Splintering world

One of the most serious aspects of life today is the widening gap between talk and action. It has got so bad that when people hear a piece of high-flown rhetoric nowadays they automatically assume that the exact opposite is the truth.

I want to call attention to a specific example of rhetoric ignored by action which has particularly serious implications for us in the Caribbean. First I will give the world-wide context and then narrow it down to the Caribbean.

There is a tremendous amount of rhetoric about how modern communications are bringing people closer and closer together and how the world is fast becoming a global village in which one day quite soon we will all be brothers living as one. This is terrible rubbish. We are not by any means moving towards a global village. In fact the world is splintering into smaller and smaller bits. In 1900 frontiers mattered much less than they do now. In most countries then passports were not required at all and visas were almost unknown except in the Russian and Ottoman empires. A few large units covered the greater part of the world, providing easy contact and co-existence for countless millions of the most diverse people.

What has happened since? At last count there were close to 200 units in the United Nations all with their own full quotas of immigration controls, work permits, currency regulations, visa qualifications and suspicious customs and immigration officials. In this age of terrorism not a single day passes without new regulations coming in to keep people apart. The talkers may talk until they are blue in the face about bringing people together, but not a month goes by without the doers making some fresh effort to divide mankind further. Mankind talks internationalism beautifully but all the action is towards suspicious nationalism. The Tamils wanted to carve a new state out of Sri Lanka, the Sikhs want to carve a new state out of India, Yugoslavia broke apart in utmost hatred, the unity of various African countries hardly exists and, of course, the Soviet Union disintegrated into a hundred pieces.

And these are just a few current examples. Not far into the future don’t be surprised if there are well over 200 separate units in the world equipped with all the heavy and divisive paraphernalia of nationhood. Much publicized groupings such as NAFTA, the European Union, Mercasur and others are simply devices to do bigger and better and more ruthless business, they certainly do not represent nations sinking their differences in brotherhoods of people.

Let me come nearer home and look at our own Caribbean. The disease is here too in a particularly acute form – grandiose words of brotherhood contradicted by what is actually happening.

When I was a boy I remember being able to travel in the English-speaking Caribbean without a passport, without going through customs, and with money stuffed into my pocket by my father which served me wherever I went. Now the politicians get up and make splendid declarations of brotherhood and we have a full-fledged Secretariat working day and night towards a paper dawn of unity while in the real world Caribbean people are more and more harassed when they try to make even the simplest hop from one mini-state to the next. We talk Caribbean unity, we act Caribbean disunity and suspicion.

I am a life-long West Indian by conviction – but now realize the idea of West Indian nationhood is a dream. Dave Martins has written convincingly about this. It is an ideal which resides more and more in the minds of the highly educated if it exists at all.

Where it matters – where the action is – division grows. Every little unit grabs greedily for its own independence. Anguilla went its own way. Nevis is inclined to go. Joint diplomatic representation is scorned. Separate airlines compete in the region and refuse to come together. Intra-regional trade languishes. Customs and immigration authorities throughout Caricom intimidate Caricom citizens more than they do foreigners. I think we have a Caribbean flag, I believe we have an anthem. We have Caricom titled passports. But these symbols are hollow. Underlying them division and disunity grow. The technicians at Caricom are excellent and they organize, run, and record very good meetings. But all they have is paper power – real power is out of their hands. The great project of regional unity has run out of steam.

An exception to the general rule of disunity in action used very much to be our cricket team. They remain a now not very glorious exception. They still deserve our praise – and our support. When you have little left, the last possessions are the most precious.

Sadly, the fundamental well-being of even our cricket team is being neglected. It is generally agreed that the WICB and its constituted units need to be restructured, the basic administration of the game in the region must be considerably strengthened and relations between management and players extensively repaired. The only authority left to set these weaknesses right is Caricom at the level of Heads of Government. But no sense of coordinated urgency seems to inform Caricom at this crucial level. As in so much else, fine words but little action. A despairing drift pervades the scene.

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