PHOTO (DETAIL ABOVE) BY JACK DELANO. In her garden, Puerto Rico (1941)
More than one hundred years after enslavement, emancipation, and nation-building, many of the twenty-six countries that today make the Caribbean rank among the most indebted in the world. As a result, in 2014, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a regional group of 14 island-nations sued its former colonizers–Britain, France, and the Netherlands–for slavery reparations. The group also sought an official apology, debt cancellation, and financial support for cultural and educational institutions. A year later, the governor of Puerto Rico, a colonial possession of the United States since 1898, declared that its debt of $72 billion was “unpayable.” Under the rubric of “people before debt” Puerto Ricans on the island and mainland mobilized in support of debt cancellation as the region re-emerges as a site of new forms of capital extraction.
Given the deep effects of debt in the Caribbean and the ways that this debt has enabled wealth accumulation in other parts of the world through more than five hundred years, the Caribbean Syllabus provides an entry point into the complex and constitutive relationship between debt and the modern Caribbean through an exploration of several questions: How did the Caribbean become indebted? Who owes what to whom? What were the riches of the region and where have they gone? What is the relation between slavery and debt? Who has profited from taking labor and resources out of the Caribbean? Why have the profits of labor not returned? How can we better understand the relationship between debt, sovereignty, and neocolonialism? Is education a way to cultivate oppositional debt consciousness? And, how are Caribbean social movements and other practices envisioning and working toward future horizons that are not defined by indebtedness and neoliberalism?
At present, the Syllabus contains 15 units, each structured under a specific theme and inclusive of scholarly, journalistic, primary, and multimedia sources (visual arts, video, literature, and music). This structure allows the document to be adopted for seminar teaching and for use outside of the classroom. We envision the Syllabus as a living document, and hope to add to it as new resources, interventions, and materials become available. We especially welcome suggestions for materials in languages other than English, including French and Spanish. Units on education and the arts are forthcoming.
Caribbean Syllabus is the second in a series of three syllabi that the working group will release over three years in relation to the damaging effects of debt on various locations around the world, including Detroit, Greece, and the Caribbean. The first was the PRSyllabus, published in 2016 and focusing on the Puerto Rican debt crisis. The last syllabus will consider debt regimes in other parts of the world and will be released in 2019.