July 14, 2011

A Requiem for CARICOM by Peter Wickham

(This article appeared in the Nation Newspaper but was not available on line. I have reproduced it here with the author's permission and attached an image of my work called "Hatchlings - A Requiem". The work is a laying in state of CARICOM...fifteen national entities sitting in nests on a shredded revised treaty of Chaguaramas.)

A Requiem for CARICOM

The title of this article might appear to be both premature and unfortunate; however anyone looking critically at recent events is left to conclude that the development of CARICOM is off the “front burner” for the time being and it is useful that the CARICOM Heads have finally admitted to us that it’s progress is not high on their list of priorities. This realisation causes me considerable discomfort since I have been committed to the cause of regionalism for several years without much good reason. In all of this I assumed that the region’s political leaders and bureaucrats shared my vision for this region and genuinely believed that we really were stronger as a unit; however I am now compelled to agree that schemes which seemed to signal some meaningful development of this Caribbean Community had more to do with the exploitation of some tangible benefit that a regional politician or bureaucrat identified for themselves or their country. It is therefore now useful to review the past few of CARICOM’s development with the benefit of hindsight and perhaps a hefty dose of cynicism.
This project of course stated with the 1958 West Indies Federation which had nothing to do with the Caribbean people or leaders, but was a Colonial Office project to unload 14 possessions that had stopped being profitable but were clearly not “worthy” of independence like India. This disaster ushered in the era of independence which was a proverbial “game changer” regarding regionalism since this would force us to compete among ourselves since we essentially all did the same thing. Thankfully, three visionaries named Barrow, Burnham and Bird, though perhaps we could mimic the European Community in their integration efforts in the same way that we mimicked their governance for decades. The vision of these three men was not entirely altruistic, but it was useful that they got things started and co-opted a Trinidadian named William Demas whose commitment is unparalleled. Demas worked hard to make the Caribbean Community a reality and to my mind was only handicapped by a vision of regional development that was both Eurocentric and “Trade-centric”.
These gentlemen meant well, but shamelessly borrowed from a European construct and rejected the occasional indigenous thinking that often sought to emerge from within the region. The end result was CARIFTA, followed by CARICOM which is a cheap “knock-off” of the European Community had long since evolved. It was therefore not surprising that “deficiencies” were identified after 10 years and as we approached the 20th Anniversary it was necessary to take a serious look at the project in an attempt to understand why it was going nowhere. The methodology selected by the Commission was as predictable as their prescription; hence we had our own version of the Royal Commission that set out under the distinguished Chairmanship of Lord Moyne. Naturally the WIC Report was equally voluminous and suggested a solution to our problems that required the establishment of new institutions, funds and projects. Ironically, this heavily bureaucratic approach was applied on one side, while on the other side the WIC called for “Hassle Free Travel” which is intrinsically anti-bureaucratic; however this would require a new bureaucracy to implement.
It did not take long for things to return to “Normal” in the Caribbean with regional bands and journalists being denied entry and in some instances being asked to leave the county. In the meantime our ever-expanding team of regional bureaucrats set to work on their new projects to facilitate trade expansion and to micromanage the little trade between islands. Institutions like the RNM were presented as being important to our survival and we had to find the recourses to fund its work. The vast majority of us don’t understand what these intuitions do, why these are so expensive to fund and why tangible results are seldom ever reported, but we continue to believe that we cannot live without them. To my mind it seems odd that we fund agencies to enhance trade capacity, market exports, negotiate trade agreements, standardise exports standards, collect, collate and analyse trade data and only two or three territories actually export any significant quantities of goods, the vast majority of which are intra-regional anyhow. As we battle the worst global recession since the 1930s the enormous and sophisticated “trade capacity” appears not to have been particularly useful especially in places like Barbados where Tourism has been our saviour.
One of the positive signs coming from the CARICOM Heads has been the apparent enthusiasm for the CSME. This was piloted by Barbados and considerable work was done on it by PM Arthur which the other heads also appeared excited about. The fact that this same Arthur behaved in a way that was clearly anti-regional recently demonstrates the extent to which this project was always about what was expedient. Support for the CSME was and will continue to be born of the realisation that unless we made ourselves look more like the EU (even if in theory) the World Trade Organisation might argue that we are not a regional grouping and force us to treat all other states equally, which is not an option. Since this immediate threat has been removed, the Heads can now comfortably announce that they are not moving on with new CARICOM initiatives.
In the meantime Caribbean people continue to have problems of a regional nature that CARICOM is unable or unwilling to address. The original concept of hassle free travel was set aside on September 11th, while some of us have gone further in our efforts to harass nationals of other states when they enter ours. We now have the case of the regional airline REDjet being denied entry to another CARICOM state, while Barbados is modifying its rules of access to Health Care and inadvertently excluding persons who have lived here for extended periods. The recent announcement that CARICOM was holding off on any new projects was therefore the most honest the Heads have been in some time.
Peter W. Wickham (peter.wickham@caribsurf.com) is a Political Consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES)

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