Caribbean citizens can lead integration process
-- Professor Girvan

by Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
April 8, 2000

THE success or failure of integration movements like CARICOM and the ACS (Association of Caribbean States) will, in the final analysis, depend on the willingness of the citizens in the region to lead by example and show their respective governments what exactly is integration and how it can be accomplished.

This is the view of new ACS Secretary-General, Dr Norman Girvan, who led a team here for a day of talks with the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Secretariat on possible mutually beneficial areas of cooperation between the two organisations.

Addressing a mixed audience of government officials and members of civil society during a talk on Tuesday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Girvan said: "No part of the world do governments do everything and at the end of the day, it's what all citizens do that define the success or lack thereof of any movement of this kind."

"It is for you to put pressure on the governments and it is for you to, within your own organisations, network and do the things which you say governments are not doing and demonstrate how it can work at the level of private sector and civil society," the Jamaican economist said.

He was at the time responding to the question posed by a NGO (non-governmental organisation) representative as to what extent does the ACS's objectives and activities have a meaningful impact on the lives of citizens in the region, given the high degree of scepticism therein.

Dr Girvan's initial response was that citizens of the region had every reason to be skeptical about the progress of integration processes, whether it was within his own organisation or the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)).

He said that he, himself, has had occasion to write at length about problems with the integration movement, and he recalled an article he wrote some years ago, under the title `Caribbean Integration: Fact or Fiction', in which he expressed in much more brutal terms the same scepticism at reference.

Dr Girvan feels, however, that it is for the citizens of the region to take unto themselves the business of integration, adding that as long as they leave it entirely to governments, then there will always be scepticism.

He noted that while governments provide the framework, it is the citizens themselves who actually do the integration and cooperation. "It is firms that invest in trade, and it's NGOs that network and cooperate," Girvan said.

A case in point, he said, was that despite the fact that a lot is being done in the area of trade liberalisation within both CARICOM and the Caribbean Basin, academic studies are showing that the initial effects of trade liberalisation is often through increase in equality within the participating countries.

As such, he says, NGOs are going to have to monitor free trade developments very closely to ensure that the social consequences are not adverse.

The ACS Secretary-General said that he was by no means taking governments off the hook, since as an academic himself, he knows it is very easy to find fault with what governments are doing.

"It's the easiest game in town and in a way, that's the business of academics; to criticise what governments are doing."

He said, however, that these same academicians have found it to be a much more challenging business when faced with running their own organisations and activities, to do the very things they have criticised governments for not doing.

Noting that he would not have taken on the job as Secretary-General to the ACS had he not believed that it was possible to make a difference in his term of office, Girvan said one of his main objectives is to increase communication and understanding amongst Anglophone and non-English-speaking countries in the Caribbean Basin.

A former Professor of Development Studies and Director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Girvan said from his experiences gained there and from various other associations, he has come to learn that there is great lack of information, misunderstanding and total absence of trust within the region.

This mistrust, he noted, was primarily based on the absence of information and simply not having the experience of communicating.

ACS Director of Trade and Integration, Dr Miguel Ceara-Hatton, who interjected at this point, said that while he considers himself to be a Caribbean man, he does not see himself as a West Indian, coming as he does from the Dominican Republic.

A History Professor, Dr Ceara-Hatton said this way of thinking may have had its genesis in the teaching one got at school. He gave as one example, the Caribbean Studies course at his university, which course only looks at the history of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.

"For us, the Eastern Caribbean does not exist," he said.

He contended that the same could also be said about the University of Guyana (UG), which, even though it carries a course in Caribbean Studies, "the only thing they teach is [about] the English-speaking culture".

Dr Ceara-Hatton was advised, however, by a UG member of staff that the institution offers a course in Caribbean Politics, which includes Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the ACS.

Another of Girvan's objectives for his four-year term of office which officially began on February 1 of this year, is to develop a greater sense of prioritisation within the work of the Association, by suggesting that within the broad activities of participation, that there is need to select some and press ahead with their implementation, while leaving others behind for the time being.

Earlier in his presentation, when the question of time-frame and implementation of projects had arisen, Girvan had hinted that this was one of his major concerns since taking office.

He had said then that his own personal view is that pressure from civil society organisations to hold itself to identifiable implementation targets can only be to the good of the ACS in terms of giving it a greater sense of urgency and a greater sense of keeping implementation close to stated objectives.

He said it was the only way the organisation can begin to show concrete results and engender greater confidence in its existence.