Columns

Caricom's English-speaking neocolonials

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, May 30, 2014    

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CARICOM was born of politics and a vision of what Anglophone black people in the West Indies should be and do to keep a colonial legacy alive. Some of our best used the genre and came to fame. It had no "Caribbean" vision, no economic intent or feasibility. It morphed into CSME by politics, and recent moves to involve the private sector is desperation to deflect blame from politicians.

In the recent UK elections some 30 per cent voted for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose aim is to leave the EU, and Brussels is to reconsider its future. We should assess CSME as it works for small contiguous EC islands, not us. The British sold us a union on the EU plan; we took the bait so let's heed their upcoming referendum. CSME is based on a common language, but the EU's is based on economics and lasting peace as, after the last war, they felt if states traded they would not fight.

CSME has no such practical or noble motive. Today's EU has 23 contiguous states, 500 million people, robust trade and a budget of US$200b. Brussels makes the laws and now many members want to reclaim that right. We have CSME zealots who now know it can't work for us but will not recant as their credibility is at stake, yet they all come to live here. They refer to English-speaking Caribbean as if it is an economic zone, contiguous, or states well known to each other -- disingenuous. The notion is so pervasive tourists are misled and believe they can "island hop" to Barbados or Guyana from here, while some 90 per cent of us have not been into Caricom. CSME is a clever fiction inspired by the Brits, aided by Cabinets, and sustained by well-paid, unaccountable regional civil servants. To end it would mean loss of face, plum jobs, dashed egos, but freedom and savings for us. We are crucial to CSME, yet we are so far from the core it won't last unless it works for us. Many people built careers on Caricom advocacy with no proof of concept; will they stick to their guns or repent?

Jamaica is the largest nation in CSME, so we are its backbone -- finance, market, innovation, brand value, yet we are the poorest member. EC States are close to each other and get value from CSME, but it is not our manifest destiny. Other members enjoyed three decades of prosperity, free education up to university; we scrounged, they lent us cash, we "ban our belly" -- oh, what fools our Cabinets be! The phrase English-speaking Caribbean means zilch as CSME does not work, yet the UK alone speaks English in a viable EU. Our leaders use it to affirm the virtue of neocolonial sameness, while our mentor unites with Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese speakers to build success. The EC have a good union -- OECS -- but need a large captive market to survive. We are it! CSME is not feasible for us as its small, distant market cannot float our boat, and friendship is no substitute for trade. Will Cabinet examine the CSME so we can get on our own growth trajectory? Do we now need a commission of inquiry to get the facts?

CSME is the regional begging machinery. It saves national pride as each of us does not have to go bowl in hand. It straddles the aid pipeline as it's getting hard to convince donors we are poor ,what with the houses, SUVs and flat screens. Bustamante and Manley must be whirling in Heroes' Park as we win the race to the bottom. CSME is our bag man in fora where an island with 85,000 people has one vote as does a country with 1.8 billion. Do CSME's votes go to the highest bidder in the Commonwealth and UN? The CSME produces nothing; it's political space where small men take turns on the throne in Guyana to utter non sequiturs. CSME is not bankable, but English is an asset in our backyard as we can earn from Haiti, DR, Cuba -- not CSME. English is the channel of technology, trade, war, and can make us rich right here.

What do you know about CSME? Name a good book on it? Recently I was confronted by a man known for his paeans to CSME. He "raced me up" in jest, but with what was serious. I listened then asked: "What's your question?" He had none, just wanted to vent.

I was a traitor to UWI, Manley and late apostle, my friend and church brother Girvan. This man was "carrying belly for me" he paused I said, "Before Galileo, great men thought the earth was the centre of our system; so when he said the sun was they crucified him." He frowned, I said: "I love Caricom but I don't confuse what I love with what's good for Jamaica." My scandal bags were heavy so I moved. "Anyhow, I like your style, keep writing," said the klutz grudgingly. He made a career proffering a union of English states and his ego could not survive a reality check -- denial is survival. But the academy now knows CSME is politics and that it cannot work for us.

Politicians are shrewd. For a generation they tried to make CSME work, failed and got an idea to shift the blame to the private sector -- put them on delegations "fully and equally", give them talk time to "make regional integration a success" -- sick joke! Don't be sucked in; CSME won't work for us, we can't change geography and the metrics. We are small with a big brand and balls to match and need no union to prosper, but CSME controls us by making the arcane and distant familiar. Take statistics, CSME's are useless. Think, why would poverty in Grenada be more to us than in Haiti next door? They use data to suck us in -- energy, murders, earth tremors; but how can these poor, distant English ex-slave states help us when Haiti, DR, Cuba are in our backyard? So murders are high in Carriacou, how in God's name is this more relevant than our lads dying in Bronx or Brixton? A USA gunboat in Jamaican waters can help the DR, Haiti corral drug boats, but Trinidad is too far to benefit. If Fly Jamaica needs emergency landing, don't try St Lucia, go to Haiti. How long will we deceive ourselves? The private sector had a few protests. Is it about to be hoisted on its own petard by smart politicians? Be careful what you wish for. Do the numbers, have a referendum, and bye-bye CSME. WTO says we can still have fun and trade in Caricom.

CSME disrespects us. When did politics discover the private sector was "crucial to economic goals" of CSME? When all else failed?! We are marginal in CSME. The CXC HQ should be here, but our Cabinets did squat! Caricom's capital, CDB HQ are not here, though we are the big name brand market. We pay hundreds of millions to CXC, but might we get good, cheap, relevant exams if we buy from a USA exam board? It is our backyard and, unlike Barbados, the place of choice for our diaspora.

The CCJ is okay as we always go abroad for appeals, but they punish us by not locating the HQ here. We have most litigation, are poorest, yet we pay more for justice. CSME is not our choice in sport and entertainment either. We go north for scholarships, competitions, fees, facilities -- the good life. Some say the covert agenda of CSME is to exploit our market; they want black States to stay black, not link with big countries. I want no part in a racial or racist union. I want big markets. I want American not CSME patents so I can raise big capital there -- "monkey money" to them. Like Bob, Shelly-Ann, Usain, we want to vie with the best and win. We want to be truly Caribbean, not Anglophone, and our backyard nations are crucial. I don't need to lead as long as we are well led. Speaking English in a neocolonial union is not us, we are "To di worl!" We want to join with our neighbours, trade in their large markets, learn their language, and enjoy another culture. Stay conscious, my friend.

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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