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CSME and the ‘shark swallows shark’ mentality


by Dr. Richard A. B. Cox  02.JUN.06

My doctoral thesis is on law of the sea and the Caribbean. I knew as mainly islands, and the fact that the sea might be our last frontier for economic development, it is essential that we understand that treaty opened for signature right here in our Caribbean, in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1982. My professor, Gennady Petrovich (one of a tiny elite club of lawyers (5) awarded UN gold medals for exceptional contribution to the development of international law), approved but cautioned that I was a generation ahead of SVG.{{more}} He was a prophet!

My thesis argues inter alia, that it would be counter productive if these islands went about quarrelling over sea space for it would lead to imposing upon themselves a regime of divide for foreigners to rule. My solution? Using the principles of the Convention, establish a de facto CARICOM regime in our part of the Caribbean Sea. I further provided a legal design based on the Convention and existing international practice. Most importantly, I explained why it was necessary. This latter issue took a few pages, but in summation, it’s about protecting and enhancing Caribbean sovereignty over our marine space and resources. Objective reality justifies my arguments, not so the leaders of Trinidad and Barbados who smeared each other, over some flying fish, which the former are not even interested in. And who lost? Yes, it was Caribbean unity that was damaged thanks to dunderhead politics.

It is despicable that one Prime Minister, lead spokesman on the CSME and another who was prattling about building a gas and oil pipeline to supply the region rejected brotherly compromise preferring foreign counsel. They are both trumpeting the CSME while fighting tooth and nail to deny the other something they shared from the genesis of the Caribbean. Why can’t our unity be paramount for once? I am not surprised that Bajans harass Vincies and Guyanese at their airport but lay prostate for the blue-eyed boys from up north, and no wonder Rolla nearly sank SVG. Foreign foolishness with a white tag is bible in the Caribbean. When will we be enlightened?

As resource person at a seminar on the environment in SVG two years ago, I put forward the thesis that the member states need to develop the legal basis for a CARICOM environment space. I went further and proposed the same during a meeting in Belize with Deputy Prime Minister, John Briceno who was the CARICOM focal point for sustainable development and environment. A workable CSME cannot sidestep the issues of the environment in this age when development is “sustainable development”. Briceno concurred but since then, I have heard nothing. So I now appeal directly to my own prime minister to get this on the agenda.

The idea is not novel. The OECS has gone someway in this, as evidenced by the St. Georges Declaration of the Principles of the Environment and the development of the NEMS. But total integration at the economic level is necessary for a unified environment space. And this is important not only for manufacturing and waste management, but fundamental to the protection of our marine resources and environment from the abuse of an all-exploiting tourism industry among others. In short, it would create an OECS regime demanding common standards and practices as regards the sustainable development of the sub-region.

And this is a fundamental reason why we must have a CARICOM regime as regards that part of the Caribbean Sea, which is our patrimony. And, if narrow-minded selfishness on the part of some prevents this at that level, then Ralph must make strenuous efforts to bring it to pass in the OECS. And believe me this has real significance for our future development in many ways. To take a practical example: there is Isla Aves just off Dominica claimed by Venezuela but disputed by Dominica (to my mind the latter has no case as the ownership issue is a fait accompli). The question of significance is what status Isla Aves should have, that of a rock or an island? Depending on this, the status of all the waters around would be affected including the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of some OECS states, and the regimes governing rights to the resources in these zones could change in a manner injurious to OECS interest.

The Caribbean has good relations with Venezuela, however, the latter is demanding the best deal for Aves i.e. island status. The only realistic chance we have to successfully oppose this is a united stand. But even if they win we must have a common regime, for like Venezuela there is France and others. Apart from foreign challenges, things like marine pollution; migratory species of fish and oil spills know no boundaries. Further, what if we find oil in a part of the EEZ now commonly shared by a number of countries due to the absence of demarcation and delineation? A common regime governing from use and protection of the marine space to sovereignty and equitable share of the resources, would avoid much of the wrangling and the expenses of international tribunals. But more than anything, we will enhance Caribbean sovereignty over what is rightfully ours.

The politicians seem to be creating the CSME with the absence of some fundamentals, common understanding, common property; common protection of interest and a truly unified voice are examples. Put another way, there is no true CARICOM environment, and in this case environment is used in the blanket sense of the term; so we have been picked off one by one in the past and this continues, for unity for us remained as illusive as Plato’s perfect republic. I suppose Ralph, Kenney, Owen and company are so imprisoned by the big fish in miniature ponds mentally that being a solid link in an unbreakable chain is beyond their parameter of reasoning. But I still make this appeal to Ralph for he is interested in “ennobling our Caribbean civilisation”, and, unity in purpose, action and future is mandatory if this is to be realised. We need bonding now more than ever.