Montserratians - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Various informal networks integrate people and households into larger, loosely structured social complexes. There are networks that employ the ties of bilateral and affinal kinship, loose associations of women based on their residence around house yards and in villages, ties between women and the patrilateral kin of their children, clusters of men who socialize and work together, and reciprocal links focused on marketing and the market. Outside of these supportive networks, visible disparities in income, housing, skin color, employment, nationality, and access to resources stratify Montserratian society. These disparities, legacies of the colonial plantation past, are sharpened in Montserrat by the expatriate and tourist presence. Corporate groups include churches and religious societies and urban voluntary associations.

Political Organization. One of the principal issues that Montserratians struggle with today is their dependent status as a British colony. As a legislative colony, the island has long had a locally elected government, with a mainly decorative British-appointed governor in residence. Montserrat has received many benefits from its status as a colony: it is included in Britain's national health plan, it receives budget allocations, and emigrants to Britain have not had immigration problems. Understandably, then, many Montserratians prefer to remain a safely dependent territory. Others strongly advocate independence and autonomy despite the risks of small size and economic uncertainty. In February 1989 the island's political status declined when the United Kingdom suspended internal self-government and unilaterally revised the constitution to grant more genuine power to the resident governor. Local government and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States protested, but this step backward to colonial control was a consequence of fraud and money laundering in Montserrat's uncontrolled offshore banking industry, which is now defunct.

Both of Montserrat's effective political parties, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and the Peoples' Liberation Movement (PLM), agree in their commitment to agricultural development, education, and infrastructural improvements that will, it is hoped, open the way for other forms of economic development, but only the PLM advocates independence. That issue suddenly lost salience, however, in September 1989, when Hurricane Hugo devastated the island and destroyed 98 percent of all buildings. Since then, the only issue has been recovery, for which assistance from the United Kingdom has been essential.

Social Control and Conflict. Officially, forms of social control are those of a British colony. The legal, court, police, and criminal-justice systems that operate islandwide are the heirs of the British legal system. Other, informal methods of social control function at village, social-network, household, and interpersonal levels. Peer pressure, obligations of reciprocity, kinship bonds, gossip, and pungent public harangues all exert control over individual behavior, containing conflict and contributing to social leveling.

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