Caricom still an imagined community

Wednesday, December 11, 2013    

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THE evidence leaves no doubt that the Caribbean Community (Caricom) is in a serious existential crisis and must change in order to bring tangible economic, political and social benefits to the member states.

It is clear that the people of the region do not perceive themselves as benefitting from the existence of Caricom. The reality is that there is an acutely skewed distribution of economic benefits, in fact, concentrated in Trinidad and Tobago, thanks to the bounty of nature in the form of oil.

Jamaica hardly gains because it exports little and imports massive amounts from Trinidad. Barbados gains by providing services to the Eastern Caribbean mini-states. The smallest countries have formed the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and refuse to join the Single Market and Economy (CSME) unless they were guaranteed a transfer of resources from the so-called more developed countries (a category that includes two of the poorest countries, Guyana and Jamaica). The Regional Development Fund was set up to do this, but ironically ends up transferring money from Jamaica to countries like Antigua that have a higher per capita income. Guyana benefits by forcing the rest of Caricom to buy its rice.

The other benefit from Caricom is functional cooperation such as the University of the West Indies and common foreign policy positions. However, in many instances bilateral approaches seem to be just as effective if not more effective then regional endeavours. The best example is success of national approaches to athletics versus the failure of the West Indies cricket team.

Regional institutions suffer from lack of political will, eg the Caribbean Court of Justice. Would the region get more aid from China and Taiwan if there was a regional approach rather than the current bilateral initiatives?

In the absence of clearly identifiably economic benefits and more gains from functional cooperation, the integration process can only be kept alive if there is a sense of community among the participating countries. In political integration, the European Union has been kept together by the threat of Communism and the fear of a third World War. In economic integration, Canada, Mexico and the United States are kept together by economic gains from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Caricom has no common external threat. Worse, there is no genuine sense or spirit of being a community which is felt and believed by the people of the member countries. This is evident in how the movement of people has been handled by the countries: Barbados expelling Guyanese; The Bahamas deporting Haitians; Trinidad denying Grenadians; and Jamaicans being harassed everywhere. Where is the sense of community when Nevis wants greater autonomy from St Kitts?

Caricom is an imagined community spawned by the idealism of intellectuals, the unthinking ambition of politicians and the ruthless pragmatism of British bureaucrats. We share another mythical invention of geographers that there is a Caribbean region when Guyana and Suriname are part of South America; Belize is a bilingual Central American country; Haiti does not speak French, much less English. The British charade of a West Indies Federation is perpetuated by the US, Canada and the EU who, for administrative convenience, deal with the Caribbean as a group. One meeting instead of 14.

Let the work begin.





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