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Around the World in 180 Days: Globalization in Antigua

Sam Leslie

“We are in an outside that carries inner worlds.” 

–Peter Sloterdijk, Globes Sphere II


This essay is part of the longer series “Around the World in 180 Days,” focused on centering human voices in scholarly work. My goal, in the words of Edward Said, is to be “the migrant or traveler” to the discipline that is history. Welcome to the second core article in the series.


The earth buckled underneath the sea as plates clashed. As birds preened in tropical trees, a distant rumbling began. At that moment for the citizens of then colonial Antigua, a Caribbean colony, it seemed the world had converged upon them. Instead, what only seemed like a convergence became a divergence as an earthquake devastated the island. Antigua’s government buildings, made of cheap limestone, crumpled, but its citizens stood tall: none fell to death. Over seven years after the cruel crumbling in 1974, Antiguans gained their independence in 1981. While there is no direct correlation between the earthquake and the wave of independence, the earthquake’s effects have underscored that independence was truly only independence from the interior, not exterior. Decades after its independence, Antigua has remained a small space in proportion to its disastrously corrupt reality. Such imperfections have been routinely and rigorously addressed by scholars, and in particular, Jamaica Kincaid, in her nonfiction, modern worldwide epic A Small Place

The first book on the plight of Caribbean written in 1552 begin like this: “Wolves and Lions hunger-starv'd, studying nothing, for the space of Forty Years, after their first landing, but the Massacre of these Wretches, whom they have so inhumanely and barbarously butcher'd and harass'd.” Antigua before 1492 was home to the Arawaks, a native people. Decades after, as a result of savage European genocide and paternalism, the people and culture that once lived had been extinguished. By 1542, Bartolomé de las Casas (author of the above narrative) recorded: “You may also find the Isles of St. John, and Jamaica, both large and fruitful places, unpeopled and desolate.” Out of brutality, Antigua and the Caribbean became a wayward station for the globe’s worst crimes: slavery, genocide, and disease. Shipped across the Atlantic, Europe forced black people to labor on a slate of unknown land. Their history was truly lost past the horizon. In A Small Place, Kincaid succinctly summarizes the beginning of Antigua: “it was settled by human rubbish from Europe, who used enslaved but noble and exalted human beings from Africa to satisfy their desire for wealth and power, to feel better about their own miserable existence.


From its genocidal beginnings, Antigua transitioned into a British colonial government. By 1834, historically-enslaved Africans were emancipated in Antigua. Black people were unable to buy land for over a century after their emancipation; therefore, the African majority felt little attachment or sense of citizenship to the island. White colonialists, likewise, had the same problem for a different reason. Glen Richards observes that colonists lacked social commitment to the island. This lack of commitment derives from the colonists’ perspective of Antigua as not a place of anything but potential profit. Richards continues, declaring Antigua was “a site where one’s fortune was to be made, but it was never home.” While there were 29 prominent families in Antigua in 1678, by 1750 there were only six descendants still residing in Antigua. In other words, Antigua was in fact a place for quick gain, a destination, not a home. 


Unfortunately, independence, in its basic understanding, is inherently shortsighted and immobile if it does not fully distance itself from the oppressor. While citizens of Antigua and Barbuda received independence from Britain, the actions, policies, and intent that drove the British colony continued to drive Antigua’s government. The front of a nationalist leadership was supported by “no original ideas” Antiguan economic policy was the previous British economic policy, and the reasons for shortcomings were twofold: internal corruption and the disastrous effect of globalization. Corruption is systematic. In her novella, Kincaid identifies the vast accumulation of this corruption in a single sign: “THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN THE EARTHQUAKE OF 1974. REPAIRS ARE PENDING.” Kincaid saw this sign during childhood, and she returned to Antigua in adulthood to see the sign still there. In Antigua, healthcare is poor. The inability to provide public infrastructure stems from corruption and the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) rules for monetary support. Since its independence Antigua has conformed to IMF standards of privatization and halting public works to borrow money. Privatization absolutely stunts growth of the Antiguan public sector. The IMF assumes that the same program that works in Hungary, a uniquely different country than Antigua, should work in Antigua and Barbuda. Joseph Stiglitz notes that the IMF uses a “search and replace” method when crafting contracts for Antigua. Though beauty abounds in Antigua, unfortunately, Antigua has become the home of unseemly globalist practices. 


