Dinosaurs in the fading light

Stabroek News
July 4, 2001

Yesterday the Caricom Summit opened in the Bahamas. It will end on Friday.

It is a Summit not only in the sense that the Heads of Government of the Caricom Member States are meeting. It is a Summit also in the sense that it is the highest stage in the process of consideration of some policy issues which have already been before the main organs of the Community, Cofcor, the Council for Foreign and Community Relations, Coted, the Council for Trade and Economic Development and the Community Council.

The Summit will have a very full Agenda but inevitably too many of the issues will derive from the institutions of the regional movement itself rather than from the realities external to the movement. This is not surprising. Any institution, any bureaucracy tends to shut out the wider reality, other than those aspects which capture its attention or fall within its remit.

But it is the wider Caribbean reality which in the end, perhaps sooner than later, will determine the viability of Caricom States and the regional movement itself.

In a wide ranging address to the Third Annual Media Conference held here in Georgetown just over a year ago, one Head of Government, Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados, had drawn urgent attention to some aspects of that wider reality. The following analysis of the situation draws to some extent on that address. The Prime Minister noted the tendency to disorder in just about every sphere of political, social and economic life, as witnessed by the occurrences in Jamaica (where it is reported that there have already been 600 murders for this year), St Vincent, Suriname and Guyana - all pointing to the need for new forms of governance.

The region has become the transit point for narcotics going through the Caribbean to markets in North America and Europe and for pollutants from the industrial North seeking disposal sites elsewhere.

With the second highest rate of infection HIV/Aids could wipe out the population of one of the smaller states. Under the allegation that they harbour tax havens, certain states are being subjected to overwhelming pressure by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The reservoir of talent steadily haemorrhages through emigration. Moreover, the West Indian identity, the bedrock of regionalism, is steadily eroded by the electronic media and ethnic pressures towards ancestral links.

Externally the situation is ever grimmer. The loss of the preferential markets in Europe will undermine in fundamental ways the economic structure of the region. All that we have been able to get from the European Union after prolonged negotiation is what Owen Arthur calls timely stays of execution. The region is no longer of strategic value to the Americans or anyone else. A

final irony is that the Caricom Member States, although small and developing and vulnerable, are national middle income in terms of global listing and thus cannot qualify for the special treatment which Donor countries and Agencies accord to the Least Developed Countries.

As small states, diplomatic solidarity with other states is vital but increasingly hard to come by. The Third World Movements no longer play significant roles. And the ACP group (African, Caribbean and Pacific) may be on the brink of dissolution.

The regional movement itself marks time while Member States dither over the establishment of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the Caribbean Court of Justice. On the former, Owen Arthur has remarked that the CSME cannot be less liberal than the liberalisation which is accorded by Caricom Member States to the rest of the world. In short there must be freedom of movement for goods, capital and people. The Court of Justice is now perceived as the essential complementary institution of the CSME. Many feel that in any event the CSME, in these days of open integration (economic integration behind low import barriers) is coming too late.

In short there must be internally the urgent search for consensus building institutions within member states and externally for repositioning so as to find new ways of survival through new political and economic linkages. Regarding repositioning no one state can go it alone. Hence the need for bold new initiatives. In this connection the proposal of Havelock Ross-Brewster that the region should move to a Caribbean Union based on identity should be given serious thought. Such a union, as the European Union has shown, is definitely not a federation. Each state will retain its separate sovereignty with the Caribbean Union only being assigned such powers as are negotiated. These powers might include responsibility for external negotiations, the appointments to the Court of Justice and liaison with the regional parliament. The Caribbean Union would immediately provide a viable basis for negotiating new linkages with larger groupings and nation states.

Following the Commonwealth practice it is understood the Caricom Summit in the Bahamas will include a day of Retreat in which the Heads will meet without Advisers. We must hope that the wider issues which have been touched upon may he discussed there and steps taken towards their resolution for it is upon such action that the future stability of Member States will depend. To persist in current routine ways is to court disasters of the kind which befell the region in the late thirties and early forties.

Aeons and aeons ago, the dinosaurs roamed the earth. One whose skeleton was recently unearthed would have had no difficulty poking its head into the fourth floor of the Bank of Guyana. Whether one is a cartoonist or an evolutionist their existence remains puzzling. Suddenly they were all wiped out in a comparatively short time perhaps, it is said, by a climate charge due to the collision of the earth with a huge meteor.

Our Heads of Government meeting in the Bahamas should be aware that a fundamental "climate" change has overtaken the Caribbean and should ponder this in their deliberations. Otherwise they might be seen in the long perspective of history as dinosaurs shortly to be wiped out disporting themselves in the fading light.