In the federal government’s last official act in its capital, Port of Spain, Sir Stephen Luke, the British interim commissioner for the Caribbean, despatched to wrap up the paperwork, signed the proclamation to dissolve the federation.
“Now therefore, I, Stephen Elliot Vyvyan Luke, Interim Commissioner for the West Indies by virtue of the power and authority in me vested hererby appoint the 1st day of June, 1962, as the day on which the Federation of the West Indies and, with it, the Federal Government, the Federal Legislature, the Federal Supreme Court and the other Federal authorities established by the Constitution… shall be dissolved,” the proclamation read.
London’s Colonial Office, the British ministry for its colonies, had sent out an interim commissioner to replace the Governor General of the West Indies, Lord Hailes. Federation Park, the green, leafy, Port of Spain suburb that was home to the federal civil servants and parliamentarian with its Antigua Drive, Jamaica Boulevard and Grenada Avenue, streets named for the ten island provinces, was a ghost town. The only Prime Minister of the West Indies, Sir Grantley Adams, had returned home, his party already voted out of office in Barbados in a general election the previous December.
But the 50th anniversary milestone of the federation’s demise passed largely ignored throughout the region, save for a dual legacy of familiar bickering among the larger nations while the smaller islands grow even closer.
Jamaica, whose withdrawal from the federation in a referendum triggered its collapse, has been trumpeting its 50th independence anniversary on August with national celebrations.
But for the man considered one of the Caribbean’s leading statesmen and regionalists, May 31 1962 signifies not what was, but might have been – independence at the stroke of midnight for all ten nations that made up the English-speaking Caribbean’s only experiment in political union.
The 1961 London Conference on the Federation had set considered May 31 1962 as the date for the independence of the Federation from Britain.
“Well before we got there, Jamaica’s referendum and Trinidad’s mathematics had ensured that we never would,” said Sir Shridath in a November 2008 University of the West Indies lecture that commemorated a different 50th milestone – the anniversary of the Federation’s birth.
“The day the Federation of The West Indies was to become independent as one nation, May 31, 1962 – was the very day on which the Federation was formally dissolved. We had come that close to West Indian nationhood,” said Sir Shridath.