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Our new world

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This is a new world and we have to appreciate that it cannot be business as usual. How we live and what we do must be seen in the context of what is happening elsewhere. The tablets and phones that we use are our connecting point to a world that is shrinking. We communicate with our relatives and friends, wherever they are, as if they were next to us. {{more}}Despite Trump’s nonsensical talk about building walls, these are meaningless today because we are all so connected. Over one million people cross the US-Mexican border legally every day. Of course, the use we make of our mobile mechanisms is important, but at least the medium is there. When we hear about shootings in America we check to see if they are in areas populated by our people. We travel much more today than our parents and grandparents did.

We treat global affairs as an appendage to the world in which we live. Our understanding of world affairs is through the international media, whose concerns are not necessarily ours. It was 37 years ago that we formally disconnected from Britain. We saw opportunities in being able to build relationships with other countries without passing through Britain, which, after Statehood, had retained control over our external affairs. But with independence we remained tied to Britain, because of the special trade and aid arrangements that continued. This was especially so for bananas. Then Britain’s entry into the European Community began to complicate matters and challenged our special trading relations. We were faced with bodies like the World Trade Organization whose responsibility was to navigate international and ‘free trade’. We had, then, to face naked competition, especially from banana producing countries of Central America.

We naively assumed that the British people would have opted to remain a part of the European Union. Now, we are faced with understanding and then dealing with the challenges of Britain’s exit. Sir Ronald Saunders, in a series of articles, has attempted to identify some of those challenges. As he indicated, when in 1973 Britain joined the European Community, “it transferred all authority for its trade agreements to the Community”. Where does this leave us? Britain’s first priority will be to work out agreements with the European countries, which will probably take some time. Then, of course, the US and others! It is difficult to see Britain, especially under new leadership, paying close attention in the short run, at least, to our concerns. The British economy has already taken a hit, even though temporarily. This, of course, has implications for our nationals, those we call ‘returnees,’ who depend on their pensions and medical services from Britain, and for our tourism. Caribbean leaders have a task ahead of them in trying to come to grips with the new environment.

The point I want to emphasize is that even though we are so dependent on what happens in the global environment, we really pay little attention to affairs there and do not try to look at them in the context of small developing countries. This is not the work primarily of governments, but for all of us, our colleges and universities, the media, established institutions, and civil organizations. Our conversation on these matters has to be lifted out of the bowels of political tribalism. The US ‘presidential elections’ is another matter to which we have to pay special attention. We have been treating the Donald Trump candidacy as a joke. We just assume that the gentleman is so weird and some of his ideas so absurd that the American electorate will never allow him to occupy the White House. But to assume that is to misunderstand the American electorate. The issue of immigration will become a focus of his attention, with implications for the Caribbean. But looking at what appears to be driving him, he could have a serious negative impact on world affairs, given America’s standing in the world.

As we try to come to grips with a world to which we are more exposed, we have yet to understand the power and impact of communication technology. The big word is connectivity and we have become part of what is transpiring in any part of the world. I notice, for instance, that the Bahamas has issued travel advisories to their nationals travelling to the US. We are small fish in a big sea, powerless in global affairs. How do we navigate through these turbulent waters? Our relationship with the European Union owed much to Britain’s presence. Without Britain, what are our chances with Europe, in terms of trade, aid and investment?

We also make little effort to understand what is going on in the Caribbean. Earlier in the week I was speaking to a friend from St Kitts/Nevis. He is in the taxi-business, concentrating solely on cruise ships. He indicated to me that in St Kitts they get about 15 cruise ships a week, and that there are 508 taxi cars and vans registered for the cruise ship business. What struck me was his effort to understand the business globally with its connecting points. Have we been paying careful attention to the debate in Jamaica and the establishment of their Commission to examine its position within Caricom? Is this another ‘Brexit’ waiting to happen? SVG, remember, is much more than the landscape we occupy!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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