Challenges of the Caribbean Community
Keynote address at Dies Natalis Anton de Kom University of Suriname
By Sir Shridath Ramphal
The Treaty of Chaguaramas of 1973 – itself an emanation from the CARIFTA Agreement of 1965 – began with words which are fundamental to the economic integration commitments which followed. They were these:
Determined to consolidate and strengthen the bonds which have historically existed among their people ….
Those words are as relevant to Suriname as to any other member of CARICOM. European colonialism left different marks on us; but the primordial experience of slavery and indenture on which our societies were built was a bond common to us all. Identity grows slowly but it straddles even a dividing sea. It has done so for the Caribbean especially at the level of people Last year in the Barbados Nation Newspaper there was an account of a verbatim conversation with a local food vendor. Her own words were an honest representation of how Caribbean people feel. What she said was this:
From Jamaica to Guyana is one West Indian nation. What’s the reason for a CARICOM passport if we can’t have a Caribbean nation…. I can’t tell you what a Bajan is, because what you find in a Barbadian, you find in a Trinidadian, in a Vincentian, in a Jamaican. Because people are just people; and West Indian people, we are a gem. I don’t see Grenadians, Guyanese, St. Lucians. I see people. The only thing that separates us is us!
I see Surinamers joining that family. Whe Suriname acceded to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which had upgraded regional ambition from a Common Market to a Single Market and Economy – to CSME – it was a step consonant with our shared history. We were ever one – despite the masks colonial fortunes made us wear.
In 1722, nearly 300 years ago, a French Dominican monk living in Martinique, Pere Labat, wrote of his travels among the islands of the Caribbean. In a lyrical passage of his Nouveau Voyage aux iles de I’Amerique he invoked a vision of that Caribbean identity in what Prof. Gordon Lewis was later to describe as his plea for the rhythm of history which, as he saw it, held all the islands together in a common destiny’
‘I have travelled everywhere in your sea of the Caribbean from Haiti to Barba-dos, to Martinique and Guadeloupe, and I know what I am speaking about… You are all together, in the same boat, sailing on the same uncertain sea … citizenship and race unimportant, feeble little labels compared to the message that my spirit brings to me: that of the position and predicament which History has imposed upon you … I saw it first with the dance … the megingue in Haiti, the beguine in Martinique and today I hear, de mon oreille morte, the echo of calypsos from Trinidad, Jamaica, SlLucia, Antigua, Dominica and the legendary Guiana … it is no accident that the sea which separates your lands makes no difference to the rhythm of your body.’
300 years ago that ‘legendary Guiana’ of which he wrote included Suriname, as does an integrated Caribbean today.
That oneness with Suriname has a special meaning for me. My great grandmother was twice indentured; she crossed the kala pani three times: first to Suriname, then to Demerara – a young widow with her son of three and then of nine: my grandfather, who I knew. For five years, Suriname was their home. Your National Archives have confirmed for me since I have been here that they came to Suriname on the Medea on the 14th of February 1874 bound for Plantation Berlijn (in lower Cottica) (owned by I.G. van Emden) -opposite Marienburg. I have been to see it: that first ancestral footfall in Suriname I am a progeny of both our countries; a Surinamese, in a sense, before I was a Guyanese: history working in mysterious ways to make us one. And now, through our bond of Community, unifying our ambition for Caribbean integration and our mutual compulsion to make it happen.
In their Grand Anse Declaration in 1989 political leaders declared that “inspired by the spirit of co-operation and solidarity among us (we) are moved by the need to work expeditiously together to deepen the integration process and strengthen the Caribbean Community in all of its dimensions” They agreed a specific work programme ‘to be implemented over the next four years’ with primacy given “towards the establishment, in the shortest possible time of a single market and economy”. That was 23 years ago. The West Indian Commission (also established at Grand Anse) confidently charted the way, declaring it a Time for Action’. West Indian technicians took their leaders to the brink with the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. But there was no action – no political action, no political will to act. In twenty-three years, nothing decisive has happened to fulfill the dream of Grand Anse. Is it still a dream with connotation of fulfilment; or has it faded to a mere memory of times past?
