He outlined the areas including climate change, trans-national crime, energy security and others and said these should be priority, strategic areas and the way in which Caricom can and should be using UNASUR as part of its strategic agenda. But “we keep coming back to the weakness of the governance structures of Caricom whereby decisions are taken but they are not implemented because every country does its own thing so we need to reform the structure of governance. We need something like a commissioner for external relations and we need to agree that certain decisions are regionally taken and regionally implemented hence sovereignty in those areas of decision making is pooled,” he said.
Speaking at a panel discussion hosted by the Institute of International Relations (IIR) of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Guyana at the National Library on Thursday, Girvan outlined the “existential threats” facing Caricom. The discussion was held under the theme ‘UNASUR: Its prospects and challenges for South America and Caricom.’
He said the “existential threats” are systemic challenges to the viability of Caricom states as viable, functioning, socio-economic, ecological and political systems. Girvan said the threats are due to the intersection of challenges from a number of different sources and a number of different types: climatic, economic, social and political.
“We are very much moving if not already in that situation where global climate change, economic fragility and trans-national crime are all intersecting to produce severe challenges,” he said. He said the systems of governance are ill-equipped to cope with these challenges because more that anything else these challenges create the imperative for regional cooperation and a regional response and although there is a lot of talk about Caricom, “the institutions of regional governance are weak, under-resourced and ill-equipped to respond rapidly and effectively to these challenges. We have meetings and we have councils and we have…various institutions of functional cooperation but they all rely for their effectiveness on voluntary action by member states”. He pointed out that this is because the political elites are wedded to a concept and idea of governance centred on “so-called national sovereignty”.
He said that the region’s political class, whether in government or opposition, is wedded to the notion of national sovereignty and they “cling to the illusion of national sovereignty in spite of all the evidence that we really need is some form of collective regional sovereignty at least in certain critical areas in order to be able to cope with these challenges”.
Girvan said that by a fortunate accident of history and geography two Caricom nations: Guyana and Suriname; are situated on the South American mainland and are strategically placed to participate in the consolidation of South American integration.
The system of cooperation and integration being built by UNASUR embraces a wide area such as infrastructure, energy, transport communications, defence, health and most recently; defence of democracy, he noted, saying that he reads UNASUR as an extremely robust organisation.
Girvan said that in order for Guyana and Suriname to participate fully and to act as a lever by which the interest of small island developing states of Caricom might be appropriately leveraged, it is important for the strategic interests and objectives to be clearly adumbrated.
Among the areas Caricom could pursue as strategic objectives is climate change, Girvan said. “Why can’t Caricom as represented by Suriname and Guyana secure a commitment from UNASUR to supporting binding mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions sufficient to keep the average rise in global temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees centigrade which is what is said to be the maximum possible to maintain the existence of states as they presently exist?” he questioned.
He also said the grouping should be seeking to secure funding from the global community and especially from those responsible for the majority of carbon emissions, for disaster mitigation and disaster adaptation not on the basis that “we are begging or that this is charity but that our countries are indeed entitled to such funding as compensation for damage for which we are not responsible because we are disproportionately under-emitting but disproportionately over-suffering the consequences of global carbon emissions”.
On trans-national crime, Girvan said that UNASUR and the community of Latin American states could and should jointly present a common front to the US in particular but also to Europe to demand that they put their own houses in order and share equally in the responsibility of the control of transnational crime through demand reduction in the consumption of illicit narcotics and through effective measures to contain the flow of illegal arms and ammunition from their borders into our countries.
He also said that plans for UNASUR should include a scheme to create an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, for distressed countries especially small, vulnerable states to prevent these countries from slipping back into a form of IMF trusteeship: a South American Monetary Fund, to provide emergency financial assistance to countries which are financially distressed.
Further, Girvan posed the questioned of whether Caricom should not be focused on the development of export and tourism markets in South America and regions of the global south so as not to be as reliant as now on the export of commodities to Europe and the US.
He also pointed to the need to prioritize energy security and food security in the programmes of UNASUR.
Other panelists were Dr Mark Kirton, Senior Lecturer at IIR, UWI; Dr Matthew Bishop, Lecturer at the IIR, UWI; Dr Henry Jeffrey, Senior Lecturer at UG and Dr Rishee Thakur, lecturer at UG.