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Regional integration in limelight



The year 2011 has begun with expressed hopes from some quarters of renewed confidence in the future of the regional integration process. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has a new Chairman under its rotation scheme, in the person of Grenadian Prime Minister Hon. Tillman Thomas, and, having said farewell to long-serving Secretary General Edwin Carrington, is preparing to install a new head of its Secretariat as well.((more))

The new Chairman has already spoken of his hopes for a deepening of the integration movement, and has expressed the view that the wider unification thrust can be best advanced if only it could follow the example of the Eastern Caribbean in establishing functional structures. The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, beginning with the establishment of the Basseterre treaty in 1981, has made significant progress and now stands on the verge of instituting a full-fledged Economic Union as of January 21, 2011. Such an economic union remains an elusive goal for CARICOM itself, the wider region seeming to be able to figuratively put the ball anywhere else but between the uprights.

The OECS process is itself not without its challenges, but the smaller states have stuck to their guns and proceeded to move forward, even if the pace has not always been brisk and the line of march somewhat zig zag at times. With the date for the formal institution of the Economic Union but one week away, most of the OECS member-states are yet to ratify the Treaty. A minimum of four ratifying states is required for formal institution of the Union. This calls for the Parliaments of the various states to give approval.

While it is true that in all of the Parliaments there is across-the-board support for the Union, it is also true that the divisive nature of our politics, throughout the entire region, is such that there is often not exactly enthusiastic support from the Opposition benches and a general unwillingness to prod the governments to move even faster. Indeed, even in these tiny sister-isles, with their distinct similarities, some politicians have been known to try to play on the fears of their people on such issues as crime, immigration and freedom of movement, much as has been done in some of the larger countries.

The Governments themselves have also made some strange moves, giving wrong signals about their own levels of cohesion. The latest of these is the so far unexplained position of the OECS as regards the election of the new CARICOM Secretary General. No OECS national has yet been elevated to that post, though Dominican Irwin Laroque, is one of the Deputies to that post. But in addition to him, there are two other candidates from the small islands. They are, Edwin Laurent of St. Lucia, who gave yeoman service at the heights of the “banana wars” as our Ambassador in Brussels, and our own Ellsworth John, former Ambassador to the United States and the OAS.

Now one would have thought that this would have been an excellent opportunity for the OECS to throw its collective weight behind a single candidate. Had that been the case, a Secretary General from the OECS would be a virtual shoo-in. Division could well see the small islands shut out from the top post once more.

That division is one continuing to plague the entire region and delaying the forward movement of the integration process. It is manifested at its worst in our ambivalence towards the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Even after Britain has indicated that the Caribbean is no longer welcome before its highest appellate body, there are those on both sides of the political divide in the region who continue, stubbornly, to refuse to support the CCJ. Recently, Prime Minister Bruce Golding of Jamaica has spoken of Jamaica instituting its own final appellate body, while the government of Trinidad and Tobago, which fought successfully to host the CCJ, is yet to give the court its full backing.

These are but examples of our failure to maintain focus on what is supposed to be our strategic goal. In the meantime, the rest of the world is marching on, making the proliferation of mini-states like ours even more anachronistic. When are we going to get our act together?