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Carnival and Caricom


Vincy Mas 2008 is now history, and persons would be left with their own impressions of what took place. It is always important that organisers do their own post-carnival assessment so that they could be guided as they plan for the next one. These are indeed new and strange times and things play themselves out differently based on a multiplicity of factors that impact on our lives. {{more}} There are several things that stood out in my mind about Carnival 2008. Today, Wednesday, the day after, and the day on which I am penning this column, I have been hearing the same comment from different people. It was about the state of Kingstown, particularly the smell. This is really the time when the rain needed to have come in full force to wash down the town but it did no such thing. Perhaps the people at the Fire Department should have been asked to come to our rescue or maybe we should have engaged the services of the CO Williams water truck that has been dispensing that service in the areas where the road work is being done. Kingstown was terribly dirty during the season. I am told we had been warned about this. With the shows going late and people partying on the streets up to and beyond day break, the Sanitation people could not have easily done their work. So, on Sunday, for instance, up to 8:30, Kingstown was simply decorated with garbage. There is desperate need for more toilets around town. I was told that there would have been more garbage bins. Maybe there were, but certainly the piles of garbage on the streets and in the gutters was a site to see.

The late ending of shows stood out this year. When I left Victoria Park at 2:30 am on Monday morning, the Queens of the Bands were just getting ready to make their way on stage. By that time the Park was becoming empty as scores of people left. I am not sure there were many persons beyond the judges and the Mas people left to see the King of the Bands part of the show. Here the question of the packaging of shows comes up again. It used to be said that it didn’t matter how long the Dimanche Gras show went since it was felt that the later the show went the easier it was for people to go right into J’Ouvert. There are those, of course, who would do that but with J’Ouvert becoming perhaps the biggest part of Carnival some persons have opted to avoid going to the Park and simply sleep and get up later to join the J’Ouvert revelry. The Dimanche Gras show used to be the most patronised and popular of the shows. This year, the crowds were not there, but J’Ouvert attracted a massive crowd. It is my view that if the Show was packaged in the way that allowed it to end, at say, midnight, that more people would have attended since they could have gone home, gotten two or three hours sleep and be back in town to continue the action.

We had, perhaps, the largest crowd participating in Carnival for some time. The bands at Mardi Gras were quite large and it was good to see, in particular, the number of youngsters participating. There is a major problem with the Calypso shows not attracting the numbers they used to. I say this because the Calypso Semi-finals was also another popular show. But with 40 calypsos to be sung, it takes a real ardent fan to sit through it. For some years now, especially since the agreement to have 20 semi-finalists, it has been suggested by some people that the show be radically changed. Take it to a different venue, start it during the early afternoon and make it into a family affair. With that more relaxed atmosphere, the length would not matter as much. It is also noticeable that the youngsters are moving to the Soca field, and so the future of calypso as we know it is in doubt. We have to preserve Calypso for it is an important area of our culture, with its impact going beyond carnival, even though it is sometimes difficult to hear calypsos outside of the carnival season. Calypso needs a massive injection of funds. Make the prizes attractive so that even the Soca singers would be tempted to try their hands at calypso as some have already been doing.

Caricom: Where to?

While we were having fun in what we call the hottest carnival in the Caribbean (and it certainly was hot), our political leaders were ‘enmassed’ in Antigua trying to chart the regional movement. The fact that there are growing concerns about the fate of CARICOM is testimony to what they have been doing or not doing. Every year, despite all the rhetoric, the much talked about Caribbean Single Economy appears to be moving back from the proposed deadline for its implementation. The BBC has been soliciting opinions on the future of CARICOM, using Professor Norman Girvan’s warning that CARICOM is in danger of collapsing. Girvan is concerned with an issue that has been along for some time, the lack of mechanisms to enforce decisions. One of the other ticklish issues has to do with the free movement of skills, labour and services, without which the CSME cannot exist. Barbados is becoming a stumbling block with this since PM Thompson feels that the island’s economic development will ensure that it becomes an attractive place for labour. He feels that the country lacks the capacity to accommodate the numbers that are likely to flock there. President Bharrat Jagdeo, on the other hand, is concerned about the treatment being meted out to Guyanese nationals by Immigration officials in Caricom countries.

Then there are problems with the Economic Partnership Agreement which should have been signed by the Caribbean governments in either July or August. Jagdeo, of Guyana, is apparently not prepared to sign until a full national consultation in Guyana is completed. It was never clear to me why this national consultation had not been completed before. But the Guyanese President is sending conflicting signals here for he appears to be suggesting that if he is pressured by the European Union he will sign. There is, however, growing opposition to the signing of the agreement as it exists, by persons within the academic community, by NGOs and the labour unions. Regional transportation is again on the agenda, with the Jamaican Government’s pledge to sell Air Jamaica and our Minister of Tourism suggesting that Regional governments invest in the regional airlines. But regional governments have already made a mess of the airline business, so the answer certainly doesn’t lie with them.

So things are not going smoothly within the regional movement, and to top it all, some of our leaders continue to fall. The latest one to do so is Keith Mitchell, of Grenada, following Kenny Anthony, Owen Arthur, Portia Simpson, Said Musa and Perry Christie. It might be that other Leaders, especially those who will soon be facing the polls, would be reluctant to sign on to decisions made at the regional level that might not necessarily be popular on the home front. Whither Caricom? That is the question!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.