Nothing it seems has changed over the centuries. In the acknowledged quest for survival (including political survival) the old urge for ‘local control’ by those in control has not matured to provide real space for the ‘unity’ we say we need. Like 19th century colonists we strive to keep our rocks in our pockets – despite the enhanced logic of pooling our resources, and the enlarged danger of ‘state capture’ by unelected groups and external forces while we dally.
Caribbean integration and Caribbean unity cannot happen if regionalism is not the unwritten premise of every Government’s agenda; not occasionally, but always; not in response to ad hoc problems, but as the basic environment of policy. It is not so now. For most Governments Caribbean integration is a thing apart, not a vital organ of national life. It seems that only when it is fatally damaged or withers away will Cabinet agendas change.
When the unsung benefits of regionalism are no longer available as instruments to bolster local development only then perhaps will Governments be forced into reconstructing those vital elements of regional support that neglect had helped to destroy. We will then, perhaps, as with CARIFTA in 1965, resume the old cycle of rebuilding what we once had, but carelessly destroyed; and so ad infinitum. But let us remember, a civilization cannot survive save on a curve that goes upward, whatever the blips in between; to go downward, whatever the occasional glimpses of glory, is to end ingloriously. Caribbean civilization is not an exception.
Nor is my plea a solitary cri de Coeur .Writing in Which Way Latin America? on ‘Repositioning the Commonwealth Carib-bean’ the eminent British scholar of contemporary Caribbean affairs, Prof. Anthony J Payne, concluded in 2009:
Since the West Indies Federation ended in 1962, the region has, in effect, wasted a generation. It partially redeemed itself with the establishment of CARICOM in 1973, but it now needs to seize the moment, to establish and properly fund a CARICOM Commission and to charge it with nothing less than charting all aspects of a region-wide development strategy capable of coming to terms with globalization.
The West Indies did not seize the moment; instead the generational waste worsened. For someone who, for 60 years of a longish life, has been a committed and activist regionalist, this is an anguished comment on our record. In fact, CARICOM leaders implicitly conceded as much at the special ‘Retreat’ in Guyana in May 2010 where they agreed among themselves (without advisers, and without Trinidad and Tobago which absented itself) that they “should pause and consolidate the gains of the Single Market” – mindful as they were that important elements of the Single Market – like freedom of movement of persons and the Caribbean Court of Justice – are not yet functionally in place; and even though the ‘gains’ run the real risk of severe erosion and even reversal unless they continue to be urgently advanced. To many it seemed a retreat from integration; despite the man-traesque words of ‘rededication’.
Not surprisingly, when Heads of Government met later in St Kitts it was at a moment of widespread public disbelief that the professed goal of a ‘Single Market and Economy’ will ever be attained, or even that their political leaders are any longer “inspired by the spirit of co-operation and solidarity” or “moved by the need to work expeditiously together to deepen the integration process and strengthen the Caribbean Community in all its dimensions” – as they had proclaimed at Grand Anse in 1989.
And this was not simply uninformed public opinion – or the ‘doom and gloom’ of ‘arm chair pundits’- as one Prime minister described CARICOM’s critics. In April last year (2011), the Institute of International Relations of the University of the West Indies produced a study conducted by some of the most eminent scholars on the region. Entitled, Caribbean Regional Integration, it is a work of dispassionate scholarship that was informed by wide consultation with Caribbean stakeholders. It is the most authoritative contemporary commentary on the state of Caribbean integration and, very specially, of the challenges facing it. The Study’s Executive Summary says the following:
There was a real sense that the optimistic era of Caribbean integration may well have passed just at the time when it is most desperately needed. The difficulties facing the region are no longer simply about competing effectively in a globalising economy. Rather, they are ‘existential threats’ which bring into question the fundamental viability of Caribbean society itself. Climate change, transnational crime, the decline of regional industries, food security, governance challenges, international diplomacy and so on are problems which can only be effectively addressed by co-ordinated regional responses. Moreover, these problems are becoming increasingly acute in the immediate present; failure to act immediately, decisively and coherently at the regional level could quite conceivably herald the effective decline of Caribbean society, as a ‘perfect storm’ of problems gathers on the horizon.
