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Caricom Heads: No more “long talk”

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04.JULY.08

The heads of government of the Caribbean Community(CARICOM) are holding their annual summit in Antigua this week. As has become customary, theirs is a very packed agenda, which often proves to be too ambitious for the gathering, with many important items never being fully addressed because of constraints of time.{{more}}

This year, those same constraints do not permit our leaders the luxury of choice. High food prices demand that regional food security be top of the agenda, but so, too, does the astronomical rise in fuel costs and its negative impact on all areas of life and development, as well as the consequent threat to our transportation and tourism sectors. Then there is the contentious Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), negotiated with the European Union. And, if we know our leaders well, there is bound to be much ‘hullabaloo’ over the proposed regional Development Fund.

This is an enormous package which would strain the limits of any two-week gathering, never mind a three-day affair. Worryingly, the meeting takes place against the backdrop of visible signs of strains in the CARICOM partnership. Looming large are comments made recently by the outspoken Vincentian leader about the need for a complete overhaul of what he called a “ramshackle” CARICOM apparatus. The noted regional intellectual Dr. Norman Girvan has also not minced his words, warning of threats to the future of CARICOM if the deep-seated problems are not addressed.

While all is not gloom and doom, it is critical that our leaders seize the moment and devote themselves to the tasks before them. Clearly, the Summit by itself cannot provide all the answers, but if our leaders can come up with appropriate mechanisms and relevant approaches to the problems identified, then at least we can begin to feel that we are on the road to progress. The usual outcome, that of a long-winded Communique, touching on every point, but pointedly providing answers to very few, cannot suffice this time. Our failure has always been in the implementation. Our leaders seem to agree on destinations that require spacecraft transport, but often, only donkey-carts are available. Critical to the success of any agreements will be the relevance and appropriateness of the mechanisms for implementation.

One important missing link in this has been the meaningful involvement of the region’s peoples. CARICOM is not just the Heads, the national governments nor the CARICOM Secretariat alone. A community must have people at its centre. Overhauling the various operational levels of the bureaucracy is essential, but so, too, must be the provision of avenues for participation in policy- making and implementation by the region’s private sector, by the organizations of the people (workers, farmers, women , youth etc.), so that there is a real shared community of interests. To be fair, it is not only the governments at fault for failing to develop this partnership. We the people, too, are equally guilty, being often too laid back, too dependent, too reactive. Our destiny does not lie in the hands of our leaders alone.

Even as we wish the CARICOM Summit every success, we need to borrow the admonition from the rejuvenated calypsonian Blakie, and tell them, “No more long talk….” Real, practical and urgent solutions are needed.

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