Caricom needs visionary and statesmanlike leadership

Dear Editor,
With reference to the Stabroek News editorial ‘Reactive Adhocism’ (28.1.09) it seems to me Caricom is always in reactive mode. In 1975 Caricom became part of the ACP because of a European initiative (Britain joining the European Economic Community and the signature of the Lomé Convention). Now the Caribbean has split from the ACP because of the European decision, taken back in 1999, to negotiate separate agreements with regional groupings in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. And Caricom has entered into a  ‘shotgun marriage’ with the Dominican Republic in Cariforum because the EU decreed that it should be so for the EPA. It is pretty clear to close observers that the EU’s strategic long-term policy is to treat with the Caribbean as part of a Latin America and Caribbean group.

I agree that Caricom should strengthen its links with Latin America, but not in response to the European agenda and certainly not on terms set by them. In fact Caricom has been strengthening these links for some time. In 1994 Caricom took the lead in forming the Association of Caribbean States with the Latin countries in, and bordering, the Caribbean Sea; since then it has made trade agreements with Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba; it has cemented its ties with the Rio Group; and Guyana and Suriname are founding members of the Union of South American nations – UNASUR. Only last month Caricom leaders attended the first summmit of Latin America and Caribbean Heads of State and Government.

But it makes no sense for Caricom to squander the diplomatic capital accummulated over more than 30 years of membership of the ACP because of a European ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. My view is that Caricom will only be enabled to maximise its diplomatic leverage with Africa, Latin America and Europe – and on the world stage generally – by agreeing to follow a unified international economic and diplomatic policy and taking the legal and institutional steps necessary to put this into effect in a coherent manner.

Within such a framework a special working group could be established to consider and make recommendations on a strategic international policy framework for the community as a whole, which when adopted, becomes official policy within which all member states are obliged to conduct their business. Such a policy could, for example, contemplate group membership for Caricom in UNASUR, associate membership of Caricom with the African Union, and collective strategic diversification of economic relations with the emerging economic giants of Asia.

Can this be done without some changes in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the appointment of commssioners for foreign policy and international economic relations? Perhaps, but I doubt it. And the chief obstacle to this, as we all know, is that Caricom nations continue to cling to the illusion of national sovereignty and to jealously guard their sovereign prerogatives in foreign policy in the belief – in my view mistaken – that each has more to gain from its international partners by doing so than from moving in the direction of the exercise of collective sovereignty.  However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the the era of ‘insular’ – in the generic, not geograpical, sense – nationalism, and the national project associated with it, has pretty much run its course in the Caricom Caribbean. Our options are to strengthen our existing integration arrangements with changes that enable us to speak and act with one voice on the international stage; or to continue a pattern of ‘reactive adhocism’ and sink increasingly into a neocolonial, Balkanised condition in which we are easy prey to the powerful forces that presently drive hemispheric and global reconfiguration. What we need, more than anything else, is visionary and statesmanlike leadership in the community.
Yours faithfully,
Norman Girvan
The above letter has been extracted from our website comments.

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