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Beyond Independence

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17.OCT.08

Editor: I often wonder if I would live to experience a Caribbean political union – for that matter, a political union of some of the Caribbean countries such as that which Prime Minister Gonsalves and colleagues are now proposing. {{more}}

Recently I started re-reading Sir James Mitchell’s ‘Caribbean Crusade’ – though some of his speeches date back to the 70s, what he said then about political union still remains largely relevant today. I think Sir James must be asking himself the same question: “Will I live long enough to witness, at least, a few Caribbean countries starting the process by uniting in that way?”

Why is the process taking so long? Maybe life is too good in the Caribbean and what we need is a serious crisis, one that leaves us with no choice but to scramble and unite to ward off whatever hardships the crisis may bring. I am sure that the average man in the region supports a union. The will of the people is already there. The problem may lie with the political directorate and some of the intellectual stock of the region. There is too much political and intellectual posturing. There are too many perceived roadblocks when what exists are really just potholes. True, we may have fought hard for independence and so do not want to let go of our sovereign status. That status has very little collateral in the times in which we live. The notion of sovereignty, in the current climate only makes us insular. Let us strive for the next level of growth. Interdependence: after independence comes interdependence. Let us truly lead our people to a meaningful existence, instead of mimicking the very colonial trimmings and trappings of which we fought so hard to be independent. Those with Knighthoods, Queen’s honours, Queen’s Counsels – Q.C’s, etc are all to be commended, but let us move on. Let us build a true Caribbean nation – not just with rhetoric, but with action.

The benefits of a political union are numerous. By pooling our resources we can achieve what no one country can do alone: First World healthcare facilities, educational institutions offering very high standards and catering to the needs of a modern developing society; the removal of market barriers and creation of new business opportunities. We can become world beaters in sport (netball, soccer, basketball, etc.). Maybe what our cricket team needs to be successful again is a truly united people as a driving force behind it; as opposed to the team being a driving force that brings us together. Food security can be achieved. Energy independence can be made possible with a united approach to research and development of alternative sources of energy. This, of course, added to the oil reserves that Trinidad and Tobago has. Structured tourism plant development ensuring that investors don’t pick us off one by one and making us cut one another’s throats. Achieve better economies of scale in almost every area: manufacturing, purchasing, capturing export markets – the lot. The list of benefits is long and almost in-exhaustive.

Look at what we have achieved by having a common currency for the OECS. Where would we be today if St.Vincent as an independent nation had its own currency?

How do we get there? I think it will take some strong, determined and visionary leadership from the political directorate. Although Prime Minister Gonsalves cannot achieve this on his own, I think he is very well suited to help lead the charge. Go for it ‘Comrade.’ Unlike a few people I know, I am not a cynic on this matter. I am ready- ready to be a citizen of a Caribbean political union. So if we can’t parachute from here to there, then I support any reasonable steps taken in the pursuit of the bigger goal. The recently proposed union of Trinidad, St. Lucia, Grenada and St.Vincent sits well with me. Yes, I am aware of the wider ramifications, but maybe this initiative and its success would provide the critical mass needed to eventually get everyone on board. Let us look at the forest and not just the trees. Too often initiatives like this one are snubbed because of myopic vision.

In the words of Sir James Mitchell, May Day 1971, when he addressed the people of Paget Farm, Bequia: “I am equally convinced that the integration process will only begin if any two or three islands get together, whether we are included or not.” “If we continue to wait for the whole region to make the leap, then we are also expecting Venus or Mars to move into the same orbit.”

Let us complete the work and, therefore, honour the legacy of our esteemed leaders like Dr. Eric Williams and Sir Errol Barrow. They fought for our independence but their vision of the Caribbean was much more than just that. The Caribbean has enough talent and resources to make a political union happen. We must no longer postpone the inevitable- let us just get it done.

Tony Regisford

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