Questions for CSA Past Presidents
Responses by Emilio Pantojas-García
CSA President 2004-2005
How did you come to specialize in Caribbean Studies?
I started in 1987 with a Fulbright Scholarship to do research on the impact of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) on the Eastern Caribbean. I spent 6 months doing research in Dominica, St. Lucia and Barbados. During my tenure as a Fulbright Scholar I participated in U.S. Congressional Hearings on the CBI in Barbados and got in contact with a network of NGOs activist and academics that became lifelong friends.
How did your interest in and commitment to Caribbean Studies evolve?
The revolutions in Grenada and Nicaragua produced a number of regional and North American initiatives. The regional Alternative coordinated by the CRIES directed by Xabier Gorostiaga, the CBI and Canada’s Caribcan, drew my attention to issues of Caribbean regional integration and development. The creation in 1988 of the Caribbean International Relations group affiliated to CLACSO (the Latin American Council on Social Science) provided a venue to develop my work on the region. This group was led by professor Carmen Gautier Mayoral of the University of Puerto Rico, and we worked with then future CSA presidents Rita Giacalone, Andrés Serbín, and Hilbourne Watson.
When did you first join CSA and what did it mean to you then?
I joined CSA in 1993 in Jamaica. At the time I was director of the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at SUNY, Albany which published the CSA Newsletter.
What were your goals for CSA the year of your presidency?
I had two main goals: to reorganize the secretariat and the finances of CSA and to bring the conference to a Spanish speaking country.
What did you recognize to be the greatest obstacles facing CSA and Caribbean Studies during your presidency?
The secretariat was very disorganized, which had been a major weakness of CSA since its founding. Funding for research and publication venues have always been problems for Caribbean Studies. Ian Randle and UWI press, as well as other non Caribbean publishers have been very important in sustaining and developing Caribbean Studies.
What did you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of CSA that year?
We had three important achievements. First, we managed to put in order the finances and membership lists. We also had a magnificent 30th Anniversary conference opened by the President of the Dominican Republic, Dr. Leonel Fernández and closed by the Secretary General of the OAS, Dr. José Miguel Insulza. Finally we honored past presidents with plaques at the conference. Seven past presidents attended, Lynn Bolles, Jorge Heine, Robert Millette, Andrés Serbín, Jean Stubbs, Frank Mills, and Jackelyne Braveboy-Wagner
Why did you choose the location you did for the CSA annual conference that year?
As I was scouting venues and sponsors in Mexico (the University of Quintana Roo), Colombia (The University of Cartagena), and Martinique (The University of the Antilles and the Guyane), I was invited to a policy consultation with the President of the Dominican Republic, Dr. Leonel Fernández. During this event, Dr. Pablo Mariñez, long standing CSA member and Dominican Ambassador to Mexico suggested that I considered Santo Domingo as the venue and offered the support of the Fundación Global para el Desarrollo, FUNGLODE, headed by Dr. Fernández. Given the level of support offered and the accessibility to all CSA members, the decision was made to hold the conference there.
Where do you hope to see CSA in the next ten years?
I believe that CSA is the most important Caribbean Association for academics and practitioners in the area. I hope it will continue to play such a role and do a more effective job of integrating the Hispanic, Dutch and French Caribbean.
What is one of your fondest CSA memories?
I have many, but I would have to say cutting the 30th Anniversary cake with fellow CSA Presidents. We had arrived at three decades of success in spite of many ups and downs, and we celebrated. A photograph of that moment is included.
What are you doing now in terms of the Caribbean?
At the moment (fall 2010) I am a Visiting Scholar at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies using this opportunity to write a book entitled: From Plantations to Resorts: Rethinking the Caribbean in the Age of Globalization. I hope this will be a contribution to new thinking on the Caribbean.
Where do see the future of Caribbean Studies?
Unless CSA continues to serve as the agglutinating force of pan Caribbean exchanges, I believe Caribbean Studies will not grow as an area of intellectual endeavor beyond our own universities. CSA has enabled Caribbean Studies to be a part of North American, British, Dutch and even French Academe.
What would you recommend to a young scholar starting in Caribbean Studies?
To concentrate on theoretically informed studies that contribute to debates on issues of concern beyond area studies specialists.