Who was Lloyd Best?

Lloyd Best in 1976
Lloyd Best in 1976.

Lloyd Best was a Caribbean man. An economist by training, Best spent his life trying to understand, develop, and integrate the Caribbean. His thinking, writing, teaching, publishing, organising, and political activity were all devoted to these ends.

Ideas

Best’s lifelong conviction was that the Caribbean needed to find its own path towards a development defined on its own terms. For him, the greatest challenge facing the region was that of liberating the Caribbean imagination, and rebuilding its damaged psyche after the devastation of the colonial experience. As he saw it, the task of the Caribbean people was to create a new society out of the many fragments of cultures brought here, under duress, in the service of European colonial expansion. He was fierce in his insistence that the Caribbean should embrace this responsibility without falling into the trap of borrowed ideologies and borrowed solutions.

This perspective led him to develop the Plantation Theory of Economy and Society, which explains the modern Caribbean as a product of its unique history. Out of this historical framework, he developed a broad range of culturally relevant proposals for reforming almost every sphere of Caribbean life—education, economy, government, art, culture, science, sport, business, community and family.

Lloyd Best drew his inspiration from looking at the lives of Caribbean people and urged others to do the same. He believed that the people of the Caribbean could master the challenges of creating a viable civilisation if they were true to the reality they observed in front of them. With this in mind, he encouraged his students to map the landscape around them from the perspective of their respective disciplines. He saw enormous scope for original research and encouraged young people to commit their energies to whatever work excited and inspired them.

Life and Work

Best, the second of twelve children, was born in 1934 in Tunapuna, Trinidad. After completing his secondary education at Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain, Best went to Cambridge University on an island scholarship. He moved on to Oxford University for his post-graduate education, then worked in Paris for a short time. In the late 1950s, a period of heightened political consciousness in the Caribbean, when the Independence movement was gaining momentum, Best returned home from Europe. From that time on, he dedicated his life to the Caribbean, seeking connections with others who shared his vision and goals and championing the Caribbean cause all over the world.

Lloyd Best believed passionately in the importance of democratic engagement and organised discussion groups everywhere he went. In the 1960s, he founded the New World Group, a highly influential group of intellectuals in the Caribbean. He later founded the Tapia House Group in Trinidad, out of which came a political party, the Tapia House Movement, and the weekly Tapia newspaper. Tapia contested the 1976 elections without success, but later became a key force in building the opposition alliance that led to the birth of the National Alliance for Reconstruction. Best chose to stay out of that party, which swept to office in 1986. He was twice Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, in 1974-75 and 1981-83.

Best worked as an economist throughout his career, most often with the United Nations Development Programme. He was a senior lecturer in economics at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, but resigned in 1976 to start the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of the West Indies, now known as the Lloyd Best Institute of the Caribbean. In 1977, he launched the Trinidad and Tobago Review newspaper, which continued to be published until 2012. In 2007, Best died of cancer at his home in Tunapuna, about a mile from the house where he was born. The Lloyd Best Institute of the Caribbean continues its work in his name and in honour of his belief in the people of the Caribbean and in the eventual triumph of the Caribbean spirit.