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Integration – On whose terms?

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Fri, Jun 04, 2010

It is difficult for Caribbean people to work up enthusiasm for any further initiative, new or long-standing, on regional integration given our historical experiences.

Even before we were able to exercise universal adult suffrage, Caribbean people, as reflected in the vision and efforts of their anti-colonial leaders, have, in very practical ways, indicated their commitment to this cherished goal. This is not surprising, in light of our origins as a globalised community of disparate races in a common environment.{{more}} We have undergone the whole process of Federation, Jamaica’s rejection of it, Dr. Eric Williams’ political new maths to justify the larger countries trying to make it on their own, Barbados versus the Rest of the World as an Independence highlight, only for the realities to sink in, leaving us with no alternative but the CARIFTAs and CARICOMs.

Within this maelstrom of currents, the small island-states of the Eastern Caribbean, likened to proverbial “sardines” having to face the “sharks” of the open ocean, have tried to make their own space, and to try and get their bigger or more developed nations to respect it. Thus was born the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a grouping within a grouping, but not counterposed to the larger entity. Indeed the OECS has always believed, with much justification, that closer integration between such mini-states with fundamental commonalities can only help to give fillip to the wider process. We seem to be at one in that view, as we seem to be with the broader concept of the absolute necessity for a wider economic space and a more unified political focus.

Where the problem arises is in implementation of all the grandiose Declarations, Treaties and Agreements we have made, signed, sealed, but not delivered. Caribbean people see a contradiction between the lofty pronouncements and the failure to implement. It has blunted our enthusiasm to the extent that we all ask, “Is this yet another one?” But scepticism or not, we have to wake up to the fact that in today’s world, a 70,000 population, or an independent country, underdeveloped and with 110,000 mouths to feed, just does not make sense in a globalised, uncaring world.

How to square these contradictions has always been and continues to be our dilemma.

If truth be told, there is simply no alternative to seek, not just closer economic integration, but ultimately closer political union as well. In this regard, SEARCHLIGHT welcomes the bold, if long overdue, effort of the OECS to consummate its lengthy betrothal and to effect a marriage in the form of OECS Economic Union. We are particularly pleased that the Motion put before Parliament this week, in support of the Union, has won the support of both sides of the House. There is simply no room for cheap politicking on the issue.

If we didn’t understand before, Stanford, British American, CLICO, LIAT, even now the Dudus Coke disaster in Jamaica, all tell us that for all our petty nationalism about Vincies, Lucians, Trinis etc., in the eyes of the international community we all are one and will either float or sink together.

We in the OECS have an excellent opportunity to become the catalyst for wider economic integration. But we are not at one on the critical issues. Take freedom of movement for instance. To their credit, the members of the OECS pact are committing themselves to this fundamental right, but CARICOM is still hedging on it, given its national and class biases. This at a time when crime and personal safety are such critical issues in some of the larger CARICOM territories, and their economies are under such stress that it is difficult to foresee large-scale migration in their direction.

The gap lies in communication and the trust of the people in the political leadership to act in their interests. History does not engender such confidence, for many economic unions worldwide have placed the interests of those already well-endowed before those of the less fortunate. We have no choice about economic, and indeed, political integration. The issue is, on whose terms?

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