The regional dimension
January 27, 2000
The Caribbean Development Bank celebrated its 30th anniversary yesterday. In a piece in the supplement on the bank we published Sir Shridath Ramphal noted that the University of the West Indies, of which he is now Chancellor, the Caricom Secretariat and the bank were "the principal instruments for fulfilling the vision towards which the Region was reaching in the post-federal years" (the Federation of the West Indies had collapsed in l962). Guyana was not, regrettably, a part of the short lived federation and, also regrettably, was not a part of the University of the West Indies.
There are other regional might-have-beens that are worth remembering. For example, as the late Dr Eric Williams never failed to point out, the Trinidad based BWIA could have been made the basis for a regional airline in which all the Caribbean states would have held shares. Instead of that, we have had a number of small national airlines struggling to exist. In their famous "Dynamics of West Indian Economic Integration" Clive Thomas and Havelock Brewster had put forward challenging ideas such as the agreed location of industries for the region in various territories to overcome problems of scale. Over the years, too, there has been talk of co-operation in bauxite (smelting the Jamaican and Guyanese ore in Trinidad) but these and other ideas for major regional cooperation have always crashed on the hard rock of implementation.
It is a depressing scenario and though one can still look with a little pride on what remains there could have been so much more. There are structural problems of distance and economies that are not complementary (they produce the same things) but with vision and drive a great deal more could have been done to overcome this in fields ranging from transportation to trade. At the end of the day our politicians were not ready for it, they were still too insular, too happy in their own little domains. They could not summon the energy to make the enormous effort involved to think regionally and move towards a federal reality.
As it is, we are moving towards a single market and economy. But that may be too little too late given the approach of the Free Trade Area of the Americas and other trends towards globalisation. The harsh reality is that few West Indians can still get work permits to work in each other's country and politicians only push the regional idea in a ritualised way at their heads of government meetings.
Guyana has been the odd man out since the estrangement in l953 between the PPP government and the other regional governments. It will be recalled that when Jagan and Burnham sought to leave after the suspension of the constitution to raise support in England and elsewhere the governments of Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica indicated that they would not be allowed to pass (in transit) through their territories. Grantley Adams, Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley came out openly against them. There was thus, first, the ideological divide. Then Jagan stayed out of the Federation. Under Burnham there was a different kind of divide with the region, fair elections and democracy. But the outsider image continued and Guyana fell upon hard times, economically and in other ways. Burnham was, of course, a convinced regionalist, partly because he may have seen this psychologically as a way out of the mess he was trapped in here as the leader of an ethnic minority which could not win a fair election. To this day in the region one encounters a slight sense of surprise when our regional brothers and sisters encounter Guyanese who are competitive in whatever area it may be and display no strange political or other tendencies.
The regional dimension could have made a big difference for all our countries, not least Guyana. It would have provided a bigger stage on which to operate. Our politicians were not ready for it when the time was right and one suspects that some of them are still going through the motions without much real enthusiasm as they see nothing much to be gained from it. They will remain bound in their insular and parochial realities until history dictates otherwise.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples