Serving Capital: A short history
of Canada in the Caribbean
by David Evans
Seven Oaks, February 6, 2006
If all the rhetoric about the new Governor
General were true it would appear she is bent on destroying the
country. Allegedly a separatist at heart, it has been suggested
that she is disloyal to Canada and she sees the country as an
imperialist oppressor. Sadly, this is probably not the case, although
having been born in the Caribbean one would hardly think it unreasonable
for her to be disposed in that way.
While Canada's relationship with the Caribbean
is hardly that of an imperial overlord, it has certainly never
been that of an agent of kind benevolence. The most significant
aspect of Canada's relationship to the Caribbean has been its
outstanding service to the working interests of British and U.S.
Halifax, Nova Scotia was often known as
the "Warden of the North", the sentinel of the British
Empire in the Americas. This was because as a prime naval installation
it helped assure the British control of its Caribbean possessions.
As a well fitted central supply depot and shipyard for the British
Royal Navy and the British Slave trade, Canada's east coast ports
were unique and invaluable. The cod fishery of Newfoundland was
of central importance as a food supply to the British plantation
economies of the Caribbean both during and after the abolition
As the nineteenth century developed the
uses of Canada became more than merely a safe port to re-supply
the massive imperial fleets of the British Empire. Canada started
to develop services to both American and British businesses that
were exploiting the wealth of the Caribbean. Canada's transportation
industry, built on the basis of serving the British Empire, now
constitutes a significant portion of our GDP and has been estimated
at over $60 billion, 80% of which is external.
How this role developed and expanded into
other services to the working interests of capital is a result
of Canada's unique role as a sympathetic colony of Great Britain
and Great Britain's business interests in the United States.
This relationship became important because London's capitalists
had extensive financial control over the U.S. after the revolution
and well into the nineteenth century. Canada's weak political
nature as a servant to London became essential as it acted as
a trusted conduit and malleable obedient connecting third party
between the interests of U.S. and British capitalists. This servile
role is clearly demonstrated in the exploitation of the Caribbean.
Although the relationship with the territory
of Canada and the Caribbean is a long relationship going back
to the first events of the European conquest, the relationship
of Canada as a nation starts with its inception and the first
prime minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald. While Prime Minister,
MacDonald founded an insurance company through an act of parliament
and then made himself its managing director. In doing so, Sir
John A. MacDonald tied his financial wealth, in part, to the American
and British profits drawn from the plantation economies of the
Paul Martin, the outgoing Prime Minister
of Canada, owes his family's wealth to the Caribbean transportation
services offered to the interests of British and American capital
(Canada Steam Ship Lines) that started in the nineteenth century
and continues today.
As the tide of American invasions swept
the Caribbean, Canada's business elites followed in their wake.
The Bank of Nova Scotia went so far as to set its policy for expansion
in the Caribbean in step with the invasion and solidification
of control by the American military. Continuing in this tradition,
Canadian businesses could count themselves as part of the invasion.
Alternately, American businesses became dependent upon the long
experience and the connection to British Capital Canadian services
These services can be split into three
interrelated areas; finance, transportation and military. All
three had one thing in common in that they were developed to facilitate
the expropriation of profit from the Caribbean to the absentee
owners in the financial centres of London and New York.
The reasons for these connections are
partly due to the nature of the laws created immediately after
the American Revolution. Wary of the power of financial institutions,
the banks in the U.S. were subject to far more control than those
in Canada, a situation that continues today, with Canada's financial
services abroad currently estimated at over $10 billion annually.
Coupled with this, in order to do business in the Caribbean, the
U.S. businesses were obliged to trade in British currency, as
the British dominated trade throughout the Caribbean. Canadian
banks and other financial institutions such as insurance companies
not only traded in British currency and U.S. dollars but by comparison
had far more power to do as they liked than their American counterparts.
Added to all of this, they possessed another
more significant advantage as well: they were located throughout
the Caribbean and throughout the US. The experience helping the
British to run their slave plantations and support its Caribbean
naval supremacy was a great boost in that Canadian businesses
had well developed transportation, supply and financial services
throughout the Caribbean. The ethics of supporting and gaining
profit from imperialism was not a significant issue either in
support of the British or the United States.
The result of Canada's sympathetic relationship
with British and U.S. control in the Caribbean can be seen in
two ways. First, Canada developed its trade within the framework
of American and British Capital interests, and the countries of
the Caribbean were often forced to develop their industry in an
environment where Canadian corporations were significantly powerful
if not the dominant business interests in certain areas.
Favoured by British and American Capital,
Canadian corporations would often dominate the sectors where they
were involved. In Cuba, Canadian banking interests operated with
the power of a central Bank.
As power has shifted from Britain to the
U.S., Canadian services have also shifted from one client to another.
Today, Canadian banks can be found throughout the Caribbean and
Canadian businesses are deeply synchronized and intertwined with
U.S. capital interests in the Caribbean. As Haiti received its
first branch of the Royal Bank of Canada in 1917 after the U.S.
invasion of the island, so today one can find Canadian transportation
and financial services throughout the Caribbean serving the interests
The interests of the powerful elites of
Britain, the U.S., and even their subordinates in the Caribbean,
is based upon the low rate of pay in the Caribbean. Their ability
to continue their operations and rates of profit is contingent
upon mitigating control of labour regulations, trade unions and
the power generally of Caribbean people to affect political and
economic control of their society. The owners of capital and their
servants owe their ability to perpetuate this situation by the
use of force. It is in this capacity that Canada has been as dutiful
a servant as it has been in other capacities.
The Canadian military was an integrated
arm of the British Empire and used throughout the Caribbean. Its
role in the interests of U.S. capital has been no less integrated.
When the U.S. was dissatisfied with the Haitian government in
the early 90s it was a Calgarian, Lynn Garrison, with admitted
connections to the CIA, who became known as a major strategist
behind the coup. Later, in 2004, it was Canadian troops who facilitated
the U.S. expulsion of the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand
Throughout the Caribbean, the influence
of military force has played a decisive role in shaping political
and economic structures that perpetuate the worst poverty in the
hemisphere and some of the most brutal human rights crimes in
the world. Canada, throughout its history, has been involved
in the use of military force throughout the Caribbean .
Often, in situations where some degree
of political and economic control is exercised by the peoples
of the Caribbean, Canadian businesses have been subject to the
criticism that they are both exploitative and destructive. In
present day Cuba, there is at least some hint of what a progressive
relationship Canada could have with the Caribbean. Approximately
900 million dollars of trade exist between Canada and Cuba annually.
The two societies have contributed to each other's development
and exchanges of science and the arts have been beneficial for
It is true, of course, that those Canadian
businesses presently form a conduit through which the interests
of U.S. capital can and do operate in Cuba. Our relationship,
however, is tempered by the larger degree of political and economic
control that this Caribbean society has as compared to others.
In the Cuban revolution there is at least some hope that Canada's
relationship with the Caribbean will not always be that of mere
servants of capital and that Canada will not be seen as the oppressors'
friend by the peoples of the Caribbean.
For more on Canada's history in the Caribbean,
check out Canada's Shame, Empires Profit: The Caribbean Slave
Wars 1788-1807, also by David Evans.