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The harsh realities of Independence

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As we prepare to celebrate our 39th year of Independence recent developments should force us to reflect on the real meaning of independence and of the challenges of existing and surviving in a world shaped to accommodate the interests of the rich and powerful. We first have to realise that we are small fish swimming in a big pond. But even that is not enough, because the big fish also have to face their own contradictions. The international financial institutions were shaped to do the bidding of the powerful. The existence of permanent seats on the UN Security Council is another lesson, as the others have to fight desperately to get the temporary seats they are allowed.

The US and Britain had built themselves on what they call ‘free trade’, with the WTO designed to limit obstacles to trade especially in terms of tariffs. Now the US president is engaged in a fierce war with China, imposing tariffs. He is trying to put the USA into a phase of insularity contrary to what helped to make America great.

Although the full story of the removal of Peace Corps volunteers has not been told, other developments must force us to certain conclusions. We have heard all kinds of stories about the reasons for the removal of Ross University students from Dominica and the denial of visa waivers to SVG, Antigua and Dominica. But it is hard not to conclude that ‘Big Papa’ is flexing his muscles. The US president had arrogantly warned countries that to vote against US resolutions would be to face penalties. These words were not geared to the small fish, but to all countries.

At a June 4th meeting of the OAS, a resolution was moved with the prompting and full backing of the US. Nineteen countries supported the resolution. These included the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, and St. Lucia. Eleven countries abstained, seven of them from the Caribbean – Antigua, Belize, Grenada, Haiti, St. Kitts, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. Four, including Venezuela, voted against. This included SVG and Dominica. And here lies the story. Interestingly, Antigua that had abstained, was among those denied US Visa Waivers. Was Antigua’s problem the result of the PM’s fierce denunciation of the resolution?

We are independent countries, should we not be doing our own bidding? This is theory rather than reality. Global policies reflect interests rather than friends, but we are hamstrung. What should we do in a situation like this? We are small fish and should at least have had a united stand. We would have covered each other and spoken with some element of strength, even though in the final analysis it might not have mattered.  Two CARICOM featherweights took a stand; Dominica with a population of about 75,000 and SVG, a little over 100, 000. They might have voted on principle or perhaps on interests, given the help received from Venezuela! But then how do you determine interests? Remittances sent from the US help to keep Dominica and SVG afloat. We have made such a
mess of independence that most of us want to get to the US.

Where does that leave us? Unfortunately, we live in a real world. The days of the non-aligned movement have long gone. A combined Caribbean would have been small fish much less, individual countries with mini-populations. These are things we need to look at when we celebrate independence. Is it at all possible that CARICOM could arrive at common positions on global or regional issues or does the fact that we exist as independent nations make a mockery of this?  What does independence mean in this cruel and vicious global community? The question is; Are the options only to suck salt or surrender?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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