Mimi Sheller asks the daunting question: ‘What kinds of human, non-human, and island futures can exist here?’ It is a question that has continued to be asked from the dawn of capitalism and the earliest moments of the European presence in the Caribbean. Expressed in the anxieties of early colonial settlers who viewed a corrupted future as the only kind that could be had in this space, the people of this region have always had to fight against the coloniality of extraction and abandonment.

It is a daunting question that every time, every time takes us back to the scene of the crime- the place where people, the land and all of the things on the land were scripted into a grand European experiment. An experiment that Europeans hoped would allow them to secure greater control over the material conditions of their lives; an experiment that required Europeans to believe in the righteousness of a host of differentiated forms of dispossession. Dispossessions that included the capacity of the land, the environment, energy systems and the sea to sustain life, and of the rights of all of the living things to freedom of existence. The dispossessive logic of that early period of capitalism even made it possible for Europeans to appropriate through force, law and discourse, the rights of the people they encountered (as well as abducted) to their bodies, their associational capacities and ultimately their souls. The European quest for modernity – that expansive sense of power over nature and the self – prevailed through a structure of the imagination written, as Achille Mbembe argues, in “the arithmetic of racial domination” (2017, p. 27). It is through the grammar of race that the technologies through which categories of blackness, their associations with Africa and with the less-than-human came to define and shape the limits of the life that could be had across the archipelago of over 7,000 islands that constitute the Caribbean.

Mimi Sheller takes us back to the scene of the crime in order to help us to see beyond it. She takes us to the disciplinary devastations of debt bondage and the truncated possibilities for social transformation and ultimately self-determination that remains a recurring theme in the history of the region, one that can be traced as far back as 1804 in the case of Haiti and as recently as 2017 in the case of Puerto Rico. She also reminds us of the continued existence of the variety of operational landscapes through which resources like oil and gold continue to be extracted from the region and the inequalities between investments in the logistical infrastructures required for their extraction and the investments in ‘people as infrastructure’, to use AbdouMaliq Simone’s term, required to sustain and socially reproduce life (Simone, 2004).

It is in the social infrastructure constructed by the Indigenous and African peoples left behind in the earliest phases of World Capitalist experimentation and expansion, however, that we can discern fragments of the hard-won wisdom that Mimi Sheller argues is the gift that the Caribbean offers to an uncertain world on a dying plant.

I want to spend a little time pondering this gift, this hard-won wisdom that has evolved from struggles to not only survive but also thrive despite the forms of global exploitation that have always threatened to consign the region’s peoples to the rubbish heap of history. I want to think a little bit about the secrets of this gift’s durability, the transferability of its magic, but also, ultimately the limits of these infrastructural modes of endurance.

How to be strategically cunning, resiliently creative and always ready to syncretize, blend and mix-up in ways that create new identities, relationalities and solidarities are some of the wisdoms that the Caribbean offers. Recognized in the spirit of Anansi, the Akan folkoric character celebrated for his capacity to outwit his oppressors, and located in the Sylvia Wynter’s “provision-ground ideology” (see McKittick 2014) that made it possible for slaves to articulate their own humanity and agency against ‘official’ scripts that defined them otherwise, the gift of the Caribbean might  be best understood as an openness to constant transformation and a willingness to engage a shared world of infinite difference that is essential to survival on a planet where disasters climatic and otherwise, assures our imbrication in each other’s lives. This gift can be understood as the art of ‘being in relation’, to draw on the words of Edouard Glissant, (1990) or, of always being creolized. It is for this reason that Stuart Hall (1995) has consistently insisted that the Caribbean has always been a quintessentially modern space - a window to the world of possibilities that emerged from the fearless embrace of difference and the ceaseless production and reproduction of culture that the regions’ racialized populations have always engaged.

While the art of ‘being in relation’ is perhaps the Caribbean’s greatest lesson for survival in a world that has become more entangled, interdependent, and uncertain, it is an insufficient response to the current existential threats (to quote Norman Girvan) (Girvan 2011) to the socio-economic-ecological-political future of the region. I say this because the Caribbean region is increasingly becoming the unwanted child of European and American imperial powers and as Western anxieties have risen over their capacity to control the undocumented movement of capital, commodities, bodies and information across their borders there has been a sustained commitment to the ‘letting die‘ of the region through the technologies of financialization and securitization.

