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The Future of Political Parties in the Cayman Islands (Part Four)

Dr Livingston Smith

Dr Livingston Smith

The historical context to the formation of Cayman’s first political parties.

For some time there was insufficient scholarship on the Cayman Islands extending from perspectives on its early evolution, its experience with slavery and the nature of that involvement, to its early political organisation. In the same vein, there had hitherto been limited material on the Jamaica – Cayman relationship.

It is true that some of this gap has been in recent years filled by the publication of the main text on the history of the Cayman Islands, Founded upon the Seas.

Equally helpful have been the publications of historian Roy Bodden who, arguably, as a single writer, has written the most on the evolution of Caymanian politics and society generally.

Roy Murray and Brian Kieran, two of the Cayman Islands’ finest historians, have published the book, The Lawless Caymanas, which brings considerable weight to their already significant body of works. Notably, Brian Kieran authored the 1992 The Lawless CaymanasA Story of Slavery, freedom and the West Indian Regimen, 189 pages of insightful historical record.

The perspectives of these two writers, in addition to those already mentioned, bring vibrancy to the dearth of serious historical publications on the Cayman Islands.

David Martins, A Special Son- A Biography of Ormond Panton, ‘The Man in whom the fires burned a little brighter, a little longer, a little more intensely, than they burned in most of us’ makes for a great and enlightening read into the life of the individual described by Bodden as having ‘the distinction of being the first modern politician in Caymanian history’.

This book should encourage other important contributors to the development and growth of the Cayman Islands to have their stories documented for the current and future generations.

More recently, Dr Christopher Williams’ work on various aspects of Caymanian history also bears mentioning. He has been publishing widely on various aspects of Caymanian history and modern Cayman. Similarly, Oneil Hall, a PhD candidate at UWI, has also been researching and writing about the Jamaica-Cayman Islands historical linkages.

And so these and many other unmentioned sources make for the development of a strong scholarship in Cayman history, sufficient for the interested student to draw on in seeking to understand the Caymanian situation.

Students of the history and socio-political developments of the Cayman Islands would know that the current two main political parties, the United Democratic Party and the People’s Progressive Movement were not the first political parties that were formed on the island.

The United Democratic Party was formed by some members of parliament in the aftermath of the intriguing events which occurred soon after the 8 November 2000 election. The Peoples Progressive Movement was founded in 2002.

But there were attempts at political parties, beginning with the emergence of the Cayman Vanguard Progressive Party, which was formed by Mr William Warren Conolly in 1958. After its demise, for various reasons to be discussed, party politics re-emerged in 1961 when the National Democratic Party was registered under the leadership of Ormond Panton. Historian Roy Bodden, says in his book, Patronage, Personalities and Parties- Caymanian Politics from 1950- 2000, that ‘The National Democratic Party was the Cayman Islands first encounter with mass politics and to this day remains the exemplar in Caymanian society of modern day scientific political organisation’. A few months after the formation of the Panton’s NDP, Willy Farrington and Ducan Merren formed the Christian Democratic Party.

But what were the circumstances that led to the formation of political parties in the Cayman Islands and what explains the short life span of the first parties?

Having focused on the wider Caribbean in recent articles, comparisons can be drawn with the Cayman Islands. I have explained that unlike most of the other Caribbean islands which saw the formation of trade unions and political parties out of the social protests of the late 1930s, the Cayman Islands neither participated in the unrests nor formed parties until many years after even though at that time the Cayman Islands were not enjoying a better economic situation than the rest of the islands.

Small size, the availability of land, the absence of concentrations of workers either in urban centres or on plantations among other reasons seem to account for this.

Seemingly, the forces that led to the formation of political parties in the Cayman Islands, though similar in points, were quite different from those in the wider Caribbean.

Bodden’s work suggests two important reasons for the formation of the Cayman’s first but short-lived parties. The first was the nature of well-developed system of patronage that had taken root in the Cayman Islands that was centered in the merchant elites through a ‘nexus of power, influence and money’ to quote Bodden, and a desire by some to change this.

The other had to do with the advent of Federation, Cayman’s posture to its formation and , especially the consequences of its demise. These are the subject of the next article.

Dr Livingston Smith is Chair, Social Sciences, Director, Research and Publication and Associate Professor at the University College of  the Cayman Islands. He can be contacted at lsmith@ucci.edu.ky. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of UCCI.

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