MIAMI, FL.– To a packed crowd of some 170 at the 17th FIU Eric Williams Lecture, the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, ably made the case for Caribbean foresight, spanning some 43 years, vis a vis the recent controversial agreement between the United States and Cuba.
“The US-Cuba Accord: How the Caribbean Paved the Way” addressed the myriad ways in which Caribbean leadership fostered the current hemispheric climate, commencing with the historic 1972 initiation of diplomatic relations with Cuba by Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana. It touched on the intense US pressure that was brought to bear on the ‘Big Four’ (who were the signatories to the establishment of CARICOM the very next year), because of this unprecedented step; and it amplified the anger that their leaders generally exhibited at the blatant attempt to interfere in the international positions taken by self-governing countries. As far back as 1962, Eric Williams defied the US by inviting Cuba to participate in the Independence celebrations of his country. The underpinnings for this stemmed, not only from Williams’ view that diplomacy could encourage democracy, but from his geo-political bent which envisioned an “extended Caribbean Community embracing everybody – British, French, Dutch, American, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic and the three Guianas” (From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean,1492-1969).
With a folksy, but pointed delivery, Prime Minister Gonsalves rendered an elaborate timeline of Caribbean-Cuba relations, and discussed the sometimes leftist leanings of certain Caribbean states. He outlined the dilemma faced by Caribbean nations during the Angolan Civil War, when Cuba requested refueling stops for its planes en route to Angola; the Caribbean has long taken a position of non-interference in the politics of sovereign states. And the Q & A that followed Gonsalves’ lecture was both measured and lively, focusing on reparations for indigenous peoples and those affected by the scourge of slavery.
Established in 1999, FIU’s annual Eric Williams Lecture honors the distinguished Caribbean statesman, consummate academic, internationally renowned historian, and author of several other books. His 1944 groundbreaking study Capitalism and Slavery, popularly referred to as The Williams Thesis, arguably re-framed the historiography of the British trans-Atlantic slave trade (and its concomitant European incarnations) and established the contribution of Caribbean slavery to the development of both Britain and America. The book has been translated into eight languages, including Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish and soon-to-be, Korean. It continues to inform today’s ongoing debate and remains “years ahead of its time…this profound critique is still the foundation for studies of imperialism and economic development,” according to the New York Times. Eric E. Williams was also the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and Head of Government for a quarter of a century until his death in 1981. He led the country to Independence from Britain in 1962 and onto Republicanism in 1976.
Among prior Eric Williams Memorial Lecture speakers have been: the late John Hope Franklin, one of America’s premier historians of the African-American experience; Kenneth Kaunda, former President of the Republic of Zambia; Cynthia Pratt, Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas; Mia Mottley, Attorney General of Barbados; Beverly Anderson-Manley, former First Lady of Jamaica; Portia Simpson Miller, Prime Minister of Jamaica; the celebrated civil rights activist Angela Davis; prize-winning Haitian author Edwige Danticat and Hon. Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia.
The Lecture, which seeks to provide an intellectual forum for the examination of pertinent issues in Caribbean and African Diaspora history and politics, is co-sponsored by FIU’s: Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs; Ruth K. and Shepard Broad Distinguished Lecture Series; Cuban Research Institute; Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center; AADS Graduate Students Association; Caribbean Students Association; Council of Student Organizations; Milton Adams/Karen M. Linger; Elliot & Sandra Bastien; Bilmor With Advertising Specialties, Inc.; Dr. Anique Bryan; Dr. Anthony Bryan; Cheryl and Fitz; Frank Collins; Leslye Danglade; Michael & Patricia Edwards; Jennifer Eligon; Hometrust Mortgage Co.; Michael John; Rev. Canon & Mrs. Winston Joseph; Joy’s Roti Shop; Leroy & Anne Lashley; Louis Lezama; Miami Dade College; Beverly Mohamed; Zulma Niles; Jennifer & Dorrick Nurse; Ronnie and Sumin Quan-Vie; RLB Financial Services, Inc.; Lennox & Gemma Roach; Douglas & Anella Sebro; Mervyn Solomon; Yvonne St. Louis; Marilyn Taylor-Duncan; Trinidad and Tobago Community at Christ the King Catholic Church; Victoria Mutual Building Society; Welch, Morris & Associates.
The Lecture is also supported by The Eric Williams Memorial Collection Research Library, Archives and Museum at the University of the West Indies (Trinidad and Tobago campus), which was inaugurated by former U.S. Secretary of State, Colin L. Powell in 1998. It was named to UNESCO’s prestigious Memory of the World Register in 1999.