While Sheller illustrated how the financialization of Puerto Rico’s debt created the conditions for the abandonment of this island economy, another similar and less known process began around 2014 when international banks that clear smaller banks’ foreign-currency transactions began to terminate their provision of correspondent banking services such as wire transfers, credit card settlements, and even hard foreign currency -  a process that ironically is called de-risking. As a recent IMF article explains: “De-risking happens when global banks stop providing international payment services … Without it, a bank—and therefore its clients, i.e., people and companies in that country - loses access to the global financial grid” (Adriano 2017). The practice of de-risking is directly linked to the post 9-11 efforts of the United States to control cross-border flows of money for terrorism financing or from the sale of drugs through a rigorous regime of enforcement and regulation. Faced with the prospect of fines worth billions of dollars, many global banks have opted to terminate their provision of correspondent banking services to the Caribbean. This is because the region’s heavy reliance on remittances from money transfer businesses that operate outside the conventional financial sector is increasingly viewed by international banks as too high a risk to profits, given the elevated levels of regulatory scrutiny they attract (IMF 2016). In the case of Belize Bank, the largest in that country, Bank of America its sole correspondent bank for the last 35 years, provided only a 60-day notice before terminating its relationship with the country (Torbati 2016). I offer this example because I believe that de-risking is a form of abandonment that points not only to the region’s waning significance to global capital but also to the spectre of new technologies for expulsion/or letting die, if endurance, and creative resilience remain our only available responses.  

This is not a narrative of despair but rather a call to make clear the imperial and accumulatory logic of racial capitalism, an essential and legible part of all dialogue about Caribbean futures. For as the ongoing conversations about the future of Puerto Rico reveal, the coming battle for a future, capable of sustaining human and non-human life will rest on the outcome of struggles over which the vision of social transformation- one that values and seeks to preserve the collective relationships held by the people who were and have become indigenous protectors of the land, energy, food and water, or the market-based visions of a small cadre of mobile elites who continue to view the region as a zone of extraction from which profits can continue to be derived. These are struggles that must be transnational, diasporic and grounded not only in the local survival strategies of communities but also in the regional, and also international spaces where states, international organizations (non-governmental and otherwise) regularly meet to decide the fate of the region. It is here that the space of diaspora with its capacity to transcend national boundaries and its investments in collective co-creations of place offers new possibilities for ‘re-scaling’ conversations and strategies for a liveable future. I feel that diaspora has the capacity to disrupt the discourses currently proliferating in the spaces of government, the NGO sector, financial institutions and international development organizations that view the market and market instruments as the only space through which a future can be made. I do not want to be nostalgic about the power of diaspora, as I recognize that these spaces may also be sites of oppression, exclusion and neoliberal instrumentality, but I do believe that diaspora can also offer new ways of thinking about citizenship, insurgency, innovation and sustainable futures that can bring into being not only a politics of refusal, but a politics committed to making legible the inner workings of 21st century racial capitalism with its investments in financial instruments - the faceless technologies of debt, dispossession, erasure and letting die.



Adriano, A. (2017). When Money Can No Longer Travel. Finance and Development 54 (2): 40-43.
Girvan, N. (2011). Existential threats: Regionalising governance, democratizing politics. CLR James Memorial Lecture. Oilfield Workers Trade Union.
Glissant, E. (1990). The Poetics of Relation. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press.
Hall, S. (1995). Negotiating Caribbean Identities. New Left Review 218: 3-14.
IMF (2016). Recent Trends in Correspondent Banking Relationships - Further Considerations. Executive Summary. Washington D.C., International Monetary Fund.
Mbembe, A. (2017). Critique of Black Reason. Durham, NC, Duke University Press.
McKittrick, K. (2014). Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Durham, North Caolina, Duke University Press.
Simone, A. M. (2004). People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture 16 (2): 407-429.
Torbati, Y. (2016). Caribbean countries caught in crossfire of U.S. crackdown on illicit money flow.  Reuters investigates. July 12, 2016.