Caricom opens to Brazil

Particularly during the last year or so, as we have noted in recent editorials, there has been widespread attention paid to the grouping referred to as the BRICs, and not least of all to our Caricom neighbour Brazil. Many in the North Atlantic would, we have noticed, been surprised at the ability of these countries to weather the financial and economic ravages of the last nearly three years. For they would almost certainly have assumed that the so-called openness of these emerging, but still developing, countries to the vagaries of the major Western economies in the era of globalization, would make them suffer the same consequences of deep recession. But to their surprise, the BRICs seem to have gone contrary to the general belief that when the developed economies sneezed, all other countries got influenza, and are amazed that this has not happened to the BRICs.

In that context, other developing countries have been advised, or have taken – given a recent lesser sense of psychological dependence on the West – to advising themselves to now look beyond the North Atlantic, and towards the current survivors for the secrets of development, and for such assistance as they may feel necessary. So now, almost thirty years since the last of our Caricom member-states, St Kitts-Nevis, gained its independence, the collective demarche made by the majority of Caricom heads to Brazil at the end of last month, can be said to mark a welcome turn towards looking in new directions.

True, many Caricom states as individual entities have long recognized this acknowledged giant of South America as a significant player. Guyana, by dint of its location and its territorial controversy with neighbouring Venezuela, quickly recognised the value of Brazil as a necessary diplomatic backer and counterbalance to that country. Eric Williams, way back in 1970, desirous of demonstrating his Third World credentials  to those then taking to the streets in rebellion, himself quickly sent a rejected minister of Portuguese descent, one of his original political backbones, as ambassador to Brazil, but it could not be said that much came from the relationship over the years. And for many other countries, the long military dictatorship from 1964 to the mid-1980s did not encourage much positive sentiment or diplomatic empathy towards Brazil.

Even up to 1992, as has often now been observed, our heads of government, in establishing the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) chose, on the advice of the West Indian Commission, to leave Brazil out of the circle of states with special immediate or potential ties among themselves, defined by their relation to the Caribbean Sea, or by the inevitabilities of colonial demarcation. But new initiatives and changing perceptions, leading to an evolution within Latin America itself often led by Brazil, towards a strengthening of relations through economic integration and more cohesive diplomatic cooperation among themselves – where themselves now include the Spanish speaking islands in the Caribbean Sea – would appear to have awakened our collective leaders to the importance of defining institutionalized, and more than pro forma, relationships between those states and ourselves, and with the giant among them, Brazil.

Some Caricom governments, as they have seen the evolution of diplomatic and cooperation relationships among the smallest of the Caricom countries and Venezuela, will themselves have become conscious of the need to ensure balanced relationships within the emerging Latin American-Caribbean community as a whole. Others will have noticed a strengthening interest of the ever-widening European Union in more formally organizing its relationship with Latin America as a whole, as what had long been foreseen as economic competition within the North Atlantic developed states, for economic presences in Latin America, has become more fierce. And it will have been observed that the Latin America which interests the Europeans includes our Spanish-speaking neighbours in the Caribbean. And finally it will not have escaped the eyes of Caribbean governments that the attempt to define the wide circle of Caribbean interest in Latin America through the organization of the ACS has not been successful; and would hardly, with the emergence of Brazil as a more formidable economic power, have the potential for retaining viability.

So it is pleasing to see the formalized manner in which the Caricom collectivity has dealt (or begun to deal) with the matter of defining a long-term relationship with Brazil, even while it is recognized that some countries have more specific interests – geopolitical and economic – than others. It is most likely the case too, that some of our governments have been watching closely the effort of physical integration – what the Brazilians refer to as cross-border insfrastructural integration – taking place between Brazil and Guyana, and now beginning to influence the Guyanese economy. The perceptive will probably be accepting that what we can call the ‘integration play,’ involving Brazil with both Guyana and Suriname, bringing to gradual reality what both the Brazilians and the Europeans now refer to as the Guyana Plateau development initiative, must have implications for the Caricom Single Market and Economy design as time goes on.

So as we survey the scope of the activities and initiatives undertaken and proposed at the Brazil-Caricom heads encounter last month, it is encouraging that these cover a very wide range in a variety of spheres. Importantly, in the light of the implications of Brazil’s encounters at the WTO level with the United States and others on the liberalization of trade and production, we have to put into formal play what we assert as the special character of our states as small, highly indebted middle-income developing states with particular ecological characteristics likely to be impediments to persistent economic growth.

But equally necessary is the effort to persuade large states like Brazil, not simply of our indebtedness in particular, but of the urgent necessity – not sufficiently emphasized in the EPA negotiations with the EU – for us to prepare the ground for the infrastructural assistance required for the creation of new cross-border economic spaces with ourselves as states facing the disintegration of the old economic spaces created to sustain the sugar and bauxite-exploitation economic activities. Important in this regard are transport infrastructure and diverse educational infrastructure, regionally constructed to ensure the advantages of economies of scale.

Our debts are, in the last analysis, really our medium-term problem. The creation of a new Caribbean post-colonial economy is a valid part of the development cooperation initiative that must engage developed and developing economies alike, and towards which we must show an active independent creative initiative. Brazil will, in that regard, be surely looking to see how seriously we ourselves are taking the creation of our own, self-proposed Single Market and Economy, and what initiatives we are taking to ensure that it encompasses, or at least has definitive linkages with, the other non-Caricom, Caribbean economies.

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