Parliament in the sun
Washington — The sun-kissed Caribbean washes the shores of both Cuba and Barbados, but how different they are. President Carter last week called Cuba economically kankrupt despite massive infusions of Soviet aid. He noted thousands of Cubans crowding the Peruvian Embassy grounds trying to emigrate. He spoke to a group called Caribbean-Central American Action. If he had mentioned Barbados he would have dealt with perhaps the most stable and democratic of the new black governments of the world. Both are palmfringed islands, both with beaches over which the waves slap and suck leaving behind little pocket-handerchiefs of foam, but Cuba has an unstable tradition of Spain, and Barbados is so British that it puts a "u" in "armoured car" and spells tire "tyre" (but not curb "kerb").
The last Parliament I visited was in Barbados. The tourist tends to condescend to the little island. Leths see, a quarter million people, 90 percent of them black, one of the most densely populated countries (1,500 to the square mile), birthrate and unemployment high. Add, also, that literacy is remarkably high at around 90 percent and that schools are numerous and everybody seems to read news- papers. Also that its House of Assembly (Parliament) was established in 1639 and confirmed by Oliver Cromwell in 1652. It has an air of stability.
The tourist learns the headline-idiom of the Advocate-News very rapidly:
"Survey To Be Done In
T'dadians Living In B'dos"
With a little reflection that translates into an article about neighboring Trinidad and Tobago, and the Commonwealth of Barbados. The tourist looks across the water and has time for another headline:
"Reshuffle In J'ca
Meaning? Jamaica is having political difficulties with an economic crisis. There are economic difficulties all over the restive Caribbean. Probably the lolling tourist doesn't care; they are like indistinct murmurs in a tropical conch shell. A local problem appears in the chastisement given by the Advocate- News to the Barbados police for being too quick on the draw with a local desperado. "There were certain aspects of the police operation," cries the angry paper, "that demand the heaviest approbation." Is that the right word? No , on second thought, next day, under title "correction," the journal explains that what it meant was that the police operations "demand the heaviest approbrium." The idling tourist feels that that isn't precisely correct either, but after two tries the editor washes his hands of it.
The Washington reporter visits Parliament, in Bridgetown, remembering the long mile that separates the White House from Congress back home. The House of Assembly has 24 members, and Jimmy Carter and his team sit across the central aisle from Ronald Reagan and the opposition. (I am just supplying imaginary names to the two local parties as they debate the transportation budget.)
It all seems very quaint at first. The architecture is dignified and gothic with English sovereigns in stained glass looking down: Georgius Rex in one window side by side with Anna Regina in another, holding their respective scepters in different moods of nonchalance. There is a pause and then the Speaker in a splendid wig makes his stately entrace behind the attendant carrying the symbolic Mace. It takes you back to London. The speaker sites in a kind of enclosed throne like an oversize telephone-booth. All very quaint, to be sure.
Then the Washington reporter begins to ponder. The two parties sit face to face with leaders asking direct questions or making answers; no intervention needed here of a press conference or a gaggle of reporters. It is direct and dramatic. Elections in Barbados last only a month instead of two years as in the US. There is no veto power here over a treaty as there is at home by 34 senators out of a legislative body of 535 members. If Prime Minisber "Tom" Adams can't get a majority for a major bill (on his energy program, say, or on inflation) he has the option of appealing to the voters in an election. You always know who has the mandate in quaint Barbados. In Washington? Try and find it.