Footprints on our regional sands

In one of the many curious coincidences thrown up by human existence, ANR Robinson, the former Prime Minister and President of Trinidad and Tobago, and Norman Girvan, the Jamaican development economist and Caribbean public intellectual, both dedicated regionalists, died on the same day, April 9, 2014. And, in another eerie coincidence, both had their final rites celebrated on the same day, Saturday, May 3.

Mr Robinson was buried in his native Tobago, after an extended State Funeral lasting five days. Prof Girvan was accorded a moving send-off with much academic pomp and ceremony at his alma mater, the University of the West Indies at Mona, in the land of his birth, Jamaica. President Donald Ramotar attended the State Ecumenical Service honouring Mr Robinson in Port of Spain, on May 1, and Prime Minister Samuel Hinds represented Guyana at Prof Girvan’s funeral, fitting recognition of the contribution of both men to Caribbean integration and development.

This newspaper has already commented on the passing of the two gentlemen (ANR Robinson, April 11, 2014 and Professor Norman Girvan, April 16, 2014). We noted that Mr Robinson, among other things, “left an indelible mark” on the Caribbean, as a committed regionalist, most notably through the strategic vision contained in his paper, “The West Indies Beyond 1992”, presented to the meeting of CARICOM Heads at Grand Anse, Grenada, in 1989, which “paved the way for the establishment of the West Indian Commission and a fundamental restructuring of CARICOM” in the 1990s, including the creation of the still-to-be-fully implemented CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

In Prof Girvan’s case, we observed that he had “attained the sobriquet of Caribbean Man for the extent of his academic, policy and practical work over the Caribbean as a whole” and that he had also served as Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States, all the while leading the life of an activist public intellectual devoted to the cause of equitable development and building solidarity across the wider Caribbean region.

But, as ever in matters relating to Caribbean integration and the dream of a truly united, independent and strong Community, we turn to the arch-regionalist, Sir Shridath Ramphal. In his tribute to Mr Robinson at the May 1 State Service, Sir Shridath hailed the late statesman’s “intellectual leadership at Grand Anse” and made the trenchant observation that Mr Robinson’s 1989 warning that “against this background of historic change and historic appraisal, the Caribbean could be in danger of becoming a backwater, separated from the main current of human advance into the 21st century” was just as applicable today. In this respect, he emphasised that the tenets of the “Robinson paper” were still relevant and that the paper was “more than an historic archive.”

As Sir Shridath declaimed with the oratorical brilliance for which he is renowned, “[The Robinson paper] is the voice of ANR speaking to us today – 14 years from the 21st century – still urging us to prepare. Those footprints on our regional sands remain imprinted on the collective West Indian mind. They will never be erased; and one day West Indians will rise up and follow them. Let this be our eulogy and epitaph.”

Sir Shridath might as well have been saying the same about his fellow labourer in the vineyard of Caribbean integration, Prof Girvan, who was tireless in his efforts to forge a deeper Caribbean consciousness and a more resilient sense of Caribbean identity and Caribbean possibility, and who also left giant footprints on our regional sands.

The best tribute to Mr Robinson and Prof Girvan, their life’s work in the service of the people of the Caribbean and to fulfilling their legacy to the region they so dearly loved, as well as to honour the contributions of other past and enduring champions of regional integration, would be action, of course. The older generation is, sadly, slipping away and the region’s political leaders seem, generally, not to be seized with a great sense of urgency. A new generation of public intellectuals, activists and technocrats must now seize the baton. And our leaders must pay heed, lest the footprints on our regional sands be washed away and our Caribbean region continue to stagnate as a backwater.

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