Caribbean economics, politics, crime and cricket By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
December 31, 2001

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, (CMC) - If, at the international level the unprecedented terrorism unleashed against the U.S. on September 11 was the single most horrific criminal act of 2001, then Trinidad and Tobago created history of its own in the Caribbean with the appointment on Christmas Eve of a new Prime Minister who did not win an election outright to form a government.

That surprising political development came when President ANR Robinson chose Patrick Manning, leader of the People's National Movement (PNM) over the incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the United National Congress (UNC), Basdeo Panday, after a two-week hiatus resulting from the 18-18 tie in seats between the two major parties.

What made it so unique in Caribbean parliamentary democratic history, according to informed political observers, was that Manning, whose party did not win an election and who had earlier rejected Panday's offer for a coalition or power-sharing arrangement, was chosen Prime Minister instead of opting for an interim caretaker administration led by the incumbent.

On a wider and more general level, there were the economic repercussions from the terrorists' strikes on the U.S., the holding of six national elections, mind-boggling acts of murder and mounting criminal violence, plus a surprising bitter verbal war between two Caribbean Community partners.

While Trinidad and Tobago remained anxious about the climate for a new administration in Port of Spain among speculation of new election in 2002, assessments were being made by heads of regional institutions and others on some of the economic aspects of life in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

These would include two emergency summits by Caribbean Community heads of government, first to consider the social and economic implications for the region of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Second, the special Caribbean Tourism Summit, both held within weeks in The Bahamas, to come up with strategies to cushion the harmful effects of an economic recession in the USA and other of the leading industrialised nations that were accentuated by the terroristic horrors of September 11 in New York and Washington.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), invited by the region's governments to play a key role in raising emergency development finance, and providing technical assistance, has already identified some US$20M for aid disbursements, primarily for the tourism-dependent economies, but available to all borrowing member states meeting the criteria.

The President of the CDB, Dr. Compton Bourne, who has been in the job for eight months now, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) of the energetic pursuit for a bigger development aid package for 2002 that could involve some U$100M, with assistance from the international financial institutions as well as "significant inputs" from the CDB itself.

While the CDB, in collaboration with the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), was focusing on the economic recovery aid packages resulting from the economic recession and the related repercussions of the September 11 terrorist strikes, the Caribbean Community Secretariat was pushing ahead with the arrangements for transforming CARICOM into a Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), hopefully by the start of 2003.

A major consultation originally planned for November to get the inputs of civil society on the CSME and the way forward for CARICOM, was rescheduled for early 2002.

By then the region's Attorneys General are also hoping to have more positive news on arrangements to establish the elusive Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) with original jurisdiction, an institution regarded as a prerequisite for creation of the CSME, particularly in view of the lack of any appropriate disputes-settlement mechanism in the 15-member Community.

Another institution of the Community, the Barbados-based Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD), was in the meanwhile, accelerating its region-wide thrust to promote good governance and human resource development with a series of ministerial consultations, policy fora and training seminars with a view to enhancing effective public sector management.

CARICAD's Executive Director, Dr. Patrick I. Gomes said that one of the institution's more significant activities for the year was also the coordination by a regional team of a review of the structure and functioning of the CARICOM Secretariat.

The report of this review, mandated by the CARICOM leaders, will be one of the important agenda items for their Inter-Sessional Meeting expected in the first quarter of 2002 in Belize.

In one of the more depressing features of social problems in the Caribbean, outside of the ongoing political violence and shaky, unstable governance in Haiti, where there was an attempted coup by mid-December, there have been the unprecedented incidence of over 1,000 murders, including drug-related gang violence and clashes with the police in Jamaica.

However, as noted by Jamaican journalists and social commentators, that CARICOM state managed to avoid slipping into national mayhem as some were emotionally predicting on radio and television talk shows at the height of the terror that reigned in the highly politicised "garrison constituencies".

Some credit for avoiding the feared decline into national chaos has been given to the capacity of both Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga to respond to the pleas of civil society, including the business sector, to cool tempers and engage in dialogue for peace and cooperate with the private sector in easing the nightmarish social problems in the violence-ridden depressed communities.

The Association of Caribbean Police Commissioners decided during their meeting in the year to expand their information-gathering system and ensure greater and more effective networking in their new approach to combat the alarming level of robberies and criminal violence afflicting a number of regional jurisdictions.

The insistence by the USA for CARICOM governments to send all criminal deportees to their respective homeland of birth continued to pose problems for those countries already confronted with the high rates of crime and the use of sophisticated weapons and communication technologies.

Guyana even experienced the unusual pressure of having a suspension by Washington of visas for government employees and their immediate relatives until it arrived at an acceptable procedure for receiving a particular batch of some 130 such deportees.

A CARICOM meeting on drugs and crime held in Port of Spain early in December agreed to prepare a position paper on a regional approach on the deportees issue in time for the forthcoming Inter-Sessional Meeting in Belize.

There were six general elections during 2001 with a change in two governments (Montserrat and St. Vincent and the Grenadines); a return to power for two -- Guyana on March 19, third in a row; Nevis on September 7; and the hiatus in governance that developed in Trinidad and Tobago with an 18-18 tie in seats at the December 10 poll.

In the cases of Guyana and St Vincent and the Grenadines, snap elections that disrupted the respective elected five-year term of the government in Georgetown and Kingstown had resulted from separate interventions with what some viewed as "quick-fix" solutions by CARICOM.

Since those two elections, however, a number of Community heads of government were to express their reservations against any such repetition, among them the Prime Ministers of The Bahamas and Grenada as well as ex-Prime Minister James Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The prevailing view among them was that to pursue such a path could undermine the expressed will of an electorate and endanger the democratic process with street protests designed to destabilise governments.

On the plus side for regional diplomatic efforts would be Guyana's success in significantly improving relations with Venezuela and Suriname - two border neighbours with which longstanding, colonial-inherited territorial disputes created severe tensions during 2000 and earlier in 2001.

Warming of relations including meetings at ministerial and heads of government levels to be followed in 2002 with reciprocal official visits by their Presidents.

And Belize, another CARICOM partner that has a colonial-inherited territorial row with neighbouring Guatemala, was also expressing a note of optimism following the latest round of meetings earlier this month at the headquarters of the Organisation of American States.

The representatives of both countries spoke enthusiastically of "the friendly atmosphere of co-operation and understanding".