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Caribbean integration is the cause of us all


St Vincent and the Grenadines has just hosted, successfully, the first meeting of CARICOM Heads for 2014, the privilege being ours by virtue of our Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, being the current Chair of the Caribbean Community. It is an honour of which we should all be proud, though it is a rotating chairmanship, but given the level of negative publicity around CARICOM matters, generated by many politicians and sections of the media in the region, there seems to be a great deal of difficulty in getting citizens of the region to show much enthusiasm for CARICOM affairs.{{more}}

True, there are many difficulties and disappointments along the CARICOM road, but these must not blind us to its accomplishments. The regional integration movement has not gone as far and as fast as many of us may wish, but while successive generations of leaders must certainly bear some responsibility, we, the people of the Caribbean are not blameless. We advocate unity when our short-term interests would be best served by it, but are not at all ashamed to revert to petty nationalism and self-interest when it seems that we must make some sacrifice to propel the unity forward.

It is we who are only too willing to sacrifice LIAT in favour of any external initiative when we feel justly aggrieved by LIAT’s poor service, rather than be prepared to go for the long haul and ‘bear the grinds’ while we straighten out the chinks. It is we who blame Guyanese for migrating to our shores, while we kill ourselves to land on Uncle Sam’s beaches. We are the ones who gulp up the extra-regional products, berating our regional ones, without so much as patience to understand the problems inherent in getting regional products and service up to mark. Our vacillations are what our politicians, inside government and in opposition, pander to in cheap efforts to win our support.

Thus, regional inter-sessional meetings of Heads and summits are branded by too many of us as mere “talk-shops”, and dismissed as having little value. As soon as the meetings are over, we move on to new areas of interests, people, media and leaders alike. As for the meetings themselves, our media, perhaps aping their western counterparts, are all too prone to neglect the solid mundane issues, which form the backbone of CARICOM, in favour of more ‘spicy’ ones.

Hence, when the Heads and their delegations were grappling with matters concerning education, human resource development and health, a lot of attention was being diverted towards the ‘sexy’ marijuana stories, and the Opposition in St Kitts/Nevis, hosted by their counterparts here in SVG, were beating the governance drum in relation to political matters in that twin-island nation.

On the latter matter, both Opposition parties had every right to speak out, it was just that it didn’t necessitate painting CARICOM in a very negative light and implying that regional leaders are more interested in Ukraine, Venezuela or where else than in developments in our own region; that they were more interested in marijuana matters than in the people of St Kitts/Nevis. Couldn’t an approach have been ‘we note your interests in such-and such matters; may we remind you as well that we also have pressing governance matters in our region to solve’, and go on to urge some action on the St Kitts/Nevis situation?’ Oppositions today become Governments tomorrow and have to face the same dilemmas.

Similarly, no serious person can deny that the issues of decriminalization of marijuana, its use and legalization for medicinal purposes, are very contentious issues in our Caribbean. They raise matters of economics and economic development, drug abuse, drug trafficking and associated criminal activities, as well as grave concerns, especially among parents, about their implications. In too many of the islands we find Opposition figures, rather than taking a serious approach, and demanding that their governmental counterparts do the same, pandering to the worst fears, as if CARICOM governments are about to envelop us all in a huge cloud of ganja smoke. Don’t pooh-pooh the efforts, raise the debate and discussion to a higher plane.

That higher level of exchange of ideas, of education and edification, of raising awareness and understanding is needed in relation to CARICOM matters. Our leaders, in Government and without, have a sacred responsibility in that regard. CARICOM as it stands is useful, but regional integration is more than a necessity; it is an urgent imperative, a pre-condition for our collective survival in a modern world. Governments, Opposition parties, the private sector, the labour movement and civil society as a whole have to commit ourselves to working together to repair and replace faulty parts, to overhaul the engine if necessary, and to imbue in our youth a level of common commitment to the task, cutting across all boundaries.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social com- mentator.