Friday, May 19, 2006

Lobbies versus empire

I was watching a rebroadcast of the excellent CBC documentary on the sugar industry, “Big Sugar” (the whole CBC website is worth reading;  take the quiz!;  see also here), and noted an example from Canadian history explained in the documentary by historian Denis Vaugeios, of how a dedicated lobby can work against the interests of the Empire (my emphasis in red):

“In 1759, during the Seven Year's War, England captured Canada, Guadeloupe and Martinique from France. The two 'sugar' islands (Guadeloupe and Martinique) were among France's most valuable possessions. During the negotiations for peace in 1763 England agreed to give back some of the captured territories.

Canada was no economic match for the highly prized Caribbean islands. Guadeloupe alone produced forty-three times more revenue than Canada, a backwater land with a struggling fur trade. Even France didn't want it back.

England's powerful sugar lobby was led by Alderman William Beckford, a man of immense wealth. He felt that the French sugar islands would increase competition with his own sugar growing business. Beckford and his associates wielded an enormous influence on the government to ensure that they would get the outcome they wanted.

In the end, the British parliament choose to keep Canada. France celebrated saying that England had traded sugar for snow.”

The sugar lobby bribed British politicians, and plied them with women to make them subject to blackmail, thus forcing through a decision to keep Canada rather than the Caribbean islands, clearly against the interests of the British Empire at the time (although, oddly, in the long run the decision made was the right one for the Empire).  Chomsky would tell us that this kind of thing is simply impossible, while it happens all the time! 

I wonder if Americans realize that they pay three times what the rest of the world pays for sugar.