CARIBBEAN people are world-renowned for their creativity, and those who live and work outside the region have demonstrated an infinite capacity to survive and be self-reliant.
In contrast, too many Caribbean political leaders and the governments over which they preside seem to be capable only of regurgitating a variety of formulae of mendicancy. At the same time, our intellectuals and academics continue an unceasing fulmination about an existential crisis of Caricom without, in most cases, offering practical policy solutions.
We all know that the Caribbean is in the midst of a long-term structural economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by the global economic crisis that erupted in late 2008. What has been the response of Caricom politicians, governments and intellectuals to survive this crisis and start a transformation to sustained economic growth?
First, pretend that there is no crisis, or adopt the approach that this too will pass, hopefully soon, and borrow as much as possible.
The upshot, however, is the creation of a self-inflicted debt crisis to which we respond by petitioning our creditors for debt relief. If the answer to that appeal is not favourable, we default on repayment or threaten to default, as was the case with two member states. Or, just as bad, as was done by one community member, we claim to be among the least developed countries in order to benefit from Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief.
Second, we ask to be reclassified as poor countries, and third, claim that the impact of climate change is imminent. Indeed, one member state has successfully rebranded the 'proneness to natural disasters' theme just at the time when donors were tiring of the term 'small island developing states' being used as a moniker for aid-seeking small states.
Fourth, we pledge to put our fiscal affairs in order, but appeal for time to implement new initiatives. One minister of a certain Caricom state, in a letter to a leading British newspaper, proclaimed a "new" debt management model. The first step, he said, is to reduce expenditure and increase revenue after which all debtors will simultaneously write off a large share of the debt. This is pure genius!
The burning question we have is, what have we really done for ourselves?
With very little in the form of new ideas, it is no surprise that developed countries and multilateral financial institutions are telling Caricom what to do.
The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have created a growth forum. Why did we not think of this and establish it ourselves? Five years after the start of the global economic crisis, Caricom has only recently decided to set up an economic commission, and is yet to think of a regional response to the crisis.
Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Secretariat has taken the initiative to develop solutions to the region's debt problem, and the IMF has had a series of conferences to find a strategy for economic growth.
The reason that Caricom is being told by the outside world what to do is not because they are imperialist, and certainly not because they know what is best for the Caribbean. It is because we in the Caribbean have not shown that we have the ability to solve our economic crisis.