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Vincy Mas eclipses CARICOM Day

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It is a real pity that, for us in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the high-point of our Carnival celebrations coincides with the annual summit of CARICOM leaders, held to coincide with CARICOM Day. That day, the first Monday in the month of July, has been set aside in commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1973, which established the Caribbean Community of states, or CARICOM.{{more}}

In spite of the region, collectively and individually, insisting on the absolute necessity of regional integration and thus CARICOM, that first Monday in July passes virtually unnoticed each year. Only two CARICOM member-states, Guyana, which houses the CARICOM Secretariat, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, have decreed CARICOM Day as a public holiday, though in our case it coincides with Carnival Monday. To be fair to SVG though, it keeps the integration spirit alive even during Carnival in the form of the Miss Carival show, one of the major attractions of the Carnival festivities. If we are too preoccupied to pay attention to CARICOM affairs at Carnival time, at least Miss Carival reminds us of our regional connections.

This year CARICOM marked its 40th anniversary, a significant milestone, under the theme “40 years of Integration: Celebration and Renewal”. Yet the celebrations were quite low-keyed and the deliberations and decisions of the leaders continually plagued by questioning of the role and relevance of CARICOM in some media and political circles. It is true to say that CARICOM has not made as much progress as the demands of the time would require and that the integration movement is still hamstrung by petty nationalism, a lack of firm will and clear vision and all too often implementation is bogged down in hopeless bureaucracy. Yet, the reality is that we have no choice but to proceed on that road. We may need engine overhaul, a change of oil, new drivers etc, but proceed we must.

Some critical issues were before the region’s leaders for discussion and decision, but a look at the official communiqué gives the impression that there was much more of the former and not enough of the latter. Among the major items were the state of regional economies, the “vexed” question of regional transportation, air and sea, broadening of CARICOM to include those parts of the Caribbean still under European colonial rule, and relations with other neighbouring states, principally Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Cuba. For the purpose of the restricted column space, however, I will briefly comment on two other areas of interest to SVG – accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and the burning matter of reparations for the victims of genocide and slavery.

CCJ: A CROSS-PARTY APPROACH NEEDED

The continued failure to cut the colonial ties to the British Privy Council, even though that institution and the British Government have virtually told us to stand on our own two feet, is a big blot on the pages of Caribbean jurisprudence. Half a century after the first of our countries achieved political independence, and four decades since establishing CARICOM, the Caribbean is still to institute the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final Appeal Court. There are still those among us, either out of political opportunism or, worse, colonial paralysis, who attempt to make out a case against our own judges delivering final judgements.

The ridiculous arguments about not trusting our own legal luminaries expose the lack of depth, understanding or patriotism of those who advance them. We might as well say that only British doctors could treat us, British engineers are needed for our construction etc etc. Indeed, we may as well go the whole hog and say that we can’t trust our politicians; let’s have others make the political decisions for us.

The CCJ is fundamental to the progress of Caribbean integration and the sooner we have it, for us all, not just three, in its full unshackled jurisdiction, the better for us all. In this context, a most interesting development has been the ruling of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in May that paves the way for Eastern Caribbean countries to join the CCJ in its full appellate jurisdiction without needing to hold a referendum.

Chief Justice Janice Pereira, in the judgement, expressed the view that the Constitution (of St Lucia) “…clearly contemplates and provides the freedom to St Lucia to establish a court in common with other states or countries”, empowering that country to enter into such an arrangement without a referendum. Both St Lucia and Dominica have indicated their intention to begin talks with the British Government to cut the Privy Council bonds and to then join the CCJ in full.

While St Vincent and the Grenadines had enjoined the court hearing initiated by St Lucia, the fact that we have had a referendum on a new Constitution, including the proposal to be rid of the Privy Council, makes the situation different from that in our neighbouring islands. The electorate has spoken on it and it would not be wise for a government, defeated in the referendum, to ignore that result.

However, I take it that the Parliamentary Opposition, which had led the campaign against the new Constitution, did so in the conglomeration of a number of circumstances with political implications. Subsequent statements by some of its leading spokespersons seem to suggest that, in principle, and as a stand-alone issue, the Opposition would not be opposed to a CCJ in its full appellate jurisdiction.

If this interpretation is in fact correct, could not a cross-party initiative be taken by both sides of the House, perhaps by way of a Resolution, to give Parliamentary approval so that we too could join our east Caribbean neighbours in working out the appropriate arrangements with Britain and move towards the CCJ in full? I urge our political leaders on both sides of the House to give serious consideration to this matter.

The reparations issue and other CARICOM comments, I will leave for my next column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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