The regional leadership is seen as critical to either the continued deterioration of the integration process, or its re-generation. …This report is therefore timely in terms of both its recommendations and the window of opportunity that has opened for the region – and especially the Heads of Government (HoG) – to seize the integration initiative. It cannot be stressed just how critical the present juncture is; this may well be the last chance to save the formal integration process in the Caribbean as we know it, to set the region on a new development path, and another opportunity might not present itself in the future.
The Study was completed just before the Retreat in May and its findings are at complete variance with the ‘pause’ in Caribbean regional integration on which the Retreat decided.
The St Kitts Summit that followed seems to have confirmed the validity of the fears of Caribbean people at all levels. In the environment of public scepticism in which it convened there were many verbal assertions of dedication to the goals of Caribbean integration. Those assertions are welcome; they mean, at least, that it would be politically perilous to assert otherwise to the vast majority of Caribbean people. But, of course, it is what Caribbean leaders did at St. Kitts that matters most. Their decision, effectively, was raffirmation of the conclusions of the Retreat. Slow down, the Chairman said repeatedly to the media in explaining how his colleagues felt about ‘integration’: “Slow down the pace a bit and look at a more realistic calibration of where we need to go in the integration movement’. Given that we are already at dead slow; how far is that from ‘stop’? And in the official Communique, not once (save when describing the work of the former Secretary General) does the epithet ‘regional integration’, or the word ‘integration’, appear.
We have recently had the St.Lucia Summit. At its conclusion, this was the harsh comment of the Trinidad Guardian of 11 July:
The reality confronting regional leaders is that while they made speeches, tinkered and let opportunities and deadlines for closer integration slip, the nature of international trade and the way the international economy functions have changed, without their taking advantage of the old opportunities. But even more disappointing than the meaningless rhetorical flourishes are the statements of intention made by the leaders in their final Communique ….CARICOM leaders could do no more than restate old, lifeless commitments.
Last month, on 10 October, the Prime Minister of Barbados seemed to confirm that the editorial was not too harsh. His address was a gilded encomium of Caribbean achievement -but “collaboration” not integration; “cohesion” not unity. The Prime Minister chooses his words carefully. And he said nothing about practical advances towards CSME -of which he is the “lead” Prime Minister.
There is a serious economic, not just political, issue here: “The challenges unfolding around the world call to slow down the pace a bit”, said the Chairman at St.Kitts. ‘Regional integration is alive and well’ – was the message of the CSME Prime Minister last month. This is the exact opposite of the conclusions of the technical Study of Caribbean Regional Integration, (remember?) –
failure to act immediately, decisively and coherently at the regional level could quite conceivably herald the effective decline of Caribbean society as a ‘perfect storm’ of problems gathers on the horizon.
Have our leaders been advised to the contrary? No. Of course not. Indeed, Prime Minister Stuart said that the Single Market and Economy, ‘the two most important components of CARICOM, hold the key to the entire region coming out of the current recession. Yet, in the face of the storm, political leaders have sought shelter in the old refuge of ‘local control’, not the new haven of regional integration. CARICOM’s leaders at Basseterre appear to have settled for nominal unity – the lowest level of regionalism consistent with identity. And nothing seems to have changed since then. So, it seems, that where vision is vital, there is indulgence in mirages; where leadership is essential, there is inertia. But, to pause in a rapidly moving world is really to stop; and to pause in mid-flight is really to plummet.
It is not as if each of our leaders is not a bright, able, enlightened Caribbean person. Each of them possesses all of these qualities and more. So why, when acting collectively, and sometimes even alone, does a vision of real Caribbean integration elude them and leadership to drive the process lapse? I suspect that it is because both the scope of vision and the scale of leadership involve the necessity to share control; it requires a commitment to mature regionalism.
If in 300 years we have not reached there, will we ever? I believe we must. We must Integrate or perish. Just reflect on the fact that after 40 years (at least) of talking we have still not found an integrationist way to combine Guyana’s, Jamaica’s and Suriname’s bauxite and Trinidad’s power to build a Caribbean aluminium smelter? That is what integration is about, And we are not there yet. And not only bauxite. Last month we marked World Food Day with every Caribbean country from Belize to Suriname bemoaning the high cost of their imported food. Yet no one doubts the capacity of our Caribbean Community to feed itself through a Food Security Programme based on integrated agricultural development and diversification. Such a plan lies languishing between the vested interests of food importers and bureaucratic inertia.
