January 1958 was a tumultuous month for the Bahamas. It is little wonder that when they met at 8:15 pm that dark night in January 1958, it would go down in history, as one of the longest and and stormiest sessions in its modern history. One of the reasons for the prolonged parliamentary session was that then Governor, Sir Raynor Arthur had requested that British troops be sent into Nassau. Foreign boots, army peace-keepers, were on the ground on the tiny island of New Providence. It was an unsettling sight. The other reason was, the General Strike had closed down the winter tourist season. Cyril Stevenson was the firebrand politician, newspaper editor, member of the House of Assembly, and one of the founding members of the PLP. Stevenson was elected to the Bahamas House of Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, from the Andros and the Berry Islands constituency, just two years earlier, in 1956. No doubt Stevenson was giving the government powers that were, and Governor Raynor Arthur, a few choice words.
British troops were on the ground in Nassau, to protect the Bahamas, not from outside threat, but from itself.
Dynamite was reportedly found.
The country was put into the highest state of emergency since World War Two. It was feared that the country would never be the same after that.
News of the happenings The Bahamas flew all over the world.
TROOPS FLY INTO NASSAU
Strikers try to sabotage power and water
MOST VISITORS LEAVE
A company of the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment was flown in to-day from Jamaica to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, were a general strike has developed. There were unconfirmed reports that other troops were on their way by sea and air.
The 150 troops flown in today are commanded by Lieutenant Colonel T. M. Hughes. They arrived in British Overseas Airways Corporation aircraft. They are house in police barracks and are being held in reserve.
The Governor, Sir Raynor Arthur requested that they be sent. He returned to Nassau by air from Eleuthera, another in the Bahama group. There was booing by a section of the crowd as he opened Parliament.
Power supplies to some parts of the islands were interrupted during the day by sabotage, but were quickly re-established. An attempt to cripple the water supply failed; a stick of dynamite was found attached to a power switch. There has been a general exodus of visitors who feared violence and fewer than a hundred now remain. Other visitors due in Nassau have been rerouted to other centres.
Most hotels and restaurants, and all bars, night clubs, and theatres are closed. Alcoholic prohibition is in force throughout the city because all liquor licences have been revoked temporarily. Business, however, is at a standstill and the workers are roaming the streets, picketing and holding meetings. There is anxiety about plans for about four thousand to attend one such meeting. It passed off peacefully after the troops had flown in.
British Overseas Airways and Pan-American Airways curtailed their flights from New York to the Bahamas and said that flights might be cancelled altogether if the situation became worse. The two airlines are planning to consolidate their passenger lists for to-morrow’s departures and fly only one aircraft. Their flights from Miami will also be consolidated into a single service.
The strike started on November 2 with a demonstration by members of the taxi-drivers’ union which resulted in the airport closing down for 24 hours. The demonstration gave the taxi-drivers complete control of airport transport for two months, during which the Governor tried to resolve the dispute. The negotiations broke down this month. The Governor then offered to appoint a three-man tribunal to investigate the disrupt but the union rejected the tribunal. The discussions were finally broken off when the union demanded the right to dictate what form of transportation tour operators should use. The strike spread to hotel works, health department employees, stevedores and street cleaners.
No discussions for ending the strike are taking place at the moment.
THE MANCHESTER GUARDIAN, THURSDAY JANUARY 16, 1968
To make matters even worse, the world became interested in whether or not, some sort of extreme violence, destructive riots or even a violent coup might be imminent in the Bahamas. It was the most intense of situations and for Bahamians, in Nassau, to see foreign troops on the ground, to preserve Nassau from its own people, must have been a most unsettling sight.
The War Office in London, the office where World War Two was commanded from, issued a statement to the world.
No permanent garrison in colony.
By our London Staff
The War Office said in London last night that the dispatch of troops to the Bahamas was “a purely precautionary measure.” at the request of the Governor. In recent years the Colony has had no garrison of its own.
The Worcestershire Regiment supplied troops for British Honduras a month ago. A detachments was sent by air to Belize at the time of the breakdown of negotiations when member of the abortive delegations were returned home from London. These troops have since been withdrawn and some of the same men may now be in Nassau. The detachments now in the Bahamas may be called on to assume patrol duties at power stations and other key points.
There is a history of general labour unrest going back a good number of years in the Bahamas. The coloured people, who form 90 percent of the population of 85,000 have long felt that the white minatory has a disproportionate influence in Colony’s Legislature. They resent qualifications which restrict the franchise and the fact that there are no signs of constitutional change at least in the near future.
Part of the resentments has economic causes. There is an extensive “shanty town” in the older part of Nassau where most of the coloured people live because they cannot afford anything better. There is no official segregation in force, but it is customary for white people to take taxis and few of them are ever to be seen travelling in the decrepit buses used by the coloured Bahamians.
The tourists trade account for the bulk of Bahama’s income, and some hotel proprietors have tried to operate an informal colour bar because they thing that will please some of their American guests. On Nassau’s “Golden Mile” where the big resort hotels line the shore, some hotels have their own private beaches, with restricted entry.
THE MANCHESTER GUARDIAN, THURSDAY JANUARY 16, 1968