A role for Portia in reigniting the fires of regionalism

A role for Portia in reigniting the fires of regionalism

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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The year 2012 is likely to see a deepening of the profound multi-dimensional crisis of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the political leadership necessary to help extricate the people of the Caribbean from this dire situation is hardly anywhere in sight.

Caribbean political leaders are often deceptive, a recent example being Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St Kitts. In his message as the outgoing chairman of Caricom, he makes bold to say: "...external (economic) upheavals have served to strengthen our resolve to drive the integration movement forward, a stance for which there has been firm support and commitment from you, the regional populace" and that we are "finding creative ways to confront them". Clearly, he and the rest of us live in different 'Caribbeans'.

On the economic front, last year was lacklustre. The post-banana eastern Caribbean is debt-ridden, mono-sectoral (tourism), fiscally incompetent and too small to be internationally competitive in the production of goods. Barbados, the exemplar of stable macroeconomic policy, was downgraded by S&P and will soon have recourse to the IMF.

It is generally accepted that the new People's National Party (PNP) Government in Jamaica will have to make serious fiscal and debt management decisions in the framework of an IMF pact. Guyana, which was showing signs of economic life for the first time since the 1960s, will face continuous political instability, given the inconclusive result of the recent general election.

Trinidad and Tobago continues to be buoyed by energy-based industries but is now borrowing heavily from the international development banks. The cash machine is closed for the foreseeable future, or at least until the financial sector is recapitalised.

Haiti and Cuba are special cases of being undeveloped by non-participation in the global economy. Both have a long way to go in economic modernisation and democratic governance. The Dominican Republic is surviving but its manufacturing may be displaced by China, and tourism may continue to limp along in the shadow of the US recession. Belize will continue to struggle until it is fully integrated with Central American infrastructure.

This is just the economic dimension, but the social and political dimensions are just as worrisome, eg crime, drug trafficking, brain drain, corruption and unemployment.

The real question now is how the crisis is to be resolved. We suggest that first, there must be an honest recognition that the crisis exists and needs urgent attention. In this regard, the political leadership of the region has been an abysmal failure because of its unwillingness to tell the people the stark truth.

Second, there must be a realistic and penetrating analysis of the crisis as a prerequisite to formulation of appropriate remedial and transformative policy. The region will not work its way out of the crisis by listening to economic platitudes like the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. Politicians must stop fulminating about the manifestations of the crisis and take meaningful policy actions.

We believe that there is a window of opportunity for Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Jamaica to play a substantial role in re-igniting the fires of regionalism at a time when the Caribbean people are looking for new, fresh, dynamic leadership.

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