Published On: Thu, Nov 20th, 2014

Caciquismo

Jacob Gelt DekkerCaribbeans continue to be caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, corruption and crime, according to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development)- report on 2013 and forecast 2014.

No matter whether Caribbean islands had Spanish, French, British, Dutch or Danish colonial overlords at one time, the outcome remains more or less the same, with GDP (PPP) of Haiti at the rock bottom and that of the former Netherlands-Antilles at the top.

Equal treatment, transparency and level-playing-field for-all may exist in formal law, but in reality, closed elites rule the Caribbean islands. Competing closed families and clans dominate all aspects of the society and economy.

It appears as if the predominantly Afro-Caribbean populations of the islands don’t care much for Western ideals and institutions of freedom and democracy. Election after election, Caribbeans vote into power candidates of a feudal Cacique system of local bosses, of clan and family leaders. Almost without exception, these henchmen inevitably subvert the democratic electoral process toward their own personal advantage and that of their supporting clans.

Thus, it is the culture of Caciquismo that rules the Caribbean. It rules behind closed doors in obscurity, doling out riches in the form of clientalism, cronyism, nepotism, and favoritism. Shamelessly, Caciquismo carries on with long out-of-date piracy, slavery--- especially in Haiti---, and opportunism most everywhere else. Caciquismo is well beyond all institutions of Constitutional Democracy. It is Caciquismo that continues the vicious cycle of poverty, corruption and crime on the islands.

Note: Cacique is from Taíno, and stands for pre-Columbian chiefs or leaders of tribes in the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles. The term "Caciquismo" is used to describe a democratic system subverted by the power of local bosses (caciques).

The people who carry the heavy, oppressive and painful yoke imposed on them by their own Cacique-tyrants appear unable to fight out from under the tortuous load. Nevertheless, when it comes to election time, gullibly they sell their votes to the highest bidder, mostly front men of clan lords with deep pockets.

So, generation after generation, the common people remain prisoners of poverty and backwardness. Superstition remains firmly encased in formal religion, often a mixture of western Christianity spiced with African voodoo, as in Santeria. Poor health conditions and disease, like diabetes and obesity, are epidemic. Blatant ignorance, believe in omens, witchcraft and prophecies prevail over facts, reason, science and education.

So why don’t the Caribbean masses of the poor and disenfranchised unite and break out of their cages of misfortune? Why don’t they break the spell of Caciquismo and create a real Caribbean paradise for all? Well, some did, but all failed and the revolutionaries of Haiti, Venezuela and Cuba became the new, ruthless Caciques. The culture of Caciquismo is rooted much, much deeper that anyone expected.

To make it even more complicated, the disenfranchised will never admit that it is their own Caciquismo culture that causes most of the misfortunes they suffer. Always and always, the blame is put at the likes of colonial slave drivers, money grabbing Jews, conspiring American imperialists, or blasphemous homosexuals.

Over the last 50 years, the world witnessed Caribbean mass migration to Europe and the USA. Yes, the disenfranchised voted with their feet. As soon as these migrants manage to escape their island culture of Caciquismo, they blossom and often reach dizzying heights in their careers. They may dream of returning in glory one day, but in reality hardly anyone ever does.

Many who stay behind on the islands regard the 40-year migration-brain-drain as a further torment of the already tortured Caribbean area. Few realize that migration could also become their rescue.

Also Caciquismo cannot survive without sophistication in today’s highly competitive economic environment. The archaic system of favoritism over intellectualism their down fall. Caciquismo is sinking quickly into its own abyss of incompetence. Sophistication cannot be obtained by crime, corruption and lack of humanity. The short fall is becoming more blatant by the day.

For better or for worse, new fresh immigrants, legal or illegal, will have to be adopted into the system to fill the many empty gaps. It could be just a matter of time before Caciquismo will be replaced by a different system, hopefully with more equality and freedom for all.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker - Opinion Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle.

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