Thatcher and the Caribbean

thatcher.tandardCaribbean people, like the rest of the world, have been expressing mixed views of the legacy of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died on April 8, 2013. This article focuses on the PM’s views vis-à-vis Jamaica, Dominica, Barbados, the Bahamas, and especially Grenada.

This ambivalence was summed up by Jamaican-born British MP Diane Abbott, speaking during a special House of Commons tribute session two days later. “I’m happy to pay tribute to her historic significance and her historic role, and I know that history is written by victors,” she said. “But those of us who came of age in the Thatcher era know that there was another side to the glories that Conservative MPs have spoken about.”

In fact, there were as many highs and lows in the Iron Lady’s relationship with the Caribbean as in her dealings with bigger nations. After the 1983 US invasion of, or intervention in, Grenada (depending on which Caricom nation’s viewpoint you take), Mrs Thatcher recalled that she received a call in her room at the House of Commons from President Ronald Reagan at a time when she was “not in the sunniest of moods”. The US had not informed the UK, even though the Queen was also Grenada’s head of state that its troops were to land on Grenadian soil.

Caribbean Intelligence© has checked archives in the Reagan Library, now shared with the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, which indicate that Mrs Thatcher took President Reagan’s phone apology for not letting her know in advance with relatively good grace. She told the US leader that she knew about the “sensitivity” of such military operations because of the Falklands War and responded: “The action is underway now and we just hope it will be successful.” President Reagan explained that the Grenadian landings had been “going beautifully” and that the two airfields and the medical school had been secured. He went on to say that some combat forces were not Grenadian but “led” by “senior” Cubans, who had been captured. Mrs Thatcher replied: “Well, let’s hope it’s soon over, Ron, and that you manage to get a democracy restored.”

The two went on to discuss the Caribbean backers of the US forced landing. President Reagan had the support of the leaders of Jamaica, Dominica and Barbados for the operation. In their phone conversation, Mrs Thatcher described then Dominican Prime Minister Eugenia Charles as “a wonderful person”. In response, President Reagan said: “She certainly is. She’s captured our city by storm. She’s right up on the Hill meeting with some of our Congress right now. “And then, [Tom] Adams, from Barbados, we are getting him up here. We’ve got both of them on some of our television shows so they can talk to the people. We are getting him on, we’ve had her on. He’s a remarkable man also.” Mrs Thatcher then went on to describe Barbados’ Prime Minister Tom Adams as “a very cultured man and very wise”.

However, according to Richard Aldous, the author of Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship, she later told the Irish premier: “The Americans are worse than the Soviets… persuading the governor [of Grenada] to issue a retrospective invitation to invade after they had taken him aboard an American warship.”

Mrs Thatcher is also famously remembered in the Caribbean for her clash with the rest of the Commonwealth over full sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1985, then Commonwealth Secretary-General Shridath Ramphal of Guyana had called for sanctions. The British Prime Minister stood against the majority of her fellow Commonwealth leaders, saying that full sanctions would not work. [. . .] She agreed to limited sanctions at a Commonwealth meeting in Nassau in 1985 and continued to hold out against full sanctions. [. . .]

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One thought on “Thatcher and the Caribbean

  1. As well as the horrors of the treatment which was being levelled at Caribbean people in the U .K. by Margaret Thatcher, her years in the prime ministership saw her making late changes to a number of the planned agendas for CHOGMS. (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings) in that, of course, the generality of the Commonwealth of Nations were more than content that the CHOGM should discuss the vital indeed crucial need for the freeing of Mr Nelson Mandela in South Africa as a step towards the ending of Apartheid in that country. It is not known how many times she took it upon herself to remove such an item from planned CHOGM agendas, but my guess is that such decisions on her part were “normal”.

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