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Consistency needed in integration intiative

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Among the issues reported on by Prime Minister Gonsalves which emanated from a meeting with us Trinbagonian counterpart Patrick Manning at the end of February was an initiative on political integration in the southern Caribbean. According to Dr. Gonsalves, the governments of Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent and the Grenadines had agreed to commission a study on what form of political integration would be appropriate between those two countries and Grenada.{{more}} He was quick to point out that in his view, this initiative does not contradict with the wider integration goals of the CARICOM region as a whole. Those initiatives are like concentric circles, said the Vincentian leader.

While that may be true, at the same time we must be careful that we do not end up running around in circles. The people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and, on evidence, of CARICOM as a whole, with the possible exception of those in the northern extremities, are broadly supportive of regional integration. However, there needs to be some consistency in our efforts in this regard. It is that lack of consistency which has resulted in the road to Caribbean unity being strewn with the wrecks of grandiose plans and initiatives. Whether it is the Federation itself: the dream of Mc Intosh, Marryshow and Cipriani; the Little Eight; the OECS; Windward Islands Unity; Unification of the Windwards and Barbados, all have somehow run adrift. The OECS and CARICOM itself are the only lasting monuments, perhaps because they have not yet attempted to travel the political route.

Given the rather erratic history of integration moves in the region, one may well conclude that they seem to coincide with the whims and fancies of our political leaders, and who gets along well with whom. So if Patrick and Ralph see eye to eye on many issues they can play tango. But as soon as one government changes, say David Thompson instead of Owen Arthur, or John Compton in place of Kenny Anthony, then the reconfiguration changes as well. It may not be the only reason, but on empirical evidence, what other conclusion can one draw?

Where the southern Caribbean initiative is concerned, it makes good sense, for all sorts of historical, social and economic reasons. Migration and trading links over many generations have bound the people of all three Southern Caribbean countries together inextricably. So to talk of political unity between Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines is quite in order. I am whole heartedly in favour of any such move. It does seem a little strange, though, that it is through a meeting of only two of the three heads that the initiative is being advanced. Where is Grenada in all this? Was their leader, Dr. Keith Mitchell, consulted? Or are we awaiting the result of the next Grenada elections to decide how much further we can go?

Again, one may ask, what has become of the proposal for political integration in the Eastern Caribbean (OECS)? Prime Minister Gonsalves spoke of the OECS being a success story in functional Co-operation, but the political unification goal was not just mooted; it was clearly put on the agenda. What are the obstacles, in this regard? Is the pull of Trinidad and Tobago petrodollars the overriding force?

It is for those reasons that our people need to be clear as to what course our leaders are charting, what are the reasons for the choice of course A over Course B, or how do we, after embarking on course A finally merge into Course B as we had originally planned? That is where the consistency comes in where our people are concerned. Without such an approach, all new initiatives, no matter how logical and necessary as the southern Caribbean one undoubtedly is, they will be met with skepticism and generate only lukewarm support. For there will be a tendency to see it as just another of the circles around which we have been running for generations. Regional integration, whether as a whole, or a part thereof, is too important to our survival to be approached in a piecemeal fashion. The intellectuals can do their studies, concept notes and make recommendations, but in the long run it is the PEOPLE who matter most. If the ideas are not firmly grounded among them, they will not succeed.

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