The Caribbean has lost another giant; prominent Caribbean intellectual Norman Girvan passed away in Cuba on the same day that A.N.R. Robinson, former Prime Minister and President of Trinidad and Tobago, died. Jamaican born and a true Caribbean man, Girvan was scheduled to undergo surgery in Cuba for injuries he sustained from a fall while hiking in Dominica earlier this year.
A respected economist, Girvan attended the London School of Economics, where he received his Ph.D.; he would often blog about the region's economics and politics on his website. He was perhaps best known as the University of the West Indies’ Professor Emeritus, based at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, but he also held several other important posts, including, in 2010, serving as the United Nations Secretary General’s Personal Representative on the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy. In fact, his last tweet, on September 1, 2013, was about the issue:
Presidents of Venezuela and Guyana meet, issue Joint Declaration http://t.co/PSDJVcrUPa
— Norman Girvan (@normangirvan) September 1, 2013
Professor Girvan had also served as secretary to the Association of Caribbean States and was a member of the United Nations Committee on Development Policy. Known as a man of principle, Professor Girvan was recently involved in a campaign lobbying for the rights of citizens of the Dominican Republic of Haitian descent.
Girvan had an active online presence and posted many of his essays, articles and speeches to the web for wider dissemination.
Upon news of his death, the online tributes started pouring in. The University of the West Indies issued the following statement:
On behalf of the entire faculty, staff and student body of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), I wish to express the profound sorrow that we feel at the passing of Norman Girvan, Professor Emeritus, The UWI and first Director of SALISES.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1941…the young Girvan left to pursue his doctorate at the London School of Economics, returning thereafter to the Mona Department of Economics, where he served for many years, establishing himself as one of the leading economists of the region. Girvan’s work, both as individual scholarship and as part of the New World Group that flourished throughout the Caribbean in the Sixties and early Seventies, sought to critique the nature and limitations of political independence and to redefine a space for Caribbean sovereignty as well as more inclusive notions of democracy. More specifically, through studies like the evocatively titled Foreign Capital and Economic Underdevelopment in Jamaica and Copper in Chile, Girvan argued that through the structure and operations of international corporations, the newly emergent nations of the Caribbean and Latin America were being denied a fair share of the surplus from the exploitation of their mineral resources. This, he suggested, contributed immeasurably to their inability to escape from a cycle of underdevelopment.
In this [retirement] phase of his life, Norman’s work, if anything, gathered pace, with many critical interventions in both scholarly and new media, suggesting caution about and modification of the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, greater engagement with Cuba, recognition of Haiti as an integral part of the Caribbean and, consistently, calling for deeper and more popular Caribbean integration. Above all, Norman, through his website 1804 CaribVoices, has emerged as a tribune for rethinking Caribbean history, understanding and fighting for the preservation of the environment, defending all causes associated with popular empowerment and, inevitably, redefining the Caribbean in all its component districts, as a common, sovereign space.
We express our deepest condolences to his wife Jasmine and children Ramon, Alexander and Alatashe as we reflect on and remember with gratitude a life well-lived and the immeasurable contribution of this exemplary Caribbean citizen.
Trinidad-based trade union leader David Abdulah, who was a personal friend of Girvan, expressed his grief on Facebook:
The news of Norman Girvan's passing, which I received just after 5 pm yesterday afternoon was just so, so very sad! I last saw and spoke with him two days before he left Trinidad to Cuba and we were all so full of hope! I will not try to express all my sentiments now except to say that Norman was simply one of the finest human beings that we could ever meet. I am honoured to have known him and be able to call him my friend and comrade in arms. Thanks, Norman for all that you have done! A Luta Continua!
Gwendolene Roberts remembered her teacher and mentor:
As my current PhD supervisor he was my academic father. One thing is for certain, when I finally complete… After I find a new uni/supervisor my PhD thesis will be dedicated to him… Professor Norman Girvan… #GENERATIONLION
Writer Ruel Johnson remembered meeting Girvan and regretted not having interacted with him more:
Thirteen years ago, I met a humble but brilliant Jamaican man. Years after that meeting, I was still able to e-mail him with regard to my research work on Caribbean Integration. If I knew then the value of that open channel, I would have treasured it more. RIP Norman Girvan.
Blogger Annie Paul shared a photo of Professor Girvan playing Carnival, which showed the lighter side of the man:
Gr8 shot of Norman Girvan at carnival a couple of years ago pic.twitter.com/z9yRWWUtyN
— anniepaul (@anniepaul) April 10, 2014
Other tributes followed on Twitter:
R.I.p Norman girvan!! Your work has been a great help you are a magnificent thinker and your legacy lives on
— Queen Kebz. (@BunchOfBadBees) April 11, 2014
Professor Norman Girvan is dead! Sad day for the University of the West Indies and Caribbean academic community! sigh RIP Professor Girvan
— Aundré Tafarie James (@AundreTafJames) April 10, 2014
One netizen was still in disbelief:
I sent Prof. Norman Girvan an email on April 8, requesting his participation for a discussion on CARICOM-Cuba relations. He died yesterday.
— Keneice Lawson (@Kenephew) April 10, 2014
Still in shock! Prof died the day after I sent him the email. What is life? Just like that! DAMN!
— Keneice Lawson (@Kenephew) April 10, 2014
Every tweet was filled with admiration for the man and his legacy:
jus heard that Prof Norman Girvan died..jah kno RIP! Great man!
— Dominic (@NickCobran) April 10, 2014
I am really saddened by death of Norman Girvan. He has written excellent scholarly articles, especially on CSME and globalization. #RIP
— Mickel Jackson (@Mikkie_J) April 9, 2014
Twitter user Haydn Dunn thought it significant that both Girvan and A.N.R. Robinson died on the same day:
R.I.P Norman Girvan and ANR Robinson.The end of that generation that contributed to the development in the Caribbean
— Haydn Dunn (@HaydnDunn) April 9, 2014
Most admirers, however, simply wanted to say goodbye:
Rest in peace Professor Girvan @normangirvan :( The Caribbean has lost another intellectual giant.
— Alicia Nicholls (@LicyLaw) April 10, 2014
— Arturo Victoriano (@ArturoVictoria4) April 10, 2014