In the late 1980s, Cayman politics was relatively calm. The
Caymans had no officially recognized political parties; elections
for the twelve elective seats in the Legislative Assembly were
contested by "teams" of candidates, as well as by independents. The
teams showed no differences in policy or ideology. All candidates
traditionally pledged to work for continued economic success and
for continued dependent status. In the November 1980 elections the
Unity Team, led by Jim Bodden, won eight of the twelve seats. The
Dignity Team, headed by Benson Ebanks, won two seats, and two went
to independents. The Dignity Team later fell apart when one of its
two legislators joined the Unity Team.
Elections were held again in November 1984 against a backdrop
of dissatisfaction with Bodden's Unity Team. Many voters felt it
was time for a change; public disquiet had grown over the rapid
rise in the immigrant work force. Criticism was voiced that Bodden
and his government should have moved more quickly to preserve the
good name of the colony and its financial services when the United
States alleged that Cayman banks had been used to launder illegal
drug monies. Independents captured nine seats in the election, but
the other three remained in the hands of the Dignity Team; Ebanks
became chief minister. Despite the change in leadership, continued
economic prosperity helped to maintain political stability in the
Cayman Islands residents have expressed the strong wish to
remain British dependents; this position was voiced twice to United
Nations groups, in 1977 and again in 1981. The finance secretary
commented that "venturing into independence" was not a viable route
to prosperity for small countries and that the British link
inspired investor confidence. Moreover, support for Britain was
shown in 1982 when the Cayman Islands sent a US$1 million donation
to the Falklands Fund from private and public sources.
Politics in the Turks and Caicos Islands differed from the
situation in the Cayman Islands in three notable ways. First, the
Turks and Caicos had two defined political parties. Second,
independence was a salient issue and a determinant in party
identification. Finally, the political landscape in 1980s had been
shaped by government corruption.
The first elections in the Turks and Caicos under the revised
1976 Constitution took place that year and were won by the proindependence People's Democratic Movement (PDM). Independence
appealed to many in the Turks and Caicos, who were influenced by
the Jamaican independence process in the early 1960s. In early
1980, Britain agreed that if the governing PDM won elections later
that same year, the islands would receive independence and a
payment of around US$21.6 million. However, the PDM chief minister,
J.A.G.S. McCartney, was killed in an accident that May. Lacking his
strong leadership, the PDM lost the November 1980 election to the
Progressive National Party (PNP), which supported continued
dependent status. At the next general election, in May 1984, the
PNP, led by Chief Minister Norman Saunders, won eight of the eleven
elective seats. During that campaign neither party raised the issue
of independence, largely because citizens had become aware of the
value of regular British financial aid. Both parties were committed
to free enterprise and to the development of the Turks and Caicos
through tourism and offshore financial services.
The PNP's 1984 election victory could be explained in part by
growing economic prosperity over the preceding four years.
Government revenues had risen; more banks had established offices
in the islands; the airport on Providenciales had been finished;
and tourism had expanded dramatically.
In 1985 the Turks and Caicos were rocked by a major drug
scandal. In March, Chief Minister Saunders, Minister of Commerce
and Development Stafford Missick, and another PNP member were
arrested in Miami by DEA agents, in cooperation with the islands'
own governor and police force. During the trial, the prosecution
showed a videotape of Saunders receiving US$20,000 from a DEA
undercover agent. The DEA said that Saunders took the money in
return for promises to protect drug shipments from Colombia as they
passed through his native island of South Caicos on their way to
the United States.
Saunders and Missick were found guilty of drug conspiracy
charges by a Miami court on July 21, 1985, although Saunders was
acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiring to import
cocaine into the United States. Missick was convicted of the
additional charge of cocaine importation. Saunders and Missick were
subsequently sentenced to prison terms of eight and ten years,
respectively; each was fined US$50,000.
Although precise data on citizen attitudes were not available,
many islanders resented the fact that Saunders was arrested in a
United States "sting" operation carried out with the knowledge and
consent of the British governor and the British government; they
contended that Saunders had been set up. Some of these islanders
also thought that the popular Saunders, the national tennis
champion as well as the chief minister, should have been brought to
trial at home. In spite of these feelings, however, the islands
remained calm after the arrests. Most people were primarily
concerned about the effect that any adverse publicity would have on
the territory's fragile economy.
With three of its legislators in jail, the PNP still held a
majority of five to three in the Legislative Council. The PNP
selected the former minister of public works and utilities,
seventy-two-year-old Nathaniel "Bops" Francis, to be the new chief
minister. Ariel Misick received the key appointment of minister of
commerce and development. The reorganized government's top priority
was to maintain investor confidence and proceed with planned
development projects. The new government also took pains to tell
both London and Washington that it condemned drug trafficking in
Political turmoil in the Turks and Caicos did not end with the
Saunders conviction. In July 1986, the British took the unusual
step of imposing direct British rule on the territory, following
publication of the report of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into
arson, corruption, and related matters. That report severely
criticized both the Turks and Caicos government and the opposition
for alleged malpractice and criminality. The report also made
recommendations for constitutional reform.
Although Governor Christopher Turner announced the decision of
direct British rule on July 25, 1986, Chief Minister Francis had
actually resigned just before the announcement after reading press
accounts that London was prepared to use British troops available
in Belize in the event of local hostility to the order. Perhaps
because of the possibility of British military action, the islands
remained calm after the announcement. As part of the July 25
decision, Governor Turner created an advisory council of four
prominent residents to assist him during the two years a
constitutional commission reviews possible changes in the islands'
governmental structure. That constitutional commission began its
work in November 1986 under the leadership of Sir Roy Marshall, a
former vice chancellor of the UWI.
In mid-1987 officials from the Turks and Caicos visited Ottawa
and offered the Canadian government the opportunity to annex the
islands. According to the Turks and Caicos representatives, polls
indicated that 90 percent of the residents of the islands favored
some form of special relationship with Canada. From the perspective
of the Turks and Caicos, the principal attraction of annexation
undoubtedly was economic; its citizens wanted a North American
standard of living that the islands could not meet. Indeed, one
observer had questioned whether a territory of only 8,600 people,
scattered over eight islands with no agricultural resources, an
infant tourist industry, and only a limited pool of skilled labor,
could really succeed as a viable economic entity.
The prospect of annexation was also attractive to many
Canadians who were frustrated with the unfavorable exchange rate
encountered during vacations to the United States or to Caribbean
nations whose currencies were pegged to the United States dollar.
Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney referred the annexation
proposal to a special parliamentary committee for examination.
Nonetheless, it appeared unlikely that the Canadian government
would quickly adopt such a proposal; in 1986 the Canadian External
Affairs Department recommended against a similar annexation
attempt, fearing the possibility of racial tension between white
Canadians and black islanders.
Data as of November 1987