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Reflections on Nyak—A Tribute to Norman Girvan

By Michael Witter

“Nyak” is what GBeck called Norman Girvan, and I followed suit in all the years that I enjoyed his friendship and shared the many projects on which we collaborated.

I had met his ideas on multinational corporations as mechanisms of underdeveloping the Caribbean and the wider Third World, in my first attempt at a doctoral thesis on the growth of multinational corporations. This work led me to the wider world of dependency economics and structuralist thought on economic development, and back through the writings of the New World thinkers of the 1960s in the Caribbean. This was one path.

The other path led me from George Beckford’s Persistent Poverty back to the same core of critical thinking that distinguished Norman and the Caribbean scholars of his generation.

Till the painful imprisonment of his fertile and extremely active mind in the broken body that led to his untimely passing, Norman was a beacon of scholarship in the service of the Caribbean people. To be sure, he was heir to the work of his father, D. T. M. Girvan, and the other pioneers of community development as a strategy for national development of the 1940s and 1950s in anti-colonial, pre-Independence Jamaica.

In addition, he was profoundly influenced by the remarkable minds of the New World scholars, and their counterparts in Latin America immediately, and the wider world of radical critique with which he was always engaged. But, to my certain knowledge, he brought to those with whom he exchanged ideas, an unshakeable abhorrence of injustice, an instinct for service to, and respect for, his fellow human beings, an openness to learning, a mind of exceptional critical capacities, a boundless energy for disciplined work, commitment to principled positions that allowed for compromise but never betrayal, and the courage to stand up to the abuse of authority and power.

In the last five or so years, Nyak seemed to acquire a new flow of intellectual energy that he creatively shared through his remarkable web site that became a major research source for contemporary issues of Caribbean development, especially as they were shaped by the unfolding of global capitalism through its various crises.

He was one of the few intellectuals from the Anglo-Caribbean who engaged fully with the rest of the Caribbean, and particularly the Hispanic Caribbean, on a consistent and comprehensive basis. I recall being profoundly moved by the citation and his response in Spanish, at a ceremony in Havana at which he received one of Cuba’s highest honours. Many were the compliments paid to his intellectual leadership by English-, Spanish-, French-, and Dutch-speaking scholars for his leadership of the Association of Caribbean Economists.

His leadership as secretary-general of the Association of Caribbean States and most recently his appointment by the UN secretary-general to mediate the border disagreements between Venezuela and Guyana are just two of many instances of international recognition for his intellectual work, his personal integrity and his leadership.

Even his critics from both the right and the left who cast slurs on the positions he took in what he believed was in the interest of the people of the Caribbean, acknowledged his profound contribution to critical thought in their own back foremost ways. For some, he was out of touch with the narrowing concerns of mainstream economics, and for others, he was propagating out-dated radical nationalism. Both views had to engage his intellectual campaigns, and in so doing, recognize the import of his ideas.

Nyak has left a body of work that will support research for many years to come. Too few of his students have become academic partisans like him in the cause of social and economic development for the Caribbean people, but these few will live the values of critical thought, courage, and social justice that he espoused. The older ones of us will give thanks to Norman, each in his or her own way. But, it is the younger ones who will stand on his shoulders, and see further, that will keep his memory alive in the academic journals and the popular mind.

There are two projects that the older and the younger generations can collaborate in to give Norman a sense of intellectual closure. He wanted a critical review of the struggles over development policy in Jamaica in the 1970s, properly situated in the global context, the history of the Caribbean, and the class struggles of Jamaica. And he wanted the volumes of the New World Journal to be re-published for the benefit of the young. Academics can honour his memory with these two publications.


List of Tributes to Professor Norman Paul Girvan (1941 – 2014)


Baldwin Spencer (Prime Minister of Antigua) laments loss of Caribbean intellectual Norman Girvan

Caribarena Antigua, April 16, 2014


Norman Girvan: Pragmatic economist

Caribbean Intelligence, April 2014 [exact date not clear]


Real Caribbean man

Anton Allahar, Samuel Furé-Davis and Haven Allahar, Trinidad Express, April 15, 2014 

Also appears as “Norman Girvan—a special Caribbean man” in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian on April 16, 2014, at


An economist with a difference: Norman Girvan – an appreciation

Anton L. Allahar, Counterpunch, April 14, 2014


We salute Norman Girvan

Ian Boyne, Jamaica Gleaner, April 14, 2014


A luta continua: Tribute to Norman Girvan / The passing of a Caribbean patriot

David Abdulah (Movement for Social Justice), Stabroek News (Guyana), April 14, 2014


Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guyana): Girvan was one of the Caribbean’s ‘finest minds’

Stabroek News (Guyana), April 14, 2014


Donald Ramotar (President of Guyana): Girvan’s death an immense loss

Stabroek News (Guyana), April 13, 2014


Why Norman Girvan matters

Claude Robinson, Jamaica Observer, April 13, 2014


Dr Norman Girvan, intellectual warrior

Editorial, Jamaica Observer, April 13, 2014–intellectual-warrior-_16463473


OAS Statement on the Death of Professor Norman Girvan

José Miguel Insulza (Secretary General, Organization of American States), April 13, 2014 


Caribbean loses valuable steward with passing of Professor Norman Girvan

Matthew Hunte, Global Voices, April 12, 2014


The engaged academic

SunityMaharaj, Trinidad Express, April 12, 2014


A reflection on Dr Norman Girvan

Tony Seed, April 12, 2014


UWI professors mourn Girvan

Jamaica Gleaner, April 12, 2014


The UWI St Augustine mourns the passing of Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan, CD

Clement Sankat, Campus Principal and Pro Vice-Chancellor, The UWI St Augustine, April 11, 2014


The value of Norman Girvan

Editorial, Jamaica Gleaner, April 11, 2014


Girvan: A true Caribbean man

Miranda La Rose, Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, April 11 2014,193192.html


Norman Girvan — The true Caribbean man

The Cropper Foundation, Jamaica Observer, April 11, 2014—the-true-Caribbean-Man_16452884



Norman Girvan: luchador caribeño y latinoamericano

ANEC (National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba), El Economista, April 11, 2014


Portia Simpson Miller (Prime Minister, Jamaica): Girvan leaves a legacy of excellence

Jamaica Observer, April 11, 2014–says-Simpson-Miller


Kenny Anthony (Prime Minister of St Lucia): Passing of Professor Norman Girvan an “immeasurable loss”

St Lucia News Online, April 11, 2014


Venezuela lamenta fallecimiento de Norman Girvan

Nicolas Maduro Moros (President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela), Agencia Venezolana de Noticias (AVN), April 11, 2014


Caribbean Court of Justice statement on the passing of Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan

CCJ, WINN FM (St Kitts and Nevis), April 11, 2014


CARICOM indebted to Professor Girvan

CARICOM, April 11, 2014


Girvan’s ideas and ideals placed him in the upper echelons of Caribbean intellectuals

Irwin LaRocque (Secretary General, CARICOM), April 10, 2014


Tribute on the passing of Professor Emeritus Norman Girvan, CD

Brian Meeks (Professor and University Director, SALISES, The UWI Mona), April 10, 2014



UN chief saddened by death of Caribbean scholar Norman Girvan

Ban Ki-moon (Secretary General, United Nations Organization), April 10, 2014


In Memoriam Dr. Norman Girvan [photo gallery]

Association of Caribbean States, April 10, 2014


Resolution of mourning

Association of Caribbean States, April 10, 2014


Passing of Dr. Norman Girvan – 2nd Secretary General of the ACS

Association of Caribbean States, April 9, 2014


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