The comment made by Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that “the regional integration movement is alive and well” has raised eyebrows, and one wonders why a head of government could make such a statement when instead of Caricom moving forward it is either stalled or moving backwards.
Several commentators and heads of government have voiced their concern about the pace of Caricom. St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who for decades has been involved in regional integration, has recently expressed grave concern about Caricom. In fact he wrote Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Roque and his fellow prime ministers expressing grave concern about the regional movement. In his letter he stated that Caricom is on pause and referred to the decision taken in Guyana in 2011 to put the Single Market and Economy (CSME) on pause. Dr Gonsalves said in his letter that “surely times demand that we move beyond minimalism which inexorably leads to regression,” and added that “pausing is but a euphemism for standing still which in a dynamic world is sliding backwards.”
Stuart made his comment to Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell who paid a courtesy call on the Barbados leader shortly after he was returned to office as head of the Spice Isle. The Barbadian head of government said that critics of the pace of Caricom only look at the CSME and not at success in other areas. One wonders what area of success the Prime Minister was referring to when there have been criticisms that decisions taken by heads of government were not being implemented by the Secretariat; there is the problem of freedom of movement in the region; and Barbados has been identified as the main country harassing Caricom nationals. In fact not long ago dozens of Guyanese who were living in Barbados for several years were booted out, not to mention the attitude of immigration officers at the Grantley Adams International Airport. In fact the Caribbean Court of Justice is now hearing a matter brought by a Jamaican woman who complained of being humiliated.
This is the 40th year of Caricom, and instead of more co-operation among the member states there have been more rifts and conflicts, one coming from the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister when she stated that her country would no longer be an ATM machine for other Caricom countries, while there is the failure of countries to remove the Privy Council as the final court and accept the CCJ. This is very unfortunate since only three countries ‒ Guyana, Barbados and Belize ‒ have done so, although the regional court was inaugurated six long years ago. It is disturbing that although Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were in the forefront of the establishment of the court, and they gained their independence 50 years ago, they still hold onto the coat tails of the Privy Council.
Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Shridath Ramphal who is known as the Caribbean man having served as the Chairman of the West Indian Commission, and UWI Chancellor for 14 years is very worried about the future of Caricom. Time and time again he has spoken out against “slow down” and pause. He also made the point that the future of Caricom rests on the CCJ and has pleaded for years for other countries to join the appellate division of the regional court. Another Caribbean leader, P J Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, who has been advocating regional integration for decades said in Guyana earlier this year that there was urgent need for Caricom to implement long outstanding decisions. He stressed that “some decisive steps are urgently required to rescue Caricom or else life support will come too late to prevent a coma.”