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Why the New West Indies Federation Failed

By DRIMMAKER01 Sep 24, 2010 747 Words
The West Indian Federation began in the twentieth century. A fedration is an organization within which smaller divisions have some internal independence. The West Indian Federation was one of the first attempts at federation in the Caribbean. This occurred from the year 1958-1962. The West Indies agreed to come together because this was the only way they could prove to Britain that they were ready for their independence. However, before they could prove this to Britain the Federation had gone done in history as a failure. Many factors led to the failure of the federation including its weakness, conflict among the states and the unwillingness of the large islands to be burdened by the smaller islands. One of the main reasons why the federation failed is because it was weak. The federation was only given powers over its internal affairs and any foreign matters were dealt with by England. In addition, the member states had different views on what the federation should entail. Eric Williams of Trinidad wanted a strong federation with the power to levy taxes, control economic development and set up custom union. The federal Prime Minister, Grantley Adams of Barbados was in support of this. Jamaica on the other hand, opposed all of this and wanted a weak federation that did not have the power of taxation. (Greenwood 1991) Jamaica and Trinidad’s disagreement on this point was not good for the federation. Eventually, this led to the breakdown of the federation. Conflict between individual member states and the federal government was a key reason for the breakdown of the West Indian federation. The idea of free movement within the units of the federation was not supported by Trinidad. Trinidad according to Greenwood and Hamber (2003) opposed the idea because her per capita income was twice that of the next richest country. In comparism to places like Barbados, Trinidad was under-populated and thus it was feared that immigrants would flock to the islands and take the jobs of its citizens which would lead to an increase in unemployment. This was one reason for Trinidad’s withdrawal from the federation. According to Elizabeth Wallace (1996) Eric Williams “strong objection to allowing free entry to other west Indians increased his existing hostility to the federation.” Trinidad also encountered problems with the federation over Chaguaramas, the site for the federal capital which had been leased to the United States by Britain for 99 years. Trinidad negotiated for the capital and Grantley Adam felt this was wrong since the issue was a federal case and had to be dealt with by the federation. Jamaica was at loggerheads with the federation when it disagreed with customs union since that was the main earner of revenue. Therefore, when it was evident that the customs union would pull through Jamaica withdrew from the federation. In addition, Jamaica gave tax concession to an oil company which forced the federal prime minister to threaten retroactive taxation. Finally, the federation broke up because the large islands did not want to be burdened by the small islands. From the outset Jamaica and Trinidad thought that Britain supported the federation because she wanted to transfer responsibility for the smaller states on them. According to Elizabeth Wallace “the striking imbalances among the territories in size, wealth were major reasons for the breakdown of the federation.” Therefore, as soon as it was known that these two countries could achieve their independence without being part of the federation they opted out. In theory the federation was ideal but in practice it was so overwhelming that it ended in 1962. Several factors worked in conjunction to bring about the demise of the federation namely the unwillingness of the larger islands to be burdened by the smaller islands, conflict between member states and the fact that the federation was weak from the beginning. Thus the federation was as Premier Barrow of Barbados stated an Unfederable federation from the beginning.


Ashdown, P. Humphreys, F. Caribbean Revision History For CXC, Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2005.

Beckles, H. McD. Shepherd, V. A. Liberties lost: Caribbean Indigenous Societies and Slave Systems, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Claypole, W. Robottom, John. Caribbean Story (Book 1), Harlow, England: Carlong Publishers Limited, 2001.

Greenwood, R. A Sketch map History of the Caribbean, London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1991.

Honychurch, L. The Caribbean people (Book 2), United Kingdom: Nelson Thomes Ltd, 2006.

Kanarick, Y.T. Caribbean History Core course for Csec, Trinidad: Caribbean Educational Publishers, 2009.

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