While it may seem improbable to encapsulate globalization into a single country, Antigua has made it possible. Antigua is the fragmented puzzle constructed by every detestable idea in the world. The biggest industry in Antigua is tourism. 60 percent of the country's GDP comes from tourism. Therefore, according to Nexus Commonwealth Network, “most of the economic power emerges from overseas companies which own numerous hotels in Antigua & Barbuda.” In this same section on “Major Corporations,” one of the few “local driving forces” is Cable and Wireless Antigua Ltd. which, ironically, has its corporate offices in Miami. This points to the aforementioned issue of people in power primarily holding residency in the United States. Power and profit come and leave, respectively. In terms of tourism, Kincaid describes the tourists’ intuition, where the tourist thinks, “I must get away.” However, by the time a tourist reaches Antigua, Kincaid declaims, “you make a leap…to being a person visiting heaps of death and ruin and feeling alive and inspired at the sight of it.” At the locus of globalization exists a site of waste, and the tourist is invigorated by it. The tourist is no longer the tool for globalization but the paternal figure observing, “the rubbish heap of history…millions of people…made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy ground” Unfortunately, this experience of viewing and relishing in the history of another without any critical analysis or care is glorified by supposedly neutral international organizations. For instance, tourist sites advertise: “It’s not all sea-and-sand here though; Antigua has plenty of things to do and a rich and fascinating history, best explored in the Unesco site of Nelson’s Dockyard, a still-functioning marina with roots in the 17th century, and at one of the island’s sugar mills and plantations.” The past, present and future seem to be the same and, therefore, it seems that only the tourist in their pathetic condition, an “the ugly human being,” can belong to AntiguaAntigua is truly a “a portrait of the world in a concave mirror.” 


A solution to the colonial force of globalization seems distant, almost otherworldly. Historian Glen Richards, sees two solutions: sell or restart. He writes, “the rational approach of any government would be to sell the island to the highest bidder and return it to its’ proprietary past.” While proceeds would be equally divided, such a solution affirms a history of colonialism, and the citizens possessing Antiguan history would be divided as well. On the other hand, Richards suggests a new constitution with protections for whistleblowers and others for better checks on corruption. Unfortunately, this solution has been and will be difficult to implement. Kincaid believes Antigua must invent a silence during which reconsiderations could be made. It is in the silence where A Small Place talks. Silence would be accompanied by realization. In this silence, Kincaid masterfully unveils the relationships between groups: the Neoliberal tourists, corrupt Antiguan government officials, company heads, and Antiguans. By illuminating the connections between people, Antigua can see the corrupt to create a more open and inclusive global community that they can benefit from. Accepting globalization and its revealing contingencies in which nobody can hide behind the ignorant thoughts of their local community could and will create a truly open and global totality. Open convergence instead of divisive divergence can remake Antigua.

 
  1.  Edward W. Said, "The Potentate and the Traveler, by Edward W. Said (1994)," Rolf Potts, last modified September 24, 2020, accessed October 29, 2023, https://rolfpotts.com/the-potentate-and-the-traveler/.

  2. "This date in history," Observer, last modified October 8, 2020, accessed November 19, 2023, https://antiguaobserver.com/this-date-in-history/.

  3. Bartolomé de las Casas, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, accessed November 19, 2023, https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/20321/pg20321-images.html.

  4.  Ibid.

  5.  Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000), 40.

  6. Glen Richards, "The Problem of Citizenship in Antigua," The CLR James Journal 13, no. 1 (2007): 139, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26758905.

  7. Richards, "The Problem," 142.

  8. Richards, "The Problem," 144.

  9.  Kincaid, A Small, 9.

  10. Morten Hansen, "'A World of Something': Jamaica Kincaid and the New Global Epic," Comparative Literature 68, no. 1 (2016): 39, accessed November 19, 2023, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24694569.

  11. Ibid

  12.  "Best boutique and luxury hotels in Antigua & Barbuda islands," Mr. and Mrs. Smith, accessed November 21, 2023, https://www.mrandmrssmith.com/destinations/antigua-and-barbuda-islands/antigua-and-barbuda/hotels.

  13.  C&W Business, accessed November 19, 2023, https://cwcbusiness.com/countries/antigua/.

  14. Hansen, "'A World.".

  15. Kincaid, A Small, 16.

  16.  Ibid. 

  17. Kincaid, A Small, 31.

  18. Amanda Canning, "Antigua travel guide," The Sunday Times, last modified September 5, 2023, accessed November 19, 2023, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/travel/destinations/caribbean/antigua/#:~:text=It%27s%20not%20all%20sea%2Dand,island%27s%20sugar%20mills%20and%20plantations.

  19. Kincaid, A Small, 14.

  20. Hansen, "'A World," 36.

  21. Richards, "The Problem," 147.


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