I still believe in a West Indian nation

My heart has grown heavy and heavier yet in recent times, as I have contemplated what seems to be the fading of the dream of West Indian unity. I hope against hope that though the dream may be fading the underpinnings remain strong, awaiting only a fresh generation of leaders endowed with the power of a renewed vision.

To assist me in this hope I would love to see a list and analysis of the Caricom-wide institutions and productive regional organisations which without fanfare function day in and day out to the benefit of us all and without which our lives would be different and worse. I cannot believe that if Caricom and all that is has built were to be dismantled tomorrow we would not be very substantially damaged in our respective nations’ well-being and in our daily lives.

I took another look at the Report of the West Indian Commission, Time For Action, which came out in 1992. Working as editorial consultant with the Commission was one of the most exciting and stimulating times of my life and I will always remember that time and the enthusiasm for a West Indian future which filled so many hearts.

Time For Action remains the most comprehensive survey of the West Indian scene ever presented. Even the Moyne Commission Report, 1938-39, detailed though it was, was concerned principally “to investigate social and economic conditions,” while the concerns of the West Indian Commission related to every conceivable sphere of interest in the region:

“Governance and politics; regional institutions and the mechanisms of integration; economic conditions; finance and trade and industry; education from primary to tertiary level and the overall development of human resources; social conditions including the state of health in the Region; the incidence of crime and unemployment and the special problems of youth; gender issues; communications in every sense of the word; culture in all its aspects; sport; security considerations; the shaping of external policies to meet the challenges of international and regional developments; the special situation and needs of the aboriginal peoples of the Region; the place and influence of trade unions, religious bodies, professional associations and non-governmental organisations as a whole – these and more are the subject of study by the Commission.”

In this formidable compendium, 225 recommendations for urgent action were set down in fulfilment of the mandate given to the Commission “to help the West Indies to prepare for the 21st Century.” It was a comprehensive agenda calling for fundamental and rapid change.

And yet there can be no doubt what was the single central message of Time For Action. It was that lack of effective implementation which was the Achilles heel of the integration movement. The weakness in the existing system was clearly identified.

“From the outset there has been regional machinery in the form of a central Secretariat, first under the Carifta Agreement then under the Treaty of Chaguaramas. We know the Secretariat’s strengths and its weaknesses, its successes and its failures, its ambitions and its frustrations. Without doubt, it has served the Region well, served it against great odds. But neither the Carifta nor the Caricom Secretariat was designed or empowered as machinery for implementation of the innumerable decisions that are the bedrock of integration… We have no hesitation in saying that an adequate response to the need to accelerate implementation of integration decisions is not to be found in tinkering with the Secretariat or in changing its administrative or technocratic roles, but in supplementing it with new machinery with a political imprint equipped to perform a new and necessary function.

“If we are serious about integration, we have at least to be certain that there are West Indians charged with the task and endowed with authority to make integration work. They have to be engaged upon that task exclusively: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And they have to be drawn from the public and political community of the Region for theirs is not a bureaucratic function: they must initiate and mobilise, facilitate and secure action.”

Essentially the proposal to fix the flaw was to introduce machinery by which Caricom decisions could be translated into action promptly and effectively. This was not to be done in the context of a federal government but within the concept of “a community of sovereign states” who by treaty agree to a pooling of their sovereignties and to exercising them collectively in specific respects. The report commented on the concept as follows:

“Sovereignty for Caribbean countries is admittedly less than substantial. Our condition is more one of powerlessness than of power; more of a contraction of choice than a profusion of options – even for the largest, the most stable or the most resource-endowed among us. But that is not to say that sovereignty is meaningless. The need is to recognize the limitations of our situation and to augment such national powers as now exist by exercising them collectively in a CARICOM context on a more systematic and effective basis in areas where real potential can be enhanced by regional action. In terms of sovereignty, integration is a strengthening process, not one which weakens or diminishes its participating states.”

The establishment of the Caricom Commission was seen as the centerpiece of the new “Structures of Unity” for which a revised Treaty of Chaguaramas must provide. But clearly the foremost need was to start with the basic body – the Caricom Commission. With such a Commission in place continuously mobilizing and effectively implementing Caricom’s collective will, West Indian leaders could begin together to deal systematically with the Report’s other  recommendations and with its extensive programme of change, like the Single Market and Economy already agreed and a Caribbean Court of Appeal.

The single most important recommendation to agree and implement without delay was therefore that relating to the establishment of the Caricom Commission. The recommendation was that the Caricom Commission should be in place and working by January 1, 1993. That would be the key.

For twenty-five years the key has been rusting in the lock. My only solace is the thought that twenty-five years is a very short time in the life of a nation and that one day a key may be fashioned which works and the gates to a strong and unified West Indian nation may yet swing open.


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