October 22, 2020

Book Review…The Cayman Islands: Behind the Veil


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The-book-cover-of-Patronage-Personalities-and-PartiesBy Dr Glenville Ashby: Contributor From KNEWS

J.A. Roy Bodden’s “Patronage, Personalities and Parties: Caymanian Politics from 1950-2000” requires detailed study. It is a chronicle, a political canvas, of sorts, that encapsulates the sensibilities of political actors. It offers an epistemological insight into human behaviour steeped classism, elitism and power. Bodden pens this oeuvre with a searing passion that is palpable. His thesis is scholarly, provocative with a pedagogical appeal that is undeniable.

His stellar background as an academic with ministerial experience should quell naysayers and those on the other aisle of the political debate regarding the Caymans’ future. There is no question that patronage, cronyism, and partisanship have enticed and damned the souls of men and women in influential position. Bodden is well aware of this perennial decadence, especially in underdeveloped nations, and he goes out on a limb to argue his case.

A land of Cronyism and Patronage

The Cayman Islands, according to Bodden is riddled with political cronyism with an oligarchic carapace that is difficult to pierce. The political elite stifled the will of Caymanians through negligence and political bullying.

But why haven’t Caymanians forcibly resisted their coloniser at a time in Caribbean history that was rife with movements that pulled the rug from under the feet of the British and their quislings? This is the $64,000 question.


While other islands saw the radicalisation of Trade Unions and the explosion of black consciousness, there was a diffidence that characterised the Caymanian underclass. Bodden opines. The main reason was the asphyxiating grip of the patrons, who brooked no challenge to their stranglehold on Caymanian politics and society.

Clearly, a frontier mentality arose where an oligarchy “controlled the economy through business houses, turtle schooners and investment in infrastructure/”.

Bodden bristles at any denial or minimisation of racism. He cites Walter Rodney: “no people can enslave another for centuries without coming out with a notion of superiority….”

The West Indian Federation and the Caymanian response

Bodden recalls the drive toward a West Indian Federation as pivotal in the history of the Caymans. An interesting paradox emerged as the elite feared that its inclusion will threaten the island’s racial composition amid a progressive view, that, as a ‘satellite’ entity, the ‘Islands’ will be at a gross disadvantage.

The Struggle for gender equality

The author also explores the systemic disenfranchisement of women. He writes. “…as early as 1948 a group of Caymanian women had written to the then Commissioner demanding participation in the electoral process. Caymanian women…demonstrated vociferously during and after the 1958 election.” There were other legal obstructions to empowerment in the form of the Sex Disqualification (Removal Law) and the Cayman Islands Administration of Justice Law which excluded Caymanian women from serving as Jurors.”

The privileged class

This study uses a psychosocial barometer to understand socio-political problems. This is a surely lesson in political ontology. The justices and the vestrymen – the progenitors of paternalism hoisted themselves on a pedestal of entitlement.  Bodden tells a woeful tale, unafraid to identify the “apparatchik.” He is convinced that constitutional imbroglios have spawned a paralytic, anemic nation.

Political patronage defined as a “political phenomenon offering advantages of cash, jobs….,” is linked to “hegemonic incumbencies that guarantee candidates’ reelection. However, the rise of populism replaced political masquerades and the will-o’-the wisps of the old guard, in the form of the Cayman Vanguard Party (CVP) in the late 1950s.

Caymanian Politics

Bodden later introduces the Unity Party, The Progressive and Dignity Team, the National Democratic Party and Independents. Candidates hone their stagecraft as they vie for political ascendancy, against a backdrop of demagoguery and swift boating (an American neologism that defines disingenuous attacks on opponents). He reserves his encomium for Orman Paton and marvels at the adventurism of Mc Keeva Bush, while acknowledging the early contributions of Duncan Merren and Annie Bodden, among others.

An Identity Crisis

Bodden avoids histrionics and acrimony. His admonishment, though, is foreboding. He impugns the colonial mentality and American consumerism that have choked a Caymanian archetype. He adds that if a nation is “defined as a land whose citizens….. share a common culture, sense of identity, heritage and traditional roots, the Cayman Islands fall short.”

Divining the future of the Caymans is a challenge, for behind the veneer of its quixotic appeal, there brews a sentient disquiet. It is social schizophrenia, a drama played out behind closed doors, pitching protectionism against more liberal views of governance.

While political malaise is not sui generis to Caymanian society, any attempt to salvage a polysemous territory with entrenched tribal networks, will prove an epic task for the most vaunted of social thinkers.

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Patronage, Personalities and Parties: Caymanian Politics from 1950-2000 by J.A.Roy Bodden

Ian Randle Publishers, Kingston, Jamaica

ISBN: 978-9766375133

Available: Amazon.com

Highly recommended

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Editor: Roy Bodden’s book “Patronage, Personalities and Parties: Caymanian Politics from 1950-2000” is also available at all of Cayman’s local bookstores. Check listings.




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