by Larry Smith
by Larry Smith
by Lary Smith
As the government pours millions of unaccountable tax dollars into a political porkbarrel project on Andros called BAMSI, the only two commercial food processing firms in the country have quietly gone out of business - putting at least 20 Bahamians out of work.
P W Albury & Sons, distributors of Champion brand canned products, announced the closure of its Centreville plant last month. And Sawyer’s Food Products shut its Claridge Road factory at the end of 2013. Both had been canning food since the 1950s.
In 1959 Paul Albury, a schoolteacher from Spanish Wells, acquired the defunct J S Johnson canning operation, which traced its origins to the early years of pineapple farming on Eleuthera.
Sawyer’s was founded in Nassau in 1957 by Wesley and Norma Sawyer, operating initially from a small plant in Oakes Field. Wesley had trained in food processing at Arthur Vining Davis’ Three Bays Farm on Eleuthera.
Both companies started out canning tomatoes and pigeon peas supplied by small farmers around the country. Over the years they expanded their product ranges to include beans, jams, sauces - and even items like conch chowder and pig’s feet souse (under the Sawyer’s label).
But for the past 15 years at least both were importing all their raw materials - including produce. In an effort to stay afloat, P. W Albury even began importing pre-canned products from the US to distribute under their own label.
Spokespeople for both families identified two major factors that led to the demise of their companies.
"Bahamians have totally changed their eating habits,” said Caroline Albury, Paul Albury’s granddaughter. “Most rely on fast food outlets now rather than cooking their own meals. That, plus the high overheads, made it impossible to compete."
And according to former plant manager Michael Sawyer, "it was difficult to source raw materials in the right quantities at the right cost. Import controls on competitive foreign products were dropped in the early 2000s, and high local overheads made it difficult to operate."
It boils down to the same old Bahamian story - a tiny fragmented market with low volumes produces no economies of scale. It’s cheaper and easier to import food products from larger countries with major agro industries.
Pineapple farming is a case in point. Exports of canned pineapples began in the mid-1800s from Eleuthera. And the J S Johnson company was formed in 1876 to can pineapples, tomatoes, guavas, grapefruit and other produce at a factory on Union Street in Nassau. Back then, newspaper reports described Eleuthera as “one big flourishing pineapple plantation."
The peak year for Bahamian pineapples was 1892, when more than 8 million were exported. But when Hawaii and the Philippines - with better growing conditions and distribution networks - started producing pineapples, the Bahamas simply could not compete.
By the late 1920s the industry had collapsed. J S Johnson closed its factory and set up an insurance agency. Later the factory was sold to Paul Albury, who moved it to its present site in Centreville. When Paul died in 1964, sons David and James took over and changed the name to P W Albury & Sons. When the sons died, David’s three children kept the company going.
In the 1940s, Wesley Sawyer worked for the Telecoms Department in Rock Sound. He met and married Norma Perpall, who was Arthur Vining Davis’ secretary. Davis - the legendary chairman of Alcoa - was a big developer and landowner on Eleuthera.
Wesley started working at Davis’ Three Bays Farm on a tomato and pineapple canning operation. He went to the US for training, and then moved to Nassau. After working with Carl Claridge, shipping okra in brine to the US, he set up his own canning plant on Crawford Street in Oakes Field, moving to bigger premises on Claridge Road in 1964.
Wesley Sawyer died in 1974, but his wife and two sons - Kenneth and Michael - kept the company operating until December 2013.
by Larry Smith
by Larry Smith
Despite its small population, the far-flung Bahamas archipelago enjoys impressive features and history as a maritime nation. The country has one of the world’s leading maritime registries with approximately between 1,500 to 1,600 ships carrying the Bahamas flag, and has a good international reputation in the maritime industry.
The Bahamas is home to the Grand Bahama Shipyard, one of the premier ship repair facilities in the world, and the largest cruise ship repair yard in the world. The Freeport Container Port is a significant transshipment center. The country hosts many cruise ships annually, including the largest cruise liners in the world.
The Bahamas archipelago is awash in maritime history. Native peoples navigated canoes to discover a new homeland, part islands but mostly sea, exploited and usurped by colonial greed and slavers in cargo ships, and trafficked by pirates and privateers in sloops and schooners who plundered with zeal over several centuries.
During global and regional wars and tentative or sustained peace, amidst slavery and colonialism, throughout the industrial age, through the waters of the Bahamas passed slave ships, merchant vessels, naval fleets, modern container ships and state-of-the-art cruise liners.
The moderns who made the archipelago their home, relied on the sea for food, trade, transport, sport, enjoyment and an impressive tourism industry, employing an armada of vessels, ingenuity and techniques to tame and when possible master the winds and the waves. Boatbuilding developed into a vibrant industry.
