Celebrating the Life of Errol Walton Barrow, Pan-Carribeanist

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In spite of his relative obscurity outside the region, Errol Walton Barrow deserves to be recognized not only as a hero in Barbados, but also as one of the giants of Caribbean nationhood. Barrow’s local stature derives from his ongoing commitment to the struggle for Barbadian independence from British rule, which culminated in 1966, and his steadfast advocacy of the Caribbean’s ability to proceed with becoming a prosperous area based on its own resources, rather than eternally depending on external assistance. An almost unknown figure before his rise to meteoric prominence, Barrow will long be lauded as one of Barbados’ and the Caribbean’s enduring heroes.

Born January 21, 1920, Barrow’s commitment to achieving Barbadian sovereignty should have come as no surprise, since he was born into a family of political activists from whom he took his nationalist calling. While Barrow was indeed a staunch nationalist and supporter of Barbadian autonomy, he nevertheless was quick to join the war effort by enlisting in the British Royal Air Force during World War II. Thereafter, he studied law at the Inns of Court and pursued a degree in economics at the London School of Economics. It was during this period that he would acquire the knowledge and make the contacts that would later serve as the foundation for his political movement back in Barbados. After returning to the island in 1950 with a newfound passion for political economics, Barrow undertook a slew of political endeavors. In short order, he ran for a seat in parliament on the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) line and took his seat a mere year after his return. In 1955, he created the Democratic Labour Party as a liberal counterpart to the BLP, and served as the premier of Barbados (the head of government prior to independence), from 1961-1966. One example of his prodigious success as premier is the Lions International “Head of State Award”.

Barrow was an ardent advocate of Caribbean sovereignty and fiercely opposed outside powers interfering in the region’s affairs. He was especially critical of Washington’s patronizing relationship with the Caribbean island nations at the time. The manner in which Barrow defended the independence of Barbados during a dispute over the usage of the U.S. naval facility which was located at the northernmost point on the island, exemplifies his wariness over the reach of Washington’s policy towards the island.

Professor of Sociology at the University of the Virgin Islands, Dion E. Phillips, explains that Barrow, “did declare to the Barbados House of Assembly that the United States was guilty of ‘destabilizing’ his government (as well as that of Guyana and Jamaica) and that, in consequence, the U.S. naval facility would shortly be returned to its original owners,” the people of Barbados. Then Barrow proceeded to increase the annual rent of the U.S. facility to an outrageous rate of $20 million. Washington then closed the site, claiming that it had become “technically obsolete.” Barrow’s aversion to the aggressive nature of U.S. foreign policy initiatives in the Caribbean at the time only grew stronger during the Reagan administration, with Barrow routinely arguing that the U.S.’ “big brother” presence in the region was in fact unwanted and unneeded. He exclaimed that, “we have to watch this regional security scheme very carefully because it was contrived in Washington and I have reservations about anybody in Washington sitting down and telling me what we should have in the Eastern Caribbean.”

Without a doubt, Errol Walton Barrow was a major factor in contributing to the full-blossomed independence of the English-speaking Caribbean. In a determined attempt at a pan-Caribbean partnership, Barrow led the way for the foundation of the creation of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA), which later became the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 1973. That same year, the Treaty of Chaguaramas expanded the association to include Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. At the 1986 CARICOM Heads of Government Conference, Barrow declared that, “We are a family of islands nestling closely under the shelter of the great Cooperative Republic of Guyana. And this fact of regional togetherness is lived everyday by ordinary West Indian men and women.” This initiative demonstrates Barrow’s hopeful vision of regional integration and an English-speaking Caribbean with strong political, social, and economic relations.

Author Theodore Sealy explains that Barrow was the guiding spirit of his administration and that it was his belief in social democracy being instrumental to making people to be beneficiaries of this new kind of state. While he recognized that the islands do remain dependent economically and politically on international support to some degree, a new generation of leaders throughout the region carries on the fight for self-sufficiency and self-realization. To a significant degree, this is an accurate indication of the legacy that the Barrow, “father of independence”, bestowed on his island-nation and the rest of the Caribbean.