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Stand on our own two feet

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11.FEB.11

If we, the former colonies of Britain in the Caribbean, didn’t realise before that we have overstayed our welcome as dependents of the so-called “mother country”, recent events have been bringing home the reality to us in a most forceful way.{{more}}

Britain’s GUARDIAN newspaper reported earlier this week that that country plans to abandon its warship patrols of the Caribbean for the first time since World War II because of cost-cutting budgetary measures affecting the navy. There have even been charges that Britain’s recruitment of Vincentian and other Caribbean nationals in its armed forces may be affected, but these have been denied thus far. An official announcement is expected at the end of March. The navy scale-back has worrying implications for anti-narcotics patrols in the region, since the Royal Navy has been a big factor in major drug seizures across the region. The withdrawal also means a greatly reduced role in disaster relief efforts in this area, so vulnerable to natural disasters.

The British decision has sparked concern among many regional law-enforcement officers, with Barbadian Police Commissioner Darwin Dottin telling the daily NATION that his country and neighbouring territories “would now have to work harder to stem the inflow of narcotics”. Provision of adequate resources, physical, technical and human, is a major challenge.

The navy cut-back announcement came days after the popular Caribbean service component of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) became a casualty of further funding cuts. The BBC had been broadcasting its Caribbean service to the region since 1932, but this is to end at the end of March.

A third area in which the British are forcibly severing the colonial umbilical chord is in the dispensation of justice. Some English-speaking Caribbean nations continue to hang on to the coattails of the Privy Council for the last word in judicial decisions, in spite of Britain’s clear preference for an end to this relationship. How British officials must be kicking themselves for insisting, in the independence constitutions bequeathed to these former colonies, that the Privy Council must be their final Court of Appeal! The children, now all grown-up adults, are bluntly refusing to leave the maternal judicial home.

In September 2009, Lord Nicholas Phillips, President of Britain’s renamed Supreme Court, expressed the view that he and his fellow senior judges, spent a disproportionate period of time hearing legal appeals from independent Commonwealth Caribbean countries. Lord Phillips said that he could not rationalise why a panel of five of Britain’s most senior judges had to spend time hearing appeals from us. Neither can we at SEARCHLIGHT.

Lord Phillips had gone on to say that “in an ideal world” Commonwealth Caribbean countries would stop using the Privy Council and instead set up their own Caribbean Court of Justice. Well Caribbean countries have done so. It is just that we are distrustful of our own and therefore reluctant to make the CCJ our final judicial arbiter. We, who like to boast of our “sovereignty” and “independence”, find ourselves in the shameful situation of running behind folks who have spoken in no uncertain terms that we must stand on our own two feet.

Caribbean leaders are meeting later this month in their usual intercessional. They already have major items before them, including regional transportation and the CLICO/British American fiasco. Yet they cannot afford to ignore these challenges, in the fields of justice, regional anti-narcotic patrols, collective disaster response and a proper regional news/information network.

Ironically, the British actions are forcing us to address our own deficiencies. We must demonstrate that we are equal to the task.

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