In the 21st century, the Lowell J. Mortimer Maritime Academy, a non-profit educational institution named in honour of the attorney, philanthropist and entrepreneur, represents a significant step in the country’s history as a maritime nation.
by Larry Smith
Last June, a gunman walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina and shot nine people to death at a prayer meeting. The shooter said his goal was to start a race war.
Pictures of the shooter draped with a Confederate battle flag triggered widespread controversy in the US. In the years following the Second World War, this 'southern cross' flag was flown as a symbol of resistance to racial desegregation. It was used especially by the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist group that targeted blacks.
The Charleston massacre led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse, where it had flown ever since 1961. As most people know, South Carolina was where the American Civil War began a hundred years before - when the state's militia shelled a US army garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour.
The bloody war that ensued was fought purely over the issue of slavery. The constitutional compromises reached at independence, which had allowed slave- and non-slave-holding states to co-exist, broke down when the anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860.
There can be no doubt about this. South Carolina's secession document clearly notes that, "A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of president of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”
Condolences from the Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Singapore following the death of the country’s founding father and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, observed: “The late Prime Minister was a contemporary of the late Sir Lynden Pindling ... Sir Lynden often said that he wanted The Bahamas to be the Singapore of the Caribbean.”
There is much that the Bahamas can learn from Singapore and the legacy of Lee. But there are two major attributes required to replicate Singapore’s success, the absence of which makes such success difficult. The two attributes are the personal discipline and work ethic of citizens, and the quality of political leadership.
Bahamians generally lack the discipline and work ethic of Singaporeans. And for all of his gifts and contributions to national development, Sir Lynden, a leading founding father, lacked the strategic vision and commitment to personal incorruptibility and intolerance for state corruption that characterized the rule of Singapore’s Lee.
One of the reasons for Singapore’s success was the example of the incorruptible Lee, who had a fierce commitment to the rule of law and launched a massive anti-corruption program after becoming his country’s leader.
Given his role and person, and the progressive movement’s desire to turn a page from the vast corruption of the white oligarchy and its political instrument the United Bahamian Party (UBP), Sir Lynden had a singular opportunity to foster a new political culture, an opportunity he quickly squandered, setting the country back for generations as the PLP became synonymous with corruption.
by Larry Smith
Despite significant coverage in the American media, the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, Alabama that led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act went almost unnoticed in the Bahamas.
And it’s a safe bet that most Bahamians who didn’t actually live through those tumultuous years are clueless about what happened in their own country at the same time. Hint—the two experiences are closely related.
The substance of these experiences was the suppression of democracy - denying citizens of African descent their right to vote. In the US these citizens were a minority. In the Bahamas, they were the majority. The ancestors of both groups were enslaved for centuries.
The 15th Amendment to the US constitution, ratified in 1870, after the civil war, prohibited states from denying the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” This superseded laws that had directly prohibited black voting.
"As a result, in the former Confederate States...hundreds of thousands of recently-freed slaves registered to vote,” according to the US Justice Department website. "The extension of the franchise was strongly resisted...in a climate in which violence could be used to depress black voter turnout.”
Southern states passed laws that included poll taxes, literacy tests, vouchers of "good character," and disqualification for "crimes of moral turpitude." These were designed to exclude black citizens by allowing white officials to apply them selectively.
By 1910 nearly all black citizens in the former Confederate states were disenfranchised. The long struggle to restore those rights was one of the major focuses of the US civil rights movement, which was led by Rev Martin Luther King jr.
by Larry Smith
It’s been 42 years since the Watergate break-in that eventually forced US President Richard Nixon from office, after an investigation that has been described as one of the greatest achievements of modern journalism.
by Larry Smith
One hundred years ago (on June 28 1914 to be exact), the heir to the throne of the long-vanished Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist struggling for independence.
Germany, then the new rising power of Europe, supported its neighbour Austria-Hungary against Serbia and its patron, Russia; with war declared at the end of July 1914. The British, French and Turks joined in the following month, and by Christmas the various armies had suffered more than three million casualties.
By the time the war ended in November 1918, over 16 million had died and 20 million had been wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. It was known thereafter as the Great War - replacing the Napoleonic Wars for pride of place in European memory.
A hundred years ago, the British Empire encompassed nine million square miles and 348 million people. And about a third of the troops that Britain raised during the war came from the colonies— a million Indians, half a million Canadians, half a million Australians and New Zealanders, 250,000 Africans, and 16,000 West Indians.
The British government has committed over £50 million to this year's centenary commemoration of the First World War. The money is paying for a major refurbishment of London's Imperial War Museum, as well as a national series of commemorative events and lectures which launches in August.