The Black Beret Cadre in Bermuda
The Black Beret Cadre was formed in the late summer of 1969. Its relatively short period of overt activity (1969–72) represented the apex of Black Power in Bermuda. It sought to bring about a political revolution in Bermuda through Black Power; in Bermuda’s colonial context this implied economic, political, and cultural independence from British imperialism. Self-defined as the vanguard of Black Power in the island, the Cadre established a number of social programs geared toward Black self-determination. The Berets worked closely with other Black progressive organizations and received support from the local Black community, particularly the island’s youth. They also maintained relationships with organizations such as the Black Panther Party (United States) and revolutionary groups across the African Diaspora. Emerging out of Bermuda’s Black radical tradition, the Cadre’s experience reflected a continuum of centuries of Black struggle. These freedom fighters shared the blood of Sally Bassett and the spirit of Black Tom. They represented latent Black Nationalism that surged through twentieth-century Bermuda since the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Understanding their connection to historical Black struggle in Bermuda, they sought to build on the struggles of their ancestors. Indeed, the Cadre was a true “child” of the “Long Sixties”; Berets had grown up in segregated Bermuda, experienced the Theatre Boycott (1959), the BELCO uprisings (1965), the youth rebellions and granting of universal adult suffrage in 1968, the birth of Party politics, the government’s token drives for integration, and the Black Power Conference (BPC). This highly tumultuous political era was also replete with African, Asian, and Caribbean independence and liberation struggles, and U.S. Civil Rights and Black Power Movements
BLACK POWER IN BERMUDA
The Cadre was formed because of the establishment’s refusal to significantly address the fundamental racial and class issues that divided Bermuda. In the words of one Beret, “Brothers were just tired of oppression.” However, they “shared a vision . . . that one day Bermuda would be self-governing and that there would be opportunities for Blacks in power.”1 Unapologetically calling for political revolution in Bermuda, they were well prepared to use armed struggle if necessary to achieve this goal. Through publications, rallies, and low-scale urban warfare, Berets clashed head-on with the island’s security forces. As it trampled over the United Bermuda Party’s (UBP) laws that defined their “insolence” as criminal, Bermuda’s colonial government attacked the Cadre via hostile tactics reminiscent of the latter’s response to the UNIA, the Nation of Islam (NOI), labor union leaders, and Kamarakafego. In fact, the establishment’s assault on the Berets was an extension of its assailment on Black Power in general, and British concerns with the growth of the Movement in the West Indies. The Berets were persecuted via the logistic control of Governor Martonmere and other Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials, collectively known as the Intelligence Committee. Placed under close surveillance, U.S. and Canadian officials also supported their suppression. The establishment projected the Berets as a caustic group of hateful, unintelligent, and alienated hoodlums bent on violently destroying Bermuda. This fallacious perception remains in contemporary Bermuda, demonstrating the relative success of the government’s use of sustained propaganda to discredit the Movement. On a popular level this is marked by a host of political commentary on the local Bermudian blogosphere that, at best, suffer from historical amnesia. At least one author is preparing a manuscript defining the Cadre as terrorists,2 while over the past few years a series of articles have appeared in the Mid-Ocean which, using records from the FCO archives, have attempted to discredit the Cadre and indirectly the PLP’s recent political campaigns by highlighting the Party’s historic connection with the Cadre. As such, this chapter openly examines the origins, objectives, principles, and general activities of the Cadre. It is critical that some space be given to such a discussion because of the dubious, almost dehumanizing perception of the Cadre that persists in the written record and popular mindset. The Cadre has yet to undergo the relatively recent scholarly attention that has been given to Black Power organizations such as the U.S. Black Panther Party, which have provided more accurate and balanced accounts of the Panthers and Black Power as opposed to questionable views that equated the Party and the Movement to “violent terrorism.”3 In fact, this will perhaps be the first monologue that attempts to do so.
Written By Dr. Quito Swan (This Book can be purchased at the Griot)