There is another major respect in which the Caribbean is not being true to itself. We are failing to fulfill the promise we once held out of being a light in the darkness of the developing world. Small as we are, our regionalism, our Caribbean synonymy, inspired many in the South who also aspired to strength through unity. We have all but withdrawn from these roles, and in some areas like the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe we have fallen into the trap of not preserving unity with our brothers and sisters in other countries of the South – whatever their own lapses. Solidarity has been lost not only amongst ourselves, but also collectively with the developing world.
And, perhaps, therein lies the ‘rub’. Were we making a reality of our own regional unity we would not be false to ourselves and we would have inspired others who, in the past, had looked to us as a beacon of a worthy future. Instead, we are losing our way both at home and abroad.
Have we forgotten the days when as Caribbean people we were the first to daringly bring the ‘Non-Aligned Movement’ to the Western Hemisphere, when we pioneered rejection of the ‘two China’ policy at the United Nations and recognized the People’s Republic; when, together, we broke the Western diplomatic embargo of Cuba; when we forced withdrawal of the Kissinger plan for a ‘Community of the Western Hemisphere’; when we were in the front rank (both intellectual and diplomatic) of the effort for a New International Economic Order; when from this region, bending iron wills, we gave leadership in the struggle against ‘apartheid’ in Southern Africa; when we inspired the creation of the ACP and kept the fallacy of ‘reciprocity’ in trade at bay for 25 years; when we forced grudging acceptance in the United Nations and in the Commonwealth that ‘small states’ required special and differential treatment? In all this, and more, for all our size we stood tall; we commanded respect, if not always endearment. We were Caribbean people being ourselves
Unless we have the collective political will and the resolve to join-up our individual capacities – including the capacities of our economists, lawyers, and finance and trade experts from each of our governments, our private sectors, our trade unions, our regional universities, and our regional NGOs – each of our countries will be compelled to accept individual prescriptions that place statistics not people at the centre of concerns. It is already happening. Meanwhile, the region as whole will fail to develop alternative models of economic growth and development that maintain the autonomy and the identity of the people of CARICOM.
For what do we stand today, united and respected as one Caribbean Community? We break ranks among ourselves so that some can bask in Japanese favour for helping to exterminate endangered species of the world’s whales. We eviscerate any common foreign policy in CARICOM when some of us cohabit with Taiwan. Deserting our African and Pacific partners, we yield to Europe – and take pride in being first to roll over.
What do these inglorious lapses do for our honour and standing in the world? How do they square with our earlier record of small states standing for principles that commanded respect and buttressed self-esteem? The answers are all negative. And, inevitably, what they do in due measure is require us to disown each other and display our discordance to the world. This is where ‘local control’ has led us in the 21st Century. We call it now ‘sovereignty’. In reality, it is sovereignty we deploy principally against each other; because against most others that sovereignty is a hollow vessel.
This does not mean that we must give up on Caribbean integration; it means that we must work harder at it; that we must not fool ourselves into believing that we are there when we are far away; that we must at least leave a legacy of effort to inspire those who come after us. Above all it means that our leaders must keep alive the true vision of integration and give leadership to that younger generation many of whom are with us already impatient of delay.
And I want to place a particular challenge before Suriname. As a new member of CARICOM you have the special opportunity that newness brings. In 1965, this was Guyana’s strength in leading the resuscitation of Caribbean regionalism. It was new; it had no federal baggage. Suriname is in that position now. You bring the special assets of your people who are new to CARICOM and for that reason not jaded by failed efforts. You could be the tonic CARICOM needs. And you come to CARICOM with special potential. With Guyana you have important possibilities in a rapidly unfolding South American integration movement. With Guyana you can be a bridge between UNASUR and CARICOM. Neither of you have to choose between them You will both be stronger in CARICOM because of your continental linkages; you will both be stronger in UNASUR because of your Caribbean bonds. You can make a difference.
But that means being activist. It means being intellectually dynamic. It means being politically innovative. A time of challenge is a time of opportunity. And it is a challenge not only for politicians; but also for society. It is a special challenge to the University to provide the intellectual power to drive the integration movement forward. On dies natalis there can be no higher challenge than a commitment to helping our new Caribbean Community to reach its goals of integration to which with us you now jointly aspire.