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Norman Girvan: an Appreciation

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Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan was a giant!

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1941, Norman died last Thursday April 10th., 2014, in his beloved Cuba.

Professor Girvan’s many academic achievements and accolades are known to all so I will not use this space to recount them; rather, I want to remind us of Norman Girvan’s very deep sense of humanity and his dedication as a tireless warrior for the underdog any and everywhere.  A central ‘underdog’ in this respect is his home and native Caribbean that was forged in the fires of colonialism, slavery, and indentureship, that in the age of imperialist globalization still lives the harsh reality of dependency and underdevelopment, and that still struggles with the challenges to its own sovereignty.

Dr. Girvan’s dedication and commitment to the entire region are well-documented and among them one must underscore his active membership in the New World Group (NWG), a powerful gathering of the leading critical, left, activist scholars of the region.  His involvement in the NWG was emblematic of Norman’s life-long pursuit of a sovereign Caribbean, and that pursuit also found loud echoes in both his distinguished academic and extra-academic vocations.

To show the wide cast of his professional net I will mention only three such involvements beginning with his invaluable service as Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), as Director of the prestigious Consortium Graduate School of the Social Sciences at the UWI, Mona , and as a founding member of CRIES (Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales), a Latin American and Caribbean network of 70 NGOs and university research centers.

Professor Girvan (a frequent contributor to CounterPunch) was an economist with a difference, one who wrote intelligibly so non-economists could understand the complexities of Caribbean dependency and underdevelopment.  But more than this, he was an economist who had a deep historical materialist sensibility, who rooted his thoughts and insights in the past social, political and economic processes that went into the making of the contemporary Caribbean.

Norman Girvan

As a Caribbean man Norman was an integrationist and a sovereignist.  He saw the region as a continuous whole and was always ready to challenge those who sought to minimise its tortured sovereignty.  Norman felt equally at home in all the Caribbean cultures and I still recall the movingly humble acceptance speech he gave at the Universidad de la Habana on the occasion of his being awarded an honorary doctorate from that prestigious institution.  His speech was an intellectual tour de force that placed Cuba and the Cuban Revolution at the centre of the drama that is the contemporary Caribbean, and in that context he asked all present to recognise the unpayable debt (the title of his speech) we as Caribbean citizens owe to “el pueblo heróico.”

Professor Norman Girvan is going to live on with all of us who value humility, integrity, human decency and socialist morality.  My brother, Dr. Haven Allahar, a former student of Professor Girvan at Mona in the 1960s, summed it up best, “Norman was boss!”

Anton L. Allahar teaches at the Department of Sociology, University of Western Ontario, Canada.

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