Regional integration, should include political fusion
- Arthur tells media conference

By William Walker
Stabroek News
May 6, 2000

Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, has sent a clear message to regional leaders that a complete and urgent integration of the countries of the Caribbean was the only way to avoid the marginalization of global free trade.

"Before we embrace full liberalisation with the rest of the world we must practice full liberalisation within the region," Arthur told participants at the Third Annual Caribbean media conference at Le Meridien Pegasus yesterday.

In a visionary speech, Arthur painted a brutal picture of present conditions and set out a future for the region that saw the Caribbean citizen at its centre. He admitted that integration was not popular amongst much of the population, who, he said, saw unity as a source for subjugation and a lowering of the common denominator. Arthur charged the media with the responsibility to "break down the neurotic images that citizens have of their neighbours."

He forecast that agreements with the European Union, the World Trade Organisation and the Free Trade Area of the Americas, scheduled to be enforced within the decade, required an immediate regional integration "to give us an outside chance to succeed." This would have to include along with trade and capital, the free movement of Caribbean citizens which Arthur dryly noted had become a reality despite the intentions of the politicians.

He posited that a limited common market such as that perceived by the drafters of the 1973 Treaty of Chaguaramas bears no relation to the requirements of Caribbean development in the 21st Century. "Of especial significance is the fact that a process of CARICOM economic integration, based on the precepts of the 1973 model would leave the Caribbean dangerously short of what is required to meet the prerequisites to compete successfully in the new global economy, to say nothing about meeting the requirements of regional development per se", the PM warned.

Arthur went even further in calling for political integration, saying the same logic that called for economic space called for a political space also. "It is a nonsense to create an artificial fence between economic and political functions," he would say later. And the Prime Minister called for the formation of the Caribbean Court of Justice so as to create a body that can interpret the laws of trade laid down by the 1973 Treaty of Chaguaramas. Arthur described the present political, cultural and economic state of the Caribbean as "about the worst of times." Political unrest in member countries, St Vincent, Haiti and Suriname, and discord in Guyana was "absorbing the energies needed for development." For Guyana, the future was not to be found in the CARICOM-brokered Herdmanston Accord but in the formation of a social contract subscribed by all society, he suggested.

Arthur was saddened that some countries were even turning to the EU in a bizarre embrace of recolonisation by a post Cold War world "that no longer sees the Caribbean as unique and deserving of special assistance." At best their attitude was one of benign neglect or the cultivation of "a uni-dimensional relationship based on our unsolicited role as a transshipment point for illicit drugs."

In spite of this treatment, the response of the Caribbean countries was fractured, he noted.

At the start of the new millennium, he said, CARICOM faces a situation of being small states standing virtually alone with few reliable alliances. He cited as an example his recent experience at a meeting of the Development Committee of the World Bank/IMF which as the Prime Minister of Barbados he was forced to address as a member of the Canadian delegation by the special leave and permission of Canada's minister of finance.

Meanwhile, a region rich in poets, novelists and musicians who expressed the free spirit of the Caribbean people was more and more being swamped by a cultural homogeneity typified by McDonalds, Mickey Mouse and Michael Jordan. "In what sense is McDonalds superior to a fish fry in Jamaica, jerk pork in Trinidad or labba and blackwater in Guyana?" Arthur asked to applause from the audience. "Are we to become just statistics for... the insensitive transnational corporations?"

On the economic front, Arthur lamented an "historic hostility towards regional transactions," while external investments have been embraced and seen as accomplishments. He said too often investments in Caribbean countries by entrepreneurs from within the region have been seen as threats.

Arthur contended that before CARICOM embraces full liberalisation with the rest of the world it must first do so within the Caribbean. This is what, he argued, gave the CARICOM Single Market and Economy its special purpose at this juncture in the Caribbean's development. "It is not the fifth wheel of the car of Caribbean development as some will have it. It is the key wheel that will ensure that the motor of Caribbean development will function effectively".

He ended by quoting CLR James: "Nobody knows what the Caribbean people are capable of. No one has attempted to find out." Any new governance must include the involvement of the people and Arthur called on the media to help in the process of making the common man aware of his and his region's potential.