Regionalism And Unity in CARICOM

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By David Jessop

CaribWorldNews, LONDON, England, Tues. June 2, 2009: A little over a week ago, Sir Shridath Ramphal addressed some of those who will be the region`s future Ambassadors. His comments were framed in the context of Caribbean foreign policy. However, they also spoke to the future of regionalism in a Caribbean that, in the true meaning of the word, appears to be slowly disintegrating.

In stark language that deserved greater media attention, he said:  `At this moment, (the) smaller, narrower, insular impulse is dominant. We are turning inward just at the moment when the external environment of crisis demands responses driven by the spirit of community.

`Not only are we not going forward in fulfilment of professed goals – like the Caricom Single Market – we are actually retreating from both the spirit and letter of community agreements – like those that bear on the movement of Caribbean people. If we allow these negative instincts to prevail; we will lose altogether the reality of `community` which is within our grasp; and endanger the Caribbean personality which should be its underpinning. They must not prevail.`

Sir Shridath`s frank remarks come at a time of growing animosity between some Caricom member states and a failure to agree on how best to respond to the multiple inter-regional and external challenges that face the Caribbean.

In recent weeks, deepening rifts within Caricom have become apparent in the areas of migration, trade and the implementation of what has been agreed.

Earlier this month, Barbados announced that migration levels into the island were unacceptably high, and that it would expel what it described as `illegal` Caricom migrants. This subsequently  prompted St Vincent`s Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, to claim that `some political leaders` were `stoking chauvinistic fires which are latent in our Caribbean societies`; warning that unless the `outpouring of a malignant xenophobia against Guyanese, Jamaicans, Vincentians, St Lucians and Grenadians was not stopped`, Caricom would `shortly be rent asunder`. In turn President Jagdeo of Guyana also condemned Barbados` decision, claiming that it did not reflect the spirit of the region adding that Caribbean people were treated in a `despicable` manner by the Barbados government.`

At the same time, a series of regional trade disputes emerged involving Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, and Jamaica and Belize, raising difficult questions over the operation and viability of the Caribbean Single market and Economy (CSME).

There is also growing concern at the highest levels about governments` and regional institutions continuing failure to implement in real time what is agreed.

Speaking to Ministers before a recent meeting of Caricom`s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), Secretary General, Edwin Carrington, noted that there was a paramount need for firm decision-making and robust implementation. Caricom`s credibility, he suggested, was on the line.  `We therefore cannot afford to be seen to be dragging our feet, but the very basic requirements of decisions`, he said, `must be taken now, not at the proverbial next meeting`.

Despite this, for example, Governments still seem unable to know how to respond to the global economic recession at a regional level, notwithstanding the fact that the crisis began in the early part of 2008.

Earlier this year the region agreed to establish a task force on the recession with a broad reporting remit under the leadership of the Caribbean Development Bank. But this body now appears to have been superseded by a new body that may or may not be able, by the time of the July Caricom Heads of Government meeting, to be able to suggest a Caribbean wide response.

There are also growing questions about the future functioning of the integration process as a consequence of sub-regional initiatives. There remains unresolved political and economic difficulties over the economic integration of the Dominican Republic into Caricom; Trinidad, St Lucia, Grenada and St Vincent are intending creating a sub-regional political and economic union; some regional nations are seeking deeper involvement in the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian integration process ALBA; while June 2010 has been proposed as a revised date for the inauguration of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Economic Union, with Trinidad & Tobago scheduled to join in 2013.

What all of this speaks to is the absence of a shared future vision of the kind that Sir Shridath and others have for so long argued for. It suggests a region breaking into parts and establishing new inter-regional or hemispheric relationships. It is a process that seems to be driven increasingly by differing levels of development between Caricom member states, a political sense that at time of global economic crisis, it is national self-interest that matters most, and a feeling that no one has the authority to be able to deliver regional decisions.

Alarmingly, this situation seems likely to worsen, as recent public pronouncements are for the most part a pale reflection of what is being said in private.

In a recent editorial, the Jamaica Observer tartly observed that no private company operating throughout the region could stay in business if it spent a comparable amount of time and money in the management of its operations. Governments it suggested must not be so profligate with taxpayers` money in times of fiscal austerity.

Whether anyone is listening or if the present difficulties within Caricom can be resolved is far from clear. 

In an ideal world this should all be a part of a longer term process of rebirth in which new groupings within Caricom might emerge, maybe resulting in a confederal approach towards regional integration that ultimately leads through stronger sub-regional economies to a single region.

If this is indeed the process, it will be long and complex, implies a period in which there will be overlapping responsibilities, and sadly would seem to make more remote than ever the dream of a fully integrated region.

Unfortunately, time is not on the Caribbean`s side.

David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at [email protected]. Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org.

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