the constitution of the British Virgin Islands; dissolving the democratically elected Legislative Assembly; and instituting direct rule from London.

Will the British administration listen this time around?

David Comissiong
Barbados